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Your 2017 Royal Rumble Primer

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If you’re a wrestling fan, this Sunday is the beginning of your playoffs.

If you’re a casual fan of the product, this is moment where you can latch on and ride the two-month “Road to WrestleMania.”

Thanks to the 30-man over the top rope battle royal that produces a number one contender for one of the WWE’s World Championships and plants seeds for feuds that will culminate at WrestleMania, the Royal Rumble Pay-Per-View is one of the most important dates of the year in professional wrestling.

There’s always a sense of anticipation in the air while watching the Royal Rumble match, which always makes for a “hot” crowd. Sometimes you can guess when a certain performer is going to come out, but those moments are very rare.

There’s nothing more exciting in the WWE than the moment after the crowd screams “one!” the buzzer sounds and the first few seconds of a person’s entrance music hits. It’s a rush that can’t be replicated, especially if you have a friendly fiver on the match.

I thought it would be appropriate to discuss what I think should happen at the show and what will happen on the six-hour extravaganza from the Alamodome this Sunday.

SIX

HOURS

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Raw Tag Team Championship match: Cesaro & Sheamus (C) vs. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

This feels like the 9,000th time Gallows and Anderson have challenged for the Raw tag team titles. This feud was put in place as a way to funnel the New Day away from the title picture, which is fine, but at least give us a reason for the program.

There’s no reason for G&A to just be handed a championship program, but when you subtract the New Day from the potential challengers, there aren’t even enough teams to do a four team elimination match for the number one contendership.

So yes, this is a perfect pre-show match.

What should happen: Gallows and Anderson should kick off the festivities on Sunday with a title win. How many more times can they lose in a championship situation? Their credibility has been crushed, so why not try and build it back up, especially with Finn Balor coming back soon.

Plus, Cesaro and Sheamus are much better off chasing the titles.

What will happen: Cesaro and Sheamus will get a clean win. Gallows and Anderson have been given quite a few wins over the tag champs in singles matches and a “Dusty” finish win in a tag team title match a few weeks back on Raw, so that usually means that the booking will be reversed at the PPV.

Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax

In order to get Sasha out of the title picture for a bit, she was moved into a program with Nia, who was actually given a microphone in the middle of the ring on Monday and got her lines out easier than Goldberg did.

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This program hasn’t helped either woman and I don’t expect the match to get over that well, especially with Sasha playing up the injury angle. Jax isn’t ready to be on the main roster at this point and as her awful match on NXT in Japan against Asuka proved, she’s damn sure not ready to work a long match on a big stage. Expect this one to be kept short.

What should happen: Nia should get the win after Sasha’s “injured” leg plays into the finish of the match.

What will happen: See the sentence above.

Raw Women’s Championship: Charlotte (C) vs. Bayley

This feud has certainly seen its ups and downs as we roll into San Antonio. The idea of Charlotte making fun of Bayley’s passion for the wrestling business was an excellent idea that blurred the line of reality.

Were the segments featuring Charlotte and Bayley executed perfectly leading up to the Rumble? No, but a segment isn’t always going to be perfect.

Were any of the segments detrimental to either character? Almost, which is an issue. A few weeks back on Raw, Bayley fired off an emotional reply to Charlotte’s demeaning promo. The crowd was heating up for Ms. Hug Life and then things got … goofy.

In Charlotte’s promo, she referenced poems that Bayley had written in her youth, which is totally fine. It’s easy heat. Well, someone thought it would be a good idea for Bayley to recite a set of new poems to Charlotte and it did not go over well. Bayley didn’t lose the crowd, but it certainly changed the tone of the promo.

This past Monday, Bayley and Charlotte sat down with Corey Graves for separate one-on-one interviews and they were both great! Ms. Flair is expected to come off like one of the biggest heels in the company because she’s been on such a roll lately.

Bayley’s interview came off a bit awkward at first, but that’s part of her character, so it totally fit. When she turned up the intensity of her promo, it reminded me of the version of Bayley we all loved in NXT.

What should happen: Bayley should come extremely close to winning the title before Charlotte’s heel tactics help her retain the title.

