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A few weeks ago I wrote about WWE's issue with managing talent that had been successful in NXT. While we can all lament the slides of talent like Bayley, Sami Zayn and American Alpha, WWE does deserve some credit in that recently, two talents that were very popular in NXT, Shinsuke Nakamura and Samoa Joe, have been used pretty much perfectly up until this point. In a lot of ways, the development of Samoa Joe on RAW and the development of Shinsuke Nakamura on SmackDown have been the most entertaining aspects on their respective shows over the last couple months.
On paper Samoa Joe was someone that WWE in the past would have never promoted in this fashion. He doesn't have a great body, he made his name in other promotions that WWE is hesitant to acknowledge even exist, and he is 38 years old. A lot of WWE talent, like Mick Foley, had advocated for Joe to be signed by WWE years ago. Nearing the twilight of his career he finally got signed and was pushed like a monster in NXT and quickly got over. He debuted on the main roster earlier this year, has been pushed like a monster and quickly got over.
Joe is an example of a guy that had the talent to succeed, he just needed to be put in the appropriate role. Joe has the skill set to get over as a fighting machine thanks to his natural size, his agility and martial arts background, his experience in the ring and his ability to play the role of a tough S.O.B. Anyone that watched Joe before he got to WWE isn't surprised that he has succeeded in this role because this is what he has done throughout his entire career. All it took for Joe to get over on the main roster was some sensible booking and so far WWE has delivered that. A year from now will we feel differently? Possibly, but it is hard to imagine a scenario where Joe would be pushed any better than what is happening right now.
The booking behind Joe has been very simple--give him significant victories and avoid making him look weak. WWE has managed to do that by giving him a pair of wins over Roman Reigns (even if they were not clean wins, they were still legit wins) as well as a victory at Extreme Rules to win the number one contenders spot. WWE has also tried hard to get his finishing move, the Coquina Clutch, over by having him apply it on everybody. There hasn't been an instance when Joe backed down from a fight, or got destroyed by another wrestler, or looked like an idiot. A few months from now that could all change, especially since it is unlikely he will defeat Brock Lesnar, but for now Joe has been booked pretty much perfectly.
While booking Samoa Joe as a basic badass is a relatively simple concept, the same can not be said for booking Shinsuke Nakamura. Nakamura's character as a flamboyant rock-star mixed with a dangerous striker is a tougher concept to grasp, and is the exact kind of character that WWE often fails to thread the needle with. To their credit, Nakamura has been protected since coming up from NXT and has been treated like the star that he is. It is still too early to see if WWE is going to allow Nakamura to reach his potential, but so far the signs are pointing in the direction that management feels that he can be a top babyface for the company.
Similar to Joe, WWE has avoided putting Nakamura in instances that have made him look weak. They wisely kept him away from the ring until Backlash, where he beat Dolph Ziggler in a good match. He didn't win the Money in the Bank match, but he was the star of the show anyway and came across like a complete superstar to the live audience. Although he hasn't been pushed into the title picture the way Joe has; things really couldn't have gone better for Nakamura unless you want to nitpick little things.
I thought that WWE did an excellent job with Nakamura on Sunday. They started out by having Baron Corbin attack Nakamura before his entrance could get started, robbing fans of one of their favorite things in WWE. After sitting out for part of the match, Nakamura came back to a huge babyface pop and from then on controlled the audience as they cheered for him laying out everyone in the match and then having a great exchange with Styles, which felt like the precursor to a big match later down the road. Instead of just having Nakamura in the match and giving him a few cool spots, WWE insisted on highlighting him as a major star and it worked out extremely well.
In Nakamura and Samoa Joe, you have two guys who for a long time certain decision makers thought could never get over. One guy was "fat" who was a star on the indies but couldn't draw real money, the other guy was a big star in Japan but everyone knows that American fans would never gravitate towards a Japanese wrestler. However, WWE has booked both wrestlers in a way that is far from embarrassing and the crowd has responded by getting behind both of them. It is that kind of consistent, strong push that more wrestlers need to receive in order to become the big, new stars that the company needs to carry it into the next decade.
Money in the Bank Review
Money in the Bank largely ended up being a one-match show and while that match was very good, it wasn't enough to carry an underwhelming undercard that was well-wrestled and full of effort, but was plagued by ineffective finishes and awkward moments that deflated a pretty hot crowd. The main event was good enough to save the show from being a complete disaster, but this may have been the least-memorable Money in the Bank event since the PPV was created.
Men's Money in the Bank Ladder Match: ****¼
A really fun match that WWE wisely elected to close the show with over the WWE Championship match. The expectations are pretty high when you consider the level of workers that were in the match, and you can't say they under-delivered. AJ Styles, like he always does, was the standout star for the duration of the match, culminating in the spot where he hung from the briefcase like a man on a cliff before crashing to the mat (somebody couldn't have broken his fall????). It says something about Styles that in a match with amazing workers like Owens, Zayn and Nakamura that he still stands out as a notch above everyone else. The return of Nakamura midway through the match was well executed, as noted above.
