The WWE had a fairly steady set of shows this week with one or two stand out moments. Smackdown did the right thing by holding a repeat of the Women’s MITB Ladder match, while NXT also took things to new heights with their main event. RAW continued to build towards Great Balls of Fire with new matches announced for the show.
All in all, there were very few complaints about the action, and much to look forward to heading into the rest of the summer. Here is what we learned from the WWE this week:
#1 LaVar Ball can cut a promo better than most of the current roster
The Miz TV segment involving LaVar Ball and his two sons was car crash television this week. Unfortunately, there were parts of the segment that have drawn serious controversy due to the use of a certain word, but the segment as a whole was very entertaining.
These are the days of carefully planned and manufactured WWE programming, which obviously has its advantages from a public relations perspective. But as Stone Cold recently said in a podcast, the current RAW shows lack a lot of the urgency and energy of the Attitude Era days.
Many of the promos are scripted beforehand, and the superstars either don’t have the talent or are simply too afraid of repercussions to dare stray from the lines. As a result, many feuds start to blend into each other. After all, is there really any difference between what Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman are doing, compared to Samoa Joe, Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman?
LaVar Ball’s involvement this week really sent a shockwave through the RAW episode. Even The Miz, one of WWE’s most professional stars at the moment, looked out of his comfort zone, unable to respond accordingly. When Dean Ambrose came out to interrupt Ball, he just stood out as a formulaic WWE superstar who only says things he’s allowed to, and he’s supposed to be WWE’s resident lunatic!
It’s disappointing that more of the WWE roster doesn't have the spontaneity and excitement levels as a LaVar Ball. WWE is mainly about the in-ring action in 2017, which is a shame for fans who remember when car crash TV was what Vince McMahon used to do best.
#2 Seth Rollins and Bray Wyatt are dragging each other down
While the WWE audience was having fun watching The Shield and the Wyatt Family do battle back in 2013/14, fans were understandably excited for the future. Here were six superstars that all had enough about them to be strong singles competitors going forward. Towards the end of the rivalry, two men who stood out particularly strongly were Seth Rollins and Bray Wyatt.
Fast forward to 2017, and both men are involved in a programme with each other. The problem is, nobody really seems to care. RAW has a lot of interesting feuds going on at the moment. Enzo and Cass hit a very believable and heartfelt set of promos against each other, while the Samoa Joe and Brock Lesnar pairing continued to send the WWE Universe into a frenzy.
Even the less-than-popular Roman Reigns is delighting the fans by getting beaten up by Strowman on a consistent basis. As a result, whatever is going on with Wyatt and Rollins just feels like a filler.
This is a shame considering the aforementioned heat these two used to warrant. By now, we all understand the many problems with the Bray Wyatt character, but this is the first feud where his shortcomings are visibly bringing another down as well. Bray is basically cutting the same promos that failed to get into the heads of John Cena, Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose and, most recently, Randy Orton. Why should we as fans believe that Rollins would react any differently to them?
With the WWE looking for people to blame for their poor ratings, somebody, sooner or later, is going to draw the wrong type of attention from management. Considering Bray was supposed to be an important main event star for the company, don’t be too surprised if the axe begins to fall on him if things don’t change.
#3 Lana needs to be paired back with Rusev
She tried her best, but Lana clearly hasn’t gotten herself into a position to be taken seriously as a singles star. Her match with Naomi this week for the Smackdown Women’s Championship was pretty appalling. When your opponent kicks out of your finishing move, the bookers of the match normally allow you to kick out of your opponent’s finishing move at least once, otherwise, the whole thing just looks far too one-sided, and this is what happened with this bout.
Maybe that is the story they are telling, but if so, who is that benefitting? Lana cannot be expected to build a character based on not being a good enough wrestler, can she? Eva Marie tried that for a while at the start of last year, but it soon wore pretty thin. Lana has more about her than Eva, especially on the mic, but it just doesn’t appear as though she has much of a future with her current gimmick.
One thing Smackdown could do is pair her back up with Rusev, who is due to make his return fairly soon. It looks like the WWE might have pretty big plans in store for the returning Bulgarian Brute, and as popular as his return will surely be, we all know his best days were when he and Lana used to march down to the ring together and belittle the US audiences, singing the praises of President Putin.
With Russia back in the news at the moment, especially with their potential involvement in the Trump Presidential victory last year, surely this would be a great time to go back to the pro-Russia gimmick, rather than trying to make the two of them stars in their own right.
Perhaps Lana will prove me wrong over the next few weeks and months, but with a stacked women’s division on Smackdown, it feels like this rivalry with Naomi is just filling time until Carmella cashes in her Money in the Bank briefcase.
#4 That was the MITB Ladder match we should have had at the PPV
The WWE did the right thing by holding a repeat of the Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder match this week on Smackdown, but this is definitely not something that needed to happen. If the intention at the PPV was to draw heat on Carmella, then this is understandable, but it doesn’t make the booking right.
In fact, most people just direct their hatred at James Ellsworth, somebody not involved in the women’s division directly. The division has so much star power right now, but the WWE Universe are forced to continue discussing the role of Ellsworth.
