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Star-Making Promos & Mystery Men | Red vs. Blue (SmackDown 17/4/20 & Raw 20/4/20)

After what may have been one of the darkest days in wrestling history, Raw and Smackdown attempt to serve as a palette cleanser in this week’s Red Versus Blue!

April 15th, 2020 will long stand as one of the most glaring examples of Vince McMahon’s expert ability to make an already bad situation exponentially worse. Amidst a tragic global pandemic, the questionable bankruptcy of the latest incarnation of the XFL, and the extremely suspect announcement of WWE live programming being deemed “essential”, Vince and company decided to enact possibly the biggest mass lay off we’ve ever seen in the pro wrestling business.

As a result of what is now being commonly referred to as “Black Wednesday”, over thirty WWE employees have found themselves either furloughed or completely released from their current contracts with the company. Although the prevailing inspiration for this multitude of releases taking place in a single afternoon has been sited as a response to budgetary setbacks caused by the global spread of COVID-19, rumours surfacing afterwards suggest that the WWE may have used a worldwide pandemic as the less than perfect excuse to “trim the fat” of their roster.

While the majority of workers released will have no trouble finding employment amongst the vast world of professional wrestling promotions that’s been established over the last decade, actions like this only further tarnish the already less than spectacular reputation of the WWE. In the current times of declining viewership due in part to pre-taped empty arena programming, a mass firing of talent is possibly the worst decision a publicly traded sports company could make.

To say that this week’s offerings of primetime WWE programming were bogged down by the heartbreaking events of Wednesday afternoon would be the understatement of the year. Over the last few weeks, I’ve made a point of altering the format of this article to focus more on the positive aspects of both Raw and Smackdown in an effort to try to make the best of an overall negative situation.

Never before have I felt it was more important to try and focus on the idea of positivity than this week. With so many suddenly finding themselves unemployed, and even more having to soldier on in the face of now being without their friends and coworkers, it would be incredibly insensitive of me to use this article as a platform to slam Vince’s company for the actions of the man himself.

So, with the idea of positivity firmly cemented in the front of our minds yet again, we find ourselves presented with the question we gather to answer each and every week! When it comes to WWE’s weekly primetime content, which show was better?

You know the drill, 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 the introduction and explanation handled in usual fashion, it’s time to jump right in to this week’s highlights!

Kicking off the Blue Brand’s highlights this week is the suspenseful “Moment of Bliss” opener featuring Braun Strowman. Segments like this are exactly what I hoped we’d be getting from a feud between Braun and Bray! The intertwined history of these two creates a storyline that all but writes itself, allowing creative to add detail we might not normally see from a WWE product. Stuff like Braun thinking the mystery gift was from Alexa is a great example of this.

Any talent that’s currently in an angle with Bray Wyatt would look like an idiot picking up a gift-wrapped box that suddenly appeared mid promo, but the fact that Alexa Bliss and Braun have previous mixed tag history created a reason for Strowman to appear unassuming. This could potentially be the most important feud of Braun’s career so far, and I personally think it’ll be the one that establishes him as the next major star.

Sticking with the concept of things that are creatively entertaining, Smackdown’s next highlight is the continuing “glitch” vignettes. After weeks of an ominous “programming malfunction” appearing during segments featuring Dolph Ziggler led to a hooded figure revealing the truth behind the more seditious aspects of the Otis and Mandy storyline, it now seems the mystery hacker has a new truth to unveil to the Smackdown roster.

First off, I’m fairly sure this is a gimmick repackage for Mustafa Ali, but I honestly don’t think that takes anything away from how entertaining it is. The “stalker” angle creates storylines throughout the roster as it builds while also forming a gallery of potential opponents for said “stalker” after he or she is finally revealed. This is the kind of old school booking that still works in modern wrestling. If done right, whoever is eventually unmasked as the divulger of everyone’s secrets could be sitting on months of  “ready-made” rivalries. This is definitely an angle we should keep our eyes on.

Finishing off the Blue Brand highlights for this week is the emotionally palpable promo we saw from Sonya Deville. This very well could be the best performance we’ve ever gotten from Deville when it pertains to her mic work. In a segment that was pitched as a “friend’s plea for forgiveness”, Sonya leaned hard into the persona of a remorseful friend before inevitably turning the segment into an attack on Mandy’s decisions.

Yes, the swerve was easily predictable, but credit has to be given to a talent that can go from sounding like they’re nearly in tears to a place of pure perceived hatred. If nothing else, Dolph showing up in a Hawkins and Ryder shirt absolutely earned this one a mention on this week’s Smackdown highlights.

Switching gears to the Red Brand’s highlights, first on the list is the reboot of Shayna Baszler’s NXT “arm breaker” gimmick. For the second week in a row, Shayna Baszler has ended her match with the “broken arm” spot that got her noticed early on during her NXT run. The idea here seems to be that Baszler’s loss to Becky Lynch has resulted in the former cage fighter becoming less concerned with winning and more occupied with the thought of injuring her opposition.

If I’m being honest, this feels a lot like Pentagon Jr’s first storyline in Lucha Underground. A lone wolf type character inflicting unprecedented violence in the hope of appeasing an unseen “master”. Although we’ve yet to be given any real reason for Shayna’s actions, the fantasy booker part of my brain can’t help but mark out at the idea of Baszler’s “master” character being a certain former MMA mentor…

Next on Raw’s highlight list is the push being given to the team of Cedric Alexander and Ricochet. It’s starting to seem as though the WWE has finally found their team to rival the in-ring antics of the Young Bucks. After an outstanding performance against the Viking Raiders last week, Cedric and Ricochet faced the team of Shane Thorne and Brendan Vink last night in a match that would’ve felt completely normal taking place at any PWG show.

This indie reinvention of Raw’s tag division could be exactly what WWE needs to finally shake the subpar tag team stigma that’s plagued the company for years. I personally believe that a championship match between the Street Profits and the team of Alexander and Ricochet could easily match up to anything we’ve seen from AEW’s tag division if given the proper amount of freedom. However, whether or not Vince and company are willing to allow that freedom still remains to be seen.

Wrapping up this week’s highlights is the multitude of not so subtle references that were made in regards to the Red Brand’s newest faction during last night’s show. From Byron Saxton blatantly uttering “Tranquillo” on commentary to Drew McIntyre closing the show in a notoriously casual pose, it certainly seems as though WWE is intent on establishing the trio of Andrade, Garza, and Theory as their own variation of “Los Ingobernables”.

Although the trio found themselves in less than favourable circumstances throughout most of last night’s show, the insistence of WWE to keep these guys in the spotlight proves that there’s a plan in the works. If I had to guess, I’d say we’ll see “Los Ingobernables de Raw” fully form in a future rivalry with the likes of Rey Mysterio or Humberto Carrillo. Until then, serving as the replacements for Seth Rollins’ absentee disciples certainly isn’t the worst way for this fledgeling faction to get some exposure.

The Verdict

When you consider the fact that this was possibly one of the biggest weeks in recent wrestling history, it’s extremely fascinating that both Raw and Smackdown were fairly mundane. With Vince making the most pivotal news outside of the ring this week, It seems as though both shows were put on auto-pilot in hopes of weathering the social media storm. With that in mind, when it comes to this week’s editions of Raw and Smackdown, I’m calling this week in favor of…

It just doesn’t get much better than starting your show with Braun Strowman showing a sliver of fear for the very first time! Even the convoluted triple threat main event wasn’t enough to keep Smackdown from taking this week’s victory. So, with the Blue Brand easily capturing the win, 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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