In the tag team division, what WWE lacks in depth, they made up for in quality in 2017. Most that credit goes to two teams: The Usos & New Day. These two teams have been fighting since New Day arrived on Smackdown, and almost all of their matches have been great. My favorite one happened at WWE Battleground in July.
New Day vs. The Usos – Battleground
This was the show opener at Battleground, and nothing that followed came close to it. Heading into 2017 my favorite New Day tag combo was Kofi & Big E, but this was the year of Xavier Woods. He shined during this feud, and easily had the best performance of the night at Battleground. With The Usos switching to their ‘day one’ characters, New Day finally had a heel team to play off of, and it was wonderful. Woods looked natural as the baby face in peril, and Kofi was equally as good with the high octane hot tags.
As great as Kofi and Xavier were, The Usos matched them beat for beat. The Usos adapted a more aggressive style that completely changed their matches. The crowd ate up everything these two teams did, and the title change at the end earned the pop of the night.
Overall, WWE Battleground was a very good show with some great wrestling. Besides that, the mother f’ing Undertaker returned to tombstone Brock Lesnar twice and pretty much confirm that they’re going to have a match at Summerslam. It was an awesome moment, and the only downside is that Brock Lesnar isn’t the champ. The good thing is that Lesnar has signed a multi-year deal, so he’ll be back in the title picture eventually. For now, The Undertaker wants revenge for the only blemish on his otherwise perfect resume: the WM 30 loss to Lesnar. If this was anyone else, I’d find it hard to believe that Taker can be a legitimate opponent for Lesnar after he literally almost murdered him at WM30. But this is The Undertaker, and Lesnar is a skilled enough performer to make us believe whatever it is the WWE wants to make us believe. Just look at his facial expressions last night. They were magic. I can’t wait for Raw.
WWE Battleground is this Sunday, and it’s actually a pretty great card for a “throwaway” pay per view. When you think of WWE pay per views in the summer, MITB and Summerslam usually jump out at you, while Battleground is more or less a filler show. Thanks to back to back stellar Raw’s, Brock Lesnar and the US title picture, Battleground could end being a really good show. Let’s get to the preview and predictions!
Pre-Show Match: King Barrett vs. R-Truth (Winner gets Barrett’s KOTR crown)
I honestly don’t know what to say about this match. King Barrett, who has been a chronic loser going on a year now, finally got thrown a bone with a King of the Ring victory. How does WWE capitalize on that? They feud him with R-Truth, who wears a sheet and has a plunger and have them fight over who is the real king. Not only that, they have him lose to R-Truth on multiple occasions. No one with two arms and two legs should be losing to R-Truth in 2015, especially a guy as talented as Barrett. I’d say Barrett goes over here, but does it really matter? When he had the IC title, I thought him losing it would rid him of some kind of invisible curse. Maybe if he loses here AGAIN, he’ll finally get a character and a feud worth watching.
Winner: R-Truth, and then everyone hysterically sobs themselves to sleep.
Randy Orton vs. Sheamus
This is another feud that really doesn’t have many people’s interest. Orton returned from a short period off to attack Sheamus while Michael Cole screamed about REVENGE, and I honestly didn’t know what was happening. Why was Orton mad at Sheamus? Because Sheamus won MITB and Orton didn’t? I honestly have no clue, and WWE hasn’t exactly followed up that attack with anything close to explaining what’s going on. While Rollins and Lesnar are tearing it up in the main event and John Cena is putting on five star classics with Owens, Cesaro and Rusev, the old guard of Orton and Sheamus are proof positive that change is a good thing. Headlocks and drop kicks just aren’t going to do it anymore. Either you tell a good story and change things up in the ring, or you’re losing the crowd’s interest. Orton and Sheamus are both skilled performers, but they are severely stuck in their ways. My best guess for this match, based upon how the WWE is booking Sheamus, is for an Orton win via disqualification or count out. Sheamus seems oddly attached to that case, and seems to duck out of matches to hold onto it even though it’s never on the line.
