Last July, I breathed a sigh of relief. After an admittedly shaky start, Bobby Lashley had seemingly steadied the ship and at Extreme Rules 2018, he’d solidified that process. With a clean pin-fall win over Roman Reigns (via spear no less), Lashley’s ticket to the top suddenly looked secure, back on track after initial moments of undeniable uncertainty. Part of the vocal minority that celebrated Lashley’s IMPACT stint, I was delighted to see him find his feet as at times, it looked like Bobby’s WWE experience just wasn't meant to be.

However, time would quickly prove my assumption false. While Bobby’s more serious, believable presentation had been a real positive, a lack of creative commitment would halt his ascension immediately. Lashley wasn;t headed to a ‘super-fight’ with Brock Lesnar but instead, lost his rematch to Roman Reigns and found himself without a SummerSlam spot at all. Through four months, Lashley’s return had already been tough enough but this was an obvious disappointment, a sudden end to any momentum that had been steadily recovered opposite Reigns.

Now back to square one, Lashley found himself in a difficult position. His return freshness had very much vanished and in truth, the TV time had likely only limited his appeal, with multiple misfires minimizing him along the way. In-ring, Lashley’s showings against Roman were very encouraging though, a reminder of his IMPACT peaks and loaded with a physicality that stands out regardless of the setting or foe. Unfortunately, in the WWE landscape that can only matter a certain amount, especially when hamstrung by the surrounding presentation.

Thankfully, Lashley’s future would soon shift in almost unforeseeable fashion. They say that good things come in small packages and in Lashley’s case, that couldn't have been more fitting as in an inspired choice, Bobby was paired with 205 Live star Lio Rush. While most famous for his unique and spectacular in-ring style, Rush had developed an engaging and charismatic character as a part of the Cruiserweight Division and alongside Lashley, he’d now be taking that approach to the flagship show.

Initially portraying a babyface Lashley’s acrobatic manager, Rush then allowed an easy transition to the heel side which in turn, gave Bobby a fresh start of sorts. With a perfectly irritating mouthpiece by his side, Lashley looked positioned to thrive and while that eventuality wouldn't immediately become apparent, the move has slowly but surely paid off. That of course culminated this week, with Lashley becoming Intercontinental Champion and in doing so, solidifying himself as an important piece of Monday Night RAW’s “new era” puzzle.

While obviously not the direct intention considering his current persona, Lashley’s win was a subtly uplifting one in my view. After leaving WWE over a decade ago, Lashley worked incredibly hard, steadily improving and making the most of his opportunities along the way. It’s a testament to Lashley’s work ethic that after all these years, his physique remains unmatched but to his credit, he refused to coast on ‘the look’ alone. Instead, Lashley made the absolute most of his IMPACT spotlight, thriving in the top spot and becoming an increasingly polished performer in the process.

That work earned acclaim from the admittedly smaller audience watching and while I understand the skepticism surrounding that narrative, I think Lashley has since proved his worth. While I still genuinely believe that Bobby’s personality is an element potentially stronger than what the RAW audience has seen so far, Rush’s presence has been pivotal to Lashley’s progression. Bobby’s ideal promo presentation just didn’t appear on the cards within WWE’s landscape and Rush provides a bridge to that gap: a flashier, louder character that shines through the screen in what feels like a much more fitting fashion.

Lashley’s real development shines through when he’s allowed to thrive inside the ring though. The combination of Lashley’s confidence, look and general physicality make him immediately stand out but at this point in his career, Bobby can genuinely deliver at a main event level once the bell rings. There’s always been an explosiveness to his offense but there’s a greater poise now than before, an improved timing and understanding that allows his longer matches to have a very respectable main event ceiling.

That’s my personal view anyway but even aside from the obviously subjective in-ring details, Lashley’s journey is a fulfilling one. Question marks surrounded Bobby’s WWE return and they only multiplied after his initial presentation but nonetheless, Lashley’s hard-work eventually came to the fore, thriving when quite literally, his turn finally arrived. Monday Night RAW has had a different feel as of late and with almost the whole of 2019 still ahead, Lashley stands near the front of that movement. Now Intercontinental Champion, Bobby is a genuine factor for the flagship show and with Lio Rush by his side, there’s no reason he can’t stay that way too.

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