Last week, the WWE gave us a moment of gloriously ridiculous spectacle.
Bottom line: I watch wrestling for the moments when something truly insane happens. Crazy feats of athleticism, ridiculous actions, or something so over the top that no respectable form of entertainment would do it. As I said last week, NPJW’s Chris Jericho/Kenny Omega had me when Jericho put the referee’s son in the Walls of Jericho. I’ll put up with a lot of soap opera to get to a “Holy shit!” moment. On Monday, the WWE manufactured one of those moments when Braun Strowman pulled a wall of scaffolding down backstage on Brock Lesnar and Kane. You can ask good questions, like what that scaffolding was there for, or who leaves a grappling hook in a road case, or what anyone backstage needs a grappling hook for anyway. The announcers called it a lighting truss, but shouldn’t a lighting truss have lights?
None of that mattered. The great, crazy spectacle of Strowman pulling down the scaffolding was simply impressive and it helped that the backstage attack that led to it actually looked good too. Backstage brawls usually look weak because all the potentially painful weapons at hand have to be gingerly employed to keep from inflicting real damage. Strowman and Roman Reigns' efforts to use an ambulance as a weapon suffered you knew the victim wasn't really at risk. This attack was visceral. Strowman launched Lesnar into a stack of road cases that brought one tumbling down on him as he fell through a table, and Strowman leveled Kane by beating him with a road case, then burying him under it. I’ll put up with a lot of bad skits and forced dialogue to get to one wrestler pulling down a wall on top of two others.
- Last week, I called the Chad Gable/Sheldon Benjamin heel turn. It’s not so much that it was hard to see, but since the WWE had teased it in the past and backed away from it, the issue was whether the company would commit to the turn this time. I more or less called the Finn Balor heel turn as well, though I weaseled a bit since he had been in a feud with the Miztourage. Against Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan, he, Gallows and Anderson were clearly heels. The forced dialogue was, as usual, painful, but the evil grin on Balor’s face worked, and Gallows and Anderson are good, old school, roughhouse wrestlers whose high impact style and general coarseness identifies them as heels.
- Credit where credit is due. The slow build of Jason Jordan as a heel has worked. He was never liked since introduced as Kurt Angle’s illegitimate son, but where audiences were once dead to him, he now gets heat as the bumbling good guy who’s messing up The Shield. Situations like his and Balor’s pose the same question about WWE writers that Trump’s administration does: Are they playing 3-dimensional chess, or just bumbling through? Balor’s battle with the Miztourage seemed below his pay grade, but if they forced him to get Gallows and Anderson which made it possible for them to face the Ambrose-less Shield as heels, then that was really smart. If they introduced Jordan as Angle’s son knowing people would never accept him and spent months letting him fail to get a reaction to slowly build heat, that’s genius.
But the writers also teased a Bayley/Sasha Banks split a number of times during the year and never followed through. They started to turn Chad Gable heel but backed away from that until they returned to it recently. They teased a Nia Jax face turn until they didn’t, so while the answer seems clearer in the White House these days, I still don’t know in the WWE.
- The WWE can call the Women’s Royal Rumble a step away from the days of a Divas division, but in most other ways, the WWE is backsliding badly. In the Diva era, Raw used to have one women's match featuring athletic figure models, often in two or three-woman tag matches with no story to advance. Now, the wrestling is better, and Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks had a strong program that main evented Raw and continued in a meaningful way through a number of pay-per-view matches. But the writers seem to have quit writing for the women, and they once again are sent out in groups because if they only went out one-on-one, we’d never see half of them.
This week, Raw and Smackdown Live sent six women to the ring. On Raw, it was for a tag team matach with Mickie James and Paige in the corners, while on Smackdown Live, the actual match was between Charlotte Flair and Ruby Riott with Becky Lynch, Naomi and the rest of the Riott Squad at ringside. Ultimately, they were all there to tick off screen time. Nobody’s motivation to fight has changed since the week that the Riott Squad and Absolution joined the shows and declared itself the dominant forces in women’s wrestling on the show.
It’s particularly obvious since the women’s divisions seem to mirror each other right now. Absolution joined Raw on the same week that the Riott Squad joined Smackdown Live, and the new team vs. the old guard has been the storyline on both shows since. In a #PresidentOprah time, you’d think the WWE would use its female talent better. If Paige really will have to retire after her recent neck injury, it will be interesting to see if that forces the writers to use Mandy Rose and Sonya DeVille better.
The one exception is Asuka, who’s being set up on a course to face Alexa Bliss. I was pleased to be wrong last week when I thought the writers had consigned Nia Jax to simply be part of an Enzo joke. Last week, she came to the ring to surprise and wreck Asuka and started the set up to a promising program. Now let’s hope it moves forward with some urgency.