The company has launched programming on the new Facebook Live platform with a gimmick that plays out better than it sounds.

strowman and bliss screen shot
Braun Strowman and Alexa Bliss

The WWE Mixed Match Challenge sounds like a gimmicky way for the WWE to get in on a gimmicky platform, Facebook’s new Facebook Live. Instead, it has been a pleasant surprise and a reminder of what the WWE does well. The series is a tournament of male-female tag team matches, each wrestling for a charity, and while such tag matches are often frustrating because they present non-committal wrestling, here they succeed because they’re all about personas.

Last week featured the improbable team of Alexa Bliss and Braun Strowman against Becky Lynch and Sami Zayn, and the story was Lynch and Zayn’s effort to keep the monstrous Strowman out of the match. Lynch made an effort to keep the smaller Bliss from tagging in Strowman, but each time Bliss succeeded, Zayn tagged Lynch again to get back out with a swiftness that rankled her. Eventually, Strowman got a hold of Zayn and buried him in the middle of the ring, then tagged in Bliss who delivered a Twisted Bliss finish from Strowman’s shoulders. As a finisher, it looked pretty cool.

At the end, the corny flirting between Bliss and Strowman was straight out of high school drama class, but this match like the two before worked because WWE is really about characters, and characters are the point of these matches. Wrestling is important, but when matches work well they’re expressions of character. Zayn seemed neurotically keyed up but crafty, enough to frustrate Strowman most of the time. Bliss was conniving, but outside of the catfight climate of Raw’s women’s division, her deviousness played like more than the self-absorbed bitchiness of a high school mean girl. Strowman exists as a rage engine on Raw, so it was entertaining to see that he doesn’t automatically start in full demolition mode and has to escalate to wrecking ball. 

Other matches have had a similar dynamic, and some pairings subtly suggest thoughts about characters. For some reason, Finn Balor and Sasha Banks together made both seem almost toxically ambitious—a trait that didn’t come out of their storylines from the last year. This week, Naomi and Jimmy Uso will face Mandy Rose and Golddust, which may help sketching Rose’s character. She came into the WWE as part of the Paige-led Absolution (still a terrible name), she has yet to make her personality clear. So far, she has simply been the blonde one. This will be her first chance to show WWE fans who she is.

When wrestlers struggle (*cough* braywyatt *cough*), it’s because the characters don’t add up. Overly complicated storylines hurt (*cough* shanemcmahon *cough*) also hurt because fans can’t love or hate people when they don’t know how they're supposed to feel. MMC works to make the teams as expressions of characters, and sometimes the WWE tries too hard. The pre-taped video segments are heavy-handed and often require the performers to employ acting chops they don’t possess. The matches and time in front of the audiences remain a low-stress way to round out characters. The fact that the matches have so far been entertaining is a bonus.

In other news:

- It’s sadly clear that Nia Jax is going to become the female Big Show. She’s going to be an awesome force who can destroy women but will eventually lose anyway. 

- I hope Braun Strowman squashing Kane last week was the end of his sluggish, lumbering, bad-wigged presence. After Strowman rolled the announcers’ table and riser over on Kane, Kane was supposedly so damaged that he to be stretchered out and taken to a hospital. Later, we were told that he sat up in bed—sitting up is his thing—and "crawled out of the room" into the night, and hasn’t been heard from since. Since his purpose in this Brock Lesnar/Braun Strowman feud was to take the pin from Lesnar and keep Strowman strong, he’s not needed anymore and Glenn Jacobs—Kane without the mask and fake hair—can return to his campaign for Mayor of Knox County, Tennessee.

- When the WWE doesn’t burden Sasha Banks with half-thought out storylines, she’s one of Raw’s most compelling performers. Last week, she gave Asuka her first credible challenge and got viewers involved in an Asuka match in a way that we haven’t seen yet. Banks also took a brutal face plant on a suicide dive out of the ring that looked like it went wrong when Asuka kicked her in the head after she flew through the ropes.

- Apollo Crews looked strong in Titus Worldwide’s match against The Bar. I hope that signals that he’ll be better used going forward, and that it wasn’t a one-off.

- It was also nice to see Finn Balor have a good match against John Cena. The writers put Cena over, but it felt like the guys in the back were watching to see what it would look like if Balor won next time.

 

- On Smackdown Live, I hope the wedge we saw driven between Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn doesn’t signal an early end to their partnership. It’s easy to imagine the WWE steering them toward a match at Wrestlemania, but that would be such a step backwards for Zayn and a repetition of the Owens/Jericho dynamic from last year. I don’t want to see Zayn return to a face any time soon, nor do I think a face turn for Owens is desirable or possible. 

- If Liv Morgan keeps the Harley Quinn-like persona going that she seems to be developing, I could see her moving on from the Riott Squad within the year. Or maybe it just looks that way because Sarah Logan is as flavorless as her name, and Ruby Riott is punk-by-numbers right now.