Welcome to this week’s round-up of all the action from WWE’s women’s divisions. It was an eventful kind of a week We start things off with NXT TakeOver 31 and finish it on SmackDown with night one of the WWE Draft 2020.
NXT TakeOver 31
Io Shirai def. Candice LeRae
The Performance Center is now the Capitol Wrestling Center, in homage to WWE’s roots. NXT TakeOver 31 was the debut of the new look and was touted as a new start for the NXT brand. It’s been fitted out with a grungier version of the ThunderDome with walls of screens instead of tiered. Pods have been added to house and separate small groups of fans. And there is chainlink fencing in front of the plexiglass to make it feel like the whole arena is in a steel cage. I like it a lot more than the ThunderDome and it’s very NXT in vibe.
Shotzi Blackheart is hosting Halloween Havoc on October 28th.
Io Shirai (C) vs Candice LeRae – NXT Women’s Championship match
The last time these two fought one on one (I think) it was babyface Candice LeRae and heel Io Shirai. Now it’s heelish LeRae and still gives no fucks but is quite nice about it Shirai. I still believe there are people who woefully underrate LeRae based on the number of hokey segments she’s been put in as Mrs Gargano. Io Shirai is, without argument, one of the best in the world, but LeRae is a worthy opponent.
It was a great match, skilled, intense, well played out, everything you could want. But the Gargano Way comes with shenanigans almost guaranteed. The shenanigans started after Shirai and LeRae had exchanged submission attempts. The ref forced LeRae to let Shirai out of the Gargano escape when she got to the ropes, and there was incidental contact with the ref when she flung her arm back. Shirai delivered and air raid crash and went to the top for a moonsault, but LeRae got her knees up and Shirai’s bounce away knocked the unsighted ref from the ring.
LeRae delivered the Wicked Stepsister and Johnny Gargano appeared in a ref’s shirt, but even with a fast count Shirai kicked out before he got to three. He decided to give her the title anyway and got back into the ring with it just as the ref got back in. He dropped the title in front of LeRae while he was arguing with the ref and kept him distracted while LeRae hit Shirai with it. But Io Shirai still kicked out.
Candice LeRae went to the top. Shirai joined her and brought them down with a Spanish fly. Then Io Shirai went back to the top to retain her title with a moonsault.
While Shirai was celebrating, Toni Storm appeared on the video wall. She congratulated Shirai on the win and told her, and everyone else, that she is back in NXT and it’s Toni Time. Shirai gave the announcement a thumbs up, then another video played. This one was someone arriving at the Capitol Wrestling Center on a motorbike and heading to the ring. She got to the stage and revealed herself as Ember Moon. She back from injury and back in NXT. Io Shirai looked pretty happy with that too. Potentially, that’s two great matches to look forward to and it’s definitely two great additions to the already stacked NXT women’s division.
Asuka, Mandy Rose, & Dana Brooke vs Zelina Vega, Natalya, & Lana
Shayna Baszler & Nia Jax def. The Riott Squad
Asuka, Mandy Rose, & Dana Brooke vs Zelina Vega, Natalya, & Lana
This was the throw-together of all throw-togethers, but it was the final RAW before the draft and who knows who will end up where, so why not.
Zelina Vega snuck around the ring and pulled Asuka off the apron so Mandy Rose couldn’t tag her. Rose pulling Vega into the ring allowed Natalya to attack her from behind and take control of the match. Once Vega was the legal competitor, she took another cheap shot at Asuka on the apron. When Natalya came in, she knocked Dana Brooke of the apron. She should have gone for Asuka because Rose made the tag and Asuka took out everyone.
Natalya broke up a pin on Lana and was removed by Dana Brooke. Lana caught Asuka with an elbow but didn’t see Mandy Rose tag herself in until Rose’s knee hit her square in the face.
Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax strode to the ring after Asuka, Brooke, and Rose had left. Zelina Vega left before they got there but Natalya was trying to help Lana out of the ring and they were too slow. Natalya was felled with a Nia Jax headbutt, but Lana saved her from Jax’ shoulders and took the Samoan drop through the announce desk herself.
I can’t remember anyone getting dumped through the announce desk so many times in such a short timeframe. The internet rumour mill speculation is that she is being punished for Rusev becoming AEW’s Miro. I have no insight, but it’s definitely starting to look like she’s pissed someone off.
Bianca Belair got another vignette. This week she was beating people at game night. It’s all fun and great and everything, but I would much rather see her in the ring.
Shayna Baszler & Nia Jax (C) vs The Riott Squad – WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship match
The longer Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler work together, the more they seem fuelled by a need to be the most dominant member of the team. Sadly, for whoever is in the ring with them, that translates to trying to do the most damage to their opponent.
