This Week In Spandex: A Whole New World
Here at ComicsAlliance we’ve noticed a huge overlap between superhero comics fans and wrestling fans; wrestling is basically superhero theater. This Week in Spandex is a new weekly feature, in which longtime wrestling fan Kieran Shiach and enthusiastic recent convert Elle Collins summarize the week that was in WWE.
This week we've got energetic and likable babyfaces, dastardly and hateable heels, tag-team wrestling galore and a genuine narrative structure to everything that's happening. It's beginning to look a lot like pro wrestling!
Elle: I’m perfectly happy to have Shane McMahon running RAW for now. As a continuation of the WrestleMania storyline, it makes absolutely no sense, but we get a break from 20 minutes of the Authority opening every show, and that buys a lot of goodwill in my book. Don’t get me wrong, I love Steph too (evil queen that she is) and I don’t really want her to be gone forever, but I’m hoping this eventually leads to a story in which she has to fight for power, instead of spending all her time being smug. (Everything I just said applies to Triple H as well, except for my level of affection.)
Kieran: My favorite thing about Shane running RAW is how everything ties into Shane running RAW. He set up the main event because he thought it would be a kick-ass match and it kinda was. He gave opportunities to Cesaro and Sami Zayn because they deserved them. He replaced The Highlight Reel with The Ambrose Asylum because… well, I’m not sure there but it was the most fun I’ve enjoyed The Highlight Reel since Shawn Michaels got his thrown into the Jeritron 3000.
Elle: This was a good show. I mean, Cesaro fought Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn fought AJ Styles. That’s four guys who’ve fought in Chikara getting the spotlight on this episode of WWE RAW, and none of them are (at the moment) fighting Dolph Ziggler. Cesaro’s tearing off his suit, and Owens is being a petulant little boy, and Sami Zayn is being the best guy, and AJ Styles --- Well, I’m not all that into AJ Styles, but he’s a good wrestler, and he’s a part of this moment. This moment when WWE is fully recognizing indie talent as worthwhile and letting itself be a place where wrestling is celebrated.
Kieran: I think I might have enjoyed this week’s RAW more than last week’s because it was just as good, if not better, and the fans were rowdy but behaved themselves. The match quality is absolutely insane right now and with people like John Cena and Randy Orton on the shelf, it’s giving people like Sami Zayn and AJ Styles a crack at being legitimate main event babyfaces, which is so awesome.
I wanna talk about the tag team tournament too, because if there are two things I love in professional wrestling, it’s tournaments and tag team wrestling. I feel like RAW is taking a cue from NXT who got its women’s division up to a certain level of quality, and then put a lot of focus into its tag teams. There’s like ten different teams now, at least? That’s awesome! Everyone’s so different and well defined and if they play this right, we can get some really interesting match-ups for the next few months without it getting repetitive.
Elle: I don’t really know what’s going on with the women, though. The Charlotte/Natalya match was fine (involvement of the always embarrassing Dr. Phil aside), but they were the only women not married to the Miz on this three hour show, which seemed weird after seeing the entire women’s roster standing together to ring in the future just last week. This week there’s no Becky, no Sasha, no Emma or Paige or Eva Marie. If this is a new era of women’s wrestling, I’m going to need a little more than you’re giving me right now, RAW.
Kieran: Earlier, I said that the women’s division was up to a certain level of quality, but that doesn’t mean everything’s okay yet, and all your points are valid. I think I liked Charlotte v Natalya a bit more than you though, I thought the treatment of the match, the time it got, and the tone of the commentary (aside from Dr. Phil) made it feel like a World Championship match was happening on RAW and when Natalya “won” it felt like a big deal, even though the other shoe dropping was inevitable. I do hope can get this Emma/Becky feud over from SmackDown and onto RAW though, and maybe *gasp* a third women’s division feud? We live in hope.
I really enjoyed the debut of Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows because of how important it felt, too. Gallows left WWE as CM Punk’s heavy and Anderson has spent most of his career in Japan, so to see them be brought in with this much buzz makes me super happy for both of them as performers. I also loved hearing Cole list of their accomplishments and namedrop New Japan Pro Wrestling, because it still blows my mind that WWE is willing to talk about other promotions now.
I think a lot of people are surprised they were brought in separate from either Bálor or Styles, but I think that’s for the best. You can link them up with either of those guys in the future for another big buzz-worthy moment, but for now they look like stars in their own right, rather than lackeys.
Elle: I don’t know Anderson and Gallows at all, but their entrance was exciting and unexpected. Having them debut by attacking the Usos was a perfect choice. On the one hand, Jimmy and Jey are such pure babyfaces that it immediately establishes these guys as total jerks. And on the other hand, the kind of adult wrestling fans who are excited about the Bullet Club arriving don’t like the Usos very much, so it’s it’s rewarding for them as well. And I agree that it’s for the best that they didn’t come in as henchmen for Finn Bálor or AJ Styles, especially since those two are both good guys right now. Like you say, they can all team up later when Finn and AJ turn to the dark side.
