Apr 21, 2016

Joe Wins NXT Title, Balor Linked to WWE Payback

In out of nowhere fashion, Samoa Joe defeated Finn Balor for the NXT Championship at a live event in Lowell, Massachusetts.

Joe's quest for the NXT title is now in the books, while many see this as a clear sign that Balor will be moving up to the main roster soon. With Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows present in WWE's angle between AJ Styles and Roman Reigns, the stars seem to be aligned for Balor to join. In all likelihood a Styles/Balor feud is on the horizon, with Anderson and Gallows acting as the former NXT Champion's supporting cast.

WWE Payback could prove to be very interesting in the wake of Balor's title loss to Joe tonight.

Brady Sauvageau
-The Heater

Apr 20, 2016

Raw Looking Fresh, WWE Payback Implications

We are weeks removed from WrestleMania 32 and surprisingly enough, things feel a bit different watching WWE. Admittedly, I sat on my ass for a few weeks and didn't write, because honestly, I had a sour taste in my mouth from both 'Mania and Raw the night after. 'Mania 32 had some great moments, but the outcomes left a lot to be desired. 'Nonsensical' is a word that comes to mind. Raw the night after reinforced that belief. But as the weeks have progressed, things seem a bit different.

Now, I'm not going to harp on this, but WWE did a lot to bury the idea of a meaningful finish at 'Mania. From AJ losing to Jericho to immediately becoming number one contender, to Shane being in control of Raw despite losing the stipulated Hell In A Cell match, things don't make a whole lot of sense. But then again, it's WWE. We've been subjected to so much short term booking and contradictive storylines that it's pointless to discuss it. So let's not.

To be quite honest, Raw has been pretty good. Cesaro returned. Sami Zayn is being featured. Enzo and Big Cass have arrived and are already showing a ton of promise. The two were the highlight of Raw the night after 'Mania 32. Apollo Crews and Baron Corbin have also debuted, but with less fanfare than Cass and Enzo. Sami Zayn has made waves with a few good showings in featured spots. His feud with Kevin Owens is still surreal to see play out on such a big stage, considering where they began on the independents. The positive about all though, is that they are fresh faces. The show feels fresh as well.

Here's what we really need to get to here. Roman Reigns is still struggling to get real reactions. Real reactions in that he hasn't gotten a reaction that wasn't driven by fans' disdain for him. The problem remains that his "heat" isn't "heat." Confusing, I know. Regardless of that, his feud with AJ Styles is getting hot.

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson made their Raw debut by attacking the Usos. It seemed random until you consider that they're Reigns' cousins. Interesting.... A week later, they strike again, this time by beating down Reigns. Now we can see where this is going. The story reads that Reigns believes this is a plan by AJ, since Gallows and Anderson are his friends. AJ denies he ordered the beating and that's where we stand going into the Styles vs. Reigns match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Payback.

This is good stuff. How often has an angle in WWE had some depth like this? Yeah, AJ was booted from Bullet Club in New Japan the night after Wrestle Kingdom 10. Again, you apparently have to play along here and wipe some things from your memory. WWE doesn't expect you to know any of this, but whatever. The positive here is there's so many outcomes to the Payback main event.

Finish #1: Bullet Club Reunites

Can you imagine if Anderson and Gallows really were ordered to beat down Reigns by AJ and they helped him win the WWE Championship at Payback? I haven't worked a minute in the wrestling business and even I know that would be a hot angle. Can you say Shield vs. Bullet Club? Things are changing rapidly coming out of WrestleMania 32 and this would continue that trend.

Finish #2: Balor Club Is Formed

This one has a couple possibilities. Basically, the scenario is Gallows and Anderson interfere during or after the match, Finn Balor is involved, and the three take out AJ with no affiliation to Reigns. Keep in mind that the last news on Balor had him staying in NXT for the better part of 2016. He is still NXT Champion and there is still money in Balor/Joe III. Could he be working double duty? We'll get our answer soon enough. But the fact of the matter is an AJ/Balor feud would be quality, and Anderson and Gallows would add depth to the storyline.

