If it feels like you’ve been on the road to anything other than Mania, fear not because every week feels the same. What did WWE have to offer for their go-home shows? Let’s find out.
The Universal Title
Oh boy… this build-up, man. What’s it really been? A few weeks of crying about part-timers followed by a beating, that’s all. This week was no exception. With a drivel-talking Heyman, a bouncy Brock, and a moaning Roman, the stage was set for the champion and challenger to repeat the exact same segment for the third week in a row.
The former ECW owner ranted about how *SPOILER ALERT* Lesnar was going to conquer Reigns, and Reigns would be an embarrassment to his family. “The Big Dog” wasn’t very happy about this, so he made his way through the Raw tag team division that was stood on the ramp for no reason at all, and socked the Universal Champion repeatedly with Superman Punches. It looked like the challenger had Lesnar’s number, but as soon as Roman lifted Brock’s title above his own head, “The Beast Incarnate” struck his Mania opponent with an F-5 to close the show.
It’s been so hard to care about any of this. There’s been nothing exciting or new to keep us interested. Worst of all, there’s no one to cheer for. Casual fans of sports entertainment can support Reigns, viewers of UFC can rally behind Lesnar, but who can the loyal fans of pro wrestling get behind? No one! Most of us are done with part-time champions, and the idea of Roman Reigns holding the strap feels so forced because he isn’t naturally over with the crowd.
Nothing can be done now. WrestleMania is this weekend, and the Universal Title holds very little interest. It’ll be a good match; you can’t deny both men are accomplished wrestlers, but in the hearts of many, this is nowhere near main event quality.
The Intercontinental Title
I doubt they will ever read this but congratulations to The Miz and Maryse on the birth of their daughter. Pleasantries out of the way, the IC Champ joined the commentary team this week to witness the final clash between Seth Rollins and Finn Bálor before WrestleMania.
I can’t praise Rollins and Bálor enough. A go-home edition of Raw should be exciting, and these guys really brought their A-game. It’s usually a questionable decision to give away most of a Mania match for free, but Seth and Finn have enough in their arsenal to make the match at The Show of Shows feel fresh. Plus, The Miz will add a whole other element to the bout. The ending of the match featured a lot of back-and-forth action, but “The Architect” hit a Curb Stomp to get the victory.
Of all the Raw title matches at WrestleMania, this is the only one that’s been built properly from start to finish. The challengers are credible threats, The Miz has delivered some of the greatest promos of his career, and the IC Championship feels like a big deal. The Miz lacks momentum due to a lot of losses, but fans don’t care and cheer him regardless. Whoever takes his belt at Mania has definitely done enough to earn it. All they have to do afterwards is keep building on the great work “The A-Lister” has done with the title.
The Raw Women’s Title
I don’t know what’s been happening. It was the go-home edition of Raw, and Asuka was thrown into a tag match against two women she should have no business with anymore, and her partner for the bout was Dana Brooke of all people. Who the hell thought this one up? Why did anyone think it up? It’s too much for me; I’m going to have a lie-down for a minute.
It was a naff match for the last Raw before WrestleMania. Asuka squaring off against James was good, as you’d expect, but Bliss vs. Brooke in any capacity is just plain bad. To win the match, the Japanese superstar trapped Mickie in the Asuka Lock for the tap out. Following the bout, Bliss & James beat down Asuka, and Nia Jax ran in to make the save. It looked like “The Irresistible Force” was going to deliver on her promise of squashing “The Goddess” like a bug, but Mickie interfered and bit the bullet instead.
Somehow, WWE have gone backwards in their booking of this match. For the most part, it was interesting to see Bliss and Jax interact, but the whole ‘bully running away from the victim’ act got old because neither the bully nor victim did anything worth watching in the ring. The best thing that could happen at Mania now is a one minute squash match with Nia becoming champion. End it, sweep it under the rug, and for god’s sake, keep Dana Brooke away from the ring.
The Raw Tag Team Titles
There’s been barely any change, people. Last week, The Bar wanted to know who Braun Strowman’s partner is going to be at Mania, Strowman didn’t tell, but he knocked Sheamus & Cesaro about a bit. This week, WWE did the same thing, but they put Braun in a white shirt.
After saying it didn’t matter who Strowman’s partner is, “The Monster Among Men” came out to agree. From there, they all argued, Strowman offered The Bar a chance to meet his partner for a match. Then Braun started cosplaying as Bubba Ray Dudley, calling himself Brains Strowman. It was slightly funny, but nothing really entertaining. They fought for a bit, Strowman got the upper hand, and the champs ran off.
On any other week, this would’ve been a decent segment. On the last Raw before WrestleMania, it was a letdown. Raising a small smile with Brains and then burying the tag champs doesn’t make for a great final moment. All I’m going to remember before their match is how Strowman has made Sheamus & Cesaro look like little bitches just for a laugh. I really hope The Bar don’t get flattened at Mania.
The Cruiserweight Title
We learned on Raw that the Cruiserweight Title will be fought for on the WrestleMania pre-show. After all the work that’s gone into rebuilding 205 Live, this feels like a huge blow to the division. But hey, any match at Mania is better than none at all, right? The final 205 Live before The Show of Shows saw neither contender on it. Instead, GM Drake Maverick cut a backstage promo urging us to tune into WrestleMania early.
