Remember when fans were pretty much done with Damage CTRL and were calling for the group to be disbanded?
We sure do here on the Monday Gorilla Position.
Admittedly, it wasn’t that long ago I was wondering if splitting the trio apart from one another would be the best thing for everyone involved. Turns out the best thing for the entire Women’s Division, not just Damage CTRL, was for Vince McMahon to get pulled out of the weeds.
This is not a report by any stretch of the imagination. I have no inside information here, but just consider this. Reports surfaced last month that Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel had made the call to fully put the creative reigns back into the the hands of Triple H, and then immediately, almost the entire women’s roster was back on television.
I personally, do not believe that to be a coincidence.
Now, it would be unfair and irresponsible - and frankly lazy - of me to lay all of the blame on the shortcomings of the Women’s Division this year on Vince McMahon’s involvement. Surely, many factors contributed to the lack of build and investment into talented performers like Tegan Nox, Candice LeRae, Indi Hartwell, Nikki Cross, Alba Fyre, Isla Dawn and many others.
That said, I can only analyze what has been presented to me. And the evidence shows vast improvement in the booking of the Women’s Divisions, on both RAW and SmackDown, over the last month.
Granted, that’s not exactly a high bar, but still this new Triple H regime is off to a good start. He has a strong stable of established main roster stars led by Bianca Belair, Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, Asuka, Bayley, and Rhea Ripley.
The rise of Rhea Ripley has been the single best thing to happen in the WWE Women’s Division in 2023. She always had Superstar potential, but her dominate win loss record, coupled with the respect that is shown to her by both the men and women in the locker room has her on the verge of being the Superstar in WWE.
It would not shock me if Triple H’s ultimate goal is to have Rhea Ripley step into the spotlight occupied by the Tribal Chief, whenever Roman Reigns finally drops the WWE Universal Championship. A win over Becky Lynch at WrestleMania 40 could certainly catapult Ripley into that top spot in the company pecking order.
After all, Mami always comes out on top.
The most impressive aspect (sadly) of Ripley’s climb is, somehow, WWE managing to elevate her without really elevating many of the female talent around her. With the company seemingly holding off on Ripley throwing down with Becky Lynch until they can do so on the grandest stage, Rhea has been a Joker without a Batman. And alongside her Judgment Day stablemates, has taken over Gotham’s underbelly with an iron fist.
One of the very few exceptions has been Ripley’s upcoming opponent at Survivor Series. Zoey Stark is a tough, athletic, badass who just exudes confidence and continues to deliver in big spots. She was a stand out competitor in the Women’s Fatal 5-Way at Crown Jewel and has more than earned this opportunity to take on the Nightmare one-on-one at a big four PLE.
The issue with Zoey Stark, is the same with so many of the other women on the RAW roster. The audience, for the most part, just hasn’t quite bought in... yet.
I’ve used this word a couple of times already, but there is no shortage of talent in the WWE Women’s Division. In fact, from a pure talent perspective, I agree with what Shayna Baszler told me earlier this month - it’s the best in professional wrestling.
It’s unfortunate that, right now, outside of Ripley, Lynch and Nia Jax (who has been a wonderful and needed heel addition to the roster) there’s just no one else in the division that gets consistent crowd reactions on RAW.
It’s a problem I believe Triple H knew he needed to address and he’s, at the very least, started using the talent at his disposal.
After sitting on the sidelines for months, Xia Li has suddenly been brought back and is being set up as an extremely dangerous competitor. Taking out both Candice LeRae and Becky Lynch in recent weeks and manipulating her way into an NXT Women’s Title opportunity against Lyra Valkyria.
Ivy Nile has now signed a full time RAW contract alongside the Creed Brothers and had an incredible debut in last week’s No. 1 Contender’s Battle Royal.
Maxxine Dupri’s evolution and growth in the ring seems to have gained some renewed focus within Alpha Academy over the past couple of weeks.
Natalya has taken Tegan Nox under her wing and the pair may be on their way to earning a shot at the Tag Team Championships in the near future. I would, however, like to see more of the established teams like Kayden Carter and Katana Chance, as well as Alba Fyre and Isla Dawn. But Chelsea Green and Piper Niven continue to shine in whichever spot their assigned and will continue to hold things down until the tag division really gets rolling.
Indi Hartwell is getting more in-ring time. She had a great showing against Becky Lynch with the NXT Championship on the line and will have another one-on-one match tonight on RAW against Xia Li.
Nikki Cross... Ok, I have no clue what’s going on with Nikki Cross. But I’m interested to see where this is going and why she’s suddenly walking through life like she just climbed out of a well. (That’s a really great reference btw. For those of you who don’t get it, go watch The Ring.)
