Just Business: The Sunday Column, on The Riott Squad, Kingston and Dar vs. Nese


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Just Business: The Sunday Column, on The Riott Squad, Kingston & Dar vs. Nese

It was only this last Friday on The Right Side of the Pond with my good friend Maverick, predicting tonight’s Elimination Chamber pay-per-view match results, that I realised just how badly I wanted one of the more heavily established teams in the Women’s Tag Team Championship Chamber tonight to walk out with the victory. The IIconics, the remnant of Absolution and, of course, the Riott Squad all came to WWE’s main roster as a unit, have operated exclusively as a unit and should, if the traditional and intrinsic logic of well produced professional wrestling be adhered to – accepting this is WWE and such a thing is rarely come by – be considered favourites in tonight’s tag affair.

Other teams, like Sasha Banks and Bayley or Tamina and Nia Jax, enjoy bonds of friendship and blood that would make them convincing victors, but they cannot boast the same longevity as a solidified unit with a united front as the three aforementioned tandems can. I ask myself if I really want a women’s tag division to begin with the championships first going to a glorified pairing of singles stars or, in fact, a team in every sense. Naturally I favour the latter, and would every time.

Of the three teams I would most want to see pick up a win this evening, it is the Riott Squad I find myself most vehemently supporting. Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan have never wavered in their bond since arriving on the main roster, which you might not be able to say about more individually spirited Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville. So too do Logan and Morgan seemingly possess more formidable weaponry in the ring than Peyton Royce and Billie Kay. We’ve seen what they are capable of as a team in recent weeks thanks to an inspired production in the Women’s Royal Rumble Match, in which they picked off big names and heavy hitters to beat them down and provide their de facto leader, Ruby Riott, an advantage. That same predatory instinct could come up trumps in an environment like the Chamber, especially if Morgan and Logan can get ahead of the entry order. To me, and I hesitate to use the word in such ludicrous context, they seem to be the most ‘legitimate’ team among the Chamber’s entire cast.

Tonight could be a night WWE afford the Squad an opportunity to truly leave their stamp on the women’s division. Everyone has looked past Ruby Riott in the Monday Night Raw (MNR) Women’s Championship Match against Ronda Rousey and for obvious reasons. It is worth remembering, however, that there remains a pay-per-view between tonight and WrestleMania – that being March’s Fastlane – and, perhaps with a little chicanery and a few shenanigans, I could get very excited about a short-lived hot potato title switch to put the cat among the pigeons, expanding the creative scope of an already riotous championship scene as we rapidly approach New Jersey.

The Riott Squad have honed their craft and toiled admirably long enough to have warranted a moment to shine. Tonight’s Elimination Chamber pay-per-view would be the perfect time to allow them that opportunity, and I would be elated to see the Squad end tonight holding all the women’s gold on MNR.

Admittedly, I would be considerably less elated to see Kofi Kingston do the same in the WWE Championship Elimination Chamber – not that I expect him to. Yes, Kingston’s unexpected return to the forefront of fan affection is another example of me swimming against the popular tide. It seems every other year there comes a moment when the collective fan base feels a surge of support for one of the company’s longest running mid card mainstays and clamour excitedly for him to reach that higher plane on the company’s roster. Following a not-so-strangely familiar hour long performance in a Gauntlet Match this last Tuesday, it appears we have hit upon the latest such moment.

I must confess to having had a number of issues with WWE’s approach to plugging the gap left by an unexpectedly injured Mustafa Ali, though him being replaced with Kingston is not, in and of itself, one of them. Rather, it was the method adopted that bothered me, which the internet would have us believe saw WWE stick to exactly what they had planned for Ali, just with Kingston in the Heart of Smackdown Live’s place.

Before casting aside my gripe as little more than the sour grapes of a Seth Rollins fan boy – which admittedly does play a little part! – know that my issue with the method used is a contextual one, not a conceptual one; in fact, I actively and openly hoped on Twitter for Ali to be afforded the chance to repeat Rollins’ achievement from the year before. It would have felt appropriate, considering the path Ali’s character has been on in recent months. He has spent the last year exceeding expectations, disproving doubt and putting on world-beating performances like clockwork. Had he been able to do what Kingston did on Tuesday, I could have readily accepted it because of this.

