Friday, September 17, 2021

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SmackDown Redux (March 19th, 2015): Like a Girl

Welcome to another SmackDown Redux! Tonight we have two matches to look forward to: Brie Bella and Paige offer a follow up to Raw’s AJ Lee/Nikki Bella match, while Natalya takes part in what has ludicrously been named “the first Interspecies Tag Team match”.

What a joke. Seriously? Did no one see those iconic tag matches with Natalya and the Bunny?? Okay, so that’s not my true reason for hating this match, but we’ll get to that a bit later.

Before we get to the first, match, though, let’s take a look at a video package hyping the teams’ WrestleMania 31 match. Yes, you read that correctly – a video package!! Grab your smelling salts:

Several Divas (Alicia Fox, Cameron, Emma, Naomi, Rosa Mendes and Summer Rae) recap the feud and hype the match better than the WWE’s done for any WrestleMania Divas match in recent memory, making it feel important and giving the feud a sense of history. Alicia, Cameron, Naomi and Rosa predict victory for the Bellas, while Emma and Summer pick AJ and Paige.

It’s interesting to see the Divas show shades of gray here, not sticking to the heel/face boundaries and picking their winners based on gut instincts and (in the case of Naomi) hopes for
their own future. It’s a clever way to hype a match and make it feel momentous: the entire Divas locker room is taking sides, and there’s no clear cut way to determine loyalties. I just hope this doesn’t convince the WWE to make this a Lumberjill match. Ugh, I shuddered just thinking about it.

Now it’s time for our first match of the night:

We join Paige already in the ring and AJ perched at commentary. Brie and Nikki then make their entrance, Nikki heading to the opposite side of the commentary table.

The bell rings, and Brie pie-faces Paige, prompting Paige to charge, tackling her through the ropes and taking them both outside the ring. Paige hoists Brie up and slams her on the commentary table, evidently wanting her sister to see this ass whooping up close.

Brie fights her off, taking control and slamming her head on the ring apron. She tosses Paige back into the ring and immediately climbs to the second rope, hitting Paige with a missile dropkick. She goes for the pin, but Paige kicks out at two.

Brie props Paige up for a headlock, maintaining the hold for a bit before shoving Paige to the mat. She then pulls Paige to her feet, driving her head-first into the turnbuckle twice before hitting her with a running bulldog. Again Brie goes for the cover, but Paige gets up at two.

Again, Brie latches on a headlock. Paige fights out quickly, but Brie halts her momentum, whipping her into the ropes. Paige hangs on to the ropes, though, landing a swift kick to Brie’s chest. Both Divas come charging at one another, taking each other out with tandem clotheslines.

When they get to their feet, Brie blocks a kick from Paige, sweeping her legs out from under her. Paige sits up up against the bottom rope, allowing Brie to hit her running knee strike. She goes for a leisurely pin, but that ease is her undoing, as Paige is able to roll it into a surprise pin of her own. Paige gets the three count and the victory!

AJ and Paige celebrate the win as the Bellas fume, capping off a short but surprisingly refreshing segment.

Elsewhere, Natalya is set to take part in her “interspecies” match. The only video I can find of this match is the official WWE cut, but thankfully that contains Natalya’ entire involvement in the match:

Mid-match, Natalya tags herself in, forcing one of the Matadores to tag in Torito (BECAUSE APPARENTLY HE IS HER ONLY EQUAL IN THIS MATCH. EXCUSE ME WHILE I RAGE SPIRAL.) Before the two can actually wrestle, though, Tyson tags himself in, taking Natalya out of the equation again.

Towards the end of the match, Natalya tags herself in just as the action goes haywire. Cesaro and Tyson are taken out by the Matadores, so it’s just her and Torito left. Torito celebrates his partners’ triumph, distracting him enough for Natalya to sneak up behind him and hoist him up on her shoulders. He reverses her attack, though, sending her flying across the ring.

Torito climbs to the top rope and attempts a flying attack on Natalya, but she catches him instead, hitting him with a sitout powerbomb that’s enough to put him down for the count. She pins him and wins the match for her team.

The trio celebrates, Natalya hanging on to Tyson’s Tag Title a little longer than necessary. Hm…

Thoughts: It says a lot that the WWE doesn’t want to put on Intergender Tag Team matches, but is totally cool with Natalya wrestling a man in a bull costume. Does it not offend the PG crowd’s delicate sensibilities if her male opponent is dressed like a cartoon character? Does it infer that women and glorified comedy acts are equals, and are thus allowed to compete with one another? This is a huge pet peeve of mine in this “PG” era: the WWE likes to pick and choose which parts of the PG rule to live by, refusing to let men and women wrestle each other, but gladly airing (and re-airing.. and re-airing) an erectile disfunction joke in the first hour of Raw. Just abolish the PG rule altogether! That way you can have your dick jokes and the women aren’t caged away from the men like delicate little flowers.

The ending of the tag match was cool if you discount all the sexist undertones in the booking of the match. Natalya was strong enough to turn a flying attack from Torito into a powerbomb and win the match for her team, which was nice. She only wrestled for about 20 seconds, and it was treated as a joke, but I guess I should be happy that they let her get the win. I’m also intrigued by how possessive Natalya was of Tyson’s title. I’d hope for a feud between those two, but when the WWE only lets her wrestle furries (Torito and the Bunny), that hope isn’t too strong. Get your shit together, WWE.

Conversely, the Brie/Paige match gets a thumbs up from me. It was proof, if you needed it, that match length isn’t everything. It can serve as an indicator of the WWE’s level of investment in the Divas (hence why we track them), but it isn’t the end-all, be-all. This short segment had more punch to it than any match recently (aside from Monday’s very impressive 11-minute Raw opener between AJ and Nikki), all thanks to the frantic pace.

AJ and Nikki’s words on commentary, thankfully, did not detract from the match, though they did reiterate what we’ve already heard: AJ and Paige want to break the mold, and Nikki thinks that they’re discounting the Bellas for fitting into the mold. Nikki has a point, but it comes across hollow when the Bellas just spent a month making fun of Paige’s paleness. So she’s a Mean Girl who is mad that people hate her for being a Mean Girl? Alrighty.

This feud has definitely improved over this past week, going from the bland offerings on Raw and SmackDown to two interesting segments this week. All it took was a little bit of effort on the part of The Powers That Be. On Raw, AJ and Nikki got a prime Raw opening spot and 11 minutes to work with. Brie and Paige were given a quick, hard-hitting match that told a story. Hell, they even got a video package hyping their WrestleMania match (surely one of the signs of the apocalypse). The WWE, it seems, is finally giving this feud (at least part of ) the effort it deserves. We’ve got one week until the big day, and I’m excited to see what this renewed interest brings us.

The real question, of course, is what the WWE will do with the Divas post-Mania. Will we be back to cookie cutter matches and paint-by-numbers feuds? I hope not. In any case, long live #GiveDivasAChance.

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