The Riott Squad started fast and well-coordinated against Nia Jax, but she used her power to her advantage and took back control before making a reluctant tag to Shayna Baszler. Baszler did her arm-twisty elbow-stampy thing on Ruby Riott then punished the arm mercilessly while Riott screamed. Uncomfortable to watch considering Riott has had both shoulders surgically repaired.
Nia Jax took over the destruction of Ruby Riott and was happily bouncing her off the apron going into a break. By the time we came back, Baszler was kicking Riott in the chest and Riott was asking for more. Riott got to Morgan who came in fired up, until she got flattened with a clothesline. That wasn’t the last involvement Riott had. She was there when Morgan desperately needed a tag, but she was one-armed in her offence.
The Riott Squad managed one double team on Baszler, but she kicked out. Their attempt at another was thwarted by Nia Jax, who also made herself useful stopping Liv Morgan breaking up Baszler’s winning Kirifuda Clutch on Ruby Riott.
Baszler wouldn’t let Riott out of the hold after the bell. She only let go when Jax let go of Morgan and Morgan ran over.
Shotzi Blackheart def. Xia Li
Ember Moon & Rhea Ripley def. Dakota Kai & Raquel Gonzalez
Ember Moon got an in-ring promo as her first act back. I’m trying to be kind, but it wasn’t good. I’m sure that in a couple of weeks she’ll be fluid on the mic, but this sounded stilted and inauthentic. It’s got to be tough-talking to a handful of people and a bunch of screens. She said she was surprised she had been allowed to talk on the mic because it had been a while. She’s been away for fourteen months and has been on a journey of self-discovery. She’s discovered Ember’s Law, and no one is going to walk over her anymore. Lots of things have changed, but one thing stays the same, she wants some gold.
Io Shirai came to join her but didn’t get a word out before Rhea Ripley arrived on the stage. Ripley only got as far as saying she liked Moon’s new attitude and she did deserve a title shot before she was attacked by Dakota Kai and Raquel Gonzalez. Ember Moon rushed to help her out and William Regal came out and set Rhea Ripley and Ember Moon versus Dakota Kai and Raquel Gonzalez for the main event of the evening.
Backstage, after a break, Io Shirai was asked why she hadn’t stepped up to help. She said Rhea Ripley and Ember Moon aren’t her problem, the title is.
Toni Storm has been in Cancun, Mexico, having a reset. It’s the longest time off she’s had in ten years and it’s a fresh start for her. This Toni Storm is like nothing we’ve ever seen before according to her video segment this week. I guess we’ll find out when she’s back in person.
Indi Hartwell sent Candice LeRae and Johnny Gargano a new tv. She included a USB of the recent women’s battle royal, with all the times she helped LeRae during it highlighted. Looks like Candice LeRae might be getting a minion.
Dakota Kai and Raquel Gonzalez attacked Rhea Ripley because she got involved in their business last week. Gonzalez plans to take care of Ripley once and for all in their tag match. Kai wants to show Ember Moon why the line to face Io Shirai for the title starts behind her.
Shotzi Blackheart vs Xia Li
Xia Li was looking to make up for her recent string of losses. She’s ramped up the aggression to try to tip the balance and combined with her incredible speed, it’s got her looking great. However, Shotzi Blackheart is all momentum at the moment and Li did not have enough to stop her. The match was short but fun and finished with Blackheart’s senton from the top.
Boa appeared while Blackheart was celebrating and gave Li and envelope. She looked at it and left with him
Rhea Ripley & Ember Moon vs Dakota Kai & Raquel Gonzalez
While Ember Moon might be a bit rusty on the mic, she’s showing very few signs of rust in the ring. There were a couple of iffy moments, but she’ll be back to her best in no time. Watching her land anything knowing how severe her achilles injury was, is terrifying, but she wasn’t holding back.
The match was chaotic at times and could have ended at any one of a dozen points. Kai and Gonzalez used distraction techniques to their advantage and on a few occasions Gonzalez had to interfere on Kai’s behalf to stop her getting pinned. After her final interference, Rhea Ripley hoisted her onto her shoulders and a kick from Dakota Kai sent them both tumbling over the announce desk. While they were still picking themselves up, Ember Moon gave Kai and Eclipse and secured the win.
Ripley was back on her feet to celebrate with Moon, but they’ll be rivals soon enough.
Xia Brookside & Dani Luna
Xia Brookside & Dani Luna vs Amale & Nina Samuels
Nina Samuels cut her teammate’s entrance short so she could have hers, which isn’t the greatest of starts. It was the first time teaming for both pairs, and Brookside and Luna made it work best. It would be interesting, down the line a long way (when post-pandemic travel is a thing) to have the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championships defended in NXT UK. Samuels and Amale got sneaky after Samuels knocked Luna off the apron. Luna invaded the ring and while the ref was dealing with her, Samuels chucked Brookside into the corner for Amale to attack. Samuels was less keen on tagging Amale in though, so she tagged herself in and Samuels glared at her from the apron while Luna and Brookside took over the match and began to take her apart. When Amale really needed a tag, Nina Samuels jumped off the apron and left.
