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‘Evolution’ Calling

Handicapping WWE’s first-ever all-women’s PPV

A collage of female WWE performers WWE/Ringer illustration

Despite a murderess’s row of multigenerational talent (from the likes of ’90s trailblazer Madusa (a.k.a. Alundra Blayze) on up through headliner and Raw champ Ronda Rousey) and months to prepare since the initial announcement, there’s not much that makes WWE’s first-ever all-female PPV, Evolution, appointment TV. Early indications that a bona fide women’s tag division was taking shape were abruptly scuttled, and apparent Alexa Bliss injury issues made a mess of her showcase singles bout against Trish Stratus (now a four-person tango featuring Lita and Mickie James). Meanwhile, the diplomatic nightmare known as Crown Jewel—an event that, like its recent Saudi Arabia–staged predecessor Greatest Royal Rumble, prohibits women from attending or participating—has effectively co-opted Evolution’s moment. It’s an excruciating irony, one that no doubt stings for the 50-plus legends and lass kickers looking to tear down the house Sunday night.

Here’s to hoping they do just that, and here is our official match-by-match breakdown, punctuated by—as always—entirely subjective and utterly untrustworthy predictions of who will make history.

Becky Lynch (c) vs. Charlotte Flair in a Last Woman Standing Match for the SmackDown Women’s Championship

This feud, to borrow one of the champ’s signature-move mantras, has been straight fire. It’s your classic underdog-stepping-out-of-heralded-BFF’s-shadow saga, with Lynch embracing her inner badass in a successful effort to dethrone her longtime buddy Flair. It’d help fan the flames if Becky could generate some genuine, Dean Ambrose–level heat, but alas, she’s too damn cheerable. The work these two have put in is undeniable, aided no doubt by their off-screen friendship and commitment to create something special. It’s a novel idea: give two talented performers time and opportunity, and stand back. So far, though, this is Lynch’s show, and she seems primed for a lengthy run with the belt, although we’ve witnessed how willing WWE is to let seven-time title-holder Charlotte shine in the face of story line logic. In other words, anything goes in this one, and not simply because of its unforgiving stipulation. The smart money is on Becky, if only so she can finally conquer her most formidable foe and carry on like the cocky badass she is. But there’ll be blood, sweat, and tears along the way, and, A-show or no, this is the rightful main event.

Winner: Becky Lynch

Ronda Rousey (c) vs. Nikki Bella for the Raw Women’s Championship

It’d been evident for weeks that the resurgent Bellas were scheming something, and, in early October, they finally lashed out at an insurgent Ronda Rousey. It’s a mutual rub that affords Nikki and Brie a due measure of post-facto respect before stepping aside and letting the new headliner, Rousey, walk forward into the future. (Given that Rousey has already claimed the Raw title, this all feels a tad after the fact, but que será.) Assuming this wraps up cleanly, there’s not a whole lot of mystery as to how this will end (armbar), but it should satisfy the Nikki haters who often forget that she’s not merely a total diva, but a complete package in the ring.

Winner: Ronda Rousey

Trish Stratus and Lita vs. Alicia Fox and Mickie James

The saga continues. What was destined to be a torch-passing tip of the cap from Trish Stratus to opponent Alexa Bliss soon was reimagined as a tag bout roping in Lita to ally with Trish against a genuinely hobbled Bliss and now-partner Mickie James. Now, on the literal eve of Evolution, word has come from on high (i.e. WWE’s Twitter) that Bliss is a no-go and will be relegated to rooting on (read: interfering on behalf of) James and substitute Alicia Fox (to facilitate an eventual Bliss/Stratus one-on-one as intended). As exciting as it is to see Stratus and Lita, two of the most charismatic stars of the Attitude Era, back in the WWE ring, their promo game has not been particularly strong. While each legend fit in amid a previous generation’s edgier atmosphere, they’ve struggled to sell this hastily reorganized past-vs.-present-by-way-of-past quasi-dream match, and that was before this latest curveball. James, who reminded us all at Elimination Chamber that she can more than handle her end, should be ready to step up and offer cover. Perhaps she and old-school adversary Stratus should have been the ones fighting solo this whole time. If only there had been many, many months to sort this all out ...

