As we inch ever closer to this year’s WrestleMania, we make a final pit stop tonight in the form of WWE’s latest pay-per-view offering, Fastlane, featuring the returns of Kevin Owens and The Shield both. It is the match between Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch that I find myself obsessing over though, the latest chapter in this ongoing saga surrounding the Monday Night Raw (MNR) Women’s Championship.
The reason for this is simple. With Ronda Rousey’s controversial remarks on Youtube this week, in which she shocked the world by revealing something it already knew (pro wrestling isn’t real, whisper it!), I threw my arms in the air and told myself I had now given up, that the already convoluted storyline had finally jumped its shark.
Allow me to prove it with a simple recap of how we got here.
Becky was meant to wrestle Ronda at Survivor Series in a Champion vs. Champion Match, so Becky attacked Ronda. Becky got injured while not attacking Ronda and so Becky chose her worst enemy who’s also her best friend but not a champion, Charlotte, to replace Becky in the Champion vs. Champion Match that then only had one champion in it. Charlotte proclaimed to be wrestling for Becky and beat Ronda with a kendo stick to lose the match, then challenged her best friend who’s also her worst enemy she now said she didn’t wrestle Ronda for to a title match at TLC that also had Asuka in it. But Ronda cost Charlotte and Becky the title. So Charlotte entered the Royal Rumble while Becky got her automatic rematch for the title that definitely wasn’t automatic. Becky lost by tapping out to Asuka and then Charlotte lost by being eliminated by Becky at the end of the Rumble Becky was never in, only after Charlotte injured the victorious Becky’s leg. Becky then chose to face Ronda for the title Becky never held at WrestleMania.
While listening to the fans, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon decided they didn’t like Becky’s actions that the fans cheered all the time and demanded she apologise or lose the title match that the fans who were the new authority wanted her to have. Becky apologised like a bad ass and got her title match back but Vince then immediately took the title match off of Becky anyway and gave it to the same Charlotte who lost the Rumble to the Becky who was never in it, before suspending Becky for doing stuff that happens all the time.
Becky, now injured and suspended, attacked Charlotte and Ronda anyway, and beat them both up on one leg. So then Ronda really wanted to wrestle Becky and because the fans wanted it too she gave her title to Stephanie, walking out in protest. So Stephanie therefore decided that now, at Fastlane, Charlotte will wrestle the suspended Becky for the title that Ronda didn’t vacate. This prompted Ronda to come back and say she never vacated the title that she left behind the week before, and for which Charlotte and the suspended Becky won’t wrestle for at Fastlane, and that she actually hates the fans that she didn’t vacate the title for to force Stephanie into making the match the fans she hates want.
So now Charlotte will wrestle the suspended Becky at Fastlane to see if Becky gets back the title match she earned by winning a match she was never in after having the title match she wasn’t going to have taken from her taken from her, determining whether or not Ronda will get to wrestle the match she (didn’t) vacate the title to get because it’s the Triple Threat that the fans she hates are asking for, even though it isn’t and they aren’t.
But don’t worry if all that has left you a little confused, because it turns out none of it is real anyway!
Look, I appreciate that the world at large remains excited for this pending bout at WrestleMania over the MNR Women’s Championship but, frankly, after this week, I’ve finally relented to the truth that I just can’t wait for it to be over. Maybe then we can return to composed, sensible storytelling that doesn’t smell quite so much of the desperation to make an impression.
It was perhaps luckily, then, that this last week demonstrated that, while even the main roster’s most successful storylines have plenty of room for criticism, the developmental brands of NXT and NXT UK both continue to offer a relieving breath of fresh air for those in need of one.
NXT hosted the first round of the 2019 Dusty Rhodes Classic on Wednesday, which has been something of a curiosity historically. Having previously been run in combination across TV, live shows and Takeovers, it seems this year the team behind the black and gold brand have instead made the sensible decision to let the tournament play out in televised fashion in its entirety. It was a decision that immediately paid dividends, with this week’s episode of NXT television immediately offering up four tag bouts each capable of putting in a strong argument to be named Tag Team Match of March. Not only is that an exciting prospect to be able to share, so too does it hint at how strong a month tag wrestling may yet have in WWE given that the Dusty Rhodes Classic still has a Semi-Final and Final to offer up, followed by a title challenge for the victorious team.
