Ahead of WWE Survivor Series 2017, reigning champion Natalya defends her gold against one of the greatest wrestlers of her generation, Charlotte Flair…
WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship
(Winner via submission, and new champion: Charlotte Flair)
If one were to say that Sasha Banks is Charlotte Flair’s greatest rival in her career to date, you’d probably not have to look much farther than Natalya when trying to find her second greatest adversary. Their series of matches dates back several years, with Natalya even being the woman Charlotte beat to win her first ever WWE championship (the NXT Women’s Championship). Without question, that match in particular remains a highlight in both women’s careers.
Their contact on the main roster has produced mixed results. For 2016’s superb WWE Roadblock match between the two, there’s a 2017 WWE Hell In A Cell contest to cancel it out. This match, not their best by any stretch, still falls into the column of being one of their better head-to-heads.
There was an aggressive nature to this match that was enjoyable right from the start. Natalya’s run as a heel has added so much to her overall presentation, and her more violent style in 2017 has been appreciated. One gets the impression that she particularly enjoys getting into the ring with the post-2015 talent, who unquestionably can go a lot more than some of the women she worked with in the years prior.
Two moments stood out for me in this match, the first being Natalya throwing Charlotte into the ringpost at ringside. That, and her fall to the ground afterwards, looked and felt painful.
My second favourite moment came when Natalya locked Flair in the sharpshooter. It’s a move Natalya does regularly, for reasons that go without saying, but it’s one that isn’t often sold as painful by her opponents. I’m not referring to screams of pain, and contorted faces, as they all do that. I’m talking about how they sell it by their own body shape. Watch how Charlotte bends under this attack, and you’ll immediately see what I mean. It looks like a legitimate submission hold that you or I would tap out to in an instant. Throw in some great crowd reactions, and you’ve got a wonderful moment that did indeed have me thinking Flair was going to tap out.
Thankfully, she didn’t, and it would be Natalya who would tap out shortly after. The victory, celebrated with loud applause from her hometown crowd, made Charlotte the first ever woman to have won the NXT Women’s Championship, WWE Divas Championship, WWE RAW Women’s Championship, and WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship. Historic moment, to say the least!
The main problem this match had, perhaps the only problem, was that it was on live television. It’s a problem all matches on WWE‘s weekly programming have, where they break up matches with commercial breaks. In the case of title matches in particular, this always ruins the flow.
I wasn’t able to watch this show live, so when the match went to commercial break not long after its start, and then came back to near falls with the crowd going crazy, I knew I’d missed out on something as a viewer. The pacing felt wrong, from a TV viewers perspective. Honestly, it’s moments like this that make me crave a return to hearing Jim Ross tell us that they won’t be going to a commercial break until the action is over. Such a thing didn’t happen often, at least to my recollection, but it was enough to make you feel that what you were watching was a big deal. I wish they’d do that with matches like this.
The commercial breaks did impact my overall rating of this match, but they were somewhat offset by a wonderful promo from Charlotte after her win, and the surprise appearance of her father (Ric Flair) as she was about to return backstage. Ric’s appearance seemed to catch even Charlotte off guard, her body language [and words to him when he walked out] suggesting that she had no idea he was going to make an appearance. If that is indeed the case, then props must go to WWE for creating a genuinely touching moment between a father and daughter. I prefer Charlotte has a villain, but it’s hard not to like her current run as a babyface.
My final thought is that this should have been their Hell In A Cell match, where they could have wrestled with more time and no breaks in the match for viewers at home. That said, Flair finally has the championship that should’ve been put on her the moment she came to Smackdown in April, so here’s hoping she has a chance to give the championship some much needed legitimacy. Knowing how often titles swap hands in WWE right now, that seems unlikely, but I’ll certainly be tagging along for the ride.