Covid numbers keep rising, rising, rising, and WWE keeps booking shows. While we can all agree wrestling with an audience is vastly superior to wrestling with a bunch of screens in the stands, lax mask mandates and close contact makes me just a bit anxious to watch Nikki celebrate in a full crowd. At least we’ve got the Doctor of Thuganomics here to take our mind off the state of the world.
Villain Origin Story
After a quick cash-in last week, the caped crusader Nikki A.S.H made her first appearance as Raw Women’s Champion. She cut a run of the mill baby face promo about finding confidence in who she really was, achieving her goals, and changing the women’s division. Nikki’s so passionate about the superhero persona and it really comes across in just how thrilled she is to fill Mighty Molly’s tights. It’s a gimmick for the young kids, so I can’t complain too much about it. She was, unsurprisingly, interrupted by Charlotte, who’s kind of the Penguin figure in this story. Flair took some easy shots at the whole superhero thing, and was quickly joined by Rhea Ripley. Ripley’s a face now too, but she also can’t get behind anyone who doesn’t have studded gear. She said she deserved the rematch, even though she had also just lost her title 8 days ago. The hardest working talent in the business, Adam Pearce and Sonya Deville, came out to announce a Triple Threat for SummerSlam. I can’t say I’m excited for another rendition of Ripley and Flair, but at least Nikki will break things up.
This led to Charlotte challenging the new champ later in the night; Flair simply wasn’t feeling the power as she went right after Nikki’s mask, threatening to reveal her secret identity to all of Kansas City. She used the ropes to stomp on Nikki, keeping the champ on the mat. Nikki struggled to make a comeback, but she finally backed Flair into the corner. She took down the Queen with a head scissors and a drop kick, but we came back from commercial to find Charlotte in control again. Charlotte blocked a Sunset Flip and laid in with chops, accompanied by the woo of a crowd who had not wooed in many months. Nikki nailed a crossbody off the top, but Charlotte reversed into a pin to score a win. Post-match, Nikki took inspiration from Raws of the past and offered an immediate rematch for the following week. Charlotte accepted, then nailed Nikki with a big boot and sent her to the outside, where she could suffer some chops in front of a young fan. While it’s a bummer to see Nikki lose right away, this was a fine match that set up their SummerSlam match. Flair is the honestly best rival for superhero Nikki; she’s at the top of her game when she can be a cartoon villain.
Remember when The Hurt Business traded in Benjamin and Alexander for a group of hot women to hang with instead? Shelton and Cedric sure do. MVP and Lashley came out on Monday to announce that they’d never watched Santa’s Slay and they had no interest in even responding to Goldberg’s challenge for SummerSlam. They were soon interrupted by Alexander, who was still sore about the whole Hurt Business betrayal, and Benjamin, who had the same beef. What a coincidence. Lashley offered to deal out dual beatings, and we had ourselves a handicap match.
Benjamin and Alexander were feuding last month or maybe three months ago, and they put on some bangers in that time. Unfortunately, this wasn’t given the same treatment; the numbers game briefly gave the Hurt Business castoffs an advantage, but it didn’t take long for Lashley to regain control. Inspired by his personal hero, he hit a spear and a jackhammer on a Benjamin. He finished things off with a Dominator to Cedric, stacking him on top of Shelton for the win. It’s a cold night for Benjamin and Alexander, but just another day at the office for Lashley, who is looking a dominant as we’ve seen him over the past year.
Bask in His Fog Machines
Last week, Keith Lee returned to Raw after a 7 month hiatus to challenge Bobby Lashley. One might hope this meant big things were in store for him after going toe to toe with the champ. Unfortunately, Raw took “big things” to mean Karrion Kross. The two faced off on Monday, and while I normally advocate for big dudes tossing each other around, this was not quite all I hoped for. Lee was able to get a slam early on, but Kross matched him with one of his own on the outside. Kross hit another suplex in the ring, as commentary reminded us how badly Hardy embarrassed him last week. I do like being reminded of Karrion Kross losing a dude who wears arm sleeves in 2021. Lee powered out of a headlock and dropped Kross with a shoulder tackle, but couldn’t get the Spirit Bomb. Another suplex from Kross, a shot to the head, and the Kross Jacket lead to a tap out. This wasn’t bad; we’ve seen better between the two, but this isn’t an NXT main event so I forgive them for not going a full 45 minutes. It’s frustrating to see Lee lose again so soon after returning, but with Hardy out for a few weeks after testing positive, we could get a little resurgence of Lee and Kross’ NXT feud.
One Last Kick
In real life, friendship lasts forever and your closest acquaintances would never betray you for money or power. It may shock you to know this, but wrestling does not abide by the same rules. There are few things NXT seems to love more than a backstabbing, and they served up a fresh one Tuesday night. After her victory over Xia Li last week, Raquel Gonzalez and BFF Dakota Kai were looking to celebrate. Raquel cut a promo about crushing the competition, including Tian Sha, and then took the hint from a new Raw superstar and asked who was next to step up. Kai backed her up, calling Gonzalez “the most dominant woman in NXT history.” She challenged someone to come out and face the champ, but when no one appeared, Dakota promised that as long as she had Raquel’s back, she would stay a champion. And then, with some kiwi flair, she delivered a big kick to a celebrating Gonzalez. She grabbed the title and made her intentions as clear as the beads on the friendship bracelets the two had once made for each other.
