Thirty years ago, the late Queen Elizabeth II gave a speech to commemorate her Ruby Jubilee. Her fortieth year as reigning monarch was a disaster. Three of her children's marriages either ended, or were on their last legs. To top off a horrendous year, her beloved Windsor Castle was destroyed by fire. The Queen used the latin phrase 'Annus horribilis', which translates as horrible year to describe 1992.
In the year of her passing, this phrase is fitting for WWE SmackDown's women's division. Whilst the Triple H era has reinvigorated large parts of the WWE creative process, the blue brand's women's division has continued to be an area of weakness.
There a multiple reasons for this malaise.
Firstly the roster is unbalanced. Plenty of virtual ink has spilled on the internet regarding Sasha Banks. Even her most virulent critic would argue her presence would improve the blue brand. The same goes for her tag team partner Naomi, who was finally putting together some consistent in-ring performances at the start of the year. Most missed is Charlotte Flair. Her numerous detractors would argue, with some justification that she's been overpushed often. However she is a reliable presence capable of producing world class matches, and more importantly acting as lightning rod for the crowd. She's one of a few women on Friday night who can confidently deliver a promo on her own.
WWE would have hoped the returning Ronda Rousey would help to fill the void. Unfortunately Rousey 2.0 has been a disappointment. Outside of her WrestleMania Backlash title win against Flair, Rousey's matches have largely been underwhelming. Plenty of fans wanted to see an extended Rousey heel run, but it's noticeable that crowd reactions to her have cooled. She was at her most popular as a tweener following her Money in the Bank title loss to Liv Morgan, and crowds don't seem that interested in her & Shayna Baszler running through cannon fodder.
It would be unfair to put all the blame for SmackDown's poor 2022 at Rousey's door. Looking at the roster, no one stands out as a potential Queenpin of the division. If Bianca Belair was to drop the Raw women's title, there's numerous women who have the skillset, or are over enough to take the crown (Rhea Ripley, Becky Lynch, Alexa Bliss, Asuka). Who on SmackDown matches up to those women?
The booking has kneecapped a lot of the roster. Shayna Baszler seems to lose by roll ups on a monthly basis. Sonya Devillle, who is arguably the division's best promo, didn't win one of her twenty televised matches this year.
Liv Morgan has been one of the few bright spots of the year. Her title win a MITB was the feel-good moment of the year. But poor booking helped to squander any momentum built up. Her controversial win over Rousey at SummerSlam did neither women any favours, and her subsequent feud with Baszler exposed her weakness on the mic.
Most baffling has been the poor usage of Xia Li and Lacey Evans. Li's protector gimmick had legs. She could have been aligned with a sympathetic babyface to possibly add depth to the tag ranks. Instead she turned heel pretty quickly and fell out of favour. She's never recovered from this.
Evans' chronicling of her real life struggles could have worked if it was stopped at a couple of promos. But her hard-luck tale was dragged out, and felt exploitative. The tone was mixed, which left crowds confused then angry which resulted in her getting booed out of the building at Money in the Bank. Her latest repackage could be compromised due to her inflammatory social media postings.
The lack of any mid or lower card has led to repetitive booking. On three occasions in the last quarter, the number one contender has been determined by a multi women matches which had at least five wrestlers taking part. How can anyone get over if they keep getting thrown in matches where it is hard to shine?
Triple H's rehiring spree hasn't paid dividends yet. Whilst Raw's roster has improved with the additions of Dakota Kai, IYO SKY, Mia Yim and Candice LeRae, the likes of Scarlett, B-Fab, Valhalla and Zelina have largely worked as valets on Friday nights. Emma and Tegan Nox have better pedigrees, but neither women's online popularity has ever been replicated with the paying public.
It's baffling that Helmsley hasn't seen the example of his D-Generation X cohort Shawn Michaels, who has consistently booked his women's division well on NXT. The show frequently has multiple women's matches, and the talented wrestlers get plenty of opportunities to get their personalities over.
How can the division get back on track?
The next draft will play a big part in this. Raw needs to share the wealth. Adding a repackaged Asuka, or Becky Lynch would add quality to the SmackDown roster. Likewise call ups from NXT should be considered. It's baffling that Alba Fyre hasn't made it to the main roster yet. Fallon Henley is someone with a lot of upside, who could be an asset on Fridays.
Everything needs to improve. The booking needs to be better, give women promo and match time which allows fans to care about them. Likewise the performers have to take these opportunities. Match quality and promos have to be good enough so creative have no excuse not to push the participants.