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Thursday, December 1, 2016

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Why Sasha vs Charlotte Is The Greatest Women's Feud In Years

By @TrueGodImmortal

Let me make this perfectly clear: I'm of the belief that we're currently witnessing the greatest feud in the history of women's wrestling right now on RAW. Now, some of you might read that and opening line and instantly go "WHAT", but it's quite obvious that what we as wrestling fans are witnessing is special. What I've learned over the last few years is that wrestling fans are impossible to please. Especially when it comes to women's wrestling. At this point now, we're in the middle of a renaissance within women's wrestling and what they've labeled a "Women's Revolution", and at the forefront has been one woman consistently and that's Sasha Banks. Say what you will about Sasha, but if there's one woman who will go down in the history books as one of the most important females to ever grace a WWE ring, she is certainly one of them.

Now, for you nostalgia geeks and marks (yeah, I said it), you might want to run to the standard names of Trish Stratus, Lita, Mickie James, and many others to suggest that Sasha Banks isn't nearly as important or vital. While your nostalgia might make you delusional (much like people who think Goldberg is better than AJ Styles... and trust me I've seen that opinion more than enough to quote it), the facts and the proof is in the pudding. While Mickie James and Trish had a solid rivalry, and Lita vs Trish was seemingly the biggest rivalry of the Attitude Era and Ruthless Aggression Era, I find it hard to compare it to Sasha vs Charlotte, or even put those women much higher than Sasha, and here's why: opportunities are given to you in wrestling because you deserve it, and they usually have to be earned. Sasha Banks isn't the daughter of a 16 time world champ and wrestling legend, she doesn't have the model like looks to become a centerfold like Stacy Keibler or Trish Stratus (though Sasha is very attractive), and she is far from the traditionally promoted women's wrestler (for one, she's black and we know how WWE treats their minority wrestler). Sasha came into the company, created a heel gimmick that got her over in NXT, and had to claw her way to the NXT Women's Title, then finally gets called up to the main roster, and got no title shot or very much TV time.

Now, we know all about Charlotte. She's the daughter of Ric Flair, her future was honestly set in stone when she was born. Wrestling is in her blood. She has the pedigree and the bloodline, so her success was pretty much preordained. However, I personally was never sold on Charlotte for the last few years. I felt she wasn't a good face, and while as a heel she showed glimpses of brilliance, she just seemed a bit lifeless to me at first. I watched her in NXT and thought to myself "well she is decent, but something is missing". As she made her way from the NXT stage to the main roster, it felt like she was quickly forced down our throats due to WHO she was. She would debut on the main roster and quickly go from being a part of the tagged "Women's Revolution" to instantly getting a title shot just two short months after arriving on the main roster. She would defeat Nikki Bella less than 2 months after her official main roster debut and since that period 15 months ago in September 2015, she hasn't left the Women's Title picture.

I was always a bit middle of the road about Charlotte and her as champion, mainly because I saw a higher upside to the WWE having Sasha, Becky Lynch, or Bayley as champion of the brand. Regardless, after beating Nikki and Brie Bella, Paige, Becky Lynch, and more, Charlotte stood firm as the most dominant Women's Champion in the company for quite some time. Her matches boarded on decent to usually good, but to be honest, there was some chemistry lacking in her matches with most of the challengers she had except perhaps Becky. As Charlotte continued to hold the belt, there would be rumblings and chants for Sasha Banks while she was floundering inside of a useless stable entitled Team B.A.D. featuring Naomi and Tamina. While some people enjoyed Sasha in this role, it seemed inevitable that Sasha would eventually enter the title picture and all signs pointed to Sasha being the main one who should dethrone Charlotte. As the Royal Rumble 2016 kicked off the beginning of the PPV year, we watched Charlotte complete her heel turn officially and defeat Becky Lynch with the help of her father Ric Flair, before the crowd went absolutely crazy chanting "We Want Sasha", and then they became unglued when her music hit and she attacked Charlotte. It seemed like we would finally be off to the races, as the concept of Charlotte vs Sasha for the title THEN was so intriguing. We knew these two women could have a great feud and great matches based on their history. Speaking of which, let's add a little backstory to this, shall we?

When both women were in NXT, they would be both teammates and enemies. They would have a superb NXT Women's Championship Match during the amazing NXT Revolution event before Sasha ended up winning the belt in one of my favorite fatal four way matches at the next NXT event Rival. Between the Sasha vs Charlotte NXT Title Match and the Fatal Four way bout, the world was being put on notice about the future of women's wrestling. The ladies had lofty goals for women's wrestling and with these two matches, they caught MY attention. Charlotte had put on good matches with Natalya and Bayley previously before, but it was something about Charlotte and Sasha together that always had that extra spark. After Charlotte began gearing up for her big time moments on the main roster, she moved out of the NXT Women's Title picture while Sasha and Becky Lynch put on a solid match at the next NXT event. The truth be told, despite the hard work of the ladies in NXT and the ladies on the main roster, women's wrestling was still miles away from really being taken seriously. Sure, it had slowly gone from a bathroom break match to a "hmm, I guess I'll check this out" match on the show, but it hadn't quite become must see yet.

