Welcome to the Weekend 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.
With less than a fortnight until the WWE descends upon New Orleans for WrestleMania 34, the red and blue brands finalized the matches which will be appearing on this year’s Show of Shows. With nothing left but to cross the T’s and dot the I’s during next week’s go-home episodes, let’s take a look at what went down this week on Raw and Smackdown.
The Beast Unleashed
Any time Brock Lesnar is around, the number one thing people want to see is carnage. On Monday night, Brock delivered. Paul Heyman set the stage by turning the tables on Roman Reigns, criticizing the Big Dog for being absent even though his suspension had been lifted. Much to Heyman’s surprise, and really nobody else’s, Reigns emerged from the crowd, steel chair in hand ready for a fight. The Beast and the Big Dog brawled, with Lesnar ultimately getting the upper hand with an F5. The Universal champion and his WrestleMania foe have clashed several times now over the past few weeks, each time with Lesnar coming out on top. While Reigns may be looking for some mode of revenge next week, don’t be surprised if WWE finally decides to keep these two apart right before their big showdown.
Miz TV is Must See
The Miz welcomed Seth Rollins and Finn Balor to the show this week. Before his guests’ arrival, Miz berated the Miztourage, saying he couldn’t count on them and deserved better. Rollins, playing instigator, chimed in that Miz should be thanking the Miztourage because he wouldn’t be champion without them. Miz stated that he was the best IC champion of all time, bigger than even Mr. Perfect, which got a noticeable reaction out of Curtis Axel. Just when it seemed the Miztourage were ready to turn on their beloved leader, the henchmen pounced on an unsuspecting Rollins and Balor, revealing the whole thing to be a ruse! This was a great job by creative of planting the seeds of dissension between the Miz and his goons. The allegiance of Axel and Dallas may very well prove to be the deciding factor in whether the Miz is able to retain his Intercontinental Championship come WrestleMania.
The Drifter Takes On Cleveland
Elias has quietly yet quickly become one of the top heels in the company. The guy can draw incredible heat, and it was on full display here as he picked apart the Cleveland crowd, insulting everyone from the winless Browns to King James. It isn’t too difficult to pander to a crowd, but Elias does it with a touch of class. The fact that, as a heel, he can still get the audience to chant “WWE stands for ‘Walk With Elias'” is a testament to his ability to work a crowd. The match with Rhyno was fine, but with only a week left until Mania, it will be interesting to see where the Drifter ends up on an already stacked card. Rumors are swirling that he may be Strowman’s surprise tag team partner, but a spot in the Andre Battle Royal seems more likely at this point.
The Hunt Continues
Nia Jax would enter Raw eager to get her hands on Alexa Bliss. Instead, she would square off with Alexa’s partner-in-crime Mickie James. James did well early, attacking the knee of her larger foe in attempts of chopping her down. The Irresistible Force would prove to be too much for James, as Jax overpowered her foe, finishing the bout with a Samoan Drop. Following the match, Bliss would attempt to jump Jax from behind, only to retreat back up the ramp after her attack proved futile. Jax was once again left unable to catch Little Miss Bliss. The match here was good, with good psychology, and in all honesty will probably be better than what we will see at WrestleMania from Jax and Bliss. It’s hard to imagine a David vs Goliath style matchup where David is the heel. With an obvious payoff (Jax getting her revenge against the bully Bliss), it’s hard to get invested in this feud at this point.
The Empress of Yesterday
Last week on Raw, Asuka was treated as little more than a pawn in the feud between Nia Jax and Alexa Bliss. This week, she delivered a squash match against an unknown wrestler. It worked in the sense that it reminded us that Asuka is a killer. Unfortunately, we already know this. It’s no secret that Asuka is undefeated, and a squash against an unknown opponent just feels pointless. With just one week left until the Show of Shows, Asuka has almost zero momentum heading into her match against Smackdown’s resident Queen, Charlotte.
Kickin’ It Old School
In a match that could have headlined Raw over a decade ago, John Cena and Kane closed out Monday’s show in a match more meaningless than any other match before it. As it stands, the Undertaker has yet to respond to Cena’s WrestleMania challenge. In Taker’s stead, Kane has arrived to keep John busy I guess? This match went on longer than one would expect for a bout including Kane, and it predictably ended with Cena putting Kane through a table with an AA. After the match, Cena once again called out the Undertaker, and in the end the feud was no better or worse than when the night began. With just one Raw left until Mania, it’s possible we don’t see the Deadman until the Showcase of the Immortals.
Cruisin’ At Altitiude
WrestleMania opponents Cedric Alexander and Mustafa Ali teamed up this week to take on TJP and Drew Gulak. Even though Alexander and Ali will very likely put on a highly entertaining match at WrestleMania, it is somewhat discouraging knowing they will almost surely be relegated to the pre-show. This tag match was a fun one, as all four of these guys are fantastic in-ring workers. A little one-upmanship between Ali and Alexander towards the end of the match was a nice way to add a little heat to the upcoming showdown between the two fan-friendly babyfaces.
Above the Bar
A week after dispatching Cesaro, Braun Strowman would take on the other member of the Bar, Sheamus. Just like last week, Strowman was able to overcome his opponent’s distraction tactics and pick up a win with a running powerslam to the Celtic Warrior. The Bar are now 0-2 against Strowman, who has still yet to find a tag team partner for their title match. Look for the Bar to surprise attack Strowman Monday night, gaining the upper hand on the go-home episode of Raw, and the Monster Among Men revealing his partner at the Show of Shows.
