Perception is a fascinating thing. It can be reliant on any number of factors: timing, exposure, longevity, those are just a few. In most cases, a performer’s career will go through a range of chapters as far as their perception. Perhaps they’ll enter a breath of fresh air before overstaying their welcome, or maybe they’ll be hopeless rookies that leave as heroes. The awkward part with pro wrestling though of course is that there are no true wins or losses, no undeniable moments of greatness that once and for all silenced the doubters. Instead it’s just opinions about a subjective form of entertainment that in truth, follows no rules at all.
Few wrestlers better highlight this truth than Nikki Bella. Regardless of the content within, any social media post related to Nikki will likely receive a similar response. There will be enthusiastic love on one side and quite spiteful hate on the other, it’s passionate either way but there’s rarely a middle ground in site. This trend is nothing new though, and for a few key reasons, it actually dates back quite some time. It’s important to remember of course that when the main roster’s “women’s revolution” chapter began, it was Bella that held the title.
She was the status quo, the establishment for these new faces to overthrow. In that case, it was a good fit too, with Nikki being an ideal villain for whoever they opted to crown as queen. Charlotte Flair obviously became that person and regardless of opinion, Bella certainly made the most of that role. In fact, I’d argue that Nikki’s final performance as Divas champion would be her finest, showing genuine poise in an undeniably solid title tilt. In hindsight though, that was a unique moment in Bella’s career too, with neck surgery side-lining her just over a month later.
In a career of opposing narratives and opinions, Nikki’s pursuit of an in-ring return isn’t an element up for debate. Considering her other ventures, its genuinely admirable that Bella’s passion led her back to the ring and more than that, her work ethic upon return was undeniable. Helping bolster a brand new SmackDown women’s division, Nikki always put immense effort forward, and was a genuine help from a star power perspective also. Following her WrestleMania mixed tag match though, Bella would again take a step back from the ring, not returning until 2018.
Nonetheless, Nikki would look at home in her Royal Rumble showing, performing well and playing an important role too. Even though she’d finish as the match’s runner-up, comeback return would be short-lived, going without another appearance until SummerSlam. It was there that Nikki and Brie sat ringside for Ronda Rousey’s title win, planting the seeds for what has since followed. The road to that always inevitable heel turn wasn't particularly gripping, but since arriving there things have certainly picked up, for better or worse.
Ronda’s polarizing RAW promo definitely prompted some debate, and in my mind, the response is just another example of Bella’s unique perception and position. Even though Nikki is a former champion that’s appearances are now few and far between, a portion of the audience still refuses to respect her and right or wrong, that allowed Ronda’s promo to be a genuine hit with the live crowd. For some, her verbiage was on the money and for others, it was a tone-deaf use of narratives spread among wrestling’s more outspoken fan-bases. Either way, live crowd’s investment certainly doesn't look like a problem right now.
Creatively, that’s a quite obvious advantage of Nikki’s perception. There’s such an intensity on both sides that it’s easy to hook the audience, using promos that simply reflect the arguments constantly sparking debate. It isn’t always the ‘classiest’ approach perhaps but with Nikki, it’s undeniably effective, more so now than ever. Regardless of how you perceive her though, one thing is for sure: this Sunday quite obviously marks a major moment in Bella’s career specifically. After a run that’s divided onlookers, Nikki finds herself in a position that her star power likely warrants: the marquee match on WWE’s first ever all-women’s PPV’s.
My opinion is no more important than anyone else’s, and that’s why frankly, it’s not my focus here. I’ll say this though, Nikki Bella doesn't have to be just one thing in wrestling’s imaginary history book. In reality, she can be whatever you want her to be. You don’t have to view Nikki, or the Bella Twins in general, as legends but there’s also no reason why they can’t be just that in someone else’s mind. This is pro wrestling, there’s no arbitrary or absolute logic and instead, a performer can mean anything to anyone for any reason.
No matter which side of the argument you are on though, Nikki Bella’s work ethic is commendable in itself and at Evolution, she gets one more opportunity to enhance her unique, divisive legacy. It’ll be genuinely interesting to see how the public’s view evolves over time but for now, Sunday is the culmination of a quite lengthy career and frankly, that’s worth respecting.