Women’s Wrestling has undergone a sea change, at least in WWE terms, in the last decade.
Matthew Roberts takes a journey in the TWM Time Machine to bring us his top 10 matches from the Women of the WWE, 2010-2019.
Before we crack on, lets give a little bit of context here. This list isn’t supposed to represent, necessarily, the “Best” of the decade. There are some matches conspicuous by their absence from this list and there’s many that I would have no arguments with being included. There are also some matches here that could easily be replaced by some that followed in the latter part of the decade when top quality women’s matches became more of a certainty than a hope. But by that token I’ve chosen to spread the love a little and also avoided picking too many “similar” matches and avoiding any duplication from single shows.
So here are my “favourite” ten matches from a decade of WWE Women. Let me know if you agree or disagree.
10. KAITLYN VS AJ LEE – PAYBACK 2013
We start off with a match that may well be a forgotten one by many who only tuned in to Women’s Wrestling when Stephanie McMahon officially decided there was going to be a “Women’s Revolution”™. And if I was basing this list purely on the “best” matches there would undoubtedly be a lot more from the last third of the decade that would get the nod to be on this list over this one. But I said all that in the introduction. No-one is going to ever claim that either of these women are genuine in-ring “greats” (well, at least they shouldn’t be doing) but at a time when we were still in the “Divas” era and few people actually cared (in terms of those within the WWE Universe) about the Women being able to get the opportunity to put on a good match, this was like a breath of fresh air.
The two had a storyline behind them, treated the match as if they genuinely did hate each other (there’s nothing worse than a grudge match starting with an inoffensive lock up) and were able to keep the crowd into it all the way to the finish. It’s by no means perfect, but it has a rough edged charm It also has the bonus that watching it as 2020 comes over the horizon will show just how much better WWE commentary of the women’s matches has got.
9. ASUKA VS. NIKKI CROSS, LAST WOMAN STANDING – NXT JUNE 26th 2017
Interestingly (allowing for the fact that this match aired at a time when NXT was a Network exclusive) this Last Woman Standing Match was the third straight night that a Woman’s match had headlined a WWE show (a six-woman gauntlet had main evented Raw, Carmella’s SECOND Money In The Bank match had headlined Smackdown. This was the choice of the historic trio.
The feud between the two had actually escalated to the point where a stipulation of this nature was necessary (the two had brawled around Full Sail a few weeks earlier as part of a Triple Threat match) and the two battled with an intensity that built on that build up and wowed the crowd with its hard-hitting nature. For once the “ECW” chants were deserved. The two suffered for their art here and, more crucially, paced the match superbly too so the finish felt like, well, something that should finish the match.
8. CHARLOTTE FLAIR VS ALEXA BLISS – SURVIVOR SERIES 2017
This is perhaps the one on the list that I suspect most people will find odd. They’ve probably forgotten it even happened. Those who know me will this it’s my version of Dave Meltzer’s “Flair Tax” back in the day when even the most average of Flair matches would get praise. It may also be slight bias as I was in the Toyota Centre watching this one. But for all the carping from the IWC about Little Miss Bliss, saying she isn’t as good as the “Four Horsewomen” in the ring (which would be a fair point) is not the same as saying she isn’t any good. There’s an argument (which I have made before) that in terms of psychology and emotion she’s right up there. The match itself was good, with the size difference between the pair being effectively built in to proceedings. But this was about more than the moves. It was about two people making you believe that although it was only “pride” at stake in this non-title match, both wanted to prove that they were the better champion and that the belt they held was the one with the prestige. To see Bliss visibly distraught by the loss was almost an unnerving site in a WWE that, to this day, still sees vanquished champions acting as if nothing untoward had happened to them a few days later.
7. PAIGE VS EMMA – NXT ARRIVAL 2014
For different reasons, these two are not as heralded as those that went on to become the biggest players on the main stage. It’s probably fair, albeit controversial, to state that even if these two had been able to stick around in the WWE in the ring they would have been outclassed by those that followed (much like Kaitlyn and AJ Lee in match 10) on the path that they helped create. But this match, on the WWE Network’s first-ever live-streamed show, was an important milestone. The two had met in the finals of the NXT Women’s Championship tournament and they had a great match there. This match showed that that was no fluke AND that NXT was a place that intended to take women’s wrestling seriously. A great back and forth match that both played off their history and was an exciting, emotional, match in it’s own right.
6. WOMEN’S WAR GAMES – NXT WAR GAMES 2019
In some ways, this shouldn’t have worked. But as a throwback to some of the classic WCW War Games matches (from the early days at least), this was a fantastic slice of storyline driven wrestling. First of all, there had been an effort to actually have a reason for the storyline choices the captains had made for their teams. There had been a progression to the teams being brought together. Even if the choices didn’t make perfect logical sense, there were reasons and it felt a world away from them just throwing eight random names in there. The action was great throughout; Io Shirai and Candice LeRae started things off hotly and things just kept picking up as we went along. People complaining that the Dakota Kai storyline and heel turn was “obvious” are completely missing the point of Wrestling and probably have a shrine to Vince Russo in their bedrooms.
