Imp’s Wrestling Adventure
Well Sunday night was certainly interesting, wasn’t it? Great for the numbers of anyone covering the PPV, but Jesus Christ it’s fair to say the fans ‘responded’ to the main event of that show.
Not at all in the way you’d like them to when you’re struggling with ratings BEFORE a strong alternative hits the air, but hey no news is bad news if your brand’s getting out there right? Right? I went off on it for about 40 minutes on LOPR Aftershock, the second character in three days that WWE had essentially decided to discard the months of momentum of.
You want to know what I mean when I say don’t get invested in WWE’s characters or storytelling because you’ll only be punished? Watch what happens every time we get around to a Saudi Arabia show. It doesn’t matter the state of the WWE world, nor momentum, characters or any ongoing arcs, everything just gets pushed aside so the Prince gets the big matches he wants.
It’s not a coincidence Brock Lesnar has walked out of all four of these shows as Champion.
Seriously, it wouldn’t be that interfering if these angles didn’t play out on TV every week leading in to the special. But nope we get Team Hogan and Team Flair developing despite what should be Rollins’ mental struggle as he battles The Fiend, instead with Brock Lesnar vs Cain Valesquez for the WWE Championship and Braun Strowman vs Tyson Fury all eating up time. For another one of the shows where evidently a lot of us have actually stood to our word so far and have not been watching.
The NAME REDACTED shows certainly bring in a lot of money for WWE, but they also damage their brand back home every single time. A gradual chip away of good will rather than a full execution. There you go, that’s a metaphor the Prince’ll understand.
Little tangent, but I have questioned if the ‘You’ll moan, but all of you will just tune in Monday anyway’ argument actually flies when ratings/more importantly attendance numbers have been fallen so much over the years? Hell just look here on LOP, how many writers there were consistently talking WWE, now how many are there? I can tell you, the writers are still here, but they’re not watching. Tito’s part time, Tim Rose & JCool still hang about WWE with me, but DOC, Plan, Mazza, Maverick, McCool, Super Chrisss and now SirSam have all had enough of Vince’s company and stopped covering them.
That doesn’t tell me folk are just tuning in week to week out of habit, WWE are making bank, but fans have certainly been turning away. Which makes Hell In A Cell all the more confusing, it’s like if in 2011 they did the build to Money In The Bank and then didn’t make CM Punk champion. They created the hottest act in the company, arguably in wrestling today, put him in a title match and then didn’t book him to win? Why was he in the match then?
No one is ever truly ruined in WWE, momentum can always be built back up given the right promotion. Hell, that’s literally the case with Bray Wyatt. But I’d be lying if I said the mystique wasn’t damaged, that The Fiend is no longer truly special. Just another great act now, when he previously felt like so much more.
Anyway, we had a draft on our hands!
Monday Night RAW | SmackDown on FOX
October 7th– October 11th 2019
WWE Draft 2019: Night 1 Thoughts
You Can’t Fight In Here, This Is The War Room!
I too walk into rooms and loudly proclaim, “What? No booze?!”
Was this night the official death of general managers in WWE? Finally? FINALLY! With the narrative of FOX and USA executives working hard to draft the players they want for their team, it really feels like a big change with those in charge at the top back to being a faceless entity. I won’t hold out that this’ll last long, the McMahon’s will wheel their heads out the second there’s a ratings drop, but I thought this change was worth a mention. Because Jesus Christ have they needed it, with the managerial positions holding down narratives for years past their sell by date.
I’m all for those executives in board rooms, packed in like a radical idea from a mental facility. With one lad looking to his laptop and making notes as the screensaver of a peacock plays by, another trying to put a pencil on his ear only to have it fall off every time and end up awkwardly drumming on his blank sheet of paper. An incredible visual every single time, my favourite parts of the show.
Speaking of the taste being a bit off, poor Seth Rollins. The Universal Champion isn’t even a 1st Round draft pick! Hell, not even either of the first picks of the 2nd Round! He’s not even- oh, it’s split into different pools for the different nights? Ah, that makes sense. Yeah, not making RAW into the show of left over picks is probably a wise idea. You know, sometimes the ability to simply not hear the commentators and completely tune them out works against you.
