Both programs were on this week, but the ring action seemed like the least important part of both shows.
WWE "superstars" all stress that wrestling is storytelling, and that a good match tells a good story. This week, little storytelling took place in the ring on Raw. Samoa Joe’s unmotivated feud with Brock Lesnar took place on the mic and the entrance ramp, where Joe put his Coquina Clutch on Lesnar and almost choked him out before officials from the back could separate the two. Seth Rollins fought ham & egger Curt Hawkins to kill five or so minutes until Bray Wyatt appeared yet again on the video screen to yammer on about Rollins’ soul. Roman Reigns came out of the back, watched a video replay of Braun Strowman driving an ambulance into the arena last week, went to investigate when an ambulance drove into the arena this week, then was surprised, beaten and thrown into an ambulance by Strowman, and he was driven out of the arena. The confrontation was to build up the ambulance match that they’re going to take part in at the upcoming Great Balls of Fire pay-per-view, but the sequence was a lot of standing around, a lot of video, surrounding nanoseconds of action.
The usually reliable Miz got stuck in a six-man tag match with his entourage against Dean Ambrose with Heath Slater and Rhyno. All the human traffic in the ring made the match feel like a time-killer between now and Great Balls of Fire, as did Finn Bálor with the Hardy Boyz against Elias Samson, Sheamus and Cesaro. In both matches, people ran around, did stuff, and nothing mattered.
Miz took a double whammy this week. Besides a banal six-man tag, he got stuck in a Miz TV spot with Lavar Ball and his sons in what was obviously an effort to connect the WWE, Big Baller Brand and the people it reaches. The spot was clearly a business decision, not a storytelling one, and it’s always slightly awkward when the WWE goes down that road. The WWE Universe is a closed one, and when it interacts with the one the rest of us inhabit, behavioral norm differences always become obvious. Ball amped up his confrontation with The Miz to a cartoonish level that left Miz with nowhere to go, and the payoff—the Balls like Ambrose better than Miz—fell flat.
The highlight of the show, the women’s gauntlet match, didn't work as well as it should have, but at least its story took place in the ring. In the match, two women would wrestle until one won, and she would then have to face an opponent right away. That process would continue until all six participants had been in the ring, and the final winner would be the new number one contender for Alexa Bliss’ women’s championship. The match began with Bailey and Nia Jax. Bailey’s in the process of a year-long story about toughening up, so it was no surprise that she gave good match before losing to the much bigger Jax. Jax is being built up as a dominant force, but even though it looked like she would run the table and beat everybody, it was clear that that wouldn't happen. Ifshe did, her character would have nowhere to go but down in the future. How can someone be that powerful that she beats the whole locker room, then lose any one of the women in the future? Besides, she is in a long-term feud with Bliss and will clearly get to face her at one of the major pay-per-views. With that in mind, it was obvious that Sasha Banks would beat a tired Jax to face Bliss at Battleground. Still, the sections of the match with Jax and Bailey and Jax and Banks were good fun, and Bailey's advanced her story. Since Emma and Dana Brooke remain little more than camp bodies, they were disposed of quickly and joylessly.
Smackdown Live seemingly took a week off as well. It featured a rematch of the women’s Money in the Bank ladder match, but it also included a who-cares Hype Brothers vs. The Usos match that ended with The New Day entering the ring to liven things up. Randy Orton staged a sit-in in the ring until he got a rematch with WWE Champion Jinder Mahal—one that ate up another five or so minutes until we learn that yes, he gets a rematch, this time in a Punjabi Prison Match at the Battleground pay-per-view. I still get antsy when the ethnic references get dropped, and when we see photos of the structure—a cage within a cage—it occurred to me that this match could be really hard to see through two layers of bars, particularly if I was in the building.
The WWE continues to humor Lana and gave her a second championship match against Naomi, but this week she got the squash that her inexperience deserved, after which the camera gave her waaaaay too much time to over-emote her pain. Some junior high stage production is missing the lead in its production of Sophie’s Choice.
The best part of the show was once again the ladder match, which was as dynamic and high impact as the first go-around. This time, the chinless James Ellsworth was banned from ringside so that he couldn’t help Carmella as he did at the Money in the Bank match two weeks ago.
Once again, the match was a demolition derby with Carmella, Charlotte, Tamina, Natalya, and Becky Lynch taking some impressive bumps off the ladder. In big picture ways, the match was very similar to the previous one, but the women found new crazy risks to take so it never felt redundant. In the end, Ellsworth ran back into the ring despite being banned, set up the ladder, then helped Carmella into the ring so that she could climb it. That climb was ended by Becky Lynch, who pushed over the ladder and sent Ellsworth flying until he squared himself on the rope. Lynch tried to climb the ladder and was pulled down by Carmella, who then gave her a few chair shots for good measure. With Lynch down, Carmella once again climbed the ladder and pulled down the Money in the Bank briefcase.
Obviously, it opened the door for more controversy and heat surrounding Carmella and Ellsworth, and hopefully the ending set up a series of Carmella/Becky Lynch matches, since Lynch is a a beloved talent in need a worthy feud to really give fans a reason to cheer.