By Chuck Carroll
The WWE machine is supposed to to slow down toward the end of August. The hype surrounding SummerSlam is over, and crisp storylines dull as a new NFL season kicks off. Historically, it’s been one of those “take it or leave it” periods for wrestling. This year, however, is different. WWE isn’t going down without a fight against the NFL. The tussle for viewers means wrestling fans will be cashing in.
On Monday night alone, John Cena and Roman Reigns had an epic war of words that will reverberate far beyond their match at No Mercy, and Alexa Bliss became the RAW Women’s Champion once again after defeating Sasha Banks in a pay-per-view-caliber match. Immediately after, Bliss was thrust into a new feud with Nia Jax to mix up the monotony atop the RAW brand women’s title chase.
While WWE continues ramping up preemptive Monday-night strikes on camera, plenty else is going on backstage, including a rash of bad luck on the injury front. Here’s everything you need to know about this week in WWE.
Injury Bug Bites Hard
WWE lost four big names to injury in just over a week. Samoa Joe, Xavier Woods, Asuka and Big Cass will all be sidelined for the time being. Asuka and Cass appear to have gotten the worst of it.
Although unconfirmed by WWE, Samoa Joe reportedly sustained a knee injury during a match against John Cena at a house show in Arkansas. The exact nature of the injury isn’t clear, but the timetable for his return is estimated to be a month to six weeks.
Xavier Woods sprained his MCL at a house show on August 28 while teaming with Kofi Kingston in a three-way dance for the tag team titles against Breezango and The Usos. In a spot of good news, this is the same injury that Becky Lynch was able to work through not long ago. He could be back in the ring shortly, but WWE also has the luxury of not rushing him back with Big E and Kingston able to handle wrestling duties as he recovers.
Asuka suffered a broken clavicle during her title defense at NXT Takeover Brooklyn and will miss six to eight weeks. What stings about this is that she was forced to vacate the NXT Women’s Championship with an unblemished record. I can’t recall an undefeated champion ever being forced to give up a title. The question now becomes whether she’ll return on the main roster or will try to reclaim her throne in NXT.
As was revealed last week, Cass will miss six to nine months after tearing his ACL during a match with Enzo Amore on RAW. The knee has already been surgically repaired, and now the long arduous rehab and recovery process begins.
Alexa Bliss: New Championship, New Feud
Five feet of fury are back on top of RAW. Alexa Bliss regained the RAW Women’s Championship by defeating Sasha Banks in Monday’s main event. You have to feel somewhat for The Legit Boss, because her uber-short title reigns make her seem anything but legit
Bliss is the most well-rounded woman WWE has seen in years. What makes her unique is that she is as good on the mic as she is in the ring. Her promos flow naturally and are delivered with the quintessential heel persona. Despite her short stature, she stands tall on the mic and talks down to everyone. It’s no surprise that WWE is so high on this tiny total package.
With Banks again being dethroned, Bliss now finds herself in a David-versus-Goliath feud with Nia Jax. To show how much faith WWE has in these two, they closed the show. This is a rarity even after the Women’s Revolution. Jax is also coming into her own and seems more comfortable as a talker while expanding her repertoire in the ring. She is far more athletic than we were first led to believe, and that bodes well for what lies ahead.
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You CAN See Me: Why John Cena Is Still On Top
“When they look at you they see what I see — a cheap, corporately created John Cena bootleg. He ain’t the guy, he’s a guy… a guy trying desperately to fill shoes that you never will.”
–John Cena to Roman Reigns
This was the most polarizing segment in recent history in WWE. You either loved it or you loathed it. There is no in between here. I happened to love it. It was panned by dirt sheet writers for being too inside, and many readers agreed. But to me, this segment was brilliant. It stitched real-life perception and controversy into the fabric of a pro wrestling storyline. And it worked because it’s John Cena.
There is no question that Cena is on the path to Hollywood that was carved by The Rock. His stock in Tinsel Town is about to explode now that he’s landed a lead role in the Transformers spinoff Bumblebee. Then there are the other film projects, reality shows, talk show appearances, award shows, etc. It’s clear that his days in the ring are numbered, and that makes him open season for full-time talent.
Roman Reigns took Cena to task and blasted the face of the company for being a part-time performer who only shows up in between stints on The Today Show or when he’s paid enough money. He then took it a step further and played up the perception that Cena refuses to put over younger talent because he doesn’t want to give up the top spot. Despite a stumble, it was one of Reigns’ best promos ever. Ordinarily, he would have owned whoever was on the receiving end of his sharp tongue.
For all the knocks against Cena, no one can question his promo ability. The man is still magic on the mic. He countered with a series of verbal haymakers that ignited an otherwise quiet crowd. Playing directly to the 70 percent of the crowd that wants the “Roman Empire” to crumble, he said what they all think: Reigns is a Cena bootleg who can’t connect with the audience. He then proceeded to call out his understudy for flubbing a line, adding authenticity to an already real-feeling segment. As for being a part-time talent, he knocked Reigns by saying he wouldn’t have to still be in WWE if Reigns would step up. Just watch the clip above, and you’ll see why John Cena is still king of the ring.
NFL Looms Large
For football fans, this is the most wonderful time of the year. For WWE, it can be disastrous. Traditionally, a large chunk of the audience leaves to watch the NFL. Monday Night Football continues to be a thorn in WWE’s side, but one that became much sharper last season.
Until the 2016 season, RAW still managed to attract 3 million or more viewers each week. As recently as 2014, drawing 4 million viewers was commonplace, and anything less than 3 million was an anomaly. However, last season, RAW only bested the 3 million mark three times — in two of the weeks that followed Goldberg’s return to the ring and a clunker of a game between the Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets.
For much of this year, RAW has barely been clearing the 3 million mark without the NFL’s competition. Does that mean viewership in the 2 million range will become the norm for the next 16 weeks? It very well may. But you have to tip your hat to WWE for trying to get out in front of the football juggernaut with top-tier and, in some cases, WrestleMania-worthy matches and storylines. As PWInsider’s Mike Johnson pointed out, Vince McMahon knows he has to keep the numbers up with the company’s TV contracts expiring in a couple years.
Ric Flair’s Health: “Everything Is Looking Good”
Ric Flair’s health has improved to the point where Charlotte Flair felt comfortable returning to WWE this week. Although she wasn’t used on television, she was backstage at SmackDown Live! and gave her first on-camera interview about her father’s condition. In the web-exclusive, she said that this has been the hardest two weeks of her life and thanked fans for the outpouring of support. Flair then cracked a smile and said that her Hall of Fame father is a fighter who has nine lives.
“He has a long road. I’m not saying that he’s going to be back next week strutting, but definitely the prayers and the positive vibes help,” she said. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think it was okay. So, everything is looking good.”
This is the best news of the week.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.