The dust continues to settle after the riotous weekend WWE provided with their 2018 edition of Money in the Bank (MITB), and in that aftermath this week saw a common trend emerge throughout all WWE’s roster on all of its collective shows: the uncertain future.
Last weekend was a positive one for WWE, followed by TV that improved upon recent form. The short-term future at least feels infinitely more positive than it did as recently as two weeks ago as the path toward Extreme Rules has already started to get lain, but what the future will come to look like at the end of all things remains far from certain.
As ever, my name is Samuel ‘Plan and this is the Performance Art View of the week.
Not too long ago, I referred to 205 Live’s Hideo Itami interfering in a match between Mustafa Ali and Buddy Murphy to determine favour in the pursuit of the cruiserweight silver the arrival of the Fist of 205 Live.
This week’s largely unheralded TV success that was the Purple Brand’s main event Triple Threat Match between those same three men only solidified the rising stature of Itami within that division, allowing the Fist to pick up a resourceful victory over the juggernaut Murphy and relentless Ali – with a little help from an exposed turnbuckle it has to be said.
Itami’s viciousness was on display in that conclusion that saw him land a hesitation dropkick on Ali that drove the latter’s skull hard against the naked steel of an unprotected turnbuckle. His aforementioned resourcefulness was on show when he sought to expose the turnbuckle in the first place. Even his cocky self-belief, that fuelled his turn on former partner Akira Tozawa, was demonstrated when the fire brand of the division cockily sneered at his two opponents upon the opening bell. It was a sneer that seemed to only drive the rivals together in pursuit of their common enemy.
Not that the Triple Threat was the ‘Hideo Itami Show.’ Quite the opposite, in fact, as Ali and Murphy continued to build upon the creative innovation shown throughout all of their previous run-ins even further, with more high octane action that, nevertheless, in typical fashion for Ali at least, made perfect sense. The Spanish Fly from the announce table to the outside floor, for example, was a particularly wince-inducing moment that spoke to the competitive fire shared between Chicago and Melbourne’s own.
Both men held their own opposite one another and against the sudden arrival of Itami on the scene. Murphy was typically brutal in his efforts to break Ali’s ribs, even being the one to introduce the mitigating factor of the announce table. Ali, meanwhile, once again showed why he is affectionately referred to as the Heart of 205 Live – his plucky resolve and deep reserves had him countering Murphy’s illest intentions and even, at one point, nailing a double 450 Splash on his more hawkish opponents.
In spite of their characteristically impressive performances, however, it was Itami’s night to shine, seemingly putting the Fist right in line to punch a hole in the Soul of the same show, reigning Cruiserweight Champion Cedric Alexander.
What’s more, Alexander needs to be particularly careful right now. Right as Itami sees himself mercilessly rising through the ranks of WWE’s cruiserweight division, turning his uncertain future in the company into an apparently very bright one, news breaks that WWE has come to terms with Itami’s old stomping grounds, Pro NOAH of Japan, which promises to only see the Fist of 205 Live’s stock strengthen all the more. With now double the competition to sharpen his already knife-like edge, and with greater infamy awaiting him than he’s ever enjoyed before, it seems Itami might be poised to go from looming threat to outright nuclear.
Seth Rollins emerged on Monday Night Raw (MNR) this last week with a pep in his step and a smile on his face to extol just how much he had relished the challenge provided him by a game Elias at last Sunday’s MITB pay-per-view event. It was the lust for the fight, and for the success only the fight can bring, that saw the Showslayer confronted by the Show Off Dolph Ziggler in the latest resurrection of the now infamous Intercontinental Open Challenge; as well, of course, as the Show Off’s Scottish muscle, Drew McIntyre.
As the leviathan threat of the Lost Generation faced down the Architect in the ring, Ziggler revealing himself as the night’s Chosen One instead of his partner in crime, the announcers chattered of their concerns regarding Rollins’ latest courtship with adversity: was this a wise idea considering the limit to which Rollins himself admitted he was taken courtesy of Elias merely 24 hours beforehand? It seemed that the Showslayer was rolling those white gold dice towards the feet of fate once again, and as the resultant match reached its spirit-crushing conclusion it became clear that fate is not without a cruel sense of humour.
Starting with ferocious urgency and an unmistakable declaration of intent from both men, each seeking to hit their respective finishers in the first minute of the action, Rollins would soon come to discover first hand just why the Lost Generation of Ziggler and McIntyre deserve the ‘lost’ in their moniker – we may debate why their vein of greatness has remained largely untapped during their tenure in WWE’s landscape, but that there is a vein to tap is clear through their aggression, their self-belief and their legitimate in-ring talent.
