Here we are, go home week for the Royal Rumble and Takeover Phoenix. An exciting weekend such as that deserves an exciting week of action to lead up to it. Did WWE deliver? Short answer, yes. Long answer, yes, on every show. RAW, Smackdown and NXT were all mostly impressive shows with some fun bouts and excellent moments to enjoy. Now all gushing aside let’s dig into the highs and lows of WWE TV.
David, Goliath and Mushrooms: A Vince McMahon Bedtime Story
Finn Balor defeats Braun Strowman via DQ
This was an incredibly odd way to start RAW. What started as a Heyman segment (featuring Brock) soon descended into madness as Braun, Vince and Balor all started interjecting their opinions about the Royal Rumble main event. We then got one of the oddest retellings of David and Goliath that may or may not have involved magic mushrooms as Vince tried to describe Balor’s upcoming match and his chances. Braun also blatantly said he didn’t think Finn could win and Vince decided to make a match between the two and it was happening RIGHT NOW.
The match itself was a lot of fun. Braun and Finn have matches before and they always manage to come up with creative ways to handle the big man and little man storyline. Finn would try to use his speed and Braun’s own momentum as a way of hitting moves on the big man. Braun would end up throwing Finn at Brock and Brock caught Balor and delivered an overhead Suplex to Balor. This should have been a DQ but the ref ignored it. Balor would get payback later as he would Dropkick Brock into the barricade. Eventually after a Shotgun Dropkick to the turnbuckle and Coup de Grace, Balor looks set to win but Brock gets involved again and hits an F5 on Finn ending the match.
It may have been a disappointing end but it keeps both men strong and Brock gets a moment to stand tall. Regardless of that finish I am excited for Balor/Brock and hope WWE find some way to make Braun a hot commodity again.
The Great Pose Off
Bobby Lashley defeats Apollo Crews via Spear
Apollo Crews is one of the most obvious cases of missed opportunity. The man is talented, seems to have charisma and the pro wrestler image. He also reminds me of a slightly shorter Bobby Lashley. He probably reminded the audience of this too as he took on the Almighty in a posing contest. Now Lashley was all business, striking all his usual poses only to have Crews come back with a comedic touch to the same poses with an almost similar level of musculature.
A match was made between the two after Lashley gets insecure about being beaten at poses. The pose off ends with Lio being thrown into Lashley and the match starts. The match itself was also enjoyable as Apollo and Lashley matched up in ring and traded moves. Both men were trying to play the power game. Apollo only really lost because he was too focused on Lio Rush. Crews has Lio up another Military Press Slam when Lashley hits a Spear and gets the win. It’s a shame for Apollo as he always seems to be on the precipice of breaking through but never quite gets the big win. Though looking at that there is definitely the potential for a story.
Seth & Drew, Nuff Said
Seth Rollins defeats Drew McIntyre via Roll Up
Seth starts by hitting an amazing promo about heart and work, channelling Martin Luther King and warming the crowd to him. Drew destroys all that in about ten seconds as he lays out how Seth’s style is dangerous to himself and how he has the same skill and heart in a body that is much bigger and much stronger. This led into an amazing match between the two that had the same level of chemistry as their other matches. Both men traded momentum and moves and even dropped some story beats as Seth injures himself on a move and proves he can eliminate Drew. Seth ends up getting a lucky win with a Roll Up and the two are obviously going to be a pivotal story going into the Rumble.
Lucha House Filler
Lucha House Party defeat Jinder Mahal & the Singh Brothers via Backbreaker
What was the point of this? It was a slow, lumbering and boring match that did nothing for anyone involved. Lucha House Party won with the most unconvincing finisher ever, a single Knee Backbreaker. There is so little to write about here as Lucha House Party hit a few signature spots, Jinder trapped everyone in headlocks and the Singhs ate the pin. It was boring, useless and wholly there to kill time… and interest.
