Monday, July 4, 2022

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Night of Champions in Review: An Ending Without a Beginning


The main roster Diva Revolution has been lackluster for a while now, but Night of Champions finally made plain to me why that’s the case. It wasn’t a poor match that did it – no, I wasn’t particularly disappointed in the Divas Title match itself. Rather, it was the overall sense the booking gave me that made me realize the WWE’s idea of “change” on the main roster is surface-only. They take shortcuts to happy endings and hard-fought victories because it’s easier than fleshing out stories and building up characters. Who needs storylines when you can book a 10 minute underdog story?

What gives me the most trepidation of all, though, is the overwhelming feeling that the WWE doesn’t care enough to go beyond that.

On that cheery note, let’s dive in to the show. We have a Divas Title match on the card, record-breaker Nikki Bella defending the belt against Charlotte. As per the match’s stipulation, Nikki will lose the belt if she loses the match by DQ or countout.

Before we can get to that, though, let’s make a stop in the increasingly maddening Summer Rae/Rusev/Dolph Ziggler storyline.

I wasn’t crazy about its direction when Lana was still around, so I’m even less enthused about whatever’s going on now. Lana’s airbrushed face adorning Dolph’s crotch is a nice, succinct way to illustrate my issues with the storyline: the women should be demonstrating their newfound strength (in Lana’s case) and wiles (in Summer’s case) and driving the feud, but they’ve been stuck in positions that give them absolutely no agency and are 100% defined by the men they’re managing/flirting with/betraying/apologizing to/making jealous/CHANGING THEIR ENTIRE LOOKS TO FIT WITH, SANDY-IN-GREASE-STYLE. Lana is no man’s property, but now her cartoon mouth resides right next to Dolph’s dick. Amazing.

ANYWAYS… Tonight, Summer managed Rusev in this highly anticipated SummerSlam rematch, accidentally costing Rusev the match when an ejection by the referee prompts Summer to throw a shoe and give Dolph the opening to hit his finisher and get the win. Womp womp. I wonder if Summer will have to grovel for Rusev’s forgiveness on Raw? Oh, maybe he’ll leave her out in the cold so Dolph can save her and tell her he’s actually into her, giving her a reason to continue living. Blegh. Who needs Divas that make their own decisions and control their own destiny?

Next up is our Divas Title match! As always, Nikki is accompanied by Alicia Fox and Brie. Charlotte’s got Becky Lynch and Paige by her side, natch.

Off the bell, Nikki slips out of the ring, not ready for the tie-up. After a few moments she reenters, but then slips out again. She then drops and performs some pushups, buying herself some time. Finally, she enters the ring and ties up, Charlotte taking control and backing her into the corner. Nikki fights back, hitting a back elbow and vaulting Charlotte onto the apron. Nikki knocks Charlotte off the ring apron, causing Charlotte to land in an awkward way that seems to have tweaked her knee. After a few moments of hesitation, Charlotte reenters the ring and takes out Nikki with a clothesline, still favoring the leg.

Charlotte drags Nikki away from the ropes, but Nikki fights her off. Nikki hits a snap suplex, hitting Charlotte’s knee on the bottom rope. Charlotte continues to favor the knee, and Nikki sweeps it out from under her. Nikki heads out on to the ring apron and slams Charlotte’s bad knee, tossing her to the floor outside. Nikki slips back into the ring while Charlotte remains on the outside, trying to gain her bearings. When she gets onto the apron, Nikki grabs her by the hair, dragging her to the corner where she props her bad leg up on the ropes and jumps onto it. Nikki goes for the pin, but Charlotte kicks out. Nikki then locks in a submission, putting extra pressure on Charlotte’s bad knee.

As this is going on, Team B.A.D. are seen observing this backstage. Will they factor into this somehow??? Spoiler: They won’t. Meanwhile, Nikki lets go of the hold, but not before driving the knee directly onto the mat. She does this once more and tries for a third, but Charlotte fights her off. Nikki knocks her back to the mat with a dropkick to the knee, covering Charlotte for the pin. She only earns a near fall.

Nikki continues to focus on the knee, slamming it to the mat. She goes for another pin, but it’s still not enough. Nikki again locks in a submission, nailing Charlotte’s knee with her own knee and twisting it. Nikki hits another suplex into the bottom rope. As Charlotte writhes in pain, Nikki breaks out some pushups. She then punishes the knee using the bottom rope, adding to the torture. Out of nowhere, though, Charlotte rolls Nikki into a pin! Nikki kicks out.

Nikki, possibly spooked by that pin, immediately locks in a half crab, sitting on Charlotte’s back. When she lets go, Charlotte tries to fight back, but Nikki simply locks in the hold again. When she lets go of the hold, Nikki heads to the second rope, flying off of it and landing a blow to Charlotte’s back. Nikki goes for another pin. Charlotte kicks out. Charlotte starts to fight back, but Nikki levels her with a low clothesline. Another pin, another kick out by Charlotte.

Nikki pulls Charlotte’s bad leg to the outside, slamming it against the ring post twice. She slips back into the ring to break the referee’s count before heading back out to lock in a figure four leglock around the ring post. She heads back into the ring and covers Charlotte, who kicks out.

Nikki locks in another half crab. Charlotte crawls towards the bottom rope. Alicia and Brie try to thwart Charlotte by pulling the rope back. Suddenly, Team PCB come at Team Bella, taking them out of the equation. Nikki, distracted, is rolled into a surprise pin, but manages to kick out. Nikki springs up, leaping onto Charlotte back with a sleeper hold. Charlotte eventually slams her to the mat to free herself. When both Divas get to their feet, Charlotte starts to battle back, hitting chops, a neckbreaker and a boot to the face. Charlotte covers Nikki for the pin, but the champ kicks out.

