Hello wrestling fans and welcome to another week in the crazy world of pro wrestling, looking at all the big events from a huge weekend for WWE as we get started on the road to Wrestlemania. Let's start from the beginning with NXT Takeover: San Antonio.
NXT Takeover: San Antonio
In the world of pro wrestling all streaks must end, be it Goldberg's streak in WCW, The Undertaker's streak at Wrestlemania, or even Naked Mideon's more literal streak in WWE, they are by their very definition made to be ended. If they didn’t they'd just be the norm rather than something special. Well in this case, NXT's streak of phenomenal Takeover shows is over, as the San Antonio show failed to live up to the standards set by the its predecessors. Now to be fair, that is not to say it was an awful show, it very much wasn’t. However, the bar had been set so high, that during NXT's current rebuilding period it was always going to be difficult to produce a show of the calibre of their previous efforts. Still, this show had some major positives and more than anywhere else the main event showcased that. Shinsuke Nakamura and Bobby Roode had a phenomenal match with a surprising amount of heat and chemistry. Roode looked probably the best he has in years here, and Nakamura had probably the best match of his NXT tenure outside of that white-hot first match with Sami Zayn in Dallas last year. I had been hoping one of these two would be moving up to the main roster at the Rumble, but it looks like that is some way off yet. The women's match was very good, continuing Asuka's reign of terror, but also showcasing Nikki Cross in a prominent role, and continuing the fantastic development of Peyton Royce and Billie Kay. All four women played their roles brilliantly, and this match was really fun as a result.
The rest of the card was in no way bad, but certainly wasn't great. The Authors of Pain vs DIY was a decent if not slightly predictable match, and DIY did what they could with their limited opponents. Tye Dillinger vs Eric Young was fine is not spectacular, Andrade "Cien" Almas vs Roderick Strong was again ok, but nothing beyond that. I like Alamas, and I think he could develop into a really good heel in NXT, but I don’t see much in Strong. His style is fine for Ring of Honor where work rate and in-ring are pretty much everything, but in NXT he has yet to show me anything that suggests he belongs on a bigger stage than NXT. Hopefully he can change my mind. Finally we had the segment with Seth Rollins "invading" the show looking for Triple H, which was a nice touch and a good way of bleeding the NXT brand into the main roster happenings. This was a decent show, but outside the two singles title matches there was nothing memorable. Still, for a brand rebuilding, you couldn’t ask for much more.
The 30th annual Royal Rumble from the Alamo Dome in San Antonio, Texas was certainly one to remember. I know the result of the 30-man over-the-top-rope rumble match was somewhat divisive, I really enjoyed the match as a whole. Yes, the match was short on surprise entrants, but it was so star-laden that it really didn't require the nostalgia pops from the assembled crowd. There were many highlights from the match for me including Chris Jericho skulking around, Braun Strowman's huge run as a dominant bruiser as well as the subsequent elimination of Strowman but Smackdown's very own bruiser Baron Corbin; we also had a couple of fun moments with Dean Ambrose and James Ellsworth, as well as Jack Gallagher's hi-jinks with William the umbrella. Equally, we had a great confrontation with Brock Lesnar and Goldberg with Lesnar embarrassed by Goldberg again, Undertaker and Goldberg having a confrontation of their own, and the crowd-trolling entrance of Roman Reigns at number 30, clearly designed to set up a Wrestlemania match with The Undertaker, and garner a shock reaction and lack of boos for Randy Orton's win. The result also sets up a number of potential feuds with Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper, John Cena (although hopefully not), AJ Styles and many others. Orton has seemed as fresh as he has been ion years since teaming up with Bray Wyatt, so I am actually quite pleased with how this worked out and I'm really curious to see how this works out going forward. Also, on a related note just to add I really enjoyed the tease of Luke Harper hitting the Sister Abigail on Wyatt, and I really hope that is a sneak peek for something we see down the road. Overall, this was a really good rumble, and while Orton may not seem a good choice initially, I'm certain this will set up a good programme for Mania, and make for some good television going forward.
