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Wrestling Wrecap: Burn Raw Down

Welcome to Wrestling Wrecap, a column focused on discussing and dissecting the week in pro wrestling.

“Monday Night Raw has sucked,” Seth Rollins said this past Monday, to knowing cheers from a crowd happy to share in a rare moment of acknowledgement. I’ve talked, at length, over the past few weeks about the dire situation of Raw. So, seeing Rollins come out and address the same issues I rag on in this weekly column was fun, but none of those things actually changed this week.

Raw was not the dumpster fire it has been lately, but it was still a slog filled with little to no momentum and absent of any compelling characters, sans Rollins. Calling out the flaws in your own product and not actually doing anything to fix them is a bold strategy that almost never pays off. It never pays off because it treats discussing the problem as a enough of a solution. Discussing the fire does not suddenly kill the flames, you need to actually do something otherwise the whole place burns down. (Rollins is pretty into that kind of thing, admittedly.)

Let’s be honest though, the intention with having Rollins blame all of Raw’s problems on Corbin was never going to lead to a change in the current format. The whole purpose of this segment was to hype up Corbin and his potential loss at TLC this Sunday. The idea being that if, and hopefully when, Corbin loses Raw’s current abysmal state will change. This is unlikely to happen, of course, because we all know who is actually writing the vast majority of this show and his job isn’t on the line Sunday. Still, there is always hope that, with Raw reaching record low ratings, something might actually change.

The other purpose of this promo, and the more interesting one to me, is that it sets up Rollins as the face of Raw going forward. I’m honestly a little surprised it took WWE this long to hitch the wagon to Rollins as the guy. It makes sense, he’s an excellent wrestler, great on the mic and has really gotten the hang of being a good guy. Sure, he reuses some of the old “Lesnar is never here” talking points to set up that potential feud, but he hits the mark this week, including dragging a decent match out of Corbin. He’s a character that the fans can rally around and that might be the real thing Raw has lacked these last few months.

Raw has had nobody who can be the centerpiece, like Reigns was, the guy who all the action revolves around. While I’d argue that centering the action on one guy instead of a whole cast of characters is what got them into this mess to begin with. This past month of increasingly dismal Raws has shown that a little stability might be needed first. It is a little ironic then, that Rollins seems like the one thing right now that could keep Raw from burning itself down.

The Case for 205 Live

Buddy Murphy knows you’re not watching 205 Live.

The past year in pro wrestling has been a strange one, filled with surprises at just about every turn, but perhaps the biggest surprise is the transformation of 205 Live into one of the bright spots of WWE programming.

Listen, I totally get tuning in back when the show first debuted in November of 2016, a bad time for pretty much anything, and not finding it entertaining. 205 under the hands of main roster writers was mostly a chore, featuring lifeless matches in front of crowds of people who were given no reason to care. It only got worse once, noted scumbag, Enzo Amore came into the picture. It was a move so bad that it led to Neville leaving the company.

Then, at the beginning of the year, Triple H assumed creative duties and things started slowly changing. Drake Maverick became the GM, the show took a harder focus on the in-ring action and the crusierweights themselves seemed to get more freedom to showcase their skills. It took some time for the program to find its footing again, but by the summer 205 Live had become a much watch show for me, primarily due to the strength of their three biggest, and most talented, stars.

The Australian powerhouse, Buddy Murphy, the charismatic underdog, Mustafa Ali, and the de facto Ace of 205, Cedric Alexander, have been the most consistent stars on the brand, delivering great match against each other and elevating other talent to their level. This past week has been a perfect example of what they, and the 205 brand, bring to the table.

Ali had a great match against Daniel Bryan on Smackdown and surprisingly held his own against Bryan on the mic. Meanwhile, on the show proper, Murphy and Alexander both had matches ahead of facing one another at TLC for the Crusierweight championship. Both men delivered fun, exciting match-ups against Gran Metalik and Tony Nese, respectively. Showcasing their differing styles while also making their opponents look good. I’m excited for their match-up this Sunday, just as I was excited for their match at Super Showdown and for Murphy and Ali’s match at Survivor Series. 205 Live has spent the last year building that excitement in me and my hope is that the next year sees that excitement spread to more fans, god knows they’ve earned it.

Tag League Deja Vu

Evil and Sanada celebrate their Tag League victory by melting the camera with their sexual energy.

