Welcome to the Wednesday Afternoon Rundown, where we break down all the biggest stories from this week’s Monday Night Raw and Tuesday’s Smackdown Live. By the end, we’ll determine which brand reigned supreme and delivered a superior product for their faithful audience.
Following a lackluster Backlash, WWE wasted little time in turning their attention forward by focusing on June’s Money in the Bank pay-per-view. With Wrestlemania 34, the Greatest Royal Rumble, and Backlash all taking place within a span of four weeks, it was no surprise that many of the feuds and storylines felt worn out. With little reason to continue beating a dead horse, WWE immediately set up qualifying matches for the upcoming MitB matches, which are still more than a month away. Now that the company has a decent amount of time to put together some interesting story lines, let’s take a lot at the highs, the lows, and everything in between from Raw and Smackdown this week.
The Monster is Money
Braun Strowman squared off with Kevin Owens to kick off this week’s episode of Raw in the first qualifying match for a spot in the upcoming MitB ladder match. It’s always refreshing to see superstar’s have to earn a spot in these types of matches rather than just being named as an entrant. Whether it’s Money in the Bank, Elimination Chamber, or the Royal Rumble, having to earn a spot makes the event feel that much more prestigious. The match here was good, with Owens reminding the WWE Universe that he can hang with the biggest and baddest guys out there. Ultimately it was Strowman who got the win, which is the right move here considering he is still on the quest for his first WWE Championship.
Ember Sparks A Fire
With a men’s MitB qualifying match kicking off the show, it was only right that there be a women’s MitB qualifying match to follow. Under triple threat rules, Sasha Banks, Ruby Riott, and Ember Moon squared off for a shot at the Women’s MitB Briefcase which just recently had been successfully cashed in by Carmella. With the Riott Squad ringside, Ruby Riott was the early favorite, riding the momentum of her Backlash victory over Bayley, but it was Ember Moon who would seize the opportunity, landing her Eclipse finisher on an unsuspecting Riott for the surprise victory. Great work here by Banks to put over her younger coworkers. While it may be a shock that Riott didn’t win, Ember Moon absolutely deserves this spot in the MitB match, and very well may be the favorite to win. Although Riott continues to be featured prominently, her losses are adding up. Failed attempts against Charlotte on Smackdown Live and now shortcomings on Raw may lead to Ruby Riott becoming the female version of Bray Wyatt during his initial stint with the Wyatt Family.
Monday Night Rollins
Week in and week out, Seth Rollins is without question the number one worker on WWE programming. The quality of matches which he delivers on a consistent basis is unrivaled by any other superstar on Raw, and is arguably tops in the company, rivaled only by AJ Styles on Smackdown. With Brock Lesnar on the shelf til likely July, and the WWE Universe once again up in arms against Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins has once again slid into the role of “The Man” as the Intercontinental Champion and Raw’s top babyface (besides Braun). The idea of Rollins utilizing an “IC Championship Open Challenge” every week on Raw sounds incredible, considering Seth routinely puts on 15-20 minute matches on a weekly basis anyways.
Following the recent Superstar Shakeup, many wrestlers have found themselves floating in purgatory. Never was this more evident during this six-man-tag match on Raw, which featured Baron Corbin and the Revival taking on No Way Jose with Titus Worldwide. Although Corbin picked up the win here, he needs to be targeting guys like Seth Rollins for bigger opportunities, not recent NXT call-ups like No Way Jose. This match also makes it seem that neither Titus Worldwide nor the Revival are in any sort of position to challenge Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt for the Raw tag title. End of this day, this was nothing more than a collection of guys with nothing else to do thrown into a match together.
Why You Gotta Be So Roode?
Following an entertaining segment at Backlash which saw Elias continually interrupted by various superstars, the Drifter once again squared off with the Glorious Bobby Roode. While there was nothing wrong with the match, which saw Roode picking up the win, one can’t help but to question the booking at hand. While Roode is a fan favorite, he arguably does his best work when working as a heel, similar to say Kevin Owens. Elias on the other hand, is one of the most “over” heels on the whole roster, routinely generating massive heat from the WWE Universe during his “performances”, while still getting the crowd to chant “Walk With Elias” when prompted. The idea of putting a babyface Bobby Roode over a steaming hot drifter like Elias feels like backwards booking which could be detrimental to both superstars in the long run.
Woken Tag Division?
