So hey, guys. Real talk? This was the first year where the WWE’s clumsy attempt at making women’s wrestling relevant actually started to work. Sure, we’ve had great matches before (Bayley vs. Sasha Banks at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn is a perfect match, fight me if you disagree), but the company as a whole has just stumbled all too often when trying to present the female Superstars as equal to their male counterparts. The thing is, though WWE (and Stephanie McMahon in particular) may have patted itself a bit too hard on the back for every time they did a “first” anything (even doing a couple of “firsts” twice), the match quality, the story development and time commitment for a handful of feuds proved that WWE’s version of women’s wrestling can suck a lot of the time, but occasionally be amazing — just like the men’s side of things! From the emergence of mega stars like Ronda Rousey and Asuka, to the solidification of old hands like Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch, this was the year the women of WWE stepped to the forefront of the industry and tore the goddamn house down. Here are the 10 women who did it best this year:
Honorable Mention: Rhea Ripley
Won the Title: NXT UK, November 28 (air date)
Duration of Reign: Ongoing (26+)
Notable Matches: vs. Toni Storm, vs. Dakota Kai
It’s a little unfair to include Rhea Ripley as an honorable mention, but if I’m honest, very few of us here at AiPT! are die hard NXT UK Fans. What I have seen of Ripley’s matches with Toni Storm and Dakota Kai have been pretty great, and she’s an effective power wrestler in a division comprised of smaller, more agile women. I do look forward to seeing what Ripley can do now that she’s at the top of the card, and hope to see her earn a higher spot on this list in the future.
Won the Title: SmackDown Live, April 10
Duration of Reign: 131 days
Notable Matches: –
Every staggering high must be cast against a dour low, and things don’t get much worse than Carmella’s run at the top of the blue brand. While her newfound partnership with R Truth has hit a groove and allowed ‘Mella to win back a healthy portion of the audience, the fact remains her title reign did nothing for her credibility as a performer, and in fact did significant damage to the credibility of many of her opponents. Her character work as an obnoxious heel was fine, however, and though she’s still not great in the ring, she did show some growth. The problem really stems from the way she was booked. Literally every match she won as champ (and, in fact, the one she won to earn the Money in the Bank briefcase) was won via shenanigans – whether that be simple cheating or via (NAME REDACTED) distraction. This would be bad enough against mid carders like Naomi or Natalya, but that the once unstoppable Asuka was pinned by the Princess of Staten Island because some chinless douchebag was wearing her bathrobe actively hurt the product. By the time she lost the belt fans were ready for that title to be anywhere else, and her tumble back into the mid card has been a wise move for all parties involved.
9). Nia Jax
Won the Title: WrestleMania 34. April 8
Duration of Reign: 70 days
Notable Matches: –
While Carmella’s tenure as champion was marked by poor performances that damaged the career trajectory of one of the company’s brightest stars, Nia Jax’s tenure as champion was…well…okay, so Cams and Nia are basically 10(a) and 10(b) on this list, but I’ll give Nia the rub here because the match in which she won the belt was better than anything Carmella did this year. Yes, including the dance offs. Though Nia’s more famous for her clumsy physical performances, which has led to the injuries of everyone from Bayley and Becky to Zelina Vega, what really sank her reign as Raw Women’s Champion was bad booking. Nia held the belt for just over two months and shifted her alignment twice in that time. It made even less sense than you’d think, as she won the title on the back of an anti-bullying storyline, only to immediately shift to being a bully when it came time to feud with Ronda Rousey. Losing the belt to an Alexa Bliss cash-in caused her to revert to a white-meat babyface, before she more recently re-embraced her more natural heelish aura. Of course, she also ruined the biggest money match on what was a mostly forgettable PPV, and has since been effectively written off of TV. Like Bray Wyatt in 2017, Jax finds herself in a worse position at year’s end, even with a run as the world champion under her belt.
8). Alexa Bliss
Won the Title: Raw, August 28, 2017; Money in the Bank, June 17
Duration of Reign: 161 days (combined)
Notable Matches: Elimination Chamber, vs. Ronda Rousey
So this might just be me, but the bloom is very much off the rose with Alexa Bliss. She’s a decent promo and serviceable in the ring, but I’ve long since been tired of her time at the top of the women’s division. Though she had a few cool moments this year (that Elimination Chamber match was great, though that was largely due to the involvement of Sasha Banks and Bayley), Bliss’s time as champion has always been fairly dull. Her 200+ day reign heading into the year dragged on longer than it probably should (and did untold damage to Bayley’s momentum in the process) and her post-Mania stint with the title was little more than a transitional run to give Ronda Rousey a more detestable foil to work against for her inevitable title win. Unfortunately, Bliss has been a bit snakebitten by the injury bug since she dropped the strap, and an underwhelming storyline wherein she briefly ran the Raw women’s division (before the WWE’s dramatic “reset” unceremoniously ended that storyline prematurely) did little to raise her status within the wrestling community, and Little Miss Bliss finds herself in an aimless limbo heading into 2019.
