WWE television this week was a startling display of opposites. On the one hand, Raw and Smackdown featured some real peaks in dumb, delightful entertainment. (Was Stone Cold saying he did drugs in South Africa?) On the other, 205 Live and NXT both had solid episodes full of excellent wrestling and compelling storylines. I was torn between talking about the great wrestling and talking about all the goofy garbage, but then I remembered that this is pro wrestling! It’s all about excess! Let’s do both! (I usually do my lists in sevens, but 4 list items x 2 discussion points per item = 8 total, so you got an extra this week. That’s called math, baby!)
1. Velveteen Dream on NXT // Seth Rollins on Raw
As a very new wrestling fan (three years in August!), Monday’s Raw Reunion was obviously not supposed to be for me. Still, I enjoy watching a bunch of big old muscle men doing poses in jeans. (Except Scott Hall. Scott Hall looked miserable.) The segment with Seth Rollins and Degeneration-X/The Kliq was painful, but the fun kind of painful. Like the rollerskating party I went to in high school where my friend’s dad panicked wishing him happy birthday and started singing “Proud Mary” into the microphone.
Did I enjoy Seth Rollins looking on awkwardly while being excluded from the big denim dad hug? God yes. But I don’t think it conveyed quite what they were hoping for. If anything, seeing a handsome little workrate guy who struggles to be likable next to a hunky behemoth like Kevin Nash made me wonder what would have happened to Seth Rollins back in the 90s.
Conversely, Velveteen Dream doing another Hulk Hogan tribute outfit didn’t distract from his segment with Roderick Strong and Pete Dunne. Did referencing Hulk Hogan make him seem cooler? I mean, no. Of course not. But the look itself was solid, even down to the polyester satin gloves. This is a much less corny way for a wrestler to connect with the past. But also, considering Hogan’s whole racist disgrace thing, it might actually be even more cringe-inducing than Seth Rollins’ squeaky mouse voice pronouncing that he and his fifteen dads have two words for us all.
2. Samoa Joe vs Roman Reigns // Keith Lee vs Damien Priest
Two matches, each between one stocky athletic guy and one dude with wet hair— what was the difference? Lee and Priest’s match was arguably cooler. (Its spots were at least more exciting.) But Damien Priest’s character doesn’t really make much sense to me. Like is he a spooky solemn goth or a party guy? What’s the deal with the archery? Why is he so boring? I know Keith Lee’s character well, but all NXT is conveying to me is sadness and frustration, which is hard to watch.
In all the mess of nostalgia and shenanigans that was Monday’s Raw Reunion, I ended up really enjoying Samoa Joe’s match with Roman Reigns. Even languishing in the midcard on a show clogged by returning old men, Joe was able to make his character make sense. His chemistry with Reigns felt effortlessly captivating in a way that makes me want to see more, not less.
3. Finn Bálor challenges Bray Wyatt // Candice Lerae jumps Io Shirai
There are a lot of ways a wrestler can go about telling another wrestler they want to fight. There’s Twitter, interrupting each other’s promos, coming out to ominously watch their match, and even the classic “do u want 2 fite me? circle yes or no.” Bálor and Wyatt have been doing a combination of a few things, with Wyatt attacking Bálor on last week’s Raw, and then Mick Foley this week. But nothing says “let’s fight” like talking about puppets into a microphone until your desired opponent sends you a mini episode of his spooky kids’ show. Remember that Bálor vs Wyatt was originally set for TLC 2017? This has been a slow burn romance indeed.
For better or for worse, NXT doesn’t really mess with that kind of super long-term, high-concept, multimedia storytelling. Io Shirai turned on Candice Lerae last month, so Lerae interrupted Shirai’s match on NXT to beat her up. Simple, direct, and, for better or for worse, completely without puppets.
4. 24/7 Championship Tomfoolery // Drew Gulak vs Isaiah Scott
Last but not least are my two favorite things all week. It doesn’t get more contrasting than the WWE 24/7 Championship’s 9 different title changes on Raw and the beautiful wrestling that Drew Gulak and Isaiah “Swerve” Scott put on display in the main event of 205 Live. And you know what? Both things are great. Kelly Kelly became the first woman to hold the 24/7 Championship by kicking Gerald Brisco, the second very old man to hold the 24/7 Championship, in the balls. Alundra Blayze, the third female 24/7 Champion, became the first champion to sell the title to the third ever very old man 24/7 Champion, Ted DiBiase. By the end of the show, R-Truth had regained the championship. Someone at WWE is clearly taking notes from DDT, because this is exactly how to book a 24/7 comedy title.
The 24/7 Championship’s tonal opposite has to be Cruiserweight Champion Drew Gulak. (Which is a funny thing to say about the man who successfully defended a different 24/7 Championship against antisemitism itself.) Gulak’s first match back on 205 Live against NXT newcomer Isaiah Scott was a tense, wonderfully wrestled battle that just made me grateful for the show’s existence. Gulak has had quite a few foils in his time in the Cruiserweight division, but no one has gotten me more invested more quickly than Scott, whose Pacific Northwest Cool Guy energy is perfectly antithetical to Gulak’s current Serious Philly Shooter schtick. I mean, the dude wore a quartz necklace for the entire match!
I’m really hoping to see more of the two of them together down the line, but until then… Maybe Chad Gable can face Gulak at Summerslam? Please? For me?