1. A Champion in Neutral
Momentum leaks out of the hole in the story of Naomi's reign as SmackDown women's champion.
She is a titleholder with no worthy protagonist. She has no Kevin Owens to her Sami Zayn, no Edge to her John Cena.
After winning the championship from Alexa Bliss at WrestleMania 33, Naomi briefly tangled with Charlotte Flair before getting stuck in a feud with Lana. The Ravishing Russian is as inexperienced as the winter is cold. She's a work in progress asked to be a contender way too soon.
It's a decision that has given Naomi little to work with.
Steve Austin panned the idea on his podcast in June: "Naomi deserves better. The title deserves better. Lana wasn't up for this task at hand at this point in her career."
Naomi has now had five title matches during her current reign. And three of those came against the limited Lana. That's no winning formula.
The lack of compelling and formidable foil has hurt Naomi. It feels like she's spinning her wheels. Her reign has mostly been forgettable as a result.
Trying to list the best moments of her time as champ is tough. There simply haven't been many.
As the folks at the Tights and Fights podcast pointed out, something has to change:
On Tuesday's SmackDown, WWE took a step closer to finding Naomi's ideal antagonist. The blue brand's commissioner, Shane McMahon, booked a No. 1 Contender's Fatal 5-Way match at the Battleground pay-per-view on July 23. Flair, Becky Lynch, Lana, Tamina and Natalya will collide.
The winner will earn the right to face the champ at SummerSlam.
This is WWE's chance to find the enemy that will bring out Naomi's best. There cannot be a chaotic finish in that bout that leads to a Triple Threat or Fatal 4-Way title match. Naomi needs to share the stage with a single enemy alone.
Lana must not emerge from that field, either. She's not nearly ready to be a worthy archnemesis.
It would be a total SmackDown move to book a Tamina win at Battleground to surprise fans, but she's also not a quality option. Tamina is best suited to play the enforcer, to look imposing at ringside and then briefly step in to do some damage.
Another option would be to have Naomi and Ms. Money in the Bank Carmella butt heads in the coming weeks and months. The Princess of Staten Island has been on fire lately as a heel. That's just what Naomi needs opposite her.
Someone who she can clash with on the mic, someone who will be a compelling figure opposite her and someone who can lead her to the best matches of her career will boost Naomi in a big way.
The two women tangling at Battleground most capable of taking up that spot—Flair and Lynch—are babyfaces, though. Will that inspire WWE to seek out Naomi's rival elsewhere? Will that lead to more Lana-Naomi clashes? The answers will emerge at Battleground.
And when they do, Naomi has to hope she finds the first-class adversary she's been missing.
2. Brief Tastes of The Beast Incarnate
Brock Lesnar is no 60-minute man.
The universal champ's matches are short, intense flurries. They are whirlwinds that rip through the ring.
We saw that again when he fended off Samoa Joe at Great Balls of Fire on Sunday.
Not counting the Royal Rumble, only one of Lesnar's matches in 2016 and 2017 has gone over the 15-minute mark, per CageMatch.net. And three of them were less than five minutes: vs. The Wyatt Family at Roadblock (4:00), vs. Goldberg at Survivor Series 2016 (1:25) and vs. Goldberg at WrestleMania 33 (4:45).
3. Throwback Video of the Week: Chuck Norris
Breezango's latest comedy segment spoofed Walker, Texas Ranger, bringing up memories of Chuck Norris' interactions with the WWE world.
The world-famous ass-kicker served as the special enforcer for the Undertaker vs. Yokozuna match at Survivor Series 1994. In this clip, Norris promoted the bout like only he can:
It may be time to call on his services again considering how chaotic the SmackDown women's division has been of late. Norris karate-chopping James Ellsworth in the throat to maintain order would be a beautiful sight.
4. Incoming Rush?
Lio Rush, the fastest-rising star in pro wrestling today, may be coming to WWE. PWInsider's Mike Johnson reported: "The word going around backstage at CZW [Combat Zone Wrestling] is that Rush was in Orlando earlier this week at the WWE Performance Center and has been offered an NXT deal."
It's not clear how Rush would fit in the WWE landscape at just 5'6'', but it would be exciting to see him try to make his mark on the company.
