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*With Goldberg contending for the Universal Championship at Fast Lane, it looks like the big match at WrestleMania between Goldberg and Brock Lesnar is going to be for the world title. The criticism of this is that Goldberg may never wrestle a match for the company after WrestleMania, so WWE is essentially jobbing their Universal Champion Kevin Owens out so Goldberg can lose to Lesnar at WrestleMania. This is indicative of a newer phenomenon when it comes to constructing WrestleMania. Instead of being the time when long-time feuds come to an end and set the tone for the rest of the wrestling calendar, the major matches at WrestleMania are becoming more and more about being one-time, major attractions that exist in a vacuum and are not really relevant to the rest of the year.

Heading into WrestleMania Goldberg will be by far the biggest babyface in the company; but just as certain is that Goldberg will not be a part of the roster a few months after WrestleMania. This is also true with the major feud from last year, which was Shane McMahon and The Undertaker. The feud was supposed to be that if Shane lost he would be kicked out of WWE, but WWE has embarrassingly ignored that tidbit since then and today it is like that match never even happened. You can't criticize them too much because under this strategy the WrestleMania's of recent years have been fabulously successful, but at the same time, WWE is indirectly admitting that the most important matches of the year on the biggest show of the year don't really matter that much in the long run.

* The Rock n' Roll Express getting inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame has brought in renewed interest about their careers. What is noteworthy today is looking back on the kind of success they had during the 1980s and 1990s and how it couldn't possibly exist today. They originally came to form in Jerry Lawler's Memphis territory as kind of a knock-off of the Fabulous Ones but really found big success when they moved onto Bill Watts' Mid-South territory and began feuding with the Midnight Express. One of the things that helped make them big stars, especially with young women, was that they were involved in music videos that utilized popular rock songs to promote them coming into towns. The videos today come across as really corny and dated but at the time tying them in with popular music really helped them get over in new areas. Today the licensing for popular music is so expensive and the laws are enforced more stringently that only the biggest of stars can justify being a part of a video package like that.

The 1980s (plus their success in the mid-90s with Smoky Mountain Wrestling) were not that long ago, but in wrestling it feels like a completely bygone era. The Southern wrestling territory is something that is never coming back; the idea that a group could run in a town of 5,000 people and draw 75 percent of the town or something to the arena could never exist today. The Rock n' Roll Express were the biggest drawing cards in SMW and the territory would really rely on them to draw fans from the deepest corners of Appalachia. In his first book "A Lion's Tale" Chris Jericho talked about how dirt-poor hill folk would save up all of their money and come down to watch SMW; and nobody was bigger than the Rock n' Roll Express. Today, those kind of fans are looked down upon as the worst stereotype of wrestling fans; dumb, inbred hillbillies without two nickels to rub together. The corporate, clean image of WWE would never go near anything like those people, but that kind of audience had a huge influence on wrestling.

* 2016 looked like a dying year for All-Japan Pro Wrestling. Company ace Go Shiozaki had left for Pro-Wrestling NOAH, top heel Joe Doering had to take time off to have brain surgery, Suwama tore his achilles and Akebono left the company to become a freelancer and pursue MMA. Running out of options and business declining, AJPW desperately elevated Kento Miyahara to the main event, having him go from being Shiozaki's understudy to winning the Triple Crown Championship in February and has held the title for a full year. The hail mary pass has been completed as Miyahara has become probably the best Japanese wrestler under the age of 30 not named Okada. Miyahara mixes in heavy strikes in the traditional style that AJPW has patented for decades and has great charisma, particularly in his facial responses and his selling.

In the ring Miyahara has been great, and business has actually picked up a bit for AJPW after years and years of decline. Despite losing so many top stars, Miyahara quietly built momentum for the company leading to a successful title defense against a returning Suwama in November at the Ryoguko Sumo Hall, the first time AJPW had run a building that size in nearly four years. During that time frame Miyahara mostly worked with the last few stars from the AJPW/NOAH glory days, Jun Akiyama and Takao Omori. AJPW also elevated Zeus (a Japanese wrestler, not Tiny Lister) to a main event talent and also brought in Big Japan Pro Wrestling ace Daisuke Sekimoto to work with Miyahara. With Doering coming back from surgery, Miyahara and AJPW look like they are in a strong position to continue to grow and bring the legendary company back closer to their long-time rivals, NJPW.

