I’m still experimenting with the exact format on how to present these blog posts. On reflection though, doing segment by segment alternating between shows took more time to write than keeping the stories contained. Anyways, let’s begin with…
Thoughts on last week
- Last week’s Smackdown was an improvement over the inaugural show following the brand split. That said, Smackdown is going to need some of the talent on the injured reserved list to join the brand once they are healthy and ready to get back into the ring. I’m getting used to the Smackdown presentation far faster than I expected to be. However, Renée Young’s interview panel is way too high. Natalya looked tiny standing behind it.
- The Sasha-Charlotte-Jericho-Enzo segment had some great lines but was awkward at a few other times making it feel disjointed and meandering. The match was decent and the pst-match interview was great.
- Reigns vs Rusev has potential but I’m disappointed there won’t be any follow up on Rollins’ slander job in the build up to Battleground.
- Miz’s work on commentary was far better than I expected. Miz, Ambrose and KO are shoe-ins to become colour commentators once their in-ring careers end.
- Paul Heyman is fantastic. The Orton and Lesnar bout is building up towards being the main event for Summerslam. I also liked the continuity of Fandango challenging Orton for the comments made during the Highlight Reel.
- Ziggler showed a lot of fire and got me on board for what comes next. I felt Ambrose did a fantastic job provoking Ziggler, setting him up near perfectly for his rebuttals.
- I felt AJ Styles’ promo was fishing for cheap heat. I did like Daniel Bryan coming to Styles’ defense on the Talking Smack show.
- I was originally disappointed there were two false-starts for the women’s division on Smackdown. After some reflection, I understand what they are going for and see it as placeholder until they establish a title of some kind. They are trying to establish the characters before focusing on the in-ring performance. Besides Beckie and Natalya, I don’t know if the rest of the roster are good workers. So a slow build here makes sense.
- Bobby Roode’s entrance music is the best theme song ever! I listened to it at least 40 times over the week.
Orton vs Lesnar feud
Titles should be at the forefront with a few exceptions. Thankfully, Brock Lesnar is one of them. WWE has already announced Foley has invited Bryan to Raw to discuss the Orton-Lesnar fight. Normally, I’d be against these non-wrestler confrontations but as long as the primary purpose serves to put over the wrestlers’ feuds then it works.
My goal would be to make the audience look out for the possibility of Orton or Lesnar “invading” either show. It looks to me that for now, Orton is being portrayed as a baby face. Raw will open with Foley out in the ring, inviting Bryan out. Bryan joins him in the ring to a chorus of YES! chants. Mick chastises Bryan for not punishing Orton for escalating the feud with his actions last week. The Smackdown GM retorts Foley didn’t seem to make any effort to warn Lesnar not to reciprocate. Further, he doesn’t see why Foley should be calling Bryan out when his time should be better spent to discipline Brock. This leads to Brock’s theme music playing but only Heyman coming out.
Heyman will scoff at any attempts to discipline Lesnar. “Brock Lesnar does, what Brock Lesnar wants to do.” In fact, Heyman will explain he is ready to pursue litigation in that event and remind Bryan Smackdown security was a joke and couldn’t stop Lesnar. Just like Orton won’t be able to stop Lesnar, nor would anyone else on the Raw or Smackdown roster. Having heard enough, Orton comes out to his theme music. Foley is apoplectic and staring holes into Bryan who tells Orton “I asked you to stay backstage while I handle this.” Orton politely replies he has all the respect for Daniel’s accomplishments and for standing up for him but he can do the latter himself. Here, Orton will address Foley and call back to their epic feud which legitimized his main event status. How he went toe to toe to the “hardcore legend” and prevailed. Foley will acquiesce he’s one tough character (PG era).
Heyman agrees Cactus Jack was a sadistic, cruel and twisted persona and someone few would dare face in the ring but this is BRRRRO… to an RKO by Orton who has heard enough from Paul. Orton sheepishly shrugs and excuses himself as “You talk too much.” At this point, Foley’s had enough and calls for security. Bryan and Orton are forcibly removed from the building with Bryan facetiously scolding Orton all the way out before admitting it was kind of cool to RKO Heyman.
