Welcome to Wrestling Wrecap, a column focused on discussing and dissecting the week in pro wrestling.
Last week, Finn Balor defied the odds and defeated some of the top wrestlers (and Baron Corbin), in WWE to earn a shot at Brock Lesnar’s Universal title. The match itself has a perfect story built in. The underdog, Balor, trying to upset the dominant champion, Lesnar. Naturally, the company felt the need to add an extra element to this story to really spice it up, enter Vince McMahon.
Vince continued to showcase his dislike for Balor this week, complete with a retelling of the classic “David and Goliath” story, in which Goliath easily conquers David, everyone cheers and those who don’t cheer are ignored because Goliath is clearly a fan-favorite. The story of Vince not believing in Balor could payoff nicely later, but as it currently stands it feels like they are trying a little hard. It’s also worrying for two main reasons.
The biggest being that it isn’t really needed. Balor is already well-liked by the crowd and Vince hating on him isn’t going to do much to further endear him to us. You could argue that sharing screen time with Vince shows that the company has faith in Finn and while that isn’t wrong in itself it smacks more like a way to pop steadily declining ratings. As much as we all hate to admit it, Vince being on TV is still something of a ratings draw.
Second, but just as important, this is a retread of a story we’ve seen before. Actually, to be more accurate, it is a retread of a retread of a retread. Since the halcyon days of Stone Cold vs McMahon, we’ve seen countless attempts to recreate a similar magic. Feuds with Shawn Michaels, Bobby Lashley, Bret Hart, CM Punk and Roman Reigns have already shown us all the possible angles we can get with McMahon having it out for a wrestler. While it is always possible that this story with Balor finds a new path, judging solely on these last two weeks, it hasn’t done so. It is a disheartening return to the past for a company that was just talking up a new era a few weeks back.
The Planet’s Champion
I’ve talked before about my enjoyment of the NEW Daniel Bryan, he has rejuvenated himself by being a smug, self-righteous ass. Constantly bemoaning the fans decisions that bring harm to the environment and claiming to be the only person protecting the planet. This came to a head on Smackdown when, once again, Vince McMahon wormed his way into a storyline.
Unlike with Balor, however, Vince being the mediator between Styles and Bryan added to the segment. Styles and Bryan traded barbs back and forth, but the encounter really picked up when McMahon demanded that Bryan enter the ring. He refused and instead called out Vince and the “Baby Boomer generation.” Mentioning the corporate greed and selfishness that has become their trademark at the expense of the planet.
It is a tricky balance to stick and I don’t think many performers would be able to strike it as perfectly as Bryan does. Most everything he says is hard to disagree with but it all comes down to how and why he says it. A tone of condescension drips off of every word and disgust is clear every time the camera catches him looking at the crowd. Daniel Bryan hates the fans, the other wrestlers in the back and probably anyone who isn’t his wife and child. Not just because of the constant environmental damage that they wreak on the daily, but because, in his eyes, they lost faith in him. They gave up on him to cheer people like AJ Styles, people who use their stature for their own personal gain.
Bryan is refreshing as a heel not just because no one else on the main roster would ever be as good at this act as he is, but because he has a nuance to him. Bryan turning didn’t negate all the years of development in his character, it added to it and that is a truly rare thing to see.
Beyond the Valley
NXT Takeover is upon us once again. At this point, I could hear that the card was going to feature the return of Bull Dempsey as he battled Duke Droese in a 60-minute Iron Man match and I’d still be excited. The level of quality NXT has managed to put on during their Takeovers is unrivaled these last two years and this card is no different. Let’s run it down, shall we?
NXT Champion Tommaso Ciampa vs Aleister Black
Ciampa won the title from Black back in July thanks to Gargano getting involved and costing Black. Tommaso has only become more of a bastard since then and this looks to be the tipping point of his reign. While I don’t think he loses it back to Black here look for the aftermath of this to set up his next challenger and, most likely, the guy who will unseat him. These two clashed on NXT TV last time so I am very excited to see what they do with more time. Winner: Tommaso Ciampa
NXT Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler vs Bianca Belair
Baszler has been a delight since first winning the NXT Women’s Championship in April last year. She regained the title in November and now has her Four Horsewoman pals backing her up. Belair, meanwhile, has slowly built her reputation after an impressive showing in the Mae Young Classic. She has a lot that still needs to be developed but expect this match to be hard-hitting with Baszler coming out on top. Winner: Shayna Baszler
NXT Tag Team Champions The Undisputed Era vs War Raiders
The Undisputed Era have taken the ball and run with it in the last year. Being one of the most consistently entertaining heel acts in wrestling and putting on clinics in between the ropes. While the War Raiders aren’t known for their flashy offense they are a very good team of brawlers and O’Reilly and Strong are going to have to try every cheat in the book to pull it out and even then they’ll probably come up short against the power of Hanson and Rowe. Winners: War Raiders
NXT North American Champion Ricochet vs Johnny Gargano
This is my pick for match of the night. Ricochet and Gargano have similar styles and Johnny has proven that he can be ruthless in his new heel persona. Gargano was told by complete bastard, Tommaso Ciampa, that the North American title was a good role for him and it is unclear how well the mind games have worked on Johnny so far. That also makes this match the hardest to predict. Does Gargano win and officially reunite DIY or does Ricochet win and further send Gargano into a spiral. With tough decisions like these, I usually go with my gut. Winner: Ricochet
Matt Riddle vs Kassius Ohno
Riddle surprised the world when he dropped Ohno in seconds at the last Takeover. Expect this match to be longer and more of the hard-hitting action we’ve come to expect from the two. All that is missing from this is Keith Lee coming out for a big strong boys Triple Threat. Winner: Matt Riddle
Ready To Rumble
The Royal Rumble is one of the most entertaining events on the WWE calendar, even after years of mostly mediocre (last year excluded), Rumble matches the excitement level remains the same. The Rumble match always brings a buzz to it with the prospect of returning wrestlers and legends making one-off appearances. Usually, the undercard isn’t a big deal as the Rumble match itself is the main sell. This year, however, WWE is pulling out a card that looks on paper to be absolutely stacked. Here’s hoping it all lives up to the hype.