Beyond the rumble match itself, this was still a very strong card. AJ Styles vs John Cena for the WWE Championship was the best match they've had thus far, and that should go a long way to demonstrating the standard of this match. There was great story told with Cena having to use multiple AAs to get the win, introducing moves we don't normally see him use, as well as having to deal with AJ being his usual excellent self. This is easily the best WWE match of the year so far, and will likely still be a contender at the end of the year I suspect. The Kevin Owens vs Roman Reigns match was a very different sort of match, but was equally fun with Owens taking a few huge bumps, and both making good use of the No DQ stipulation. It made for a fun brawl which offered a nice contrast to the Cena/Styles match, and the development with Reigns and Strowman allows for Reigns to spin off into a programme, and Owens and Jericho to be positioned to have a big match at Wrestlemania.
The undercard was also excellent here, with Charlotte and Bayley having a very strong opener, and Rich Swann and Neville having an excellent cruiserweight match. Neville has been a revelation since he came back, so I'm glad his win to take the belt was showcased properly here. Even the pre-show was exciting, with Gallows & Anderson finally getting their hands on the tag team titles, a fun Smackdown six woman tag match (which is a shame for the ladies involved as the women's division has been a real highlight of the blue brand in recent weeks), and a complete dominating demolition of Sasha Banks by Nia Jax which made Jax look like an absolute beast. The WWE have played a blinder with this show, and set up so many pieces for Wrestlemania that I don’t see how this can be a show that gets loads of negativity, even though I imagine it will. For me, this was a great PPV, and I am very much looking forward to seeing where this all ends up going.
With Seth Rollins absent from proceedings at the Royal Rumble, it made a lot of sense that his feud with Triple H too centre stage on Raw. The main event segment with Triple H cutting an excellent promo on Rollins was very well done, and did well to put some babyface heat on Rollins, something he's been lacking as of late. Equally, I felt that while Rollins came across well with the material he was given earlier in the show opposite Stephanie McMahon, some of that material was very un-babyface. For example the line about Stephanie's kids was way out of line, and made him seem more a heel than anything else. However, that was absolutely forgotten by the end of the show when we had Samoa Joe debuting and viciously beating down Rollins, which was fantastic. Joe has been one of the absolute standouts in NXT for over a year now, so this very much deserved and although to an extent it seems like they could be booking themselves into a corner by pairing him with Rollins, but you would think the two should have a cracking match, and Joe provides would provide a good roadblock on Rollins' path to Triple H, which makes sense.
However, since Monday the news has come out that Rollins suffered a knee injury during the segment, and may well be ruled out of Wrestlemania altogether. This would be a huge shame for Rollins after he missed out on Wrestlemania last year. This also throws the feud with Triple H into disarray if he is out for that long. Details are sketchy but there should be a full update next week and we should have a better idea of how severe the injury is, and whether it will cause more issues for Rollins going forward. Fingers crossed it's less serious than initially feared.
After his shock elimination by Goldberg in the rumble, it was good to see Brock Lesnar back on top form on Raw. I liked the promo Paul Heyman cut, and this sets up a final confrontation between Lesnar for Wrestlemania, hopefully with Goldberg taking the Universal title from Owens at Fast Lane making this for the belt and setting up an enormous main event. Lesnar feels odd, but not ineffectual in the underdog role here facing off with the man who clearly has his number, and actually shows a bit more depth to the Lesnar character which makes for some of the most interesting stuff he has done for a number of years.
Elsewhere I enjoyed the continued development of the Reigns-Strowman feud, and Strowman vs Owens was actually a suprisingly fun encounter while it lasted. We also got a Sami Zayn vs Chris Jericho bout which was one of the better TV matches on Raw for a while now. Even Tony Nese managed to shine, albeit by association with Austin Aries who is hopefully well and recovered enough my Mania to take on Neville. Speaking of the new cruiserweight champion, he again looked a beast in his segment with Rich Swann here, proving he is easily the best thing in the cruiserweight division. Finally, we had a nothing bout between Enzo && Cass and Rusev (who is being criminally wasted) and Jinder Mahal, which was pure filler here, and Nia Jax once again squashing Sasha Banks. I'm not sure where they are going with banks, but she seems like she is going through a bit of a character change. There is something in her mannerisms which makes me think we're getting a heel turn soon, presumably on Bayley? Who knows, but I hope that is where we're going because Sasha is a far better heel than babyface.
So Raw was overall a very good show, with some fun in-ring action good story-line development, and some real focus for the first time in a while. A tentative thumbs up from me.