Then Brooklyn happened.

In Brooklyn, in front of the huge NXT TakeOver Crowd, we had a match of the year candidate between Bayley and Sasha Banks for the NXT Women's Title and for the first time since I could remember, I remember thinking "damn, how could anyone follow what these women just did?" Now, don't get me wrong, the other matches were good on the show, but Bayley vs Sasha was special. It went almost 20 minutes and had the crowd on their feet all match long, and it felt like a breakthrough moment for both Sasha and Bayley, as well as women's wrestling as a whole. It was. However, one would never believe that the WWE main roster would ever give their women the opportunity to create something so intriguing or entertaining, and as Sasha and Charlotte both suffered from shorter matches and listless stories, we seemed to be proven correct. NXT was miles ahead of the main roster in being progressive for their women and their wrestling, and they would go a step further when they allowed Bayley vs Sasha to have their rematch as the main event of the next NXT show. Not only that, but the match was an Ironman Match between these two, something we had not seen before on WWE TV. That was history in the making and one of those moments that won't be forgotten for some time. Both Charlotte and Sasha staked a claim in NXT and through their feuds with each other and other wrestlers, they would begin changing the way women's wrestling is perceived, something that was long overdue.

Now, let's go back to Royal Rumble 2016. Here we have Sasha returning after being off TV for a while, and she's ready to take on Charlotte. It was the match most of us wanted for Wrestlemania for the title. We all expected Becky to get a rematch at Fastlane and then see Sasha vs Charlotte at Mania with Sasha getting the belt. It just felt right. Well, apparently, the WWE had other plans. Brie Bella got a random title shot at Fastlane, opening the lane for an obvious triple threat between Sasha, Becky, and Charlotte at Mania. When Mania rolled around and we got said triple threat, I found myself slightly annoyed, but expecting Sasha to pull it off. She was the crowd favorite and pretty popular with merchandise moving as well, so why wouldn't WWE pull the trigger, right? Well, the WWE never does what they should, and instead we got Charlotte winning at Wrestlemania and moving on to a new feud without much else to say. This was only April 2016.

As we watched Natalya vs Charlotte for the majority of the late spring and summer, we realized that what we needed on the main roster is Sasha vs Charlotte. They had yet to REALLY have a big time match between each other one on one via WWE TV or PPV and that's what we were waiting for. After the WWE brand split, I remember thinking that the women's roster looked a little light on both sides. Aside from Sasha, Charlotte, and perhaps Nia Jax, it just seemed like there was nothing on the show that could further women's wrestling and in a way, that was 100% correct. There were no women on the roster ready or healthy enough to go, so after a cool surprise tag team contest that saw Bayley come up to the main roster to team up with Sasha vs Charlotte and Dana Brooke, there was something set in motion for the two top women of RAW for the first new episode of the brand new era of RAW following the split. It seemed to me that Sasha vs Charlotte was inevitable and sure enough, that first post draft episode featured a title match between Sasha and Charlotte. Charlotte had held the belt 10 months, and it felt like Sasha had to win the title, but would they pull the trigger on RAW or end the match with a screwed finish in order to set up Charlotte vs Sasha at Summerslam?

Well, the WWE decided to award Sasha with her first WWE Women's Title that night on RAW, as she received a nice ovation after finally winning the title. At this point, I had no idea what they would bring to the table going forward, but I was intrigued from jump. Charlotte was perfecting her role as a heel and slowly but surely, Sasha was becoming more comfortable in her role as a face. They had a dynamic of genuine heel and growing genuine face within this impending feud, the likes of which we hadn't seen in quite some time for women's wrestling. As Sasha beat Charlotte for the title on that episode of Raw, it seemed likely that Sasha would retain and move on from that feud, ending it shorter than what we even expected and having Sasha move on and Charlotte leave the title picture. It seemed so likely because it's what we as fans have gotten so used to. It's a title change, the rematch, and the former champion loses then moves on. It is a formula that the WWE has stuck with for so long that now fans don't even appreciate or give a fair chance to a feud designed for long term booking. The last real long term booked feuds that were successful are Chris Jericho vs Shawn Michaels, and that lasted a large portion of 2008, as well as Edge vs Undertaker, which was the same year.