The suddenness of the RKO on Paul Heyman will again put the point across at how the finisher can come at any time while adding fuel to the fire with Heyman to goad Lesnar to destroy Orton.
The next day on Smackdown, Lesnar invades. Security confronts him but quickly back down when he doesn’t. Throughout the show, Randy orchestrates hit and run attacks backstage infuriating Lesnar more and more while Bryan and Shane try to organize the inept Smackdown security. An example might be Orton leads Lesnar into a chase into a doorway. Orton hides behind the wall and slams the door in Lesnar’s face, stunning his pursuer long enough to escape. By the end of the show, Lesnar has had enough and storms the ring. He calls out Orton right there and now. The two end up brawling with Lesnar dominating. He sets up an F5 which is countered into an RKO to end the show.
WWE Universal Title
We did get the first verbal exchange between Rollins and Balor last week so the impetus is to continue to showcase Balor to a wider audience but this time through in-ring performance. As it stands, most of the heels seem to be already paired up in feuds except for Sheamus. I’ll repeat what I wrote last week to lead to a bout between the two.
However, where I differ here is Rollins will be at commentary in street clothes to rag on his opponent. During the match, Saxton remarks to Seth Balor beat Reigns to earn the title shot. Seth dismisses this, going back to his promo last week “Roman is a disgrace. He shouldn’t have even been allowed to take part of the title match at Battleground. Besides, I beat him first, and did it better to WIN the title and not just a title shot.” A minute or two later, Reigns assaults Rollins. The latter reeling, makes his way towards the ring after a flurry of punches from the disgraced challenger. This draws the attention of those in the ring and eventually Reigns missing a spear on Rollins but hitting Balor instead. Balor gets a win by DQ which annoys Sheamus who joins the fray.
Later, Foley has all four men in his office demanding an explanation from Reigns for his actions. He’ll look intensely at Rollins and say “I’m fed up of hearing him run his mouth behind my back.” Foley sympathizes with this and books a tag match involving all four men. Rollins is furious as he was promised by Stephanie he wouldn’t be competing tonight. Sheamus is happy about it because he gets to beat up the little new era punk. Finally, Balor confronts Reigns and tells him to not get in his way. Reigns, replies he shouldn’t get in his way either… alluding to the spear. I’m not a fan of Roman Reigns nor his booking, but I dislike loose ends more. I am compelled to at least address these loose threads to tie things together.
In the main event, Balor starts out against Sheamus to resume their bout from earlier in the show. Sheamus will overpower Balor at first towards the “face” side of the ring. Reigns will tag himself in with a hard slap on Balor’s back. After a flurry of offense, Rollins will intervene and the heels take control before going to a break. When we get back from commercials, Reigns will be playing the baby face in peril role as Rollins and Sheamus take turns beating him up. This will show Reigns in a vulnerable position until he can get the hot tag to Balor. Chaos will eventually ensue and the show ends with Balor scoring the pin on Rollins.
This sets up the confrontation for next week between Rollins and Balor. This also preserves Sheamus from taking the loss as I feel he can be a solid mid card guy to feud with some call ups and perhaps leaves him open to a fight with Balor after Summerslam. It also retroactively makes Cesaro look good for getting the pin over him last week.
I haven’t forgotten the Reigns and Rusev altercation from last week. However, after Cesaro beat Sheamus to “impress for a title shot” this needs to be settled in perhaps a creative way.
The title match will be introduced by the commentators who explain Cesaro didn’t want to wait and immediately requested for his title shot to take place this week. The two Europeans go toe to toe, hitting each other with stiff punches before Cesaro gets the upper hand with an uppercut sending Rusev over the ropes. The two continue to brawl outside with Rusev targeting Cesaro’s taped shoulder. Eventually, the ref does call for the bell after Cesaro is unable to hoist Rusev and much like Styles did at Payback and opts to get the count out victory. Cesaro shows frustration at not being able to score a decisive win to obtain the title and sells pain when the ref goes to lift his “injured” arm in victory.
