Who Will, Who Won’t, & Who Might Win The 2017 Royal Rumble

royal-rumbleFor years now, the Royal Rumble has been one of my favourite events of the wrestling calendar. There’s just something about the format that keeps me on the edge of my seat. Whether it’s the surprise debuts, the surprise returns, the great performances for either lasting the longest or eliminating the most, or simply the idea of not knowing who will be going to WrestleMania to “main event” a WWE championship match…it’s almost always exciting and unpredictable.

reigns-wins-rumbleOf course, it’s not ALWAYS unpredictable. When Roman Reigns won two years ago, it was absolutely predicted and people shit all over it. But for the most part, you never really know for sure what’s going to happen at the Rumble and/or who is going to win.

That has never been more apparent that the 2017 Royal Rumble.

While there are currently a couple of front-runners, there is a legitimate possibility that up to SIX different individuals could realistically win the Rumble this year. I think it’s only fair to review those options here (and, really, it’s the point of this whole post):

Braun Strowmanbraun-strowman

braun-strowman-3It pains me to say this, but Strowman is the odds-on favourite at this point to win it all. After initially coming to RAW, Vince’s new favourite performer was initially given a gimmick of “unstoppable monster defeating local jobbers” on a weekly basis (helping to give James Ellsworth a job on Smackdown Live, actually). But then, all of a sudden, he “graduated” to main event player in Survivor Series and has been dabbling with the likes of Sami Zayn, Seth Rollins, & Roman Reigns on a weekly basis. They are obviously getting him ready for a main-event run, so having him win the Royal Rumble makes sense.

The (very tentative) plan would to have Strowman win the Rumble, Roman Reigns beat Kevin Owens for the WWE Universal championship at the Rumble, and then for the two of them to meet in a “main event championship match” at WrestleMania. But here’s the rub…

braun-strowman-2They would NEVER be allowed to go on last. In fact, with potential match-ups of Cena vs. Taker, Goldberg vs Lesnar, and Triple H vs Rollins…the “main event championship match” could be placed anywhere else on the card without any pressure. This is a PERFECT opportunity for Vince & Company to see what Strowman can do on the biggest show of the year against his “top guy”. If Strowman sucks ass, then khali-vs-undertakerhe’ll be relegated to Great Khali territory by the end of the year (remember Khali being World champion and even pinning Undertaker at one point??). If Strowman performs at or above expectations, then you can count on seeing a LOT more of the guy over the summer months. It’s really a win-win situation for WWE because even if the match sucks ass (which it will), nobody will remember it when Mania is over.

braun-strowman-4Of course, this all might be incredibly insane to believe if the next opponent lined-up for Strowman is Big Show, who made it a point to say he was gunning for Strowman at the Rumble on this week’s RAW. In fact, Strowman wasn’t even included in the main event portion of the show, as WWE insinuated that Undertaker, Goldberg, and Brock Lesnar were the three biggest stars with potential to win it all.

The Undertakerundertaker-1

taker-vs-shane-mcmahonThe original plan (and has been for awhile now) was to have Undertaker face off against John Cena in a big-name, marquee match-up (assuming Cena wins the WWE World Heavyweight championship from AJ Styles). Last year’s injury to Cena meant that Taker had to face Shane McMahon in a major gimmick match in order to give him something to do. Having him wrestle his last WrestleMania match against “The Face That Runs The Place” would make sense, helping to set-up Cena as truly one of the best in WWE history.

taker-1Lately, though, the suggestion is that the Taker/Cena match is (again) off the table…perhaps saving it for when Taker really wants to retire. At this point, though, it looks like he’s prepared to do the part-time wrestling thing (similar to Brock Lesnar’s schedule, but a bit heavier) and after appearing on both Smackdown Live and RAW recently, the number of possible opponents for Taker to take on is quite large. He doesn’t need to win the Rumble to have a different, marquee match-up at Mania…but him winning a championship opportunity would certainly be an intriguing choice.

Chris Jerichochris-jericho-2

chris-jericho-1Let’s assume that Kevin Owens sneaks past Roman Reigns on Sunday. This means that Jericho would have a championship opportunity at WrestleMania against his “best friend”. And much to the chagrin of Owens, this is something Jericho has mentioned in promos lately as being a distinct possibility. The storyline of “Jeri-KO” has gone on a lot longer than most anticipated, which means that their WrestleMania match could mean that much more if Jericho were to go after Owens’ title.

jeri-ko-1On the other hand, Jericho just won the United States championship from Roman Reigns on RAW. This allows Reigns the “freedom” to win the WWE Universal championship from Kevin Owens at the Rumble and for Jericho to be the one defending his title against (former) BFF at Mania.

