Examining Paige, AJ Lee and the Future of the Divas Division

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Examining Paige, AJ Lee and the Future of the Divas Division
Credit: WWE.com

Paige and AJ Lee could potentially spearhead a future in which the WWE Divas division is a consistently thrilling part of the product.

Recent history indicates, though, that the company shuffles its feet when it comes to the Divas, hesitant to let its women be the stars they can be. Negatives counterbalance positives in WWE's handling of the female part of its roster.

Brie Bella and Stephanie McMahon's impending SummerSlam match is getting a robust amount of hype. WWE is featuring multiple stories involving the division and its developmental system is stocked.

Before one goes proclaiming that WWE is shedding its bad habits and seeing the full potential of its female talent, look at the complete picture. Minimal ring time has held back the Divas, even during what has felt like a renaissance of sorts. 

Paige and AJ's feud should be a thrill ride with two of the top performers in the division locking horns over its only championship. WWE's inconsistency in its presentation of the Divas division may instead make it something more forgettable. 

The roster itself shows off both the brightness and dimness of the division's future.

 

Evaluating the Roster, Present and Future

The hodgepodge nature of the Divas division makes it unclear what WWE wants from it. The fact that eye candy and tough, talented women occupy the same spot makes it feel like there are some divergent philosophies backstage.

WWE can turn to a number of women who are far better in photo shoots than in the ring:

  • Cameron
  • Nikki Bella
  • Brie Bella
  • Rosa Mendes 
  • Eva Marie

Eva is out of place between the ropes. She's a model posing as a wrestler.

That's the kind of woman WWE has sought out in the recent past to fill the division.

Rosa, Nikki and Cameron outclass her, but not by much. They are more pretty faces than mat workers. 

Brie has made significant improvement since debuting, but she's still a limited performer. Compile her greatest hits and compare them to Natalya's, for instance, to see the wide gap in talent there.

In between that group and the division's top tier sits both promising and middle-of-the-road performers:

  • Naomi
  • Summer Rae
  • Layla El

Naomi's athleticism is a joy to watch. She is, however, one of the more raw wrestlers on the roster, a former dancer still learning the nuances of in-ring storytelling.

Summer showed promise in NXT. While the division's bottom rung struggles to compose an entertaining match, she has produced some quality work when given the opportunity.

Layla has been at this long enough for fans to know what to expect from her—decent wrestling. While not versatile and compelling enough in the ring to be a centerpiece of the division, she's a solid piece of the Divas puzzle.

Natalya heads the other sector of the division, the more capable ring workers:

  • Paige
  • AJ Lee
  • Natalya
  • Alicia Fox
  • Emma
  • Tamina Snuka

Fox has always been a solid performer. Her bridging Northern Lights suplex is artful, and while her move set is limited, she's done well to master those moves.

Her recent run as a tantrum-throwing nut made her a far more compelling presence. 

The intimidating Tamina and the energetic Emma are both valuable additions. Given enough focus, they could thrive. 

AJ, Paige and Natalya are all the kind of wrestlers WWE can use as the foundation for the division.

Each has shown the ability to craft memorable, moving matches. Their talent begs for them to be a significant part of the undercard, not some sexy sideshow.

That's why it's strange to also have Eva and Nikki in the same division. It creates a split between two vastly different types of performers.

It's not as if a Paige vs. Eva feud would work.

That's like asking a bluegrass banjo player to collaborate with a death metal guitarist. You guys both play music, right?

WWE is building toward two different futures, one in which models happen to wrestle some and one in which wrestlers happen to model some. The NXT Divas' division points to that two-pronged element continuing.

Excellent ring workers with an independent wrestling background like Bayley, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch are working their way up from Full Sail University to WWE's bigger stages.

Imagining the main roster with Banks and Bayley clashing with Paige and AJ is enough to have a fan salivate. Charlotte's progression is worth getting excited over as well. Each week, she grows in confidence, becoming an increasingly captivating performer.

There's plenty of talent to mine at NXT, but there's also the danger of WWE choosing to highlight less-talented individuals instead.

NXT is also home to fitness models and bodybuilders new to the wrestling game, like Alexa Bliss and JoJo.

