By Matt Straub and Brad Carroll
It feels like forever ago, but it’s really been less than 20 years since WWE’s version of women’s wrestling involved matches which sometimes took place in mud, sometimes in pools and almost always in underwear. Then came the Divas era, when there was more in-ring action and certainly plenty of screen time, but only a select few could wrestle at a high level. The rest relied on skits and roles as someone’s girlfriend to get over.
Today’s women can truly wrestle. They main event shows and often provide some of the best action of the night. This transformation makes this weekend’s first all-female PPV, Evolution, appropriately named. It will be historic, and the title is fitting for what the event means for the company’s women’s division, but will the show be any good? Let’s break down the card and see if there’s anything groundbreaking, or at least entertaining, ahead.
Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey vs. Nikki Bella
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: Please don’t let this be the main event. Please don’t let this be the main event. Of course this is going to be the main event. Actually, I take it back. In a way, this is the perfect main event for this card. It can represent the final nail in the coffin for the old era. Remember when Vince bought WCW, then spent over a year embarrassing any former WCW talent stupid enough to join his company? It was his way of spiking the ball and gloating over his victory. I’d like to see Ronda, the personification of the new era of badass women, spike Nikki Bella and end the “Divas” era one and for all. I’d also like her to win so convincingly that it cancels the “Divas” TV show while she’s at it, but that seems less likely. WWE messed up Rousey’s run, making her too equal to random wrestlers instead of the dominant force she should have been. They can’t make the same mistake here. Ronda needs to win and win huge. If this is about Evolution, Ronda needs to send the company into the future. Her recent improvement on the mic is a good start (Ronda has jokes now!), but giving her a dominant victory over someone who is everything wrong with women’s wrestling would cement the movement. Will WWE do it? Hell, I’ll be surprised if Ronda wins, never mind dominates. Nikki wins to continue the feud, and WWE misses a huge opportunity.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: I’d love it if WWE actually made this match represent the end of one, horrible era and usher in a new one, one that has been already well underway with Charlotte, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks and Bayley, and taken to a zenith with Ronda Rousey. But we all know Vince McMahon still calls the shots, which means the Divas of the recent past will still be pushed to the moon, even if they can’t wrestle and haven’t proven anything in forever. That’s the Bella twins right there. Talentless, borderline dangerous, workers who don’t even have the mic skills to make up for it. But they have what Vince wants: looks. That’s all that matters to him, and probably ever will. Just look at what he’s done to Asuka, who is the opposite of the Diva image, and that has nothing to do with her looks. She’s a badass. She can wrestle. She’s dangerous in a good way. She’s not Vince’s cup of tea, so she’s been destroyed on the main roster. That’s one of Vince’s biggest mistakes with a talent in probably ever. But boy oh boy did we get away from this match. It makes sense for Ronda to destroy Nikki Bella, much like she did the immensely more talented Alexa Bliss, but don't count on it. In fact, don’t be surprised, and I won’t be, when Brie Bella helps Nikki Bella beat Ronda Rousey for the Raw women’s championship. Will it make sense? No, because Ronda could beat both Bellas at the same time. But that is what is going to happen. Nikki wins and the Raw women’s division will go down a very dark road. Unless Rousey breaks out some more John Cena insults, which were epic the last go-around on Raw.
