Editorial Columns

On The Final Stops To WrestleMania | Red vs. Blue (SmackDown 27/3/20 & Raw 30/3/20)

Benajmin Clem looks at some of the final Raw and SmackDown episodes before WrestleMania and decides which brand is superior.

With a Wrestlemania “too big for one night” on the horizon, both brands scramble to establish some semblance of cohesion in this week’s Red Versus Blue!

It goes without saying that we’re currently living in strange times. Amidst a global pandemic, the WWE has strived to give wrestling fans some sense of normalcy. Although many of us have been less than enchanted by the current structure Vince and company have had to utilize, it bears mentioning that even the storm cloud looming over the world currently isn’t without its silver lining. Sure, we may have to sit through replays of past pay per view matches, but we’ve also been treated to some of the best promo and vignette work that WWE has produced in years.

The empty Performance Center may not be the most ideal setting for a show of Raw or Smackdown’s calibre, but on the other hand, it creates a certain level of personal connection you don’t get from a packed arena. Even the idea of two nights of a pre-taped Mania doesn’t seem completely awful when you consider that it could be one of those most interesting Wrestlemanias of all time! The point I’m trying to make is that despite the overwhelming negativity enveloping the planet, there will always be a glimmer of positive light that shines through the darkness.

For many of us, pro wrestling has always been that proverbial lighthouse of good vibes, and this could be the very reason we’ve seen the WWE so intent on pushing past current events to deliver entertainment in some form or another. As I’ve said before, it’s incredibly tough to judge the negatives of content that is quite literally the best we can expect during such unpredictable times. So, this week’s Red Versus Blue will once again determine it’s victor solely based on the positive highlights from each show. It’s my personal opinion that I would be a fairly garbage human if I could kick a company when they’re legitimately doing the best they can. So, with the idea of positivity still at the front of our mind’s, it’s time to answer the age-old question, when it comes to this week’s WWE programming, which show was better?

You know the schtick, folks. Every week, I watch the shows, make the notes, and then deliver unto you fine readers my semi-informed opinion of which show was better overall. With our introduction and explanation dutifully handled, it’s time to jump right into this week’s highlights!

The Good

Kicking off this week’s Blue Brand highlights is the opening segment centred around Wrestlemania’s fatal five-way elimination match for Bayley’s Smackdown Women’s Championship. This promo truly started off terrible, but progressively improved with every individual that became involved. The dynamic of two combatants being heel, and two being face made it seem like a clique tag match was around the corner, only for the powers that be to swerve the segment into a spotlight for the indifferent monster persona of the returning Tamina.

Both controversy surrounding her father, and a long list of injuries have resulted in Tamina being the most underutilized second-generation talent WWE has ever had signed to their roster, so hopefully this is the beginning of her getting a much deserved pushed. However, with her father being the subject of an upcoming episode of Vice’s Dark Side of the Ring, there’s a more than likely chance this push could be derailed like previous ones. Nevertheless, it’s always good to see Tamina getting TV time.

Next up on Smackdown’s good list is the match between Asuka and Alexa Bliss. This might be the best example I’ve ever seen of two wrestlers that obviously love working together. Not only did “Lil Miss Bliss” and the “Empress of Tomorrow” put on an extremely athletic match, but the inclusion of Nikki Cross on commentary made this probably the most entertaining moment of the night. Anytime the action in the ring slowed, Nikki was right there with unmatched enthusiasm to keep eyes firmly fixated on the match taking place. Even the lack of a live audience worked in favour of this match as Asuka took the opportunity to launch into more mid-match Japanese tirades without fear of being drowned out by the fans. In terms of entertainment value and ring work, this was undeniably the match of the night.

Wrapping up this week’s Smackdown highlights is the newest edition of Bray Wyatt’s Firefly Funhouse. This felt like we were watching one of the first funhouse segments! The levels of mystery and unnerving imagery have not been this high since we were introduced to the concept of The Fiend. It’s incredibly obvious that Bray feels more personally connected to this feud with Cena than he has with his past rivalries, and it’s turned his creative dial up to eleven. This promo may have single-handedly made Bray and John’s match the most anticipated match taking place during Wrestlemania. I don’t know what a “Firefly Funhouse” consists of, but with Mania being pretaped, it’s safe to assume we may get an overly produced piece of television magic akin to the Final Deletion.

Switching gears to Raw’s highlights, last night’s show began with one of the best promos we’ve seen from The Undertaker since he returned to the “Deadman” gimmick. After weeks of AJ Styles’ schoolyard bully style heel promos, it felt incredible to see the Phenom deliver a mirrored version heavily sprinkled with his own brand of psychological warfare. Yes, AJ broke kayfabe first, but it’s truly something special when you can get the most decorated horse in the stable to follow suit.

Even if this “Boneyard” match ends up being a new take on the buried alive match, it doesn’t feel completely out of the realm of possibility for a feud this personal to reach its apex with one combatant being buried alive. Similar to Smackdown’s “Firefly Funhouse” match, there’s a good chance this will be a heavily produced part of the Mania card, and therefore one of the most entertaining moments of the entire event.

Sticking with the promo segments of the evening, Raw’s next highlight is the emotion-evoking backstage promo from Edge. There’s not a lot I can really say that hasn’t already been said concerning the highly emotional feud between Edge and Randy Orton, but it’s still great to see Edge masterfully eliciting an emotional response every time he’s on camera. Edge’s real-life struggle to be cleared to return to wrestling gives everything he says a true feel of pure legitimacy. Adding the “Last Man Standing” stipulation to this rivalry all but guarantees that when these two clash at Mania, it’s going to be an emotional roller coaster.

The Verdict

As another short and sweet week of Red Versus Blue comes to a close, I’m sure I’m not the only one missing the product we’d all gotten used to getting from most wrestling promotions. As I said, it would be very wrong of us to complain about being given the best we can get at this moment, but wrestling just doesn’t feel the same without the pop of the crowd. It’s that missing element that became the true determining factor of this week’s battle. However, before I explain that statement, I’m going to call this week in favor of…

When it comes to a wrestling show that has no crowd and a bare-bones crew, a two-hour show will always beat a three hour one. This week’s Smackdown might not have been perfect, but it absolutely felt more solid than last night’s show. It’s safe to assume that as the current pandemic continues WWE will adapt and improve, but until that happens, shorter is better. So, with a victory captured by the Blue Brand, the time has come for me to bid you fine readers farewell the only way I know how…

Until next week, may all your kicks be super and every frog splash five stars!

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