SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
It is always a crapshoot when the WWE pre-tapes from England; either you get a tremendous newsworthy show or a mailed in effort. While a lot of what we saw was the latter, there were some definite standout performances worth talking about. Some were far less impressive. Let’s take a closer look.
RAW ALL STAR: ROMAN REIGNS
You usually know when Roman Reigns is having a good night when he can turn at least 50 percent of the crowd in his favor before his time in the ring is up. On Monday, Reigns was met with a thunderstorm of boos from the London crowd as he made his way to the ring selling his injuries. It was clear that the audience was firmly behind Braun Strowman as the two came to blows, but Reigns was able to shift that with the way he laid in his offense and sold the idea of not stopping until Strowman couldn’t take it anymore.
This was very reminiscent of when Roman snapped on Triple H and won over a typically tough Philly crowd some time ago. This wasn’t the corporate, hand-picked, crazy-protected Superstar most fans have come to dislike. On Raw, we got a Roman Reigns who was hell bent on revenge at any cost. Every move he made was done with purpose and the intensity in his actions was matched by the facials and body language he projected. By the time Strowman was limping off through the crowd, many fans changed their boos to cheers as Roman stood tall. Will this be a major turning point in the WWE fan base’s opinion on Reigns? Not entirely. But it was a great step in the right direction. The key is to build on this, and don’t go back to typical Roman booking.
RAW UNDER PERFORMERS: MIZ & DEAN AMBROSE
While I am really enjoying the story both The Miz and Dean Ambrose are telling with regards to the prestige of the Intercontinental Championship, this week was a big miss. Without any authority figures in England to run the show, WWE made the puzzling decision to put both Miz and Ambrose in charge. In theory, this could have made for great television, but unfortunately it did not come off too well.
The one scene in particular that really went awry was backstage when Miz put Dean in a match against Bray Wyatt. It seemed like one of two things happened: Either both men forgot their lines and tried to ad lib their way through it, or WWE trusted them enough to improv most of it with certain bullet points to hit. Either way, it was clear that there just isn’t enough chemistry between these two to pull something like that off.
It was the first time that I can remember The Miz struggling through a talking segment and you could see the frustration from both wrestlers mounting as time went on. Everything that did not work with their rivalry on Smackdown was on display Monday, and they need to get back to focussing much more on the title and what it means to them to have it rather than strictly comedy.
SMACKDOWN ALL STAR: DOLPH ZIGGLER
Considering that I have been harder than most on Dolph Ziggler’s performances as of late, I really wanted to give credit when it is due. On Smackdown, Dolph completely redeemed himself from the cringe-worthy Michael Jackson promo from last week and finally made it seem like he was speaking from the heart. Ziggler was able to blur the lines between storyline and reality as he talked openly about how fans just don’t care about him anymore and that he feels the same way about them.
It was only a few years ago that Ziggler was the darling of the IWC, getting praised for every match, deemed to be the most underrated wrestler in the company, and got one of the biggest pops we have heard for a Money in the Bank cash in. Fast-forward to present time and it couldn’t be more opposite. This week there was no yelling, no talking in riddle, and no politically-themed punchlines from the Show-off, just a direct message to the fans and Shinsuke Nakamura. The icing on the cake here was how he called out Nakamura, selling the intention to fight now rather than wait until Backlash, only to walk out when the situation presented itself. Make no mistake about it, Ziggler still has a lot of work to do to build himself back to what he once was, and this build up and match with Nakamura could be a great start.
SMACKDOWN UNDER PERFORMER: JINDER MAHAL
For the first time since his push began, Jinder Mahal was given an abundant amount of time to speak his mind and deliver a message to Randy Orton. Unfortunately, his incredible drawn-out, overly-scripted promo proved why it took WWE this long to give him a prominent role on TV. For the most part, Mahal just regurgitated everything he said in the past few weeks about fans not accepting diversity and Orton not respecting him. Aside from Mahal being the no. 1 contender and viciously attacking Randy on a few occasions, there really has not been much else to this story.
The problem on Tuesday was that instead of making the conflict more diverse between the two, Mahal was sent out with a script that lulled the live audience to sleep. Further, due to the fact that they were in England, the live audience wasn’t compelled to chant “USA!” and the majority of the segment was met with crickets. In no way am I scrapping the idea that this could turn out to be a compelling program, but Jinder needs to loosen the reigns a bit and be much more animated and emotional in his delivery.
Understanding that this is his first main event program and the script he was given was probably a mile long and tough to memorize, I will chalk this up to a learning experience for Mahal. That said, it still made for a tough segment to watch and an overall poor performance.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: ALL-STARS & UNDERPERFORMERS: Finn Balor, Kevin Owens, Becky Lynch, Apollo Crews, Titus O’Neal
Follow Michael on Twitter @thewrestlingfix.