This was an epic promo. Maverick put his heart and soul into it, reflecting on how far the cruiserweights have come in just a few short months. And it’s true; 205 Live used to be the show people skipped, and now they tune in to watch the most amazing action in WWE. The title match may be on the preshow, but Maverick said that shouldn’t put us off watching it. Cedric Alexander vs. Mustafa Ali will be the match everyone will talk about, according to the GM, and I believe he’s telling the truth.
At first glance, it’s disappointing that neither wrestler showed up on 205 Live this week, but on reflection, it’s really funny. Vince clearly knew the fans would be chanting for the Cruiserweight Title match to be on the main show, and he wanted to nip it in the bud. Likewise, Drake Maverick didn’t go to the ring to address the fans for the same reason. I’ll still watch the match, preshow or not. The cruiserweights deserve to shine, and bah gawd, Alexander and Ali most certainly will.
The WWE Title
WrestleMania opponents, AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura, had to prove they can work together this week to fend off Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin. Could they put their differences aside to pick up the win?
Well, the answer is yes and no. All men put a huge amount of effort into this match. It was very exciting to watch, and the mind games between Styles and Nakamura added to the tension and were funny at the same time. To end the match, the WWE Champion hopped over the ropes to land right next to Nakamura. Then he smashed Gable with a Phenomenal Forearm to get the 1, 2, 3 all while looking Nakamura dead in the eyes.
Post-match, “The King of Strong Style” was attacked by Shelton Benjamin. It looked like “The Phenomenal One” was going to make the save, but Nakamura cleared the ring by his lonesome. AJ launched himself at his challenger to hit a Phenomenal Forearm, but stopped and patted Shinsuke on the head instead. What goes around, comes around, I guess.
I know it’s hypocritical of me to say the last two weeks of the WWE Title build have been great when all Vince & Co. did was change which one was the aggressor, but it has been great. Maybe it’s because these two have charisma, or maybe I’m just a fan-boy, I don’t care because I am psyched for this match. I just hope they remember to hit their finishers on the night; patting heads doesn’t win matches, boys.
The US Title
Sunil Singh and Aiden English started the US Title segment off with an epic rap battle of history, and fair props to them because it was really funny. From there, Rusev battled Jinder Mahal, with Bobby Roode on commentary and Randy Orton watching from the back.
This match was very important to the championship scene; it showed us that Rusev and Jinder are unlikely to work together at Mania, and that the disdain is growing between them. It also got more people chanting for “The Bulgarian Brute.” It felt like WWE were trying out Rusev in a babyface role without going all in. The man beat Mahal clean as a whistle but was attacked by the US Champ, Randy Orton, after the match. Roode helped Orton hit an RKO on Aiden English to leave just the two of them standing tall.
In-ring, this was nothing more than a standard SmackDown match, but the real ramifications of it are much bigger. It’s hard to pick who will be victorious at Mania; all I know for sure is that the crowd are ready for Rusev to take back the US strap. And let’s face it, he’s the only reason most of us are even interested in the bout.
The SmackDown Women’s Title
So much repetition… I like Charlotte, and I like Natalya. I also enjoy Money in the Bank cash-ins. I don’t like watching the same thing I saw two weeks ago though. But hey, it’s only the last broadcast before WrestleMania; why should WWE bother to do something different?
It was another perfectly good match, so I can’t complain too much, and WWE rectified the mistake they made two weeks ago by having Flair fend off both Carmella and Natalya successfully. And seeing the Money in the Bank briefcase go flying thanks to the champion’s boot was a sight to see. After Charlotte kicked Carmella out of the contest, and made “The Queen of Harts” tap to the Figure Eight, Asuka came down the ramp to eye up her WrestleMania opponent.
She shouted that “The Queen” will bow down to “The Empress”, but Charlotte said she was ready for Asuka. The question was: is Asuka ready for Charlotte?
This has been another hit-and-miss feud. WWE have picked the right women for the match, but have only done just enough to make the fans care. Maybe if Asuka had left Raw to compete on SmackDown, things might have been built better. A dream match is a dream match though, so even if you haven’t cared for the feud, don’t let it spoil a fantastic bout in the making.
The SmackDown Tag Team Titles
And so we come to the most disappointing go-home segment in all of WWE this week. Did any of the competitors in the SmackDown Tag Title match wrestle? Nope. Did they deliver an intense backstage promo? Nope. Did WWE really use the match as a way for The New Day to plug the Network? Yup.
It was such a frustrating thing to watch. Everything between the three teams has been about intensity, so why have Big E pull a laptop out of Kofi’s trousers to promote the sodding WWE Network? Even The Usos didn’t have their usual ferocity. They were just there because why not? The advert ended with Harper awkwardly hitting a camera. I guess everyone left for the locker room after that.
At long last, The Usos are at WrestleMania. We should all feel pumped up, but I care less about the match now then I did at the start of the feud. I’m pretty sure it’s meant to be the other way around. I know they’ll deliver on the night, and that’s what got me through such a terrible plug for the Network.
WWE have done this before; a terrible build does not make for a terrible Mania. The card is stacked with some of the greatest wrestlers in the world, so hold your head up high, get the beers in, and get ready for WrestleMania.