Welcome to the last SmackDown Redux before Extreme Rules! It feels like yesterday, WrestleMania 31 was on everyone’s minds. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that we’re already at another Pay-Per-View. The quick turnaround isn’t conducive to fleshed-out storylines, that’s for sure, but at least we have a fresh matchup to look forward to: Naomi vs. Divas Champion Nikki Bella.
Naomi’s no longer on the side of the good guys, presenting us with an interesting dynamic. She’s still early into the heel turn, though, and needs to settle into the role. Who better, then, to help her do that than veteran Natalya? The third generation Diva takes on Naomi….RIGHT NOW:
Natalya’s out first, telling me that we’ll be getting two full Diva entrances!!! It’s the little things, people. I know we’ve given up on her heel turn for a while now, but her enthusiastic interaction with the fans tells me that she’s solidly back in the babyface camp. Oh well. Not every Diva can be a heel, though the WWE seems to be trying.
Naomi then makes her entrance. It’s very strange to see her not jumping around and dancing, only because she’s been doing it since her main roster debut. Well, that and the entrance music. Talk about incongruous. Put it to bed, WWE! I promise Naomi can get over without it.
As the match starts, Jerry Lawler calls out Byron Saxton for checking out Naomi, but doesn’t admit to doing the same. I’m not even going to touch that…
The bell sounds, and Naomi immediately backs Natalya into the ropes, the referee forcing her to back off. She knees Nattie in the stomach and whip her into the opposite ropes, but Natalya blocks her ensuing arm drag attempt, hitting Naomi with one of her own.
Naomi’s quick on her feet again, but Natalya’s quicker, and hits her with a Russian leg sweep. Natalya shows a bit of frustration, pummeling Naomi against the bottom ropes. The referee forces her back. When she tries to continue her attacks, Naomi sends her face-first into the turnbuckle. She hot-shots Nattie against the bottom rope and goes for the pin. Natalya kicks out at two.
Naomi nails Natalya with a forearm to the head before locking in a headlock. It’s not long, though, before Nattie’s fighting to her feet. She tries to elbow her way free, but Naomi knees her in the stomach and maintains control, scooping up Natalya and slamming her to the mat. She goes for a legdrop, but gets nothing but mat when Natalya rolls out of the way.
Natalya ducks Naomi’s next attack and hoists her up, springboarding her off the top rope and dropping her to the mat on her tailbone. She then runs the ropes and hits Naomi with a dropkick to the chest, following it up with a pin attempt. Naomi kicks out at two.
Naomi is whipped into the corner, but stops herself, catching Natalya with her ankles. She refrains from doing the butt shaking move, instead being tossed out onto the ring apron. She kicks Natalya in the head over the top rope, taking her down with a sunset flip into the ring. Natalya rolls through to avoid a pin, though, and instead finds herself in position for the Sharpshooter.
Naomi fights to avoid the submission, finally just slapping Nattie across the face to put a stop to it. That’s a new one! Natalya reverses Naomi’s whip into the corner, but Naomi ducks Nattie’s attack, running and taking her out with the Rear View. She pins Natalya for the three count.
She’s not done, though, screaming at Natalya and sending a swift kick to her stomach for good measure. She leaves the arena, confident, momentum on her side going into Extreme Rules.
Elsewhere, uncrowned Queen Lana made an appearance alongside Rusev, cutting a promo before his match with Ryback:
Thoughts: I really enjoyed Naomi and Natalya’s match. At this point, I’m convinced Natalya can have a good match with anyone. That’s not to say Naomi needs her hand held or anything – she’s just had a rough time in recent weeks, her moveset and lack of chemistry with her opponents working against her. Here, there was no such problem, proving that she just needs to slow down, stay confident and remain on the same wavelength as her opponent to put on a good match. I’m starting to think that this heel turn is the spark she needed to truly catapult to the top of the division. She’s probably having a lot more fun playing a heel, and it looks to have reenergized her. After all, as I always say, babyfaces are bland! Heel rules, babyfaces drool, etc.
I’m so glad to see they’re starting to tailor Naomi’s moveset to fit her heel persona. Sure, she’s still showing her athleticism (and doing the damn Rear View), but I can sense a change starting. She’s a bit more methodical. Hopefully, soon, they can find ways to demonstrate how athletic she is without moves that get pops, since that undermines her new persona. Alicia Fox manages it, in a way. Maybe they should look to the indies for some examples. She’s not looking for the audience’s approval anymore, so why would she bust out the flashy stuff? Screw them – she’s out to hurt her opponent and get a win. One request, though: DO NOT replace her moves with restholds.
The Extreme Rules match was (stupidly, in my opinion) not announced until the last minute, but the buildup’s been there for weeks. We assumed Naomi would get the title shot even before she turned heel. It’s interesting how quickly the heel/face tables have turned. I don’t really expect Naomi to win the title on Sunday, but I hope the match works to put her over even more as a heel and manages to keep her in the title picture. The last thing I want it for her time in the spotlight to be burned through quickly. Let’s hope for a finish that moves us toward another Naomi Pay-Per-View match in May. There’s so much to explore here, and it would be a shame if they blew though it so quickly. Let’s stay here a while.