It was a strange week for the world of professional wrestling. We saw a controversial heel turn, a piss-poor build for Evolution (which everyone at WWE seemed to forget about), and the most polarising figure in WWE today dropped a huge bombshell on the illness he kept hidden for 11 years.
Stranger still, Raw was significantly better than SmackDown for once.
Despite the sad news that kicked off WWE programming this week, we have to remember that the show must go on. As such, I’m here to praise WWE’s 10 greatest wrestlers from this week’s offering.
To join this prestigious list, WWE superstars must win matches, cut damn fine promos, and be all-round delightful sports entertainers. Let’s have a gander at who made our WWE Wrestlers of the Week.
10. Johnny Gargano
Johnny Gargano didn’t do a huge amount in NXT this week, but for the 20 seconds he was on screen, he sent shockwaves through the WWE Universe.
William Regal was all set to make an announcement regarding the NXT Championship match at WarGames when he was interrupted by Tommaso Ciampa, Velveteen Dream, Lars Sullivan, an amazingly insane Nikki Cross, and an angry as hell Aleister Black. After Black had scared everyone off, he screamed at Regal to tell him where “he” was. Johnny Gargano came out of nowhere to lay Black out, saying he was right there.
It looks like we’ve finally found out who attacked Aleister Black a few months back, but Gargano gave us no explanation as to why he did it. One thing’s for sure, I’ll be tuning in next week for all the fallout.
9. Zack Gibson
No one in the world of professional wrestling gets booed quite like Zack Gibson. Liverpool’s No.1 came out to cut a promo on NXT UK this week, but the crowd didn’t make it easy to hear.
Despite all the boos and shoes being waved defiantly in the air, Gibson shouted over the crowd to run down WWE UK Champ Pete Dunne and his opponent from last week, Noam Dar. Dar came out to confront Gibson, but both men were sent to Johnny Saint’s office like a couple of naughty school boys.
Gibson made quite the impression on the NXT UK crowd, something which resonated with the viewers at home. I’m expecting a Liverpool’s No.1 to be as nasty as ever in his match against Dar next week.
8. Mia Yim
After wowing the crowds during the second Mae Young Classic, Mia Yim was awarded a contract in NXT. This week, she made her debut in a winning effort against Aliyah.
I can’t really say this was Mia’s best match, but it showed those who haven’t been watching the MYC a little bit of what she can do in the ring. Yim eventually picked up the win with her Sole Food finisher.
Overall, it wasn’t a bad way for Yim to kick off her NXT career, but I sort of felt let down because we’ve already seen her compete at a much higher level in WWE. Still, it’s early days, and I’m sure she’ll play a huge role in the women’s division.
7. The Usos
WWE are prone to repeating segments a lot, but I don’t think Jimmy & Jey Uso cared too much about that this week. In a rematch from the last episode of SmackDown, The Usos defeated AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan for the second time in a row.
This was a really good match, and again, I was a little surprised Jimmy & Jey weren’t fed to the WWE Champion and No.1 contender. Styles accidentally hit Bryan with a Pele Kick, which distracted “The Phenomenal One” long enough to eat a super kick/frog splash combo from the brothers to give them the win.
Surely at this point, The Usos can claim to be the real No.1 contenders to the WWE Championship, but I doubt they’re gonna kick up a fuss about it. I like that Jimmy & Jey are picking up big wins, but I would’ve preferred it if WWE had waited a tad longer before giving us this match again.
After many, many moons of telling us to Walk With Elias, it looks like WWE are going to do just that. It seems as though “The Drifter” is set to become a top babyface in the company.
Elias started out his week by dispatching Apollo Crews in a short, average match, and after the commercial break, he had a go at singing in celebration of his victory. This prompted Baron Corbin to come out and remind Elias that he works for “The Lone Wolf,” and that he needs to stop singing so the show could go on. The two exchanged words with Elias graphically describing how much of a puppet Corbin is, and things escalated to the point where “The Drifter” struck the acting General Manager of Raw with a guitar.
Elias is one of those superstars that will be cheered regardless of whether he’s face or heel (unless he’s talking trash about basketball teams, obviously), so I like that WWE is rolling with things by turning him face. It looks like a mini feud with Baron Corbin is on the cards too, which I think makes Elias a perfect candidate for Team Angle (should the suspected 5-on-5 Survivor Series match between the two take place). This could give “The Drifter” a huge boost; let’s see where this turn takes him.
5. Rey Mysterio
Mysterio said he didn’t come back to WWE to appear on some dusty talk show, he came back to compete. He did just that against fellow WWE World Cup competitor, The Miz.
The match was nothing spellbinding, but it was a fun and decent bout. Mysterio managed to secure victory by turning an Alabama Slam from The Miz into a 619. What I really appreciated here was how The Miz hit the ropes without it looking like an awkward fumble; that’s always been my main gripe with the 619, but “The Awesome One” lived up to his name there.
