A few bright spots on SmackDown Live helped sell the last batch of matches ahead of Sunday’s Hell in a Cell, while 205 Live continued its creative rebirth as a fresh, action-packed show full of quality wrestling and precious little Creative fluff. NXT had the luxury of no massive PPV to have to build towards, so it could get back to what it does best – great wrestling and even better stories.
Jeff Hardy opened the show with one of his standard awkward promos, before his match with US Champion Shinsuke Nakamura. Hardy in his prime was arguably one of the best wrestlers in the world, but that was a long time ago. These days he huffs and wheezes around the ring like he’s already knackered soon as the bell goes, and it’s generally a relief when the matches end because the chance of his heart just stopping dead drops drastically.
Orton interfered to lose Nakamura the match by DQ, but this was all about Hardy dropping his signature moves on the Viper ahead of their clash on Sunday. Not that it needed setting up, but after several weeks of Orton faking out coming to blows with Hardy it was nice to see him get his hands on his opponent. I’m a firm believer that a good feud is built on everything around the match itself – you don’t generate heat by having the same two guys fight every week ahead of a PPV bout.
Case in point – AJ Styles and Samoa Joe, who’ve mixed both matches, action around matches and a variety of promos to sell a very personal beef between the two veterans. I’m still not 100% behind this creepy, psychological version of Joe and I question the taste of his offensive against Styles’ family, but these guys have both sold the feud wonderfully – seeing Styles’ cool veneer crack under pressure and drive him to increasingly heel-ish acts is on the same lines as the Gargano/Ciampa vendetta over on NXT. It may not have the history of that conflict, but these two look set to tear the house down soon enough either way.
Elsewhere Charlotte Flair beat Sonya Deville but we should not overlook how much Deville has come on as an in-ring performer since her graduation from NXT. She can put a legitimate fight up against main eventers – much more so than the overrated Mandy Rose – and while this was a short match designed to give Becky Lynch one last cheap shot ahead of their title bout, it made everyone look good and that’s all you can really ask for.
Lynch’s ‘heel’ turn has been a sticky one purely because she’s so fantastically over she gets cheered regardless, and while Charlotte is the face in this equation, most people – this writer included – would happily see Lynch take the Womens Championship home at the weekend. Whether that’ll happen is another matter – Charlotte seems destined to hold belts purely because of her surname, despite her obvious ability in the ring – so let’s see if Creative has the guts to book Lynch as the winner after years of being the bridesmaid.
The Bar took on Rusev Day in the tag team tournament final, the winners set to face New Day at Hell in a Cell. Rusev Day have improved massively as a tag unit, working the same Cinderella story angle as the B-Team over on Raw, and despite squeaking a win against the far stronger Sheamus and Cesaro, they look set for a spirited assault on the titles come Sunday. While New Day vs. The Bar would have been a great match, Rusev Day offer something different, and at this stage in their career New Day are incapable of putting on a bad show, so hopes remain high.
Andrade Almas rolled up R-Truth in a match about as long as this sentence (seriously, why is R-Truth suddenly around again? Did he need the money or something?), before Brie Bella dragged Maryse into the ring after a 7-year absence in an aborted match that – you guessed it – was only there to set up the mixed couples’ clash at Hell in a Cell. I know I said earlier that good feuds are built on what happens outside of the actual matches, but when you have two veterans (Bryan and Miz) and two horrendously rusty returnees (Bella and Maryse), I don’t think anybody has much in the way of expectation for their match. Ah well.
The overarching story of 205 Live has been Drew Gulak’s inexorable march towards the Cruiserweight Championship, a belt he looks set to wrest from Cedric Alexander which – if we’re being honest – can only lead to good things for the brand. Plucky babyfaces digging deep to unthrone dastardly villains is the bread and butter of Creative all year round, and Neville’s memorable reign as King of the Cruiserweights showed how 205 elevates everyone involved when there’s a true Final Boss everyone has to overcome.
