Sunday, May 28, 2023

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Fastlane in Review: Nikki and Paige Try to Put Pedal to Metal

Last night’s WWE Fastlane saw Nikki Bella make her first Divas Title defense of 2015 against Paige in the culmination of a feud that critics called, “Meh.” A series of predictable singles matches and middle school level teasing didn’t make for an exciting feud, to say the least. However, there’s always a chance that the match itself can rise above the story that preceded it. Hope lives!

Prior to the match, Brie and Nikki were interviewed on Fastlane Kickoff, promising to continue Paige’s humiliation, this time in “her house”:

Promises, promises… Let’s see if Nikki can deliver. Watch the match below:

At the sound of the bell, Paige decides to forgo the traditional tie-up and just tackles Nikki instead, nailing Nikki with right hands. Nikki flips them over tries to return the favor, but Paige doesn’t relent, and she finds herself on the receiving end of more punches before she manages to shove Paige off her completely.

Nikki isn’t liking how the match is shaping up, so she slips out of the ring for a breather. Paige follows and, without any objection by Brie, she chases Nikki around the corner and back into the ring. Paige catches up to her and grabs a foot, climbing back into the ring and dragging Nikki by the head to the other side for some knees to the chest.

Paige gets her set up on the second rope, but Nikki catches her knee and shoves it out from under her, making Paige fall flat onto the ring apron and drop to the outside of the ring. Nikki follows Paige and pulls her to her feet, driving her back first into the apron before tossing her into the barricade.

Nikki sends Paige back into the ring and goes for the pin. Paige kicks out at one. Looking to maintain control, Nikki props Paige up and locks in a chinlock, one knee placed between Paige’s shoulder blades. After a few moments, Paige manages to get to her feet, twisting around and fighting Nikki off with some shots to the midsection. She tries to whip Nikki into the ropes, but it’s reversed, and Nikki hoists her up, slamming her down with a vicious Alabama Slam.

Nikki tries for the pin again, this time earning a two count. She lifts Paige up for long enough to knee her in the upper back a few times before attempting another pin, but she gets the same result. She carries Paige into the corner, driving her shoulder into Paige’s midsection a few times and taking a moment to soak in the crowd’s reaction.

She comes charging at Paige, but is met with a boot to the chest, stopping her cold. Paige tries to take her out with a modified schoolboy pin, but Nikki’s head misses the bottom turnbuckle. Paige still takes that moment to escape, crawling to the other side of the ring.

When both Divas get to their feet, it’s Paige who takes control. She ducks an attack from Nikki and hits her with a few short-arm clotheslines, running the ropes and knocking her to the mat with a dropkick. She goes for the pin, but Nikki kicks out.

Paige takes aim and goes for a swift kick to the face, but Nikki ducks it and rolls Paige into a pin attempt. Paige kicks out at two and springs to her feet, this time succeeding in planting a boot in Nikki’s face. Paige goes for the cover, Nikki kicking out at two.

Paige grabs Nikki and hoists her up, seemingly setting up for the RamPaige. Nikki fights out of it and drives Paige’s face onto her knee, sending her stumbling into the ropes. She’s not down, though, because she comes right back with a kick to the face. Nikki is laid out, and Paige covers her for the pin, earning a close two count.

Paige sends Nikki into the corner, but her attack is rebuffed by Nikki’s elbow. Nikki climbs to the second rope, prepping for an attack, but Paige halts her, kicking her in the face and joining her on the second rope. Nikki fights back, though, and climbs to the top rope, going for a sunset flip. Paige hangs on, blocking the move, but ends up only hurting herself more as Nikki then turns it into a powerbomb, laying her out.

Nikki goes for the pin, but Paige manages to kick out at two. Frustrated, Nikki slams Paige’s head against the mat before pulling her to her feet. Paige responds by sweeping Nikki off her feet, immediately going for the PTO. Nikki struggles, crawling desperately towards the ropes before Paige can hook her arms and lock in the submission. She gets to the bottom rope and grabs hold of it, saving herself from a likely tap out.

Nikki recovers next to the corner as Paige backs off. When she returns, Nikki sends her face-first into the middle turnbuckle, immediately rolling her up into a pin. She grabs hold of Paige’s tights for extra leverage, and that’s enough to earn a three count. Nikki retains the Divas Title!

As the Bellas celebrate, Paige is flabbergasted and tries to tell the referee that Nikki pulled her tights, but there’s nothing he can do about it now.

Elsewhere on the card, we saw Natalya cheer on Tyson Kidd and Cesaro to Tag Team Title victory, which surely dampened the spirits of Naomi, Jimmy and Jey Uso:

Meanwhile, Lana saw Rusev impressively defeat John Cena and retain the United States Title:

Thoughts: The Divas Title match was much better on a second viewing. It was still short, and the ending was still crappy, but my first impression was much worse. Paige and Nikki did well to make the short match a snappy back and forth, trading control pretty rapidly and making use of the little ring time they were given. The effort is there.

At this point, I think it’s obvious that the problem with this feud isn’t the Divas – it’s the WWE’s lack of investment in them. We saw that exemplified here with the makings of an exciting match that were hamstrung by a small time slot and a lame finish. The WWE could have had something really good here, but they very willingly threw that away.

Maybe it’s to keep them from outdoing the upcoming WrestleMania match, but that’s working backwards, really. You should encourage the Divas to raise the bar, not keep it deliberately low to make it easier for them to jump it next time.

As for the finish… I get wanting to protect Paige by having Nikki win the match in shady fashion, but there are more effective ways to do it. I’m not talking about another “mystery spray to the eyes” situation or interference by Brie, but something that made the cheating more obvious. To the crowd in the arena, that could have been a clean roll up win. Hell, at home, you may have not noticed the treachery if Jerry Lawler hadn’t screeched out in alarm.

There’s a story to be told in a sudden, surprise victory, but this one lacked the necessary punch. Maybe they could have worked Nikki’s PTO escape into it, having her roll forward, clock Paige’s head against the turnbuckle and sit into a pin, Nikki grabbing the second rope with her hand for leverage. It’s a punchier visual and ends the match in a more exciting way. Here, the fans are left saying, “That’s it?”, and you never want that, especially in a Divas match, since that indicates that you had their attention (a rarity in Divas matches these days) and squandered it.

I’m encouraged by the potential Paige and Nikki showed here. I’m not sure what the WWE has in mind for WrestleMania, but I’m sure both of these Divas will be involved in some way and will deliver if given the chance. Let’s just hope the WWE is feeling generous.

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