Since then, the WWE hadn't experimented with long term feuds, so none of us expected Charlotte vs Sasha to go on any longer than the rematch. As the rematch was set for Summerslam, many of us were told that Charlotte was losing and taking time off, so it was just a matter of time before Sasha won with the Bank Statement, right? Wrong. The WWE threw us a curveball and had Charlotte go over in the match, as it was reported that Sasha was injured and had to drop the belt because she would miss a certain amount of time. Part of me now wonders if that was ever true or part of the story, because a few weeks after Sasha lost at Summerslam, she came out on RAW giving a mostly personal speech that almost sounded like retirement to those who thought her injury was serious. Given the fact that Sasha had a history of being injury prone, it would be no shock that the WWE tried to manipulate that as a means of furthering the feud. So, in essence, I think the injury angle was used effectively as a part of the story and it set up a triple threat with Bayley, Charlotte and Sasha, a match that many of us would be interested in. Sasha was still owed a rematch one on one, and despite being in that triple threat, it seemed as if her rematch would come at a later date. After Charlotte beat Bayley in the triple threat, Sasha went to make a challenge for the title in Los Angeles on RAW. Now, if you pay attention, there's a minimal record going down in Charlotte's favor, as she's undefeated on PPV against her opponents now, something they've slipped into the story too. Charlotte is undefeated at the last 14 or 15 PPVs, and no one seemed to have her number on PPV.

That story arc for Charlotte is actually pretty cool, as it carries an untouchable aura on PPV about it, and sets up Charlotte as the most dominant heel in the game. Through all the Nikki Bella, Brie Bella, Paige, Naomi, Becky Lynch, and Natalya matches, none of them could keep up with her, none of them could even beat her or take her to the limit. Except Sasha Banks. Sasha arose as a hero of sorts, as the queen Charlotte who has sat upon the throne for a majority of this last 15 months finally found someone who could push her and force her to be even better. Though that story got told a little weaker than it should have been early on, it would be that moment in Los Angeles when things instantly changed and elevated the feud. Despite having feud for a few months and having two singles title matches and one triple threat during that period, Sasha vs Charlotte still had a fresh feel when they squared off on RAW. The championship introductions, the themes, the intensity in the feud, this was all what we wanted women's wrestling to be, but it had failed miserably previously. Then, one big thing happened to elevate this whole thing even more: Sasha vs Charlotte was given the main event of RAW, the first time this had happened in WWE in over 12 years. Not only were these women creating a hot feud, but they were also etching their own legacy as they would main event a RAW show in one of the biggest WWE markets. The faith WWE had to have in these ladies must have been high and these ladies did NOT disappoint. Sasha once again got the best of Charlotte on RAW, winning the title for the second time, and many of us expected it to be the last time the title changed hands for a while.

Then the unthinkable happened.

In my years of watching wrestling, I'd never really had an interest in seeing women wrestle in Hell In A Cell at all. I mean, perhaps Trish vs Lita would have been okay in the Cell, but when you go through the eras, what other tandem would have fit to wrestle in Hell In A Cell? Molly Holly vs Trish? Sure that wouldn't be too bad, but it wouldn't have drawn money. Sable vs Jacqueline? Torrie Wilson vs Dawn Marie? Clearly this is a new era in wrestling and while I have much love for the ladies of the past, none of them made me want to see them fight in a main event, a long term feud, or inside a brutal Hell In A Cell match. However, I found myself hoping for a Hell In A Cell match between Sasha and Charlotte because they seemed like they might be the only two who can pull that off on the roster. Add in the fact that the Hell In A Cell PPV was in Sasha's hometown of Boston, and the stars were aligning for something special.

Mick Foley would announce the ladies in the Cell Match, marking the first time women would ever have a Hell In A Cell match, and to top it off, it seemed as if Sasha vs Charlotte had a chance to main event the PPV as well, yet another groundbreaking moment and surreal occurrence in women's wrestling and professional wrestling in this era. Once we found out for sure that Sasha vs Charlotte would indeed main event the PPV, this felt like the end of the feud. About 3 months had passed, Sasha seemingly got one up on Charlotte, and she had hometown advantage in the first ever Women's Cell match. They even marketed the match as the end of the feud. With this knowledge, surely Sasha would win, defeat Charlotte, end her record of PPV wins, and move on to the next feud right??? I mean it's in her hometown, so the WWE wouldn't make her lose, right?

