It’s the penultimate week in the ThunderDome, and we’re all shedding a virtual tear. But before we say goodbye to the award winning and critically acclaimed technological fun house, we’ve got six more outs of piped in “you suck” chants to get through. Don’t cry for me, Yuengling Center.
Orton’s Stand-In Steals Lukewarm Spotlight
We were supposed to be treated to a triple threat between Drew McIntyre, AJ Styles, and Randy Orton for the final Men’s MitB ladder match spot—but Randall Keith was unable to compete on Monday. Instead, the think tank of Adam Pearce and Sonya Deville announced a Battle Royal to determine the third competitor and let some of the 24/7 division get screentime. Randy’s lukewarm friend Riddle convinced the managers to let him in the battle royal, because I can’t just enjoy some Ali on my screen without being dragged back to reality. We got some quick 24/7 title changes between an eliminated Gulak, Tozawa, and R-Truth, which ended in Tozawa running off with the belt. Mansoor was saved and then eliminated early as well by his recent frenemy Ali, teaching a life lesson that wrestling will ruin all of your relationships. Omos came out to speed up some eliminations, although simply beating up every competitor might have benefitted Styles more. Our final two were Riddle and Damien Priest, but sadly things didn’t work out for the infamous archer. Riddle pulled him over the ropes with a triangle hold and landed a knee to send Priest to the floor. Putting aside the fact that Mansoor vs Styles and McIntyre actually sounds great, we knew Riddle was going to win this from the get, so there wasn’t any suspense to the battle royal.
This then lead us to the main event, which was somehow less exciting than showing yet another version of McIntyre and Orton. Riddle got injured when he missed a kick and hit the steps, so refs helped him to the back as McIntyre and Styles continued. AJ looked like he had the advantage with a calf crusher on McIntyre, but Riddle made a return to get the Phenomenal One in a Bromission. Omos saved Styles from a pin attempt after an RKO from Riddle, setting up Drew to land the Claymore and score a win. This was better than the battle royal, but it was no Kofi and Lashley in a cell. McIntyre in the ladder match is fine, but honestly, I’m pulling for JoMo. At least Randy had a nice night off.
With A Lot of Help From My Tag Team Partner
Piper Niven is now competing on Raw under the name “Doudrop,” which is only one level worse than Nikki Cross’ new name of “Nikki ASH” (Almost a superhero. Clever.) Doudrop has teamed with Eva Marie for the past few weeks, although last week things seemed in question as Doudrop ditched her partner mid-match. Eva promised the two had worked things through as they again teamed against Naomi and Asuka. Doudrop missed a senton on Naomi, who brought in Asuka to drop the artist formerly known as Viper. Asuka wanted the Asuka-lock but couldn’t quite get it in. Doudrop tried to tag in Marie, who jumped off the apron just as her partner did last week to leave her all alone. Luckily for her, Doudrop didn’t seem to need Eva to land a crossbody on Asuka and score the win. Marie announced herself as the winner, and the segment was over in a tight 3 minutes. I actually like Eva’s gimmick; it’s great heat and she sells it well. Unfortunately, she’s also made comments condemning Colin Kapaernick’s kneeling for the flag a few years ago, so I can’t say I was thrilled to see her back. I’m especially not thrilled to see Asuka take another loss here, even if it was to Doudrop. I’m sure Marie and/or Doudrop will find their way into the ladder match through shenanigans. I’d love to see Naomi claim that briefcase, but I’ve been waiting for WWE to give Naomi the run she deserves for much of the past decade.
We’re All Mean Here
I can’t talk about everything I find puzzling in the way WWE handles their women’s divisions, because we’d be here for days. Recently one large issue in particular has really stood out for me: their way of making a storyline interesting, more often than not, involves forcing someone ill-fitted into the bad guy role. In the case of Monday’s six woman tag, it felt like every woman involved was meant to be the heel. Charlotte is obviously playing the obnoxious role, but we’re clearly supposed to boo Ripley as well. The ThunderDome audio doesn’t lie. In the tag feud, both Nattie and Tamina and Dana and Mandy have pulled mean girl tactics on each other. Who are we meant to be rooting for here? It would have been easy to have Rhea be the face; wearing leather pants doesn’t have to make you a baddie. Natalya and Tamina were hard working faces when they won the title, so why have they become catty champions suddenly? Raw’s only clear female faces, Naomi and Asuka, were already in action, so I guess they figured putting all these quasi-heels in a match would work just as well.
We started out with a big brawl in the ring before the bell, with the ref reluctant to get involved, but a commercial break magically restored order. Natalya tried for the Sharpshooter on Rose, who countered and tagged in Brooke. A double team from Brooke and Rose took down Natalya, but Tamina saved her from the pin. Things broke down with a boot from Rhea to Tamina, followed by Charlotte chopping down Ripley’s knee. Everybody hit some moves, ending with another Sharpshooter attempt on Mandy. Charlotte got the blind tag and landed a big boot to score the win. After the match, Rhea hit a chop block to Charlotte’s leg, because she’s a sneaky snake too. This was fine, if very muddled. These storylines don’t need to be combined, and it just left the whole feeling messier than it’s parts.
