Welcome, friends and fellow fans, to another round of Geek Versus Pro Wrestling. Having already written 1.5k words about wrestling for Geek Versus this week, I considered taking a break. I probably could’ve grifted a joke from the fellas over at The Old Oilhouse podcast network about Roman Reigns always looking wet because Vince Mcmahon legitimately thinks he’s the new Aquaman, hunted down an animated gif of the kid doing a perfect Tetsuya Naito photobomb behind the commentators from NJPW the other night, crowned Dean Ambrose my King of the Week again for retaining his title at Battleground, and called it a day. Fortunately for all of us, there were way too many big surprises in the wrestling world this week to let them go unaddressed, so let’s hit some high spots.
I made the comment on Twitter that I was concerned for Vince’s health after what occurred on WWE Battleground and the relaunches of Raw and Smackdown. There felt like such a dramatic shift in ethos towards what those of us in the “smark” circles have wanted to see for a while. It’s apparent from the production tweaks, such as moving the announce table on Raw away from ringside and adding more in-ring and immediate post match interviews, that both new brands intend to focus on what actually happens in the ring rather than out.
The biggest example of this seems to be the two heavyweight title matches lined up for SummerSlam. The rapid ascension of Finn Balor into the Raw title picture took a lot of us by surprise. We knew the former Prince Devitt was a big time star before signing with the WWE and his reign as NXT champion proved to the WWE brass that he can carry a brand. It’s refreshing to see them capitalize on his cache so quickly without religating him to incoming cruiserweight division (as I speculated last week) or spending the next year putting him through a series of feuds that would’ve probably cooled his rising star more than building him up.
Balor and Seth Rollins vying for the new WWE Universal Heavyweight Championship, which is
Raw’s primary title that I really hope resembles the old winged-eagle belt as some of the internet skuttlebutt is suggesting, has potential “match of the year” written all over it. This kind of anticipatory speculation is based solely on the skill of the performers, rather than the result of carefully crafted story, which is a welcome change in strategy.
This paradigm shift is also evident in the WWE championship match between Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler that was established on Smackdown. Ziggler’s been in mid-card purgatory the past few years. It’s been hard to watch considering he had one of the biggest crowd pops in history when he cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase a couple of years ago to win the now defunct World Heavyweight title. This is another case of two of the best workers in the world being able to tell the story without too much overcite.
This trend is certainly fueled by the superior match quality we’ve been getting from NXT. A dream match in it’s own right was announced for SummerSlam weekend at NXT Takeover: Back to Brooklyn, as Samoa Joe will have to contend with Shinsuke Nakamura. Many people were quite puzzled as to why these two wrestling superstars weren’t called up to the main roster in the WWE draft. It appears that these two will be carrying the NXT brand for a while, as I would suspect Nakamura will win the title and be the international face of NXT for the foreseeable future. The longer he stays down there, however, is money left on the table seeing as Nakamura is clearly a transformative megastar. It gives credibility to the NXT brand to keep him there, but his star can only be contained for so long. If Balor’s quick rise to the top of the card on Raw is any indication, it surely won’t take long for the King of Strong Style to make an impact when he finally gets up there.
King of the Week : Sasha Banks -WWE Women’s Champion
It was only a matter of time until I had to confront the fact that I had a gender-specific name for the wrestler spotlight segment of my column. I ultimately decided to leave the title, rather than make an exception when a woman was finally crowned. Hopefully I’m able to keep my feminist credentials intact by insuring the playing field is equal, because this is one of those occasions where the moment is more important than the superlative. Lucky for us, the regal title is irrelevant in this case, because this week’s honoree prefers being known simply as “The Boss”.
The biggest moment by far on the first Raw of the new era was Sasha Bank’s victory over Charlotte to become the new women’s champion. It was the match of the night, hands down, and featured some excellent storytelling. The tribute to Sasha’s hero, Eddie Guerrero, where she threw the title to Charlotte’s heater outside the ring, Dana Brooke, making it seem as if she struck her with it while the ref’s back was turned causing Brooked to get ejected was brilliant. It was the type of match that reminds me why so many of us love pro-wrestling and another move forward for the legitimacy of women’s wrestling on the big stage.
However, this match wasn’t the primary reason I selected Sasha for the segment this week. More importantly for me, personally, she was the catalyst for an event that truly demonstrates what makes pro-wrestling special. This week, I got to witness the magical moment where someone falls in love with professional wrestling for the first time, and the wrestler that did that for them was Sasha Banks.
I’m currently staying with my mom temporarily, so I have the good fortune of being around my 4 year old niece more often than usual. While waiting for this week’s episode of NXT, I was rewatching the KO/Sami Zayn match from Battleground in the “play room”. My niece, who’s seen me watching wrestling before but never really paid attention, comes into the room to see what I’m doing.
She looked at the TV and recognized Kevin Owens because he’s one of the random wrestling figures I have that’d made its way into her toybox. Making the connection sparked enough interest that I decided to rewind the show to the beginning for her to see the Sasha/Bayley vs Charlotte/Dana Brooke match that opened the show.
From the moment The Legit Boss came onto the stage, she was mesmerized. What started with “ooh, her hair is cool. Does she win?” at the beginning of the match, quickly became a flurry of questions about how the match worked, if they were really hurting each other, and how they do all the moves.
About two-thirds of the way through the match, her critical observation of what was happening on the television turned into full on emotional investment as she began hold-heartedly cheering for “Shasha”. Not only was she cheering along with the crowd, but making up chants of her own. I didn’t even have to explain what a submission was to her, because her jubilant scream filled the room with a joyous noise that can only come from an innocent source the moment Charlotte started tapping out in defeat. I couldn’t help but join her in celebration. I know what it’s like to watch your favorite win, and now she does, too.
It was a reminder for me why I make an effort not to become cynical about wrestling when it stops being fun for me. My niece sat and watched NXT with me after the match, and it’s clear she’s been bitten by the bug. I feel like wrestling’s given me something that can help me bond with my niece for a long time. Moments like these reassure me that wrestling is more than just a personal pastime. It’s something that can, and should, be shared with others. Thank you, Sasha.
Geek Versus Pro Wrestling is an esoteric weekly editorial column reviewing the vast world of professional wrestling. That’s right. The word “esoteric” was just used to describe a series of internet articles about wrestling. Hang that from your turnbuckle and chop it.
J. Aaron Poole is a 21st century writer, musician, and geeky thing liker. He is a member of the American Sociological Association with an academic interest in the relationship between media, technology, and modern culture. Currently residing in Fort Walton Beach, Florida by way of Atlanta, Georgia, he’s recently begun archiving his work at Station146.com. Aaron can be found making absurd comments on Twitter, PSN, and other social media platforms as @JAaronPoole.