The Post’s Joseph Staszewski will be bringing you around the world of professional wrestling every Tuesday in his weekly column, the Post Match Angle.
Sasha Banks and Naomi deserved to be punished, but WWE has gone too far in its attempts to bury and make an example of them – and it needs to stop.
The two women, who walked out of “Monday Night Raw” last week due to creative differences with the company over the direction of their women’s tag team championships, were suspended indefinitely and stripped of their titles on Friday’s episode of “SmackDown” on Fox. It’s a fair punishment and something that needed to happen because no matter how justified your reasons may be, you can’t just get up and leave your job without expecting repercussions, especially when it results in changing an announced main event.
WWE, however, has seemingly gone out of its way to paint Banks and Naomi as the bad actors in this situation where they were not only standing up for themselves, but the consistently poor creative around the women’s tag team division they appear to care more about than WWE does.
First, WWE released a statement with more details than I’ve ever seen in my nearly six years covering the company. In WWE’s version of events, the pair “were uncomfortable in the ring” with two opponents they had wrestled before and felt “disrespected” as champions after “eight hours” of rehearsal for the match. It came across as, “How dare they feel this way?” Other reports stated the pair’s issue was based on creative direction and not their opponents – though we haven’t heard directly from Banks or Naomi.
Later in the “Raw” broadcast, Corey Graves called them “unprofessional” in what seemed like an attempt to pile on. It didn’t stop there. On Friday, as Michael Cole announced their suspension, he said, “Naomi and Sasha Banks let us all down” and “their actions disappointed millions of WWE fans and their fellow superstars.” Even co-host Pat McAfee appeared taken aback by the wording. This isn’t the announcers’ phrasing it how they feel, but what they are being told by WWE to say. In even pettier gestures, they took down merchandise pages for Banks and Naomi from the online WWE Shop on Friday night, removed their official Facebook pages and replaced Banks with Cody Rhodes in WWE’s opening montage to shows.
In the past, WWE has tried to let similar incidents – ones not as public as this – play out as quietly as possible. But WWE has attacked this one head-on. It does make sense because WWE doesn’t want its other wrestlers to even think about doing something like this and for the audience to believe it was the talent that let you down, not WWE.
I can’t speak for the WWE performers, because they have mostly remained silent on the matter, but if you look all over social media and most pro-wrestling news outlets, Banks and Naomi are being applauded for their actions. That’s because, according to reports, they were standing up for more bad WWE creative around the women’s tag team division.
It was reported Naomi was supposed to win the six-pack challenge on “Raw” and become the No. 1 contender for Bianca Belair’s Raw women’s championship and Banks was going to move into a singles program with SmackDown women’s champion Ronda Rousey. Both would reportedly lose while holding up their tag team championships.
These are the same titles that the previous champions, Carmella and Queen Zelina, barely defended on television in a division that currently has just four known teams. It will leave WWE likely to have to make some new squads to do the tournament it announced to crown new champions.
Here’s the other thing that WWE also doesn’t want you to look at: If the direction you are pitching for your singles champions involves breaking up your tag-team champions, then man you have also done a terrible job booking for your singles champions, too.
All the WWE roster cuts have left its women’s roster thin and the women outside the upper tier lose so much that WWE is left with only a handful of credible title challengers. On Raw, it’s probably just Rhea Ripley, Alexa Bliss, Becky Lynch and Asuka. Lynch and Asuka will actually face Belair at the pay-per-view “Hell in a Cell.” Rousey is without a credible challenger on “SmackDown” outside of Banks or Naomi with Charlotte Flair off TV. Aliyah? Natalya? Shotzi? Xia Li? None of them have any substantial storyline pushes behind them. To make matters worse, WWE chose to have Raquel Rodriguez, who can intimidatingly tower over Rousey, be a babyface and blew that match on a TV open challenge.
WWE can express its disappointment in Banks and Naomi all it wants – and yes, the two were wrong for bailing on the show. But the real disappointment lies with WWE for mismanaging its roster and creative. Two of its top female stars finally took drastic action to say “enough is enough, be better.” Instead of handing down the appropriate punishment and listening, WWE piled the blame on its talent in an unfair and spiteful way.
It’s already too much and needs to stop.
NXT 2.-Oh No
After being a huge fan of the original “NXT” even before my time covering the industry, I’ve tried to give “NXT 2.0” some time to find itself, and in many ways it has. There are some uber-talented performers among the new crop of characters such as Bron Breakker, Grayson Waller, Carmelo Hayes, Cora Jade, the Creed Brothers, Wendy Chu, Solo Sikoa and others. But there just seems to be something missing from what the show presents as a whole weekly and doesn’t seem to be connecting with the audience it was trying to target. Despite a boost in the key 18-49 ratings demo last week, up .14 from a record low of .10 the week before, it was still only good enough for the No. 30 slot on cable.
