By Jason Powell, Prowrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
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WWE MITB Hits
AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura in a Last Man Standing match for the WWE Championship: This was the best match these two have had in a WWE ring. The first third of the match was a little on the slow side, which is to be expected given that they ended up going over 30 minutes. It picked up from there and the last third of the match was excellent. Styles going over seems to put an end to the feud and leaves both men looking for new dance partners. My guess remains Nakamura feuds with Jeff Hardy over the U.S. Championship in a program that may have actually started on last week’s Smackdown. There are some attractive options for AJ’s next challenger, including Samoa Joe, Daniel Bryan, and The Miz. My guess is Joe, as it feels like it’s time to get the Bryan vs. Miz feud going.
Ember Moon vs. Charlotte vs. Alexa Bliss vs. Becky Lynch vs. Natalya vs. Naomi vs. Lana vs. Sasha Banks in a Money in the Bank ladder match: The more entertaining and suspenseful of the two MITB matches. The women were off the weekend house shows and presumably spent a lot of time rehearsing this match. If so, it was a wise call that paid off nicely, as this match was entertaining from bell to bell. The only real negatives came on a couple of occasions when women were left on top of the ladder and easily could have pulled the briefcase down but had to wait for whoever was late to stop them. I hope WWE management was paying attention to the crowd reactions in a couple cases. Lynch had more cheers than anyone, and there were boos when Banks was making a play for the briefcase. Lynch deserves a real push instead of being treated like a good hand. Banks has been damaged by the horribly booked angle with Bayley and a turn to put her back in her natural heel role is long overdue.
Nia Jax vs. Ronda Rousey for the Raw Women’s Championship: A strong performance from both women. This was the best outing of Jax’s career. Her big moves looked crisp and violent without appearing to be unsafe. Rousey showed that her strong performance at WrestleMania was no fluke and she’s off to a tremendous start as a wrestler. I have no doubt that her matches are highly choreographed and rehearsed, but it’s still impressive that she’s able to perform at this level at this early stage in her development. I also liked the way Rousey was on the verge of winning the match when Alexa Bliss interfered to cause the disqualification. Jax looked like a monster for most of the match and she came out of this better than she went in, but Rousey was framed as being moments away from winning the Raw Women’s Championship in her first match before Bliss stopped her.
Nia Jax vs. Alexa Bliss for the Raw Women’s Championship: A well received angle. It’s comical that there was only one heel in the women’s MITB ladder match and she ended up winning it. Bliss once again has issues with Jax and an eventual showdown match with Rousey. While I’m fine with the way things played out, I would have put a heel Sasha Banks in the Bliss role. Bliss is a dynamic talker and that should help sell her eventual match with Rousey. Banks is a very good heel talker and she could have held up that end of things nicely. More importantly, I would have more faith in Banks having a strong match with Rousey. As much as I enjoy Bliss, I was ready for a longer break from her on top of the division, and going with Banks would have shot her to the top and helped her overcome the bad booking that her character has been saddled with.
Seth Rollins vs. Elias for the Intercontinental Title: A quality match that included a rapid fire stretch that came off like the best in-ring stretch of Elias’s career. I didn’t come out of the match completely sold on Elias as an in-ring performer. He did a nice job and this was an entertaining match and yet it wasn’t a breakout performance. Rather, it felt like Rollins did the heavy lifting for the most part. That said, Elias is a really good act and I suspect he’ll have more opportunities to have that breakout match with Rollins because it didn’t seem like this was the end of the line for their feud.
Braun Strowman vs. Finn Balor vs. The Miz vs. Rusev vs. Bobby Roode vs. Kevin Owens vs. Samoa Joe vs. Kofi Kingston in a MITB ladder match: The women’s match outshined the men’s match. The men’s match was solid and the storyline of seven men attempting to stop Strowman from winning was entertaining. The effort was certainly there from the men, but the match lacked suspenseful and/or convincing near grab moments with the other wrestlers coming close to pulling the briefcase down. In fact, I can’t think of another moment in the match when I actually felt like someone else was on the verge of winning. It’s worth adding that it’s been good to see that WWE has toned down a lot of the high risk stunts we’ve seen in past MITB matches. There are still some big spots, but the tall ladders being pushed over with the wrestlers falling from the top and through tables on the floor have been replaced by a lot of safer bumps with the wrestlers falling near the ropes. One of the exceptions was the big Owens bump from the tall ladder through the tables by the stage. That was an insane bump and hopefully it was safe in terms of the area being heavily padded and he was able to walk way unscathed. By the way, his character sure managed to conquer that one week fear of heights.
Daniel Bryan vs. Big Cass: A better match than they had at Backlash. I was convinced going in that they would put Cass over to set up the need for a gimmick match at Extreme Rules. That changed once this match was made the main show opening match. Hopefully this will be the end of the line for this program and they don’t do something on Smackdown to drag it out for another month.
WWE MITB Misses
Roman Reigns vs. Jinder Mahal: I’m sure this will be rationalized by some in WWE as Chicago being a tough crowd. There always seems to be an excuse within the company that ignores the obvious fact that a large and very vocal portion of the fan base do not want to see Reigns pushed as a babyface. And spare me the crap about Reigns already being a heel because of the number of fans who are booing him. If Reigns was a true heel and had worked against a well liked babyface, there’s no doubt in my mind that the crowd would have remained engaged in the match. Instead, they chanted for everything under the sun and never gave the match a chance. I ran a really good on-site report on the main page for this event that included a reader’s in-person notes on the crowd chants and fan reactions to everything on the show. I came away disagreeing with the author stating that he felt Reigns and Mahal were just going through the motions and things would have been different had they delivered spirited performances. I felt like the effort was there from both men, but the live crowd had no interest in backing either man. In fact, I’m baffled when it comes to how WWE officials could know that this event was in Chicago and somehow come to the conclusion that it was a good idea to go with this match. Did Vince McMahon really convince himself that Reigns would be cheered simply because he worked with a foreign menace heel?
Carmella vs. Asuka for the Smackdown Women’s Championship: The match was disappointing and while Carmella is a strong personality, we’re still waiting for her to show that she can hold her own in quality singles matches. She swung and missed with Charlotte last month and didn’t fare any better this time around. Yes, Carmella has improved over the years, but clearly company officials more enamored with her personality than her actual in-ring work. The return of James Ellsworth was a fun twist, and it also set them up with a cheap finish designed to protect the challenger. Even so, there’s no denying that Asuka has been cooled off with the loss at WrestleMania and here in this match.
Bobby Lashley vs. Sami Zayn: All of those lousy Raw segments led to Lashley winning a lopsided match in decisive fashion. The vertical suplexes he did at the end of the match were well received, but the flat reaction to his entrance and even his post match celebration showed that they still have a tough battle ahead when it comes to getting Lashley over as a babyface. Here’s hoping they ship him to Smackdown and pull the trigger on a heel turn.
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