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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

simpsons

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.

timeout

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.

save

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.

wait

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 

Your 2017 WWE Backlash primer

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In kayfabe, SmackDown is the land of opportunity. This is the show where guys who were floundering on Raw or on the mid-card have the chance to reinvent themselves with fresh personalities.

The idea of SmackDown being the best place for guys to move up the card was on full display during the build to a very, very interesting Backlash Pay-Per-View. Even though none of the feuds heading into the PPV have been built particularly well, it’s the fresh faces that have me intrigued.

Since his thunderous debut entrance, Shinsuke Nakamura has felt like the top babyface on Tuesday nights, but now he has to get in the ring against a veteran who the crowd hasn’t cared about for a long time. If you’ve followed Nakamura’s journey, you know how he can turn it on in big matches and this is a huge match for him. He needs to make a good first impression.

Then there’s the Fashion Police and Jinder Mahal. Two low-card jobber acts that have seen their stock rise since WrestleMania. As crazy as this is about to sound, it’s not unreasonable to think that the PoPo and Mahal could walk out of Chicago with gold around their waste.

Randy Orton (C) vs. Jinder Mahal (WWE Championship)

Whether or not you agree with the decision to give Jinder a world title match after he was positioned as a jobber since last summer, you have to admit that after Mahal shockingly went over in a six-pack challenge match to become the number one contender, he’s been booked extremely well.

The crowd is responding to Mahal as a heel, which as we know, is difficult to do in 2017. Getting over as a traditional heel is rather tough when the crowd wants to cheer for heels and boo the “good guys.” It’s just further proof that a sure fire way to get a heel over in America is to have them insult the country, especially when they’re a foreigner.

Orton on the other hand, has felt like just another guy on the card since winning the title at WrestleMania. When we look back at the end of the year, Randy’s feud with Bray Wyatt might very well be the worst of the year due to their lackluster match at Mania and the horrific House of Horrors match that needs to be locked away forever and never spoken about again.

When I was chatting with Easy Ed about the card this Sunday he made a great point about the current WWE champion.

“Orton never seems to elevate the guy he’s in the ring with,” Ed said.

I thought about the programs he’s had over the last few years and sure enough Ed was right. Orton has good matches and is a fantastic in-ring worker when he’s motivated, but his opponent doesn’t get a boost on the card after his feud with Orton is over. Randy stays in his spot, while the person he was working with usually stays in the same spot, or falls down the card.

Think about Mahal’s match against AJ Styles this week on SmackDown. It was Styles’ job to make Mahal look like he’s a credible threat to Orton’s championship and that’s exactly what AJ did.

With the inclusion of the Singh brothers in Mahal’s gimmick, it’s conceivable that he could walk out of Chicago with the WWE championship. In order for a heel to beat a babyface for a title in WWE, there has to be some sort of interference and that layer is already built into Jinder’s character.

I know I’m going to bite on a near fall after one of the Singh brothers wacks Orton and Jinder hits his finisher, but I think Orton is going to walk into SummerSlam as the champion.

I’m not saying that’s the right decision because I think this is the time to give Mahal the title. He feels fresh and the crowd is taking him serious (YES THIS IS REAL LIFE), but Orton vs. Styles at SummerSlam for the title is much more appealing than Jinder vs. whoever for the title.

Kevin Owens (C) vs. AJ Styles (United States Championship)

SmackDown Pay-Per-Views have started off with WWE title matches before, so I can totally picture the Orton vs. Mahal match going on at the mid-point of the show, or even possibly as the opener.

Let’s be honest with ourselves, Owens vs. Styles should main event in Chicago. They’re the two best in-ring workers in the company and it’s in Chicago, so you know the crowd is going be white hot.

I’ve written about Owens’ “New Face of America” character and why I think it’s a big step in the right direction for him, but he’s not the only one in this match who has had a character change recently.

