Imp’s Wrestling Adventure
Your friendly neighbourhood Imp is back! Returning from a week off thanks to illness, now on a Sunday to give me a realistic amount of time to bash this big weekly column out. Covering RAW, SmackDown AEW & NXT every single week like an absolute madman who’s trying and failing to pretend his wrestling fatigue doesn’t exist.
I used last week to disconnect and attempt a reset. Let the illness do its thing, accept my temporary doom and stare into space whilst sitcoms on Netflix played in the background. It acted as a pretty good engagement test, when I was completely out of it which wrestling shows did I still want to watch?
Turns out the answer was yes for RAW & AEW, not so much luck with NXT & SmackDown. The latter makes sense given it’s my least favourite by a country mile, but NXT? I love NXT, I guess if I was ever forced into a choice on Wednesday nights I now know which one I’d pick.
However, I have now returned with an absolute refusal to engage with anything related to WWE’s latest Saudi show. So for these next couple of weeks I’m going to be mixing it up a tad and focusing entirely on the Women’s divisions for all four shows.
Out of RAW, SmackDown, AEW & NXT, who has the best division right now?
This week having a more initial look at the comparative state of the divisions, the pros and cons as the novelty of this current schedule fades and normality sets in. How are things now NXT & AEW have found their footing? Vice versa for RAW & SmackDown’s women’s divisions as we set sail from the Royal Rumble to the Elimination Chamber?
Oh and it’s KSA time, so if you’ve read any of my work before you know exactly how this column’s kicking off.
SmackDown on FOX
February 14th 2020
Who Does Bayley Face In Saudi Arabia?
Artist’s depiction of my mood last week.
The SmackDown Women’s Championship set to be defended against either Carmella or Naomi on a show in Saudi Arabia, now that’s big. A moment both great in terms of Western standards of progression and simultaneously in your face propaganda. I know the internet won’t like this, but you can carry out perceived progression with doubtful motivations.
Female athletes wrestling on a show in Saudi Arabia? Yeah by our own measurements of progress you can’t argue that’s a bloody positive step. But at the same time that’s used for, “Look aren’t we progressive,” when if you look into the actions of those saying it, they don’t match their words. Hence the whole murdering kafuffle of last year.
Look aren’t we progressive, just don’t avert your gaze as we murder this here journalist… aaaand *clicks fingers* we’re back in the room.
However, the fact that these women are indeed wrestling on said show is a massive step and one you couldn’t have seen happening even 2 or 3 years ago. A seemingly progressive move made for all the wrong reasons. But the step was made, so do the reasons matter?
Aaarrrrgghhh I don’t want to be back in morality class when I’m watching my oiled up muscly people fake fight each other. I’ve written enough on this the past, check out my column archive if you want something more in depth.
Moving on to the actual state of the division as we head into PirateMania…
The SmackDown side is currently wide open. With both KSA and Elimination Chamber ahead to help establish the road, there’s not that clear direction RAW and NXT have. Mondays have Becky Lynch and the previously set up Baszler angle kicking into gear, Wednesdays have the gift of the Royal Rumble winner, but what direction do Fridays have?
Bayley is their Women’s Champion, but there isn’t really any clear opponent jumping out. No rivalry set up over her reign, just a few potentials dangling in the air. Sasha Banks ‘could’ maybe work, I’m nowhere near as certain as I was heading into the Rumble on that one. Nowadays ringing closer to Kofi squishing a pancake than setting up genuine points of reference for down the line. There is potential for something there, but I’m not going hang my hat on it.
The other nominee right now is Naomi, after her return in the Royal Rumble garnered a lot of interest outside of the wrestling bubble. She’s currently riding a high that makes sense to just follow, at least for this short while and see if it lasts. Strike whilst the iron is hot. If that’s a phrase you want to use when talking about Saudi Arabia.
Carmella could be a hurdle for Bayley on the way, but I can’t see her playing anything bigger than that. The poor woman has rarely been used seriously since her genuinely impressive championship reign, whipped out for a decent match every now and then.
Final note: why do the ‘A Moment of Bliss’ segments feel so much like SNL skits? The whole rhythm of them plays out like a cue card directed stage comedy.
Monday Night RAW
February 10th 2020
NXT Women’s Championship At WrestleMania
Vampires and Rockers.
Monday nights have been steadily building interest well since the Rumble. It doesn’t hurt when both winners are on your brand, but the direction set up since has created an impressive initial WrestleMania road.
Charlotte Flair vs Rhea Ripley was certainly unexpected prior to the Rumble, now playing out across two shows a week and directly tying in to TakeOver: Portland itself. This week RAW did a bang up job of shifting focus to Sunday night, raising the point that the NXT Women’s Champion has to get past Bianca Belair first.