Baron Corbin defeats Elias via End of Days
Now I am a member of the Corbin Defence League but even I question the need for another victory over Elias. This seems to be another story thread for the Rumble but it sacrificed interest and some of Elias’ momentum to do so. This was a standard Corbin match and delivered the spots it needed to. The best part was before the match as Elias had Corbin’s mic cut and nearly hit Corbin with a guitar. The match saw Elias lose after being hit in the throat and eating an End of Days. It was a solid little match but nothing too interesting.
Roode & Gable defeat The Revival via Roll Up
Even with a guest referee, the Revival cannot catch a break. Curt Hawkins had been made special guest referee for the Revival’s latest chance at the RAW tag team titles. They were trying to wrestle their type of match and take advantage of their vintage, underhanded approach but it turns out Curt Hawkins is a rather good referee. He let the match breathe and enforced the rules to a strict degree. This time the Revival lost after having a Roll Up rescue broken up by Hawkins and a fast count loss. The Revival starts trying to beat up Hawkins for costing him their match when Zack Ryder makes the save. He singlehandedly dispatches the two with little effort and Ryder and Hawkins strike a pose at the end teasing a tag team reunion. The sad thing is this could be teasing that Hawkins finally breaks his losing streak by beating the Revival.
A Proper Debut
Heavy Machinery defeat The Ascension via Compactor
Why couldn’t this have been Heavy Machinery’s debut? This was much more effective at establishing Heavy Machinery as a tag team and showcased their fun-loving, comedic nature without having Otis look like a creep. They manhandled the Ascension and made light work of them whilst hitting a lot of their signature spots. Tucker Knight got to show off his stamina and agility, Otis looked like a powerhouse and hit the Caterpillar and both men delivered a crushing Compactor to end the match. It was fun, it was fast and it certainly shows off how good Heavy Machinery can be.
A Moment of Brawl
This was a surprise highlight as it made two big announcements and let the women have a good old fashioned brawl to the backstage area. What started as a recap of the women in the Rumble soon descended into a shouting contest over who was going to win. Alexa tries to keep them in control by screaming they are ruining her show but this just provokes them further. Nia starts the brawl and everyone fights to the backstage. Once their gone Alexa announces her place in the Rumble, this being important as it is her in ring return. Lacey Evans also makes an appearance to announce that she will also be in the Rumble and aims to win. This was a fun way of making some last-minute announcements and once again showcases Blisses charisma.
Team Boss vs Team Rousey
Sasha Banks & Bayley defeat Ronda Rousey & Natalya via Bank Statement
RAW’s main event saw two teams of close friends battle it out ahead of the Banks vs Rousey title match on Sunday. It started with Rousey and Banks having to be pulled apart and ended with Banks locking Natalya in the Bank Statement. This once again shows that Banks is capable of tapping out opponents and provided another fun back and forth between the two. Banks is clearly going to be the heel of the match and was having fun rubbing her victory in Rousey’s face. It was a decent enough match with some fun spots between the two teams but the highlight has to be the increasing animosity between champion and challenger.
Smackdown started strong by having The Man, Becky Lynch drop a promo about her upcoming match with Asuka. She talked about Asuka’s old dominance but questioned her ability since she’d never actually beaten Lynch in a match. This brings out Charlotte who lays in some barbs about winning the Rumble and coming for the two. After she gets her speech out of the way, Asuka lays into Becky but is ultimately overpowered and vanquished by Lynch who attacks back and ends up throwing her over the announcer’s desk. Instead of posing for a finish she whips Asuka repeatedly with her leather jacket. Another perfect segment from the women as Becky is still talking fire and Asuka got punished for being to gung-ho. It even reminded us that Charlotte is relevant and a threat going into the Rumble.
Rose Stands Tall
Mandy Rose defeats Naomi via Ring Post Shot
The latest entry in the Rose/Naomi saga saw an actual match. Naomi was vicious as she mercilessly pummelled Rose for all the hard times she has brought to her family lately. She would remain on top of the match until Sonya Deville would distract her and lead to her being driven head first into the ring post and getting the pin fall. It wasn’t a technical masterpiece but it did the job. Naomi certainly looked fired up and wanted to obliterate Rose. If it wasn’t for Deville she would have succeeded. Mandy Rose matches are always made more fun by Corey Graves’ commentary and clear bias.
