SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
We had another week of fantastic wrestling in which WWE produced both shows extremely well to end 2016. Each brand treated us to multiple title matches and storyline developments that added more intrigue to the new year ahead of us. Let’s take a closer look at who stood out and who missed the mark.
RAW ALL STAR: BRAUN STROWMAN
In past articles I have referenced the importance of a slow and methodical build in the growth of a wrestler’s television character and it could not be more true than with the monster that is Braun Strowman. If Braun’s current push would have taken place four-to-six months ago it would have been baseless and unbelievable no matter how big and mean he is. While countless squash matches may not be the most entertaining start to one’s singles career it was the perfect foundation to lay for Strowman.
As we learned on Monday night, Braun is a multi-tasker. His main focus right now is taking out Sami Zayn but the long term play is entering the main event scene with his conflict between the team of Reigns and Rollins being the vehicle. There was a different feeling in the building when “BRAUUUUUNNNNN” played throughout the Allstate Arena as fans reacted to the impending destruction that awaited in the ring. Strowman delivered both on the mic, showing a very dry sense of humor that was both relatable and intimidating, and in the ring as he beat down four men and absolutely dominated Seth Rollins. He most certainly looked as strong as ever. Braun has set himself up nicely moving into 2017 in which all signs point to a main event push.
RAW UNDER PERFORMERS: THE NEW DAY
The New Day made it very clear that comedy was “their thing,” but while entertaining the masses they also defended the Tag Team Championships for 483 days, more than any other team in WWE’s history. Whether it was through clean finishes or distractions from the third member not participating in the match, New Day found ways to win and got tough when moments called for it. On Monday, they competed in their first traditional tag team match since losing the titles and left much to be desired.
Kofi and Xavier were beat decisively while wrestling a clunky match with bad timing and missed spots. Unusual for both to say the least. Even in defeat, New Day had the opportunity to show that they were still on the same playing field as Sheamus & Cesaro but what we saw was the complete opposite. Some would argue that New Day doesn’t need titles to stay relevant and be seen as a viable threat to other teams, but if WWE would like them to stay together and maintain the popularity they have had over the past year and a half they should not be portrayed as they were on Monday. After losing the rematch to regain their titles it is harder to see a path for them leading to an important place on the WrestleMania card.
SMACKDOWN ALL STARS: A.J. STYLES
Since I started writing this column, I have strayed away from highlighting A.J. Styles simply because there could be an argument made that he is the all star of every Smackdown episode. This week I just couldn’t resist. Styles is everything WWE could want in a champion and every piece of that was on display Tuesday evening. Most heels (even though Styles is terribly miscast) would usually complain about being in a match against multiple opponents for his/her championship, but Styles strutted to the ring oozing confidence and made us believe that he can win this match from the moment his music hit.
Styles did a lot of the heavy lifting throughout the match, both on the offensive and in selling, and showcased his unbelievable ability to work with two completely different wrestlers. Three-way matches can be very hard to navigate through even for the most talented of competitors, but Styles’s timing, selling, and willingness to take unusual (and sometimes painful) bumps was impeccable. The energy that he and John Cena brought out of the Chicago crowd to end the show was fantastic and their hand shake was a nice touch. On Tuesday, Styles put a huge exclamation point at the end of what could be the best first year for anyone in WWE history. We are witnessing history and what he has done is something that should truly be admired and cherished by wrestling fans all over the world.
SMACKDOWN NOTABLE ALL STAR: AMERICAN ALPHA
Having a tremendous match against main event wrestlers is so effective in getting over with the WWE fans and American Alpha proved that on Tuesday. Since their debut, Jason Jordan and Chad Gable have had a very stop/start run after tremendous success in NXT. The way they were booked was questionable and did not let them highlight their main strength – having great tag team matches. The duo’s move set wasn’t much different than what we have seen in the past, but witnessing the execution of such moves against Randy Orton legitimized how tough and talented American Alpha can be.
Orton should also be credited here as he sold everything so well. It was clear that the match was laid out to eliminate The Usos and Slater & Rhyno early enough to highlight Alpha (along with the conflict between Orton & Harper) and they most certainly came through in a big way. While the story of their path to winning these titles could have been told much better in the weeks leading up to this match, Jordan and Gable are both incredibly gifted and deserve every bit of the spotlight they now have.
SMACKDOWN NOTABLE ALL STAR: BARON CORBIN
Much of the praise I have given to WWE for the way they built up Braun Strowman could also be applied to the way they have booked Baron Corbin. There was no rocket ship tied to his back upon his debut and we got to learn exactly who Baron Corbin is and what he is capable of before he stepped in the ring with the best Smackdown has to offer. He looked as dominant as ever in his first title match and it was smart to protect him in the finish by booking Ziggler to take the pinfall. He was confident, aggressive, and gave the fans more reasons to boo him. Even in defeat Corbin proved that he is absolutely capable of winning the WWE Chapionship in the future and showed that he belonged in the main event picture. Now that we are headed towards WrestleMania with both Smackdown singles titles wrapped up in storylines not involving Corbin, WWE needs to figure out how to keep him looking strong so he is in the best position when his number is called.
Looking at Smackdown as a whole I find it very hard to say that anyone underperformed. Sure, it could be argued that Becky Lynch and Alexa Bliss did not have a match that lived up to the standards these two women have set for themselves, but that would just be nitpicking. The Blue Brand put on a PPV-like show to end 2016 that was very enjoyable from start to finish.
Happy New Year everyone!
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S COLUMN: ALL-STARS & UNDERACHIEVERS: Who shined and who under performed on Raw and Smackdown this week? Neville, Corbin, Ellsworth, Charlotte, more
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