What will happen: Charlotte will retain her title by using nefarious means. It doesn’t make sense for Bayley to win the title and end Charlotte’s PPV win streak (which has been built tremendously BTW) at the Rumble. That’s a moment that needs to be saved for WrestleMania.

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Becky Lynch/Naomi/Nikki Bella vs. Alexa Bliss/Mickie James/Natalya

Before this match was announced this past Tuesday, SmackDown’s only match on the card was AJ Styles vs. John Cena and with four hours to fill, a multi-person match featuring SD talent needed to be added.

This is your classic face vs. heel dynamic, but there is a storyline connection between Alexa and Mickie, so don’t be surprised if Natty tries to create some drama with the two at some point during the match.

What should happen: Naomi should get the pin over Alexa in order to set up a title match at Elimination Chamber. Natalya and Nikki should brawl into the crowd and eventually backstage. Becky should lay out Alexa before Mickie gets in her way, which allows Naomi to score the pin.

What will happen: Mickie James will pin Becky Lynch. This is Mickie’s first main roster match with the company in seven years and Becky can afford to eat a pinfall.

Cruiserweight Championship: Rich Swann (C) vs. Neville

Outside of John Cena’s reintroduction of the Thuganomics promos (more on that later), there hasn’t been a better character over the last month than Neville. He’s fully embraced this heel turn and has owned it. He genuinely seems disgusted with the state of the Cruiserweight division, which has made his hate for Rich Swann feel legitimate.

I love the intensity Swann has shown over recent weeks. If he just kept dancing and getting his ass kicked by Neville, it would be really easy for the crowd to cheer Neville, but Swann has stormed down to the ring and literally punched the self-proclaimed “King of the Cruiserweights” in the mouth during the build for this match.

What should happen: As much as I like Swann, it’s time for Neville to claim the title and turn this division into high gear. With Tozawa and Austin Aries set to join the 205 Live crew, there might be enough talent to save the cruiserweights.

What will happen: Neville will force Swann to tap out to his Rings of Saturn variation.

No Disqualification WWE Universal Championship match: Kevin Owens (C) vs. Roman Reigns (Chris Jericho will be suspended above the ring inside a shark cage)

Sure, we’ve seen this match quite a bit over the last few months, but I thought creative did a very good job pushing the shark cage element this past Monday on Raw. The Superman punch from Reigns to Jericho while Y2J was hanging from the cage was pretty effing awesome.

As I’ve written in a previous column, Owens just hasn’t been booked as a strong champion, so it seems like he’s ripe for a loss here, especially when you consider how high Vince is on Roman.

If you follow pro wrestling you know how obsessed Vince McMahon can be and he hasn’t given up on making Reigns the next face of the company.

Has Vince cooled his jets a bit? I suppose. It doesn’t feel like Reigns is being shoved down our throats like he was in April-June of last year. If you paid attention to how Jericho “won” the United States Championship though, you can see that Roman is being booked as #SuperReigns again.

One of the main title matches at WrestleMania is going to be on the under card, which means Roman could face Braun Strowman for the title and it doesn’t have to be a 15-20 minute mat classic.

Having said all of that, a win for Owens would be huge here, especially if Jericho drops say a pair of brass knuckles from the cage and gives K.O. the assist.

A similar scenario with a Roman getting the win is also totally possible here. Due to this completely believable alternate scenario, I think this match will have a hotter crowd than some might be anticipating. The actual finish is just that unpredictable as of right now.

What should happen: Owens should retain the title with the assist from Jericho.

What will happen: Owens will retain the title because he’ll have to defend it again at Fast Lane. There’s still a chance he won’t walk into Super WrestleMania Sunshine with the red strap.

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WWE Championship match: AJ Styles (C) vs. John Cena

In terms of match quality, this should be another classic between the two. Styles and Cena are the two best full-time performers on the roster.

(Note: Yes, Cena has dipped out for a few months to film shows and movies, but he still appears way more than Brock, Undertaker, or Goldberg and still works house shows.)

If Cena wins the title, he’ll match Ric Flair’s record of 16 world championship reigns.

If Styles wins, it’ll cement one of, if not the best opening year for a new superstar in the history of the company. If AJ goes over Cena on Sunday it’ll be the fourth time Styles has recorded a win over Cena.

