Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Wild predictions for televised wrestling in 2018

One thing I love in wrestling is making guesses about where wrestling stories will go over the course of six months to a year. So today is the day, I'm going to share a few thoughts about the big promotions and wild guesses as to where they will go.

Are big things ahead for Seth Rollins? Image credit: Seth Rollins / WWE.

  • Seth Rollins will be pushed as one of the company's top babyfaces... on Smackdown.
  • Roman Reigns will not win the WWE Universal title at Wrestlemania.
  • The Mixed Match Challenge will end with the crowning of the first ever Mixed Match Champions, a title that will be defended across both brands.
  • AJ Styles will retain his title over Shinsuke Nakamura when he and the Balor Club turn heel and unite. 
  • Ronda Rousey will not win a title in 2018. Asuka will move to Smackdown and challenge Charlotte, keeping both women away from each other. 
  • Andrade "Cien" Almas will make his main roster debut after Wrestlemania and be a world champion by the end of the year. 
  • Kassius Ohno will replace a retiring Sheamus as partner to Cesaro, losing one of his names in the process.

Is gold in the former Tommy End's future? Image credit:
  • Aleister Black will win the NXT title and hold it for the rest of 2018.
  • Peyton Royce and Billie Kay will remain on the show and become major threats for the women's title. 
  • The Undisputed Era will defend successfully against every current NXT tag team, but will drop the title to a surprise team. 
  • TM-61 will be released and immediately start a strong indie run.

Will Okada be chasing the title at the G1 this year?
Image credit: NJPW.
  • Kazuchika Okada will drop his title at Dominion
  • Juice Robinson will win either the Intercontinental or United States title before years end.
  • The Young Bucks will participate in their first World Tag League after declaring themselves heavyweights.  
  • The Elite versus Bullet Club feud will continue for most of the next year.
  • If he doesn't sign a WWE contract, Rey Mysterio will make an appearance for the company in Japan. 
  • Cody will participate in his first G1 this year.
  • Fissures between Suzuki and Suzukigun will lead to Zack Sabre leading a turn on Minoru Suzuki.
  • American fans will be apoplectic when the company books Michael Elgin in a title match at Strong Style Evolved.

Who will take Dalton's ROH World title?
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  • Dalton Castle will drop the ROH title to a member of the Bullet Club, but it won't be Cody.
  • Kenny Omega will make more than one pay-per-view appearance with the company in the lead up to All In. Kota Ibushi will make at least one as well.
  • Chris Jericho will wrestle at least once for the company and will have a major match at All In.
  • Another New Japan star will hold a title in the company in 2018. 
  • Juice Robinson will start making regular appearances for ROH. 
  • Christopher Daniels will get a high profile match but not regain the ROH title. 
  • The tag titles will be held at least once this year by a team that isn't currently on ROH television.

Will Brian Cage be a huge part of Impact in 2018?
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  • Brian Cage will be the man to unseat Austin Aries for the championship.
  • The Grand Championship will officially be unified with the Global title.
  • The male roster will see less new additions for the rest of the year than the Knockouts roster, as the company seeks to rebuild their women's division. 
  • Matt Sydal will work his way through multiple titles in the company, but won't win the World title. 
  • LAX will lose the tag titles to a makeshift tag team.
  • Taya and Johnny Impact will form a unit against LAX upon Diamante's return. 
  • Sami Callihan will be in the Global title picture before year's end. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Is Big Match Shin back? The Men's Royal Rumble in review

The 2018 Men's Royal Rumble may have come on only an hour into the 240 minute broadcast, but it marked another sea change in WWE booking. After four straight years of WWE's "chosen" winning the title and getting rained by boos in the aftermath, an indie darling finally rose to take the victory in the first match on the road to Wrestlemania. In the process, he became the first (but not the last) Japanese talent to win a Royal Rumble.

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Shinsuke Nakamura certainly isn't a stranger to big matches. He spent a decade near or at the top of New Japan before he jumped to WWE. He was an instant main eventer in NXT and headlined against Jinder Mahal for the WWE title. But while Shinsuke was a world class competitor during his days in Japan, that Nakamura has been largely nonexistent in WWE. His first match in NXT was nothing short of epic. That battle with Sami Zayn earned the "Fight Forever" chant that came with it. But even as he won the NXT title and defended it in a brutal feud with Samoa Joe, he never quite showed the fighting spirit he showed at so many big New Japan events.

Of course, that Nakamura was mostly an illusion. Although Nakamura always had grand entrances, he frequently didn't push himself in all but the most important matches. That is not to say he ever just phoned in a match, but he only brought the intensity he was frequently known for part time. Even in the middle of huge feuds, he likely only showed intensity for two to three minutes in the many multi-man matches NJPW used to build to feuds.

I have long believed WWE could learn a lot from New Japan's booking strategy. Factions and a lot more six and eight man tags would help protect a lot of their feuds for bigger shows. Nakamura clearly preferred that style of operation as his intensity on television and even at many pay-per-views often seemed a shadow of his New Japan times. It was very strange to hear him called the King of Strong Style when he often showed little of the fighting spirit that defines the puroresu style.

