WWE SmackDown’s women’s division is in the midst of a major revamp, and more help could be on the way.
On last week’s episode of Friday Night SmackDown, Shotzi Blackheart and Tegan Nox were called up to the blue brand from NXT, and a vignette aired promoting the upcoming main roster debut of the very popular Toni Storm. But the new additions to SmackDown aren’t stopping there. According to a report from Fightful Select (h/t Wrestling Inc), Sonya Deville is nearing an in-ring return, which could take place as soon as at Sunday’s Money in the Bank pay-per-view: “Fightful Select reports that there has been a significant push to have Deville involved in Sunday’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match, and at one point Deville was penciled in for the match.”
The site adds, “WWE sources expect Deville to return to the ring soon as she has been training for that return for a few months now. People within WWE have had ‘glowing reviews’ of Deville, the handling of her past year, and the way she’s worked her new role. WWE reportedly wanted Deville back in the ring by WrestleMania 37 season earlier this year, but officials kept delaying the return to action.”
In 2020, Deville, a former Tough Enough Contestant, emerged as one of WWE’s most improved performers and a potential cornerstone of the women’s division. Deville’s friendship-turned-feud with Mandy Rose and long-term storyline involving Dolph Ziggler and Otis was a highlight of SmackDown in route to WrestleMania 36 early last year, and her developments during that span resulted in many critics praising her work as a performer. She’s been labeled as a potential “top heel” while Sports Illustrated’s Justin Barrasso has touted her as “WWE’s next top star—male or female.”
Deville’s gradual ascension to the top of WWE took an unfortunate turn last year, however, when a scary real-life stalker situation led to her taking a lengthy hiatus from WWE following her loss in a No Disqualification “Loser Leaves Town” Match to Rose at SummerSlam in August 2020. Deville missed a little more than four months of action following SummerSlam before returning in January 2021, this time assuming a role as an on-screen authority figure, officially being called Adam Pearce’s “assistant.”
Since returning, Deville has crossed over to Raw on occasion and has been portraying a villainous character, which is a natural fit for the former MMA fighter. She has proven to be a great antagonist and a strong mic worker while working in a non-wrestling capacity. There has, of course, been widespread speculation that Deville’s return to SmackDown would ultimately prove to be a way to transition the 27-year-old star back into an in-ring role.
Now more than ever, Deville is needed as a wrestler, too.
WWE has spent more than a year without its top star in Becky Lynch and has gone two years without its biggest special attraction in Ronda Rousey. Meanwhile, Sasha Banks has largely been absent from WWE programming since WrestleMania 37, and Bayley—arguably the MVP of WWE’s fan-less pandemic era—is expected to miss nine months of action after suffering a torn ACL.
The recent rash of changes in the women’s division are continuing with the additions of Storm, Nox and Blackheart as well as the return of Zelina Vega, who returned to SmackDown a couple of weeks ago barely half a year after being released by the company. It seems that WWE finally realized that its paper thin women’s division, particularly on SmackDown, simply wasn’t cutting it, and the expected in-ring return of Deville should certainly help matters.
Deville had recently said she expected to remain in her current role for the foreseeable future, but around that same time, it was revealed that Deville had been training in order to prepare for a return to the ring. The timing of her upcoming return couldn’t be any better as WWE’s TV viewership for both Raw and SmackDown has recently bottomed out to historic lows, and the company desperately needs to create new stars in order to combat a disappearing fan base that is growing frustrated with WWE’s lackluster TV product and its struggles to create new long-term stars.
While Deville has been performing very well as an authority figure, she’s much more valuable to WWE as a potential women’s champion, a strong advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and a fantastic overall performer who can shoulder the load in the women’s division.