With NXT’s move to Tuesday nights, WWE has decided to shake up hump day with a variety of surprise releases to keep everybody on their toes. This week they dropped another round of talent, reportedly in the name of budget cuts. You hate to see anyone lose their job, and during a pandemic no less, but like the releases post-Mania, these seemed even more surprising than usual. Aleister Black, who had just returned to SmackDown by attacking Big E in an IC title match last Friday, was let go. Black had recently debuted a new character after seven months away in multiple vignettes, and given the set-up to a feud with Big E, it seems bizarre to drop him. Braun Strowman was arguably the greatest shocker in the list of cuts; a man who seemed to embrace the WWE style of being large and yelling in promos better than pretty much anyone else. While it’s hard to remember now, there was a time where Strowman was thoroughly over among fans as well, but despite his reputation as a company man, the fed seemed unwilling to give him that big run until the appeal had long worn off. Still, he had just competed in a WWE title match last month, so you have to wonder: what happened?
Getting into WWE’s mishandling of talents like Black, Ruby Riot, and Buddy Murphy would be a whole thing, but I have no doubt they will find employment once their no-compete is up. And who knows, maybe the train sound effects will be coming to an arena near you this fall. In the meantime, we still have a week’s worth of WWE to slog through. We’re three weeks away from Hell in a Cell, so you know what that means: Virtually nothing is going to happen.
Cross Counts Down
Monday night kicked off with the return of The Miz, announcing that not even zombies can keep him from hosting a talk show in the middle of a wrestling ring. John Morrison was wearing a garlic necklace to keep the creepers at bay, which, admittedly, sent me. Miz told us he was injured during his undead lumberjack extended promo for the new Snyder film, but he made it back this week to host his second favorite icy blonde and the Raw women’s champ. Charlotte and Ripley trash talked each other until long time watcher first time guest Nikki Cross interrupted. Nikki suggested that she challenge the winner of the HiaC match, but Charlotte wasn’t on board. The Scot then pivoted to another Beat the Clock challenge, where if she won, she would earn the first shot at whoever walked out of the cell.
Cross tried to avoid the Queen early, sliding in and out of the ring. Charlotte chased her down and ran into Ripley, before finally getting her hands on Cross in the ring. Nikki landed a Tornado DDT and a dropkick, preventing Charlotte from getting the Figure Four and outlasting the clock. Cross is a nice addition to this feud; it would be nice to see her used for more than humiliating both Charlotte and Ripley, but I’ll take what they give me.
Taking One for the Team
The Raw Tag Team Champions defended their titles against Elias and Jaxson Ryker on Monday; it’s a wild world when AJ Styles is not the most conservative person in a match. Elias jumped Styles from behind to start, but Ryker tagged himself in. Styles yanked Elias off the apron and took control with a sliding drop kick to both men. Ryker hit some clotheslines to make a comeback while Omos got mad on the outside. Both men knocked each other down and Ryker went for the tag, but Elias jumped out of the way and left him to face the colossus alone. As a man who is also on Twitter, Omos rightfully demolished Ryker and brought in Styles to finish things off with a Phenomenal Forearm. Elias and Ryker’s split has no weight to it whatsoever, but I guess they finally realized people just weren’t going to get behind Ryker. Ever. Elias is an act that works no matter what they give him, and Styles and Omos’ championship reign should live on for a while. At least I can rest easy knowing the next time I admire Elias’ arms, I won’t have to mentally block out the 250 lbs next to him.
After 2.5 Hours, Wrestling Show Finally Gets Good
Raw heard everyone’s repeated criticisms and delivered a mediocre episode with a banging main event, proving that even if you do nothing for him, Kofi Kingston will make anything gold. A Trust Fall to the outside knocked out McIntyre, but the sword wielding Scotsman used his power to land a vertical suplex. Lashley, MVP, and more of their good looking friends watched from backstage, barred from ringside. Every time Drew seemed to have it in hand, Kofi managed to come back. An SOS scored a two count, and McIntyre launched Kingston into the barricade in retaliation. The Futureshock DDT couldn’t get the job done; they went back and forth on the top rope until Drew tossed Kofi over his head. Kingston countered the Claymore with Trouble in Paradise, but still McIntyre grabbed the rope. Kingston climbed up top, but got caught on the way down with a Claymore for McIntyre to win.
This was very evenly matched, which is more than I expected. Both guys looked strong as hell, especially with Kofi able to match McIntyre at every turn. There were a few moments where it really seemed he might do it, but Drew’s victory was the expected outcome. Still, as long as Kingston is treated like the incredible star he is, I’ll call it a win. McIntyre and Lashley one final time (let’s hope) inside the cell will be more than solid.
NXT started thirsty Tuesday with their triple threat to determine the #1 contender to Karrion Kross’ NXT Championship. Newly dethroned Johnny Gargano went it alone, sending Austin Theory to the back before the match started. O’Reilly went directly for Dunne at the bell, but Johnny interjected himself, only to get thrown to the outside. Kyle and Johnny traded submissions for a minute, before Dunne, not to be left out, got Gargano in a surfboard. Some creepy finger stuff, then Kyle joined the party again and went after both guys. High flying from Gargano, knee strikes from Kyle, and bone twisting from Pete, and we were at a standstill. Pete almost choked out O’Reilly, but the hold was broken by Gargano, who got the Brit in the Gargano Escape. More finger action to break the hold and all three guys ended up on the outside, only to be attacked by Adam Cole, bay bay!
