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WWE Weekly Recap: Why John Cena needs to be protected

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Just when it looked like we were headed for another week of ho-hum WWE programming, a bit of history was made on Tuesday night when Dean Ambrose pinned John Cena clean in the middle of the ring.

It marked the first time in 11 years that John Cena had been defeated on SmackDown. The last time Cena looked up at the bright lights for a three count was the night the Doctor of Thuganomics dropped the U.S. title to Orlando Jordan.

Some will read the paragraph above and think: “Well he rarely appeared on SmackDown after he was drafted to Raw in 2005.” So for those people, here’s another stat to sip on; It was the first time in seven years that he was pinned clean on television (HHH did the honors on the Sept. 19th 2009 edition of Raw).

At first, Ambrose’s win over Cena seemed like no big deal to me. With the triple threat coming up at No Mercy between Styles-Cena-Ambrose, it makes sense for creative to make Deano feel like he’s at the same level with Cena by beating him.

But then I continued the thought and realized that the shock value of Cena eating a clean pin wasn’t nearly the same as it usually is. I wondered why that was and then it hit me, AJ Styles just beat Cena at SummerSlam without any nefarious means.

In less than a month, the WWE’s most protected superstar of the last decade has been pinned clean twice. I’m sure there are many “Cena sucks” people out there who are thrilled with the result on Tuesday night, but here’s the problem with booking Cena like this:

If John Cena becomes a part-timer that puts guys over more frequently than he has in the past, the WWE will lose one of their two chips that can be played to boost guys to a superstar level. The other chip is this crazy guy:

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Cena’s status as the face of the WWE brand won’t take a hit if he gets continues to lose at this rate, because the company doesn’t value wins and losses, which means the fans shouldn’t care when a fresh face on the rise beats him clean in the middle of the ring.

It’s a gigantic flaw in logic that I’ll explore at a later date because I don’t want to get too sidetracked.

A triumph over Cena without outside help should signal the elevation of a character from the upper mid-card to the main event. In the case of Ambrose this past Tuesday, it might help him gain some of the momentum he lost during his title run, but I get the sense that the crowd started to turn on Ambrose due to the quality of his in-ring performances. They severely dipped after he won the title in June.

Back to Cena. As frustrating as it is for people who are sick of #SuperCena’s reign as the face of the company, he’s vital to boosting this “new era” of talent. The only way that’s going to happen is if the aura of beating John Cena still exists when it’s time to bump Baron Corbin up to the top of the card, or when guys like Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura and Bobby Roode make their way up to the main roster from NXT,

Cena will be away from WWE from mid-October until mid-December (he’s filming the second season of American Grit), which means he ain’t winning the title at No Mercy, but it also means the SmackDown main event scene is going to be a combination of Styles, Ambrose, Orton, Wyatt (hahaha just kidding, dude is destined to cut aimless promos on the upper mid-card forever).

Orton-Styles for the WWE world title at Survivor Series should be a fine match, but after that, SmackDown’s matches for SS don’t exactly look appealing. Baron Corbin vs. Ambrose? Ambrose vs. Miz for the IC title? American Alpha vs. Slyno? Ambrose vs. Wyatt (ugh, again). Jack Swagger vs. a microphone? Curt Hawkins vs. a fact checker?

SmackDown has been much better (this is a drastic understatement) than Raw lately due to the superior writing, but it’s only a matter of time before the lack of depth dominates the conversation about WWE’s Tuesday night show.

The only way for this problem to be remedied is good writing, strong booking and protecting John Cena, so he can help everyone else on the roster.

The WWE is such a warped world man.

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Cruising for a problem

The cruiserweight division made its debut on Monday night and well, it was lackluster to say the least. I didn’t have a problem with Mick Foley’s introductions, even if he did hop on a struggle bus during his rendition of a Mark Twain quote.

The match itself between Gran Metalik, Brian Kendrick, Rich Swann and Cedric Alexander was very good, even though it did feel like a choreographed spot fest at times. The action was stiff and different than the other matches we saw on Monday night.

Last positive note here: I liked the effort to change the graphics and colors on the stage to make the division feel like it was separate from the rest of the show. Going forward the cruiserweights shouldn’t interact with anyone else on the show, unless they’re in the same weight class.

OK, now let’s get the negative stuff out of the way.

Where the hell was T.J. Perkins? Why didn’t creative have TJP come out after Kendrick won the match? He didn’t even have to cut a promo! Just have a good ol’ fashion stare down.

Why did this segment air in the middle of the third hour? The enthusiasm of the live crowd usually dies somewhere between the end of the second hour and the beginning of the third hour (can be earlier depending on how bad the show is), so why not open the show with the Fatal Four Way? The crowd would have been so much more into the match and it would have made the division feel more important.

But nooooo, we had to have another talking segment between Roman Reigns, Stephanie, Foley and Kevin Owens.

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Where were the handshakes and cool individual profile pieces? Two aspects of the Cruiserweight Classic that made the show feel drastically different were the handshakes prior to the match and the profile style video packages. Instead of showing in-ring highlights, run the damn video packages again so people can actually get a little backstory on these guys.

I know it’s a Fatal Four Way, but you can still do the handshake bit. Maybe Kendrick doesn’t want to shake anyone’s hand, which makes him an instant heel. There are potential programs that could have been set up with this device.

There’s plenty of tweaking that needs to be done to the presentation of the division, so I won’t totally bury it, but man this was really disappointing considering how great the CWC was.

Was Raw finally better than SmackDown?

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Time to “Go Home”

– The SmackDown tag team division has been ripped by quite a few people, but the pathetic tag division on Raw was exposed big time on Monday night. The New Day, Gallows and Anderson, The Shining Stars and Enzo & Cass were all in the ring for a segment and it hit me that this is the entire tag division on Raw.

– Can Raw please trade Gallows and Anderson to SmackDown for the Usos. If you think about it, the Usos heel turn could have easily been done on Raw. Just replace American Alpha with Enzo and Cass.

– Gallows and Anderson would be such a better fit on SmackDown. #TheClub4Life

– Same goes for the women’s division. Give me SmackDown’s six over the six women on Raw. Which seems ridiculous considering Bayley-Sasha-Charlotte are all on Raw, but not so ridiculous when you consider how (profanity deleted) terrible the writing has been on WWE’s flagship show.

– Cage matches are supposed to keep interference out, but I wish Rusev and Rollins would have interrupted the main event on Monday, but hey, wins and losses don’t matter, so why should I care that the Universal champion lost?

– Stephanie’s performance in the backstage segment with Rollins was porn star level bad.

– Remind me again why Apollo Crews was brought up from NXT.

– Orton vs. Rowan literally put me to sleep.

– So the WWE is considering a “shooters” style stable for SmackDown. Ziggler, Swagger and Shelton Benjamin would be in the group. I’ll believe it when I see it.

– I hope The Miz holds onto the IC title for the rest of the year, guy is on a roll right now.

– Will Stephanie turn on Foley before Owens turns on Jericho?

– WHAT DID RIKISHI TELL DAVID OTUNGA?

– THAT HE’S AWFUL ON COMMENTARY?

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