WWE Recap: All Around Me Are CGI Faces

Step into the ThunderDome- hoooo!

Turns out the “state of the art” technology is mostly the same show we’ve been seeing for the past 6 months, only with pyro and very blank expressions from the people sitting at home. Like, was it just me, or did it look like no one was having a good time? Just a sea of empty faces staring silently at the ring. It was admittedly pretty funny when they would cut to a “crowd shot” and zoom in on the pixelated expressions, but I can’t say the ThunderDome experience added too much to the pandemic shows for me. At least we’re not actively watching the NXT recruits be potentially exposed anymore.

Let me start out this week by saying WWE continues to dig itself a large hole, as it refuses to take action against multiple employees accused of sexual abuse. I’ve tried to avoid talking about any predators named in the recent #SpeakingOut who are still employed with WWE. Honestly, that was probably a cowards way out, but sometimes it’s easier to pretend the truly vile things in wrestling aren’t happening, because it’s far more fun to make jokes about the kayfabe bad things. Evidently, avoiding the topic doesn’t do anything for anyone, because the company continues to push these men. Matt Riddle (accused rapist) has been getting plenty of screen time on SmackDown, while NXT brought back a very unwelcome face last week, when Velveteen Dream (accused of pedophilia and grooming) returned to the brand after weeks off. I’m saying accused only because neither of these men have been taken to court so far as I know, but let me be clear; I fully believe and support those making these claims. You can look at the evidence presented to you and make your own calls about the guilt or innocence of these men, but I’ve read these stories and seen the screencaps, and I’m pretty fucking appalled to see them bring someone like Dream back right now. Especially when they released other accused men like Jack Gallagher, it smacks of WWE’s messed up favoritism in holding onto their more high profile talent who have been called out in the same way. Velveteen Dream performed on NXT again this week, defeating Finn Balor to qualify for the North American Title ladder match. Not only does he come back to a big fanfare, but he gets a push for a title in exchange for all that time off. Gotta love WWE’s commitment to making you want to vomit. Luckily, fans are really putting the pressure on the company to re-evaluate Dream’s status with them. It’s WWE, so I truly can’t trust they’re going to do due diligence, but it seems like there’s a large enough group that won’t let them forget what we now know about Patrick Clark.

If you’re still interested in anything WWE’s turning out, and I certainly can’t judge because I’m here writing about it, here’s some highlights from the week:

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WWE Fails Women’s Division for Only the Hundredth Time

Mickie James is kind of a legend. And by “kind of,” I mean she had one of the most memorable women’s storylines of all time with Trish Stratus, is a 6 time women’s champion, and once guest starred in the greatest episode of Psych ever made. She’s known to older fans and more recent ones, given her run at the SmackDown’s women title a few years ago against Alexa Bliss. So when she made her return to Raw after over a year out of action to absolutely zero fanfare or recognition, people were rightfully confused. As a well known star who’s still more than able to hang with the younger wrestlers, James is a huge asset to the women’s division, and should be treated like one. Instead, her brief match with Natalya was interrupted by Seth Rollins confronting Samoa Joe on commentary. Rollins was demanding to know how Joe was aware Mysterio would be at the PC, a storyline that Raw clearly values more than any kind of a women’s mid card, because they let it pull focus from James’ first match in over a year. Remember the pop Mickie and Trish got when they faced off at Evolution? WWE writers sure don’t. Natalya got the win after a distraction from her new manager Lana, but it’s not like that really mattered. James’ veteran status should be used to aid other wrestlers (and honestly, to give her that 7th title run), not relegated to a three minute match that gives more focus to Seth Rollins’ gelled hair than the women in the ring.

