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: 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

TV Talking Points – 16th-18th April

This week it was time to shake up the Raw and SmackDown rosters! And since it took place over two nights and really the main highlights from both shows could be exclusively roster moves. So for that reason, I’m shaking up the format of my talking points a little this week too.

Superstar Shake-Up

Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn & The Miz

This was a fantastic segment. From the appearance of KO and Zayn aligning with The Miztourage, to Zayn’s obnoxiousness when telling Angle they were a permanent part of Raw, to Angle cutting them off by telling The Miz he was going to SmackDown. It was all brilliant, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering these three are some of the elite characters in WWE right now. The Miz vs Daniel Bryan rivalry really could make SmackDown must see TV once again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He’s back… but not alone.

Dolph Ziggler needed a refresh. I thought it would come in the form of a proper face turn, but instead it was his return to Raw. Oh, and he has joined forced with Drew McIntyre. I would not have predicted this pairing in a million years, but I’m really intrigued to see what happens next with it. And most of all, I’m just delighted to see McIntyre back on Raw. It’s well deserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raw is Glorious

It’s not so much the move itself that was noteworthy, it was the positioning and presentation of it. Roode, after bring underwhelming on SmackDown for a while, and recently losing the United States Championship, was put on a level playing field with the likes of Braun Strowman, Seth Rollins and Finn Balor. It bodes really well for him to be in that company, because on Raw that’s the best of the best.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Striking out on his own

I’m gonna get to his golden exploits on Monday night, but the first move to SmackDown on Tuesday was the new US Champion, Jeff Hardy. He is back on the show where he won three world championships, and being moved away from his brother is as sure a sign as there ever was that WWE are going for the singles push for Jeff. Long may the success continue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SmackDown’s Samoan Submission Specialist

Curve. Ball. The man I expected to be the top heel in the company for months to come, and to be feuding with Roman Reigns over the Universal Championship, got moved to Tuesday nights. And it may be the best thing that ever happened to Samoa Joe. He already knows he has chemistry with the top faces on the blue brand, and he can really take over to become the top guy in a way Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman would never let him on Raw.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Empress of SmackDown

How is it possible, that with all the names SmackDown lost to Raw, that their roster may actually be stronger now than it was last week? It seems like every division that needed strengthened got that big name, and as far as SmackDown’s women go there aren’t many bigger than Asuka. Being on the same show as Charlotte should allow WWE to explore every nuanced consequence of Asuka’s streak ending, and from a star power perspective the balance is much better between Raw and SmackDown’s women’s divisions now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andrade “Cien” Almas & Sanity

I’m grouping these two together for a couple of reasons – neither properly appeared on the show, and both are coming up from NXT and not Raw. But both have huge potential, and both could be star names. Sanity will breathe new life into SmackDown’s tag team division, and Killian Dain has huge breakout singles potential. Almas has proven over the last six months in NXT that he can be an absolute star, and with Zelina Vega by his side the sky is the limit for El Idolo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raw

A new champion

While I kind of expected mid card titles to change shows, I did not expect a title change to be involved in that. Not on Raw at least, I thought they would at least have saved it for the Greatest Royal Rumble or Backlash. But no, in Raw’s opening match Jeff Hardy defeated Jinder Mahal to add the US Title to his trophy cabinet. Just for the record, that cabinet also includes the WWE Championshp, World Heavyweight Championship, Intercontinental Championship, European Championship, Hardcore Championship, Light Heavyweight Championship and multiple tag title reigns with several incarnations of the belts. What a career. What a man.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sasha Banks vs Bayley

So this match is going to be overshadowed by the ending, but it felt like these two were a matter of minutes away from reaching the classic level again. Whenever these two get in the ring there’s a magic in the air, and the fans totally bought in. I can’t wait to see more, and that’s all you can ask for from a match.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ember Moon kills Mickie James

That sell. That is all.

 

 

 

 

Joe tells Reigns how it’s going to be

See, this is why I’m disappointed Samoa Joe vs Roman Reigns appears to be a one off. The intensity and legitimacy of Joe’s promos in such a menacing fashion is unrivalled in WWE right now. That’s two weeks in a row he’s produced this kind of promo, and I think long term it could have served up a really memorable match. Oh well, we’ll just have to make to with him facing AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan instead.

 

 

Ten man tag

At the end of a show with a lot of excitement, this was a really fun main event. I mean, with the talent on hand, the time given and the fact that it was a 10-man tag team match, it really couldn’t have been anything else.

 

SmackDown

Mellabration

I’ve been a little surprised in the last two weeks at how good Carmella’s mic work has been, and then I remembered how good she was after winning Money In The Bank. She hasn’t been featured a lot on TV in the interim, but her character work these last two weeks is worthy of the gold she holds. Fingers crossed her in ring work doesn’t spoil the package.