7). Kairi Sane
Won the Title: NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn 4, August 18
Duration of Reign: 71 days
Notable Matches: vs. Shayna Baszler
Part of me feels kind of bad for placing Kairi this low on the list, because (to a certain degree) she has been a reasonably successful NXT Women’s Champion. She earned a shot at the title by beating Nikki Cross and Candice LeRae, and scored a clean victory over Shayna Baszler in a strong showing at NXT’s version of WrestleMania, TakeOver: Brooklyn. The thing is…it’s about then when her highlights for the year stop. Oh sure, her match with Shayna at Evolution was good, it’s just that it was dramatically outdone by the match that followed it (but more on that one later). Other than that, Sane never really got a chance to shine as Women’s Champion. It’s rare that NXT opts for transitional champions, and I don’t know that that was the goal with Sane was from the start, but if we’re honest, the only thing of note that he did this year was mix it up with a woman that appears later on this list and her friends. Sane’s a good performer — better than what she’s been allowed to show on NXT, as a matter of fact — but as a champion she was a bit of a dud. I’m assuming she can’t be long for the yellow brand, but I worry that she will get lost in the shuffle whenever she does move on to the main roster. After all, we all know that there can be more than one Japanese woman succeeding in the WWE at the same time. Vince McMahon, on the other hand, may be a different story. Actually, speaking of Japanese women holding championship gold…
Won the Title: TLC, December 16
Duration of Reign: Ongoing (10+ days)
Notable Matches: vs. Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair
To say that this has been an up and down year for Asuka is the most bitter of understatements. The former Kana began the year at the tail end of the most impressive winning streak since Bruno Sammartino, adding a victory in the first ever women’s Royal Rumble match en route to a show-stealing affair at WrestleMania. Though she came up short in that match, earning her first loss in over two years, the bout was easily the best women’s match in Mania history, softening the blow of Asuka’s first loss by having it be against the top woman in the company and on the biggest stage in professional wrestling. This would have been fine, if she didn’t spend the next nine months losing embarrassingly to the likes of Carmella, Nia Jax and the IIconics. It felt like WWE had forgotten what they had with Asuka. She had gone from a once-in-a-lifetime performer into just one of the women on the roster. Fortunately, the Empress of Tomorrow never eased up on her in-ring performances, so when it was time for her to be thrust into title contention, she slid in alongside monsters of the industry like Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch without much of a fuss. In what would prove to be a match of the year candidate, Asuka would best the two biggest names on the blue brand, and cement herself as a main event talent fit to build a brand around. Where she goes from here is anyone’s guess, but given her previous experience as the biggest draw in NXT women’s wrestling, there’s a ton of potential for greatness in her future.
5). Ember Moon
Won the Title: NXT TakeOver: WarGames, November 18, 2017;
Duration of Reign: 140 days
Notable Matches: vs. Shayna Baszler, Royal Rumble match
Let’s keep it real, if Asuka held the belt a little longer, she would be in this spot, but given her tenure with the strap, match quality, and latent potential, I’ll allow Ember Moon to get one up on Asuka in this list…she’s certainly not going to do it in the ring. Like Sane before her, Ember Moon ended the year feeling a bit like a transitional champion. Also like Sane, she arguably won the belt as a consolation for a more popular star taking time off for an injury (or in Moon’s case, a main roster call up), defended it once on NXT TV in an unremarkable match, then lost the belt to a more dynamic opponent named Shayna Baszler. As a champion, Moon carried herself like a star, played a great babyface in peril and…if I’m honest, did nothing of note. I have a lot of faith in Moon as a performer, and think there’s a real chance that she finds her way into Raw Women’s title contention by year’s end. I don’t imagine she’ll unseat Ronda Rousey to get that belt (at least not while either of them is a face), but I could see her facing off for the strap as early as Fastlane.
4). Ronda Rousey
Won the Title: SummerSlam, August 19
Duration of Reign: Ongoing (120+ days)
Notable Matches: vs. Charlotte Flair
It needs to be said: Ronda Rousey is in the midst of the single best rookie year for a crossover athlete in WWE history. Kurt Angle’s freshman year was a revelation to be sure, but Ronda Rousey’s trial by fire at the top of the card has shown that the former UFC Bantamweight Champion is a legit professional wrestler. Given her novice status in the industry, you’d be forgiven for expecting Ronda’s run at the top to be little more than a publicity stunt – then the bell rings and the Rowdy one proves to be one of the most coachable and adaptable performers in the company. From her first outing against Mr. and Mrs. Stephanie McMahon to her title defense against Nia Jax, Ronda managed to get a good to great match out of everyone she stepped in the ring with — and the better the opponent, the better the match. Her Survivor Series bout against Charlotte Flair really showed that she could pull off the resilient babyface role against the top tier of the women’s division. Really, we couldn’t rank Ronda any higher than this based on her obvious, but workable flaws. She smiles too much, she’s more a reader than an improviser when it comes to promos, and her skill at selling is both a blessing and a curse, but still — for someone just over a year in the game, Ronnie has proven herself to be a reliable force in the women’s division.
