”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE’s top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a worldwide 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.
QUESTION OF THE DAY: Who individually has benefited most from the Women’s Revolution in WWE?
When I started writing for Lordsofpain.net in 2004 as the Smackdown Reviewer, women’s wrestling was in the midst of a Trish Stratus-led renaissance, but as I watched her ascend the historical ladder to become arguably the greatest Women’s Champion of the WrestleMania Era while simultaneously evolving my role for LOP, I can honestly say that, hand over heart, I figured the heights reached during her peak were the highest I would ever see for females in sports entertainment. I sat in attendance at WrestleMania 22 with a former LOP writer named Joe Martel (of the Pen is Mightier) as Stratus and Mickie James defined the standard by which I would judge women’s wrestling for nearly a decade. Twelve years later, as I ready myself for a new journey that will subtract “The Doc” Chad Matthews pen name from my active life, I am in awe of the Women’s Revolution that will culminate at WWE Evolution in two months.
In honor of Alundra, Trish, Lita, Mickie, AJ, Paige, Sasha, Charlotte, Becky, Bayley, Asuka, and the other trailblazers, ahead of the pay-per-view that I thought years ago I would never see, I am celebrating the Women’s Evolution with a countdown of the Top 50 Women’s Matches of the WrestleMania Era. I have wanted to tackle this project for quite some time and it just kept getting pushed to the backburner along with a few others that will now be pushed to the fore as parting shots to a wonderful near-fifteen year experience.
#50 – Naomi vs. Natalya for the Smackdown Women’s Championship at Summerslam 2017
We begin with what I would consider the crowning achievement of Natalya’s career. She was recently at her peak and has in my opinion only gotten better since the talent around her lifted the standard, her heel run last year easily the best overall performance period she has had. More than anything, this match exemplified that the third generation star was capable of stepping up when the lights were on bright – no Revolutionary needed, “move on please.” Naomi rose to the occasion here too, combining a greater-command-of-the-moment-than-expected with Nattie en route to a rock solid, show-enhancing outing full of countering -creativity and featuring a slick climax into the finish.
#49 – Bayley vs. Alexa Bliss for the Raw Women’s Championship at Payback 2017
The increasingly controversial Little Miss Bliss has benefited greatly from the Revolution. As a character, particularly her ability with a live mic in hand, Alexa is as strong as the women’s division in WWE has ever seen; in the ring, she is reminiscent of Trish Stratus at perhaps her smartest but at about three-quarters her speed in regards to execution and sequencing. The Goddess is good, as has been made apparent in title matches against Becky, Sasha, Mickie, and others, but that she may not be capable of being great worries many. This match with Bayley was a prime example of her PPV norm, showcasing her ability to psychologically identify a weakness and exploit it, and that said ability – her greatest strength – regularly leads to matches that may never steal but often do enhance the show.
#48 – Ember Moon vs. Peyton Royce vs. Nikki Cross vs. Kairi Sane for the vacant NXT Women’s Championship at Takeover: War Games
What is funny about this match within the broader context of the WrestleMania Era is that it would have been regarded as something masterful had it taken place four years prior. Alas, the NXT standard that will be referenced throughout this project was so incredibly strong by November 2017 that a mere 3-ish star effort full of solid spot innovation, including but not limited to a double Eclipse from the eventual winner during the finish, could never be that highly regarded. I think that this is also a good place to start a conversation about the consistency that NXT specifically has brought with its women’s division and how much benefit the main roster would gain from both a standard like NXT’s – perception-shaping wrestling and character presentation – and the consistency with which Triple H deploys the genre on Takeover specials. The NXT division has been excellent for almost four consecutive years and even one of its weaker title bouts is still worth mentioning.
#47 – Natalya vs. Nikki Bella in a Falls Count Anywhere Match on the February 21, 2017 edition of Smackdown Live
Nikki has become a polarizing figure. The Women’s Revolution has become identifiable to diehard fans for its perception-altering in-ring action, whereas there is a second part of the Revolution that deals more specifically with opportunities for women in WWE, generally. Language is important, because Nikki’s inclusion in the former category is eye-rolling, whereas there is no denying her influence in the latter. Nevertheless, the pay-off to her rivalry with Nattie was quite good. Nikki is a notch below Alexa in regards to the mechanics of wrestling, but she is a better athlete; thus, when she does not have to adhere to normal rules and can just do some outside of the ring spots, the quality of her work is naturally enhanced. Natalya deserves credit for getting a three-star effort out of a two-star wrestler.