 

NXT

The January Four in action

In the middle of January, WWE announced the signings of “internationally renowned” superstars Ricochet, Hanson & Rowe (War Raiders) and Candice LeRae. Last night on NXT, all four were on the same show for the first time. And I think they all showed why there was so much hype and excitement around them – Ricochet is arguably the best flyer in the world, War Raiders are an elite tag team with an unorthodox moveset, and much like her husband LeRae just has that intangible underdog quality. These four could be the leaders in a new NXT generation.

 

What a week, another whirlwind week. The momentum WWE has right now coming off of Wrestlemania season is huge, and it’s across the board on all three shows. That’s rare, and it’s going to be awesome to go along with this ride!

 

 

TV Talking Points – 2nd-4th April

It was the go-home week for Wrestlemania, and with most of Mania already set it felt like a fairly standard Raw and SmackDown. It could be argued that they should have been blow-away shows as a final push to sell you Wrestlemania, but in the Network era that doesn’t matter anymore. So if you missed the shows, what happened?

Raw

The Authority stands tall

Since Ronda Rousey debuted, she hasn’t really shown any weakness. That was until Monday, where Triple H and Stephanie McMahon finally got the upper hand. I imagine Ronda will be getting the win on Sunday, and you can’t expect The Authority to never get the last laugh. And it was a nice example of turnaround being fair play, as Ronda ended up getting put through a table. Just like she did to Triple H at Elimination Chamber.

 

Brains Strowman

One of the few remaining mysteries going into Wrestlemania is who Sheamus & Cesaro will be defending the Raw Tag Team Championships against. We know Braun Strowman will be in the match, as he won a battle royal a few weeks back to earn the shot. But ever since, he’s refused to reveal who his partner will be. There has been a lot of speculation as to who it will be, ranging from Rey Mysterio to Bray Wyatt to Dean Ambrose to Drew McIntyre. But I think it’s safe to say one person it won’t be is “Brains Strowman”.

 

Tensions bubbling over

So I wanted to call attention to one rivalry that isn’t going to be a featured part of Sunday, but looks like it will be in the aftermath of Wrestlemania. There have been teases of revisiting NXT’s legendary Sasha Banks vs Bayley rivalry for over a year now, but things have really picked up in the last month. It seems obvious that one of them will be turning heel. Who will it be? I’d have to think we’ll find out in the next week. That in sunless a Superstar Shake-up messes thing long running story up again.

 

SmackDown

Hug it out

It’s amazing how quickly things can turn around in just a few weeks. Daniel Bryan’s story really is remarkable, and his popularity hasn’t waned a bit. Even the allusions to his previous gimmicks and storylines are as over as they ever were at the time, and I’m sure Dr Shelby would be proud to see Bryan still utilising the practice of hugging things out. I think this was a necessary segment, since there was always going to be the question of how these two would coexist after disagreeing with each other for so long. But also, if there is going to be a heel turn, if will make it all the more of a betrayal after this. It was important for their solidarity this Sunday, but it was also important for story options going forward.

 

NXT

A Classicly Dusty finish

I loved that Roderick Strong and Pete Dunne were entered into the Dusty Classic. The original Dusty Classic were full or mix and match duos (let’s not forget the inaugural winners were Finn Balor and Samoa Joe) where part of the story was whether they would implode by the end of each match. And this year things were taken one step further, as the whole tournament ended with a controversial finish, as the Undisputed Era caused a double disqualification. This led to not just the tag titles being on the line come Saturday night at TakeOver, but also the Dusty Rhodes trophy. Will the Undisputed Era win the Dusty Classic by winning a single match?

 

Six man face off

The advertised main event of this week’s NXT was Killian Dain vs Lars Sullivan, two of the contestants in the ladder match to crown the first ever NXT North American Champion on Saturday. But for the second time on the show, we didn’t get a clean finish. Actually, we didn’t get any finish. The rest of the field came out to interrupt the match, and while no punches were thrown, no words were said, NXT did go off the air with the first in-ring appearance of The One and Only… Ricochet.

 

I fully expect a bumper week next time out as TakeOver and Wrestlemania will be included, and it’s always an extremely newsworthy edition of Raw and SmackDown after Wrestlemania. I’m also doing Spotlights on Mania matches every day this week, and I’ll be posting a TakeOver: New Orleans Spotlight too, so keep visiting the sight to keep up to date with all my latest content!

