As we head into yet another special event on the WWE Network, I’ll try to answer one simple question: What are these guys and girls fighting over? As always, we welcome your feedback. Send an email to [email protected]
Roman Reigns vs. Alberto Del Rio / Dean Ambrose vs. Kevin Owens (Winners Meet In Final Match)
What’s At Stake: WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Here we are. One of these four men is the next holder of the most prestigious title in professional wrestling in the United States, but who should it be? The great thing about this tournament is you can make an argument for and against all of these guys. Roman Reigns has the look and he’s proven he can have great matches with a variety of opponents, but he lacks experience in the ring and on the microphone. Dean Ambrose is a working-class hero in the making with a strong grassroots following, but he’s untested as a headliner. Kevin Owens has a deep understanding of the art of villainy and can back it up in the ring and on the mic, but his physical appearance is the proverbial elephant in the room. Alberto Del Rio was the hottest free agent in the business just over a year ago, but the spark many fans saw in AAA, Lucha Underground and Ring Of Honor seemingly vanished the moment he returned to WWE.
In my column last week, I wrote an open letter to Vince McMahon. I tried to explain why it’s important for a first-time world title winner to dethrone a reigning, defending champion. WWE doesn’t have one of those right now. So, in my opinion, the time is not right for Reigns or Ambrose. The same applies to Owens. In a perfect world, I would suggest Del Rio, but everything about him feels ice cold right now. Still, WWE needs a top villain to fill the void left by Seth Rollins’ unfortunate knee injury. They don’t have to worry about finding a top star. John Cena is returning in a month.
One of these four men is the next holder of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, but for how long? Don’t forget, Sheamus is lurking in the shadows with the Money In The Bank briefcase.
Undertaker & Kane vs. The Wyatt Family
What’s At Stake: Undertaker’s 25th anniversary celebration. Bray Wyatt’s credibility.
Where does the time go? This year’s Survivor Series will be the 25th anniversary of the Undertaker.
I still can’t believe he made this work. I’ll go blue in the face talking about how awesome Undertaker has been over the years. It’s great to see him appearing on a semi-regular basis again. You get the sense we’re heading down the home stretch of his legendary career. I hope he gets to go out in a grand style, and I hope you’re all taking time to savor it.
Meantime, it seems like every month I’m writing about Bray Wyatt desperately hanging on to whatever shred of credibility he has left with professional wrestling fans. Well, here we are again. the Wyatt Family is big and strong. Bray has been doing his part on the microphone. Sure, there have been some missteps along the way in this feud. Most notably, how do you let Undertaker and Kane escape after you’ve abducted them?
Bray Wyatt can put all that to rest on Sunday. He has a chance to score one of the biggest wins of his career. On the other hand, he could find himself coming up short. It looks like Bray will be teaming with Braun Strowman for this match. This is a big opportunity for these two men. Can they score a career-defining victory for themselves before the Brothers of Destruction ride off into the sunset?
Charlotte vs. Paige
What’s At Stake: WWE Divas Championship
This escalated quickly. What appeared to be a well-received title match got taken to another level Monday night. First, the girls were given the main event segment on Raw for their contract signing. Then, Paige name-dropped Charlotte’s late brother, and all hell broke loose.
There’s no denying the segment on Raw got people talking, but at what cost? Reid Fliehr died less than three years ago at the age of 25 from an overdose of heroin and prescription medication. Mentioning his name from out of nowhere is not sitting well with a lot of fans, or his parents. Speaking on his WOOOOO! Nation podcast this week, Ric Flair didn’t seem to like it. His ex-wife Elizabeth definitely didn’t like it.
Both Ric and Elizabeth said they received no prior warning about what was coming Monday night. WWE went into damage control mode Thursday, releasing a brief statement on the matter.
“Subject matter this personal is only approved as a result of the strong advocacy of the talent themselves. Notwithstanding that, WWE is ultimately responsible for what airs in its programming.”
While WWE’s words are fine, its actions speak louder. The controversial segment was revisited on SmackDown. It’s clear WWE is going to stay the course, at least for now.
Unfortunately, all of this distracts from the match itself. How can Charlotte and Paige overcome everything swirling around them right now and get fans to focus on what’s happening inside the ring?
Dolph Ziggler vs. Tyler Breeze
What’s At Stake: Breeze’s shot at a quick ascent up the card
Tyler Breeze graduated to WWE’s main roster about a month ago, aligning himself with Summer Rae. The two immediately set their sights on Dolph Ziggler. Makes sense for Summer, and for Breeze too.
Beating Ziggler is the perfect way to springboard Breeze into a more prominent position on Raw and SmackDown. Prince Pretty has done alright for himself since his call-up. I’ve seen too many NXT guys struggle to get some traction on the main roster. I’m ready to see someone be the exception to that rule.
And now, a quick word about the World Wrestling Federation in late 1998.
As part of my preparation for this year’s Survivor Series, I revisited the last WWF Championship tournament at a Survivor Series – the famous “Deadly Game” event in 1998. This one doesn’t get a lot of love from fans, but I was pleasantly surprised. I really enjoyed it. So, I kept watching, and discovered the best was yet to come.
I watched all four episodes of Raw between Survivor Series 1998 and the Rock Bottom pay per view, and I’ve got to tell you – This has to be one of the best stretches of WWF programming ever. Here’s a sample of what went down.
- Mr. McMahon recruits Ken Shamrock to join the Corporation.
- Owen Hart is trying convince everyone he’s retired, while also denying that he’s the Blue Blazer. What’s really interesting is that they’re always turning up in the same place at the same time, so it’s clearly not Hart.
- Droz appears to push Road Warrior Hawk off the top of the Titan Tron.
- Judge Mills Lane helps “Stone Cold” Steve Austin secure a WWE Championship match against The Rock. You must watch this match. The fans in Lexington, Kentucky nearly blow the roof off of the arena.
- Shawn Michaels returns as the new WWF Commissioner. Shortly thereafter, he turns on Degeneration-X and joins the Corporation.
- Duane Gill wins the WWF Light Heavyweight Championship from Christian, with help from the JOB Squad.
- Mark Henry and Chyna got out on a date in an absurd, but beautifully effective, piece of character development.
- Undertaker and Paul Bearer abduct Austin and try to embalm him. Kane comes to the rescue just in time.
- Austin and Kane stuff Bearer down a manhole.
- The New Age Outlaws appear to join the Corporation. However, they later reveal it was all a ruse. D-X is reunited and strong as ever.
- Austin is “crucified” by Undertaker, one of the most iconic and controversial images in the history of the WWF.
My memory isn’t quite what it used to be, but I could not believe how much great stuff was crammed into these four episodes of Raw. It reminds me of when I was back in college, and there were a bunch of songs that I liked. One day, I found out they were all by the same band (Live), and on the same album (“Throwing Copper”). My mind was blown.
It’s easy to look back on a stretch of shows like this and immediately start to bash the current product. I’d rather not. I was watching every week at this time, and I didn’t remember it being this good. WWF in late 1998 was firing on all cylinders. If you subscribe to the WWE Network, it’s well worth your time to check it out for yourself. It’s about as good as it got during the Attitude Era.
Also, Undertaker’s evil entrance theme from that period is the best he’s ever used. Don’t even try to argue this point with me.