You Think You Naomi: WWE’s Unheralded Gem

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She’s been an FCW Divas Champion, a Funkadactyl, a BAD girl, and now the face of the Glow movement, but one thing she has not been. And that’s a WWE Women’s champion. She’s arguably the most underrated woman on the WWE roster right now and lately, one of the most controversial. And that woman is Naomi.

Naomi Knight: The FCW/NXT Years

Photo: WWE.com

Unlike many of the new women in WWE’s Revolution, Naomi does not come from an indie background. But she’s showed Superstar potential from the minute she showed up in WWE’s developmental system back in 2010. Trinity McCray had just spent the past three years, from 2006 to 2009, as a dancer and cheerleader for the NBA’s Orlando Magic, when this Sanford, Florida native arrived at WWE’s then developmental system in Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW), under the name Naomi Knight.

“I started dancing at the age of 8. I took tap, jazz, ballet, lyrical, modern and hip-hop. Actually, after high school, my goal was to join the Alvin Ailey School of Dance. But at the time, my family didn’t have the money available for me to go and, honestly, I was afraid to leave home. So, I scratched that idea and auditioned for the Orlando Magic as a dancer. I made the team. It was my first professional job. At the time, that was the best gig for me because it kept me home. I was able to work and attend community college, but I always knew that I wanted to be in entertainment. Then the WWE show and the WWE Divas came to Orlando, and I went to see it live. That is what made me realize the next avenue I wanted to go down.” NAOMI, JET Magazine, December 18, 2013

In FCW, Naomi Knight became a fan favourite and excelled quickly, despite her lack of a pro wrestling background. She was fast tracked to success early, capturing the inaugural FCW Divas Championship (the precursor to the NXT Women’s Championship) on June 10, 2010, by defeating future Straight Edge Society member Serena Deeb in the finals of a tournament.

She held the title for 189 days (a reign only beaten by Eddie and Vickie Guerrero‘s daughter Shaul Guerrero, competing under the name Raquel Diaz), before losing it to AJ Lee in December of that year. During her reign as FCW Divas Champion, Naomi was brought to the main roster as part of the second season of NXT (when it was a reality game show rather than a brand), placing second behind Kaitlyn. She returned to FCW and continued competing until she was finally called up to the main roster in January of 2012. Unfortunately, the momentum she had in FCW failed to carry over initially.

The Funkadactyls

Photo: WWE.com

From every angle, this entire gimmick seemed doomed for failure. Dancing gimmicks have been a part of pro wrestling for decades: The Honky Tonk Man, La Parka, Disco Inferno, Alex Wright, Fandango, and Ernest “The Cat” Miller, have all experienced different levels of success by wiggling their hips for entertainment value. But this trio felt awkward from the start. For one, the main focal point, Brodus Clay, had been the star of a series of pre-debut vignettes for weeks prior that seemed to indicate the massive big man was en route to a debut as a bad ass wrecking machine more akin to Samoe Joe than Norman Smiley. But sure enough, when his debut arrived, many were stunned and appalled when he appeared as a retro rap dance machine (and coming out to Ernest Miller’s old music to boot). Equally surprising was seeing Naomi, the former FCW Diva’s Champion, now reduced to that of a cheerleader on the sidelines. What happened to the woman who was competing nightly in solid matches with the likes of AJ Lee and Serena?

It would be nearly a year before Naomi would be seen in an actual televised match, when Naomi won the Santa’s Little Helper Divas Battle Royale on the TLC ’12 Pre-Show Match and face off against Divas Champion Eve later on in the PPV itself. Although she lost, she would begin wrestling more often on television over the next year, either in singles or tag matches with her Funkadactyls partner Cameron. While she would see more opportunities at the Divas title, she was still merely an afterthought, partially because of her ties to the faction, now known as Tons of Funk, after the failing trio added Tensei (aka Albert) as their “Hip Hop Hippo”. The fourth member addition was the shark that they finally jumped and in December of 2013, the troupe was disbanded and the two Funkadactyl women would venture off as a tag team duo (although they briefly valeted for R-Truth and Xavier Woods). Within months, Cameron and Naomi began feuding and became clear that Naomi was the more significant talent of the two, gaining big victories over such women as AJ Lee and Paige. Her addition to the cast of Total Divas opened up her personality to the WWE Universe and also exposed that she was married to WWE Superstar Jimmy Uso of the tag team champion brothers, The Usos.

Uso Crazy

Photo: WWE.com

With her relationship with Jimmy Uso now in full reveal, Naomi became the new valet for The Usos, while still maintaining her burgeoning singles career on the main roster. While her ring work continued to improve, many still found her sweet and innocent personality to feel awkward and forced. Despite some feuds with the likes of Nikki Bella and Natalya, her greatest success came when she helped her husband and brother-in-law capture their second WWE Tag Team Championships against The Miz and Damien “Mizdow” Sandow on Raw in December of 2014.

