Credit to @SteveFnBell
I’d be lying if I told you that this last week was in any way close to being one of the most engaging post-WrestleMania weeks I can remember. I found it to be terribly uninspiring.
That’s exactly why, beginning with this first post-WrestleMania instalment, ahead of next week’s Superstar Shakeup and in recognition of the fact that twice in three weeks I have found myself skipping this weekly shakedown of all things WWE because of a television product most kindly described as treading water, I am expanding the Performance Art View beyond the confines of Monday Night Raw (MNR) to include all other brands of WWE television too – Smackdown Live (SDL), 205 Live and NXT.
Especially because it’s hard to deny that, in spite of the best efforts of some of its most talented stars, MNR and its drab post-‘Mania episode found itself very much at the back of the pack. Thanks Brock.
So, for the first time encompassing all of WWE, my name is Samuel ‘Plan, and this is the Performance Art View.
NXT’s Silent Story Fades to Black
It turns out, over the course of the last year NXT’s greatest character arc has been the one not making any noise, but developing under the acclaim and excitement surrounding more prominent tales as it readied itself for an expert conclusion rendered during WrestleMania Weekend at NXT Takeover: New Orleans.
I am not talking about the more verbose story of Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa. I am talking instead of the quiet and brooding intensity of Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas and his climactic clash against Aleister Black for the NXT Championship.
From losing to Black one year ago at Takeover: Orlando to adopting Vega’s services, Almas’s love for a high rolling lifestyle has found itself replaced gradually and effectively by focussed championship success, and his match opposite Black in New Orleans – one year since the beginning of the journey started by a loss to the same man now challenging him for the championship – was, to me, the unheralded success of last weekend.
Black, the genesis of the transformation of El Idolo, posed the champion’s toughest challenge to date. His unreadable ice cold demeanour and precision focus make him an opponent so tough that John Wick himself is likely to call him Bogeyman – so it was not lightly that Almas took him.
Their high octane, intelligent match was presented as a singular product of Almas’s arc, with counter wrestling, counters to counters and undercut possum playing all in abundance between two men now possessed of equal martial focus and equal passion to rid themselves of the monkey on their back – for Black, the NXT Championship and, for Almas, the embarrassment of his loss one year earlier when a new comer overtook him in spite of his longevity on the show.
Ultimately, Almas came up short in New Orleans, ironically because of the persistent influence of Vega, the very woman who catalysed his ascent to championship status. Truth be told, however, I doubt this issue is going to be laid to rest quite yet. The Windy City awaits, and this dangerous, focussed and now outright righteously vengeful Almas, I would imagine, still has one last shot to prove himself Black’s better.
Though with the Superstar Shakeup next week, I suppose nothing is guaranteed, I have to say that, whether it be in Chicago at Takeover or at some undisclosed point in the future, the third chapter in this ongoing rivalry is likely to get a whole lot louder, and rightly so.
The Queen is Dead, Long Live the Princess
So it seems that the Princess of Staten Island is now our SDL Women’s Champion, much to the chagrin of a number of fans irked by the fact Charlotte had risen to her highest height in defeating Asuka at WrestleMania 34 only to fall to her lowest low, beaten up and dissected first by the debuting Iconics and, secondly, by being cheated out of her vaunted title by Ms Money in the Bank, Carmella, two nights later.
But doesn’t that just make for a tremendous story?
Ever since Royal Rumble 2018, and in actuality perhaps for some time before even that, Carmella has become increasingly effective as a classic femme fatale in WWE. She isn’t the best between the ropes, and she knows that. She works around it. She screams blue murder when she’s outclassed in the hopes of casting shade on the accomplishments of her opposition, and when she’s defeated or embarrassed she’ll be the first to laud the unfair reason as to why it was allowed to happen. It’s simple, timelessly effective character work; and worked it has.
Seeing Charlotte embarrassed by Carmella marks her as the new champion’s ultimate nemesis. Fresh off of her third WrestleMania Women’s Championship match running – a feat no other female star in company history has ever achieved – and fresh off of her victory over Asuka – another feat no other female star in company history has ever achieved – never has Charlotte been more the pinnacle of women’s wrestling in WWE. Her crown has never shined quite so bright, and neither has the darkness of her shadow been quite so deep. Little wonder, then, she didn’t see the events of last Tuesday night coming.
