Continuing our round-up from this past week’s WWE action, we look at SmackDown, NXT and 205 Live. You can also check out our breakdown of WWE RAW.
Over on SmackDown this week, it would appear that couples combat is what it’s all about, with a stirring opening segment pitting Daniel Bryan against Andrade Almas setting up a bigger clash later in the night between SmackDown’s power couples – Bryan/Bella, Miz/Maryse and Almas/Vega. Given that mixed-gender wrestling is far more common on the indie scene but WWE has historically always been very cautious with it, it’s a good thing to see given some screen time.
Elsewhere we had a Naomi/Peyton Royce jumble that purely served to bring Asuka back into action, Samoa Joe delivering some NXT-style mind games to AJ Styles and teasing Styles finally dropping his Championship belt to the Samoan Submission Machine, and an odd but welcome reverse swing of the impending Rusev Day breakup as Aiden English helped secure a tag match win for himself and Rusev over the Usos and Sanity.
Sanity are a victim of the same curse as The Ascension and The Revival – lords of the NXT tag scene, since landing on the WWE roster they’ve been used mainly to put other guys over. If the whole point of NXT is to hone newcomers into being able to step fully-formed into the WWE main event scene, it’s baffling to see hardy guys and girls reduced to borderline jobbers again, as though they have to ‘earn’ their right to be there a second time. Killian Dain in particular is a monster in the making, but seeing Young go from being NXT’s supervillain to eating a pin to put Rusev Day over (again) just galls the spirit.
Hey, kids, look! It’s R-Truth! Remember him? He was kind of a thing a long time ago and still rocks up now and then, and who am I kidding he’s always been terrible. Here his job was to sneak a distraction win against Miz so Bryan and Brie Bella could switch round the sneak attack Miz and Maryse pulled on them last week. Almas and Vega intervened but were soon caught in stereo Yes Locks, sending a clear message – this is how Hell in a Cell is going to end for the Mizanins.
You may be thinking ‘hang on, wasn’t Almas recently a big time NXT Champion, why is he being sacrificed here to further somebody else’s feud?’ and I would say yeah, exactly. Seeing the pattern yet? Almas is right back to square one, having to earn his place on the roster, just as we’ve seen with pretty much every NXT export of the last few years. You can single out a few people who rose to the top pretty quickly – Alexa Bliss in particular (because Vince sure loves those blonde Women’s Champions) – but it’s both a side effect of the crowded roster (you can only have so many ‘top guys’ at once, after all) and a direct result of Creative’s slow reaction times to the arrival of hot new talent.
Continuing to be the best show nobody’s watching, and still with a ton of momentum following the arrival of indie darling Drew Maverick as general manager (who also apparently manages the Authors of Pain now for some reason?), 205 Live‘s revival has been a joy to behold, finally bringing it up to the levels of showmanship it demonstrated during the epic Cruiserweight Classic tournament.
The one-hour running time means there’s rarely a wasted moment, and the hard-hitting opening clash between Tony Nese and Gran Metalik was full of what makes both guys so entertaining – daring, high-flying offence from the luchador, and feats of powerman strength from the Premier Athlete. Sure, it was missing the added colour of their respective retinues at ringside, but that focused the match perfectly and wake up a sleepy crowd following SmackDown the way it should.
Noam Dar squashing a jobber purely to set up a clash between himself and pint-sized irritant Lio Rush was over mercifully quickly, giving the main event of Cedric Alexander against TJP the room it needed to breathe. Alexander’s growing feud with Drew Gulak is its own great story, but TJP’s ongoing reinvention was the sideshow here as Alexander was ambushed first by Jack Gallagher and then Gulak himself, knocking the champ out with the vicious Gulock to close the show.
Free from the typical WWE gimmicks and storylines that confounded its early days (remember that god awful romance storyline with Dar and Alicia Fox?), though not before losing stone cold stars like Neville and Rich Swann, 205 may be a Network-only supporting act, but it’s one worth sticking around for.
The golden child of WWE television for the more savvy fan, NXT is riding high as always as it continues to play out storylines from Takeover: Brooklyn – Johnny Gargano’s slide into darkness, the badass-ing of Kairi Sane and of course, Velveteen Dream, a man so awesome he’s becoming his own adjective.
Kassius Ohno continued a recent streak in a tussle with Kona “Like The Rock Only Rubbish” Reeves, which unfortunately generated about as much excitement as a typical Reeves match manages. Ohno is atypical in NXT in that he has no obvious momentum or direction – is the big guy due a push into relevance as more of the previous top guys move up into WWE?
The debut of mysterious tag duo Forgotten Sons made up a decidedly average bout against Street Profits, with a distraction appearance from The Mighty to further their feud the only notable moment. The NXT tag division is its weakest link at the moment, and seeing so many formerly great tag teams getting treated so appallingly on mainstream WWE week in, week out should really spur the NXT Creative guys into upping their game.
Luckily, with the NXT UK Women’s title decided, and the next Mae Young Classic on the horizon, the Women’s division is rebuilding itself nicely, fueled by the blossoming rivalry between Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler.
Toughening up Sane to be able to not only match but then beat Baszler could have failed horribly, but the plucky Pirate Princess has really stepped up to the challenge and now feels like a credible foe to the ex-UFC nightmare. These two need to settle the feud soon as there’s due to be an influx of fresh talent to keep them both busy, but there’s another couple of big matches in both of them yet.
And finally, Gargano took on Velveteen Dream in a match designed primarily to show how Tommaso Ciampa’s repeated wins over Gargano are shoving him firmly over to the dark Side. From trying more savage, decidedly non-babyface moves and submissions to his overall lack of focus leading to rookie mistakes for his opponents to capitalise on, the storytelling here is top notch and is also managing the key feat of keeping Gargano/Ciampa an interesting feud even after several high-profile bouts.
Dream is so majestically over that he can do no wrong, win or lose, but this wasn’t about him – this is about Gargano realising he doesn’t have what he needs to put Ciampa away for good, and his journey towards finding that edge at last. There’s a finale brewing between these two, and I cannot wait to see it.