Moving on, we got a nice indicator of where folk are likely to fall in the respective brand hierarchy, both AJ Styles and Drew McIntyre being chosen right out the gate by Monday Night RAW… or the USA Network War Room. How many party poppers did they work through? Did you really have to do that for everyone? Think of the janitor! Did they really have to go bananas celebrating the drafting of The Lucha Things?
Obviously the final round of drafts had run out of heavy hitters at the point, but easily the funniest part of the whole night was an ever so slightly ‘spoilery’ oversite. On WWE.com they’d listed the two pools for the Draft, so after realising late that was a thing I jumped over and – to my hilarious dismay – discovered they were literally just going down that list in order! No, seriously, I still don’t think they’ve changed it. Truly amazing, anyone who saw that list had the entire draft spoilt last night.
Big picture though, WWE have desperately needed this reset. The Draft may not have been delivered in a super exciting manner, but the refresh it potentially brings could be like a breath of fresh air for the promotion. Really with most of the damage done over the course of one year, yeah there were not great things before, but things really capitulated over the span of October 2018 – October 2019. How many soft resets happened this past year? December where we the fans are in charge with Lacey Evans/Nikki Cross/EC 3/Heavy Machinery’s call ups, the four lads from NXT, the shake-up, the wildcard summer of nonsense and a semi return to normality post-SummerSlam. That’s absolutely insane for one year.
This ultimate reset undoes them all and gives WWE a fresh start, not a blank slate ala WCW ‘forget everything you saw’, but a brand new launch pad for the USA vs FOX era. Going back to the hard split, completely separate brands only truly interacting come The Big Four (or five). Well that last bit’s not been confirmed, but one assumes. Also hopefully with only one PPV per month, slow WWE’s pace of burning through stories right the hell down. Doesn’t hurt that it also addresses the other issue like last year in which we saw AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura wrestle each other over the WWE Championship 5 times in 3 months.
There’s not really much to say about the quality of either brand right now, when SmackDown only has three blokes in Roman Reigns, Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman, it’s fair to say there isn’t any division really there for critique. Kevin Owens moving to RAW is seemingly a good move giving him a new home to get away from the blue world, I said that when he moved in the last shake up though and look how long that lasted.
Overall though, yeah, both brands look fine? Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks should be able to flesh out more now that they’re apart, their feud arguably built and ended for the perfect amount of time. FOX got the big boys for the big boy wrestling, whilst RAW went for the more athletically gifted. An interesting turnout given it was the other way round in which network wanted the great push down a sports direction, turns out what that actually means is bringing in sports personalities outside of WWE in an attempt to draw attention to the product.
Braun Strowman as well getting the shine of the FOX machine. Honestly, in the case of Tyson Fury it feels weird to actually know who he is whilst there are American viewers without the foggiest. I’m used to WWE rolling out a sports star and I’m sat there like Toast of London, “I’ve literally never heard of him.”
So even if he is outspoken in his massive homophobia, alongside the match taking place in NAME REDACTED, at least I actually know who he is? That’s not really a win is it?
Side note: that Strowman/Fury bout is 100% working over here in the UK, with the announcement getting mainstream coverage and plenty of attention. The reason this match is happening is working to a ‘T’. Not that I’m going to watch it, interesting to know though!
RAW’s Worst Angle By A Mile
Rusev vs Bobby Lashley Isn’t For Me
All this adultery to build for Team Hogan vs Team Flair in NAME REDACTED, poor Rusev.
Oh my God, they actually opened RAW with a video package recapping Lashley snogging Lana. Amazing. To be fair they couldn’t show anything from Hell In A Cell without the crowd erupting into boos, so hey, why not feature the soap opera nonsense angle instead! Again, AEW is wrestling, WWE is television entertainment. I need to keep reminding myself that now I’m bouncing between the two.
The Rusev angle isn’t for me. It’s fine, it’s fine. I’m not the target audience for this stuff… it’s still thoroughly shit though right? With Lashley walking us step for step through how adultery works, “And what’s the final piece that’s missing? That’s right! The other man’s wife! Well done, kids.”