Rest in Peace Shane McMahon
Cesaro defeats The Miz via Neutraliser
The match meant very little to this segment. It was a match that saw Cesaro win as he technically dominated Miz and had Sheamus running interference just to seal the deal. The meat of the segment came after as Shane McMahon tries to come to his partner’s aid and revenge after the Bar attacked him earlier in the match but has the life beaten out of him. They pummel him down and Miz tries to protect him by laying over him. They ignore this and just beat both men up instead. It ends with Shane eating a direct Brogue Kick to the face and then both men being put through the announcer’s table. This may be the best way to garner sympathy for a team in history as the Miz looked so protective over his tag partner. Shane took some nasty bumps and this throws their match into jeopardy as who knows if they’ll be fit to compete.
A Last Minute Stand-Off
Vince McMahon popped up again on TV as a moderator for a faceoff between AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan. The segment started strong and just got stronger as Bryan refused to get in the ring with the other two men and ran down Vince, AJ and the company from ringside. He refused to give up his ideals and laid into the company for enabling the crowd and enabling Styles to be lazy and environmentally destructive. Vince tries to demand Bryan get in the ring but Bryan refuses to comply. In the end Styles takes the advantage and takes the fight to Bryan. He attacks before the champ can run away. He batters Bryan around the ringside. Styles tries to hit a Phenomenal Forearm but Bryan drags Vince in front of him. Bryan hits a Knee Plus as AJ lands, picks up the title and legs it out of the arena.
Ali Destroyed Again
Samoa Joe defeats Mustafa Ali via Coquina Clutch
Joe barely gave Ali a second as the second that bell rung, he was on the attack. Ali was in ultimate underdog as Joe beat him down and he would slowly come back. However each time Ali got back into the match, Joe would find a way to cut Ali back down. They had a call back to last week’s attack where Joe tried to throw Ali into the ring post but Ali caught himself and turned it into a diving attack on Joe. In the end, he had Joe set up for the 054 but as he got to the top, Joe grabs him round the neck and drags him down. He locks in the Coquina Clutch and Ali has no choice but to tap out. Joe claimed his first scalp of the night.
Continuing the Trend
Rey Mysterio vs Andrade ends in No Contest
And the match of the week award goes to… this one. What a main event. This may have been the best main event in Smackdown Live history. This match featured freakish moves of athleticism, agility and brutality. When the first fall takes a top rope Powerbomb then you know you’re in for something special. These two were hitting strikes, lucha classics and every other thing you could think of to put the other away. The score went one/one as Rey hits Almas with a surprise Destroyer and takes a point for himself.
The only finisher that was hit all match was a surprise Hammerlock DDT that was only kicked out of because Rey got his foot on the ropes. The kick out was such a shock that Almas sold his frustration at making such an error. In the end neither man won as Samoa Joe came out and wiped out Rey. He attacked and used this as a way to once again remind audiences what he was going to do to the other 29 men in the Rumble. His glorification is cut short though as he is hit by an RKO out of nowhere and Randy Orton nonchalantly stands around to end the show. This is a much see match that should be watched. The finish may sound disappointing but all it does is give us more of Almas and Rey. Who wouldn’t want more of that?
Dreams of Gold
Velveteen Dream defeats Bobby Fish via Purple Rainmaker
This started the show and transitioned into the main event match for this week’s NXT. The Velveteen Dream opened the show by talking about wanting the North American title. He isn’t given much time to talk as Adam Cole and Bobby Fish of the Undisputed Era show up. Cole states that Dream doesn’t deserve the title and that 2019 will see all members of the Era holding gold. Dream ends up laying the verbal Smackdown and leaves the dream fuming.