Winners: Trish Stratus and Lita

Kairi Sane (c) vs. Shayna Baszler for the NXT Women’s Championship

Some armchair prognosticating here is hard to resist. If Baszler falls once again to Sane (she dropped her title to Kairi at TakeOver in August, an echo of their clash at last year’s Mae Young Classic final), it would ultimately put the Pirate Princess over as being made of tough stuff—and it would open up Baszler to move on to join her pal Rousey on Raw. But that’s no given: This might be Baszler’s redemption story, and the first step toward establishing a powerhouse faction in NXT. The story line—Bayszler out to prove she beat herself at TakeOver, while Kairi comes correct—isn’t scintillating, but the contrast of Bayszler’s ruthless aggression and Sane’s more fluid style will set the table quite nicely for former NXT alumni Charlotte and Becky to blow us all away.

Winner: Shayna Baszler

Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Natalya vs. The Riott Squad

The one thing the Riott Squad have going for them is that they are clear-cut women’s heels—until that day when Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan inevitably defect and everything goes to hell. But for now, their mischievousness is a useful distraction from the fact that, not long ago, Sasha and Bayley were in a blood feud abandoned more conspicuously than the Bellas’ 2014 intrafamily fallout. And wasn’t Natalya a stone-cold hothead on SmackDown last time we blinked? It’ll be worth monitoring whether some familiar dust gets kicked up in this one, particularly if the Riott Squad squeaks away with a win on account of disconnect among their opponents. At minimum, and unlike Naomi and Asuka and others, at least these six got a spot apart from the thankless mush pile that is the Women’s Battle Royal.

Winners: Sasha, Bayley and Natalya

Io Shirai vs. Toni Storm in the Mae Young Classic 2018 Final

The good news for Shirai and Storm: Both of last year’s inaugural tournament finalists—Shayna Baszler and Kairi Sane—have had runs with the NXT Women’s Championship since Sane toppled Baszler in something of a surprise triumph. That already makes the Mae Young Classic more consequential than the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal and Greatest Royal Rumble combined. And once Tegan Nox tore up more or less every muscle and ligament in her leg, the field was wide open for someone like, say, 28-year-old Japanese sensation Io Shirai to collide with familiar World of Stardom foil (and even more youthfully prodigious) champion Toni Storm in this year’s send-off. (Or vice versa.) Odds are, it all turned out as designed, given Storm and Shirai’s built-in overseas history. And if subsequent circumstances follow 2017’s formula, the runner-up may get to taste gold first anyhow. That’s what we call a win-win. But, still, someone has to win.

Winner: Io Shirai

Historic Women’s Battle Royal Match for a Future Women’s Championship Opportunity

This will be fun. It was fun when WWE did it nine months ago. But there’s a tokenness to this battle royal that does a real disservice to the deserving purpose of propping up today’s women’s ranks and revising our perceptions of its past. Ivory, Molly Holly, Michelle McCool, Torrie Wilson, and others worked their butts off at a time when WWE was aggressively marketing both their strength and—often prevailingly—seductive appeal. They’ve earned this. As have Alicia Fox and Dana Brooke and others of more recent vintage who vie for substantial network-TV time, let alone to be seen on PPV. There’ll be “This is awesome” staredowns and color-commentator breathlessness about the odds of eliminating sizeable entrants like Nia Jax, and an Attitude Era favorite may even stick around till the final five. But with a future (note the lack of specificity about exactly when) title shot at stake, a frenzied final minute featuring—presumably—Women’s Royal Rumble winner Asuka, Carmella, Ember Moon, Jax, and perhaps a Lana or Zelina Vega is what you’re tuning in for.

Winner: Ember Moon