By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
CM Punk returns: Who doesn’t love a good surprise? WWE clearly did a good job of getting the word out that they weren’t interested in hiring Punk at this time. That made it all the more fun when “Cult of Personality” hit and Chicago’s favorite pro wrestling son walked onto the stage. I got a big kick out of the way the CM Punk chants that occurred at various points throughout the night were met with boos, and yet damn near everyone in the building burst into massive applause once he actually walked out. Only time will tell how things go from here, but this was a terrific moment that closed the event in memorable fashion.
Randy Orton, Seth Rollins, Cody Rhodes, Jey Uso, and Sami Zayn vs. Drew McIntyre, Damian Priest, Finn Balor, Dominik Mysterio, and JD McDonagh in a WarGames match: I like the storyline throughout the show that Orton had yet to arrive at the building. It left his teammates nervous and also gave Jey a chance to explain that he was expecting retaliation for causing the injury that led to Orton being away for so long. I don’t know if the mystery of whether Orton would show up was as connected to CM Punk’s appearance as some have suggested. I wonder if they would have taken the same approach had they not booked Punk’s return. After all, it would have been pretty flat had Orton made his long awaited return entrance only to then stand in a shark cage for the majority of the match. Furthermore, the approach they took eliminated the awkwardness of Orton and Jey being locked inside the shark cage together. Ultimately, the match was entertaining enough that it would have made for a satisfying conclusion to the show had they just gone off the air with the babyface team celebrating.
Bianca Belair, Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, and Shotzi vs. Iyo Sky, Asuka, Kairi Sane, and Bayley in a WarGames match: Good storytelling with the broadcast team labeling Bayley as the MVP of her team before she ultimately took the loss. The in-ring performance made Bayley look like a strong competitor and then taking the pin leaves her in an even shakier spot with the rest of her faction. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before Bayely is ousted from the group and embarks on a babyface run. They also did a nice job of showing some uneasiness between Lynch and Flair before they came together for a hug. The creative forces were clearly prepared for the silly fan obsession with tables by saving the big table spot for the finish. Personally, I’m not a fan of the weaponry in modern WarGames matches in WWE and every other promotion that does a version of the match. I miss the days when the cage was the ultimate weapon and they didn’t need to use every weapon imaginable. I would love to see one company give us a gritty WarGames style match without any weapons or anyone ending up on top of the structure.
Gunther vs. The Miz for the Intercontinental Championship: An enjoyable match that allowed Miz to look resilient before he took the expected clean pinfall loss. Given the staged reaction of Seth Rollins to CM Punk’s return, it’s possible they have a match at WrestleMania. It’s also possible that they dive right in and we get that match at the Rumble instead. If Punk isn’t challenging Rollins for the title at WrestleMania, then I still think there’s a chance that Gunther could win the Rumble or Elimination Chamber and end up facing going after the World Heavyweight Championship in a title vs. title match on the big stage. As for Miz, I’m not sure what comes next, but I hope they continue the effort to give him more in-ring credibility to go along with his great verbal skills.
Rhea Ripley vs. Zoey Stark for the Women’s World Championship: A quality match and yet it fell a little below my high expectations. It felt like one of the goals was to have Stark gain something in defeat. It didn’t feel like they pulled that off, though there are times when video packages and the work of the broadcast team coming out of the PLE can create the illusion that something was more successful than it actually was in execution. Either way, I am looking forward to Ripley facing bigger name challengers with WrestleMania season approaching.
Santos Escobar vs. Dragon Lee: A soft Miss. I have no doubt that these two could have produced a much better match had they been given more time. But the purpose of the match was not to steal the show, it was all about spotlighting Escobar. Mission accomplished. As much as I get that, I also came away feeling underwhelmed by what felt like a match that belonged on Smackdown more than on the premium live event. That said, the Escobar heel turn is off to a really good start and he came through with another good promo on the Kickoff Show.