This week appeared to be a decent a step in the right direction for the red brand in terms of establishing the newest series of feuds and continuing their storylines. However, there was still no sign or comment from current WWE Universal Champion Brock Lesnar, so I continue to question putting the belt on him. Sure, it brings a certain legitimacy to the belt and maintains Lesnar’s mystique, but not his continuing absence really damages the ability to have ongoing storylines around his character.
Yet, Raw perfectly pulled off the set up to a Fatal Five-Way match at Extreme Rules to determine a new challenger for Lesnar: Roman Reigns came off as a cocky, self-righteous prick, Finn Balor as being entitled, and adding Bray Wyatt, Samoa Joe, and Seth Rollins helps keep their feuds all relevant and they’re all strong contenders. Each looks perfectly credible despite WWE’s continued insistence on having guys in feuds constantly face off against each other.
As it seems Braun Strowman’s injury is being played up for kayfabe, I’m sure he’ll either be added to the match as a late entry or make an appearance soon after to appear as an inhuman monster. I still find it astounding how well Strowman has grown into this new role and how accepting audiences have been towards him; if only this kind of push and treatment could be afforded to reigns to help crowds warm towards him now.
Interesting to see Goldust turn heel; as he appears to be close to retirement, and was denied a real swan-song with Stardust, I hope this leads to him getting on last push before the inevitable Hall of Fame and perhaps hanging up the boots. Goldust always works really well as a disturbing heel and, I feel, audiences today may forget that his initial push as a heel was quite a big deal back in the day. I wouldn’t mind seeing him pushed towards an Intercontinental Championship reign, just as a way of thanking him for his recent efforts and continued loyalty.
Although the chemistry between Dean Ambrose and the Miz continues to deliver, I really wish they’d kept the two separated after the “Superstar Shake-up”. What’s the point of switching both to the same brand and having them feud? We just saw it all on SmackDown! Live and I’d’ve preferred to see the Miz feud with another hot face (like Balor, maybe) and Ambrose get to defend the belt against fresh heel challengers.
Interesting that Kevin Owens is still riding the coat-tails of his feud with Chris Jericho, but it fits his character to gloat over his actions. Plus, it looks like he’s transitioning into a sure-to-be-excellent feud with AJ Styles, which should hopefully get AJ some traction in his latest face push.
Although his recent push has come out of nowhere, there’s no denying the WWE is serious about forcing Jinder Mahal into the main event scene. A big win over AJ this week really helps to show he is worthy of the position, but it’s hard to forget the fact that, just a few weeks ago, he was a jacked-up nobody who wasn’t winning matches. Can’t deny that I wouldn’t rather see Rusev (who’s currently injured, so fair enough) or even Baron Corbin get the shot instead so they could properly build up Mahal’s role for a little while longer.
Kickoff match: Tye Dillinger vs. Aiden English
Honestly, I’m not too familiar wither either of these guys as I don’t really get to watch NXT but, from what I’ve seen, if this gets a decent amount of time and attention, they should be capable of putting on a solid introductory match. I’m pretty sure that WWE would not be stupid enough to let Dillinger’s popularity pass them by, so I expect a well-fought win from Tye Dillinger here.
Luke Harper vs. Erick Rowan
Now, I’ll admit that I’m not entirely sure why Harper gets all the love he does. He’s always struck me as being quite mediocre in the ring and lacking a lot of charisma needed to make much of an impression but there’s no denying that WWE has really dropped the ball with him in recent weeks. The crowd is clearly behind him and was buying into him as a main eventer, yet he was kept off of WrestleMania and relegated to the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale on the pre-show. I really feel like Harper needs to regain some traction, get this feud behind him, and begin to really cultivate a role as a legitimate solo big man. There’s no way that Rowan, with his constant injuries and even more lacklustre solo push, is picking up the win here; Luke Harper for the victory.
