With the confirmation that Nikki Bella, Naomi, Becky Lynch, Carmella and Alexa Bliss will be representing SmackDown in the women’s Survivor Series match against Raw in two weeks, the last remaining woman on the active roster – Natalya – suddenly became the odd one out.
She lost her position in the match last week when Nikki defeated her to become the team’s captain, because with there only being five available spots on Team Blue, someone had to take the fall.
It made sense that Natalya would be the one to do so, because since SmackDown’s exclusive roster came into full effect, she’s had the least amount of development and overall exposure on the brand. Becky Lynch and Alexa Bliss are gearing up to clash for the SmackDown Women’s Championship, the rivalry between Nikki Bella and Carmella seems to be far from over, and Naomi has put on a consistently riveting performance since the draft with her new gimmick.
With everyone coasting on a decent level of momentum heading into Survivor Series except for Natalya, it was inevitable that her role at the pay-per-view would be up in the air.
That was, however, until it was confirmed that instead of flying under the radar for the next few weeks, Natalya will actually be playing an active role as SmackDown women’s coach leading into the event. Her duties aren’t exactly specified, but it can be assumed that she’s going to use her many years of expertise to try and get the individuals involved away from each other’s throats, and to focus on their loyalty to SmackDown to help them co-exist and eventually win the match.
At first it seemed like a passive effort to humor Natalya, but given a little thought, it’s actually a really effective move. As stated, they could’ve easily allowed her to take a step back, but by adding her to the group dynamic at Survivor Series, SmackDown is further accentuating the fact that their women’s division is handled a lot better than that of Monday Night Raw.
In a way, SmackDown having six people to Raw’s five will symbolize the difference between them.
Heading into the brand extension, SmackDown was heavily criticised for having such a thin female roster while Raw had the majority of the star power – and that was before Bayley made her debut. But the realization soon emerged that it wasn’t the names on the roster that mattered, it was how each person was handled with such a short timeslot to work with from week to week.
Given Raw’s extra hour, it was unexpected that women like Alicia Fox and Summer Rae would essentially fall of the face of the planet in favor of booking the same women every Monday.
Raw’s reliance on groundbreaking moments like the first ever women’s Hell in a Cell match, or the first ever women’s pay-per-view main event made them overlook the rest of the division’s performers – including Dana Brooke and Bayley, who were placed in one of the worst feuds we’ve seen out of the WWE this year as a result of careless writing.
SmackDown, on the other hand, has at least tried to keep everyone relevant at the same time; something that’s very difficult to do in just two hours a week without feeling a little chaotic. It hasn’t always been perfect, but the effort at all is something the blue brand has that Raw does not.
In fact, Raw has been so reliant on exclusively using Charlotte, Sasha, Bayley, Dana and sometimes Nia Jax that those are really the only people that could organically fall into place on Raw’s team at Survivor Series, which is frightening considering “The Boss” might not be able for it.
Summer and Alicia Fox could’ve just as easily been candidates for the team, but they’ve been thrown completely to the wayside, with the exception of two or three encounters between Fox and Nia.
Even Emmalina is being handled poorly, and she hasn’t even made her return/debut yet. The weekly vignettes are being dragged out for too long, and the gimmick is already proving to be counterproductive for the image that the brand is trying to take women’s wrestling towards.
Raw clearly holds less regard for its female roster as a whole, despite constantly proclaiming the brand as the place to be for women’s wrestling. It may feel like a simple move, but SmackDown using Natalya as a coach for its Survivor Series team is a subtle way of maintaining the integrity of the brand’s women’s division while Raw’s continues to fall apart.
You shouldn’t expect Natalya to play a deciding factor in the match itself – she may not even be at ringside on the night – but just the idea that someone is actually enthusiastic about leading SmackDown to victory works in the brand’s favor. It’s a simple, yet effective way to make SmackDown look like a superior show heading into the pay-per-view.