Winner: Orton via shenanigans
Bray Wyatt vs. Roman Reigns
This needs to be Bray Wyatt’s coming out party. He’s the most interesting character WWE’s had since The Undertaker, yet every interaction he has is on the big screen in a dark room. All his promo’s, minus the actual words, are the same. I don’t care how talented and charismatic you are, if you do the same thing for years people are going to get sick of it (cough John Cena cough). Bray could offer so much more if he was given the chance to explore outside the box. Add in the fact that he’s had two really important matches in WWE and he’s lost both of them, and you have a great character hanging on by a thread. Roman Reigns is going to be around for a long time no matter what happens with this feud, but WWE has a chance to make Wyatt a top shelf villain here. Reigns doesn’t have the momentum he had going into WM31, but he’s still a popular face who can be used to prop Bray up. Wyatt/Reigns should be a big time feud for the next decade, and I’m hoping this is one of many meetings the two will have. You know they’ll deliver in the ring physically, but will they be able to tell a good story? Only time will tell.
Winner: Bray Wyatt
IC Title Match?
Now that Ryback is out of action with an injury, the WWE can conceivably do one of two things. 1. Have Miz and Big Show fight to see who the #1 contender for the IC title is while everyone at the arena and at home goes to the bathroom or 2. Bring in the 9 Divas from Raw and have themselves a triple threat tag match that tears the house down midway through the show. My personal vote is for number 2, as it gives Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Sasha a WWE pay per view debut with zero pressure, and it gives the Divas a boost of adrenaline after that awesome segment on Raw. Do the right thing, WWE. Give me a ‘Banks Statement’ on a live WWE pay per view.
Tag Team Championship Match: Prime Time Players (C) vs. New Day
If the WWE tag team division has any forward momentum, it’s thank to these two team. Whether it’s on commentary, cheering outside the ring, promos or their in ring work, the PTP and New Day have been great for a couple months now. The frustrating thing is we knww they’d be great, but they never got a real chance to let their personalities and skill set shine. Now they’re getting that chance, and the result is a guaranteed fun segment every time they’re on the TV. Big E and the rest of New Day’s shouting promo’s are one of my favorite things on WWE TV, and Titus O’Neil hot tags continue to be a thing of beauty. I’m not sure he knows how to do a scoop slam, but that’s fine, because he’s big and strong enough to fling just about anybody on the roster. As far as the actual match goes, I think PTP retain. As great as these two teams have been, there’s really no depth to the tag team division. While another PTP win should eliminate New Day from title contention, they could switch up their team, rotating members of New Day which technically creates a different team. Relish these matches now, because when The Uso’s come back, there’s going to be a bunch of jumping and slapping thighs.
Winner: PTP (Titus gator bark)
U.S. Championship Match: John Cena (C) vs. Kevin Owens
The semi main event is the US championship grudge match between Cena and Owens, and raise your hand if you thought the US title picture would be the hottest thing in the WWE heading into Summerslam. Since we’re on the internet I can’t see if anyone is raising their hand, but I’ll just assume no one is. Post Rusev John Cena has been amazing, and I kind of never want this version of Cena to end. He’s almost lost matches to Neville, Cesaro and Rusev, all while defending the US title on a daily basis and making Kevin Owens seem like the greatest thing in wrestling. Owens has been great, but if you switch Cena for anyone else in this feud I guarantee you it doesn’t have the same affect. With Cesaro and Rusev now in the title picture, I’m hoping for a triple threat or fatal four way match at Summerslam, but first comes Sunday night. Owens lost his NXT title to Finn Balor in Japan, so the obvious choice is him winning here. But does he beat Cena clean again? 99.9% of the time the answer to that question is no, but this is a different WWE we’ve seen lately. The NXT women got to maul the WWE divas on Raw, Cesaro is wrestling 20 minute classics every week, and Kevin Owens, once again, is the most important man in wrestling right now. And for the first time in a long time, if John Cena beats a younger guy in a big time match, it will make sense. Cena has busted his ass to make everyone around him these last few months seem important, so if he wins here, it’s a job well done. But I think Cena’s got one more loss to take before he’s revitalized.
Winner: and NEW US Champion, Kevin Owens.
