A little over a week ago we witnessed the WWE Brand Extension Draft. Both shows have now given us their first episodes with the new rosters, and here’s what I’ve gleaned from watching both shows so far.
The new era of Raw opened up in a way we’ve become very accustomed to in recent years; with the show’s power figures in the ring ready to talk to/at us for for 20 minutes. For once, what we actually got was quite pleasurable, aside from the naming of the new title, that is. Let’s be honest here, the WWE Universal Championship is a terrible name. It got a lukewarm reaction at best from the live crowd and Twitter – that bastion of common sense – was even less enamoured with it.
It makes sense for Raw to have a champion because, as much as they try to tell us that Smackdown as on the same level, Raw will always be the big dog. New General Manager Mick Foley and Commissioner Stephanie McMahon went on to announce two fatal four way matches, with the winners of both facing off in the night’s main event.
New boy Finn Balor and the returning-from-suspension Roman Reigns were our two winners, with Balor picking up the win to wrap up a fantastic birthday for the Irishman. Finn now moves on to SummerSlam to face de-facto number one contender Seth Rollins for the newly-created championship.
This should signal the start of a fantastic feud between two of the best workers in the company, if not the entire wrestling world.
Elsewhere on Raw, we had the rather surprising crowning of Sasha Banks as WWE Womens champion. I’m fully on board with this move, although I had hoped it would happen in three weeks at SummerSlam. Sasha’s victory and post-match interview have lead me to truly believe that the era of womens’ wrestling in the WWE is here, after a few false dawns this past year.
The in-ring action aside, I’m a big fan of the WCW-style announce tables up by the entrance way, as well as the addition of Corey Graves. Mauro Ranallo aside, I believe Graves is the best commentator in the company these days. More squash matches and in-ring pre- & post-match interviews are all very welcome additions to the show.
Overall Raw kicked off the new era in style. Smackdown had a lot to live up to.
Far from being a poor-to-middling show, Smackdown gave us probably its best show in around a decade. It didn’t quite hit the highs of Raw, but at an hour shorter it felt more like the wrestling show.
With WWE champion Dean Ambrose being on Smackdown, General Manager Daniel Bryan and Commissioner Shane McMahon’s task of finding a number one contender was a bit easier. After a few preliminary matches, it was decided that a 6-Pack Challenge match featuring Bray Wyatt, John Cena, AJ Styles, Apollo Crews, Baron Corbin & Dolph Ziggler was the best way to determine Ambrose’s challenger.
Of those six men, you could have ruled out Cena and Styles, as their feud still has legs. Unlike Balor on Raw, it’s far too early to give that shot to Crews. Personally I, along with JBL it seems, think Baron Corbin is a future WWE champion, but even I’m willing to admit he needs to be built up more before he is seen as a genuine contender. That leaves us with Bray Wyatt and Dolph Ziggler.
Who can forget the feud Bray and Ambrose had just last year, come on it had exploding television sets and everything. Bray is the obvious first choice for Ambrose as they have the history to go with a reignited feud, however creative rather strangely decided to go with Dolph Ziggler as the first challenger to Ambrose at SummerSlam.
For clarification, let’s just break down Ziggler’s PPV record since 2012;
For you statisticians out there, that’s a 28% win ratio, hardly the record of champions. I should also point out he’s 0-4 on big events in 2016.
Dolph Ziggler has been planted so far as a stepping stone-level wrestler for so long now, that it’s going to take some serious work to make him appear to be a legitimate challenge to Ambrose. He needs some convincing wins over the likes of Bray and AJ Styles in the coming weeks just to rehabilitate his image before the biggest party of the summer.
As mentioned above, Mauro Ranallo is far and away the best commentator in WWE, and saddling him with JBL & David Otunga would crash anyone else. Thankfully, he immediately took to ignoring JBL shouting at him with Otunga offering absolutely nothing of interest.
The 6-Pack Challenge was a fantastic bout to headline the first Smackdown Live, with all six guys getting their time to shine. It also highlighted a new way of shooting the action, with some very nice camera work rather than the standard hard camera view we have become accustomed too.
Overall a promising start to Smackdown Live, and with reinforcements like Shelton Benjamin on the way to Tuesdays, things can only get better.