A match is made for the main event. The two come out and the first part of the match sees Dream avoiding strikes whilst constantly being on edge about any potential Cole interference. He tries to showboat when he takes advantage but ends up paying the price as Fish strikes and hits a Dragon Screw Leg Whip on the outside. Fish starts working the knee and it comes into play whenever Dream tries to mount some offense. He fails to hit the Purple Rainmaker and is trapped in an elongated Knee Bar segment that saw Cole in hot water for pulling away the ropes. Dream uses the distraction to hit the Dream Valley Bomb and finishes Fish off with the Purple Rainmaker. He claims the victory but at what cost?
Oney Lorcan & Danny Burch defeat Fabian Aichner & Marcel Barthel via Roll Up
Match of the show goes to these two teams. What started as a hard-hitting affair transitioned into a full on spot fest as there were savage strikes, devastating double team moves and plenty of dives to wind up older generation wrestlers. Danny Burch may be one of the best wrestlers for in ring trash talk and the European Union are slowly gelling to perform tag team combos and smoother transitions. They hit an amazing assisted Brainbuster and a European Uppercut off the shoulders that didn’t work as Lorcan managed to roll through. The finish saw the scrappy team win with a roll up after the Europeans ended up overdoing it on finishers. This was an exciting first meeting between the two teams that hopefully leads to a longer programme. There is clearly chemistry and providing the match quality stays this high, I’d love to see more.
Pirate & Genius Vs the Jobbers
Io Shirai & Kairi Sane defeat Amber Nova & Tanea Brookes via Assisted Moon sault/Elbow Drop
Continuing the tag team trend, we next got a match that might just steal the title of world’s cutest tag team as the team of Io Shirai and Kairi Sane were in action. The two former Joshi stars took on the team of Amber Nova and Tanea Brookes in a fairly easy going match that showcased both women and their innovative offense. Nova was basically a punching bag for Sane and Shirai before being saved from the Insane Elbow by her partner.
Brookes was the largest woman in the match and required a number of moves to chop down before being hit by both an Assisted Insane Elbow and an Assisted Moon sault for the win. Another fun little tag match that this time showcased the chemistry between Sane and Shirai. They ended up getting into a verbal confrontation with Duke and Shafir so no surprise, that’s who they’re fighting next.
Black & Ricochet get a Dose of DIY
Instead of closing with the main event, NXT closed with a confrontation between Ricochet and Johnny Gargano that spiralled out of control. Ricochet came out first dropped a little promo about his opponent and his new underhanded style. Gargano quickly came out and talked on his way to the ring about having a plan and tries to attack the second he gets into the ring but is foiled by Ricochet. Just as Ricochet has control he is then attacked by Ciampa and thrown out. Gargano attacks Ricochet as Ciampa watches on but can’t gloat for long as he is beaten down by Aleister Black who kills the champ with a cavalcade of kicks. Gargano saves Black and the pair then beat down their respective opponents. The two walk off together and the crowd tries to egg them on to hug. The pair have a stare down on the stage and Ciampa appears to extend his hand to Gargano but before Johnny can do anything, Candice comes out and drags Gargano away.
If you need an example of how NXT masterfully creates stories then look at this, it is constantly interesting and there is some serious doubt on how Johnny aligns and if DIY could in fact reform. The depth and level of this story could carry on for the rest of their careers if they wanted it to. It was a strong way to end NXT and build the excitement for two of the marquee matches for Takeover.
Well look at all those mostly positive words. Thankfully WWE managed to kill it on one of their most important weeks. Rumble is sure to be a knockout and Takeover will hopefully shine as it often does. Every show built some level of excitement to their respective PPV and offered a lot of fun in the process. RAW seems to be mostly improving, though it does still suffer from some creative disappointments and filler matches. Smackdown will never be better than when it is utilising Rey and Andrade and even its lowest point served a story. NXT will always gain the same response as long as it keeps providing quality. Hopefully we now get two PPV’s that deliver and we can all come back after Rumble happy.
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