Jericho has won everything there is to win in WWE…except the Royal Rumble match itself. Will this be his year?

Bill Goldberggoldberg-2

goldberg-1I never thought I would have even suggested that Bill Goldberg had the potential to win the Royal Rumble until his post-Brock Lesnar-victory speech on RAW, where he suggested that Stephanie McMahon had asked him if he still had one more title run in him. And you can’t watch Goldberg on television and think the guy isn’t “over” anymore. The chants of “GOOOOLD-BERRRG!!” are loud and constant. Hell, even Paul Heyman is getting those chants goldberg-3without Lesnar by his side. This says that Goldberg is still uber-popular and with his quick victory over Lesnar, a win at the Rumble (which doesn’t take a ton of stamina to perform in as compared to a normal match) would cement him as a legitimate championship contender for the WWE Universal championship at WrestleMania.

And as much as it sounds crazy to write down, there is very much a possibility of Goldberg taking on either Roman Reigns or Kevin Owens for the title at Mania, as both possibilities have been teased on recent editions of RAW.

Samoa Joesamoa-joe-3

samoa-joe-1Honestly, I wouldn’t have even thought this was possible until realizing that the betting odds on the Rumble, as of this writing, have Samoa Joe listed at just 6-1 odds. Why in the world would they have him that high considering the fact that he hasn’t even debuted on the main roster yet??

joe-vs-stylesWWE reportedly has BIG plans for the Samoan Submission Machine, which includes a marquee matchup at WrestleMania. There are rumblings that the WWE wants to match Wrestle Kingdom 11’s stellar “six-star match” between Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada. One match that has the potential to reach the same type of rating is one that has been done before to five-star results: Samoa Joe vs AJ Styles.

samoa-joe-2So if WWE is as big on Joe as the rumours have it, then having him be a surprise debut at the Royal Rumble and then going on to win the whole thing would certainly be an incredible way to make a massively large statement. It sounds insane when you write it down, but when you think about it (and assuming the rumors on backstage thoughts on him are true), this is extremely feasible.

Finn BálorFinn Balor

No, Finn Bálor’s shoulder isn’t quite ready for a comeback yet. It’s better, for sure, but he’ll be defying the odds in a Cena-esque way by making it back to WrestleMania, much less the Royal Rumble. So realistically speaking, Balor probably won’t even show up in the Rumble match.

Finn Balor 3But here’s the thing: you don’t need to do much to participate in a battle royal. There’s not usually a ton of bumps or injuries that take place inside of the ring (the injuries happen once you’re thrown over the top rope). So I suppose if you put it into that type of perspective, it’s entirely possible that Bálor (currently sitting at 5-1 odds) could make his surprise return as a late-Rumble entrant.

If he does, the first-ever WWE Universal champion has as good a chance as anybody at winning the whole thing…especially if the “WWE machine” wants to get behind “The Demon” one more time and try to push him to the moon again.

There are a few dark-horses to win it all, too…

  • sami-zaynSami Zayn – Yes, there’s been talk of backstage heat and yes, he’s been getting his ass handed to him as of late, but Zayn is the perennial underdog favourite of the fans for a reason. I honestly don’t see this happening, but if he were to win then he’d probably lose his shot at Mania to Braun Strowman who would then face Roman Reigns for the WWE Universal championship. See? There are multiple ways to get to the finish line here…all while still putting over one of their most popular superstars in the process.
  • dolph-zigglerDolph Ziggler – After his recent heel turn, it’s still unlikely that Ziggler will be put into a position to actually win the Rumble, but if AJ Styles somehow gets past John Cena and retains the WWE World Heavyweight championship, then we could be in for a hella-great match between the two of them on the “Grandest Stage of Them All”. Of course, with Jerry Lawler doing commentary for the Rumble, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Lawler somehow costs Ziggler by eliminating him (or at the very least, causing a distraction that leads to his elimination). I’m hoping that’s not the case, but this is WWE we’re talking about here.
  • randy-ortonRandy Orton – I’m not exactly sure how “Orton in the main event title picture” goes with his current storyline as a member of the Wyatt Family, but his current odds are at 3-1 (just behind Goldberg!), so I suppose it’s a distinct possibility. Somebody may have to explain his odds to me, though…I just don’t understand the rationale of him winning given his past few months of storyline progression.
  • rusevRusev – I’m admittedly a huge mark for “The Bulgarian Brute” and, quite frankly, he’s not been pushed in the best spot since dropping the United States championship to Roman Reigns awhile back. But Rusev continues to turn chicken shit into chicken salad…even out-promo-ing Shawn Michaels on a recent RAW live in-ring segment. Vince & Company are still very high on Rusev’s future, as the package deal of he and Lana are great both in the ring and outside of the ring. It’s highly unlikely that he’ll win, but there’s still a chance given how Triple H says the winner will surprise most fans.