Kingston, however, not so much. Let’s be frank: Kingston (speaking of the fictional character, not the man) has been running in place for four years, bouncing between Tag Team Championships, often opposite the same opponents, performing almost exclusively in tag team wrestling. Even as a singles performer, his precedent never exceeds a single victory over Randy Orton ten years ago and a number of Intercontinental and US title reigns during the wasteland years of both titles. Kingston is a chronic under-achiever. I cannot believe for a second that a character so seemingly content to tread water can pick up back to back victories over the reigning WWE Champion on the form of his career, a legendary multiple-time World Champion and a monster that almost made minced meat out of Brock Lesnar not two years ago, all while competing for over an hour, all on less than an hour’s notice. It’s a contextual nightmare, a continuity-breaking conundrum that makes me want to outright reject the story because of its presumptive suddenness. To begin the day as an under-achiever and so swiftly come to end it as a world-beater is too much of a stretch.

For me, then, it’s all in the follow-up. If this proves to be a revelatory performance for Kingston that leans into sustained singles success at the highest level of competition on Smackdown Live (SDL), the genesis of a character arc rather than the extension of one, then rather than breaking continuity it will simply turn out to be a moment that changes it and develops character. I can dig that and I’m patient enough to see the story play out with an open mind. Why, then, do I not want Kingston to win a WWE Championship any time soon? Frankly, because I don’t believe anyone else should benefit quite so directly from the combination of Mustafa Ali’s boundary-breaking hard work and spirit-crushing bad luck until Ali has reaped the benefits himself, that’s why.

Last Tuesday existed as an opportunity, if rumours are to be believed, because of Ali. Kingston can now stand to benefit greatly from a turn of the unexpected, and if he does I can more readily accept the story told some nights ago. I just hope and pray that the opportunity is not considered singular, because success for Kingston here should not come at the expense of Ali – a man who has earned the right to succeed in parallel in spite of his injury, and who still stands, to me, as the best candidate to wrestle Bryan for the championship at WrestleMania.

This week’s episode of 205 Live decided to underscore that latter-most point through the form of a No Disqualification Match between Noam Dar and Tony Nese worthy of Mustafa Ali’s own library of work. It was a match of formidable quality that, if you haven’t watched already, you certainly should; especially if you have ever been a fan of what Ali accomplished on 205 Live last year, considering how clearly the spirit of his legacy was in play.

It broke my heart this week to see articles circulating online indicating WWE has no major plans for the 205 Live brand in 2019 beyond allowing it to continue not-so-quietly doing its thing on Tuesday nights. I had hoped Ali’s promotion would set a new standard, not prove an exception to a steadfast rule. Going on the motivated performances of Dar and Nese this week, I can’t help but wonder if a similar mindset permeates a locker room we, as fans, never hear anything but good things about.

Their match was sustained and it was vicious. Use of the stipulation was deeply creative, and designed in a far more organic fashion than any comparable match you might see on the main roster any time soon. Both Dar and Nese endured intense physical brutality, as told by their limping gaits and cradled arms, with believability and an unusual degree of realism for contemporary pro wrestling at the heart of their compelling encounter; there was no hysteria here, reducing match-ending moments enough to hospitalise a man into mere transitional exchanges, but instead only the work of mature and master craftsmen. That the match ended in spectacular fashion, and had the good sense to know it had to end when it did, was one of its many fine traits and, in its own right, something of an ode to the legacy of intelligence left behind by Ali.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Dar or Nese – the former’s personality feels too enigmatic for me to be able to empathise and the latter watches as too well groomed, in more than one sense of the word, to evoke genuine menace. This last week, though, both men made a believer out of me. I can only hope they’re both able to build on it because, though February has seen some spectacular Network-exclusive wrestling, Dar vs. Nese may have topped the lot.

TELL ME

What are YOUR thoughts on the women’s portion of tonight’s Elimination Chamber pay-per-view? How do YOU feel about Kofi Kingston’s performance and prospects coming out of last Tuesday? And what did YOU think of Dar vs. Nese, if you’ve seen it? Sound off in the comments below, over on social media or by joining LOPForums today!

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