This is the best move here for both women; Kai has been on the back burner for a long time playing sidekick to Gonzalez, whose reign has been kind of meh at best. She and Kai should have a very solid feud, with Dakota posing the first real threat to Raquel since winning the belt. We might see a new champ at the next TakeOver.
Me a Wrestling Contract Needing a Lot Now
WWE misses 2009 just as much as the rest of us, if not even more, as evidenced by another trash talking Cena promo to start SmackDown this Friday night. The leader of the free world again called out Roman Reigns, who has honestly made it pretty clear he’s not interested in going toe to toe on Vin Diesel trivia. Echoing Roman’s words from last week, he ensured the audience that if anyone could make missionary sex exciting, he was the man for the job. Baron Corbin came out to commiserate that his sex life had actually gone down the toilet, and his wife had taken their kids. He asked for a part in The Suicide Squad sequel, which I assume will be titled The Suicide Squad Movie, but Cena couldn’t promise anything. Some insults from Corbin and John hit him with an Attitude Adjustment. Corbin’s fall from grace has actually been one of the more interesting character changes in WWE, but it’s unclear whether we’re supposed to sympathize with him or enjoy seeing him be in debt and also get beat up every week.
Later in the night, Roman and Finn Balor held their Cena-less contract signing. Reigns tried to butter the Irishman up by talking about how he’d rather hang with the Prince instead of the Franchise, but Balor wasn’t having it. Reigns signed on his dotted line, but before Finn could complete his signature, Baron Corbin attacked from behind. He dispatched of Balor and was about to sign his own name, before Cena followed in the former king’s footsteps. He signed a big JC, which somehow sends him to SummerSlam, even though the rest of the paperwork says Finn Balor. Adam Pearce cared as much about honoring a contract as Disney does these days, and confirmed to a baffled Paul Heyman that this means Cena is in the match. We knew it was coming, but this was a kind of bizarre was to get to it.
For the first time since pirate WrestleMania, we were treated to the exquisite sound of Michale Cole informing us what time it is. Sasha Banks returned to save her Mania opponent from a beat down at the hands of Zelina Vega and Carmella. Both women had challenged Belair for title shots, even though we just saw Carmella lose to Bianca twice, and Vega hasn’t won a match since returning to WWE. Bianca accepted Zelina’s challenge anyway, but the heels weren’t willing to wait. They jumped Belair and used the numbers advantage to keep her down, until Banks made a huge return and saved her frenemy. The two shared a beautiful baby face hug to really drive things home.
This lead to a tag match, with Belair and Banks getting the band back together. A double team from the heels almost scored an early win, but Bianca broke things up. She helped Banks land an assisted crossbody to take control. Vega briefly locked Belair in the octopus stretch, but the champ powered out and brought in Sasha again, who ended things when she got Carmella in the Bank Statement. Right after the match, Banks took one look at her smiling partner and hit her with a backstabber. She went after the champion with punches and ended things with the Bank Statement on Belair. Sasha stopped it only to pose with the title, before going back for a second Bank Statement on what remained of Bianca’s neck. It’s great to see Banks back on SD, and even better to see her go after Belair. Even if they might not hit the gravitas of their <ania match up, I certainly wouldn’t say no to another few matches between the two.
Last week, everyone and their commander wanted a piece of Mr Money in the Bank, Big E. Six men fighting the ring last week, predictably, turned into a tag match this week. Apollo Crews and the Dirty Dawgs faced E, Cesaro, and Shinsuke Nakamura in a battle of who has the better hip swivels. We started with the familiar duo of Apollo and Big E, but Ziggler and Roode helped Crews take down the powerhouse. Cesaro tagged in for a clothesline as a two count on Ziggler; Dolph went swinging, but was saved from the Sharpshooter by Roode. Dolph countered the Kinshasa into a ZigZag, but it’s 2021 and that move doesn’t put anyone away. Cesaro broke off a close count off a moonsault from Crews and everybody went buck wild hitting their moves. A guitar solo from Boogz distracted Crews from hitting a splash, until he was taken out by Commander Azeez, who earned himself an uppercut from Cesaro, who got super kicked by Ziggler. Everybody gets a little something here! Back in the ring, a Kinshasa scored the win for the good guys, and all was well. This was a fun filler match. It doesn’t do much for anyone, but it was a fine use of all these guys, and we got to hear some guitar shredding from a grown man in overalls. I have no complaints.
Drake Maverick made his 205 Live return, hearkening back to the simpler times of 2018, when all we had to worry about was if Buddy Murphy would make weight. Before Maverick and Hale in the main event, we had Jiro and Waller. Jiro and his watermelon blazer can do no wrong in my book, but this wasn’t necessarily anything to write home about. They were pretty even for much of this, until a moonsault from the Ikemen got a two count. Waller got his own near fall off a spinebuster, but it was an Ikemen Slash that sealed the deal. A very handsome win indeed. Maverick started out here with some good offense, but Hale sent him into the corner, injuring his shoulder. Hale started to work on submissions, but the CWC rallied behind the former GM as he made a comeback, ending with Sliced Bread to win. Maverick is still really fun to watch; his emotion is palpable in every match. I’d love to see more of him competing with the newer crop of 205 talent.