Action wise, the hulking Buddy Murphy took on high flyer Gran Metalik in a match reminiscnet of last week’s Nese/Metalik contest, with each man’s entourage once again banned from ringside by General Manager Drake Maverick. metalik is an excellent exemplar of luchador wrestling, able to hold his own against a bruiser like Murphy, and look good despite taking the loss.
The always brilliant Mustafa Ali – one of 205‘s best-kept secrets – returned from injury to squash an unknown jobber while the man who put him out for months, Hideo Itami, mocked him from ringside. While Ali remains a treat to watch, Itami is a great wrestler with no presence who needs something to give him a boost. Maybe a new outift, entrance, even a manager (although 205 seems to eschew those), but as he stands he’s just a bland package whose only notable quality is his stiff striking ability – some guys slap the thigh, Itami just kicks harder.
A tag match closed the show, which is always a sneaky way of putting title contenders against each other without spoiling their own singles match. Here we had Alexander and Akira Tozawa against Gulak and Jack Gallagher, and while 205 Live lacks a dedicated tag division, plenty of its stars can pull double duty and make a convincing tag team should the program requireit.
Showcasing a good mix of styles, we had the more acrobatic face duo against the technical stylings of their heel opponents for an entertaining bout full of signature offence and spots. I could watch Alexander drop people with the Spanish Fly all day, and the Gulock is one of the more painful-looking submissions currently being employed, so these four guys beat the snot out of one another for our entertainment to close another solid show.
205‘s never going to be massive, but if it can maintain this level of restraine storytelling and high quality wrestling, then it earns its spot as wrestling worth your time every week.
NXT opened with a hard-hitting tag match, as fan favourite underdogs Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch – the lost Statham brother – took apart the less experienced Jaoude and Bononi. Lorcan and Burch had a great run of matches against big teams, particularly Undisputed Era, and despite taking a lot of losses they came out looking great every time. The rivalry Lorcan and Burch battled through cemented them as a tag team the same way we saw Sheamus and Cesaro morph into The Bar so successfully, and while they will never feel like a championship-winning team, they do great work every time they’re out. Can’t wait for them to move to Raw and job to inferior teams every week, eh The Ascension/Sanity?
Also that double DDT was a thing of rare beauty.
Watching how much heat Tommaso Ciampa gets purely by walking into the arena shows how excellently his character has been built – he’s the premier supervillain in NXT, generating the kind of response Roman Reigns only sustained for a few weeks after taking down the flippin’ Undertaker. ‘Who Beat Up Aleister Black?’ remains an intriguing angle to cover the former champ’s injury, and in the interim Ciampa is more than capable of holding sway at the top of the pile.
Elsewhere Shayna Baszler demolished a rookie as she looks to re-energise her attack on the Womens title, back to that ‘choking opponent out after victory’ move that made her so edgy and dangerous before the rivalry with Kairi Sane. Good to see her back – NXT hasn’t felt like it’s had a legitimate female supervillain before.
The Monster-in-Waiting Lars Sullivan was also smushing somebody inconsequential as he steamrollered Raul Mendoza (despite a burst of offence, because it’s useful to show that these big guys can be staggered if you’re quick enough), but Sullivan’s at that key point now where he needs to go after a belt or risk getting stuck in Jobber Hell for a long time.
Last up, Bianca ‘I Whip My Hair Back And Forth’ Belair (quite how there aren’t more Fresh Prince gags about her surname is beyond me) took on the ‘unpredictable’ Nikki Cross, a word here which means ‘no consistent ring style because she has no idea what she’s doing.’ Cross has come a long way from the blue & yellow comedy heel act she started out as, and while it’ll always be hard to take the pint-sized hellion seriously, her feud with Asuka last year was amazing stuff and showed she has the capacity for greatness.
An even battle full of fun spots ended with a count-out No Contest and Cross launching herself into both Belair and a gaggle of referees, because she’s unpredictable, you see? She’s crazy! What’ll she do next? Great match, though, and topped off another solid week with plenty of promise for the months ahead.