Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Top Ten Things: Women's WrestleMania Matches

Well it's been a while, but welcome to a brand new edition of Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com, where I make a list of ten things and put them in a certain order.  It sounds so arbitrary when I phrase it like that....

Today I'm talking about matches taking place at WrestleMania, specifically women's matches.  Say what you will about WWE's annual spring spectacular or its product in general - the quality is hit-or-miss at best nowadays, and we went from obscenely long five-plus-hour shows to a two-night WrestleMania weekend (which I much prefer over the former).  But one thing we seem to be able to count on in recent years is that at least one offering from the women's division will deliver in the clutch.  WWE boasts by far the most robust, talented roster of female grapplers in the business these days, and while there's still too much of a focus on Vince's preferred type, in the form of Mandy Rose, Dana Brooke, Carmella, Lacey Evans, etc., the cream has consistently risen to the top of WWE's women's division.  Said division has come a very long way from the Divas matches of old, usually sandwiched in between far more important bouts and only alotted 4-6 minutes, or worse, given the eye candy treatment of Bra & Panties matches, Playboy pillow fights, and other stupidity.  For every time Trish Stratus or Lita attempted to transcend back in the day there were upwards of a dozen other instances of the women being presented as either an afterthought or a debasement.  But now the women's division has become one of the featured attractions at the Showcase of the Immortals, sometimes in more than one bout.  Hell, there are times when they end up more or less saving the show.  Here now are the ten best women's matches in WrestleMania history (and for the purposes of this article I've included one mixed tag match).

10. Becky Lynch vs. Shayna Baszler - WrestleMania 36

2020's WrestleMania was an odd one thanks to COVID restrictions preventing it taking place in front of an audience.  The two nights were taped the week before, with very mixed results.  One of a few mild Night 1 successes was this RAW Women's Title match, pitting the uber-popular Becky Lynch against the winner of that year's women's Elimination Chamber, Shayna Baszler.  Shayna had singlehandedly run through all her Chamber opponents on the way to 'Mania, and it was expected she'd steamroll Lynch on her way to main roster gold.  But odd booking prevailed and Becky countered a Kirafuda Clutch with a Bret Hart-style rollup to retain the title at 8:30.  Not a great match by any means, but a solid showing from both women, and to date Becky Lynch's last WrestleMania appearance, wherein she'd all but guaranteed reaching a full year as the champion.

9. Bayley vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax - WrestleMania 33

This Fatal 4-Way Elimination match came to be after Charlotte lost the RAW Women's Title to Bayley on an episode of RAW.  She then also lost in her bid to regain the belt at Fastlane (her first-ever loss on a main roster PPV).  Sasha meanwhile had been feuding with Nia, and both of them beat Bayley in non-title matches to earn a spot here.  This match was a step down from the WrestleMania 32 women's Triple Threat match but still featured some fun action.  Charlotte, Sasha and Bayley triple-teamed Nia Jax to get her eliminated first, Charlotte eliminated Banks with the help of an exposed turnbuckle, and Bayley quickly used the same turnbuckle to defeat Charlotte and retain.  This saga could've easily been better planned by having Bayley win the title from Charlotte at WrestleMania 33, thus ending her previously undefeated streak on PPV.  But aside from squandering a bigger moment this match was a pretty good showcase of the burgeoning RAW women's division.

8. Asuka vs. Rhea Ripley - WrestleMania 37

One of two prominent women's singles matches at this year's WrestleMania, Asuka vs. Rhea Ripley was one of my most anticipated matches on the show.  It didn't quite live up to my expectations but the two delivered a solid battle, with the young powerhouse Ripley using her strength to avoid Asuka's submissions and bend her more experienced opponent to her will.  Asuka nearly had her crossface chickenwing locked in, but Ripley broke the hold and came back with a Riptide pumpehandle slam to win her first main roster championship, erasing the sting of her WrestleMania 36 loss to Charlotte.  Time will tell if this win cements her as a future division centerpiece but she's off to a good start.

7. Trish Stratus vs. Mickie James - WrestleMania 22

The one pre-NXT era entry on this list, and one of the last quality women's matches prior to the 2007-2013 dark ages, Trish vs. Mickie was an intense, personal battle stemming from Mickie's infatuation with the Women's Champion.  After unsuccessfully trying to win Trish's affections, Mickie turned violent, and the match was on.  Mickie played the obsessed fan to the hilt, and the Rosemont Horizon crowd loved her antics despite her being the heel.  Infamously this match featured a spot where Mickie grabbed Trish by the crotch and then creepily licked her own fingers (which was cut from the DVD release and the Network version), but Mickie countered a Stratusfaction bulldog with a Chick Kick to win her first Women's Title.  On a very mediocre WrestleMania card, this match proved to be one of the highlights, not to mention one of the first times the women nearly stole the show.

6. Ronda Rousey vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Becky Lynch - WrestleMania 35

This historic triple threat match was the first women's bout ever to headline a WrestleMania PPV, and with the mega-babyface Becky Lynch facing the accomplished Charlotte Flair and the fan-rejected Ronda Rousey, all the ingredients were in place for an all-time classic.  Unfortunately though, WrestleMania 35 was a bloated, overlong show that ran five-and-a-half hours plus the pre-show, so by the time this match took place (a match I'll reiterate the fans were genuinely excited for), the crowd was exhausted and thus barely reacted to it.  But all three women worked very hard and put together a very good main event, aside from a botched, indecisive ending.  After putting Charlotte through a table to take her out of the match, Becky and Ronda faced off, with Ronda hitting her Piper's Pit finisher only for Becky to counter into a crucifix pin.  The problem was, Ronda's shoulder was up for the first count and thus she wasn't legitimately pinned.  Considering how much heat Ronda had and how popular Becky was, surely either a decisive pinfall or a submission win was the order of the day.  Disregarding the rather weak finish and the lackluster crowd response though, this match was mechanically quite good and one of the better matches on the card, serving as Becky's coronation and a milestone moment for female wrestlers.