With the blue brand having a PPV in under two weeks, there was little time for filler on this week's show. Everything served a purpose and set the wheels fully in motion for Elimination Chamber. Obviously this was John Cena's victory party having regained the WWE Championship for a 16th reign, and for the first time since 2014. However, no sooner had he come out for his victory speech, Bray Wyatt and surprise rumble winner Randy Orton were out to confront him. I liked that they went straight to teasing this ahead of Elimination Chamber, and it should make for a nice turn up in events should Wyatt win the belt (more on the chamber shortly). I'm really enjoying the insertion of Luke Harper as an antagonist to Wyatt and Orton, and the audience again reacted well to his tease of Sister Abigail on Wyatt, something I hope continues maybe up until Wrestlemania itself, where they can pull the trigger on this. Either way, it makes for an interesting angle, even though I'm not sure I can handle another Cena/Orton match in my life after the never-ending series they had a few years ago, but given they have announced them facing off next week I find it very difficult to believe they have that earmarked as a Wrestlemania match. Orton seems refreshed, but not so refreshed that a feud with Cena doesn’t seem old hat. Still these were good segments, and the tag match was a lot of fun, and definitely helps to build momentum for Orton/Wyatt ahead of next Sunday.
Elsewhere in the build for the chamber, we got the announcement of the participants for the match: Styles, Cena, Ambrose, Corbin, Wyatt, and The Miz. I'm quite happy with that line-up and it should be an excellent match, although this very much lays bare how thin the Smackdown roster is, because I really can’t see many top matches outside of the main event happening on the men’s singles side of things, because those are your top six performers on the blue brand. It's nice to see Corbin involved there, and his growing confidence was very much evidenced in his role in the main event of the show, and on commentary. The Miz was again excellent, but I can't see past him being eliminated early alongside Ambrose based on this. Speaking of Ambrose, his match here with AJ Styles was excellent and both men deserve praise for that having both been heavily involved on Sunday night. Styles especially, given his gruelling match with Cena at the Rumble, put in another twenty minute shift here in a cracking bout. Styles really is the MVP on Smackdown, and I hope he gets a strong role at Mania even if it's not in the title picture.
The rest of Smackdown was a fairly efficient affair, with the announcement of Nikki Bella vs Natalya for Elimination Chamber, further build to Alexa Bliss vs Naomi after the match on the Royal Rumble pre-show, more solid heel work from Dolph Ziggler and build for his match ( I assume on the Elimination Chamber pre-show) with Apollo Crews, a big brawl with all the tag teams to set up a tag-team turmoil match on the PPV after American Alpha issued an open challenge, and finally Carmella squashing a local talent with help from James Ellsworth. All good stuff, no wasted movement, and all the pieces are seemingly in place for the go-home next week. Not the most exhilarating episode of Smackdown, but certainly an effective one to set up the next few weeks.
Wrestlemania - some early thoughts
As with most years, coming out of the rumble we have a much better idea of how the Wrestlemania card will start to look. This year is no different and based on what we have seen I suspect we are getting a card something along the lines of:
Brock Lesnar vs Goldberg (C) for the Universal Championship,
Kevin Owens vs Chris Jericho (C) for the US Championship,
Randy Orton vs Bray Wyatt (C) for the WWE Title,
Roman Reigns vs The Undertaker,
Some sort of ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship,
Alexa Bliss (C) vs Nikki Bella for the Smackdown Women's Championship (I know they've not built this yet, but it seems likely to me) or some sort of multi-woman match,
Bayley vs Charlotte (C) vs Sasha Banks for the Raw Women's Championship,
Seth Rollins vs Triple H (although of course this could change depending on the severity of Rollins' injury).
That still leaves something for John Cena, AJ Styles, Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, Baron Corbin and a few others, plus the two sets of tag titles. I imagine we'll have a firmer idea after Elimination Chamber and Fastlane, but I also expect some sort of inter-brand match to occur too. So far on paper that is a very enticing card, probably more so than most recent years and I hope that is the direction the company take. This is traditionally the best time of year to be a fan of WWE so I hope that we get some good television and a few surprises on the way to Wrestlemania. However, for now as things stand that is how I see the card looking.
Well that is it for this week from me, join me next week for more on WWE including a preview of Elimination Chamber, the build to Fastlane, and any other breaking stories in the world of professional wrestling. Until then why not sample the other delights on Screenjabber, where you can find the best in Blu-ray and DVD reviews, movie reviews, opinions, competitions, blogs, interviews and more. Until next week, so long folks.