SmackDown Women’s Champion Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair
(Last Woman Standing Match)
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: Has there been a better double turn in wrestling since Austin-Hart at WrestleMania? Everything about this has been impeccably well done. Lynch has become an absolute star as a heel, doing some of the best work of her career. Charlotte has been wonderful, avoiding the standard victim who’s been wronged role and turning to her Flair roots by fighting back. I was worried the constant Lynch run-ins, where she attacks Flair in random places, would get old, but they haven’t. The bit at the Performance Center was as fantastic as the previous battles. The only reason to have concern is the stipulation. Typically, last person standing matches mean the end of the feud, since there will be an obvious winner. I’d love a wild finish, where one woman gets up at 9½ to beat the other, who gets up just after the 10-count, but I think this is the end. Becky wins because she needs a push, and Charlotte needs a break while WWE slowly transitions her back to Raw and into the title picture before her showdown with Rousey. As crazy as it sounds, the “road to Wrestlemania” starts in two months. It’s amazing how time flies. This feud, for one, has gone by too fast.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Becky Lynch is the best wrestling character WWE has on the roster today. Nobody can tell me or convince me otherwise. Becky is in another stratosphere right now and couldn’t be more popular. She’s done so well, WWE should hand her highlight reel to anyone they are thinking about turning heel and telling them to watch this first. She’s been downright awesome. Charlotte has been solid too, which isn’t anything new, because she’s great in her own right. But Becky has overshadowed everything going today. It’s the reason why Becky can’t lose the title now. She’s going to find a way to win, likely in Straub’s vision, with one just beating the count before the other. Becky’s going to beat the count, and then she’ll probably beat Charlotte up some more afterward. WWE, you’ve finally done something perfectly, but give the credit to Becky, you know this is all her right now.
Trish Stratus & Lita vs. Alexa Bliss & Mickie James
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: This has become a tag match largely due to Alexa’s injury status, giving WWE protection if she can’t go or is limited. It also covers the original booking mistake. If this was going to pay homage to the past, it should have been Mickie vs. Trish. Alexa would work better with Lita, anyway. Instead we have this random tag match. Yes, it will be fun to see the legends in the ring again, but it won’t be very suspenseful. The faces were going to win even before the matches were combined. If Alexa doesn’t wrestle, their chances go from 100 percent to 150 percent.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: OK, besides the NXT women’s championship match, this is where the card becomes completely meaningless. Everyone is going to love seeing Trish Stratus and Lita back in the ring. It will bring back memories when the women’s division started to see a turn way back when. They are both still hugely popular as well. But there’s no real reason why this match is happening, other than to bring back two Attitude Era superstars. Alexa Bliss and Mickie James will make nice foes as the heels. But they are here to lose. It will be fun to see some vintage moves by Trish and Lita and should be short and sweet.
NXT Women’s Champion Kairi Sane vs. Shayna Baszler
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: The only interesting thing about this match is thinking about the future. WWE loves Sane, but can it do enough to distinguish her from Asuka? Baszler is highly-regarded, but can WWE turn her into more than “the next Chyna”? She’s reportedly going to the main roster soon because she’s friends with Rousey, and she’ll become her own Daniel Bryan to Ronda’s Cena. My guess is this is the match between Ronda’s and Charlotte-Becky. And I’ll give Sane the win because Baszler is moving up soon.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: If there’s a match to steal the show on this card, it’s this one. NXT matches are generally much better than the ones put forth by their WWE brethren, mainly because NXT is more open to letting everyone do whatever they can to entertain. WWE just isn’t that way. For examples, just look at the Bayley-Sasha Banks match from Takeover: Brooklyn. That match was special in NXT, but will likely never be duplicated in WWE. So, this match could give everyone their “wow” moments at my old stomping grounds at Nassau Coliseum. On a side, I used to go to Nassau when WWE (then WWF) would runs shows there every month. It would take less than 10 minutes for me to get a ride there as a kid, and I could even walk if I wanted to be brave and challenge the heavy traffic along the way. (And I’ve done both). Anyway, Sane won the title recently and there isn’t a reason to stop her push in NXT just yet. Baszler, as Straub points out, is likely headed for a call-up to be alongside real-life friend Ronda Rousey. It would make Baszler a secondary character, which wouldn’t be good on the surface, but being paired with Rousey couldn’t hurt in her build to a bigger and better superstar. Sane wins and everyone will say how great a match this was.
