I was due to write the review of the Beth vs Layla match at No Way Out last week, but due to other priorities, I had to leave it to Lee. It’s probably just as well that I’ve had a week to think about it, because for what it’s worth, I hated the match. Well, maybe “hated” is too strong a word, but I really didn’t like the comedy of Layla stealing Beth’s headband and dancing with it. The finish of Beth losing again also irritated me a bit, mostly because it’s patently clear that WWE have absolutely nothing in mind for Layla, and with Beth losing again, it securely slots her below Layla on the pecking order and kills another level of anticipation (whatever there is left of it anyway) for the Beth Phoenix vs Kharma feud that we’ve been waiting/hoping for ever since Kharma signed up with the company.
Let’s make it clear here – my major downer on the Divas division at the minute is not the usual “wrestlers vs models” debate (I’ve learned for the most part to turn off my brain and find a way to enjoy the Divas for what they are rather than what they aren’t)… no… my big problem is the fact that at the minute, the future of the Divas division is just deathly dull.
There are precisely two women who can say that they’ve had a productive 2012 in WWE, and neither of them has seen that productivity come as a wrestler. I’m talking about Eve Torres and AJ here, who have both found their calling as players in the ongoing soap opera escapades of their male colleagues. Torres, (who I’ve always liked but will admit has struggled to connect with the audience as a babyface,) embraced her expanded role as the heartless “ho” who broke Zack Ryder’s heart over… and over… and over again, was humiliated by John Cena and eventually became the spec-wearing evil executive administrator for John Laurinatis. It works for her, and she’s turned what was decried by many as a horrible (and degrading) heel turn into a pretty decent gig. Where Eve goes now that the Laurinatis administration is done is anybody’s guess. AJ’s 2012 has been a case of taking what you’ve been given and running with it. Daniel Bryan had already had onscreen “romances” with The Bellas and Gail Kim (all forgettable), and it would be easy to have predicted AJ as another unnecessary bit of baggage on the Bryan act – but she’s embraced her opportunity with both hands and shown a rare streak of confidence in delivering a promo and a believability in her acting that makes her disconcerting actions over the last few weeks must-see TV. Is AJ unhinged? Or is she someone who has simply realised that she has a power to manipulate men and is using it to achieve her goals? I don’t yet know where this is going, but wherever it is headed, I want to see it… but it’s *not* getting AJ any more involved in the Divas division.
So what are we left with? Kharma is the one big Ace they’ve got to play… but they’ve got nobody to play it *with*. Layla came back with a fun return, but she was a last minute swerve return (in place of Kharma, funnily enough) and it’s pretty clear that they’ve got nothing for her at the minute. Natalya is deader than disco and busy staring at the lights for literally everybody on the C shows. Alicia Fox is barely acknowledged (and really no good in the ring). Kaitlyn has not progressed since her NXT win. Rosa Mendes thankfully doesn’t wrestle any more. Neither, seemingly does Aksana… or Naomi (who would be a welcome breath of fresh air as a wrestler, but is busy dancing with Brodus Clay.) Tamina Snuka has some potential, but is cold. I really like Maxine, but I wonder whether they’ll find a productive role for her outside of NXT in the deep waters of Raw/Smackdown.
And then there’s Kelly Kelly. Regardless of what you think of her as a performer, she’s been pegged as WWE’s golden girl for several years… and now she’s off exploring non WWE opportunities with modelling agencies. They’re calling it a temporary thing, but I know there are certainly those in the company who believe she won’t be back. If Kelly leaves, she’s only the latest in a growing group of women who are choosing to walk away from WWE for other gigs. The Bellas (who were as recently as six months ago being reported as Vince McMahon’s favourite female act in the company) chose not to re-sign with WWE. Looking back a little farther, you’ve got Gail Kim choosing to leave to go back to TNA. I’d say it’s a byproduct of putting your body on the line every week and feeling unappreciated – but suddenly other life options are seeming more and more appealing to these women. Walking away rather than being released or fired seems to be a relatively recent phenomenon, but it’s a growing one.
So if spots are opening up due to the likes of Kelly and The Bellas leaving and so many main roster WWE Divas being mishandled or forgotten, what hope is there? Believe it or not, I can see a flicker of hope, and that flicker is based in Florida – and might just be the first indication that things may be a little different in the post Vince era. For what it’s worth, we know that Triple H has been overseeing developmental for some time, and it’s interesting to compare some of his hiring practices to that of his father-in-law (through John Laurinatis). The stories of Kelly and Alicia being hired through a swimsuit catalogue are the stuff of legend, and it’s well acknowledged that WWE’s hiring plan for Divas has been for the most part to hire good looking women and try to teach them how to wrestle. I can’t help but conclude that this helps contribute to the turnover of talent. The Bellas, Maryse, Kelly, even going back to Torrie and Stacy… they were models/dancers first and wrestlers second. There’s still at least some of that going on, but there’s an interesting core of actual honest-to-goodness female wrestlers building up in developmental now. People who have wrestling in their blood and are (at least in my opinion) less likely to dump WWE at the first sniff of non-WWE fame. You’ve got Paige (aka Saraya-Jade Bevis, formerly Britani Knight), who is in my opinion the equal (and in many cases the better) of anybody on the main roster. A second generation wrestler from a wrestling family – this is all Paige ever wanted to do. Alongside her you’ve got Sofia Cortez (aka Ivelisse Velez from Tough Enough’s last season), who prior to getting her shot on Tough Enough had worked on midwest indies for quite some time as Juliet the Huntress. You’ve got Raquel Diaz – a third generation Guerrero, and the daughter of Eddie & Vickie – she may not have the indy experience of Paige and Sofia, and she’s a step behind those two as a wrestler at this point, but with the Guerrero blood in her veins, there’s at least a very good chance that Raquel will become a massive positive to the WWE family in the years to come. Just recently we’ve had the addition of the former Buggy Nova – currently at least going under her own name of Natalie. She’s not super experienced (she’s been around the West Coast scene since 2009) but she’s another person who got into the wrestling business because she wanted to be involved in wrestling… not as a way to secure modeling contracts or endorsements. We know that Kharma has also been referred to on occasions as a “Triple H project” too, so I can’t help but notice how Triple H is apparently hiring people with wrestling backgrounds rather than browsing the latest Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. There’s a similar push in the male ranks too, with indy stars like the Antonio Cesaro (Claudio Castagnoli), Kassius Ohno (Chris Hero), Dean Ambrose (John Moxley) and more becoming developmental standouts ahead of your generic Randy Orton clones. Some of them may fly – some may not, but that’s what developmental is all about and it seems like Hunter is at least backing the smart money… in which case, there’s a LOT of eligible female talents out there who might just want to consider finding a way to get themselves a try-out next time WWE are in town. No promises, but doors may just be ajar that used to be firmly closed.
It doesn’t help the question of what the heck they’re going to do with Kharma this Summer – and a lot can happen between developmental and the main roster for some of these prospects, but at least I’m finding at least something positive to say about the future of the Divas, which when I started this article I wasn’t sure I was going to find.