The match this week was very enjoyable and had more memorable spots in it than the first one. Becky scrambling up the ladder while Charlotte and Tamina were holding it was reminiscent of the kind of thing Kofi Kingston used to do in ladder matches.
The moment when all four women picked up the ladder with Carmella on top also drew a lot of positivity from the viewing audience. Even Ellsworth’s contribution was entertaining, seeing him taking a bump after being dropped off the ladder by Becky must have felt just a little bit satisfying for all the female supporters watching the match live.
The only qualm with the match is that Carmella ended up getting the victory again. I have no problem with Carmella as Ms. Money in the Bank, but maybe they could have gone with somebody else and set up a one-on-one rivalry between that person, Becky Lynch for example, and Carmella over the briefcase. This would have kept the issue relevant for a few more weeks, and gotten either Becky or Carmella ready to take on Naomi further down the line – perhaps at Summerslam in two months.
It will be interesting to see what the Princess of Staten Island does from here, but with a babyface champion on the show at the moment, the cash in might be happening sooner rather than later.
#5 Mauro Ranallo has been sorely missed
With RAW and Smackdown’s ratings leaving a lot to be desired at the moment, it was a bit of a surprise just how enjoyable this week’s episode of NXT was. It’s like the company are doing a much better job of promoting their network-only show compared with the ones that keep their TV deals intact. This week, fans were tuning into NXT in anticipation of a Last Women’s Standing Match, and the return of Mauro Ranallo.
Ranallo is better suited to NXT than Smackdown, and that really showed this week. While he is still called upon to promote other WWE Network shows during his broadcasting, being an NXT announcer allows him to concentrate on effective play-by-play commentary.
Throughout the Hideo Itami match-up, and especially during the main event, Ranallo called the action tremendously well. While not quite at the levels of a JR, Mauro is similar in that he manages to suspend your disbelief for a moment and allows you to enjoy the action for what it is. Too much of WWE’s commentary on the main roster feels as scripted and boring as many of the promos cut by the superstars. They also spend way too much time bickering among themselves and fail to actually call the action in the ring.
Mauro also has a decent team around him on NXT. While Percy Watson is nothing special, at least he doesn’t try to step on anyone’s shoes like Booker T or JBL. And Nigel McGuiness comes across as somebody who takes the business seriously and is interested in doing his job and trying to get the superstars over with the fans.
It’s a joy to have Mauro back, and it will give us all the more reason to tune into NXT every week.
#6 This is a great week for the women
The WWE made history this week by having a women’s match main event all three of their signature programmes. And the best thing about it was that fans hardly noticed. It didn’t feel out of the ordinary to have these matches close out their respective shows, which is a true testament to how far the women’s revolution has come.
Even more impressive was the fact that all three of these bouts were special gimmick matches. RAW had a gauntlet match to crown a new number one contender, while Smackdown held the second ever Money in the Bank match. NXT followed up by putting on a Last Women’s Standing match, and it’s safe to say all three delivered.
The gauntlet match on RAW did a great job initially of showcasing Nia Jax. It made sense for her to start the match off and reach the final two. The only issue was that Bayley’s involvement was pretty minimal and thus did nothing to repair her broken image after her feud with Alexa earlier this year. Sasha Banks is probably the best choice for number one contender right now.
She has the talent in the ring and on the mic to square off with Bliss, and the other women on the roster all need more time to hone their skills before being considered championship worthy.
The best match of the three was probably the Last Women’s Standing match between Asuka and Nikki Cross. These two have great chemistry together and that really showed on Wednesday night. They even put together a short backstage segment with Cross attempting to attack Asuka who was being driven to the arena.
This made the dynamics of the match work really effectively. Cross looked like the hungry challenger, and Asuka came across as the arrogant, protected champion. The action itself was very compelling, with a few nasty looking bumps here and there.
The super-plex through the announce table from the top of the ladder was a great way to end the match and to end the week overall. Asuka retained her belt, which was probably the right decision, but maybe they could have had the match end with a double count out. It’s unclear whether these two will wrestle again in the near future, as you’d expect Ruby Riot to get an opportunity fairly soon.
One thing’s for sure though, the women did the fans proud this week while the men generally failed to impress.
#7 And the Superstar of the week is... Asuka
If I'm not permitted to give the Superstar of the Week award to LaVar Bell, then it should really go to The Empress of Tomorrow, Asuka. The NXT Women’s Champion has had a tough time trying to keep the division afloat after the departure of Bayley last year. She has pretty much built her gimmick on being far too much for any of the less experienced women on NXT and this has made her look invincible.
Her first real test in months came this week in the form of Nikki Cross. The two put on a very impactful Last Women’s Standing match which rounded off the week’s action very nicely. The future is genuinely exciting for Asuka now, as the main story will probably be her undefeated streak and whether anyone is worthy of ending it.
You’d expect Asuka’s call up to happen pretty soon, maybe on the night after Wrestlemania 34 as is normally the tradition. That means NXT have just over half a year to find a worthy challenger to the crown and somebody who can hold the division together in Asuka's absence. For now, let’s just enjoy seeing the mistress of the hip attack continue to impress us all on Wednesday nights. Congratulations, Asuka.