A winner of the second Mae Young Classic tournament. A former NXT UK Women’s Champion. Toni Storm seemed to be the future of the women’s division when she gained attention due to her star-making performances in the all-women’s tournament. When she won at WWE Evolution, it was clear that the company had high hopes for the rising star, and for good reason. Storm had worked her way through the independent scene in both World Wonder Ring Stardom and Progress Wrestling. The former WWE star showcased that she wasn’t just a natural wrestling talent, but she had charisma that instantly made her likable and was perfectly marketable for the type of women that the company goes for. The sky seemed to be the limit for Toni Storm and her journey winning the NXT UK Women’s Championship only made her more popular.
However, there’s a limited amount of audience for the NXT UK brand. Once the brand settled for its WWE exclusive time slot then the buzz about the former WWE star slowly slipped away. Storm was still pulling out great performances in the brand and she was one of the most over acts in the division, but the mainstream wasn’t able to witness the greatest of Toni Storm during her time in NXT UK. Before Storm officially made her way over to the original NXT brand, Rhea Ripley was the hot commodity in the women’s division at that time. Creative did an excellent job of building up the first-ever NXT UK Women’s Champion and she was strongly over with most of the casual crowd. When Storm challenged Rhea Ripley for the NXT Women’s title at World’s Collide, it wasn’t shocking that fans sided with the champion over the challenger. However, it was a sign of the things to come in regard to Storm’s time in the developmental brand.
Once Storm made her full transition to the black-and-gold brand, NXT never seemed to know what to do with her character. Toni was just there on the brand without much rhyme or reasoning before her heel turn. There wasn’t much of a story that allowed audiences to truly connect with her character, nor was there much investment in Storm as a babyface at that time. Storm finally turned heel, but nothing came out of her run that much. Once again, Storm floundered shortly into her heel run, with creative not giving the former NXT UK Women’s Champion something to really let her sink her teeth into. Once Storm’s opportunities at NXT Women’s title were finished, she served the purpose of putting over the next generation of talent. That’s fine for talent who are at the tail end of their careers, but Storm is supposed to be the future of the WWE women’s division. The up-and-coming star didn’t need to hold the belt as it was Io Shirai’s time, but there’s simply not one feud down in the black-and-gold brand that made Storm shine like she did in the Mae Young Classic or NXT UK.
A change of scenery was a welcome idea; however, that would actually turn out to be what would kill all of her momentum. Storm was called up to the main roster, and wisely, she reverted back to being a babyface. The Smackdown women’s division desperately needed a new babyface female star and Storm could’ve easily filled that role. However, it became extremely clear that there was never a plan in place for the former NXT UK Women’s Champion. She won a couple of matches, randomly disappeared from television, and lost to Zelina Vega in the first-round of the Queen of the Ring tournament. Somehow, her time on the main roster was worse. There was never any motivation for her character, nor was she allowed to gain any sort of momentum. Out of the gate, Storm was floundering in a division that desperately needed new babyface stars. That’s why no one cared when she stepped up to Charlotte Flair as the next challenger for the Smackdown Women’s title.
It wasn’t the fact that no one believed she would win, but the issue of her not connecting with the fans in the first place. WWE seems to have this problem of crafting secondary feuds outside of the title picture. Plus, it doesn’t help that creative is kind of bad at booking babyfaces. Storm was humiliated during the Charlotte Flair feud, and essentially booked as a lesser being than the Smackdown champion. It’s a case of the company not seeing the value in the Mae Young Classic winner at that period of time. Who knows, maybe Storm would’ve gotten a significant push had she hung in there for a bit longer, but they shouldn’t have brought her up in the first place if they had no plans for Storm. She should’ve been one of the new faces of the women’s division, let’s hope AEW doesn’t make that same mistake.