The Royal Rumble is just around the corner, and if you’ve forgotten the rules or what it takes to be eliminated, don’t worry, because Michael Cole will remind you every 15 minutes. This week WWE really ramped up the stories, giving us some big match ups and some new alliances. We also found out Rambling Rabbit is still hanging in there! Finally, some good news.
Becky Sees Green
Ah, nothing is more respected than a WWE contract signing. Becky Lynch and Asuka are set to produce a hit sequel at the Royal Rumble, but first there’s some pesky paperwork to take care of. Presided over by the #1 women’s wrestling stan, Jerry Lawler, Lynch and Asuka came face to face just a week before they’ll meet at the Rumble. Asuka was accompanied by Kairi Sane, who seemed to be doing significantly better after suffering a concussion last month. Asuka immediately got on the mic and threw some Japanese shade, causing Sane to crack up while the audience somehow couldn’t follow along, even though I feel like the intention was incredibly clear. Both women signed the contract in short order, but just as Becky finished, the Empress spewed green mist in her face.
I’ll never get sick of Asuka doing the mist, nor will I ever get sick of the way these women sell it. After some crew members helpfully poured water on her forehead, Becky cut an impassioned promo calling Asuka her most dangerous opponent yet, and swearing that if she went down, she would take the other woman with her. This was a solid segment, moving towards what should be a great match next week. They’ve done a good job of putting over Asuka as the one unconquerable force for Becky, it’ll be very interesting to see how it ends up at the Rumble.
R Truth Evacuates Sioux Falls City
R Truth is, genuinely, one of WWE’s biggest gems. He’s possibly more over than any other babyface, hilarious in any role he’s placed in, and manages to work with literally any opponent. This week saw him interrupt a standard Heyman promo to declare himself for the Royal Rumble, determined to outshine Brock Lesnar as the first 24/7 champ to compete in the Rumble match. He vehemently swore that Paul Heyman didn’t stand a chance in Houston, much to the delight of the crowd, and Lesnar himself. When Heyman then reminded him it was Lesnar he would be facing, Truth quickly undeclared himself. He attempted to placate Brock with some “what’s up” chants, but ate an F5 for his skills. Lesnar picked up the 24/7 title, but realized that would probably involve more work than he was currently putting in, and left it with Truth. Mojo Rawley then ran in to pin Truth and become the new champ. A segment where arguably nothing at all happened managed to be one of the most entertaining things to come out of Raw this week. 2020 is the year we give R-Truth his due as one of greatest.
The Messiah Recruits
Buddy Murphy and Aleister Black put on another absolute banger this week on Raw. To the surprise of no one, these men only up the bar each time. This was rightfully banger of the week, and you should go out of your way to see it, but it was what happened afterwards that seemed to set Murphy on a new path. Black won after two Black Masses in an incredible back and forth that looked briefly like Murphy might finally come out on top. After suffering another loss, Murphy had an existential crisis ringside, probably wondering what the hell he was supposed to do with his life after being kicked in the face by a Dutch man so many times. He was so upset he refused to move even for the next two matches, a tactic I have employed several times. During the main event, our first ever fist fight, Kevin Owens wiped out AOP with some sick parkour off the stage, leaving Seth Rollins alone with Big Show. Rollins crawled to Murphy and begged for help, leading to Buddy nailing Big Show with a low blow.
After AOP put Kevin and Joe through the announce table, all four mean little boys ganged up on Big Show, and Rollins finally put him down with a stomp. After the match, Seth did a lot of hugging and some face holding, telling each man how proud he was. They’re really leaning into the cult aspect of this whole “messiah” thing, and it’s actually very interesting. AOP and Murphy have both felt disrespected and undervalued, and having them trust in Seth to rebuild Raw because of that makes sense. That’s what the after school specials were always warning you about: a one gloved man who tells you how unique and talented you are.
Bros, Bruisers, and Time Travel
The Dusty Classic continued this week with two more first round matches. Matt Riddle and Pete Dunne, terrifyingly dubbed the “Broserweights”, faced Mark Andrews and Flash Morgan Webster. Andrews and Webster are former NXT UK tag team champions. Webster and Andrews put on a great display as the clearly more experienced team together, but Dunne and Riddle got the win with the Bitter End complete with a kick from Riddle, which didn’t seem like it did much but I’ll give it to them. This was a solid match for both teams, and it’s no surprise to see Dunne and Riddle advance. I’ll admit I popped for Riddle trying to get Pete to dance to his theme too. The second match was the recently reunited Time Splitters against Grizzled Young Veterans, also former NXT UK tag team champions, although honestly you could tell me virtually anyone is a former NXT UK tag team champion, and I would believe you. In a surprising move, GYV defeated Shelley and Kushida, ending the feel good reunion story after just one match. I would have liked to see the Time Splitters make it a little further, but hopefully this isn’t the end to their teaming on NXT. Zach Gibson cut a promo calling out the Full Sail crowd for pretending to know who Shelley is, and declared the Time Splitters a team of the past. I’d be down to see these two teams feud a bit more after the tournament, they had some really great segments here with Kushida and Shelley’s high flying meeting Gibson and Drake’s gritty style. The semi final match ups are very promising; Imperium/Broserweights and GYV/UE. Gosh, I love tag team wrestling.