Finish #3: The Roman Empire Is Formed

This seems unlikely, but then again, things much more dumb than this have happened. I'm not a fan of this scenario, but it's been talked about and speculated by many. This scenario sees Gallows and Anderson look as if they're going to help AJ, but end up turning on him in favor of Reigns. I'm going to interject my opinion here. THIS BETTER NOT HAPPEN. I understand the mindset, though. Turn Reigns completely heel and do it in a shocking fashion. The problem here is, Reigns becoming a heel will make or break him. The fans have accepted Gallows and Anderson quickly. They like AJ and the two together. It just seems that if WWE were to go this route, they would be running the risk of getting even more bad heat on Reigns. The fans might believe that WWE is doing another thing to push Reigns as the guy (sorry for that unintentional promo reference), but this time at the expense of two new guys that they like. Again, this is probably the most unlikely Payback finish of the three, but still very possible.

Speculation on the direction WWE is going has been rampant. Whether or not people hate that WWE didn't live up to the Undertaker/Shane stipulation, one thing is certain: the show feels different. It feels like this may be the beginning of a new era of WWE. With as many new faces and feuds that have entered the fold, WWE has a golden opportunity to capitalize on their momentum and genuinely improve the product. Payback will be a must-watch event for the company, and that is definitely a good thing.

Brady Sauvageau
The Heater

Apr 2, 2016

WWE & WrestleMania 32, In the Wake of NXT TakeOver: Dallas

Just hours removed from NXT TakeOver: Dallas, we as fans are reeling. At the risk of speaking for everyone, TakeOver was everything we wanted from a wrestling show. It had fast-paced athletic contests, breathtaking drama, despair, reflection, happiness, and every emotion in between. We saw Bayley valiantly fight until she couldn't any longer. Gable and Jordan emerged as the top tag team of NXT. We saw Shinsuke Nakamura make a lasting first impression that no one will ever forget. Finn Balor escaped Dallas with his title by narrowly defeating Samoa Joe. It was a night for NXT and professional wrestling that can only be summed up with one word: Historic.

Wrestlemania 32 is this Sunday. The question now, in the wake of TakeOver: Dallas is, how the hell do you follow it? It's a question we'll all know the answer to soon, though. From top to bottom, TakeOver was stellar. The entire card had meaning. Every match had the crowd interested and at times, completely gripped. Can the same be said about the 'Mania 32 card? Not top to bottom, surely. But there are some matches that could really compete with TakeOver.

The Intercontinental Championship ladder match is high on the list of anticipated 'Mania bouts. This match is going to be fun. Fun as hell. Like so many mid-card wrestlers of the past, the guys taking part in this one are going to look to steal the show. Sami Zayn has so much momentum coming out of his TakeOver match with Nakamura and will be looking to continue it. Kevin Owens will be making his 'Mania debut and is always a prospective show-stealer. Don't sleep on Ziggler, The Miz or the rest of the match's participants either. They're just as stoked to be in the spotlight as the rest of them.

Triple H vs. Roman Reigns has been heavily built, regardless of peoples' thoughts on Reigns and his character direction. I'm not going to get deep into this, simply because much has been discussed about a Reigns heel turn that seems completely hopeless to wish for at this point. The story here is, how can Reigns and HHH put together a match that captivates the 'Mania crowd if the finish really is Reigns over Hunter? There has to be something coming. At least, a lot of hope there is. But if not, what do we really have here? Just another "point A to point B" scenario? Let's hope that some kind of swerve makes us all wish we'd never bashed the Reigns/Triple H matchup.

The last match to really hit here is Shane McMahon vs. The Undertaker. This might be the most important, if not, the most anticipated match of Wrestlemania 32. Let's set the plot holes aside here. If Shane wins, he gets control of Raw while The Undertaker will never wrestle at 'Mania again. Vince McMahon has pitted the Undertaker against Shane, while Shane feuds his father. The Undertaker is trying to protect his own legacy, though it means doing the bidding of Vince. The dynamic here is strong. Shane has promised change in WWE if he wins, something that the fans are in strong favor of. But The Undertaker never wrestling again at 'Mania? It's quite the move by WWE to set this up. They have to get credit for this storyline. They went outside of the box. They actually presented something different and cannot be faulted for the attempt. This is one of those matches that you can't imagine until you're actually witnessing it, and that is best for business.

Taker vs. Shane certainly has the potential to emotionally move its audience. But Wrestlemania 32 has a goliath task of living up to, or past, NXT TakeOver: Dallas. But why is that? Conventional wisdom would say that the main brand's biggest event of the year should never be in jeopardy of being outperformed by its "developmental" brand. That seems to be the case, though.