Finally, in terms of those who could still potentially win the Royal Rumble but probably WON’T…

  • NO.gifBrock Lesnar – I don’t see the benefit of Lesnar being in a championship match at Mania when there are other stars who can carry the show. What’s scary is that outside of Goldberg, there is actually serious talk of putting Lesnar in the ring with Braun Strowman as a way to really test him out.
  • no-4The Miz – No, Miz had his shot at being the face of the company and it worked for a bit before he was pushed back down the card. Now he’s seemingly poised to eventually beat Chris Jericho’s record of being a nine-time Intercontinental champion. It doesn’t make sense to suddenly thrust him into the main title picture, even if his gimmick with wife Maryse is making him a super-hot heel on Smackdown Live right now.
  • NO.gifBaron Corbin – I know the guy won the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal in his main roster debut at WrestleMania last year, but I just don’t see “the machine” getting behind Corbin on Smackdown Live. At least not yet, anyway. Corbin still has a ways to go before being considered a legitimate threat at any major title, so I can’t see him being put into that type of position with a Rumble victory at this point in his career.
  • Kenny Omega – It’s highly doubtful that Omega is even going to make a surprise debut at the Royal Rumble, much less win the damn thing.

no-2

All told, the 2017 Royal Rumble looks to be an incredibly entertaining event. There are so many surprises that could take place and, really, the end result is still completely up in the air. Because of that, I’m absolutely STOKED to watch it.

But what about you? What are your thoughts on this year’s Royal Rumble? Do you think there’s a heavy favourite to win?

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ZAH Thoughts – Who Are The New Debuts?

My weekly column is now up over at Canadian Bulldog’s World. The post-WrestleMania episodes of RAW and Smackdown saw the debuts of a number of NXT talents. Not familiar with them? I’ve got the rundown on these new talents and whether or not they end up like Roman Reigns or Adam Rose.

04-11-16 ZAH Thoughts - 04-11-16

NXT TakeOver: Dallas Fallout – The New Superstars

Last night NXT put on yet another spectacular show. When all was said and done, NXT TakeOver: Dallas gave us two title changes, a Match of the Year frontrunner, two in-ring debuts, and ringside appearances by two international (currently non-NXT) superstars. So at the end of the day, what does NXT look like going forward?

The New NXT Superstars

There were four big stories that came out of NXT TakeOver: Dallas. These stories involved two in-ring debuts for the brand and two very big appearances that could potentially change the landscape of NXT over the summer months.

Austin Aries“The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” Austin Aries made his NXT in-ring debut with a win over Baron Corbin. On one hand I really felt bad for Aries to have to sell for a big oaf like Corbin. You could tell by the disdain of the live audience that he just isn’t connecting like he should, even as a heel. NXT audiences really appreciate in-ring ability, of which Corbin has very little. In addition, his progression has been slow with little visible improvements…so Aries had to put in some hard work in order to (a) make himself believable as a smaller talent with the ability to hang with the big boys while (b) selling enough to make Corbin still look dominant. While this match showcased his skills, it certainly wasn’t the best I’ve ever seen Aries. I’m really looking forward to seeing him take on some more capatable opponents over the coming months, perhaps even in the WWE Global Cruiserweight Tournament.

Kota IbushiSpeaking of the Cruiserweight Tournament, one of the biggest shocks of the night was seeing one of the most coveted free agents in all of wrestling, Kota Ibushi, attending the NXT TakeOver event. Because of the upcoming tournament, there are names being brought up that would have never been considered at any other time as participating under a WWE banner. One of those names is Ibushi, a 12-year veteran of DDT and New Japan (primarily) who is considered one of the greatest high-flying performers in the world. Despite primarily considered a cruiserweight, he has battled some of the best wrestlers in the world and would be considered a legitimate threat for the NXT championship, having already defeated Finn Balor for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship back in 2011. Having recently battled the top performers in New Japan (including Shinsuke Nakamura, Tomohiro Ishii, Ricochet, Hirooki Goto, AJ Styles, Tetsuya Naito, and Togi Makabe. Having Ibushi in NXT would be a MASSIVE coup for the company.

