Weekly Wrestling Write-Up: Seth Stomps, NXT Rocks, AEW Stops & Otis... Sweats A Lot
Starting a new series here on The Arena! Every Sunday, I'm going to post the highlights of the week that was in pro wrestling. A couple of reasons for starting this- one, I realised that there was a lot of great wrestling content I wasn't really covering in my WrestleWatch reviews, which typically only deals with PPVs. Also, I wasn't really giving fair coverage to the new kid on the block, AEW. All Elite Wrestling have taken an old school approach with their PPV schedule, and appear to be sticking to approximately 4 major PPV events a year. That said, the first 12 weeks of AEW Dynamite have been great (and there's a few things to pick on, too). And in response to the arrival of AEW, WWE's third brand, NXT, have done an admirable job stepping up to get on an even playing field with Raw and Smackdown as they now call the USA Network home.
My intent is that these posts are a little shorter and more palatable than some of the lengthy WrestleWatch reviews I do (I get carried away sometimes), so let's do this!
-Seth Rollins seems infinitely more comfortable now in his heel role. Flanked by his new henchmen, the AOP, he opened Raw with a confident promo that ended with a cliff-hanger, saying that he was sorry for what they had to do tonight on the show. A great hook that made us want to stick around and see what shenanigans Rollins and AOP would get up to. We later found out he was targeting Rey Mysterio and the US Title- a match that had never been on my radar, but as soon as it was brought up, I was frothing!
-Speaking of the US Title, the Gauntlet match to determine the No. 1 Contender for the championship adorned with the stars and stripes was a good one. I particularly enjoyed the Ricochet/Matt Hardy stretch, because Ricochet went out of his way to make Matt look good, after he had been a jobber since returning to Raw a few weeks ago. Just scoring a few near falls on the recent former US champion made Matt Hardy look credible and relevant again.
-Samoa Joe is a tremendous asset, joining the Raw commentary team to provide colour. He's always been a great talker, but he's transitioned effortlessly from putting himself over in promos to putting over other wrestlers and stories on the headset. He'll eventually leave the position to return from injury to the ring, but when he decides he's done as an active wrestler, WWE could do worse than putting him in the booth permanently.
-AJ Styles vs. Randy Orton. A straight-up match between two of the best WWE has. A high quality TV main event.
-Lashley proposing to Lana. It's funny that Lana actually has acting experience prior to joining WWE- she had a role in Pitch Perfect- because her acting is atrocious. Not convincing in the slightest. I do believe that Lashley's enjoying himself, but I don't call that good acting, I mean Lana's hot as hell. I just want this storyline to end, though. Move on, Rusev!
- Kenny Omega & Hangman Page vs. Lucha Bros. AEW started off hot with the two tag teams ready to go in the ring. They played into the story that we've seen on Being The Elite (side note- AEW could do worse than playing the occasional BTE clip on the TNT show), and there was about 18 minutes of high octane action, with the logical story of the established tag team beating the two great individuals that couldn't get along.
-Chris Jericho vs. Jungle Boy. This was a classic underdog story. Weird to see Jericho work as a big man, but that's essentially what he was here as the cocky champion against the 150-pound Jungle Boy. Jungle Jack Perry, as JR calls him, showed fire and heart and fought back at the right moments, and he got the moral victory of lasting 10 minutes per the stipulation, getting a time limit draw against Le Champion.
-Young Bucks vs. SCU. It is really great to see tag team wrestling at the forefront of a wrestling company. Asides from a couple of months a few years ago when New Day and Usos were doing big things, tag wrestling hasn't been a big deal since the glory days of the Hardyz, Dudleys, and Edge & Christian. This match was a lot of fun, telling the story that they were friends and very familiar with each other, hence the rapid counters and trying to one-up the other. I was a bit surprised to see SCU get the win, but not in a bad way.
-Kris Statlander. She is a talented wrestler. But her gimmick is cringey as fuck. She thinks she's an alien? Way too hokey for this era, and the commentary doesn't seem to know how to handle it.