During Styles’ heel run the crowd couldn’t hold back from cheering for him. He did everything he could to try and get the crowd to boo him, but it rarely worked, besides the time when he refused to put Ambrose through a table. Note to all heels, if you tease a table spot and refuse to give it to the crowd, you’re going to get easy heat.

On the first SmackDown after WrestleMania, Styles shook Shane McMahon’s hand as a sign of respect for their match in Orlando. It didn’t seem like much at the time, but that was in fact the official face turn for Styles. He’s playing to the cheers and has been positioned with babyfaces in six-man tag matches.

Styles is an excellent seller, which is going to be on display this Sunday because the WWE style requires a heel to work over the face for a prolonged period of time. Owens has the offense to make the heat segment of the match appear to be brutal, which will only fire up the “AJ Styles, clap, clap, clap-clap-clap” chants in from the crowd.

I’d love for this match to turn into an ROH-NJPW style match, but it’s not in the realm of WWE to do that, so expect a ton of near-falls and big move after big move (a lot of power grapples if you’re familiar with WrestleMania 2000 or No Mercy for the N64).

This has the potential to be the best WWE match of 2017. I expect Owens to retain his title by hook or by crook.

Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Dolph Ziggler

If you skipped the actual build to Backlash and caught the commercials for PPV, you’d think Shinsuke Nakamura was wrestling in the main event for the championship. Every once in a while you’ll catch one featuring Mahal vs. Orton for the title, but Nakamura’s in-ring debut is getting a hard push and rightfully so.

Nakamura is a one of a kind performer. He’s unlike anything the world of professional wrestling has ever seen. If you watched him in NXT, you know that there’s more to him than his exhilarating entrance. He has the ability to put on captivating matches without having to sacrifice his body. He’s a smart worker with vicious looking strikes (Nakamura was a legit MMA fighter at one point in his career).

Has he been booked perfectly since his debut after WrestleMania?

The idea of having him cut promos in the ring with his mouthpiece in was a curious decision. Almost as curious as having him speak Japanese to Ziggler. When someone speaks a foreign language in front of a live crowd, the WHAT chants won’t be far behind.

Still, the fact that his in-ring debut is being saved for PPV and is getting this much attention is a big deal. Nakamura feels like a special attraction, which is something the WWE desperately needs right now. No one on the roster feels special outside of Brock Lesnar.

When Nakamura vs. Ziggler was announced I thought, it’s a perfect opponent for Nakamura’s introduction. Ziggler can make Nakamura look like a million bucks to the people who aren’t familiar with his work. But what I didn’t anticipate was how much Dolph would benefit from the build to this match.

The promo video pushing Ziggler’s accomplishments in the WWE was well done and it made him seem like a credible threat to Nakamura. Obviously working with Nakamura is a major upgrade over feuding with Apollo Crews and Kalisto. Even though it’s likely Dolph eats a Kinshazaaaaaaa and gets pinned on Sunday, at least this feud helped him a bit.

These two have worked with each other in dark matches for a few weeks now, so I’m expecting them to potentially tear the house down.

Charlotte/Naomi/Becky Lynch vs. Tamina/Carmella/Natalya w. James Ellsworth

Kudos to creative for coming up with something different than just another singles match for the women’s title, but I just can’t get excited for this one. I enjoyed the contract signing on Tuesday and thought Ellsworth crushed his promo (outside of one small botch), but this match just feels like filler. I expect Charlotte to turn on her team and cost them the match.

The Usos (C) vs. The Fashion Police

Who would have thought that Tyler effing Breeze and Fandango would be booked better than American Alpha?

The goofy but highly enjoyable Fashion Files segments have clearly done their job as the two got a great reaction when they came out for their match this past Tuesday. They’ve been given an opportunity to get their characters over and have hit a home run. The sudden success of Breeze and Fandango should be a reminder of how good the SmackDown (formerly the NXT) writing team is.

