ALL-STARS & UNDERACHIEVERS: Who shined and who under performed on Raw and Smackdown this week?

By Michael Souza, PWTorch Specialist

Luke Harper (photo credit Wade Keller © PWTorch)

SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...

This week on WWE programming we saw a very strong go-home episode of Raw before the red brand’s last PPV event before the new year and a big World Championship no. 1 contender match on Smackdown. Lets take a closer look at who made the most of their time and which wrestlers missed the mark.

RAW ALL STAR: SHEAMUS & CESARO

Despite coming up short in the first of two triple threat matches for the Raw Tag Team Championships, the unlikely pairing of Sheamus & Cesaro finally showed us what they were capable of when on the same page. After months of agonizing television segments and the never ending best of seven series, it was great to see a payoff in the form of a hard fought match and a very positive crowd reaction.

It was very smart of the folks who produced this match to give Sheamus his “greatest hits” spot against the heels to pop the live audience. There was a renewed intensity in the Irishman that endeared him to the Philadelphia crowd which culminated in a loud count along during his infamous Ten Beats of the Bodhran, which hasn’t happened in over a year.

Cesaro placed the cherry on top of a fantastic performance during his sequence of offense starting in the ring, then out of the ring, then off the top rope in impressive fashion. After months of wanting to reach for the remote when this team (specifically Sheamus) appeared on our TV screens, these two have transformed themselves into a fan favorite that will help bring depth and legitimacy to a thin tag division on Raw.

From the small nuances like finally coordinating their entrance to the assisted Brogue Kick finisher, Sheamus & Cesaro made an impact this week and will be a force to be reckoned with moving forward.

RAW NOTABLE ALL-STAR: SAMI ZAYN

Let us all be honest here – until Mick Foley unveiled his master plan to evoke a more dangerous and hungry emotion out of Sami Zayn, we were convinced he was going to Smackdown. I have personally found many of Mick’s segments with Sami hard to watch, mostly due to Foley’s incessant screaming and contrived storytelling that usually goes in circles. Their most recent interaction was much different.

Although it was part of the storyline, standing face-to-face with his idol seemed to bring out the best in Zayn. After defeating Jinder Mahal in decisive fashion, Sami stepped up with one of his best televised promos since he signed with the WWE and did a great job of making people believe he can overcome the monster that is Braun Strowman. More importantly, we as fans finally got a glimpse into who his character really is.

Before Monday we knew that he used to be friends with Kevin Owens and now they hate each other, he is from Montreal, and he really likes ska music and flat cap hats. Not much to buy into right?

Now we know how intense he can be, the level of confidence he has in himself, and the fearlessness he possesses to stand up to bullies and prove doubters wrong. Dolph Ziggler was only able to take a character like that so far, but Sami Zayn is much different and could turn this into something special. Win or lose on Sunday, we are now invested in this mid-card match and are excited to see where Sami goes from here.

RAW UNDER PERFORMER: KEVIN OWENS

The character that is Kevin Owens has been on quite the decline over the past couple of weeks, and it is hard to call his first run as Universal Champion anything close to successful.

Kevin Owens was introduced to the WWE fans as a man that cares about no one but his family and would do anything at any cost to provide for them and make money for himself. He never had to rely on anyone else to accomplish his goals and no one could stop him. Sure, the partnership between he and Jericho has been incredibly entertaining, but since the two have been at odds the constant pandering and need for approval has been a huge detriment to how Owens is portrayed.

The Kevin Owens we came to know would tell Jericho to hit the bricks while he became the greatest WWE title holder of all time, while the one we see now is saying and doing anything for Y2J’s approval and support. It is baseless and could be one of the worst character development plot lines we have seen in recent history on the main event scene given how much was invested in KO.

Monday Night Raw closed its show with Roman Reigns holding both his United States Championship and Owens’s Universal Championship as KO laid at his feet. While it might not be a popular decision to make Roman look this strong once again, Owens has not done or said anything that makes us believe he can beat Roman on his own.

The producers need to recall what put Kevin Owens on the map in WWE and scrap this neutered version we are getting now because it is not working and isn’t doing KO any favors.

SMACKDOWN ALL STAR: LUKE HARPER 

For the first time since his return, Luke Harper was put in a position to fight on his own against main event wrestlers and he knocked it out of the park.

It was shocking when Harper appeared at the end of Miz TV to mark his territory and show his intentions of coming after A.J. Styles and his title, especially due the fact that he was acting alone. Harper’s skills were on full display against the best Smackdown has to offer. From hard-hitting clotheslines to his dive to the floor, we saw a side of Lake Harper that was even more dangerous than we could have imagined.

Harper is the perfect example of someone doing the little things right. His facial expressions, the way he walks and carries himself, and his ability to sell makes him as believable and unpredictable as it gets. There is just something behind those eyes that make you always wonder what he is thinking or what he is going to do next.

While Luke was the second elimination of the main event, his presence was felt and he proved he belonged in a match to determine the next challenger for the blue brand’s most important championship.This was very reminiscent of how Big Cass was booked coming out of the roster split but unfortunately for him he fell back to the mid-card quickly. Only time will tell where this performance takes Luke Harper and what ability he has to capitalize on it.

SMACKDOWN UNDER PERFORMER: DOLPH ZIGGLER

Yes, given the fact that Dolph Ziggler won the four-way elimination match to determine the no. 1 contender for A.J. Styles’s championship, it may seem odd to peg him as the under-performer. Let me explain. Everything that has been wrong with Dolph’s booking and the way he carries himself on TV was highlighted on Tuesday night.

Aside from the slight tweaks he has made to his ring gear, Ziggler has been the same person saying the same things since he turned babyface years ago. Anyone who has watched WWE programming can basically map out every Ziggler match before it happens. Hair flip, shouting “I know who I came to see!” mat wrestling to start, 5-7 minutes of selling, two clotheslines, neck breaker, flex, elbow drop, near fall, slip on banana peel, lose.

It is as stale as stale can get and fans like me who have been behind him since day one cannot even sink our teeth into what he is doing anymore.

So how is a casual fan supposed to buy into what he is selling? On Tuesday Ziggler came to the ring and told Miz he cheated to win their last match, except it was a no disqualification ladder match and Miz had every right to use a crotch shot. He is then cut off, gets hit with two finishers, but gets put in the main event? During that match Ziggler did nothing out of the ordinary to make anyone think he deserved to be in the match and he won only after Ambrose was distracted.

After losing to Dean at Summerslam, then failing to overcome The Miz, Ziggler had to do or change something to make us believe that he could hang with the best wrestler on the planet. He did not, and the crowd reaction after the 1-2-3 was indicative of that.

I hope everyone has a great rest of the week. Thanks for reading, and enjoy Roadblock on Sunday!

3 Comments on ALL-STARS & UNDERACHIEVERS: Who shined and who under performed on Raw and Smackdown this week?

  1. No disrespect to Mahal – a much more talented performer than we’ve seen – but he has been portrayed strictly as a jobber and Sami should have beaten him quicker.

  2. Great analysis on all counts. While Jericho has been elevated by this association with Owens, Owens’ character has been deflated. They should end this charade sooner rather than later, with Owens going over Jericho, and establishing himself as an even more selfish, manipulative and untrustworthy heel.

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