With Extreme Rules just around the corner, much of WWE television this week was devoted to the final push to sell audiences on matches as the pay-per-view. However, as this week's match of the week goes to show, that hard sell can come in the form of a match in itself.
The past few weeks of NXT programming have seen a simple but effective build to an NXT title match between Adrian Neville and Brodus Clay, and the match itself on this week's broadcast was a great showcase of both men's talents.
Clay has been maligned for his "Funkausaurus" persona, but having shifted into a more serious character it's far easier to see his great potential for the future. In his short tenure on NXT, he's shown an intensity in his promos and a great deal more to offer in the ring than in the past.
This match in particular was perhaps the best that Clay has had in WWE thus far. His size makes him an ideal foil for Neville's aerial attack, and the match took full advantage of that to make for a hugely entertaining main event.
It will be interesting to see where things go from here; both in terms of whether Clay will stick around in NXT and who's next in line for a shot at the NXT title at the upcoming Takeover live special.
Match of the Week for May 3: Dean Ambrose vs. Alberto Del Rio vs. Ryback vs. Curtis Axel for the United States Championship on Friday Night SmackDown
The build to the Shield vs. Evolution at Extreme Rules has been largely framed as the Hounds of Justice facing off against the Authority—so what better way to continue that narrative while avoiding a direct confrontation than to stack the deck against Ambrose in a title defence?
The hugely entertaining main event of SmackDown this week pitted three heels against the newly turned Ambrose, and in doing so continued cemented him as a babyface. Of the three members of the Shield, Ambrose is arguably least suited to this role, so the extra work to do so is certainly warranted.
While the match in of itself was well worthy of being the main event without serving any other purpose, the fact that it served a function in the sense of wider character-building and storyline development puts it a nose ahead of everything else on WWE television this week in terms of the elegance of its booking.
The sub-plots of Del Rio, Axel and Ryback forming an uneasy truce and the tease of a Rybaxel split certainly added intrigue to proceedings, but it was Ambrose who was the star of the show here. Not too long ago, the Shield were the masters of the numbers advantage, but here Ambrose found himself out-manned and still managed to eke out a win.
Having Ambrose find a way to win against the odds reiterates his character shift and makes the Shield look strong ahead of their showdown with Evolution this Sunday—but without resorting to a physical confrontation as on Raw.
This match had it all: good in-ring work, smart booking and relevance in terms of both character and storyline. It's a common complaint that Ambrose doesn't defend his title enough—but when his defences are as good as this, you can certainly see why.
Did another match stand out to you this week? Are you solely focussed on the WeeLC match this Sunday and don't care about any match until then? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.