It’s been a pretty eventful week in the WWE. It was confirmed that two of the most influential and controversial names in the history of the business, in Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff, have been recruited to head up Raw and SmackDown respectively. Raw last night was also action-packed; Braun Strowman and Bobby Lashley destroyed each other, drawing Corey Graves to mutter an expletive, and AJ Styles turned heel, reforming The Club in the process. With this in mind, could the blue brand continue the momentum on the road to Extreme Rules?
The KO Show
With the boos raining down on him, Kevin Owens introduced Shane McMahon and Drew McIntyre to his ‘talk show’. McMahon played up his moniker of ‘best in the world’ before a video package of the Undertaker was played from the night before. The Prizefighter, at his antagonistic best, asked if McMahon and McIntyre were afraid of the Undertaker. They confirmed that their match with the Phenom and Roman Reigns at Extreme Rules would now be a No Holds Barred match, and that would play into the hands of the heels. Owens, in a throwback to his comedic segments with Chris Jericho a couple of years ago, riled McIntyre and McMahon by claiming they were running scared of the Deadman and the Big Dog. Dolph Ziggler interrupted, and Owens was by now in full babyface mode as he mocked The Showoff’s recent shortcomings. McMahon announced that Ziggler and Owens would team up later in the show for an opportunity to be inserted into the tag team championship match at Extreme Rules.
This showcased an interesting shift in character for Owens, who was very much playing for laughs, and managed to get the WWE Universe on side by the end of the angle. It will also be interesting to see how he and Ziggler fare when they team up to take on Heavy Machinery later in the show, whether that pairing could have legs, and if Owens is hinting at a face turn.
Big E vs. Daniel Bryan
The New Day’s resident powerhouse and funny man started strongly, throwing one half of the SmackDown tag team champs around the ring. He was unmoved as Bryan tried to mount an offence barging him to the canvas and turning him inside out with a brutal clothesline. After the break, though, the Bearded One had gained control of the bout, grounding the big man by taking out the leg. E teased a comeback with a series of belly to belly suplexes and a big splash for a near fall. Rowan, at ringside, put paid to this by throwing E into the ring post on the outside, allowing Bryan to execute the Running Knee and score the victory.
The Rowan/Bryan experiment has worked, with the duo really complimenting each other in recent months. Rowan has always done his best work when in a tag team, as his run with Luke Harper and their feud with the Usos will attest to, and Bryan can work more or less any angle. Their title reign will face its sternest challenge though at Extreme Rules against the 5 time former champs New Day and potentially another squad. Bryan and Big E displayed enough here to tease what could be a classic, especially if a stipulation is thrown in.
A Moment Of Bliss w/ Nikki Cross
Alexa Bliss persuaded her “buddy” Nikki Cross to step into the limelight and take the reigns on her weekly segment, much to the delight of the Scot. She talked of her admiration for Little Miss Bliss and then introduced SmackDown women’s champion Bayley to the stage. The Hugger wasted little time in claiming that Bliss was merely using Cross, while Nikki defended her pal. Bayley claimed it should be Cross getting the title shot, which prompted the diminutive Glaswegian to offer her a match right now…
Nikki Cross vs. Bayley
The Hugger tried to end the contest early, taking the fight to Cross, who sought some respite outside the ring. Bayley continued to dominate with a snap-suplex and a viscous whip into the corner for a two count. Cross managed to fight back with a cross body off the top rope and a running bulldog. Bayley, though, countered the DDT and hit her Bayley to belly to score the pin.
This angle was red-hot going into Stomping Grounds, but the ‘Moment of Bliss’ segment fell a bit flat. The action between the two in the ring was solid, though, and the pair showed good chemistry. Cross tested Bayley enough and is more than over with the crowd to suggest she is going to be the real winner in the pay-off to the Bliss-Cross-Bayley programme.
Kofi Kingston Addresses Samoa Joe
It is safe to say that Joe has provided the biggest threat to Kingston’s title reign over the past couple of weeks and has decimated him on both Raw and Smackdown recently. This was highlighted with a video showing Joe’s attacks on Kofi as the New Day member looked on from the ring. Joe menacingly made his way to the ring and snatched the mic, claiming Kingston was a fraud and was using the WWE Universe with his nice guy act. Kingston retorted saying Joe is not the force he was and has to use sneaky tactics to gain the upper hand. Kofi claimed Joe was jealous of his success, who responded by offering to shake Kofi’s hand in return for not ambushing him until Extreme Rules. A defiant Kingston shocked Joe by showing him the middle finger and hitting him with a Trouble in Paradise to end the segment.