Now on her own, Amale tried to fight on but she took a suplex from Luna (that Nigel McGuinness described as awkward) and was finished with a Brooksy-Bomb, with a little assistance from Dani Luna, into the pin.
Piper Niven said it was a ‘shocker’ that Kay Lee Ray was planning to run her mouth again, but she was sure there would be plenty of people there to shut it for her.
Xia Brookside and Dani Luna said Ray has upset a lot of people and she should start watching what she’s saying or she’s going to find out how many enemies she’s got.
Kay Lee Ray delivered her ‘State of the Union Address’ in the final segment of the show. She said she knows the entire NXT UK Universe thought she was going to lose to Piper Niven, but she won. Her record-breaking title run gets longer and longer and there’s no one in the NXT UK women’s division can change that. And if anyone has a problem with that, they know where to find her.
While she was saying the last bit, some of the NXT UK women’s division filed out and surrounded the ring. Amale arrived late and started arguing with Nina Samuels while Ray was insulting people. Piper Niven split them up when she strode down to get in the ring, but they pulled her off the apron and beat on her for a bit.
Aoife Valkyrie flew onto Kay Lee Ray and took her down. Dani Luna, Xia Brookside, and Isla Dawn joined them in the ring and surrounded Ray. Niven got in while Amale and Samuels went back to beating on each other, and got tangled in a misunderstanding with Isla Dawn. Luna and Valkyrie tried to stop them arguing… and it all broke down from there. Xia Brookside had a go at Ray on the outside and took her down once before getting clotheslined to the floor.
Kay Lee Ray grabbed her title and thought she’d escaped. She held it up to the chaos in the ring as she walked backwards, straight into Jinny. Ray laughed and Jinny punched her in the face. They brawled around the set while everyone else brawled in and around the ring. Aoife Valkyrie took down the entire division except for the champion with a dive off the top turnbuckle to the outside, and Kay Lee Ray made her escape to end the show.
I’m genuinely pleased with that segment because it’s the most interesting the women’s division has been for a while and it should fuel some feuds.
Sasha Banks def. Bayley (DQ)
SmackDown was the start of the WWE Draft 2020. The rules are here, but they reminded us that if a champion is drafted to a new brand that championship will go to the new brand. The first three picks were the Drew McIntyre to RAW, Roman Reigns to SmackDown, and Asuka to RAW, so the brands retained their main champions. Bayley is not eligible for drafting tonight, she’ll be included in Monday’s list. The other rules, simplified, RAW gets three picks to SmackDown’s two because of show length. Tag teams count as one pick unless they only want one of them. Undrafted superstars become free agents and can sign with either brand.
Women’s division draft picks
Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler
Dana Brooke (drafted separately, not as a team with Rose)
I wanted Bianca Belair to be the one to take to the title from Asuka, which is not going to happen now they’re on separate brands. I can live with her taking the title from Sasha Banks once Banks has taken it from Bayley though. Naomi can take the title from Asuka instead. And Sasha Banks versus Bianca Belair should be awesome.
Mickie James was on Friday’s list, so she becomes a free agent unless she’s picked up over the weekend. She’s currently injured (broken nose), so she may get picked up when she’s cleared. Interestingly, Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross are both on Monday’s list, but they’re listed singly. The Riott Squad are listed as a team though.
Bayley (C) vs Sasha Banks – SmackDown Women’s Championship match
This match did not main event the show, that went to Kevin Owens versus The Fiend in The Fiend’s first SmackDown match. Bayley brought a chair to the ring. She and Banks had to be separated before and during the introductions because Sasha Banks could not wait to get her hands on Bayley. Bayley tried to walk out, but Banks dragged her back to the ring by her hair.
Since attacking Banks a few weeks ago, Bayley has had a second transformation. She’s got more intensity and more malice about her than we’ve ever seen from her.
Sadly, the match barely got started before Bayley hit Banks with a chair and got herself disqualified. She brought the chair into the ring to carry on the punishment, but Banks got it and, after smashing Bayley’s face into it, she hit her a bunch of times then set her up with her neck in the chair like Bayley had done to her. Bayley was much more conscious and mobile than Banks had been though, so by the time Banks was at the turnbuckle, Bayley was on her way out of the ring.
Later in the show, Sasha Banks challenged Bayley for to a Hell in a Cell match for the SmackDown Women’s Championship.
I can see Bayley going to RAW on Monday and Banks bringing the title back to SmackDown at Hell in a Cell.
Alexa Bliss seems to be totally under The Fiend’s control now. It will be very interesting to see how that translates to the ring, and what will happen if they end up on different brands.
That’s it for another week of WWE women’s division action. Join me next week and in the meantime follow @ArnFuriousCom to make sure you never miss a review. You can also follow me @manda_why. Please stay safe.