When Nikki Bella returned to action at SummerSlam, many expected her to be the favorite to win the SmackDown Women’s Championship. Instead, she’s settled into a feud with Carmella which has, so far, been entertaining.
Imagine that. An established former champion was expected to be thrust into the title picture and instead isn’t overshadowing the title picture. Where have we seen that before?
Oh, that’s right.
Bella’s real-life boyfriend John Cena did the same thing throughout 2015. And wouldn’t you know it, Cena is arguably the most popular he’s been with hardcore fans since 2006.
So why is Bella taking a similar approach? Well, it’s simple. SmackDown’s women’s division had two established former champions before the inaugural title match at Backlash: Bella and Natalya. The rest of the division features mostly new talent. Sure, Naomi has been around several years, but hardly made waves as a singles competitor. Becky Lynch was the only true star of the division prior to Bella’s return and the only other realistic option to win.
The show needed Lynch to be legitimized as champion and the rest of the division to be elevated without being overshadowed. Bella, the already established star, has accepted a role similar to Cena’s by taking a back seat while still remaining relevant.
Instead of battling Lynch herself, Nikki is taking the babyface role in a secondary feud. Though she isn’t at the epicenter of the title picture, she’s still remaining one of the division’s biggest names.
No one can deny the fact that she was the longest reigning Divas Champion in WWE history, especially now that the title is no longer in existence. Like Cena, Bella’s legacy is already greater than that of her opponent’s so just being in a feud with her gives them the rub.
Consider the current angle with Carmella. Before attacking Nikki she was just floundering as a random babyface. But since attacking Bella, she’s a heel with an edge and an actual purpose on the show.
Carmella has been excellent as a heel and Bella has portrayed a believable babyface. It’s not the Team Bella vs. NXT angle in which everyone knew WWE was protecting Nikki’s title reign despite fans wanting changes to the division. This is an improved veteran worker facing a rising talent in an angle that should make both look stronger long-term.
Having her eliminate the former eliminate the former champion during the Backlash title match also legitimizes Carmella as a credible threat. That’s why having a veteran presence is important in every new division, like having The Brian Kendrick battle the new Cruiserweight Champion or The Usos face the new SmackDown tag champs.
Like Cena, Bella will eventually return to the title picture once her opponents have been established. At that point, you could book her against Alexa Bliss or Carmella and it wouldn’t be a believable feud.
It’s only a matter of time before Nikki is back at the forefront of the division, but WWE first needs to let the rest of the women establish their characters on the main roster. SmackDown has done everything right with its women’s division so far, including having Bella be the veteran presence that helps her colleagues get over.