The Usos have also been on fire lately. They’ve clearly found their heel voice with these quick rapping/shouting promos. Every time they cut one, the crowd has no choice but to clap because they’re so damn good.

 

Even though this is as over as officer Breeze and deputy Dango have been on the main roster, I don’t expect them to win the tag titles. There’s no need to kill the Usos run right now when they’re just getting starting to hit their stride, especially with The New Day coming soon.

Sami Zayn vs. Baron Corbin

So is Zayn’s role to work with a big guy who the company has serious plans for in order to help them get better in the ring? If so, that’s exactly why Zayn is in this match with Corbin.

The “Lone Wolf” has a presence and a good look, but his matches always seem to leave me wanting more. Perhaps it’s because the crowd always seems to be dead for them. If Styles couldn’t get the crowd interested in a Corbin match, there might be a problem.

The story here is that no matter how hard Corbin tries, Zayn is not going to stay down, which makes me wonder if it’s going to lead Corbin to do something extreme to “try and put Zayn away for good.” If so, it might be exactly what Corbin needs to get the crowd to care about his programs. Right now, Corbin is just Braun Strowman-lite and there aren’t many people who like a bad light beer.

Because Corbin got pinned clean by Orton on SmackDown, I think he’ll get his win back in a big way.

Luke Harper vs. Erick Rowan

Even though this is totally a throwaway mid-card match, don’t be surprised if Harper and Rowan go out and blast each other with stiff shots. Harper has worked himself into excellent shape, while Rowan is playing a character that could be Mankind’s third cousin.

Harper should get the win here, but I would not be surprised if Rowan went over as a total surprise.

Tye Dillinger vs. Aiden English

Man, Dillinger is already working pre-show matches? That’s something a seven would do.

Twitter: @ScottDargis

WWE: The three positives in a post-WrestleMania world

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It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had the ability to share my thoughts on WWE’s weekly television product. Despite a 13-hour time difference for two weeks, I watched Raw and SmackDown. I even squeezed in an episode of NXT, thanks jet lag!

Let’s just say, it wasn’t exactly easy to get through the last three episodes of both shows. There were bright spots here and there, but the amount of forgettable segments dwarfed the segments that kept me sports entertained.

It feels like we’re in an elongated holding pattern until the build for SummerSlam begins, which is strange considering we had a “Superstar-Skakeup.” Why did this need to happen so suddenly?

Wouldn’t a mix-up of the rosters work better after the Payback-Backlash PPV cycle?

It’s ridiculous to ask that question because as a viewer of the WWE, I shouldn’t be asking that question. I should be able to trust the people backstage to put on an entertaining product, but if you pay attention to the inner-workings of WWE, you know that big booking decisions get made on the day of the show far too often.

Not only did this Superstar-Shakeup come at a time when it didn’t need to due to an influx of talent that was called up from NXT (less so on Raw because of Dash Wilder’s broken jaw), it happened in the middle of the build for the first brand specific PPVs after WrestleMania. We had two crossover matchups on Payback, which brought Smackdown guys onto a Raw show…

No, B.J. Novak, it doesn’t matter.

You’re just supposed to enjoy your favorite characters’ entrances every week. You’re not supposed to care about what they actually say or do. Wins and losses don’t matter. Almost every promo or backstage segment is rooted in comedy (bookmark: Which can sometimes produce entertaining segment like “The Fashion Files”). Nothing is serious. Nothing matters.

Sorry! I didn’t want to make you cry. Look, there are still plenty of reasons to enjoy the WWE product right now. Here are the three things that I’ve enjoyed post-WrestleMania.

Elevation of Mid-Card titles: Now that Brock Lesnar has joined the list of celebrity departures from The Leftovers and Randy Orton is off working a mid-card feud with Jinder Mahal for the WWE championship, the Intercontinental and United States titles are actually being elevated.

