SI.com’s Wrestling Week in Review is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
News of the Week
The opening match on Raw was everything that is right in wrestling. Kevin Owens and AJ Styles wrestled for twenty minutes. The two built an incredible match that was both logical and compelling. There were multiple highlights, including an outrageous frog splash from Owens. A distraction from Chris Jericho cost Styles the match, but the battle won over a hostile Philly crowd. All seemed right in the world when it appeared, post-match, that there was going to be a triple threat match to determine the number one contender for Owens’ Intercontinental title at WrestleMania.
Then the bottom fell out.
Instead of Owens competing against Sami Zayn, which is a match with built-in history and emotion–and also gives WWE a chance to highlight the first great feud from NXT–we will instead be treated to a spotfest ladder match between Owens, Sami Zayn, Dolph Ziggler the Miz, Sin Cara, Stardust, and Zack Ryder. We watched the same ladder match at last year’s WrestleMania, except with a far stronger cast. Why are half the wrestlers–specifically Sin Cara, Stardust, and Zack Ryder even included? The buildup to WrestleMania has been one long headache.
Kurt Angle and Rey Mysterio put together a match on Sunday’s iPPV that was worthy of WrestleMania. Unfortunately, it was instead on a UR Fight iPPV, whose camera angles and overall production value is not anywhere close to the gold standard set by the WWE. The finish was weak, culminating in outside interference from musical act Riff Raff, but there was no way Mysterio was going over cleanly. Jim Ross was phenomenal and carried the broadcast, but Quinton “Rampage” Jackson–who mentioned multiple times that Mysterio was “little,” repeated Ross’ observations and continued his commentary during pinfalls–was not the right fit next to JR (though he created a legitimate laugh out loud moment when he called Angle a “motherf-----” after hitting Mysterio with a chair). Ultimately, the match served as a reminder of how mind-boggling it is that Angle, Mysterio and Ross all won’t be at WrestleMania.
In other news…
• Just so we’re all on the same page, wrestling fans will be forced to watch Roman Reigns win the championship for a third time at WrestleMania and see a singles match between Ryback and Kalisto. Kevin Owens, however, will be thrown into a multi-man cluster for the Intercontinental title. How does that make the slightest amount of sense?
• Solid promo from Vince on Monday, but calling Shane McMahon the most formidable opponent that the Undertaker has ever faced at a WrestleMania is ludicrous. At least the ‘Taker now has incentive to defeat Shane, considering a loss means this is his final WrestleMania.
• The Big Show and Kane do not make me want to watch the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. The crowd in Philadelphia was so bored by that segment on Raw that it did not have the energy to even boo.
• Do people invest more emotion into a character when it is apparent that the wrestler is constantly working to improve? I had a discussion last night about how certain wrestlers–Kevin Owens, Seth Rollins, Cesaro, Jay Lethal and Dean Ambrose, for example–continually add new wrinkles into their skillset, while some–like Roman Reigns, Sheamus and it pains me to include him, but also Bray Wyatt–have, move for move, not changed their matches for nearly two consecutive years.
• How did Triple H and Stephanie McMahon not see Reigns walking toward their limousine? And why wouldn’t they lock the doors or have the driver speed away? Are details like this discussed in creative meetings, or are viewers supposed to accept every scene and never question the logic?
• Dean Ambrose delivered some exceptional vignettes back home in Cincinnati on last week’s Smackdown, and Terry Funk was terrific in his brief cameo on Raw. “And if I had a daughter…”
• The WWE Divas continually take one step forward and two steps back. The back-and-forth from Smackdown’s encounter between Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch was realistic and passionate, while the bickering on Raw felt more like a scene out of Total Divas.
• The Young Bucks’ Nick Jackson discussed whether he and his brother, Matt, would ever return to TNA: “They called about a year ago, and the conversation lasted one minute. They made us an offer, and we explained that we already had higher offers on the table. They said, ‘Let us sharpen our pencils and we’ll call you back.’ They never called back, but if they offered us huge money, we’d consider it. AJ, Gallows, [Anderson]–now they had a huge offer, so maybe TNA has a little more money now.” Keep your eyes peeled for a new feature on the Bucks that is soon to hit SI.com.