The plan is for Rusev to come out the following week to run down how Switzerland is as pathetic as the USA and can’t compete with Russia or Bulgaria on a fair playing field. This would then lead to both Reigns and Cesaro getting involved and leading to a Triple Threat for the title at Summerslam. There are already 5 singles matches and at least a tag team match booked for the card so this would give a different flavour during the show. Rusev of course will be livid as he won’t even have to be pinned to lose the title. Now this angle accomplishes a few things:
- Clearly defines Reigns as a midcarder to fans who disliked his meteoric rise to the top.
- Allows the possibility of Rusev moving on to the main title scene by not taking a pinfall loss but losing the title.
- Allows three good to great workers to put on a good show on an already stacked card.
- Gives Cesaro and Reigns a potential program between the two leading to the next PPV.
- Elevates the US title by having a very recently main event level competitor try to win it.
Smackdown women’s division
As I wrote earlier, the writers are trying to establish and/or build the characters before introducing a championship. I actually really enjoy what they are doing with Eva Marie, although I understand she has a really bad reputation amongst fans. Unlike Roman Reigns, they acknowledge that heat and are using it in a positive fashion. That is, we are more invested in wanting to see one of the women beat her up.
The attack on Carmella was where I had some troubles. Her character is brand new and having her get attacked by the veteran and made to tap out before the match even began does put heat on Natalya but does nothing for Carmella unless the plan is for her to rise up as the underdog. From what I’ve seen, Carmella’s character rides a very fine line between face and entitled “bitch”. To get people on her side, she either needs to back up the talk with in ring action against a very loathsome heel or we try to get sympathy for her. The roster is not deep enough for two strong baby faces yet especially as she doesn’t come with the same pedigree as the 4 horsewomen.
Obviously, Lynch and Natalya are the two who need to “captain” the division to help establish the others. Having a firm grasp on what they are trying to do, I will contradict my previous suggestions somewhat by keeping Lynch and Natalya away from one another in singles matches for now and try to involve the different women.
In this vein, the natural storyline progression would be a tag match involving all the false starts from last week. Natalya & Eva Marie vs Beckie Lynch & Carmella. What the story here is Natalya will be doing the lion’s share of the work on the heel side. Every time she tags in Eva Marie, the all red everything will deliver a slap or a punch and immediately tag Natalya back in. Lynch will be the one being worked over, finally getting the advantage during a sequence Eva Marie deigns to be in the ring leading to the hot tag to Carmella. The Princess of Staten Island will get an upper hand on Natalya briefly while Lynch rolls to the outside following the tag. Natalya turns the tables and when she is ready to score the pinfall, Eva Marie will tag herself in to score the 1-2-3.
This should only help Eva Marie’s heat as fans are smart enough to recognize (especially with say Otunga saying Nattie did all the work) that Natalya carried her team. The goal here is to soften the rough edges on Carmella’s character for a near future feud with Eva Marie and eventually one against Natalya.
As for the other two women, I suggest giving one of them a squash match to show off their offense to a wider audience than NXT. They can then alternate the next week with the face/heel fighting Natalya and Lynch. With such a small roster, my inclination is that whenever they decide to introduce a title, it would probably be best as an elimination 6-women match on a PPV, with say Carmella or Naomi being the runner up to Natalya. This could then segue into a brief feud with the runner up until an eventual Lynch vs Natalya match at Survivor Series for the belt.
Ziggler vs Ambrose
The beat down by the Wyatt family logically should lead to a tag match involving Ambrose and Ziggler against the cultists in order to get revenge. The story here is for Wyatt to try to insert himself into the title picture. To start this off, Ambrose will make his way to the ring and call out Wyatt. He’s obviously mad at being attacked. He’ll explain he intervened because he wanted Ziggler at his best so there wouldn’t be any excuses. Ziggler takes exception and heads to the ring.
