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1. Last week I wrote about what a great job WWE has done with building up Samoa Joe, and that build continued on RAW Monday when Joe got the better of Brock Lesnar again, with the crowd going crazy. It is WWE's most effective booking in a long time and it seems foolish at this point in time to think that Lesnar and Joe are going to wrestle at Great Balls of Fire and that will be the end of their feud.
2. WWE bringing on the Ball family (which surprisingly did NOT raise ratings) is the latest in a long line of pseudo-celebrities that WWE has invested in to get some mainstream attention. Of course, it predictably backfired when a family (well, really just LaVar) that has been encouraged by the media to say crazy, off-color things, said some crazy, off-color things on live television. The argument would be that it got them a lot of attention, and while that is true I'm not sure a bunch of people hearing about the segment and saying "Wow, that was really stupid" is the best way to gain notoriety for your product.
3. The G1 blocks, finishing with Omega and Okada as the final match in B Block, pretty much ensure that the tournament will be great. The best thing about the tournament however is the unpredictably of the winner. Omega, Okada, Tanahashi, Naito, Suzuki, even Kota Ibushi, are all legitimate contenders for the tournament and each one of them would have an interesting story to tell if they won the tournament. That is how you book a tournament and how you keep fans invested over a long period of time.
4. The decline of Impact Wrestling has taken a turn that I did not predict. Years ago, about when Impact got kicked off of Spike TV, I theorized that Impact closing down would leave a huge hole in the wrestling world. However, as the company has slowly whittled down other promotions have grown into the void that Impact gave up, mainly Ring of Honor, Lucha Underground and New Japan Pro Wrestling. The sad thing about Impact isn't that they have lost momentum, but just how little they seem to matter in the greater wrestling world. If Impact were to close down tomorrow, unless you were one of the 300,000 die hard fans, would anyone even notice? Slammiversary is this Sunday and how many people can name more than one or two matches on the card?
5. The rise of Jinder Mahal highlights WWE more aggressively looking to exploit foreign markets. In addition to China and India, I suspect that we will see more European talents in more prominent positions. The company recently signed German wrestler Axel Dieter Jr., who is young but already experienced and was a good smarmy heel for Westside Xtreme Wrestling, the largest promotion in continental Europe. They also have brought in Italian wrestler Fabian Aichner who you might remember from the Cruiserweight Classic who is now working in NXT as well as Dutch wrestler Tommy End (Aleister Black in NXT). Other names that could be good signings include Dutch wrestler Jurn Simmons, who has a good physique, can wrestle a bit and cuts good promos. WALTER, who in many ways is the ace of WXW, is a legit big man who is a very good worker, kind of like Luke Harper.
6. I think so far WWE has done a good job with the break-up of Enzo and Cass, with obviously Cass making the star turn. Cass still has a lot to prove as a singles act, I'm not sure he is any better than Baron Corbin and despite the big push Corbin hasn't set the world on fire. Enzo is an interesting case because he isn't a good worker and basically can only sell in the ring because his offense is so bad. At the same time there isn't any doubt that he has a rare ability to work the microphone and WWE should really want to capitalize on that. His destiny seems to be as a heel manager which I think he would be great at, but he is has to clear the big hurdle of Vince McMahon disliking managers. In the last ten years most people don't have managers and if they do they are not managers, they are advocates (Paul Heyman) or spouses (Maryse, Lana). Enzo really just has to be a manager that has perhaps a stable of wrestlers he can hide behind; his place isn't really in the ring but you have to make the most of a guy with his ability to talk.
7. Former WCW announcer Chris Cruise made some news over the week thanks to a long Facebook post he made about the state of WWE and how they are unable to capture the imagination of the casual fan like they once were. Cruise definitely makes some good points, but the one thing I would add is that WWE and wrestling in general does not have any casual fans at all anymore. WWE's business model has shifted its focus over the years from being about luring in the casual fan to focusing on the hardcore fans. Casual fans are not subscribing to the Network, they are not watching three hours of RAW and two hours of SmackDown every week, and they are not traveling to WrestleMania and paying exorbitant ticket prices. The issue is that WWE from a production standpoint still believes that they are trying to lure in the casual fan, which is why you see them bring on older stars, celebrities, non-celebrities and largely ignore the demands of the hardcore fans. There are no casual fans anymore, and with so much programming on week-to-week it is nearly impossible to ease them into WWE. This is also a reason why you see the demographics for WWE fans aging, because it is really hard to become a new fan of something when the demands are to watch something 2-3 hours a week at the minimum.
8. Speaking of the G1, I think WWE should consider having a similar, round-robin tournament each year. Considering their are certain dead periods of the year (May-August, September-December) why not try to spark things by having a long tournament? At the very least you would be able to promote important matches with real consequences on RAW and SmackDown. You could do a RAW block and a SmackDown block, start it in September or October and have the winners of each block face each other at Survivor Series with the winner of that match getting a world title shot at the Royal Rumble. Throw in one or two NXT talents to spice things up, plus you can use it to build feuds between talent that don't make it to the finals. In addition, someone could step into the spotlight and climb up the ladder; like maybe Apollo Crews has some really good, 15-minute matches on RAW during the tournament and starts to really get over? I think it is worth a shot and would make weekly viewings of WWE much more interesting.
9. The Mae Young Classic will be an interesting development. Fans who are expecting something like the Cruiserweight Classic should lower their expectations a bit because WWE is going about it very differently. For starters, they want to make sure all of the talent in the tournament is signed because part of the issue with the CWC was that the two guys who emerged as stars in the tournament were Zack Sabre Jr. and Kota Ibushi and neither of them were signed to the company. For that reason you are going to see a lower-standard of talent in the ring, with some women making their television debuts after training in NXT. There is some really good talent in well-known indie wrestlers like Princess KimberLee, Candice LeRae and Toni Storm, who will carry the tournament and likely reach the later rounds, but I don't think the first few episodes are going to be particularly noteworthy.
10. Here is a quick way to tell if someone hasn't been paying attention: They think Roman Reigns is a bad worker inside the ring. When Reigns first debuted and first began receiving his big push, he was a very limited wrestler and mainly relied on getting the hot tag, hitting his few known moves, and getting the hell out of the ring. Today, that simply isn't the case. Whether it's that he improved, WWE learned how to layout matches that best suit him, working with better talent or a combination of those things, Reigns has been given the chance to have long, high-stakes matches and more often than not he has delivered quality performances. You can really tell that he is a true, WWE-grown product because he is the wrestler that best embodies their style, which is that you have a few big moves and in matches you find different ways to hit those big moves (not inconsequentially, Randy Orton and John Cena are both masters of this style as well). He isn't the best worker in the company, but in comparing him to a guy like Orton, who most people believe to be a great worker, who has had more high-quality matches over the last year? If there were two wrestling shows this weekend and one show was headlined by Reigns vs AJ Styles and the other was headlined by Orton vs Styles, which match do you think would be better?
Must Watch Matches
Zack Sabre Jr. vs David Starr: **** - PROGRESS Super Strong Style 16 Day 1
Travis Banks vs Zack Sabre Jr.: **** - PROGRESS Super Strong Style 16 Day 3
Travis Banks vs Tyler Bate: ****1/2 - PROGRESS Super Strong Style 16 Day 3