Charlotte now has questions to ask herself. As the daughter of the dirtiest player in the game and as the most accomplished women’s wrestler in the company’s entire history, she must search her soul to understand how she could allow this embarrassment at the hands of a Princess, no less, happen to her, the Queen. Not only was she robbed of her hard-earned title, she was robbed of it in exactly the manner her father would have once robbed others!
Right now, she’s going to be angry, and in her anger she must decide for herself which of her two sides provides her best chance at successfully recapturing her title: does she try to out-cheat the cheater, or simply seek to outclass her in the ring? Carmella is a slippery customer on her own already, and is going to be ready for this now pending chase, so Charlotte must strike soon or risk the new champion solidifying her chance partnership with the Iconics and becoming all that much more difficult to humble.
The Dream Child and the Nightmare King
This last week has seen a lot of major events take place. Brock Lesnar retained his Universal Championship. Seth Rollins won his Grand Slam. Samoa Joe returned to the fold. Daniel Bryan returned to active competition. Paige retired. Paige became General Manager of SDL. But in the midst of all of this, these last seven days have really belonged to the new statement maker general in WWE: Shinsuke Nakamura.
This is because tarnishing the ‘Dream Match’ at WrestleMania for the WWE Championship wasn’t enough for the King of Strong Style. So too did he decide it was his time to tarnish the ‘Fantasy Match’ on SDL two nights later as well.
The main event of SDL between AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan was an eye-opener in its own right. With apparent confirmation from Shane McMahon earlier in the night that Daniel Bryan – whose miracle return to action has cast him as the Dream Child of WWE, with every match he now wrestles feeling like a fantasy match – would once again be a full-time competitor in WWE, Bryan’s match with Styles immediately became a window into his future: what kind of wrestler would he be?
This was his first test in singles competition since the announcement of his fitness to compete. What became clear in short order was not simply that the man hadn’t missed a step since his time away from the squared circle, but that he had actively improved as a competitor as a result of it. Gone was the flippant bullishness that saw him try to win out over entities like The Authority to no avail, gone was the aimless fighting spirit that compelled him to keep on keeping on even when the endgame was nowhere in sight and gone was the danger of causing self-harm in his impassioned pursuit of victory, no matter how pyrrhic. They had been replaced with something more deadly and more precise. Not unlike Andrade Almas in NXT, it seems Daniel Bryan has learned to focus his fighting spirit, albeit for him through the necessity of health and longevity, as he wrestled AJ Styles in a far more self-aware fashion than he ever wrestled the top players in WWE the first time round; though he was by no means self-conscious.
Bryan showed he was still prepared to take risks, but so too did he show an increased degree of forethought. Wrestling with added poise and purpose saw him fly less and grind more, but never to mutually exclusive degree. This added level of environmental self-awareness is liable only to make his defence more difficult to penetrate and him, ultimately, more difficult to defeat.
AJ Styles found this out first hand, as the world watched the man possessed of the most extensive offensive arsenal in all of WWE today – the man who outclassed Shinsuke Nakamura at WrestleMania – be himself completely outclassed by the new and improved Daniel Bryan. Never was that clearer than when Styles attempted the same Styles Clash counter that saw him win out at WrestleMania only to be outmanoeuvred one final time by WWE’s Dream Child.
Not that we would find out whether Bryan is now better than the reigning WWE Champion, thanks to the invasive and petulant Shinsuke Nakamura seeking to rob the WWE Universe of the Fantasy Match, just as he had tainted the Dream Match two nights before.
The question is now raised, however, in attacking the man outclassing the man who outclassed himself at ‘Mania, has Nakamura bit off more than he can chew? For if the Superstar Shakeup doesn’t intervene on his behalf, the hour may be drawing close when we witness WWE’s Dream Child forcibly dethrone WWE’s newly anointed Nightmare King.
That’ll do it for this week’s instalment of the Performance Art View. If you have any thoughts on the events currently transpiring on WWE’s flagship show, or if you have any thoughts on anything I haven’t covered, feel free to share them in the comments below, over on social media or even by signing up to our own LOPForums; just click here to sign up!