Direct Hit Row
NXT’s Great American Bash is next week, so carve out 2 hours of your to spend hearing a full capacity crowd chant “USA” for the first time in 16 months. NXT shook up the stage on Tuesday with a surprising North American title change. Isaiah Swerve Scott was accompanied by all of Hit Row, including Ashanti Thee Adonis and his excellent fanny pack, to face Bronson Reed in the main event. I really like both these guys, and Hit Row has helped give Swerve a well deserved boost on Tuesday nights. Reed worked on grounding Scott at the start, controlling him with a headlock. Swerve got some momentum, but Reed plucked him out of midair and dropped him with a press. Bronson hit a splash to rock Scott, as a worried Hit Row shouted encouragement while also simultaneous advertising their new record. Scott got control on the outside, managing a German suplex on Reed for a two count. A dropkick got Reed on his back, but the champ planted Swerve with a slam. Hit Row ran interference and allowed Adonis to land a cheap shot on Reed, so Reed launched both Adonis and Top Dolla through the plexiglass. Swerve still took advantage with a House Call and a 450 to score the win, and at least B-Fab was still standing to celebrate with him.
I’m bummed that Reed had such a short title reign, but Swerve’s victory is welcome too. Especially with an up and coming hot stable, Scott should be a big player in NXT.
Local Family Man Ignores Family
After a spearing return last week, Edge opened SmackDown to remind us that we may think we know him. He cut an excellent promo calling out Reigns for being a coward and naming Daniel Bryan the deciding factor in the Mania match. He said that having been in the ring with him, Reigns knows that Edge can beat him, and that’s why he hightailed it out of there last week. He promised that things would turn out differently this time, because he had Reigns’ number. Edge is as incredible on the mic as he’s ever been, and him and Roman going at it again is most welcome.
Backstage, Jimmy Uso approached Paul Heyman to question where Roman was, before immediately answering his own question. He told Heyman he was going to step up to prove himself to Reigns by asking Pearce and Deville for a match with Edge tonight. Unfortunately, Sonya was busy with letting people waltz into MitB matches, so Jimmy took matters into his own hands. He invited Edge to the ring and promised Reigns wasn’t there, but Edge wasn’t sold. He told Jimmy Roman was simply using him like he’d done to Jey, and questioned what happened to Uso’s spine. He told Jimmy this wasn’t a trap set by Uso and Reigns, but a trap for Uso himself. He stormed the ring and the two fought with Jimmy landed a superkick to get an advantage, but Roman didn’t make an appearance. Edge got Uso in a cross face and he tapped, but still no Universal Champion. Edge hit a spear and got another crossface, this time with a chair leg across Jimmy’s face. The show faded out with zero Big Dogs, and one very bruised cousin. I’m on board for all of this; Edge and Roman are great, and the Uso drama is still compelling. It’ll be interesting to see if/when Jey returns to mix things up further.
No Tables Standing
The final spot in the men’s ladder match was up for grabs on SmackDown, contested between longtime frenemies Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in a Last Man Standing match. Owens dominated early on, dragging Sami around on the outside. He stacked two tables on top of each other and attempted to suplex Zayn through them, but Sami managed to block it. He finally turned the table when he pushed Kevin off the turnbuckle, sending him crashing through both tables. Sami then landed three consecutive Helluva Kicks, calling them karma for Kevin’s actions in the past. KO rolled out of the ring and landed on his feet to break the count, sending Sami feral. Owens hit a superkick to gain momentum, then delivered some karma of his own with powerbombs into two tables and the apron. This kept Sami down for the 10 count, and made my back hurt from sympathy. Another great banger from Zayn and Owens, who can do no wrong together. KO in the ladder match is a very solid pick, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him scamper off with the briefcase either.
Work Smarter Not Harder
Not to be outdone by Edge’s surprise return last week, a very unexpected face popped up on SmackDown: Zelina Vega. Vega was released back in November, but now that she’s back, I’m gonna guess those pro-union tweets are lost to time. Sonya Deville announced the former manager would be competing in women’s ladder match, because on the blue brand that’s just handed out like candy. At least, if your name isn’t Liv Morgan. She interrupted Vega’s first promo in 9 months to slap Zelina in the face and challenge her to an immediate fight for another chance to prove herself.
We then got a two minute match with some moderate offense from Vega, before the ref yelled at her for grabbing the tights during a roll up. She released the pin, allowing Liv to pull the same move and get the three count off a handful of tights. I’m liking this build for Liv, who has had tons of potential and not a lot of time to show it off over the past few years. Zelina’s return definitely shakes things up for the SmackDown women’s division, and while I can’t see her winning the ladder match, I am interested to see if WWE has big plans for her. Do we think they can learn from past mistakes? History says no, but you gotta have hope.
205 Live may be hanging on for the moment, but its future still seems uncertain. This week, the purple brand hosted the beginning of NXT’s Breakout Tournament, with two qualifying matches. We saw Joe Gacy take on Desmond Troy in a big boy 205 edition, as well as Andre Chase (fka Harlem Bravado) vs Guru Raaj. The first match saw Chase grab a spot in the tournament with a brainbuster to Raaj; I must have my head in the sand, because I didn’t know WWE had even signed Bravado. Both he and Gacy were regular fixtures at Evolve shows for the past few years, so it’s no real surprise they’re ending up here. Troy and Gacy worked well together in their match, Troy using his mat skills to try and keep Gacy down. A series of big suplexes for Troy seemed to have things in hand, but Gacy hit a clothesline to wipe him out, then followed up with a suplex of his own for the win. Gacy would be a strong contender to run the tournament, but NXT hasn’t announced the full list of competitors yet.