Tempering NXT UK Expectations

It’s an incredibly exciting time to be a UK wrestling fan. Major moves are being made behind the scenes in the UK market, and that has resulted in the official announcement of NXT UK – as well as the first four sets of tapings.

WWE seem to be creating their own tiered feeder system, and this is the first step towards creating a new tier. You’re going to have Raw and SmackDown at the top, NXT next, then the regional promotions like NXT UK that are starting up, and below them the companies WWE have working relationships with, like Progress and ICW in the UK. It could completely revolutionise the wrestling industry.

But it’s early days, and there are still questions over where and when the new NXT UK show will actually be aired, but even these happenings are so encouraging after a year of nothing really moving. The likes of Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate have stolen shows in that time, but it’s great to see others finally get the recognition that a WWE stage will undoubtedly lead to. Continue reading Tempering NXT UK Expectations

WWE’s Fandom Conundrum

When I wrote my column about becoming more interested in companies outside WWE, I briefly mentioned naming this blog. “That Wrestling Fandom” was specifically named to not be WWE specific. But I also deliberately picked the term “fandom”, because I anticipated that at some point I’d be talking about fan culture. And here we are.

I think WWE and their fans are in an endless cycle of no-win situations.

Fans, myself included, cry out month after month for long term storytelling. Shotgun booking appears to be public enemy number one at times, and yet is all too prevalent in WWE’s programming. The obvious example going back a few months was when Finn Balor lost to Kane towards the end of last year when he was considered to be Brock Lesnar’s obvious next challenger.

And yet, when WWE try to have a feud simmering under the surface for months, that doesn’t go down well either. Sasha Banks vs Bayley is a rivalry that has burst back to the fore after last night’s Raw, and nobody seems to care anymore. The time for a heel turn, based on crowd reaction, was 14 months ago. People say this is a feud that has gone nowhere for six months, but Banks looked like she was turning heel around Wrestlemania 33 – over a year ago in April 2017. Continue reading WWE’s Fandom Conundrum

MITB 2018 Spotlight: Men’s Money In The Bank Ladder Match

I said in yesterday’s Women’s MITB Spotlight that I’d previewed every Money In The Bank match since I started this blog, so I couldn’t leave out the men’s match in 2018. I was looking back through old previews and noticed I used a slightly different format last year to what I’ve normally done, and I’m going to use it here too. So let’s break down the match!

The Miz

Miz

How can he be the star of the match?

By playing the spoiler role. Whenever any of the faces in the match get anywhere close to the top of the ladder, The Miz can be the one to stop them grabbing the contract. He should avoid all the high risk spots and just appear at the worst possible times for the fan favourites. Miz should also be around at the end, either to win the match or to finally get his comeuppance by getting literally knocked off his perch by the winner.

Will he actually win?

He has every chance. The Miz has proven his worth in the last two years, and it’s very possible that he can get back into a world title picture via the contract. He would actually have been my pick to win this match last year, but it was a SmackDown-exclusive PPV and Miz was moved to Raw post-Mania. A year later, it’s a tougher field with superstars from both brands, but Miz hasn’t cooled off too much. It could still be his time. Continue reading MITB 2018 Spotlight: Men’s Money In The Bank Ladder Match

MITB 2018 Spotlight: Women’s Money In The Bank Ladder Match

I love the Money In The Bank concept. It adds a storytelling element like nothing WWE had before it. It was originally designed to be that final push for superstars to get over the line to main event level. It was a way of elevating people. It was a way of putting guys who had been at the top of the mid-card for years the opportunity to finally break through. And of course, once the gimmick got established, it could be used in other ways.

It was a featured part of Wrestlemania for years, and eventually it evolved to the point of getting it’s own PPV, and having two contracts. Last year WWE took that a step further by having the first ever women’s Money In The Bank ladder match, and then just over a week later, the second. Now we’re here, just over 24 hours away from Money In The Bank with the strongest line up on paper yet.

