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WWE Weekly Recap: The Welcomed Return of Selling + Backlash Preview

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The first brand specific Pay-Per-View since the draft will take place this Sunday, but before I preview the glorified episode of SmackDown that’s entitled Backlash, let’s dive into a recent trend that’s been taking the WWE by storm.

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The concept of selling an injury seemed non-existent in WWE’s world of professional wrestling. Let’s travel back to April, when Rusev beat the crap out of Kalisto on the final set of TV tapings before their U.S. title match at Extreme Rules.

Instead of selling the “rib injury” he suffered at the hands of Mr. Lana, Kalisto did his lucha entrance thing and acted as though he was 100 percent. It wasn’t until midway through the match when Kalisto finally sold an injury that played into the finish.

As a fan, Kalisto’s entrance infuriated me. Why should I care about the buildup for any match when I know the participants are going to act like they’re in perfect condition? Also, Kalisto sold a back injury during the match instead of a rib injury.

According to Bryan Alvarez of the Wrestling Observer, Vince wanted to make sure that everyone who paid for a ticket would see everyone at “full health,” which meant that Kalisto had to do his entrance so the 15 kids in the crowd who cared about him would get excited.

It’s a ridiculous line of thinking considering WWE is supposed to be in the storytelling business, but this is Vince McMahon we’re talking about.

Well I don’t know what has gotten into the company over the past couple of weeks, but we’ve seen a total 180 in terms of injuries being sold before, during, and after matches. Perhaps the recent string of legit injuries made the creative team push the line between reality and fantasy.

Likely considering the amount of “shoot” style promos we’ve seen recently.

Or maybe someone bought Vince a subscription to New Japan World. Unlikely, but it really makes me want a YouTube series of Mr.McMahon watching matches like this:

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Whatever the case, the in-ring product now has a much more realistic feel. Raw’s main event between Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn used an “injury” that was sustained by Zayn as the climax. As Zayn tried to run across the ring to deliver his Helluva Kick finisher, his ankle “gave out” and it left him vulnerable for a superkick-powerbomb combination finish.

This wasn’t the first time Zayn has shown his world-class selling ability recently. Two weeks ago he worked most of his match against Seth Rollins on a “bum” ankle after “injuring” it during a springboard spot. He modified his move set and made every step that he took on the ankle look painful.

(Zayn should probably watch out, because Dolph Ziggler was once known as the king of selling.)

Hell, Cesaro and Sheamus are using an injury angle to drive the main story in their best out of seven series. In the second match between the two, Sheamus back body dropped Cesaro into the new ring post.

The Uppercut Man sold the injury like a million bucks and then came out on Monday with Kinesio-tape all over his lower back. Sheamus “targeted” the injured area and then laid Ceasro out with a Brogue Kick to take a 3-0 lead.

The best example of this new philosophy, IMO, comes to us from the world of NXT-CWC. Johnny Gargano’s knee was “ravaged” in his loss to The Revival at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn II and then three days later he faced T.J. Perkins in the second round of the Cruiserweight Classic.

Gargano’s injury from Takeover played into the finish as Perkins forced Gargano to tapout due to a kneebar (this was a tremendous match). Here’s the real beauty to this scenario, the CWC match between Perkins and Gargano was taped weeks before the Takeover special, so the writers came up with this idea well in advance and executed it to perfection.

On SmackDown this week the Usos turned heel after their 45 second loss to American Alpha in the tag team tournament. They beat down Gable and Jordan after the match and targeted Gable’s leg. The crowd responded nicely and it set up a grudge match for the titles at No Mercy.

Pro wrestling 101 everybody.

We’ll see how long this new attitude towards selling lasts because ish like this changes after Vince sneezes the wrong way.

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Backlash Preview

Intercontinental Championship match: The Miz (C) vs. Dolph Ziggler

So in a month Dolph Ziggler goes from wrestling Dean Ambrose for the WWE World title at SummerSlam to defending Daniel Bryan’s honor against The Miz. A dirty win by Miz makes the most sense for everyone involved. There’s no reason to take the IC title off of Miz at this point and another loss for Ziggler will push him towards a potential heel turn.

The Usos vs. Hype Bros (Winner faces Heath Slater/Rhyno, or Slyno, in the SmackDown Tag Team Tournament finals)

I was a big fan of the Usos heel turn on Tuesday night. The beat down on American Alpha looked great and you could feel the passion in their promo with Renee. The Hype Bros have proven that they belong on the main roster, but they shouldn’t go over here.

The Usos vs. Slater/Rhyno

Note: If Heath Slater and Rhyno win the titles, Slater will “become” a member of the SmackDown roster.

Time for me to give credit where credit is due, the booking of Heath Slater has been wonderful. The crowd has taken to The One Man Band and has made him feel like a star, which has rubbed off on Rhyno. Seriously, go back and listen to the reaction Rhyno got this week when he set up for the Gore.

Having said all of that, Slater and Rhyno should not win the titles. The Usos heel turn was pushed as the biggest storyline on Tuesday night and in order to accelerate their new attitude, they should steal a victory over one of the biggest fan favorites in the company right now. Plus, there’s a future match against Alpha down the road that will have a little extra punch.

