WWE SmackDown: Is Carmella a good first challenger for Sasha Banks?

WWE, Carmella (Photo by Brent N. Clarke/Getty Images)
WWE, Carmella (Photo by Brent N. Clarke/Getty Images) /

Now that the Bayley/Sasha Banks feud has ended, it appears that Carmella will be next in line to face Banks on WWE SmackDown. But is that a good thing?

When it comes to debuting a new wrestler or reintroducing an established one with a new character, there isn’t a rigid blueprint for a booker to follow. The scenario often depends on the wrestler: you wouldn’t treat a Bronson Reed debut the same way you would a Xia Li one, for example.

But no matter how one manages that first impression for a wrestler, it should ultimately serve whatever long-term goals the promotion has for the talent. If the company doesn’t see much in a wrestler, you probably won’t see them featured in weekly vignettes or getting their hand raised following a squash match. Conversely, a worker set to become a featured act probably won’t get dropped into the middle of a show with like a common midcarder. It should establish the expectations fans should have for the wrestler’s future.

Which brings us to Carmella. The former Money in the Bank briefcase holder and WWE SmackDown Women’s Champion enjoyed a fun stint as R-Truth’s sidekick during his escapades in pursuit or in defense of the 24/7 Championship over the last year and a half, but the paucity of credible antagonists in the SmackDown women’s division forced the creative team to change course with the second-generation star.

However, fans didn’t see a reversion to Carmella’s previous “Staten Island Princess” persona. Instead, we saw a series of videos that essentially repackaged her as a vain woman primarily concerned with her looks — basically a mix between her old gimmick and the failed “Emmalina” character.

If that didn’t indicate some level of energy being put into this reboot by the writers, then her attacks on current SmackDown distaff titleholder Sasha Banks on the Nov. 6 and Nov. 14 episodes of SmackDown further hammered that point home, at least on the surface.

Obviously, plenty of people would jump at the chance to work opposite one of the best wrestlers in the world in a high-profile storyline, but is it too soon to put an act that has yet to establish itself in such a big spot?

With Banks herself just wrapping up an emotional program with former best friend Bayley with her first singles title retention on the main roster, she seems set to hold the belt for at least the next several months. The creative team should use that hypothetical time to showcase their new top babyface in narratives centered around her, not as a buoy for this revamped attraction that has an equal chance of sinking or swimming.

After all, WWE has still yet to define who Banks is in the wake of the Bayley feud. Yes, fans now know that Banks isn’t as much of a jerk as her former tag team partner, but she’s still very much the same woman who aided and abetted many of Bayley’s underhanded deeds for most of the year.

Banks will always have her legions of supporters, but, simply being nicer than Bayley won’t be enough to maximize her effectiveness during this reign. WWE needs to do more and pulling attention away from Banks to get Carmella over impedes those goals.

It wouldn’t help Carmella, either. Again, this is a rebranding that required a not-insignifigant amount of effort, too much effort for a “challenger of the month” feud with Banks.

If that’s all WWE saw Carmella as, why bother with all the hype? They could’ve brought her back with the same schtick everyone knew and loved — or at least tolerated — and announced her as Banks’ next challenger to little fanfare, if that were the case. That situation is reasonable; this one feels like a potential lose-lose if things don’t go exactly right.

In hindsight, WWE should’ve put a veteran like Natalya or Mickie James — women who fans are already familiar with in their current iterations and are better in the ring — in Carmella’s spot while Carmella spent the next few months refining this character.

By then, if Carmella garners enough momentum to warrant a title shot, great. She’s far from a world class wrestler, but she’s shown in the past that superior workers can carry her to good matches and she’s more than good enough in the promo department to go word for word with Banks.

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But WWE chose to kickstart this story now, and their haste could ultimately undo all of the work they have put into telling the fans that Carmella is more than just another random challenger for Banks’ title.