Welcome to Wrestling Wrecap, a column focused on discussing and dissecting the week in pro wrestling.
For the third year in a row, both Raw and Smackdown have followed the post-Mania bliss with a “Superstar Shake-Up.” The alliterative title for the time of year when wrestlers move between brands to provide fresh match-ups and new feuds before they inevitably get run into the ground. This year’s Shake-Up is particularly interesting because in just a few short months Smackdown will be moving to the Fox network. The program will suddenly have the potential to be viewed by a slew of new eyes and the WWE naturally wants to put their best foot forward. So, how did the Shake-Up turn out for both brands?
Honestly, it was a pretty even trade-off. The past two years have seen one brand get a ton of exciting stars and match-ups while the other brand was left with the scraps. This year provided a more equal trade. The biggest acquisition, which I’ll talk about later, was Roman Reigns making his way over to Smackdown, but even that comes with Styles departing the blue brand for Raw. There were a lot of moves during this Shake-Up, some good, others less good and the only possible way to discuss them all is in listicle format with some pithy comments!
- The Miz – Miz becomes the only superstar to have moved brands during each Shake-Up. New babyface Miz has been a surprise delight and I think he’ll find some solid footing on Raw.
- Andrade & Zelina Vega – This move has me a little worried. WWE doesn’t have the best track record with managers in recent years, but if they keep these two together it could be a boon for both of them.
- Ricochet & Aleister Black – I thought these two were a lock for Smackdown, but Raw needs more solid tag teams and this duo has managed to find some nice chemistry.
- The Viking Experience (Ivar & Erik) – Sure, the name change is dumb, but I’m more confused on why they needed to change Hanson & Rowe’s names. This one is already off to a bad start.
- Rey Mysterio – I’m happy that Rey is still on the same brand as Andrade. Hopefully, we’ll continue to get more great matches between them.
- The Usos – The Usos have been on Smackdown since the brand split so, this is a good move for them. Can we finally get Usos vs Revival now, please?
- Naomi – This is a solid move and a change of scenery can only help.
- Eric Young – Poor Sanity, they had a ton of hype from NXT and did jack upon coming to Smackdown. Now, they’ve been split up with zero fanfare. I’ll be happy if Young ends up on Raw for longer than a month before being a feature on Main Event.
- EC3 – He isn’t the most impressive performer, but they are treating this guy horribly right now. I’d love to know who he pissed off because EC3 is currently DOA.
- Cedric Alexander – 205 Live remains a highly underrated show and Cedric was a big part of the program’s comeback from the Enzo disaster. He’ll hopefully get a chance to shine and show a larger audience why he is great.
- Lacey Evans – This was expected and because she is tall, blonde and has a military background, she’ll probably be champion before the year is over.
- AJ Styles – Like the Usos, Styles needed the change after being the face of Smackdown. I doubt he’ll become the face of Raw, but Styles will definitely be in the title picture.
- Finn Balor – Another needed change, Balor is exactly the type of superstar that thrives on Smackdown.
- Ember Moon – Ember has been misused on the Raw roster. My hope is she’ll find her place on the blue brand.
- Bayley – Amidst a wave of controversy, Bayley moves to Smackdown while the future of her former tag partner, Sasha Banks, is up in the air. There seemed to be considerable backlash to her appearance so, this will be fun to watch unfold.
- Kairi Sane – The Pirate Princess comes to Smackdown to team up with Asuka and while I can’t help but see it as a demotion for the Empress, they will certainly have some terrific matches.
- Lars Sullivan – Originally teased as being on Raw, Smackdown poached the giant (racist) monster and he is likely to have a huge push. Just please don’t let him take the belt from Kofi.
- Buddy Murphy – Another get from 205, the former Cruiserweight champion has reinvented himself from his days in Blake & Murphy and should be a great star for Smackdown.
- Elias – With a smaller pool of big heels, Elias should actually have an easier time on Smackdown. I see at least one world title feud in the guy’s future.