I enjoyed the interactions between Miz and Mysterio, but given that we also had a Jeff Hardy and Randy Orton match on the card, did WWE just give away the whole SmackDown World Cup bracket for free? Some food for thought, but at least Rey is settling back in to the WWE routine.
4. Tyler Bate
He’s a big, strong boy our Tyler Bate, and he proved it by toppling Wolfgang on NXT UK.
Like many of you, I’m enamoured with Bate’s in-ring ability, consistently delivering against small and large opponents alike, and often winning. This match was no different. A personal highlight for me in this bout was seeing the much smaller man from Dudley win a test of strength against “The Last King of Scotland,” who is 80lbs heavier and way taller. In the end, Bate picked up the win with another impressive feat of strength, lifting Wolfy up for the Tyler Driver 97.
Tyler Bate & Trent Seven have already said they’re gunning to become the first ever NXT UK Tag Champs, so I think we have a pretty good idea on what lies ahead for Bate after this match. I can’t think of another UK wrestler who deserves success as much as Bate and I can’t wait to see Moustache Mountain win the tag titles.
3. Mustafa Ali
The build up to the final match between Mustafa Ali and Hideo Itami had been done perfectly, so there were high expectations for this bout on 205 Live. I’m happy to report that the match was simply incredible, and that Ali walked away as the victor.
This bout was a falls count anywhere match, so you knew right from the off that both superstars weren’t going to keep the action in the ring. Considering how much we tend to focus on their technical skills, it came as a great surprise to see Ali and Itami use the environment so effectively. Steel steps, crowd barriers, the announce desk; you name it, they used it. In the end, the heart of 205 Live was able to put Itami on a table to eat a 450 splash, giving Ali the win.
This was such a good match that went above and beyond my high expectations. Next week, Mustafa Ali will face off against Tony Nese to determine who will be Buddy Murphy’s next challenger for the Cruiserweight Title. I’m not sure if this is a good move, as I’m predicting Ali to win against Nese but fail against Murphy. I feel like Mustafa should win one more feud before becoming No.1 contender, but as long as he’s being the shining light on 205 Live, who am I to complain?
2. Dean Ambrose
With everything that happened with Roman Reigns earlier in the evening, you can be forgiven for thinking Dean’s heel turn on Seth Rollins was too soon. But realistically, this was the best way for Dean Ambrose to get nuclear heat.
After an emotionally charged tag match against Drew McIntyre & Dolph Ziggler, Ambrose & Rollins were crowned the new Raw Tag Team Champions. Seconds later, “The Lunatic Fringe” struck his Shield brother with Dirty Deeds. Ambrose then went on to beat Seth to a pulp, finishing his attack with another Dirty Deeds to the exposed concrete.
The look on Seth’s face as he made his way to the back said it all. Dean Ambrose is riding solo, even though the IC Champ and Ambrose now hold tag team gold. It’s a delicate issue, but the lunatic’s heel turn has been given a real shot in the arm with all the real life drama involved. And let’s not forget he’s a champion now, as well. Like it or not, Dean Ambrose definitely deserves his spot on Wrestlers of the Week.
1. Roman Reigns
It’s easy for us to forget that the larger-than-life superstars we watch week in and week out are normal human beings, just like you and me. That’s why when Roman Reigns came out to kick off Raw as Joe Anoa’i, it hit all of us at Cultured Vultures hard, as he revealed he was battling leukaemia for the second time in his short life.
Joe revealed how cancer cost him his football career, and how WWE offered him a chance to make it as a sports entertainer. He apologised for saying he would be a fighting champion, knowing now that there’s no way he could commit to that promise. He thanked the crowd, both his fans and his detractors, for making his dreams come true. Joe then took the Universal Championship from his shoulder and laid it in the middle of the ring. At the top of the ramp, his Shield brothers came out to lend support, and with tears in their eyes, they did the Shield fist bump one more time.
Wrestlers of the Week is meant to focus on a superstar’s in-ring performance and character work, but these aren’t ordinary circumstances, not by a long shot. None of us can truly fathom what’s going on in Joe’s mind right now, but the promo he cut on his illness shows just how much he cares about the business. All of us here at Cultured Vultures wish Joe Anoa’i a speedy recovery, and we know he’s going to kick cancer’s ass again. Believe that!
Like I said in the intro, this has definitely been a strange week. With Roman Reigns gone from WWE for the foreseeable future and Dean Ambrose turning heel, we have to wonder just how much the dynamic of Raw is going to change.
Oh, and don’t forget that Evolution is this Sunday. It’s looking a bit crap, but a couple of the matches could be pretty good.
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