Monday, July 16, 2018
Not enough people are talking about it, but these two had a damn good TV match on Smackdown. Zelina looked incredible tonight. Sin Cara came out hot, but they’ve been telling a story that they’ve known each other for a long time. That made Almas being ready for his offense and countering a sensible thing. Following the obligatory Kickoff Show commercial, they revved things up. Big spots on the apron, a Destroyer, and even Cara busting out a Frog Splash. Zelina provided enough of a distraction for Almas to hit the corner knees and win via Hammerlock DDT in 7:01. Like the Smackdown match, this was a banger for the time given. They did a lot without ever feeling like they did too much and they kept it within the story they should’ve told.
I came in more excited for the two Kickoff matches than most of the rest of the card. Lots of action in this one. All six men went right at one another from the opening bell. They had creative spots like Big E nearly going through a table with his apron spear, only to eat a pair of knees from SAnitY. They also provided us with one of the more innovative tower of doom spots. Even with the commercial break, they kept the pace strong throughout. The finish was also quite creative. Kofi wanted to suplex Wolfe from the apron through a table. Wolfe bit him to break free and Young came off the top with an elbow that put him through the table at 7:35. It was kind of short, but was fun. They came up with some cool ideas for a stipulation that has been done to death. Kudos.
Was not expecting this to open. This has been one of the stranger programs in recent memory and not just because of how weird everyone is. The B-Team have dominated the match results in the build, so the champions came out hot. They looked to take Bray and Matt off their games. From a character perspective, Bray seemed more motivated than ever. The action moved at a quicker pace than expected. Bray seemed on the verge of a win but got cut off. Bo surprised everyone when he hit a hanging neckbreaker variation to give his guys the titles in 7:58. Better than I expected. It was a fun little sprint.
Post-match, Charly Caruso interviewed the new champions. It was funny and Axel likened the feeling to “Stretch Armstrong” landing on the moon.
Finn debuted new gear for this. Corbin wrestled in his constable slacks. Despite the strange attire, Corbin was all about bringing out some interesting moves. He busted out a sneaky sunset flip style spot and hit the always awesome looking Deep Six. He talked smack and played the bully, while Finn was the resilient underdog little man. It’s not an ideal role for Finn, who can do much more, but it worked for this match and the program. Finn hit the corner dropkick, but Corbin cut off the Coup de Grace. However, Finn found a way to counter the End of Days into a small package for the win in 8:18. Another solid, yet unspectacular match. They told a fine story and the stuff in the ring worked.
Backstage, the Bludgeon Brothers attacked Team Hell No.
James Ellsworth was in a shark cage above the ring. He joined Paul Ellering, Chris Jericho, and Enzo Amore as people in that position since 2016. Right off the bat, he dropped a weapon to Carmella. She didn’t get to use it, but it was perfect character stuff for them. They’re all about trying to outsmart people. With Asuka in firm control, Ellsworth manages to escape the cage and got stuck hanging upside down from it. Asuka lit him up with kicks. Officials tried putting him back in, only for Asuka to beat them up and attack Ellsworth again. Asuka got too focused on Ellsworth, allowing Carmella to shove her face first into the shark cage and steal it in 5:23. Technically great? Hell no. Strong storytelling and character work? Yup. Carmella and Ellsworth continue to find ways to best their opponents. Carmella beat Charlotte because of the Iiconis and then because Charlotte hurt her knee. She beat Asuka because of Ellsworth last time and this time was because Asuka was too focused on him. Brilliant.
In a fantastic move, Nakamura hit Jeff with a low blow before the bell. As soon as this started, Nakamura hit Kinshasa and won in 0:06. Again, perfect character stuff.
Nakamura’s celebration was cut short by the arrival of Randy Orton. People expected Randy to go after Nakamura, but instead, he attacked Hardy. Good, because face Orton is incredibly dull.
WWE traditionally doesn’t do well with cage matches. Also, why should we cheer Braun? He’s just been bullying Owens. They told the proper story with this. Owens wanted nothing to do with Braun and avoided him at all costs. He tried escaping, but couldn’t. Braun was in full control. However, Owens wisely handcuffed him to the ropes. Instead of leaving, he taunted him and got chokeslammed. He added another taunt and blew a kiss to Braun on his way out, but Braun broke the cuffs and caught up to him. Braun met him at the top and chokeslammed him off and through the announce table. It was a wild spot, but also one that got Owens the win in 8:06. The story made sense, but it was too boring until the final big spot. It was a doozy of a spot, though.
