Welcome to the first-ever WWE Weekly Recap! With the New Era finally beginning in full this past week, now is a better time than ever to review and analyze where the future of the sports entertainment industry is headed.
Anyone who's been watching professional wrestling for any amount of time knows that things haven't been going smoothly over these past few years. Ever since Monday Night RAW switched to a three-hour format, interest in the WWE has been slipping. It didn't matter who Vince McMahon brought on board, fans just didn't seem to care about pro-wrestling like they used to.
Cue the return of Shane McMahon and the true dawn of the New Era. By splitting the talent into two distinct rosters, WWE has given fans a reason to watch something other than Monday Night RAW — and not only has the basic format gotten better, but the individual matches and storylines have improved as well.
So, how has the first week of the New Era gone? To put it simply, things are looking great: WWE Battleground may not have set the world on fire, but if this past week's shows are anything to go by, WWE is finally headed in the right direction again.
Regardless of the individual matches, Battleground always falls into a weird spot on the calendar. WrestleMania is over, SummerSlam is still a few weeks away — as a result, Battleground typically ends up feeling like filler.
Thankfully, that wasn't the case this year: with the WWE World Championship on the line, it felt like there were finally stakes during Battleground's main event. The idea of the WWE World Championship going back to RAW or into the hands of Roman Reigns was more than enough to keep fans on the edge of their seats — though, sadly, the rest of the card wasn't nearly as strong.
In the Women's Division, Charlotte and Dana Brooke took on Sasha Banks and Bayley, while Becky Lynch went head-to-head with Natalya. Both matches were alright, but the fact that much of the Women's Division would be drafted to opposite shows took much of the impact out of the fights. The same thing goes for the New Day vs. the Wyatt Family: it was a good match, but the fact that the storyline was coming to such an abrupt, awkward finish didn't help matters. Finally, there was John Cena and Enzo and Cass vs. the Club — which, again, felt like a half-finished feud. A good match (anything with Enzo and Cass is going to be fun to watch), but it didn't amount to much overall.
Sami Zayn finally secured a definitive victory over Kevin Owens ... but how many times has that been said before? Without a new angle or something to keep the match interesting, it felt like the Zayn vs. Owens match was more fluff than anything else. That being said, it was still a fantastic fight: the match basically served as a showcase for what these athletes can do, and it's clear that both Zayn and Owens are two of the most talented performers on RAW.
The smaller titles got their time in the spotlight, and both matches ended as everyone expected them to. Rusev hasn't gotten any more interesting since he arrived in WWE, and the Miz is still pulling that whiny Hollywood shtick. For Rusev, the gimmick will likely never go past "big scary man from Eastern Europe," but the Miz has proven to be a better villain than whatever this current persona is — and the fact that neither of them dropped the titles is a massive disappointment. Hopefully, Zack Ryder and Darren Young continue to have a presence on TV, because they both deserve more of a push than they're currently getting.
Finally, there was the match for the WWE World Championship, and ... well, everything went about as well as it could have. Fans expected to see one final, explosive confrontation between the former members of the Shield, and they got one. Say what you will about Roman Reigns, but he was in top shape — though it wasn't quite enough to pull the title back over to RAW.
Seriously, Dean Ambrose retaining was the best possible conclusion to the evening: not only does one of the best performers in the company get to keep the belt, but SmackDown Live gets an easy pull for viewers who haven't watched WWE's second show in a long time.
Overall, WWE Battleground was a good show. No one expected it to be WrestleMania, but it was far better than it had been in previous years. There were some awkward breaks and conclusions to a few different feuds, but if fans have to sit through a slightly disappointing pay-per-view to see the company reboot itself, it's well worth the price.
Monday Night RAW
Alright, there's one match that completely eclipsed anything else throughout the night, but seeing as that came later on in the show, we'll hold off on it for now.
Most of the night was dedicated to a pair of Fatal Four-Way matches to determine the next challenger for the newly-revealed WWE Universal Championship. The first match featured Cesaro, Rusev, Kevin Owens and Finn Balor, while the second consisted of Roman Reigns, Chris Jericho, Sheamus and Sami Zayn. As far as the second match goes, it was about as predictable as you can get: Roman Reigns lands the spear for the win. The crowd boos, the audience at home boos, and everyone ends up wanting for more. Thankfully, the first match was far better: Finn Balor was a star in NXT for a reason, and he proved why during his RAW debut.
