WRASSLIN’ STATE OF MINED: WWE Ushers in the New Era (July 26th, 2016)

All The Wrasslin’!

Man, if this is what the wrasslin’ world is going to be moving forward, i’m going to have to break these things up. Did you miss me while I was gone? Did you even notice? Nevermind, I’d rather not know the answer. So, how do you feel about the New Era of WWE programming? We’re now in a post brand-split world, and everything feels all exciting and new. Well, kinda new. I’m still in a fog from all that has occurred since Sunday, with  runs like this being the flood we were expecting. And while a lot had to, and did happen, it’ll be hard to keep this kind of momentum going, BUT, let’s not besmirch WWE prematurely. These three days offered up a fair share of surprises, the familiar, and most importantly, good wrasslin’. Let’s start at the top shall we….

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Dean Ambrose retained the WWE Championship at Battleground, which would be the most surprising part of the PPV, aside from the fact that the placeholder event was actually pretty good. It was hard to appreciate it in the moment, as it was presented as a high quality edition of RAW from much of the event, and whether by design or pure happenstance, it truly felt like a send off of a bygone era. Erasing some semblance of predictability by and enforcing others. Ambrose, won, over Roman specifically, and kept the most prestigious title on the “upstart” show. But Battleground was also high on promo and pandering, which was the MO of the “old” era. So coming out of the show, you really didn’t know what to expect, which, I guess was the point.

A Fresh Coat of Paint

Beyond the draft, RAW had to show off why it would “win” the New Era and not just be the same old, same old. There were visual changes, like the broadcast booth finally moving away from ringside. Something that other promotions had changed years ago, but WWE held steadfastly to for whatever reason. They also incorporated new angles during matches, including a zoomed in crane shot, reminiscent of Lucha Underground. Which wouldn’t be the first time WWE has aped from a rival company to add to their own visual flair. They “borrowed” the high speed cam shots from TNA several years ago, and uses them infrequently even today. Then there’s the new logo, which looks a lot better in motion than it does in still shots. Slightly matching the Smackdown Live logo, keeping with some form of corporate synergy. Then there’s the new championship, exclusive to RAW (for the time being), the WWE Universal Championship. Now I don’t claim to know better than the writing room up in Stamford, but when they were tossing names around, how exactly did the Universal championship win out? Did the other names evoke tragedy or something? Five children in a room hopped up pop rocks and Mountain Dew could come up with something better. Probably a little more off kilter, but better. The name, also worries those that thought Smackdown would immediately be relegated to B show status. “What’s better than the world? The UNIVERSE!” Vince screams while knocking someone’s ice cream on the ground. So RAW, has a title, instead of the strap swapping shows as needed. Now there was a need to fill that title picture. Enter, Finn Balor.

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Man, did this guy have a hell of a night. His arrival may have been a bit understated by typical WWE standards. Getting a simple call out among the other Superstars, but that was just a nibble before the Irishman could give us the full meal. He was thrown into one of two different fatal four-way matches, which were used to decide who would go on to face Seth Rollins for the Universal championship at SummerSlam. It was easy to see him being showcased, but the spot ultimately going to a veteran WWE performer as the “safe” choice. Our suspicions were further solidified when Roman won his four-way match, making the main even Balor/Reigns. Then the 3rd big shock of the night. Balor won.

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In a great back and forth match, Balor pulled out the victory on the shamed heir apparent. Roman was even given a post match interview where he was made to lick his already sore wounds. Balor was made, and we get the dream match of Rollins/Balor at SummerSlam. What a time to be alive.

Like A Bo$$

Like I said, Balor winning was the 3rd swerve of the night, the 2nd, and probably the biggest was Sasha Banks winning the Women’s title from Charlotte. The WWE title doesn’t change hands on free TV much anymore, and while it’s more frequent for the other championships, most title swaps are saved for PPV events. We were all set for a Charlotte/Banks collision course at SummerSlam, especially after Bayley made her (one-off) main roster debut to team up with Sasha, and pick up a win. So I was prepared for the Boss to take her fair share of losses leading up to her eventual title win, but the New Era is a time of unpredictability and with that, we have a new Women’s Champion.

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Not sure what this means for the Women’s division going forward. As of now, there is still only one title, and the women over on Smackdown appear to be fighting mostly for bragging rights until it somehow makes its way over to the blue brand.

Big Bank Take Little Bank

So Smackdown Live had a hell of a show to live up to after RAW. The red brand made sure to put over new and emerging stars, and keep the emphasis on wrasslin’. Smackdown Live, did the same, but to much different results. The general consensus of fans being that RAW won the draft with the talent they acquired, leaving  Smackdown  juuuust a bit on the B+ side. Even with Ambrose, the title, Cena and Styles, the Tuesday show just comes off a little anemic.  So they, just like RAW had to find a #1 Contender for their WWE Championship. Then they, just like RAW, selected 5 competitors to fight for the opportunity, Cena, Styles, Baron Corbin, Dolph Ziggler and Bray Wyatt. The 6th spot in their 6-Pack challenge match would be selected via battle royale, and that’s where the show took the dive.

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Battle royale matches seldom deliver on free TV. Further exacerbating things was the fact that 5 of the top guys were already out of the match, and the champ didn’t have to take part. So you’re left with an undercard sideshow. Apollo Crews won the match, but he didn’t look any better for it. The victory came once most other people eliminated themselves, and he outsmarted a bull rush from Kane. Yes, THAT Kane was in the final four. I never believed or cared that anyone in that match, save for Del Rio, would be a viable entrant into the final match, which *sigh* was won by Dolph Ziggler.

I LOVE Ziggler. I’m of the firm belief that his push was handled as poorly as any other in company history, and the fact that he remains as over as he is, is a testament to his ability and charisma. That said, he’s been the company whipping boy for almost 2 years now. He hasn’t won a feud or big match at any point this year, and he didn’t even win THIS match with his own finisher. He took Styles out with a Superkick. Further progressing his transformation into HBK2K17. So it’s Dolph/Dean for the WWE strap, representing Smackdown Live. Swing and a miss.

Stuff and Thangs

Credit where it’s due, Smackdown Live did introduce more viable women’s competitors for their show, but it may have all be for naught as none of them really got the time to shine, and poor Becky, after finally getting a win over Nattie, got to stand in silence as a cavalcade stole her moment of glory, culminating in Eva Marie’s, All Red Everything intro.

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Rhyno made a return to the main roster, not counting his brief return to help the Dudleyz and Tommy Dreamer with the Wyatt Family a few months back. Dude is still good in the ring, as exhibited in NXT, but he’s built like a damn mini-fridge. And that’s all I have to say about that.

It was also announced that Shelton Benjamin is making his return to WWE, which I appreciate. He may have missed some prime years, but a character such as his is always welcome. Especially on a show that’s hurting for stars.

Okay, I think i’m done. Further entries won’t be as long, and I may even try to squeeze in about as many pop culture references as Mauro Ranallo. If I somehow missed anything, let me know on the Twittah machine, and let’s talk about your favorite ice cream truck treats while we’re at it. Choco Taco FTW. Till then…

Deuces Kiddos

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