Sunday, March 3, 2024

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Night of Champions in Review: Three Divas, One Three-Time Champion

At Night of Champions, two Diva feuds merged in a Triple Threat Divas Title match: that of Paige/AJ Lee and Brie/Nikki Bella. But would Brie or Stephanie McMahon factor into the match’s result? Were AJ and Paige just there as window dressing? Let’s see..

Before the match starts, we get a unique (and very cool) look at Paige’s WWE journey so far:

She speaks directly to AJ, who she calls her “bestie” and mockingly tells Nikki that she “earned” this Divas Title shot. It’s cool way to do this without having her cut a live promo. It’s much more effective, too.

We’re then joined by Brie Bella, who is interviewed by Byron Saxton. Brie says she’s constantly asked by fans, “When will Nikki get what she deserves?”, but has to bite her tongue, because Nikki is still her sister.

She does say, though, that Nikki should not become Divas Champion. If Nikki becomes champion, she will become even more self-centered. She envies what AJ and Paige get to do tonight: knock Nikki down a few pegs. She says Nikki is a lot like Kharma karma: they’re both a bitch.

Now, time for the match.

The Divas face off in the middle of the ring. Paige, interestingly, decides to jaw with Nikki instead of AJ. She reminds her that she beat her on SmackDown, probably because she’s afraid that, like most of the WWE Universe, Nikki doesn’t watch SmackDown.

Nikki and Paige get into a shoving match as AJ looks on. They quickly realize that they’re forgetting AJ, though, and charge at her. AJ’s ready, and hops up using the ropes, kicking them both in the face.

AJ tosses Paige to the outside and takes Nikki down with a headscissors. She rolls Nikki forward into an early pin attempt, but Nikki kicks out. AJ kicks Nikki in the stomach and runs the ropes, but Nikki catches her on the return, latching on a sleeper hold. She demonstrates her strength (and AJ’s tiny-ness) by lifting her off her feet and shaking her like a rag doll.

AJ frees herself from the hold by jacking Nikki’s jaw on top of her head. Paige slips back into the ring and goes for Nikki, but gets a face full of Nikki’s elbow. Nikki hits Paige with an enziguri from the second rope, going for the pin. Paige kicks out after one. Nikki works on Paige’s arm, capturing her in an armbar. Paige soon takes the momentum, rolling Nikki onto her shoulders for a pin attempt, but Nikki kicks out.

Nikki whips Paige into the ropes, but her attack is ducked. Paige hits the opposite ropes, just in time for AJ to pop up and sweep her legs out from under her. AJ drags Paige out of the ring and tosses her into the barricade. Nikki leaves the ring and gets the same treatment, being driven into the wall.

AJ skips a bit and grabs Paige, tossing her back into the ring. Paige is intimidated, calling for a time out. She asks AJ to kiss her hand, trying to bring back the quasi-pleasant part of their relationship. AJ goes to do so, but then slams Paige’s face onto the mat instead, going on the attack and eventually hitting her with a roundhouse kick. AJ goes for the pin, but Paige kicks out at two.

AJ pulls Paige to her feet, but is leveled by a kick to the stomach. AJ slips out on to the ring apron, drawing Paige towards her and nailing a kick to her head. She climbs the turnbuckle, but Nikki reappears, halting her in her tracks. Nikki shoves her off the turnbuckle and reenters the ring as Paige takes a breather on the outside. Nikki tries for a pin, earning a two count.

Nikki drags AJ by the arm and hair, pulling her to the center of the ring. She slams the back of AJ’s head onto the mat, going for the pin again. AJ kicks out again. Nikki gets frustrated and starts pounding AJ’s head to the mat just as Paige reenters the fray. Paige grabs Nikki and tosses her through the ropes. Nikki hangs on, though, staying on the ring apron. A swift kick to the midsection is enough to send her all the way to the outside, though, and Paige is left alone with AJ.

Paige stands over AJ and mocks her, propping her up and rocking her like a child. She pulls AJ to her feet. AJ, meanwhile, is making a priceless face, like she’s thinking, “What the fuck?” Nice role reversal! AJ shoves Paige off of her, weirded out, but is laid out again by Paige’s boot. Paige screams, “WHY WON’T YOU LOVE ME???”, making me wonder if she’s pulling a Mickie James, or if she wants AJ to think she’s doing so. The layers, man….

Paige climbs on top of AJ and headbutts her. She pins AJ, but AJ kicks out. She starts pounding on her with her fists, dragging her up by her hair and brining her to the ring apron for some knees to the chest. Just then, Nikki reappears, knocking Paige off the ring apron. AJ resourcefully rolls up a distracted Nikki, earning a near fall.

