This Week In Spandex: The End Of The Beginning
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 (in spandex), NXT takes over again with another live special, Teddy Long returns for some reason, and WWE finally understands how to build a meaningful feud.
Kieran: This was certainly an interesting way to start a show, six fellas sat up on top of ladders interrupting each other for around 10 minutes. Things really kicked off when Teddy Long’s music hit, which I did not expect at all but I’m always happy to see Teddy in limited cameo capacities. I’m interested in seeing how you took this segment as a newer fan, because it played on a lot of tropes from before you were watching.
Elle: I did not really understand this segment, I admit. I didn’t know who Teddy Long was, for one thing. I still don’t know if being out of it was always part of his character, or if they were just playing off of him being old. For that matter I also didn’t understand why the show started with everybody sitting on ladders. It seems like a lot to ask of six guys who just want to fight each other. Kevin Owens is a prize fighter --- what’s his motivation for climbing that ladder when it’s not even a match? But I’ll tell you what did work, though, and that’s Jericho in his scarf and shorts, perched atop that ladder like Little Lord Fauntleroy. As someone with no nostalgia for Jericho’s heyday, I had no interest in cool dad Babyface Jericho, but Heel Jericho is a precious gift.
Kieran: I loved seeing Cesaro beat Jericho with the Sharpshooter because it’s a win that makes Cesaro look like a serious player, and I love when people win matches with moves aside from their usual finisher. Lucha Underground does that a lot, and I love seeing matches end unexpectedly.
I’ve noticed WWE are making a concerted effort with their high level feuds to keep people apart where appropriate, and I like it a lot. Previously, you’d see everyone wrestle each other in six-man tags to finish RAW --- and they are still there --- but now we’re heading into Money in the Bank and I’m looking forward to seeing both Reigns/Rollins and Cena/Styles properly get their hands on each other. I’d like to see them wrestling other people on RAW in the meantime, but at least they’re making the big matches feel big.
Elle: This is something I’ve noticed too. NXT’s been doing better at it all along, and I like seeing that creep up to RAW. Pay-per-views are so much more exciting if you haven’t already seen every match on the card five times with different finishes. That seems like the most obvious thing in the world, but WWE’s been acting like it hadn’t occurred to them for as long as I’ve been watching, and I’m glad they finally seem to be taking it to heart.
Kieran: I loved the psychology and the story behind Enzo & Cass v The Vaudevillains, and it was the kind of blow-off match they needed after the accident at Payback. Through NXT to now, they’ve developed a lot of chemistry and I feel like they’re going to be a driving force in the division for the rest of the year.
Elle: Even without the NXT history or the Payback injury, these two teams are such perfect enemies for each other. The Vaudevillains idolize an idealized bygone era, while Enzo and Cass are the cutting edge of right now. The past versus millennials. Traditional manliness versus post-modern masculinity. Handlebar mustaches versus leopard print hair. I just love both of these teams a lot, and I love them going up against each other.
Kieran: Once again, we have no women’s wrestling matches on a three hour episode of RAW and it’s still unacceptable. If you want to keep these wrestlers out of matches for now, you have a whole roster filled with talented women that could also be having feuds. You can have more than one women’s feud at a time, and more than one segment featuring women in three hours of television.
Elle: Not only do I agree with all of that, but this segment didn’t make much sense. Why would Nattie and Becky feel the need to interrupt Charlotte apologizing to her father? Isn’t that an action they’d be in favor of? And Charlotte’s hairsplitting about wanting to reconcile with her father without inviting him back to ringside all seemed kind of muddled even before that. The best part of the segment was Dana shuffling across the ring like a lost puppy dog and then revealing it was all an act. Dana continues to be a delight, everyone in the division continues to need more to do.
Kieran: I liked the main event of The Club v The New Day, and it reminded me of the awesome main events from when The Shield were on top. I said last week that I’m looking forward to seeing Cena with The New Day, and this was the start of that as the show finished, so I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes next week.
Kieran: I do love a good Takeover, and this one brought the quality wrestlers like they always do. I spoke at length last week about how much I love Tye Dillinger, so let’s talk about Andrade “Cien” Almas and his unfortunate hat.
Elle: Nothing about that hat is okay. Meanwhile Dillinger came out in a vest with a Deadman/Nightwing caliber high collar on it. I was all about that.
Kieran: I think Almas looks great and comfortable in a WWE ring, and he has the potential to be a really big star for the company. I’m not a huge fan of the knees in the corner as the finish though, I hope that gets changed.
Elle: Almas seems cool (other than the hat), and I’m looking forward to seeing him develop. On a personal level, I have to say I’m disappointed they didn’t bring him in with a mask. I just really like masked luchadores, and knowing that he used to be one and now he’s just a guy with a haircut is a little sad. But on the other hand, unless you’re Rey Mysterio, WWE isn’t a great place for masked luchadores to thrive (witness Kalisto’s US Championship run), so I’m sure it’s best for him that he’s escaped that trap.
