This was a weird week for WWE television. There was some good wrestling, but from the Sami Zayn Electric Chair segment to Daniel Bryan delivering a promo clearly expecting the crowd to loudly cheer for fracking, the vibe was decidedly cursed. It couldn’t have helped that these episodes were coming hot off the heels of AEW’s huge success with Double or Nothing on Saturday night, but wow. Fortunately, if there’s anything living in 2019 has made me good at, it’s finding joy in cursed content, right?
I will be the first to confess that there’s a lot of cognitive dissonance and mental gymnastics involved in covering WWE. The latest Talk is Jericho episode, in which Jon Moxley explains just how miserable his time in WWE was, is fresh in my mind. How do I shift back to laughing when I’m also wondering if the people whose goofy performances I’m laughing at are backstage looking up “depression symptoms”? Super Showdown (aka Attitude Era Guys’ Kingdom of Saudi Arabia State Propaganda Part III) looms over the horizon. It’s grim out here, folks!
The best we can do is support the performers we care about, call evil corporations on their bullshit, and hope for the best. With that said, let’s talk about… Brock Lesnar?
1. I love?? Brock Lesnar??? As a character???
This week’s episode of Raw was a bizarre experience, especially after watching Double or Nothing two nights before. The first hour contained almost no wrestling, and the whole episode had four actual matches in total. Here’s where it gets weirder: the main thing that anchored the episode was…Brock Lesnar’s excellent character work.
I’m just as confused as you are about this. But the fact remains that Brock Lesnar showing up to the ring at the top of the show, and then bafflingly, a second time an hour into the show, with a shit-eating grin and dancing around with his Money in the Bank briefcase like it’s a boombox gave this fever dream of an episode some cohesion. Plus, Lesnar reading his Money in the Bank contract, realizing he has a full year before he has to cash in, and hitting Paul Heyman in the head with it, is just fun to me. Brock Lesnar’s characterization absolutely embracing the fact that he doesn’t want to come to work or wrestle if he doesn’t have to is a genuine delight.
(It also inspired some pretty good edits.)
2. The 24/7 Championship is the most important title in WWE
R-Truth’s defense, and the rest of the roster’s (especially Drake Maverick) pursuit of the 24/7 Championship has continued to be a reliable source of fun. Like, did you see R-Truth’s “Old Town Road” tribute? I was crestfallen to see Truth lose his title to Elias of all people on Tuesday’s SmackDown, but very relieved that he got it back by the end of the episode. To me, the most exciting things in today’s independent wrestling scene are a perfect balance of silliness, outrageousness, and cool wrestling. (Think Joey Janela’s shows in the US or DDT in Japan.) So really, the work R-Truth and Drake Maverick are doing to establish the 24/7 Championship feels truer to the freshest, most cutting edge stuff I’m seeing in the indies than the indie-lite vibe of NXT. All hail R-Truth, 24/7 Champion! Long may he reign!
3. Sami Zayn is a tender lover
Just when I’d gotten used to the whole Usos Penitentiary thing, Monday Night Raw had to introduce a new interview segment called The Electric Chair. It works as follows: one WWE superstar enters the ring, sits down in an old timey electric chair, and answers questions from “real audience members.” Sami Zayn was the first guest, and it was excruciating. The questions were bland, but asked with a stilted awkwardness that made me embarrassed for the people asking them. The answers were blandly insulting, the most exciting of which was Sami Zayn saying that he’s a tender lover.
The interview transitioned into a main event match against Seth Rollins, which was actually quite good! Ending an episode of Raw as weird as this week’s was with a good match between two talented, charismatic performers was actually kind of a mercy. But the powerful second-hand embarrassment of The Electric Chair still haunted me. It’s still haunting me. Viscerally. My skin is crawling.
4. The Man has a friend!
Becky Lynch and Nikki Cross teamed up again on Raw this week against the IIconics. Aside from just having a “waaah, look at all this Shimmer talent and how far they’ve come” moment, I’m really into them being a team. The babyface champ’s babyface friend can be a position without much room for growth, but Nikki Cross has that great chaotic energy where she could turn on a friend without it being one of those boring clichéd “I was using you the whole time!” schticks. It would be great to see her challenge Becky for the Raw Women’s Championship in the coming months. But until then, I will continue to enjoy Becky Lynch befriending an actual little weirdo. Maybe they could go for the tag titles? They did beat the champs, after all.
5. I just think they’re neat!
Is it bad that I’m more excited about this ongoing feud between Mia Yim and Bianca Belair than I am about the NXT Women’s Championship picture? I haven’t seen two women have this kind of chemistry against each other on NXT TV in ages! I was trying to articulate what I like so much about them as rivals, but it really just comes down to them being two people I like watching separately being even better together. Their rematch on NXT this week was a perfect continuation of their first meeting. I was delighted to see Yim pick up a win, but I’m still not satisfied! I still want to see more! Give me more!
6. Drew Gulak vs Kushida
I. Am. So. Pumped. About. NXT. Right. Now. There are no words to express how excited I have been about Kushida wrestling Drew Gulak. Gulak and Kushida are two of the most technically sound, well-rounded talents in all of pro wrestling today. As far as I can tell, this was the first match they ever had together, and it’s really fascinating to watch them adjust their energy as they go. By the last few minutes, they seem to have really figured out their chemistry in a way that’s pretty astonishing for a first-time meeting. Especially in an 8 minute match! They’ve been wrestling each other regularly on NXT house shows since this was taped and I would love to see how they’ve progressed since then. (Give them a Takeover match!)
7. Firefly Fun House has found its footing
I’ve been cautiously enjoying Bray Wyatt’s Firefly Fun House segments since they started. It’s clear that whoever is working on these really cares, which will endear me to almost any piece of high concept nonsense. I am very happy to say that this week it finally really clicked. I actually really prefer the paper plate mask Wyatt opened the segment wearing to the full scary clown getup he debuted a couple of weeks ago. His exchange that followed with Abby the Witch was genuinely creepy and a little bit sad. Recontextualizing Bray Wyatt, all his stuff about fear, and even his goofy crab walk as this deluded kid’s tv host might actually end up working. If this week was any indication of what it working might look like, I really hope it does.
As much as I love a spooky clown, I wonder what would happen if they let Bray Wyatt debut the “Fiend” character in the ring as just a guy in a sweater and a paper plate mask. He might have the chops to pull it off.
Honorable Mentions: Humberto Carillo vs Jack Gallagher, Kevin Owens vs Kofi Kingston, Charlotte Flair’s pink outfit.