WWE World Heavyweight Title Match: Seth Rollins (C) vs. Brock Lesnar
So this is going to be awesome. I’ve written about this match at length during my Raw recaps, but there isn’t a better matchup today then Seth Rollins vs. Brock Lesnar. This is almost like Angle vs. Lesnar all over again, if Angle was a 29 year old fitness freak who could do a Phoenix Splash. Lesnar has somehow gotten better with age, and he’s matched up with an in his prime mix of Shawn Michaels and Eddie Guerrero. Lesnar’s new specialty is suplexing people. Seth Rollins takes a suplex like I can drink a beer: very well. Add in the wrinkle that Kane and J & J Security have been taken out by Lesnar, and we’re promised a David vs. Goliath battle where everyone wants David to get murdered. The popular consensus is that Lesnar wins the title here, BUT there was a bit of news that came out yesterday that could change all that. Which leads me to this…
The Undertaker is going to cost Brock Lesnar the World Heavyweight Championship. It’s a crazy theory, but it makes all the sense in the world. The Undertaker has ONE unchecked item on his career list, and that is his loss to Lesnar at Mania. He proved he can still go at WM31, and recent pictures that have surfaced show him training and in really good shape. Plus, WWE isn’t exactly great at subtlety. They’ve been mentioning Kane’s family a lot on TV lately, and with Kane out with an “ankle injury”, maybe his brother comes back to avenge him and his own loss at WM. Paul Heyman brings up the breaking of the streak every chance he gets, so why wouldn’t Undertaker want revenge? It makes all the sense in the world, and I think it’s happening on Sunday. The best part about this? Any ending besides Kane or J & J Security interfering to help Rollins would make me happy. They’ve sent this feud up beautifully, and if Rollins or Lesnar wins clean, I’m down for it. If The Undertaker returns and costs either one of them the belt? I will shit my pants.
Winner: Seth Rollins
Last night’s Raw from Atlanta was the go home show for WWE Battleground, and if you were on the fence about the PPV before last night’s show, you should be pumped up for Sunday. Brock Lesnar started and ended the show, the Diva’s division got an NXT makeover and the US title picture is the most exciting thing in wrestling. Let’s get to the 5 stars!
1. Brock Lesnar
As wonderful as Paul Heyman is on the microphone, there’s really nobody like Brock Lesnar. When he comes through the curtain wide eyed and thrusts his arms down causing pyro to explode, there’s a feeling in the crowd that no other wrestler can provide. When Brock Lesnar is on the screen, you know something special is going to happen. His ferocity and charisma supersede anything else a wrestler can do. He has this natural animal instinct and strength that makes you fear for Seth Rollins when he’s staring him in the eyes. I know it’s fake, but Rollins is one spear into the barricade away from breaking his entire midsection. Rollins and Lesnar are such a perfect match, and I really hope that the ‘injuries’ to J & J and Kane keep them away from ringside Sunday. The only thing that could make the main event less than a 5 star match would be pointless outside interference, but judging by the carnage left by Lesnar these last weeks, we won’t have to worry about that. +1 to Brock for grabbing the microphone in the opening segment only to call Seth Rollins a bitch. +infinity to Brock for throwing the entire contract signing table at Seth Rollins like it was a chew toy.
2. Stephanie McMahon
“This is the start of something beautiful”. I bet you never thought you’d see an Ed Sheeran lyric linked into a wrestling post, but here we are. Nikki Bella came out with her sister and new friend Alicia Fox, and actually cut a decent promo about how she’s the epitome of a Total Diva. Everything she said was true. She has been the Divas champion for over 200 days. She is on red carpets, she is the star of a reality show, and she is WWE’s version of what a women’s wrestler should be. This brought out Stephanie McMahon, who I pray to the dark lord is going to be some kind of Diva’s division GM. Stephanie is at her best when she’s asserting her dominance but at the same time not burying whoever she’s in the ring with. When she’s putting a heel Diva in her place, she’s amazing. When she’s just shitting all over everyone because she’s STEPHANIE MCMAHON, she’s not as amazing. She was great here though, and she brought out 3 game changers who in one night single handedly turned the Diva’s division on it’s pretty little head.
3. Charlotte, Becky Lynch & The Boss
If you don’t watch NXT and you saw this segment last night, I’ll give you a chance to catch your breath. The main difference between NXT and the main roster is the Divas or Woman’s division. NXT’s one hour weekly program regularly features two woman’s matches, while Raw might feature a quick 2 minute Diva’s match that accomplishes nothing. A lot of that has to do with the writing, but I’d be an asshole if I didn’t mention that the female talent in NXT is out of this world. In addition to Charlotte, Sasha and Becky, you also have Bayley and Emma, plus newcomers Dana Brooke and Carmella who still need some time, but could be important players down the road. Compare that to only Paige and Nikki Bella on the main roster, and you can see why women’s wrestling in NXT kicks ass. If last night was the cannon going off, then I can’t wait to see what these three women can do on the main roster. It’s easy to be pessimistic and say that the main roster writing and Vince will ruin them, but don’t forget about Stephanie and HHH. There’s a reason NXT is so special, and that’s because HHH knows how to write and deliver great wrestling. Add Stephanie into the mix and we could be in for a golden age of women’s wrestling. As far as the actual segment last night, when’s the last time a crowd chanted ‘this is awesome’ during a Diva’s stare down? Has that ever happened? Well it did last night, and it was well deserved. That still image of Becky, Charlotte and Sasha Banks all performing their submission finishers in the middle of the ring is something that’s going to be remembered for a long time. I’m proud that all three got their chance to shine last night, and I can’t wait for the next chapter.