The Turn

Photo: WWE.com

As she began to distance herself from the Usos and refocus on her singles career, Naomi entered a feud with Divas Champion Nikki Bella in early 2015. After back to back non-title match victories, Naomi was once again deemed the #1 Contender for the title. But the other women convinced then acting COO Kane into holding a #1 Contenders Battle Royale the following week instead. The normally cheerful Naomi had had enough. Despite making it to the final two, Naomi was finally eliminated by Paige, losing her hold on the #1 contendership to Nikki Bella’s title. And then the unthinkable happened. Naomi turned heel.

Now fully heel, Naomi showed a brutality and fierceness – not only in the ring, but on the mic – that most of the WWE Universe were unaware she even possessed. Following the turn, Paige was “injured” and by default, Naomi regained her #1 contendership and faced Nikki Bella at Extreme Rules ’15. Unfortunately, interference from Brie Bella blocked Naomi’s chance at a title. It was clear that Naomi needed help if she was going to continue to compete in the women’s division.

Beautiful And Dominating

Photo: WWE.com

Naomi first turned to her family. In May of 2015, she aligned herself with her cousin-in-law Tamina Snuka, in a duo that reminded many of the early 90’s pairing of Shawn Michaels and Kevin “Diesel” Nash. Naomi was the athletic, arrogant worker, while Tamina provided the muscle and protection. With Tamina in tow, they took out the Bellas as a unit, but in singles, she still failed to win the Divas title, most often due to DQ endings because of Tamina’s interference.

When the Women’s Revolution finally happened in July of last summer, and tired of being outnumbered by the Bellas (who now had Alicia Fox in their camp), Naomi and Tamina revealed NXT Women’s Champion Sasha Banks as their newest group member. Calling themselves Team BAD (originally standing for Best At Dominating, before changing to Beautiful And Dominating), the group was one of the stand outs of the initial growing pains of the Women’s Revolution. The whole thing began as a convoluted mess, but the bravado of “The Boss” Sasha Banks meshed well with the fire of Naomi and the two seemed on a collision course for a great program to determine the Alpha Dog in the trio. It appeared to be heading that direction, when Sasha Banks left the group in February of this year, but after only a one month feud, Banks moved on to other storylines, while Naomi and Tamina ended up the victims of injuries: Tamina went down to knee surgery and Naomi tore an ankle tendon. Following her return, she filmed a part in the WWE film, The Marine 5, before returning to the road in time for the Brand Draft in July of this year.

Feel The Glow

Photo: WWE.com

Naomi was drafted to Smackdown Live this summer and returned after an injury layoff of several months. Repackaged as a face, she incorporated some of her pre-wrestling dance background into an electronic club style persona, complete with a seizure inducing entrance. The response was one of the best reactions she’d received as a face in the WWE since her FCW days. She competed in the 6-pack challenge to crown the inaugural Smackdown Women’s Champion at Backlash ’16, this past September, eliminating Alexa Bliss before being eliminated herself. She continued a small feud with Bliss after that, replacing the injured Women’s Champion Becky Lynch at October’s No Mercy ’16, ultimately defeating Bliss again. She continued her PPV streak when she was added to Team Smackdown for this November’s Survivor Series. Once again, she was hit by an ankle injury and has been off TV for the past month (her last match was a November 22 taping for Main Event against Alexa Bliss).

With Nikki Bella now entering a program with Natalya and former Women’s Champion Becky Lynch now fully distracted by the mystery of La Luchadora, Smackdown Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss is now devoid of a challenger. Eva Marie is still out filming, Carmella is working James Ellsworth (and a heel, so it’s unlikely they pair another heel against Bliss), that only leaves Naomi as the last woman left on the roster. The storyline has already been put in place. The early wins by Naomi over Alexa Bliss while Bliss was chasing Lynch for the title seemed to indicate groundwork for something down the road. Could it be that it was to set up Bliss’ first feud after Lynch (who lost her rematch this past Tuesday)?

For those of us who have believed in Naomi since the beginning, let’s hope that this is the route the WWE is taking. In a time when the internet will claim everyone and their mother deserves a title run simply because they “deserve” it, Naomi is one woman who has weathered developmental (with resounding success), reality game show embarrasment, a stupid funkin’ gimmick, and a BAD idea. She’s shown her improvement in the ring, she’s shown a knack for playing the heel, and reinvented herself with a new gimmick that has all the visuals to appeal to the casual fan and the children in the audience.

John Cena said on Tuesday that this was the “My Time is Now” Era on Smackdown Live. That should apply to Naomi as well. She’s shown she belongs. And while she may not be on the level of Charlotte, Bayley or her old running mate Sasha Banks (yet), she’s shown a willingness to learn and adapt and overcome. And with a lack of faces on the Smackdown Live roster, Naomi could prove to be the ideal woman to end Alexa Bliss’ reign and become your NEW Smackdown Live Women’s Champion.

Photo: twitter.com/NoamiWWE

Main Photo: WWE.com

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