Rush is a young, hungry talent with superhuman quickness. He has dazzled in the ring with men like Ricochet and Marty Scurll. He is a phenomenal athlete clearly intent on perfecting his craft.
Should he continue that process at NXT, it will be best not to take one's eyes off him.
5. The Unseen Finish
Curt Hawkins and Heath Slater fought at Great Balls of Fire in a match that didn't really feel like it happened. The cameras cut to emergency personnel prying Braun Strowman free from the crashed vehicle.
The bulk of Hawkins vs. Slater didn't show up onscreen. Unless you were in the building, you didn't even see how Slater finished off his opponent.
Luckily, Hawkins filled us in:
Having fun with the moment, Hawkins drew up an ending for the ages. This has been the former tag champ's M.O. of late, creating an improved, alternate reality for himself online.
It hasn't mattered whether he's asked to lose in mere seconds or hang around in catering for the whole show, Hawkins seems to be having a good amount of fun in his latest WWE run.
As great as the WWE production team has been, it should sit and study the promo for Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones at UFC 214.
The stirring video package sets up this fight as a life-changing moment for Jones. It tells a story of a man seeking redemption and of the bruiser standing in his way.
The music, the emotion, the intensity of it all is something WWE should strive to match in its own promos for marquee bouts.
7. History at The Garden
Championship gold changing hands outside of the TV and PPV realms is rare.
AJ Styles is no stranger to doings others haven't, though. The Phenomenal One won the United States Championship at a non-televised event at Madison Square Garden on Friday.
We haven't seen that happen with a singles title on the main roster in over a decade.
Christian dethroned Booker T at a live event in 2003 to claim the Intercontinental Championship. Lance Storm won the U.S. Championship in 2000 at a house show during the title's WCW days. And one has to go all the way back to 1994 to find an instance when someone won the WWE Championship at a house show when Diesel knocked off Bob Backlund in New York.
Perhaps the next bit of history Styles makes is becoming the first U.S. champ to hold the title for a full year since Rick Rude in 1991-1992.
8. Early Kurt Angle Classics
Fans got to see Kurt Angle at the highest and lowest points of his career in the new WWE 24 special. It was a revealing and riveting look at the Hall of Famer.
And it made it hard not to get nostalgic about when Angle tore it up in the ring on a regular basis.
The following bouts are some of his best from the first few years of his career. They are must-see for fans who only know Angle as the Raw general manager.
- Kurt Angle vs. The Rock: No Mercy 2000
- Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit: WrestleMania X-Seven
- Kurt Angle vs. Shane McMahon: King of the Ring 2001
- Kurt Angle vs. Steve Austin: SummerSlam 2001
- Kurt Angle vs. Edge: Judgment Day 2002 (Hair vs. Hair)
Angle, like Styles today, could flourish in the ring with just about anybody. The Rock had some of his best work opposite the Olympian, as did many others.
9. When A Loss Isn't a Loss
In the record books, Lesnar defeated Joe at Great Balls of Fire.
The Destroyer, however, came away the real winner. He raised his stock and made it clear that he belonged in there with The Beast Incarnate. He made the prospect of him challenging Lesnar again a thrilling one.
And Joe looked like a monster for the majority of the match.
He had Lesnar reeling, red-faced with wobbly legs. Joe was the snake choking the life out of a gorilla. The champ was wounded and vulnerable, the titan suddenly mortal.
As Joe put it the next night on Raw, Lesnar didn't beat him as much as he escaped him.
A combination of smart booking and a clutch performance from The Samoan Submission Machine turned a defeat into a career-boosting moment. Even after an F-5 floored him, Joe continued his climb to the WWE mountaintop.
10. Bayley On Her Character, Career
When things began to grow stagnant for a wrestler, it's time to rethink one's approach. That's exactly what Bayley has been doing as she's hit a slump.
"I guess it's time to evolve because I've been doing what I've been doing for the last four years, but you always need to evolve. And I plan on doing this for a really long time, so I know it needs to go just like different directions, maybe a different attitude," she said.
A heel turn isn't necessary. Neither is a complete reimagining of who Bayley is. Tweaks in her presentation, though, need to happen, and she mentioned some ideas on that front in the interview.
She doesn't need to scrap her act; it just needs a coat of paint.