On one hand, that creates variety. But it also prevents the division from developing an identity. WWE seemingly can't decide what it wants from its women, and that's likely to continue.

At NXT Takeover, fans saw Charlotte and Natalya put on a match that deserves to be mentioned as one of the year's best.

Those who took that as a sign that WWE is intent on being serious about promoting its female division, that the company will allow its women to be warriors and not just a signal to take a snack break, should rein in expectations.

That's only one possible future. Another is the one that Paige and Naomi's one-minute match on the July 25 SmackDown pointed to.

That is one where even two of the top Divas are treated like a filler act, giving them just a tiny portion of the show to tell their story.

 

Matches, Spotlight

A number of stories involving the Divas division are unfolding right now.

Brie and McMahon are headed for a collision at SummerSlam. The segment that last built to that match was the one that capped off Monday's Raw.

Naomi and Cameron are still clawing at each other, Summer and Layla continue to torment their former dance partner Fandango and AJ and Paige haven't finished fighting over the Divas title. 

That could potentially lead to three, maybe four SummerSlam matches featuring the roster's female stars.

That's progress from the routine of generally highlighting a pair of Divas at one time and asking the others to wait around. Will it mean more ring time, though?

Recent pay-per-views have shown an increase in Divas bouts, but that women get slighted in terms of the length of those matches. The Internet Wrestling Database provides a look at who battled who and for how long so far in 2014, with Dave Meltzer's star ratings in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter included.

Divas Matches on WWE Pay-Per-View in 2014
Event Opponents Match Time Star Rating out of 5
Elimination Chamber AJ Lee vs. Cameron 3:58 -1
WrestleMania 30 14-Divas Invitational 6:47 1.25
Extreme Rules Paige vs. Tamina Snuka 6:14 2
Payback Paige vs. Alicia Fox 6:32 2
Money in the Bank Naomi vs. Paige 6:57 1.5
Money in the Bank Summer Rae vs. Layla El 3:06 0
Battleground Naomi vs. Cameron 3:11 0
Battleground AJ Lee vs. Paige 7:12 .5

Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t The Internet Wrestling Database)

The good news is that unlike several pay-per-views of the years, the Divas often made it to the show and, in some cases, even had two bouts representing the division. Pessimists, though, will note that these were all the shortest or second-shortest contests of the night.

Place much of the blame for all those low ratings on the limited time the wrestlers had.

Naomi and Cameron's grudge match at Battleground had no time to develop. It'd be hard for even Kurt Angle and Shawn Micheals to do much with three minutes and change.

Continuing to ask the Divas to cram their stories into packed spaces leads to a cycle of ineptitude. The women struggle to put on meaningful performances, and then WWE can point to the low-quality matches as proof that the Divas can't hang with the men.

Match positioning hasn't helped, either. Fox and Paige's battle Payback sat in between two dramatic, draining matches in John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt and The Shield vs. Evolution.

That's a spot reserved for a palate cleanser, light entertainment meant to cool the fans down before getting them riled up again when the serious matches restart.

Positioning the Divas title match there is a signal to not pay as much attention to it. Why not put a comedy bout there? The Bo Dallas vs. Kofi Kingston non-match would have been a better fit anyway.

That was a segment worthy of a bathroom break, not Paige and Fox battling over the Divas title.

At SummerSlam, one has to wonder how WWE will divide the event's time. Shortchanging Paige and AJ is ensuring their inability to flourish. Think back to one of the most memorable Divas matches in recent memory—AJ vs. Kaitlyn at Payback—and note the time they spent in the ring.

WWE didn't need to give them a 30-minute window to do their storytelling, it took just 9:52 to grab the audience's attention.

Credit: WWE.com
AJ Lee keeps Kaitlyn grounded.

The company is headed in a positive direction in showcasing several female-centered narratives at once, but it also needs to allow the wrestlers to compete for a touch longer. In the case of AJ vs. Kaitlyn, a few extra minutes meant the difference between another forgettable Divas bout and one that had fans excited about the division's future.

Give AJ and Paige that same treatment, and they will make the most of it.

What lies ahead for them and their peers is uncertain. WWE has two potential paths ahead of it, one where former models the stars of Total Divas are the leads or one where the gladiators clanging their swords get a spot on center stage instead.

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