As we continue to build towards this year’s Money in the Bank pay-per-view, it becomes clearer each week that WWE are intent on making that build as much of an agonising wait as they can. Once again, it felt like there was barely any satisfying storyline progression across the company’s seven hours of regular programming these last seven days.
There was, however, at least three little TV gems that demonstrated a true sense of character and of continuity, and its on matches like that the most compelling pro wrestling world-building can be done.
As ever, my name is Samuel ‘Plan and this is the Performance Art View of the week.
Drew Gulak is a man with a vision: ground the cruiserweights of 205 Live, for the sake of the dignity of the profession and for the sake of eliminating unnecessary danger. He believes in that vision fiercely, and he believes he is the only man brave enough to do this thing that he considers utterly necessary. He is 205 Live’s ‘big bad’ then – the Thanos of the division, if you will, seeking to bring about his vision of a brand that is perfectly grounded in every way. It has come to make him one of the most compelling characters on all of WWE television right now, and a villain who, week in and week out, continues building a silent case to be the true centre of gravity for the Tuesday night show.
What became clear on the back of his latest encounter with the King of the Ropes Gran Metalik was that, not only is Gulak (perhaps alongside Mustafa Ali) the brand’s most three-dimensional character, so too does he have a perfect nemesis to clash with repeatedly.
With Gulak sporting his no-nonsense and minimalist fighting ring gear standing opposite a Metalik adorned in regal black and gold, the two figures could not have appeared in starker contrast. Metalik, with his Lucha House Party compatriots cheering him on from ringside with all their characteristic hyperactivity, is Gulak’s nightmare come to life, and proves as much as he uses his familiar brand of lucha high-flying to outwit and outperform the show’s ground and pound preacher in the opening moments.
It is only a matter of time until Gulak is able to prove the point of his crusade when he capitalises on a Metalik slowing for breath by crotching him on the turnbuckle. To never underestimate the kind of rabid ferocity that can only be generated from true faith is the lesson Metalik then learns as he eats Gulak’s boots, is tossed from the ring and finally has his arms prised painfully apart.
Like any good nemesis, Metalik is able to withstand the assault, though, and work to restore his combative advantage. As Gulak, seeing the growing danger of his crusade taking a dent to its reputation he can’t afford, reverts to opportunistic slaps and furious, ill-thought out attacks, Metalik only substantiates the promise of his ring gear’s vibrancy even further – with incredible high-flying counters and combinations only the King of the Ropes could be capable of, it becomes clear just how much he really does embody Gulak’s most loathed nightmare.
Though Gulak is eventually able to pick up a sneering victory, make no mistake: he was largely outclassed by his enemy here, Metalik holding the firm advantage for the majority of their fray. No other daredevil on 205 Live has been able to so seemingly effortlessly, repeatedly get the better of Gulak, and the resultant match felt like the tease of what could, perhaps what should now be the marquee feud for a Purple Brand attaching itself to the wrong ship in the form of a painfully two-dimensional Cedric Alexander.
This last week saw the former Demon King (is that even still a thing now?) faced with, quite literally, the tallest challenge of his time in WWE thanks to the machinations of Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley: chop down the Monster Among Man, a feat that only an Ordinary Man Capable of Extraordinary Things could manage.
Bálor is not untested against Strowman of course. They previously ran into one another during Strowman’s fury road of destruction inside the Elimination Chamber Match several months ago in an exchange that saw Bálor unhesitating but ineffective in raining down an onslaught of his stiffest puro-imbued strikes. It had as little effect then as it has in the opening stages of their Monday Night Raw (MNR) main event.
Strowman proves he is a big man of thin skin upon hearing Stephanie’s claim Bálor considered him the reason for their tag loss the week prior, and that thin skin provides little resistance as the Monster Among Men’s fury erupts with the kind of guttural and animalistic strength it feels like we haven’t seen in quite some time – an intimidating prospect not just for Bálor in the immediate but for the confirmed field for this year’s Men’s Money in the Bank Ladders Match too. Strowman’s throaty roars rattle with rage and the ring itself shudders fearfully as Bálor is propelled like a missile into the turnbuckles early.