-The Dark Order- Their viral marketing stuff, with the vignettes and the flashes of joindarkorder.com on the screen are kinda cool, but it doesn't feel like a main event act. In other words, it doesn't seem right for teams like the Young Bucks and SCU to have to deal with these Creeper weirdos. If tag teams are truly main eventers in AEW, it's like Stone Cold getting beaten down by the Oddities in the Attitude Era.
-Cole vs. Balor- Both brands started off hot this week on the Wednesday Night Wars. Cole retained, as i expected, but I didn't think Johnny Gargano would be back so soon! So he's a welcome presence, and he gave Balor an out for losing the title match. Looks like Undisputed Era fulfil their prophecy and end 2019 draped in gold.
-The midcard. With two big title matches book-ending NXT, they didn't need to do much else, but opting to slot quality competitive matches in the middle of the show- Dain vs. Priest, Kushida vs. Grimes, Banks vs. Dunne- almost gave the episode a Takeover-esque feel.
- Baszler vs. Ripley- This might be a late MOTY contender. It was sublime. It played into the long established attributes of both women- the dominance and submission ability of Shayna, and the power and toughness of Rhea Ripley. Also, Rhea is insanely over in Full Sail! Those dudes and dudettes were chanting her name LOUD. There was high drama with Ripley trying to fight out of the Kirafuda Clutch, it was played note perfect by both, teasing it out for quite a few minutes. And ultimately, Rhea overcame the odds and claimed the championship. A real feel good ending, which always goes down well this time of year.
There was none. Because of this, NXT shines over AEW this week. I don't know what the ratings will say, but speaking as a fan of both shows, NXT wins this one in terms of quality.
-Otis. Heavy Machinery are a very good tag team, but Otis is a national treasure. He's got more personality than almost everyone on the roster combined. His obsession with ham was funny, his interactions with Mandy Rose were cute (it's an ongoing gag on social media that the big man loves God's Greatest Creation) and he looked good in the 34th Street Street Fight throwing The Revival around. The exploder suplex into the presents was especially impressive. Would love to see Otis (and Heavy Machinery as a whole- I like Tucker too) get a more prominent role on the blue brand.
-Bayley/Sasha/Dana/Lacey- the top players in the Smackdown women's division got a couple of segments to shine, and shine they did. Dana looked as good in the ring as she ever has, hitting her moves crisply and seeming more focused and dialed in than ever. And Lacey has effortlessly shifted into a babyface role with minor tweaks to her southern belle character.
-New Day vs. Cesaro/Nakamura- this was your dose of GOOD WRESTLING for the episode. Also, Cesaro's 3D graphics during his entrance looked AMAZING!
-The Miz and Daniel Bryan. I appreciated the backstage segment where they made it clear that they still don't like each other, despite both being good guys and teaming together for the main event match. Too often, WWE ignore history when two characters end up on the same side of the face/heel alignment, nice to see they went logical in this case.
- Repetitive storytelling- Miz wants to fight Bray because he targeted the A-Lister's family. The Lacey/Sasha confrontation heated up when Sasha got in the face of Lacey's daughter at ringside. Corbin insulted both Miz and Bryan as fathers during the opening segment. It's not just a Smackdown problem, though. It's a company-wide epidemic where the only way for heated conflicts to go down is to bring family into it. Over on Raw, the Brock vs. Rey feud revolved around Rey's son Dominick. Last year, AJ Styles and Samoa Joe had a multi-month feud where Joe targeted Styles' family. It's not a bad storytelling device to include the loved ones of wrestlers, but it's been way overused in recent times.
All in all, a solid week of wrestling. Highlighted by the coronation of Rhea Ripley as NXT Women's Champion, and finishing up with a little harmless holiday silliness on Smackdown, WWE programming seems in a good place as we head toward 2020, the Royal Rumble, and The Road To Wrestlemania. This week's AEW episode is the last of the year, as they get Christmas off, and they return on New Year's Day, back to Jacksonville! The build should start in earnest for the next AEW PPV, Revolution, on February 29, 2020, so business is bound to pick up!
I hope everyone has a happy holidays, and makes the most of the season with family and friends!
Until next time, take care,