Fans have been back for 14 days, and it’s incredible to see how much the shows seemed to have improve. Quality wise, Raw is insistent on showing the same four matches every week, but at least now we get to hear real people shouting “What?” instead of piped in boos during MVP and Lashley’s entrance. Meanwhile, SmackDown aired from two incredibly different locations this week: Cleveland, OH, and the Rolling Loud festival in Miami. You know the world is desperately trying to get back to normal with WWE attempting to invade all other forms of pop culture.
Clown Destroyer Returns
Bobby Lashley appeared on Raw on the heels of absolutely destroying Kofi at Money in the Bank to a surprisingly positive crowd reaction. MVP insulted the Cowboys to get the Dallas audience good and peeved, before Lashley offered an open challenge to anybody feeling like they could spice up their Monday. Some generic video game music hit, and it turned out to be the Limitless One himself: Keith Lee. Lee has been absent from Raw for over six months now, and it’s a very welcome sight to see him back. Lee was able to get some power moves in early, driving Lashley into the turnbuckle. He took the champ down with a crossbody, but couldn’t get a Spirit Bomb. Lashley took over with strikes in the corner, right in front of a beaming MVP. Lashley got Lee up on his shoulders, but Keith escaped to slam him into the ring post. A distraction from MVP let Lashley hit a spear on the outside and a second in the ring finished the job. A noble effort from Lee, but we knew how this was playing out. Still great to see him return, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him and Lashley play this one out again.
Not to be outdone by 13,000 adults yelling about John Cena, WWE brought out another star return in the form of everyone’s favorite goalie: Goldberg. Bill marched to the ring looking like Christopher Meloni on the set of Organized Crime season two, and declared he was next. Wrestling news is so in one ear and out the other that I had forgotten Goldberg’s return was leaked last week, but even being in the know shouldn’t stop the pop those sparklers get. Even after all this time, I get a kick out of seeing Goldberg. And putting him against someone like Lashley, who can put out a great performance in two minutes or twenty, is the best possible option.
No More Doomsday
Karrion Kross debuted on Main Event a few weeks ago, accompanied by the NXT belt but sadly sans Scarlett. Given that his whole appeal is smoke machines and a cool valet, it was a bit of a bummer to see him given your CAW’s entrance. He got a hype video for his Raw debut this week, but no televised creepy entrance and still no wife. I guess the budget went to bringing back “No More Words” for Jeff Hardy’s entrance, which was 100% worth it. Kross got the upper hand and stomped Hardy into the mat, hitting him with a couple suplexes. Hardy sidestepped a charge to land Twist of Fate and went up for the Swanton Bomb, but it was Kross who evaded this time. Some vague clock references slowed down Kross, and a roll up from Hardy kept him down for the three count to end the shortest match involving an NXT Champion in history.
I don’t really care whether this was because Vince reportedly wants to “teach NXT a lesson.” For me, Hardy is by far the more entertaining wrestler, so this result makes a lot of sense. It’ll be interesting to see what Raw makes of Kross; on the surface, he looks like the ideal meaty mid-carder. But he returned to NXT as champion this week, so I guess things will depend on if he drops that belt any time soon.
Almost A Raw Women’s Champion
Charlotte Flair may be coming for her father’s record for number of title reigns, but she’s not going to be on any longest reigning boards any time soon. The Queen took on the Nightmare in a Money in the Bank rematch Monday night, which probably would have been a lot more appealing had we not seen it almost every week leading up to MitB as well. Things started out with Charlotte hosting a championship celebration, but no party goes uninterrupted in wrestling, and Ripley came out to spoil things. This gave us the rematch in the main event, but only after Charlotte got back to her old tricks by landing a kick to Ripley’s knee as soon as Pearce and Deville made things official. In the match, she continued to target the injury with a chop block. Rhea still managed to go for the Figure Four to embarrass Charlotte, but Flair flipped it around. Rhea landed a Riptide that almost ended things, until Charlotte barely got a foot on the ropes. Having had enough of the same match she’s been wrestling for eight weeks, Flair tried to escape to the back with her title, but Ripley wasn’t feeling it. Charlotte hit her with the belt to officially cause the DQ, and both women continued to fight. In the chaos, briefcase holder Nikki A.S.H ran down to cash in with a crossbody off the turnbuckle to pin Charlotte. The crowd went wild and Nikki celebrated on the barricade in what was honestly a very cute moment.
I’m a bit bummed the women’s briefcase holder has again cashed in in less than 24 hours—in the 4 years since it’s inception, only Carmella has held the briefcase longer than a day. Still, the crowd was clearly all for Nikki, and while the superhero thing isn’t really up my alley, you can tell she has a blast with the gimmick.
