Tempering NXT UK Expectations

It’s an incredibly exciting time to be a UK wrestling fan. Major moves are being made behind the scenes in the UK market, and that has resulted in the official announcement of NXT UK – as well as the first four sets of tapings.

WWE seem to be creating their own tiered feeder system, and this is the first step towards creating a new tier. You’re going to have Raw and SmackDown at the top, NXT next, then the regional promotions like NXT UK that are starting up, and below them the companies WWE have working relationships with, like Progress and ICW in the UK. It could completely revolutionise the wrestling industry.

But it’s early days, and there are still questions over where and when the new NXT UK show will actually be aired, but even these happenings are so encouraging after a year of nothing really moving. The likes of Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate have stolen shows in that time, but it’s great to see others finally get the recognition that a WWE stage will undoubtedly lead to. Read More

WWE’s Fandom Conundrum

When I wrote my column about becoming more interested in companies outside WWE, I briefly mentioned naming this blog. “That Wrestling Fandom” was specifically named to not be WWE specific. But I also deliberately picked the term “fandom”, because I anticipated that at some point I’d be talking about fan culture. And here we are.

I think WWE and their fans are in an endless cycle of no-win situations.

Fans, myself included, cry out month after month for long term storytelling. Shotgun booking appears to be public enemy number one at times, and yet is all too prevalent in WWE’s programming. The obvious example going back a few months was when Finn Balor lost to Kane towards the end of last year when he was considered to be Brock Lesnar’s obvious next challenger.

And yet, when WWE try to have a feud simmering under the surface for months, that doesn’t go down well either. Sasha Banks vs Bayley is a rivalry that has burst back to the fore after last night’s Raw, and nobody seems to care anymore. The time for a heel turn, based on crowd reaction, was 14 months ago. People say this is a feud that has gone nowhere for six months, but Banks looked like she was turning heel around Wrestlemania 33 – over a year ago in April 2017. Read More

MITB 2018 Spotlight: Men’s Money In The Bank Ladder Match

I said in yesterday’s Women’s MITB Spotlight that I’d previewed every Money In The Bank match since I started this blog, so I couldn’t leave out the men’s match in 2018. I was looking back through old previews and noticed I used a slightly different format last year to what I’ve normally done, and I’m going to use it here too. So let’s break down the match!

The Miz

Miz

How can he be the star of the match?

By playing the spoiler role. Whenever any of the faces in the match get anywhere close to the top of the ladder, The Miz can be the one to stop them grabbing the contract. He should avoid all the high risk spots and just appear at the worst possible times for the fan favourites. Miz should also be around at the end, either to win the match or to finally get his comeuppance by getting literally knocked off his perch by the winner.

Will he actually win?

He has every chance. The Miz has proven his worth in the last two years, and it’s very possible that he can get back into a world title picture via the contract. He would actually have been my pick to win this match last year, but it was a SmackDown-exclusive PPV and Miz was moved to Raw post-Mania. A year later, it’s a tougher field with superstars from both brands, but Miz hasn’t cooled off too much. It could still be his time. Read More

MITB 2018 Spotlight: Women’s Money In The Bank Ladder Match

I love the Money In The Bank concept. It adds a storytelling element like nothing WWE had before it. It was originally designed to be that final push for superstars to get over the line to main event level. It was a way of elevating people. It was a way of putting guys who had been at the top of the mid-card for years the opportunity to finally break through. And of course, once the gimmick got established, it could be used in other ways.

It was a featured part of Wrestlemania for years, and eventually it evolved to the point of getting it’s own PPV, and having two contracts. Last year WWE took that a step further by having the first ever women’s Money In The Bank ladder match, and then just over a week later, the second. Now we’re here, just over 24 hours away from Money In The Bank with the strongest line up on paper yet.

