Thursday, February 18, 2016

Top Ten Thursday: WWE Female Performers

Considering the jump in focus on women's wrestling in the past few months, we're going to look at my picks for the ten best female performers currently signed to the WWE. I say performers because I'm not only including wrestlers. I'm including any female in the company and ranking them based on how well they perform their specific job and their value to the company. Some close calls and honorable mentions would include Natalya, Lana (who would have made the list if she was still as prominent as she was in 2014) and Dana Brooke.

10. Stephanie McMahon 

There is so much potential for Stephanie McMahon to be higher on this list. When it comes to getting the crowd to hate you, there is no female in the company better than Stephanie McMahon. She’s got the penchant for drawing heat that her father was so good at. I mean, this is the woman that got fans to cheer for Vickie Guerrero on her way out, which I never expected. She plays the authority figure role well and commands attention when she speaks. Even when she steps into the ring, Stephanie knows what she’s doing and is good at highlighting what works for her. Her match against Brie Bella in 2014 was one of the better Divas matches of that year. The main reason that Stephanie doesn’t rank higher for me is that she tends to put down a lot of the talent in order to get herself over. Take the Divas Revolution stuff for example. The company made sure to have Stephanie be at the forefront and it really seemed like we were supposed to credit her for the idea. There’s also the countless times she undercuts a lot of what the top faces say, making them look dumb, and we’ve grown tired of seeing and hearing her. Maybe it’s because she’s been on TV for so long and so often, but once a lot of us hear the opening line of her awful theme music, we groan in unison.

9. Charlotte 

Considering the work that Charlotte did during his time in NXT, most readers are going to think she’s ranked very low here. Honestly, if I was making this list a year ago, Charlotte would rank in the top five easily. She was coming off of a great 2014 and had taken part in a fantastic fatal four way match between the “Four Horsewomen”. Charlotte would spend the rest of 2015 in NXT having good matches. Once she got called up to the main roster with Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks, something changed. She was still able to have pretty solid matches with Nikki Bella, but something was missing. She was not the performer she was in NXT. Granted, Becky and Sasha haven’t reached those heights either, but Charlotte seems the furthest off. Then, she inexplicably turned heel and went on to have a series of poor matches with Paige. The WWE stuck Ric by Charlotte’s side every single night and it’s not helping. Charlotte has gone from “genetically superior” NXT Women’s Champion to “Ric Flair’s daughter and nothing more” on the main roster. She also is the only woman with a worse promo voice than Brie Bella. There’s literally nothing else to her character and she is completely defined and overshadowed by her dad at ringside.

8. Renee Young 

Another rather surprising choice for this list comes in at number eight. Renee Young has never had to wrestle a match but she is a lot more valuable than people give her credit for. Throughout the years, the WWE has had a few faces play the role of host. Around the time Renee Young showed up, Josh Matthews mostly handled those duties, but he suffered from the same issue that most hosts not named Renee Young had. He came off as kind of unlikable at times and lacked charisma. When he was canned and Renee took over, the monthly WWE Pay-Per-View kickoff shows became better because of her. She just has this quality about her that you genuinely want to watch and enjoy her. It doesn’t matter what role the WWE wants her in, Renee Young delivers. She can hosts those pre-shows better than anyone, she is the best backstage interviewer that they have, she can host anything on the WWE Network with charm and grace and she even has her own series on the WWE Network, which is one of the better ones they’ve produced. She’s a fan of the business and it shines through. There’s a reason there were reports that ESPN pushed to sign her. She’s that damn good.

7. Paige

I really, really want to put Paige higher on this list. After watching her as the “Anti-Diva” in NXT, putting on some really good matches with Emma, I was a huge fan. She debuted on the main roster and won the Divas Title on her first night, causing me to mark out. I was really looking forward to her feud with AJ Lee. Unfortunately, they feud was incredibly disappointing and it began a trend of Paige putting on mediocre performances. She was, outside of some work with Sasha Banks, not very good in 2015 when it came to in-ring performances. I don’t know what it was exactly, but she came off as rather lazy. That might be unfair, because I’m sure she works hard, but it wasn’t reflecting when she wrestled on television. Still, a Paige that is only performing at 50-75% of her abilities is still better than most of the main roster Divas. Also, Paige is one of the most marketable women on the entire roster. Her merchandise moves very well, she’s a focal point of Total Divas, she’s been in a WWE film and, according to reports, she is a heavy favorite at Comic-Con appearances (she was a blast when I met her at one). Due to her age, there is still a ton of time for her to make a ton of money.

6. Emma

Had I made this list a year or so ago, Paige would undoubtedly rank higher than Emma. They came up in similar ways through NXT and honestly don’t get enough credit for kick starting the women’s wrestling craze in NXT. If Emma and Paige didn’t deliver in their Women’s Title Tournament Finals and NXT ArRival matches, we may never have seen Sasha Banks, Bayley and others get the opportunities that they did. Emma hit tons of rough spots on the main roster though. Her dancing gimmick failed to get over and pairing her with Santino prevented her from being taken seriously. Being sent back down to NXT in 2015 proved to be the best possible thing for the Aussie. She developed into a heel character because being the dancing babyface failed for her. It wasn’t just a random turn for the sake of it, they let it fester and develop. Emma got paired up with Dana Brooke and, while she unfortunately comes off as a sidekick at times, it worked better than ever expected. She is helping Dana with in-ring work, while Dana is helping her be a better heel. Emma has played the aggressive role so well and her match against Asuka at TakeOver: London was damn good. She is quietly one of the best things going in NXT.

