This is the fifth 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, actual married couple Naomi and Jimmy Uso defeated flirty weirdos Goldust and Mandy Rose. This week’s episode features Bayley and Elias, fighting on behalf of Americares, in a match against Rusev and Lana, fighting on behalf of Global Citizen.
Now let’s take a quick look at this week’s teams, before we dive into the match itself:
Bayley and Elias: Guitars and Grudging Respect
The social media videos of Bayley and Elias were simultaneously hard to watch and encouraging. Bayley being constantly rejected and disrespected is rough, but then you remember that being a socially awkward weirdo who nobody wants to hang out with is exactly where her character started in NXT, and at this point in her main roster career she could do a lot worse than going back to basics. There’s also a great payoff when Bayley finally gets angry, and Elias smiles because apparently that’s what he was trying to bring out in her all along.
It’s a good thing there was a payoff to the vignettes, because the match is less rewarding for Bayley, but obviously we’ll get to that.
Bayley was originally supposed to team with Samoa Joe, before he was injured and replaced by Elias. As great as Elias is, I think Samoa Joe and Bayley might have been a little more fun, even though it wouldn’t have involved Bayley learning to play the guitar and tying a bandana around her head. Perhaps if Joe was her partner, she would have gotten really into towels and baggy MMA shorts. I’m just saying, between her walk with Elias and the stuff she used to do with Finn Bálor, that chameleon quality is an underused aspect of Bayley’s character.
Rusev and Lana: The Best
After being separated on TV (other than Total Divas) for a long time, Rusev and Lana have found a whole new dynamic for their characters. We’re past the days of Lana as Rusev’s no-nonsense boss, and thank god we’ve also moved past Lana as Rusev’s hot wife who tempts other men but gives herself only to him. Now that Rusev is basically a babyface (albeit not necessarily in the eyes of WWE so far), he plays the loving and supportive husband to a somewhat fragile and unstable Lana.
Rusev teaching Lana to break planks of wood seemed like a joke at first, until she started to succeed at it and he became really proud of her. Rusev even got a new singlet to match the gear Lana first wore in the Royal Rumble, which is a perfect touch.
Of the two married couples in the Mixed Match Challenge, these two seem the most invested in telling a story across their vignettes and their match. I suspect that’s for Lana’s benefit. Whereas Naomi and Jimmy Uso have each reached great heights on their own, Lana has floundered more than a little bit since being separated from Rusev and being pushed as a wrestler. The MMC has given Rusev and Lana a chance to prove once again how great they can be together, and hopefully the backstage team at Smackdown are paying attention.
The Match: This Really Happened
So let’s skip to the end. Yes, Lana pinned Bayley. And good for her; she’s never pinned anybody before. Unfortunately, that means that Bayley got pinned by Lana. Bayley, former Raw Women’s Champion, who was once not only the NXT Women’s Champion but inarguably the biggest star of any gender on that brand, was pinned by Lana, whose wrestling skills have mostly been the subject of jokes on and off the air. Amid the longstanding rumors that WWE has given up on Bayley and doesn’t think she has what it takes to be a star, seeing her lose to Lana feels like proof that she’s going nowhere in this company.
I’m trying to tell myself that it’s alright. That even though Elias (injured from his encounter with Braun Strowman on Monday Night Raw) could have taken a pin from Rusev and have nothing to be ashamed of, that wouldn’t have fit the story they were telling.
The thing is, this match was all about Lana. Her character as a wrestler was developed more here than it’s ever been before. She had to overcome her fear — cowering in the corner while Rusev reassures her. She had to get past her rage — grabbing the guitar and desperately wanting to use it as a weapon. She had to learn — by pinning Bayley — that she really can be Number One. I like that story for Lana, it’s just a shame it had to happen at Bayley’s expense.
On the other hand, this is the Mixed Match Challenge, and whether anything that happens on this show affects the rest of WWE remains to be seen. Bayley’s going to go right back into her storyline with Sasha on Raw and take part in the first women’s Elimination Chamber match. Lana will go back to Smackdown Live, where she’ll hopefully be teamed with Rusev again, since Tamina’s out for a while anyway.
If Lana can gain something from this without Bayley losing much, that’s the ideal. Those of us who still love Bayley can also take comfort in the fact that she was obviously the one who made Lana look better in the ring than she ever has before.
The Future: Powerhouses (And Their Male Partners)
Next week, Charlotte Flair and Bobby Roode face off against Nia Jax and Apollo Crews. Will Titus and Dana be at ringside? Not if Nia has anything to say about it, but for the sake of the story it seems likely.
There’s no way a team that includes Apollo Crews wins over a pair of champions, and while Bobby might just pin Apollo (there no way Nia takes a pin on her way to facing Asuka at Elimination Chamber), Titus Worldwide causing some kind of shenanigans and messing everything up seems like the way to go. None of this is a slight on Apollo as a performer, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how he does in a match with these three.
As for this week’s teams, Rusev and Lana return in Week 9 to face the winner of next week’s match. Assuming there’s not a huge upset next week, that means they have their work cut out for them with Charlotte Flair and Bobby Roode. Maybe Lana will pin the Smackdown Women’s Champion! Probably not, but maybe. As for Bayley and Elias, there’s no way they get the Second Chance vote over Carmella and Big E, who already won a fan vote this week just to sit backstage and post to Facebook. No worries though; I’m sure we’ll keep seeing plenty of them on Raw.
That’s all for this week. Join us next time when the Robe Warriors face Nia Worldwide.