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Solo Cup Truthers

I don’t watch Bachelor in Paradise, because genuinely nothing is less interesting to me than hearing how people met their significant others, but apparently they’ve hooked up with WWE to promote both shows. What makes you want to fall in love more than watching two sweaty dudes yell at each other? Demi Burnett was on Raw this week to flirt with Ivan and Angel Garza, which is a pretty sweet gig, so good for her. This lead to a short match between the two men, although the real story here came after Garza got the win over Ivar. While it’s hard to remember literally anything these days, viewers may recall Montez Ford was poisoned a few weeks ago to keep him from competing against Andrade. One might have assumed he simply ordered a chicken quesadilla from Red Robin and suffered the consequences, but Belair insisted Zelina Vega was at fault. She went so far as to attack Vega on her Twitch livestream, which was honestly better viewing than any other wrestler’s streams I’ve seen. This past Monday proved Bianca right, as Angelo Dawkins revealed security footage of Vega poisoning Montez’s cup, even though I have to assume she also had access to literally anyone else in the company and could have taken out some genuinely awful people. Please, Zelina. Think of the greater good. After revealing the video, Dawkins and Ford attacked Andrade and Garza. Later in the night, we got Ford vs Andrade, which unfortunately wasn’t given the time it needed, because those two could have put on a hell of a show. Belair attacked Vega ringside, distracting Andrade so Montez could get the win. As with all crimes in wrestling, this one will be settled with a title match for the Raw Tag belts.

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Stop Bringing Your Dad Around Randy Orton

In our main event, Shawn Michaels read Orton the riot act for being really mean to a septuagenarian last week. Shawn listed all the wrestlers Ric Flair has influenced, including Randy himself. He claimed Orton was going to meet his justice either at McIntyre’s hands at SummerSlam, or from Michaels himself. Randy, who has proven he does not care about beating up middle aged fathers, took that as a challenge. He gave HBK an RKO just as he was leaving the ring, then delivered a punt to really seal the deal, and delay any future Jesus based filmed Michaels was set to star in. McIntyre came out to run him off, but you have to figure at this point that his reaction time is honestly pretty slow. This was another reason to hate the Legend Killer, but it didn’t really do anything different than last week’s turn on the Nature Boy.

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Wife Guy Wins

In NXT news that featured no accused pedophiles, Johnny Gargano faced off with Ridge Holland for the vacant spot in the North American Championship ladder match. This was the second chance for both guys after coming up short in their respective triple threat matches. Johnny and Candice entered together, because they’re the worst couple you’ve ever met, and they don’t care who knows it. This was a pretty good match, even with a frightening landing for Gargano from a slam early on. He was out of it for a while as Holland took over, big beefy knees on display and everything. Johnny needed an assist from his loving wife to delay Holland, allowing him to land a low blow and hit his DDT to win. Marriage is good, I guess. Gargano isn’t a surprise candidate for the NA title, nor does he seem particularly likely to win, but with his style he’ll definitely put on a good show in a ladder match. I’m interested to see him work with Reed again in particular; I really liked their interactions in the triple threat a few weeks ago. The show ended with all 5 ladder match participants brawling for the title, but it was Bronson Reed to held it high to end the program.

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Trouble in Friendship Paradise

The Golden Role Models are both facing Asuka on Sunday night, but chances of them each walking out dual champs seem slim. They argued on Monday over who should face Asuka first, and this Friday we finally got our answer. After Naomi interrupted a delightfully obnoxious promo from Banks and Bayley, she offered to face both women tonight. Corey Graves, in a rare moment of applying more brain power to thinking instead of producing bad tweets, suggested a beat the clock challenge, where the loser had to go first on Sunday. Naomi was on fire here, coming in hot with a drop kick to both women, before her match with Sasha officially started. Sasha tried to end things with some early slams, but Naomi kicked out. Naomi put on the body scissors and rolled Banks around the ring, but couldn’t get a pin either. Naomi tried for some high flying but was caught and tapped to the Bank Statement at 3:39. Bayley tried to get a headstart with a cheap shot on Naomi, but the glowing legend has had plenty of experience in 4 minute matches on SmackDown, and wasn’t out just yet. She hit Bayley with the Rear View to get the pin, much to the delight of Sasha at ringside. Asuka came out to declare herself Empress of Every Title, which doesn’t roll off the tongue at all, and take out both Banks and Bayley. I would have preferred to see Naomi in something a lot longer, but at least she got a win here. Some dissension between Banks and Bayley really works, and suggests they might not be there to cover for each other on Sunday. Asuka’s really looking like she might walk out with at least one of those belts this weekend.

