With another year of women’s wrestling in the books, it’s once again time we take a look back at the last 12 months and make the mature decision to arbitrarily rank the women who stood atop the WWE this year. Now, much like the men, the ladies of the world’s largest professional wrestling organization spent about as much time fighting the creative team for a worthwhile storyline as they did facing each other. There were a lot of start-stop pushes, some questionable character reinventions, and the baffling decision to place the company’s top draw into a three month feud with Lacey Evans…and arguably Baron Corbin. Still, the women of WWE put on some amazing matches over the course of 2019, and here are the best and worst to wear the big belts.
9. Charlotte Flair
Won the Title: SmackDown LIVE, March; Money in the Bank, May; Hell in a Cell, October
Length of Reign: 17 days (Combined)
Memorable Matches: vs. Asuka (SmackDown)
Well isn’t this a sad state of affairs? Last year, the Queen was at the top of this list, and this year she’s coming in behind someone who won the belt only a week or so ago. The thing is, even though she held a top title three times this year (scoring her second win over Asuka in the process), her combined reigns only amounted to 17 days and contained a grand total of zero successful defenses. Her first win clipped Asuka’s resurgent wings all to put another title on the line at WrestleMania in a match (and night, quite frankly) that was already overstuffed. Her second win came when she beat Becky Lynch (following some Lacey Evans shenanigans) at Money in the Bank…only for Bayley, who had won the briefcase earlier that night, to successfully cash it in shortly thereafter. Charlotte would get a measure of revenge by winning the title back at Hell in a Cell in October…but then she lost it four days later on SmackDown right back to Bayley because…Bayley’s new haircut? I guess? I dunno, man. A few weeks back, Cory Graves said that Charlotte has never felt less relevant than she does now, and he may be right. But let’s be real, Charlotte is a reliable name, a company favorite and one of the best wrestlers on the roster, no matter what some people say. It won’t be long before she’s the gazillion time women’s champion.
8) Rhea Ripley
Won the Title: NXT, December 18
Length of Reign: 19+ days (Combined, ongoing)
Memorable Matches: vs. Shayna Baszler (NXT); vs. Toni Storm (TakeOver: Blackpool)
Full disclosure: Rhea was at the bottom of this list before her recent win over Shayna Baszler, which gave her one more banger of a match than her former look-a-like Charlotte, and a few more days with a belt than the Queen. Don’t get me wrong, Rhea has a real chance of heading up this list next year because she is doing AMAZING things on NXT Prime these days. It’s just hard to put her over some of the other ladies on this list when she’s spent such little time with either NXT Women’s title this year. Still, on the strength of her two title matches, the build to those bouts and her continued growth as a performer over the past several months, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about the Adelaide native’s fortunes in 2020. Whether as a face or as a heel, Ripley is one to watch in the coming year.
7) Ronda Rousey
Won the Title: SummerSlam, August 2018
Length of Reign: 231 Days
Memorable Matches: vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Becky Lynch (WrestleMania)
Say what you will about Ronda Rousey, but she didn’t half-ass her time in WWE. Sure, her matches and promos were over-rehearsed, and she had a knack for saying things outside of the ring that put her (and WWE) under some unflattering scrutiny. Still, when called upon to work a big match, Ronda was a solid performer, and her star power with casual fans allowed the women’s title match to headline WrestleMania. Though that match wasn’t as good as it could/should have been, Ronda was an essential factor in the success of the women’s division this year. Her presence and aura helped to set her apart, and covered up for a lot of her shortcomings. For a first year performer, you could certainly find worse than Ronnie here.
