Breaking Down the Best and Worst of the WWE for Week of July 7
Fans of fierce, hard-hitting matches had plenty to love on WWE programming this week.
Sheamus, Dean Ambrose and The Wyatt Family slugged their way to the best bouts on SmackDown, Raw and Main Event. But NXT featured the most captivating story of the week. Tyson Kidd's descent into his dark side continues to enthrall.
The folks booking the Divas division would be smart to learn from the Kidd narrative.
The week saw the roster's women get time on stage but with only flimsy angles to work with. That and a lack of response to a hard-working wrestler's apparent exit make up the worst WWE had to offer.
The following is a look at what made those elements so disappointing and why the week's top clashes were must-watch television.
Best: Sheamus vs. Alberto Del Rio, Two Times over
Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio's long history together helped them compose two standout contests.
Their chemistry was on display in a clash on Friday's SmackDown that was equal parts MMA fight and barroom brawl. Del Rio turned Sheamus' White Noise attempt into his cross armbreaker, Sheamus beat his foe's chest while standing on the top turnbuckle and the two enemies traded hard, echoing strikes.
It was one of their more intense meetings to date. Days later, they eclipsed it.
Their Last Man Standing match on Tuesday's Main Event saw them whack with each other with a Kendo stick, scuffle on the outside and leave behind a trail of overturned ring steps and splintered wood.
It's these kinds of physical confrontations that have made Sheamus United States title run such a pleasure so far. WWE is making full use of his best skill—giving and taking realistic beatings.
As exciting as it would be for a newcomer like Rusev to wear the championship, the compelling violence that Sheamus has produced points to him keeping it for a long time.
Worst: Multiple Divas Stories, but All Told Half-Heartedly
To complain every time WWE flubs on booking its Divas division is to be in danger of losing one's voice.
The company has too often in the past kept the majority of the roster on the bench and just focused on a single story. Fans are now getting several angles at once, but ones that are missing something.
Surprisingly, AJ Lee and Paige joined forces on Monday's Raw. It's an intriguing idea to have two wrestlers who should be enemies form an unexpected alliance, but they were a part of a hurried, truncated match.
Paige pinned Cameron after just a few minutes.
There wasn't enough explanation as to why Paige has decided to join AJ rather than try to beat her. She didn't share her reasoning in a pre-bout interview, for example.
The focus instead was on The Funkdactyls' feud that WWE has been consistently building lately. Fans just aren't getting access into Cameron's head enough, though.
The audience is clear on why Dean Ambrose hates Seth Rollins or what Jack Swagger's issues with Rusev are. The catalysts for Cameron and Naomi going at each other haven't been shown enough.
Monday's Raw also featured a match between Nikki Bella and Alicia Fox that forced them to wrestle with one hand tied behind their backs. Fox waited until Nikki was bound and then went to work stomping on her.
In theory, it's a smart way to advance the story of Stephanie McMahon taking out her anger for Brie Bella out on her sister.
What likely led to the lack of reaction from the crowd is that the stipulation wasn't announced beforehand. McMahon didn't tell Nikki earlier that she'd be in for a hard time before cackling like a cartoon villain.
There was no buildup, no suspense and no real emotion about seeing Nikki suffer as a result.
About that segment, Hall of Famer Jim Ross wrote on his blog, "Not sure what Nikki vs. Alicia was supposed to be" and "The ending was abrupt to say the least. Folks just have to get used to the fact that this isn't the Trish-Lita era any longer in a variety of areas."
It sure isn't, but it's not because of a lack of talent.
Paige, Tamina Snuka, Natalya, AJ Lee and Emma are women WWE can build a thrilling, dependable division around. The company has chosen not to do that, instead highlighting its more glossy entertainers but with little effort.
Best: Slugfests on Raw
Monday's Raw thrilled early on.
Thank The Wyatt Family and The Usos for being able to continue to turn their chemistry into great matches. After a stellar showing at Money in the Bank, the two teams met again with the same juxtaposition of speed and power, grace and brute force.
They had the Montreal fans roaring with dives over the top rope, superkicks and near-falls. The sound of boots hitting chins and fists hitting ribs rumbled under the chants of "This is awesome!"
The tag team division may lack depth, but it's top two duos certainly elevate each other.
He tossed steel chairs into the ring, toughed out an injured shoulder and flashed several nutty looks. Orton defeated him with a kick to the face and an RKO.
With each of these matches, there was just enough story to get fans to invest, but the narrative never overshadowed the wrestling itself. Their simple formula of violence, character and dramatic competition is one WWE should turn to more often.
Worst: Santino Marella Seemingly Retires, WWE Shrugs Its Shoulders
Santino Marella may have ended his career at a house show without a touch of fanfare.
He told fans in Toronto that after several neck injuries this "might be the end of Santino Marella in a WWE ring." He has his post-wrestling career lined up as he runs Battle Arts Academy, a training center in Ontario, Canada.
Santino also mentioned that he would likely be back in a non-wrestling role for WWE.
That sure sounds like he's done competing. WWE's response to the announcement was simply to put the video of it up on its YouTube channel. There was no mention of him on any WWE TV.
He was never a top star, but after over seven years of work, he deserves more of a goodbye.
With Monday's Raw in Santino's home country, one would have assumed he would have at least got a chance to address the crowd, tell one final joke and bow out. Instead, he never appeared onscreen.
If he is indeed done in the ring, here's hoping he gets a proper send-off in the near future.
Best: Tyson Kidd's Slow Transformation Continues
Tyson Kidd was so often a one-dimension character on the main roster. At NXT, he's showing that he's more than just a fantastic athlete by slowly slipping on a wolf's clothing.
On Thursday's NXT, he teamed with Justin Gabriel to take on Adrian Neville and the man he attacked last week, Sami Zayn.
Before the bout, Gabriel talked about the need to break the rules sometimes, and Kidd nodded behind him with a devilish smile. Natalya bristled at Kidd's new attitude, but he blew her off.
When Kidd accidentally knocked his wife off the ring apron, Zayn looked to help her and Kidd rolled him up for the win. Tension between husband and wife afterward ruined Kidd's celebration.
The joy he took in pilfering a cheap victory is the latest example of his newly intriguing character. He is coming off as more desperate and more willing to bend his moral code in order to succeed. That shift has been one of WWE's best-told stories in 2014.
Not as if there weren't enough reasons to watch NXT already, but Kidd becoming more and more of a bastard is making the show appointment TV.