A year ago, the idea of a Stephanie McMahon vs. Brie Bella feud would have been preposterous. Stephanie hadn't been a regular TV character for a long time, having seemingly moved to a reduced role behind the scenes so she had the time to become something closer to a full-time mom. Brie was just the Bella twin without breast implants.
Stephanie McMahon's journey as an on-screen performer has been a curious one. Brought in out of nowhere as a babyface the night after WrestleMania 15, she was largely terrible, but in a way that almost enhanced her ingenue character.
When she turned heel by marrying Triple H (not in real life, that came later), she came out of her shell and, given her inexperience, did a tremendous job as half of the top heel act in the company throughout 2000 and into 2001. After Triple H went down with an injury, she never really got her bearings back as a performer...well, until last year.
Once The Authority's feud with the Rhodes family got going, something clicked. Maybe it was her father removing himself from TV, allowing her more room to grow as a performer. She clearly became more confident, more willing to be made a fool of by babyfaces the way her father would. Seemingly out of nowhere, she was right up there with Zeb Colter and Paul Heyman as the best non-wrestler performers in WWE.
As for Brie Bella, she's gone on her own journey. A year ago this week, Total Divas debuted on the E! Network. Before the show premiered, the only way most people had to tell the Bella twins apart was that Nikki had gotten breast augmentation surgery. Now, all of a sudden, Brie is suddenly the surprisingly relatable girlfriend (eventually fiancee and then wife) of Daniel Bryan, the most likable and popular wrestler in WWE.
While their segments together on WWE television have been a mixed bag, Brie being linked with her husband onscreen helped her break away from the pack of the current group of WWE Divas. Even before she became a more distinct character, watching her lead the crowd in "Yes!" chants the night after Bryan's father died suddenly was one of the most emotional moments on WWE programming in recent memory.
When Bryan injured his neck, Brie started to stand out as more than just "Daniel Bryan's wife" when she started interacting with Stephanie McMahon. With Bryan's appeal being based largely on what a genuinely nice guy he is, he couldn't quite lash out verbally at Stephanie the way fans wanted someone to.
Brie, on the other hand, could call Stephanie whatever she wanted. Now, it's almost as if her gimmick is being the one person who has the intestinal fortitude to call Stephanie a "b---h."
WWE was buying time when it shot the angle that Brie quit the company. Bryan's prognosis was unclear, so not only did WWE need a stopgap angle, but he'd need help at home while out of action, so Brie "quit."
Now that WWE needs to undo that angle, it's put us on the path to Brie vs. Stephanie at SummerSlam, and the result has been a surprisingly hot feud that's taken center stage over the last couple episodes of Raw.
The big angle that occurred on the July 21 edition of Raw, where Stephanie slapped Brie unprovoked, thus leading to her arrest, was brilliant. A point was made to show that Brie was there as a ticket-buying fan before the slap, but when she was thrown out of the building, it seemed like she was gone for the night. Nope.
The arrest was impressively staged, if just to show how patient WWE was in executing it and trusting that the fans, especially in the arena, would get what was going on. There were no microphones past those on the cameras, which weren't being fed into the arena's PA system.
Still, the crowd and the fans at home quickly figured out what was happening, with the live crowd going nuts and chanting "Yes!" as it realized detectives were speaking to Stephanie.
For as overbearing as WWE storylines can be, the fact that it was so subtle—so brilliantly staged and timed (right after Flo Rida's mini concert, right when you'd expect a commercial break) that it got over so well—made it one of the best angles the company's done all year. Suddenly, it was one of the hottest feuds in WWE.
This week's segments weren't quite at that level, but they were still tremendous, with Stephanie on her A-game. Brie dropping the charges in exchange for a match with Stephanie at SummerSlam didn't feel remotely out of place as the main event angle of the show. When they got into a pull-apart brawl, it felt like a legitimately hot angle.
The one problem is that it's a big question mark as to whether the match will, technically speaking, be any good. Brie, while tremendously improved thanks in large part to Bryan's expert instruction, is not exactly a great wrestler. Meanwhile, Stephanie has never primarily been a wrestler and hasn't wrestled a match in over a decade, since the match with her father at the 2003 edition of No Mercy, which came days before her real-life wedding to Triple H.
Not being "technically" good doesn't mean it will be bad, though: With Stephanie's involvement and its stature on the card, it will most likely be meticulously laid out and heavily rehearsed. She had a good match with Trish Stratus at 2001's No Way Out, when Stratus was green and barely even a wrestler. Yes, Stephanie was much younger then, but I don't see that being a barrier to this match being entertaining.
It's been a while since there's been a fun smoke-and-mirrors match, which WWE does better than anyone else. Even if Stephanie can do nothing athletically (which is not what I expect), WWE will find a way to make it work as a storytelling match. I can't envision a scenario where it's anything less than a lot of fun.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!