The new era has dawned: a New Era that, as the authority figures have repeatedly told us, is all about the new talent crashing through the glass ceiling in a beautiful meritocracy. Well, SmackDown and Raw have now happened, so how has it worked out for the wrestlers? Here’s our list of the five who flourished, and the five who floundered on the revamped Raw and SmackDown this week.
FLOURISHED: Finn Balor
The main roster debut of Finn Balor was everything we could have hoped for, and then some. It wasn’t even necessary for him to hit the top card running the way he did. Fans would have been just as satisfied if he’d entered on the mid-card and made an impression. Instead, his first order of business was not only to show what he can do in both singles and multi-man competition, but to roundly knock Roman Reigns off his perch and into the gutter. The latter alone would have been enough for him to have earned the eternal gratitude of the WWE fans; everything else, including his impending match with Seth Rollins and and a possible run as the WWE Universal Champion, is a bonus. If nothing else, Vince Russo hates him, so he must be brilliant.
FLOUNDERED: Roman Reigns
The Guy, or The Loser as he has now been christened, could not have violated the wellness policy and undergone a suspension at a more inopportune moment. Whilst he was sat at home owning his mistake, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins were killing it in the ring and on the mic, making their Battleground triple threat match all about them and Reigns’s presence a third wheel. However sour WWE was on him at this point, he at least was an absolute shoo-in to share the top card with Seth Rollins on Raw after Dean Ambrose’s departure. Until the NXT call-ups happened and Balor found himself at the top of the list. Now that he has been batted straight out of the park and the title picture, there is only the mid-card for him to play around in. This won’t stop him from showing his stuff or winning his matches, but it will be a huge fall from grace on par with The Miz’s (remember when he was in the main event of ‘Mania?) a few years back. Will The Guy ever reach the heights again? Maybe; if he is seen by the fans to pay his dues, earns his stripes, and isn’t quite so overexposed, his second chance might not be so unpopular. Sheepish, unshaven and thoroughly dejected, it’s likely to be nothing but gruel and grind for Reigns for a good while yet.
FLOURISHED: The Club
The Club really didn’t do so well when they were AJ Styles’ lackeys. In spite of the potential they had as battered, hardened international veterans, they were reduced to comedy skits (which were, admittedly, quite funny) and bungling around like a pair of incompetent goons. Part of the problem was a crisis of identity; it just didn’t work for Gallows and Anderson when in one segment they were ganging up on Styles’ enemies and in the next being bit players in multi-team tag matches and swiftly losing in singles competition to John Cena. Just a week ago, your author was even convinced that they were a busted flush, irredeemable after being split from their master and sent into the tag team division. But then they went and generated themselves a whole lot of heat last Monday on Raw. No one is going to feel any sympathy if John Cena is splattered to a pulp in the middle of the ring, but if you beat down The New Day in the middle of the Booty-Os launch, everyone is going to hate you. They also overpowered all three guys and shot an icy glare at Sonny Boy – a far cry from them having difficultly dealing with more than one person to beat up at a time. Hopefully they’ll strike a better balance between their strong timing on the mic and their in ring experience in the near future. They are a perfect heel foil to the New Day.
We all had high hopes for Cesaro after his uncomfortably real promo following being drafted to Raw. He’s the Dolph Ziggler of the Raw brand. He can go in the ring, but just keeps stalling on that big push. After months of Cesaro putting on stellar performances, but largely as a sideshow and a safe pair of hands to maintain quality in four- or six-man matches, it seemed likely that the “Swiss Superman” would finally get his hands on that brass ring and start swinging from them. Instead, on his first night in the new era, he was once again used as ring filler in a fatal four way match. As ever, he was great to watch, but there are only so many times we can watch him going from corner to corner with European uppercuts before it’s time to see something a little bit different. Hope is not lost for him, however. Although he hasn’t won a memorable match in quite some time, he also hasn’t really lost one either. He still has stock, and one wonders how he’d look on the U.S. Championship scene…
FLOURISHED: Bray Wyatt
Well, it’s about time that Bray broke out on his own. What will happen to the rest of the family remains to be seen, but he was unique in his SmackDown Live debut in that people thought it was possible that he might win the six-pack challenge. Corbin and Crews aren’t ready, Cena has done everything and is due a few more shows with Styles, whilst Wyatt and Ziggler were the genuine wild cards (both of whom the fans would have been happy to see pick up the victory). The cultist was a stellar addition to the main event of SmackDown, and his stock hasn’t dropped because he wasn’t actually pinned at the end of it. Now is the perfect time to unleash Wyatt into the upper mid-card of SmackDown and keep him looking strong, just in time for someone to make way in the WWE World Heavyweight Championship picture.