#46 – Kaitlyn vs. AJ Lee for the Divas Championship at Payback 2013
While Bella was diversifying the female portfolio with a reality TV show, AJ Lee was becoming the most prominent female wrestling character in the post-Stratus/Lita, pre-Revolution period (so across an eight year stretch). When she stepped into the ring with Kaitlyn, a solid talent whose limits were never tested in the “Divas Era” (or so we’ll call it), she reminded fans that women were capable of more than matches with a critical ceiling of above average. In comfortably the finest WWE women’s match since Stratus vs. Mickie James at WrestleMania 22 and in the same building that played host to it, AJ and Kaitlyn told an engaging story built around a faux-secret admirer angle.
#45 – Alexa Bliss vs. Nia Jax for the Raw Women’s Championship at WrestleMania 34
In a hypothetical product in which women’s wrestling occupied a larger share of the screen-time, to the point where a more in-depth hierarchy could be set-up ala the men’s division, Bliss would make for a great upper mid-card gateway act for others to have to get through en route to the Women’s Title. Her match with Nia at Mania this year serves as proof of her real value on a wrestling card; she is not quite good enough to reach the performance heights that quite frankly should be reached and reset regularly on the main roster, but she is good enough to tell a story driven by quality television build that will leave you feeling like, “Damn, I enjoyed the heck out of that.” Jax, meanwhile, is capable of more. She has developed good chemistry with a lot of the key players synonymous with the Revolution over the past year and has the potential to be a major force.
#44 – Toni Storm vs. Kairi Sane in the Semi-Finals of the 2017 Mae Young Classic
This is a great example of a match that was better within the context of having watched the rest of the tournament, which had its moments but was criticized in some circles for not maximizing its wrestling output. I thought there were a small handful of matches that really stood out, with this being one of them; upon rewatch, it is still quite good, but it lacks the same energy and replays like everyone from the competitors to the audience is pretty worn out by that point in the MYC. It seemed to be building to a long match, but followed the strong opening salvo with a quick fast-forward to the climax. That said, it goes to show how far women’s wrestling has come that a conversation can so readily be skewed by vast expectations when two incredibly gifted wrestlers such as Storm and Sane have a good match instead of a great one.
#43 – Charlotte vs. Natalya for the Divas Championship at Roadblock 2016
Truthfully, I was prone to criticize babyface Nattie, as there was just something about the way that she sold that prevented me from fully getting the glowing opinions of her ability, though of course there was no denying that she was one of the best female technical wrestlers arguably ever. However, I thought that this match with Charlotte three weeks before The Queen stole the show at WrestleMania 32 with her fellow Horsewomen was an instant hit. It took place in Toronto, so the very pro-Nattie Canadian crowd added something to it, but Charlotte was finding her groove in the daddy’s girl heel role and she defended her title against a game Neidhart, and did it with Flair. This was the best one-on-one match of Nattie’s career and the match that got Charlotte rolling on the main roster.
#42 – Bull Nakano vs. Alundra Blayze for the WWF Women’s Championship at Summerslam ’94
For the longest time, this was the gold standard of the WWE women’s division and, even when Trish vs. Lita reset the standard in the mid-2000s, there were others who held firm that Blayze vs. Nakano at Summerslam was superior. Personally, I think that a Nakano-Blayze match might have remained the standard, at least in terms of pure in-ring execution, just not this one. Nevertheless, it is still the best women’s match in the history of the second biggest WWE pay-per-view of the year, comfortably outperforming the rather botch-heavy Charlotte-Sasha match in 2016. This rivalry looks so out of place compared to everything that came before that Trish-Lita series in ’04; the quality of the action between the women was double most of the production in the Hulkamania Era and five times as good as anything from the Attitude Era. In its own right, it is a hidden gem of the New Generation.
#41 – Trish Stratus vs. Lita for the WWE Women’s Championship at Unforgiven 2006
If you have not watched Trish’s retirement match in a few years or longer, I strongly suggest a rewatch; the emotion is palpable from hype video to action to aura to commentary. What fascinates me about Trish and Lita now is how the Revolution has come to reshape the context of their feud. Rewind, if you will, to 2013 circa WrestleMania Season; the increasing distance from 2006 made Trish’s career seem like an awesome blip on the women’s division radar. When AJ-Kaitlyn happened, and then when Paige-Emma happened, and then when the Revolution was televised, and now of all these years later with everything else that has happened, it has catapulted Trish vs. Lita to this sort of foundation building exercise, only the construction was halted before the structure on top of that foundation could be built. As a match in September ’06, Trish vs. Lita was a prime candidate for the best women’s performance of its era aesthetically, and the heart and meaning behind Trish’s retirement is at this point the leader in the clubhouse for its “career-ending” brand of emotional resonance, which ultimately brings it slightly ahead of #42.