Ronda Gets Rowdy
Ronda’s sporadic appearances continued Monday night, as the Rowdy One chatted with partner Kurt Angle about their WrestleMania foes. Rousey wasn’t bad here, but she certainly wasn’t good, and it’s surprising why WWE continues to put her in these situations this early in her career. Ronda was soon interrupted by Absolution and Paige, who invited her “baby girl” Ronda to join her crew. Ronda declined, prompting an attack from Absolution. Rousey easily cleared the ring, with Angle restraining the former UFC champion as she applied an armbar to Mandy Rose. Rousey came out of the encounter looking like a killer, as she should. The interaction with Absolution is an interesting one, as it sets up a potential feud for Rousey following her match against the Authority at Mania. It seems very possible Angle may become Rousey’s “handler”, keeping her under control before she snaps limbs.
“YES”tleMania vs KO-Mania
A week after announcing his return to wrestling, Daniel Bryan took to the ring to announce who his WrestleMania opponents would be. To nobody’s surprise, Bryan announced a tag team match between himself and Shane McMahon taking on Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. The recently fired Zayn and Owens will earn their jobs back with a victory. Bryan was fired up here, and the idea alone of seeing him back in the ring should be enough to get you fired up too. Put him in the ring with lifelong friends and co-workers Zayn and Owens, and this match is guaranteed to be a classic, even without a death defying stunt from Shane-O.
Nakamura Requests Assistance
Backstage, Nakamura approached AJ Styles and said he looked forward to facing the champion at his best. Nakamura then asked if Styles would accompany him in his main event bout against Shelton Benjamin, who was likely to have Chad Gable by his side. Reluctantly, Styles obliged. Nakamura would go on to defeat Benjamin with a “knee-to-face”, before telling Styles that he never actually needed his help, but instead wanted AJ to see firsthand the move that Nakamura was going to use to beat him at WrestleMania, the Kinshasa. Following a post match scrum with Gable and Benjamin, Nakamura would clear the ring before lining Styles up for a Kinshasa. Shinsuke would hold back at the last second, taunting Styles before leaving the ring. While the match was good, the post fight segment worked great here in establishing a little bit of tension between Nakamura and Styles. To this point, the two have been nothing but respectful of one another. Nakamura’s mind games add an interesting layer to the feud, as doubt may begin to poison the mind of AJ Styles.
Too Machka Too Late
The participants in the upcoming United States Championship triple threat match squared off in tag team action Tuesday night, with Rusev being thrown into the mix as the fourth man. Roode and Orton played the dysfunctional tag team partners, Orton in the role of the guy who doesn’t give a hoot about anything. Eventually, Roode and Orton clashed to the point where Rusev was able to take advantage and score the pinfall over Orton. With the victory, Rusev would earn a shot into the US title match, thus making it a Fatal Four Way. It’s nice to see WWE finally recognizing that Rusev is extremely over right now, and putting him into a somewhat decent match at Mania other than the Andre Battle Royal. However, with so little time until WrestleMania, this match still feels like the flattest on the card.
Something Ziggler This Way Comes
The enigma that is Dolph Ziggler continued his descent down the Smackdown ranks as he took on Tyler Breeze. Ziggler picked up a quick win here and that was all. After vacating his US Championship back in December, Ziggler has since returned with absolutely no direction. A spot in the Andre Battle Royal awaits the Show Off, who at this point in his career is in dire need of a change in character or gimmick.
Lass Kicker Plays Riott Control
Ruby Riott would look to even the score against Becky Lynch after Lynch and Naomi defeated Riott Squad members Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan last week. Riott aimed to break down her opponent while her cohorts stalked outside the ring. Lynch would fire up and mount a comeback, eventually overcoming her foe and the numbers game. While the match was good, the loss leaves the Riott Squad at ground zero. The stable can’t buy a win at this point, and unless they can make some noise in the Women’s Battle Royal, don’t be surprised if Ruby decides to ditch her underwhelming sidekicks in short order.
Can’t Stop Won’t Stop…Bludgeoning
The Bludgeon Brothers have been an unstoppable force. Over past week, the Brothers Uso have thrown everything they had at the bludgeoning behemoths to no avail. This week, the New Day would take their best shot. Though the challenger changed, the outcome remained the same. With the Bludgeon’s ready to mash the New Day with their mallets, the Brothers Uso ascended upon the ring to make the save, thus earning a DQ loss for the New Day. The result led to arguing between the Uso’s and the New Day, who will need to work together at WrestleMania if they have any chance of cutting off the Bludgeon Brothers’ path of destruction.
WrestleMania is on the horizon, and both brands are locked and loaded for the Show of Shows. Almost every bout on the card has been finalized, with the exception of John Cena vs the Undertaker, and the participants in the two Battle Royal matches. Raw made several smart choices this week, building nicely towards each of their championship bouts. The decision to have Sasha Banks finally turn on Bayley during a backstage segment was a bit puzzling, as the betrayal seemed worthy of a bigger moment. It is still uncertain whether the two women will have a singles match or be left to tango in the Women’s Battle Royal.
Smackdown on the other hand hit several speed bumps this week. The US Title feud is floundering, while the Women’s title received no attention due to Charlotte’s recent dental surgery. While there’s no doubting the quality of matches we will see involving Daniel Bryan, Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, and Shinsuke Nakamura, there is still much to be desired in terms of storyline for these marquee bouts.
Raw picks up the win this week in a bit of a landslide. Steady progression in each of their major feuds led to a well balanced show this week, with promising matchups ahead at WrestleMania. Smackdown on the other hand seems to be skating in to WrestleMania, relying on the expected quality of their scheduled matches rather than the storyline behind them. That being said, with bouts like Charlotte vs Asuka, and Styles vs Nakamura on the card, quality may be all they need.
Thanks for reading, and tune in next week for another edition of the Wednesday Afternoon Rundown, as we get one step closer on the road to WreSullMania!