Nice Boys Win Too
NXT started Tuesday with a tag team match pitting Diamond Mine’s Strong and Rust against Bobby Fish and Kushida. Last week a short match between Fish and Rust was a little lackluster, but the jewelry squad teaming together should have turned out something fun. Kushida and Fish jumped the heels before the match, right in front of Malcolm Bivens and his fresh suit. The match officially started with old friends Fish and Strong going at it, until Kushida tagged in for a double team. Strong and Kushida had a great back and forth -and I’m very much looking forward to that full match- ending with a backbreaker to the CW champ. Rust came in to execute a perfect hair flip and Wade praised Bivens’ business skills on commentary. Kushida dropped both diamonds with a springboard stunner, but Roddy slammed Bobby on the apron to even things out. Rust wanted a submission on Fish, until Bobby powered out to hit a spinebuster. Kushida tagged in to trade strikes with Rust and delivered a jumping knee to his elbow, setting him up to tap to the Hoverboard Lock.
This was a solid match featuring a lot of guys I like and also Bobby Fish. It’s kind of puzzling that Diamond Mine would lose their very first match as a team, but I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of them vs Kushida. When they finally roll out the Roddy/Kushida singles match, we should be in for a real treat.
Toni Timed Out
After weeks of promos, Toni Storm made her speedy SmackDown debut. She came out to crowd recognition, which is honestly the best thing a former NXT UK champion can hope for. Storm faced Zelina Vega, who has come back to WWE to take multiple Ls and look good doing it. After some short offense from Vega, Storm knocked her down with a kick to the face. Zelina lured her in on the outside before bouncing Toni’s head off the announce desk, then landed a running knee in the ring. Toni kicked out and countered a Tilt a Whirl DDT attempt into a headbutt. A Sunset Flip got Vega back in the game, but Toni landed Storm Zero to win. This wasn’t anything spectacular, but it was a solid debut for Storm. With her NXT history and in ring skill, Storm should have a bright future on SD, but given the way multiple other NXT call ups have been handled, I’m not going to hold my breath just yet. I’m almost more curious what’s in store for Vega moving forward; she’s been the fall guy on a few occasions now, and she just returned to the company last month. A decent feud between she and Storm could be a lot of fun, especially if Vega’s allowed to shine in her promos.
Rolling At a Moderate Volume
We cut from Ohio to Miami to be warmly welcomed by Walé, who lead the crowd in a half-hearted “we want the smoke” chant. I wish there was some kind of data available for how many people in the audience had any idea what was happening right now. Following a quick Angelo Dawkins victory over Chad Gable, we got Bianca Belair vs Carmella in a rematch from last week, but this one was in front of some moderately drunk hip hop fans, so it felt different enough.
Bianca as able to stay one step ahead of Carmella at the start, until Carmella dropped her with a braid yank on the apron. Carmella sent Belair into the corner and followed up with a crossbody, but Bianca caught her for a slam. A springboard moonsault got a two count; Carmella returned the favor with a slam. The KOD ended things to scattered applause; the crowd seemed unsure how to react to anything they’d just seen. The match itself wasn’t anything special, and the two had put on a much better performance in a longer bout last week. Still, it’s nice to see wrestling desperately cling to cultural relevance again. I miss 2019 too.
A Couple of Franchise Guys
Just like on Monday night, John Cena kicked off SmackDown to raucous applause. He confirmed he was here for two reasons; to make Cleveland sports references, and to challenge Roman Reigns at SummerSlam. He asked us to don our finest jorts and boo the hell out of Reigns for his crimes against family. Roman declined the invite to come out and face him, sending out Paul Heyman to deliver the bad news. Heyman promised an answer to Cena’s challenge, but only on Reigns’ time.
Reigns’ time was, predictably, the main event. After Jey Uso defeated Dominik with a little twin magic, Roman came out to give John a very cordial answer: no. He wasn’t interested in hanging out with a nostalgia critic from 2008, no more than he was interested in doing missionary position every night. The crowd went wild for that one. Reigns promised he didn’t want to see Cena at all, especially not at the biggest party of the summer. Somebody else was trying to book their summer plans, as Finn Balor came down to the ring, leather jacket and all, to follow in Cena’s footsteps. He offered his own challenge, and Roman, who had run out of sex position analogies, accepted. It was unclear when that match is going to happen, but it’s definitely going to be great.
Rainbows and Flip Fights
205 Live is still pre-taped at the CWC, and it’s a major tone shift to go from a real arena to a smattering of fans. I’m curious to see where 205 after all of this; the brand definitely feels last priority, but it’s hung around in that position of five years, so I’ve got no reason to think it’ll get the axe now. If anything, it’s an NXT showcase now, evidenced particularly by the main event this week. Jake Atlas defeated Ari Sterling; Atlas has been somewhat regular on NXT TV, and Sterling is a clear favorite in the recent crop of 205 guys. Their styles meshed really well here, with Atlas working the mat game in the beginning. He went for a Single Leg Crab, but Ari escaped and got a Flatliner. A huricanrana off the top rope got Sterling a two count, and he tried to follow it up with a 450, but Atlas got out of the way. A Rainbow DDT scored Jake the win, and it was a sad night at Taco Bell.