The Women's Championship match was also a highlight: it may sound silly, given that matches have pre-determined winners, but it felt like Sasha Banks really deserved her win. It wasn't just a step up from Battleground in terms of match quality (it was fantastic), but it felt more in line with the recent push for a stronger Women's Division than Sunday's pay-per-view.
Sadly, many of the other matches were lackluster. Nia Jax, Enzo and Cass, Braun Strowman and Neville all won squash matches (which are just as boring in the New Era as they ever were), while the Club came out and ruined a perfectly good New Day celebration. RAW fans are used to this sort of filler by now, but there were those that held out hope that the brand extension would at least downplay the unnecessary fluff.
However, by the end of the night, no one cared about the squash matches or filler — the match between Finn Balor and Roman Reigns was an absolute blast to watch. It was a perfect example of how WWE can put together a dream match if it really wants to: from beginning to end, the fight was something that most people would expect to see at a high-end pay-per-view event. Granted, it probably wouldn't be so fondly remembered had Reigns come out on top (especially considering how forced his win earlier that night felt), but the fact that Balor is now going up against Rollins at SummerSlam ensured that the first RAW of the New Era is one that'll be remembered.
SmackDown Live had a lot to prove going into this week's show: it's been WWE's B-show for years now, and viewership has only gotten worse and worse as time went on. Thanks to the brand extension, fans were hoping that SmackDown Live would be worth watching again — and as it turns out, it is!
However, it didn't necessarily start off in the best way: Battle Royals are a great concept, but they typically end up looking like garbage. There's too much going on for the cameras to keep track of, and the performers end up getting confused or throw out weak hits to compensate for all of the extra bodies in the ring. It was outright terrible, but it looked about as good as any other Battle Royal in history ... which isn't great. It didn't help that Apollo Crews bested Kane in the most predictable way possible, especially since Crews' push has been so forced and so prominent over the past several weeks.
At least the show got better from there: the post-match promo may have felt like a lost episode of Real Housewives, but the match between Becky Lynch and Natalya was a strong fight overall. It wasn't particularly special, and the crowd really didn't seem to be into it, but it was far from a bad match.
MizTV, on the other hand ... does anyone really like WWE talk shows? Yes, it did lead to Randy Orton's first match in nine months, but the Miz just isn't as interesting a heel as he used to be — he talks, then he whines, then he rolls out of the ring and eventually gets beaten. Again, it was great to see Orton back in competition, but there were better ways to handle it ... though, to be fair, two separate RKOs is a pretty good way to end a MizTV segment.
Also, Heath Slater is still a thing. Sure, everyone knew he'd be coming back after the Draft, but ... yeah, that's about it. Rhyno showed up, hit Slater with a Gore, and that was it.
Finally, there was the Six-Pack Challenge match between Dolph Ziggler, John Cena, Baron Corbin, Apollo Crews, AJ Styles and Bray Wyatt. Not only was it an immense step up from the Battle Royal, but everyone got a chance to shine — even John Cena, who's been mostly relegated to a come-from-behind machine lately.
In all honesty, it was great: there were worries that yet another Dolph Ziggler/Baron Corbin feud would form, but watching Crews and Corbin go at it was definitely a highlight. Plus, watching AJ Styles going up against someone other than Cena was a nice change of pace — speaking of, Bray Wyatt proved once again that he's a master of in-ring characterization and execution.
Also, Dolph Ziggler won. I'll say that again: Dolph Ziggler won, and is now the number one contender for the WWE World Championship. It almost sounds too good to be true: this is a Superstar who's worked himself to the bone for WWE, only to sit on the midcard and boost other performers. There's no telling where WWE is headed with this, but anything with Ziggler in the title picture is a huge step forward.
All in all, the first week of the New Era was a strong one indeed. Battleground was basically what most people expected it to be, but both Monday Night RAW and SmackDown Live were huge improvements. There are still some kinks to work out, and there's no way of knowing if the company can maintain this kind of momentum, but for the first time in years, there was a reason to watch both of WWE's main shows — that, in and of itself, is a sign of progress.
WWE's next big event, SummerSlam 2016, is set to kick off on Aug. 21.