WINDY CITY THOUGHTS
By Tony Cline, Staff Writer
The WWE invaded Chicago this past weekend. NXT took over on Saturday night with another grade-A major show while SmackDown Backlash put on a better-than-expected showing on Sunday. Below are a few thoughts on the weekend’s action:
LIV, BILLIE, AND PEYTON ARE IN TROUBLE
When Bayley moved to the main roster, she left behind a division that had a dominant champ in Asuka, a promising newcomer named Ember Moon, and several long-serving talents that would clearly have a shot to finally display their talents in the spotlight. The result has been somewhat lackluster. Moon has been excellent, as has Asuka, but the others have really failed to rise anywhere close to the level of those two. Liv Morgan has played about the most generic babyface character imaginable, while Billie and Peyton have played the high school mean girls who bully her. I’m not sure why the WWE keeps reverting to high school story lines in the women’s division (maybe it’s time for some female writers?), but they make me cringe at the immaturity on the screen. Inside the ring, these three, plus Aaliyah, Morgan’s sometimes partner in fighting the bullies, have been beyond bland. With the emergence of Nikki Cross and Ruby Riot, both of which did an excellent job in the Triple Threat match with Asuka, and the upcoming women’s tournament that will add depth to the female roster, these three had better step up their performances soon, or they will be buried in the division for a very long time. They have all been handed an excellent opportunity; taking advantage of it is up to them.
NXT IS THE MOST CONSISTENT WWE BRAND
Backlash was a better show than I expected, and the same goes for Payback, but NXT Takeovers are consistently the best shows the WWE puts on, including WrestleMania. The booking is great, the promos are exceptional, and the action in the ring blends high impact, high energy moves with proper pacing and selling, leading to one of the most polished packages from what are supposed to be the least polished talent the WWE commands. NXT is the best blend of what is good about indie promotions with proper fundamentals that lead to an overall satisfying product…all while regularly losing their top talent to the main roster and having to reboot and reload. The performance of the brand gives us a glimpse of a better future after Vince retires or otherwise leaves the company.
FINISHERS CAN BE PROTECTED
In an entire show, no one kicked out of his opponent’s finisher. I’m not sure if the bookers at WWE have been reading our articles lately, but they certainly seem to be taking some of our criticisms to heart. In eight matches at Backlash, not a single finisher went unprotected. There were a lot of false finishes, especially in the Ziggler-Nakamura match, but false finishes are fine as long as the big moves get mostly protected. These may be the first eight matches in the last few years not to have at least one finisher kicked out of, and they put them all on one night! Hopefully, this is more than just a tease and the WWE has figured out the importance of protecting finishers going forward.
STYLES AND OWENS ARE AMAZING
AJ Styles and Kevin Owens put on the best match of the night, by far. The US Title match was a great display of proper pacing, psychology, selling, and great in-ring work. These are two of the top performers in the world today, and the end of this match, Styles being counted out because his foot got tangled in the wires on the announcers’ table, was so well done that I had to wonder for a second if it was a shoot. The finish leaves the belt on Owens without damaging Styles at all, and sets up a great feud for the future. My hope is that this is all for them right now. If AJ were to go on and capture the WWE title, then this match would give Owens a good reason to immediately challenge him and put this feud at the top of the card, where it belongs. As it is, this match added to the prestige of the US title, and it showed any doubters that Owens is absolutely on the same level as Styles.
MAHAL WINNING WAS THE RIGHT DECISION…AND A HORRIBLE ONE
Let me explain. I am of two minds on this particular finish, so I will advocate for each side of the argument. First, putting the WWE title on Jinder Mahal was a great stroke of brilliance. It shocked fans, one of the best things a wrestling company can do, and it helps build a fan base in the second most populous country in the world, one of the best things any company can do. Jinder is now a heel champion with real heat. Orton was a babyface champion who seemed more like a heel that no one really cared about. If I am going to be bored by a title run, I would prefer it be by a new talent trying to get over, not an old one that clearly just doesn’t care to entertain me anymore.
On the other hand, the WWE just passed up a great opportunity to turn real life into real money. I would have had Orton keep his belt over Mahal, maybe in less than babyface fashion, and then go full heel on Tuesday night. He should have come out and bad mouthed the indie style, the diving, etc. and really drawn the fans’ ire. It might even present a good opportunity to form a partnership with Drew Gulak and raise that performer’s profile a bit. Have randy defeat Sin Cara by squeezing a headlock so tight he gives up, really tweaking the fans. The heat he would draw would be immense. Then, you have a babyface with indie cred rise up to feud with Orton. This story line could also involve the Revival and the Hardys as well as some other talents on both shows. This would draw money and, more importantly, immense interest from a lot of the indie fans that have left WWE behind. It would also have added interest to one of the more boring title runs in recent history.