Off the pin attempt, Nikki is quick to regain control, driving AJ’s face into her knee. She gets a near fall. Nikki pulls AJ to her feet, lifting her up and slamming her down unceremoniously in another show of strength. Another pin attempt on AJ, another kick out.

Nikki sends AJ into the corner, but AJ fights back with two Chuck Taylors to the face. She climbs to the second rope and tries to take Nikki out with a crossbody, but she gets caught. She tries to slam AJ, but is instead captured in the Black Widow! But here comes Paige! Paige kicks AJ right in the head, knocking her off of Nikki. She then does the same to Nikki.

Paige tries to pin Nikki, but Nikki kics out. She then tries it on AJ, who also kicks out. She hoists AJ up and carries her to the corner, sitting her on the top turnbuckle. She tries for a superplex, but by the time she’s good to go Nikki appears, grabbing Paige and planting both of her opponents with the Tower of Doom! All the Divas go flying! Holy crap.

Nikki starts to move first, crawling over to cover AJ. AJ slips out of the ring, though, leaving Nikki with Paige. Paige gets to her feet and tries to kick Nikki, but Nikki catches her boot. She spins Paige around and grabs her for the Rack Attack! She hits it! She goes for the pin, but AJ breaks it up! Nikki is pissed, and shoves AJ, nailing her with a forearm and slapping her around like she’s bullying her kid sister.

Nikki follows AJ outside the ropes, standing on the ring apron. AJ grabs ahold of her hair and snapmares her all the way to the outside. AJ springs back into the ring and focuses on Paige, who she immediately locks in the Black Widow. Paige partially frees herself, but AJ locks it back in! Paige taps out!! AJ is now a three-time Divas Champion. AJ leaves the ring, baby in tow. Paige, meanwhile, is absolutely distraught.

Also on the show, we also saw a bit of Lana as she managed Rusev to victory over Mark Henry. But you’ll need to shell out $9.99 to see that, as there is no video of that match online.

Thoughts: So, that was an unexpected ending (which NO ONE ON TEAM DIVA DIRT PREDICTED). I’ve got to give the WWE kudos for swerving us there. I was sure that Nikki was going to take the title, given how heavily Stephanie factored into the match’s build up. I thought she’d for sure have some plan up her sleeve to get Nikki the belt. But, now that AJ is champ, I can see pretty clearly how this plays into the inevitable AJ/Stephanie feud. I still think they’re going for a long game approach with that, but now, Stephanie has even more reason to target AJ. I’m not sure it’ll be of the “punish Nikki Bella in handicap matches” variety, but it should be entertaining.

It was strange how Nikki didn’t factor into the finish at all. That could be in an effort to keep her looking strong, but I don’t think Paige was hurt all that badly by being the one to tap out. She partially escaped from the Black Widow, after all, and all the focus post-match was on her reaction. I don’t think Paige is out of the picture just yet.

So, how do we bring Nikki back into this? Where does Brie factor in? Maybe Stephanie books a Fatal Four-Way for Hell in a Cell? I’m sure the picture will become clearer tonight on Raw, but I really do appreciate that the WWE threw us a curveball here. The picture is murky, but not in a bad way.

Now, for the match itself. I liked the dynamic here: AJ, Paige and Nikki kept the match moving fast and did some interesting spots, managing to keep it fresh by switching out the competitors in ways that didn’t feel overly contrived. Nikki would be taken out of the equation, then Paige, then AJ. AJ seemed to spend the most time in the ring and take most of the punishment, making her win even of a triumphant underdog story. I liked the high risk stuff, too. They took hard bumps that didn’t seem too spotty. Well, aside from the Tower of Doom, but that move by its nature will always be spotty.

AJ and Paige looked great, though I’m still not sure what to make of Paige’s character. I thought she was trying to weird out AJ, who in turn was out-weirding her, but Paige’s “WHY WON’T YOU LOVE ME?” would mean she’s taking it more seriously than I thought. Maybe she set out to mess with AJ’s head and got caught up in it? Surely she’s not in love~ with AJ, but maybe she’s obsessed with her. AJ snagging her title will only exacerbate that feeling, of course.

It was smart of them to demonstrate Nikki’s strength in this match, since that’s been emphasized since she broke out as a singles competitor and is something that can define her as a wrestler and set her apart from Brie. She does it well: she’s not tossing girls around like Chyna, obviously, but she’s pulling off power moves that no one else is doing, like the Rack Attack finisher. Nikki didn’t earn this title shot by any means, but in this match she proved that she deserves to be in the title picture. She’s not leaving it any time soon, I bet. And, after this match, I’m more than okay with that.

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