SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
I must say, while this week in WWE television was not the absolute best we have ever seen, every wrestler and on-air personality did their part to make both Raw and Smackdown very enjoyable. For the first week since I began writing this column, I cannot bring myself to give the “Under Performer” label to anyone this week. So instead of trying to nitpick and search for a reason to find a negative, I really wanted to accentuate the best overall performances from both shows.
RAW ALL STAR: FINN BALOR
Since Finn Balor returned to television, he has been quite protected with quick matches that have featured his greatest hits to reestablish his abilities and move set. It wasn’t until Monday, however, that he was prominently featured in a prolonged talking segment and he most certainly delivered. Many fans have been waiting for Balor to address challenging for the title that he never lost, and the live audience popped when he made his intentions of regaining the Universal Championship very clear. Finn was surrounded by three other wrestlers who know their way around a promo and did a great job of standing out, being different, and projecting confidence.
The match that followed was extremely well performed by all of the participants and, while Balor did not come out victorious, he proved why he belonged at the top of the card. There is also something to be said about the interaction he had with Seth Rollins earlier in the night. With Rollins and Balor being babyfaces, it was important for both to stay in the good graces of the fans while making the case that they should be the first to challenge Brock Lesnar. Finn and Seth both did a fantastic job of doing so and any heat that was created was quickly shifted after The Miz appeared. With both Roman and Braun Strowman being heated up to challenge Lesnar, it is unsure where Balor fits into the mix, but he certainly helped his case to be considered.
RAW NOTABLE ALL STARS: APOLLO CREWS & TITUS O’NEIL
Instead of rolling out so many of the same names as a weekly All Star (most weeks they give me no choice), I really wanted to highlight a very good effort from Apollo Crews and Titus O’Neil. On the surface, the Titus Brand seemed like a bottom of the card, jobber-esque gimmick that would be used to fill time… but WWE may have struck gold. Apollo desperately needs a facelift, be it babyface or heel. He needs something that defines him and resonates with fans, and the pairing of Titus and Crews makes sense for so many reasons that were highlighted on Monday. The dynamic between these two featuring Titus courting Crews in an effort to represent him and Apollo’s uncertainty changing to confidence before our eyes has been really fun to watch.
Just as effective as Apollo was in the ring, O’Neil played his part perfectly on the outside as he cheered on his potential client and giving him pointers throughout the match. It is a unique partnership that we haven’t seen in quite some time, provides a significant role for both wrestlers on television each week, leaves us in anticipation as we wait to see if Crews fully buys in or declines O’Neil’s advances, and enables Apollo to pick up a string of victories that could legitimize him with the audience. I am still taking a wait-and-see approach but so far, so good.
SMACKDOWN ALL STAR: BECKY LYNCH
It felt like it has been a while since Becky Lynch was a prominently featured wrestler within the women’s division on Smackdown. That quickly changed on Tuesday, as a slightly revamped Lynch was forced to make a decision as to who to side with moving forward. While the wording and acting of Natalya, Carmella, and Tamina left something to be desired, the overall story being told was a compelling one. Becky has stated in multiple interviews that she would love to portray a heel and feels that she could be quite successful in doing so.
That, partnered with the case the “Welcoming Committee” made for Becky to come over to the dark side, left many fans in suspense as to which way she would go. Lynch’s facial expressions and body language both backstage and in the ring really sold the notion that she was torn and it was clear when she entered the ring that the fans wanted her to stay true to the character they fell in love with. Becky cleaned house and, although she didn’t stand tall in the end, she made her presence felt and sent a message to the fans that she is back on track to the top of the card.
SMACKDOWN NOTABLE ALL STAR: KEVIN OWENS
As sad as I am to see the Kevin Owens-Chris Jericho program come to an end, Owens added an exclamation point to the end of this final chapter. KO began the evening with a scathing promo on both Jericho and A.J. Styles, which was a fantastic precursor to how aggressive he would be later on that evening. In the main event, Owens had a tremendous match with Jericho and regained the United States Championship in impressive fashion, but the best part of his performance on Tuesday was what he did after the match was over.
It was so important when Owens moved to Smackdown, and as his feud with Jericho was coming to a close, that he started to legitimize the serious side of his character again. While he and Y2J provided endless entertainment for the better part of a year, much of what they did centered around comedy. That is why the post match attack on Jericho’s already injured head was so important. Owens laid in every shot like he meant it and the way he sold every blow provided a perfect picture of how Kevin Owens will be moving forward as champion. Extremely well done.
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S ARTICLE: ALL-STARS & UNDERPERFORMERS: Braun Strowman, Jinder Mahal, Bayley, Breezango, Dolph Ziggler