Here’s a stat to chew on: When Styles walks into the Alamodome, he will have held the title for longer than Ric Flair, Eddie Guerrero, Roman Reigns, Big Show, Chris Jericho, Daniel Bryan and Mick Foley. (H/T to Tygrus on /r/SquaredCircle.)

There’s nothing else that needs to be said. This is going to be an excellent match.

What should happen: Styles should stun everyone by beating Cena, thanks to the help of either Anderson and Gallows or new members of “The Club.” This would be the perfect time to introduce new characters (Hi Revival!) who help AJ with his quest for respect.

What will happen: Cena will get his revenge win over Styles and tie Flair’s record. Styles will then spiral into a WrestleMania program with Shane McMahon. If you don’t believe me, just watch this promo from Talking Smack. It’s painfully obvious.

Cena’s promos have been on fire as of late. He’s been channeling the “Thuganomics” version of his character and the results have been awesome. The backstage promo he had with Renee a few weeks ago was a grand slam and there are not many in the business who can cut a better promo on a “go-home” show than Cena.

The 2017 Royal Rumble Match

Whew I don’t know what will be longer. This column or the Royal Rumble itself. We’re in the home stretch here, so hang with me for a few more graphs.

This year’s Rumble match is one of the biggest ever in terms of star power.

We won’t have to worry about announcers entering the match in order to fill spots. In fact, the usual chunk of lower card guys won’t get an opportunity to work the match, so the crowd should be even more fired up than usual.

So what spots should we expect to see?

It seems likely that the ring will fill up early in order for Braun Strowman to clean house. He could also enter early (let’s say number 3) and just continuously throw guys out one by one until the Undertaker, Baron Corbin, Big Show or Brock Lesnar come out to turn the tide of the match.

A Lesnar-Goldberg staredown towards the end of the match will absolutely happen.

According to a report, Finn Balor is close to returning, so he could be a surprise entrant.

With Samoa Joe’s absence from NXT television since dropping the title to Shinsuke Nakamura, he seems likely to debut.

I expect Tye Dillinger will debut at number 10, but I don’t expect him to last more than 10 minutes in the match.

Will Kurt Angle show up? If he showed up in the number 30 slot, one of the biggest pops in ages would take place.

Luke Harper has to eliminate Bray Wyatt and/or Randy Orton.

I wouldn’t be shocked if Baron Corbin wound up as the workhorse of the match. Don’t be surprised if he winds up with a similar performance to Kane in the 2001 Royal Rumble. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be the last person eliminated, but he could very well finish the match with the most eliminations.

What should happen: There’s so many scenarios, so I’m going to cheat a little bit and give you two:

A.) Samoa Joe should shock everyone by eliminating Goldberg with help from Brock Lesnar and then go on to face Styles for the world championship at WrestleMania.

B.) Jericho finally gets his revenge on Greenberg by eliminating him to win the match. Y2J will then go on to face Owens for the Universal title at WrestleMania.

What will happen: Undertaker will fulfill his prophecy by filling 29 holes with 29 soles and winning the Rumble match. He’ll then challenge Finn Balor for the Universal title in Orlando.

folks

P.S.

Glad to see you made it all the way past the final GIF.

Before you go, I just wanted to reach out to you the reader. If you’ve been paying attention to how WWE builds cards for their big shows, then I’m sure you have expectations and fantasy booking scenarios for this Sunday.

In fact, send me a few of your suggestions on Twitter and I’ll turn it into a column before Sunday.

@ScottDargis 

WWE Weekly Recap: Bray Wyatt’s Time is Now

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As crazy as this may sound, Bray Wyatt has been a member of the main roster for three and a half years. 

This is not a misprint.

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Back in July of 2013, Wyatt, Luke Harper and Erick Rowan showed up on Raw after weeks of odd vignettes that portrayed “The Wyatt Family” as a group of crazy backwoods rednecks that you wouldn’t want to mess with.

Wyatt was positioned as the leader of the stable and immediately stood out due to his unique promo style. At times the words Wyatt would deliver to the audience felt like the second coming of Jake “The Snake” Roberts.

When Bray’s in-ring style was seen for the first time, it was just as uncommon as his promos. His spider walk spot is straight out of The Exorcist. He’s agile for a big man, but as physical as they come.

