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.
This Sunday’s Elimination Chamber pay-per-view saw the crowning of WWE’s first Women’s Tag Team Champions, Sasha & Bayley, as well as the successful defenses of the New Daniel Bryan’s WWE Championship and Ronda Rousey’s Raw Women’s Championship. While each of these outcomes may have been predictable, fans were left with several interesting storylines moving forward. With Fastlane only a few weeks away, and WrestleMania faintly beginning to appear on the horizon, let’s take a look at everything that went down on the Red and Blue brands, from the highs, to the lows, and everything in between.
Let me start off by saying this one is a bit of a double sided coin. Triple H opened Monday Night’s Raw by announcing to the WWE Universe the arrival of NXT superstars Tommaso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano, Aleister Black, and Ricochet. These four guys are without question the cream of the crop in WWE’s developmental brand. Each one of them is undoubtedly ready for the main roster, as they each proved by winning their debut matches, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be brought up just yet (more on that in a minute). Although the manner of their arrival wasn’t the best, there’s no denying the incredible talent and ability of these four guys, and their debut matches were arguably the best parts of the entire show.
Boss & Hug Celebration
While most fans expected Sasha and Bayley to emerge victorious at the Elimination Chamber, that didn’t make it any less satisfying when the two long time friends finally made history. There are no two women in the locker room more deserving of the Tag Titles than Sasha and Bayley, and they’ve more than earned to be where they are. The attempted attack by Nia Jax and Tamina was laughable, as they were quickly kicked aside by the new champions. The Bella Twins or the pairing of legends Trish Stratus and Lita have been rumored as potential WrestleMania foes for the Boss and Hug Connection.
As I mentioned earlier, this one was a double sided coin. Triple H opened Monday’s show with the out-of-nowhere announcement that these four superstars would be debuting. This is disappointing for many reasons, the main one being that there are infinite better ways to introduce new superstars, whether it be as an entrant in the Royal Rumble, a surprise invasion a la the Shield or Nexus, or even just a few weeks of vignettes, as they had tried with Lars Sullivan. This sudden influx of superstars also puts a damper on the recent arrival of guys like EC3, who has already been forgotten. Though it is great to see these guys finally tearing it up on the main roster, their introductions were severely lacking.
Braun vs Time
On Sunday, Braun Strowman lost to Baron Corbin in a no DQ match after interference by Drew McIntyre and Bobby Lashley led to the Monster Among Men being triple power bombed through two tables, a la the Shield. On Monday, Strowman got the win back against Corbin in a tables match, this time with no sign of McIntyre or Lashley. Corbin and Strowman have been feuding for months now in a storyline that has grown incredibly stale. Corbin already lost his job as GM, and Strowman has failed to dethrone the Beast. With little to no direction, Strowman has lost almost all momentum, and his best chances at the Universal Championship may be behind him.
Lafayette Silent Treatment
Monday’s Raw played host to one of the worst live audiences in recent memory. Whether it was the announcement of the NXT call ups to open the show, or the many near falls between Ronda Rousey and Ruby Riott that closed the show, the crowds reactions were tired and lethargic at best. It’s incredibly disappointing to have an arena full of people who seem to have no real knowledge of what, or who, they are watching. Good crowd reactions and loud pops can really give the impression that a certain match or superstar is a big deal, and Monday night, Lafayatte dropped the ball.
Heavy Machinery Acts Like A Lady
For the past few weeks, Evans has been making brief appearances across WWE television. On Raw, she made yet another appearance, but this time an intriguing one. The interaction here, which saw Evans and Heavy Machinery strutting up and down the runway ramp, with Evans looking somewhat pleased, hints that we may see the Lady of NXT assume a managerial role with the burgeoning tag team. Rumors backstage are that Evans is in line for a huge push soon, so keep an eye on these three going forward.
A Psychopath and A Lunatic
What a mixed bag this one is. Once upon a time, a match up between Dean Ambrose and Drew McIntyre could have been a pay-per-view headliner. But now, with Ambrose on his way out, and McIntyre still without firm footing, the match was nothing more than a squash. McIntyre continues to be painted as a destroyer, yet he has no direction since breaking free from Dolph Ziggler, and continues to randomly team up with Baron Corbin and Bobby Lashley for no real reason, other than disliking Braun Strowman. McIntyre needs a story to work with and he needs it fast. On a side note, it’s unfortunate seeing Ambrose going out and doing the job every week now, but his “don’t give a shit” antics these past few weeks have been great, whether it be slapping McIntyre across the face, or just completely skipping a promo with Seth Rollins in favor of just saying “slay the beast”.
A Rowdy Rematch
To close out this week’s show, Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey took on Ruby Riott in a rematch of their clash at Elimination Chamber. On Sunday, Rousey ran through Riott with little to no effort, submitting her overmatched foe in under two minutes. So it was somewhat surprising when the very next night, Riott was suddenly able to take Rousey to her limit, almost defeating the Rowdy One with several near falls after landing her Riott Kick finisher twice. The match itself was a good one, with Rousey ultimately prevailing to retain her title. As Rousey moves on to her WrestleMania feud with Becky and Charlotte, it’s hard to see where Ruby goes from here, other than falling back in line with her Riott Squad cohorts.