TV Talking Points – 12th-14th February

Another week has passed on the Road to Wrestlemania, and unless I’ve just gotten to the stage of completely zoning out when it happens, we got less sign-pointing this week. We even got serenaded by Braun Strowman, which even though I’m not writing about was too good of a visual to not use above. But we did get various developments for Elimination Chamber and Fastlane, so it was a good week for storyline progression. What actually happened? Read on for the highlights!

Raw

Doubling up on making history

The advertised Raw main event was a second chance fatal-4-way between the men who lost Elimination Chamber qualifying matches – Finn Balor, Matt Hardy, Bray Wyatt and Apollo Crews. But in the middle of the show, Seth Rollins made his case to Kurt Angle that he should be added to the match, and he was – making it a fatal-5-way. There was controversy in the finish, as both Finn Balor and Seth Rollins had Wyatt pinned for a three count. Both men won the match, so Kurt Angle announced that at Elimination Chamber, as well as having the first ever women’s Chamber match, for the first time ever there would be seven men competing inside the steel structure!

Continue reading TV Talking Points – 12th-14th February

TV Talking Points – 5th-7th February

We’re not that far removed from the Royal Rumble, but WWE rolls on with Elimination Chamber just over two weeks away! The Chamber matches themselves were filled out on Raw, and we even got a match announcement for SmackDown’s next PPV, Fastlane, in March. So what actually happened this week? As always, I’ve put the key moments together for you in this article.

Raw

Chamber competitors revealed

Going into this week’s Raw we knew John Cena, Elias and Braun Strowman were going to be in the men’s Chamber match, but all we knew on the women’s side was the Alexa Bliss would be defending her title. Well, now there’s only one spot out of the 12 to be decided. Roman Reigns defeated Bray Wyatt, and The Miz defeated Apollo Crews to earn their chance to become the number one contender to Brock Lesnar’s Universal Championship. And Kurt Angle announced the women’s field as Mickie James, Sonya Deville, Mandy Rose, Bayley and Sasha Banks would be challenging Bliss inside the steel structure. Continue reading TV Talking Points – 5th-7th February

2018 Royal Rumble Spotlight: Women’s Royal Rumble Match

Did you know WWE are making history tomorrow night? For the first time ever they are holding a 30-woman Royal Rumble match. And we are going to be treated to the delight of Stephanie McMahon on commentary. As a certain woken figure would say, wonderful! Despite my sarcasm I am genuinely looking forward to this match. And because the Rumble is a special occasion, I’m going to break up my Spotlight slightly differently than I usually do. I’m going to break the match down into the biggest questions, and discuss each one individually. So let’s just get right into it! Continue reading 2018 Royal Rumble Spotlight: Women’s Royal Rumble Match

Wrestlemania 33 PPV Spotlight: Charlotte vs Nia Jax vs Sasha Banks vs Bayley

It’s time for the second match in my week of PPV Spotlights in the build-up to Wrestlemania 33! This time round, I’m looking at a match the features two competitors who were in my match of the night at last year’s Wrestlemania. It’s also probably the single biggest missed opportunity of the night. I’m talking about the Raw Women’s Championship match between Nia Jax, Sasha Banks, Charlotte and Bayley.

It’s such a missed opportunity because Bayley should have been crowned champion on Sunday night. I think we all know that by now, I just hope WWE realises that. It was a great Raw moment, don’t get me wrong, but the moment itself and the significance of Bayley’s subsequent title run would have been so much more had it been saved for Wrestlemania. But, I still think it can be saved. Continue reading Wrestlemania 33 PPV Spotlight: Charlotte vs Nia Jax vs Sasha Banks vs Bayley

Draft 2016: Our Top Picks

The WWE Draft is just a matter of hours away. The big question is of course, who will end up where? I decided to write about who my priorities would be if I were one of the selectors. But I’ve also shaken things up a bit and called in the reinforcements! I asked a couple of friends to join me in choosing their top picks, just to see if there was a consensus for anybody on the roster.

The criteria I gave the guys was that they had to pick at least one woman, at least one team (for the purposes of this I said you could pick the Wyatt Family or The Club as a team) and we could pick a maximum of one NXT superstar to call up. Simple enough, right? Let’s get to the picks, starting with the choices of… Jonny Bird!

Dean Ambrose

Ambrose Unstable

Continue reading Draft 2016: Our Top Picks

The Divas Revolution: One Year Later

One year ago today, the women’s division in WWE changed. It had been an under-appreciated part of WWE TV, an afterthought. You were lucky if you saw five minutes of women’s wrestling on a weekly basis. And the fans were getting sick of it. They rebelled on social media, with #GiveDivasAChance trending. WWE brass took notice. One year ago today, the “Divas Revolution” started.

Continue reading The Divas Revolution: One Year Later