I won’t lie to you… I enjoyed that week off from WWE. Last Monday, instead of rushing from my car after a long workday to sit at my desk and watch Raw, I took a leisurely stroll to my neighborhood park, sat in the grass and watched the sunset. Later, when I wanted to watch some wrestling, I put on the VirtualPros mixtape playlist. Actually, I ended up watching a ton of wrestling: Uncharted Territory on Wednesday, and then New Japan, Beyond, and AAA on Sunday. I was free. I was free.
Coming back this week was… actually totally fine. WWE has a lot of really talented people, and sometimes that translates into television that is totally watchable.
1. Holy shit 205 Live
The most pleasant surprise this week was 205 Live, a show I rarely cover and don’t always watch. The incredibly talented and miserably under-utilized Chad Gable, tanned to hell and with a new haircut, debuted in the Cruiserweight Division in a banger of a match against Jack Gallagher. These two WENT FOR IT, Gable bleeding from the mouth and Gallagher covered in angry red marks for most of the match. Chad Gable, who has been charismatic and fantastic to watch even back when he was a regular Olympic athlete, might be exactly what 205 needs to shake things up and make the roster feel a little fresher, especially now that so many of their top stars are gone.
The main event, a fourway match between Drew Gulak, Akira Tozawa, Oney Lorcan, and Humberto Carrillo to determine the next challenger for Tony Nese’s Cruiserweight Championship, was also absolutely killer. The talent in 205 Live is top notch, and literally all they need to blow the main roster programming out of the water is an audience that is halfway responsive. The Sacramento crowd got as into this fourway as I’ve ever seen a crowd get into a 205 match, and every performer shone brilliantly for it. The finishes in both these matches were a little indecisive, which, while somewhat unsatisfying, does mean we are going to see more!
It is astounding to me how little the Cruiserweights need to get them on a whole other level of performance. An attentive audience and some variety in their competitors? That’s table scraps. There is no excuse for them not to be given as much on a weekly basis.
2. Io Shirai will fuck you up. Io Shirai will fuck anyone up.
This week’s NXT consisted of three matches filmed at a house show at a small arena in Maryland. The opener, Io Shirai & Candice LeRae (what a perfect team, by the way) vs the Horsewomen Marina Shafir & Jessamyn Duke, really took advantage of the change in scenery. Their shouts and grunts echoed through the arena and their brawls outside of the ring got the audience loud and hyped. The match ended in a no-contest when Shirai decided she was more interested in chasing NXT Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler around the arena to fight her than she was in finishing her tag match. The crowd chanted “let them fight” and who could blame them? Shirai looked badass.
Apparently this is leading to a Shirai-Baszler rematch in a steel cage? I can’t complain about that.
3. I think I have Stockholm Syndrome
What’s the weirdest thing that watching wrestling has done to your brain? I think for me it’s my increasing tolerance for insane looking spray tans and that I have Lacey Evans’ terrible, terrible entrance song in my head a lot of the time. Oh, yeah, also that I have McMahon Stockholm Syndrome. That’s the latest one for me, at least. Shane McMahon seems to now be the main villain on both Raw and SmackDown Live, and I’m enjoying it, even though I know it’s not good. Shane McMahon and Drew McIntyre celebrating McMahon’s dirty win in Saudi Arabia over Roman Reigns by pouring champagne into Shane’s big dumb trophy? I laughed. Shane McMahon bringing Drew McIntyre and Elias onto Miz TV? I laughed. It was bad but I laughed anyways. I legit think I have some form of Stockholm Syndrome.
4. Bayley back in NorCal? I’m not just hyphy, I’m hella hyphy
Bayley kicked off WWE’s stint in Northern California this week by simply tweeting: “HYPHY”. HYPHY, INDEED. I may be a homegrown Southern Californian, but my allegiance to my home state is strong enough to overlook regional rivalries.