It is worth taking an hour out of your day to check out this first round in full if you haven’t already. Fans of good tag wrestling will be delighted in particular, with each of the four first round bouts adhering to a simple formula of packing in the action and ramping up the pace. The legacy of The Revival was clear to see, the legendary NXT team’s spirit inhabiting every twist and turn featured among the frenetic foursome of fights.
The presence of a temporarily reunited DIY helped ensure that was the case, of course, being responsible for half of arguably the greatest tag feud in NXT’s history, and one of the greatest in WWE history too. That the tournament has been utilised as a platform to help further the defining NXT relationship of the last three years while further stimulating the tag team format is a testament to the ingeniousness of the manner in which this year’s Classic has been produced. The match itself, that saw tag teams from across NXT eras collide thanks to the ever-reliably loathsome Undisputed Era opposing Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano, was imbued with fiery competitive spirit and adhered to the classic DIY structure. With Gargano playing as reliable a ‘face in peril’ as ever, it stood out to me as possibly the best bout of the entire round.
The issue with watching a DIY reunion, of course, as a cynic of the break-up feud that has resulted specifically, is that I’m left wondering why I can’t just be watching DIY wrestle as a team all the time. This is driven home even more by the fact that the tournament featured another impressive tandem of singles performers fully capable of occupying that top level in the theoretical (now literal) absence of Ciampa and his partner – namely Ricochet and Aleister Black, who emerged victorious in a similarly frenetic opening match against the impressive NXT UK alumni of Fabian Aichner and Marcel Barthel, aka the European Union.
It was these NXT UK alumni that for me provided yet another highlight of the WWE week. With undisturbed consistency and a lack of self-important verbosity that has developed within its States-side cousin in recent years, the roster of NXT’s UK branch have proven themselves to be the true MVPs of the company in recent months, reflected not least of all in their prominence on my Match of the Month lists this early in the year.
These last seven days continued that trend, with yet another sterling episode of their weekly TV show that met the difficult challenge of equalling the quality of NXT’s Dusty Rhodes Classic-oriented effort. The episode ended on a particularly notable high with an outrageously good Falls Count Anywhere Match to sign off the broiling rivalry between the Irish Ace, Jordan Devlin, and the Kiwi Buzzsaw, Travis Banks.
I am unsure which producers are at work behind the scenes at NXT UK, but they certainly deserve a raise when it comes to the design of NXT UK’s big genre matches. Much like the encounter between Eddie Dennis and Dave Mastiff at NXT UK Takeover: Blackpool, Devlin and Banks wrestled a take on the genre notable for being structured organically. The match design didn’t feel constrained through obligation to its attached stipulation, but instead worked around it with a natural flow and more than one instance of weaponry making its presence felt through deliberate coincidences, with one particularly effective moment seeing Devlin inadvertently land knees first on a nearby steel chair.
Exuding the spirit of the mid card work put together by the famed likes of Chris Jericho and the Radicalz at the turn of the millennium, Devlin and Banks mixed together superb in-ring grappling with frustrating shenanigans designed to get the crowd emoting. That the crowd were all standing on their feet from the get-go provided self-evident results. The two men were also sure to throw in some ring poetry with direct references back to the feud they were climaxing, as well as one or two Seth Rollins-style red herrings in the action and a Shawn Michaels-style ‘accidental’ finish to cap it all off.
It was a magnificent slice of storytelling on every front, deeply ring literate and doing justice to a feud that has only proven once again what pro wrestling can achieve when it’s kept simple. Moreover, it was another exhibit supporting the now strong case that can be made that, of the most valuable roster in all of WWE, the Irish Ace Jordan Devlin is fast becoming its most valuable player.
What are YOUR thoughts on the ongoing state of the MNR Women’s Championship scene? Who do YOU think will do well in the Dusty Rhodes Classic? And have YOU been watching the development of NXT UK? Sound off in the comments below, over on social media or by joining LOPForums today!