It’s the go-home week for WrestleMania Backlash, which is retaining all pirate theming despite taking place in the already weather themed ThunderDome. WWE set the stage for their marquee matches with two options; running the exact same story we just saw last week, and giving us the in-ring return of a competitor who’s been out for 14 months. One of these was just a bit more compelling than the other.
Alexa Bliss and her friend, the presumably possessed babydoll Lilly, came out to watch 6-woman tag action on Monday night, featuring Sexy Muscle Friends and Asuka vs Nia, Shayna, and Charlotte. After some typical Reginald interference that lead to a lot of arguing, Bliss interrupted to announce that she and Lilly were keeping their eyes on someone in the ring, and then just swung calmly for a few minutes. It seems a pain to lug that playset around everywhere backstage, but what do I know. The heels seemed unperturbed, as Baszler targeted Rose’s elbow and sent her into Jax for a powerslam. Rose managed to tag her partner, but Baszler took down Dana with a backbreaker. She seemed to be going towards her corner when, and I had to rewatch multiple times to make sure I had this correct, Lilly gave Shayna a leg cramp. The doll briefly took possession of Shayna’s limbs and caused her to stumble before she could take in Jax, giving Brooke the chance to get to Asuka. The Empress nailed Baszler with a Shining Wizard and won. Charlotte finished things off with a Big Boot to Asuka, but we’d already seen the best that this segment had to offer, and it was Shayna’s leg acting. Lilly’s a possessed doll, so, sure, I guess this makes sense as a thing she would do. Alexa vs Shayna wouldn’t be the worst thing we’ve ever seen. Shayna vs an inanimate doll would, arguably, be even better.
We Used to Be Friends
WWE cut this match from the Hulu episode, but kept at least four minutes of Alexa Bliss and a doll laughing, which is a staggering indictment of how uninterested they are in producing good wrestling. Cedric Alexander called it quits with Shelton Benjamin last week, which was as much of a bummer as axing the two from The Hurt Business in the first place. Alexander and Benjamin work fantastically together, and they’d found far more relevancy as a tag team than the company had given them as singles stars. However, at least we got this match out of the break up, and it was great. Both guys remain fantastic workers; we started out with Alexander in control, able to avoid Pay Dirt and hang Benjamin up in the ropes. He targeted the leg after a Dragonscrew, but Shelton powered out of the submission. The Neuralyzer kept Cedric in charge, until Shelton finally had enough of the trash talking Alexander and hit the T Bone suplex, which gave him the surprise win. I don’t have any kind of faith in WWE to follow up on that momentum for Benjamin or Alexander, but this was a good reminder of how skilled these men are. I wouldn’t mind seeing either of them up next to challenge for the US Title, especially with Carrillo unfortunately suffering an injury during his match with Sheamus this week.
Most Valuable Monster
MVP spent his early evening trying to convince Braun Strowman to take out McIntyre ahead of their triple threat match. He said that Lashley knew he hadn’t beaten Strowman last week (fair play, if Lashley didn’t know that we’d have a problem) and reminded the monster that his odds were much better if McIntyre was out of the picture. Strowman appeared to think things over in his personal dressing room, but the main event proved that this one man train is a one man show.
We had our scheduled McIntyre vs Lashley match, with the champ dominating early on. Drew turned it around by sending a rushing Lashley into the turnbuckle head first. He managed to fight out of the Hurt Lock and landed a Claymore on the Almighty, but wasn’t able to capitalize before Strowman came out. He jumped Drew and momentarily hugged it up with the champ, before giving him a powerslam. Continuous powerslams to both guys ended the show, with Lashley sent through the barricade and McIntryre laid out in the ring. Keen viewers may recognize this as the exact same thing we saw last week, but they switched out the guys. It’s all fine; Lashley’s going to retain, and that’s good. Admittedly, this is the best Braun has looked since they gave him the train whistle sound effects, so that’s something.
Cruiserweights Save Wrestling (Again)
Kushida managed to pull off what no Cruiserweight champion before him has accomplished; an NXT main event. Five years in and the purple belt is still having firsts! He faced former champ Santos Escobar in a 2 out of 3 falls match, and you don’t need me to tell you how good this was. These guys mesh so well together, I could watch another few matches between them, easily. And it’s NXT, so no feud is complete until I’ve seen them wrestle half a dozen times.
Escobar had control to start out, grounding Kushida on the mat with submissions. Legado tried to interfere early on, but MSK evened the odds, and the ref threw both teams out. Escobar landed a Phantom Driver to score the first fall, but Kushida quickly evened the score by trapping him in the Hoverboard Lock. With one fall each, both men went back and forth; Escobar hit a dive to the outside that wiped out the champ, but Kushida still got a close 2 count off a quick roll up. They traded strikes and laid each other out in the ring, before Kushida landed a Sunset Flip off the turnbuckle and got the challenger in the Hoverboard Lock once more. Escobar refused to tap and just barely made it to the ropes, so Kushida suplexed him into the turnbuckle. Another suplex into a bridge let the Timesplitter score the winning fall. This ran maybe 20 minutes, but it was well worth it. Great effort from two of the best cruiserweights WWE has. Kushida should have a fantastic reign, there are plenty of people he can have amazing matches with.
