Guess what guys and girls, it's only been a few weeks but I'm back with another edition of the news and rumors here at rajah.com! We're getting into my favorite period of time with Royal Rumble two weeks away and WrestleMania just around the corner, which means that WWE will begin pulling out all the stops as they build towards their biggest event of the year. On top of that, we're just over a week away from the company celebrating 25 years of Raw and they'll be putting out a special edition of Raw next Monday that could possibly be the most watched WWE show of the year. With that said, let's get to it...
Monday's Raw seemed to be a rather typical show just going through the motions trying to get WWE to the Royal Rumble. Braun Strowman got the upperhand on his Royal Rumble opponents, Brock Lesnar and Kane, while the "Balor Club" came together again, which seems to suggest that WWE will be keeping them together - good news for all three of them. Other highlights included "Woken" Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt just laughing at each other, the Miz's return to TV after a few weeks' absence, and what looked to be the beginnings of a Samoe Joe vs. John Cena storyline. If you missed Raw, you can find a report HERE.
I didn't get a chance to watch Smackdown, but it also seemed to another ordinary show with the final opening round match in the US title tournament and much focus given to the ongoing Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan storyline. If you need to catch up on it, click HERE.
As I mentioned earlier, WWE is celebrating 25 years of their flagship Raw program later this month and the show promises to be a huge one, with several major past stars and legends making appearances. The show will emanate from two venues - the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the Manhattan Center in Manhattan, the latter of which was the site of the very first Raw back in 1993. Confirmed for the event are Steve Austin, Ric Flair, Undertaker, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, The New Age Outlaws, The Dudley Boys, Jim Ross, Jerry Lawler and a host of others. Austin's presence is interesting as he hasn't been on WWE TV in probably two or three years and doesn't seem to have much interest these days in appearing on TV for any storyline purposes. I would guess that this is going to be a one-time appearance by him though it's not out of the question to see him at WrestleMania 34 too. There's been no word on arguably two of WWE's other huge stars - The Rock or Hulk Hogan - but I think it's unlikely we see Hogan since WWE still doesn't seem comfortable to bring Hulk back on TV in light of his recent controversies as ridiculous as that sounds. The Rock, on the other hand could make an appearance and you'd think that if WWE wants to keep one guy a surprise, it would be him. Ultimately though, the Rock is a really busy guy and so it all will depend on his schedule. Unfortunately, one man who definitely won't be there is Chris Jericho, who has his commitments with his band Fozzy. Jericho also seems extremely unlikely for WrestleMania and his status with WWE moving forward is a bit of a question mark, though I'm sure he'll be back sooner or later, even if for only a short term basis.
Perhaps the most interesting man appearing at the Raw 25th Anniversary show is the Undertaker. At first, it was assumed he was making an appearance much along the lines of Steve Austin basically for nostalgic purposes, but as the weeks have gone by, it's become obvious that is not the case. According to various reports going around, Undertaker will not only be appearing at Raw in two weeks but he will be there to shoot some sort of angle to set up a match at WrestleMania, presumably against John Cena. This rumor has received a mixed reaction from the online community, but it's no secret that this is a match that Vince McMahon has wanted to do at WrestleMania. In fact, this is what was originally planned for last year's WrestleMania before Undertaker sort of made it known that he was "retiring" and Vince decided to replace Cena with Roman Reigns so Taker could put over his superstar of tomorrow before leaving. The problem with all this is that Undertaker has been talking retirement for something like a decade now and each year he keeps coming back for one more match. At WrestleMania 30, everyone backstage was convinced it was going to be his last match, which is when the decision was made to end the streak before he retired. But Taker came back, won matches since and lost one too which took away from the significance of the streak.
Why Undertaker is coming back only he knows for sure but I've heard that the guy earns something in the neighborhood of $1 million for that one match per year, which is a damn good pay day if you ask me and probably too much too resist. When we last saw Taker wrestle last year, it was a horrifying sight as he was hobbling around and looked to be in a lot of pain due to his hips being in terrible shape. For those interested, the word backstage is that he's in much better shape this year and some are even saying that he's looking better than he has in ten years, but at the same time there's also no denying the fact that he's north of 50 years old. Anyway, one of the rumors going around that makes sense to me is that Undertaker will appear on the Raw 25th Anniversary show attempting to officially retire only to have John Cena interrupt him and challenge him to one last match, a match between two legends so to speak. My 11-year old daughter, who has no idea about much of anything going on, had an inadvertently funny guess: "He'll probably lose to Cena and then want to come back again next year so he can win."
WWE's latest initiative that they are pushing hard is the upcoming Mixed Match Challenge which begins airing weekly after Smackdown Live beginning January 16. The matches will be shown exclusively on Facebook Watch, which is basically the whole point of this tournament as WWE continues to explore partnerships to push their content, especially with their TV deal expiring in 2019. I suppose the hope from WWE's perspective is that their loyal fanbase will make this event a huge success, which will either open up opportunities for them in the coming years or at the very least, give them additional leverage when negotiating a new television deal. Anyway, the shows will take place and air live in the timeslot immediately after Smackdown, which will cause 205 Live to be shortened and pushed back to an approximately 1025 PM ET start. There will be one match aired each week and the entire competition will run for 12 weeks, which if my calculations are correct would end the week of WrestleMania 34, exactly as the company would want.
