Sometimes WWE has to call an audible and they end up booking a better match than the original. That’s exactly what happened at TLC when AJ Styles fought Finn Balor.
AJ Styles vs. Finn Balor – TLC
The original match for TLC was Finn Balor vs. Bray Wyatt. After Wyatt came down with an illness, WWE had to make a last minute substitution. Their pick set up a dream match, as 2017 MVP AJ Styles flew in from the Smackdown South America tour to face Balor. Styles and Balor were both former Bullet Club leaders in NJPW, and fans have been clamoring for a match between the two for awhile. We finally got it at TLC, and they did not disappoint.
When I went back and watched this match, I can’t believe this didn’t thrust Balor into the main event. The fact that he’s answering open challenges from Curt Hawkins and not fighting Lesnar at the Rumble is mind boggling. Guys like Balor and Styles should be fighting each other, as the quality of matches and fan reactions improve immensely. As I stated in the AJ Styles/Cena write up, Styles could have made up the entire top five list with his performances this year. I thought Styles/Balor at TLC was his best performance for a few reasons.
This match was booked only two days before the pay per view so neither guy had time to prepare for the match. Also, in a year filled with Cena and Jinder Mahal matches, Styles finally got to wrestle someone with talent who could keep up with him in the ring. This match had a frenetic pace from bell to bell, with both guys working and selling their ass off. The crowd ate up everything they did (rightfully so) AND they didn’t have to rely on finisher musical chairs to keep the crowd interested. One coup de grace from Balor and it was over. Two world class athletes at the top of their game having a match of the year candidate. What’s not to love?
Looking back at the best matches of the year, one name keeps popping up AJ Styles. He’s been in the WWE less than two years, but he’s already made a tremendous impact. He’s been WWE’s MVP since his debut, and he stole the show at this year’s Royal Rumble. While Cena and Styles fought a few times, their match at the Rumble was their finest one.
#4 WWE Championship Match: AJ Styles vs. John Cena (Royal Rumble)
In my write up for match #5 on this list, I mentioned I don’t like when matches rely on finisher kick outs. I stand by that point, but there are times when it works, and this match was one of them. Velveteen Dream and Aleister Black don’t have the name value of a Cena or Styles, and their finishers are too new not to be protected. On the other hand, Cena and Styles have been around forever. Everyone kicks out of the AA, and the first time Styles hit the Styles Clash in WWE, Jericho kicked out of it.
While false finishes were one part of this match, both guys worked their ass off and gave us a match of the year candidate in January. The match went over 24 minutes but kept a brisk pace, mostly thanks to Styles insane cardio conditioning. Styles can keep you invested in the beginning/middle parts of matches then kick it into high gear for the ending. Cena kept up to, and even though ‘big match John’ is an annoying nickname, it’s true. Cena almost always rises to the occasion in big time matches, and he had the perfect foil in AJ Styles. The historical significance of the match was huge too, as Cena’s win tied him with Ric Flair for the most world title wins in history.
When AJ Styles vs. Jinder Mahal for the WWE championship was announced last week, I speculated that WWE could be pulling the trigger on a potential dream match. If you’re a wrestling fan and DON’T want to see Brock Lesnar vs. AJ Styles, I’m not sure what to tell you. Styles is the best wrestler in the WWE at the moment, and Lesnar is still a beast capable of big time matches (Great Balls of Fire & Summerslam are two recent examples).
Well, guest what? WWE actually did it and had Styles defeat Mahal last night on Smackdown Live, and it’s possible he’ll go on to face Lesnar at Survivor Series. It’d be odd to have Lesnar still face Mahal if Jinder is no longer champion, even though I think Styles’ title run will be short lived. Lesnar vs. Styles is the money matchup at Survivor Series, and you can have Mahal win back the title during WWE’s tour of India in early December. Win-win.
Side note – I hope WWE was paying attention to the crowd reaction during this match. There is no way in hell a Jinder Mahal match should garner that type of reaction, but AJ Styles is a goddamn miracle worker. I know it’s a wacky theory, but giving us happy moments with guys we enjoy watching might be a recipe for success.
