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With both Raw and Smackdown building towards PPVs we got a solid five hours of programming from WWE this week. Many stood out, and some missed the mark. Let’s take a closer look.
RAW ALL-STAR: SAMOA JOE
There have been a ton of different opinions regarding Samoa Joe being the new number one contender to Brock Lesnar’s Universal Championship, but anyone who doubted his ability to rise to the occasion may have had their views changed on Monday. In what was undoubtedly the best segment on Raw, Joe stood his ground and came out looking stronger than ever with the help of Paul Heyman. Lesnar’s advocate spoke very highly of Joe when sizing up the upcoming match and Joe showed absolutely no fear in facing The Beast. Joe cornering Heyman without a microphone was tremendous and provided a very different feel to an in ring segment, something we have not seen in quite some time. There was such tension built up in their exchange and the anticipation they built while Joe was telling Heyman what his intentions were created a buzz in the arena that was very special. The cherry on top here was the follow through. Joe choking out a helpless Heyman helped to crystalize the thought that much like Lesnar, Samoa Joe is capable of anything is definitely not scared of squaring off with Brock. The match that followed with Seth was well performed, and while I think that Joe should have finished off Seth in a more decisive fashion, it served its purpose and Joe’s in ring work was showcased nicely.
RAW NOTABLE ALL-STAR: DEAN AMBROSE
Even though he is now without his Intercontinental Championship, Dean Ambrose continued a positive trend of performances on Raw this week. Although he still included some whacky antics like dressing up as camera man, at least this led to a vicious beatdown of The Miz to spoil his celebration. He has come so far since the gigantic blue cowboy hat and is really starting to embody the lunatic moniker. As long as he continues to show this mean streak constantly it is perfectly okay for Dean to sprinkle in some humor because he is quite good at it. With a struggling mid-card on Raw, WWE will look to keep Dean strong and continuing to portray him in this light is absolutely the right direction to take. Well done.
SMACKDOWN ALL-STARS: THE NEW DAY
After much anticipation, The New Day has returned to WWE television and is a welcomed addition to the Smackdown tag team roster. Even though their act is basically the same as when they left, time off of television has really refreshed this trio and it seems like they are as popular as ever. Given how serious The Usos have been since their heel turn The New Day are absolutely perfect opponents for them, and the interaction we saw on Tuesday validated that. What I love so much about The New Day is that they have really developed the ability to get serious when the moment calls for it. All three men are extremely talented in the ring and most certainly pose a threat to Jimmy & Jey’s titles. They had a great showing against The Colons and featured Xavier and Big E’s greatest hits to reestablish what they are capable of and the crowd ate up all of it. For those thinking The New Day is on its way out is very much mistaken. Booty O’s are alive and well and I am excited to see what impact they continue to make on Smackdown.
SMACKDOWN NOTABLE ALL-STAR: LANA
After weeks of vignettes and anticipation Lana finally showed up on Smackdown Live and made a big splash, maybe more so than anyone anticipated. As all of the women involved in the Money in the Bank match bickered back and forth, Lana’s new music hit to a huge pop. She owned her refreshed character and carried herself like star as she made her way to the ring. It really was something to see. On the surface, she does not really have any business being in this ladder match but Lana fought through Shane’s refusal along with the laughter of the women in the ring and made as good of a case as she could. The overarching reason why I put Lana in this spot this week was the impression she made with the live audience at Smackdown. When Shane ultimately told Lana this was not the time or place to be demanding involvement in matches and asked her to leave, the entire crowd chanted “We Want Lana!” and made their voices heard. She made an impact with this segment, and she will have the opportunity to further this new attitude leading up to her match with Naomi in less than two weeks.
SMACKDOWN UNDERPERFORMER: KEVIN OWENS
Speaking strictly from a booking standpoint, Kevin Owens has embodied the pattern that WWE has followed in beating their heel champions on a regular basis when the title is not on the line. In a match that most certainly should not have been on free television, Owens was beaten pretty decisively by Shinsuke Nakamura. Now, understanding that Nakamura needs to start beating more credible opponents to build his stock, there is no reason for it to be at the expense of a champion. WWE takes for granted that someone like Owens would likely be able to talk his way out of any defeat, but that sort of promo would not entirely eliminate the stench of multiple losses while holding a championship. As we are heading into Money in the Bank where KO will be one of the ladder match participants, the United States Championship is once again being defined down by not being defended nearly enough and the man carrying it keeps losing. Owens is being put into situations where other participants of this MITB match need wins to gain momentum and it puts him in a really bad spot. Should Owens not grab the briefcase in St. Louis, he will leave that PPV having been pinned by Nakamura twice on television and unsuccessful in his pursuit of a future world title opportunity after pleading with Shane McMahon to be involved in the first place. Owens has made the most of the situation he is in, but it is not a good look.
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S ARTICLE: ALL-STARS & UNDERPERFORMERS: Shinsuke Nakamura, Finn Balor, Jinder Mahal, Goldust, Smackdown Creative Team
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