The 2018 version of the Royal Rumble started out with a crowd hot for Finn Balor and Rusev. It kept its fire through multiple appearances and multiple eliminations. But when number fourteen hit the ring, business clearly picked up. With Finn already on fire, he and Shinsuke quickly lit up the crowd.

But Shinsuke and Finn's profile remained just one of many. The ring stayed full for much of the Rumble, but after the elimination of the #30 entry Dolph Ziggler by Finn, business picked up in the match. The final six were clearly split into two camps: the young guns of Roman Reigns, Nakamura and Balor versus the veterans John Cena, Randy Orton and the returning Rey Mysterio. But unlike previous years, the veterans met with trouble. Mysterio and Orton were both soon eliminated, and then there were four.

The intensity of those final four were palpable. Cena and Reigns stood against the Japanese imports Balor and Nakamura. The chosen ones stood against a pair of stars honed anywhere but in WWE. Despite a half hour in the ring, Nakamura had only eliminated one man: his old foe Sami Zayn.

But strong style made its comeback at the end of the match. Nakamura showed all the fire of his most famous confrontations as he stood up to the two men WWE put more money behind than anyone else in the last fifteen years. And in the space of ten minutes, he sent both John Cena and Roman Reigns hurling over the top rope.

Many fans assume the much desired AJ Styles / Shinsuke Nakamura rematch from Wrestle Kingdom 10. But I would rather see a rematch from a much earlier match, one from 2006 at a New Japan event called Toukon Shidou Chapter I. At that show, the defending IWGP Heavyweight champion was a man named Brock Lesnar and his opponent was a man searching to reclaim that belt, then a "super rookie". Shinsuke came up short against "The Beast" but I'm sure I'm not the only one that would love to see a Kinshasa delivered to the skull of the current WWE Universal Champion.

If WWE can continue the stride from their current booking and help Shinsuke rebuild the big match feel he carried so well in New Japan, they could restore the mystique he built in his classic confrontations with Tanahashi, Okada and Goto. WWE is currently overflowing with talents he could bring that same magical fire against. We saw it against Zayn and to a lesser extent in his main roster debut against Dolph Ziggler. But there's also talents like Finn Balor, Seth Rollins and Cesaro on the roster, as well as folks like Adam Cole, Aleister Black and Andrade "Cien" Almas (a man that once beat Nakamura for his IWGP Intercontinental title) waiting for a call up from NXT.

Whatever the case, the Royal Rumble this year stood out as one of the best in the company's history. With the right strategy, they could build a Wrestlemania in New Orleans like none other. Whatever the case, Shinsuke Nakamura looks to be a huge part of the future of WWE. Here's hoping the big matches for the King of Strong Style are here to stay.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Phenomenal rise to the top: AJ Styles is the top wrestler of 2017

It's hard to argue that the obvious most valuable player of WWE today deserves a place at the top of the list. Over his twenty year career, we've watched AJ evolve from a cruiserweight jobber alongside Air Paris, to a foundation of the early days of TNA as X Division champion to a seasoned champion in Impact Wrestling, New Japan Pro Wrestling and now World Wrestling Entertainment.

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While he missed ranking on the Top 10 during the final days of his NJPW run (he actually came in #24 in the overall poll), he ranked at number two last year behind only Broken Matt Hardy. But this year, he would prove why he carried his nickname for all these years.

AJ opened and closed the year with the WWE World Heavyweight champion. But he would quickly drop the title at Royal Rumble to give John Cena his sixteenth (and three week) reign with the title. He took his immediate anger out on Shane McMahon. Their hatred brewed for several weeks until the two met in a brutal match to open Wrestlemania. With the anger between the two cooling, AJ turned face and started a run of matches like no other in WWE.

He entered a stellar feud with this year's #7, Kevin Owens. Over several months, the two men had amazing match after amazing match that extended through the summer. Ultimately, he would walk out with a short reign with the United States title. Though he quickly dropped that belt in match with Baron Corbin and Dolph Ziggler, he quickly rose to prominence by beating Jinder Mahal for his second title. He wrestled Brock Lesnar in an epic encounter at Survivor Series. From there he finished his feud with Jinder, only to move back to another series of stellar matches with Kevin Owens and Owens' new ally Sami Zayn.

AJ didn't come in at first place based on his winning record. In fact, he dropped far more pay-per-view matches than he won in 2017. But winning is far from everything in an entertainment form as subjective as professional wrestling. Every week he appeared in a match, Styles wowed fans. He consistently pulled out some of the best matches ever from Jinder Mahal or Baron Corbin. His in ring psychology is second to none and his offense is filled with flashy moves he can hit quickly and effectively. With a control of his body like no other talent on the planet, he can switch from solid mat skills to high flying in an instant. This versatility gives him so many ways to keep a match's momentum moving forward, that it may actually be impossible for AJ to have a bad match.

Over the course of the year, AJ has done something WWE has tried to do for over a decade with limited success (and rarely succeeded purposefully.) They have created a true blue white meat babyface that children, casual fans and the more jaded older fans (like myself) can get behind. It's made him easily the most popular talent online in the WWE roster. He's even one of the four talents focused on for merchandise over at WWE Shop. Sharing company with massive merch sellers like John Cena, The Shield and Finn Balor is nothing to scoff about.

