Imp’s Wrestling Adventure
This is it, the penultimate week before the wrestling world completely changes. Next week October begins! For WWE its new graphics, new stages, new photoshopped Brock Lesnars. Speaking of that means my column image is almost immediately out of date, so I guess its back to Photoshop I toddle.
For Wednesdays, we wave goodbye to our calm and relaxed single hour of NXT. Followed by a mighty hello to 4 hours of wrestling on American telly! NXT now fully on USA, AEW debuting their show Dynamite, all of us fans figuring out how in the hell we’re going to watch it all. I’ve got to fit NJPW into this somehow, what do I do this time next year when it’s the G1?
And SmackDown tested out some new fancy cameras, personally as a bit of a nerd I’m a fan of the higher frame rate giving everything a smoother, yet also less produced feeling of them. The colours are a tad more natural and it’s absolutely minor, but WWE’s presentation has really needed a bit of grit. A little less shine to the production, making the shows feel a bit more grounded rather than glossy California.
FOX have already stated they’d like a heavier lean into the first half of ‘Sports Entertainment’, this is one small, yet very important part to that puzzle. Just like wrestling, the likes of NBA, NFL, Premier League all have fancy graphics and high production, but the way they’re all filmed is a lot more grounded than WWE. Filming live sport and live television are two very different things, it looks like FOX may be leaning into that distinction.
Call me a fan. Stuff like this is great, but WWE’s new Dad does have so much influence that it wouldn’t take much to abuse it. With great power, comes a great chance of TV Network execs thinking they know best how to fix everything and possibly having the opposite effect. The pressure is on WWE to perform, however right now the bar set by FOX seems far, far away in the sky.
But how was WWE this week? Their final opportunity to set up some intrigue ahead of this new era of pressure and possible legit competition, has the hype train for next week left the station?
Monday Night RAW | SmackDown Live
September 23rd– 24th 2019
The Fiend Guaranteed To Win At Hell In A Cell?
Yowie Wowie In A Cell
The second RAW started I was going, “Yes! Feckin’ yes, all the yes!” The glossy WWE intro flickering and losing colour as if something was wrong with the transmission. Get stuck in with all of that weird stuff, RAW becoming increasingly ‘infected’ as the weeks go by. Bloody love it. God knows what they’ve got planned for the Hell In A Cell go home show next week… probably another final Fiend attack thinking about it! Why brake what don’t need fixing?
The ‘sharing is caring’ angle from this week was great, essentially with The Fiend attacking Braun Strowman during the big man’s main event with Seth Rollins. Funhouse Bray delivering the kid friendly message, but at the same time reminded us once again how The Fiend isn’t so forgiving. Did he attack Braun to make a statement of, “No, he’s mine,” in regards to Rollins? Or was it another reminder that The Fiend doesn’t forget? The confusion and anger from him abandoning the Wyatt Family to forge his own path in the brand split of 2016.
Hell, it could very realistically be both. The Fiend character has so many layers and over the course of time we’re seeing every part of his run become relevant in the chaotic structure of his mind, I don’t think I can praise the depth of this enough. The seemingly random actions of a ‘lost to the demons’ madman explained through the medium of a safe place children’s TV show in his mind. Told and built at such a pace that The Fiend has now arguably become the hottest and most popular act WWE have had in years!
It’s kind of insane to think a character so complex has been able to be portrayed in such a successful manner within WWE’s creatively chaotic environment, a world of short form storytelling that more often than not doesn’t pass the two week continuity test. Yet here’s Bray Wyatt, not only continuously building at a nice pace over the summer, but also bringing his entire run into relevancy.
The character has been an absolute home run, now we enter Hell In A Cell where the only thing left to do is officially crown him as a star.
Then there’s the champion, an act whose popularity has done nothing but decrease over the course of the year. A man who was white hot this time last year as RAW’s workhorse and emotional reuniting with Ambrose, is now walking out to start every show and deliver… recaps? Yeah, it’s an odd one, every promo of his starts in such an unnatural way as he bullet point reminds everyone of everything that happened previously.
What do you mean no real human talks like that? It’s honestly something I do every time I meet up with friends: recap plot points so we’re all up to date before smoothly carrying on from our last episode.