EST = #1
Bianca Belair!!! That’s it, that’s the recap. Incredible women’s battle royal for #1 contendership for the NXT Women’s Championship. Baszler started off with a lot of eliminations, including a debuting Mercedes Martinez after the two traded blows for a bit. I popped big for Shotzi Blackheart eliminating Baszler, that would be a great match to see. Io Shirai and Bianca were the final two; great moves from both women as they tried to get the win. Io even went for the hair to stop Belair, but ultimately got KOD-ed out the ring. With Toni Storm and Ripley facing at World’s Collide, Belair will take on the winner of that match. I’d put my money on Ripley, and she and Belair are sure to be great, even if it still seems too early to take the title from Ripley right now. Belair’s time must be coming, with the quality of performance she puts on every single time she’s in the ring. If she’s not champion by the end of this year, it will feel like one of the largest missed opportunities in WWE.
Clown vs Machine (and Vegan)
SmackDown opened up with the return of Kane, shirking his mayoral duties yet again. He announced himself for the Rumble match, but was interrupted on the tron by Bray Wyatt. He showed us a recovering Rambling Rabbit, who, much like my depression, never stays dead for long. Wyatt cautioned Kane against the Rumble, reminding him that The Fiend had taken him out before. The lights went down and The Fiend crawled out of his home under the ring, but Kane, the inventor of creepy lighting and sound effects, wasn’t spooked. The Fiend turned around to get hit with a running knee from Daniel Bryan, who forced him back into his little hidey hole and even ripped out some of his dreads. Bryan and Kane lead some Yes chants, offering a brief reunion of one of the strangest tag teams of the past decade. Bryan then challenged Wyatt to a strap match, where the two will be tied together for the duration of the match. I’m very excited to see that go down, and also very excited to hear so many people boldly talk about the strap on television like this.
Love Wins (But Also Loses)
The Otis/Mandy Rose storyline is just weird, mostly because I honestly can’t tell if it’s working or not. WWE’s idea of romance is always a little off the mark, but usually their couple angles at least get to be fun in how over the top they are. This one just feels odd, between Mandy’s deadpan acting and Otis’ tongue based facial expressions. This week, Sonya Deville attempted to smooth things over between her and Mandy by asking Mandy to invite Otis to watch her match. This is the most seventh grade sentence I’ve ever typed in one of these reviews. Otis accepted, and Deville had a very flat match against Alexa Bliss. At one point Rose attempted to climb to the top turnbuckle as a distraction, but Nikki Cross pushed her off in to Otis’ waiting, beefy arms. Deville, much like myself, stared in a mix of horror and curiosity as Otis again did that weird tongue thing, allowing Bliss to roll her up for the win. More disagreements between Sonya and Mandy suggest Fire and Desire may crumble just like Otis’ mom’s fruitcake.
Strowman Supports Local Musician
Braun Strowman wants an Intercontinental title match. He’s beaten Nakamura twice over the past few months, but Shinsuke and Sami Zayn have yet to accept the challenge, too busy planning their coordinating outfits with Cesaro to listen to a man who wears pants made from like three different fabrics. The trio then interrupted Elias singing a song about Greensboro to deny Strowman yet again. With the Rumble just a week away, he wasn’t willing to risk a beautiful, luscious hair on Shinsuke’s head. Elias attempted to retaliate with a banger insulting the Artist, the Liberator, and Cesaro, who was also there, but all three men ganged up on him. Strowman came out to make the save, knocking down Cesaro and Nakamura and standing tall. With both men in the rumble match, it’s likely we won’t see them face off for the title until the SmackDown after. Its weird how flat every person in this feud is becoming, especially given how characters like Zayn and Strowman have elicited such strong audience reactions in the past. The IC match should be fine, but it’s not anything I’m looking forward to. At least this bit included Elias working a red tank top like absolutely nobody’s business.
It’s Swerve’s House, We’re Just Living in It
The division between NXT and 205 Live has been interesting; this week we saw Isaiah Swerve Scott win a triple match on NXT to face Angel Garza at World’s Collide, defeating Lio Rush and Tyler Breeze. As a big fan of dreamboats, the prospect of Swerve vs Garza is very exciting. But Garza was nowhere to be seen on Friday night, although Breeze, Scott and Rush were all in action. It seems like we’ve gotten more #1 contender and championship matches on NXT rather than 205 since the merge, which is an interesting change. It’s nice to hear an audience that actually care about these men while they’re fighting for the title.
Breeze in 205 has been a great move, as he faced off with Ariya Daivari. Breeze’s quickness was really his best asset here, besting Daivari’s grounded style. While he just lost the triple threat, Breeze vs Garza would be great stuff. Arguably match of the night, and I’m including SmackDown here, was Swerve vs Raul Mendoza. Both great high flyers with incredible speed, it was reminiscent of Mendoza and Rush’s matches for the title a few months back. Both men are wildly underrated and I’m glad they get the chance to really show off like this on 205. Scott won with the House Call, the brutal kick to the back of the head.