SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
In a week of WWE programming where many of the main event stars were in a bit of a holding pattern, I wanted to take a different approach this week and really focus on who furthered their character development and who took a step back on both Raw and Smackdown. Lets take a closer look.
RAW ALL-STAR: ELIAS SAMPSON
The Drifter has definitely made an impact since coming to Raw. I was very leery about his in-ring singing gimmick in front of a big audience, but he has really owned it and persuaded the crowd to really turn on him this week. Instead of just making assumptions about the live audience like Jinder Mahal does, Elias effectively talks down to everyone in the arena and carries himself like he is the biggest star in the business. What is most impressive is his ability to deliver such long promos (and songs) while 15,000+ fans boo him so loudly this early on in his main roster run. He didn’t seem to get rattled at all and used the reactions to fuel his words even further.
The match he had with Dean Ambrose was another good showing for Sampson and, while he was unable to win the match cleanly, he further established his move set and demeanor in the ring. He has such an aggression to him that sets him apart from a lot of other wrestlers on Raw which makes him a credible foe for anyone on the red brand. Finally, and most importantly, he is getting real heat from the fans. So many heels on both Raw and Smackdown either get mixed reactions or nothing at all. It is clear that The Drifter has not made it a goal to be a “cool heel” smart fans want to cheer. He wants to be unanimously hated and he is doing a great job early on.
RAW NOTABLE ALL-STARS: GOLDUST AND R-TRUTH
The Goldust and R-Truth segments have become one of my favorite things on Monday nights. The throwback to the old Goldust character verbally sparring with the reincarnation of Jules Winnfield has created such an entertaining dynamic that is rooted in real conflict. What I have loved most about this feud is that we have not seen them in the same ring or even in front of a live audience in weeks which has built suspense for when these two finally come to blows. Within the narrative structure of the show WWE sees this as a “mid-card angle,” but I would venture to guess that fans are more invested in this than 50-75 percent of the rest of the show’s programs at the moment. You can tell both men are really going for it with this story and it should make for a great match when they finally meet. Very well done.
RAW UNDERPERFORMER: BAYLEY
After following Bayley’s career since she broke onto the scene in NXT, it troubles me to continue to point out what is so wrong with her character week in and week out. That said, WWE has given me no choice as her portrayal on television has made for some of the most head-scratching and eyeroll-inducing segments I have seen in quite some time. WWE was at a cross roads in what to do with Bayley following her embarrassing loss to Alexa Bliss at Extreme Rules. Fans knew that something needed to change and we all wondered what that would entail. We got our answer on Monday.
Instead of Bayley sticking up for herself and promising a return to the championship picture, WWE doubled down on what they have been building and wrote a script for her which entailed lines like “I am just here to put smiles on people’s faces.” Further, when Corey Graves pressed Bayley on how that would equate to victories and championships, she responded by says she was just going to be her… and that was that. Are you kidding me? Sure, maybe after such a devastating loss at Extreme Rules ardent fans threw their hands up and concluded that there was no hope left. But I am sure that the 5-15 year old female demographic that WWE is marketing to with the Bayley character still believed she had a chance. Not after this interview they don’t.
What fan, of any age or gender, would want to root for someone who openly admits she isn’t capable of and possibly doesn’t care about winning matches just so long as she makes people smile? This was brutal, and the entire segment had my jaw dropped to the floor. I want to be clear in stating that I place none of the blame on Bayley and 100 percent of it on the creative team on Raw that does not get who Bayley is and what she stands for. It is truly a shame. Unless, of course, this was all the beginnings of a heel turn. That, I would be on board for.
SMACKDOWN ALL STAR: MOJO RAWLEY
While I have not been the biggest fan of Mojo Rawley dating back to his time in NXT, he certainly took a massive step forward with his backstage interview this week. In speaking with Dasha Fuentes, Mojo was much more calm, cool, and collected. Rawley addressed his loss last week like a true professional and really let the fans tap into his true emotion for the first time on television. By adding another layer to his character, Mojo definitely began to genuinely endear himself to the audience. It did not come off scripted at all and as he told the story about how he was happy he lost because it will only motivate him further. Fans can definitely sink their teeth into that. I am certainly not suggesting that Mojo Rawley should get a rocket strapped to his back at the moment, but this was a great step in the right direction for someone who could make an impact should he build upon this solid performance. Plus, Smackdown could really use a fresh face to battle against some of the top heels on the roster.
SMACKDOWN UNDER PERFORMER: TAMINA
In a very ho-hum episode of Smackdown only one person really stuck out to me that had a poor performance, and that was Tamina. Since her return Tamina has hardly spoken at all and only wrestled in tag matches with limited spots. On Tuesday, however, she squared off one-on-one with the Smackdown Women’s Champion in an incredibly clunky match. While not all of the blame can be placed on Tamina, as Naomi had her missteps as well, the daughter of Superfly showed fans why she has absolutely no business being in this Money in the Bank ladder match. It is hard for me to say if Tamina even has a true move set, as she seemed so out of place and way off time. After being off camera for so long Tamina had an opportunity to show that she can hang with the best Smackdown had to offer and came up very short. It will be interesting to see what role she plays coming out of Sunday’s historic match, but based on this performance it wont be anything worth while.
I hope everyone enjoys Money in the Bank!
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S COLUMN: ALL-STARS & UNDERPERFORMERS: Samoa Joe, Dean Ambrose, The New Day, Kevin Owens, Lana
Follow Michael on Twitter @thewrestlingfix