Breaking Down the Best and Worst of the WWE for Week of May 12
With the WWE champion hurting, The Shield, Cesaro and Alicia Fox thrived in his absence.
The Shield's predatory ways made for compelling TV. Cesaro met a fellow European bruiser, and the result was violent artistry. Fox, who has long been one of the many Divas lost in the background, made herself stand out with a pair of tantrums that would make Alec Baldwin shake his head.
NXT's main event was also among the moments from the week that inspired applause.
Daniel Bryan's bad news felt like a punch to the gut for WWE fans. News of WWE's stock performing poorly had the same effect on investors.
One has to hope that those items don't lead to worse or more long-term issues. The worrying types may be locked in on thoughts of surgery and financial free-fall, but the week also offered plenty of action to distract from those situations.
Best: The Shield and Evolution Feud Grows Intense
Both last Friday's SmackDown and Monday's Raw heavily featured the animosity between The Shield and Evolution. Their clashes on those shows have helped this rematch become Payback's most anticipated match.
Seth Rollins collided with Batista on SmackDown in a match that saw the high-flyer crash into the announce table and fall lifeless on the floor next to it as the referee counted to 10. After the bell, "The Animal" attacked Rollins, powerbombing him on the mat.
Rollins and his partners then spent the majority of Monday's Raw on the hunt.
The Shield's victories now beg for Evolution to retaliate. Waiting for the inevitable counterstrike is going to make for exciting TV as WWE nears its next pay-per-view.
The company needs this feud to be the thrill ride that it is, because the world championship picture is unclear at the moment.
Worst: Continuing Feuds with No Spark
Fans would welcome watching some matchups just about every night. That is not the case with some of the go-to bouts WWE has leaned on recently.
Friday's SmackDown featured Santino Marella and Fandango going at it yet again. That lengthy feud has lacked story, spark and excitement. Predictably, their latest contest was forgettable fare.
There has been no escalation of the conflict between these foes—just a string of similar meetings.
On Tuesday's Main Event, WWE went with another familiar pairing in Dolph Ziggler vs. Damien Sandow. Kudos to both wrestlers for mining as much drama out of their matches as they have, but their rivalry has felt like WWE is looking for a last-minute way to fill time.
One could imagine someone backstage saying, "We need a five-minute match here. Just throw Ziggler and Sandow in there again."
It would be fine to see them battle so many times if it was leading somewhere and if the outcome actually mattered. That hasn't been the case, whether Sandow fights "The Show-Off" dressed like Magneto or the two are destroying musical instruments on each other's flesh.
Best: Alicia Fox Loses Her Mind
A new version of Alicia Fox charged out of a cocoon, boosting the Divas division.
On Monday's Raw, she attacked Paige before their match. During it, she was the most vicious she has ever been. She pulled a number of new tools out of her toolbox, including a move where she threw her foe sideways out of the ring.
Paige beat her and Fox lost her mind, spilling soda and kicking the barricade.
The next night, she had another tantrum. Emma beating her pushed the former Divas champ to start stuffing paper into the announcers' mouths and yelling at fans. Fox's acting wasn't on Daniel Day-Lewis' level, but she made her time on both shows captivating. It wasn't a time to go grab snacks.
There's suddenly an increased interest in Fox, and a feud with Paige goes from being yawn-worthy to intriguing.
This is a lesson to WWE that giving its wrestlers, male or female, standout character traits makes them more compelling. Fox had such little to work with before. With just a few outbursts, her value and pull shoot up.
Worst: Daniel Bryan Undergoes Surgery
Fans were expecting Daniel Bryan to call out Kane and perhaps challenge him to a match at Payback. Instead, the world champ took the air out of the arena by announcing that he needed neck surgery.
The news that it was a minimally invasive procedure didn't ease concerns much. The words "neck" and "surgery" together are always a big deal.
The man whom fans have been pulling for to sit on the mountaintop needs to step off it and lie on a surgeon's table instead.
After seeing wrestlers like Edge, Steve Austin and Kurt Angle have neck issues linger throughout their careers, fans are fully aware of how one neck problem can lead to another and eventually to retirement. In the short term, it's disheartening to think that such a hard worker and likable guy may have to hand over his championship.
WWE won't announce what it's doing with the world title until Raw on May 19.
In the meantime, Bryan's path to recovery has already begun. WWE.com reported that he is now "doing well, with strength already returning to his hands."
Best: Cesaro vs. Sheamus on Main Event
Sticking two of the company's best brawlers in a ring and having them wail on each other is a surefire route to success.
Cesaro and Sheamus' hard-hitting clash on Tuesday's Main Event was the week's best match. Cesaro lured Sheamus out of the ring to turn the wrestling match into a fight, and "The Celtic Warrior" welcomed it. The smack of flesh against flesh echoed.
Paul Heyman added to the drama, shaking his head in disappointment every time Sheamus took control.
There was no clear winner. The referee counted both men out.
The ride to that draw was an engaging one, showcasing both men's strengths. Both Superstars gain momentum from a fight like that—one that has the audience antsy to see the second round.
Worst: WWE Stock Sinks
WWE signed a big-time new TV deal. Marc Graser reports for Variety that "WWE will keep its flagship shows Raw and SmackDown on NBCUniversal’s USA Network and Syfy, respectively.
That sounds like good news, but Wall Street didn't think so.
After the deal was made official, WWE's stock dropped. Ben Rooney writes on KWCH.com that the stock fell "nearly 45%." On Market Watch from The Wall Street Journal, Ben Eisen writes that the drop was more specifically 43.3 percent.
Concerns about the financial viability of going from the pay-per-view system to the WWE Network are at the heart of this. It's not time to panic until the streaming service has had more time to bring in subscribers. It's only been around since late February.
Besides, WWE has yet to make it available to its international market, which should impact the company's bottom line.
Best: Triple Threat No. 1 Contender Match
Fans are continuing to learn that NXT is not to be missed.
Tyler Breeze, Sami Zayn and Tyson Kidd taught that lesson this time around. On Thursday's NXT these wrestlers thrilled in a Triple Threat match to decide the No. 1 contender for the NXT Championship.
Speed, passion and acrobatics powered an excellent encounter. Zayn packed the bout with drama by way of his facial expressions, Kidd sprung around the ring, and Breeze showed why he's one of NXT's top talents. The action buzzed, and there was little wasted time.
Kidd came away with the win, earning the right to face Adrian Neville at NXT Takeover.
It's surprising that WWE went with someone who is more of a main roster star rather than Breeze or Zayn. The company could be looking to keep him at Full Sail University on a more consistent basis—a demotion of him but a boost to the NXT talent pool.