Wrong. This is where the ultimate curveball was thrown and almost messed up the momentum of the feud. After a grueling 23 minute match, a botched ending saw Charlotte regain the title and left fans shocked, speechless, and frustrated. For many, it wasn't that Charlotte had won again per se, but that Sasha was due a rematch and this feud would have to continue. Now, this is where the fans bother me a bit: the element of surprise is what kept the feud engaging in the first place and the back and forth trading of the title was to let us all know that on any given night, your best competition can have your number. For those RAW victories, Sasha was just too much for Charlotte, and on PPV, Charlotte was just too much for Sasha. This same booking pays homage to the infamous feud between The Rock vs Mick Foley, one of our favorite feuds of all time. The Rock defeated Mick at Survivor Series 1998 and Rock Bottom to hold onto the title, before losing to Mick on an episode of RAW. Although Foley had his number on that episode of RAW, The Rock would gain the title back a few weeks later at the Royal Rumble 1999, before losing it yet again a week later during Halftime Heat to Foley. This would lead to a match at St. Valentine's Day Massacre where neither man would win, and then the feud would end the night after when The Rock regained the belt in a ladder match on RAW. In 3 months, Rock and Foley traded the title, had a series of brutal matches and on any given night, either man could walk out with the title. Their rivalry was fueled by their dislike for each other, but it was also about the title. So much so that they would trade it back and forth because they wanted to be the BEST in the company. I can't help but see glimpses of that within Sasha and Charlotte.

Their feud is about being the best. Being the Champion. The fact that the title means you ARE the best. No, these aren't women fighting over a Playboy cover, over a pillow fight, in their bra and panties (though I wouldn't be mad if they did), or for anything frivolous, they are fighting for what they view as the richest prize in the game. For Charlotte, the title represents the crown, the throne. It is her motivation to be the best. It is the signal that she's the best. For Sasha, that title represents her dreams, her hard work, her blood, sweat, and tears to get to the top of the mountain. The title is her validation in the business. This is the story being told in this feud and it's downright beautiful. We haven't seen a feud with women on equal footing, putting on great match after great match like this EVER in the WWE. The first RAW match where Sasha won? Great. The Summerslam match? Very good. The triple threat with Bayley? Very good. The second RAW match Sasha won? Excellent. The Hell In A Cell match? Truly amazing with a great story within it, but taken down slightly by the off ending. This leaves us with one last chapter in the rivalry or what should be the final chapter: their match on RAW in a huge Falls Count Anywhere battle, this time in Charlotte's hometown of, you guessed it, Charlotte, NC. The story was forming already, as Sasha had to deal with defeat in her hometown, so now would Charlotte have to face the same thing?

Sasha and Charlotte went out there for about 17 minutes and had their best match yet with each other and they pulled out all the stops. I watched the match excited, hoping to see Sasha get the victory, but by the time we were close to the end, I was so entertained that I didn't care who won. I was just highly entertained and enjoying the match. When the match came to a close, Sasha had won and regained the title, before Ric Flair came out and hugged and greeted Sasha in front of the hometown crowd. That moment was perfect. It was a symbol. It should have signaled the end of the feud. The finale. It was the perfect close to the story. Charlotte and Sasha proved to be each other's greatest nemesis, and after 5 months of battles, their story has come full circle. While there may be one more match between the two due to a rematch clause, there's honestly nothing left for any woman to do in this feud, because it has been the closest thing to perfect. Good pacing, storytelling, an equally booked feud with both looking to have met their match and gaining more mutual respect as the feud goes along is exactly the thing that made back and forth feuds like Rock vs Foley, Cena vs Punk, and some others so fun to watch.

So, what about the complaints that Sasha and Charlotte have held others back? Who? Summer Rae? Who has never been seen as a credible performer and is more concerned with Drake concerts and modeling? Emma? Who hasn't debuted again on RAW and isn't ready for a title shot? Alicia Fox? Who has little relevance aside from giving Cedric Alexander a kiss on the cheek? Nia Jax? Who just returned to TV and has to be built back up again? Paige? Who is injured and out for 6-9 months, and also is in hot water for the company? Or how about Bayley? The woman who is likely to win the title at Mania 33, but isn't ready JUST YET? Who have Sasha and Charlotte held back? No one. The fact is, the RAW women's division suffers from lack of depth, but that is the creative team's fault, not the two women putting on one of the greatest women's feuds of all time. The truth is, fans have such a short attention span, and are used to hotshotted feuds that something like a 4 or 5 month feud is too long for them. I think they should embrace a feud that has fleshed out, put on classic matches, main evented big PPVs, RAW, and made history within women's wrestling.

When history looks back at women's wrestling, they will remember the two women who changed the way that the game was played. Sasha and Charlotte have revolutionized women's wrestling and made history a number of times. If you are ready for this feud to end now, that's fine. However, don't sleep on what they've accomplished and what efforts they put in. For the women's wrestling world, this is an once in a lifetime feud, and I as a wrestling fan, am grateful. NXT and this feud have changed my view and many other people's view of women's wrestling and that's an amazing feat. Appreciate this feud for the impact and what it represents. It could be more vital going forward than you will ever guess.



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