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Brand Wars: An uninspiring week in wrestling

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(Courtesy of WWE.com)

Once again, Today’s Powerbomb assesses whether or not Raw and SmackDown are living up to the centerpiece New Era pledge: to make the product more about the wrestling talent. But which brand is doing the best job of elevating its wrestlers, and which brand is pushing them into irrelevance? It’s time to find out who flourished, and who floundered.

5. Flourished: The Club (+1 for Raw)

For the third week in a row, The Club finds itself on this list. As we established, this feature will only discuss people who are either improving or worsening. The Club vacillate from week to week, but this week was a good one. Unlike last week, Gallows and Anderson picked up a victory against Kofi Kingston. The match was about as good as any TV encounter you’re going to get between tag team players shifting into singles mode, but The Club makes it here off the back of their “ringpostitis” backstage skit. The WWE seldom gets comedy right, but Gallows and Anderson are excellent mic workers with sublime comedic timing. It’s not often that The New Day aren’t in the drivers’ seat when it comes to trading acerbities, but The Club are proving themselves to be a good match both on the mic and now, it seems, in the ring.

Raw: 1

SmackDown: 0

5. Floundered: THE DUDLEY BOYZ (-1 for Raw)

The Dudley Boyz are never going to scale to the heights of their ECW and first WWE runs again, and no one expects them to. The WWE just doesn’t do those sorts of ultra-violent matches anymore, and even if it did, seeing the Dudleyville duo pull off those kinds of spots at their age would make for uncomfortable viewing. That isn’t to say that they aren’t welcome; they can still put on decent matches, and Bubba Ray Dudley has openly said that these days he’s around to put over young talent. But something just felt wrong with the pair losing against Neville and Kalisto. A cobbled together duo with no experience as a team should not be overcoming wily veterans and tag team experts like Bubba Ray and D-Von. The pair really ought to pick up a few victories here and there to maintain their credentials as an impressive team to beat.

Raw: 0

SmackDown: 0

4. Flourished: RUSEV (+2 for Raw)

Rusev has always been highly personable on the mic: his perpetual rage and indignation has always struck a good balance between comical and threatening. Rusev thundering down the ramp to insist that Raw doesn’t need a new champion when it has him was the mark of a true heel. But we also saw him dominate Roman Reigns in a one-to-one fight during his botched wedding reception. Sure, he also picked up a dirty win over Cesaro, and later got laid out by Roman Reigns, but that’s what a heel does. It also did wonders for both Cesaro and Reigns – everything he touches turns to gold. With the ceaseless talking that plagues Raw (and SmackDown) like a rash, it’s rare to see a wrestler who is never dull to listen to. “Shouty foreign man” might be the oldest gimmick in the book, but he makes it work.

Raw: 2

SmackDown: 0

4. Floundered: Carmella (-2 for SmackDown)

Carmella is a wrestler who is being booked into oblivion, and the fact that it’s to make way for Eva Marie’s charmless stage hogging ought to be a criminal offence. Even though she was victorious over Natalya, the “Princess of Staten Island” just isn’t over with the crowd. She’s doing her schtick on the way to the ring and no one reacts. She got stretched quite brutally by Natalya and screeched in pain and no one cared. Carmella is just sort of cropping up, and turning her NXT personality up to 11 without any kind of ease-in or introduction to the mainstream crowds, all while they wonder what is going on. That’s not her fault; she’s a decent wrestler with a great personality, but with the women’s division on SmackDown being one big old mess, the fans are too busy working out what the hell the WWE thinks it’s trying to accomplish to invest in these bright new stars.

Raw: 2

SmackDown: -2

3. Flourished: BRAY WYATT (+3 for SmackDown)

Bray Wyatt took to the ring for another of his promos at the start of SmackDown. One thing that can be said for SmackDown’s booking is that it’s building up tensions between a select few (Ziggler, Ambrose, and Wyatt) very, very well. Being actively embroiled in a feud based around wrestling matches has actually given Bray something to talk about, and the strong combination of promo work, skits and in-ring acumen is lifting him from the ashes quite nicely. He’s actively involved in the play-off between Ziggler and Ambrose, but by no means is he a third wheel. He’s making the lives of two guys, one who needs to focus on his actual opponent at Summerslam and one who cannot afford to lose his opportunity, extremely difficult. Why? Because he can.

Raw: 2

SmackDown: 1

3. Floundered: DANA BROOKE (-3 for Raw)

What exactly is the point of Dana Brooke? She is nowhere even close to being ready for competition on the main roster. When you can’t even correctly pull someone’s leg onto the bottom rope without turning it into club footed line-dance, you have to wonder why that person has a spot in the Raw women’s division (which is eminently superior both in terms of the overall WWE product and the recent history of women’s wrestling). She hasn’t gotten the rub from hanging out with Charlotte, she’s not a strong worker, and at a time when the women’s division desperately needs a consistent quality of wrestling, she should not be wasting Sasha Banks’ time.