Dixie Carter & Bobby RoodeThe other shock came in the form of former TNA World Heavyweight Champion, Bobby Roode. The rumors over the past couple of weeks since both he and Eric Young quit TNA had seen Young being the person of interest by NXT and Roode asking too high of a price for WWE tastes. However, it was “The It Factor” who appeared on the live broadcast. This is another MASSIVE coup for the company if he ends up signing (and it’s likely that he is if he was showcased on live television like that). Roode is one of the best all-around performers that TNA ever had, having been a 2-time World champion, 8-time tag team champion, and most recently the TNA King of the Mountain (whatever that means). Having debuted back in 1998, this Canadian-born superstar is near the end of his career at age 39, but if you take a look at him you would never know that…you’d think he was still in his physical prime. If he were to enter NXT, I doubt you would see him there for very long. At 6’0″ and 240lbs, he’s a perfect embodiment of what Vince likes in a WWE main roster performer. And with his years of experience, he would be a very welcome addition to the WWE locker room.

Shinsuke Nakamura 1Finally, the biggest non-title story of the night came from the NXT in-ring debut of Shinsuke Nakamura in a legitimate Match of the Year candidate against Sami Zayn. The crowd cheered and chanted for him like the true superstar that he is. If any casual WWE fan happened to be watching the show because they had the WWE Network for WrestleMania, they’d have thought the second coming of Hogan himself had entered the ring. And props where they’re due…Zayn gave one of the best performances of his career, giving Nakamura everything he could want in a “strong style match” and then some. Nakamura was able to hit all of his key moves while making Zayn look like a damn skinny Superman at the same time. I don’t know how long he’ll be in NXT, but Nakamura’s already a huge superstar and Vince should be thanking his lucky stars that Triple H knows unique talent when he sees it. I don’t care what it takes…just give me more and more Nakamura. The man will be in a major WrestleMania match within the next three years.

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This is just what I’m thinking, but what are YOUR thoughts? Sound off in a comment below or hit me up on social media and let me know!

NXT TakeOver: Dallas – Predictions

ZAH Predictions - NXT TakeOver DallasMost hardcore wrestling fans (like myself and, more than likely, you if you’re reading an online wrestling blog) are probably looking forward to this weekend’s NXT TakeOver: Dallas event more than WWE’s WrestleMania card. With some absolutely outstanding match-ups taking place (not to mention two very highly anticipated WWE debuts), fans are chomping at the bit to see how this card and the in-ring performances set the tone for the entire weekend.

Hence, it only seems right that we review the card and make predictions. Let’s go!!

Austin Aries vs Baron CorbinAustin Aries vs Baron Corbin

Austin Aries 1I love this match-up simply because it accomplishes a lot of things. For one, having Baron Corbin (someone who is extremely stale and still needs to improve his in-ring abilities) wrestle someone as technically sound as Austin Aries is a fantastic learning experience for him. Second, having Aries debut against a larger opponent who won’t be hurt by a loss is a great thing. If the match works out well, Aries will look as impressive as Finn Balor or AJ Styles or Baron Corbin 2some of the other smaller guys working their asses off to become the “new” WWE superstar. Finally, the crowd will be super-hot for Aries and will legitimately make him appear like a star in his first match (very similar to how Styles debuted at the Royal Rumble). Is “The Greatest Man Alive” really that good? I don’t know if I ever seen him on the main roster or not, but I’ve been a massive fan of his in-ring work for over a decade now and am looking forward to seeing him shine in the spotlight.

WINNER: Austin Aries

The Revival (c) vs American Alpha for the NXT tag team championshipsThe Revival vs American Alpha

The Revival 1I’ve been a fan of Dash & Dawson since they had their initial run in last year’s Dusty Rhodes Memorial Tag Team Tournament. I love that they’re a throwback tag team that doesn’t rely on size or gimmicks or high-flying in order to be successful (hence their team name). As I’ve mentioned previously, they’re very remenicent of teams like the Brainbusters and the Midnight Express…and that’s VERY high praise from a long-time tag team fan. Having said that, American Alpha is American Alpha 1riding a tremendous wave of momentum right now. Jason Jordon is beginning to finally find his stride as a personality (he was already pretty solid as an in-ring performer) and Chad Gable is the future Kurt Angle of the WWE and a future major player in spite of his smaller size. I really think that it’s time to make the switch to a super-over babyface tag team (especially after months of teasing fans with Enzo Amore & Colin Cassady winning the straps). I would love a tag team feud between these two that lasts the next few months until the next TakeOver event, too. These two teams should give us a lot of fun matches in the weeks to come.

WINNERS: American Alpha

Bayley (c) vs Asuka for the NXT Women’s championshipBayley vs Asuka

Bayley 4Without a shadow of a doubt, Bayley is a legit superstar without ever having debuted on the main roster. I’ve never been a fan of hers but I respect the hell out of what she can do inside of the ring. I don’t understand the fan adulation, but I guess I can see why the kids love her. The problem, though, is that she’s needed on the main roster. With Brie Bella retiring, Nikki Bella probably retiring, Natalya reaching the end of her run, divas like Naomi and Alicia Fox not reaching their potential, and the inept fuck-stain that is Eva Marie returning to nauseate us all…that pretty much leaves five women on the main roster who are capable of carrying the division (Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Paige, and Emma).

