This is going to be one of the most disjointed columns I’ve published in a long time. Usually I like to write to make a point, to address one or two ideas through exemplification and analysis. There will be aspects of that here, but there were so many things I wanted to talk about it is a bit of a mish-mash of ideas. That is because last week, I went to the Raw house show in Glasgow and the Aberdeen house show in Aberdeen – and when you see so much, it gets you thinking about a lot of different things too.
Let me start at the start of the first show – Raw in Glasgow. The first music we heard was Asuka’s, which in itself was a little bit of a surprise because she hadn’t at any point been advertised for the show, and I know there have been transition periods in the house show loops between NXT and WWE before. She went one-on-one against Mickie James, and despite a few awkward looking moves Asuka unsurprisingly came away with her undefeated streak still intact.
But what really struck me was how little her star power in NXT has translated to the main roster. Asuka got a decent pop when her music first hit, but once the bell rang I heard more chants for Mickie than I did for Asuka. I think all that can really be taken from this is a reminder that even though NXT is a hot product, its fanbase still only represents a small proportion of Raw and SmackDown’s audience, so even with all the hype in the world coming up to the main roster is still like starting from square one. But the show also left me all the more confused about the release of Emma.
It has left a lopsided women’s roster on Raw, resulting in a face vs face match and the Survivor Series team captain not even being on the show. I would imagine the original card would have seen Emma vs Asuka, and Alicia Fox teaming up with Nia Jax & Alexa Bliss to face Bayley, Mickie James and Sasha Banks. I would guess they ended up going with Asuka vs Mickie with the feeling that James wouldn’t be hurt by a loss. But call me crazy, as the two most experienced women in WWE it would have made sense to me to have at least one of them in the tag match to help Alexa and Nia’s development.
But I also think there’s been a missed opportunity in the women’s division on both shows so far. With the numbers imbalance on Raw, and with SmackDown doing a 3-on-4 handicap match, it seems like the perfect chance to bring Paige back into the fold. She has reportedly been cleared for a couple of weeks now, she’s probably going to get a better reaction returning in the UK than in America, and being in a tag match would give her a chance to knock off some ring rust in a low risk environment before returning to TV.
It’s not like it’s unheard of for returns from injury to come on house shows – last year Emma was wrestling for months while not on TV, and Finn Balor before Wrestlemania was on house shows before making his official return. There have been rumours that Paige will be returning at tonight’s SmackDown taping (with the announcement of an intergender match between Becky Lynch and James Ellsworth in particularly indicating shenanigans to me), but there’s no reason Paige couldn’t have returned so far. As far as her eventual return does go, if it indeed happens before Survivor Series, there’s still one spot on Team Raw…
Moving away from the women’s division, another thing that struck me was the lack of depth in the tag team division. This was something I knew anyway, but it was really highlighted with the positioning and reaction to the teams in question. Each show had one “feature” tag team match, involving the tag team champions that got good to great reactions. Raw in particular saw Seth Rollins & Dean Ambrose team up with Triple H, who got the loudest pop of anybody across the two shows, take on The Bar and Bray Wyatt. In fairness, Rollins & Ambrose got the biggest pop out of any of the regulars across the two shows, and I probably saw more merchandise for The Shield than anyone else. But Raw also saw Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson in a throwaway 8-man, with Elias and Bo Dallas, to take on Heath Slater & Rhyno, Jason Jordan and the inexplicably face again Goldust.
SmackDown also saw a throwaway 8-man, this time seeing Luke Harper & Erick Rowan teaming up with The Colons to take on the best friends of Breezango and The Ascension. Out of these matches, Elias got some good heat parodying Wonderwall by Oasis to rip on Glasgow, and Breezango got a decent pop mainly because of Fandango’s music. What concerns me – aside from teams I like being used in toilet break matches – is that fans who go to these shows are becoming conditioned to not care about multi-people matches like these. I appreciate it’s a way of getting everyone on to the show, but they all tend to follow the same formulaic format that doesn’t allow anyone the chance to get over, and it only serves to stifle anyone who is over. It’s really a no-win situation for the guys involved.
The notable tag on the SmackDown show in Aberdeen was a triple threat tag match between The New Day, The Usos, and Rusev & Aiden English. And according to the crowd, out of the six men in the match only one was a heel. Personally I quite like Aiden English’s schtick, but he was the only one the fans booed. I was surprised how positive the reaction to Rusev was, but also that he played up to it. Considering he has been a menacing, dominant, and more recently frustrated heel, he was very smiley, and was openly laughing at The New Day dancing to his entrance theme. There have been rumours of WWE turning Rusev face, and based on what I saw and heard it would work. But personally I think the tandem of Rusev with English has legs, and people seem to love the idea of Rusev Day. So I would be disappointed to see the pairing break up in a relatively short space of time.
