This is the first of what will hopefully become a regular column! What I’m going to do is discuss a couple of the main talking points – whether that is an impressive promo or match, a significant storyline development, or maybe just something subtle that caught my eye that I felt was worth mentioning – from Raw, SmackDown and maybe even NXT, depending on how things go. I’m normally going to try to have this up in the middle of the week, but it’s later this week because New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom 12 and New Year’s Dash meant I didn’t get round to NXT until yesterday. So what were the main things to takeaway from WWE’s first shows of 2018? Let’s find out!
Royal Rumble Rules Revealed
It’s been a couple of weeks since Stephanie McMahon officially announced the first ever Women’s Royal Rumble, and there had been a lot of speculation over how it would work. Given the size of the women’s roster, how many entrants would there be? Given the size of some of the women, would they have to go over the top rope to the floor, or just out of the ring to the floor? Well, on New Year’s Day Kurt Angle opened Raw to confirm the rules of the match – 30 women, and eliminations occurring when a woman goes over the top rope with both feet hitting the floor. Given that there are only 19 women on the main roster not including each brand’s champion, that means there are going to be a lot of former stars returning or appearances from NXT’s women to fill out the spots. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing, as 30 women puts it on an even playing field as the men – if it was only 20, as had been suggested by many including myself, it might’ve been argued that it was less important. And this year especially, it’ll put over the historical significance of the match to have all these legends coming back to win it. However going forward it’s a concern. If the main roster’s women’s division doesn’t expand for next year, there’s only so many times you can bring back the same names from the past, and having one third of the field coming from NXT could hurt the credibility and star power in the match. It’ll be an interesting situation to keep an eye on in years to come.
Roman Reigns Retains the Intercontinental Championship
The Intercontinental Title was on the line Monday night as Roman Reigns defended the gold against a man he had never beaten – Samoa Joe. There was also the added stipulation that if Reigns got disqualified, he lost the championship. It was a really good, competitive match. I actually thought there was a decent chance of a title change here, for a few different reasons. For one, obviously Roman Reigns has bigger things in store for him going in to Wrestlemania, so he has to lose the title at some point. For two, I liked the story of Joe having Reigns’ number and staying undefeated against him, at least until a bigger prize was at stake. For three, the stipulation meant that Reigns could lose cheaply without weakening him before facing Brock Lesnar – and on that note it wouldn’t have surprised me to see The Miz return to cost Reigns the match. Obviously despite these reasons, it didn’t happen. It’s interesting to note though that some of Reigns’ best matches have come against “monsters” – Brock Lesnar, Braun Strowman and Samoa Joe. It doesn’t always work out that way, but that seems to be a dynamic where Reigns thrives.
Reuniting the Club
The Bullet Club have become a stable known worldwide, often featuring some of the cream of the crop that exists outside the WWE Universe. It was started by Finn Balor, who recruited (among others) Karl Anderson as a founding member. A couple of months later, Luke Gallows joined the group and started teaming with Anderson on a regular basis. Balor left the group in the summer of 2014 to sign for NXT, where he became one of the most popular superstars in the brand’s history and the longest reigning NXT Champion of all time. The “Balor Club” gimmick was a direct reference to Balor’s success in Japan, and it didn’t go unnoticed. So when Gallows & Anderson jumped ship to WWE in 2016, along with Balor’s successor as the Bullet Club’s leader in AJ Styles, WWE had signed the core of the original Bullet Club, and fans who were aware of their history were eager for a reunion. If there were any plans for it, they didn’t seem to be imminent, and Balor’s injury at 2014’s SummerSlam meant that the first time we have been able to see Balor, Anderson & Gallows on the same page in WWE was this past Monday night. The three men had all lost a lot of momentum, so it could be just what they need to kickstart a rise back up the card heading into Wrestlemania season. This is definitely something to keep an eye on, but even as a standalone moment it was Too Sweet.
Becky Lynch Returns
The Irish Lass Kicker was in storyline taken out of action by the debuting Riott Squad in a backstage attack. In reality she had been off filming a movie – the same reason The Miz hasn’t been on Raw for weeks. But this week Lynch made her return, aligning with Naomi and Charlotte to attack the Riott Squad. The crowd were really into it, which bodes well for Becky considering she didn’t exactly have a stellar 2017. She’s one of the best women WWE have in the ring, so it’s good to see her back. Presumably we’re going to get Charlotte, Becky Lynch & Naomi vs The Riott Squad some point soon.
AJ Styles Gets a Handicap for the Royal Rumble
SmackDown’s main event saw AJ Styles lose to Sami Zayn after some shenanigans, after last week’s main event saw AJ Styles lose to Kevin Owens after some shenanigans. These matches were used to further the dissension between Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon, with Bryan being accused of showing favouritism towards Owens & Zayn. The announcement on Tuesday that AJ Styles would be defending his WWE Championship against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in a handicap match at the Royal Rumble did nothing to dispel those accusations. It’s an interesting match, if only because it’s so rare to see a world title defended in a handicap match. I really hope this isn’t used to break up Owens and Zayn, they still have so much to offer as a pairing and they should stay together for at least the entire year. For me, in an ideal world, AJ would retain and go on to defend against the Royal Rumble winner Shinsuke Nakamura at Wrestlemania, but I can see Styles’ Rumble match leading to Styles and Shane McMahon vs Owens & Zayn at some point too.
WWE Highlights Ember Moon’s Contenders
This was a relatively small thing, as NXT this week was a two-hour special looking back at the yellow brand’s 2017. But they also produced a couple of video packages looking at who was gunning for the NXT Tag Team and Women’s Championships in 2018, and I thought it was interesting to see who was featured in each video. In particular, the women’s clip. The likes of Bianca Belair and Vanessa Borne were featured, which I don’t necessarily have anything against, but I was surprised to see someone like Borne included while someone like Dakota Kai – far more experienced and one of the more impressive performers in the Mae Young Classic – was nowhere to be seen. Maybe this is a sign she’ll be going straight to the main roster. Royal Rumble spot anyone?
Ember Moon’s Journey
The two-hour special concluded with a special look at Ember Moon’s journey, from her wrestling training, to struggling to get signed by the WWE, to becoming the NXT Women’s Champion in her third title shot. I just thought it was a fantastic watch, and it’s the kind of video WWE should be producing more often. I’d find it difficult to think anyone watching it wouldn’t have felt a connection with Ember, and if it had been a two or three part series on NXT’s usual shows – much like Roderick Strong’s vignettes earlier in the year – it could do wonders for someone’s popularity.
And there we have it! Those were what I saw to be the main talking points for WWE’s week. This is a column that will go up and down in size depending on how newsworthy the week has been, with this actually being a slightly longer article than I’d expect the normal to be. But if there’s one thing to take away from this inaugural column – watch that Ember Moon feature. You won’t regret it.