The timing for this isn’t the greatest – considering she lost the WWE Divas Championship on the final day of the first half of 2014 – but that shouldn’t take away from the huge strides that Paige has made, considering she was so absent from TV for the first seven weeks of the year…
The then-NXT Women’s Champion did not wrestle until February 27 of this year, more than three months after her previous encounter. She was pitted against Emma at NXT’s first live show on the WWE Network with her title on the line in what was one of the featured matches of the broadcast, and the pair did not disappoint. The pair fought over 13 minutes – longer than the bulk of women’s matches you see on the main roster – and put together a thoroughly absorbing contest which saw the challenger kick out of the Paige Turner, but eventually tapping out to the Scorpion Crosslock, now rebranded as the PTO. While a big deal was made about the 21-year old’s new submission hold, it was not a new move for her, and was something that she had used during her time in Florida Championship Wrestling when she first arrived in the United States.
A month of NXT tapings followed, which takes us to WrestleMania XXX weekend where Paige was backstage at the show, meeting people and creating a good impression – and then came Raw.
“She didn’t know that she was on Raw, she genuinely didn’t know,” recalled her mother, Saraya Knight during our recent Women Of Wrestling Podcast. “I’m in her apartment and I get a text message from her at 5 o’clock telling me to watch Raw. I’ve gone ‘Why, why?’ and she says ‘Mum, just watch Raw’.” What she – and her daughter’s neighbours, who she roped into watching the show with her – saw was the Briton upset AJ Lee in an angle/match to snare the Divas Championship to the huge approval of the crowd. While there have been arguments that her debut could have been teased and built up, if there was ever a night to debut her it was the post-WM Raw where the audience is made up of some of the most hardcore WWE fans from across the world. Not only did those fans know who she was, but they gave her their full support – though the real challenge began when the regular fans returned to the seats in the weeks to come.
In order to give the new champion some credibility, she went on a six-week unbeaten run where she turned back every challenge which came her way, and the quality of Diva action on Raw grew as a result. Her first PPV scalp was Tamina Snuka at Extreme Rules followed by Alicia Fox at Payback – which came about after Fox dealt Paige her first defeat since graduating to the main roster. That loss – one of three since winning the title – was the most unsatisfactory of the lot as the gap between the boot to her head in the corner and the pinfall was so big that you could park a tank in it, though it set the new tantrum-throwing Alicia up for a crack at the belt.
There were other setbacks along the way. She was stripped of the NXT Women’s Championship and there was precious little done to develop her character or let her get some more proficiency on the microphone. Moreover, having the Divas Championship meant she was dealt an added uphill struggle to identify herself to the crowd and TV audience and make them believe that she deserved to be the titleholder even though she had enjoyed no chase to win it. However as we pointed out in the Roundup earlier this week, losing the belt may be the best thing to happen to her.
Following her third PPV victory in a row – this time over Naomi at Money in the Bank, set up after the Funkadactyl beat her a couple of weeks previously – she came out on Monday’s Raw to conduct a rare promo, and it gave her a chance to show a little cockiness. That was exemplified when AJ Lee returned and babyfaced herself, facilitating Paige’s heel turn along the way. Mirroring what happened just after WrestleMania, AJ regained the strap and presumably set up a programme between the two which may lead to a match at Battleground in a few weeks, or may extend to SummerSlam and beyond. It should allow Paige to develop a heel gimmick, do some more talking – she commentates on SmackDown this evening during a match between AJ and Eva Marie – and show more aggression in the ring. With the proverbial monkey off her back, she may now have a real opportunity to take more risks as a performer.
Granted, her ascension to the main roster hasn’t been totally smooth sailing, but consider where she was six months ago. She is working WWE’s main TV shows every week, has merchandise and is much more recognisable as a Diva than when she was on NXT, which is still only available online if you’re a US resident. She has seemingly transitioned to working on the road well and is dealing with the increased workload which came with being the Divas Champion, taking part in signing sessions, guest appearances and media obligations. We shouldn’t forget that working in WWE means more than just the wrestling aspect, and it appears as if Paige is taking it all in her stride – which is admirable when you consider how the to-do list must become a lot longer when you leave the sanctity of the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, and also have the spotlight of being the Divas Champion.
While she is not the first woman to transition from NXT – both Summer Rae and Emma did it before she did – Paige has had experienced the most success over the last three months. When you consider her Divas Championship reign, run of victories on TV and PPV, extra marketability and significant outing against Emma in February, you would have to say that Paige is in a pretty good position. While her future is a little uncertain, there is enough evidence to have confidence in her fortunes for the the rest of 2014.
– Photos by WWE