Editor's note: This piece originally ran back in January. In light of Paige's retirement announcement, we thought it would be a nice look at a career cut far too short.
Just a few days ago, PWInsider reported that less than two months after her triumphant return, Paige’s in-ring career was over. To anyone that had followed Paige’s journey, the news was harrowing. At just 25 years old, Paige’s career had seemingly come and gone in a flash but anyone with context would feel much different. The truth is, though Paige’s run in the wrestling mainstream seemed relatively short on paper, it was a period filled with ups and downs and a story of dramatic highs and lows. A passion kept her moving though and one has to ponder, if this really is it for Paige as in-ring performer, what’s her legacy?
Born into the business, Paige started young and rose to prominence as soon as her age would allow. Before long she would sign with WWE, becoming a part of FCW which would then of course become NXT. It was there that Paige would famously become the brand’s first ever women’s champion, laying the platform for a title belt now rich in history and legitimacy. Back then, NXT wasn't the brand it is now but if there was one performer that maintained a genuine buzz around her eventual main roster arrival, it was Paige.
The combination of Paige’s youth, look and “Anti-Diva” moniker made her a fascinating package to even the most casual fan. Those in power recognized that too, having her beat AJ Lee for the Divas Title on her very first night as a main roster star. From there Paige would stay in the title picture for the next six months, going back and forth with Lee before briefly taking a backseat in the often harsh female climate of staying on TV without having a belt over your shoulder. Either way, Paige’s popularity would surge with the wider fan-base falling in love with her energy and personality as she became one of the most beloved female performers in recent memory.
Within the WWE’s own history, Paige’s most important moment may have come with her on-screen push for a ‘Women’s Revolution.’ Regardless of what followed, the initial segment that brought main roster debuts for Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks was a memorable one and Paige’s part in it was important also, as she had been the centerpiece of the angle up to that point. It was fitting too, as in the minds of many Paige really did represent a chance for change. Almost the starting point of NXT’s focus on women, Paige had earned the audience’s respect with her skill after capturing them with her presence.
Just like every pro wrestling faction before it, Paige’s alliance with Lynch and Charlotte ended up going awry as the Brit became a villain once again. Bitter in approach and biting on the mic, at that time Paige was likely in her most fitting characterization. Though her popularity always made it a struggle, Paige’s performance always seemed most suited to a heel slant and that stint was no different. Paige’s programme with then champion Charlotte would be her last real title chase of substance before another babyface turn that allowed for a fun 10-Diva tag match at WrestleMania 32.
After one final flirt with the title, injuries as well as other issues would side-line Paige for quite some time until her recent return with Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville by her side. As we now know, this latest chapter would be a brief one but that initial moment of redemption can’t be taken away. After over a year of struggles, Paige had finally made it back to where she belonged. Understandably, Paige seemed to be most at home in front of wrestling crowds and that couldn't have been more obvious in her return. She simply couldn't have been happier and best of all, the crowd was just as happy to see her back.
In many ways that’s a nice encapsulation of Paige’s whole career thus far. It had its issues, and certainly wasn't smooth sailing, but when that unmistakable scream sounded, people cared. Paige connected with the audience to a special degree regardless of gender, and she carried herself like a star regardless of whether or not she was being treated like one. She was dynamite. Confident and charismatic, aggressive and instinctual. A distinctive talent, timing means that Paige’s place in history is a quite unique one. The leader of a movement that has continued since her arrival, in many ways she seemed to alter the way women were viewed within WWE and long-term, that’s a very special thing.
Though her youth makes it hard to forget, Paige was the Divas champion whilst current stars were just finding their feet. She was someone for many of those girls to look up to, and I’d expect that to become clearer in the coming weeks, months and years. It’s a bizarre thought too, especially considering that Paige is likely younger than some of the women that we so often christen as the ‘future of the division.’ Fortunately, though this chapter has seemingly closed, Paige’s journey in pro wrestling doesn't have to end. Whether it be as a manager, producer or announcer, the opportunities are there for Paige to adapt and hopefully, she’ll do just that.
Either way, if at just 25 you’ve had a career with a legacy worth discussing, I’d say you’ve done pretty well. Paige’s career as a wrestler may not have gone the way that it would’ve been ideally mapped out but that doesn't change its impact or effect. Short-lived? Yes. Tumultuous? Sure. Important nonetheless? Undeniably. For a variety of reasons, Paige was a quite special talent and the crowd’s consistent reaction to her shows that better than my words ever could. She was precocious. She was pivotal. She was Paige.
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