To go back to the idea of depth in the tag team division, SmackDown showed no sign of the Hype-Bros or the number one contenders to the SmackDown Tag Team Championships, Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin. The latter in particular baffles me. American Alpha suffered because of a lack of meaningful TV time, and now Gable is suffering the same fate with his new partner, only it is being extended to house shows. I really don’t understand it. Even if they had been in the 8-man tag, it would have been better than nothing surely? It certainly would have helped the match quality. There was also no sign of Tye Dillinger, and I don’t know what I have to do to see that man in person. I’ve been to two SmackDown house shows and an NXT show since Wrestlemania, and I just seem to keep missing him. But anyway, back to the matter at hand, and the Raw side of the tag team division has obviously been affected by injuries to The Revival and Jeff Hardy, which has left Matt out on his own.
Speaking of which, Matt challenged The Miz for the Intercontinental Championship, and he got a great reaction. I put this down to a couple of things – this was his first time back to the UK with WWE in around seven years, and also he was prominently featured on TNA up until earlier this year, and TNA has a much higher potential audience reach than WWE in the UK. So for Matt, with the Broken gimmick taking the world by storm, the UK may just be his hottest market. If whoever was booking the show anticipated this, is was a great decision to pair him up with The Miz, because over the two shows I don’t think anyone got the heat Miz did. It made for a match that the crowd was really into, reacting to everything they did.
And someone else the fans were really into was Braun Strowman. He was only out in front of the crowd for a matter of minutes, but he got a big pop on his entrance, and he produced an exciting if brief segment with Kane. I maintain that this guy has superstar potential, but similarly to Asuka the match quality suffers if he sells for too long. The way it ended up going with Kane, with a DQ finish, was probably the smart move – it protected both guys, it didn’t make Kane bump too much in the twilight of his career, and it left the fans wanting more.
It was interesting to see the differences between the only match featured on both shows: a United Kingdom Championship bout between Pete Dunne and Wolfgang. Greg Hamilton on the SmackDown side gave it them the championship-style introductions, playing up that it was Scotland vs England far more than in Glasgow. It worked, because the Aberdeen crowd felt far more family-oriented, leading to pantomime reactions more often than in Glasgow. It worked either way, and the two put on a decent match each night, but I do wonder why there was the differences. It’s possible WWE felt like it would be a bigger deal on a weaker SmackDown show, but there didn’t feel to be any notable difference in quality or match time.
I actually suspect it is because WWE are well aware that Glasgow is home to the ever-growing ICW, but maybe are less aware of Wrestlezone’s presence in Aberdeen, and felt that Wolfgang and Dunne would get over better in Glasgow without the crutch of Scotland vs England. And actually, thinking about it, the different target audiences ICW and Wrestlezone have were reflected in the crowd types at the shows, which may be indicative of a larger wrestling culture in the areas regardless of company.
But getting back to WWE, the fans further north didn’t seem to know how to react to Sami Zayn. There were still cheers for him, which I suppose after how his heel turn went down would be classed as disappointing, but Sami also showed that anyone who doubts his ability to play a heel can rest easy. He is so smarmy that it works amazingly well, and this really could be a whole new lease of life for one of the better performers on the roster.
I said before that Triple H got the biggest pop of anyone over the two shows, but I think if anyone came close it was AJ Styles in Aberdeen. Now yes, he interrupted Jinder Mahal which is a sure-fire winner, but he’s also just that damn good. He beat Jinder clean in a non-title match, which I’m not letting myself believe is a sign of things to come tonight on SmackDown.
What I sincerely hope are signs of things to come though were the matches between Shinsuke Nakamura and Kevin Owens, and Finn Balor vs Samoa Joe. Nakamura vs Owens was admittedly nothing special as a match, but I thought it had a big fight feel regardless and those two together could create the fire that SmackDown has been lacking for much of 2017. Joe vs Balor is a rivalry that we know works from NXT, and again could be just what each man needs to reaffirm themselves at the top of the card. We saw the first step of this last night, as both men fought to a double-count out, and if the bring the best out of each other they can force themselves back into the spotlight alongside Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman instead of being cast in their shadow. I really didn’t think Joe vs Balor was going to be topped until the legend that is Triple H stole the show later in the night.
But the main thing I took away from seeing Raw and SmackDown live in Scotland this time around is that they still feel like the premier wrestling company in the world. I have written in the past about the match quality being better elsewhere, and that may be true. But I have been to a variety of indy shows from several different companies (including Ring of Honor) around Scotland, and none of them have felt as special to me as WWE. I’ve found there to be a sense of familiarity, of emotional investment in the WWE product that I just don’t get anywhere else. That’s setting aside the production values that will inevitably be better with a bigger budget, that was the raw emotion that I could take out of the shows. You can watch the greatest match of all time, but without that personal connection it won’t feel like it. WWE has that in spades, so for me, WWE is the best company out there