Long Time Coming
Tamina and Natalya continue to be one of the company’s greatest tag team success stories as of late. While the shine has long since worn off Jax and Baszler, who never quite seemed to mesh, working together has elevated both Nattie and Tamina. They hold more relevance as a team- which, despite what WWE may try to pull, should be the goal of two singles wrestlers forming a team. The faces came out strong here, but a distraction from Reggie turned things towards Baszler and Jax. A Samoan Drop wiped out Tamina for a few minutes, allowing the heels to beat down on Natalya. Jax and Nattie both made the tag to bring in their partners; Tamina went up top, but Shayna grabbed her leg to block the splash and get her in a submission. Baszler tagged out again, and Natalya took out Shayna on the outside. Tamina and Jax both scaled the turnbuckle, before Tamina knocked the Irresistible Force off. Nattie ate a Samoan Drop from Nia, just before Tamina came in with the splash to win her first WWE title. This was well deserved for a very solid tag team, but I can’t help but think it would have been more impactful a month ago at Mania. A very emotional Natalya and Tamina thanked their families and the crowd for supporting them, as Jax and Baszler are left to lick their wounds and drink some Reginald-approved wine.
Greatest Honor in Wrestling
Apollo Crews decided to present his loyal associate, Commander Azeez, with the highest accolade: the Nigerian Medal of Honor. He decided to do this on the most respected stage: Friday Night SmackDown, emanating from the Yuengling Center. Crews cut a promo about how, with Azeez’s help, he’s been able to knock off all challengers. He wanted to give his friend a little something as a thank you, which is honestly more thoughtful than most babyfaces. Crews was presenting the medal when Big E appeared on the tron. He called Azeez getting the Medal of Honor the “biggest sham since Macklemore won a Grammy.” Sami Zayn then interrupted to announce that he loves a good awards ceremony, but he had just a little nitpicky thing about the IC Championship still being his. Kevin Owens music hit and Sami tried to hightail it out of there. Azeez went after Owens, but was caught and dumped to the outside by Big E. Owens landed Superkicks all around, and a stunner to Zayn, but it was Big E who had the final word, hitting the Big Ending on Owens. Crews escaped up the ramp as E stared him down from the ring. We’ve seen a lot of Big E and Crews over the past few months, but they haven’t disappointed, and throwing Zayn and Owens in the mix changes things up a bit.
You Wanna Be On Top? (Of This Wrestling Family Dynasty)
Roman Reigns is in a real cousin pickle once again, as newly returned Jimmy Uso refuses to fall in line. Uso interrupted Reigns in the beginning of the night, sporting a shirt that read “Nobody’s Bitch,” now available on WWE Shop. Jimmy offered the very logical argument that if he and Jey become tag champs, and Roman should lose the Universal title, wouldn’t that make them to co-heads of the table? Uso said that he didn’t think Roman could beat Cesaro on Sunday, prompting Roman to suggest that Jimmy felt he himself could be Cesaro. He laid down the challenge and the Swiss Superman.
I had honestly forgotten the last time we saw Jimmy wrestle was at Mania 36. Cesaro was rolling to start, but Uso faked a knee injury to lure him in for a Superkick to take over. Uso ran Cesaro into the turnbuckle and landed a dive to the outside. A jumping uppercut and a superplex turned things towards the Swissman, and Jimmy looked like he was rocked. Cesaro seemed to have the match won when Reigns jumped him, sending him over the commentary table to cause the DQ. Jimmy yelled at Reigns for making this about him, and the two argued as Cesaro targeted Jey back in the ring. Roman returned to save his cousin, but Jimmy just watched while Uso and Reigns went after the challenger. Another uppercut to Jey and Jimmy tried to help his brother, but got nailed with a kick. Reigns escaped up the ramp while Jey suffered two Neutralyzers to end the show. Reigns’ family drama remains WWE’s best story, due in large part to just how good Roman is with this character. His manipulation of his cousin over the past six months has Jey more devoted to him than his own brother, and having Jimmy refuse to play by the same rules helps up the stakes for Reigns to keep his family in check. Reigns vs Cesaro should be absolute banner stuff. I can only hope the rip off suit makes a return for Sunday’s show.
The Sauce Can’t Stick
Ari Sterling, formerly known as Taco Bell’s own Alex Zayne, made his purple brand debut last week, defeating Samir Singh. This week he was main event ready and went up against Tony Nese, who was Daivari-less at ringside. Nese tried to avoid Sterling’s athleticism, nailing him with knees to the gut. Sterling kept rolling with a corkscrew senton, but Nese was out at two. The Premier Athlete took over again by ramming Sterling into the barricade, and announcing that the man who had modeled his whole look after the purple and orange didn’t belong on his show. A spinning kick almost wiped Ari out, but Sterling got a comeback with a moonsault on the outside. Nese hit the Crunchy in a tribute to fellow Long Islander Trent, and even that couldn’t keep Sterling down. Finally, a buckle bomb and the Running Nese took down the newcomer.
Sterling is a great addition to 205; his style is going to mesh well with the rest of the roster. Giving Nese the win here felt surprising, but not unwelcome. He and Daivari have managed to remain close to the top of 205, while still putting over new talent. Sterling looked fantastic here, and I’m excited to see his future on 205.