Mixed in with some stellar talent are others whose in-ring work isn’t quite ready for TV and superficial storylines that feel like they are better suited for “Saved By the Bell” or “90210” of years long past. The current NXT championship feud with Breakker and Joe Gacy feels like things we’ve seen from The Undertaker and The Fiend pieced together in a way that doesn’t quite makes sense. Last week’s main-event feud featured Santos Escobar and Tony D’Angelo – two heels – fighting over the meaningless right to be “Don of NXT”
The brand’s TakeOver show during WrestleMania week was excellent and the main roster crossovers from Natalya and Dolph Ziggler have gone well, but something needs to change for “NXT 2.0” to bring it week-in and week-out. If WWE’s lone goal is to get its younger talent TV reps regardless of ratings and interest in the product, then what they are doing will work out just fine. Otherwise, they will need to give the audience something better than “Monday Night Raw” lite and a box of gimmicks.
Slip and Sliding
The top of AEW’s creative remains overall strong and rewarding, but there are some things down the card that are starting to slide. Sammy Guevara and Scorpio Sky’s feud for the TNT championship appears to have zero direction without a clear good guy and bad guy – after they pulled off a successful double turn. TBS champion Jade Cargill had zero story around her going into “Double or Nothing” and the last thing you want to do with someone on an unbeaten streak is for her pay-per-view match to come out of nowhere against an opponent who feels less more challenging than those she’s already beaten in Anna Jay. Lastly, the Young Bucks and the Hardys have done better promotion for their dream rematch on “Being the Elite” than Dynamite. AEW has a history of doing a good job with the continuity of its stories – don’t let it start slipping now.
The 10 Count
WWE often breaks up tag teams took soon, but they will reap the benefits of keeping RK-Bro together and using the kids-crying level of emotion to fuel Riddle’s long-awaited singles push. He looked every bit the part of a top babyface on Raw. His eventual feud with Roman Reigns has a chance to be very special and open the door for Orton to potentially be next.
Making performer with the physical gifts of Wardlow a sympathetic figure to the audience isn’t easy to do but he – including his ridiculous no-sells on his lashes on Wednesday – and AEW continue to do it week after week. A portion of it has to do with MJF talent. The hard part for the company will be keep this going when he is done with Max.
If AEW can ever get its hands on DDT Pro-Wrestling’s ace Konosuke Takshita, who had a banger on Dynamite with “Hangman” Adam Page, they need to make it happen. Kid has all the tools and proved he belongs with the AEW champion and won the crowd over.
Danhausen, Hook and Maki Ito is the trio wrestling didn’t know it need, but deserves. Make it happen Tony Khan.
Johnny Gargano has been rumored to be returning to wrestling so many times that we likely won’t see it coming when it does happen and what a moment it will be.
Keith Lee and Swerve Strickland need to be AEW tag team champions – and the sooner the better. Dudes just ooze charisma and their finisher is legit cool.
Samoa Joe has faces Kyle O’Reilly just once is his career – at an ROH taping in 2015 – prior to their Owen Hart Foundation semifinal final next week. A potential Joe-Adam Cole final would be their first ever meeting. In addition, Gunther and Ricochet – who one – have had just one previous single match in Pro Wrestling Guerilla in 2017. It appears we are excitedly heading towards their first meeting in WWE.
I know WWE likes to deliver the biggest matches possible, but there was no reason for Becky Lynch to enter the Raw women’s championship with Bianca Belair and Asuka. A match between the other two felt fresh.
As stunning as The Judgment Day’s visual presentation is at times, it feels like their storyline could get shallow quick with WWE’s lack of factions and you just can’t keep adding members for shock value. I would sign up for this Edge Vs. John Cena at some point however.
Wrestlers of the Week
Jimmy and Jey Uso, WWE
The Usos have a laundry list of accomplishments in WWE, but getting to unify the Raw and SmackDown tag team titles and draping The Bloodline in gold felt pretty damn important. To deliver the moment in a great match with RK-Bro just made the wait worth it. Now the hard part starts.
Match to Watch
Adam Page vs. Hangman CM Punk (AEW “Double or Nothing”, 8 pm, Sunday, Bleacher Report PPV)
Punk hasn’t been a world champion since The Rock beat him at the 2013 Royal Rumble and it feels like it’s all been building toward this since his arrival in AEW. It would mean the “Best in the World” would need to beat a well-liked champion in Page who has had a solid title reign at best. The two men have stoked the flames for weeks. Let’s see what we get.
Honorable mention: Samoa Joe Vs. Kyle O’Reilly (AEW Dynamite), Mandy Rose vs. Indi Hartwell (NXT)
Around The Ring
Major League Wrestling announced its Battle Riot IV show will be at Melrose Ballroom in Queens on June 23. Killer Kross has been announced for the show.
WWE will return to Saudi Arabia for Crown Jewel on Nov. 5 in Riyadh.
Jeff Jarret will be Stone Cold Steve Austin’s next guest on the “Broken Skull Sessions” that will air June 3 on Peacock.