A woman who impressed damn highly as the #2 entrant in the Women’s Rumble and has since ran with that momentum, delaying Charlotte’s announcement to put emphasis on the champion’s upcoming defence is a brilliant temporary shift of focus. At least trying to paint Belair as the threat she should be rather than pretending NXT doesn’t exist like in the past.
The clear con being that rushing into the story to try and produce a Flair induced ratings boost hurts the predictability of the outcome in Portland a tad. It’s not exactly a show buzzing with an excess amount of hype and it is Ripley’s first defence, but if I’m being hyper critical would it have been the end of the world to hold off for a few weeks?
Thumbs up all round for how the arc has played out so far, WrestleMania’s still a fair bit away so no need to rush anything.
As for the RAW Women’s Champion Becky Lynch, the Irish lass had a banger of a title defence against Asuka this week. The level of speed and fluidity these two wrestle at is incredibly impressive, so quick yet so smooth. Give me silky smooth. Right up the street of us internet wrestling nerds! Really it’s a shame the two are moving on now, been rather the treat seeing them interact so much these past couple of months.
Swiftly on to Shayna Baszler we go for her to swoop down and bite Lynch’s neck off. I think the reaction they were going for was, “Wow what an unhinged, dangerous badass,” but what they actually got was a bunch of folk talking about vampires.
Whatever they were going for, in the end it at least created a fair bit of intrigue. The idea certainly was different and I’m one to cheer veering from the norm (especially in the homogenized world of WWE). An area RAW has been trouncing the competition in so far on this road to Tampa, we’re now a few weeks in and the show has multiple angles building interest really well.
Both women’s angles have my attention, Rollins is killing it as the Monday Night Messiah and Drew McIntyre is hitting all the right notes as the Royal Rumble winner.
Really the only downside for me is that the show is too long. Even when I’ve enjoyed each individual segment, together as one whole product I find it too much. I start to drift and reach that point of checking how much time’s left.
WrestleMania is being built to damn well on Mondays.
February 12th 2020
AEW Make History
… and NEW AEW Women’s Champion!
I’d call this week AEW Fixes Things Part 2. After taking in the feedback we’ve seen the changes these past couple of weeks, the negatives directly addressed or completely scrapped. Honestly the biggest division that needed those tweaks was the Women’s, after this week I feel like they are finally on that road to start hitting home.
Riho was always a champion that was fantastic at getting the crowd into her matches, more than one that received a champion’s welcome when her music hit. Really the division was hit by giving important early roles to wrestlers who would be unable to properly appear to remain over. Riho was still fulfilling her bookings back in Japan, same with other Joshi talent in Emi Sakura & Yuka Sakasaki and on top of that Awesome Kong was too worn and torn to the point they tried to create a collective around her to mask that fact.
However, now those issues have been directly addressed. The division was never really, truly in the gutter (read SirSam’s top notch column on the topic: The AEW Women’s Division Isn’t The Failure You Think It Is), but these few changes have already started to make a world of good.
We’ve seen the Nightmare Collective completely scrapped, something that was arguably the biggest piece of booking hindering the division. According to Brandi Rhodes there were folk backstage that wanted to have the angle play out a little while longer, but she flat out said no and pulled the plug. Honestly thank God for that, with Awesome Kong scheduled for GLOW work anyway that call makes so much sense. It wasn’t working, the reactions flat, just call it.
The other massive change was the crowning of a new AEW Women’s Champion in Nyla Rose. A wrestler who impressed early on, but like everyone else has been in and out. I’ve still been impressed when I have seen her, but obviously with the rotation of who gets featured and her suspension storyline there wasn’t a ton of consistency building her.
The change felt more like another tweak to help the division, to feature a wrestler who would be able to appear a lot more often. Plus with Kong now away that big hoss spot was wide open for the taking. So hell, why not push an already established woman into that spot? I’m honestly all for the change, with her commitments Riho was never really able to maintain momentum. With Nyla Rose, however, that’s a champion they could easily build the rest of the division around.
The likes of Shanna, Kris Statlander & Big Swole all show so much potential, they just need a more regular platform to showcase what they can do. Nyla Rose as champion on paper allows that to happen, the heel beast on top fighting off babyface contenders is the perfect fit for the shape the AEW women’s division is currently in.
No she isn’t dominant because she has some fabled ‘scientific advantage’, she’s champion for the exact same reasons Awesome Kong was back her day. She’s the hoss of the division, the Native Beast for the babyface to overcome. AEW’s presentation not once zoned in on Nyla being trans, the entire focus on her ability as a wrestler. She’s presented as normal, I can’t think of any better way to make transgender people feel accepted.