The SmackDown Women’s Champion teamed up with Becky Lynch on Raw against Alexa Bliss and Lacey Evans, their respective opponents for this month’s Stomping Grounds PPV. What was truly hyphy, though, was Bayley’s singles match on Tuesday with Nikki Cross. I am as baffled as the next guy as to why Nikki Cross, whose character rose to such delightful prominence on NXT by being “crazy,” is being written as Alexa Bliss’ normal, sweet friend backstage. Still, her in-ring character is just as wacky as ever, and she and Bayley looked great together on this week’s SmackDown.
Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but Bayley’s character seems to be working the best now than it has since she was in NXT. My fingers are crossed this feud with Alexa Bliss is short-lived, though.
5. Big E is back
Big E returned to in-ring action on this week’s SmackDown with his New Day brethren Xavier Woods and WWE Champion Kofi Kingston to take on the (very confusing) team of Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and Dolph Ziggler. Ziggler unsuccessfully challenged Kingston for the Championship at last week’s Blood Money Spectacular and is now set to challenge him again later this month. The story linking Owens, Zayn and Ziggler is pretty weak, but I’m glad we will apparently get to see Ziggler take on Kingston again in a less morally reprehensible event later this month. And how good is it to see the New Day’s hip-swiveling, Twitter genius powerhouse back in the ring!? We missed you Big E!
6. Abandon all hope? Nah.
Hey, you know what’s still good? Firefly Funhouse. In fact, it keeps getting better. My mom always told me that there’s an exclusive area in heaven that you can only get to if you refrain from saying “I told you so” in life, but I’m pretty sure that’s made up. Yowie wowie! I told you so!
Bray Wyatt has never been this creepy OR this cool, not even when the Wyatt Family stuff was good. While yes, Firefly Funhouse would feel tired if it was airing on Adult Swim, it’s the freshest thing WWE has done since Southpaw Regional Wrestling. In the context of Raw and SmackDown, these vignettes are little breaths of sweet-smelling, creatively interesting air. It’s a joy to see Bray Wyatt and whoever he’s working with do something so fun and so different. Wyatt hasn’t wrestled a match in all of 2019, and I am happy to watch him continue to build this character for as long as he wants.
7. Tap! Tap! Tap!
in terms of in-ring prowess, Kushida and Drew Gulak are very similar. As I said when I talked about their first meeting, this is an ideal pairing for me. And putting them against each other in a submission match? Thank you Triple H!
Their wrestling in this week’s episode of NXT was beautiful. I have no complaints about what these two tremendously talented men did together in the ring. But was it as good as it could have been? No. While the change in venue and house show crowd were a welcome change, the camera work was funky. Frequent cutting between camera angles is fine for something like the aforementioned women’s tag match with a fifth person watching on the outside, but for a technical grapplefest between two masters? That doesn’t even leave the ring? To quote Women’s Tag Team Champion and my personal hero Billie Kay: you gotta be jokin’ me. I know and understand that Drew Gulak is needed on 205 Live. (I raved about this week’s episode, didn’t I?) Still, this deserved to be a Takeover match, with both a hot crowd and non-distracting camera work.
That said, we got not one but two Drew Gulak matches on WWE TV this week. What privilege! I’ve long been a Drew Gulak evangelist, but I haven’t had much of a chance to talk about it for Fanbyte. Well, guess what. It’s time now.
Drew Gulak is the kind of well-rounded talent that I get dizzy thinking about. His in-ring ability isn’t just incredible, he’s able to tailor and adjust it to fit his character, whether that character is a stern bad-ass, a sweet guy who loves the rules and just fell in with the wrong crowd, or an uptight buffoon with an unrivaled love of the Microsoft Office Suite. When he’s funny, he’s one of the funniest out there. When he’s serious, he has some of the most gravitas of anyone WWE has on their roster.
Drew Gulak can work with a microphone or without a microphone. He can be scary, lovable, charming, obnoxious, heartbreaking and/or ridiculous, all in a period of five minutes. (There’s even rumors he’s just as good under a mask.) If WWE needs something done, there’s a good chance Drew Gulak can do it better than just about anyone.
So, next week? Let’s go for three Drew Gulak matches.
Honorable mentions: Sami Zayn in a referee shirt, Carmella vs Sonya Deville, the 24/7 Title trapped in an elevator, Seth Rollins vs Kevin Owens, the Yolo County Tag Team Championship.