Rollins hasn’t exactly been painted as a strong character either, just look at the way they had him react this week to the attack at the end. The lights go down as we entered the Silent Hill of The Fiend, then the man (?) took out Strowman, choking him with The Claw as Rollins squeeees in the corner like a big brave boy.
Last week’s portrayal of Seth’s horror was of an infinitely higher quality, all subtle reactions thrown out the window to become as on the nose as possible. Because who could possibly tell you’re scared if you don’t squee?
I’ll be honest, Rollins’ character is in a weird jarring state, there’s multiple forms of the man arguably more fractured than The Fiend he faces. Recap Rollins seemingly being unaffected by any of the previous week’s events, Boyfriend Rollins & Champion Rollins full of heart and emotion and then there’s Squee Rollins who shuts down and can’t cope with anything.
The last one makes the most sense given the situation for the character, but it seemingly has little to no effect on the other two whatsoever. His writing is fractured. Hit the refresh button on the man, WWE! Clear your cache and cookies so Rollins loads more smoothly. Such a perfect time to do so given the surging popularity of his truly horrifying Hell In A Cell opponent.
Daniel Bryan vs Eric Rowan
The match formation we were all waiting for, but also something I’ve been dreading a tad personally. The tag team match of Rowan & Harper vs Roman & Bryan was always a building block they’d come to eventually, the question is can they hurdle it without falling flat on their face?
The looming fear of Bryan being the ‘mastermind’ of this whole charade is still a present possibility, this tag match gives WWE the perfect way to squash it. They can finally move on after well and truly establishing Captain Earth and the Ginger Giant as two separate acts, doesn’t hurt that it makes for a lovely way to kick off your debut on FOX.
However, the story that’s led to all this has been so random, so evidently booked week to week that a ‘swerve for the sake of a swerve’ wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest. Putting that final nail in the coffin of this God awful Roman Reigns storyline, a story that has been happening at it’s protagonist more than he’s had any influence over. Hell, if Bryan were to turn back as the mastermind… how in the hell is he a mastermind? He accomplished nothing? It resulted in Rowan attacking Bryan whilst Roman was… also there? Sometimes?
So yeah, I’m strongly hoping next week plays out down a similar trajectory to this week’s entry. With Rowan and Bryan on opposite sides of the fallout, clashing as the enemy of my enemy is my friend trope plays out between Captain Earth and Captain Joe. Just please, please don’t try to swerve us, WWE. This arc has been nonsense as it is!
One final note, as I have more praise for the ginger lad as it turns out Rowan delivers own hell of a Jackhammer. The man has seized the living hell out of this opportunity he’s been presented with, now he’s pairing strong promos with equally great matches. Sure being paired against one of greatest wrestlers going today in Daniel Bryan didn’t hurt, but the lad’s looked fantastic since going down his own lonely road.
So credit where credit is due, we’ve all known how great Harper is for a while, but Rowan is finally getting to show us all how wrong we were about him. Turns out the man was yet another talent in WWE not really given the opportunity to shine that brightly, now he is and man has he been the shining grace of this arc.
Next Week on FOX
Kofi Kingston (c) vs Brock Lesnar
Pretty, pretty please FOX? I… like Kofi, please be kind to him.
Now listen up, here’s the story, about a New Day boy, in a New Day world. And all New Day and all night everything he’s sees is New Day, cause he ain’t got nobody to wrestle. New Day, da ba dee da ba daa, da ba deee da ba daa, da be dee da ba daa.
The story of Kofi’s WWE Championship run, he’s been booked strong as hell, just hasn’t had any feuds or rivalries to really establish him as such. Closer to the booking of a relatively strong Intercontinental Champion than that of a World Champion, with his story with Orton pretty much his only arc with any substance.
That’s why I’m quick to say Kofi as a champion hasn’t been a failure, in fact he’s been fantastic in the role. But WWE haven’t done anything to give him such gravitas in their world, he’s not even main eventing his own show as he plays second fiddle most weeks to the nonsensical Roman Reigns arc. Is it really much different than when CM Punk was champion and was constantly second fiddle to John Cena? Arguably it’s worse than that given the top billing of the Universal Championship, so Kofi’s often pushed down to third place when it comes to PPV promotion.
