Tuesday, February 7, 2023

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SmackDown Redux (May 7th, 2015): Combine and Conquer

Welcome to another SmackDown Redux! Shall we call this the post-Tamina-return era? No? Okay.

Well, this is the first show since the intimidating Diva made her WWE return, aligning herself with Naomi to take out Brie and Nikki Bella on Raw. The Divas certainly looked in sync then, but the true test comes in matches: will Naomi’s new ally translate to total dominance?

Her first challenger comes in the form of the bubbly Emma, who proves that NXT and WWE might as well be different universes, because she’s a full babyface here, a night after playing heel on NXT. The beauty of the roster divide!

We join Emma already in the ring and are soon greeted by Naomi’s music, which I have to admit has grown on me. It definitely lends to the vibe of some super athlete who draws million dollar endorsement deals, is hot shit and knows it. That’s the kind of character I think heel Naomi could work the shit out of.

By her side is Tamina, who is putting in her first official appearance since the Divas debuted their alliance on Raw. She looks so much more intimidating now than she did back in her AJ Lee days. I think the music and serious vibe Naomi sends off helps. Oh, and the lack of skipping. That probably helps too.

In pop-up video, Naomi and Tamina address the WWE Universe, saying that people forgot what they can do, but now they know. Tamina speaks! This is definitely a step up from bodyguarding AJ. It helps sell them as equals rather than a reboot of Tamina’s old gig.

The bell sounds, and we’re off! Naomi doesn’t have the patience for a tie-up, immediately kneeing Emma in the stomach. Naomi toys with Emma a bit, grabbing her by the hair, slamming her face-first into the corner repeatedly and then stomping a mud hole into her.

The referee scolds Naomi, and she jaws with him a bit. This gives Emma an opening, and she attacks, hitting Naomi with some forearms and returning the favor with some corner face slams of her own. She tosses Naomi across the ring and leveling her with a low dropkick. She goes for an early pin, but Naomi kicks out.

Naomi is whipped into the ropes, but turns the tides with a kick to the stomach and a hard slam to the mat. She beats down Emma with some right hands and a neckbreaker. She kips up and punts Emma in the midsection, clearly carrying herself with more confidence and attitude than ever. I love it.

Emma seeks refuge in the bottom rope, but finds herself choked against it, Naomi bringing a boot to the back of her neck. Naomi relents when the referee chastises her, but continues to play rough, dragging Emma’s face against the top rope and shoving her to the mat.

Naomi pulls Emma to her feet and props her up before impressively nailing a close-range dropkick. Emma falls over like a chair that just lost one of its legs. Naomi covers Emma for the pin, but only earns a two-count.

Emma gets tossed into the corner but dodges Naomi’s ensuing attack, slipping out and back into the ring deftly and rolling Naomi up into a pin. Naomi kicks out and immediately is back on the attack, swinging wildly at Emma. Emma ducks it and pulls her into another pinning combination, but Naomi kicks out again. Emma nabs a third pin attempt in a row when she sweeps Naomi’s legs out from under her and bridges into a pin.

Naomi bridges out of the pin and flips them over, pulling Emma into a backslide pin. Emma kicks out. Emma ducks an attack from Naomi and runs the ropes, but finds herself blindsided by the Rear View. Naomi pins her and claims victory.

Tamina enters the ring post-match, joining Naomi in a good old fashioned beatdown on Emma. Naomi feeds Emma to Tamina, setting her up for a devastating superkick that flattens her. The two take their time leaving, Naomi basking in their dominance.

Elsewhere in Diva land, the rift between Lana and Rusev continues to grow:

Lana coyly (or not so coyly?) asks the fans to not cheer for her, as it upsets Rusev. When she finishes introducing him and he enters the ring, Rusev promptly banishes her. She leaves, looking upset. I’ll bet the farm on her having a master plan in the works. She’s enjoying her popularity lot more than she’s letting on.

Natalya also made an appearance, standing at ringside as Cesaro, Tyson Kidd and Ryback fell to Big E, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods of The New Day:

Thoughts: This was a nice little way to demonstrate Naomi’s new attitude and mean streak. Yes, the match was criminally short (clocking in at under four minutes), but it worked as a Naomi showcase. I have a feeling that the series of pin attempts at the end of the match was supposed to be a lot quicker and more exciting, but other than that I enjoyed the match for what it was.

Naomi looked more comfortable and impressive here than she has in a long time. Heel Naomi may have started off a bit fuzzy, character-wise, but I think she’s settling into a groove here. Her move set is evolving, and where some moves stay the same (hi, Rear View), her overall vibe is selling the new attitude. The Rear View, for instance, is no longer a fun butt-in-the-face finisher – it puts a sudden stop to the action. She can hit it whenever her opponent has some momentum going and immediately shut them down.

The addition of Tamina has freshened up her character a lot. Tamina didn’t even have to do anything – having her at ringside showed that Naomi’s a true threat. It’s done what 20 second promos can’t: it tells us that her mission statement is inspiring enough to convince a powerful Diva to join her on it. The superkick was just icing on the cake.

No longer is Naomi a Diva with a bone to pick: she’s part of a two-woman movement to crack skulls and prove that they deserve the spotlight. If they aren’t given opportunities, they’ll take them, just as Naomi did when she dispatched Paige and took her spot at Extreme Rules. It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that. They’re united in their quest for plain old domination. Make a statement, indeed.

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