- Liv Morgan – Another split from an established team, Liv hasn’t done much to stand out in the Riott Squad and now she has a chance to.
- Chad Gable – Gable is impressive and could be a solid midcard act if they invested in him. I’m betting he’ll just team up with Shelton Benjamin again though.
- Apollo Crews – More fodder for Main Event.
- Mickie James – James has been sort of stagnant recently, the change might do her some good.
- Heavy Machinery (Otis & Tucker) – These guys are a fun duo who should get some shine in the tag division with The Usos gone and New Day busy.
All said, the Superstar Shake-Up did what it is always meant to do, get us excited for another year in WWE. If Wrestlemania is the season finale, the Shake-Up is the premiere and I’m ready to see where this new season of WWE takes us.
The Big Dog’s New Yard
You may notice one name that was left off the above list. Smackdown had one final move left up its sleeve as Roman Reigns interrupted the Vince McMahon-Elias love fest and laid out the two to huge cheers from the audience. Reigns took the mic and simply stated that Smackdown was “his yard,” before spearing Elias. It was about as perfect a booking for the, constantly-maligned, Reigns as you could get.
WWE has been in this position before too. Where they simply had Roman come out, kick ass and say very little. Coincidentally, he also beat up Vince. Though, It didn’t take long for fans to turn on him again. I try to avoid cynicism when possible in this column, but I’d be lying if I wasn’t slightly worried about how the company was going to handle a newly cancer-free Reigns. A lackluster match with Drew McIntyre at Wrestlemania did nothing to assuage those fears.
Moving the Big Dog to Smackdown, though, has potential to be a boon for both him and the company. With just 2 hours a week, the creative team will be forced to keep things short and sweet with Roman. This will hopefully lead to more segments like the one that closed this show. The problem with Reigns has always been one of character, a similar problem that plagued Cena during his heyday and Smackdown has shown a penchant for focusing more on character aspects than Raw, which could potentially lead to some much needed development for The Guy.
Of course, only time will tell if any of this happens or if WWE will once again fall into the same rut it constantly has with Roman. For their sake, and our own, I sincerely hope that this time things will be different.
The Redemption of Johnny Gargano
As fantastic as Johnny Gargano and Adam Cole’s Takeover showdown, and the eventual celebration from Johnny Champion was, one bit still continued to nag at me. After everything Gargano did throughout his quest for the belt, did he really deserve to be cheered and adored by the fans again? The easy answer is, no. He has yet to show any regret for what he did to Aleister Black and barely mentioned Ciampa during his segment this week on NXT, but I rarely go for the easy answer.
Wrestling, more than almost any other form of story-based entertainment, relies heavily on the present. The past is more a fun bit of trivia for die hard fans or something to be called upon if a feud needs extra juice. More often than not, the only thing that matters is the here and now. So, it makes a certain sense, from a booking perspective, that Johnny’s action would just be dropped.
NXT, however, has prided itself on being a different breed than the main roster. Continuity has been a big deal, to the point where it has started to become more noticeably important on the main shows too. In that regard, it is odd that this aspect of Gargano’s past is being ignored in favor of him simply going back to being the underdog babyface.
Perhaps it is simply a matter of opponent, as Adam Cole is clearly more of a bastard than Johnny ever was. Regardless, while I’m personally still not sold on the return of babyface Johnny Wrestling, the crowd most certainly is. It remains a testament to how good Gargano is at his craft that he can win over large swaths of people. I just hope that the next time we get a long-form story like Ciampa/Gargano it doesn’t seem washed away a few weeks later.
Performer of the Week: Velveteen Dream
After a great showing against Matt Riddle at Takeover: New York, Dream showed up on NXT this week to defend his title against the formidable, Buddy Murphy. It was easily the match of the week and a testament to how good these two have become in the last year. Dream did what he does best and fought from behind before pulling out the victory. A more definitive win than against Riddle, but still one that took effort. Still, even if the match was a dud I would have considered giving this to Dream just for him yelling, “Where’s your belt?” to Murphy.
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.