It’s been three months since Sasha Banks and Naomi walked out of Raw one fateful Monday night, and as of this writing, we are no closer to a resolution between WWE and the former tag team champs. Both are still members of the SmackDown roster, despite numerous reports to the contrary. I certainly don’t have anything new to add to the litany of articles written about the duos departure; regardless of whether you supported their actions, there’s really not a ton we can do about it now.
In the immediate aftermath, WWE seemed utterly confused over how to handle the situation, other than having Michael Cole give an uncomfortable comment about how the two were fined for their actions and suspended indefinitely. For weeks, the Women’s Tag Titles weren’t even mentioned on air. That said, if you’re a longtime viewer, this may simply seem like par for the course, as the company has struggled to prioritize the tag belts virtually since their inception.
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We then went all of June and July with little concrete news of Naomi and Sasha’s potential return, and even less information about the future of the woman’s tag division. Finally, just a week after Triple H was appointed head of creative, someone realized that they should probably do something with these belts that have been sitting around collecting dust for three short months. Adam Pearce announced that a tournament would be held to crown new tag champions, with round one starting the first week of August, and continuing throughout the month.
The Women’s Tag Titles Return
The bracket featured teams from Raw, SmackDown, and NXT, including some hodgepodge duos put together to pad out the roster, and some teams who could very well take home the bright white belts. It was impressive to see the titles not only routinely referenced but fought for twice a week — I honestly can’t remember the last time the company took advantage of the titles even being defended on multiple brands.
After the introduction of the NXT Women’s Tag Titles last year, the belts felt even less relevant, routinely going weeks and weeks without even warranting a mention on TV, much less a title defense. Allegedly, a large part of Banks and Naomi’s walkout was a lack of respect shown to them as champions and to the Women’s Tag Titles themselves, leading to the notable departure of two pillars of the woman’s division as a whole.
Not to praise Triple H for doing the absolute bare minimum for a division invented over three years ago, but the tag tournament has certainly been a step in the right direction. If the bar is on the floor, he can fit at least a shiny leather shoe underneath it. I’m happy to see virtually any attention being paid to these oft-forgotten championships, but only time will tell if this marks a new road for the tag division, or if the big white belts will fall by the wayside once more.
Way back in 2019, when the Women’s Tag Titles were first announced and we all had hope this would be a turning point for how seriously WWE took its women’s division, both Raw and SmackDown held a series of qualifying matches to determine who would compete for the titles at Elimination Chamber. We ended up with Sasha Banks and Bayley, who had long been campaigning for women’s tag titles within the company, defeating Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose to become the inaugural champions.
At first, things seemed to be going great for the Boss n’ Hug Connection. Finally, we had more than one women’s title, which meant more than one women’s feud. Surely we were in for more time devoted to different storylines, more opportunities for talent who weren’t being used in the title scene to get TV time, and a growing division as a whole. With a whole new set of titles to fight for, it would be strategically impossible for this to result in less attention on the women’s roster. Right?
Things started out strong; the titles were defended at WrestleMania 35, switching into the hands of the IIconics in a stellar fatal-four way match. While there was potentially some backstage issues over how early the title change came about, it was still exciting to see the belts given so much focus on the Granddaddy of Them All, especially in a match with so many big stars. With teams like Banks and Bayley, Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross, and the Kabuki Warriors, things seemed poised to take off for the women’s tag division. And then … they simply didn’t.
The problem was never the roster; while I’ve been vocal about my dislike of WWE’s favorite hobby (sticking two random singles stars together and having them challenge for the tag titles), it allowed for some top level talent to hold the mid-range belts. It kept the scene fresh, even if it also demonstrated their devotion to ignoring actual tag teams in favor of talent they couldn’t manage to write other storylines for.
The Problem with the Women’s Tag Division
But using the tag division as a waiting room for singles stars lead to frequent turnover of the titles and teams, and more backstabbing than an episode of Maury. Throughout its three and a half year history, we have had 13 different title reigns. That’s not an insane number, but when you remember that the belts would frequently go two or three months without even appearing on television, the timeline shortens.
On paper, many teams had substantial reigns, with the shortest clocking in at about a month and a half. The longest (The Kabuki Warriors, who cinched the championships at Hell in a Cell and didn’t lose them until WrestleMania the following year,) saw a total of five title defenses before the belts changed hands. During this time, Asuka also challenged for the Raw Women’s Title and got involved in a handful of singles feuds, while the tag titles were little more than an ornament for her and Kairi Sane to show off as she involved herself in something that the company clearly felt was more worthwhile.
Don’t get me wrong — WWE has pulled off the two belts stories before. Bayley Dos Belts helped run the ThunderDome era, and I had no problems with that. But, even at her snottiest, Bayley attempted to treat the tag belt as a legitimate accolade. Raw didn’t even give Kairi and Asuka the chance to boast about their tag gold, as the titles were rarely used as more than a fun fact on Asuka’s entrance facts.
Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler, a tag team I had legitimately blocked from my memory, were given a similar treatment during their 100+ day run. They managed two marquee defenses before their feud with Tamina and Natalya, which ended just after Mania 37. Carmella and Queen Zelina, the second most recent champs, suffered the same fate, reigning from last fall until April 2022 and having very little to show for it.
Despite an illustrious debut, and the depth of talent in the division, the tag titles were repeatedly shoved to the background (and often the pre-show) in favor basically anything else. I was stoked to see Naomi and Sasha team again earlier this year, and even more excited to see them take home the gold at Mania, but they had the unfortunate luck of cinching belts with a sadly lackluster history.
Promise of the Future?
While things seemed poised to change quickly in this new, Vince-less era, the women’s tag tournament has at least helped shine a welcome light on something the company has overlooked for far too long. Monday night crowned our new Women’s Tag Champs, as a very surprised arena watched Raquel Rodriguez and Aliyah beat Iyo Sky and Dakota Kai to win the tournament.
This wasn’t the outcome most were expecting; despite being a former NXT champ, Rodriguez hasn’t made much of an impact on SmackDown, and Aliyah has been Aliyah for her entire WWE career.
Bayley’s BFFs seemed a shoo in to claim the titles even before the first round concluded, just given the amount of attention the faction has received since debuting at SummerSlam. The heel trio is set to be major players in the women’s division, and it would make sense to slap the belts on them. They’re scheduled to take part in a six man tag at Saturday’s Clash at the Castle; Rodriguez and Aliyah are, as of now, nowhere to be found on the card.
One could argue that Sky and Kai don’t need the belts currently, as they’re relevant enough without them, but that’s weak at best. There simply isn’t another team in the division who are capable of making the same waves — so why not just slap the titles on them? Is there a grander plan in place for Rodriguez and Aliyah? Could we potentially see another team making their return soon enough? Trips handing a title off to Aliyah seems a curious decision, one that I can only hope will be solved by a very excited Michael Cole uttering his favorite phrase next Monday: it’s Boss Time.
Sure, that’s an elaborate dream, one I’m basing more on Twitter speculation than reality. But as of this exact moment I have cause to hope. We’ve seen what Triple H has done with wrestlers he genuinely believes in, and we know his track record with both Io and Dakota in NXT. I’ve got to think there’s something more for them here. Including, in my absolute wildest dreams, a match against Naomi and Sasha.
Pulling a last minute switch and putting the championships on a thrown-together team that has little crowd support doesn’t read like the smartest way to kick off this division you’re claiming to value so much. But handing the belts to an interim duo as the stage is readied for a massive return? It’s possible, that’s all I’m gonna say.