The #1 contender for the WWE Women's championship was Vince McMahon's emmisary to the sports world last night, as Natalya was the guest on ESPN SportsCenter's weekly "Off the Top Rope" feature.
Having Natty as the guest makes a ton of sense, as she's got a wealth of things to talk about... long tenure with the company, a place in wrestling royalty, respected in the ring and a star of the company's 'reality' show flagship.
Still, her appearance is likely to rankle fans already not thrilled with the Women's Wrestling movement focusing on old men...
The main hook, as you can see in the above clip and as WWE certainly knew, is her announced corner man for the Payback women's title match. It will be great to see Natty's uncle, WWE Hall of Famer Bret Hart, making his first appearance for the company since announcing he was being treated for prostate cancer... but it's still weird to see the first pay-per-view (PPV) defense of their new title mentioned as an "oh yeah" addendum by the challenger:
Bret is a survivor, he is a hero, he embodies everything that, you know, we look up to in heroes and to have him with me at Payback in my corner... it just means the world to me. Because I know the last year in particular has been really really hard for him and it's just very symbolic of the person that he is to be so giving and really want to be there for me. I'm just so proud of him and I want everyone to really be able to kind of celebrate him, and obviously the match is gonna be awesome... because I'm in it [laughes]. But it'll be great and it's just so good to have Bret there and just feeling good and have everybody show that support to him too.
In this second clip, which opens with discussion of women's matches and closes with Total Divas, Nat opens with a pretty laughable claim about WWE being forward thinking (yes, in the business sense where she uses the streaming Network as an example... but to imply that they're leading the charge on social issues?) before giving a strong answer that embraces the new Women's division without shaming the recent history as "Divas":
WWE is always ahead of the curve - you look at the WWE Network - and it's really, it's very telling how the company is growing and evolving and changing. And with all of those changes comes the change we have with the women. And we went from the Divas division and, you know, I was a Divas champion, so I'm still proud of what I did as a Diva in the WWE but being part of what is now our Women's division, you know, it's just time for a change and we've got a group of really hungry, awesome competitors that want to go.
And then she goes ahead and thanks you-know-who for making it all happen:
I do want to give credit to Triple H. It was really spearheaded, this women's wrestling movement, it was spearheaded by him in NXT. And he actually was the person who really gave me my big break in WWE, and it wasn't at the beginning of my career, but it was in the last couple of years, actually, in May of 2014, when I got to take on Charlotte Flair at NXT. And for me, that was a huge turning point in my career. And it was so amazing to have someone believe in me and say "Natty, you can do this" and "we need your help" and, you know, "we want to grow this Women's division", so for me, performing at NXT just became something that I loved to do. And I wanted that same feeling for all of the girls in WWE.
You can see the importance the company is putting on legacy to build the women up - and it's not a bad strategy. If you're trying to re-educate fans who associate females in the ring with bra-and-panties matches or bathroom breaks, tying them to Ric Flair and Bret Hart is a good idea. It worked in NXT, and it will hopefully work here.
But it's still hard not to give the "thank you based Haitch" routine a bit of the old side-eye.
And - something we can all enjoy - your "Off the Top Rope" Raw recap highlights the AJ Styles, Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows angle, and is produced to make you think they're in cahoots...