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Diva Dirt presents its sixth annual Writers’ Choice Awards, as decided by the Diva Dirt team. As we come to the end of 2016, we have picked the best of the best to be awarded our Writers’ Choice trophies.
Best Feud: Charlotte Flair vs Sasha Banks
This has been a feud, not a storyline. What this feud lacked in dramatic twists, was made up for by the purely intense and aggressive match-ups between these two throughout the year. If you strip it back to basics, this was your traditional tale of a confident and arrogant heel taking on a courageous and plucky face. What was interesting about this, was how this was completely the reverse of what we had seen in NXT and redefined both women as we know them today.
First up let’s look at the two women who have headlined this feud:
Sasha Banks had always been an arrogant heel: calling herself “The Boss” and regularly receiving “Sasha’s ratchet” chants. She bullied the likes of Bayley and Becky Lynch while she was NXT Women’s Champion. The crowd loved to hate her, but her signature appearance and unique character made her stand out. Her ring work was mat-based, sneaky and vicious, full of gloating and stiff cheap shots.
Conversely, Charlotte had always been the good girl. Athletic build, almost gymnast-like presence in the ring. People clicked with her emotionally, knowing that she had some very big shoes to fill, following in her father Ric Flair’s illustrious career. She didn’t have that indy background like the other Horsewomen, so each week the crowd seemed to grow with her.
By the end of 2016, we got to see the real woman behind “The Boss” as Sasha made her full face turn. Fans were able to connect with Sasha as we could see her genuine emotions come through each time she held the title in her hands. However, she still kept her feisty edge (Who remembers her “one night stand” line to Charlotte?! Meow!) and kept the confident attitude. What Sasha lacked in size compared was made up for by her larger than life character. Her ring work started to change and she’s shown us more high-flying moves and her intense bumping skills have had us on the edge of our seats sometimes!
This took Charlotte to a brand new level. Let’s just take a minute to remember that this woman only had her first televised match in 2013. Her in-ring work during this feud pushed her intensity, improved her ring psychology and she is so much more confident. Her mic work has come leaps and bounds that she’s now a regular fixture on the mic. It’s evident that she has moved up the ladder and this feud proves why it’s well deserved.
So, who wants to take a trip down memory lane?
Royal Rumble 2016 is when the feud jumped straight out of the gates. The WWE Divas Champion Charlotte had already defeated Becky Lynch and old NXT rival Sasha Banks made her way out to the ring. Attacking both Becky and Charlotte, Sasha held the ‘butterfly belt’ above and made it clear that she wanted that title.
The three women would steal the show at WrestleMania 32, with Charlotte walking out victorious as the inaugural winner of the new WWE (now RAW) Women’s Championship! All three women setting the bar high; Charlotte stunned the world with a moonsault to the outside onto both Sasha and Becky. This match alone showed the world that these women were capable of putting on a great match and would set the tone for what we would see in the future. With Becky Lynch tapping out and Ric Flair being the deciding factor in Sasha’s defeat, we all knew that this feud was far from over.
The actual kick-off between these two individuals wasn’t until June. Sasha Banks returned to save Paige from a double beating from Charlotte and her protege Dana Brooke. In retrospect, seeing Sasha and Paige celebrate was sort of a symbolic passing of the torch moment with 2014’s top face celebrating with 2016’s big heroine.
Up until this point, Sasha had never actually been pinned or submitted ever since her debut on the main roster. That was until the numbers game proved vital, when Charlotte and Dana Brooke defeated Sasha Banks in a handicap match on the first Smackdown Live. While this was highly underplayed by the commentators at the time, this made people realise that Sasha wasn’t so invincible and in some cases, this helped people to rally behind Sasha as an underdog.
The 2016 Brand Extension saw Charlotte’s other enemies Becky Lynch and Natalya get drafted to SmackDown: Live, but both Charlotte and Sasha remained on the red brand. Despite being outnumbered, Sasha was able to find backup at this year’s Battleground event. Taking on the Mentor/Protege partnership of Charlotte and Dana, Sasha called on the help of her former NXT rival, Bayley, to help defeat her opponents.
This victory meant that Sasha Banks was able to FINALLY take on Charlotte one-on-one for the RAW Women’s Championship – on the first RAW of the WWE’s “New Era”! And boy, what a way to start off?! Charlotte hit another moonsault to the outside and Sasha channelled her late hero Eddie Guerrero to get Dana ejected from ringside. After shouting “You will NEVER beat me!”, Charlotte charges at Sasha, who counters it into a Banks Statement to finally win her first WWE Women’s Championship! Tears flowed, the crowd were on their feet and we finally saw Sasha have her moment!
Her first reign would be shortlived though, as Summerslam 2016 would see their rematch. In an unexpected twist, Sasha would seem to injure her back through the course of the match, which Charlotte capitalised on. While Sasha looked to repeat her previous victory and lock in another Banks Statement, Charlotte rolled her over and gained the pin to win back her title for the second time! Many people disputed this hot potato interchange, but this continued the ball rolling for these two women to take their feud to the next level.
After another couple months of rest for Sasha to recover from her back injuries, Bayley had made her RAW debut and soon the limelight had to be shared. Two enormously popular women, but the dominant Charlotte was still the Champion. Clash of Champions 2016 saw all three women take it to the ring, but much like at Wrestlemania, the extra bodies proved decisive. After interference from Dana Brooke, Charlotte was able to boot Bayley into Sasha and lay another big boot into Bayley to retain her Championship.