The final two months of the year are usually the most stagnant for New Japan. With most of the big matches for Wrestle Kingdom already in place, there is a feeling in the air during these months that we’re waiting to get to the fireworks factory. These months aren’t devoid of great matches (more on that later) but they do feel a bit lesser compared to the rest of the year. Never is that more clear than when the World Tag League rolls around.

In the three years I’ve been following the month-to-month happenings of NJPW, the Tag League has always been the point where things slow to a crawl. Most of the big names don’t compete in the tournament and most of the regular heavyweight tag teams in NJPW aren’t known as impressive workers. Still, hope springs eternal and I thought the decision to cut the teams down to 14, as opposed to 16, and make it a single block where every team faced each other might make things more interesting.

I wasn’t exactly right about that. The Tag League suffered from the same thing it always suffers from, a lack of care given to the tag team division. This is a consistent problem in NJPW where, outside of this tournament, there are usually only 4 teams that actually challenge for the Heavyweight Tag Team championship which means that, reasonably, only those 4 teams have a real shot at winning. Things got strange, however, once we reached the finals.

The team of Evil and Sanada won last year’s tournament and made it to the finals against the Guerrillas of Destiny, the current champions and, as luck would have, the same men they beat last year. This is, to my knowledge, the first finals rematch in Tag League history not only that, this is the first time a team has made it to the finals three consecutive times in G.O.D. To add to the feelings of deja vu, the Guerillas’ first trip to the finals also happened when they were the champions. Then, things got even wilder after the match.

Evil and Sanada won, becoming the third team to win consecutive Tag Leagues and immediately challenged the champions to a match at Wrestle Kingdom. Out came the Young Bucks, the team that beat Evil and Sanada for the titles before losing them to G.O.D. They laid down a challenge to see who was the best and we got a triple threat for the Tokyo Dome. This is where my keen wrestling senses kicked into overdrive because a very similar scenario happened the first time the Guerrilas lost the finals. Then, losing to Great Bash Heel, also winning their second consecutive Tag League that year, they were challenged to a match only to have the team of Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano come in and vie for a shot as well. This led to, you guessed it, a triple threat.

I’m not really criticizing here, after all similar story trajectories and circuitous booking are big parts of wrestling, especially in New Japan. I’m just something of a sucker for pointless statistics and these are some of the more pointless ones you’ll find. Still, congratulations are in order for Evil and Sanada, they are consistently the best, non-Young Bucks, tag team in NJPW and they certainly deserved this. Here’s hoping these big strong boys hoist those title in air for another year in a row. After all, circuitous doesn’t always have to mean boring.

Tables, Ladders and The Man

Somehow this is not one of the TLC matches.

This Sunday is WWE’s TLC event, the only time in the year where you’ll see a table, ladder or chair, any other time you might think you have seen one is a trick of your mind, disregard it. Last year’s event saw Kurt Angle’s first WWE match in over a decade and a terrific Finn Balor vs AJ Styles encounter. This year’s event also has some promising match-ups among the staggering 12 matches on the card. Because you are not considered an actual wrestling columnist if you don’t do predictions, below are a rundown of the matches along with my picks. Feel free to tell me I’m wrong or, if you prefer, share your own predictions in the comments!

Chairs Match: Rey Mysterio vs Randy Orton 

The chairs match has almost never been a good idea because chairs are the most common weapon in all of wrestling. Seriously, they show up in regular singles matches all the time. Why is this a big deal? Still, Orton has been pretty fun with his new sadistic persona and while Mysterio hasn’t had a breakout moment since returning this could end up being fun. As for who wins, I’ll go with Mysterio to further drive Orton batty. Winner: Rey Mysterio

WWE Cruiserweight Champion Buddy Murphy vs Cedric Alexander

These two stole the show at Super Showdown in Australia and this one is guaranteed to be a blast. As of now, it doesn’t appear to be slated for the pre-show which hopefully means some extra time. Either way, Buddy is still getting into his title reign and while Cedric’s fight back to the title has been fun this isn’t the time for him to regain the belt. Winner: Buddy Murphy

Tables Match: Natalya vs Ruby Riott

Boy, this feud has been completely useless, huh? Natalya and Riott are both trying to do the best they can with the material, but it just feels so basic. It’s a feud predicated on someone breaking the sunglasses of another wrestler’s dead father. Even Riott coming out with a table that has The Anvil’s image plastered on it couldn’t make me care. Hopefully Nattie wins this and we all move on to better things. Winner: Natalya