It worked because it WAS, in some senses, “obvious”. Or perhaps the better way to put it is “logical”. It was a heel turn, but it was a heel turn for a reason (and let’s face it, Kai’s reasoning makes perfect sense). That it also put the babyfaces at a huge numerical disadvantage just ramped up the atmosphere even more. The ending was perfect too; it cemented Rhea Ripley as the one to watch and set up her title opportunity against Baszler. It gave Kai numerous avenues to explore (including against Mia Yim) and everyone who actually made it into the ring had their opportunity to create memorable moments. And when Tegan Nox comes back, who won’t want to see her and Kai go at it. A great match that set up as many new questions as it answered old ones.
5. ASUKA VS EMBER MOON – NXT TAKEOVER BROOKLYN III
A show featuring Andrade/Gargano, Black/Itami and the first NXT appearances of Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish…and yet Asuka and Ember Moon could still steal the show! This was a match that had a little bit of everything. Some great technical wrestling, some high flying and some submission attempts and even that most unheard of thing in WWE, selling and psychology. Fought at a fast pace, but also never getting ahead of itself this built and built and had that rare feeling for a latter day Asuka match in NXT that the unbeaten champion might actually get dethroned. She wasn’t of course but even in defeat Moon’s standing rose exponentially.
4. WWE WOMEN’S TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP, ELIMINATION CHAMBER MATCH – ELIMINATION CHAMBER 2019
Well, you can’t ignore a historic match such as this one that crowned the “first-ever women’s tag team champions” can you? Wink, wink. But sarcasm aside, has there ever been a better booked and put together Chamber match than this one? It’s debatable. It was a match that effectively showcased all concerned (even Carmella and Naomi got a chance to shine before being the first eliminated) and featured “best ever” performances from the likes of Mandy Rose and Liv Morgan.
The more experienced of the competitors did their bit to keep it together, whilst the less-heralded women took the opportunity to step up and show what they could do too. If you’re looking for action to go with your drama, hot moves to go with your storytelling and everybody putting the best feet forward to earn a title (and make it worthwhile) this is a match that promised everything AND delivered it.
3. TONI STORM Vs MEIKO SATOMURA – MAE YOUNG CLASSIC 2018 EPISODE 8
I’ve been a big fan of Toni Storm long before she surfaced in the WWE. Meiko Satomura was never going to stick around for long in the WWE (indeed it was the MYC and done for her) but her standing as one of the best wrestlers in the world, period, made her a dream choice for the second Mae Young Classic and for once the WWE delivered that dream.
This was a semi-final match but was the best of the tournament by a mile. They didn’t rush it, and took the time to slowly build things up. The two traded moves at an increasing pace and thoroughly deserved the “this is awesome” chants that the crowd rewarded them with. Fought with “sportsmanship” between the two being paramount this was nevertheless a gripping match in which both effectively conveyed the emotions of what exactly was at stake. The post-match handshake and the ovation was given to both women felt organic and deserved.
2. CHARLOTTE FLAIR VS BECKY LYNCH, LAST WOMAN STANDING – WWE EVOLUTION
You can be as cynical as you like about the WWE “Women’s Evolution”. You can complain that when they did get around to having an all Women’s PPV it was headlined by a Nikki Bella match, a woman who presumably has more fans from Total Divas et al than from anyone appreciating her wrestling ability. But all that aside, it did present us this match (and incidentally two months later these two would have Asuka added to the mix and actually “main event” TLC) which was the highlight of the show. I could quite easily have added Kairi Sane/Shayna Baszler or Toni Storm/Io Shirai from this card to this list too, but we’re trying to keep things a little mixed up. Both women here put in a supreme effort and they filled the near 30 minute run time with all sorts of great stuff. You did not have to suspend belief here, because the two went at it like they really hated each other, and whilst obviously it was full of insane spots and all that jazz the two didn’t neglect the “smaller things” like selling and psychology. Even the commentators still trying to sell Becky as the heel (as the crowd goes wild for everything she does) can’t hurt this classic.
1. SASHA BANKS VS BAYLEY – NXT TAKEOVER: BROOKLYN
In the end, there couldn’t be any other choice for me. This isn’t just my favourite Women’s match held under the WWE banner of the decade, it’s my favourite match of the decade full stop. Of course, it’s about much more than the twenty minutes or so of action on the night itself. It’s about years of perfect storytelling. The much-loved underdog Bayley who always had “opportunities” but also always fell just short of her goal of lifting the title. A ruthless champion convinced that she had the challengers number and only slowly realising during the match that that may have been a mistake!
I could offer up the defence that when I watched this life it was 2 in the morning and I had sunk one or two glasses of Rum and Coke but when the pre-match videos have a grown man crying you know you are onto a winner. Twenty minutes later I was sobbing like a baby as Bayley’s hand was raised and Charlotte & Becky Lynch joined in the celebrations.
And if the storytelling leading up to it was perfect, so was the match. Bayley smiled but showed an aggressive side to her that showed just what the match meant. There was psychology as the Champ targeted the challenger’s injured hand AND Bayley had to fight to overcome that. And the pop for the result (and the general all-round reaction from the fans) proved, if it needed to be, that the women could get over, stay over and deliver on the biggest shows.
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