Rollins once again demonstrated his fearsome will power that has carried him to dizzying heights in WWE by calling upon all the virtues of his noble, fighting present self to endure a savvy onslaught from a Ziggler looking to capitalise on the worn down state of the champion’s body. Alas, in the end he came shockingly unstuck as Ziggler pulled some tights to use the same trick Rollins himself had called upon previously to retain his title. Not for the first time, it seemed, the Showslayer’s haunted past – his daily demons – had come back to stab him in his heart.
It was only hours later that Rollins would reveal his desire to wrestle his contractually guaranteed rematch on this coming week’s MNR, declaring that he had seven days to solve the puzzle presented by McIntyre’s mitigating interference. In the meantime, we have been left to speculate about the Architect’s suddenly uncertain future. Will this latest turn of events in Rollins’ life lead him to pursuing the recapture of Intercontinental gold all the way to the night of the extreme, or is the Showslayer now poised to turn his attentions to another challenge in the form of slaying not a king, not a show, but a Beast Incarnate?
Since his return to in-ring competition, Daniel Bryan has been given ample opportunity to make up for lost ring time with more than one iron man performance to his name, and his effort in Smackdown Live’s (SDL) Gauntlet Match was the latest iteration. Combining the endurance he showed at The Greatest Royal Rumble with the mat savvy that allowed him to rid WWE of Big Cass, Bryan cut Big E down to size early with his clinical, surgical expertise until he got caught in the trap of Big E’s hip-popping, bear-hugging belly to belly suplex.
Possessed of shocking speed in his own right, Big E proved more than a viable threat to former WWE World Heavyweight Champion Bryan, forcing the once named American Dragon to rely instead on his martial prowess to be able to carve a hard earned victory through a haze of bone snapping assaults – only to be immediately confronted by the Intimidation Artist Samoa Joe!
Unluckily for the Right Hand of Destruction, intimidation is something Bryan has had to contend with throughout his WWE career because of his diminutive stature (in comparison to his colleagues), and Joe’s hard-hitting efforts seemed only to fuel Bryan’s fire – as the repeated salvos fired at him by the once almighty Authority did in the not too distant past, of course. Tasting that determination saw Joe uncharacteristically, unwisely lock in a panicked Coquina Clutch on the outside to stem the Yes Movement’s surging tide, giving Bryan the unforeseeable opportunity to score a count out victory and promising future, more compelling encounters between the two in months to come.
Alas, it was for nought as the Bludgeons made their presence felt to inexplicably assault Bryan following their brief confrontation with one another in the aisle prior to bell time.
Perhaps more than the physical attack itself, or the lost title opportunity, Bryan is liable not to take that assault lying down because it allowed long-running nemesis The Miz to pick up a humiliating pin fall victory over him. That’s got to stick in Bryan’s craw, and will go neither forgotten nor forgiven for either the Bludgeon Brothers or the Miz himself in Bryan’s own uncertain future.
Any ingratiating boastfulness on the part of the Miz was soon undercut, however, courtesy of the appearance of the match’s somewhat surprising winner and final entrant Rusev. Walking with grave expression and steely, unflinching determination the likes of which we haven’t seen in the face of the Bulgarian Lion since the height of his days as US Champion, he struck an imposing figure as he marched, single-minded, towards the squared circle.
If you needed a reminder that Rusev is the Super Athlete, you were provided it with Rusev’s early dominance on what proved to be the true Rusev Day. A plucky and cerebral Miz got his licks in, but any advantage stemmed more from a lucky moment than a tactical success. Further, his gluttony for the resentment of the crowd saw him adopt a steady and measured pace to relish his efforts, rather than sprinting to put Rusev away at pace, and that was the A Lister’s greatest mistake.
Underestimation has become the story of Rusev’s career since losing his all-consuming grasp on the United States Championship, and AJ Styles would be wise to bear that in mind come Extreme Rules. After all, Rusev Day is not just a catchphrase or a joke anymore. Last Tuesday proved that it was a promise: Rusev’s day will come, and should Styles repeat Miz’s mistake – the company’s mistake – in underestimating the hunger of a Bulgarian Lion on the hunt, he might not remain WWE Champion very much longer.
With that in mind, if you have any thoughts on the apparently bright but still uncertain future of Hideo Itami, of Seth Rollins, of Daniel Bryan or of Rusev, or of 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!
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