This Week In Spandex: Redesign, Rebuild, Reclaim
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 weekly feature, in which longtime wrestling fan Kieran Shiach and enthusiastic recent convert Elle Collins summarize the week that was in WWE.
Things got extreme at Extreme Rules, Charlotte fired her own dad, and our lord and savior Crossfit Jesus returned to us in our hour of need! It's just another regular week in the world of professional wrestling.
Kieran: Extreme Rules started with two really solid tag matches, and both mates were the best showings for all eight men involved all year, in my opinion. I think people forget that The Usos can go when you give them a chance, and a Texas Tornado match is the perfect setting for them as underdogs to fight from underneath.
I loved seeing The Vaudevillains look like legitimate threats here, and I’m a lot more optimistic about their chances on the main roster after the past two months and I think they’ll benefit from the brand split too. I also loved seeing Xavier get a good amount of offense and the win. He’s often played as the weak link of The New Day, but he has something to contribute besides his mic work and I’m glad to see it.
Elle: It was definitely cool seeing Xavier wrestle, and I’m really excited about the Vaudevillains. In fact, I was kind of rooting for them to win the championship. The New Day are so totally in charge of the Tag Team Division that it hardly seems like they need them, and I was hoping the Villains might be the transitional champs that lead to the inevitable triumph of Enzo and Cass. Also the New Day are going to have to lose the belts at some point, just so they can eventually win them back and become “your world famous THREE TIME CHAMPS!”
Kieran: How about that United States Championship match, huh? Rusev ran over Kalisto like a truck, and I know you’re a fan of Kalisto and I agree with you about hoping he’d do more, but I love seeing Rusev run over people like a truck. That Accolade was ridiculous, and major props to Kalisto for stretching like that to make Rusev look like an absolute monster.
Elle: As much as I love Kalisto, I’d already given up on him getting to have an exciting run as US Champ, so I was able to enjoy this match quite a bit. And I was way into how much of a monster Rusev was in it. In the past, there’s often been this weird thing with Rusev, where they’ll book him as an underdog and he works really hard and he loves his girlfriend, but you’re supposed to understand that he’s the bad guy because he’s a big hairy Eastern European. That was not a problem at Extreme Rules. Rusev was a totally brutal monster, and it’s a look that works for him.
Kieran: I think we can agree that the Intercontinental Championship Fatal Four-Way was the match of the night by a wide margin. All four men --- even The Miz --- are on absolute fire right now. I think the attempted “Fight Forever” chant might have been a bit much, but I would be very happy to see many more matches like this.
Elle: This was easily the best Fatal Four-Way I’ve ever seen. All four men looked great, and they all had clear stories, and the ending was dramatic and made sense. I loved that Sami Zayn missed his chance to get the pin because he couldn’t resist beating up his arch-nemesis Kevin Owens for a little longer, giving Miz a chance to crawl on top of Cesaro and retain. I can’t think of a better way to have a finish that directly involves all four guys, with nobody left outside the ring doing nothing. Also Cesaro powerbombed three guys at once in this match, because he’s Superman.
Kieran: On the other hand, the Asylum Match was interminable. It was nearly thirty minutes long and boy it felt it. I was so bored throughout this match, I don’t even know what to say. Props to Chris Jericho for taking that bump on the thumbtacks in twenty-sixteen though, I guess.
Elle: There were fun parts in the Asylum Match, but there was a lot of space in between them. I’m not sure the face-mopping and the thumbtack spot belonged in the same match, but I guess that’s the whole Dean Ambrose gimmick in a nutshell. Is he a harmless cartoon or the new Terry Funk? Well, whichever one he is now, wait a few minutes and watch him trying to switch to the other.
Kieran: I don’t have much to say about the Women’s Championship match, but I do have a lot to say about Dana Brooke! I love Dana Brooke and I know you do too, Elle. She oozes charisma and she’s a great addition to the roster. I love the idea that these two garbage people know that the other could be seconds away from betraying them as soon as it's convenient, so there’s the loosest of alliances. I also love how much fun she has doing the Ric Flair strut.
Elle: No disrespect to Charlotte, but I think I like Dana’s Flair Strut a little more. Actually, I’m not saying this should happen, but Dana may be a more natural inheritor for the Ric Flair persona in general. Charlotte always kind of feels like a very earnest athlete who’s dutifully portraying a cowardly heel, but Dana Brooke just has this undeniable aura of dirtbag (and I say that affectionately).
I agree that Dana joining Team Flair was a lot more interesting than Charlotte’s match with Natalya. I enjoyed a few spots, and I liked that they each did other submission moves besides their signature ones, but ultimately the match felt like the inconsequential ending (at least I hope it’s the ending) to a less-than exciting feud.