6) Kay Lee Ray
Won the Title: TakeOver: Cardiff, August 31
Length of Reign: 115+ (Ongoing)
Memorable Matches: WarGames (TakeOver: WarGames)
Kay Lee Ray makes it this high on the list due to length of reign, the quality of the match she won the belt in and the promise that she shows. That being said, NXT UK’s filming schedule just hasn’t really allowed KLR to shine the way her fans would want her to. As the first British-born NXT UK Women’s Champion (I know, I had to look it up too), Ray has proven to be an athletic, cerebral heel who can cut decent promos (in the context of NXT UK’s women’s division at least) and pulls off some great “conniving heel” tropes that help elevate her above the likes of Ronda Rousey. Still, there’s little getting around that she is not the most exciting part of the NXT UK show. Even her current feud for the title is more about her two opponents than it is about her. But Ray’s got talent, promise and a position at the top of the card; perhaps she’ll be able to move up on this list next year.
5) Toni Storm
Won the Title: TakeOver: Blackpool (January 12)
Length of Reign: 230 Days
Memorable Matches: …None?
One has to wonder what WWE thinks of Toni Storm. When she was brought in for the first Mae Young Classic, it was clear they thought she was a star. When she signed, they were all too quick to give her her first accolade as the winner of the second MYC, and though Rhea Ripley would be the first to wear the NXT UK Women’s title, it was Storm who would dethrone her in what was probably the best match of TakeOver: Blackpool. Unfortunately, most of her run took place before NXT UK had a regular weekly TV series, so fans went quite a while before seeing what a Storm title reign would look like. Unfortunately, it was a bit underwhelming. She had well-received bouts with the likes of Nikki Cross and Bianca Belair at the Worlds Collide tapings, but, much like NXT UK itself, it just wasn’t something a lot of people actually saw. Still, Storm is a young and exciting performer who was trusted enough to be a part of NXT’s women’s Survivor Series match (where it took two concurrent submission holds to eliminate her), and she appears to be sticking around the title scene in the UK for now. Time will tell if she finds herself on this list next year.
Won the Title: TLC, December 2018
Length of Reign: 100 days
Memorable Matches: vs. Becky Lynch (Royal Rumble), vs. Charlotte Flair (SmackDown)
Oh Asuka, my precious Asuka. Will the main roster ever book you well? Asuka’s run with the SmackDown Women’s Championship started out promising enough — the TLC match in which she won it was an absolute banger and really helped to re-establish the Empress of Tomorrow as a dominant badass by giving her a strong win over both Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair. They then followed up this momentous win…by keeping Asuka off TV for several weeks. She would have one-off bouts with the likes of Naomi and…Mandy Rose, but by the time Royal Rumble came around, creative remembered what they had with Asuka, and booked her in a match with the surging Becky Lynch. It was an odd choice (that felt like an accident at the time), as most of us thought Becky should have been in the Rumble (spoiler alert, she was), but it was a strong matchup between the most popular person on the show and the once-again-unstoppable Asuka. Shockingly, Asuka won that match clean as a whistle! It was the biggest win of her time on the main roster, and proved that the Empress was indeed a champ to believe in…for another couple of weeks before they arbitrarily decided to add the SmackDown Women’s Championship to the main event of WrestleMania. Now, I don’t mind Asuka losing to Charlotte Flair in theory, but it was a needless and damaging decision that really hurt Asuka’s momentum. Though she was the victim of start/stop booking that continues to this day, Asuka’s time with the SmackDown Women’s title was largely successful. Now let’s just get her back on track by once again defeating Becky at the Royal Rumble! #Asuka2Belts
Won the Title: Money in the Bank, May; SmackDown, October
Length of Reign: 210+ days (Combined, ongoing)
Memorable Matches: vs. Ember Moon (SmackDown), vs. Charlotte Flair (SmackDown)
