Jan 25, 2016

WWE Royal Rumble Fallout, AJ Styles Debuts

Well, I said I was going all-in on last night's Royal Rumble event and I can honestly say that it was one of WWE's best shows to date. The card was strong and well-ordered, the matches were all entertaining in their own way, and the Rumble match itself was filled with drama, surprise, and storytelling. Let's hit the high points of the show.

Straight away I have to speak on Kevin Owens vs. Dean Ambrose in a Last Man Standing match for the Intercontinental Championship. Wow. This might have been the defining moment for both guys. I know Owens beat Cena on his first match on the main roster. But for two guys who are still relatively new in terms of singles accomplishments, this was a solidifying performance. The match was downright brutal at times. During spots in the match, I almost felt like I was watching a PWG Guerrilla Warfare match. It was the perfect tone setter for the show and both guys came out of it looking better than ever. Ambrose gets the win, but both win in my book.

I'll run through the other matches on the card really quick. I liked the Tag Team Championship match also. The crowd was hugely behind The New Day, but the Usos performed wonderfully, which made the match fully legitimate. New Day retained, as well they should at this point. Their ironically cool heel run just keeps getting better and better.

Kalisto and Alberto Del Rio's match was probably the lowest-profile bout last night, but they put on a good show and worked through some miscues. Kalisto formally won the US Title and is poised to be a breakout young star for WWE.

Becky Lynch really impressed me last night. She became somewhat of an afterthought once the match ended, but she really did her part and performed last night against Charlotte. Charlotte as a heel was needed in the Divas division and Ric Flair's involvement just adds to any angles going forward. The match was average, but had its place on the card. Sasha Banks stole the spotlight by walking out after the match to attack both Lynch and Charlotte. Huge pop for Sasha upon her entrance as well. Charlotte vs. Banks is marquee and will certainly build a huge amount of momentum for the Divas division going forward.

Ok, let's get to this. The Royal Rumble match. Billed as Reigns vs. everybody, the match did not disappoint. Right now, I want to hit something Cole said as Reigns was heading to the ring as the first entrant. Cole said, "A very mixed reaction for Roman Reigns as he comes into the Amway Center here tonight in Orlando, Florida. Not unexpected." Cole continued, "WWE fans in many ways like change and in the Rumble match they like to see different people win this event each and every year." I'm going to disregard that statement as something he just said to say. It sounded like a line that Cole either had planned on saying or was told to over the headset. This could be a major sign that WWE is aware that things need to change. If the Rumble was any indication, they've already begun making renovations.

The third entrant in the Rumble may reflect Cole's quote. The shock on Reigns' face as he and everyone else witnessed AJ Styles entered the Rumble was unforgettable. I need to take some time to talk about Styles.

Now I'm not sure if WWE knew what kind of reaction Styles would get from the fans and neither did I to be completely honest. The reaction AJ got, and I'm not messing around when I say this, was as loud, if not louder, than any reaction I've ever heard anyone get in WWE. It was deafening, to steal a line from Cole. To see AJ in a WWE ring is an image no one that pays attention to professional wrestling will ever forget. For a guy that has been everywhere, that had to be a surreal moment to live through. You could see the awe in his face as he looked around the arena. Things are getting real in WWE, and they need it. Makes you wonder what the plan is for Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows, as the reaction for AJ was top-guy caliber. What's the plan for AJ going forward? I guess we'll have to keep watching and that exactly what I wanted from this show.

There were some subplots in the Rumble that I really enjoyed. Zayn and Owens really jumps out to me. Zayn entered and Owens stood in the middle of the ring waiting for him. If you read my post about the two, you'll understand how happy I was to see the two go at it on such a huge stage. They brawled and beat the hell out of each other, culminating in Zayn eliminating Owens. This feud may have just been reignited in a grand way.

Brock Lesnar, probably most people's pick to win the Royal Rumble, was eliminated by the Wyatt Family in a gang beat down scenario. When Brock was thrown out, myself and others thought it might have been a mistake. It was shocking and another dramatic moment of the night. WWE seems to be setting up Wyatt vs. Lesnar, which could be a Wrestlemania matchup and an interesting one at that. Heyman vs. Wyatt on the microphone will be worth the price of admission alone.

