Not all good ideas are unique. Sometimes, it is just about execution. In a time when the McMahons are reviled and you need a person to play the modern version of Stone Cold Steve Austin, who should it be?
My answer would have always been Kevin Owens. And damn if he didn’t knock it out of the park on this show.
Owens beat the tar out of Ziggler in the parking lot and got banned from the building by Shane McMahon for it. Instead of abiding that command, Owens hijacked the opening segment to run down every single issue he has with the McMahons, the show, and the company.
Best part? All his reasons made perfect sense in line with the character he’s always played in WWE, from NXT until this very day. He has always been motivated by one thing: providing a better life for his family. He’ll stab friends in the back with a smile on his face if it means winning a title and taking more money home for his wife and kids.
But that fact doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have his own redeeming qualities; Owens showed them all to us here when he screamed into a live mic that Kairi Sane, Buddy Murphy, AOP, and others are being screwed out of time to perform by incessant Shane segments. And yes, it’s yet again that weird issue where WWE can parrot the issues folks have with the product and still can’t fix them. But you do have to start somewhere.
Eventually, he was removed from the building and Shane turned to his immediate issues. He wanted to soften up Roman Reigns for Extreme Rules, so he set Ziggler up to do just that in the main event. Surely it’d go off without a hitch, right?
Hah! You thought. Eat a Kevin Owens Stunner, Shane.
This was the excitement that I wanted from Raw to close the show. Now we have a guy who’s lined up to send Shane packing for good. Hopefully, he does it as soon as possible. SummerSlam’s around the corner, yeah?
The Light, the dark, and everything in between
I was so certain last week that Bray Wyatt was the man knocking on Aleister Black’s door. And I actually got giddy when I heard Ali’s promo, carefully placed one segment before Black sat down to face his adversary.
I was wrong. And hell, I still might be. But the verbiage in Ali’s promo makes me think I’ve got it figured out now.
Ali talked about danger, about evil, and about those fighting their own evils. By citing his own experience as a night shift police officer in Chicago, Ali told us what we should do when we see evil: we should run to it. Evil only wins, after all, when good men do nothing. And there are no monsters or devils that he hasn’t fought before.
Who else on the roster is dealing with their own evils? Who else is struggling between good and evil – hurt and heal, if you will? It’s GOT to be Wyatt, right? It has to be. Meanwhile, Ali is in the grassroots phase of building a fanbase. He’s earning the following right now that we know Wyatt craves more than absolutely anything else in the world.
Man, that should be stellar.
And then the other end of the equation: Aleister Black versus his mysterious adversary. Black was dressed up for the occasion in his usual backstage location, wearing a suit and tie all in black. And yet, an empty chair was all he saw. And he laughed.
“Oh very good,” Black praised. “You’re doing what I would do.” And Black started a tirade where he was boasting that the identity of his opponent didn’t matter...until a hand scraped the back of the chair. Black gasped in anticipation.
I love how Cesaro was dressed up as well in contrasting colors, but had his mouthpiece in place. It just felt so ominous to me. So right for these two figures. Some special violence awaits us on Sunday. I’m so game for both of these feuds and how they were set up on this show – even if I’m ultimately wrong about them.
It always felt like Finn Balor had to lose this match. It’s a trope of WWE, after all — the champ has to lose to the challenger before the challenger gets a championship match. Hopefully we can do away with that moving forward, but it works here because they framed it well.
Shinsuke Nakamura had a quick previously-filmed promo where he said he’s done with tag teams. Balor had one as well where he put over how dangerous Nakamura is and how he knows that Nakamura’s “desperate and dangerous.”
Also - Shinsuke paints a picture of chaos, eh Finn? I see you with that line, bud. And then they put on a really fun, really smooth match. That’s awesome.
I swear I’m not hard to please, Cageside. It’s really that easy for me.
You know what was interesting, though? Nakamura kept putting Balor down outside the ring and was looking for the count out. Nakamura felled him with a Kinshasa only for Balor to leap back into the ring at the count of nine. Nakamura tried again with a kick to the back of the head, but was ready when Balor slid back into the ring with another Kinshasa, putting Balor down for good.
It’s interesting, of course, because of the “stay down” occurrence on Raw last night where AJ Styles was telling Ricochet the very same thing. None of it probably means a thing, but it doesn’t even need to. It’s just fun to pick up small allusions between men whose careers are very much intertwined. Perhaps someone questions what happened to the Finn Balor who fought in Japan – who knows?
What I love about this too is that these guys aren’t fighting for a main title. They don’t even need to be. Shinsuke Nakamura became beloved holding the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. Finn Balor rose to fame as the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. Neither of those belts are New Japan’s top prize, and they still gained massive popularity.
All they need is some solid intrigue and a surprisingly large chunk of time when they’re ready to actually fight for that title. The crowd will eat it up.
Nikki Cross def. Carmella – Bayley finally took a different tact in trying to persuade Cross to see reason. The “I was like you” stuff comes off as a bit patronizing, but bringing up how Bliss will blame her if they lose is good because it damn near happened already. It took Nikki winning to get Alexa a title to stave off an early, abrupt end to this “friendship.”
As for Cross, she’s blinded at this point. Her acting and body language is always excellent to me, personally, and I honestly think the crowd might be willing to turn on Bayley for her if the right situation arises.
Samoa Joe is so damn good at promos - I just love how Samoa Joe makes the word “hustle” sound like a bad thing. It’s dripping with disgust when Joe says it, and that’s exactly what bugs him about Kofi Kingston.
Meanwhile, Kofi Kingston had a promo backstage late in the show and Paul Heyman made a point to lurk around in the background. Really smart stuff reminding us of Brock without bludgeoning the crowd in the head with it.
Otis Dozovic def. Xavier Woods and Daniel Bryan – Yeah, that’s a thing that happened. This was some great, simple wrestling storytelling.
Big E and Xavier Woods talked trash to Erick Rowan because they don’t like him. Daniel Bryan snapped back because he doesn’t much like New Day either. And when he insulted Heavy Machinery, they came out to talk trash right back and steal one of New Day’s catchphrases just for the hell of it.
Now everyone hates each other. Sweet! Let’s fight!
Otis’ double suplex was dope. The big dudes posturing outside the ring was dope. Rowan’s Korpiklaani shirt was dope. Super easy fun – everything I generally want from a midcard match.
Also, there really isn’t a better person for the job of dropping in some dirty innuendo than Big E, is there? Touch those championship tips, E.
F*** YEAH, PAIGE! - What a damn promo backstage, sticking up for her Kabuki Warriors! THAT MATCH IS COMING, IICONICS!
Ember Moon against the world – She’s still getting bullied by Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville, and this time they challenged her to a tag team match next week. Ember’s got to find a partner.
Now that’s a go-home show. I was a fan of every single feud on this show. This is what SmackDown can be, if given the opportunity.
Let the positivity flow, Cageside.