The Miz opened Raw this week to recap current events surrounding the Intercontinental Championship situation. Apparently, their match at Extreme Rules will now carry the stipulation that, if Dean Ambrose is disqualified, the Miz will win the championship. Cesaro and Sheamus joined Miz for a little chit-chat, leading into a six-man tag team match pitting the three of them against the Hardys and Ambrose. The faces won in an energetic match; the only issue I have, as I’ve said over the last few weeks, is that the Hardys are picking up a lot of wins over their challengers. Can they not face different teams and still advance the feud? Similarly, I’m not interested in seeing Miz and Ambrose fight again, or seeing Miz hold the Intercontinental Championship again. I just hope, whatever happens at Extreme Rules, that these feuds can be put to rest and everyone can move on.
The Drifter, Elias Samson, made short work of a jobber. Good for him. More interestingly, Samoa Joe picked up the win in a three-way match with Bray Wyatt and Finn Balor. None of these guys can afford to lose at this point, but putting them in competitive matches helps to keep them each looking strong in their own way (Joe got the win, Finn got screwed out of the win, and Wyatt fell after taking a finisher- flurry). It’s too bad we’re so early in the year or else we could get a decent elimination chamber match out of all these Universal Championship contenders.
Rich Swann pinned Noam Dar in a stupidly short match to pay lip service to their feud, while Titus O’Neil decimated Kalisto in a nothing match that served only to bury Kalisto when he should be added some much-needed fire to the cruiserweight division on 205 Live. If Titus and Apollo is really going to be a “thing”, make them an official tag team and have them be heel fodder for the Hardys. That would keep the Hardys from beating their challengers all the time, as I said above, adds another tag team to a failing division, gives Apollo some decent exposure to help him work on his game-plan, and hides Titus’s weaknesses in the ring. Everyone wins.
Austin Aries and Jack Gallagher defeated Neville and TJP in what should have been a fast-paced, exciting, high-flying match and instead was a rather drab and lacklustre affair. It had a decent amount of action and time given to it, but it was still way too short for a tag team match that ended in a submission; are cruiserweights exempt from properly working body parts and setting up submission victories? I guess so.
Roman Reigns defeated Seth Rollins in the main event in a decent, hard-fought, competitive match. Both guys looked great, with Rollins utilising speed and skill to dance around Reigns’ power and aggression. Both are still lacing their characterisation with subtle heel mannerisms, which makes their confrontations far more interesting now. Interesting that this was a clean, no-nonsense main event with no over booking or interference; good showings like this are what are needed to help get people behind Reigns but, again, it would help to place him against opponents that audiences already despise and build up to these more divisive match-ups.
Kevin Owens’ Highlight Reel is apparently going to be an ongoing thing now, allowing the WWE to sow the seeds to continue the Kevin Owens/Chris Jericho feud once Jericho is done touring with Fozzy. I like when the WWE does this and has some kind of continuity, but isn’t their feud played out a bit by this point? I’d rather see Jericho come back and face other opponents and do some new thing before tussling with Owens again. But that’s for future me to whine about as, this week, Owens brings out Shinsuke Nakamura to talk about the Money in the Bank ladder match. However, before Nakamura can really say anything, Baron Corbin comes out to talk about how amazing he is since he kicking the snot out of Sami Zayn, leading to Corbin and Owens beating up Nakamura until Zayn comes out to help him, which naturally leads to Zayn and Nakamura teaming up to face Owens and Corbin in a high-energy, hard-hitting tag team bout. Some dissention is teased between Owens and Corbin, which I like as neither guy should really be the “teaming up” kind of guy (Corbin even sells himself as the “Lone Wolf”, after all), and Nakamura takes the win by pinning Owens. Although the talky-talky opening is obviously massively played out, it’s great to see these four guys taking the spotlight, interacting with each other, and putting on high-calibre matches; the WWE needs to make new stars and invest the time in them, and having them open and steal the show is the best way to go about it. Pinning Owens, again, allows Nakamura to further be presented as a top guy on SmackDown! Live and can only add fuel to the inevitable showdown he’ll have with AJ Styles for that position.
The New Day returned to the ring to brag about how great they are and how they’re aiming to win the SmackDown! Live Tag Team Championship, only to be confronted by the resident tag champions, Jimmy and Jey Uso. This could be the feud that reignites SmackDown! Live’s failing tag team division…but only if the WWE puts less emphasis on rubbish New Days skits and more emphasis on them being a legitimate threat because of their long reign as Raw Tag Team Champions. I actually wouldn’t be surprised, though, if the Usos get the better of the new Day for now, if only to help cement their status as the top heel team on SmackDown! Live.
