Wednesday, February 1, 2023

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TLC in Review: Do You See What I See?

Yes, that lame reference to a Christmas song means it’s time for the final WWE Pay-Per-View of the year: TLC! Unlike previous PPVs, we only have one Divas match on the card: Nikki Bella (with newly reunited sister Brie in tow) defending the Divas Title against AJ Lee.

Before we can get to the main show, though, we get some progress in Naomi‘s new dilemma on TLC Kickoff:

Once again, The Miz and Mizdow find Naomi alone backstage. Miz says he’s moved mountains for Naomi this weekend, getting his agent to take “one last look” at Naomi as a recording artist.

Naomi flat-out tells Miz that she doesn’t trust him. She tells him she’s going to make it with or without his help. Before she can leave, though, Miz stops her. He says he knows that this isn’t Naomi talking – it’s her jealous husband, Jimmy Uso. Naomi says she isn’t falling for that tactic, but Miz assures her that he understands. He says he’s married too, but his wife isn’t jealous. Covert Maryse mention! I can hear the return rumors gaining steam..

Miz tells Naomi that the window closes tonight. This is her last chance. Whether he puts in a good word for Naomi depends on the outcome of his match tonight, though. He says that when he’s in a good mood, he does nice things. If he’s still Tag Team Champion tonight, she’ll get signed.

Naomi makes it clear that, despite her musical aspirations, her real focus is on the Divas Championship. But Miz says he can help her there too, claiming that if he wins tonight, “all doors” will be opened for her.

On the main show, Miz and Mizdow technically “lose” their match to Jimmy and Jey Uso, but due to DQ. Miz, therefore, is still champion. Naomi was seen briefly during the match, watching it on a monitor. I don’t have video of that, so you’ll have to cough up $9.99 for that 5 seconds of footage.

So, does this mean Naomi’s on her way to musical superstardom? Somehow, I doubt that. The Miz has something up his sleeve, and I hope it’s something to do with Maryse. At first, I was against the idea of her returning, as I felt she would be taking up a roster spot a NXT Diva could hold, but she’s Miz’s only wife, so this is really a role only she could fill.

If she’s sticking to managing, that’s even better, because there’s less of a chance that she’ll take up a spot in the Divas division. Let her be instrumental in Naomi’s humiliation and maybe wrestle in some Mixed Tag Team matches, but keep her out of the Divas Title picture. Her title holding days are behind her.

Honestly, I’m more interested in this than the Divas Title feud at this point. I really want to see where this is going.

Speaking of that underwhelming feud, let’s cover the Divas Championship match. Before we head to ringside for the match, we join Nikki and Brie backstage with Bryon Saxton:

Nikki says she’s sick of talking about AJ. She says AJ is jealous because she has “many things” that AJ doesn’t, and that includes the Divas Championship. Was that a shot at AJ’s breast size? Oookay. That’s par for the course in this feud, I guess.

Byron begins to ask Brie about returning to Nikki’s side, but Brie interrupts. She says she’s sick of people casting judgment on her and Nikki. They may have had their problems, but blood is thicker than water. Nothing, she says, especially not some “annoying little phony” like AJ will ever come between them.

We then head to the ring, all of the parties making their entrances – AJ with her Slammy, the Bellas with the Divas Title. The bell rings, and we’re off. Nikki ducks a tie-up with AJ and slips out of the ring. She gets herself fired up, doing a few push-ups while Brie cheers her on.

She gets back into the ring, but is immediately taken down with a headscissors by AJ. Again, she exits the ring. This time, though, AJ follows her out. Brie announces her presence behind AJ and gets a kick to the stomach. That seemed unwise of Brie to yell “Nikki!” when trying to ambush AJ, but maybe she was sacrificing herself for her sister. Aw… AJ takes out Nikki as well and tosses her back into the ring.

Nikki reverses an Irish whip into the corner, but AJ blocks her attack with her knees. She charges at Nikki, but gets taken down hard, Nikki’s strength advantage making its first appearance. She goes for an early pin, but AJ kicks out. Nikki picks ragdoll AJ up and hits a backbreaker. Another pin attempt, another kick out by AJ.

Nikki hits a snap suplex, tossing AJ into a corner before stomping on her chest and choking her with her shoe. With AJ prone in the corner, Nikki slips out of the ring and wraps her around the ring post, keeping the punishment up for as long as the referee allows. She eventually lets go. That was a very cool move, and appropriately heelish.

Sensing that this may have finished AJ off, Nikki climbs back into the ring and pins her. AJ kicks out, but she’s definitely hurting. Nikki sticks with her new game plan, planting a knee between AJ’s shoulder blades and pulling back her arms. AJ soon tries to fight out of the hold, but Nikki halts her by kneeing her in the back and tossing her to the mat.

Nikki hoists up AJ bodily and slams her again to the mat. She goes for another pin attempt, AJ kicking out at two. She props AJ up into another back-punishing submission, this time employing a chin lock. AJ again fights out, this time maintaining control as she hops up on Nikki and locks in a front face lock.