The result is a Bálor faced with the paradoxical requirement to launch a hit and run attack while fighting up from his knees. He gets his licks in. Passing blows to the knee and a sense of lasting hope from a supportive audience fuel his fighting effort against his near-villainous opponent, whose biggest mistake is in taking the smaller man lightly. Eventually, Bálor is able to forge open a real opportunity, pursuing victory with a cumulative series of survivalist combinations outside of the ring and, latterly, upon Strowman’s return between the ropes.
Unfortunately, all it does is summon the full force of Strowman’s frustration, who eviscerates Bálor with two Powerslams and ends the fray in short order. It’s a frightening turn of events that, on the surface, already draws a line under the outcome of the pending match for the briefcase. Consider that all it took to bring out such considerable anger from Strowman was the insult felt from an off-hand verbal remark, and then consider what might happen if someone is stupid enough to hit the Monster Among Men in the face with a ladder.
The other men in that match can ill-afford the risk of letting Strowman’s feral side emerge in an environment surrounded with breakable objects and even more breakable bodies. If this week was anything to go on, though, Bálor in particular can ill afford any further run-ins with the Monster Among Men at all until pay-per-view night, lest he be left unable to climb a ladder in the first place….
Several weeks ago, we saw the fruits of Chad Gable’s scratching, clawing labour when he defeated former WWE Champion Jinder Mahal one on one. Since that time, his trajectory has once again become mired in the mud of defeat and indirection, but his backstage encounter with the Lost Generation of Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre this week demonstrated that his underlying passion has far from dissipated.
The American Alpha threw down the challenge to the Show Off Ziggler following an ironic dig at perceivable entitlement, resulting yet again in an exhibition of Gable’s ever-growing capability of maximising minutes to create compelling short-form television matches. This week’s was deceptively steeped in character continuity and historical theme.
Despite McIntyre standing as an imposing leviathan visage watching with piercing eyes at ringside, Gable showed himself unphased by outclassing the posturing and insecure Show Off both on the canvas and athletically with offensive combinations so fluid it’ll have you wondering if the broadcast is skipping; all of which, undoubtedly, slice their way underneath the vainglorious skin of the veteran Ziggler.
It is with an ungraceful elbow to the jaw and a textbook dropkick that Ziggler is able to exhale in relief as the advantage shifts back to him. He goes on to maintain it with embittered, pulsing anger as years of buried frustrations surface, catalysed by the embarrassment suffered at the hands of his immediate opponent.
Gable’s passion proves to be unrelenting once again though, scratching and clawing his way to a comeback that brings McIntyre almost into the ring as the pace begins to ratchet up. Against any other wily opponent, that passion might have come up trumps for the American Alpha, but Ziggler and McIntyre are two of a kind – with the disregard for his own dignity only a career of rejection could bring, Ziggler reverts to desperately pathetic tactics to blast Gable in the jaw with a shotgun-like Superkick to pick up a victory he celebrates with the little class we have come to expect.
Perhaps flaring at seeing Gable’s drive that so brings into question the reality Ziggler and McIntyre cling to in order to explain their previous career failings, the Lost Generation lay Gable out after the bell with a tectonic Claymore Kick. Time will tell, should this targeting continue of Gable continue onto next, whether it will prove enough to bring out a certain other Alpha we know is now only waiting to return; and, if it does, whether friendships like that formed between Jordan and Gable really are meant to last.
With that in mind, if you have any thoughts on Gable repeatedly proving himself a quiet MVP on weekly MNR TV, or about any of the week’s happenings I’ve explored in this week’s Performance Art View, let them be known in the comments below, over on social media or even by signing up to our own LOPForums; just click here to sign up!