Let's talk about the finish. Triple H enters at number 30. If you had asked me a year ago how I'd react to HHH winning the Rumble, I probably would've said, "That would be absolutely awful, lame, and incredibly stupid." I have to say, I was 100% into this storyline playing out in the Rumble match. HHH eliminated Reigns second to last, which was perfect. The story continues. Ambrose and HHH faced off as the last two competitors in the match and put on a show that made everyone watching very anxious. I was at the edge of my seat. HHH eventually eliminated Ambrose and won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Great spot for Ambrose, as he was positioned as a clear future champion and a guy that can hang with pretty much anyone in the company.

Triple H with the belt will be interesting. You have to look at this as the first part of a longer story which is the "Road to Wrestlemania." Will Reigns get his revenge? Probably. But that's the fun of it. I saw things last night that I didn't think I'd see. AJ, Lesnar getting eliminated, Zayn vs. Owens, and Triple H winning the belt. They've put me in a position in which I really don't know what could happen along the way to 'Mania. I have to give WWE the nod on this one. We wanted more exciting content with strong story and we got it. Raw tonight will be critical to what we're going to see moving forward. It's a great time to be a fan of professional wrestling. Stay tuned people.

Jan 21, 2016

Expectations for the Royal Rumble

After a few months of skimming through Raw, I've decided to go all-in on the 2016 Royal Rumble. WWE has broken my trust time and time again. But they can't do it again, right?! I hope the answer is no, I really do. The truth is, I don't know what's going to happen on Sunday. In this case though, that's a good thing. Injuries have piled up and seem to be never-ending in WWE these days. Those injuries have put the company in a very tough position. Who wins this thing? Who returns during the Rumble match? Let's take a look at this year's match and discuss what we can all expect from a PPV that has let me down for two years straight.

I guess I should clarify my previous statement. Yes, the Royal Rumble let me down in both 2014 and 2015. I wasn't begging for Daniel Bryan to win the match last year. I just wanted to be surprised by the finish. Instead, I saw exactly what I had predicted and apparently, so did the Philadelphia crowd that was in such distress that they booed the Rock after the initial positive response to his surprise appearance. The problem with the Rumble the past two years is that the winner has been someone that some fans (I can't say all) have been lukewarm on. Batista didn't return to the reaction that WWE expected and Roman Reigns just didn't seem ready for the spot in 2015. I'm not going to go on one of my usual rants about the past two Rumbles. That would be a huge waste of time. Time to focus on Sunday.

Do I have a favorite to win the match? No, not really. This should indicate that WWE has done a great job building excitement and mystery around the match. Well, yes and no. I like the concept of Reigns defending his title against 29 other wrestlers. That's cool and I'll give them the nod for adding some extra drama to the event. But honestly, I just don't see who could win this thing that would surprise people and also build to Wrestlemania. Not to say the whole thing's a dead end, I just don't really understand the direction of the company since Rollins' abrupt injury. I'm going to plead the fifth on selecting a winner. Really, I don't care who wins. I just want to be invested in the product again. I'll just run through my expectations for the Royal Rumble match.

First thing's first, I want to be surprised. Yeah, I've ready some of the dirt sheet's reports. Kinda spoiling, but that's ok. I'll live. What would surprise me most? Well, there's two things. To start, Daniel Bryan. It actually looks like he might return at this thing. That would be a great start. Second, AJ Styles. Now if AJ is a surprise entrant, I will lose my shit. What do Bryan and Styles have in common in my mind? I don't think either will win. I can't see Bryan, after all his injuries, taking the strap on his first night back. Same goes for Styles in his WWE debut. I just don't think WWE would invest that much in either guy right away, especially since we're so close to Wrestlemania 32. At the same time, I sure would be surprised if either guy won. That's gotta count for something, right?

Here's a sort of curveball: Triple H wins and becomes WWE World Heavyweight Champion. I could kinda-sorta get behind this. It would certainly depend on Roman Reigns' ability to rise to the occasion and have an interesting program HHH going into 'Mania. At least this would create an angle that could culminate at the company's biggest show. But, the proof is in the pudding. At least I'd be interested in seeing how Reigns' reacts to the biggest angle of his career.

I'm going to cut this one short in fear that I over analyze this. I want to just watch the show, relax, and be surprised and thrilled like I have been in the past. WWE has some major decisions to make. Surely they've already made those decisions. It's time to execute. I read a report that said WWE is "All hands on deck," for Sunday's show. That should be the case considering the past two finishes have left a lot to be desired. So if I could make a statement to WWE, it would go something like this: "Take a chance. Just go for it. Surprise me like I know you can and leave me wondering what's going to happen on Raw the next night. It's time for change and it can be done. Just present something to me that will intrigue me and force me to watch consistently again."

