By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
WWE Raw Hits
WWE Champion Bobby Lashley vs. Xavier Woods in a non-title match: A legitimately surprising outcome that served a purpose beyond shock value. It set the stage for Lashley’s show-closing promo, which was arguably the best of his career. Lashley’s promo sold me on his title match with Kofi Kingston more than the rest of the build combined. I just haven’t bought into the possibility of Kingston winning the championship and I’m still not expecting a title change, but the promo left me anxious to see how the match plays out now that Lashley’s character is angry and focussed. Could he plow through Kingston in a matter of seconds to set up a match with another guy who famously beat Kingston in just eight seconds? Either way, Woods going over will be quickly forgotten if Lashley plows through Kingston and then gets his win back in the near future, but I also see storyline possibilities with Woods getting cocky about his win and rubbing it in Kingston’s face if Kofi loses on Sunday. In other words, there’s heel turn potential for Woods, though I’m just not convinced that WWE is ready to give up on the merchandising cash cow that is New Day.
Ricochet vs. John Morrison in a Falls Count Anywhere match: Another impressive performance from Ricochet. Morrison more than held up his end of the match and he feels overlooked in the ring, mostly due to how corny his act with The Miz has become. It will be interesting to see what happens with Ricochet on Sunday and beyond. He’s not high on my list of the potential candidates to win the MITB match, but hopefully his recent push will continue and this wasn’t just a quick attempt to make him seem relevant heading into the pay-per-view.
Sheamus vs. Humberto Carrillo for the U.S. Championship: This was more of an angle than a match with Sheamus destroying Carrillo backstage and then hitting him with a Brogue Kick and pinning him to end their 17-second match. Damian Priest checking on Carrillo backstage and then coming out to save him from a post match beatdown is obviously a sign that Priest will be the next serious challenger for Sheamus.
Raw Women’s Champion Rhea Ripley vs. Natalya in a non-title match: An enjoyable match. Ripley seems to be finding her groove in the ring after having some rough outings with Asuka when she was first called up. I still have no clue whether fans are supposed to pull for Ripley or Charlotte Flair on Sunday, but at least their post match angle was brief and easy to follow. Ripley and Flair work well together and they should have another good match on Sunday. It’s just a shame that they haven’t had better creative support throughout their feud.
Nikki ASH vs. Alexa Bliss vs. Asuka vs. Naomi in a four-way: A well worked four-way match. It was interesting that Bliss liked Doudrop, yet Doudrop ended up attacking her in a show of loyalty to Eva Marie despite all of their past issues. Bliss disappearing after being tossed over the barricade was a groaner, but hopefully the show returning to the road will force the company to do away with the hocus pocus elements of her act. ASH pinning Asuka was an interesting development. Here’s hoping that Asuka’s recent losses will lead to a character shift and it’s not a case of the Raw creative forces essentially writing her out because she’s going to take the same tired act to Smackdown via the draft. Asuka is terrific, but it’s time for a heel turn or some type of character makeover.
Omos vs. Erik: Omos isn’t asked to do much in the ring, but he is showing more confidence while performing his limited moveset. Erik was a good opponent for him in that he worked hard to make Omos look good. It continues to be frustrating that creative brought back the cartoonish viking characters for Erik and Ivar. Those characters didn’t click the first time around and yet creative refuses to call an audible even though the injury layoff created the perfect opportunity to shake up their act.
The end of ThunderDome: The pandemic era of pro wrestling is finally over. I can’t wait to see how real fans react to the show and the various wrestlers. ThunderDome served an important purpose, but here’s hoping that things never get to the point where they need to bring back the virtual screens. While the pandemic era of pro wrestling hasn’t been all bad, it’s going to be a lot more fun with fans back in the buildings.
WWE Raw Misses
Drew McIntyre and Jinder Mahal: McIntyre destroying the motorcycle that Mahal introduced a week earlier was about as predictable as it gets. And the best thing that can be said about McIntyre’s Icarus themed promo is that it was brief. McIntyre is a terrific talker, but the material he’s getting lately is damaging. I continue to fear that using McIntyre to elevate Mahal could backfire by cooling off McIntyre rather than heating up Mahal. The timing of their feud is interesting in that it’s made me wonder if Mahal will get a measure of revenge by preventing McIntyre from winning the MITB contract on Sunday. I had McIntyre penciled in as the favorite and I have no desire to see Mahal get involved in the match, but there is something to be said for how the threat of it happening has made the match outcome feel less predictable.
AJ Styles vs. Ivar: The match was actually well worked and was obviously the better of the two matches involving the tag teams. So why the Miss? It’s all about the use of Styles. At age 44, there are only so many years he has left. And while I don’t dislike his partnership with Omos, it doesn’t feel like WWE is getting everything they could out of Styles. This clearly isn’t a case of Styles working tag matches because it’s easier on him physically at this stage in his career, because he’s the guy doing the heavy lifting during all of their matches. WWE needs singles stars and Styles has proven that he is one when the company get behind him. So here’s hoping that once the Styles and Omos pairing runs its course, Styles will get another meaningful singles push.