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After the new car smell of Wyatt’s character wore off, he and the rest of the Wyatt Family fell into the trap of another mid, upper-mid card act that never seemed to break through the proverbial glass ceiling.

Even though he was positioned against the face of the company, Wyatt’s feud with John Cena in 2014 didn’t do him any favors. In fact, he came out of their three Pay-Per-View long string of matches in worst shape than he was before it started.

The only highlights that come to mind when I think about that feud was the “plastic girlfriend” line Wyatt delivered to Cena about Nikki Bella during one of his backstage promos and their awesome Last Man Standing match at Payback.

Name a performer and Wyatt has likely feuded with him.

Chris Jericho: Yeup. Best match between the two was a cage match on Raw.

Daniel Bryan: Remember when Bryan became the fourth Wyatt Family member for like 20 minutes?

Ryback: Only thing I remember from this feud was Ryback eating a senton that Wyatt delivered from the apron to the floor at Payback 2015.

Dean Ambrose: Wyatt went over as a way to gain steam for his WrestleMania feud against Cena.

Kane: The first and last Ring of Fire match.

Undertaker: Part-timer > full-timer

Roman Reigns: These two had a great Hell in a Cell match, but once again, Wyatt came out of the feud on the losing end.

Randy Orton: Ongoing …

When the rumor began to circulate that Wyatt and Orton were going to feud for the WWE World title at Super WrestleMania Sunshine, I wondered why the title was necessary. Outside of the best friends turned bitter enemies storyline between Kevin Owens and Jericho, the Orton-Wyatt confrontation has been the second longest storyline in the company.

The story of Orton trying to end the Wyatt Family from the inside didn’t feel like it needed to have the world title attached to it, but when Wyatt pinned Cena and AJ Styles to win his first singles title at Elimination Chamber, all of those stop-start moments in his career finally washed away.

In the span of two days, he pinned Cena clean in the middle twice and Styles once. That’s how you put someone over.

Now, if I can be serious for a moment, it was a bit odd for the cult leader character of Wyatt to hold the title and point to the WrestleMania sign. His persona always seemed like it was above the gold, but I suppose time will tell if he brings a new edge to the championship.

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Changing of the gold

Both women’s championships changed hands this week as Naomi beat Alexa Bliss at Elimination Chamber and Bayley beat Charlotte in a wonderful main event on Raw.

Naomi has been with the company for eight years now, so it was great to see her finally have her moment with the title as the crowd chanted “you deserve it.” The same goes for Bayley. She’s a lifelong fan, so you know she’s fantasized about this moment since she was a kid.

I just don’t think the trigger should have been pulled on either of these title changes. Naomi carrying the SmackDown women’s title into her hometown of Orlando is a great idea, but what about her winning the title in her hometown? Bliss was really hitting her stride as a heel champion.

As great as the Bayley-Charlotte match was, could you imagine what that moment would have been like at WrestleMania? Bayley winning the title and ending Charlotte’s PPV streak on the company’s biggest stage would have been an incredible WrestleMania moment.

Unless the plan is to keep Charlotte’s PPV streak alive after WrestleMania, Monday’s result is just puzzling to me.

Match of the week

As great as the Bayley vs. Charlotte match was, the triple threat between Wyatt, Cena and Styles for the WWE world title on SmackDown was just a tad bit better. Even though I knew Wyatt was going to walk out with the title, I found myself buying quite a few of the near falls.

Time to “Go Home”

I didn’t want to make this column 3,000 words, so I’ll keep my thoughts about the Festival of Friendship to a minimum.

– Everything about it was awesome. From Owens’ expression throughout the segment, to Jericho’s gifts (the Creation of Kevin needs to go up on WWE.com stat), to the moment when Jericho sounded like he broke character (while staying in the parameters of the actual storyline) to thank Owens and tell him that he loves him. All of this, including the List of K.O. reveal, made the eventual turn so damn effective.

– Also, a heel turning on a heel? Welcome to 2017.

– Is a stable of NXT stars slowly starting to take shape?

– Did Dana Brooke come out of the New Day’s time machine backstage?