Ziggler says he got to be the #1 contender on his own and he also has a problem with Bray attacking him after the bell. The lights will go out and Wyatt will address the pair from the titan tron. He’ll ignore Ziggler and address Ambrose directly. Ambrose will feed into this by not acknowledging Ziggler’s grievances until the “Show off” loses patience and interrupts the two. Wyatt finally admits Ziggler won but only because of the exposed turnbuckle and he could destroy him and more importantly Ambrose at any time he wants… just like he did to both last week. This sets up the tag match later that night just before the ending of the Orton-Lesnar story.
Ziggler and Ambrose won’t be on the same page here. Several times, Ziggler will hold his hand out for the tag but Ambrose will refuse until the heels eventually take over. After an extended period of control, Ambrose will get the wacky lines maneuver on Bray and look to Bray who begins to crawl towards Erick Rowan. He looks to Ziggler, then back to Wyatt, before finally crawling to Ziggler. Wyatt tags Rowan who charges to the other side and pulls Ambrose away just as the tag is made.
Ziggler jumps in and takes over. Things are going well for the faces until Wyatt stirs and begins to beat down Ambrose on the outside, putting him through the announcer table with an Uranage. As he drags Ambrose back into the ring, Ziggler pounces with a fame-asser on Wyatt but he isn’t the legal man. Rowan charges Ziggler who ducks. The two run the ropes and Rowan accidentally stumbles into Wyatt. Looking down at his fallen leader, he turns around to a super kick and Ziggler scores the win.
Ziggler is made out to look strong in the victory which he desperately needs for momentum. This also makes Wyatt not take the pinfall and show he had the upper hand on Ambrose leaving plenty of opportunity to explore matches between these guys later on. This also continues to give Ziggler a chip on his shoulder and can build to an eventual heel turn or to plant seeds of doubt that he could”overcome the odds and win where no one else thought he could”. If he does come out with the championship, it will at least not come off as un-earned but rather there was some foreshadowing he might be able to pull it off without it feeling forced.
Sasha as a “fighting champion” will come out and declare she’s putting her title on the line to any woman in the back with the guts to take her on. Unlike the previous champ, she’s not going to hide behind her daddy or someone else to fight her own battles. As news seems to indicate Paige is nursing injuries, let’s have Alicia Fox come out for the first time in a while.
During the match, Charlotte and Dana Brooke will come out to commentary. Charlotte will express a mix of displeasure that Sasha is putting the title on the line thus putting her own bout in question but Dana will interject Alicia could also soften Sasha up for Summerslam. As things get heated in the match, Charlotte will say to Dana “this table is getting pretty crowded. Maybe you should go get a closer look at the action.” Once at ringside, Dana pushes Sasha off the corner ropes as she prepared to land an aerial maneuver on a prone Alicia. After the bell, Charlotte joins Dana in the beat down before Alicia comes to and evens things up. The faces prevail but the champ is left holding her knee.
Tag Team Championship
My plan for Enzo & Cass vs the New Day seems to be dead in the water (for now) with the budding feud they have with Jeri-KO. Normally, I’d be disappointed but seeing Jericho paired with Kevin Owens has me hyped for the backstage skits between the two as they prepare for their matches. More on them later.
As far as I’m aware, Big E and Kofi are the usual two who defend the titles. The drama here is Big E’s injury to his groin area will prevent him from competing. Thus leaving the rare pairing of Xavier Woods and Kofi to battle the Club. Kofi and Xavier will address the crowd as Big E is shown on screen from his home couch, sporting a comically large ice pack on his groin.
The Club can be funny guys and they both have excellent comedic timing while being condescending as the #beatupJohnCena bit, their podcast and Ride Along showed. Here, the Club will give as good as the New Day can dish out to make fun of Big E’s groin injury before they make their way to the ring and beat down the champs. A funny bit could have Big E try to armchair general his team mates to no avail. The Club threaten to do the same thing to Xavier if they don’t get a title shot at Summerslam. Big E, on the titan tron, eventually agrees. The heels of course follow through anyways because heels.