SmackDown doesn’t start with Kofi Kingston recaps, which is such a shame given the incredible nature in which he won the championship in the first place. But this is all why I expect the man’s reign to come to an unceremonious end next week, plus that’s not even taking into account FOX’s influence. Kofi hasn’t been presented as a top star as champion, so why would the billion dollar boys want him over Lesnar as their champion?
Again, Kofi has actually been a bloody great champion, but he’s only had month to month feuds that he was never going to lose and this match here is the only one that could truly establish him as a star. But that’s the thing, that’s the exact reason he won’t win. To be the star you’ve got to beat the star, but you won’t be booked to beat the star if you’re not the star. The plague of the lost generation of WWE, the folk of the late Noughties that were never given a real shot to take that mantel and run with it.
That pattern could really be changed were Kofi to shock and actually retain his title next week, but this time it’s not just WWE calling the shots. On this occasion it isn’t WWE ‘holding one of their guys back’, FOX wants the biggest names so that’s exactly what they’ll get. These next two weeks are going to feel like one mighty swing of the reset hammer, between the FOX debut and the subsequent draft the WWE Universe is going to be in an extremely different state.
Competition can bring the best out of business, be that fighting a new rival company or merely trying not to get your ass cancelled. Everything changes next week, as a consumer it’s exciting as hell. For WWE themselves though? The pressure is on, their dillydally nature of the past few years has got to stop. If their quality is anything like it was over the summer, they’re going to be in deep trouble in the future.
There’s plenty of evidence as to what happens to top promotions when they don’t generate new stars, no matter their peak of popularity.
NXT on USA
September 18th 2019
Keith Lee vs Dominik Dijakovic
Hope you like destroyers!
One thing I feared with the move to USA was NXT’s experimentation possibly fading away, new tech or techniques tested out to see how they fly. Most of them hit, but some of them don’t and it’s the kind of thing that’s perfectly fine locked away as a WWE Network exclusive. But on live TV with over 1 million people watching? Turns out I had nothing to fear about!
Week 1 gave us the new stage, slightly more fancy lighting and cameras, but overall it was still the same old NXT. This week however, we got a few things more in the test house and I’m genuinely elated this kind of thing is still happening.
At the start of the show we were introduced to the new fancy commentator staging – there’s a light strip and everything! A rather farncy upgrade for Ranallo & Friends, whenever they don’t have their backs to the audience that is. We also got Cathy Kelly with the crowd behind her, giving a rundown of the card for the Network half of show. The sort of thing that I’d expect to feel out of place, but it wasn’t at all, her bit felt so in place and totally within the flow of the show.
However the show properly got going with our big lad clash of an opener, with Keith Lee vs Dominik Dijakovic dividing opinion with a match that’d be right at home on The Battle of Los Angeles. Something I actually mean as a compliment, it’s a certain style that’s been slowly shaped over the course of years and has become extremely popular with a niche of fans. One downside is that it often throws away logic in the face of spectacle, you get nice pops but big moves often lead to not meaning much in the flow of the match.
So I personally loved this bout between the two big boys, but totally understand if it wasn’t your cup of tea. Not everyone’s going to pop huge for a second rope Destroyer only getting a two count and the lad that took it goes on to win.
Quickly bashing through NXT other non main events stuff: Dakota Kai returned to a lovely Full Sail reaction, but she faced a Tanayra Conti who has improved leaps and bounds since the New Zealander’s injury. The Kaiwi won, however when the top of the card is either a Shirai kendo stick or Baszler tap out, I don’t like her chances of a super happy time in her near future!
Ripley brutalised a poor lass, when you play the NXT Name Generator you live or you die. Burch & Lorcan combine chopped a couple of Canadians, “One, two!” and all that. And finally Cameron Grimes & his hat weren’t quite able to repeat the dominant squash of last week, but the two of them still came out victorious over Raul Mendoza.
USA Main Event
#1 Contender’s Match for the NXT Championship
Matt Riddle vs Killian Dain
Yes, thank you Full Sail for letting me put this Irish man through a table.