So why is 'Mania facing this kind of adversity? Well, NXT has really thrived during its existence. I'll speak for myself on this one. When I watch Raw or any of the main roster's productions, I feel like I'm seeing a formula repeat while participants are filtered in and out. It's stagnant, though once in awhile, a person comes comes onto the scene and adds a freshness and edge to the show that it desperately needs (For example, Shane McMahon). When I watch NXT, it just feels more personal. Maybe you have to be a fan of wrestling outside of WWE to feel this way, but I'll explain nonetheless. Let's use Sami Zayn as an example.

Like so many people, I've watched Sami Zayn grow up on the independents before he finally got his break in signing with WWE. In NXT, we saw him grab opportunity by the throat and deliver in the most high-pressure situations. It was personal for me to see Zayn, when given the chance, show what he can bring to the table if brought up to the main roster. Not only that, but he illustrated how he can help WWE evolve as a product through his believable character and incredible ability to adapt his style to WWE's. Evolving should be at the top of WWE's priority list when it relates to the main roster.

WWE must evolve. It can't rely on The Undertaker and part-time performers forever. People could argue that point all day, but the product has suffered as a result of its reliance. You know, I don't necessarily want to see Roman Reigns defy the Authority and culminate his journey by winning the WWE Championship in the main event of Wrestlemania. There's something innate about Reigns that you can hate, but WWE refuses to deviate from the formula and take a risk by turning him heel.

Yes, guys like Kevin Owens, Dolph Ziggler, and Dean Ambrose represent the new guard of WWE. But so far all of them have hit a ceiling on the main roster. It's certainly not because of a lack of ability that they've hit a ceiling, but rather the constraints that go along with being a main roster talent. At NXT, the guys and girls are given open opportunity to prove themselves. Along with that, it appears that they have a lot of extra freedom to showcase their talent. They aren't made out to be just like everyone else in the middle of the card.

NXT feels real. It makes you want to suspend your disbelief. The emotion that has radiated from the product time and time again is special. Grown men shed tears when Bayley beat Sasha Banks in Brooklyn. People were moved as the Four Horsewomen of NXT embraced and threw up the four fingers shortly after. It was emotional because these performers were revolutionizing women's wrestling. It was real and the fans knew it. They knew how much that match meant to Banks and Bayley, let alone what it meant for women's wrestling. It wasn't forcibly billed, nor disingenuous in nature. On the main roster, Roman Reigns' initial title victory at this past Survivor Series felt forced and was certainly expected for quite some time. The people could see WWE's initiative to position Reigns at the top of the card as opposed to wanting to see him win the biggest prize in the company. There was nothing organic about anything leading up to that moment and the crowd reacted negatively.

As stated, NXT's emotional moments have come organically. At TakeOver, Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura told a story while the two hadn't even interacted face to face prior to the match. Nakamura debuted as the new hero looking to make a lasting first impression, while the man that helped build NXT stood and listened to the crowd's outpour of support for the newcomer. It seemed for a moment that they'd forgotten Sami and everything he had accomplished. Nakamura shined to open the match, but Zayn responded, reminded the NXT faithful that he nearly built the product they were watching. They battled intelligently until both men were exhausted by the bout. After seeing his own blood, Nakamura stomped Zayn's head violently. Zayn again responded, doing the same to Nakamura. The match culminated at its peak, with Nakamura gaining the victory. He celebrated, but then turned his attention to Zayn. He extended a hand, and Zayn accepted. Nakamura left the ring to Zayn as the crowd sang the familiar tune loudly, 'Ole.' While fighting back tears, Zayn acknowledged the NXT fans for what might have been his last time as an NXT competitor.

The emotion was real, in every sense of the word.

The point of all of this is we want to feel what we felt tonight watching NXT when we watch Wrestlemania 32. At times during 'Mania, we will. But we also know that there will be moments during the show that we'll surely forget. The truth is, WWE needs to evolve and it takes time. NXT is the model for which WWE should follow and learn from. Fans want to believe in the wrestlers. They want to feel emotionally attached to them. Most all of us feel that way about Taker after his incredible career of endurance, evolution, and ability to adapt. At the same time, not all of us have immediately felt that way about Reigns, as it seems we've been told to emotionally invest ourselves into him. WWE needs to allow their fans to attach themselves to any given performer. When that happens, it would be refreshing to reward the fans' commitment, even when it's for a person the company may not view as a "top guy."

Wrestlemania 32 has an incredible task ahead. The emotion and excitement that TakeOver: Dallas evoked has posed a legitimate threat the "grandest stage of them all." NXT has proven to be an evolution within the WWE product. Now, the time has come for the main roster to respond. But will they?

Well, we all hope so.

Brady Sauvageau
-The Heater