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– Baron Corbin dragging Ambrose out from the back cracked me up for some reason. It was like watching a dad drag his child out of the mall after he throws a fit.

– Samoa Joe’s interview with Michael Cole was another home run. Joe-Zayn should easily be the MOTN at Fast Lane.

– Dude, the New Day are floundering so aimlessly right now that I’m not sure ice cream can save them.

– Luke Harper is going to win the number one contendership match for Randy Orton’s WrestleMania spot, right?

– When Anderson and Gallows interrupted Reigns during the opening segment, I thought Anderson was wearing a Bullet Club shirt.

– Even though Reigns didn’t beat Anderson and Gallows, the idea of him beating down the tag champs by himself is just ridiculous.

– If I ever get the chance to interview Cesaro, I’m going to ask him what went through his mind when this happened:

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– Is it time for Enzo to just become Cass’ manager? He’s somehow gotten worse in the ring since coming up to the main roster.

– If you haven’t seen Chiefs TE Travis Kelce take on Seth Rollins in UpUpDownDown’s Madden challenge, just know that Kelce might have a future as a WWE superstar when he decides to call it a career on the field.

– I was surprised Emma didn’t come out during the main event to try and help Charlotte.

– I’m pretty sure Jason Jordan and Chad Gable are binge watching the Steiners on the WWE Network. Jordan was running around the ring in circles barking like Rick this week.

– It’s nice to see the Ascension gain some steam. Also, Fandango throwing fashion tickets on Heath Slater during the tag team turmoil match made me LOL.

– The Andre the Giant documentary that’s going to be produced by HBO, the Bill Simmons Media Group and WWE is sure to be excellent. There are so many stories about Andre that this could easily be five hours. Good luck to whoever has to edit it.

The Twitter: @ScottDargis

WWE Weekly Recap: Samoa Joe is here to stay

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The night of the Royal Rumble was not one of my finer moments since I’ve been given the opportunity to write in this space. In the days following the Rumble, I couldn’t help but think that I was just another fan shouting about what the company had gotten wrong that night.

Specifically, the handling of Samoa Joe.

I yelled from my soapbox that night because I thought it was the perfect opportunity to introduce Joe, but in hindsight I realize that it would not have been nearly as good as the way he debuted the next night on Raw.

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If he entered the Rumble match at say number 17, it would have broken up the string of mid-carders and given Joe a brief moment of shine, but he would have felt like just another jabroni when Brock Lesnar, Undertaker and Goldberg made their way down to the ring.

Instead, Joe was inserted as a main event player right away by “attacking” Seth Rollins and aligning himself with HHH as Hunter’s personal hitman. Even though it’s terrible that Rollins legitimately tore his MCL during their scrap, the reality of Rollins’ injury helped the aura of Joe’s character.

The portion of the crowd who is unfamiliar with Joe’s work around the world and in NXT had a reason to hate him when his music hit during the opening segment on Monday night. Rather than being positioned in the midcard with 99 percent of the roster, he has been placed in the upper echelon of performers.

Not only did he cut a superb promo in the opening 15 minutes, which was incredibly impressive considering the microphone isn’t the strongest weapon in his arsenal, he was given the main event slot against the guy Vince is continuing to push as the company’s next John Cena.

Going into his match on Monday against Roman Reigns, I was worried that Joe would get placed in a 50/50 match against him, which is not how someone gets over with the crowd during their first appearance in the ring.

Thankfully, Joe “beat down” Reigns before the bell rang and then controlled a good chunk of the match before Reigns made his inevitable comeback.

If you want to complain about the finish (Braun Strowman stormed down to the ring when Reigns was in position to vanquish Joe), I’m not going to stop you, but no one should be upset that Joe was given a pinfall victory over Reigns in his first match on the main roster.

It’s clear that Joe is viewed as an asset during the company’s biggest time of the year, which is key for him after WrestleMania. When the part-timers go away and the full-timers are called on to handle the bulk of the shows week in and week out, Joe will be one of the featured attractions on Raw.

Who knows what he’s going to do at Fast Lane now that Rollins is out until WrestleMania and his spot at Super WrestleMania Sunshine appears to be just as murky now that we can piece together a good chunk of the card (HI FINN BALOR), but whatever spot he’s given, the crowd will react appropriately because the company is telling us that we should take him seriously.