Kieran: When we’re talking about potential match of the year candidates in around six months, I hope people remember how great the NXT Tag Team Championship match was, because it was my favorite match of the week by far. American Alpha and The Revival have such great chemistry and their contrasting styles compliment each other so perfectly, I want to see them wrestle a whole lot more.
Elle: Agreed, that match was red hot. I love how old school this rivalry feels: Earnest handsome athletes versus nasty pitiless bruisers. They’re like the platonic ideals of Babyface and Heel. That said, I love when American Alpha gets a little showoff-y. There were a couple of spots in this match when they reminded me of the Young Bucks, and that’s something I’m in favor of (in moderate doses). And the Revival are so good at what they do that I’ve developed an affection for them even though they’re not my kind of guys and they have no charisma to speak of. So yes, let’s keep this going.
Kieran: The novelty --- for lack of a better word --- of Shinsuke Nakamura in WWE is starting to wear off a little bit, and that’s not a bad thing by any means, it just means it’s not surreal to see him in NXT anymore. I did have trouble paying attention to this match though, because my eyes slide off the screen when Austin Aries is on it, and I spent a lot of time making jokes about how he looks like a men’s rights activist, but I liked seeing him get kneed in the face.
Elle: He doesn’t just look like a men’s rights activist. He recently set up a trans woman who writes about wrestling to get dogpiled by his Twitter followers, which was not a good look for him. (That was pretty much when I decided to stop trying to force myself to like him as a wrestler.) So yeah, Shinsuke can kick that guy in the face all day. But I’d much rather see Shinsuke fight an opponent I actually like, which is why I’m excited about his inevitable pursuit of the NXT Championship.
Kieran: Nia Jax definitely deserves some kind of award for most improved, because she not only held her own against Asuka, she brought the fight in a big way which is what you need to do if you’re going up against someone that intimidating. I would not be surprised to see Nia Jax as Women’s Champion by the end of the year, she’s going places.
Elle: They both came out of this match looking awesome. Nia looked strong as hell, and more intimidating than she ever has before. And Asuka looked like someone who actually might lose eventually, which makes her wins much more exciting. Asuka has been nothing but brutal since she arrived, so we kind of needed to see her get brutalized a bit to reestablish her as somebody we want to root for.
Kieran: Finally, the main event, a steel cage match to end the rivalry between Samoa Joe and Finn Balor. I thought they definitely brought that old school cage match intensity that I was looking for from this match, and over the course of the year I have really bought into their rivalry. I am glad that it’s over though and we get to move both guys onto new things, because the talent at NXT is so phenomenal right now that there’s so many first-time matches both guys can be having over the course of the next six months or so, it’s an exciting new start for NXT.
Elle: Like a lot of people, I was surprised to see the Demon get pinned. But if that was finally going to happen, Joe was just the monster to do it. I’ve enjoyed every match these two have had, but it’s definitely time to move on to different stories and different opponents. And maybe, for Finn at least, a different roster? I’m just saying, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Elle: As far as show-opening talk segments go, this one where Enzo and Cass interrupt the Club was pretty great. Gallows and Anderson aren’t the best talkers, but stuff like AJ doing a Three Stooges-style imitation of a Enzo getting knocked out more than makes up for that. I was rhapsodizing earlier about how much I love Enzo and Cass’s feud with the Vaudevillains, but the truth is you can put the Realest Guys against pretty much anybody and they’re going to be great. The match that followed was great too, especially with New Day on commentary and Byron Saxton feeding Big E grapes from his hand. Then of course it turned into a brawl between all the teams that’ll be in the Fatal Four Way, because wrestling.
Kieran: I didn’t really expect Enzo and Cass to ever clash with The Club, they just seem like they exist on two separate shows. I love it though, it’s such a bizarre clash of personalities and it’s what I love about wrestling.
Elle: The SmackDown women’s match wasn’t as much as we ought to get from this division in a whole week, but I enjoyed it for what it was. There was a story, and everyone’s character was clear. Becky Lynch looked like the amazing wrestler she is, and Dana Brooke looked like a cowardly heel with some physical strength but nothing like Becky’s technical skill. And Becky kicked out of a distraction roll-up, which is about as surprising as a SmackDown women’s match can get.
Kieran: I’ve been saying for a while that WWE have regressed to before the “Diva’s Revolution” now that they feel they’ve “won” as if equality and representation is a competition. This feels a little bit better than it has been for a while, but it’s still not enough for me. I feel like such a downer sometimes
Elle: I was happy to see a solo match for Kalisto, but I wasn’t thrilled when I realized he was fighting Baron Corbin, and it was all in service of the latter’s never-ending feud with Dolph Ziggler, who was on commentary being his usual charisma-deficient self. And of course Corbin won so he and Ziggler could stare at each other portentously. But hey, at least I got to watch my favorite little guy fly around a bit before he got smashed by a werewolf.
Kieran: The saddest thing is that we all knew this was going to happen as soon as Kalisto lost the title. He’s not even wrestling with Sin Cara anymore as the tag division heats up. What a shame.