The date was May 29, 2014. The event was the first live NXT Takeover special at Full Sail University. The match was Charlotte Flair vs. Natalya in the finals of the NXT Women’s Championship tournament.
Charlotte won the championship in what was considered as one of the best WWE women’s matches up to that point in history. Immediately after, it seemed as if all the praise was universally directed toward Charlotte. Sure, her performance was phenomenal, but Natalya was clearly the ring general carrying things.
Although Charlotte had started wrestling more than a year prior, this match was Charlotte’s official coming out party to the entire wrestling world.
Like any second or third generation star, the road to success isn’t a guarantee in WWE. For every Dwayne Johnson and Randy Orton, there is the example of Cody Rhodes and Ted Dibiase Jr., two men who were never able to live up to their fathers’ respective legacies.
Just imagine the pressure Charlotte must have been under considering that her father, Ric Flair, is regarded as the greatest wrestler to ever live.
Charlotte’s success over the last couple of years is even more remarkable when you take into consideration that she never wanted to be a wrestler to begin with. The family star was to be her late brother Reid, who died of a drug overdose in 2013. It’s for this reason Charlotte often says that she’s living out her brother’s dream.
More than any other performer, Charlotte has been at the forefront of the revolution that has transformed the very fabric of women’s wrestling in WWE.
Truthfully, I wasn’t the biggest Charlotte fan for a long time. When the NXT women’s division really started gaining momentum in 2014 I felt that Charlotte lacked the personality of her contemporaries Bayley, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch. Collectively, these four women became known behind the scenes as the Four Horsewomen.
When the three made their jump to the main roster in 2015, I was the least excited with Charlotte. Well, I was disappointed in their entire presentation. For several months, the company was in a strange process of transitioning from the Divas era of scantily-clad women with little to no wrestling background into the current era that is defined by a more athletic breed of female performers who grew up as wrestling fans.
Being that Charlotte was a good wrestler and Ric’s daughter, it made all the sense in the world to build the division around her. Charlotte defeated longtime Divas champion Nikki Bella at the 2015 Night of Champions PPV to begin her own lengthy run. Even after winning the championship I can’t say that Charlotte came across as a bigger star. She was just missing something.
Enter Becky Lynch.
The Irish Lass Kicker was a natural babyface who was a perfect foil for the soon to be heel Charlotte. In terms of entertaining television and storyline consistency, it was the first women’s program of the new era to really get over in a big way with the fans. By the time they wrestled at the 2016 Royal Rumble Charlotte had clearly established herself as the division’s top heel.
Like many great wrestlers, Charlotte found her true calling as a heel. As a babyface, she was the epitome of a vanilla performer—technically proficient, yet bland. As a heel, she oozed confidence in and out of the ring. Even better is that her legendary father managed her for several months. Following the loss of his Reid, it was nice to see Ric having so much fun alongside his daughter.
To show how much of a cornerstone she had become in the women’s division, Charlotte entered WrestleMania as the last Divas Champion and defeated fellow horsewomen Sasha and Becky in a thrilling triple threat match to become holder of the new Women’s Championship. Her win on the biggest stage of the year solidified her standing as the #1 woman in WWE and effectively marked the end of the Divas era.
While Charlotte was already on the top of the mountain, it was her program with Sasha that took her to an entirely new plateau. There are certain wrestlers who can produce magic whenever they step into the ring together. Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat, Rock vs. Steve Austin, and Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn all fall into this category. Charlotte vs. Sasha is the women’s equivalent.
From July-December, they traded the Women’s Championship six times. While it was overkill in a sense, they tore down the house on so many occasions that I can overlook it. They headlined two episodes of Monday Night Raw and wrestled in three PPV singles matches, including the main event at Hell in a Cell. Charlotte vs. Sasha was voted by PWI as the 2016 Feud of the Year and finished 4th in the Wrestling Observer’s year-end poll.
When the dust cleared there was little doubt that Charlotte emerged as the ultimate victor. While Sasha beat her on three occasions, Charlotte always came out on top when it mattered most, on PPVs. Speaking of PPVs, Charlotte had a streak of 16 consecutive PPV wins that ended with a loss to Bayley at Fastlane. Charlotte got her second WrestleMania moment in a losing effort against Sasha, Bayley, and Nia Jax. Having accomplished everything there was to do on Raw, Charlotte was traded to Smackdown in April.
Charlotte is currently set to compete in the first ever women’s Money in the Bank ladder match this Sunday. It’s a safe bet that her performance will be among the highlights of the match.
When looking at the top women wrestlers in WWE, she stands atop the heap. She has the entire package—looks, workrate, charisma, verbal ability, and tenure on top. She is in a completely different league than her predecessors Trish Stratus and Lita. It almost feels unfair to compare her with any woman that came before 2014 since the goal of women’s wrestling in WWE was much different up to that point in time.
If Charlotte keeps up her current pace for another couple of years then it will be increasingly hard for any woman to measure up to her stature. When the book is finally written on her career she will likely go down as one of the best women wrestlers this country has ever produced.