Especially when he’s wearing a suit.

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The prettiest GIF you’ll see all day

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Time to “Go Home”

– So is Baron Corbin beginning to make a face turn? Last week he was positioned on commentary with The Miz, but I didn’t think anything of it because Miz has such a big personality when he has a microphone that anyone who opposes him in that space is going to come off as a face.

But during the AJ Styles-Dean Ambrose match last week in which Miz and Corbin were on commentary, Baron kept putting over both guys during the match. Then, this week on SmackDown he interrupted Miz during the opening segment and the crowd cheered for him because he was once again positioned in a spot where they were going to pop.

Ambrose and Styles eventually made their way down and had a very, very good fatal four way match, but let’s rewind for a second. Ambrose could have been positioned in the spot to interrupt the Miz because Dean is a face. Styles would have been next and then Corbin could have been last and declared that he didn’t care who was in the Elimination Chamber because he’s going to run through everyone.

Whatever the case, I’m really digging how they’re pushing Corbin now. The creative team on SmackDown has done a great job with him and Alexa Bliss; two people that never reached their full potential in NXT and are now beginning to thrive on the main roster.

– Was anyone else shocked at how Styles took the End of Days? I thought it would look so much better.

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– Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho and Bill Goldberg had quite the entertaining segment on Monday. It began with Y2J putting Tom Brady on the list for people calling him the G.O.A.T and it ended with Jericho putting Owens in a title match against Goldberg at Fast Lane.

It is a bit of a bummer that Goldberg is going to walk into WrestleMania with the Universal title considering how well the “best friends” angle between Owens and Jericho has gone, but the idea of Goldberg facing Brock Lesnar for the red strap at Mania will appeal to the casual viewer who resurfaces for the company’s biggest show of the year.

– At first I was not a fan of the Braun Strowman’s push because it felt like Vince was once again forcing a big dude on the crowd when he wasn’t ready to take the ball, but now I’m sad that he’s going to get fed to the Roman Empire at Fast Lane.

Strowman has gotten so much better in the ring. Sure, he’s still reckless at times (he dropped Roman right on his head during the powerslam through the barricade spot this past Monday, the link below has the spot queued up), but think about how green he was last July. Kudos to him for improving this much in seven months.

– While the Natalya-Nikki Bella segment started off a bit awkward, it ended with a bang. I was pleasantly surprised that the idea of John Cena leaving Nikki for Natty was suggested by Natalya.

– There were quite a few good to great matches this week: Joe vs. Reigns, Zayn vs. Jericho, Styles vs. Ambrose vs. Corbin vs. Miz, the 12-man tag team match on SD, Cena vs. Orton, but none were better than the Fatal Five Way elimination match on 205 Live between TJ Perkins, Cedric Alexander, Mustafa Ali, Noam Dar, and Jack Gallagher.

– For the first time since the cruiserweights were reintroduced on the main roster, this is a match worth seeking out. It was physical and high-flying.

– The Ascension got a win?!?!

– Quit teasing us Mauro by name dropping Kurt Angle during an American Alpha match.

– Also, this was a rough week for Mauro. He called the Elimination Chamber the “Hell in a Cell” twice and had quite a few slip-ups on commentary. No one is going to be robotically perfect in this role, but Mauro can make so many mistakes at times that it wouldn’t surprise me if making mistake becomes his gimmick. Let’s hope this doesn’t happen.

– So Lesnar and Paul Heyman showed up after Raw for a dark match segment with Big Show. Got it.

– I thought the duel contract signing segment on SmackDown was very effective. Mickie James, Becky Lynch and Alexa did an excellent job with their promos, especially Lynch. Naomi still has some work to do on that end, but the head kick she delivered to Alexa over the table looked really good.

– The finishing sequence to Akira Tozawa’s debut on Raw was pretty slick. The snap German suplex got a nice reaction.

– So Sasha is definitely costing Bayley the title next Monday, right? Does that mean we’re going to get Nia Jax vs. Charlotte at Fast Lane?

– Don’t get on Cody Rhodes’ bad side:

Twitter: @ScottDargis