Kieran: Finally, the main event was really solid, but I got super tired of the false finishes. They managed to make me believe that AJ might pull it off, so kudos for that, but so many false finishes can just be exhausting and you start to question what is it going to take to keep Roman Reigns down. I hate to be one of those guys, but he still hasn’t lost a singles match clean in nearly four years. I could get behind him if he seemed vulnerable once.
I was very happy to see Seth Rollins return and lay Reigns out with a Pedigree. I would like him to get a new finisher now he’s working solo, but it made sense for him to bust that out on his return. He looks so much bigger than when he left, so I hope it doesn’t restrict his agility too much, but knowing him he’s probably learned how to add another rotation to his Phoenix Splash while he was away.
Elle: Much as Dana Brooke was more exciting than the women’s match, Seth Rollins was definitely more exciting than the main event. Roman and AJ are both great wrestlers, but by the time the match was over it felt like it had been going on for a month. It probably felt that way because that’s pretty much literally true. So Seth’s arrival was exciting not just because he’s great and we missed him (although he is and we did), but because he’s the herald of something different happening.
Kieran: I wasn’t sure about bringing Seth back as a heel because people want to cheer him so much, but he’s very good at it and he managed to turn a very hot crowd against him and make it look easy. He’s so much fun on the mic and it was great to see him enjoying himself back in the ring. It was weird that he wet his hair over his jacket though, that wasn’t a good look.
Elle: The wet spots on his blazer were unfortunate, but everything else about having him here was pretty great. I was totally wanting him to come back as a hero, but once he was actually in the ring being a total heel, I realized that this is 2016, and we can root for him no matter how much of a bad guy he is, so I guess that’s okay. I mean let’s be clear, I don’t hate Roman Reigns as much as so many people seem to, but there’s no scenario in which I’m cheering for him if he’s fighting Seth Rollins. Roman can he’s “the man,” but Seth actually is the man. And despite what Ric Flair says, that’s not going to change even if Roman wins at Money in the Bank.
Kieran: I love when RAW has a purpose that runs through the entire show, so Money In The Bank qualifying matches are exactly my jam. I said earlier that I’d be happy to see more matches like the Fatal Four-Way so I’m not going to complain by some of these match-ups, but I think Cesaro v The Miz was the weakest of the four matches, but by no means was it a bad match.
I loved everything about the Apollo Crews v Chris Jericho match, especially that they seem to be setting up a feud between Crews and Sheamus. Sheamus is someone who can coax super aggression and personality out of Crews and he’s someone who Crews can clobber the heck of and generally help put him over. I’m into it.
Elle: I was pretty disappointed that Apollo Crews didn’t qualify for the Money in the Bank match (and that Jericho did, to be honest), but when I really think about it, I’d rather Apollo have an actual feud that might elevate him to the next level than watch him be one of the designated “guys who definitely won’t win” in a ladder match.
Kieran: Hey WWE, don’t think I didn’t notice there wasn’t a women’s match on Raw. That’s not okay. I keep saying, WrestleMania wasn’t the end of the story, it was the beginning. We’re not living in your women’s wrestling utopia yet, so shape up and give me some lady wrestles.
I did, however, enjoy Charlotte’s promo kicking Flair to the curb. You can tell the crowd was getting under her skin a little bit and she was a bit rattled, but honestly I thought that worked in her advantage. The emotion was so raw and you could tell she was pulling from some real childhood experiences as she called Flair out. I was hooked and I felt sorry for Ric, so I’d call that a success.
Elle: I’m going to be honest with you. I was so busy reacting emotionally to this segment that I completely did not notice that there wasn’t a women’s match. But now that you’ve pointed it out, that is definitely still a problem.
As for the Flairs, I loved it, even in the moments when Charlotte was having a rough time because of that awful crowd. I’ve said before that for all of the gimmicks and silliness, Ric Flair being proud of Charlotte’s success is the realest thing in wrestling. But I’m pretty sure that Charlotte’s recollection of being a little girl watching her dad on TV, and crying because that’s the only way she gets to see him, is just as real. And I’m sure that knowing just how true that was helped Ric summon those tears he was so performatively crying. So even if this wasn’t the smoothest mic work, it made me feel a lot of things, and that’s what wrestling’s all about.
I’m also really excited to see Charlotte working without her dad again, and with Dana as her opportunistic partner. Speaking of which, Ric specifically designating Dana Brooke as the new Arn Anderson was a nice touch.
Kieran: I absolutely loved Kevin Owens v AJ Styles, because aside from how good the match was, I felt like it used wins and losses to help build and establish character. AJ Styles doesn’t look any worse for losing to Kevin Owens, but Kevin Owens just beat a guy who under different circumstances might have beat the World Heavyweight Champion. That makes Kev and AJ look great, and the Pop-Up Powerbomb on the steel stairs was awesome.