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Lucha House Post-Party

Kalisto made a surprise return last week in his best white Power Ranger gear to help Gran Metalik against Shinsuke Nakamura. This week, Metalik and Lince Dorado faced the Artist Collective for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships. A match that probably should have happened on Sunday, this was a fun tag bout with good stuff from both teams. I love Cesaro and Nakamura together, I just wish they’d get more focus on SD. They attacked the faces backstage before the match, getting an early start and using some quick tags. Metalik got the brunt of it before he was able to tag in Dorado, who took out both Cesaro and Nakamura. He hit the triple moonsaults on Shinsuke and almost got the win, but Cesaro broke it up at the last second. They went back and forth until Cesaro rolled through with a Sunset Flip for the 3 count to retain. Post match, Cesaro and Nakamura sauntered off to probably take some hot Insta photos, while Dorado and Kalisto argued in the ring. Metalik tried to keep them apart, but Dorado shoved Kalisto down. A Lucha House breakup would be a bummer, given that the group has never been given a really fair shake in the tag division, but a feud between Dorado and Kalisto could be a lot of fun, and would certainly lead to some great matches.

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Charismatic Enigma Gets Assist From Medical Equipment

Retribution attacked Braun Strowman to open Friday’s show, which honestly didn’t seem like that big of a deal, because this is the same dude who threw his former friend like five feet in the air last week. He kind of sucks. The SmackDown locker room came out to defend him anyway, leading to a bunch of chaos, like a free Old Navy sale on black hoodies. In the confusion, AJ Styles went after Jeff Hardy’s knee, taking Hardy out with a sharp kick and cheating out to the camera so we could see it as clearly as possible. Jeff insisted on competing in the IC title match that night anyway, because there’s not a single babyface in wrestling who prioritizes their health, even if they’re in their 40s and have been jumping off of things for two decades. Styles dominated Hardy for most of the match, taking advantage of the injured knee and keeping him down. Jeff tried to climb the turnbuckles and couldn’t make it; Styles caught him in the calf crusher. Jeff made it to the ropes, so Styles instead tried to go for the Styles Clash, but Hardy managed to hit him with his knee brace and countered into Twist of Fate. He went up top for the Swanton Bomb to get the pin and win the title. This was a fine match, and Hardy as IC champ right now has a lot of possibilities, but it seems kind of weird to air this title match tonight instead of at SummerSlam. Is the card really that packed? We couldn’t shave a few minutes off of Strowman and the Fiend having another swamp stare down? It’s a Strowman match, it doesn’t need to go more than six minutes.

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Man Gets Mean Again

205 Live was taped before SmackDown this week, which explains why the virtual crowd looks slightly more excited. The ThunderDome experience must wear off pretty quickly, because they looked dead inside by the time Strowman was fighting Retribution. Our main event this week once again featured Jake Atlas, which is exactly what he deserves. He went one-on-one with Tony Nese in a pretty evenly matched showing, with both men able to use their high-flying and more aggressive style. Nese was distracted by praise from Drew Gulak on commentary, allowing Atlas to get a surprise roll up and the win. Nese’s sudden turn back to a heel again after trying to be Isaiah Swerve Scott’s best friend is kind of frustrating, but he’s been such a solid backbone of the division, I think they kind of just try to make him fit whatever position’s open. Post-match, Nese beat Atlas down and yelled that 205 Live was nothing without him.