Bayley 6Bayley can be the Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat of the Divas division: a life-long babyface that can potentially rival John Cena in terms of “Make A Wish Foundation” appearances for children. I think she’s done all she can do in NXT and has defeated everybody there. It’s time for the new blood to break out and for the Four Horsewomen to fulfill their destiny together on the main roster. In order to do that, Bayley must lose and Asuka must win.

Asuka 1In terms of Asuka, I’ve been a massive fan of hers since her debut last year. She’s amazing inside of the ring and brings color, charisma, and uniqueness to a division that doesn’t have a ton of it (plus there’s something about her that just oozes sex appeal). I really think this should end up a similar outcome that happened when Bayley won the title from Sasha Banks: Asuka wins the title clean in Dallas and they have one more “blow-off” match at the next TakeOver that Asuka wins while Bayley debuts on the main roster.

WINNER: Asuka

Sami Zayn vs Shinsuke NakamuraSami Zayn vs Shinsuke Nakamura

Shinsuke Nakamura 2At first, I really thought that Shinsuke Nakamura would debut similar to how KENTA, Prince Devitt, and Kevin Steen debuted: showing up on NXT television and having their name changed to something that could be used in WWE.

Shinsuke Nakamura 1But then came Samoa Joe. And then AJ Styles. And then Austin Aries. And then the promotion of Shinsuke Nakamura under his own name. Now I’m thinking that it’s quite possible that we’ll see Nakamura using his own name both in NXT or on the WWE main roster (which he’ll be visiting VERY soon). It’s quite possible that he changes his name in NXT after WrestleMania weekend is over…but I just think the international appeal for the company would be to use his name, especially at this stage of his career.

Sami ZaynSami Zayn is going to have a great feud with Kevin Owens on the main roster over the coming months. Hell…he might even have an Intercontinental championship reign in his future, as well. There really isn’t any need for him to win this match-up against the debuting Nakamura.

Zayn vs NakamuraI think I’m looking forward to this match more than any other the entire weekend. I know what both men are capable of and I think they’re going to fire on all cylinders in an attempt to have the best match of the weekend (and potentially of the year). If they wrestle an NJPW-style match, the NXT fans (and any casual WWE fans who happen to be watching) will blow up Dallas and chant “Match of the Year” before it’s done.

Of course, they could just be given 10-15 minutes to hit some high spots. Anything’s possible at this point.

WINNER: Shinsuke Nakamura

Finn Bálor (c) vs Samoa Joe for the NXT heavyweight championshipFinn Balor vs Samoa Joe

Finn Balor 1What’s most interesting about this match is that WWE, apparently, has main roster plans for both men. While Finn Bálor on the main roster was always a given, the fact that Joe has impressed higher-ups enough to be considered for a main roster role is fantastic to hear if you’re a long-time Joe fan (as I am). So when do they get called up? Does one get called up before the other? Does it happen right after WrestleMania or in a few months before SummerSlam?

Balor Club 2The other really interesting thing about this match is the potential debut of the Bálor Club (i.e. Karl “Machine Gun” Anderson and Doc Gallows). It’s been teased for months now and with word going around that both former Bullet Club members are being penciled-in for the main roster sooner rather than later, you’ve got to wonder if they’ll debut to give support to Bálor during this match.

Here’s my take on all of this…

Balor ClubThe Bálor Club won’t debut at NXT TakeOver: Dallas. Both Anderson and Gallows will be debuting with Finn Bálor on the main roster the RAW following WrestleMania. That’s my prediction, anyway. I think it will give the world a glimpse of what WWE will look like for the remainder of 2016 (with or without Shane McMahon in charge of RAW) and it will be a massive debut with a massive pop for all three members of the Bálor Club. The only real question, then, is whether or not Finn Bálor makes his RAW debut as the NXT champion.

Samoa Joe 5My guess is “no”. I think Samoa Joe pulls out the victory here, opening up a world of new opponents for him over the next few months (Apollo Crews, Austin Aries, or even Shinsuke Nakamura) and giving him a bit of a spotlight before being called up. Hell…he could even end the match with a “respect” handshake with Bálor that turns him babyface, thus leading to title defenses against Baron Corbin, Elias Samson, or even someone like Tommaso Ciampa. Either way, having Joe in the top spot provides NXT a little shot in the arm with someone that hardcore fans love and casual fans respect.

Finn Balor vs Samoa Joe 2I think this match will be fantastic regardless of the outcome. Seriously…I’m happy with either man exiting the building with the championship belt over their shoulder, but I just think it makes more storyline sense for Joe to win to free-up Bálor on the main roster.