For me this is all the proof you need that this kind of angle that worked 20 years ago doesn’t anymore, you want to know why? Because we’ve moved on, it’s been 20 freakin’ years! Lawler’s commentary is now just awkward when he’s calling a modern day women’s match, the car crash style TV of whacky stuff being flung at you is no longer the in thing and their soap opera angles in particular really feel dated.
The caveat is I’m 100% saying this as a millennial though, yeah the Attitude Era had its positives and was an insane peak for the popularity of wrestling. But it was a product of its time, that was 20 years ago and for me it’s like if someone was banging on about how much better 70s wrestling was during that insane 90s boom. WWE for all its success, hasn’t really moved past that era, still relying on its stars from that time to draw in audiences through nostalgia as the current one ain’t drawing. There’s a reason WWE’s biggest demographic drop has been us younger folk (I’m a ’92 baby), there’s also a reason AEW’s biggest success was drawing in that exact same demo.
AEW gets labelled ‘The Woke Promotion’, but WWE for me is Disney Woke. As in not actually the one instigating any change, but willing to lean in to the new social ideologies of today as they’re not idiots and can read a room. Everything AEW has done to get that ‘woke’ label is something WWE had every opportunity to, but didn’t because they’re reacting to, not an actual agent of change.
I’m not saying that’s bad, the way WWE has pushed women since 2015 has only gotten better and better and is having such a positive effect as their top talent feels more and more in place at the top of their cards.
The Attitude Era was an absolute peak of wrestling, but I hate to say it, that’s in the past. And in certain areas so is WWE. This new era is an opportunity to change that but I highly doubt they will. When I watch the product, AEW has the major advantage that they don’t have to appeal to that audience, they’re targeting a whole new audience of today without anything holding them back from diving fully in.
WWE does still try to appeal to those who have been fans for a long time, after all you can’t simply uproot a plant and expect it to live. The plant can branch out, change, grow, but it’ll always have those roots. WWE has indeed grown and changed, but they still have to appeal to that demographic that’s been watching their product for decades, in particular that late 90s peak. The bright side being that the demo is the largest number in terms of appointment TV, the downside being that us younger folk who watch in our own sweet time will eventually see it and we ain’t exactly enamoured.
Honestly though, I know I ranted but outside of Lashley/Rusev RAW absolutely blew by and was joy to watch for me. Lacey Evans vs Natalya’s Last Lady Standing was tones of fun, same for the Viking Raiders and ZigglyBob, Aleister Black felt like a badass, The O. C. vs LHP was another fast paced tag, heel Kabuki Warriors were awesome, so were Champions Lynch & Flair as always and Strowman vs Fury is a brawling ball of pure hype. A truly solid show, just didn’t get off on their strongest foot when I was already not exactly felling positive about WWE going in after Sunday.
It’s an odd one, I enjoyed so much of the show after dreading the next two hours with how it started. It’s fair to say that Rusev/Lashley segment did not set the tone for the rest of RAW, a show without much of a super remarkable nature taking place. Yet for me it didn’t matter, it was the exact kind of show I personally needed. A calming down period, sandwiched between shows WWE actually cared about.
AEW Dynamite on TNT| NXT on USA
October 9th 2019
The Defeat of The Elite
All Defeat Wrestling if you will.
The second week of the Wednesday night block, splashing out 4 hours of wrestling so foreign folk like me covering it all will never be able to go out on a Thursday ever again. Not that I did anyway, in my non-digital form I do teacher stuff and what teacher has ANY energy come Thursday night?
Bloody hell am I lucky I work part time. With all this wrestling to consume I’ve had to literally make a schedule to figure out how I’m going to watch everything for this column, even then getting through both AEW & NXT in one day is a no go. Basically, for those going, “Lol why you guys counting numbers other than the live ones for AEW?” I ask why aren’t we counting them for the others? Isn’t that rather behind the curve of how TV works now to only talk about the live numbers? This isn’t me trying to big up AEW’s total number, I’m asking why not do it for WWE aswell? For a lot of people appointment viewing is not how they consume television anymore, I myself hardly watch anything other than sports live.
Numbers rant aside, the most important thing for me is that I’ve been bloody loving these Wednesday night shows. I’ll get to NXT later, but last week AEW did a bang up job of just simply stating ‘this is what we’re going to be week-to-week, this is our product.’ And it was great, not going out there to try and blow anyone’s mind, just presenting their vision for the show and making it solid rather than spectacular.
