For the first time in 16 months, WWE talent performed in front of real people for a weekly show. What a time to be alive. While this crowd arguably would have clapped for anything, they got a pretty fun show on Friday night. A huge pop for Edge, a 30 second McMahon appearance, and a surprise return. On the flip side, Raw retired the ThunderDome with a potential break-up of the best duo they’ve had over the past two years, and the destruction of lots of leather.
Ahead of his title match on Sunday, Bobby Lashley took on my favorite YouTuber Xavier Woods in Raw’s opening match. Lashley was hyped up backstage by MVP and their hot friends, but all the popping bottles and dancing in VIP lounges couldn’t help him tonight. Lashley started off manhandling Woods, but the New Day brethren managed to chop him down at the knee. Again, the champ’s power just proved too much as he slammed Woods into the steps. Woods wiped out Lashley with a dive to the outside, much to Kofi’s delight, and landed a missile dropkick from the top rope. The women sitting on plush couches on the ramp looked moderately concerned until Lashley powered out of a crossface. Bobby sent Woods into the ring post to lay him out, then hit another spear in the ring for extra damage. Xavier seemed out for the count, but a sudden roll up pinned the champ for three. Kofi and Xavier celebrated and potentially sought help for a concussion, but Lashley looked like he was reconsidering his entire life. He sadly walked past the hot women section and left to go sit in silence and do some deep thinking.
This reflective period lead him back to the VIP lounge later in the night to crush MVP’s dreams even more. Wearing a disheveled suit and a concerned expression, Lashley snatched the mic from MVP and asked that this zone be free of beautiful ladies as he sent their friends to the back. He admitted that Kofi was right about Lashley becoming soft alongside MVP, which lead to the greatest humiliation of losing to a man under 5’10”. He tore apart the lounge set and glared at MVP, before addressing Kingston and promising to rip him apart. This was the best we’ve seen of Lashley arguably since he became champion. He’s always been impressive in the ring, but giving him this wilder, on edge persona takes it up a notch. The Lashley who doesn’t even trust MVP is a very dangerous man indeed.
Florida Mechanic Gets Big Pay Day
Last week, Jinder Mahal announced he was mad at Drew McIntyre for not texting him back in a timely fashion (understandable), and for using “2” instead of “too” (very understandable). This naturally lead to a wrestling match between the two, with McIntyre getting the win, but Mahal making off with the giant sword. Excellent continuity from that time he stole Randy Orton’s WWE title belt in 2017. Drew was out for revenge this week, refusing to meet Mahal in the ring and instead appearing backstage next to the Maharaja’s motorcycle. If I were a wrestler, I probably would stop bringing prized possessions like expensive bikes and my family members to wrestling shows.
Jinder claimed he had already wrecked the sword, but McIntyre said he had more brain cells than the average baby face, and the sword he touted on Raw was a fake. He showed Mahal the real one, then used it to wreck the bike as Jinder, Shanky, and Veer looked on in horror. Maybe Jinder will pick up some tips and bring in a fake motorcycle next week. I wasn’t a wrestling fan for the 3MB era, so this maybe doesn’t hit quite so hard for me, but it’s not a terrible feud. I don’t see Drew picking up the briefcase this Sunday, so I’m sure we’ll squeeze another few weeks out of this.
Rhea Ripley and Charlotte Flair both faked injuries last Monday, allowing them to bring crutches to a wrestling fight. Things ended with Ripley getting the better of Flair, which must sting worse than watching Rhea sell an injury during her entrance stomp. Ripley faced Natalya this week; as tag champion, Natalya’s naturally just kind of being used to put over whoever needs it this week. Some back and forth mat work until Rhea tried to use her power advantage to scoop Natalya up. She rolled through for a pin attempt, but Ripley got out. We got another series of reversals and barely one counts, ending with a headbutt to Natalya. Nattie went for the Sharpshooter, but Ripley kicked her to the outside. She went for a drop kick but hit Tamina instead, allowing Natalya to get a clothesline. A good chunk of this match took place during the commercial break, which is a rough reminder of how much time this company wants to give their women’s champ.
Natalya got a close count after bouncing Rhea off the ring post and almost scored a tap out with the Sharpshooter, but Ripley reversed to send her into the turnbuckle. She landed a pele kick and the Riptide to score the win. Charlotte immediately attacked with a chop block and got Ripley in the Figure Four, hanging off the apron to try and pop that knee out of the socket. This was honestly a mediocre match for a mediocre storyline, but I will say I don’t know who’s more likely to win on Sunday. I wouldn’t be shocked to see WWE pull the trigger on another Flair title run, particularly with how underwhelming Ripley has been as champion.
Make New Friends, Beat Up the Old
Diamond Mine’s Tyler Rust was in action Wednesday against Bobby Fish in a match that somehow lasted all of three minutes. A true shame, given how much potential the new stable should have in NXT, and how well these guys seemed to work together. Fish had momentum with a suplex into the ropes, but a distraction from his former pal, Roderick Strong, opened the door for Rust to land a buzzsaw kick and win. Suzuki, Strong, and Bivens all surrounded Fish in the ring, as the crowd chanted “that was trash.” Given the high hopes I personally have for the new faction, I don’t disagree with them. Kushida came to chase the heels off, but even the inclusion of the Time Splitter couldn’t keep this from feeling flat. It’s a shame this match was treated as an afterthought, because a longer bout between the two would have sold this much better. Rust’s win over Fish should feel significant, instead of like a concession prize. Regardless, Strong vs Kushida is going to rock no matter the circumstances.