WWE Smackdown Tag Team Champions The Bar vs The New Day vs The Usos

These are the only three tag teams that WWE actually seems to care about and they’re all fighting it out together. Truthfully, this should be a sleeper hit. The New Day and Usos are always gold together and The Bar are extremely consistent and no longer have Big Show messing with their matches. This one is a real toss-up as any of these teams could win, but I’ll go with The Bar retaining, possibly setting up for another match with the Usos down the line. Winners: The Bar

Ladder Match: Elias vs Bobby Lashley

This match will see Elias’ guitar hung above the ring and the first to grab it can use it as a weapon. Why? Because Elias loves guitars and Lashley loves…weapons? Look, this wasn’t exactly well thought out and the match probably won’t be either. I’ll give this one to Lashley because of weaselly Lio Rush. Winner: Bobby Lashley

Finn Balor vs Drew McIntyre

Balor’s status for TLC is currently up in the air as of this writing, but I’m going to treat this as if he were cleared. Mainly because whoever replaces him will likely meet the same fate of losing to Drew. Big Boy Drew is in the beginnings of his big singles push and someone has to make him look unbeatable. At least it will likely be a good match. Winner: Drew McIntyre

Mixed Match Challenge Finals: Fabulous Truth vs Mahalicia

Season 2 of Mixed Match Challenge took a fun concept and ran it so far into the ground that it came out the other side of the Earth and flew into space. This match is also for the rights to being entrant #30 in the Men’s and Women’s Royal Rumbles. It is rare that WWE lets us know ahead of time that we should not be excited about who comes out at #30. Especially when the choices are R-Truth and Carmella or Jinder Mahal and Alicia Fox. Still, one of those teams actually gets a reaction from the crowd so, they should probably win. Winners: Fabulous Truth

WWE Champion Daniel Bryan vs AJ Styles

This match has a lot of potential behind it, both of the TV matches we’ve gotten between these two have been great. It stands to reason that given more time this will be even better. I’m not expecting a definitive ending in this match however, Smackdown’s booking this past year leads me to believe that we’re in for a DQ or count out finish to continue this feud til the Rumble. Winner (by DQ): AJ Styles

Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match: WWE Smackdown Women’s Champion Becky Lynch vs Charlotte Flair vs Asuka

This is my pick for match of the night easily. Lynch is the hottest thing in wrestling right now and her feud with Charlotte has reached next level territory, adding Asuka to the mix only adds more possibilities for pure chaos. Lynch and Charlotte both have issues with Ronda Rousey which might suggest an Asuka win here, but you should never count Charlotte out in a title match. Still, I have to believe WWE want her record-breaking 8th women’s title win to be a big deal and this just doesn’t feel like the big moment. I’m going with my heart on this one. The Empress bests The Man AND The Queen. Winner: Asuka

WWE Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey vs Nia Jax

Nia Jax the performer seems lovely. Nia Jax the character and television personality is sleep inducing. The majority of this feud has revolved around giving Jax mic time and that has been a mistake. Rousey isn’t great on the mic, but she at least has moments of appearing natural. As far as I can tell, Nia has yet to feel like she isn’t just reading from a script. Either way, Rousey isn’t losing right now and especially not to Nia. Winner: Ronda Rousey

Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match: Braun Strowman vs Baron Corbin

Strowman is also still questionable for this, but this is another foregone conclusion. Even if WWE had considered keeping Corbin as GM, the dire ratings have killed any chance of that happening going forward. If Strowman doesn’t show someone else is filling in to kick Corbin’s ass and send him on his way out as GM. My money is on Kurt Angle to finally tie up that storyline. Winner: Braun Strowman (by proxy)

WWE Intercontinental Champion Seth Rollins vs Dean Ambrose

This feud has died a slow death, but I still find myself interested in the match. Rollins and Ambrose almost always have quality matches so this should be no different. If Rollins really is stepping up as the Ace moving forward then I expect him to lose the title here to move on to bigger, better and Brock-ier things. Winner: Dean Ambrose

Performer of the Week: Kota Ibushi

When asked what he planned to do as celebration, Ibushi simply back flipped onto a nearby car and surfed it like Teen Wolf.

The actual finals of the World Tag League were okay, but the match between Hirooki Goto and Kota Ibushi, for Goto’s Never Openweight championship, is what stole the show. While not up to the quality of the MOTY contender they had during the G1, this match was another solid affair that ended with Kota winning his first New Japan title in 4 years. Here’s to you, you sexy daredevil!

If you made it down here, thanks for reading! Tell me what you thought about this week’s events in wrestling in the comments and, as always, any feedback is appreciated. Cheers!