While much of the attention from the audience has focused on the never ending Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks feu - a lot of it warranted - it’s important not to overlook what’s happening on the other brand. Arguably, the SmackDown women’s division has been a stronger group than its RAW counterpart, but it’s without debate that talent exists on both sides.
RAW has the names most expected to be watching at this point, and it has more of the top ladies the NXT crowd knew best, but the angles outside the title program have undeniably been better on Tuesdays. Nikki Bella and Carmella might not be a great pairing in the ring, but the storyline behind it has been solid. Natalya and Becky Lynch kicked things off pretty well just after the brand split, and though more work exists to be done with Naomi, Eva Marie, and even Nattie at this point, there’s one dynamo that has absolutely crushed it since her name was called in July.
WWE has increasingly looked outside of professional wrestling to find potential talent. The Arnold Classic has been one of those locations, and sometimes, it’s a crapshoot. A look can only take someone so far, but if you find that rare individual that has the appearance, but adds to it charisma, a willingness to learn, and an insatiable hunger to improve, it can mitigate three other failures. If you can find one legitimate star out of a group of 25, the risk is entirely worth it.
In 2013, when WWE spotted, targeted, and signed then 21 year-old Lexi Kaufman, the immediate appeal was obvious. Her bodybuilding and bikini contest photos were striking most for her wide eyes and bright smile, before ever looking at measurables or statistics. She had a face that, should she have the brain to match, could be instantly marketable. I recall the first time someone showed me a photo of her after the signing, I recognized why she was given the opportunity. This isn’t a “she’s hot” argument, even though she absolutely is. This is a “she’s intense” argument. There’s a good reason why she does the Harley Quinn thing so well. Lexi, too, is animated, energetic, and has something very unique in her expression. She stood out, in the best possible way.
The life of a women’s wrestler in 2016 is far better than it was even ten years ago. Sure, the attractive factor is a big key, as I imagine it is for the women who agree with People’s Sexiest Man Alive this year. Quite frankly, those that think it’s inherently misogynist for me to recognize that Lexi Kaufman is easy to look at need to get a life. Just like anybody that thinks you’re shallow for whatever you prefer needs to get a life. If she didn’t look like she did, because she wasn’t an independent wrestler, WWE never would have taken a look at her in the first place.
There’s a problem when appearance is the ONLY thing, and there’s no question that’s been an ugly tendency and a hiring practice for WWE and many other entertainment companies in the past. Lexi Kaufman possessed a well-wrapped package, but what she’s done with it is why I’m writing about her today. She’s slowly taken what might have been the gift, and turned it into the bow. This is a talented young woman with an incredibly lucrative future, and the biggest compliment I can pay to her is that she didn’t rest on what was obvious to get her by in life. She worked hard for that look, but she seems to be applying that work ethic to other facets of her WWE career.
Since the WWE Draft, we’ve seen Finn Balor get an early push, but suffer an unfortunate injury. We’re now finally seeing the beginning of an American Alpha push, and Carmella, Nia Jax, and Mojo Rawley have all been on television in varying roles. But of all those night one call-ups, it’s Alexa Bliss that stands out most.
She was the unexpected diamond in the rough. Those of us who watched NXT during her run saw the charisma and saw the on-screen value, as she was the star of the Blake and Murphy trio. The reason we wanted to see that tag team, first and foremost, was to watch Alexa’s act. But, even as she succeeded in that spot, the ring work was still questionable, and whether or not she could be a star on her own at this point was very much up for debate.
It shouldn’t have been.
I was elated when I heard her name during the Draft, because I was already a fan, but I had no idea she would be this good, this quickly. The matches have improved, and will continue to do so, but it was last night’s SmackDown opening segment with Becky Lynch where it became readily apparent that Bliss is indeed the most versatile woman in all of WWE. From the moment she began speaking, she owned the segment. Lynch is still trying to find the combination on the microphone, but she’s still easy to root for. However, she was completely overshadowed by Alexa before it got physical. After that point, she led the way, and Bliss held her own.
What makes Becky Lynch vs. Alexa Bliss work is that it’s a singles program that works like a tag team. Becky is the better worker, and Alexa is the better character. Bliss is bringing out believable vitriol from Lynch on the stick, and Alexa is stepping up her fight game as she works with Becky. Both should be credited for this feud, and Sunday should be a fun continuation of the pairing.
Alexa Bliss didn’t have the fanfare of Balor or the anticipation of Jordan and Gable, but damn if she’s not one of the more consistently entertaining portions of either brand, male or female. Not only is she the best talker of all the WWE women, she’s better than at least 90% of the men. Taking into account the world from which she came, her transition to WWE has been nothing short of exceptional.
And to those who still see her size as an issue, I would disagree. I like the little woman syndrome that drives her to be a Rachel McAdams or Amanda Seyfrield-like mean girl. She’s a straight up jerk, but does it in a credible way. When Becky finally stepped up and delivered a forearm to Alexa’s head last night, it felt justified. This wasn’t bad acting. This was one arrogant prick trying to talk down to a rah-rah baby face, and it worked. Bliss controlled the segment, and even when the talking was over, she remembered the details many younger talents forget.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen fresh guys or gals hit a big spot and forget to actually sell that spot. I’m not talking about taking a move and selling, I’m talking about hitting a move or being a part of a big move, and doing more than just standing there. After the heel turn, Seth Rollins was even guilty of being so caught up in the matches that he neglected the audience, or the hard cam. As she sat on the top rope after shoving Becky through the table, she cocked a mischievous smile, extremely satisfied with what she’d just done.
It wasn’t the big expression that I appreciated, but the small one. She stood over Becky after the fact, but she’s never unaware of the moment. Even putting her hands over her ears because the mere sound of Lynch’s entrance theme is effective to get the point across. She’s being given good direction, but she’s also a natural, and what’s scary is she’s still in her mid-20s. How good might she be in another year or two, especially if she continues to polish her work in the squared circle?
That devious grin, not oversold by the announcers (maybe because they didn’t even see it) is the kind of thing you don’t expect to see from someone who wasn’t a wrestling lifer. Alexa Bliss is well ahead of the game, and nearly every man or woman in WWE could stand to pay attention to what she’s doing from a character perspective. Even with all the talent in WWE, she’s already become a must-see act.
Not enough people are saying it, but hopefully they recognize it.
How about that?
Sometimes knowledge can also be Bliss.