4. The US Title Picture
It’s tough to single anybody out from this segment, or the US Title picture overall, so I just want to give a big kudos to whoever put the US Championship Open Challenge together. It’s been the most entertaining part of Raw for the better part of two months, and adding guys like Cesaro and Rusev into the mix and making them look important is wonderful. Everybody was great here. Owens as the worst person in the world, Cesaro as the breakout star on the cusp of greatness, Rusev as the former monster getting back in the ring with something to prove, and Cena as the cagey veteran using 20 minutes of commentary to relentlessly put over everybody in the ring. That triple threat match was NUTS, and I don’t know if Rusev was in the ring during his time off, but he somehow got better. Owens got to look strong before he weaseled his way out of the match, but it made sense. He knows he has a US Title shot Sunday no matter what, so best case scenario is he wins the triple threat match and then has to face a fresh John Cena. His probability rate of winning consecutive matches drop to about negative 5 million, and if he does lose, he’s got zero momentum going into Sunday. Instead, he heads to the back, then comes back out like the vulture he is to pick the bones of Rusev and stand tall. Cesaro and Rusev put on a hell of a match after Owens left, and for the third week in a row, Cesaro was THE GUY. The crowd loves him, the announcers have and continue to love him, and it looks like he’s finally getting something important to do. No matter the outcome Sunday, these four should be in the US title picture for the foreseeable future.
5. Seth Rollins as the paranoid, delusional champion
How great was Seth Rollins last night? He’s such a huge asshole, and his show closing promo has put him into delusional paranoia mode. He’s all alone, and he knows he shouldn’t be out there, because there’s a crazy man beast on the loose by the name of Brock Lesnar. Rollins was great on the microphone all night, and his facial expressions and body language during the last segment were on point. The best part is, as much of a jackass as he is, his situation is very relatable. I would not want to be in the ring with a Brock Lesnar who won the lottery, never mind a Brock Lesnar who wants to hurt you. The man ripped a door off a Cadillac last week and threw it 50 feet in the air. What do you think he’s going to do to a 200 pound man who screwed him over? Rollins pissed off the one guy who nobody wants to mess with, and now he’s got no backup. J & J Security tried their best, but they got murdered for their troubles. Kane’s ankle is dangling off his leg, and after Rollins added insult to injury by attacking him, you can bet he won’t be there Sunday either. All Rollins has left is his championship, and if I were a betting man, I’d say he won’t have that title much longer either. This Lesnar/Rollins matchup is so great, and as awesome as Lesnar has been, Rollins has done an amazing job at making you want to see him get mauled. Sunday should be a fantastic show, and the main event should deliver on all fronts.
Raw was live from our nation’s capital last night. It was the final Raw before the big ol’ show in Tokyo Saturday morning and we’re heading towards the home stretch on the road to Battleground. Cesaro stole the show, Paige still doesn’t have any friends and Kane looked STRONG. Let’s get to the five stars from last night’s Raw.
So Paige still has no friends, but she wrestled a good match against Alicia Fox and actually won, so she’s on the list. I’m really hoping that this turns into an NXT/Divas feud, with Charlotte, Sasha, Becky Lynch and company coming to Paige’s aid. For now, the Paige/Bella Twins/Alicia Fox feud is ok, but at this point, every Bella Twins feud seems the same to me. The Bella Twins are the entitled reformed models who are handed everything on a silver platter in fake wrestling and who date/are married to the two most popular superstars outside of the ring. Paige is the polar opposite. She’s 22, has already wrestled all around the world and cares about the wrestling aspect of the business more than the show business/Total Divas aspect of it. It’s a good story to tell, but the WWE has been telling it forever, whether it be with AJ, Naomi or now Paige. It’s ok for the WWE to broaden your storyline horizons and come up with different storylines for these Divas. I think we’d all be pleasantly surprised if they did.