Raw Tag Team Champions Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt squared off with the former “Miztourage” of Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel in a match which felt a lot like a squash match even though it had no reason to. While Hardy and Wyatt have no doubt established themselves as singles competitors, they are still very green as far as being tag partners, let alone champions. Dallas and Axel on the other hand have been a unit for quite some time now, and although they have mostly played lackeys to the Miz, Dallas is a former NXT champion and Axel a former Intercontinental Champion. With The Miz now performing on Smackdown, this was a great opportunity to give the “Miztourage” a little bit of a push and see if they could stay afloat on their own. Instead, it looks like WWE will use them as a sacrificial lamb to help build up Hardy and Wyatt. The only could that can come from this feud is Bo Dallas turning heel and joining his brother, Bray.
A Mahal For All
When Jinder Mahal arrived on Monday Night Raw following the Superstar Shakeup, he promptly lost his United States Championship to Jeff Hardy, and there was a strong chance he may end up floating among the Raw midcard. Instead, Mahal picked up a hard fought victory over durable underdog Chad Gable on Monday night, before sending a message to the Big Dog himself, Roman Reigns later in the broadcast. It’s interesting to see WWE inserting Mahal into a high profile feud such as this with Roman Reigns. Considering Mahal spent the better half of 2017 as WWE Champion, much of which was met with negative review, it’s questionable for WWE to have him involved in a main event storyline. My best guess is that WWE is hoping the audience hates Jinder so much that it leads to them rooting for Roman, but this is a formula which was been tried and tested before with Reigns and has failed. The WWE Universe can look forward to plenty of very boring and very predictable matches from these two.
Showtime for the Show-Off
With the emergence of Drew McIntyre, Dolph Ziggler has once again become relevant on WWE programming. It comes as no surprise, when you consider that all of the highlight’s of Ziggler’s career have come when he has been one part of a greater picture, whether that be as a member of the Spirit Squad, or whether he’s accompanied by AJ Lee and Big E Langston. With McIntyre working as the muscle, Ziggler has a renewed sense of swagger, and the duo, who demolished former Smackdown tag team champions Slater n Rhyno this week, may have a bright future ahead of them. Although Ziggler and Drew Cinty could each realistically be competing for the Universal Championship, look for them to cut their teeth in the tag division en route to a matchup with Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt for Tag Team gold.
The Fall-Guy to Qualify
WWE closed out this week’s Raw with another triple threat match to qualify for the upcoming MitB ladder match. It was never made known why some matches were triple threats and why some were one-on-one, but the show must go on. The evening’s headlining match featured Roman Reigns taking on Finn Balor and Sami Zayn for a highly coveted MitB spot. Considering Reigns has not only held the title multiple times, but has also been a fixture in the main event scene for quite some time, it seemed a guarantee that either Zayn or Balor would pick up the win here. Once you take into account that Balor was the first ever Universal Champion, and a long reigning NXT Champion, it seemed that Sami Zayn would finally be given his chance and earn a Money in the Bank opportunity. Instead, it was in fact Finn Balor who picked up the victory and sealed his place in the upcoming ladder match. Although it is great to see Balor placed into this favorable position, it’s hard to get over the idea that he is better than this. The MitB briefcase is meant to be a way to elevate up and coming talent to main event status. Balor has already proven himself as a main event caliber Superstar, being the first ever Universal Champion, and never legitimately losing that title. Giving Balor the MitB Briefcase would undo all of that, essentially resetting the Demon King to when he first arrived from NXT. As good as Finn is, him winning the MitB briefcase would be more of a curse than a blessing.
No Room for Miz-takes
United States Champion Jeff Hardy kicked off this week’s episode of Smackdown Live going one on one against former Intercontinental Champion The Miz for a spot in the upcoming Money in the Bank ladder match. Following a great back and forth matchup, the Miz pulled off a huge win here over the well-respected Hardy with a beautiful roll-up reversal. For the past several years, the Miz has ingrained himself as the top Intercontinental Champion in WWE. With that title now on a different brand, Miz has set his sights on bigger and better things. By earning a spot in the MitB ladder match, The Miz gives himself a very legitimate chance of being a staple in the main event scene, without necessarily having to compete with the main event superstars. The best heel in all of WWE? I would say so.
Today…is Rusev Day!
Smackdown closed out their broadcast with the final MitB qualifying match of the week, and it did not disappoint. The Ultimate Underdog Daniel Bryan did everything he could against his oversized opponent Rusev, but ultimately the American Dragon was unable to pull off the upset as Rusev punched his ticket to the MitB ladder match. As was mentioned earlier, it’s always nice seeing a former champion (Daniel Bryan) putting over a red hot talent (Rusev) in situations like this. While Rusev has won WWE gold in his past, he has yet to be featured on a main event level. Daniel Bryan is already immortalized in the minds of WWE fans, so using Daniel as a means to get Rusev over with the fans is genius. When you add in the momentum that Rusev currently has with his “Rusev Day” gimmick, it’s easy to see him as one of the favorites to take home the MitB Briefcase.