It has evolved yet again this year, with the number of competitors rising from six to eight, and also with the match becoming dual-branded. Since I started writing about wrestling, I’ve gone through the MITB competitors every year. So let’s get to the 2018 edition, starting with the women’s line up.

 

Sasha Banks

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Sasha Banks has racked up an impressive list of firsts in her time under the WWE umbrella. She was in the first iron woman match, the first women’s hell in a cell match, the first women’s matches to main event both a WWE PPV and NXT TakeOver, and she was the first ever entrant into the women’s Royal Rumble. But being on the Raw brand, she missed out on being in the first women’s Money In The Bank match last year. With the arrivals of Ronda Rousey and Ember Moon on Monday nights, and the face turn and championship reign of Nia Jax, Sasha has been pushed way down the pecking order.

Something is missing from The Boss. A heel turn may help that. But getting back in the title picture may also do the trick. And the MITB contract is an immediate opportunity to put her back in that conversation. With Banks’ track record, she is always going to be in with a chance in these situations, because she has instant credibility whenever you want to throw her into a top position. Banks is likely to be the workhorse of the match, all over the shop and involved in spots with everybody. But I think her role will be to be the nearly-woman that never quite gets there.

Chances of winning: Possible

 

Naomi

Naomi

Look, Naomi is good, but I was surprised that she got the escape spot at the Royal Rumble, and I was surprised that she won the battle royal at Wrestlemania. It’s not that I don’t think she deserves the spots, it’s just that this year there’s been so little follow up that those moments have seemed… forgettable. She seems to be very clearly the fourth face on Tuesday nights, and without the backing of the NXT fans that Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Asuka have, unless something radical happens that’s not going to change.

Because of that, I don’t feel like she’s a threat to win. I could be wrong, because as I said before, she has been put in spots to stand out before. She even won the title at Wrestlemania last year. But as far as this field goes, I have Naomi right near the back of it.

Chances of winning: Unlikely

 

Lana

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Granted I lost track of Raw and SmackDown for a while there, but why? Just… why? Like… why?

Chances of winning: (Surely?) None

 

Natalya

Natalya-1

A year ago Natalya was exactly who this match would have been created for. She was a long tenured superstar who was always seen as being good, but for whatever reason never got her opportunity. But then she finally got her run as SmackDown Women’s Champion last year that was arguably well overdue.

Since moving to Raw in the Wrestlemania aftermath, she became a de facto face by virtue of her history training with Ronda Rousey. And that has meant she has been one of the more prominent characters on the show. More than that, with Rousey being in a title match tomorrow night it has given Natalya a really obvious storyline with the contract. It makes Natalya a red hot pick to scale the ladder, with the only thing stopping her is that it’s not really a necessary prop to go into that story. But it is the best way to protect all parties.

Chances of winning: the favourite.

 

Becky Lynch

Becky Lynch

If last year I might have said that Natalya was the kind of superstar MITB was designed for, Becky Lynch comes the closest this year. It’s already been two years since Lynch was Women’s Champion, back when she was riding the crest of the SmackDown post-draft wave. Her line on this week’s SmackDown about being sick of saying “I was”, and being ready to say “I am” again summed it up perfectly. She has never lost that much popularity, but first Alexa Bliss, then Charlotte, and now Asuka has taken over her mantle.

For me, Lynch is probably the person who could benefit most from a win here. She is the one with the biggest up-side who is most likely to get lost in the shuffle. She would be a reliable champion, able to work with pretty much anyone. At the very worst Lynch is a solid option, but potentially she can be much more than that.

Chances of winning: Possible

 

Alexa Bliss

Alexa Bliss

Bliss is in danger of getting lost in the shuffle on Raw. Having been champion for so long across both brands, I get that she needs to take a step out of the title picture for a while. But she needs to be kept relevant, and at the moment looks like she could become a victim of WWE’s perennial lack of ability to create secondary and tertiary storylines for anything other than it’s main event scene. On a show as long and with as much filler as Raw, that’s really unforgivable.