5. Nikki Bella 

A few years ago, Nikki Bella was pretty awful. She couldn’t do anything worth a damn in the ring, she was a piss poor actress and she sucked as a promo. When she turned heel in 2014, she seemed to get better in the ring, but still struggled with acting and promos, as evidenced by the god awful feud with Brie. However, their blow off match at Hell in a Cell turned out to be solid. Nikki captured the Divas Title and went on to break AJ Lee’s record for longest reigning Divas Champion. During 2015, the Divas division was pretty lackluster, especially when compared to what the NXT girls were doing. However, one of the lone bright spots was Nikki Bella. While Paige was disappointing and people like Naomi and Tamina were performing mostly poorly, Nikki was always there. Yea, some of her matches were bad at times, but she had some really strong ones in there. Hell, the Paige/AJ feud was mostly lame until Nikki got involved and their triple threat match at Night of Champions ’14 was damn good. She went on to have good matches with Paige, Sasha Banks and Charlotte, while being the face of the division, making a bunch of appearances, starring on Total Divas and just being the MVP. I never thought I’d say it, but I’d love to see Nikki back and working with the future crop of Divas.

4. Asuka 

If we were just talking about pure in-ring skills here, Asuka would end up a bit higher. The woman has, in a very short time, captivated the audience with her hard strikes and badass submissions. There is something about Asuka that just clicks and connects. She doesn’t speak much English from what we’ve heard, but she doesn’t need to do anything with her promos. Asuka has said just a few words in her five or so months with the company, but is already the second most popular woman in NXT. Her matches with Dana Brooke and Emma, especially the latter, were both really fun. Even her squash matches are among the best in the company, always making sure to wow the crowd with her offense. I can’t quite put my finger on it but there is an aura surrounding Asuka that other girls don’t have. The possibility of upcoming matches with Nia Jax and Bayley seem to have the fans roaring with anticipation. It hasn’t been long, but Asuka is already shooting up the ranks. By this time next year, it is plausible that she will even sit atop a list like this.

3. Becky Lynch 

I love Becky Lynch. She is my second favorite female on the WWE roster and I truly believe that she is within the top three when it comes to pure in-ring talent. She finally got her chance at TakeOver: Unstoppable in May of last year against Sasha Banks where the women combined to put on a match of the year candidate. Unfortunately, once Becky got moved to the main roster, they had her play second fiddle to Charlotte. Seriously, if you didn’t watch NXT, you’d have thought Becky was only Charlotte’s more attractive little friend. Thankfully, as Charlotte turned heel, Becky moved into a prominent role. This has allowed Becky to let her personality shine through. That personality is her biggest selling point because she comes across as the most likable Diva on the main roster. Even most of the faces in the Divas division can be unlikable at times, like Paige, the Bellas or Charlotte. It’s hard to dislike Becky. Becky not only has loads of potential but she’s already more than living up to it. There is no reason why she shouldn’t be a part of WrestleMania. Honestly, as much as I love Sasha Banks and think that she needs to be the top woman in the company, Becky winning the belt at WrestleMania would be a fantastic feel good story for the biggest show of the year.

2. Bayley 

As noted, if this were a list of personal preference, I would swap Bayley and Becky Lynch. I remember when Bayley vs. Sasha Banks was announced for TakeOver: Brooklyn, I was actually disappointed. I badly wanted Becky/Sasha II. Bayley shut me up by competing in the greatest women’s match that I’ve ever seen. The main thing is, Bayley’s in ring work, while being very good, isn’t anywhere near the total reason why she’s ranked so high. Bayley has potential to be the female John Cena. She could not only move tons of merchandise, from shirts to headbands to wristbands and more, but she could be the female role models for all of the kids. If handled properly, Bayley could be the new top Make-A-Wish granter down the line after Cena retires. The thing about Bayley is that she appeals to every demographic. Children love her for because she loves what she’s doing and can be seen as a role model. Women love her for similar reasons but she’s also, while being very attractive in my eyes, not one with supermodel good looks. Grown men love her because she reminds a lot of us a simpler time when we used to unconditionally love wrestling before we all got all cynical. Everything about Bayley screams Superstar.

1. Sasha Banks

I’ll start this one the way I ended the last one. Everything about Sasha Banks screams Superstar. When the women in NXT began stealing the show, the focus was on Charlotte mostly. Bayley got an opportunity early on but I just wanted Sasha. I don’t even really remember what drew me to her initially but when she finally got her shot on a big stage (R-Evolution), she absolutely delivered. Sasha then proceeded to spend 2015 topping herself at almost every turn. She wrestled on four NXT TakeOver specials and those were honestly, the four greatest women’s matches I’ve ever witnessed. She is passionate about the business, knows how to cut a solid promo and is the best in the business when it comes to the ring. She gets psychology better than most of the men in the company. She has the ability to make her offense look stiff and she has connected with the audience. The fans want Sasha. She’s earned the respect of everybody. Sasha Banks, being the niece of Snoop Dogg and being well spoken, has crossover appeal that a lot of women don’t. I picked her for my best female wrestler of 2015 and she came very close to being my wrestler of the year in general. Sasha Banks is something very special and the WWE needs to fully capitalize on it. She is money in the bank, pun intended.