Charlotte pulls Nikki to her feet and goes for a backslide pin, but Nikki nails her knee and frees herself. Nikki goes for the pin, but Charlotte again kicks out. Nikki hits a third suplex into the ropes. Nikki then pulls Charlotte to her feet and attacks her in the corner, kneeing her knee repeatedly. Nikki slams Charlotte and pins her again. Charlotte kicks out.

Nikki again heads to the second rope for a flying blow, but Charlotte counters with a spear! She locks in the figure four leglock and bridges into the Figure Eight! Nikki taps out, and Charlotte is your new Divas Champion!

An emotional Charlotte is joined in the ring by Becky, Paige and her father Ric Flair, who share in her triumphant moment with grins and plenty of tears.

A bit later, we check in on the group backstage as they continue their celebration:

Thoughts: Warning: I’m about to go on a rant here. This could leave you with the impression that I hated this match, but I did not. I enjoyed it. I’m excited to see a new champion, and I have all the faith in the world that Charlotte can do the Divas Title justice. However, this match exemplified the problems that I think are still plaguing the Divas division and threaten to derail any sort of change or progress Diva fans might hope for.

Basically, this match felt like something that wanted to be on par with the beloved TakeOver matches, but whoever booked it didn’t get what makes those matches so special: they feel like battles. They’re exhausting. They put the competitors through hell, and the crowd is with them the whole way, leaving viewers emotionally spent by the end of it.

This match had a story, allowing Charlotte to overcome adversity and dig down deep to get the win, but it felt hollow. She tweaked her knee very early on, and then spent most of the match on defense, Nikki doing various things to target the knee, none of them feeling all that intense, despite Charlotte’s very apparent pain. It didn’t feel like a battle because it was so damn one-sided. Charlotte’s win felt earned, yes, but not in a particularly exciting way. Once Nikki locked in her third knee submission or so, you knew Charlotte was going to win. It was obvious in the way they were booking it. That’s not the mark of a compelling match, is it? In a TakeOver match, you’re on the edge of your seat because you feel that the finish could come at any moment. Here, things ran at a snail’s pace. I was just waiting for Charlotte to get her opening, because I knew it was coming. It’s like watching a movie and calling the twist 10 minutes in.

It that sense, this felt like the main roster’s idea of a stellar NXT Divas match. It had the basic ingredients: the targeting of a body part, a competitor being pushed almost to her breaking point, an emotional victory. But those aren’t enough: to stoke the passions of the audience and create a truly epic match, it needs heart. Despite what the Powers-That-Be on the main roster may believe, you can’t manufacture heart. Well, you can, but not this shallowly. Hopefully this match serves as an example that those TakeOver matches aren’t easy to duplicate – if the WWE wants to really bring the Diva Revolution to the main roster, they have to study those matches and see how, when and why the audience reacts during them. Again, this felt like a shallow assessment of those matches, and speaks to the fact that the WWE hasn’t laid the groundwork for a true upheaval of the main roster Divas division.

NXT was able to start the revolution because they worked from scratch, with women they trained in their style from the first day they stepped through the doors of the Performance Center. If the WWE wants to get even close to the NXT standard for Divas matches, they have to actually change things. They can’t just decide they’re going to raise the bar without fixing the problems that have plagued the division forever: namely the writing, the booking and the priority (or lack thereof) the Divas have in the big picture. Yes, in-ring training plays a part, since a lot of the main roster Divas, with their rigorous road schedule, haven’t benefitted from the intensive, hands-on training NXT Divas get in Orlando and thus can’t bust out 20-minute marathon matches. However, to me, the biggest problem remains those originating behind the scenes.

The Diva Revolution is currently being derided by fans because it never felt like there was a bigger picture in mind. There was no real story. That made the whole thing feel hollow, as if the WWE was content on calling up three Divas, slapping a “Revolution” label on a storyline and patting themselves on the back for their progressiveness, all while not making any fundamental changes. In my mind, this match is a symptom of that: it desperately wanted to be on the level of Bayley vs. Sasha Banks. It wanted fans to bawl at the sight of Charlotte winning the title with her emotional father by her side. But none of that was earned.

Don’t get me wrong: Nikki and Charlotte were great. Charlotte sold her pain and Nikki sold her arrogance, 300+ days into a title reign. But the lack of character groundwork for both of these women was apparent in everything: I didn’t get the sense that Charlotte was reaching the top of the mountain in this moment, like Bayley at TakeOver: Brooklyn. I also didn’t get the sense that Nikki was some evil champion that desperately needed to be dethroned, like Stephanie McMahon in August 2000. Those women could have gone out there and put on a clinic, but the match would have still felt hollow, because I haven’t been given a real reason to care about what happens. Nikki’s already broken the record and Charlotte is at the very beginning of her main roster run. The stakes weren’t there. They could have been, if the Diva Revolution had amounted to more than speed dating-style booking, random matches happening week after week with no thread connecting them.

This, like the problems with Nikki’s less-than-exciting reign, can be laid squarely at the feet of those running the Divas division. They want to credit themselves with change and equate their writing/booking with the feats achieved by Ronda Rousey and Serena Williams, but when Divas are switching heel/face alignments week to week and the stories are amounting to “I’m the dominant Diva!”, it looks a hell of a lot like the WWE wants to piggy back on progress they can’t be arsed to create themselves.

And create is the operative word there, because the only thing holding them back is themselves. Wrestling is fake, after all! The booking is entirely in their hands! Unlike Serena, Ronda, girls competing in the Little League World Series, WNBA players and countless other female athletes fighting for opportunities and respect in the sports world at large, the WWE is only competing against their own sexist standards and the misogynistic mindset they’ve fostered in fans. They’re in their own way, and until they get the fuck out of their own way, nothing will change in a way that is meaningful and lasting.

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