2. Cesaro (and John Cena)
The rest of this Raw could’ve been Mark Henry eating a meatball sub in his underwear and I’d still love it. After a bluff by Kevin Owens, Cesaro fought John Cena for the US title and it was one of the best TV matches of the year. I know we still have 5 months left, but there’s not much that’s going to top that. Cesaro is my favorite wrestler and now that Bryan is out, he’s probably the best wrestler on the roster. Maybe he’s not Dusty Rhodes on the microphone or The Rock in the charisma department, but he’s the most versatile guy on the roster, and he understands match pacing. The benefit of having a guy like Cesaro who has wrestled all over the world is that he can wrestle any style of match. When you see a John Cena match, unless it’s against a guy like Cesaro or Owens who knows different styles of wrestling, you know what you’re going to get. Cena came up through WWE and has stayed there, so he’s going to wrestle a WWE match. But with Cesaro, he understands that you can’t just light the world on fire for 20 minutes, especially on a Raw, so you start slow and build to the finish. He also happens to be in better shape than anybody, and can simultaneously snatch 250 pound John Cena out of the air and then drop kick him off the top rope from a standing position. I loved everything about this, and Cena deserves credit too, because he was every bit as good in this match. If this leads to a triple threat for the US title I might die of happiness.
3. Prime Time Players
Titus O’Neil hot tags continue to be one of my favorite things, and this is a perfect example of keeping the champs looking good while getting a bunch of guys some TV time. Darren and Titus have looked great since getting the belts, and the Lucha Dragons are always fun to watch. Bo Dallas and New Day are the most logical combination because they’re essentially all the same characters. I was kind of hoping for a quick Bo promo to address the Rock stealing his thunder at the Boston house show, but I’ll settle for the merry go round tag ins and stomps in the corner from Bo and the New Day. At this point, there really isn’t another bonafide tag team in the division outside of New Day and PTP, so hopefully this feud keeps going. Tyson Kidd is out for awhile, as is Erick Rowan. Maybe when the hurt Uso twin gets back the Uso’s can get back into the title picture, but for now I’m fine with the New Day and PTP duking it out over the tag belts.
Mr. MITB Sheamus hasn’t gotten off to the best start as the briefcase holder, but last night’s match with Neville was a good start. Booking the MITB winner is hard because you want him to be a big part of your show while also kind of blending into the background. If you keep featuring him in big spots and have him talk about cashing in, the actual cash in loses some of its luster. At the same time, you don’t want people to entirely forget about him either. WWE did it right with Rollins in that they put him in feuds that didn’t necessarily center around the briefcase, so they could feature him in big time matches without people focusing only on the case. Sheamus/Neville is definitely something I’d be interested in, as Sheamus is at his best when his opponent isn’t afraid to take a beating, and Neville is one of the best ‘sellers’ on the roster. Sheamus is still kind of boring, but at least he’s winning matches.
5. KANE (Just Kidding) Roman Reigns
So Kane main evented Raw. Let’s just let that soak in for a second. He and Seth Rollins took on Ambrose and Reigns in a no DQ match, which was basically a regular tag match with a kendo stick. The match itself was fine, but Reigns took the beating at the end so well, and he looked as good as he did at WM 30 when Brock Lesnar was beating the shit out of him. I don’t know what’s next for Reigns, but the crowd is back on his side again, so hopefully he’s able to be more of himself rather some rambling, fairy tale spewing promo machine. He’s not John Cena, and that is all sorts of a good thing. Let him be a Samoan SWAT team member who kicks everyone’s ass and looks cool doing it. Also, let Kane actually vacation in Hawaii and never book him a plane ticket home.
— Scottrade Center (@ScottradeCenter) May 28, 2015
The WWE is approximately 4,000,000 percent better when Brock Lesnar is around, so when news broke on Twitter that his return is less than two months away, I made that Willem Dafoe face you see above. Brock is the single best wrestling attraction in the world, and you disagree you’re wrong. He makes every show better, he makes every segment better and when Brock Lesnar is on my TV Paul Heyman is also on my TV and that makes me happy. I’m assuming WWE had the Scottrade Center tweet this ahead of Heyman being on Stone Cold’s podcast Monday night, because you know most of Austin’s questions were going to center around da beast. WWE usually has a lull between WrestleMania and Summerslam, but with 4 pay per views in a month’s time, the influx of NXT superstars and the return of Lesnar, I think this summer is shaping up to be epic.