The dominant champions against the newly reformed Team Hell No. At least that’s what we thought. Kane was too hurt to come out, so Bryan went at it alone. Handicap matches typically don’t work well. This one mostly did. Bryan was clearly at a disadvantage, but fought with a ton of heart. He found ways to get hope spots in and even caused the champions to hit each other by mistake. With all three men down outside, Kane’s music hit and he came out in a walking boot. Kane did his thing without using much of his leg. Bryan fired off YES kicks. But they didn’t have enough. A Doomsday Device on Bryan ended this in 8:17. Bryan did most of this without Kane and gave the champs their toughest and best match to date. It was a fun handicap match with the crowd hanging on everything that happened.
Backstage, Roman Reigns walked around and the B-Team stopped him. They told him he could join them if he beat Bobby.
During the build, Roman made it clear he wasn’t intimidated or impressed by Lashley. That was clear in the match as he acted cocky, talked smack, and tried lackadaisical pins. He also refused to break holds until five, showing that he was aggressive. The match was going along fine until Lashley took a ridiculously huge bump. He got dropped over the top and to the floor, smacking it with an awful sound. From there, things picked up for a more physical battle. Lashley suplexed him over the announce table, before Reigns responded inside with a massive Superman Punch. Roman looked to win there, but Lashley interrupted him with a huge Spear for the clean as a whistle win at 4:51. That started okay but truly picked up and turned into one hell of a hoss fight. I love that it ended cleanly. The best Lashley match since his return and a return to form for Reigns in PPV singles matches.
Nia beat Alexa at WrestleMania (*¾) and again at Backlash (**). Alexa cashed in Money in the Bank last month to take the title back. The big story was Ronda Rousey at ringside. Right off the bat, Alexa ran from Nia and got weapons. Nia just kept knocking them away from her. During all this, Natalya and Mickie started fighting because Mickie tried getting involved. That caused Ronda to hop the guardrail and DESTROY Mickie. The fans chanted for her as she stared a hole through Alexa. She chased her down but Mickie attacked her with a kendo stick. With Ronda and Nattie down, Alexa and Mickie beat up Nia with weapons. A DDT on a chair ended this in 7:22. It was a lot of nothing until Ronda made things exciting.
I haven’t been this hype for a WWE Title match since 2016. AJ’s chemistry with Kevin Owens never clicked and his stuff with Nakamura was lackluster. However, he had bangers with Jinder freaking Mahal, so I knew he’d step back up once he had someone new to work with. He did. Rusev was awesome here. Though he’s popular, he worked like a great bruising heel. AJ as the face fighting from under is a place he excels, so that made this work. They gave us several near falls and even though it seemed obvious that AJ would retain, I bit on several of the close calls for Rusev. It says something about a match when you can pull me in the way this one did. AJ took to the leg to chop down his larger opponent, while Rusev worked the back to set up the Accolade. Smart, sensible wrestling. It’s not hard, people. After AJ took out Aiden English, he used the Phenomenal Forearm to retain in 15:32. Match of the night. Great work building a smart match that played to the strength of both men.
Ironman matches can be tricky. Some work well, but others have issues. Look at Sasha/Bayley for a great example and Sasha/Charlotte for one that struggled. This was one worked at a faster pace than some considering all the falls that took place. Seth went up 1-0 in less than five minutes. He added another pin a few minutes later and then Drew attacked him for a DQ that made it 3-0. However, the beating put Rollins in trouble and Dolph used him being worn down to rack up four straight falls and take the lead. The crowd proved that the negative reactions to stuff like Reigns/Joe at Backlash weren’t just because of Roman. The fans got a fresh PPV main event and still reacted by paying attention to everything but the match. They spent their time counting down the last ten seconds of every minute like it was the Royal Rumble. It was annoying and hurt the match. Stop trying to get yourselves over. Watch the show you paid for. Anyway, Seth tied it late and was about to win as the clock expired. Dolph seemed to retain but Kurt Angle arrived and sent us into sudden death. Drew McIntyre, who had been ejected, returned and set up Seth to fall to a Zig Zag at 30:17. Why do sudden death if that was what you did with it? The match was technically strong and had some good moments throughout. The finish was dumb, the crowd was awful, and some of the overused Ironman tropes were there. Those things kept it from being something memorable.
Overall: An above average show. I’ve seen people crap all over it, but there was nothing outwardly bad. The worst match to me was Alexa/Nia and it wasn’t even that terrible. Everything had something of an enjoyment factor and we got strong stuff from Lashley/Reigns, Cara/Almas, and especially Rusev/AJ.