In the fourth edition of the Hidden Gems series, Screen Critics takes a look at Nikki Bella vs. AJ Lee from RAW in 2015 – right before Wrestlemania 31.
Hello my friends, and welcome back to the Hidden Gems series. This week we travel to 2015, where The Authority was running rampant on Monday Night RAW, Rusev was one of the top heels in the company, and women’s wrestling was on the verge of a major breakout. When Nikki Bella was finding her form in the ring and the Divas division was slowly filling up with quality competitors.
For the large part of 2014, the Divas Championship scene was dominated by Paige, AJ Lee, and towards the end of the year, Nikki Bella. These ladies were important steps in a long walk for WWE towards letting their female superstars shine in matches just like their male counterparts do. While true, you can’t just pick any Nikki Bella match and be blown away by her performance, she did become a very good competitor towards the end of 2014, and when she was given the chance afterward, she proved that she could have a very good decent length match. AJ Lee, on the other hand, was seen as somewhat of a saving grace for the women’s division from 2012 up until her departure in 2015. She wasn’t particularly exciting in the ring, but she had the charisma and promo ability to make up for that and get you invested in her matches. By the time 2015 rolled around, we were in a period where Nikki Bella was the top dog in the women’s division as the reigning Divas Champion, and AJ Lee was on her way out, which makes it all the more surprising (to me personally) that she’d go on to give us her best match on a random RAW before WrestleMania 31.
This match was a part of the build-up to The Bella Twins vs. Paige and AJ Lee at the aforementioned big event, and it would end up delivering far more than the WrestleMania tag match. I just remember being really shocked at how good it was, given their matches at Survivor Series and TLC a few months prior were nothing special. They really came out swinging in this match, and it showed, and as a result, the match was awesome. Now in the famous words of Jerry The King Lawler, “let’s don’t wait,” let’s get into the match.
We start off with a lockup (bad idea, AJ), which leads to Nikki Bella overpowering AJ and hitting her with a shoulder block (told you). Nikki then does her best non-verbal “how do you like me now?” before picking up AJ Lee for a gorilla-press-choke type of maneuver. The same one that Ricky Steamboat did to Randy Savage in their match at WrestleMania III. You know what I’m talking about. Bella slams AJ into the corner and hits her with some shoulder blocks to the midsection. Our referee tells Nikki to back away, which leads to her doing some push-ups on the mat. Booker says he likes what he’s seeing, and I laugh. I kind of miss this female-Luger phase Nikki Bella went through. It was pretty awesome. Nikki goes for a splash, but AJ gets the knees up, then proceeds to hit her with the weakest looking back elbow I’ve ever seen. Irish whip from AJ leads to a pinfall attempt, but it’s only a one count. That was I’m sure the first of many times you’ll be reading the word “count” in this article.
AJ Lee hits an arm-drag (wow, maybe this match is legitimately the Steamboat/Savage of the women’s division) which leads into an armbar. Somewhere, Chris Jericho is smiling. AJ gets all twisty with the armbar, while Paige says “come on AJ” and it made me remember how much I actually miss Paige. Which is a lot. Please come back. Nikki hits a “fireman’s carry take-down” (thank you Michael Cole), and now she’s the one with the armbar locked in. Now Jericho is somewhere laughing maniacally. We get a shot of Brie Bella being Brie Bella, only she’s wearing one of Nikki’s tops instead of her own, which is odd but whatever. AJ escapes the armbar and gets Nikki into a head scissors, which she easily escapes. That’s followed up with a headlock, and then a wristlock. Lexi Bella escapes that by hitting a clothesline that would make Sami Zayn proud (meaning she tried, and that’s what matters at the end of the day). This gets followed up with a pinfall attempt for only a two count. We are moving on up, ladies and gentlemen. AJ breaks free of Nikki’s grasp and hits her with a spinning heel kick, which makes my son Erick Rowan very proud. I think this was around the time he was using it too.
Nikki picks up AJ for what appeared to be some sort of backbreaker, but AJ countered that with a headscissors take down. Bella down, lads. Bella down. Nikki gets to the apron but AJ grabs at her hair, which ends up being a mistake as Bella grabs her arm and hangs it up on the top rope. Ouch. We come back from a commercial break to see Nikki Bella with another form of an armbar locked in on AJ Lee. Chris Jericho might end up spontaneously combusting at this rate. AJ fires at Nikki with punches and then a kick to the gut to break free. She then tries to run the ropes, but gets caught with an uppercut by Nikkisaro. AJ Lee gets covered but kicks out at two, what a shocker. Nikki hits some kind of arm-breaker-DDT type of move on AJ, which reminds me of doing a ton of limb targeting when I played WWE ’13. Another pin attempt, and another near fall. Such is pro wrestling. Nikki has a fit because she can’t get the pin, but it was a weak fit. Christian did way better back in the day. Step your game up Nikkles. As I write that out, Nikki sends AJ arm-first into the turnbuckle, and then locks her in another armbar. All the while commentary is getting on Booker T for something he said, I honestly wasn’t paying attention, so I missed it. JBL then says Booker T is going to be on The View. Now I’m really curious, but not curious enough to rewind.
Michael Cole mentions WrestleMania being a “four hour spectacular” and I’m just dreading SummerSlam on Sunday. With the two-hour pre-show, four hours main show, and possibly a talk show afterward, it’s just too much. I’m gonna be burned out by 9 PM just like I was last year. WWE, if you’re reading this, there is a way to remedy my burned-out-ness. Just bring on The Fashion Police around that time. I’ll be awake and completely focused on whatever they do. I’m just saying. AJ eventually escapes and locks in a guillotine chokehold on Nikki, but Nikki backs her into the corner to break the hold. AJ comes back with a Thesz press, followed by a Stinger Splash, and then a neck breaker. Hmm, that seems familiar…. I wonder who else does that move combo. AJ heads to the top rope and hits a flying crossbody, however, she only gets a two count on the pinning attempt. Nikki recovers and drives AJ face first into her knee, and covers for only a two.
Nikki Bella picks up AJ Lee, but AJ rolls down into a pinning situation, which only yields a one count. She then hits Nikki with a dropkick, which sends her flying. AJ gets sent to the outside by Nikki, and she lands right in front of Brie Bella, who is confronted by Paige before she can do any damage. Brie and Paige get in each other’s faces, but that ends quickly as Brie sends Paige to face first into the ring post. Well god damn, that’s aggressive. Back in the ring, Nikki hits AJ with her fucking awesome Lex Luger forearm smash. It’s over at this point as Nikki hits the Rack Attack to get the one, two, three, and the victory. What a fun match.
Match Rating: 3 Gems
There we have it, guys. This one was a short entry for a short match. By today’s standards, it’s not the greatest match, but it was cool to see the women get some time and a basic, but a good story to their match, with the limb targeting and such. It was in my view AJ Lee’s best match during her WWE run (yes, even better than her match vs. Kaitlyn at Payback), and it was one of Nikki Bella’s better matches as well, falling second only to her match vs. Brie at Hell in a Cell in 2014. In the end though, these women gave us a fun, memorable RAW match, that I’d support you viewing if you decide to do so.
Stay tuned as next week we go all the way back to 1997 for a fun brawl featuring Shawn Michaels in a post-Montreal Screwjob world. Until then, I am JeriKane, and this is the Hidden Gems series.