Since appearing on Smackdown Live, the IIconics (Peyton Royce & Billie Kaye) have been paired with the main roster elite, including beatdowns of Charlotte Flair and assumed alliances with Smackdown Women’s Champion Carmella. On Tuesday, Peyton Royce squared off with former SD Champion Charlotte for a coveted spot in the Money in the Bank match. What followed completely undermined everything we have seen up to this point, as Charlotte was easily able to thwart the combined efforts of Royce and Kaye and pick-up a fairly easy victory here. Considering that either Royce or Kaye could benefit tremendously from a spot in the MitB ladder match, it comes as somewhat of a shock to see Charlotte picking up the win here, especially considering she is due to miss considerable time due to upcoming surgery for a ruptured breast implant (this is not a joke).
An Upsetting Upset
With a spot in the upcoming Women’s Money in the Bank match at stake, Becky Lynch squared off this week against Absolution’s Mandy Rose. Before the match, Smackdown GM Paige, also former leader of Absolution, would ban Sonya DaVille from ringside, essentially leaving Mandy Rose out to slaughter. Instead, the NXT upstart shocked the WWE Universe, picking up a shocking win all on her own against the Irish Lass Kicker. As mentioned earlier, it’s always beneficial in these sort of matches when an established superstar is able to put over an up and comer in a believable way, as we witnessed with Sasha putting over Ember Moon on Raw. The win here for Mandy Rose is huge, as it keeps Absolution relevant and also let’s the WWE Universe know that Rose and DaVille don’t need Paige in order to be successful. Secondly, this angle continues the idea that Becky Lynch may no longer have what it takes to compete with the top women in the division, which may lead to a long awaited heel turn from the Irish Lass Kicker.
Tag Team Relevance
Following the superstar shakeup, Smackdown has undergone a bit of a tag team renaissance. Featuring former tag champions such as the New Day, The Club, The Bar, and The Uso’s, the Smackdown Live tag team division is more competitive now than ever. Following a shocking upset loss by Sheamus to Xavier Woods last week, Cesaro would take on the tromboning member of the New Day in attempts to re-establish dominance. While Cesaro ultimately picked up the win, the bout foreshadowed future dissension between Cesaro and Sheamus, leading to an eventual split between the Bar, as I predicted in my Shake-Up Rundown.
After the disaster of an event that was “WWE Backlash”, it came as no surprise to see both brands moving full steam ahead towards the upcoming Money In The Bank PPV event in June. Ultimately, it was Raw who delivered a better product this week, keeping fans locked in with several high quality match ups. With Money in the Bank still over a month away, there will be plenty of time for WWE to build strong storylines leading up to the event.
While matchups between Roman Reigns vs Jinder Mahal and Bobby Roode vs Elias will populate the Raw midcard, there is no doubt that Braun Strowman and Seth Rollins will continue to be the featured superstars from Raw’s men’s division. It will be interesting to see where WWE goes with Nia Jax now that her “bully” angle with Alexa Bliss seems to be finished.
Smackdown seems to be in somewhat of a tailspin following the Greatest Royal Rumble, as many of their proposed storylines just aren’t clicking with fans. While the audience was intrigued by Nakamura’s heel turn, the constant low blows between Shinsuke and AJ Styles have brought the feud to an almost comedic level, when all fans really want is a solid 20-30 minute match between these two legends. The Tag Champions, the Bludgeon Bros, will have no shortage of opposition as the Bar, the Uso’s and the New Day all still reside on Smackdown Live. Their biggest dilemma comes in the form of the midcard, where high profile names like Randy Orton, Rusev and Jeff Hardy reside.
Following a chaotic month of April, now is a better time than ever for WWE Creative to hit the reset button and get everyone started on a fresh feud. With Money In The Bank over a month away, there is plenty of time for WWE Creative to develop meaningful storylines with the rosters of characters at their disposal. The recent introduction of mixed brand PPVs will also allowed WWE to cherry pick the top feuds from each brand each month, ensuring every match has a decent storyline leading up to it.
With everything considered, there’s no reason Money in the Bank ’18 can’t be one of the top WWE PPV events of the year in 2018.
Thank you for reading and make sure to tune in every Wednesday for the Wednesday Afternoon Rundown, when we cover all the top stories from Monday Night Raw and Tuesday’s Smackdown Live, with expert analysis on what storylines to keep an eye on moving forward.