Shane O’Mac opened Tuesday’s Smackdown much like Triple H did with Monday’s Raw, by introducing the recent NXT debutants. Shortly after, the Miz entered to apologize to Shane for losing the Tag Team Championships to the Uso’s at Elimination Chamber. Miz’s mic work here was top notch, as he reminded Shane of his desire to make his father proud, and how much their partnership meant to him. Considering the Miz has been a heel for almost his entire WWE career, it was amazing to see him not only delivering a babyface promo, but the fans being 100% behind him. The Uso’s then emerged, offering up a rematch at Fastlane. The Miz has grown into one of WWE’s top performers both in the ring and on the mic, and while a breakup between him and Shane is inevitable, their feud should make for a great WrestleMania program.
NXT Call Ups
The four NXT superstars who debuted on Raw were also announced to appear on Smackdown Live, and just like on Monday, the new arrivals did not disappoint. Aleister Black picked up a win over Andrade, while Ciampa and Gargano were able to thwart former Smackdown Tag Champions the Bar. Sanity leader Eric Young made a rare appearance for the Blue brand, only to fall to the high flying dynamo Ricochet. Although their in-ring ability is undeniable, it’s hard to imagine what Creative does with these guys going forward, as they are scheduled to appear on NXT, Raw, and Smackdown over the upcoming weeks with no real direction.
The Empress of Yesterday
So far gone are the days of Asuka’s undefeated reign over NXT. Since her winning streak came to an end at last year’s WrestleMania, Asuka has been nothing more than a shell of what she once was. Hardly featured anymore on Smackdown, it was a surprise to even see her make an appearance this Tuesday. What was more surprising was seeing the Women’s Champion losing to Mandy Rose. The end of the match came off bad as well, with Rose feigning an injury and then poorly executing a cheap roll up. While it’s clear that WWE has big plans for Rose, it can’t be stated enough how much of a disservice they have done Asuka. With Becky and Charlotte expected to face Ronda at WrestleMania, expect for Asuka to end up on the preshow, if she’s given a match at all.
A New Day on the Horizon?
The past week of WWE television may have been the best week of Kofi Kingston’s career. Following an unfortunate injury to Mustafa Ali, Kingston was announced as his replacement as the final entrant in the elimination chamber. Kofi seized his opportunity and hasn’t looked back. Following stand out performances in last Tuesday’s gauntlet match and Sunday’s Elimination Chamber match, Kingston once again made a statement by pinning WWE Champion Daniel Bryan in the main event of Tueday’s Smackdown. Sure, it was a 3v3 tag match, but a pin is a pin, especially when it’s over the champ. And with that, Kingston earned himself a title shot at the upcoming Fastlane PPV. The story has been an amazing one for Kingston, an 11 year veteran who has more than paid his dues. The only downside is that its hard to see Kingston getting his hand raised at Fastlane, and even harder to see him getting a singles match at WrestleMania.
This was an interesting week of WWE programming. Introducing four of the top prospects from NXT out of the blue is a bold move. With Becky Lynch out of the picture due to suspension, this was a good chance for the main roster rookies to take the spotlight. While each man did their part in the ring, the noticeable disinterest of the Lafayette crowd dampened what should have been a bigger night for these guys.
With Fastlane just around the corner, now is the time for WWE to get all their ducks in a row for WrestleMania. The main event matches on Raw are virtually set in stone, with Ronda defending the Women’s Championship against Becky and Charlotte, and Brock defending the Universal Strap against Seth Rollins. That being said, Raw seems to be all over the place. While the NXT debuts were great, they came at the expense of established champions like The Revival. Guys like Finn Balor and Braun Strowman are stuck in drawn out feuds and losing momentum by the week. Raw needs to flip the switch and get some new storylines together fast.
On the flip side, Smackdown is hitting their stride at just the right time. Leading into Elimination Chamber, it was anyone’s guess who WWE Champion Daniel Bryan would be facing at WrestleMania. Now, after an incredible week, all signs point to Kofi Kingston. Whether WWE actually goes ahead and pushes the New Day rep will have to be seen. The storyline between the Miz and Shane is starting to build some layers and get some depth, which is a must for any good WrestleMania feud. One thing to keep an eye on is what happens with guys like Rusev, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Rey Mysterio who may now have to compete with Ricochet and Aleister Black for TV time.
All in all, Smackdown takes it down this week. Raw was very scattered, abandoning continuity in several instances (Lio Rush and Bobby Lashley are still friends even after Lashley turned on Rush at EC?) and sacrificing upper level talent (Elias, The Revival) to put over the new arrivals. Smackdown delivered high quality matches while continuing to strengthen their ongoing storylines. It will be interesting to see next week how much we see of the new NXT call ups, and where WWE puts their focus moving towards Fastlane.
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.