Part of this is due to the sudden emphasis on the titles. Both number one contender matches main evented an episode of Raw and SmackDown and featured full-time main event talent in a pair of triple threat matches.

The other part of this is the Kevin Owens’ Face of America character. The whole “Prizefighter” gimmick never got off the ground on the main roster because outside of his opening feud with Cena. Owens rarely felt like the guy who quickly rose to prominence in NXT as an ass kicker.

Before winning the United States title from Jericho at WrestleMania, Owens has held the Intercontinental championship and the Universal title and in both instances, he wasn’t booked strongly enough to make the titles seem important.

That sounds like a slight on K.O. and it’s not. That’s just a product of the amount of comedy segments he was featured in. In NXT, he was “the guy” and booked appropriately. In kayfabe, Owens was a dangerous, unpredictable dude. For a while on the main roster he’s a full-time guy who is cracking jokes. (Bookmark: For the record, the jokes with Jericho were funny, but that’s not the point here.)

Now it feels like he’s capitalizing on the heel momentum his character gained during the build for his Mania match against Jericho. His beat down of Y2J on this past week’s episode of SmackDown came off really good. It reminded me of moments like this:

This “Face of America” gimmick is going to be perfect for Owens. It’s a different spin on the evil foreigner storyline, which means easy heat, especially when Owens starts speaking fluent French.

K.O. is being positioned as a focal point of SmackDown Live (Bookmark: Out of all of the superstars who changed shows, the #FOA will benefit from the change the most), but the triple threat match to determine the number one contender for featured three prominent names: Baron Corbin, Sami Zayn, and Styles.

The three tore the house down in what was my favorite WWE TV Match of the Year so far. Styles pinned Zayn to become the number one contender for the U.S. title, which in the moment seemed a bit strange considering that Styles, in kayfabe, should be going after Orton’s title, but now that some time has passed, it makes sense.

I can’t imagine Orton vs. Mahal for the title is going to main event Backlash. If it doesn’t, you would have to imagine that Styles vs. Owens for the U.S. title will close the show in Chicago. Deputy Dango and Breezy sure ain’t getting that spot.

Which means the mid-card title will main event a PPV with two of the company’s best workers wrestling for it. Sign me up. I’m curious to see what style of a match they put on. Will it feel more like ROH? Or will it still be a traditional style WWE match?

#FantasyBookingIdea: Owens holds the title for a few months and then John Cena answers K.O.’s open challenge.

Over on Raw, the Intercontinental champion is Dean Ambrose, which you wouldn’t know if you watched Payback this past Sunday. Dude just wasn’t on the show, but he was back on Monday to “call” Kurt Angle in the ring and book a triple threat (sound familiar?) match between Seth Rollins, The Miz, and Finn Balor.

Those three put on the best Raw main event in ages. Now even though the IC title is underneath the U.S. title on the WWE totem pole right now, it’s the most visible title on Raw as long as Lesnar holds the Universal title.

Seriously, if you’re a casual fan who started watching WWE again after WrestleMania, you would have no idea that the Universal title exists, or that Lesnar is the current champion. He’s never mentioned during the bajillion hits the announcers have to do on a weekly basis. It’s absurd.

Due to Lesnar’s absence, Ambrose finds himself in a position to move himself up the card and improve the Intercontinental championship, but we’ve seen Ambrose vs. Miz plenty of times last year and none of their encounters were memorable, but that’s not what’s important here.

Two main event level guys and an upper-mid card guy were positioned in a number one contender’s match for the title. This does appear to be a shift in philosophy around the role of the mid-card titles, which is a WELCOMED change.

Alexa Bliss: Even though last Sunday in Bayley’s hometown of San Jose wasn’t the right time to take the title off of Ms. Hug Life and give it to Bliss, Alexa hasn’t dropped the ball since it was given to her back in the fall.

