The current state of Smackdown's women's division is, let's say... complicated.
While the women of RAW currently have never before seen access to pay-per-view main events and high-profile storylines the likes of which were foreign to that side of the roster up until five or so years ago, there are creative and in-ring inconsistencies on the blue brand which plague its overall success.
1 month removed from WrestleMania, I'm going to analyse what WWE are doing right, and not so right, within the Smackdown womens division.
At this time last year, the women's division was as hot as it had ever been, thanks to a fantastic series of matches between Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair, as well as great showings from newcomer Ronda Rousey. Since then though, partly down to Rouseys departure, the division has taken a step or two back from an in-ring perspective.
Overbooking has badly hurt the overall quality of matches.
Look no further than last November and December, where a Triple Threat match between Lynch, Shayna Baszler and Bayley at Survivor Series failed to live up to the talent of the performers involved, and a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match pitting Lynch and Flair against Asuka and Kairi Sane massively underwhelmed. Both matches found themselves sacrificing quality for future stories.
In ring quality aside, at least the women of RAW were being used somewhat correctly, showcased in a way they hadn't been for a long time. The story is very different when you look at Smackdown however. After somehow booking themselves into a corner regarding the extremely slow burn to a Bayley vs. Sasha Banks feud, Smackdown found themselves suddenly pushing Tamina. Yes, THAT Tamina. The match quality throughout this feud has been frankly abysmal and has thrust Tamina into a spotlight that she simply wasn't ready for and likely never will be at this stage of her career.
The creative team behind the women's division on both Raw and SmackDown must find a balance between telling a story and letting the performers wow between the ropes. It was, after all, the superb work of the original Four Horsewomen of NXT that made fans sit up and take note of the revolution going on in women's wrestling.
Speaking of NXT, it's women's division is as deep and talented as it has ever been. With Charlotte Flair, Io Shirai and Rhea Ripley leading the charge, with Dakota Kai, Teagan Nox and Shotzi Blackheart all close behind. The division is poised to produce star after star in the years to come. We recently witnessed what those women are capable of when Nox and Kai wrote the latest chapter of their fantastic ongoing feud inside a steel cage.
Much like the in-ring product, character development has been wildly inconsistent across the board.
Sasha Banks is the attitudinal Legit Boss. Bayley underwent a heel turn that had her delusionally claiming to be fans' role model, but the creative team lost interest in that particular character and since then, she has been portrayed as any cookie-cutter heel from the 1980s. Lacey Evans flipped from heel to babyface quicker than you can say "I'm an all American American", completely disregarding her underhanded methods to become a strong female example for the ladies in the WWE Universe. Unfortunately, the total lack of depth makes her more of a caricature than a character.
Outside of those three most prevalent members of the roster you have Naomi, Carmella, Dana Brooke and Tamina who all remain nondescript creatively. Unfortunately, Smackdown's creative team seems to have nothing else in mind other than Fatal 5 Way matches to determine a new challenger, and with the summer months likely to revolve around Bayley and Sahsa, it's unlikely any of the other talented women will see any substantial screen time or personal development.
To put it bluntly, the storytelling in the month since WrestleMania has been rather nondescript and one-dimensional.
On SmackDown, Bayley has become a typical heel, with all elements of her story stripped away and replaced by promos and cheating straight out of the Rock and Wrestling Era. With Banks, she has become WWE's equivalent to Mean Girls, just without the character or humor that fueled that film. Granted things have picked up over the last couple of weeks with some genuinely funny moments from the heels and cracks starting to show in their relationship, but it's all still very much the paint by numbers stuff we've seen so many times. Without Sasha, Bayley would have nothing at this point.
Bayley herself is a complete conundrum - not a tag you want for your champion. There is often so much creative inconsistency with her that she is almost always found in the midst of four or five ongoing rivalries that are not really all that compelling because she has already beaten all of her challengers in singles matches. Will the upcoming feud with Sasha sort this out? Yes... probably. But what happens after that? Barring a call up from NXT, Bayley has absolutely nobody left to challenge and pose a legitimate threat.
In other areas of Smackdown however the storytelling has been nothing short of phenomenal. The fallout of the Otis and Mandy Rose storyline has been the most entertaining part of the show, with Sonya Deville thriving in her new found heel role. The two formers best friends are on course to continue their great rivalry through to the summer and will hopefully culminate with the match their work deserves at Summerslam or another important PPV.
If the rest of the women could be booked like this, well... that would be just 'peachy'...
If there is one area the women's division excelled in over the last year, it has been the positioning of its talent in order to generate genuine popularity. Let's look at the supposed "top" women in the company, regardless of if they holda championship belt or not.
• Becky Lynch - Arguably, the most consistently over and popular star on the RAW brand, if not the entire company regardless of gender.
• Charlotte Flair - Still incredibly over as a result of her stellar in ring work. This much has been proven by the recent decision for her to work both RAW and NXT.
• Rhea Ripley - Possibly the biggest surprise of the last year. Rhea become one of the most popular stars on any roster through being genuinely different. We haven't seen anyone like her since Beth Phoenix and Chyna.
• Bianca Belair - A star turn at the Royal Rumble this year propelled the EST of NXT and landed her a full time spot on RAW. Super talented and extremely over.
• Sasha Banks - Still one of the most popular women on any brand. Her character work has been exemplary over the years and her in ring work is just as good as anyones.
Bayley? Not so much. Her in ring work is great, don't get me wrong, and her matches back in NXT were some of the best that womens wrestling has EVER seen. But as much as she needed a change of character from the happy-go-lucky, brightly coloured hugger which had grown so stale, it was there that her popularity stemmed from. Her unsinpiring heel work, couple with a dreary new entrance theme has sapped her of all personality and charm.
The women's division is as deep, talented and ready to excel as it has ever been in WWE. The wealth of talent, from different backgrounds and varied styles, is awe-inspiring.
Its usage on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights however is anything but.
For a crop of competitors as skilled as it is, its assessment is riddled with underwhelming reactions in nearly every category. The in-ring content does not match the skills of the women competing. The character development has been nonexistent and the inconsistency of storytelling has stunted the growth of the performers themselves and the matches and angles they star in.
That every single woman from Becky Lynch down to Vanessa Borne is not massively over with fans is a damning bit of evidence against those in charge of booking the division and there insistence on focusing on a select few superstars.
I love Smackdown, I really do. I pretend not to sometimes but most weeks I come away having thoroughly enjoyed the show. Or at least 90% of it. I want to enjoy the blue brands womens division as I'm a huge proponent of womens wrestling being done properly, but currently Smackdown is so far behind it's counterpart RAW and the supposed third brand NXT, that its becoming easier every week to schedule my toilet break...