Not so fast though! Sasha reminded everyone that while she lost the match, she still wasn’t pinned! So another match was made, but this time Charlotte and Sasha would do something that hadn’t been done since 2004 by Trish Stratus and Lita… Main Event RAW! In another amazing match, we saw these women take it to the limit in another technical masterpiece. Charlotte one-upped her moonsaults, by doing a corkscrew moonsault! Once again, the Banks Statement came into action, Charlotte tried to use her same reversal from Summerslam, but Sasha rolled through again, leaving Charlotte forced to tap! The Boss had become the Champion for the second time!
You didn’t think Charlotte was done yet right? The latter end of the year was when we saw both these women really take it to the next level. Now it was time for Hell In A Cell… being held in Sasha’s hometown of Boston, MA. The amazing matches held by these women in the past and rapturous reactions from the crowds meant that they were given the chance to really take the ball and run with it. They competed in the first ever Women’s Hell in a Cell match AND were granted the Main Event slot of the PPV.
While we had seen hard-hitting encounters by these two, this match was where the weapons came out. Sasha went through the announce table! Charlotte went through a table! Sasha suicide dived Charlotte into the cage! Sasha got sidewalk slammed onto a chair! Sasha broke out the Figure 8 using a steel chair! Unfortunately, the end of the match wasn’t the strongest (Damn you table!), with Charlotte pinning the hometown girl to win her third Women’s Championship, much to the shock of the crowd.
So now, the weapons were officially up and out. Armed and dangerous, we knew that the rematch clause would have to come into play and Sasha wanted her revenge back in Charlotte’s own hometown! November 28th would see the women Main Event RAW one more time, in Charlotte, NC and Mick Foley announced that this would be a Falls Count Anywhere match – again something that the women had not done in the WWE since 2007!
The crowd swung in cheers between the hometown Champion Charlotte and the extremely popular Sasha, who had now become the proper underdog in this feud. There were moonsaults off announce tables, kendo stick strikes galore and the end saw Sasha using a stair guard rail to put Charlotte in a sick looking Banks Statement. Tit for tat, these women were now 3-3 with Sasha gaining her revenge and winning her third title in her rival’s hometown. And how to celebrate? Sasha’s hand was raised in victory by Ric Flair, the hometown Hero who was dismissed by his daughter and had finally recognised his appreciation for The Boss.
So… how did we end this year and end this feud? Well “Iron sharpens Iron” was a tweet that Charlotte put out there, leading to their final encounter at “RoadBlock: End of the Line” with both women settling the score in a 30 Minute Iron Man match.
By this point, we thought we had seen everything that we could have from these women. However, they brought it back to the straight up aggression and technical skill and psychology that we know that they’ve shared ever since NXT. No weapons, no extra bodies and an ample amount of time for these women to shine. These two just seemed so accomplished and polished in this match this time around. Charlotte’s cocky and confident attitude mixing with Sasha’s ‘never give up’ personality echoed the NXT Takeover Ironman match from the year before, obviously with Sasha in a new role.
The end of this feud saw the match get taken to sudden death. The slow and methodical work on Sasha’s back and knee proved too much when Charlotte was to gain the final sudden death submission with anagonising Figure 8 on the bloody Sasha. She had given her all and both women had pushed each other to the limit, what a strong way to end this amazing feud. While it wasn’t the traditional tale for the heroine, both of these women came out as shining stars. Charlotte held four fingers up as she hoisted the title above her head; to symbolise her fourth Women’s Championship reign and the Four Horsewomen, an ode to how far they’ve come this year.
So why is this the feud of the year?
Just read that recap above. Each match set something to trigger and elevate the next. Every time they increased the intensity, the WWE allowed them to up the ante. Every time Charlotte went to the top rope, we knew we would see something amazing. Every time Sasha went for a Banks Statement, we were waiting to see how Charlotte would counter it. Every time Dana or Bayley or Ric or Becky were in the picture, we were curious to see how this would affect both Sasha and Charlotte. If the crowd wasn’t connecting and if the management didn’t see it, then this wouldn’t have happened… but it did.
Next, this feud brought back an aggression that we had not seen since the Golden Era. Lita and Victoria had the steel cage, Trish and Jazz did the tables and now Charlotte and Sasha did the Cell. Hardcore matches take intensity and skill to the next level, so to see the women do it right only helped make this feud more memorable. If these two didn’t do a good job and if the crowd didn’t want this, then the trigger would not have been launched for the ladies of SmackDown to also get in on the hardcore action. Santa’s Little Helper matches? Halloween Costume Contests? This feud showed why those things no longer have a place in the WWE.
Not only did it bring back a credibility to the women, but it completely smashed the glass ceiling for them – remember it was only 2 years ago, we went into uproar about a 30 second Divas match?!
Their matches were so prolific that they were billed as headlining matches. Their faces were all over adverts and posters, their merchandise range is some of the most extensive of all the superstars. The Falls Count Anywhere Main Event saw Charlotte and Sasha gain RAW the second highest amount of viewers since the 2016 NFL season started. Remember the days when the women’s segment was seen as the pissbreak? Well, we can definitely say that Charlotte and Sasha turned that perception around.
While many hated the hot potato title reigns (myself included), in hindsight all of this just added to the value of the title. The RAW Women’s Championship is now arguably the most valuable Championship on RAW! It’s been defended in such high profile matches, that we know we won’t be getting it defended in a gravy bowl match anytime soon. We’ve never really had a ‘series’ with the women that was so highly documented, it added to that history making feel as we knew that each match would go down in the history books.
Finally, as I’ve said throughout, this feud has created two stars who have cemented their legacy in the wrestling industry for years to come. It’s intense to believe that they have only been on the Main roster for about a year and a half, but have already created a string of amazing matches. Certain Hall of Famers in the future, Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair, thank you for this year and putting on something that women’s wrestling fans will remember across the world. 2016 has been the year of the ‘New Era’ and these two have spearheaded that movement.
Stay tuned for more Writers’ Choice Award reveals throughout the day.