That's it for me on this one. I'm crossing my fingers for a great show, some new faces, and STORYTELLING. My expectations are high, and that could be a very dangerous thing.

Jan 16, 2016

WWE/NXT: 2016 Should Feature Zayn VS. Owens

Anyone that knows me or follows my Twitter account knows that I won't shut up about WWE moving on to its new generation of stars. 50/50 booking and a clear lack of commitment from creative and the office has stifled any positive growth from new talent. To put it simply, the current direction is boring. Yeah. Boring. But that's just my opinion. This post is going to be straight forward. It's time to move into 2016. That's right, WWE, it's 2016. The roster is filled top to bottom with excellent performers that just need that nudge, or someone to say, "Hey, we trust you, go out there and do your thing." Someone should let Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens loose. If they did, I'm confident that we'd see a feud to end all feuds.

Why am I so confident that these two could deliver in a long-term program? Well, if you even give at least one tenth of a percent of a shit about independent wrestling, you'd know that Zayn and Owens have already delivered many, many times before (But you should care about independent wrestling because it actually still cares about you). Now, I don't want to assume here, but I'm pretty sure Zayn was El Generico despite reports that he has returned to Tijuana, Mexico. But I can't be 100% sure, so let's just roll the dice and assume they're one in the same. Anyway, back to the point. In the history of Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, Kevin Steen and El Generico participated in a rivalry that, dare I say, has yet to be matched on the independent scene. It was a feud based on betrayal. Two former best friends and tag-team partners that had a pure hatred for one another. The result? Observer Feud of the Year in 2010 (Ring of Honor).

The problem in WWE is that they seem to value the short term over long term. These two brutalized each other for a year. The story involved others, as well. Steve Corino played a role on the side of Steen, while Colt Cabana came to the aid of Generico. I won't write a book about this, but the point is that they had the freedom to create a beautiful story and they did. Not only did they work well together, but they were able to make it interesting enough to make it long term. Generico vs. Steen in an unsanctioned match was heavy and amazing. In 2012, after a lot of political stuff that will just make me angry if I cover it, the two closed their feud under the rules of "Ladder War." It was a ladder match, for those that are confused. The final spot made me literally yell at the television. Buy the dvd, you'll thank me later.

What I'm getting at is this: if these two guys could put something so spectacular together at that point in their careers, how good could something they create be now with all their experience and the WWE umbrella? Assuming WWE doesn't wield a heavy hand (Which sadly, they probably will) and stifle their creativity, the two could propel themselves to top guy status with a single feud. Is this main roster ready? No. But what better place to reignite the rivalry than on NXT. Seems obvious because well, it is. As of today, Owens apparently faced off and cut a promo on Zayn at an NXT live event. This should be the first sign of a continuance of what they started after Owens killed Zayn in their most recent NXT title match.

So here's what I've rambled on and on to get to: get this blood feud going again and eventually have it spill over onto main roster television, specifically on Raw. It gets Owens into something meaningful while allowing Zayn a justified reason to move to the main roster. WWE's production team is top notch, so they should have no problem educating the casual fans of Raw as to why these guys are fighting and why they should care. Why should you care, you ask? Listen, the issue with WWE at times is their flimsy, boring, and sometimes unbelievably cheesy storylines. This is a story we can get behind. Best friends that worked so hard together to get to the top of their profession. One decides that he'll do anything to achieve his goals and provide for his family and stabs the other in the back on their night of glory. It's simple. It's black and white with a shade of grey in between. I want to believe, you know? And I can honestly say, I believe in the story these guys have told and can continue to tell.

Yeah, I'll say it again. WWE, it's time to move on and be real here. Put the ball in these guys' hands. Let them sink or swim. But believe me when I say this, these guys will swim their asses off. They will destroy any feud we've seen in recent years. Just give them the opportunity to succeed. That's all any of these guys want. Opportunity. That's what WWE's supposed to be about, right? It's Vince's quote, not mine.

Hopefully 2016 will be about the new guard, a new direction, and a new breath of fresh air that mainstream wrestling so desperately needs. Zayn and Owens have proven that they can deliver, now it's time for someone to allow them the chance to do it again.