All the women exploded as Charlotte Flair, Natalya, Carmella, Tamina, and Becky Lynch threw away their scheduled match to take each other out in a massive spot-fest! The carnage brought out Shane McMahon, who announced they will put those new-found extreme tactics to the test in the first-ever Women’s Money in the Bank ladder match at Money in the Bank. I agree that such a much is long overdue but I’m not sure how well the women will be able to pull off such a match; I’ve been watching wrestling for years and don’t think I’ve ever seen a women’s ladder match (I’m sure there has been one, though…if only my Google wasn’t broken) and, in my experience, they tend to underperform in hardcore-style matches. This segment showed that they’re willing to go to the extreme, though, and it should be interesting to say the last. The only issue I have is…what’s next? A Money in the Bank ladder match for a shot at the United States Championship? Or the Tag Team Championship? Will the Money in the Bank pay-per-view be just Money in the Bank ladder matches before long? It’s just like the WWE to take a unique concept like the Money in the Bank and run it into the ground by having six people holding six briefcases for six different title shots!
Tyler Breeze and Fandango continued their momentum, and their new-found gimmick of being “the Fashion Police”, by picking up a win over the Colons this week. Similar to what I just said, I worry that the WWE are going to run Breezango’s new gimmick into the ground and pepper their matches with way too much comedy. Between them, Heath Slater and Rhyno, and occasional appearances by the Headbangers, I fear that SmackDown! Live has far too many “joke” teams in its division. It doesn’t help that American Alpha are nowhere to be seen these days, that the Colons are treated as jobbers, and that the Ascension are never taken seriously. It’s difficult to be invested in the division when the teams are so poorly booked; however, Breeze and Fandango are putting on extremely entertaining backstage skits and matches so, hopefully, it’s a sign that the division will be given a bit more attention and credibility before long.
Randy Orton made some excuses and talked about his shame at having lost to Jinder Mahal, but promised to make up for it in his rematch at Money in the Bank. Mahal popped up on the Titantron, mocked him, and proclaimed himself the greatest WWE Champion of all time. Standard stuff from Mahal here; he’s really reading from the heel playbook, making him far more generic than he actually is. He’s going for cheap heel heat when he cold really turn it up a notch and get legitimate hatred from the crowd by playing up to the fact that no one expected him to be in this position a few weeks ago. Similarly, I’m not sure it’s the best look for Jinder to have Orton be ashamed that he lost; that kind of makes Jinder look weak because you’re saying he didn’t deserve or earn his win. Sure, many would agree with that, but he hit Orton with the Khallas and pinned him; that makes Jinder the better man, and they shouldn’t be downplaying that. It’s very similar to how John Cena nearly always talks up his losses as flukes; it’s not a fluke if the dude pins you clean, guys!
Anyway, the main event was a massively entertaining match between Dolph Ziggler and AJ Styles. Both of these guys are always on their game and always take things up a notch so this was a fantastic clash which saw Ziggler, surprisingly, take the win after crotching AJ on the top rope and Superkicking him. It’s great to see Ziggler getting a win (he seems to have a good track record pinning AJ, which could be the basis of a decent feud) and planting the seeds that anything can happen and anyone can win the Money in the Bank ladder match. AJ’s momentum and popularity seems to be constantly white-hot and he can take these losses and still keep going; it’s great to see SmackDown! Live has a top guy who doesn’t need to win all the time. Say what you will about 50/50 booking and random, out-of-nowhere wins but, if the match is highly competitive and both guys go full-pelt, then it is possible to have both guys look strong even if one loses. Plus, Ziggler got a tainted victory, which allows plenty of opportunities for the two of them to go at it again.
Rich Swann and Sasha Banks vs. Noam Dar and Alica Fox: Is this feud still happening? Is it really possible that the WWE can squander all the good will they built up from the Cruiserweight Classic and highlighting their women’s division that we’d end up with this mess of a feud? They’re fighting over….what, exactly? Pride? Well, in either case, let’s give it to the faces and say Swann and Sasha get the win.
