Styles
WWE

WWE weekly recap: Is this real life?

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Did you miss me?

WHAT

Wondering where this column has been?

WHAT

Where was I for the SummerSlam build?

WHAT

You probably didn’t even notice I was gone.

Oh c’mon, that’s all I had to do to stop the what chants?

Stone

Well for those who are actually wondering where I’ve been the past two weeks, it has something to do with five colored rings and sports such as handball, badminton, and equestrian. Not going to lie, it was nice to not have to stress out about writing this column because the pair of Raw and Smackdown episodes leading into SummerSlam were satisfactory at best, but thanks to the amount of news coming out of the 13 hours of WWE programming this week (and a special bonus segment from Talking Smack), talking about professional wrestling is going to be super easy. It also means that this column is going to be long af, but not nearly as long as the six hour monster that aired this past Sunday.

There is absolutely no reason for a wrestling show to go more than three hours. If built correctly, a WrestleMania card might have the juice to go four hours, but odds are the crowd is going to be really tired by the main event. The 18,000 at the Barclays Center on Sunday didn’t have enough fuel to reach 9:30 due in part to the questionable match order, but mostly it was thanks to the monstrous length.

If the show would have ended after Styles-Cena, the crowd would have walked out happy and wouldn’t have seen the incredibly boring match between Ziggler and Ambrose for the WWE World title. Balor’s right labrum would still be intact and Randy Orton’s head wouldn’t have a Harry Potteresque lightning bolt on it.

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Sure it’s nice that the added time gives everyone an extended chance to tell their stories, but there was plenty of nonsense that could have been cut out of the show (Hi Jon Stewart!) in order to keep the crowd engaged.

In order to keep you engaged, let’s move on to more important topics.

What is Even Real?

Between Samoa Joe’s Slammy nominee for best sell of the year, Brock Lesnar’s brutal elbow to the head of Randy Orton (I dare you to look at the photo again), Sami Zayn’s “ankle injury” on Monday and the best promo of Miz’s life, the line between what’s real and what is fake is getting incredibly blurry, which means we’re all winning right now as wrestling fans.

It’s so much easier to be intrigued by the product as a whole when you can’t tell if something was scripted to happen. Take that promo by Miz for instance, the way Bryan pushes the issue about Miz’s style and Renee’s reaction is effing perfect. Renee may not have been cued in about what was going to be said, which is why her reactions were so great, but we don’t know for sure and that’s the beauty of it!

According to Dave Melzer of the Wrestling Observer, the conclusion to Orton-Lesnar went as planned. I doubt they anticipated a pool of Orton’s blood to form in the center of the ring, but a ref stoppage and a TKO victory was exactly what they were going for. This is the second straight year Lesnar has closed SummerSlam with a BS finish.

Bonus question: Who did Brock Lesnar face last year in the main event of SummerSlam?

I thought the finishing sequence was actually very well done! Sure it didn’t go as planned, but it looked brutal and got people talking and it gives Orton a match with Lesnar down the road. I’ve gotten into disagreements with people who cannot believe that Vince would send a legit MMA fighter out in the ring to bust someone open with his fists and elbows. “Just let them blade.” This is a guaranteed way to get a bit of color and add drama to the final shot of the company’s second biggest PPV.

Was this the right way to end SummerSlam IMO? No, but booking Brock Lesnar appears to be similar to solving a 10,000 piece puzzle.

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Even the Demon King Can be Injured

We should have known the rocket that was strapped on Finn Balor’s back was going to have a complication when Vince lit the fuse. The Demon King’s (I promise that’s the last time I’ll use his nickname in this column) performance at SummerSlam is even more impressive now that we know about the injury he suffered midway through the match.

The injury occurred when Rollins powerbombed Balor into the ringside barricade. Balor looked like he was about to land just short of the barricade and reached back to hook the top of the padding. His right arm landed at an awkward angle, which caused his right shoulder to pop out of its socket. Here’s the video:

If you’re squeamish, look away from the photo below:

Balor

The camera quickly cut away from Balor as he popped his shoulder back into place so he could finish the match. Balor pinned Rollins clean in the middle to become the first Universal champion, but his reign would quickly come to an end as Balor was forced to relinquish the title on Raw after x-rays revealed that he suffered a torn labrum. It’s roughly a six-month recovery window, which would put him back in the middle of WrestleMania season.  The ideal scenario would be for Finn to be a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble and win the match to get his rematch at WrestleMania, but he might not be ready to go in time.

