For the final 53 minutes of Monday’s episode of Raw was devoted to a new #1 Contenders Gauntlet Match to determine Ronda Rousey‘s next challenger for the Raw Women’s Championship. It featured all the stars of Raw’s Women’s division, including Bayley, Sasha Banks, Ember Moon, Ruby Riott and Mickie James, but ultimately it was Natalya who emerged victoriously. And Natalya did it without being a fluke last entrant, lasting over 30 minutes in the match and beating Ember Moon, Ruby Riott and Sasha Banks in succession to win the #1 Contendership.
— WWE (@WWE) December 18, 2018
While some online lamented a seeming career midcarder like Natalya getting the opportunity over the likes of more popular and younger stars like Sasha Banks or Bayley, it actually lends itself to the earlier mantra by Vince McMahon and Triple H to start listening more to the fans. While no one has ever suggested that Natalya was main event level talent or someone who could be “the face” of the WWE women’s division, for over a decade now, the WWE has faced criticism for their continued devaluing of Natalya, who for many years during the Divas era, was one of the few legitimate “wrestlers” on their women’s roster. While she’s had two runs as Women’s Champion – first as a Divas Champion in 2010, then a short 86 day reign in 2017 in the midst of a story more designed to get over Charlotte Flair – she’s long been pushed more like the “mother hen” of the women’s locker room than an actual credible threat in the division. She was even victim to a brain-numbing flatulence gimmick in 2012 that many thought was the early signs of an impending “future endeavors”.
— WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) December 18, 2018
Thankfully, that gimmick was abandoned quickly and Natalya has stuck around, mentoring most of the women in the locker room now, and helping train new stars like the MMA Four Horsewomen – Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey, NXT Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler and new NXT Superstars Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir. And with reports that a feud between Natalya and her on-screen bestie Ronda Rousey was apparently axed once her father, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, passed away this summer, the end of Raw definitely felt like the tensions were back in place for a legit showdown that could safely take Rousey through to her probably WrestleMania 35 showdown with Becky Lynch. Having Natalya finally show her technical prowess in the ring by defeating three of this generations (and next generations) emerging stars in Banks, Riott and Moon shows a renewed faith in Natalya that hasn’t been seen in most of her career, even if it’s simply to get Ronnie to “The Man” in New York City in April of 2019. After all, Rousey could simply have had a return match with Nia Jax or thrown into a meaningless match with Alicia Fox instead.
— WWE (@WWE) December 18, 2018
The tension that closed out Monday night’s show also returned the foreshadowing of a possible turn in their friendship – although where once it seemed like Natalya would be the one turning on Rousey, the recent changes in Rousey’s character seem to indicate that Ronda is on the verge of a full-blown heel turn, in order to align with her Four Horsewomen compatriots in NXT, and the impending Horsewomen showdown that will likely occur at some point in 2019. So in many ways, the WWE did finally listen to a decade’s long lament for many longtime fans, to finally see Natalya get some proper credit for her Hart Dungeon-trained mat skills and get pushed as somewhat of a credible threat, even if it is to advance a bigger storyline narrative.