The real question for AJ is where he's going in 2018. A feud with Shinsuke Nakamura may be in the future. If AJ retains and Nakamura wins the Rumble, they could set up a super-hot feud that could re-energize Nakamura. If they can come even close to their mat classic at Wrestle Kingdom 10 they could create something truly... phenomenal.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Top Ten Wrestlers of 2017, Honorable Mentions part three

Tomorrow, we reveal the immensely talented number one wrestler of 2017 as voted on by the readers of this site. But first, we have the final ten talents that made a large impact over the year withotu quite reaching the top 10.

  • Christopher Daniels (#20)

    Image credit: Oil Sandler / Sportskeeda.
    At 46 years of age and a quarter of a century into his career, Daniels is a veteran by any count. Only a few names can say they've made it as far and as high as he has without ever finding success in WWE. (While he never was on WWE television outside an appearance as a Conquistador, he did have a developmental contract from 1998-2000.) 2017 was one of his most impressive years in the business as he wrestled several great matches and finally ascended to the pinnacle of a world championship. While his run with the ROH title wasn't particularly long, it was quite an achievement for one of the best talents still going in the business.

  • Johnny Gargano (#19)

    Injury slowed Johnny Gargano a bit in 2017, but he walked into the year as NXT Tag Team Champion and walked out as #1 contender to the NXT title. He ranked high on the list of talents here (while current NXT champion Andrade Almas didn't even get a vote.) And while he spent much of 2017 taking losses, he showed why he's called Johnny Wrestling in match after match. He and Tommaso Ciampa sold for the Authors of Pain like no other. The beating he took at Ciampa's hand set him up for a huge underdog babyface run. But he did succeed in putting Andrade on the map with a stellar match at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn III and bumped for Pete Dunne in perhaps the best UK title match so far. Gargano has a great 2018 in his future, although Tommaso has to be waiting in the wings as a major thorn in his side.

  • The Young Bucks (#17 & 18)

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    I marked Matt and Nick Jackson as the eighth and ninth best wrestlers in the world on my own personal list. They remained forgotten on several others. I suspect they may be victims of their own success. The Young Bucks don't ever have bad matches, but their place as a stalwart and true tag team means they often are forgotten during their dozens of reigns with multiple titles. They held the ROH tag titles twice in 2017, losing and regaining them from the Broken Hardys in their last match before jumping back to WWE. They would then team with Hangman Page (as the Hung Bucks) to capture the ROH Six Man titles. They would take the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team title on their sixth ride as well. (They have since claimed it for the seventh time at Wrestle Kingdom 12.) The Young Bucks have already reached the sky, but their lofty goal of selling out a ten thousand seat arena means they may draw a lot more eyes in 2018.

  • Samoa Joe (#16)

    On any other roster, Joe would be a champion. Unfortunately, he's stuck on the roster of Raw, where Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns won't drop their matches without extreme circumstances. Joe dragged the best match Lesnar had this year out of him and actually made Reigns look better (if not great) when he played his latter day Hulk Hogan beatdown schtick. If all goes well in 2018, he will join AJ Styles on Smackdown. It might make that brand look like TNA circa 2008, but everyone and their uncle know the magic Styles and Joe can make. And just think if they threw Shinsuke in there...

  • The Bar (Sheamus #15 & Cesaro #11)

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    Cesaro and Sheamus were the only tag team not to rank one after another on this list. Both proved their worth by putting on great tag matches in 2017. Their heel turn cemented them as a unit. Cesaro has always worked at a higher level than Sheamus, but the Irishmen seemed relevant for the first time in years in The Bar. I suspect these two will hang together for some time to come.

  • Charlotte Flair (#14)

    Charlotte's move to Smackdown and face turn have done wonders for her character and her in ring work. In my opinion, she works best as a face and she showed that off by putting on some matches far stronger than what we got in the last few months of her heel run. My only fear for her is that she will run out of goals to accomplish in WWE far too quickly.

  • Neville (#13)

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    My number six pick takes the cake for most improved character work by any meter. But this list is about in ring work and in WWE, he was right near the peak of that. WWE's decision to de-push and turn him was beyond idiotic and would have been a truly awful way to end one of the hottest runs in wrestling. I don't blame him for walking away to avoid being just another member of the Cruiserweight crew. I'm not sure if he will sit out his WWE contract or return, but smart money will be that he's back in the heavyweight division when he does. Honestly, who wouldn't love to see Neville on Smackdown feuding with Nakamura or Styles?

  • The Miz (#12)

    I cannot argue that The Miz is really the MVP of Raw, often carrying a show that's primary champion is nowhere to be found and who doesn't ever wrestle on television. His character work is second to none and his in ring work has vastly improved in the last couple years. While I personally wouldn't have ranked him nearly this high, I respect the multiple voters that chose him as a top talent in WWE. 

That's the final ten. Observant readers probably already know who that leaves as number one, the second time our top talent has made an appearance in the top half of our list. Who is it? Find out tomorrow!