With a stacked deck against them, the creative team designed a series of matches on Raw to determine participants in a Fatal Four Way match for the title next week. Either Rollins, Kevin Owens, Big Cass, or Roman Reigns will walk out of Houston with the big red strap. Rollins is the favorite to win the match, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Owens left with the title because this is a perfect opportunity to bump Owens up as a top heel on Monday nights. It’s a nice spot for Cass, but he’s still too green to win the title and this doesn’t feel like the right time to give Reigns the title again.

 

The New Face of Tuesday Nights

We now know why AJ Styles ate a clean pin at Battleground and in the six-pack challenge on the inaugural SmackDown Live. Sometimes WWE’s booking makes no sense, but you can see the pattern. They didn’t want to give Styles too much momentum heading in SummerSlam and by making him seem beatable, it made his CLEAN win over Cena that much more surprising.

I mean seriously, when is the last time a heel “won” a feud against Cena and did it by pinning him without cheating?

Harry

With Cena off to film another season of American Grit, Styles is now the top star on SmackDown, especially after the debacle that was Ambrose and Ziggler. The Ambrose train was flying down the tracks, but after his borderline heel performance on Sunday, the awkward build to his match with Ziggler and the goofy backstage segment on Tuesday, you can hear the engine starting to sputter. He and Styles had a decent match a few months ago on Raw and I would expect the two to have a better showing at Backlash, but the crowd could be dead by the time the two make their way through the curtain, especially if we have to witness American Alpha vs. Heath Slater and Rhyno for the nickel tag titles.

This feels like the right time to give Styles a run with the title. He’s been nothing but exceptional since turning heel back in May, especially on the microphone, and deserves to hold the title for the rest of the year.

Which Show was Better this Week?

I’ve had this song stuck in my head for days thanks to the fans at the Barclays Center for belting it out in unison during Bobby Roode’s incredible entrance.

In all seriousness, NXT Takeover: Brooklyn II was the best show of the past week and it really wasn’t close. Outside of Ember Moon’s debut (which wasn’t terrible by any means), the show moved at a great pace and featured a match of the year contender between Tommaso Ciampa-Johnny Gargano and The Revival. There was also a damn fine match between Asuka and Bayley and Shinsuke Nakamura defeated Samoa Joe for the NXT title, so yeah this is worth your time if you haven’t watched it yet.

Time to “Go Home”

Ah I thought we were finally going to get the Bubba Ray heel turn, but instead we got a legitimate going away promo from the Dudleys. Maybe Velvet Sky is right. I’m not sure if a PG version of Bully Ray would work.

– Kudos to the crowd on Monday night for chanting “delete” after D’von mentioned the Hardys.

– Styles needs to keep wearing John Cena’s armband until Cena comes back for revenge.

– I just about lost my mind when Seth Rollins busted out the GOD’S LAST GIFT against Balor:

– With guys using multiple finishers now, I hope Rollins gets a few wins with this move to help get it over with the crowd.

– I agree with Rollins’ tweet about the crowd’s negative reaction to the look of the Universal title. The crowd essentially hijacked the beginning of the match by chanting about their displeasure for the new belt. Sure it isn’t the best looking title, but there’s no reason to lose focus on a match between two of the best guys in the business today.

– Bayley is finally on the main roster! Now she gets to face Dana Brooke every other Monday night.

– Titus’ promo had to be a rib right? There’s no way he was scheduled to have that much time. I thought he started off OK, but man by the end I just felt bad for the guy.

– Can this feud between The Club and New Day please come to an end? These segments aren’t funny and just come off as a waste of time

– Was Monday the beginning of the wrestler-to-manager transition for Enzo?

– Jericho, Owens and (insert name here) Phillips are just money together.

– I think Arn Anderson would be a better tag team partner for Heath Slater than Rhyno.

– Breezango and American Alpha had quite the little match on Tuesday night.

– The new stage that was used on SummerSlam, Raw , and SmackDown is fricking beautiful. LOVE the LED ramp.

– At least they’ve found something for Carmella, but my god she should never throw ground and pound punches ever again.