• Speaking of TNA, Eric Young and Bobby Roode both received their release and finished up with the company this past Saturday. Both were champions, which necessitated title changes at the tapings in Orlando. Unless NXT is interested, which is unlikely, these two are destined to reunite with Jeff Jarrett. When I spoke with Jarrett this past September about adding talent to Global Force Wrestling, he specifically mentioned the pair as two wrestlers he greatly admired: “I consider Bobby Roode one of the greatest wrestlers on the planet,” Jarrett told me, “and Eric Young is very, very talented.”
• Looking forward to watching Drew Galloway vs. Jeff Hardy, and overall excited for the Galloway title reign in TNA. Galloway and Roman Reigns share some similarities, as both are 30 years old and roughly the same size, though Galloway is three inches taller at 6’6”. There will also be a feature story on the new TNA champ next week on SI.com.
• AXS TV’s New Japan show with Jim Ross caught viewers up through May 22, 2015, but this upcoming Friday – highlighted by a match between KUSHIDA and Kyle O’Reilly – is must-see viewing for wrestling fans.
• Paul Heyman knows how to sell a match and extol the virtues of Brock Lesnar’s challengers, but couldn’t Dean Ambose have at least defeated Braun Strowman on Monday? If he is supposed to out-last Lesnar at WrestleMania, then a victory over Strowman was necessary.
• For those looking forward to tomorrow’s Smackdown, curb your enthusiasm. I attended last night’s taping at the TD Garden in Boston, and the entire card felt rushed and, outside of Lesnar’s appearance, forgettable. Surprisingly, there was no dark match for the crowd after the filming ended.
Weekly Top 10
1.) Kevin Owens, WWE
KO-Mania was running wild with a hot open to Raw, right up until his 7-man match for WrestleMania was announced. I’ll be devastated if Owens doesn’t walk away from ‘Mania with the IC title.
2.) Dean Ambrose, WWE
The “Lunatic Fringe” is supposedly a threat to defeat Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania, yet cannot beat Braun Strowman on the main event of Raw.
3.) AJ Styles, WWE
Part of me wishes that Styles-Owens was saved for a major pay per view, but they delivered two outstanding matches this past week. I like how Jericho continues to outsmart Styles, but the “Phenomenal One” will get his retribution at WrestleMania.
4.) Brock Lesnar, WWE
Lesnar returns tomorrow on Smackdown.
5.) Kenny Omega, New Japan Pro Wrestling
Omega will reveal his thoughts on the WWE, WrestleMania, and more next week on SI.com.
6.) Jay Lethal, Ring of Honor
The Ring of Honor world champion is preparing to defend his title against Top Prospect Tournament’s Lio Rush on the April 1 Supercard of Honor in Dallas.
7.) Roman Reigns, WWE
Michael Cole introduced Reigns on Monday by noting that he could never be bought out by The Authority… which is hopefully a foreshadow to Reigns turning heel at WrestleMania. Also, why hasn’t the announce team–or Reigns–commented on his new entrance down the ramp instead of entering through the crowd?
8.) Kazuchika Okada, New Japan Pro Wrestling
We are in the midst of a busy stretch for the “Rainmaker,” as he is involved in six-man tag action tonight, tomorrow, Friday, Saturday and Sunday–all of his matches include Tatsuya Naito as one of his opponents.
9.) The Young Bucks, Ring of Honor
The Bucks and the Motor City Machine Guns continue their rivalry on April 1 at Supercard of Honor, and both teams will compete the following afternoon in a 4-way tag team match to determine the number one contenders for War Machine’s tag team titles.
10.) Chris Jericho, WWE
Y2J continues to flourish as a heel. Loved the wrinkle that he cost Styles his match against Owens on Monday, yet Jericho was sage enough to overcome the distraction in his match from Styles.
Cryme Tyme, Part I
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