WWE Raw vs. SmackDown: Winner, Top Highlights and Botches for Week of September
The battle for brand supremacy for the week of September 7 featured some superb professional wrestling, interesting storyline advancements and quality in-ring work from both WWE Raw and SmackDown Live.
With that said, only one brand would be able to emerge with its head held high and its arm raised in victory.
Would it be Raw, with its steel cage main event between Braun Strowman and Big Show and its verbal encounter between John Cena and Roman Reigns, or would SmackDown provide a stronger counter attack with Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Randy Orton and the latest in the Kevin Owens-Shane McMahon drama?
How would each show fare beyond the main event scene?
The answers are clear in the wake of the broadcasts.
The flagship show of WWE had the unenviable task of trying to garner viewers on a holiday Monday night as it presented its Labor Day episode.
Headlined by a major steel cage main event, and featuring an Intercontinental Championship match between Jeff Hardy and The Miz, the show put its best foot forward and provided a quality broadcast for those who did tune in.
Braun Strowman continued his path of destruction on the road to No Mercy, defeating Big Show in a hard-hitting and harder-fought Steel Cage main event.
The battle, which culminated in The Monster Among Men planting The World's Largest Athlete with a running powerslam for the victory, was the latest chapter in Strowman's march toward a Universal Championship showdown with Brock Lesnar in Los Angeles.
The big man withstood bone-rattling offense from his larger opponent before flattening him. After the match, as if to put an exclamation point on things, he threw the future Hall of Famer through the side of the cage and stood triumphantly and dominantly to close out the broadcast.
The creative team continues to find ways to make Strowman even more of a beastly competitor than he has been presented over the last year. He routinely amazes with his feats of strength and brings unrivaled intensity to every performance.
There is a reason he has gotten over with audiences and a lot of that has to do with his approach to the material given to him. As long as he can continue to build momentum for himself, it is highly unlikely the September 24 showdown with Lesnar will be his last in that position.
Roman Reigns and John Cena's Verbal Spat, Take 2
The rivalry between John Cena and Roman Reigns wrote another chapter this week as Reigns followed up Cena's victory over Jason Jordan in the night's opening contest by engaging in a verbal confrontation.
The two hurled insults and continued to build anticipation for their epic encounter at No Mercy, taking both professional and personal digs ahead of their WrestleMania-quality main event.
As was the case when Cena battled The Rock at WrestleMania 28, the Superstars are showing there is no need for them to become physical before September 24 because fans will eagerly invest in their program based on the war of words alone.
And the show is benefiting from it, avoiding the tired booking tropes of "partners who hate each other" and miscommunication spots leading to all-out brawls.
When general manager Kurt Angle announced Nia Jax would team with Emma to battle Raw women's champion Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks, two teammates with a bitter dislike for each other, many expected the latter duo to play the babyface role as Jax and Emma cheated, scratched and clawed for the chance to challenge for championship gold at No Mercy.
Instead, it was Jax and Emma who portrayed the heroines, fighting from underneath a concentrated effort by Banks and Bliss to score the victory.
Jax, in particular, looked like a star as she bowled over her opponents, only for Emma to make a tag and steal the glory via pinfall.
The change of pace was appreciated and led to a more interesting dynamic than Banks and Bliss putting aside their differences to conquer the bad gals would have.
SmackDown Live did not have the pressure of delivering a certain quality of show to make up for the holiday potentially stealing the spotlight. Instead, it delivered a loaded show for no other reason than building to its Hell in a Cell pay-per-view extravaganza on October 8.
The show, headlined by a first-time No. 1 Contender's match between Shinsuke Nakamura and Randy Orton, was a shining example of what the blue brand is capable of when it is focused on an end game.
Randy Orton vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
For the first time in their celebrated careers, Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura squared off for the right to challenge WWE champion Jinder Mahal at Hell in a Cell. The match, heavily hyped by WWE for Tuesday's show, lived up to expectations and served as yet another vehicle for Nakamura to build his case for a run at the top prize in sports entertainment.
The Artist blasted Orton with Kinshasa and cashed his ticket to Hell in a Cell, where he will challenge Mahal in a rematch of their SummerSlam battle.
The match furthered Nakamura's star, giving him a second victory over a Ruthless Aggression icon clean and in the center of the ring.
That is a feat few have accomplished, his other win coming over John Cena.
A made man in WWE, it should be interesting to see if Nakamura dethrones Mahal or if the company continues to roll with The Maharaja as its champion.
Kevin Owens knows how to press buttons and infuriate people.
Case in point: Shane McMahon.
The typically cool, calm and collected authority figure played into Owens' manipulation and threatened his own control over the SmackDown Live brand Tuesday night.
McMahon unloaded on Owens after The Prizefighter stated his boss' family would have been better off had he perished in the helicopter accident he was in weeks earlier.
That unleashed a beast inside McMahon and the prodigal son answered by physically assaulting his employee. The ordeal earned him a suspension and resulted in the return of Vince McMahon to Tuesday nights next week.
What that means for Shane and Owens' budding rivalry remains to be seen, but all signs point toward Hell in a Cell on Oct. 8 and a showdown between the two.
Following another screw up by James Ellsworth, this one costing her a non-title match against women's champion Natalya, Carmella unleashed a verbal assault on the chinless wonder that certainly made him feel subhuman.
Moments later, she gladly accepted his apology, planted a big kiss on him and followed up with a hard slap to the face.
The change of her mind, the curious kiss and the resulting slap made for interesting developments with Carmella's character and left fans guessing as to what may be next for The Princess of Staten Island. Is the disdain for Ellsworth she demonstrated during the in-ring promo real or was it exclaimed in frustration?
Why the kiss? What was the symbolism? Does she have feelings for Ellsworth or was it the result of a predominantly male writing team scripting the 1980s "nerd gets the girl" storyline?
And what of that slap?
These are all questions that need answering in the coming weeks.
The biggest botch of this week's show belongs to Raw, which continues to push Enzo Amore as the babyface savior of the cruiserweight division despite the fact he is growing less likable with every passing week.
Generally speaking, anytime he has a microphone in front of his face at this point, he is destined to say something stupid that helps the audience dislike him a little more.
Rather than touting his greatest qualities, he comes across as a braggard. He sounds like a cocky, arrogant guy everyone and their mothers cannot help but want to see get knocked the hell out.
He runs his mouth for so long, saying so little of substance, that the idea of punching him in the teeth to shut him up is more appealing than watching him talk for another second.
Portraying him as a liar, cheater and thief in the same vein as someone like Eddie Guerrero will do him no favors, either. See, fans do not care about him, nor are they emotionally invested in what he does, to the same extent they were with Latino Heat.
The love for Guerrero came organically.
The only thing Amore inspires is the overwhelming urge to shut him up.
This was a much more competitive week in terms of the battle for brand supremacy as both Raw and SmackDown Live presented quality shows with storyline advancement and engaging segments.
With that said, SmackDown Live did a better job of presenting stories and matches that captivated the audience without ever overstaying its welcome.
From the McMahon-Owens ordeal to Nakamura vs. Orton and the revelation that Vince McMahon will be on next week's show, the broadcast always felt like it had something worthwhile going on.
And it did not suffer from the epidemic known as Enzo Amore.
The blue brand wins this week, but look for Raw to counterpunch next Monday night as the march to No Mercy continues.