Raw: -1

SmackDown: 1

2. Flourished: DEAN AMBROSE (+4 for SmackDown)

Boy, does Dean Ambrose keep on getting better and better. From start to finish, he has been SmackDown’s crutch. Like Rusev, he is a rare guy who is never boring to listen to. His bizarre cadance, his unpredictability and aloof posture is mesmeric. He doesn’t even need to wrestle on a weekly basis to command the faith of the WWE Universe, and when he does, it’s an added bonus. We’ve seen layers fall of Ambrose each week on SmackDown, and he is showing signs, if not of an impending heel turn, then at least as a lonesome tweener who hates everybody. Some guys are just natural to hate, some impossible to dislike. His cross between valiance against The Wyatt Family and sneakiness in his suckering of Dolph Ziggler at the end of SmackDown tells us nothing about what we’re going to see in Ambrose’s future. But that only makes him ever more enticing a figure in the WWE.

Raw: -1 

SmackDown: 5

2. Floundered: SETH ROLLINS (-4 for Raw)

It was noted above that Dean Ambrose can carry a feud just by coming out and talking every week. He doesn’t need to wrestle constantly to command the attention of audiences. But the same cannot be said of Seth Rollins. On the mic, he’s just nothing special. He’s a guy whose body is far better than his mouth at telling stories, and it feels like he’s entered the ring and shouted “I’ve won loads of matches, I’m really good at wrestling” a thousand times before. And that’s because he has. He’s just not bringing it to the next level, and in your author’s eyes he’s becoming weary as a result. He’d be far better suited to pre-recorded vignettes of him looking serious in an empty arena if the WWE must insist of having him talk more than he fights.

Raw: -5

SmackDown: 5

1. Flourished: ROMAN REIGNS (+5 for Raw)

Was this the best we’ve seen from Roman Reigns as a singles competitor? Probably, and what a resurgence it was. There has never been any doubt as to Roman’s in-ring prowess, but his forced personality and hasty push to the top was, as we all know, his undoing. This feud with Rusev is one of the shining lights of Raw, and the personality of both men is contributing to it. Roman Reigns is the sort of guy who would show up uninvited to a small house party, eat all of your potato chips, nonchalantly ask if you’ll go out and buy more and talk incessantly about himself in complete oblivion to the awkwardness he’s creating. In fact, he’s the sort of guy who’d show up bold as brass to your wedding reception, insult your wife and start a big fight. That the WWE is having him do just that is great viewing, and Reigns has never seemed more relaxed on the mic when letting his natural persona shine through. He has always been regarded as a complete troll on the WWE Universe, and turning him into a real life troll on other wrestlers is exactly what Reigns needs.

Raw: 0

SmackDown: 5

1. Floundered: EVA MARIE

This isn’t even funny anymore. Your author is currently anticipating Shelton Benjamin’s return to in-ring competition more than Eva Marie’s, and Shelton Benjamin isn’t even coming back anymore. There are some people who are saying that the booking of Eva Marie is “utter genius.” The thing is, these people are wrong. She’s drawing heat from the audience, but it’s “heel Michael Cole” heat. It’s detracting from the product, it’s not fun to watch, and there’s no chance of redemption at the end of it. Some have even suggested that people just don’t boo heels anymore, and that this kind of heat is legitimate. What? It’s legitimate for fans to hate a wrestler because they can’t wrestle and have absolutely no redeeming qualities as an entertainer? We are through the looking glass and that’s the sort of meta-nonsense that smarks are hankering after? Having someone dodge competition is an old trope that works, but only if there’s someone who is going to get themselves by beating that person to a pulp. Becky Lynch would get more over with a crowd if she cleaned up a dog turd in the cheap seats than she would if she fought Eva Marie. The trope also only works if the actual match promises to be any good. Seth Rollins’ endless talking might be annoying, but at least we know that when he finally gets into the ring it’s going to be a clinic that fans will pay to see. Does anybody really want to see Eva Marie wrestle? No.

Raw: 0

SmackDown: 0

Winner: Nobody

Pretty terrible shows all round for Raw and SmackDown this week. Both are being carried by their top cards at the moment. Raw is salvaged by the continuing excellence of Owens, Jericho, Enzo & Cass, Rusev and Reigns on the mic, while SmackDown is bolstered by the storyline between Ambrose, Ziggler, and Wyatt. There’s also some nice straight up dislike between Cesaro and Sheamus enjoy scraps of. But none of them are offering much in the way of strong wrestling matches to take things to the next level. That’s not to take away from the solid enough showings from Del Rio vs. Randy Orton and Rusev vs. Cesaro (which deserved to be longer), the rest of the matches on the cards do that for me.

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