Out of all of the women on the main roster, I would put her mic skills just slightly behind Charlotte’s. It’s one thing to be a cool heel in 2017 like Bliss is, it’s another to play a heel who actually gets booed, which is exactly what Charlotte achieved before her inexplicable face turn last week.

Bliss overshadowed Bayley in the talking segments they had together leading up to their match at Payback. The crowd just isn’t feeling Bayley right now on a week-to-week basis. Her dialogue has been pretty weak since her call-up (we get it, she’s a lifelong fan) to the main roster, but her delivery has been extremely awkward.

She’s not queuing up the crowd correctly and just seems to not understand the proper beat for her character to speak. I get that she’s supposed to play a fan that has the opportunity to live her dream, but I shouldn’t be cringing during her promos and when she’s in the ring by herself, the cringe meter starts going up in my apartment.

You could really see the difference level between the promos when Alexa and Bayley shared the ring leading up to the PPV. Bliss was able to successfully counter the crowd’s “what” chants that have swallowed up thousands of promos. There’s a reason why a pocket of the live crowd in San Jose cheered for her when she pinned Bayley, who was again, the hometown babyface.

Bliss speaks in a tone that no other woman on the main roster speaks in. Her character knows that she’s better than everyone else and she’s going to tell you about it in a smart way that the hardcore fan appreciates. It’s hard to think of anyone who has had a rise on the main roster quicker than Alexa has. Baron Corbin comes to mind because he never got to the main event level in NXT (Vince and Co. has big plans for him on the main roster) but he’s still in a holding pattern.

There’s nothing holding Alexa Bliss back.

Braun Strowman: The post-Mania episodes of Raw might as well be referred to as the Braun Strowman saga. His feud with Roman Reigns has been the focus of the show for weeks. There was an incredible beatdown angle that featured Strowman “throwing” Reigns off of a loading dock while Roman was tied down on a stretcher, but Braun wasn’t done there. He then “tipped” over the ambulance that Reigns was supposedly in.

He then bullied around the jobbers backstage, which included putting Kalisto in a dumpster, before the Big Show knocked him down and challenged him to a match. In the main event, Strowman suplexed Show and “broke the ring” (it’s the third time WWE has pulled off this stunt and once again the crowd went bananas).

The next week Kalisto “challenged” Strowman to a dumpster match. Even though Strowman “lost” (beyond dumb, but it’s WWE in 2017, wins and losses don’t matter) he pushed a dumpster off of the stage with Kalisto inside. The drop was about three feet, but still it’s been awhile since someone got pushed off of the stage while they were in a dumpster.

Vince knows how to push a big guy and Strowman is the equivalent of a wet dream for McMahon.

He’s a gigantic dude who can move around the ring like he’s 6 feet 1 inch tall. Strowman has greatly improved in the ring to a point where it’s totally conceivable to picture him as a world champion, but will he actually get pushed to that level?

We know how stingy Vince can be about giving someone too much too soon, especially with how successful The Rock, Brock Lesnar, Batista and now John Cena are doing with projects outside of WWE. Strowman isn’t going to fight in the UFC and who knows if he has any sort of acting chops.

Strowman is a professional wrestler and becoming a damn good one with every day that passes. Raw would have been significantly worse after WrestleMania if he wasn’t on the show. He’s earning a title run with every solid match and over-the-top backstage segment that he performs in.

The reason why we should all be worried about Strowman is; there have been instances where a person was given the title well after they earned it (RVD and Jeff Hardy come to mind). I’m not saying Strowman should be given a title reign tomorrow because he’s still a bit green, but with Lesnar vs. Reigns penciled in as the WrestleMania 34 main event according to Dave Meltzer, you begin to wonder what Strowman’s ceiling is.

When Lesnar vs. Strowman does happen, the crowd is going to explode and Vince will know how to clean it up.

Twitter: @ScottDargis

(Bookmark: If you’re wondering where the Hardy’s section is, don’t worry. It’s coming. Let’s see how this rumored legal situation with Anthem works out.)