– Naomi should also never be a guest commentator again.

– I can get down with Orton vs. Bray.

– Shane McMahon said on SmackDown that the six women on SmackDown would face off in the first ever women’s six-pack challenge match…

– Guess he’s didn’t pay attention to the second to last match at the 2001 Survivor Series.

– SmackDown’s version of the tag and women’s title look so much better than Raw’s.

– I wonder if Shane is going to find someone besides Orton to try and get revenge for Brock’s attack on him at the end of SummerSlam. Perhaps someone who is Samoan? Perhaps someone who has a name that rhymes with toe?

– I’d pay $9.99 to watch Lesnar vs. Jericho in a Lion’s Den match.

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Follow me on Twitter: @ScottDargis

WWE Weekly Recap: 2017 Royal Rumble Odds

corbin
WWE
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For the first time in many years, the favorite to win the Royal Rumble isn’t obvious. In fact, this feels like one of the more unpredictable Rumble matches in WWE history.

Five guys who would be considered a favorite to win the match (Seth Rollins, The Undertaker, Braun Strowman, Goldberg and Brock Lesnar) are rumored to have their WrestleMania programs locked in and none are scheduled to be for either of the company’s main championships.

Instead of being a device that’s used to give an established star a main event spot at Mania, the Rumble might actually be used as a launching pad for a future world champion.

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With that in mind, here’s how I would rank the field:

Baron Corbin 6/1 (+600)

The odds may surprise you, but Corbin has been booked very strong ever since his better-than-expected chairs match with Kalisto at the TLC Pay-Per-View. He was given a lot of offense in the triple threat match for the WWE title on the “Wild Card Finals” episode of SmackDown and “controlled” 80 percent of his match against John Cena this past Tuesday.

Corbin is ascending into the world title picture and it’s totally logical to picture “The Lone Wolf” ending the first PPV of WrestleMania season by pointing at the giant WM sign.

With Goldberg-Lesnar, Undertaker-Strowman, and HHH-Rollins penciled in for Mania, Corbin vs. Styles, Cena or both, is a perfectly fine match (with entrances) to fill 20-25 minutes of the show. Corbin has shown enough in the ring lately for me to buy that he’s ready for a high level match.

Finn Balor 8/1 (+800)

If either Owens or Reigns walk out of the Universal Championship match in San Antonio with the red strap, Balor has a built-in story with either guy.

Balor beat Reigns clean in the middle of the ring during his first night on Raw and after the match Roman said he would love another crack at Balor.

Owens was handed the championship by Triple H, but HHH also has a connection with Balor that could easily be worked up with one or two backstage interactions if creative wanted to go that route.

If not, Balor and Owens could hearken back to their feud in NXT, which produced a set of extremely good matches in the Summer of 2015. Their NXT title match at “Beast in the East” was one of my favorites that year and 30 percent of that was thanks to the streamers that were thrown at the end of Balor’s entrance.

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No matter who Balor works with, he’s going to put on a great performance and if WWE wants to have a NJPW style match at Mania, the Demon King would be the perfect person to insert into it.

Samoa Joe or Shinsuke Nakamura 9/1 (+900)

A debuting superstar has never won the Royal Rumble, but if there was ever a time to do it, this is it.

Joe is the more likely option out of the two, considering that he just dropped the NXT title to Nakamura and failed to beat him in the rematch, but if Nakamura loses the title to Bobby Roode at Takeover: San Antonio (unlikely, but you never know), he instantly becomes a favorite.

If either guy won, it would make sense for them to face Styles for the world title at the company’s biggest show of the year. Joe is one of Styles’ best friends in the business. They’ve made magic in the ring together and understand how to put on a clinic in front of a massive crowd.

Nakamura wrestled Styles in the second to last match at Wrestle Kingdom 10, which is New Japan Pro Wrestling’s version of WrestleMania. It was predictably awesome and if you haven’t seen it yet, set aside a half hour and watch it:

Chris Jericho 10/1 (+1000)

As much as I want to see Team Chris and Kevin face off for the Universal title in Orlando. I just don’t think it’s going to happen. If Owens does somehow hold onto the title at the Alamodome, Jericho would instantly become one of the three favorites to win the Rumble.