3). Shayna Baszler
Won the Title: NXT TakeOver: New Orleans, April 7; Evolution, October 28,
Duration of Reign: Ongoing (190+ days)
Notable Matches: vs. Ember Moon, vs. Kairi Sane
Though there are some notable holes in her game, I have to admit that I absolutely love Shayna Baszler in NXT. Her punk rock bully act is one of the most natural and believable gimmicks in all of WWE. The Queen of Spades carries herself like a female Brock Lesnar, except that she’s willing to treat her opponents as legitimate threats from time to time, which makes Shayna the more versatile and usable performer. The way she meticulously takes apart people like Dakota Kai is an art form unto itself, but the more serious competitions between she and Ember Moon or Kairi Sane allow the beast to show a kind of vulnerability that allows her to look beatable — making her inevitable win all the more satisfying. Really, the one real flaw that she needs to address is her mic work. Shayna’s words aren’t the issue quite as much as her delivery, which is a bit too natural to the point of feeling almost disinterested in what she’s saying. That’s not the worst character trait for a heel to embrace, but if she were a more natural promo, there’s a chance that she’d be viewed as a more successful champion. I don’t think it would put her any higher on this list, though, because the top two women of the year are all but bulletproof.
2). Becky Lynch
Won the Title: Hell in a Cell, September 16
Duration of Reign: 91 Days
Notable Matches: vs. Charlotte, vs. Charlotte and Asuka
No, Becky Lynch isn’t topping this list. Yes, I honestly think she had a better year than the woman at number one. The thing is…this is a list of the best women’s CHAMPIONS of the year, and though Becky was the best superstar (full stop) in the WWE this year, she just didn’t get a lot of time to shine as the champ. Becky’s year started fairly innocuously, as the woman that would become The Man just felt like any other face in the women’s division. It wasn’t until after the Money in the Bank PPV in June that Becky started picking up momentum, cleaning out the SmackDown Women’s division (including then-champ Carmella) en route to a title shot at SummerSlam — unfortunately, a certain Ms. Charlotte Flair did her best John Cena impression and earned a spot in that match based on reputation alone. Charlotte would take home the title that evening, but Becky would prove the true winner, as her post-match beat down of the Queen would set into motion the greatest run of Becky’s career. This late in the game “heel turn” made Lynch into the most beloved and celebrated performer in all of professional wrestling, eventually earning her the title she was cheated out of in a show-stealing outing at Hell in a Cell. Becky and Charlotte managed to outdo themselves in a genuine match-of-the-year candidate at Evolution. Then began the build to what will almost certainly be the headlining match of WrestleMania when Survivor Series‘ newfound gimmick of “brand warfare” pitted The Man against Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey in a dream match no one ever saw coming. At least, it would have if Nia Jax hadn’t broken Lynch’s orbital bone during the women’s invasion angle. Admittedly this regrettable accident may have postponed the highly anticipated matchup, but it did provide Becky as a performer with her own iconic “Stone Cold at WrestleMania 13” moment, as the bloodied and battered champ stood tall over the entire Raw roster. Becky would unfortunately drop the title in yet another amazing match with Charlotte (and Asuka), but there’s little slowing the Lass Kicker’s momentum at this point. Look for Becks to make a strong showing (and likely win) at Royal Rumble to set up her inevitable grudge match with Rousey on the Grandest Stage of Them All.
Though she undoubtedly made the biggest impact of any performer (male or female) in the WWE, one woman’s time with the belt was just a bit better overall.
1). Charlotte Flair
Won the Title: SmackDown Live, November 14, 2017; SummerSlam, August 29
Duration of Reign: 128 days (Combined)
Notable Matches: vs. Asuka, vs. Becky Lynch, vs. Ruby Riott
That she took the belt from Natalya is enough for me to put her at the top of this list aside, Charlotte Flair is the god damn truth. In every match, in every promo, in every outing, she stands alongside AJ Styles and Seth Rollins as a performer who can seemingly do no wrong. She does dip into the “overpushed Roman Reigns” camp from time to time, but Charlotte is a woman born to be champion. She looks, feels and performs like the final boss in a video game, the biggest mountain to climb for any would be challengers — and it’s a role she’s wholeheartedly embraced. As a face or heel, Charlotte is a beast in the ring, working a brutally beautiful style that makes every match (yes, even those against Carmella) feel like an event. She started the year by putting on the best women’s match in Mania history against Asuka (making the unbeaten Empress tap out no less), before dropping the belt to ‘Mella and taking some time away to heal from injury. Her return saw her best Cams and fellow horsewoman Becky Lynch to take the title and set into motion the best story in wrestling not being told by Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano, with Flair at the center as the biggest obstacle to Lynch’s would-be dominance of the SmackDown women’s division. Naturally, Charlie would drop the belt to the supernova of a star that Lynch had become, but she’s done nothing but put on five star bouts since then. Becky may have had the better year, but you’d be hard pressed to tell me that there was a better women’s champion in WWE than the Queen, Charlotte Flair.
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