Cruiserweight Championship Submission Match: Neville (c) vs. Austin Aries: Can it be? Cruiserweights getting two showings on a pay-per-view? Brand split indeed! I’m hoping for a decent, competitive, long match between these two similar to the submission-heavy classics of Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit (*gasp* I said his name!). Knowing WWE, though, Aries will tale Neville down within two minutes with a quick submission win. I’m actually going to say that Neville squeaks by with the win and retains the belt, if only because I think Aries can take the loss and that he can be moved away from the cruiserweight division after putting Neville over and allowing an up-and-coming face to topple Neville’s reign.
Raw Women’s Championship Kendo Stick on a Pole Match: Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Bayley: Can Bayley go extreeeeeeme!? I guess we’ll find out. Though I think Bayley will grab a kendo stick and go to town on Alexa and give her a beating, I doubt she’ll win back the belt here and I reckon we’ll see Alexa win through some nefarious means.
Raw Tag Team Championship Steel Cage Match: The Hardys (c) vs. Cesaro and Sheamus: Jeff’s going to fly, no doubt about that. The question is, will it cost the Hardys the tag team championships? Given that the Hardys are supposed to be facing the Revival in the near future, I think we’ll see the champions retain their belts here. Clearly it looks like WWE is building towards Revival vs. Enzo and Cass in the short term, but the Revival can’t challenge fellow heels Cesaro and Sheamus so I see the Hardys win this match but the feud extend on a bit to either allow the Revival/Enzo and Cass feud to play out or, potentially, add those two teams into the fold for a four-way championship match (maybe even a TLC match) at Summerslam where the Revival will probably win the belts.
Intercontinental Championship Match (Title Changes Hand son a Disqualification): Dean Ambrose (c) vs. The Miz: I can’t talk enough about how badly I wish these guys hadn’t jumped right back into a feud over the Intercontinental Championship after moving to Raw or how played out their matches and verbal exchanges have been. I get it; for whatever reason, the WWE thinks Ambrose is lazy and they want to humble him on television…this despite the fact that he drew decent money main eventing house shows last year, that he held the WWE Championship, and that he now holds the Intercontinental Championship (a belt that, a while back, he had a lot of trouble capturing). Personally, I think those facts prove how dedicated and hard-working he is; maybe he just gets frustrated with the poor material he’s given to deliver and is more interested in the matches he puts on? In either case, I’d like to see Ambrose retain the belt here and have them both either move on to other feuds or expand the Intercontinental Championship picture with a couple of extra guys so the mid-card actually has something to do rather than just languish around waiting to be pinned by Braun Strowman.
Fatal Five Way Match to Determine the Number One Contender for the Universal Championship: Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe vs. Finn Balor vs. Bray Wyatt vs. Roman Reigns: All of these guys are strong, exciting contenders to face Brock Lesnar. I would love to see the WWE get back behind Balor and see him take the win, go on to face Lesnar, and serve him his first pin fall loss to recapture the belt he never lost. However, I don’t think that will happen. Similarly, I don’t see Bray Wyatt winning to face Lesnar; Wyatt does not look like a credible threat to Lesnar yet and it would take some real work to get him there. Instead, I see Balor and Wyatt getting into a feud rather than winning here….maybe even one that sees Wyatt recruit some new followers and Balor turn to his former Bullet Club brothers for back-up, which could be awesome. Rollins, also, would be a great opponent for Lesnar and it’d do wonders for his face turn to go up against the Beast in impressive fashion, even more so if he were to topple Lesnar for the belt. But, again, I don’t think we’ll see that. I think we’re more likely to see Rollins and Joe continue their feud for a little while longer, up to Summerslam, to help establish Joe’s presence and place on the main roster. You know what that means, people….it’s Roman Reigns for the win! Think about it; Strowman was supposed to get the push against Lesnar but he’s hurt. Strowman has unfinished business with Reigns, Reigns has unfinished business with Lesnar. It makes sense to have Roman win, then have Braun “miraculously” return from his injury and stake a legitimate claim to the number one contendership as he has bested Reigns before then you can have a Reigns/Lesnar/Strowman three-way by Summerslam, which would allow WWE to pull the trigger on Strowman if Reigns looks like he’s being booed to heavily (like they did when Rollins cased in against Lesnar during his WrestleMania match with Reigns) and also to not have Lesnar be pinned. That way we they can really build Strowman as an unstoppable force of nature that has a stranglehold on the Universal Championship, like they do with Lesnar, except Strowman will actually be around every week! Win-win.