Owens and Jericho are the hottest act on the company’s flagship show. Roman Reigns may get a bigger reaction in some cities, but he’s still not ready to be a main event promo, which is exactly what Y2KO have been since September, which is why I’m still holding out hope that this match will be for the title.

If Chris and Kevin are going to feud with each other, someone is going to have to turn and it makes sense for K.O. to beat the crap out of Y2J.

Imagine the verbal jabs between a heel Owens and a sympathetic babyface version Jericho who keeps the same character tone, but plays into the cheers.

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Now imagine Reigns cutting a 5-10 minute promo about defending the title.

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Randy Orton/Bray Wyatt 12/1 (+1200)

It’s easy to see a scenario in which Orton and Wyatt square off at Mania, but what if creative actually has long-term plans for the group?

If Wyatt or Orton were to win the Rumble and wrestle for the world title at WrestleMania, it could set up a title program between the two for the May-July period.

The Miz 14/1 (+1400)

Even though he’s currently in a feud with Dean Ambrose for the Intercontinental Title, Miz has been one of the best acts on SmackDown since the draft and deserves a main event run.

He and AJ teased a feud during a Miz TV segment a few weeks back, but I think the pair should be saved for a SmackDown exclusive PPV later on in the year.

Miz will eventually climb up the card, but sadly, he’s going to be left out of a high profile match at WrestleMania.

John Cena, Roman Reigns, AJ Styles, Kevin Owens 17/1 (+1700)

I’m expecting the losers of both title matches to enter the Rumble later on in the night. If I had to rank the four in terms of most likely winners I’d go: Styles, Cena, Reigns, Owens. It would be an interesting swerve to the Cena-Styles storyline if Cena won the title from AJ earlier in the night and then Styles responded by winning the rumble.

Owens is likely locked for a Mania match with Jericho and it would be a major letdown if Reigns won the most unpredictable Rumble in years.

Sami Zayn 25/1 (+2500)

If the Owens-Zayn storyline had any heat left, Zayn would be a logical choice. It would be a genuinely shocking moment and Zayn could use a boost after doing the job for Strowman.

With Owens likely taking on Jericho at Mania and Zayn’s current placement on the card, I don’t expect the taxi driver to make any real impact in the Rumble.

Rusev 25/1 (+2500)

The Bulgarian George Clooney deserves a featured spot in WrestleMania season because he’s one of the most entertaining full-time performers on the roster, but there are only so many spots to go around.

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Big Cass 25/1 (+2500)

I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if Big Cass ends up as one of the “Final Four” participants in the Rumble match. Either that or he’s going to have a spot midway through where he runs through a couple dudes before going out quickly.

Any member of The New Day 28/1 (+2800)

Big E is the only legitimate option here. This would be an ideal moment to begin the inevitable breakup between the three, but it needs to be a slow burn.

Dean Ambrose 40/1 (+4000)

He’s headed for another multi-man match for the IC title at WrestleMania.

Seth Rollins 50/1 (+5000)

Rollins is obviously penciled in to face Triple H in Orlando, so there’s no need for him to be near the title picture until after Mania.

Braun Strowman 50/1 (+5000)

He’s most likely facing The Undertaker. While it may seem like Strowman isn’t ready for the level of a match, if the company is serious about pushing him, he needs to be in this spot.

The split rosters have created a need for new stars, which means a clean win for Strowman over the Undertaker could be in the cards.

The Undertaker 50/1 (+5000)

As noted above, Taker most likely has a date with Adam from Tinder at Mania.

Yes, I know I used that line last week, but why not bring it back for round two?

Goldberg and Brock Lesnar 50/1 (+5000)

I’d love to see Brock and Goldberg “draw” the first two numbers and beat the hell out of guys until Braun Strowman eventually comes out.

Kane 70/1 (+7000)

Kane has shockingly been protected since the draft, so don’t be surprised if he has a strong showing in the Rumble. Who knows, maybe he makes it all of the way to the “Final Four.”

Shelton Benjamin 75/1 (+7500)

Benjamin was scheduled to return to the SmackDown brand after the draft, but needed surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. He had a six-month recovery time frame and the Rumble falls perfectly in line with his rehab, so don’t be surprised if “ain’t no stoppin me now” blares over the speakers in San Antonio.

American Alpha 75/1 (+7500)

Enjoy the SmackDown tag team titles. Jordan has a chance to win this in a few years.