The match card for WWE Survivor Series will feature a slew of champion versus champion matches, including Brock Lesnar versus Jinder Mahal. The main issue with that match is LOL it’s Jinder Mahal versus Brock Lesnar, which should end in 5 seconds with an actual murder. Here’s the feud so far in video form:
Paul Heyman has put over Roman Reigns, Samoa Joe and Braun Strowman but even he knows that Jinder vs. Brock is a joke. While this is only one man’s far out opinion, Shane McMahon’s tweet last night has me feeling hopeful that the match could change.
— Shane McMahon (@shanemcmahon) November 2, 2017
WWE was in a similar situation a few years ago when they had HHH defend his title against Dean Ambrose a month before WrestleMania at Roadblock. While HHH ended up winning that match and faced Reigns at Mania instead of the much more interesting Ambrose/Reigns match, I think Styles winning on Tuesday makes a lot of sense. The rules for Survivor Series are champion vs. champion, so if Styles wins the title Tuesday he would take Mahal’s place as Lesnar’s opponent. Plus, if the rumored Lesnar/Reigns match at Mania is still on, why not add Styles to the list of guys Brock has beaten this year to get to Reigns?
Jinder Mahal’s title reign has been a rousing disappointment, so hopefully WWE pulls the trigger on Tuesday. That would give Styles a title win he very much deserves while also giving WWE fans a dream match at Survivor Series.
Isn’t it crazy that WrestleMania is only 11 days away? The biggest show of the year is taking shape, and one of the marquee matches is going to be AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon. While it would’ve been nice to have Styles fighting for a major title after the year he’s had, it’s not happening, so we might as well enjoy his feud with Shane as much as we can. Since Styles is fighting Shane at Mania, there’s one thing guaranteed to happen during the build, and it happened last night: Shane McMahon delivering a flying elbow off the top rope putting his WM opponent through a table. He did it last year to the Undertaker, and here he is again, officially reminding us that WM 33 is almost here. It seems like the match at Mania is going to be either a street fight or No DQ, and that’s good news for fans. As great as AJ Styles is, I’m not interested in watching him to try to get a passable, normal wrestling match out of 47 year old Shane McMahon.
If you’re a casual wrestling fan, now is the time to watch WWE Raw. Between the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania, WWE consistently puts on it’s best weekly programming. They’re not all home runs, but they’re remarkably better than most Raw’s during other times of the year. Last night’s Raw was one of those home runs. After last week was extremely heavy on the promo’s, this week’s show focused more on the in ring segments, which is WWE’s strong suit with most of their top stars injured. We got a good promo from Shane and Vince to start the show, and a great back and forth between HHH and Ambrose later in the show, but all the highlights were of the physical variety. Let’s take a look.
After Shane and Vince verbally sparred back and forth and Vince stepped on a childhood photo of him and his son, Vince summoned security to take Shane out of the building. The only problem with that is that Shane O’ Mac was having none of it. He quickly dispatched security with rabbit punches and knee strikes, and the segment was made all the better because the Chicago crowd was hot for it. As a side note, Chicago crowds have a tendency to be self serving (CM Punk chants, I’m looking at you) but last night’s crowd was awesome, especially during this segment, the tag match and the closing angle. This segment did a lot better than last week’s, where Undertaker walked out, said a sentence and left. We still have three more Raw’s until WM, and while I don’t think it’s necessary for Taker and Shane to get physical, I would still like more of an explanation as to why Undertaker is actually competing in this match.
The WWE Divas Championship match is already set, so we’re probably in for segments where each Diva looks strong going into the biggest match in all three of these women’s careers. Of any match that’s already on the card or could be added, I’m most excited for this one. This is their chance to prove on the biggest stage that women’s wrestling matters on the main roster. I can’t wait.
As much as I’d rather get stabbed in both eyes instead of watching another distraction rollup win, at least Lana has something to do now. While a Brie Bella feud is almost always awful, the crowd obviously loves Lana, and she’s very athletic, so why not give her a chance and see what she can do. Plus, Brie’s entire family is falling apart, so why not give her one more WrestleMania moment before she retires.
They’re destined to do this forever. Kevin Owens beat Neville in a very good match, and it looked like Neville was going to fall victim to another pop up power bomb on the apron until SAMI ZAYN comes out for the save. Zayn and Owens feud in NXT was cut critically short due to the injury of Zayn and the fact that Owens was just too good to keep off the main roster, so if they’re going to get a WM feud right now I am all the way in. I don’t know if they’d do a 1 on 1 match or a multi-man match like last year, but either way, any version of Owens and Zayn is gold. Throw Neville in there and make it an IC Title/’Who’s the best NXT Champion on the main roster’ match. Either way, I am all the way in.