Styles vs Cena
American Grit’s renewal for a second season casts Cena’s near future on the show in uncertainty. I’ve read reports he might be gone for up to 2 months. Now, most Cena fans are kids so they might not be aware of this. But the smart move here is for Styles to go over at Summerslam. However, last week Styles got what he wanted; a match against Cena. I’m tempted if this is going to be a blow off of their feud, to make it a stipulation match but the brand split and the intervention of Enzo and Cass has kind of distracted from that. If the Club were to be a factor, I’d say a cage match would be in order to prevent outside interference. WWE booking logic dictates Cena one-up his rival to build the feud.
Instead, let’s do some good to put over some of the midcarders: Cena vs Corbin and Styles vs Ryder. Styles and Cena will both come out winners here. Cena’s US open challenge was fun from what I caught of it and he can carry Corbin to a solid match before scoring the pin fall. I don’t want to make Styles appear the cheater but a legitimate main event threat. He won’t intervene but while on commentary he discusses Cena’s weaknesses and talks up Corbin’s strengths. After the match, Cena grabs the mic and tells Styles: “Well big man, I’m right here. Aren’t you going to come after me?” Styles distracts Cena long enough for Corbin to attack from behind and hit the end of days. Styles then waits for Corbin to leave before pummeling Cena some more.
Bryan and Shane will confront Styles backstage after a commercial break and inform him he is going back out there as he has a match with Zack Ryder. Right now. Ryder will have Mojo Rawley in his corner. Every time Styles goes to do some dirty trick, Rawley interjects himself without being physical. A sort of re-hash of Battleground. Styles, unnerved by the hype bro is distracted but eventually wins the match. As he goes to add more punishment, Rawley enters the ring and Styles retreats.
Having Corbin lose to Cena at this stage doesn’t hurt him. As Jim Ross would say, by being in the ring with him one on one, and not being squashed does elevate him. Not having Styles interfere elevates all three because it makes them appear legit strong without shenanigans. The goal here is to make Styles and Cena one of the top feuds all the way to Wrestlemania the likes of say Triple H (Styles) and Rock or Stone Cold (Cena).
With Apollo Crews as the #1 contender, the match is set between him and the Miz. The champion is already established and truly loathed by the fans as one of the few true heels. The problem with this feud is Crews’ personality remains fairly untapped. He’s “just happy to be here guy” which is bland and doesn’t energize the crowd to get behind him. WWE needs to flesh out his personality and a Miz TV segment allows for that personality to come out with Miz helping him along.
Apparently, in NXT the story was he came from a dirt poor family. Miz’ persona as a privileged movie star contrasts perfectly against this. Miz can play the sympathy card with Crews and the audience. Saying he too came from nothing but the difference is he has the “IT factor”. Something hard work, dedication, etc can never replicate. “The truth is, Apollo you’re just happy to be here. I’m not happy until I have it all: a beautiful wife, championships, millions of dollars, adulation of the fans (he can pose smarmily for the camera) and being an A-lister.”
Here, Apollo has his make or break moment. He snatches the mic from Miz’s hands and talks about how he had to struggle to get where he is today. Just because he’s happy, doesn’t mean he’s content. He’s humbled by being in the WWE like so many of his heroes growing up. He can list off a few names to pops. But he understands opportunities aren’t handed to you, you have to earn them and make the most out of it. At Summerslam, he’s going to do everything he can to reach that next step and that Miz is in his way.
Of course, Miz takes exception to this and says. “There’s only one way to the top… and that’s my way!” He sucker punches Crews and begins beating him down. Crews fights back and just as he’s setting up a standing 450 splash, Maryse pulls her husband out of the ring.