Cole swung a chair at all competitors, finishing with a final shot to O’Reilly before letting Regal run him out of the building. Later in the night, he cut a promo about how he should be the one to challenge Kross, which brought out the spooky big man himself. Cole physically wrecked Kross when he pointed out that the champ needs a black and white filter and a fog machine to get over, while Cole just needs to wrestle. I can’t see any lies there. Cole’s return to NXT is very welcome; he has obvious history with all triple threat contenders, and it makes sense for him to insert himself here. The Triple Threat was very good, if a bit long, before the DQ finish, but this helps protect all three guys. Although, if I’m being honest, all I want to see now is a Last Shot to Kross’ shiny head.
With a Little Help From My Military Commander
Commander Aziz was banned from ringside after his interference in last week’s IC title bout, which I guess we’re pretending was the finish to that match, now that Aleister Black is out of the picture. Somehow, Aziz didn’t listen to the rules and still jumped Owens before the match backstage, running a production box into his ribs and softening him up for Crews. This lead to Apollo dominating early on, focusing again on the midsection as he dropped him on the apron. After being thrown about on the outside, Owens refused to quit and hit a suplex on the champ, finally getting some offense. He went for a swanton, but Crews got the knees up to crack that back. A superkick and a Pop Up Powerbomb earned a very close two count, but a Death Valley Driver on the apron closed things out and allowed Crews to retain. Apollo and Aziz celebrated on the ramp, while Sami Zayn ran down and delivered a Helluva Kick to his forever frenemy. I’ll never complain about keeping a Zayn/Owens feud going, but Zayn still hanging around the IC title is beginning to feel just a little old. Maybe we could see some new challengers for Crews mix it up in the near future.
Bianca Belair came out Friday night to talk about just how sore of a loser Bayley has been lately. She reminded us of Bayley’s failure to capture the title at Backlash, and pointed out that the WWE Universe wasn’t laughing with the former champ, they were laughing at her. Belair talked about being undermined and undervalued for her whole career, and she wasn’t about to let anyone disrespect her now. She challenged Bayley to a rematch at Hell in a Cell, and the Role Model popped up on the tron to accept. Coming from a room decorated like your average reply guy’s basement, Bayley promised she would leave HiaC laughing. She then used powers borrowed from her friend the Fiend to project her feed all over the ThunderDome and cackle at Bianca in harmony. This was telegraphed weeks ago, but it’ll be a good match. Heel Bayley continues to kill it in everything she does, and Belair is among the very best working today. I’d watch them wrestle a hundred more times.
Wrestling Family Wrestles Other Wrestling Family
Roman Reigns busted out the tracksuit once more to start off SmackDown on Friday, naturally alongside Paul Heyman. He called out the Usos for going into business for themselves in asking for a tag title match, then demanded said match happen right then. Jimmy refused to acknowledge his cousin alongside his brother, but cut a promo about making the family proud when they destroyed the Mysterios tonight. Nobody can just have a nice time with their relatives in pro wrestling, huh?
Dominik and Jimmy kicked things off, but Rey tagged in as he and Dom hit a double team. Jey hit a back breaker on the Mysterio patriarch, but couldn’t keep him down for the count. The Usos continued to stay on top of Rey, isolating him in their corner and stomping away. Jey sent him into the commentary table with a Samoan Drop, and followed up with what Pat McAfee called “an absolute ass kicking.” Finally, Dom got the tag and dropped both brothers, getting a two count off a DDT. The Usos wanted a double superkick, but Dominik ducked and sent them over the ropes to the outside. Jimmy recovered to land a second superkick attempt, then went up top for a splash. Dominik got his knees up and rolled Uso up for the win, but Jimmy seemed to get his shoulder up before the three count just out of the ref’s view, leading to hot controversy.
There’s nothing this company loves more than a rematch, so Adam Pearce and Sonya Deville decided they needed to fill out the whole two hours and re-booked the tag titles for the main event. Keep in mind, we had just seen this match 60 odd minutes ago. The Usos came out aggressive, this time isolating Dom from his loving father. Rey came in and got Jimmy in a 619, but as Dominik climbed up top for the splash, Reigns interrupted. A spear to Rey and Roman read his cousin’s the riot act for failing not once, but twice tonight. He wrecked the Mysterios on the outside with the stairs while the Usos looked on, finally ending with a Guillotine on Dom. Jimmy tried to call Roman off, but a furious Reigns prevented Jey from leaving with his brother, before he went back to punish Dominik even more as the show faded out. Reigns is a bad man, Jey is a sad man, and Jimmy is very confused. What a tangled web we weave.
Retro is Thriving
The cruiserweight belt hasn’t been seen on the cruiserweight show in some time, but nobody seems all that concerned. 205 exists in this weird, nebulous place where wins on the purple brand sometimes mean opportunities on NXT and sometimes they mean you get a handshake and a Mickey pop. This week, commentary seemed to zero in on the idea that August Grey could challenge for Kushida’s title, which is a fair assumption given the past few months on 205, if we’re letting that influence anything. Grey has had victories over OGs Tony Nese and Ariya Daivari, who he faced again on 205 this week. Daivari was able to get a hot start, but Grey quickly caught up. The OG sent him into the announce table and still August fought back, getting out of the Camel Clutch to land a clothesline. On the outside, he ran Daivari into the plexiglass, but got hit with a DDT in the ring. Daivari escaped a single leg crab, but the Unprettier finished things off for Grey, who possibly gets a chance at the CW title in the eventual future. Maybe.