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In a week with twists and turns on both Raw and Smackdown, the Superstar Shake-Up provided wrestling fans with an interesting week of WWE programming. With 24 wrestlers moving to different brands, it was a fantastic opportunity for everyone to make an impact. Let’s take a look at who stood out and who missed the mark.
RAW ALL-STAR: SETH ROLLINS
In the weeks leading up to WrestleMania and the Raw that followed, Seth Rollins has finally been able to write his own story of redemption and endear himself to the WWE fan base. It has been well documented that Rollins’s babyface turn and early run was botched and completely baseless. Following his victory over Triple H though, he has been able to shift the narrative in his favor and did a fantastic job further explaining his change of heart and what the fans mean to him and his career. It has been quite some time since WWE has gone so far in a babyface turn to have a wrestler apologize to the crowd for his mistakes and thank them for their support.
In Rollins’s case, it was absolutely necessary for him to deliver these sentiments and he did so in a way that was believable and heartfelt. While Seth does play a fantastic heel, he is also a tremendously athletic and exciting performer that can absolutely be someone the crowd can get behind, as long as they have a legitimate reason to do so. Kurt Angle giving Rollins his stamp of approval and Seth’s ability to fight off the attack of Samoa Joe were two key components of this segment that really made it successful and was validated by the live crowd’s reaction throughout.
With all signs pointing to a Rollins/Samoa Joe feud moving forward, WWE did well in positioning Joe as an evil villain for Rollins to overcome. Now with the fans firmly behind The Architect, it is now time to start building depth into his character and letting the fans know who “Seth Freakin Rollins” really is.
RAW NOTABLE ALL-STAR: ALEXA BLISS
With so many wrestlers transitioning from one brand to another, it was the closest thing we have gotten to uncertainty and surprise since the Attitude Era with regards to seeing your favorites change allegiances. Under these circumstances, it is so incredibly important to make an impact on the first night in your new home, and no one did that better than Alexa Bliss on Monday.
It is no secret that the Bayley/Sasha storyline has been wearing on our patience, and their series of overly scripted and uninspired promos lately have left the Raw Women’s Division in a bit of uncertainty. For starters, the pop that Alexa received upon her entrance to the ring was a wonderful tribute to the work she has done on Tuesday nights for almost a year. Alexa took control of the entire segment and outperformed both Bayley and Sasha with every word she spoke, including her tremendous dismissal of the fans’ approval. Bliss made her intentions to dominate the Raw Women’s Division very clear with confidence, and even outsmarted both babyfaces by escaping the attack from Nia Jax.
The women’s title picture on Raw desperately needed an injection of life after the trading of titles between Charlotte & Sasha, as well as the current underwhelming championship run of Bayley, and Alexa Bliss provided it. It will be very interesting to see what impact she can make moving forward, and with Charlotte moving onto Smackdown Bliss has an opportunity to be a top heel on Monday nights.
RAW UNDERPERFORMER: WWE CREATIVE
With the Undertaker now in Roman Reigns’s rear view mirror, Raw pivoted back to the growing conflict between he and Braun Strowman. Reigns’ promo ability was protected again as Strowman unleashed a ruthless attack on Roman backstage, which was one of the most brutal beatdowns we have seen in quite some time. In WWE’s persistent efforts to endear Roman to the fan base, this segment was intended to simply do two things: Get sympathy for Roman similar to what he received after Triple H mauled him prior to his WWE Championship win on Raw in Philadelphia late in 2015, and get Strowman over as an even more maniacal monster than ever before.
As someone who agrees with most ardent fans that Roman is entirely miscast and should not be positioned as a babyface, I will admit that as Roman took blow after blow I started to really feel something for him. Sure, the live audience popped for the attack, but their cheers started to die down as Braun became increasingly more vicious. Then it happened. Braun Strowman flipped an ambulance with Roman inside and the entire narrative was flipped on its head. Much like many head scratching decisions the WWE creative team has made, one can only wonder how no one in the production meeting did not stand up and say – “Maybe flipping the ambulance wouldn’t be the best idea.” How in the world could WWE expect fans to dislike someone that performs such an impressive feat of strength?
Once that occurred, the segment was so much less about sympathy for Roman and the injuries he may have sustained, and much more about how amazing of an athlete Braun Strowman is. Regardless of whether he had help tipping that ambulance, or he did it entirely himself (which I believe was the case, this guy is incredible!), it is another glaring reminder of the flaws within WWE creative and the way they plan out and produce meaningful segments for their stars.
RAW UNDERPERFORMER: JINDER MAHAL
Understanding Jinder has moved to Smackdown, I just had a few choice words for his Raw performance. Please learn how to throw a working punch and avoid injuring top superstars. He is tremendously strong and does possess a fantastic wrestling look that I am sure he has worked so hard to achieve, but he is and most likely always will be an enhancement wrestler working to put over top superstars. In throwing a punch so hard that it knocked a returning Finn Balor unconscious, he may not have a job for much longer if he does not tighten up his in ring work.
SMACKDOWN ALL-STAR: A.J. STYLES
Every week I write this I find myself placing A.J. Styles in an All-Star slot, but it is never without good reason. With wrestlers like Brock Lesnar and John Cena being labeled as part-time, Styles is the biggest full-time star in WWE and he continues to prove why each and every week. Following a slight change in attitude last Tuesday in his exchange with Shane McMahon, Styles confronted Baron Corbin, as well as newly acquired Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn to let them know that no matter what changes take place, this is his show and the house that Styles built.
The confidence and believability in Styles’s promo was at an all time high, and the amount of fun he is having in the ring shined through in every word. Styles made it very clear that he was still the top star on Tuesday nights regardless of who came over to the blue brand, and showed exactly why in the main event matchup of the evening. The WWE fan base is behind Styles more so than any other wrestler on the main roster and his transition into a babyface will only help grow that support.
Understanding that there was some backlash from fans about Styles now challenging for the United States Championship, we are in for a real treat with he and Kevin Owens building to a match that will certainly deliver. While WWE plays out Randy Orton’s World Title run, Styles and KO can legitimize the U.S. Title and carry out a series of amazing matches that will most likely outshine anything Orton will be doing at the top of the card.
SMACKDOWN NOTABLE ALL-STARS: THE USOS
Early into The Usos’ heel turn, it seemed like they would be used to put over American Alpha as the top babyface team on Tuesday nights. Since Jimmy and Jey captured the titles however, it has been the complete opposite. Each and every week these two have proved that they are still elite tag team wrestlers that can take on all comers, and seemed to finally put an end to their feud with Jordan & Gable with a big win. It was odd to see the heel team hardly use any deceitful tactics to pick up the victory, yet their closing sequence outsmarted their opponents and showed that they can still win on their own merit.
It has been so impressive to see how these brothers tweaked their move set to fit their new attitude and this final blow-off win should catapult them into a new feud that hopefully gets more television time then the one that just concluded. Their new challengers are still unknown, but the success of Jimmy & Jey deserve to be documented as they have been a refreshing piece of Smackdown, and a much needed boost to the blue brand’s tag division, which has been lacking excitement as of late.
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S COLUMN: ALL-STARS & UNDERPERFORMERS: From Roman’s captivating segment to Hardys return to Raw to Shinsuke’s Smackdown debut and more