In a week where Raw is establishing new stories after Payback, Smackdown had their final chance to sell fans on the Payback PPV. Lets take a closer look at who made the most of their time and who missed the mark.
RAW ALL STAR: DEAN AMBROSE
It seems like Dean Ambrose is very much a reincarnation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One week we get the goofy, over-the-top comedy act that is far from the “Lunatic Fringe” character WWE loves to remind us of, and the next week (much like what we got on Monday) we see an unhinged brawler that stops at nothing to get the best of his opponents.
Dean’s Intercontinental Championship match against The Miz on Raw was extremely entertaining, and it seems as if these two have found much more chemistry to work with since their escapades on Smackdown – which left much to be desired. Ambrose worked the match with extreme intensity and really laid his offense into Miz who helped the cause with tremendous selling.
In portraying this persona more often, he would resemble much more of a worthy champion, rather than the guy we saw wearing an oversized blue cowboy hat while representing the company as a major title holder. In-ring, this was the best performance Dean has had since joining the red brand. The match had a good pace, told a great story, and ended in a way that will continue this rivalry through at least the next PPV.
Ambrose has professed in multiple interviews that he usually just takes whatever mood he is in that day to the ring, but it might be best to stick to one direction and build upon that, rather than coming off as having multiple personalities. That said, he is a “lunatic” right? So maybe the inconsistency is entirely on purpose. Either way, he did a fantastic job on Monday.
RAW UNDER PERFORMER: SASHA BANKS
I think that Alicia Fox pinning Sasha Banks clean in the middle of the ring on Raw was a very telling sign that Banks may be falling down the totem pole of WWE. In what came as a shock to most, Banks was beaten decisively with nothing to really protect her in defeat aside from a minor knee injury. In the weeks and months leading up to this loss, Sasha has been somewhat caught between a rock and a hard place which has not necessarily been her fault.
The way she has been carrying herself lately, especially with her interactions with Bayley, almost seem like on a week to week basis WWE cannot make up their mind whether or not they want to commit to a heel turn. This leaves Banks in a situation where her on-air persona keeps getting tweaked each week with no consistency, and her inability to portray a solid character of late has led to lukewarm crowd reactions. Rather than a sudden pop of the crowd when her music hits, it almost seems like there is more of a groan as she enters the arena.
The problem here is that she is still a babyface, and until WWE decides which side of the table she is going to be on, she will be subject to losses like this and putting over other women who will get in line for a title shot. A saving grace here could be that a loss like this propels Sasha to make that choice which we could see in the coming weeks. As for this past Monday, it is hard to pinpoint any other wrestler that came out of Raw looking worse than The Boss.
SMACKDOWN ALL STAR: DOLPH ZIGGLER
What started out as a dumpster fire of a rivalry between Dolph Ziggler and Shinsuke Nakamura has really turned the corner in the past two weeks and on Tuesday Ziggler did a fantastic job selling just how important their match will be at Backlash. Far too often we see non-title matches on a PPV that just don’t have nearly enough of a story behind it for fans to get excited, but Dolph and the WWE production team did a great job reminding us how accomplished The Show Off really was and what this match means to him.
With his performances over the last year or two, it is easy to forget just how long Ziggler has been in WWE and the impact he has truly made. Ziggler’s promo that followed the video package was exactly what this rivalry needed, and his delivery was once again direct, said with a purpose, and verbalized with no irrational screaming or improv jokes. While Ziggler has tried to play the “I’ve been here all along” card one too many times as the “New Era” of WWE came to be, this message really seemed to resonate.
Now, with a new approach and a much more serious Ziggler, fans can start to legitimately speculate whether or not he can pull off a victory against Nakamura. The old moniker of “If it didn’t happen in WWE, it didn’t happen” is on full display here and while some ardent fans may roll their eyes a bit when they hear Dolph talk about Nakamura not doing anything yet to prove himself, it is a fantastic story to sink your teeth into that Dolph told very well on Smackdown.
SMACKDOWN NOTABLE ALL STARS: CARMELLA & JAMES ELLSWORTH
While the events leading up to this unlikely duo to pair up may have been hard to get through, the end result of Carm-Ellsworth has actually been quite entertaining. In previous weeks, Ellsworth has gotten more mic time to see if he can get some heat on Carmella and Tuesday’s promo was by far his best yet. Seeing him run down Charlotte, Becky Lynch, and Naomi was tremendous and selling the notion that each one wants to date him partnered with ending each sentence with his new “DUH!” catchphrase was icing on the cake.
With regards to the match, Carmella picking up a pinfall victory on Naomi usually means a future title shot in today’s WWE. These two have really hit a stride in finding their identity and it was smart to pair Ellsworth, a veteran worker who has experience in drawing heat from a crowd, with Carmella as her mic skills have not come around as much as WWE would have probably liked. By no means am I making the case for Carmella to run the Smackdown women’s division with Ellsworth at her side, but in a time where the blue brand needs fresh matchups for their women’s championship, both Carmella and Ellsworth lived up to the moment and provided some great television on Tuesday.
SMACKDOWN UNDER PERFORMER: RANDY ORTON
If many fans are still not sold on the idea that Jinder Mahal is a worthy contender for the WWE Championship, let us not forget that there are two men in this feud. Needless to say, Mahal’s dance partner has not lived up to his end of the bargain. Sure, Jinder is new to the main event scene and WWE had done nothing before his Six-Pack Challenge win to build him up, but Orton could have helped by selling the idea that Jinder is a threat. He hasn’t. Orton continues to go through the motions, no-sell everything Jinder says, and completely disregard any resemblance of body language or facial expressions.
While I don’t expect Randy to be shaking in his boots at the thought of having a match with Mahal, it would benefit the overall story if he reacted in some sort of way. If Orton doesn’t take Jinder seriously, why should the fans? Orton’s match was another slow, methodical performance that lulled me to sleep. This guy is so incredibly talented, but he just doesn’t look like he is enjoying himself or cares… Dive.
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S COLUMN: ALL-STARS & UNDERPERFORMERS: Roman Reigns, Dolph Ziggler, Miz, Dean Ambrose, Jinder Mahal
Follow Michael on Twitter @thewrestlingfix.