I'm not really sold on Corbin as a legit main event star, although I get that he makes the most sense holding the briefcase and WWE is very high on him. I'm not really sure what he does extremely well, outside of his look and his entrance. His push reminds me of the Sheamus push in that WWE management assumed that he checked all the boxes of what a top star should be, but the crowd never got behind him to that degree. It wasn't the type of match that Corbin would stand out in, but I do think it was an issue that Corbin won the match and he was clearly the least-noticeable person in the match as everyone else had big moments and high spots, but Corbin did little outside assaulting Nakamura and grabbing the briefcase. We will see how it goes but I wouldn't put all my eggs in that basket.
Randy Orton vs Jinder Mahal: **¾
Technically a fine match with both guys working really hard. Mahal is never going to be a great worker but as long as he isn't injuring talent he can probably have passable matches if he gets paired with a veteran star. The issue in the match was the finish, which came across as extremely predictable since you knew that Mahal or the Singh brothers were going to go after Bob Orton since WWE loves to have heels attack the babyfaces' family when they are at ringside. While Orton was outside the ring decimating the Singh brothers, you knew he was going to go back into the ring and eat a finisher which was exactly what happened. It was also very similar to the finish they did at the last PPV where Mahal beat Orton for the title. It looks like they are going to continue this feud which I don't know is a wise decision because St. Louis faithful aside the live audiences seem pretty bored with Orton right now.
Women's Money in the Bank Match: **
A couple issues with the match, the obvious one being the dead finish where Ellsworth stole the briefcase for Carmella, which killed a crowd that was starting to get into it. The idea of a man winning the match for a woman rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, and I certainly thought it was bad when they spent the rest of the night talking about what a historic match it was when they made a complete joke out of the finish. I suppose it was all to set up a must-see rematch on SmackDown, but I'm not sure making a joke out of the first ever Women's MITB match was a good idea. It also felt out of place as the finish--it would be one thing if there was a big struggle near the top of the ladders and Ellsworth came in and snatched the briefcase right of Charlotte or Becky Lynch's hands; but instead Ellsworth climbed the ladder unopposed and slowly took the briefcase and handed it to Carmella, which was especially flat and hurt the crowd.
In the future I think I would like to see only one MITB match per PPV (maybe do the Women's match at WrestleMania and the Men's match at the actual PPV). The matches themselves are so dependent on high spots and since WWE was counting on the Men's match to go a long time and carry the show, the women couldn't do much because the spots and time were being saved for the main event. Since the Men's match is naturally going to feature better workers and more athleticism, the women's match needs better spots and storytelling and when they have less time and are restricted on what they can do it hurts the match. Overall the match was pretty good, and fundamentally it was fine, but when it comes to a star rating, it gets dinged because of the weak finish.
The New Day vs The Usos: ***¼
They were on their way to having a really good match but were killed by a lame finish. Both teams looked good and pulled out a lot of spots in an exciting back-and-forth match. Kofi Kingston is a great all-around worker and Big E gets some of the best hot tags in the business. The Usos were kind of sloppy when they first debuted but have matured into good workers and they have tried to change up their characters over the year when they started to get stale. The finish of The Usos just walking away from the ring to get counted out and retain the tag titles was pretty pathetic, particularly because just like the Women's MITB match the crowd was getting into it and was just crushed by the lame finish. The good news is that they will have another match for the titles, which should be just as good with hopefully a better finish.
Naomi vs Lana: ½*
I didn't really understand the purpose of this match. Lana came out and unfortunately didn't get any real reaction, which if she either got booed big time or cheered big time would have helped justify the match. I figured there were two ways they could have done this match, the first being that Lana miraculously defeats Naomi via distraction or by a roll-up. The second would be Naomi destroying Lana showing her she has much to learn. Neither of those things happened, instead we got a bad wrestling match without any storytelling. What did this match do for Lana other than exposure her as an inadequate in-ring performer?
Breezango vs The Ascension: *
Nothing match that didn't do anything for anybody except give the crowd a chance to get some snacks or use the bathrooms. WWE has this strange policy where they have to have a buffer match of sorts in-between their two big matches with the idea that it gives the crowd a chance to rest. Every other promotion on earth avoids this, including NJPW. At Dominion, NJPW had 12,000 people, about the same as Money in the Bank. Dominion closed the show with Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Tesuya Naito followed by Kazuchika Okada vs Kenny Omega. The crowd was super-hot for both matches and didn't need any rest period. WWE should consider abandoning having any dead-crowd matches on their PPVs, not promoting them in-between the two most anticipated matches.