Speaking of WWE making puzzling decisions, they returned another surprise Raw star to NXT this week. During a match between Sarray and Gigi Dolan, we got an appearance from Mandy Rose, who stood on the ramp watching. While I, too, would want to be close to Sarray in action, Rose’s move back to NXT feels curious. She’s teamed with Dana Brooke for a while now, and the two were recently feuding with Tamina and Natalya for the women’s tag belts. But who needs week to week continuity? Rose is a solid competitor who never quite got the chance to shine on the main roster—unless you count getting a hair cut on live TV. It’ll be interesting to see what might be in store for her on NXT.
Fans Rejoice as Man Choked in Front of Live Audience Once Again
WWE celebrated the end of all of our problems, the defeat of the virus, and the return of fans by kicking SmackDown off with a six man tag. Roman and the Usos took on the Mysterios and Edge, with everyone getting an incredible reception from the crowd. Everyone except the Uso’s, who got jobber entrances. We can’t all be 11 time world champions, but it would have been nice to hear that banger anyway. Jey jumped Edge from behind to start the match, but the Rated R Superstar regained control and brought in Dom. This was Dominik’s first match in front of fans, which is kind of crazy to think about. A double team from Rey and Edge took down Jimmy, but Uso kicked out. The heels gained momentum as Roman tagged in and went after Dominik, who he once tossed over the ropes with one arm like he was an empty soda can. A powerbomb into the table wiped out Mysterio again, but we came back from commercial to watch Edge clear house with the fury of a man who was on the Syfy channel for five years. Rey went for a 619 on Jey, but Roman caught Mysterio and rammed him into the apron. Edge landed a spear on Reigns on the outside, as Jey rolled up Rey and scored the win with a handful of tights. Mysterio was saved from an Uso attack by a chair wielding Edge, but Roman caught him with a Superman Punch. Reigns broke off a piece of the chair to beat Edge at his own game, only to turn around right into a spear. Edge got the champ in the extremely kinky crossface plus chair leg in the mouth to force a tap.
The crowd would have popped for this no matter what, but for the first action in a year and a half, it was a great opener. Reigns feels like he’s the closest to losing his title that he’s ever been. Whatever the outcome on Sunday, it’ll be a fantastic match to watch.
Guerrilla Protest Interrupted
Sami Zayn came out to show fans just how rough his life had become during the ThunderDome era. He cut a promo about the great conspiracy keeping him out of the ladder match on Sunday, which allowed him to engage in the great heel wrestler pastime of insulting various states. It’s been too long since we heard some location specific insults on these shows. Sami asked for justice to be served, but was cut off by the dulcet tones of Finn Balor’s theme music. Balor’s return to the main roster isn’t entirely unexpected, as he dropped the NXT title to Karrion Kross some time ago. Finn did his whole entrance while Sami stood there dumbfounded. If someone interrupted me just to do a two minute dance to the ring, I’d be pretty peeved too. Sami tried to get the jump on Balor, but Finn laid him out with some greatest hits and ended things with the Coup de Grace. It’s nice to see Balor back on SmackDown, and putting him alongside Zayn is a very solid choice. Sami can do almost no wrong, and the conspiracy theorist in apocalypse sci-fi film fatigues schtick is still working for him.
Most Beautiful L in WWE
One of Friday night’s best moments was seeing Bianca Belair get the reception she deserves as champ. No amount of fake crowd clapping could quite do it justice, and seeing the emotion of returning to an audience play across Belair’s face made the moment so much sweeter. She faced Carmella in a title match, as promised last week by a very frazzled Sonya Deville. Mella started things off with a slap right to the face, which sent Bianca chasing her around the ring. Carmella backed Belair into the corner for some back elbows, while Michael Cole reminded us of that time James Ellsworth won the briefcase for her back in 2017. Times were really tough.
Carmella sent Bianca into the ring post and followed up by driving her into the barricade, but the champ wasn’t down for long. She hit a slam and a standing moonsault for a two count; its just very nice to hear actual people react to Belair’s incredible talent in real time. Carmella got a huricanrana off the top rope for a near fall of her own, then doubled down with a guillotine, and still Belair powered out to land a vertical suplex. A superkick on the outside very nearly got the job done for Carmella, but it was a hair whip to the stomach and the KOD that put the Princess of Staten Island away. This was arguably much better than expected, and it’s nice to see it run longer than four minutes. Whoever gets the shiny new arm candy on Sunday will be in for a real treat against Belair.
Taco Bell Triumphs
Going from a full crowd to about 40 people at the Capital Wrestling Center was a hard transition. I’d be surprised if NXT sticks around in the CWC for any longer than they need to, although some rising COVID numbers in Florida might influence that. We took a break from the Breakout Tournament for some old-fashioned cruiserweight action: Guru Raaj took on Asher Hale in the first match. Hale came in confident, but Raaj was able to land a dropkick to get the advantage. They went back and forth for a while, a big DDT from Hale almost keeping Raaj down, but neither man seemed to be in control for very long. Hale wanted another suplex, but Raaj countered into a backslide to keep him down for three. Our main event was YA novel love interest Ari Sterling vs the undefeated Grayson Waller. The crowd seemed a lot more into this one, which featured a good mix of mat work and high flying. Waller tried to target Sterling’s arm throughout, but his downfall came after a Frankensteiner and a slam from Ari, handing him his first 205 loss.