The Post’s Joseph Staszewski brings you around the world of professional wrestling every Tuesday in his weekly column, the Post Match Angle.
Triple H is immediately putting his stamp on WWE by righting a number of Vince McMahon’s perceived wrongs — mostly with his former stars in NXT.
The biggest of those so far has been the surprise return of Karrion Kross on “Friday Night SmackDown” last week. Kross was flanked by his wife Scarlett and was immediately thrust into the main event picture. If there was a WWE multiverse like in Marvel this would be the Earth 1218 version where the now-retired McMahon didn’t debut Kross solo, have him job to Jeff Hardy, dress him up as an S&M gladiator and eventually release him. McMahon had become notorious for miscasting and underusing a number of Triple H’s former NXT stars on the main roster.
Under Triple H’s watch as head of creative, Kross — a former NXT champion — took out No. 1 contender Drew McIntyre and Scarlett placed the hourglass in the ring to put Undisputed WWE Universal champion Roman Reigns on notice. This is Kross as he should be, as Triple H presented him in NXT — quickly undoing the damage McMahon did. Kross’ return and Dexter Lumis (who was released in April) showing up on “Monday Night Raw” this week also adds that element of anticipation of who’s coming back next. Preferably Bray Wyatt and Johnny Gargano, if WWE really wants to make a splash.
Triple H also wasted little time getting the women’s tag team championship tournament going after months of silence under McMahon following Sasha Banks and Naomi’s suspension. Obviously bringing the former champions back would be a big moment for Triple H. He could right another of McMahon’s wrongs by doing that and having more talent and meaningful storylines dedicated to the division. There is no reason Toxic Attraction’s Gigi Dolan and Jacy Jane shouldn’t be called up soon — along with Mandy Rose too. Teaming Iyo Sky with Dakota Kai and Alexa Bliss with Asuka will add star power and an immediate storyline to the women’s tag team scene.
The women’s division as a whole appears to be getting extra attention from Triple H. The majority of the SmackDown women’s roster was in a gauntlet match to decide champion Liv Morgan’s next challenger. The match itself was well booked. Sonya Deville scored her first televised pin since May 2020 and Raquel Rodriguez eliminated three foes before finally getting pinned by Shayna Baszler.
It’s also about time we get Baszler – a former NXT women’s champion — being presented as a badass and getting a one-on-one singles title match. Her only one was against Becky Lynch with no fans at WrestleMania 36. She will likely partner up with real-life friend Ronda Rousey to complement the former UFC champion’s heel turn as an intimidating duo.
Over on Raw, Ciampa is also finally getting time to shine. The former NXT champion (we see a trend here) is delivering awesome promos and had a pay-per-view quality match with Bobby Lashley for the United States championship on Monday. WWE even pulled in Ciampa’s real life connection to the legendary Harley Race — the first-ever U.S. champ — to add deep meaning to the contest. It should give fans hope for long-overdue pushes for a Finn Balor or what looks like a reinvigorated Kevin Owens.
There have also been more subtle improvements. Those include the commitment to longer matches, reconnecting with wrestling history, stories that play out over an entire show, a few cliffhangers and putting your best in-ring wrestlers on TV (see Mustafa Ali and Ricochet) instead of leaving them in catering or having short matches. Talent is now allowed to say things like “wrestler” instead of “sports entertainer,” and “hospital” instead of “local medical facility,” which always made WWE feel like it was operating in its own universe.
Also, imagine having something booked or to look forward to on Raw and SmackDown more than a few hours before the show. This Monday we knew the women’s tag team title tournament was starting and Ciampa was going to face Lashley. Later this week on SmackDown fans know they will hear from Riddle, get another women’s tag tournament match and see the Intercontinental title defended. It is important in promoting the shows and creating greater continuity in storylines that was missing at the end of McMahon’s run.
There is certainly more for Triple H to do. He has to bring in more teams and add prestige back to the men’s tag team division, make Survivor Series feel meaningful again, give the wrestlers their first names back and maybe sign a big free agent when the time comes.
But the King of Kings has wasted no time trying to show people it’s no longer business as usual in WWE by leaning more heavily on his former stars in NXT and righting a few of McMahon’s wrongs in the process.
Hopefully, last Wednesday was step one toward progress in the AEW women’s division. The day started with the company announcing it added veteran Madison Rayne as a coach and included a women’s match before its usual 9:30 p.m. time slot on “Dynamite.” The tag match between the teams of Britt Baker-Jamie Hayter and Toni Storm-Thunder Rosa was really given the time and the quartet delivered and had the crowd into it. It also advanced the story to Rosa defending the AEW women’s championship in a hard-hitting match against Hayter at Battle of the Belts III.