If I could pin point why this Raw was a gift from the Gods, it would be because Kalisto and Alberto Del Rio finally stopped feuding. Kalisto got a clean win over Tyler Breeze (who got a full entrance for the first time in forever) and Ryback continued to maul the Social Outcasts. Ryback and Kalisto even got promo time backstage where Ryback inexplicably name dropped every superhero movie he’s ever seen. As much as I love Kalisto, if he fights Ryback at WM their match should end when Ryback literally pulls him apart limb by limb.
This match was important for a number of reasons. The New Day, at least on the microphone, has kind of grown stale. They’re still kind of funny, but it seems more scripted than it used to be and that is always a bad thing. What this match proved though is that The New Day in the ring, specifically Big E and Kofi, are bananas. Big E catching human beings out of thin air and slamming them to the mat will never not be awesome and Kofi has eclipsed Dolph as the best seller on the roster. I could watch that AJ Styles backflip into a reverse DDT all day every day. Speaking of AJ Styles, anyone who had any doubts about how amazing he is should watch this match. He’s flying around the ring, looks great on offense and takes a believable beat down. The old veteran Jericho was also fantastic in this match, and this is his best run with the WWE since ‘Best in the World’ Jericho. Speaking of THAT Jericho, he’s back, baby. You sensed it was coming, but heel Jericho is so great that I didn’t care. Give me Chris Jericho stuffing shirts into people’s mouths and calling them sons of bitches and I’m a happy man. Great match and a great post match angle.
The difference between a good Raw and a great Raw is the stuff that happens after a fantastic match like the Tag Titles match. WWE’s roster is stacked with talent, so even on a bad show, they’re going to put on some fantastic matches. The problem is that the writing is inconsistent, so while some performers can overcome the writing and put on a great match, others can’t and the show goes downhill. That did not happen last night, and the main reason for that is Dean Ambrose. It’s hard to believe that a Raw in March without three of the top guys in three of the main event matches of WM (Reigns, Lesnar & Taker) could be this good, but that’s what happens when you let a guy like Ambrose connect with the crowd. Wyatt deserves some credit too, and as a Bray Wyatt super fan that interaction with HHH and the World Title at the end was INCREDIBLE, but Dean Ambrose is the shit right now. Not only does he out duel HHH in a promo earlier in the night, but he puts on a great match with Wyatt, gets beat down, and then summons enough energy to turn the tables on HHH and end the night with the belt in his hands. Also, don’t sleep on HHH selling Dirty Deeds like a goddamn champion. I saw a few people on Twitter complain about it, but they’re missing the point. With HHH selling it like a knockout blow, you just showed your audience that any given moment, Ambrose can pop up and hit that move and HHH will be forced to lay there like he got hit with a shovel. So now if HHH is murdering Ambrose on Saturday, we can revert back to that image and remember that at any moment, Ambrose could strike. I don’t know what’s going to happen Saturday night, but I know I’ll be watching, and that’s half the battle.
Last night’s Royal Rumble had a lot of exciting stuff, and was leaps and bounds better than the last two years. I think the wrestling world is in agreement that the hands down biggest moment of the night was the debut of AJ Style as the third entrant in the Royal Rumble. Reigns and Rusev started the Rumble, and Reigns kind of shockingly eliminated Rusev right away. My disappointment turned into elation when the #3’s entrance music hit though, and out walked AJ Styles. I think my favorite thing about the Rumble match itself is how many feuds it set up, which is exactly what the match should be about. You have AJ Styles debut, and although he’s not going to win and become the champion, he looks great and gets eliminated by the only guy the crowds not going to boo, Kevin Owens. Now AJ has a legitimate reason to dislike Owens, and Owens has a fresh new baby face to feud with after he lost to Ambrose earlier in the night. The Wyatt’s/Lesnar feud also got furthered, as Lesnar mauled the Wyatt Family but was ultimately eliminated by them. And now the Championship scene sees HHH on top and Roman Reigns chasing the League of Nations and The Authority. That’s how the Rumble should be booked, and now we have at least 3 money feuds to get WrestleMania season started. Now we just need Enzo and Cass to debut on Raw and start feuding with the New Day. MAKE THAT HAPPEN WWE.