5. Rhea Ripley vs. Charlotte Flair - WrestleMania 36

Ripley vs. Flair was one of the most exciting matches to me going into WrestleMania 36.  Ripley's star was quickly on the rise, the company having pushed her very hard at NXT WarGames and the 2019 Survivor Series, where in both cases she won big.  So the time seemed right for her to further prove her dominance by besting the vaunted Charlotte Flair at the biggest show of the year.  After a pretty fantastic 20-minute battle though, Flair tapped Ripley out with the Figure Eight, echoing another rather unnecessary Charlotte win over Asuka two years earlier.  But where that result made some sense in hindsight (Charlotte was being built up for an eventual faceoff with Ronda Rousey), this one continues to baffle me to this day.  Charlotte won the NXT Title and appeared regularly on NXT's weekly show until about a month later when she lost the belt in a Triple Threat with Ripley and Io Shirai.  Shirai became the champion, Charlotte went back to the main roster, and Ripley was left holding the bag, her push completely derailed for the better part of a year.  Still this match was excellent and for me stole the weekend of WrestleMania 36.

4. Ronda Rousey & Kurt Angle vs. Stephanie McMahon & Triple H - WrestleMania 34

Of all the varied bouts at WrestleMania 34, this mixed tag was one I was somewhat dreading.  Yes, I was excited to see real-life badass Ronda Rousey in a WWE ring, but mixing it up with the likes of non-wrestler Stephanie and old-timers Triple H and Kurt Angle?  I dunno.  Well, color me shocked, these four put on an incredibly entertaining spectacle, where Angle got worked over for several minutes to build up Rousey's big beatdown of Stephanie.  The hot tag finally came, and the Superdome became unglued as Ronda pummeled not only Steph, but her gigantic husband as well.  Ronda nearly tapped out The Game with an armbar but Steph came to his rescue before falling to Ronda's cross armbreaker.  This match proved a very exciting attraction and an auspicious debut for the former MMA star, who helped significantly raise the profile of the women's division.  Say what you like about Ronda but she more than proved herself a natural fit for the WWE ring.

3. Charlotte Flair vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch - WrestleMania 32

The final three entries on this list for me stole the show at their respective WrestleManias.  This triple threat marked the official end of the Divas division and the beginning of the Women's division as we now know it.  Charlotte Flair walked in wearing that gaudy, embarrassing pink butterfly belt and left wearing a proper wrestling championship.  And in between those two moments was a fantastic match featuring three future WrestleMania main eventers.  All three got plenty of time to shine during the bout's sixteen-minute running time (at that point the longest WrestleMania women's match by far), and the match established Charlotte as the first face of the new division when she made Becky tap to the Figure Eight.  Charlotte and Sasha spent the next seven months feuding over the new championship, while Becky became the first-ever Smackdown Women's Champion after the 2016 brand split.  This match was not only excellent but integral to re-educating the main roster audience on what women's wrestling could be.

2. Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka - WrestleMania 34

My favorite match on this list from a technical standpoint is this 2018 showdown between the company's two best female workers.  Asuka made history by winning the first-ever Women's Royal Rumble, and opted to challenge Charlotte at 'Mania 34.  The two had a wild back-and-forth contest that saw Asuka suplex Charlotte off the apron and Charlotte return the favor later on with a top rope Spanish Fly.  Ultimately Charlotte had Asuka's number, handing the Empress of Tomorrow her first WWE defeat with a Figure Eight.  Another case of the wrong winner, but at least in this instance it was to build up Charlotte for the WrestleMania 35 match with Rousey.  Regardless though, this was fantastic and stole the show at a very good WrestleMania.

1. Sasha Banks vs. Bianca Belair - WrestleMania 37

I said Charlotte-Asuka was my favorite match on this list from an in-ring standpoint.  But in terms of the storytelling, the moment, the emotion, and the creation of a new star, for me this year's Night 1 main event takes the cake as the greatest women's match ever at WrestleMania.  Sasha Banks, by now a tremendously accomplished veteran, delivered a Bret Hart-esque performance in putting over the stunningly athletic, absolutely lovable Bianca Belair, in a match that lived up to its big-fight feel and then some.  Having debuted in late 2016, still relatively inexperienced by WWE main roster standards, Belair never for a second looked out of her element, while Sasha led her through the match with unwavering confidence.  Moments like Belair catching Banks on a dive, rolling through, and then gorilla pressing her over her head and walking up the steps to the ring; or Sasha tying Belair's braid around her arm before locking in the Bank Statement; or Belair winning a tug of war with said braid and whipping a nine-inch welt into Sasha's ribcage, have already become indelible.  The subsequent Kiss of Death finish and a teary-eyed Belair hoisting the Smackdown Women's Title above her head as Sasha beamed with satisfaction off-camera are the types of moments that make a WrestleMania show special.  WWE's product in 2021 is too often the drizzling shits, but matches like this remind me why I became a fan in the first place.  The company has an idiot-proof starmaking opportunity on their hands with Bianca; let's hope they get it right.

That's my story, folks.  The ten best WrestleMania women's matches of all time, according to me.  In future years I'm sure I'll be able to revise the list; women's wrestling is one of the few things WWE does right with any consistency.

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