WINNER: Samoa Joe

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This is just what I’m thinking, but what are YOUR thoughts? Sound off in a comment below or hit me up on social media and let me know!

NXT: TakeOver London – REVIEW & ANALYSIS

NXT TakeOver LondonAfter last weekend’s fantastic TLC pay-per-view, I think it’ll be difficult for NXT to live up to the standard that’s been set by the WWE roster. But with a potentially hot London crowd and some great performers scheduled, this could be yet another feather in the NXT cap of incredible live TakeOver events in 2015.

Let’s see how things went…

Asuka vs EmmaAsuka vs Emma

AsukaI can’t tell you how impressed I am with Asuka. She’s certainly not a “classic beauty” in terms of what a WWE Diva normally looks like, but there is something about the way she carries herself that I find hot as hell. Add to that sexiness an extremely unique style and some incredible in-ring ability, and I think you’re got the total package with her. She’s absolutely a future NXT Women’s champion and I can see her dominating the main roster, as well.

Emma & DanaEmma is still a work-in-progress, in my opinion. She’s been looking to feel comfortable in a heel persona for months now and only now seems to look like it’s a natural thing for her. She’s an incredible talented and beautiful woman, but you can tell that playing the heel isn’t something she’s great at yet. Once she can fully integrate the personality and gimmick to her character, she’ll be called back-up to the main roster because she’s got the talent and deserves to be there again.

I think having Dana Brooke yelling out at ringside was a good thing because she’s definitely a future star and needs to get more interaction experience under her belt because, right now, she’s a one-trick flexing pony. The more personality she can display the better.

Asuka v EmmaThe match itself was a really good way to kick NXT TakeOver off. The crowd was super into Asuka and both women were able to put on a great back-n-forth match. I thought that the match’s backstage agent had Asuka sell too much for Emma at first, but as the match went on it really made each of her comebacks pop the crowd more and more. I loved that when I thought this would end like a “normal televised match” after the big babyface comeback, the match just continued on and built more momentum.

I genuinely popped TWICE for the big false submission finish and the eventual 3-count. Having Asuka win was the right booking decision to make, but the match itself made Emma look REALLY strong…so this, really, was the perfectly booked match. A hot crowd certainly didn’t hurt.

Dash & Dawson vs Enzo Amore & Colin CassadyDash & Dawson vs Colin Cassady & Enzo Amore (NXT tag title match)

Enzo, Carmella, & CassRight out of the gate, you have to respect the hell out of Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady for how they’ve grown as a team in NXT over the past couple of years. They are, without a doubt, the most popular NXT creation (superstars like Sami Zayn and Finn Bálor were globally popular before NXT). Why these two haven’t been called-up to the main roster yet is beyond me. Hell…you only need to see how globally popular they are right now and you should know just what you can have on RAW and Smackdown. As expected, Enzo’s mic work was fantastic before the match. These guys are like the New Age Outlaws 2.0.

And I could on all day about Carmella‘s beauty and potential, but I’ll save that for another day.

Dash & DawsonDash & Dawson have been one of my favourite tag teams for a few months now. They are throwback wrestlers that remind me of Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard and The Midnight Express. If they were facing any other tag team on the roster, I’d probably suggest they go over in this match to help put them over as a dominant tag team. As it stands, though, I really think the time has come for Enzo & Big Cass to win the big one.

Enzo vs D&DThe NXT Universe was absolutely incredible for this match. The chants for Enzo and Big Cass were entertaining as hell and helped the match immensely because, for the most part, it went as you’d have expect with Enzo playing the babyface in peril (the dude is almost Ricky Morton-esque with his “selling for heat” skills). The match itself was good, so I don’t want to say that having a “normal” Enzo & Cass match is bad.

Do I agree with the finish? Well…as much as it would be nice to see the popular team finally win the belts, I don’t have an issue with how the heels retained their championships. The finish was well booked and extremely well executed by both teams, which made for a realistic result.

Apollo Crews vs Baron CorbinApollo Crews vs Baron Corbin

BaronI’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…I don’t see the big deal with Baron Corbin. He’s got a nice entrance and he can stare at the crowd, I guess…but I don’t see “charisma” when I watch him. I see potential, but a lot of it is unrealized at this point. I just don’t think he’s developing as fast as WWE wants him to or as fast as HE thinks he is. I could be wrong, but I just think he needs a lot more polish before he can shine. And some hair plugs wouldn’t hurt.

ApolloApollo Crews just has “it”. Size, speed, agility, ability, and charisma to make a total package performer. I truly believe this man will be WWE champion at some point within the next decade. The guy just has it all. His mic skills aren’t WWE-ready yet, but he’s better than 90% of the NXT roster on the stick so he’s definitely well on his way.