Apollo Crews 100/1 (+10000)

He should still be in NXT.

Any cruiserweight 100/1 (+10000)

Nope.

Dolph Ziggler 100/1 (+10000)

The guy’s gimmick is that he loses, so there’s no way he’s going to win.

James Ellsworth 1000/1 (+100000)

Any man with two fists has a chance to be eliminated.

Holy Schnikes moment of the week:

Take it away Becky Lynch.

If you don’t know what see you next Tuesday means, Google it.

Time to “Go Home”

– Stephanie was harder to listen to than Otunga this week. Was it necessary for her to talk down to Sasha and Bayley like that? As a fan, how am I supposed to cheer either of the babyfaces if they don’t have a snarky retort ready to counter Steph’s heelish lines.

– So Nia Jax pins Bayley essentially clean in the middle of the ring just two weeks before Bayley faces Charlotte for the women’s title. Makes sense.

– Has anyone else noticed that Karl Anderson’s pants say #BC on them? I find it a bit strange that no one backstage has said anything to him about this.

– Everything about Neville’s heel turn is great, including the variety of moves he’s displaying in the ring. This week he worked a mat wrestling/submission style that resulted in him using the Rings of Saturn to get the victory over Lince Dorado.

– I like the fire Rich Swann showed when he attacked Neville after the match.

– I thought Natalya and Nikki Bella had an excellent brawl on SmackDown. Nattie caught Nikki with a kick right to the face.

So Seth Rollins is supposedly getting new music after all. Once I heard this version by Downstrait, I got bummed out every time I heard Rollins’ actual music:

– Please WWE, no more Big Cass vs. Jinder Mahal matches.

– I like that Ziggler’s heel turn accelerated this week. The worst thing for his character would have been to come out this week and apologize for his actions. Instead, he beat the crap out of Kalisto after their match and then waffled Apollo Crews with a chair when AC came out to help his “friend” Kalisto.

– This was American Alpha’s best showing since their call-up to the main roster. Gable used his hot tag effectively and Jordan had a very nice amateur wrestling sequence with Bray to begin the match.

– I LOVED Cena’s backstage promo this week. It felt a bit like a Doctor of Thuganomics promo, just all grown up.

The Twitter Machine: @ScottDargis

WWE Weekly Recap: Let’s talk about Kevin Owens’ title reign

owens
WWE
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Before Braun “Adam from Tinder” Strowman and Roman Reigns “interrupted” The Kevin Owens Show on this Monday’s edition of Raw, Bill Goldberg and the Universal Champion stood toe-to-toe in the middle of the ring.

On the surface, this should have been a huge moment. Here’s Goldberg, one of the biggest stars of the Attitude Era, arguing with a world champion from Earth’s biggest wrestling promotion.

In the bubble of WWE, this is the first time we’ve seen Goldberg since he announced his intentions of entering the Royal Rumble. That was the night after he defeated Brock Lesnar in less than 90 seconds and, to boot, it’s the first time he’s interacted with Kevin Owens on television.

So why did the climax of their interaction feel anticlimactic?

Was it because Owens didn’t get a chance to deliver an actual promo about Goldberg?

Should the tone of the segment have been different?

Or is this a product of Owens’ lackluster title reign?  

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Now don’t get me wrong, Owens has elevated himself and the Universal title during the four-plus months he’s held the red strap. The first time his music hits on Monday nights, he gets a good reaction, which is a sign of how captivating a character is, but it is really hard to sit here and say that Owens’ time with Raw’s main championship has been anything but mediocre.

He’s been given numerous opportunities to connect with the audience due to the amount of time that must be filled every week on Raw and he’s taken full advantage of it, but if you watched Owens’ dominate NXT, you know that his run with the Universal Championship is just a fraction of what could have been.

I mean seriously, when was the last time he won a match clean? Without doing any research, the last time I remember him pinning someone without the help of Y2J was back in early December when he beat Sami Zayn on Raw and that felt like an anomaly.

Sure, heel champions are supposed to cheat to win, that’s part playing the bad guy role, but even bad guys still need credibility in order for the crowd to perceive them at a certain level.

K.O. is still entertaining week in and week out, but he’s been tasked with acting as the cowardly heel, as opposed to the bad ass who ran his mouth while beating the crap out of guys at Full Sail.

