WWE Raw vs. SmackDown: Winner, Top Highlights and Botches for Week of April 20
This week on WWE television provided fans a look at the young stars who will dominate headlines in the months to come. Braun Strowman, Baron Corbin and Jinder Mahal all stole headlines while establishing themselves as threats to any and all beloved babyfaces across Raw and SmackDown Live.
Yes, Jinder Mahal.
The Canadian-born competitor won a Six-Pack Challenge match to earn a shot at Randy Orton's WWE Championship at the SmackDown brand-exclusive Backlash pay-per-view on May 21 and set the wrestling world abuzz. After all, he was but a forgettable midcard enhancement star just a few weeks earlier.
Rather than helping the blue brand earn a victory in this week's battle for brand supremacy, would the move actually hurt its chances, with his inexplicable ascension being too much, too soon in the wake of the Superstar Shake-up?
Raw saw Braun Strowman wage a warpath on the roster, obliterating any and all Superstars unlucky enough to find themselves in his crosshairs.
Could a ring-destroying superplex to Big Show be enough to help Raw surge past its opposition and into the winner's circle this week?
Find out now with this week's recap of WWE television.
The rise of Braun Strowman continued Monday night as The Monster Among Men dominated the airwaves and obliterated any man who stood in his way. The Golden Truth and Kalisto felt his wrath in backstage beatdowns while general manager Kurt Angle found himself on the receiving end of a threat.
It was Big Show who endured the most painful of beatings as The World's Largest Athlete locked horns with Strowman in the night's main event. The giant bumped around the squared circle to make his opponent look like the dominant force he has become, but it was a spot that stole the show and had fans buzzing.
Late in the match, Strowman delivered an earth-shaking superplex to Big Show from the top rope that collapsed the ring. Fans popped for the spot, which has been used only sparingly over the course of WWE history. They grew louder when Strowman somehow made it to his feet and stood tall, raising his arms and screaming his name to close out the broadcast.
Without Roman Reigns, who was selling the effects of the beatdown he endured a week earlier, WWE Creative focused its attention on Strowman and the result was yet another star-making turn for the massive mountain of a man.
His continued growth and evolution have him poised to become the most significant breakout star WWE has produced in years and a vital part of the creative direction on Raw for the foreseeable future.
Strowman's eventful night was not the only element of Raw that supports its claim to victory this week.
Samoa Joe continued to build momentum for himself with a victory over Chris Jericho in an incredibly hard-fought match. The Right Hand of Destruction followed his win up with a scathing promo on Seth Rollins, whom he will face at Payback on April 30. Their exchange of words and staredown helped add heat to a rivalry that had been somewhat low-key in recent weeks.
Alexa Bliss defeated Nia Jax, Sasha Banks and Mickie James in a match that was brilliantly laid out. Banks and James carried the majority of the in-ring work, while Jax was her dominant self and Bliss picked and chose her spots, seizing an opportunity and scoring a pinfall victory over Banks.
Throw in an impressive victory for Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson over Enzo Amore and Big Cass, Finn Balor's unexpected return from concussion, and a strong match between Jeff Hardy and Cesaro, and you have an episode of Raw that may not have been as newsworthy as last week's but was entertaining and effective from start to finish.
SmackDown Live has a new No. 1 contender to Randy Orton's WWE Championship and his name is Jinder Mahal.
The perennial midcard star earned the victory in Tuesday's Six-Pack Challenge, pinning Sami Zayn following some well-timed interference from The Bollywood Boyz. The outcome, wholly unexpected, signifies the birth of a new main event star and is proof of management's trust and faith in Mahal to perform in such a high-profile situation.
Just one week removed from being beaten by Mojo Rawley and humiliated by New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, Mahal earned the biggest victory of his career and cashed his ticket to Backlash, where he will challenge The Viper for the company's premier title.
More important than Mahal is SmackDown's continued devotion to giving fresh faces opportunities they would not have received otherwise. Mahal, Baron Corbin, Primo and Epico and the aforementioned Bollywood Boyz are all performers who benefit from increased exposure and the support of the men and women on the creative staff going to bat for them.
Even Naomi has benefited from being able to break out of the pack; she can establish her character and achieve championship success that was never really afforded her when she was just another face in the crowd.
Speaking of Naomi, her interaction with Charlotte Flair that kicked off this week's show laid the groundwork for a feud that could very well rank among AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens and Orton vs. Mahal as a top program on Tuesday night. Charlotte's pretentious entitlement against Naomi's driven determination to be the best is a story that writes itself and is easy to invest in.
Look for those two women to make magical moments and produce strong in-ring content in the weeks and months to come.
Styles and Corbin tore the house down in the night's main event, which showcased their in-ring chemistry and planted the seeds for a full-blown rivalry between the two somewhere down the line.
While the decision to elevate Mahal at the expense of someone like Zayn or Luke Harper created questions about the direction of the brand, SmackDown Live once again delivered an entertaining two hours that hit fans with a dose of freshness that Raw simply has not been able to replicate.
Jinder Mahal earning the right to challenge Randy Orton for the WWE Championship at Backlash was not a botch from a creative standpoint, but what followed was.
The Viper hit the ring to confront his new challenger and briefly addressed him. Then, he proceeded to turn his attention to Bray Wyatt, completely disregarding Mahal's presence.
There is not a single self-respecting bad guy who would allow a lead babyface to completely ignore him the way Mahal did.
Truth be told, fans are already going to struggle to accept Mahal as a headliner. He has been so poorly handled for a guy suddenly expected to compete in a championship match that it will take considerable work by WWE Creative to convince fans he is deserving of the spot.
This is not the case of JBL, who had a strong character when he made the sudden leap to the main event scene, or R-Truth, who was over with audiences. No, Mahal is a perennial jobber whose one major victory came Tuesday night.
Having Orton disregard him may be part of the story—a villain forced to prove himself before being taken seriously—but telling fans Mahal is not worth Orton's time is detrimental to his growth in his new role.
It was a botch that may prove costly if Mahal's push fails.
Braun Strowman's path of destruction was an incredibly fun watch Monday night, but SmackDown Live felt like the brand that took the Superstar Shake-up to heart, providing a show of fresh faces, new stories and strong in-ring action.
The blue brand introduced Mahal as a new main event threat, continued to build toward Styles vs. Owens for the United States Championship, set the stage for Naomi vs. Charlotte, and promoted Epico and Primo as credible tag team competition.
Raw's steadiness hurt it this week. The lack of anything new and exciting assisted in the brand paling in comparison to its competitor, even if the show did an admirable job of building toward Payback on April 30.
Once the flagship show gets past that event and can actually focus on utilizing its talent to tell interesting new stories and supply compelling feuds, the red brand may very well seize control of this weekly battle for brand supremacy.
It was not meant to be this week as SmackDown Live scores the win on the back of bold booking decisions.