SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
This week WWE delivered one of its more memorable episodes of Raw featuring fallout from Great Balls of Fire while Smackdown sured up its stories heading into Battleground. Lets take a closer look at who stood out and who missed the mark.
RAW ALL-STAR: SAMOA JOE
While the build to the match at Great Balls of Fire was immensely entertaining, the tension displayed between Samoa Joe and Brock Lesnar on Monday topped anything they did before Sunday. Now, more than ever, we believe that Samoa Joe is not afraid of Brock Lesnar and their interaction on Raw seemed incredibly genuine with real emotion. A subtle yet important part in this segment was Brock Lesnar grabbing the mic from Paul Heyman and addressing Joe directly. This is something Brock rarely does and the fact that he thought the moment between he and Joe was big enough to talk for himself speaks volumes about how he sees the Samoan Destroyer. Even after his loss at Great Ball of Fire, Joe did not back down and really drove home how close he was to defeating The Beast. He was absolutely fearless and had fans glued to the television anticipating it coming to blows. When this rivalry began it seemed like it was a throw-away program to heat up Brock before taking on a massive challenger at Summerslam. After how well Joe performed over the last few weeks, he now has a chance to take on Roman Reigns next week to earn another shot at the Universal Championship. The performance on Sunday and the venom that was coming from Joe on Raw absolutely legitimized his opportunity next week and has absolutely opened the eyes of many backstage. Well done.
RAW UNDERPERFORMER: ROMAN REIGNS
I may be nitpicking here, but the lack of confidence WWE has in Roman Reigns speaking on the mic to a live audience was on full display Monday. Sure, he got his moment to speak one on one with Lesnar while proclaiming he was the rightful #1 Contender to the Universal Title, but as soon as Joe appeared he was overshadowed by a lot of what I had written above. Once all three were in the ring with Heyman and Angle, all eyes were on Lesnar and Joe while Reigns seemed like he was very much in a supporting role. When he tried to speak, he was immediately shut down by someone else and looked awfully bad in the process. Understanding that there is a plan for Reigns to square off with Lesnar at either Summerslam, Wrestlemania, or both, the scene that played out on Monday may have changed the minds of Vince McMahon and his team. The interest was clearly in the clash between Joe and Lesnar, and both men performed considerably better in the moment. Only time will tell if plans change, but it was not a good look for Reigns.
SMACKDOWN ALL-STAR: A.J. STYLES
Lately I have questioned the strategy of WWE using both the Intercontinental and United States Championships as backup plans for main event stars with nothing to do, but I am happy to say that AJ Styles has completely changed my mind. Now on the surface, his win at Madison Square Garden seemed like a direct response to Kenny Omega winning the IWGP United States Championship at the G1 Special and the promo he cut afterwards, but it was executed perfectly. AJ claiming that this title now represented excellence and opportunity was even more believable than when John Cena proclaimed it. The promo Styles delivered was exactly what he, and the championship needed to be lifted to new heights and could be a very entertaining part of Tuesday evenings. His facial expressions and body language truly sold the notion that he was ready and willing to take on and defeat all comers to prove was was the absolute best which was exiting to see. The live audience was 100% bought into the idea of a the open challenge coming back and the interaction with Cena that followed was brilliant. AJ managed to defend himself and keep his integrity as a babyface while standing up to Cena in the process which could be tricky for some. AJ is on a mission to bring even more prestige to the US Championship, and based on the crowd reactions and the overwhelmingly positive feedback it received on social media he couldn’t have done better. This may have been the best we have seen AJ on WWE television.
SMACKDOWN UNDERPERFORMER: CHARLOTTE FLAIR
Trying to figure out who and what Charlotte Flair is on Smackdown has been puzzling since her move to Tuesday nights. Fans still get excited to see her come through the curtain, but once the music stops and the “WOO” chants subside, many are left unsure how to feel about The Queen. Her in-ring work is still top notch, but on Tuesday she seemed to struggle with humility and over-confidence at times. One thing we do know is how dominant she can be in the ring, but even that took a massive hit on Tuesday as she was the latest victim of the 50/50 booking mentality WWE is so afraid of straying away from. Yes that is correct, she was pinned by Tamina. Within the narrative structure of WWE, even in a tag match, why in the world would one of the best athletes on the WWE roster be pinned by someone who has hardly said a word on camera and barely wins matches? Regardless of how the finish played out, there was simply no logic behind it and made Charlotte look weak and vulnerable. It defined her down and each loss that piles up normalizes her more and more. The money in Charlotte is her being a dominant force and living out the “genetically superior” character. Far more people will remember Charlotte losing to Tamina rather than Tamina pinning Charlotte. Bad move by the creative team which put Charlotte in a tough spot.
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S COLUMN: ALL-STARS & UNDERPERFORMERS 7/6: Cena and Rusev, Roman Reigns, Bray Wyatt, Lana, Chad Gable
Follow Michael Souza on Twitter: @TheWrestlingFix