This was the year that Bayley, the purest babyface ever created by WWE’s creative machine, turned heel. And it was…fine, I guess. After earning her first SmackDown Women’s Championship with a successful cash-in of the Money in the Bank briefcase, Bayley kind of ran in place for a while. She had a brief dalliance with the up-and-coming Ember Moon before – as is so often the case – the WWE decided they wanted Charlotte Flair to be champion again, and Bayley’s underwhelming title run came to an equally underwhelming end. That’s when the Hugger broke bad, ditching her side ponytail for a sassy new look and literally axe murdering her Bayley Buddies in a symbolic rejection of the bubbly, naive character that she has spent the past several years embodying. Now, yes, she hasn’t really changed her move set to go along with her new mindset, and her new theme song sucks, but…I actually don’t have much to say to defend the move. I think there is definitely potential for Bayley to thrive in this heel role, but it’s hard to say that it has made her more exciting at this point. She’s getting wins and at the forefront of the blue brand’s women’s division, but given that her next feud is with Lacey Evans (who even Becky Lynch couldn’t get over), it seems like she’s got an uphill battle ahead of her. Actually, that reminds me…
2) Becky Lynch
Won the Title: WrestleMania 35, April
Length of Reign: 260+ Days (Ongoing)
Memorable Matches: vs. Ronda Rousey vs. Charlotte Flair (WrestleMania 35), vs. Sasha Banks (Hell in a Cell)
Yep, another year of this list, another runner up position for Becky Lynch. And much like last year, it’s hardly her fault. Her title win at Mania was meant to strap a rocket to her back and launch her into the stratosphere, but overbooking, an exhausted audience and an underwhelming finish to the match itself made the moment feel a little flat in comparison to, say, Kofi’s win earlier in the night. Thankfully, Becky is every bit the star WWE thinks she is, and made the most of the hand she was dealt by re-christening herself Becky Two-Belts, which probably sold a million T-shirts that would be made irrelevant weeks later when she dropped the SmackDown title back to Charlotte. That was largely due to the albatross around the neck of the women’s division: Lacey Evans. Immediately after Mania, Becks was saddled with an immobile, one-sided feud with the Sassy Southern Belle, and every match just died a slow and painful death before an audience that was less and less interested in the outcome. The crowd still loved Becky, but Evans is a very green performer, brought up to main on the strength of her character…and fans really don’t seem to care for her character, either. The feud actually cooled off the red-hot Lynch considerably — something that wasn’t helped when it was announced that her next feud would be with Natalya. Thankfully, a returning Sasha Banks helped to raise both performers’ profiles…except when we got numerous screwy finishes to lessen the impact, and then Banks was moved away as part of the brand split. Her Survivor Series build was fantastic, as Becky could talk anyone into a room…but that ending was also a little flat. Still, there’s reason for optimism in that regard, as her current feud with Asuka is off to an excellent start, and her rumored Mania opponent (spoilers: it’s the next woman on this list) should make an awesome foil to The Man.
And the best WWE women’s champion of the year is…
1) Shayna Baszler
Won the Title: Evolution, August 2018
Length of Reign: 416 days
Memorable Matches: vs. Bianca Belair (TakeOver: Phoenix); vs. Kairi Sane vs. Bianca Belair vs. Io Shirai (TakeOver: New York); vs. Io Shirai (TakeOver XXV); vs. Mia Yim (TakeOver: Toronto); WarGames (TakeOver: WarGames)
For as much as WWE wanted us to view Ronda Rousey as the female Brock Lesnar, Shayna Baszler was the real final boss of women’s wrestling in 2019. Whether flanked by her (fairly inept) henchwomen or rolling solo, the Queen of Spades dominated competition across three brands over the past year. Unlike Ronda or Lesnar, though, Baszler’s matches were all well-worked events that allowed her opponents time to shine before their inevitable defeat. Just look at the murderer’s row of Superstars that have have fallen at her feet this year: Bianca Belair, Io Shirai, Kairi Sane, Candace LeRae, Dakota Kai, Mia Yim, Bayley and Becky Lynch all lost matches to Baszler over the past 12 months, and though she recently dropped the NXT Women’s Championship to Rhea Ripley, she’s already an odds-on favorite to win the Royal Rumble and return to the main roster against the biggest star in the division, Becky Lynch. This year also saw Baszler up her promo game, further develop her mat skills and enter the upper echelon of show-people in all of pro graps. She’s not the flashiest women out there, she’s the most believably badass. A woman capable of snapping bones or choking out anyone, regardless of gender. Simply put, there is no one on Shayna’s level, and one can only look forward to what the future holds for her.
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