I wasn’t expecting a lot from this match, if I can be honest. I think it lived up to my expectations. One thing I enjoyed was Corbin’s attempting to smack talk during the match. It’s not nearly as witty as Kevin Owens (who is a master) and just comes off as amateurish in its delivery. The other thing I don’t think he realizes is that his heat isn’t “we hate you” heel heat, but rather “we think you can’t wrestle” Eva Marie heat. When you’ve lost the respect of the NXT Universe, there is little you can do but roll with it and assume any heat is good heat (it’s not).

Apollo vs CorbinNot sure it’s ever a good sign to have your live crowd provide a “BotchaMania” chant during your match, but both Crews and Corbin appeared to be blown up halfway through the match-up…resulting in more than one spot looking sloppy and messy.

I gotta say…the finish was completely shocking. To have Crews lose cleanly by pinfall totally took me by surprise. That’s gotta be a good thing, though. I don’t like a predictable match or predictable finishes, so I can’t take anything away from the match because “the wrong guy won”. Credit where credit is due…they gave me a surprise finish out of nowhere.

Bayley vs Nia JaxBayley vs Nia Jax

BayleyI will be the first to admit that while I completely respect the ability of Bayley, I don’t understand the appeal. I know I’m not the desired core audience for Bayley, but I’m constantly shocked to see the crowds go insane for this girl. She is one of the most popular superstars in ALL of WWE, in spite of her awkwardness in public and inability to deliver a solid promo of any kind. Because of that, I absolutely respect the hell out of her for what she has been able to accomplish and the connection with the WWE Universe that she has been able to make at this point in her career.

NiaWhile I really loved the new entrance gear for Nia Jax, I’m not sold on her as a viable in-ring performer yet. I think there is a lot of potential there, don’t get me wrong. But for years WWE has looked for a larger woman who could wrestle the smaller women, and for various reasons Amazing Kong and Jessicka Havok (two women who can run circles around Jax) haven’t worked out. I just don’t know if hot-shotting Jax to a live title match is a smart idea.

Jax vs BayleyHaving said all that, after watching the match, I can’t lie…Jax has impressed me. Hell…she’s better inside of the ring than Eva Marie. Though Jax still has a TON of work to do, Bayley helped carry her to a more-than-passable match with a live (and potentially VERY hostile) crowd. The match was booked to play to Jax’s strengths and helped to hide her weaknesses. While not one of those incredible back-and-forth battles we’ve become used to, it was a dominating performance by the heel where the babyface-in-peril inspired the crowd with a last-ditch effort to win after escaping defeat multiple times.

Insane Bayley crowdI have to be completely honest…I thought that Jax was going to beat Bayley. I mean…wow. And the London crowd was so into it, they got on their feet…yes, literally a standing ovation…at the MERE THOUGHT that Bayley could make Jax tap out (pictured, right). After multiple attempts, it finally happened and the crowd went nuts. I mean, this was a great finish that the crowd ate up. Props to both women for an extremely believable match that had the crowd (and yes…me, too) cheering for the finish.

Finn Balor vs Samoa JoeFinn Bálor vs Samoa Joe for NXT Championship

Samoa Joe 4Where I am a new fan to the skills of “The Demon”, I’ve been a fan of Samoa Joe for well over a decade. To see him on NXT in a main event match on a live televised event gives me chills. The promo skills alone are better than 90% of the MAIN roster. Add to that his in-ring skills and you’ve got somebody who might be happy in NXT, but could do really well on the main roster, too.

FinnFinn Bálor is quite the spectacle. He’s unique and original and has the “sports entertainment” aspect already wrapped up. Some people tink he gets boring once he’s inside of the ring, but I believe his in-ring abilities are spectacular. If I could compare him to anybody, it would be Jeff Hardy…another “spectacle” who couldn’t really promo and wasn’t hugely muscular but still captured the imagination of the WWE Universe.

As much as I’m a fan of Bálor (and I loved his Demon paint/persona for the show), I’m actually hoping Joe wins the title in this match. Demon 3Demon 2 Demon 1

After watching the match, anybody backstage should be able to see the differences between someone like Samoa Joe and someone like Baron Corbin. The abilities that he provides is second to NONE…he can wrestle, he can brawl, he can fly, and he carries himself with such an “at-ease swagger” that the ring seems like second nature to him. Some people carry themselves a certain way as in-ring performers; others don’t have to because they just HAVE IT. Joe has it in spades (and yes, so does Bálor).Finn vs Joe

The main event was awesome and fully endorsed both men as being the future of NXT (and WWE, should those in power decide to allow it to happen). I honestly thought Joe might have a shot at winning, but I’m certainly not unhappy with how Bálor pinned Joe to win. Just a fantastic ferocious battle that has helped to cap off an amazing year for NXT. And can I say that the little touches of having doctors look at BOTH Joe and Bálor was just a bit of genius…whether it was a work or not. It just really helped make the match appear that much more hellacious.

