I try to be positive about wrestling, in my life and my writing, and I think I mostly succeed. Sometimes, however, that positivity crumbles when it comes to the things I care about the most, and this is one such instance. See, women’s wrestling means a lot to me. When I first got into wrestling as an adult, it was women’s matches, particularly at NXT, that showed me that pro wrestling wasn’t just the aggressively, performatively masculine enterprise I had always taken it to be, and that women in the sport were gaining more respect than just being eye candy and props for men to fight over.
So in 2017, my first year at Uproxx, I put together a year-end list of the Best WWE Women’s Matches. Last year, I did it again for 2018. I enjoyed making those lists, and even the matches on them that nobody talks about are worth going back and taking a look at whenever you’re in the mood for some good wrestling. But as the end of 2019 drew near and I began contemplating this year’s list, it was rough going. The truth is, I gave up. There will be no “The Best WWE Women’s Matches of 2019.” There’s just this editorial instead.
It seems strange, I agree, to take this stance about the first year in which women main evented WrestleMania, and in which WWE introduced (re-introduced, really) a Women’s Tag Team Championship. But does anybody really want to see that Mania match on a best-of list? Charlotte, Becky, and Ronda gave it their all, but the crowd was dead after such a long Mania, and the finish was botched. The Man came out of it as Becky Two-Belts, and it wasn’t her fault Ronda failed to keep her shoulders down, but she never got that decisive one-on-one victory over Ronda that she and so many of her fans wanted, because Ronda left and so far has never come back.
As for the Women’s Tag Team division, it never became much of a division at all. Bayley and Sasha Banks quickly dropped the titles to the IIconics at Mania, who were barely on TV for most of their run. Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross won the belts and got more TV time, but they were starved for good competition as well.
With Sasha taking a leave of absence, Naomi similarly gone for much of the year, and Nia Jax injured, the teams that had been set up in advance of the belts mostly fell apart. Fire & Desire were mostly used as enhancement talent, and the Riott Squad were broken up and largely disappeared from TV. Eventually the Kabuki Warriors would win the Titles and become a pretty exciting team, thanks to their heel turn and Asuka’s embrace of the green mist, but since then they’ve mostly competed against singles wrestlers like Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch, rather than building a tag division around them.
And yeah, let’s talk about Becky Lynch. She had probably the best 2018 in wrestling, and it seemed like nothing could keep her down or cool her off. Then WWE spent most of 2019 doing a pretty good job of keeping her down and cooling her off. She feuded with Lacey Evans, a pretty awkward and green worker who left NXT before she was ready. That led to Becky losing the Smackdown title to Charlotte Flair because of Lacey’s interference (and then to Bayley immediately winning it, but we’ll get to her) and into a relationship angle with Seth Rollins against Lacey and Baron Corbin, which I don’t think anybody liked. Becky next had a heatless feud with Natalya at SummerSlam, just because they were in Canada.
When Sasha Banks returned as a heel, that should have been great for her and Becky both. But the matches at Clash of Champions and Hell in a Cell were surprisingly disappointing. After a DQ finish in the first match, Sasha unceremoniously tapped out to Becky in the Cell, and lost all the momentum she’d gained upon her return. Since then, Becky’s mostly been hanging out with her old frenemy Charlotte, who’s had even less to do in 2019, and competing in the Tag Division.
Probably Becky’s most exciting moment in 2019 was confronting then-NXT Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler in the run-up to Survivor Series, but that led to a triple threat with them and Bayley that didn’t quite seem worthy of any of these three women. Becky even closed the show with a beatdown on Baszler that seemed like an odd fit for a babyface champ.
Bayley had probably the most interesting 2019 of any woman in WWE. She turned heel for the first time in support of her friend Sasha, and then turned even more heel when she won back the Smackdown Women’s Championship from Charlotte on Smackdown, with a new haircut, new gear, and a very bad attitude. But again, what has WWE given her to do since then? The Survivor Series no-stakes Triple Threat, a fourway tag match at Starrcade, and no match at all at the last PPV of the year, TLC. Now she’s feuding with Lacey Evans, who hasn’t gotten much better since she was up against Becky.
Down in NXT, things are better of course. Rhea Ripley’s on fire, Io Shirai’s doing amazing work, and Candice LeRae has finally gotten some babyface shine. Dakota Kai, Bianca Belair, Tegan Nox are all doing great stuff, not to mention Kay Lee Rae, Toni Storm, and Piper Niven over in NXT UK. But if anything the NXT women’s division feels increasingly overstuffed, and now that NXT’s officially the third brand nobody seems sure if the women at the top will still move to Raw and Smackdown (where they’ll be subject to the same booking as everyone I’ve been talking about here) or if the division will just get more and more crowded as new women like Shotzi Blackheart start to debut. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been great women’s matches down there, and I could have done a whole top ten of those, but I did this instead (sorry).
2019 was a year without a second WWE Evolution PPV or a third Mae Young Classic tournament. There were some vague comments from WWE officials that those things might return some day, but it seems pretty clear that with Ronda Rousey gone, women’s wrestling just hasn’t been a focus for WWE this year. Instead, we were asked to celebrate when Lacey Evans and Natalya got seven minutes at a Saudi Arabian show that’s mostly remembered by how much trouble everybody had getting home.
I’m not giving up on women’s wrestling in WWE. Many of my favorite performers work there, and I’m hoping things will bounce back in 2020. If we can get Liv Morgan, Ruby Riott, Naomi, and eventually Ember Moon back in the ring, if Carmella and Dana Brooke keep getting TV time to develop as workers and characters, and if WWE Creative can learn to focus on more than two or three women at a time, then maybe in another year I’ll be happily expounding about the best WWE Women’s Matches of 2020. Maybe that hot tag will finally come, and deliver the WWE Women’s Division from this peril.