WWE Cruiserweight Champion Buddy Murphy vs Akira Tozawa vs Hideo Itami vs Kalisto
Once again, the Crusierweight champion is gonna be wrestling on the pre-show in front of half the audience as they file into the arena. My disappointment in that aside, this should be a killer match and hopefully a good showcase for all three challengers. The only person who even has a shot at beating Murphy is Itami, who looks to be stepping it up on 205 Live recently. Still, Murphy has been on fire as champion and there’s no reason to end it now. Winner: Buddy Murphy
WWE United States Champion Rusev vs Shinsuke Nakamura
This is a rematch from the last Smackdown of 2018, which saw Rusev win his third US title. The duo put on a fun match last time so, I’ll be interested to see how they do, even when relegated to the pre-show. I don’t see much reason for Rusev to lose either, here’s hoping both of these men are in the Rumble later. Winner: Rusev
WWE Universal Champion Brock Lesnar vs Finn Balor
Balor finally gets his shot at Lesnar and the match is sure to be fun, but let’s be honest here, Balor isn’t winning. Look for him to put on the same “strong showing” that AJ and Bryan had with the Beast. Hopefully, he ends up looking as good as those two did coming out of their respective encounters. Winner: Brock Lesnar
WWE Champion Daniel Bryan vs AJ Styles
This is another rematch, the reasoning being that Styles has shown some of the fire he had when he first joined the company and is bringing that to his match here. Given Smackdown’s penchant for drawing out their title feuds this could easily end in a DQ or countout. Still, I’m gonna tempt fate and say that Bryan retains. I don’t know who he feuds with next but he should hold the title going into Mania. Winner: Daniel Bryan
WWE Smackdown Women’s Champion Asuka vs Becky Lynch
On a card filled with great matches this is the one I am most excited to see. Asuka and Becky have styles that feel like they will mesh very well and I expect this to potentially be the most hard-hitting match of the night. (That’s right, Brock.) If WWE is smart, Becky is on a path to Rousey one way or another so, expect her to lose here and move on to (hopefully) the main event of Wrestlemania. Winner: Asuka
WWE Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey vs Sasha Banks
This feud has been fun, partially due to Ronda’s bewildering promo work, but also because Banks has been able to play up her heelish tendencies. It is wild to think she has been a face her entire main roster run so far, that lady was born to be a heel. Like Balor, there is little chance of Banks winning this one. She did give Ronda her very first loss on Monday (in a tag match by tapping out Nattie), but that is as far as Sasha gets. Winner: Ronda Rousey
WWE Smackdown Tag Team Champions The Bar vs The Miz and Shane McMahon
This is a weird one. The Miz has seemingly turned face and teamed up with Shane and they are now battling it out for the tag titles. The match should be fun, but I am beyond bored with seeing Shane in matches. I still don’t think Miz is sincere here and I’m expecting a turn on Shane, but they’ll probably win the belts first, because WWE could care less about tag team wrestling. Winners: The Miz and Shane McMahon
Men’s Royal Rumble Match
And here we are, like the 2017 match, this Rumble doesn’t seem to have a runaway favorite which usually leads to a fun surprise or a soul-crushingly bad choice. I am going to choose to be optimistic and choose the former. Rollins seems like the most likely if they are really going all in on him being the face of Raw. I’d love to see Kofi Kingston finally win one after years of avoiding eliminations. Perhaps a returning superstar like Bray Wyatt will get the job done? In the end, this one is a bit more of a random guess so, I’ll take the safe bet and go with Seth. Winner: Seth Rollins
Women’s Royal Rumble Match
As if to signify how the last year has gone, the women’s Rumble match has me much more excited despite the very obvious winner. While the possibility of The Man showing up and winning is very real, WWE is always a bit stubborn with their plans and Charlotte was always going to win this and challenge Ronda. I think she still does that here. I just pray to god that they have the common sense to keep Lynch out of the match if that is the case. Winner Charlotte Flair
Performer of the Week: Rey Mysterio
Rey Mysterio is facing down the later side of 40 and is still putting on clinics in the ring. Sure, he has clearly slowed down with age, but if this past week’s amazing 2-out-of-3 falls match with Andrade is any indication, Mysterio is still more than capable of giving it his all. Here’s hoping we get a definitive conclusion to this series sooner rather than later. Here’s to the man from the 619 showing us all that some really do age like wine.
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!