By Chuck Carroll
“I believe that I do have something different and special that I bring to the table. As soon as I get my shot, I think WWE will be very pleased.”
You deserve it. Clap! Clap! Clap, clap, clap!
“Naomi, I think that everybody here truly believes that you do deserve it. And there’s a reason why. It’s because for years you have worked so hard. You have scratched, and you have clawed, and you have seen other women given more opportunities than you ever got. But here you are, SmackDown Women’s Champion. And we are so proud of you.”
Daniel Bryan stood in the middle of the ring showering praise on a woman who gave every ounce of her being to reach the top of her profession. And the 10,000+ fans at the Citizens Business Bank Arena appreciated the sacrifice and dedication made to finally achieve her dream. But in a matter of seconds, six years of hard work would come crashing down.
“But that’s why what I’m about to do is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do as a General Manager. I really relate to this, because I was the same as you. For years, I fought, I scratched, I went against the Authority and I got to the very top. I was champion. And then I got injured, and I had to relinquish my championship. It wasn’t something that I wanted to do, but it was something that I knew that I needed to do. Shane and I have gone over your records with the medical staff here at WWE, and we now know conclusively because of the injury you suffered at Elimination Chamber that you will be unable to defend your championship in the required 30 days.”
And with that, a tearful Naomi relinquished the belt. Six years of blood, sweat and tears amounted to a title run of just nine days.
As Daniel Bryan took possession of the blue and white belt, I became convinced that the WWE titles are cursed. The list of wrestlers who have fallen victim to championship misfortunes reads like a Who’s Who of recent WWE royalty, with Naomi’s name just the latest to be etched on the evil scroll.
Daniel Bryan was forced to vacate his title after 64 days. And a little over a year later the scenario would repeat itself, only this time with a forced retirement. Seth Rollins gave his title back after seven months when he blew out his knee. Finn Balor’s reign as the first-ever WWE Universal Champion lasted all of 24 hours thanks to a severe shoulder injury. An argument can also be made that Zack Ryder belongs on the list, as the Long Island Iced Z injured his knee during a match in which he and Mojo Rawley became the No. 1 contenders for the WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship. Sadly, with Ryder on the shelf for four to nine months, that title shot may never happen.
Lemony Snicket would call all of this a series of unfortunate events. I’d respond by calling that an understatement, as would everyone on the list.
In the case of Naomi, it’s fitting that Daniel Bryan was in the ring with her when her world was turned upside down. As a man who has been there twice before, he understood the emotional pain was far sharper than the pain in her ailing knee. Their stories parallel each other. Both were the perennial underdog who battled and overcame every obstacle to finally reach the top of the mountain.
I couldn’t help but to think back to an interview I did with Naomi a couple years ago where she predicted that she would overcome adversity to finally become Women’s Champion. She deserved it then, and it was long overdue by the time she won it at Elimination Chamber. It’s a cruel irony that her status for WrestleMania in her hometown of Orlando is now very much in doubt. How long she’ll be out is unclear, but the impression she left on me was that she will never give up. She is the personification of perseverance.
“This is the fun and exciting part to me. It’s the thrill of the chase. I love it,” Naomi told me at the time.
While the exhilarating title hunt continued, she would wonder to herself what it would take to finally get over the hump. The questions never seemed to go away.
“I rack my brain at night just thinking, ‘Where am I going? What’s going to happen next? What can I do?’ All sorts of things,” she said. “I have no idea. I can only take it one day at a time.”
And that’s exactly what Naomi needs to do now. Just pump the brakes, take it one day at a time and focus on rehabilitating the troublesome knee. When the time is right, the real-life character of Trinity Fatu will take over. It was she who fought and clawed to get to the top, and it is she who has given every impression that she’ll gladly do it again. Simply put, she will reclaim the title because the journey is what she appreciates most.
“I think the excitement for me is chasing it and developing and growing. It’s the story of getting there, which I’m enjoying very much,” Naomi said.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.