Kieran: I want to finish about RAW with talking about babyface Wyatt Family, which is something I’ve been hoping for, and Bray looks happy and full of beans, but I really wanted The Wyatt Family taking down The Authority, which is what they promised to do when they left NXT three years ago. Bray’s supposedly injured, but I hope if he’s healthy enough they can keep him on TV to sit in a rocking chair and cut promos, because he could get some real momentum behind him right now and it’d be a shame to waste it.
Elle: The buzz is that Rosa and Mandy are both leaving Total Divas after this season. And you can see how Rosa’s being set up with a happy ending, where she’s going to marry neck-tattoo-atheist-guy and have his tattooed atheist baby, and theoretically live happily ever after. But meanwhile Mandy’s storyline seems to be how she’s failing to make friends and nobody wants anything to do with her, even Eva Marie. If Mandy’s really leaving the show too, I hope they find a better final storyline for her than “I guess I’ll go away.” Incidentally, this is the closest I’ve ever come to caring about what happens to Mandy.
Kieran: NXT is still in that transitional “waiting to get back to full sail” period right now, but this week’s episode was still really good. I thought both women’s matches were really fun, although I can’t help but refer to Liv Morgan as “Not Carmella” and I was really happy to see Ciampa and Gargano get a big win over The Vaudevillains. You could even see it on Ciampa’s face when Gotch tapped, that look of “We just beat former tag champs!” and I enjoyed that reaction a lot.
Elle: I agree that Liv Morgan needs to distinguish herself, but I think she has potential and I’m excited to see her do more and get better. I feel the same way about Peyton Royce and Billie Kay and a lot of these other women who seem poised to become the future of the division. Women’s wrestling and the future are two things I’m always going to be excited about, together or separately. Also Alexa Bliss’s facial expressions; I’ll never stop being excited about those either.
Kieran: I thought having Dillinger as Nakamura’s first opponent post-Sami Zayn was absolutely the right call. He’s solid in the ring but has a goofy character and a lot of charisma. Nakamura against an Angelo Dawkins or a Tucker Knight wouldn’t have been anyway near as fun as this was and I’m excited to see what fresh match-ups we can get for The King of Strong Style going forward.
Elle: I’m going to be honest about something. I mentioned last week that Takeover Dallas was the first time I’d seen Nakamura wrestle. So this Wednesday, when I woke up and was working up the energy to get out of bed, I thought to myself, “Shinsuke Nakamura’s wrestling on NXT tonight.” Later in the day, when I was working, I thought, “I have to get all my work down before tonight, because Nakamura’s wrestling on NXT.” Then I went out to run errands in the evening, and I found myself thinking, “I gotta get home by 8PM; I don’t want to miss Shinsuke on NXT.” And yeah, it was a great match. And you’re right that Dillinger was the perfect opponent to ease us down from the Nakamura/Zayn high to something that’s achievable on weekly television. Two matches in, Nakamura’s easily one my favorite wrestlers, and I eventually want to watch him fight everyone on the roster.
Elle: The Tag Team Tournament was the most exciting thing about SmackDown, with both of the newly-up-from-NXT teams advancing to the next round. This was Cass and Enzo’s first match on the main roster, and it was great, even though the Ascension was involved. In fact, having a team that’s all about personality debut against a pair of big bland heels was basically perfect, giving Enzo and Cass the chance to get all their signature stuff in, and really making them seem like realest guys in the room.
Then the Vaudevillains defeated Goldust and Fandango, because I guess the Golden Truth still don’t quite have it together? Mauro Ranallo is the perfect announcer for a Vaudevillains match, naming all the Victorian combat styles that Gotch and English have apparently mastered, to the frustrated befuddlement of Jerry Lawler. The Vaudevillains may only be my second favorite mustachioed Edwardian tag team in wrestling (shout out to Jervis and Marion), but I like them a lot and I want the best for them, even now that they’re dastardly heels.
What’s really exciting about this tournament is that it seems inevitable that the final match will be between two new teams. It’ll be a travesty if the Realest Guys don’t beat the Dudleys, and either the Vaudevillains will beat the Usos, or Anderson and Gallows somehow usurp one of those teams and end up in the finals instead. So AJ Styles is the #1 Contender for the World Heavyweight Championship, Cesaro is the #1 Contender for the Intercontinental Championship, and a fresh new team (probably Enzo and Cass) are about to become the #1 Contenders for the Tag Team Championship. Is it just me, or is this starting to feel like a whole new WWE?
Kieran: I think it is, just in that I’m excited to watch SmackDown again. Stuff is happening on RAW, carrying over to SmackDown, then carrying over to RAW. That’s how it used to be and hasn’t been since the Brand Split in 2002, so if they can keep up this trend I am all for it.