Six Pack Challenge to crown the first SmackDown Women’s Champion

I seriously have no idea who to pick in this match. Becky Lynch appears to be the favorite, which is exactly why she won’t win it. Carmella and Nikki should spin off into their own program after the match. Perhaps Carmella gets eliminated and then costs Bella Twin 1…

That leaves Naomi, Alexa Bliss (or like on Tuesday Alexa Miss) and Natalya. I like Alexa, but she isn’t quite ready to be the face of the SD women’s division. Naomi’s entrance and new move set is impressive, but she can’t feel the glow when a microphone is in her hands.

By process of elimination, Natalya is the only person left. She hasn’t been lighting the world on fire by during this heel run, but is still capable of putting on good matches with greener talent. If this new women’s title is going to get over, it has to happen in the ring.

With just six matches announced for the card, I’m expecting this to get a ton of time.

Kane will destroy some random local talent or jobber

Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt

The promos leading up to this match have ranged from very good (Orton last week, Bray this week) to wtf (Orton this week), but I’m expecting the physicality to be off of the charts. Wyatt has some of the best looking offense in the company and we all know how smooth Mr. RKO is.

Bray could really use a win here, maybe Luke Harper returns to lend him a hand? Whatever the case, the finish shouldn’t be clean, because this feud should carry over to No Mercy in October. Thinking Wyatt wins here.

WWE World Heavyweight Championship match: Dean Ambrose (C) vs. AJ Styles

Ambrose has been on a cold streak lately with his in-ring performances. Idk if he’s trying to be extra cautious to avoid an injury because he doesn’t want to jeopardize his spot by missing time, or if he’s just burned out and going through the motions, but it’s hard to remember the last time Ambrose looked impressive in a singles match that didn’t have Rollins in it.

That pattern should change on Sunday against Styles, who is the best performer in the world at this current moment in time. Styles should walk out of Richmond, Virginia as the only man to ever win the IWGP, NWA, and WWE world title, but we could be in for a screwy finish that leads to a stipulation match between the two for the title at No Mercy.

In Ambrose’s promo this week, he dropped a line about taking his opponents to places they’ve never been before, which makes me wonder if we’ll get another Asylum match.

Which show was better this week?

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SD Live wasn’t even that good this week and it was still easily better than the bizzaro Raw from Monday. Everything on the show that didn’t involve Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Chris Jericho, Mick Foley, or Seth Rollins was atrocious.

Time to “Go Home”

– People are going to be upset with me about this, but it’s time to break up The New Day. Their segments have been way more miss than hit lately and there’s nowhere for the act to go from here.

– Which segment was worse? Sasha’s announcement or the Old Day?

– It’s closer than you think.

– Seth Rollins is going to be a white-hot babyface. His up-tempo style is easy for the crowd to get behind and his offense is just so crisp. I’m a bit surprised he’s going to continue using the pedigree. It would be awesome if he put his own spin on the move a la The Angel’s Wings.

– It’s a shame this isn’t Rollins’ new theme because it’s so damn good.

– It was not exactly the best seven days for Big Cass. Guy went from the Universal title picture to a loss at the hands of The Shining Stars.

– Am I the only one who prefers the SmackDown set over Raw’s?

– I can’t believe Bo Dallas had the best squash match on Monday.

– Can anyone explain to me why Sin Cara needed to be protected via countout finish against Braun Strowman?

– Remember when Vince wanted Strowman to be the Undertaker’s Wrestlemania opponent?

– I don’t want to totally crap on the guy because his look could take him far in the industry, but he needs to be able to sell much, much better at this point. I’m still laughing at the head scissors spot from Monday.

– So Bayley beats Charlotte, but Sasha gets the title match at Clash of Champions? Makes sense.

– I LOVED the quick finish to the Alpha-Usos match. Surprise finishes like that will keep the crowd on their toes. It’s so easy to just sit back and not care about a good chunk of matches due to the amount of near falls.

– David Otunga needs to drink some of Dean Ambrose’s coffee, maybe then he’d actually be worth listening to.

– This Darren Young-Titus O’Neil feud is never going to end is it?

– The cruiserweight division can’t get to Raw quick enough. If you’re not watching the CWC for some reason, please change that and watch it right now. It’s easily my favorite show every week.

– Ambrose’s promo in the final segment of SD was amaaaaazzzzzinggg.

– Almost as ammmaaaaazzzinnngggg as Kevin Owens’ new shirt.

Follow me on Twitter: @ScottDargis

Kurt Angle to be inducted into WWE Hall of Fame

ORANGE, CA - MAY 08:  Wrestler Kurt Angle arrives at the Lions Gate Premiere of "See No Evil" at the Century Stadium Promenade 25 on May 8, 2006 in Orange, California.  (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images)
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Oh it’s true, it’s true.

WWE announced today that Kurt Angle will be going into their Hall of Fame on March 31st at the Amway Center in Orlando as part of WrestleMania week.

The 1996 Olympic gold medalist is a five-time WWE world champion and regarded as one of the best in-ring talents to ever grace the squared circle. Angle last appeared in a WWE ring way back in August of 2006.

In a press release, WWE’s Executive Vice President Paul “HHH” Levesque said, “Kurt Angle’s accomplishments both in the Olympics and WWE were extraordinary. He was one of the most gifted athletes to ever enter the ring, and we are honored to welcome him into the WWE Hall of Fame.”

WrestleMania 33 will be held Sunday, April 2nd from the Orlando Citrus Bowl live on WWE Network.

WWE Weekly Recap: 2017 Royal Rumble Odds

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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