Welcome to Wrestling Wrecap, a column focused on discussing and dissecting the week in pro wrestling.
This past Sunday’s TLC show ended up being one of the best main roster WWE events of the year. This was thanks, almost solely, to the Smackdown brand which consistently delivered fun matches, including two classics with Styles/Bryan and the main event, a triple threat match for the Smackdown Women’s Title. The women have continually been the most exciting part of WWE for the last half of this year and that all finally paid off in this main event.
Charlotte, Asuka and Becky Lynch are probably the three biggest women stars not named Ronda Rousey currently on the roster. Naturally, the crowd was buzzing for this match before the bell even rung and it lived up to every bit of the hype. I rarely expect much from any of the major wrestling companies once December rolls around. The year’s best matches have usually happened already and my “top ten” matches list is usually completely filled out by now. Leave it to these three women to sneak in under the radar and put on the single best main roster match of the year and one of the best women’s matches I’ve ever witnessed. That might strike you as a bit hyperbolic, especially for a TLC match, which usually put storytelling to the side and focus on setting up big spots. Thankfully, this match delivered on both sides.
Going in the story had already been laid out well. Becky and Charlotte have been feuding for most of the last five months and this was another extension of that feud. Becky has achieved what she always set out to do, she has stepped out of Charlotte’s shadow and proven that she is her equal. There is a new problem, however, between the former friends. Charlotte has taken on a new, vicious streak after getting disqualified in her match against Ronda Rousey and Becky sees this as an attempt to cash in on her success. Charlotte is just aping her style and trying to be The Man. Charlotte, of course, denies this and claims that Becky is the one still trying to live up to her.
Meanwhile, Asuka had been sidetracked since her loss to Charlotte at Wrestlemania. Losing another attempt for the title to Carmella, she started paling around with Naomi and it looked like the Empress had been relegated to “fun-loving babyface” mode. Thankfully, the fire inside of her returned just in time to earn the third spot in the planned triple threat match. For Asuka, this match was a way to show the world that she was still here and could still hang with the best in the women’s division.
Numerous times during the match, as with the build-up, Charlotte and Becky ignored Asuka to their detriment. Charlotte because she already beat Asuka and thinks she can easily do it again. Becky because for all her talk, she still can’t get Charlotte out of her head. Asuka made both women pay for their ignorance, not just by winning the title, but by showing that she was on their level. Even before the interference, The Empress more than kept up with the other two and proved that, just like in NXT, nobody is ready for Asuka.
Only by, finally, focusing on Asuka, were Charlottle and Becky finally able to come close to victory. There was, however, one last person looking to dish out revenge, the Raw Women’s Champion, Ronda Rousey. Rousey had a bone to pick with both women, Becky for attacking her, and the rest of the Raw women’s division, back in November and Charlotte for her beat down at Survivor Series. Rousey pushed both women off the ladder and Asuka seized the opportunity.
It might have been from nefarious means, but Asuka had finally done it. She was the Smackdown Women’s champion and she beat two of the best on the planet to do it. At the end of the night, it wasn’t The Queen or The Man, it was The Empress who stood tall.
The More Things Change
At TLC, General Manager-Elect and walking ratings poison, Baron Corbin, got his expected beatdown by Braun Strowman, and half the babyfaces on the Raw roster, thus ending his interminable run as GM. This dovetailed nicely into the “big shake-up” that was promised by the arrival of Vince McMahon on Raw.
For those unaware, the ratings of Raw have hit an all-time low the last few weeks. This sudden drop into dismal numbers sent the company into panic mode and they quickly announced Vince’s arrival. The hype of McMahon’s “shake-up” proved to be enough to garner a ratings boost, but it leaved a lot to be desired.
The old adage has always been “show, don’t tell.” What we got on Monday was a lot of telling. Call me a bit pessimistic, but it’s hard for me to buy a group telling me the product is going to turn around and become exciting and fresh again when the people in question are the McMahon family. All of whom are characters who have been appearing on WWE TV in, more or less, the same role for 20 years at this point.
That said, Raw was a better show this week, one that felt like it was actually attempting to use it’s entire roster and not just focus on a few of them. The question is how devoted the company is to actually changing things. We’ve been through these promises of change before and it almost always ends the same. Things change for a few months before reverting back into the same old habits. Only time will tell, but perhaps the steady decline of ratings has been enough of a wake-up call. I’d hate to be back here at the end of 2019 talking about the latest “big shake-up.”
Final Stands at Final Battle
Ring of Honor held their annual Final Battle event this past Friday. Widely regarded as the company’s version of Wrestlemania, the event closes out the year in ROH with some of their biggest matches and the conclusion of long-simmering feuds. This year, most of the hype for Final Battle revolved around the rumors of The Elite finishing up with the company.
The Elite had easily the biggest year a non-WWE group have had in decades and since October, the group, particularly Cody and The Young Bucks, have been hinting at what they might be doing next. The initial tease was WWE, but that quickly transformed into the possibility of forming their own company. I won’t really discuss the rumors of that here because they are still currently rumors and nothing more. All of this led to Final Battle, which had been hailed as the final nights of not just the Bucks, Cody and Hangman Page, but the final night for SoCal Uncensored, a group that also rose to new heights of popularity thanks to The Elite and their wildly popular Youtube show, Being the Elite.
As a final farewell to these wrestlers, who are some of the biggest stars Ring of Honor has, Final Battle more than lived up. All of the departing superstars delivered (even Cody did pretty good considering his knee injury), and the main event, a wild Ladder War match between the Young Bucks, two members of SoCal Uncensored (Kazarian and Scorpio Sky), and The Briscoe Brothers, the most decorated team in ROH, was a stellar match. Naturally, the Briscoes won the titles for a staggering tenth time and if it wasn’t clear then, the farewell speech the Bucks gave to the live audience afterward certainly made it obvious. Their time in ROH was over.
The biggest problem going forward for the company is how to fill the void left by these departures. It is no secret that Cody and the Bucks were one of the biggest reasons for the growth ROH has seen in the last few years and their absence potentially craters all of the momentum the company has built up. My hope is that this rebuilding phase inspires the company to take more risks, as unlikely as that seems. ROH didn’t find success by being savvy promoters of their talent, the Bucks and Cody did most of that themselves. For lack of a better term, ROH were merely along for the ride. With the train now leaving without them, they need to step up and create their own hype, especially with a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden coming up.
Performer of the Week: Asuka
I’ll admit, the Golden Lovers made a case with their awesome tag team match in NJPW, but Asuka sealed it by not only delivering in one of the best matches of the year, but then giving us a fun and compelling match with Naomi on Smackdown. The Empress stands on top of all the competition this week as the best, long may she reign!
If you made it down here, thanks for reading! Tell me what you thought about this week’s events in wrestling in the comments and, as always, any feedback is appreciated. Cheers!