The pairings were released this week along with the charities that each of the teams would be supporting. I don't know about anyone else, but I find this kind of weird that each team has a different charity because we're talking about a pre-scripted wrestling tournament. In other words, unless this was a random draw - which no one would believe anyway - it would seem like WWE is basically deciding which charity to give the $100,000 to by virtue of which team they book to win. Over the last few days, it was also revealed that all the other charities who don't win the $100,000 will be given $10,000 so I suppose that makes it a little less strange. Two of the WWE's more publicized charities, Connor's Cure and Susan G. Komen are represented by Alexa Bliss & Braun Strowman and Nia Jax & Apollo Crews, respectively. If you want to take a guess based on charities, they could be considered favorites though Apollo/Nia seems like a weird team to win. Perhaps more telling is that Apollo's spot was originally supposed to be Enzo Amore's and having Enzo and Nia win the tournament and further their storyline could have been in the original booking plans.
Right off the bat when I saw the number of competitors, it was obvious to me that this wouldn't be a normal elimination tournament since to have that happen, you would need either 8 or 16 teams. WWE answered my burning question by announcing earlier this week that three teams would make it to the semi-finals by winning while the last team would be a fan vote where all the losing teams from the previous rounds would get a second chance. If WWE doesn't rig the fan vote, that will no doubt come down to a popularity contest so I think if teams like Elias/Bayley and Goldust/Alicia Fox lose, they will be out of luck.
WWE's next PPV is the joint brand Royal Rumble, which takes place in Philadelphia, PA on January 28 and it promises to be a significant event. Ever since I was a child, the Royal Rumble was my favorite WWE PPV just due to the uniqueness of the Rumble and being able to see so many wrestlers together that you wouldn't normally see. I also found it so interesting to find out who would draw #1 and #2, when the big boys and surprise entrants would come down and to see how the existing storylines would play out in the match. Some of those things have become less of a big deal over the years, but the presence of "surprises" has always been there which makes it all the more exciting. This year's Rumble doesn't seem to have a clear cut favorite though names such as Roman Reigns, Shsinsuke Nakamura and Randy Orton are being tossed around. Reigns as the Rumble champ is consistent with the fact that his match with Brock Lesnar is going to headline WrestleMania 34 as it's a match that Vince McMahon has literally been planning for years. The goal is to crown Reigns as the face of WWE by having him kick out of the F-5 and then go on to pin Lesnar in the middle of the ring. With the Rumble winner automatically getting a title shot against the champ of their respective brand at WrestleMania, this would seem to be a very easy way to set up the match. However, I'm not really sure that will happen, first because it's extremely predictable and second, I'm not sure it's a good idea to end the match with Reigns winning in a city like Philadelphia. Besides, with Elimination Chamber a Raw brand PPV, Reigns could win that match and get his title shot that way.
Randy Orton is another name that has been mentioned probably because he makes sense as a possible AJ Styles opponent but he won the Royal Rumble last year and then challenged Bray Wyatt for the WWE title. Ok, tangent time - but man, Bray Wyatt has fallen a lot - to go from WWE champion to feuding with Matt Hardy in less than a year is pretty shocking. Anyway, Shinsuke Nakamura's name has been tossed out there too as a Royal Rumble winner and AJ Styles' opponent at WrestleMania, especially after it was teased at Money in the Bank last year. Whether Vince and company are bold enough to go with Nakamura winning an event like the Royal Rumble remains to be seen though.
Late on Friday, news sort of broke that WWE doctors were not going to be clearing Paige and that would mean that her in-ring WWE career would effectively be over. Paige's history is well documented with a severe injury leading to surgery and sidelining her for over a year. Her latest setback appeared innocent enough as she received a kick to the back by Sasha Banks at a house show but it seemed to catch her off guard or perhaps in the wrong spot and a scary series of events ensued where she was unable to pick herself back up, staggering around instead. The match was stopped, Paige was pulled from all subsequent live events and hasn't been in the ring since. Reports surfaced that she escaped a major injury, suffering what was described a "stinger" and I heard that she was also fine back at her hotel and even went out with her fellow wrestlers that night to a bar. Perhaps she is okay but WWE's medical team is vastly different than what it was before and they are obviously taking no chances. Whether this report is confirmed remains to be seen, but we've seen wrestlers in the past forced to retire because WWE medical staff refused to clear them - Daniel Bryan and Adam "Edge" Copeland come to mind. If WWE indeed refuses to clear Paige, she would be relegated to a non-wrestling, managerial type role with Absolution until her contract ran out as WWE will no doubt keep her around as long as her Dwayne Johnson backed movie is on the horizon. After that though all bets would be off and she'd probably be forced to leave WWE if she wants to continue her in-ring career and they probably wouldn't re-sign her anyway.