But at the same time, Bliss has an advantage over everybody else in this match. Her character fits the archetypal cash-in more than anybody else, and that will keep her in with a shout regardless of who else is in the mix. Having a contract in her possession would also keep her in the spotlight without having her directly chase the title. And really, with her gimmick, she should be in no rush at all to get involved when the title scene currently involved Nia Jax and Ronda Rousey.

 

Charlotte

Charlotte

I can echo some of my other sentiments here with Charlotte. She is proven as the leader of the division, she’s a safe bet, her resume means you can throw her in the mix at any time with credibility. But because she was champion as recently as two months ago, there is also a sense that Charlotte doesn’t need this win as much as the others do.

There are some story points that I quite like with a Charlotte win though. I would find a poetry in Charlotte trying to cash in against Carmella, who won the title so recently by cashing in on Charlotte. And obviously there would be the threat of another loss to Charlotte hanging over Asuka should she become champion tomorrow night. That paranoia could lead to some development for the Empress of Tomorrow. All that being said, while there would be some cool off-shoots to a Charlotte win, I’m not really expecting to see it.

Chances of winning: Unlikely

 

Ember Moon

Ember Moon

Ember Moon is the person that I think has the most to gain from this match. She is the most recent addition to the main roster out of these eight women, and while the Eclipse will always be spectacular, it feels like the right stage for Moon to have a show stealing performance. An Eclipse off a ladder anyone?

Because she’s so new, to an extent it seems to early to be talking about Moon as a title contender. That’s why MITB is perfect for her. It would be a sign of faith from WWE that she is a big deal, that she is going to be a star, but an acknowledgement that right now is not her time. 2019 should be Ember Moon’s year in terms of main roster gold,  and carrying the contract around for the forseeable future should safeguard that.

Chances of winning: Dark horse

TakeOver: Chicago II Spotlight: Shayna Baszler vs Nikki Cross

It’s a big weekend for WWE, as they try to tell us it is any PPV weekend. But this time round it’s actually kind of true, and Money In The Bank is only a little bit of the reason. No, this weekend is really TakeOver weekend, as NXT return to Chicago for the second year in a row. And with that comes a TakeOver Spotlight as always. So what match have I gone for this time?

Is it the match that could steal the weekend in Ricochet v Velveteen Dream? Is it what will presumably be the culmination of a year long classic rivalry between Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa? Well, no.

Instead I’ve gone for Shayna Baszler’s first TakeOver defence of the NXT Women’s Championship against Nikki Cross. Because on paper, I think this is one of the most intriguing title matches in a long time. Read More

Life Outside WWE

So let’s just get into it. I haven’t really posted here for two months, and that has been for a few reasons. For one, work has gotten very busy. For two, there’s been some personal stuff that I had to deal with that took priority. But for three, and I think this has been the most important part of the lack of writing here, WWE just hasn’t been that interesting.

The reason I say that’s the biggest factor is that I was still busy with work around Wrestlemania season. But I was so excited for the biggest show of the year that I rebranded this site, came up with new concepts for articles, and wrote something in the region of 15,000 words in roughly a week. I don’t have the exact figure to hand, I could sit and work it out, but around Wrestlemania this year I think I wrote more than I did in the entirety off 2015.

Ronda Rousey Wrestlemania 34
I mean, it’s like there were one or two things to write about. Anybody remember any?

Because here’s the thing, when WWE is good, it forces it’s way into my life. No matter what else is going on, WWE becomes a priority. I will find the time to watch and write about it, even if that means surviving on less than 20 hours sleep in a week. Yes, I’ve done that. Read More

Backlash 2018 Spotlight: Roman Reigns vs Samoa Joe

Real life gets in the way sometimes, but tonight is Backlash so that can only mean one thing – a PPV Spotlight from yours truly! I’ve picked this match because I expect both men to be in the world title picture in the coming months, and I think that creates an interesting dilemma for tonight’s encounter. I’m writing about Roman Reigns vs Samoa Joe. Read More

WWE Brit(ish) Report 2

Welcome to the second edition of my weekly round up of what WWE’s UK & Ireland contingent have been up to! It was a huge week of news with the Superstar Shake-Up, but where did that leave them?