Yet again these two brawled all over Full Sail, at least this time they managed to contain their chaos within the actual arena. Tables? We got ‘em! Chairs? We got ‘em too! Walls? We got ‘em in spades! This is the exact kind of energy totally void from RAW and SmackDown, an absolute brawl with an incredible tempo to it. The type of match that draws a crowd right in, especially a smaller one like Full Sail where they’re all so close to the action.
I love the way Riddle uses the kendo stick, one mighty swing that launches the thing high into the air after impact. After all the chaos The Bro locked in one hell of a Fujiwara Arm Bar for the win, sitting down and making it look absolutely devastating. These first two weeks of the 2 hour NXT Era have painted the former UFC man as a huge star, two high energy fights with Dain that have done wonders for him ahead of what will now be his first NXT Championship opportunity.
Speaking of the NXT Champion, after the match Adam Cole came out to chat shit and immediately got banged with a Fujiwara, tapping instantly within his screams from the submission. The chances of him actually losing the title next week are slim, but Matt Riddle feels like one mighty threat after the way he’s been presented recently. Not only can he bring it in the ring, but he’s proved he can step up and play in the chaos of an out and out brawl.
Undisputed Era thrive on using chaos to create an opportunity from the confusion, if Matt Riddle is able to dance around that threat then oh boy are we in for a treat of a title match. This feels like a statement for NXT’s future, the likes of Adam Cole, Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa may be on top now, but they aren’t the brand’s stars going forward on USA. That privelidge falls to the next generation of NXT, your Matt Riddles, your Keith Lees, your Dominik Dijakovics, Cameron Grimes’ hat, etc.
Three NXT titles are on the line October 2nd, with limited commercials they’re bringing it hard for the debut of the Wednesday Night Wars. The present top talent of the black and yellow brand up against the future, they really have used their two week head start on their competition wisely.
WWE Network Main Event
KUSHIDA & Breezango vs Imperium
Fair to say this sure was an ‘interesting’ match pair up.
A fun if not incredibly remarkable end to NXT’s proceedings this week. Sure, we got to see KUSHIDA boogie on down to the Fashion Police’s new farty trumpet theme, but really the only true point of note was WALTER once again making the dominant statement. Now he’s here, the Austrian ain’t messing about.
The former Ace of New Japan’s Juniors pulled out the fancy quick pin for the win, before paying for his sins by getting clobbered on the ramp by WALTER. There can only be one man with a fully capitalised name in this land. Which was the tale of the night for what is pretty much the continuation of the former Ringkampf stable of German promotion WXW fame. They had the swing of things taken away now and then but were ultimately the ones in control.
Imperium controlled the pace of the match, Breezango were the ones who brought the athleticism as KUSHIDA fought back momentum in the ring. It was clear as day which team is going to cause more ripples over the course of their time together in NXT, but this match showed the European stable do have weaknesses and can be defeated.
Nowhere near the amount of excitement as the USA hour, but it told it’s tale and asserted WALTER as the final boss to overcome. Which has so far been proved easier said than done, the Austrian United Kingdom Champion sure is an entirely different level of competitor. KUSHIDA snatched the win, but WALTER was the one with the final word.
Fun match, just not anything incredible.
Imp’s RAW Grade – Did you know it’s the Season Premiere next week?
Imp’s SD Live Grade – FOX wants ALL your top guys, Vince.
Imp’s NXT Grade – Still just a breeze to blast though, the pace of the first USA hour has been great
But now to hear from you, what did you think? What did you make of this week’s RAW/SmackDown/NXT? Are you happy with The Fiend’s run going in to Hell In A Cell? What did you make of Kevin Owens’ main event angle? Seriously, I skipped it, I have no idea, I’m genuinely asking.
Comment below, rate and click an emoji too if you’re that way inclined. I’ll be here to reply and chat this weird wrestling world.
Imp’s most recent columns:
Imp’s Wrestling Adventure – All Hail King Corbin! (RAW, SD Live & NXT, Sep 19th 2019)
Imp’s Wrestling Adventure – MSG 3:16 (RAW, SD Live & NXT, Sep 12th 2019)
Imp’s Wrestling Adventure – A Little Bit of the Bayley (RAW, SD Live & NXT, Sep 5th 2019)
Imp’s NJPW Adventure – The Story of Hiroshi Tanahashi Part 1: Becoming The Ace