After a SmackDown stint of ups and downs, Charlotte looks to solidify her spot on the throne at WrestleMania 34.
One year ago, Charlotte was fresh off of a quite memorable run. As RAW’s female centrepiece, she’d traded the brand’s title with Sasha Banks in a stand-out feud that elevated both women exponentially. They’d undeniably raised the bar, main eventing RAW on more than one occasion and even headlining a PPV inside Hell in a Cell. She’d put together a PPV streak, too, going unbeaten in title matches for well over a year, quickly establishing an aura truly befitting of an elite champion.
After a lengthy ‘reign’ though, it was now time to pass some of that credibility on. Charlotte would do that in ideal fashion too, dropping her title to Bayley in a memorable RAW main event. Her aforementioned PPV streak soon followed, and after taking part in the brand’s WrestleMania match, Charlotte needed a change in scenery. Fortunately, SmackDown counterpart Alexa Bliss needed the same thing and that ideal switch was immediately made, with both brands being shaken up in April 2017.
Charlotte came to SmackDown with the shine of a genuine star. She felt like a major acquisition and a legitimate headline act from the very start. Speaking of such, Charlotte would main event SmackDown Live within weeks of arriving, the result of that match though? Not so encouraging. Challenging Naomi for her Women’s Title, Charlotte was beginning to excel, visibly gelling with the champion as the match approached its climax. However, before it could find a fitting finish, the newly formed ‘Welcoming Committee’ interfered to cause a no-finish.
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s no issue with ending TV matches that way. The story here wasn’t that though, it was Charlotte’s shift from heel to babyface. It hadn’t been a particularly good fit for her previously and a quick glance at SmackDown’s division made it all the more confusing. As Bliss’ replacement, Charlotte seemed like an ideal top heel, especially with potential programmes opposite Naomi and Becky Lynch feeling fresh. Instead she was teaming with those women though, battling a villainous faction that simply lacked credibility, through no fault of their own.
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More multi-woman matches followed, and though they may have been intended to make Charlotte’s transition smoother, they instead seemingly stunted her progress. With no individual focus or foe, Charlotte immediately became just another babyface rather than a woman on a level of her own. It was tough for Charlotte to really channel or hone her altered persona in that format, often being grouped up without too much time to truly shine. Nonetheless though, the inevitable eventually came to fruition as Charlotte was paired with then champion Natalya.
After some time away due to her father’s health issues, Charlotte seemed visibly revitalised, delighted to be back doing what she loves most. Her initial return promo showed an increase in confidence and the timing suddenly seemed right. Babyface Charlotte finally felt like a good fit and considering her history with Natalya, this seemed like the ideal match-up. I think it’s fair to say that the pair’s eventual matches wouldn’t all be home runs but their SmackDown match in Flair Country stands out nonetheless.
After chasing Natalya for a couple of months, Charlotte finally claimed the title in a triumphant hometown moment. The reaction felt sincere all round and Ric’s post-match embrace with Charlotte was a visual that will likely stick with me for quite some time. It all had a real authenticity to it and after some down time, Charlotte now once again felt like a star of the highest order. However, in hindsight the timing wasn’t exactly ideal as Charlotte’s spot as champion then bizarrely lessened her role.
The focus had to soon shift towards the first ever women’s Royal Rumble, and rightly or wrongly, that meant for more muted champions. There was only so much they could do and that showed as Charlotte was once again without a single rival to focus on, halting her momentum quite a bit. By the time that rumble match had come and gone, Charlotte had returned to being just another SmackDown woman. That’s not a criticism of her, just a reality of the brand’s understandable priorities.
Nevertheless, Charlotte then returned to a more focused presentation, jumping on a collision course with Ruby Riott. The pair’s eventual match was a strong one and both women did everything possible to make it an engaging and intriguing title feud. However, it’s hard to make things unpredictable this deep into WrestleMania season and for that reason, their match’s appeal was always limited. As that door closed though, another opened as Asuka emerged to a huge ovation, laying down the WrestleMania challenge.
This is a big moment for both women and the division in general but for Charlotte specifically, it represents a major opportunity. This last year hasn’t been Charlotte’s smoothest and at times, she’s felt slightly minimised compared to her RAW heights.
Playing babyface was always going to be a challenge but all the factors surrounding have only made it tougher. Fortunately though, this one match represents the chance for Charlotte to not only erase that perception, but also to reclaim the spotlight on the grandest stage. These are the brightest lights possible and considering her opponent, Charlotte certainly looks set to shine under them.