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2017 Royal Rumble: What did we learn?

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WWE’s “Road to WrestleMania” kicked off with the 30th annual Royal Rumble from the Alamodome in San Antonio.

With numerous plausible outcomes on the table in the two world championship matches and the 30-man over the top rope battle royal, this was one of the most anticipated Rumble Pay-Per-Views in many years.

Shockingly, it was the lack of surprises in the Rumble match that made the show feel a lot less memorable than it should have been.

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The most unpredictable Royal Rumble in years ended with a surprising finish, but it wasn’t the right choice

Randy Orton is one of the best performers in the business, but this Royal Rumble match was promoted as the biggest Rumble match ever. It was a golden opportunity to make a new superstar.

The PPV overall was a thumbs up show because every match was entertaining, but the booking of the Rumble match itself was highly questionable. After Tye Dillinger’s surprising entrance at number 10 (who would have guessed it?), every person who entered the match up until Brock Lesnar (26th), was a full-time mid-carder.

If you want to make the case that Corbin (entered 13th) is higher on the card than the other guys who entered around him, you can, but the point stands. Besides Corbin, Dean Ambrose, all three members of The New Day, Cesaro and Sheamus, James Ellsworth, Miz, Randy Orton, Rusev (who was a total afterthought), Bray Wyatt, Dolph Ziggler, Luke Harper and Apollo Crews entered the match in some order from 11-25.

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And then we finished off with Lesnar (26th), Enzo (27th), Goldberg (28th), Undertaker (29th) and finally Roman Reigns (30th). When Undertaker came out 29th, I thought OK there are two possible options for the final entrant.

Either Kurt Angle (very unlikely) or Samoa Joe (a lock I thought) is making the ridiculously long walk to the ring.

NOPE.

Here comes Reigns out to a chorus of thunderous boos so loud that you couldn’t hear his music over the speakers in the Alamodome.

If Vince is really trying to get Reigns over as the next big babyface, why is he coming out 30th? And why the (expletive deleted) is he booked to eliminate the Undertaker? The latter spot should have been reserved for a heel because the crowd was predictably going to respond in a negative way when Undertaker’s feet hit the floor.

Perhaps Meekmahan wanted Orton to get a huge babyface pop and knew that he could use the crowd’s hate for Roman as a springboard to get that reaction, but whatever the case, Orton is headed for a championship match at WrestleMania and John Cena is currently holding the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

Cena vs. Orton for the 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000th time? Don’t sign me up.

I guess the rumor that popped up last week about Orton facing Wyatt for the title at Super WrestleMania Sunshine has some legs.

Goldberg vs. Lesnar was handled perfectly

love that Goldberg has Lesnar’s number. Brock’s shockingly quick elimination by Ol’ Bill should set Paul Heyman up for a great promo.

Lesnar wanting redemption vs. Goldberg at Mania is such a simple storyline, but the crowd will eat it up.

Why no Samoa Joe?

If you’ll allow me, I’m going to rant here for a bit. If you don’t care about Joe, skip to the next section.

Would this not have been a perfect time to bring Joe in and establish him as a powerhouse?

Maybe he could be Shane’s representative to face AJ Styles at WrestleMania. I suggest this because I think we’re headed for Shane vs. AJ at Mania; even though after Shane-O-Mac’s last showing in the ring, he should hang up his wrestling sneakers and wind pants forever.

Seriously though, Joe has nothing else to prove in NXT. He’s turning 38 in March and SmackDown’s roster could really use a boost heading into WrestleMania season. Much like Styles did last year, Joe could have established himself as a threat on the main roster in 20 minutes.

This felt like a gigantic opportunity that was wasted. Plus, the Rumble match could have really used a surprise in the middle of the match.

The biggest shocker of the weekend was Seth Rollins showing up at NXT: TakeOver

After Rollins “lost” his spot in the Rumble match to Sami Zayn, I kept trying to figure out when Rollins was going to show up. The idea of him causing havoc at the NXT special on the WWE Network seemed like a fantasy booking idea that was never going to come to fruition.

And then it actually happened! Rollins snuck into the ring and stole the microphone from ring announcer Mike Rome and demanded that HHH come out and fight him. The crowd exploded and made Rollins feel like a white hot babyface. Triple H of course didn’t fight Rollins and instead sent out security to “forcefully” remove Rollins from the building.

Even though Rollins vs. HHH is a predictable WrestleMania program, this moment provided the feud with extra fuel it desperately needed.

AJ Styles and John Cena had an excellent match, but it wasn’t as good as their SummerSlam classic

The concept of hitting a big move after big move that leads to constant near falls has been the crutch for Cena matches since his run with the United States Championship.

There’s a reason why Cena always does this. It works.

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But when you’ve already seen Cena and Styles go through sequences similar to what we saw on Sunday, the spectacle of Mr. WWE vs. Mr. TNA wrestling for the company’s biggest prize just doesn’t feel as big as it should have.

Styles kicking out of an “avalanche Attitude Adjustment”: Check.

Cena hitting a Code Red for a nearfall: Check

Styles hitting five of his cool moves that he busts out every once and awhile: Check

I don’t want to totally bury this match. It was very good and both men should be praised for performing at this level on such a big stage, but when you’re stepping into the ring with someone for the third time in a one-on-one situation, the match should feel different than the first two and this one did not.

Kudos to Cena for coming up with a very cool finishing sequence that we haven’t seen before.

Neville wins the Cruiserweight Championship

But will he save the division? The crowd was mild at best for his match with Rich Swann.

Gallows and Anderson finally win the tag titles

It’s about time! With the amount of times G&A have “failed” to become the tag team champions, they really needed a win and could benefit from a nice long reign with the titles.

Will they get that long reign? Probably not. I wonder if Enzo and Cass are going to win the titles at WrestleMania….

Bayley and Charlotte put on one hell of an opening match

I hope both girls got a standing ovation when they walked through the curtain. This was a wonderful opening match, which played to the strengths of both performers.

Charlotte mocked Bayley by yelling at her that she should be sitting with the fans. This ignited Bayley to make her comeback, which got a big reaction.

It seems like every show now must include a big spot on the apron, but the Natural Selection looks like one of the safest moves to take in that position. Even though you wouldn’t know it by how well Bayley sold the move.

I can’t wait to see these two face off again at WrestleMania. Unless Nia Jax gets involved, which seems likely with how quickly she ran through Sasha Banks.

Braun Strowman “saves” Kevin Owens from dropping the Universal title to Roman Reigns

Apparently all of those pep talks backstage between Owens, Jericho, and Strowman got the big guy in the spirit to help Owens.

Wait, what am I doing? That’s not how we cover sports entertainment here!

The idea of having Jericho drop an object that plays into the finish is so elementary that Vince probably figured the match needed an extra surprise in the final act. Enter an angry Strowman who chokeslammed Reigns on an announcer’s table that still had two monitors on it. Luckily, Roman didn’t land on top of them.

Even though Owens walked away with the championship, this wasn’t a particularly strong win for him. Don’t expect him to carry the red strap into WrestleMania, but who knows who K.O. will face at Fastlane.

With Finn Balor almost ready to return, it would make sense for those two to square off for the title and a spot in the Universal title match at WrestleMania.

The Twitter: @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