Mixed Match Challenge Mixdown Week 1: Jackets On Jackets

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Tuesday night saw the debut of the first episode of WWE Mixed Match Challenge, a half-hour show featuring a 12-team mixed tag tournament between Raw and Smackdown, in which each team is battling to win $100,000 for their chosen charity.

The episodes air live on Facebook Watch at 10pm every Tuesday night, but you can watch the new episode any time you want. This first episode features Finn Bálor and Sasha Banks, fighting on behalf of the Special Olympics, in a match against Shinsuke Nakamura and Natalya, fighting on behalf of Make-a-Wish.

Since we’re just getting started, a few words on format: Starting with Renee Young and Byron Saxton as hosts is a good move. Since this is an all-new format and tightly wedged between Smackdown and 205 Live, the hosts help to give you the sense that this is a new show starting. Adding Beth Phoenix alongside Michael Cole and Corey Graves on the announce team is also a great move. She’s obviously new to color commentary, but she’s already quite strong at it, and another female voice in WWE is always welcome.

Now let’s take a quick look at this week’s teams, before we dive into the match itself:

Banks Club: Too Sweet For You

I previously expressed skepticism about what makes these two a team, but now that things are underway, I could not be more on board. Finn and Sasha are obviously great friends, and they’re having the time of their lives working together. They’re dancing, they’re too-sweeting, they’re admiring each other’s cool jackets and respecting each other as technicians and performers.

For a pair of performers about whom you so often hear that they’re better as heels, they really seem to bring out each other’s likability and — dare I say it — heroism. They’re beautiful people who are both incredibly easy to root for, and I’d be thrilled to see them go all the way in this tournament.

Team NakaMeowa: The International Language Of Epaulettes

Ah yes, the team where one partner has a hard time doing promos in English, and the other partner is Shinsuke Nakamura. In lieu of normal human communication, they’ve mostly been meowing and hissing at each other, which I have to admit works for them.

Natalya giving Shinsuke her father’s jacket is particularly cool, and it looks great on him. Sure, you can tell that it’s sized for an Anvil rather than a King of Strong Style, but that just gives it an air of authenticity. Plus, I’m always happy to see Natalya represent the legacy of Jim Neidhart instead of just Bret Hart. This team isn’t as close-knit as their opponents, but that’s understandable considering they haven’t known each other nearly as long, and half the time Shinsuke doesn’t understand what Nattie is talking about. Same, Shinsuke, same.

The Match: A Story Of Love And Hate

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I’m not a huge fan of WWE’s mixed tag rules, where every tag means that the legal person on both teams switches. I prefer real intergender wrestling, where everybody’s treated as equal, but this isn’t the time for that soapbox. Anyway, I have to admit that the mixed tag rules allow for great heel moments like Nattie running over and tagging Shinsuke before Sasha can touch her. You can tell that Sasha’s not wild about the rules, either, and would love to fight Shinsuke herself, which is totally in character for her.

Finn and Shinsuke start out a little awkwardly, with Finn lightly resting his elbow on Shinsuke’s neck, and then Shinsuke playfully holding Finn’s feet, but once they really get into it, it’s some of the best in-ring work I’ve seen either of them do in a while. These two former NJPW superstars obviously both know what their opponent is capable of, and they push each other to a higher level. Shinsuke getting annoyed when Nattie tags him from behind is also a nice character beat. With so many of the teams in this tournament being mismatched, it’s good to know they’re paying attention to heel/face dynamics within the teams.

Natalya and Sasha are considerably more brutal with each other than the guys, which is as it should be. Their first real interaction in the match is a flurry of strikes to each other’s faces, and that standing hold Nattie puts Sasha in towards the end looks far more painful than her Sharpshooter ever has. Sasha gives her a receipt later in the form of a double-knee takedown outside the ring.

There are several little intergender moments throughout the match, most notably when Sasha jumps out of the ring only to be caught by Shinsuke, who doesn’t seem to know what to do with her. Then when he gingerly sits her down, she gets mad and jumps directly at him, only for him to duck so she hits Nattie. Sasha and Finn too-sweeting before simultaneously dropkicking their opponent is also great, especially since it leads directly into the Banks Statement that wins the match.

You can watch the whole thing yourself right now, on Facebook Watch.

The Future: Awesome Pancakes

Next week, it’s Asuka and the Miz versus Carmella and Big E to see who will face Banks Club in Round Two. As confident as Carmella and Big E seem, I’m pretty sure the victory will go to the team with Asuka on it. I fully expect the Miz to eventually take a pin and make Asuka furious, but I doubt that happens in Round One. Round Two doesn’t start till Week Seven, so we won’t see Banks Club again for a while. Hopefully they’ll do some social media videos in the meantime, because watching them together is just so much fun.

As for Team NakaMeowa, they’re out of the tournament unless they get voted back in by fans. Because of the strangeness of a 12-team tournamant, one spot in the semi-finals will be filled by whichever eliminated team the most fans vote for to come back. I can’t say that Nattie and Nakamura seem the most likely to win that vote, but I also can’t say for certain that the vote won’t be a work, so who knows?

That’s all for this week, join us next time when Team We Will Win faces Team We Don’t Know.