Welcome to Wrestling Wrecap, a column focused on discussing and dissecting the week in pro wrestling.
Perhaps inspired by the lackadaisical Superbowl the previous night, Raw delivered an episode bereft of much in the way of excitement. Until Thursday night, I was convinced I was going to have to somehow find some thoughts on Kurt Angle possibly retiring with a match against Baron Corbin. More on what saved me from that fate below, but the most interesting thing on both Raw and Smackdown this week, naturally, was Becky Lynch. WWE seems to have realized it too as they did what they always must with a popular act, have them interact with Stephanie McMahon and Triple H.
To be clear, I don’t necessarily disagree with this idea in practice. Stephanie and Hunter are a popular act. The problem is that too often they feel the need to make the talent they are suppose to be elevating look smaller when compared to them. How deliberate this is is up for debate, but thankfully, this was not the case with The Man.
Opening Raw with Stephanie, Becky showed that there was no fear of her being overshadowed. The parallels to Steve Austin have been prevalent for some time with Lynch, but WWE really made a point of hammering it home here. Similar to the beginnings of the Austin/McMahon feud, Stephanie simply wants Becky to be healthy and fit to face Rousey. Becky sees it differently though. She doesn’t trust the people in charge because they have given her no reason to. So when she is forced to see a doctor, possibly the very same one who stopped her last match against Ronda, she lashes out. She attacks a McMahon, with little provocation, because they are trying to stop her from her goal. All that is missing to make this an almost exact recreation are police arresting Becky.
Similar to that classic angle, the reason we cheer the attack is because we understand where Austin and Lynch are coming from. We’ve seen them have to scrape and claw to get anything. Becky’s situation also has the added bonus of over twenty years of Stephanie and similar authority figures screwing people over. It is also part of what makes Ronda’s retort later fall apart.
Aside from the fact that Rousey also attacked Stephanie, we as the audience understand that Ronda has not had the experience of Becky. So, when she rattles on, at an almost unintelligible pace about “jeopardizing their match” and how she needs to stop “coming out to hear the cheers,” she gets booed.
Unlike Rousey, Charlotte does a much better job of handling the crowd on Smackdown. It helps that she is clearly the heel in this scenario and relishes in messing with Lynch. Naturally, Becky comes out through the crowd and there is another back-and-forth between these two bitter rivals. I understand the dislike for Charlotte likely being added to the Lynch/Rousey match, but when I watch segments like this it just confirms to me that the real story has always been about Becky finally removing the albatross of the Queen on her way to truly becoming The Man.
Things shift into a completely different gear once Triple H comes out. Hunter gives one of his usually long-winded promos, but hits on the possibility of Becky being afraid of Rousey. It is a note that is clearly meant to be discredited and the crowd does most of the work for them there. Becky does the rest of the lifting by slapping Hunter in the face and then staring him down. The Man fears no one person. Instead, the fear from Becky is the possibility of her opportunity being taken away once again. It’s a nice direction in what is easily the best thing going in main roster WWE. Unless you really dig Baron Corbin, I guess.
The Heat is On
As previously mentioned, the Superbowl was this past Sunday. The biggest event in American sports was a surprisingly timid affair. This was compounded by the halftime show which featured Maroon 5, the musical equivalent of Soylent. Thankfully, NXT was on hand to deliver us a halftime show worthy of the biggest Sunday of the year.
Almost exactly twenty years later, Halftime Heat returned and brought six of the best wrestlers with it. Unlike its predecessor, this edition of the double H involved a crowd, some of whom were just wrestlers coming out to watch their pals perform, which is incredibly endearing. Also, sadly, this installment did not involve any forklifts.
If the original was a good summation of what made the Attitude Era work than this version managed to do that for the current era of NXT. One a bit more overbooked, another a bit more spot heavy, both managing to engage you with the characters as they battled it out. While the NXT match had nothing at stake it didn’t stop the sextet of talent from unleashing in the ring. The true star of the match being Velveteen Dream. His decision when staring down all three members of the opposing team to immediately pose being a near perfect example of clearly defining a wrestler’s character in the ring. Truly, there was no slouch for this match and it was the perfect remedy to a lackluster halftime show, no Spongebob references required.
As I also mentioned above, I was reminded Thursday evening of All Elite Wrestling’s latest press conference and watched with hope that I would have something, anything, to talk about other than the rest of WWE’s offerings this week. I was given more than enough. The press conference did a good job of showing what AEW might end up looking like as a promotion and also set some matches into motion for their first show in May. More importantly, it introduced some new talents, including the Lucha Bros, Pentagon Jr. and Rey Fenix, who promptly attacked the Young Bucks.
The biggest news, however, was saved for last as after a month of teasing Kenny Omega finally announced his signing with AEW. While it isn’t the most shocking development in the world it is a big step in making the company feel more legitimate. There is no denying that Omega is one of the biggest stars not in WWE currently and he chose All Elite over them. Obviously, the reasons seem pretty clear, his friends are there and he has more creative freedom, but they also express what could potentially help attract other talent to the company. A chance to have more input in your work.
In the end, AEW is still in its infancy and it would be hyperbole in the highest to suggest that they are even close to WWE’s level, but what they are is exciting. The company has promise, the promise of a new start and a new era. That promise is what gets people excited and talking, it’s what wrestling thrives on. A few years from now, I might be writing about how big of a bust this all ended up being, but for now I’m gonna remain hopeful. For better or worse, All Elite Wrestling is here to try and “change the world,” to quote their latest signing. We’ll just have to wait and see if they actually do.
Performer of the Week: Tetsuya Naito
He might not have had the best match of the week, but what Naito did do was give us with his match against Taichi is one of the best anti-hero babyface performances since the heyday of Austin. After a lackluster year in 2018, it was particularly refreshing to see Naito deliver against an opponent that most recognize as more fun than actually good in-ring. Tetsuya’s statement afterward that he wanted to be the first man to hold both the IC and Heavyweight titles in New Japan makes me hopeful that 2019 will be the Year of Naito in NJPW.
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!