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Owens is incredibly entertaining when he gets screen time, so the crowd is going to respond accordingly, but sit back for a moment and imagine how the crowd would have responded if the NXT version of Kevin Owens stood in the ring with Goldberg and told him that he was ready to fight. The crowd in Tampa would have actually had a pulse.

Instead, when Owens got in Goldberg’s face, the crowd didn’t quite know how to react. This was a side of Owens that we haven’t seen since his feud with John Cena. He turned the intensity up, but it felt flat because it was too much of a contrast to the character the WWE audience is used to seeing every week.

Owens has “attempted” to run away from every moment of adversity since he won the title, so it was actually out of character for him to stand up to Goldberg. It would have made more sense for him to bolt from the ring and stand on the ramp while cutting a promo on ol’ Bill.

I don’t want to put all of the blame on Owens here. This was Goldberg’s weakest appearance since his return to the company back in November. His “you’re first” line to Jericho was so cringe (Hi, Filthy Tom!) that I turned the volume down on my TV. People want to see Goldberg spear people as opposed to yelling the word spear at the top of his lungs like a relic from the past.

FANATSY BOOKING ALERT: Wouldn’t it have made more sense for Jericho to cut Goldberg off before he got a word out; have Y2J tease putting Goldberg on the list, SPEAR, and then Owens flees to the outside before he can be attacked by the maniac? Owens could then cut a promo about how he’s going to beat Goldberg if he wins the rumble and then Roman’s music hits. He stares at Owens on his way to the ring and then Strowman barrels his way down to the ring for the double spear spot.  

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Owens is set to face Reigns at the Rumble and it sure seems like we’re going to see a title change, which would be a shame because the blow-off between Owens and Jericho should be for the title at WrestleMania, but based off of the company’s booking pattern, Reigns vs. Strowman for the title seems much more likely.

HHH-Rollins, Goldberg-Lesnar and Undertaker’s match will be the three “main events,” which means if Strowman wrestles for the title, it doesn’t have to be a 20-30 minute marathon. He can be hidden in a 10-15 minute brawl.

If Owens walks out of San Antonio with the title and goes on to successfully defend it at the company’s biggest show of the year, he might be able to use it as a springboard to reinvigorate his title reign, but only if his character becomes a bit more serious.  

Holy Schnikes moment of the week

Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada had one of the best professional wrestling matches ever. That is not a hyperbole. The two sacrificed their bodies for 46 minutes of entertainment including this ridiculous spot:

Time to “Go Home”

– Baron Corbin and Dolph Ziggler had an excellent match this week on SmackDown. That’s two straight solid performances for Corbin, who is being pushed right into the main event picture.

– Also, heel turn for Ziggler!

– I totally thought the Eddie Guerrero cheating spot into the codebreaker was going to be the finish of Jericho vs. Reigns. A very solid story was told in this match.

– Was anyone else surprised that Renee Young didn’t come out and eliminate Maryse from the main event on SmackDown? Booking 101 says she should have come out, slapped Maryse, chased her off to the back, which would have distracted the Miz and thus, cost him the Intercontinental Championship.

– This didn’t feel like the right time to take the IC title off of Miz. If it ultimately means that he’s getting bumped up to the main event for a program in February, then it’s fine.

– What the hell was going on with Charlotte on commentary? She seemed lost and never found a rhythm with Mike Cole, Graves and Coach II.

– Can every Braun Strowman match be a Falls Count Anywhere match?

– Jack Gallagher is my spirit animal.

– I could get down with Titus O’Neil joining the New Day. He was pretty damn entertaining on Monday.

– John Cena cut one of his better promos in recent memory on Tuesday. When he goes on a passionate rant, there are few in the business who can reach this level:

– Remember when Undertaker was going to appear on SmackDown more? Yeah, me either.

– So Aliyah made her main roster debut before Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura? Makes sense.

– That’s a joke everyone, random NXT talents have popped up for one off appearances on SmackDown since the draft, but it’s still hilarious to think about.

– If you haven’t watched the Okada-Omega match from Wrestle Kingdom 11. Stop what you’re doing, set 50 minutes aside and go watch it.

– Seriously, watch it.

The Twitter Machine: @ScottDargis