It has evolved yet again this year, with the number of competitors rising from six to eight, and also with the match becoming dual-branded. Since I started writing about wrestling, I’ve gone through the MITB competitors every year. So let’s get to the 2018 edition, starting with the women’s line up.

 

Sasha Banks

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Sasha Banks has racked up an impressive list of firsts in her time under the WWE umbrella. She was in the first iron woman match, the first women’s hell in a cell match, the first women’s matches to main event both a WWE PPV and NXT TakeOver, and she was the first ever entrant into the women’s Royal Rumble. But being on the Raw brand, she missed out on being in the first women’s Money In The Bank match last year. With the arrivals of Ronda Rousey and Ember Moon on Monday nights, and the face turn and championship reign of Nia Jax, Sasha has been pushed way down the pecking order.

Something is missing from The Boss. A heel turn may help that. But getting back in the title picture may also do the trick. And the MITB contract is an immediate opportunity to put her back in that conversation. With Banks’ track record, she is always going to be in with a chance in these situations, because she has instant credibility whenever you want to throw her into a top position. Banks is likely to be the workhorse of the match, all over the shop and involved in spots with everybody. But I think her role will be to be the nearly-woman that never quite gets there.

Chances of winning: Possible

 

Naomi

Naomi

Look, Naomi is good, but I was surprised that she got the escape spot at the Royal Rumble, and I was surprised that she won the battle royal at Wrestlemania. It’s not that I don’t think she deserves the spots, it’s just that this year there’s been so little follow up that those moments have seemed… forgettable. She seems to be very clearly the fourth face on Tuesday nights, and without the backing of the NXT fans that Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Asuka have, unless something radical happens that’s not going to change.

Because of that, I don’t feel like she’s a threat to win. I could be wrong, because as I said before, she has been put in spots to stand out before. She even won the title at Wrestlemania last year. But as far as this field goes, I have Naomi right near the back of it.

Chances of winning: Unlikely

 

Lana

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Granted I lost track of Raw and SmackDown for a while there, but why? Just… why? Like… why?

Chances of winning: (Surely?) None

 

Natalya

Natalya-1

A year ago Natalya was exactly who this match would have been created for. She was a long tenured superstar who was always seen as being good, but for whatever reason never got her opportunity. But then she finally got her run as SmackDown Women’s Champion last year that was arguably well overdue.

Since moving to Raw in the Wrestlemania aftermath, she became a de facto face by virtue of her history training with Ronda Rousey. And that has meant she has been one of the more prominent characters on the show. More than that, with Rousey being in a title match tomorrow night it has given Natalya a really obvious storyline with the contract. It makes Natalya a red hot pick to scale the ladder, with the only thing stopping her is that it’s not really a necessary prop to go into that story. But it is the best way to protect all parties.

Chances of winning: the favourite.

 

Becky Lynch

Becky Lynch

If last year I might have said that Natalya was the kind of superstar MITB was designed for, Becky Lynch comes the closest this year. It’s already been two years since Lynch was Women’s Champion, back when she was riding the crest of the SmackDown post-draft wave. Her line on this week’s SmackDown about being sick of saying “I was”, and being ready to say “I am” again summed it up perfectly. She has never lost that much popularity, but first Alexa Bliss, then Charlotte, and now Asuka has taken over her mantle.

For me, Lynch is probably the person who could benefit most from a win here. She is the one with the biggest up-side who is most likely to get lost in the shuffle. She would be a reliable champion, able to work with pretty much anyone. At the very worst Lynch is a solid option, but potentially she can be much more than that.

Chances of winning: Possible

 

Alexa Bliss

Alexa Bliss

Bliss is in danger of getting lost in the shuffle on Raw. Having been champion for so long across both brands, I get that she needs to take a step out of the title picture for a while. But she needs to be kept relevant, and at the moment looks like she could become a victim of WWE’s perennial lack of ability to create secondary and tertiary storylines for anything other than it’s main event scene. On a show as long and with as much filler as Raw, that’s really unforgivable.

