In this week’s WWE programming we saw the Raw brand continue their build towards Fastlane while Smackdown featured the fallout from Elimination Chamber. Let’s take a closer look at who shined and who missed the mark.
RAW ALL STAR: SAMOA JOE
On Monday the WWE did a fantastic job presenting Samoa Joe in a controlled, pre-taped environment which allowed him to shine. While there is nothing like a live promo, the way Joe was portrayed coming off of his previous two performances on Raw was extremely important in solidifying his “destroyer” character. Joe did a tremendous job explaining exactly why he was not signed by WWE for so long and stated his mission clearly and with conviction. He came off as dangerous as he has been described while laying out his plans of domination in the WWE now that he is on the main roster. Adding another layer to the storyline, Joe also did a great job of explaining that this was very much a business decision, and he will stay loyal to those that gave him the opportunities to succeed regardless of whether it is morally right or wrong. Regardless of Joe’s past, it has been increasingly difficult for WWE to legitimize a wrestler so much so that fans believe they belong in the main event scene upon signing with the company or being promoted from NXT. If you are searching for references of these instances resulting in failure, look no further than acts like Lord Tensai, Ryback, and the transformation of Michael McGillicutty to Curtis Axel. The first month or so is extremely crucial for getting fans to buy in, and the interview Joe was featured in was executed to perfection and allowed him to take one more step in the right direction. Lastle, the attack on Sami Zayn was a nice final touch for Joe’s night on Raw. It was menacing and without remorse.
RAW UNDER PERFORMERS: GALLOWS & ANDERSON
Less than a month into their first WWE championship reign, Gallows & Anderson have done little to restore any prestige to the Raw Tag Team Titles. Unfortunately, instead of showcasing their strengths and allowing them to dominate opponents for a few weeks to legitimize the former Bullet Club members’ ability in the ring, the creative team has booked them in mixed tag matches and have continued to feature them in comedic backstage segments. They were not done any favors this week as they were not able to successfully defeat Roman Reigns in a handicap match. Regardless of how strong Roman needs to look in the eyes of WWE, I question why the new tag champs were chosen to be put in this opening segment and the match that followed. Sure, they did get a ton of offense in, but in the end they were forced to break the rules to overcome Reigns. Not a good look for the champions, and an even worse look for the entire tag division on Raw.
SMACKDOWN ALL STAR: BARON CORBIN
Baron Corbin is a man who has shown up in this All Star slot quite a bit as he continues to be one of the most impressive wrestlers on the blue brand. While he did not have a tremendous amount of TV time this week, he made the most of what he had in beating down his new rival, Dean Ambrose. While fans in attendance and at home were waiting for Dean to make a mockery of James Ellsworth, Corbin was able to draw heat not only for destroying Ambrose, but also for putting a stop to what looked to be an entertaining payoff between Dean and Ellsworth. While the physicality Corbin showcased was fantastic, his body language and facials were equally impressive. When he beats someone down, he does a fantastic job of making it feel real with the way he carries himself and interacts with his opponents and the fans. I cannot stop praising the WWE for this slow burn build of Corbin, and if he does get his opportunity to face Ambrose for the Intercontinental Championship at Wrestlemania it will absolutely feel special.
SMACKDOWN NOTABLE ALL STAR: THE USOS
Much like the aforementioned Baron Corbin, The Usos did not get a ton of TV time but were extremely effective in delivering their promo on American Alpha in an interesting setting. Since the brothers’ heel turn they have not been afforded too much mic time to explain their new attitude. This week, however, they delivered a very straight forward message which put American Alpha and everyone else in the Smackdown tag division on notice. It was an impactful segment that felt different from anything the Usos or any other tag team have done with regards to delivering a promo, and I am interested to see the follow up. I’ve mentioned before that the real money here is The Usos as champions with Alpha chasing which was made more evident on Tuesday.
SMACKDOWN UNDER PERFORMER: BRAY WYATT
So much importance is put on the first promo delivered by a wrestler after winning a major championship. Many fans hoped that Bray Wyatt would stray away from talking in riddle and speak openly about his message and what his plans were as champion. The delivery fell a bit flat. Further, he did not necessarily carry himself as a man who just defeated 5 other top wrestlers on the Smackdown roster in a very violent setting. Bray was interrupted multiple times by John Cena and AJ Styles without almost any retort or demand for respect. A separate issue here is how Bray is being portrayed to fans. His firefly entrance is clearly a babyface entrance that welcomes positive fan participation, yet he is not billed as a fan-favorite. Within the narrative structure of WWE, regardless of whatever battle royal may be taking place next Tuesday, Bray is scheduled to face off against Randy Orton for the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania (And no, JBL, it will not be the main event on the show no matter how many times you say it will be). Bray is acting as a heel but getting babyface reactions. In his first night on Smackdown as champion, there was no effort to definitively define Bray’s character as it is portrayed to the fans leaving a huge void in the build to Wrestlemania. Yes, Wyatt’s performance in the triple threat main event match was very good. He overcame both Cena and Styles after enduring a prematch attack from Luke Harper, but how he stands with the fans lacked big time and WWE is doing nothing to sway us one way or another.
It is worth noting that, while I thought it Bayley’s Woman’s Championship victory was a great moment, I decided to leave her off of this week’s All Star list because the win exploited so much that is wrong with title pictures in WWE. I could not be happier for Bayley, but the hot potato they have played with the Raw Woman’s Championship and the predictability of the win to set up Charlotte regaining the title and extending her PPV streak at Fastlane left a bad taste in my mouth.
Thanks for reading everyone, enjoy your weekend!
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S ARTICLE: ALL-STARS & UNDERPERFORMERS: Samoa Joe, Randy Orton, John Cena, T.J. Perkins, Sasha Banks, Baron Corbin