Joe has always been a maestro on the mic, and is a great exponent of the understated but impactful promo. Kingston, here, matched Joe’s intensity and was defiant in the face of the biggest threat to his title so far. The middle finger ‘salute’ wasn’t in fitting with WWE’s PG image, but was definitely suitable in the moment, and it also maybe hints at more of the daring TV we are going to see on both brands now that Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff are at the helm.
Apollo Crews vs. Andrade
The lesser seen Crews was given some rare TV time with a match against the super talented Andrade, who has been somewhat underused himself in recent weeks. Crews looked to start off strong, but Zelina Vega, at ringside, put paid to any momentum by hooking his leg. Andrade flew at Crews with the running double knees but could only score the two count. Crews clotheslined his opponent out of the ring and then showed the athleticism he is synonymous with by hitting a perfect back somersault off the apron onto the prone Andrade. Back in the ring Crews continued to dominate with a couple of high kicks and an impressive standing moonsault. Vega got involved again, sending Crews crashing into the announce table with a hurricarana to allow Andrade to finish the contest with the Hammerlock DDT.
Crews looked reinvigorated here and didn’t look out of place sharing the squared circle with someone of Andrade’s calibre. The screwed finish would suggest that they have a few more matches in this feud which, with more time and build, may be even more entertaining than what was on show here. Though unlikely, more impressive performances like this from Crews may promote him to the Intercontinental title picture, a spot where Andrade will definitely find himself again before long.
Ember Moon vs. Mandy Rose
The War Goddess continued her rivalry with Rose and Sonya Deville, who have been tormenting her for weeks. Rose took the fight to Moon, lashing her into the turnbuckle and following up with a big knee to the face. Moon, though, caught Rose unawares with a double knee and the Eclipse to score the win, much to the surprise of the heels.
Given the narrative of Moon being constantly overcome by the numbers game, it was surprising Deville didn’t make the save for her pal, who had dominated the match to this point. That aside, the match didn’t have a whole lot of time to really get going, though Moon scored a well-needed victory.
Heavy Machinery vs. Dolph Ziggler and Kevin Owens
The mismatched duo of Ziggler and Owens took to the ring against Otis and Tucker as New Day and Smackdown tag team champions Rowan and Bryan looked on at commentary. Ziggler and Otis started, the Showoff falling victim to Otis’ obvious size and strength advantage. Owens showed he can work with Ziggler by saving his partner, pulling him to safety, while an offhand comment on commentary caused the New Day and Planet Earth’s champions to brawl at ringside. Rowan slammed Xavier Woods through the announce table with an Iron Claw, as the focus was diverted from the action inside the ring. After the break, Owens and Tucker took their turn at facing up, the Heavy Machinery man dominating the Prizefighter, an athletic dropkick the highlight. Ziggler, on the apron, pulled the top rope down to halt Tucker’s momentum and send him crashing to the outside. Ziggler and Owens then made the most of a situation neither man wanted to be in, by showing unity with quick tags and double team offence on Tucker. Tucker found something in reserve and bought himself some time with a cross body on Owens. He then made the hot tag to Otis, who ran through Ziggler, spinning him round and following up with a throwaway slam. The Caterpillar came next, to the delight of the WWE Universe, until Owens interrupted with a superkick. Ziggler attempted one of his own but instead found the chin of Owens, who then took a Compacter from Otis and Tucker for the win. Owens then hit Ziggler with a stunner as Otis and Tucker celebrated.
It was just reward for the stellar matches Heavy Machinery have put on that they get another shot at the titles at Extreme Rules. From seemingly coming out of nowhere, their challenge to Bryan and Rowan’s titles at Stomping Grounds was arguably the match of the PPV and they deserve to remain in the title picture.
The short-lived union of Ziggler and Owens ended predictably, and the guess would be that they will be either forced to make an uneasy truce to remain a tag team, or they will enter into a feud. The actions early on in the show from Owens and the reaction he got at the end of this match definitely hints at a babyface turn for a character who has impeccable comedic timing and who could definitely benefit greatly from a revamp.