FLOUNDERED: Heath Slater
For just one, fleeting second, there was hope for Heath Slater. Swatting away whoever the punk in the ring getting ready for a match was, he cut the promo of his life on SmackDown, and the fans were behind him. The WWE Universe was calling for someone to sign Heath Slater immediately. Gone were the days of him holding together stables that were constantly obliterated, the days of him jobbing to people twice his age, the days of him never getting more than a few minutes to show off his considerable talents in the ring. For once, it felt like the one man band was going to gain some momentum.
Until Shane McMahon interrupted. For a guy who is supposed to represent the voice of the people; the man who is going to give the fans what they want and make a meritocracy out of the WWE, he sure was a colossal, patronizing bastard to the guy the WWE Universe was clearly behind. It isn’t going to do Shane’s popularity any favors if he’s slapping down a guy who the management clearly assumed was going to be laughed out of the building by the fans. It backfired spectacularly, and if that wasn’t bad enough, Rhyno came out of nowhere and broke Slater in half with the Gore. This isn’t what the fans wanted to see. It was a dreadful misjudgment by creative that is probably going to hamper any chance of a resurgence that Slater may have had.
FLOURISHED: Dolph Ziggler
Your author woke up his sleeping cohabitants with cheering when Dolph Ziggler hooked AJ Styles’ leg and got the 1-2-3. What a time to be alive if you’re a Dolph Ziggler fan. SmackDown Live, as everybody knew, was “The Showoff’s” absolute last chance saloon, and he drew first against every other cowboy in the room. To make such a big deal of the very real frustration with Ziggler’s career and turn it into a success story was a masterstroke by the WWE. For years, Ziggler has been walked all over; he took all the bumps, he did the job to all the freight train talents, he sold the devastating move within seconds of meeting his opponent to the point where you could hear the sad trombone every time he tumbled to the floor. It wasn’t even funny anymore. But now, he’s a big game player. He is an immensely talented professional wrestler, and he’s about to meet another one in Dean Ambrose. This means Dolph Ziggler putting on long, competitive wrestling matches, and it is in these matches where “The Showoff” belongs.
FLOUNDERED: Mojo Rawley
What is there to say? He made his debut screaming in Rusev’s face, and because the “Bulgarian Brute” is now on Raw he’s never going to meet him. It didn’t exactly set up some creative mileage, did it? But after the spotlight that the NXT call-ups got on Raw, you’d think that they’d have something planned for Rawley. Wrong. You could spot the hot new sign-up if you really squinted at the Battle Royal that kicked off SmackDown. Given the missed opportunity and the slim middle card, it’s hard to see what the WWE has in store for him.
FLOURISHED: Sasha Banks
All eyes were on Monday Night Raw, and the WWE harnessed the attention and pointed it in the direction of “The Boss.” She dethroned the long-tenured champion Charlotte, and given the clinic that they regularly put on in the ring against each other, as well as the outpouring of love from the crowd, you can bet that the WWE isn’t going to let Sasha Banks slip through its fingertips.
FLOUNDERED: Approximately 90 percent of SmackDown’s roster
Because the editor of TPB wanted this list to be concise, but your author just couldn’t decide who to cut from the “floundered” list, we bring you this. So, let’s go with pretty much everybody who was supposed to have a chance to shine Tuesday. There were two huge problems with the inaugural SmackDown Live: A lot of small and medium sized ones too, but this is meant to be concise.
When you’re trying to give a bunch of maligned talents a second chance and finally showcase them, it definitely is a good idea not to kick that off by having them stumble around in a great big crowd in a cramped wrestling ring. The only guy they’re meant to be putting over who shone in that match was Apollo Crews, and that was only because he made the final four. The rest – The Ascension, The Vaudevillains (and boy, do they need the kiss of life right now), Breezeango, The Usos – were all dumped. The SmackDown brand got the worst of the tag teams, and already they were being deployed as Kane’s cannon fodder. There is nothing wrong with having Kane blasting people out of the sky, but there categorically is something wrong with feeding half of your roster to him in the first 10 minutes of your big show.
The second huge problem was whatever the hell that thing with the women was supposed to be. You remember, the series of promos that just sort of stopped happening rather than ended. The women’s revolution has been a truly wonderful thing not only for what we see in the ring from that division, but what they say on the mic. Charlotte, Natalya, Becky Lynch, Paige and Sasha Banks have fostered a tougher, no-nonsense, strong headed attitude when it comes to promos in the women’s division. Your author doesn’t know what the writers got for debuting a bunch of women by having them preen and scowl and talk in a snotty, nasally drone that makes them sound like the cast of “Mean Girls,” but it should have been 10 to 15 years without parole.
SmackDown, TPB is disappointed.