One of the rumors I heard about the women's Royal Rumble was that WWE was considering bringing in Kia Stevens aka Awesome Kong and known previously in WWE as Kharma, for a showdown with Nia Jax. However, she recently stated that she hasn't been contacted by WWE for any appearance though she would love to be a part of the Rumble as she is already one of only three females who have ever competed in the men's match. From what I heard, Stevens has sort of let herself go physically and probably isn't on WWE's radar, however, with the nature of the Royal Rumble leading to surprises, who knows?
There's nothing new to report on Ronda Rousey and any possible appearance in WWE. The same stuff is happening - Rousey continues to train at the WWE Performance Center, even though the company says it is not related to any WWE appearance and simply that they are lending her their facilities for her ongoing training. Yeah right. The two sides also have been noted to have met on multiple occasions, presumbly for negotiations but both parties continue to deny that they have agreed to anything. That part is probably true, it's unlikely that any agreement or contract has been signed but let's just put it this way - she isn't training at the Performance Center to brush up on her wrestling skills for some backyard promotion nor did WWE make it a point to show her on TV last year on more than one occasion if there were no plans to strike a deal. Most seem to think that something with Rousey will be announced before WrestleMania 34 where she would face either Asuka, Charlotte Flair or....Stephanie McMahon. WWE wanted Rousey at last year's WrestleMania but the timing wasn't right as she was coming off a loss to Amanda Nunes just a couple months prior and with WWE, perception is important. Anyway, my opinion on this is that if Rousey is gonna be in WWE for the long haul, then sure have her face (and probably beat Asuka or Charlotte) but if she's only in it for a one-night, hit-the-lottery type of deal, then it would be a shame to see WWE job out one of their female stars to more or less a celebrity and reverse all the progress they've made with the women's division. In that scenario, by all means, have her beat up Stephanie and let's get it over with.
And now onto some random thoughts, one liners and everything else I didn't want to write a ton about...
Alexa Bliss is one of the better promos on the women's side but her exchange with Nia Jax on Raw was utterly forgettable. The facial expressions from Jax, the unnatural pauses and poor delivery was laughable. You'd think these two would have some better chemistry as they are practically best friends backstage.
Speaking of these two, Nia Jax claimed that Asuka doesn't speak English, implying that she couldn't have been doing any trash talking. Problem is, Asuka spoke English in NXT and even funnier, we heard her speak English earlier in the night in the segment with Miz when she revealed herself to be his Mixed Match Challenge partner.
Samoa Joe has been a real surprise to me over the last year. Dude came up big in the storyline with Brock Lesnar at a time when WWE was stuck creatively, and his mic work over the last few weeks has been strong. Especially loved the exchanges with Renee Young regarding Dean Ambrose. The injury to his foot that could potentially cost him the Royal Rumble comes as a bad time as he was going to be rewarded with a program against John Cena between the Rumble and WrestleMania.
I heard recently that WWE creative has pretty much given up on the Bayley character and this was pretty evident in the tag team match on Raw. Bayley was an afterthought with Sasha Banks virtually winning that match on her own. Bayley didn't even get the hot tag as one would have expected; instead she just sort of disappeared. That is one character that writing and poor booking destroyed.
Anyone catch the details following the Enzo vs. Cedric Alexander match? So the blood spot wasn't supposed to happen but the leg injury was and so when Enzo did the spot where his leg gave out, a WWE doctor came out and was supposed to check on that specific injury. But because Enzo was bleeding, the doctor instead started wiping the blood off his face and Enzo had to swat him away because that wasn't what he was supposed to be doing.
Two questions my nine year old son asked: "If Shane McMahon has such a huge problem with Daniel Bryan, why doesn't he fire him like Stephanie McMahon fired Mick Foley?"
The second question he asked me: "So Dad, Revival came back and had a match and now they're not even wrestling?" I think we reported on this a couple of weeks ago and if not, here it is again - but the rumor is that WWE is a little lost on what to do with Revival.
Cedric Alexander was involved in a previous storyline with Alicia Fox and now he's formed an alliance with Goldust, who is teaming with Fox in the Mixed Match Challenge. It would seem like an opportunity to arch together a storyline but apparently WWE creative thinks this is too complicated for their fanbase and reportedly won't be pursuing that.
Finn Balor and friends are called "Balor Club" probably because they can't use "Bullet Club" or the fact that Vince hates using terms and ideas that don't originate in WWE. But expect WWE to market the hell out of Balor Club by way of new merchandise and hopefully it will make all three wrestlers more relevant than they have been lately.
Who's the mysterious woman Kurt Angle was talking to? If Dave Meltzer's report that nine NXT women were told that they will be in the Royal Rumble is true, that doesn't leave a lot of spots left for returnees.
If Asuka and Miz lose a match in the Mixed Match Challenge, does that end her unbeaten streak? It would seem so since WWE specifically made Miz referenc it on Raw, but that would be a stupid, stupid way to end her run.
I was hoping that the US Title tournament was going to be a vehicle to finally push Rusev or at least turn him face, but sadly, it appears that won't be the case.
Well, that wraps up my second news report in about 14 years and hopefully I'm knocking off some of the accumulated rust. As always, I'd love to hear from you whether it be feedback, hate mail or a note on how much you adore me. I'm a sucker for nostalgia, so if you're a long time reader I especially want to hear from you! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, later.