SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
Now that the new Raw and Smackdown rosters have been set, wrestlers on both brands are jockeying for position and trying to make an impact as the landscape in WWE has changed. Lets take a closer look at who moved forward and who took a step back this week.
RAW ALL STARS: DEAN AMBROSE & THE MIZ
When Dean Ambrose and The Miz started off the first segment of Raw’s Superstar Shake-up edition, I was initially disappointed because this was supposed to be an opportunity to present fresh matchups. The program Dean and Miz played out on Smackdown did provide some good wrestling, but wasn’t exactly captivating. After seeing the promos these two cut on one another this past Monday, however, my opinion quickly changed.
The exchange that we saw on Raw was much more deep-rooted and real-to-life. Even though he is a heel, Miz does take the title of WWE Superstar very seriously, on camera and off. He walks the walk and talks the talk, and taking offense to Ambrose’s appearance, attitude, and vernacular all while holding such a prestigious title was a tremendous way to kick off part two of this feud.
The knock on Ambrose recently has been that he isn’t necessarily relatable, comes off a bit too goofy, and is hard to take seriously most of the time. For the first time in a while, we learned what Dean truly stands for and the respect he has for this business, regardless of the clothing he wears to the ring. Much like the divisions playing out in this country between the middle/working class and the upper class, Miz and Dean took exception to the way their counterpart lives their life.
Miz is all over social media and on news outlets flaunting the most expensive clothes and his supermodel wife while Dean quietly goes about his business, takes care of it, and moves on. Both men did a fantastic job portraying their characters and truly defining who the babyface and heel is in this scenario, something that has been lacking in WWE storytelling lately. This was one the most impactful segment on Raw this week and has the makings of a very entertaining program moving forward. Well done.
RAW NOTABLE ALL STAR: ALEXA BLISS
Much of what has gotten Alexa Bliss over has been her ability to cut promos that were believable and genuine against her babyface foes. This week on Raw, the former Smackdown Women’s Champion showed again that she can also tell a tremendous story in the ring. Her work was crisp and she really has been laying in her offense lately. What really stood out to me, though, was her interactions with Nia Jax and the way she approached the match.
The two spots where she slapped Nia and backed off like she didn’t mean to do it, and the top rope scenario that played out where Alexa realized she had made a mistake and shrugged it off as she made her way back down was absolutely tremendous. Additionally, when she was not a focal point of the action happening in the ring she was always using her facials and body language to act as if she was plotting every move she was about to make. It told a brilliant story of Bliss understanding that she was not the biggest and baddest woman in the match, but used her skill and intelligence to outsmart her opponents to come out on top.
Now, only two weeks into her Raw tenure, she is the number one contender for the championship. Well deserved, and much needed in this division.
RAW UNDER PERFORMER: MICKIE JAMES
I thought that Mickie James was a surprising and exciting edition to NXT’s Takeover: Toronto, but I am still left scratching my head as to why she was hired as a full time wrestler on the main roster. With the resume that James has, mixed with the ardent fans that NXT shows tend to draw, you would have expected her to receive a rousing ovation when she reemerged to square off against Asuka. Unfortunately, the pop she got in Toronto was quite underwhelming and has not gotten better since.
Mickie wrestled another sloppy match on Monday and got less of a reaction from the crowd than every other women involved. Mickie’s most recent run on the main roster has been quite forgettable, lacking even one moment where she stood out from the pack. Moving over to Raw will provide her with even more challenges than she had on Smackdown, having to now compete for TV time with the likes of Alexa Bliss, Sasha Banks, and Bayley.
It was clear from the start that Mickie would be used in a similar role as Natalya, helping to get over younger talent while picking up important wins occasionally to keep her strong while being used as a roadblock to opponents as they climb the ranks. Instead, she has yet to truly impress in any match she has participated in thus far and to say she has fallen flat would be an understatement. Monday’s performance was just another glaring example of that.
SMACKDOWN ALL STAR: JINDER MAHAL
Okay, so before you read the headline and lose your mind, understand that Jinder has earned this week’s All Star spot for two reasons: (1) The position he has been put in by the creative team and (2) his promo work after the six pack challenge match. Leading up to Tuesday, social media was buzzing (negatively, of course) about the idea of Jinder being in this match, and rightfully so.
Up until this point, Mahal has been nothing more than an enhancement talent that knocked Finn Balor unconscious. On Tuesday, however, fans’ worlds were flipped upside down when we witnessed Jinder pinning Sami Zayn to become the number one contender for the WWE Championship. Did Jinder have the best match? No. Is Jinder the most gifted in-ring wrestler in WWE? No. But credit to WWE for trying something new and outside of the box.
Mahal definitely made the most of his spots during the match and looked as strong as ever. His win alone garnered massive heat from the live crowd, and the addition of The Bollywood Boys turned Singh Brothers was a nice cherry on top.
What really stood out to me was the promo that followed. Jinder spoke very confidently and exposed the resistance of the United States to fully accept diversity. With that being such a hot topic these days in America, it was the perfect time to unleash it in front of a live audience (in Ohio) which definitely reacted to Mahal’s sentiments. Most fans are still apprehensive to accept the fact that Mahal is next in line for a title opportunity, but let us all take this one show at a time and see how it plays out. After all, A.J. Styles vs. Kevin Owens is the top story on Smackdown right now and the Mahal vs. Randy Orton feud won’t get nearly as much TV time. Great way for WWE to penetrate the Indian market though, huh?
SMACKDOWN UNDER PERFORMERS: AMERICAN ALPHA
Boy, Jason Jordan & Chad Gable have not had the best time on the main roster since their call up. I was a huge fan of theirs during their run in NXT, but I keep finding myself deeming these two the under performers more and more for many different reasons. Let’s looks past the fact that they just lost to a tag team that has not secured a pin fall on television in what feels like forever and focus on what they have truly done to stand out and make the most of their time on television.
Aside from this duo changing ring gear seemingly every week to resemble a different Steiner Brothers graphic pattern, they have done nothing to endear themselves to the WWE fan base and prove they belong. Additionally, almost every match that perform in is mapped out exactly the same. Tell me if this sounds familiar – Gable starts the match with his mat work, tags in Jordan who gets in offense for about 30-45 seconds, Gable comes back in and gets worked over for 3-5 minutes, followed by a hot tag back to Jordan for either a victory or a slip on a banana peel to lose. It has been way too predictable and has done nothing to gain support from the fans.
In addition, the creative team has done them no favors as American Alpha has had very little mic time to explain who they are and what they are fighting for. Fans really shouldn’t be upset about their loss to Epico & Primo, as Alpha has not done anything recently to prove they are above that. This is just another example of why WWE has to rethink their plans for wrestlers being called up from NXT.
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S COLUMN: ALL-STARS & UNDERPERFORMERS: Rollins shines on mic, Styles, Bliss, Jinder, Usos, WWE Creative