Historic Women’s Battle Royal Match
(for a future Women’s Championship opportunity)
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: Let’s channel Hulk Hogan’s old backstage gimmick and play a game of “if this were real”. Which do you think would be harder to win in real life, a battle royal, or the Royal Rumble? In the Rumble you have to last longer, but in a battle royal you’re in there with everyone at once. Personally, I’d rather draw No. 1 at the Rumble, jump No. 2 immediately, then fight each guy individually all night than have to survive the chaos of a battle royal. I also never understood why Nos. 1 and 2 never join forces in the Royal Rumble, jump all the other entrants one at a time, then fight each other at the end one-on-one. Oh, sorry, I got sidetracked. These things are so hard to predict, but I think a bigger-named wrestler wins, giving WWE an easy match to sell down the road. This is often a spot to make a name for a newcomer, but I don’t see it here. Gimme Asuka, because of the shame WWE has committed in ruining her career, and because I don’t have any other good pick in mind for this.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: How do you know Straub has lost his mind? When he’s breaking down battle royals and Royal Rumbles and mentioning Hulk Hogan in an all-women’s PPV preview. Straub, man, I know you just had a birthday, but you ain’t to the point of losing your wits just yet. Stay woke. A Royal Rumble would have been much more enjoyable for everyone here instead of a battle royal, which has become the worst match of all matches WWE puts together nowadays. Back in the day it was cool to see 20 superstars in the ring at the same time, but now it’s just a mass of bodies until the final three are in the ring, and typically only one has a realistic shot to win. Asuka is the easy choice to win this, since WWE destroyed her and might think this will make up for everything since her undefeated streak ended. But the obvious choice doesn’t typically win. So I’m going outside that thinking and picking Ember Moon, who is probably going to be a trendy pick to win anyway. The woman I wanted to pick to win isn’t on the promo photo for the event, so that’s out the window. But if Nikki Cross does win, I want the credit. Is that OK Old Man Straub?
Sasha Banks, Bayley & Natalya vs. The Riott Squad
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: WWE missed a great opportunity here. The match which got people thinking of women’s wrestling in a new light more than any other was Sasha-Bayley in NXT. They should have had those two go at it for no other reason than nostalgia and let them tear the house down. They didn’t even have to do a turn, just have them wrestle out of respect for each other and the division and put on a show. Instead, we get this. I’m going to go with the Riott Squad here because the heels have to win something on this show. Becky can’t be the only heel to win. I hate that this is the match here as much as I hate that we never really got the Sasha-Bayley full feud we should have. The bits with the psychiatrist weren’t even funny.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Old Man Straub proves he’s not completely lost in this world by suggesting Banks and Bayley should have rekindled their infamous match from a few years ago here. But WWE instead chose some long, drawn out, weird, confusing and all-around stupid storyline involving the two going from best friends to best friends. Yeah, I know, way to ruin another pair of women who started this evolution in the first place. I also agree with Straub that the Riott Squad will get the win, probably for the same reasons, but more so because I really believe WWE has a star in the making in Ruby Riott. She’s the best of the new crop of women to enter WWE (and isn’t it amazing that we can say new crop right now when it comes to women who are great in the ring?) and deserves more. Riott isn’t going to be beating Rousey any time soon, but maybe she will get her championship moment on SmackDown or if WWE ever creates women’s tag team titles. Either way, Riott Squad gets the win.
Toni Storm vs. Io Shirai (Mae Young Classic 2018 Finals)
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: WWE needs to decide what the Mae Young Classic is going to be. For all the hype surrounding the event, it doesn’t seem to have any prestige or purpose. Last year’s finalists are fighting each other on this card for the NXT title, which for most fans, is still the minor leagues. If this thing is going to take off, give the winner (I think it’s Toni) a push on the main roster. If the participants are going to be relative unknowns, make me care about them by giving the event some real meaning. Speaking of meaningful things, let me end my half of this preview with a quick thought. We’ll break this down on a bunch of levels soon with Crown Jewel, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Roman Reigns. We’ve ripped him to shreds over the years here, but now he’s fighting an opponent both Brad and I actually want him to beat. Get better big man, we look forward to tearing you a new one again soon.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: I haven’t been watching the Mae Young Classic and I can’t imagine most of you have either. It’s already nearly impossible just watching Raw and SmackDown every week to add another show, and if you or I did, it would NXT. So, admittedly, I’m taking a shot in the dark here and going with Toni Storm cause she has a name I think Vince would like better. As for Roman Reigns, man, that was shocking and tough to watch on Raw. Cancer sucks and everyone will be rooting for Reigns to not only beat it to the ground but return to WWE to what will be one of the longest and loudest crowd reactions in wrestling history.