The big news is of course the return of Drew McIntyre to the WWE main roster. He left the company in 2013, made a big name for himself on indies each side of the Atlantic, and got signed to NXT on Wrestlemania weekend last year. He quite quickly rose up the yellow brand to become NXT Champion before losing to Andrade “Cien” Almas in November, where he also injured his arm. Read More

TV Talking Points – 16th-18th April

This week it was time to shake up the Raw and SmackDown rosters! And since it took place over two nights and really the main highlights from both shows could be exclusively roster moves. So for that reason, I’m shaking up the format of my talking points a little this week too.

Superstar Shake-Up

Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn & The Miz

This was a fantastic segment. From the appearance of KO and Zayn aligning with The Miztourage, to Zayn’s obnoxiousness when telling Angle they were a permanent part of Raw, to Angle cutting them off by telling The Miz he was going to SmackDown. It was all brilliant, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering these three are some of the elite characters in WWE right now. The Miz vs Daniel Bryan rivalry really could make SmackDown must see TV once again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He’s back… but not alone.

Dolph Ziggler needed a refresh. I thought it would come in the form of a proper face turn, but instead it was his return to Raw. Oh, and he has joined forced with Drew McIntyre. I would not have predicted this pairing in a million years, but I’m really intrigued to see what happens next with it. And most of all, I’m just delighted to see McIntyre back on Raw. It’s well deserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raw is Glorious

It’s not so much the move itself that was noteworthy, it was the positioning and presentation of it. Roode, after bring underwhelming on SmackDown for a while, and recently losing the United States Championship, was put on a level playing field with the likes of Braun Strowman, Seth Rollins and Finn Balor. It bodes really well for him to be in that company, because on Raw that’s the best of the best.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Striking out on his own

I’m gonna get to his golden exploits on Monday night, but the first move to SmackDown on Tuesday was the new US Champion, Jeff Hardy. He is back on the show where he won three world championships, and being moved away from his brother is as sure a sign as there ever was that WWE are going for the singles push for Jeff. Long may the success continue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SmackDown’s Samoan Submission Specialist

Curve. Ball. The man I expected to be the top heel in the company for months to come, and to be feuding with Roman Reigns over the Universal Championship, got moved to Tuesday nights. And it may be the best thing that ever happened to Samoa Joe. He already knows he has chemistry with the top faces on the blue brand, and he can really take over to become the top guy in a way Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman would never let him on Raw.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Empress of SmackDown

How is it possible, that with all the names SmackDown lost to Raw, that their roster may actually be stronger now than it was last week? It seems like every division that needed strengthened got that big name, and as far as SmackDown’s women go there aren’t many bigger than Asuka. Being on the same show as Charlotte should allow WWE to explore every nuanced consequence of Asuka’s streak ending, and from a star power perspective the balance is much better between Raw and SmackDown’s women’s divisions now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andrade “Cien” Almas & Sanity

I’m grouping these two together for a couple of reasons – neither properly appeared on the show, and both are coming up from NXT and not Raw. But both have huge potential, and both could be star names. Sanity will breathe new life into SmackDown’s tag team division, and Killian Dain has huge breakout singles potential. Almas has proven over the last six months in NXT that he can be an absolute star, and with Zelina Vega by his side the sky is the limit for El Idolo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raw

