Sometimes it's downright bizarre how different from each other NXT and the main roster WWE shows are. NXT is one hour a week and managed very economically with an interesting mix of old school studio wrestling, modern indie wrestling, and WWE production, while Raw can be bloated and monotonous. One of the most glaring differences, though, is how NXT presents female wrestlers.
Will the WWE women's division get to be like NXT's anytime soon?
On the main shows, while the presentation has been heavily toned down with less revealing outfits and overtly sexual content, the Divas division, even in title matches, isn't exactly presented as "serious wrestling" the same way that the key men's matches are. There are also less completely unqualified women getting TV time in the ring each week. Still, Naomi, who's a great athlete with promise as a wrestler, uses a flying butt attack called the "Rear View" because she has a big butt.
On top of all that, the women's matches are given too little time to develop, and they're generally treated like afterthoughts. As bad as WWE announcing has been lately, it's at its worst during the women's matches, with Michael Cole, John Layfield, and Jerry Lawler all sounding bored out of their skulls to the point they sound like they're gonna fall asleep. They don't even try to hide it.
NXT is a complete 180. The women are treated as serious athletes who get plenty of time for their matches to develop. The announcers are engaged in what they're doing, especially Renee Young. Paige has been badly mishandled on the main roster and gone from an underdog who sneaks wins to a heel who's pretending to be a babyface. However, on NXT, she excels in her "tough chick" persona.
Which Paige is the best Paige?
Having said that, AJ Lee vs. Paige this Sunday at Battleground provides an interesting opportunity for WWE. The best all-around female performer on the main roster in recent years is taking on the best female performer to come out of the developmental system in the same time frame. With WWE adding a second, more gimmicky match to the pay-per-view card two months in a row (Summer Rae vs. Layla at Money in the Bank and now Cameron vs. Naomi at Battleground), we can be confident that the title match won't be the pre-main event buffer match.
Instead, they should have time to have a really good, athletic match. Paige vs. Naomi at Payback was an admirable effort, but while Paige is talented, she's not at the level where she can carry someone like Naomi, who's athletic but green. AJ, however, is a much more complete worker. If they receive time and attention, they could have a hell of a PPV match.
AJ has had opportunities to have great matches, but they've been rare, with the highlight being her match with Natalya this year on Main Event. The match was the featured match on the show, went long, and came off like an honest to goodness world title match. It was the best thing the women have done on a main roster show in the last few years, but WWE didn't really play it up at all.
On NXT, Paige's NXT Women's Championship defense against Emma at the live NXT Arrival special in February was seen as an equal to the other featured matches on the show, which is pretty impressive when you consider that it was on the same card as Cesaro vs. Sami Zayn. On the next special, NXT Takeover, they were one-upped by Natalya vs. Charlotte competing for the title, which was vacated when Paige won the WWE Divas Championship.
I'm not sure there's a convincing argument against Natalya vs. Charlotte being the greatest women's match in WWE history. Even the best matches of the past, whether in the "Divas" era (Trish Stratus vs. Lita or Mickie James) or before (Alundra Blayze vs. Bull Nakano or the Glamour Girls vs. the Jumping Bomb Angels) were lacking the sense of importance this match had, as well as the amount of time and focus given to it. It went close to 20 minutes and was a PPV main event quality match, which can't be said about the other candidates.
WWE has a shot at getting that vision across this Sunday. Will they? I'm not confident, but I'm hopeful.