I can’t wait to see what 2016 brings for the brand.

NXT TakeOver: Respect Predictions

NXT Takeover RespectNXT TAKEOVER: RESPECT will be broadcast live on the WWE Network tonight. While not a “PPV” event, the live TakeOver events have always been entertaining and have helped to showcase just what the talents at NXT can do for the world.

With some interesting matches taking place, there needs to be some predictions!

Jordan & Gable vs Rhyno & CorbinSEMI FINALS OF THE DUSTY CLASSIC: Jason Jordan & Chad Gable vs. Baron Corbin & Rhyno

I expect this match to kick off the show. Jordan and Gable have a silly gimmick and their backstory is silly, but once they’re in the ring they are anything but. I absolutely love this combination because of their in-ring chemistry and, without a doubt, the surprising in-ring ability of Gable. If he was just a little bit taller, he’d be the second coming of Kurt Angle. As it stands, he’s absolutely tremendous and he’s only getting started. I’m not sure how they get past these two behemoths, but I don’t think you’ll see a “non team” make it to the finals. It really wouldn’t do any good to Jordan & Gable and doesn’t help Corbin and Rhyno unless they plan on being a permanent team.

WINNERS: Jason Jordan & Chad Gable

Balor & Joe vs Wilder & DawsonSEMI FINALS OF THE DUSTY CLASSIC: Samoa Joe & Finn Balor vs. The Mechanics (Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder)

This will be the most intriguing match on the card, in my opinion. I think Joe and Balor will put on a fantastic match and really make Dawson and Wilder look bigger than they actually are. I think a lot of people are writing off The Mechanics simply because they’re “boring”, too short, and too “old school”. In other words, they are exactly the type of team that Dusty Rhodes would have loved to see elevated in a world of sports entertainment. In addition to that rationale, I firmly believe that Samoa Joe will be turning on Balor at some point during the match. Why? They don’t have anybody lined up to be Balor’s challenger over the coming months. Having Joe and Balor feud all the way up to the next TakeOver event just makes sense, as the outcome helps put over everybody.

WINNERS: Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder

Apollo Crews vs Tyler BreezeApollo Crews vs. Tyler Breeze

Again, this is a case where one superstar is on the fast-track to the top while the other is in a stagnant position, for some reason. Apollo Crews is the one that people can easily see will be a superstar in a couple of years. He’s got everything it takes and seems to be the perfect combination of ability, look, and charisma. Tyler Breeze, on the other hand, has been dealt a shit hand over the past year. At one point he was battling for the NXT championship, but lately he’s just being fed to put other people over. It’s not a terrible spot to be in, but Breeze is better than that. Unfortunately, that won’t change with this match.

WINNER: Apollo Crews

Asuka vs Dana BrookeAsuka vs. Dana Brooke

It doesn’t make any sense at all to have Asuka lose her debut match. Plus let’s all be completely honest here…Brooke is not ready yet. At all. I’ll be impressed if Asuka can make Brooke look credible in any way. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. On the bright side, at least Asuka isn’t being forced to “wrestle” Eva Marie.

WINNER: Asuka

Dusty Rhodes Tag Team ClassicFINALS OF THE DUSTY CLASSIC: TBD vs. TBD

I’ve predicted that this will be a match of The Mechanics taking on Jason Jordan & Chad Gable. While maybe not the most exciting from a personality/gimmick standpoint, I think the four men have the ability to put on one hell of a classic old-school tag team match. In the end, I think the team that beat the current NXT tag team champions makes the most sense to win the tournament.

WINNERS: Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder

Bayley vs Sasha BanksNXT WOMEN’S TITLE: Bayley © vs. Sasha Banks in a 30 MINUTE IRONWOMAN MATCH

After recently re-watching the incredible NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn match between these two women, and then watching the fantastic WWE Network 24: NXT Brooklyn program yesterday, I am reminded of just how awesome these two women worked together the first time around. I think it will be VERY difficult to capture lightning in a bottle twice, especially with the 30-minute stipulation in place. Having said that, however, if anybody has the ability to make this match work it’s these two. Obviously, Bayley will retain the title but that’s notgoing to be the real story. The real story will be just how awesome the match will be. Unfortunately, I think it’ll fall short of their first match, but still be far better than 99% of anything you see on RAW or Smackdown.

WINNER: Bayley

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These are just my predictions. What are YOUR thoughts? Sound off in a comment below or via social media and let me know!

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