A new champion

While I kind of expected mid card titles to change shows, I did not expect a title change to be involved in that. Not on Raw at least, I thought they would at least have saved it for the Greatest Royal Rumble or Backlash. But no, in Raw’s opening match Jeff Hardy defeated Jinder Mahal to add the US Title to his trophy cabinet. Just for the record, that cabinet also includes the WWE Championshp, World Heavyweight Championship, Intercontinental Championship, European Championship, Hardcore Championship, Light Heavyweight Championship and multiple tag title reigns with several incarnations of the belts. What a career. What a man.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sasha Banks vs Bayley

So this match is going to be overshadowed by the ending, but it felt like these two were a matter of minutes away from reaching the classic level again. Whenever these two get in the ring there’s a magic in the air, and the fans totally bought in. I can’t wait to see more, and that’s all you can ask for from a match.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ember Moon kills Mickie James

That sell. That is all.

 

 

 

 

Joe tells Reigns how it’s going to be

See, this is why I’m disappointed Samoa Joe vs Roman Reigns appears to be a one off. The intensity and legitimacy of Joe’s promos in such a menacing fashion is unrivalled in WWE right now. That’s two weeks in a row he’s produced this kind of promo, and I think long term it could have served up a really memorable match. Oh well, we’ll just have to make to with him facing AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan instead.

 

 

Ten man tag

At the end of a show with a lot of excitement, this was a really fun main event. I mean, with the talent on hand, the time given and the fact that it was a 10-man tag team match, it really couldn’t have been anything else.

 

SmackDown

Mellabration

I’ve been a little surprised in the last two weeks at how good Carmella’s mic work has been, and then I remembered how good she was after winning Money In The Bank. She hasn’t been featured a lot on TV in the interim, but her character work these last two weeks is worthy of the gold she holds. Fingers crossed her in ring work doesn’t spoil the package.

 

NXT

The January Four in action

In the middle of January, WWE announced the signings of “internationally renowned” superstars Ricochet, Hanson & Rowe (War Raiders) and Candice LeRae. Last night on NXT, all four were on the same show for the first time. And I think they all showed why there was so much hype and excitement around them – Ricochet is arguably the best flyer in the world, War Raiders are an elite tag team with an unorthodox moveset, and much like her husband LeRae just has that intangible underdog quality. These four could be the leaders in a new NXT generation.

 

What a week, another whirlwind week. The momentum WWE has right now coming off of Wrestlemania season is huge, and it’s across the board on all three shows. That’s rare, and it’s going to be awesome to go along with this ride!

 

 

Fantasy Booking Series: Superstar Shake-up

So I was in the middle of putting together one of the countless “X superstars who should be shaken up” articles that are currently on the internet, and inspiration struck. I loved putting together those fantasy booking articles last year, so why not use the Shake-up as an opportunity. Instead of just listing some people who I thought should/would swap brands, I could take it into my own hands and actually book the shows.

Before I took one division on Raw and SmackDown and booked months in advance. I see this as the start of more regular posts covering the whole show, maybe covering up to each PPV at a time. Last time I set myself some ground rules, but for this I’m throwing most of them out of the window. If a match has already been announced, I’ll stick to it, but other than that it’s a completely fresh start, and everything – face/heel turns, NXT call-ups, teams forming or splitting up – is fair game. So what would I do with the 2018 Superstar Shake-up? Read on to find out. Read More

Looking back at my early predictions

This is my 200th post on this wrestling blog! It started six years ago, with the first post on April 1, a predictions column for Wrestlemania 28. I’ve progressed through many styles of article, several co-contributors, seen a huge turnover in the WWE roster and the rise of NXT and the WWE Network. And along the way, I’ve made probably hundreds of predictions. So, as a special post for the landmark, I thought I’d take a look back at some of the predictions I made in my first year, and see how right – or very, very wrong – I was. Read More

WWE Brit(ish) Report 1

Welcome to the first edition of a new regular column here on TWF called the WWE Brit(ish) Report! This is going to be a weekly recap of what WWE’s UK & Irish contingent have been up to on and off the screen. It’s been a big week for a couple of WWE superstars from this side of the pond, so let’s get to it! Read More