SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
This week’s WWE programming featured Smackdown building towards Elimination Chamber while Raw laid the groundwork for Fastlane and their brand’s road to WrestleMania. Lets take a closer look at who stood out and who was subpar.
RAW ALL STAR: SAMOA JOE
While Samoa Joe made his long-awaited main roster debut last week, this week’s episode of Raw was Joe’s official introduction to the fans as he had a chance to make an impact on the mic and in the ring. It is safe to say he delivered in a big way. In his opening promo, Joe was tasked with making the fans turn on him while he was opposite Roman Reigns. By endearing himself to Stephanie and talking up his new “destroyer” persona he was able to really sway the live crowd who was ready to embrace him. In a shocking twist, Mick Foley really enhanced the segment by playing up the fact that he wanted nothing to do with Joe on Raw, and Joe’s retort drove home his intentions in WWE, the reasons why he made it to the main roster, and how he feels he stacks up against the competition in the locker room. His confidence was oozing out of him and his delivery was absolutely spot on. Joe’s match against Roman went very well and allowed him to showcase his move set and demeanor in the ring. Joe is a main event talent and it was great to see him succeed on a big stage. It is a shame that Seth was injured last week as I believe he and Joe would have had a tremendous match at Fastlane. It would have been a perfect way to build Joe as as monster while also heating up the Triple H vs. Rollins match that would have followed at Wrestlemania. Nonetheless, it is great to see Joe on Raw and it will be very interesting to see where he goes from here. Great start.
RAW NOTABLE ALL STAR: T.J. PERKINS
There were certainly other Raw wrestlers worthy of an all star title this week, but I thought T.J. Perkins’ performance was worth highlighting. Upon his debut as the first ever Cruiserweight Champion (in this era) the crowd did not take to TJP’s over the top babyface character and his promos left much to be desired. This Monday, however, we saw a glimpse of the Perkins character that was portrayed during the Cruiserweight Classic – confident and cocky with a chip on his shoulder. In the cluster of 5 different wrestlers walking to the ring, T.J. put a little salt and pepper (thanks Stone Cold) on his presentation and sounded much more like a legitimate title contender for the first time. He was fantastic in the ring, as he always is, and seemed to lay in his offense a little harder than usual. It is a small step taken that could have a major impact on how he is viewed by the WWE and its fans moving forward.
RAW UNDER PERFORMER: SASHA BANKS
Adding an under performer to this week’s Raw was tough as I thought everyone performed very well for a second show in a row. From a storyline perspective, though, Sasha Banks has fallen very far down the pecking order since her most recent loss to Charlotte. While she has been protected nursing an injury, the protection she has been given is almost working against her. The biggest knock on Sasha is her inability to stay healthy, which is incredibly important for a woman who pushes the limit with high-risk moves and her extremely fast work rate. By exposing her biggest detriment, regardless if it is for the sake of an angle, Sasha’s credibility starts to become diminished when this aspect of her career is playing out on television every week. All signs point to this leading to a heel turn for Banks, but it will be hard to recapture the “Boss” persona after being on the shelf again so close to WrestleMania.
SMACKDOWN ALL STAR: BARON CORBIN
In an effort to make everyone look strong going into Elimination Chamber, Smackdown featured all of the PPV’s main event competitors over two well fought bouts, and no one looked better than Baron Corbin. On the mic, Corbin stood toe to toe with The Miz and drove home the idea that he sides with no one, heel or babyface. The verbal exchange was heated and delivered extremely well, treading the line of being a menace and a cool heel people could start buying into wile still drawing heat. His contributions to the fatal four way match were scaled back to allow the technical wrestlers to shine before he came in to deliver the final blow and grab a huge win against three of Smackdown’s best. It is very unlikely that Corbin will leave Elimination Chamber with the WWE Championship, but a pin fall victory over A.J. Styles raised Corbin stock in a big way and can be used moving forward to further legitimize is place in the main event scene. This Sunday will be a huge opportunity for Corbin to show what he is made of in a very violent setting, and will set the tone for him moving towards Wrestlemania.
SMACKDOWN UNDER PERFORMERS: JOHN CENA & RANDY ORTON
Smackdown spent most of last week promoting a PPV main event-quality match between arguably the two most popular wrestlers on the brand. Needless to say, it did not live up to the hype. WWE wanted to tease a potential WrestleMania encounter with Orton being the Royal Rumble winner and Cena the champion, while instilling confidence in the fan base that these two could still have an entertaining match after wrestling one another so many times on WWE television. What we got was a very slow paced, vanilla match that really did not make much sense from a booking standpoint. Orton is supposed to look like an unstoppable force heading into WrestleMania, yet he tapped out to Cena’s STF submission hold seconds after it was applied. This is a move Orton has escaped numerous times before without ever giving up and he had enough time to sell a struggle as the referee was out for quite a while. Further, Cena kicked out of the RKO which is one of the most protected finishers in the WWE today. Something else that really bothered me about this match was the overly obvious spot calling for what seemed like every move that was executed. Yes, if you are looking hard enough any fan could notice two wrestlers communicating at least once in a match, but this was egregious and completely took me out of the moment. It was shocking that after working with one another so many times in the past, this much chatter was needed on live TV to get through a 10 minute match. They are both capable of much better, and was not a good look heading into Sunday.
Thanks so much for reading! Hope everyone enjoys Elimination Chamber!
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S ARTICLE: ALL-STARS & UNDERPERFORMERS: Who shined and who underperformed on Raw and Smackdown this week? Rollins, Harper, Alpha, Rusev, Strowman