Is any of this worth writing about? Individually, no. Collectively, yes.
Triple H is not someone to rush the process. He’s shown time and again that he’s willing to be patient and build things the right way. I’m viewing these recent developments as the soil being cultivated and the seeds being planted for crops that will be harvested at a later date.
The work is being done to put these ladies in a good position to showcase what they can do, which is way more than they’ve been given this year. Now, let’s see who’s able to take advantage.
While I’m not quite ready to jump on the bandwagon with other women’s wrestling fans on social media and scream, “We’re back, baby!” I’m much closer than I was after Friday night’s SmackDown in Columbus, OH.
Which brings me back to the subject of Damage CTRL. I’m not sure what it is, but there’s a weird symmetry between this group and myself. I was there to person to witness their debut at SummerSlam in Nashville, their first trios WrestleMania match in Los Angeles, IYO SKY’s WWE Women’s Title win in Detroit and her big title defense over Asuka and Charlotte in Indianapolis. I have been there for seemingly every major moment since the group’s inception, save for their Women’s Tag Team Title victories.
So naturally, I was at Nationwide Arena this past Friday when the group grew from an All-Star trio to a Superstar Dream Team.
Kairi Sane and Asuka aligning themselves with Bayley, IYO SKY, and Dakota Kai instantly became the most intriguing and nuanced storyline in WWE. And I mean all of WWE, not just the Women’s Division.
It’s brilliance is highlighted by it’s simplicity. Given her exit from the company in 2020, it made all the sense in the world for Sane to pick up right where she left off - in a program with Bayley.
Asuka choosing to join her former tag team partner over siding with her long-time and biter rival, Charlotte Flair, was also a very smart and simple decision to make.
The two of them respecting and accepting Bayley as the leader of Damage CTRL is a wrinkle that I was not expecting.
I also don’t buy it for one second. And judging by her masterful facial expressions during both Crown Jewel and SmackDown, neither does Bayley.
The very moment that Damage CTRL has never appeared stronger, may have been the exact same moment that the group was marked for extinction.
As groundbreaking as it would be to see a dominate female faction of that size run roughshod over WWE, the roster size of the Blue Brand just doesn’t appear to be large enough to support that type of booking. Having nearly 40 percent of your division in one stable is nearly NWO level unsustainable.
And that’s exactly what Damage CTRL appears to be on the surface. Kairi Sane has every reason in the world to hate Bayley and want to exact revenge. While Asuka has her own rough history with the Role Model.
It’s not inconceivable in the slightest to think that after Asuka failed to regain her WWE Women’s Championship, thanks to Damage CTRL, she called up her former Kabuki Warriors tag partner and the two of them hashed out a plan to tear the group down from the inside.
Given their individual history with IYO SKY and her recent tumultuous relationship with Bayley, it couldn’t have been hard to get the WWE Women’s Champion to play along.
Bayley turning on IYO out of bitter jealousy, as WWE has been heavily teasing on screen, never made sense to me. Not when all Bayley has done since returning from injury is put both IYO and Dakota over in every way possible, even to her own detriment at times.
She’s been the MVP of this WWE Women’s Championship run, going all the way back to the beginning when she sprinted down Ford Field and threw three key blocks to clear the way for the MITB cash-in attempt.
Now, Asuka and Kairi getting IYO to turn on Bayley by promising her the centerstage spotlight in a trio of badass Japanese warriors? That is something I could get behind. Especially if it leads to the Bayley redemption story arc.
The first ever Women’s Grand Slam Champion is still one of the best in the world at what she does. Her willingness to help put others over is to be commended, but I would love to see her get a major babyface run. The kind that WWE first envisioned for her when the hugger was first brought up to the main roster.
Could a babyface Bayley win the Royal Rumble to challenge IYO SKY for the WWE Women’s Championship at WrestleMania 40? Why the heck not? Sign me up.
Where Dakota stands in all this, is anyone’s guess. But it’s a decision that does not need to be made until she’s ready to compete. Which, hopefully, will be soon.
WWE could have some surprises planned with Damage CTRL but if the rumors are true, Triple H may already be tapping into the RAW roster just to fill out a WarGames team to oppose them at Survivor Series.
I predict next Saturday night in Chicago will prove to be a pivotal one for the future of Damage CTRL. Either they reign supreme over three of the most decorated Champions in WWE history (and Shotzi) or Bayley’s worst nightmare comes to fruition when she’s kicked out of the group she always dreamed of creating.
I’m excited to find out.
Is the Women’s Division back? I don’t know just yet.
But I’m excited to find out.