Also, props to Rosa leaning into the “sandbagging” claims against her that Baker has brought into the feud by wearing a shirt that said “Sandbagging since 1994.” It all seemed like a deeper and more thoughtful presentation than we’ve seen in the past. Rayne coming from working with an Impact Women’s division that has been well-booked in recent years will help. She will also be facing TBS champion Jade Cargill this Wednesday on Dynamite. Having Cargill work with veterans like Rayne is always a good thing for her development. Keep it all coming AEW.
Friends No More
We all saw the breakup of the Undisputed Elite coming, mostly subtly on AEW TV and “Being The Elite”, it still felt kind of sudden for Adam Cole, Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly to return and immediately turn on The Young Bucks. Maybe Cole was trying to get a jump on the process before Nick and Matt Jackson turned on him as they did in past companies and inevitably reconciled with “Hangman” Adam Page for the upcoming trios title tournament. No matter how we got there, its good to have the Elite seemingly back to together and a much needed big angle starting for AEW.
The 10 Count
WWE better have a trick up its sleeve to get the audience back behind Liv Morgan after her SummerSlam win over Ronda Rousey despite tapping out. The SmackDown crowd let their women’s champion hear it with boos last Friday and her meek response and explanation didn’t help. If the crowd doesn’t cooperate, does it now impact the needed heel turn you are attempting for Rousey? That should be a big concern.
At some point again soon, Tony Khan needs more prominent storylines have a chapter play out on Rampage, which has become more of the cool-match show. Even if it’s your C and D-level story. While Mance Warner vs. Jon Moxley this week was excellent, just a little bit of a build would have gone a long way.
WWE women’s tag team tournament prediction: Iyo Sky and Dakota Kai over Raquel Gonzalez and Aliyah. Sasha Banks and Naomi return to confront the winners.
More than a few people, including myself, had some hesitance about AEW adding the All-Atlantic Championship. But I have to admit, having PAC defending it in different countries – three matches in the UK in July – is a really nice way to make it feel different and grow AEW’s reach.
Maybe Sami Zayn’s deteriorating relationship with The Bloodline leads to him and Kevin Owens taking the tag team titles off the Usos at some point. It’s either that or a 24/7 title storyline or him costing them the titles and now they can have no gold together.
IWGP World Heavyweight champion Jay White, who is undefeated in the G1 Climax so far, has made his post-match promos much-watch.
If you were hoping to see Solo Sikoa get called up to the main roster soon and join the Bloodline, his win in a falls count anywhere match against Von Wagner probably means he is staying in NXT for a bit longer. The same can be said for new women’s tag team champions Katana Chance and Kayden Carter.
Super intrigued by the official announcement of AEW’s video game, AEW: Fight Forever. The game features the Casino battle royale, exploding barbed wire death matches and lights-out unsanctioned matches along with your standard match types. It will also have mini games that look like something out of Mario Party. No release date was given, but this definitely feels like Kenny Omega is giving us a very different type of wrestling game.
There is a little bit of a cool Chyna-like vibe to Rhea Ripley as she has become the heater and enforcer for Damian Priest and Finn Balor in her unrelenting desire to beat up Dominik Mysterio.
Pat McAfee with a telestrator and kicking footballs into the crowd feels like a no-brainer and so much fun.
Bonus: Congrats to Sammy Guevara and Tay Conti on their nuptials and to Shawn Spears and Cassie Lee on their pregnancy announcement.
Wrestler of the Week
Yes, he lost his United States Championship match against Bobby Lashley on Monday, but few people’s stock in WWE has risen more of late. The former NXT champion, who got to wear mentor Harley Race’s robe to the ring after a well-delivered and emotional promo, was allowed to take The All Mighty to his limits in a match that was arguably the best of the night. All of it continued to add to Ciampa’s credibility and makes him feel like a threat to anyone.
Honorable mention: Konosuke Takeshita, AEW
Match to Watch
Jon Moxley (c) vs. Chris Jericho, AEW Interim World Championship, AEW Dynamite (8 p.m., Wednesday, TBS)
This is the AEW world championship rematch from the clash at Revolution in February 2020 when Moxley beat Jericho for the belt right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Moxley asked for “The Lionheart” Chris Jericho from back in his WCW days for this match, so it will be interesting to see how that story is told. And while this entire Dynamite card is stacked, this match, how it ends and if anything happens after it should give us some idea about CM Punk’s status for All Out. If Moxley wins clean, with no reason for Jericho to come back and ask for another match, then you’d have to think Punk will be ready for Chicago – or Tony Khan has some other surprise up his sleeve.
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