I’m actually enjoying the presentation of the squash matches on Raw and would like to see these continue with Strowman and Nia Jax. These should continue until Summerslam for now as the rosters, even Raw’s, are a bit shallow and need to be bolstered. Once the Cruiserweight division is implemented, these can be scaled back or dropped entirely. I will say in the case of Strowman, his squash matches should be against progressively bigger guys until he naturally faces the Big Show and/or handicap matches. Heck, I’d like to see the interview of a pair of jobbers argue on how they would split the money. Nia’s appeal is her unique body type when compared to the rest of the main female roster. Having her face smaller women plays better to bolster her dominance once they are ready to pull the trigger on her first singles feud.
Heath Slater vs Rhyno
The One Man Band’s storyline has been amusing so far. The shelf life of the story though is finite before people lose interest if he doesn’t prevail for too long. Had the brand split been later in the year, I’d have made his big moment come at the Rumble with say a final 4 performance (as the #30 entrant of course). Unfortunately, timing isn’t perfect so the story has to come to a conclusion by Survivor Series at the latest.
Heath will get caught in the cross-fire of the Orton vs Lesnar backstage fighting and get laid out before his match. He’ll come out first limping to the ring, but Rhyno doesn’t wait and charges him on the way. Rhyno continues to batter Slater without remorse and finally rolls him into the ring. The ref calls for the bell, and Rhyno pins him immediately; the match lasting a whole 3 seconds. Hopefully, this creates sympathy for Slater’s next attempt but also gives some heat to Rhyno to help propel him into later feuds with some of the faces on the roster.
Jeri-KO vs Enzo and Cass
A one on one match between Jericho and Enzo will highlight the first hour. I’m going to resist putting KO on commentary. Too much of a good thing spoils it and I already have Charlotte and Rollins on commentary this week. Instead, Enzo will be first to the ring with Cass in tow, delivering their spiel. Jericho’s music interrupts with his “Quiet” routine to bolster his already impressive heat. He’s followed out by KO with his own theme music to avoid relegating him to being Jericho’s flunkie.
A good back and forth match here with KO often distracting the ref with his antics at ringside allowing Jericho to get cheap shots in. Cass eventually gets mad and tries to get involved until the ref sends him to to the back when he jumps onto the ring apron. This allows for Jericho to get the pin. Following the bell, he and KO lay the boots to Enzo. Cass naturally runs out and the heels escape and run before the “dangerous one” catches up to them.
What to do with Zayn?
Tom Phillips will interview Zayn to follow up on how he feels since his last match against Owens (a follow up we never got), his loss to Rollins and what is next for Sami Zayn. Zayn will talk about how losing to Rollins showed him how far he still has to go before making it to the top of Raw. He said tonight he’s going back to the basics and only by competing can he get better.
Summerslam is such a stacked card already it is difficult to figure out what to do with Zayn. Much of the roster is paired up in feuds leaving few options for him. I’d advocate for him to have a match against Curtis Axel to help put over the “Mr Irrelevant” moniker. A great way for the heel to get heat by demanding people stop calling him that. Give Axel some offense in a 3-4 minute match before losing cleanly to Zayn.
Prime Time Players explode… again
I didn’t like last week’s presentation of the match between Titus O’Neil and Darren Young. They could have mined their former tag team run together more to fill out the backstory. Another tag team story playing out involves Pokemon Go so let’s throw these together as I kind of run out of ideas…
The match here is that to try to mend the rift of what happened last week, the former Prime Time Players pair up to face the Golden Truth. During the match, Backlund is shouting orders to his team but Titus is having none of it. Eventually, he loses patience with Backlund while Young is in the ring with Golddust. He slaps the manager to shut him up. Young leaves the ring and attacks his tag partner. During the fighting, R-Truth wanders in between the two, immersed in his game. They look at each other, then to R-Truth, then to each other, both punch R-Truth at the same time in a comedic bit and resume their fighting until Gold Dust rolls up Young for the pin and O’Neil walks away in disgust.