1. The Superstar Shakeup
The Superstar Shakeup, for the uninitiated, is exactly what it sounds like. Once a year, WWE’s talent roster gets “shaken up,” giving them opportunities for fresh rivalries and new starts. Raw now features AJ Styles, the Miz, the Usos, and Naomi, while Smackdown boasts the acquisitions of Roman Reigns, Elias, Bayley and Finn Bálor (with the Intercontinental Championship.) Former NXT floaters have also found homes: Aleister Black, Ricochet, Lacey Evans and EC3 on Raw, and Lars Sullivan and Heavy Machinery on Smackdown. Former Cruiserweight Champion Cedric Alexander was called up from 205 Live to the Raw roster. Former NXT Women’s Champion and inaugural Mae Young Classic winner Kairi Sane was called up from NXT to Smackdown to form a tag team with Asuka, under the managership of Paige. Finally, the current NXT Tag Team Champions seem to now be on Raw as well as NXT, which brings us to…
2. The Viking Experience
The actual biggest thing to happen on WWE television this week is that the NXT Tag Team Champions formerly known as the War Raiders are now called the Viking Experience. This must have been a pretty recent decision, since the men who are now also named Erik and Ivar (like the Pacific Northwest seafood chain, damn I would tear apart some chowder right now…) appeared on NXT TV this week in “War Raiders” t shirts.
Is “The Viking Experience” an excessively stupid name? Of course. But let’s not pretend “War Raiders” or even “War Machine” were cool or nuanced. The Viking Experience is just as cool a name as two guys pretending to be vikings in a WWE ring should have. Will the Viking Experience stand the test of time and still be funny in a year, or a decade? Let’s hope so.
The creeeeepy box bird monster vignettes were back on Raw and Smackdown this week, but joined by a new vignette in a spooooooky, scaaaaaaaary toy room that pans from a doll house to a puppet doll in a rocking chair. This is clearly some Bray Wyatt nonsense, but hey: puppets! Spooky scary puppets! Haunted dolls! The box bird monster! It’s all so much better than anything we’ve seen Bray Wyatt do in ages that I sincerely hope we just get more and more vignettes every week and none of them ever pay off.
4. Andrade vs. Finn Bálor
One of the best parts of the whole Superstar Shakeup thing is that we always get a couple of matches on Raw between wrestlers who are switching shows. Andrade was introduced to the Raw roster by having his first singles match against Finn Bálor since they were in New Japan together. Not everything enjoyable in WWE is haunted puppet dolls and goofy names— sometimes they also have awesome wrestling matches. Andrade and Bálor didn’t just put on a competitive, exciting match that both built up Andrade as a top tier talent and reminded audiences how good Bálor can be with the right opponent. It was also one of the first times in WWE history that Finn Bálor had a match against a dude who is clearly more handsome than he is!
5. Kevin Owens joined the New Day
With Big E tragically out of action due to injury, Raw and Smackdown in Montreal, and Kevin Owens in his first babyface run since the hour between his NXT debut and initial attack on Sami Zayn, the stars were aligned this week for something improbable, silly and delightful. With the help of a too-tight New Day t-shirt and unicorn horn headband, Kevin Owens was transformed into “Big O” to support WWE Champion Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods against Cesaro, Shinsuke Nakamura and Rusev.
As much as I love Kevin Owens as any kind of heel, it’s a nice treat to get to see him goof around and swivel his hips in front of his hometown crowd.
6. Kairi Sane’s had her last NXT match
Call-ups happening on live TV the two days before pre-taped episodes of NXT air can sometimes undermine NXT storylines, but Kairi Sane’s last shot at Shayna Baszler’s NXT Women’s Championship was good enough that I could pretend I didn’t know that she’s in a tag team with Asuka on Smackdown now, so she probably wouldn’t be picking up the win. This latest entry in the Kairi Sane vs Shayna Baszler feud wasn’t better than their Mae Young Classic final or their previous title matches, but it was solidly entertaining, made everyone look strong, and gave Io Shirai even more incentive to kick Shayna Baszler’s ass. (If you haven’t seen their match in Stardom from 2017, check it out. It’s my favorite thing Baszler did before signing with WWE.)
I still think that Shirai and Sane would have been a better team to introduce to the women’s tag team scene than Sane and Asuka (and that a returning Asuka would have been a much better choice to dethrone Baszler than Shirai), but if I were running NXT, I’d also probably be pretty loath to give up a talent like Io Shirai before I could really use her.
7. The Shield’s Final Fisting was announced for Sunday April 21
Dean Ambrose bid farewell to the Raw after Mania audience last week after the show, and by all accounts is really leaving the company. With Seth Rollins on Raw and Roman Reigns now on Smackdown, this really looks like it is actually, genuinely, finally it for the Shield. Their actual, legitimate, for real for real, no take backsies, not kidding this time match will be this Sunday against a team that is TBD and will air live on the WWE Network along with an Intercontinental Championship match that is also TBD.
Honorable mentions: Stephanie McMahon’s acid washed jeans, Mickie James’ #MondayNightMilf campaign, Buddy Murphy vs. Velveteen Dream, Finn Balor vs. Ali, Sami Zayn skanking