At the start of 2017, Alexa Bliss was the SmackDown Women’s champion. It had been around a month since her first title win and overall, people seemed pretty excited about ‘Five Feet of Fury’ as an emerging female star. Since turning heel in 2015, Bliss’ character work had been consistently entertaining and as I touched on earlier this year, had developed a lot and become legitimately great on the blue brand. However, with the suddenly increased focus, it was now time for Alexa to attempt to solidify her spot as one of the top performers in the whole division regardless of brand.
Alexa’s matches with Becky Lynch had been solid, even if somewhat unremarkable for a variety of reasons but it didn't matter much in the grand scheme of things as her confidence on the mic made her a surprisingly easy choice for champion anyway. In order for Bliss’ run on top to last though, she’d need to show more and continue to evolve as an in-ring performer. There were flashes of brilliance at times due to her athleticism and general ability to pull mean faces but overall, it hadn't quite clicked yet bell to bell. To the concern of many, Alexa’s next title program would be with Naomi, an opponent she had a shared a less than stellar outing with at No Mercy just a few months prior.
This time around things would go mostly smoother though with the pair gelling much better and putting on a quite exciting match up until a messy final minute hurt things slightly. Bliss played her heel character well throughout the match and its quality was a credit to the quite impressive improvements both had made in very little time. There still seemed to be some kind of a disconnect for me though. Alexa acted like a heel but had yet to really get comfortable wrestling like one, even if she was clearly taking steps in the right direction.
Though at the time it seemed like a throwaway TV match, in hindsight it was Alexa’s final SmackDown outing that in my mind signaled a real turning point in her in-ring performance level. Wrestling Naomi for the title two days after WrestleMania, Alexa isolated the champion’s leg and attacked it aggressively, her attacks were really pretty simple but just unique enough to make them matter. It was a quite short match but still clearly the best of the pair’s series and more than that, it was the most polished Alexa had ever looked in her role.
As odd as it seems considering her background, Bliss’ sweet spot as an in-ring heel is very much old-school in its approach. Her athleticism can make for the odd cool spot but that’s not what the priority is or should be for her. It’s about taking an approach fitting for her character. There needs to be a nastiness to it all, a real aggression. Nowadays wrestlers often seem to almost sleepwalk through the heat segment but Alexa really doesn't have that choice. When you’re a 5ft tall heel, everything you do needs to have some vigor to it because if it doesn't, you just aren't a threat.
Bliss’ in-ring work would continue to trend in that direction with her match against Bayley too, a bout that was actually very strong and highlighted the pair’s proven chemistry from NXT. It wasn't quite as focused on Alexa’s heat segment but she seemed to very much belong against an on-form Bayley who turned in one of her best performances on the main roster so far. I’m going to fast forward a couple of months now and pretend that the kendo stick never got involved because quite frankly, that mess of a match wasn't the fault of either woman and just isn’t worth discussing.
The next match worth discussing came at Great Balls of Fire against Sasha Banks. I discussed this match in detail as soon as it ended but basically, this is absolutely the best performance of Bliss’ career thus far. Part of that is obviously due to Banks’ famed brilliance but that match worked so well for me because both performers played their role excellently. Alexa’s work on Banks’ back really was tremendous and one of the better examples of targeting a body part that you’ll see in WWE today. It was simply excellent and really built that layer of the match strongly, a bout that with some more time and a fulfilling finish, could’ve been quite special.
It wasn't just Bliss’ heat segment that shined though as her whole performance seemed much more poised and polished, a clear sign of her growing experience as the women’s division’s top heel. Now as we head into SummerSlam, Bliss and Banks meet again and hopefully, will build on their strong 1st PPV showing with another standout match. I have to be honest in saying that whilst I very much believe in both talents, I somewhat question whether or not the “Biggest Party of the Summer” is the place for them to really shine considering the loaded match card. Hopefully I’m wrong though.
Either way, I have no doubt that Banks and Bliss will eventually produce something genuinely brilliant and as for Bliss specifically, it’s been quite fascinating to follow her in-ring progression this year. I’m not going to argue that she’s the smoothest worker or even the most dynamic but what I would say is that all recent evidence suggests that she’s become genuinely good at playing her role. You may not personally love what Bliss does bell to bell but from my vantage point, it’s quite refreshing in its almost throwback approach. When Bliss is in control, her attacks aren't that of someone stalling for the finishing sequences but instead, it’s like watching a real human in competition, a human absolutely certain that she’s going to win at any moment now. To me, that’s good pro wrestling and with her technical side improving every match, Alexa Bliss really is on route to be something quite special in women’s wrestling history.