SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
The Women’s Battle Royal had all the makings of a Miss with the opening minutes of rapid-fire eliminations that could harm further battle royals (and the Royal Rumble), but as it went on, this turned out to be a fast-moving, net-positive showcase for the women’s division. Shayna Baszler and Asuka’s participation kept the lack of star power from being too exposed, but Baszler’s near miss of dropping Teagan Nox won’t help her to receive the backstage support she needs. Sasha Banks and Bayley continue to shine far brighter than they did even a month ago and are more than holding their own as the current leads of the division. The decision to go with Asuka with both title shots at Summerslam was a natural progression of the storyline and further emphasizes her positioning.
•Sonya-Mandy Hair Affair
The announcement of the Sonya Deville vs. Mandy Rose match at Summerslam felt like a well-earned spot for a program that has been a nice secondary storyline for a division that typically has only one angle at a time. Mandy’s promo was strong enough, but really didn’t need the distraction of the overly dark tan that was impossible to ignore. I am genuinely interested in see who wins at Summerslam which indicates a job well done to all involved.
•Can’t Hard(l)y Wait
The dialog written for the A.J. Styles-Jeff Hardy confrontation (and the cringe-worthy backstage follow up) was as lame as it goes, but to quote the script, the prospect of this is “mega cool.” Styles still feels major regardless of which portion of the card he’s representing, and Hardy, too, feels rejuvenated from the nostalgia act he was settled into for the past few years. The possibilities ahead are exciting for all involved at least when it comes to the ring work.
•Hey Alexa, Fix This Angle
Alexa Bliss’s sit down interview interspersed with recap footage was phenomenal with Bliss effectively adding someone that people care about to a storyline that would otherwise be DOA. Bliss’s voice and demeanor recalled old school Elizabeth vibes in the best way possible. Her male counterparts, on the other hand, continue to struggle to translate to the Performance Center format.
Big E’s recent promos have shown a fire that feels tangible enough to really make this single’s run count, but tonight’s showing was a mixed bag at a time when he needs to be fully maximizing his moments. The traditional New Day entrance felt about as impactful as it would if Ax from Demolition entered an arena by himself and at this stage is just too cartoonish by half. Big E.’s insert promo wasn’t nearly in the league of last week’s, but his backstage promo afterwards struck a serious tone that was significantly stronger. The rescheduled match with John Morrison was fine in a way that all split-tag team matches are. Obviously it’s too early to grade the singles run of Big E., but every moment counts in making this solo run work if the goal is to turn this into a true money-making run.
So why did no one come out to help Big E. and John Morrison? Not even the “audience” which easily could have outnumbered and gotten to Retribution by turning a corner? This is so closely mirroring the near-identical missteps of the Nexus invasion follow up that it feels more like a reboot than anything, and the early arrival of the group took away early on the most interesting hook of the night. I personally think the Retribution act would be stronger without the masks – assuming it’s the same performers each week – to give them more of a dangerous intrigue. Once again the current presentation is way too exaggerated and will no doubt be an underwhelming reveal when Retribution’s masks are removed to reveal faces we don’t know anyway.
We are now officially seeing the 2020 version of the Ultimate Warrior vs. Undertaker series that never was with Braun taking his method acting of Warrior to the extreme by adopting his voice, promo style and severe sweating. Also, how exactly was that not a double turn at the end with The Fiend looking like the hero? Bliss can only do so much to keep this compelling, but anything short of a total character reinvention and siding with The Fiend will feel like another in a long line of over-the-top programs that land everyone exactly where they started.