I did have a few nit-picks, nothing’s perfect, like the questions about the referees and how rule enforcement works in AEW/what are the actual rules. But this week it’s like they took on the critique and… improved upon them all? The commentary openly talked about the referees, about their discretion and J. R. was even let loose to criticise them for not making calls he thought they should have. I mean, Jesus, I’m so used to criticism being pushed aside and being told, “No, you’re not in the business and therefore don’t know.” But no, AEW took it on board and tried to improve the product the very next week. It’s almost as if they’re a company that respects their fans or something? Or at least portrays well that they do.
As the focus of AEW is on the wrestling, let’s actually shift gears to that as I have nothing but positives about this week’s episode. From the high octane Tag Team Tournament opener, with Private Party getting in all their flashy offence and getting over like rover with yet another crowd. The best part of that match? They actually had the balls to put them over afterwards, the Young Bucks went in the favourites, the most popular and were immediately eliminated. They’re part of the Elite vs Inner Circle feud, so it’s not like they’ll have nothing to do come Full Gear next month, but it’s a damn refreshing thing to see popular stars used to genuinely catapult the new talent in such a positive way.
Then we got the main build of focus happening in AEW over these first weeks, the AEW Champion Chris Jericho and the group of lads surrounding him. Together they’re known as The Inner Circle and bloody hell was this a fantastic promo from Le Champion. A crying advertisement for how unscripted promos can absolutely work, not everyone needs to be held in scripted shackles.
Half way through Jericho managed to turn the “We the people,” crowd chant on it’s head and change it a matter of: well if you’re cheering it now, you’re cheering WWE, so are you going to chant it or not? No idea how Jack Swagger kept a straight face through all that, as a man who still comes out to that song for his MMA fights.
Omega and Moxley’s build to November also moved along nicely, with the two about to break into a barbed wired melee before PAC jumped in and spoilt the fun. The teasing of violence each week, setting expectations for their eventual clash come Full Gear. Small character moments like this make me optimistic as hell for this promotion, it’s like they’re real people with all the traits and weaknesses to boot. Adds so much to the overall product to not have a sense of ‘literally any character could have said that’ with actions and promos during segments.
Finally the show closed off with our second mighty brawl in as many weeks. With the feud between The Inner Circle and The Elite surely building to one big ass multi-man close to Full Gear, the chaos adds to the excitement but I think we’re all well aware not every show can end like this. For now though, it’s building the heat between the two factions nicely, the narrative of the control of AEW being taken away from the very men responsible for its creation.
Overall another solid outing, steadily building without feeling the need to go out and excite with pure spectacle. Last week set the AEW foundation, this time they started to build character. For me the slow and steady approach is working incredibly well, especially in comparison to WWE’s somewhat frantic pace of things lasting 3 weeks before the next chapter.
With the final perfect example for me being the tease of MJF’s ultimate heel turn. The seeds already planted, he runs out to save his mentor Cody, but before doing so takes a second to decide what to do when presented with the other road. Yes he was the hero in this circumstance, but that sign of patience was so great to see. They’re not blasting through his arc at all, in the process making it feel totally within character when he eventually does.
Again, lots of small things that add so much. Another damn solid episode of television, I really don’t have anything to complain about. AEW has been so up my street these first couple of weeks.
NXT Cruiserweight Championship
Drew Gulak (c) vs Lio Rush
205 back in the 407.
Now properly branded as an NXT Championship, are we all down for this change? The potential unceremonious death of 205 Live, a genuinely consistent show if not one that equalled that in terms of grabbing the mass audience’s attention. A product I enjoyed when I tuned in, but truthfully, I don’t really believe there’s much of a place for it in today’s wrestling world.
With 9 hours weekly as it is, I’m struggling to make room for my main viewing, never mind the likes of the smaller, more niche shows like 205 Live or NXT UK. I simply don’t have the time for them. Which is my main area of competition in this new era, we can now watch whatever we want whenever we want, so all these different shows are battling it out for my time. I only have so much and I’m sorry, but there’s no room for the likes of 205 and I can’t be the only one.
