WWE will hopefully spend the next few weeks lifting itself out of the traditional post-WrestleMania slump as we move towards the summer months and SummerSlam – the second biggest show on the professional wrestling calendar. Raw has Brock Lesnar back after months of absence, giving its biggest championship some television time once again and, over on SmackDown, the aftermath of the Money in the Bank pay-per-view has left its male and female champions with a Sword of Damocles dangling above their heads.
Despite the low quality of the product in recent months, there are a few major things in play to suggest that things are kicking up a gear in the wrestling world. In fact, the last week or two has been the best WWE has been since the lights went off at the Citrus Bowl in April.
The most fabulous Money in the Bank winner
The first ever women’s Money in the Bank ladder match ended in controversy two weeks ago when James Ellsworth climbed the ladder and handed the briefcase to his friend Carmella. The internet immediately lit up with negative reaction. To say this booking decision was unpopular would be a massive understatement. SmackDown general manager Daniel Bryan agreed and called for a rematch on TV, which Carmella managed to win once again after a much better and more memorable match – with minimal help from her poorly-dressed man pal.
Carmella is absolutely the right person to hold the women’s Money in the Bank briefcase. All of the other women in the match were performers who have the credibility to be parachuted directly into the title picture at any time. No one is going to complain if Charlotte, or Becky Lynch, or Natalya is given a shot at Naomi’s title, but there’s definitely a sense that Carmella is yet to earn her position among that company. The briefcase gives her the opportunity to ascend into the championship situation in an underhand way.
This will have real benefits for Carmella, who has struggled to get much of a foothold on the main roster since she was promoted as part of the brand split a year ago. Without her buddies, Enzo Amore and Big Cass, her character seemed lacking in direction – a babyface princess without her princes. A heel turn helped to freshen her act up a little and her partnership with Ellsworth created a selection of memorably odd vignettes, but none of what she has done has translated into a position as a plausible champion.
The Carmella and Ellsworth double act will almost certainly be enhanced in the coming weeks by their possession of the Money in the Bank briefcase. In many cases, the briefcase is something that should be taken away from a competitor as soon as possible, given that it can be more of a hindrance than a help to their character. For Carmella, though, it will be great to see the Princess of Staten Island carrying around some swag worthy of that title.
Since the brand split, SmackDown has shown a really impressive ability to harness its smaller women’s division in order to tell more focused and interesting stories. Having lost Alexa Bliss to Raw in the shake-up earlier this year, there is a huge gap left in the division for a top heel with real attitude on the microphone. While Charlotte can carry that mantle from an in-ring perspective, there’s definitely room for a character as arrogant and dislikeable as Carmella, who can turn on the mic skills when they are needed.
With Money in the Bank on her side, she can become champion at any time and, when the day comes, Carmella could be a real asset to the SmackDown roster.
Joe and Lesnar build suggests big fight feel
Pretty much everyone, myself included, thinks that the current Brock Lesnar reign as WWE Universal Champion will culminate in yet another coronation for the company’s chosen one – Roman Reigns. However, before that, we get to the first ever Great Balls of Fire pay-per-view event, where Samoa Joe will be Lesnar’s first challenger since he beat Goldberg for the belt back at WrestleMania. So much for the 30-day rule.
The match seemed like a solid, but unspectacular one on paper. It has, however, been built wonderfully. We saw Joe brutally attack Paul Heyman on an episode of Raw, choking him out in the Coquina Clutch, then the two competitors tore chunks out of each other in a brutal pull-apart brawl the next week. Then, this week, Joe shocked Lesnar from behind and brought the champion to within seconds of passing out to the Clutch.
This has been a flawless build that has created real excitement ahead of the Great Balls of Fire title match. Joe and Lesnar are two of the most fearsome performers on the WWE roster and they both bring with them a feel of legitimacy. These aren’t fake fighters; they are truly frightening people. If WWE can move slightly away from the traditional Lesnar single match formula of suplexes and finishing moves, then they could have one of the most hard-hitting and compelling contests of the year on their hands.
It’s almost frustrating that WWE has built this match so well, given how easy it has seemed to be for them to do so. The booking has been simple and effective, without any overly complex storytelling or needlessly long promo segments. This has been short, focused and to the point, with the championship the sole motivation for the aggression between the two men. Joe has certainly got into Lesnar’s head and it will be interesting to see if that plays into their match next week.
Asuka is NXT’s crown jewel
As I write this, Asuka has been NXT Women’s Champion for 453 days. This week on NXT, she beat the unhinged Scottish challenger Nikki Cross in the developmental brand’s first ever Last Woman Standing match. It was a tremendous battle, with drama, physicality and some absolutely loony spots, including a powerbomb on to a pile of chairs and the suplex from a ladder through the commentary table that ended the match.
This was yet another contest that showed just how valuable Asuka is as an asset for WWE. She appears to be genuinely unbeatable and, if those at WWE have their heads screwed on at all, she will move up to the main roster without ever losing her title. Much of Asuka’s mystique lies in the fact no one is able to beat her and she should make her way to either SmackDown or Raw with that claim to fame in tact.
WWE has repeatedly faltered when calling talent up from NXT to the main roster. Even immensely popular stars such as Bayley have been somewhat wasted thanks to WWE’s unfocused and bizarre way of executing the transfer. Asuka has made herself one of the most formidable performers in the history of WWE’s developmental show and she deserves to bring that with her when she moves to the big stage.
Do you think Carmella was the right choice to win Money in the Bank? Are you excited to see Brock Lesnar and Samoa Joe face off at Great Balls of Fire? Do you agree that Asuka should never lose her NXT Championship? Let me know in the comments section and check out my other wrestling content.