Finally, A Chance To Breathe
We have to admit, that the New Era of WWE, as it’s being called, has been just shy of stellar. Yes, there are the normal ebbs and flows of their live shows, but by and large, these last few weeks (post brand split) have exemplified many of the ways the WWE has been stuck in their own past while staring the future in the face. That said, Monday Night RAW and Smackdown Live both suffered their first true down shows after seemingly swinging for respective fences in the battle for wrasslin’ supremacy. Stranger yet, is that there does appear to be an actual rivalry in terms or generating compelling content, but also a singular mind making sure that one show doesn’t completely usurp the other. So finally, with a chance to evaluate both shows on a bit of slow build, we can see where their issues may begin to mount. That doesn’t mean the shows, wrasslin’ or characters were all bad, but the old tricks made an appearance in ways that felt largely out of place in the new regime.
Kevin Owens is Champion of the (WWE) Universe. Something many a smarky fan never expected. As such, KO wants his praise, his just due, it doesn’t matter how he gained the championship, just that he has it. It was up to Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley to make their newly crowned champ feel appreciated. It was in their preparation and on the heels of one of the best WWE moments in the past year or so, that we got some pretty layered and exemplary promo work from both McMahon and Foley. His story about their first meeting after his Hell in a Cell match back in 98 gave me legitimate pause. Here was a man, bargaining with someone who is essentially his boss, for them to be straight with him as a person, and as someone he considers a friend about what she did or didn’t know. Stephanie’s response, was for him to respect her, not for the child she was, but the woman that she is. Now, this is WWE, so 9 times out of 10 that interaction could have come across as stiff, pandering, trite, embarrassing drivel. Instead, it was heartfelt plea between two people, who while trying to do what’s “best for business” don’t know if they can fully trust the person they’re tethered to. That dynamic is something to build upon and explore, which is why, for as much as Kevin Owens was the center of attention, the show wasn’t about him.
Kevin Owens is still a puppet of sorts, we just don’t know his Gepetto. Triple H could very well be acting in his own self interest, but that’s too simple for wrasslin’. Someone will be revealed as an accomplice soon enough, but who? Furthermore, does it matter? What was best about the opening bits of RAW was that they allowed these stories to breathe in a way we haven’t see in awhile. We didn’t get immediate answers, and big players didn’t show up until the end of the show, if they showed up at all. Everything was left out to linger, just long enough for us to digest, and likely, for the writers to figure out their next move.
Faces and Places
The same mostly went for Smackdown Live as they spent most of their show locking in stories for their first solo PPV, Backlash. AJ Styles was sick of being dismissed, and demanded respect, not just from current WWE Champion but the entire organization.
Yes, a cheap shot, but you gotta do what you gotta do when going about things the right way doesn’t get you the respect you deserve. And yes, Styles deserves that respect. He beat The Face That Runs The Place, clean. He wears his Never Give Up armband like a severed ear in Nam. Frankly, AJ Styles is someone that Dean Ambrose should fear just a little bit, so he’s not going to “duuuude” his way out of this. Mainly because, that approach technically hasn’t worked out in his favor. It didn’t work with Triple H, it didn’t work with Lesnar at SummerSlam, it didn’t work with Cena, it barely worked with Ziggler, and it only worked to get him the title because the two other guys basically cancelled each other out. Dean is the only one with something to prove in this match, and I don’t think he has it in him to retain. The climb meant more than the title, and it will be taken away.
Miz is still doing great heel work here, and once again, Ziggler is trying to position himself has someone who can see through his act. Essentially accusing Miz of “playing” wrassler. Which is weird considering, Miz technically has always been “playing” wrassler, and more or less worked that into his character, but whatever, feuds gonna feud. Miz ran from one fight, only to be thrown into another by Daniel Bryan, AND informed him that he HAD to compete at Backlash with his title on the line, or he would have to relinquish it immediately. I like the build here, more so because there is no immediate payoff, not with D-Bry and not with Ziggler. Even with the rosters split, people are allowed nights off or shorter segments to improve the overall product, the way it should always be.
Stuff and Thangs
Enzo and Cass caught an L from Shining Stars after a fairly bad promo about Enzo giving birth to an imaginary baby. The match was good enough, and the popular team taking a loss to get the heels over as credible is classic wrasslin’. It’s amazing to see Enzo and Cass, after only four months on the main roster, being big enough to take a loss like this and not have it mean a thing to their overall popularity. When older wrasslin’ pundits try to claim that wins and losses don’t matter, THIS is what they had in mind, even if this level of over couldn’t be applied to the saps that had to go out there and deal with the relentless 50/50 booking and apathetic crowds. The wins and losses meant something because the felt like the didn’t mean anything. At least not to the people that mattered.
RAW was filled with overlong, under entertaining promos this week. Gallows and Anderson brought out three local guys that pretended to be Old Day (geriatric versions of New Day), with requisite grey hair, walkers and strained voices. There were some funny moments, that were drowned out by people talking over one another, like the Old Day guys actually knowing the answers to New Days future verification questions. But it all lasted too damn long, and the crowd wasn’t really into it, which was a problem pretty much the entire night.
Sasha Banks tried to swerve us into thinking she may have to retire due to back injuries during her promo, but it didn’t go over for a number of reasons. The biggest of which, to me anyway, is that we’ve seen Sasha get legit emotional at times, after a big win, or huge loss, or just caught in a genuine moment of reflection on how her career has progressed, this promo didn’t look like any of those times. As she was telling the story, I kept waiting for someone to sneak up and attack. All it amounted to was the reveal that she is fit to compete and will exercise her rematch clause against Charlotte. Sooo, the benchmark for fake retirements is still Mark Henry and his Easter Sunday suit. Always and forever.
The Uso’s finally turned heel, after getting squashed by American Alpha in just under thirty seconds, which is a welcome switch. I like the Uso’s in ring well enough, but their characters have always been stuck more than a decade behind in terms of their presentation. They’ve flirted with heel before, just by virtue of being associated with Roman Reigns, but now they’re going for it, and against the hottest young tag teams in the business.
Adding to the potential magma levels of heat the Uso’s could have heaped upon them, THEY now stand in the way of everyman, Heath Slater getting his Smackdown Live contract. I don’t know if this was all planned out, but this is certainly a way to capitalize on momentum.
Welp, both shows were fairly lean on actual wrasslin’, but stories progressed just enough. Cesaro is down 0-3 in his series with Sheamus, which means he’ll likely win out through a show of ridiculous valiance, or this was all a pretty big waste of time. Over on Smackdown, Orton and Bray cut overly verbose promos about Gods and serpents that didn’t do much for me, but at least kept their thing going. I need Bray to lay waste to a few people on his way to Orton to at least keep him looking dangerous. That way when he loses, he won’t take a huge hit. I’d have to say that Smackdown Live Won this week, not by much. RAW just petered out halfway while Smackdown spread the Nutella pretty evenly even if it was a little thin. Wanna talk wrasslin’ or about how Maple Shredded Mini Wheats are a severely underrated cereal, hit me up on the Twittah Machine. Till then…