Sami Zayn vs. Baron Corbin
Poor Sami Zayn. The move to SmackDown! Live should have reinvigorated his career; on the more workrate-focused blue brand, Sami should have been given more time to shine and be pushed as the ultimate underdog. Instead, he moved alongside eternal rival Kevin Owens and has been pushed into a feud with Corbin that is eerily similar to his previous feud with Braun Strowman, At the same time, Corbin has improved radically in recent weeks and his really growing into his role as a no-nonsense big man who has been flirting with the main event. The issue here is that neither man deserves to lose…but I know my WWE, and I see Baron Corbin decimating the underdog Zayn despite a courageous effort.
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Dolph Ziggler
Ziggler’s heel turn may not have exactly set the world, or his character, on fire but there’s arguably no better opponent for Nakamura to face in his debut on the blue brand (don’t start saying AJ…it’s way too early for that!) WWE apparently have big plans to push Nakamura as SmackDown! Live’s top face and has done a great job teasing his in-ring debut on the main roster so I expect to see Ziggler bounce around like a pinball and put Nakamura over for his first win (but not, I suspect, the end of the feud).
Naomi, Charlotte Flair, and Becky Lynch vs. Tamina, Carmella, and Natalya
Eh, I’m not really fussed either way about this match. It seems to be a cheap excuse to get all the women on the show and to mash together all their storylines. I reckon well see Naomi, Charlotte, and Becky dispatch their opponents and, potentially, devolve into a bit of a brawl over who gets to be the next contender for the SmackDown! Live Women’s Championship.
SmackDown! Live Tag Team Championship Match: The Usos (c) vs. Breezango
WWE has done a pretty decent job lately of getting Tyler Breeze and Fandango over with their recent backstage skits, which have surprisingly transformed them from an annoying team of jobbers into a popular underdog team. Unfortunately, SmackDown! Live’s tag team division is even more diluted and lacking than Raw’s, so they’ve hardly been given too much of a chance to allow their new position to be reflected in the ring (and, when they did, it was at the expense of the Ascension, now seemingly forever a duo of losers). At the same time, Jimmy and Jey Uso have really embraced and been reinvigorated by their new heel roles, despite also not really defending their belts much since winning them. I see the Usos taking the win and, hopefully, all of SmackDown! Live’s tag teams get more of a focus following their win in an attempt to really spotlight the division and get people to care about matches like this one.
United States Championship Match: Kevin Owens (c) vs. AJ Styles
Given the state of the main event, I don’t think anyone is not expecting this match to be the highlight of the show. Owens got the absolute shaft when he was forced out of the WrestleMania main event in favour of Goldberg and now has a chance to bring some desperately-needed legitimacy and focus to SmackDown! Live’s mid-card. Feuds with former WWE Champions such as AJ Styles really should help to elevate the United States Championship; if the former Universal Champion and the former WWE Champion are fighting over the mid-card title in a prolonged feud, putting on excellent matches and cutting promos that make their battles as important as the title, then the belt could be elevated in importance back to the level it was at when John Cena was defending it week in and week out. Similarly, AJ also got the absolute shaft at WrestleMania; however, his latest face run could help get him back in the running towards the main event later down the line. For now, I’m expecting an instant classic from these two that sees Kevin Owens put down AJ through nefarious tactics, but expect this feud to continue until SummerSlam.
WWE Championship Match: Randy Orton (c) vs. Jinder Mahal
The newest brand split is all about giving WWE Superstars a chance to shine, to let new guys get some focus, and to help everyone get a piece of the spotlight. Although WWE proved this to be a lie when they shafted their full-timers at WrestleMania, they are apparently attempting to overcompensate for that with Jinder’s recent push. Although Orton really should not be holding the WWE Championship in 2017, there’s no doubt that his reputation as a credible main eventer and World Champion allows him to fill the role with ease. Unfortunately for Jinder, I don’t think this match will go to well for him. People like to compare his recent push to that of John Bradshaw Layfield, I feel that to push him so suddenly and rush the belt on him with such a lacklustre build-up would be a massive mistake. There’s no telling how Jinder would perform as WWE Champion; it could be a massive flop, and that’s the primary risk with him winning here. I think we’ll see Jinder try everything he can and put on a decent show, but eventually fall victim to Randy Orton. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jinder (and his cohorts the Bollywood Boys) exact a savage beat-down afterwards to extend the feud on to, perhaps, a Championship win later down the line.