The title match itself was bloody brilliant, Nyla showing off her surprising athleticism and Riho her shocking strength. That whole story of size isn’t everything displayed via both sides, the hoss flew and the little Joshi proved she really does lift, bro. In the end the champion got caught one too many times and Rose wasn’t going to make the same mistake as their original crowning championship match.
Riho is so damn good at getting crowds into her matches, it’s just a shame that the reaction when she walks out paints the entire picture of her low champion momentum. It’s one of those title changes that makes a lot of sense in terms of making a shift for the division, rather than it does in terms of stories set up and told.
Hey, that happens all the time in wrestling. Sometimes your plan just doesn’t get over how you’d hoped, so you have a wee little rethink.
Also Britt Baker has really hit a stride since becoming heel and taking part in those on stage interviews with Tony Schiavone, the amount of heat she generated this week was brilliant. I’m from the UK so had absolutely no idea why said comments got the reaction they did, but they had the cadence of a dig!
Side note: Nyla Rose’s Twitter has been hilarious in her tackling of the abuse, she’s been on fire this past week. Transphobia is very real and she appears to be handling it all incredibly well.
February 12th 2020
Go Home For NXT TakeOver: Portland
Belair proclaims she’ll win this Sunday, I… good luck, duck.
This TakeOver’s come quick n’ fast. I’m not sure what to make of them now taking place outside of the night before WWE’s big show of the quarter. With Portland taking place just weeks after the Rumble weekend and the NXT vs NXT UK Worlds Collide show.
We’re pretty much guaranteed an entertaining show with the card on display, but the wrestling fatigue certainly is real. If the majority of you have dropped a shows or two I wouldn’t blame you, even I watched neither NXT nor SmackDown last week. 9 hours every week is a big ask, never mind when you ask for more with a Pay Per View or 4 to 5 hour Saudi special.
So with TakeOver set for next week, I’d be lying if I said I was more excited than I am just a bit tired. Yes I’m currently ill so I’m not exactly in peak condition to judge energy, but with Rumble weekend, NJPW New Beginning after and now TakeOver with AEW’s next PPV right around the corner… where’s Imp’s down time dammit!
TakeOver: Portland feels like the one show too many, the example of you can have too much of a good thing. I’m overly full, give me time to digest my food before serving the next meal. It feels like the experiment of an NXT special rather than a full on TakeOver on the weekend of a Rumble/Mania/SummerSlam has successfully shown us that it results in the output being just too high.
Supply exceeds demand. At least it does with me. I have zero plans to watch Portland live, I’ll probably watch the next day but I’d be lying if I said it was top of my list of things to do.
Gargano vs Balor, Ripley vs Belair and Cole vs Ciampa all read like absolute bangers on a damn strong card. But in a world where there’s more than just the WWE, it’s just another solid TakeOver. What is there to distinguish this from the last one? Or in a couple of months the show from Tampa?
NXT’s women’s division is in a fantastic state though, so much depth thanks to the sheer amount of talent signed. Really they’re not any different than the men, so much great talent so little time. In the perfect place to jump on to the next stage with former champion Shayna Baszler moving to the main roster.
Rhea Ripley’s excursion to NXT UK has worked an absolute treat, the lass feels like a star. Then you look at who she gets to work with and Jesus Christ does that division have some incredible depth. Tonight she makes her first defence against Bianca Belair who’s riding an amazing high right now, but in the limelight with her there’s: Io Shirai, Candice LeRae, Dakota Kai, Teagan Nox, Toni Storm and a whole slew of talent ready for that jump.
I’ve not even mentioned the new signings in Mercedes Martinez and Shotzi Blackheart, two women who have slotted into the roster as if they’ve already worked there for years.
The division is in such a great state, the present and future looking so, so bright for WWE’s Wednesday night brand. It really is a shame NXT is a developmental, they get so much right it makes you question why the main roster still hasn’t taken any notes from the brand’s success over these past few years.
Imp’s SD Live Grade – My least favourite show actually did a great job setting up the contenders for their next women’s championship match, in spite of the SNL skit that kicked it off.
Imp’s RAW Grade – Top notch building as we head on down to WrestleMania.
Imp’s AEW Grade – Another week of shifts for the division that scream nothing but positives going forward.
Imp’s NXT Grade – Incredible amount of depth, if only it weren’t developmental
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Imp’s LIVE every Thursday on LOP Radio, this week talking the state of WWE on the Road to WrestleMania 36.
Imp’s most recent columns:
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Imp’s Wrestling Adventure – Royal Rumble, AEW Bash At The Beach, & NXT Women’s Battle Royal (RAW, SmackDown, AEW & NXT Jan. 18th, 2020)
Imp’s NJPW Adventure – The Story of Hiroshi Tanahashi Part 1: Becoming The Ace
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