But at the same time, Bliss has an advantage over everybody else in this match. Her character fits the archetypal cash-in more than anybody else, and that will keep her in with a shout regardless of who else is in the mix. Having a contract in her possession would also keep her in the spotlight without having her directly chase the title. And really, with her gimmick, she should be in no rush at all to get involved when the title scene currently involved Nia Jax and Ronda Rousey.

 

Charlotte

Charlotte

I can echo some of my other sentiments here with Charlotte. She is proven as the leader of the division, she’s a safe bet, her resume means you can throw her in the mix at any time with credibility. But because she was champion as recently as two months ago, there is also a sense that Charlotte doesn’t need this win as much as the others do.

There are some story points that I quite like with a Charlotte win though. I would find a poetry in Charlotte trying to cash in against Carmella, who won the title so recently by cashing in on Charlotte. And obviously there would be the threat of another loss to Charlotte hanging over Asuka should she become champion tomorrow night. That paranoia could lead to some development for the Empress of Tomorrow. All that being said, while there would be some cool off-shoots to a Charlotte win, I’m not really expecting to see it.

Chances of winning: Unlikely

 

Ember Moon

Ember Moon

Ember Moon is the person that I think has the most to gain from this match. She is the most recent addition to the main roster out of these eight women, and while the Eclipse will always be spectacular, it feels like the right stage for Moon to have a show stealing performance. An Eclipse off a ladder anyone?

Because she’s so new, to an extent it seems to early to be talking about Moon as a title contender. That’s why MITB is perfect for her. It would be a sign of faith from WWE that she is a big deal, that she is going to be a star, but an acknowledgement that right now is not her time. 2019 should be Ember Moon’s year in terms of main roster gold,  and carrying the contract around for the forseeable future should safeguard that.

Chances of winning: Dark horse

TakeOver: Chicago II Spotlight: Shayna Baszler vs Nikki Cross

It’s a big weekend for WWE, as they try to tell us it is any PPV weekend. But this time round it’s actually kind of true, and Money In The Bank is only a little bit of the reason. No, this weekend is really TakeOver weekend, as NXT return to Chicago for the second year in a row. And with that comes a TakeOver Spotlight as always. So what match have I gone for this time?

Is it the match that could steal the weekend in Ricochet v Velveteen Dream? Is it what will presumably be the culmination of a year long classic rivalry between Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa? Well, no.

Instead I’ve gone for Shayna Baszler’s first TakeOver defence of the NXT Women’s Championship against Nikki Cross. Because on paper, I think this is one of the most intriguing title matches in a long time. Continue reading TakeOver: Chicago II Spotlight: Shayna Baszler vs Nikki Cross

Life Outside WWE

So let’s just get into it. I haven’t really posted here for two months, and that has been for a few reasons. For one, work has gotten very busy. For two, there’s been some personal stuff that I had to deal with that took priority. But for three, and I think this has been the most important part of the lack of writing here, WWE just hasn’t been that interesting.

The reason I say that’s the biggest factor is that I was still busy with work around Wrestlemania season. But I was so excited for the biggest show of the year that I rebranded this site, came up with new concepts for articles, and wrote something in the region of 15,000 words in roughly a week. I don’t have the exact figure to hand, I could sit and work it out, but around Wrestlemania this year I think I wrote more than I did in the entirety off 2015.

Ronda Rousey Wrestlemania 34
I mean, it’s like there were one or two things to write about. Anybody remember any?

Because here’s the thing, when WWE is good, it forces it’s way into my life. No matter what else is going on, WWE becomes a priority. I will find the time to watch and write about it, even if that means surviving on less than 20 hours sleep in a week. Yes, I’ve done that. Continue reading Life Outside WWE