By Jake Barnett, ProWrestling.net Senior Staffer (@barnettjake)
WWE Smackdown Hits
Kofi Kingston gets his Title Shot: After a drama filled conclusion to Elimination Chamber, and a very compelling performance on last week’s edition of Smackdown, Kingston has reconnected with the WWE audience as a singles performer. It’s been obvious on social media that Kofi had won people over and is also immensely respected in the WWE locker room, and so I think everyone was pushing for him to get an opportunity at a singles World Championship. Daniel Bryan, to his credit, has also played his role perfectly in this process. I’m intrigued by the potential directions they could take in building this match over a short two week build to Fastlane, and this may be a good opportunity for the New Day to test the waters of taking on a more serious tone to their act. Their humor is generally well received, but Kofi has the rare opportunity to sell the audience some hope and make them believe in him, and it’s difficult to do that with pancake humor.
Mandy Rose continues to show potential: It’s difficult to not be impressed by Mandy Rose. She’s shown continuous improvement in the ring, and has gained the confidence required to perform with top level competition and not seem out of place or prone to mistakes. Her match with Asuka on Smackdown was an example of this and showed how far she’s come along in a relatively short time on the main roster. There are still some rough edges, particularly around facial expressions and acting emotively, but Mandy is well on her way to competing at a high level.
NXT call-ups continue their instant success: Make no mistake, this might be the strongest class of NXT graduates ever in terms of overall polish and ring acumen. I question the timing of it, considering how close the company is to WrestleMania, but the entrance of Ricochet, Johnny Gargano, Tommaso Ciampa, and Aleister Black to the main roster was an instant upgrade in terms of what happens inside of the ropes. It’s hard not to devolve into speculation, but it’s clear that WWE wants them to make a strong initial impression by defeating main roster talents. The biggest question I’m left with is who the casualties of this emergence will be, and what impact it may have on WrestleMania.
WWE Smackdown Misses
Andrade Almas loses to Aleister Black: I really enjoyed this matchup, but it’s hard not to notice Andrade’s disappearance from TV following a great series of matches with Rey Mysterio, only to return in a losing effort last night. Given how well he and Aleister Black worked together in NXT, it’s a shame to put them together on the main roster without any promotion. And it was especially unfortunate that Andrade had to take a clean loss in that situation just as he was starting to build something for himself.
Sheamus and Tommaso Ciampa nearly kill each other: A sunset powerbomb nearly turned into a tragedy, as Sheamus’s weight and spine came down on Ciampa’s knee in an ugly scene. It seemed that both men are okay, but I wouldn’t blame anyone who watched live for thinking otherwise.
Asuka falls into old booking habits: Much like Andrade, Asuka disappeared from TV after a major victory over Becky Lynch at the Royal Rumble. On her first night back, she becomes a casualty of the short build to Fastlane by taking a loss to Mandy Rose. While I think Mandy needed the boost in credibility, I think something was lost by having it happen so suddenly, particularly for Asuka. Her character development continues to languish, and little creativity is being employed to assist her in getting over the language barrier.
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