This is the ninth week of the 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 10 p.m. every Tuesday night, but you can watch the new episode any time you want. Last week featured the last match of the Quarter-Finals, in which Rusev and Lana gave it their all but were no match for the dominance of the Robe Warriors.
This week is the first semi-final match, in which the Miz and Asuka, fighting on behalf of Rescue Dogs Rock, face off against Alexa Bliss and Braun Strowman, fighting on behalf of Connor’s Cure.
Going In: A-Plot Vs. B-Plot
We’re almost at the end of the Mixed Match Challenge — only two episodes after this one — and in a tournament like this that means that all the major storylines are crashing together as the most dominant teams face each other and are eliminated.
It’s no surprise that Alexa Bliss and Braun Strowman have been stars in the MMC, since they’re both stars on Monday Night Raw. The story of their flirtation, however, and the subtlety with which that story has been told has been one of the many fun surprises of this show. While the matches have been great, Team LittleBig’s victories against the Ginger Snaps (Sami Zayn and Becky Lynch) and Team Glow-Ish (Naomi and Jimmy Uso) feel secondary to the romantic tension between them, and the question of whether Alexa feels anything for Braun or whether she’s just been manipulating him.
For Asuka and the Miz, the story has always been about their evenly matched egos versus their mismatched level of in-ring skill — the difference between thinking you’re the greatest and knowing you’re the greatest, basically. It was no great surprise when they beat Big E and Carmella in Round One, but their eventual victory in the tournament has felt increasingly inevitable since their Round Two match against Banks Club (Finn Bálor and Sasha Banks) established that a loss in the MMC, even if it’s Miz that takes the pin, would count as the end of Asuka’s streak. I still haven’t given up on Asuka eventually beating up the Miz, but at this point it may be wishful thinking.
The direct lead-in to this episode of the Mixed Match Challenge was a newly-cleared Daniel Bryan getting beaten severely by Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, and they even showed Bryan being taken out of the arena on a stretcher on Facebook Watch before the show officially got underway. That didn’t end up having a direct effect on the episode, but the mere presence of the Miz in proximity to a free-to-wrestle Daniel Bryan may have awakened something in fans who remember the early days of Talking Smack.
The Match: Perfectly Mismatched
There’s a beautiful symmetry to this match. Each team consists of one cowardly heel and one unstoppable monster tweener, but the nature of WWE’s mixed tag rules keep the two monsters from being in the ring together (aside a brief moment in which Asuka makes clear she’s not afraid of the Monster Among Men. Since this match can only ever be one coward versus one monster, it creates a kind of tag team feedback loop where the Miz and Alexa just keep tagging in their partners rather than letting Braun and Asuka, respectively, come anywhere near them. Asuka in particular finds this frustrating to the point of literally screaming.
Even once the competitors lay hands on each other, the mismatch remains a factor. If the women stay in the ring Asuka will win, and if the men stay in Braun will win. Even as Alexa gets a few moves in (as Asuka’s doomed opponents always do), there’s never any doubt. It’s just a matter of time and whether you make the tag.
Alexa’s intentions regarding Braun stay mysterious. After Asuka knocking her into his arms looks like it might lead to a kiss (until Alexa realizes she’s about to miss a ten-count), she later climbs onto the ropes and draws him in for a near-kiss that’s broken up by the Miz. Maybe it was calculated to go that way, so Braun would be extra-mad at Miz. However, Braun doesn’t need extra anger to beat Miz, and anyway that guy put him in a garbage truck one time, so his anger is long since maxed out. On the other hand, if Alexa really does want to kiss Braun, why would she do it in the middle of a match?
Ironically, Braun probably does cost Alexa the match, and he does it in the most Braun way possible. Once he puts the Miz through a barricade, leaving them both on the floor, only Alexa and Asuka are left in the ring, giving Asuka the chance to make Alexa tap out. If it occurred to Alexa to blame him, though, she isn’t mad enough not to let him carry her up the ramp when the match is over.
The other thing that happened this week is the announcement that Finn Bálor and Sasha Banks won the Second Chance Fan Vote. While I was openly rooting for Big E and Carmella, Finn and Sasha are a great team and will put on a hell of a match next week against Charlotte Flair and Bobby Roode. Nothing makes me happier than Charlotte referring to Sasha Banks as “my old nemesis,” by the way. It may not be the way real human beings speak, but it’s the sort of comic book dialogue wrestlers can get away with.
Team LittleBig are out of the tournament, which probably means their relationship angle is over, since it’s never even been acknowledged on Raw. Things are pretty busy on the Road to WrestleMania, but maybe they’ll at least do a backstage video to wrap up the storyline. My fantasy booking solution (or fanfic, if you prefer) would be to have Braun break things off because he heard what Alexa said about Nia and realized she must be using him too. He’d keep his cool, and say that he doesn’t really mind, he liked spending time with her, and he’s sorry he couldn’t help her win the whole tournament. Then he leaves, and you cut to a closeup of Alexa as she starts to cry, because it turns out she was into him all along. Isolated by her own terribleness, she’ll never again know the gentle touch of These Hands.
That’s all for this week. Join us next time, when the Robe Warriors face the returning Boss Club.