It isn’t long before Nikki finds a way out of the hold, charging into a corner and driving AJ into it back-first. With AJ in the corner, Nikki charges towards her. She gets nothing but turnbuckle, though, as AJ pulls herself up and out of the way. AJ then takes Nikki down with a sunset flip, rolling it into a pin attempt. Nikki kicks out.

When they get to their feet, both Divas come charging and end up taking each other out with dual clotheslines. Both are slow to recover, but AJ is first to strike, taking down Nikki with a Lou Thesz Press. She nails Nikki in the corner and hits a neckbreaker, attempting to capitalize on it all with a pin. Nikki kicks out at two.

Nikki again reverses an Irish whip into the corner, but gets a face full of AJ’s knees when she tries to attack. AJ grabs hold of Nikki’s head and plants her with a tornado DDT. She hooks both legs for a pin, but only gets a 2-count. AJ tries to keep on Nikki, but gets an elbow to the face. Nikki hops up on the second rope, hitting her with a high impact enziguri. She goes for the pin, but AJ kicks out at two.

Frustrated, Nikki drags AJ across the ring a bit before lifting her up. AJ reverses, hitting Nikki with a bulldog. She goes for a pin, Nikki kicking out. Nikki’s slow to get to her feet, and AJ attacks, hitting her with the Shining Wizard. She goes for the pin again, but Brie takes Nikki’s foot and places it on the bottom rope, breaking the pin.

The referee sees this and ejects Brie. Brie appears to be pissed, but, cleverly, we see that this was the plan all along, because while the referee is absorbed in getting rid of Brie, Nikki pulls out a travel can of what I assume is hairspray and sprays it into AJ’s eyes. She clocks her with a forearm and gets her all woozy. From there, all she has to do is pull AJ to her feet and hit the Rack Attack. Nikki pins AJ and retains the Divas Title.

As Nikki celebrates, we see AJ being tended to by officials. WWE.com would later tell us that AJ suffered from “a chemical conjunctivitis” as a result of the spray attack, but quick treatment prevented any permanent damage to AJ’s vision. Is she in fighting shape, though? We’ll find out soon enough.

Thoughts: Like the feud itself, this match left a lot to be desired. It wasn’t a disaster by any means, just forgettable and flat. I was hoping they’d compensate for the lame feud with a great match, but that didn’t happen.

There were interesting spots, but overall the match felt lifeless, like there was no animosity between these two at all, contrary to what the booking would have us believe. It probably didn’t help that the crowd was dead as a doornail during the match (hello, death slot!), but part of the blame has to go to the match itself. The end was unique, at least, (in terms of the WWE, because that’s a move right out of The Beautiful People’s playbook) and opens the door for a (hopefully) better story going forward. Maybe Nikki and Brie will actually be heelish this go-round? And if it wasn’t clear, yeah, I think this feud is continuing. The WWE just doesn’t have anyone else waiting in the wings at this point. Naomi’s the best candidate, but she’s too preoccupied with her Miz drama. Maybe that’s the endgame, though: putting Naomi up against Nikki. Then again, I’m pretty sure Naomi’s getting the wool pulled over her eyes, so…

I will say, at least, that the heel/face line was more clear in this match, and all the Divas played their roles well. I just wish they were able to convey the same thing in promos and various social media postings.

It’s like the creative team decided to substitute actual storytelling for buzzy insults. Sure, it gets people talking, and there are probably no two fandoms in women’s wrestling more passionate than Bella fans and AJ fans, but it’s just lazy. I can’t help but roll my eyes at pot shots that may be so-and-so’s real feelings!!!! Oh my God, you guys!!! She got dragged, right???

That’s not a shot at AJ, Brie or Nikki, but to the WWE for booking this kind of feud. They’re trying to blur the lines and “shoot” but it ends up looking petty and unprofessional. The heels are barely coming across as heels! None of them are pushing a narrative – they’re getting things off their chest. But this isn’t a fucking personal diary. This is a Divas Title feud!

At the end of the day, all of this is really lazy booking. The WWE is relying on real life rumors to drive the feud instead of writing something original and compelling. When people speculate that so-and-so is a bitch with no friends or that these Divas really hate each other, it not only damages these Divas’ reputations – it cheapens the brand too. This isn’t Total Divas – we don’t need promos where people are taking pot shots at someone’s sexual history or calling each other phonies. I mean, picture a Superstar saying anything like this in a promo. They’d be laughed out of the building. And this is our one Diva feud. It’s ridiculous that the WWE can’t write any better than this for their one Diva feud, yet manage to string together stories for Bray Wyatt‘s lackeys and various bland mid-carders. Is it because women’s wrestling is a lower priority? Wait, I don’t need an answer for that.

Okay, that was a little melodramatic, and to be honest I don’t care that much. I’ve been a women’s wrestling fan long enough to know that it’s a waste of time to get upset about how the WWE books the Divas. All I can do it hope that the story going forward is less stereotypical, reductive and groan-worthy. We may never get a *real* explanation for Brie’s sudden change of heart, but maybe AJ can bring back the Nidia look. That’s something to look forward to, right? Right?

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