Elimination Chamber Preview:

John Cena vs AJ Styles vs Dean Ambrose vs Bray Wyatt vs Baron Corbin vs The Miz: I'm not so sure about WWE putting on the Elimination Chamber match on the first PPV after the Royal Rumble; which has become kind of a tradition over the last decade. The Elimination Chamber is a solid gimmick match that I think could help bolster a B-PPV in the late spring/early summer. Wedging in after the Royal Rumble (another PPV built around a gimmick main event) and before WrestleMania seems like kind of overkill and a waste of a very marketable match.

The breakdown here is that although Cena just won the WWE Championship at the Royal Rumble from AJ Styles, all reports indicate that Cena is losing the title to Bray Wyatt which would set up the WrestleMania match between Bray Wyatt and Rumble-winner Randy Orton. Cena is apparently going to move onto a feud with The Miz which will lead to Cena teaming with Nikki Bella against The Miz and Maryse at WrestleMania, so The Miz likely screws Cena somehow. Wyatt likely doesn't pin Cena which could open up something involving Wyatt and Cena after WrestleMania, which will hopefully be better than their previous rivalry.

Tag Team Turmoil Match: This is the kind of match that necessitated because there are very few tag teams on the SmackDown roster worth anything. American Alpha are great, but they really lack credible challengers right now. WWE quickly moved Wyatt and Orton out of the tag team picture, The Uso's have been irrelevant and the other teams in the match (The Ascension, Rhyno and Heath Slater, Breezango and The Vaudevillians) are all joke teams. Hopefully after this PPV a new team will emerge, either a NXT team like The Revival or Team DIY or a combination of two single wrestlers; because American Alpha isn't going to get any more popular working through this pu-pu platter.

Alexa Bliss vs Naomi: Naomi has been knocking on the door for years now but has never won the Women's Championship; while Bliss won the title just a few months after being brought up to the main roster. Naomi always stands out in tag team matches because of her athleticism and she has a few good moves, but in singles competition she often looks mediocre and that has probably been what has been holding her back. Bliss isn't that great in the ring but her personality is really there and at this point that is more important to the division. The SmackDown women need stars and Bliss has turned heads in that regard since winning the title.

Nikki Bella vs Natalya: I have mixed feelings about this feud. It started off really bad, all the way back at Survivor Series when Nikki was mysteriously injured before the Women's Elimination Tag Match and it took her months to figure out who did it even though everyone knew it was Natalya the whole time. After that however WWE has done a solid job keeping them apart that now it has been almost four months and Nikki is finally getting her hands on Natalya, which is a good slow burn that sells the feud. The match might not be very good though; Nikki Bella is banged up and her surgically repaired neck is giving her trouble. Her time as a full-time wrestler is probably coming to an end after WrestleMania.

Luke Harper vs Randy Orton: There is no way this shouldn't be the best match on the show. Harper has long-been one of the most underrated wrestlers in the world and this is his biggest singles match to date. Orton is still a great worker with excellent timing and presence inside the ring. Harper also has a really hard-to-describe charisma inside the ring; he is like Bray Wyatt but less-corny, a little more believable. Anyway, Orton is going to win this match because he is going to contend for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania. Unfortunately I don't think WWE sees much in Harper as a singles star, which is strange considering he is big, has a good look, has some charisma and is a really good wrestler.

Becky Lynch vs Mickie James: Three women's matches on Elimination Chamber! These are not just three random matches either, each one has a real storyline with a defined heel and babyface. RAW might have better matches in their division (and really that is debatable as SmackDown on a week-to-week basis has pretty good matches) but there is no doubting SmackDown has better depth in the division. Adding James, who had a solid match in NXT against Asuka before returning to the main roster, gives them even more depth in the division. The RAW women get all the publicity and have had the big stipulation matches, but the SmackDown booking and character development has been leaps and bounds better than RAW.

Apollo Crews and Kalisto vs Dolph Ziggler:
This is kind of an inexplicable match. Ziggler turned heel and started assaulting both Kalisto and Crews, leading to Ziggler saying he could beat both of them at the same time. Daniel Bryan then made the match a reality, as a handicap match. Handicap matches are naturally designed for a pair of heels to beat up a babyface, so this is already backwards because if Ziggler wins, he overcame the odds and if the babyfaces win they just double-teamed the bad guy. The only way it makes sense is for Ziggler to injure one of the two before the match, making it a singles match that ends when the injured participant prevents Ziggler from cheating and allows his partner to win the match.

Must-Watch Matches:

Kazuchika Okada vs Minoru Suzuki: ****1/2 - NJPW New Beginning in Sapporo
Kento Miyahara vs Takao Omori: ****1/2 - AJPW 1/24/17

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