Kieran: I loved that we got to see TM-61 (formerly TMDK AKA The Mighty Don’t Kneel) on this week’s NXT, and they put on a really good match with Ciampa and Gargano, but I’m not sure they’re ready for NXT yet. It’s true that they’re one of the best tag teams in the world, but the way they carry themselves doesn’t feel TV ready, yet.
My girlfriend is used to seeing NXT squash matches and refers to “jobbers” as “man” as in “Oh, it’s Baron Corbin vs Man this week” because that's what their gimmick amounts to When TM61 came out, everything about how WWE presented them made it feel like it was going to be one of those matches. Maybe that was the point and we were supposed to think they were “Men” only to be surprised at how good they are. If that’s the case though, I think they should have got the win.
Elle: Hey, did you notice that both the Japanese wrestlers on NXT got to say more than two words in a row this week? It’s sad that that feels exciting, but here we are. I love Shinsuke and Asuka both, and I’d much rather hear them talk with strong Japanese accents than not hear them talk at all.
Probably my favorite moment of the episode was when Austin Aries and Shinsuke Nakamura were in the ring talking, and Aries said “I don’t understand you,” to which Shinsuke replied, “Yeah, me too.” If you’re reading these words and you didn’t see the segment, it probably looks like an English-as-a-second-language joke, but it wasn’t that at all. It was Aries reacting to Shinsuke being a strange guy, and Shinsuke calmly acknowledging that that’s what he is. Plus these two will be wrestling at Takeover, which should be a lot of fun to watch.
The other best moment of the night was Corey Graves, hipster heel commentator, giving in and dancing with No Way Jose. I don’t know if Jose’s character is going anywhere, but he definitely brings some fun moments to the show.
I enjoyed the Triple Threat for the Women’s #1 Contendership, even though it could not have been more obvious who was going to win. I like Nia Jax --- she has a great look and a lot of potential --- but I get a little bored with her being booked as practically unstoppable. I’d like to have seen Alexa Bliss win here. Her eking out a victory over someone as big as Nia and then having to face the terror that is Asuka would be a great story. But on reflection, I guess that’s too heroic of a story for a nasty little heel like Alexa. And don’t get me wrong, I love Carmella too, but she just had a title shot she barely deserved a few months ago.
Kieran: I really enjoyed the #1 Contender match, and I feel like Nia winning was the right call if you’re going into a Takeover. I’d love to see Asuka v Alexa or Carmella, but for Takeover you wanna do Asuka v Nia Jax, in my opinion.
Elle: I still enjoy the NXT Women’s Division a lot, but it’s frustrating that it’s been almost a year since Charlotte, Becky, and Sasha were called up, and it feels like they’re still recovering. Emma and Dana were doing great stuff, but then they got called up too. Now you have the two titans of Bayley and Asuka, and a whole bunch of women working really hard to become worthy of them.
Nia Jax is clearly at the top of that heap (although I think that’s partly because she’s big enough to make up for what she’s not good at yet), which means they’re relying on her a lot right now, and I’m just not sure she’s quite far enough along to keep that entertaining. Also when is indie star Athena going to make her TV debut? It seems like that’s taking an awfully long time.
Elle: I want to talk about SmackDown in general. Mostly because there are so few things from this week’s episode that I want to talk about specifically. Rusev beat Kalisto again. Cesaro fought Miz again, but this time the guy you didn’t want to see win won. Alberto Del Rio beat Zack Ryder, which admittedly isn’t something we just saw happen, but it’s not exactly setting the world on fire. Natalya fought Dana Brooke, which was probably the thing I was most excited to see, and even that had a quick and schmozzy finish when Charlotte got involved.
In fact, my favorite part of this week’s SmackDown was the video package they’ve already made about Charlotte turning on her dad, which edited out the awkward parts and added a bunch of other superstars reacting to it as if it was the realest thing that’s ever happened.
But the main point I’m getting to here is that SmackDown so frequently feels redundant, and that makes me curious to see the effect of the upcoming brand split, with each show getting its own separate roster. I wasn’t watching WWE the last time that was the status quo, and I know people have complaints about it, but one thing that seems certain is that SmackDown will have to be something besides a bunch of the same matches from RAW over again, and surely that will be an improvement.
Kieran: I’m conflicted over the brand split because I have very fond memories of the first split in 2002 and the opposite of fond memories of the brand split when I came back to wrestling in around 2009. I think if SmackDown is live and they keep the brands as distinct entities, then hopefully that relevance will come with, but WWE has a tendency of pinching whatever’s working great on SmackDown and moving it to RAW which makes people realize that SmackDown will always be the B-Show.
I’m tentatively optimistic, but we’ll see.