So for me the move makes all the sense in the world, not forgetting the championship will now be contested in front of a crowd that actually gives a toss from the get go. Rather than having to win them over night after night, giving everything in front of crowds that couldn’t care less when your music hit.
Lio Rush is definitely one of those wrestlers I’d brand as exciting to watch, with his insane speed and damn impressive athleticism. The antithesis of the man who walked in champion, Drew Gulak the technically sound athlete. A nice sign of the shift in eras, the 205 moving to the 407. With the likes of Rush taking the division into this new WWE world, where suddenly NXT’s got two hours to fill so needs more titles dammit!
The match was a damn fun opener, as I said earlier the technically sound versus the athletically gifted. With arguably both men’s weakness being their own ego in their self-confidence, knowing how damn great they are and those split seconds to make sure everyone knows it potentially costing them. This time it was Gulak, shut down by Rush who then flew down with the Final Hour Frog Splash for the win.
It was exciting but didn’t really need to be anything more, our match of the night was still ahead.
NXT UK Championship
WALTER (c) vs KUSHIDA
“The watchman has arrived.”
Yeah KUSHIDA’ll be alright, he’s from Japan, he’s used to stiff chops- OH JESUS!
Once again NXT delivers the best in ring action of the week. If you are a hardcore wrestling fan, then Wednesday really is the night catered to you, with both NXT and AEW surely covering all the ground you’d need. But you want your stars? You desire those matches that get you popping out of your seat? Then NXT is 100% the choice for you, definitely the show with more in ring spectacle over their competitor.
It’s a point the commentators brought up, it may be rare, but when WALTER is in a title match you’re guaranteed a classic. That’s 3 for 3 now, Dunne, Bate & KUSHIDA, all fantastic matches. This latest one may have been a shortened version of the TakeOver long hauls, but it was arguably all the better for it. Building to that back and forth climax with very clear direction and very little down time, something that really helped keep the energy of the crowd up for this entire match.
KUSHIDA seemingly finally arriving as a name in NXT too, even in defeat coming out looking much stronger than he did going in. Taking it to the fearsome Austrian, launching the man off the top rope and into the submission, a genuine threat that pushed him to his limit. Even the Power Bomb of force wasn’t enough to shut out the former IWGP Jr Heavyweight Champion, it taking a follow up with the Ripcord Lariat to finally keep him down.
The sheer power of WALTER was too much to overcome, what a dominant champion he’s becoming. The Final Boss, the real reason behind Imperium’s threat to the world of NXT. But also another bloody brilliant main event from the NXT brand, in spite of the live ratings falling, the quality is still well and truly there for me in terms of in ring action. I’m personally checking out AEW first, they’re the new shiny thing and I’m enjoying what they’re selling, but NXT is more than holding it’s own.
I’m enjoying the living hell out of both these shows, long may this era continue.
Imp’s RAW Grade – The show between shows, no need to watch but it was perfectly fine.
Imp’s AEW Grade – Another solid show, 100% check it out, building nice and slowly.
Imp’s NXT Grade – So far the place for exciting matches and best in ring action of the week.
Imp’s SmackDown on FOX Grade – It’s the Draft! Of course keep up with the Draft, but not sure you necessarily need to actually watch the show.
But now to hear from you!
Did you enjoy this week’s RAW/SmackDown/NXT/AEW?
What did you make of the first night of the WWE Draft?
What do you think of Jericho’s new The Inner Circle stable?
Comment below, rate and click an emoji too. I’ll be here to reply and chat this weird wrestling world.
Imp’s LOP Radio Adventure is LIVE every Thursday, this week was the debut of ‘LOPR After… a few days’, going back over WWE Hell In A Cell thoughts after some time to think rather than within 10 bloody mintes of the show finishing.
Imp’s most recent columns:
Imp’s Wrestling Adventure – The Wars Have Begun! (RAW, AEW, NXT & SmackDown on FOX, Oct 5th 2019)
Imp’s Wrestling Adventure – The Fiend Guaranteed To Win At Hell In A Cell? (RAW, SD Live & NXT, Sep 27th 2019)
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 NJPW Adventure – The Story of Hiroshi Tanahashi Part 1: Becoming The Ace