Once upon a time I made MMA predictions for another site. I stopped because 50% of the time I was deathly wrong, almost hilariously so, because it’s so difficult to predict what will actually happen in a fight. It’s still fun nonetheless, and at least in wrestling while you might be wrong, sometimes right a fair amount of time and way off just as much, playing guessing games about your favourite alphabet soup wrestling promotion is half the fun. The other half? Having your predictions exceeded.
I’m personally not a Goldberg fan, let’s dispense with that and I feel I’m not the only one tired of his repeated appearances with aggressively diminishing returns. They’re frustratingly questionable to be honest. It’s a WWE hallmark at this point to fall back on tried and true methods, which Goldberg is as a known commodity, but my concern with such moves is always what they do for the future of the company. One thing you can always say WWE does is a) showcase very talented people, and b) create special moments, even if you feel creatively they’re lacking in either logic, common sense or substance an unreasonable amount of time. And then there are moments where they outright surprise you.
Last week I went 3/6 on my predictions for Money in the Bank. The world titles went as expected, as did Big E claiming the men’s contract. With Big E, my hope is this leads to something truly special down the road for him. As I said, the pop for his cash in may be extremely loud especially if he cashes in on Lashley in light of his recent beatdowns of Big E’s New Day brothers. Never mind that, what about the pop of him actually winning?
I had a slow-burn appreciation for New Day, and while they’re still not complete favourites of mine even just in WWE, one thing you can’t take away from them are their abilities and the connection they have to the fans. That’s something few across the entirety of the wrestling landscape can completely lay claim to. While we’ll discuss Roman and Cena in a bit, to me, Big E cashing in on Lashley after he (hopefully) crushes Goldberg is the move to make. With how Lashley has been booked, his monstrous mean streak has been the fuel to burn the competition. Logically, you’d need someone as big and imposing to down such a monster. And so, I think Big E cashing in on Lashley is the right move. The question is, should he win though?
You can make a case for either scenario, and I think the bigger question now that Big E has claimed the contract is whether or not it would make sense to both win the MITB contract AND the Rumble (he was a rumoured winner previously) to setup a WrestleMania world title clash. I don’t believe this has happened, nor should it now. I think if WWE is going to entrust the its flagship title to him, it would come off a sequence where they can maximize the excitement of the potential moment to come (i.e. E running down to the ring, briefcase in hand) while also test-running him as a world champion against live fans; which I can’t imagine he’d receive a poor reaction. His MITB contract-holding status is something to keep an eye on, but already it makes infinitely more sense than Otis winning in 2020.
As for the women, well I got that wrong. Hilariously so. Not only did WWE do the expected and put Charlotte over Rhea Ripley to pad her title wins, but they also went the unconventional route in having Nikki A.S.H. not just win the contract on Sunday, but have her cash in and win the women’s title on Raw over Charlotte after the latter’s rematch with Ripley. I had predicted Liv Morgan as my favourite, and Alexa Bliss as the most likely. Even though Bliss didn’t win, I still feel like the obvious move with Bliss and A.S.H. positioned as heroic and villainous opposites is to have them feud over the title with Nikki being the cookie cutter beacon of goodness and Bliss being the corrupted villain. It’s nothing new, but Nikki in her heroic persona offsets Bliss’ recent cringey segments. This might be the freshness the show needs and offset the more absurd parts of Bliss-Fiend, so we’ll see how this shapes out because Raw needs something consistently, tangibly good as a hook and this could be mildly entertaining as somewhat of a twisted Hurricane-Mighty Molly throwback with a villainous tweak.
Finally, where Roman is concerned I feel like him continuing to look strong was the right move for now. He’s been the consistent piece of Smackdown’s formula since his return last summer and especially now with other stalwarts like Bayley and Sasha Banks MIA while Bianca Belair gains steam as champion. Reigns needs to be champion right now, after years of WWE struggling to find him a spot that also works as well within fans’ wants and expectations. It would be ludicrous to either take the belt off him or swerve him as part of a double turn in any potential Lesnar return. As it is, Roman and the Usos together has been a great part of the show, and while it’s disagreeable to reward the Usos in light of recent events, as a package commodity they’ve been the most interesting part of Smackdown. Edge is a great foil, but with him moving seemingly on to a match with Seth Rollins, Cena returning at the end of the show sets up a rematch at SummerSlam between him and Reigns. It’s the money match WWE needs right now, especially with fans returning to arenas.
Cena’s pop was defeaning, and just trying to think of a similar one and failing, the only really loud pop that nips its heels is maybe Hangman Page’s entrance at Dynamite a few weeks back — this dwarfed that, as you’d expect. Despite being away, and despite his age, Cena is a known commodity like Goldberg with the difference being Cena can still work his matches convincingly. But where this feud sells itself is the fact that both he and Reigns are in different positions than they were in their previous encounter. For years Cena has been the guy, the alpha, the guy who mocks and beats everyone fuelled by his hustle to excel. The difference here now though is with Reigns fully entrenched in his Head of the Table persona, he’s now the alpha, he’s the one who beats everyone up to and including a younger Cena. In some ways, while yes Cena’s “Can’t See Me” taunt is part of his character, it’s actually out of place in the moment of their face to face because Roman in fact “saw him” and beat him cleanly.
I got flack on Twitter for nitpicking the return (specifically the taunt), but I think details matter and the reality of their history is that despite Cena’s track record as “the guy” he has no grounds to defiantly say “you can’t see me” to the man who’s now “the guy” and running the show decisively so. And that’s OK, it’s called character evolution. Cena working from behind as the guy trying to prove to himself he can beat Reigns is a better story than Cena returning and acting like himself as though nothing happened two or three years ago.
There’s no telling how long Cena will be around this time despite what he said post-show, simply because he’s a man in demand. Nonetheless I’ve long maintained that there’s one really, truly great John Cena story left in WWE’s rolodex and that’s the Road to 17. I don’t know if this it, but in my opinion I think they can work this return from two fronts and pay it off down the road. First, there’s the very distinct possibility this is another one-off and Cena will likely be gone after SummerSlam, meaning this is just to further cement Reigns’ place in the WWE hierarchy. That’s frankly boring. I also don’t think it does anything for WWE for Cena to take the belt off Reigns now, because where do you go other than having an immediate rematch just to put the belt back on Reigns? So Reigns winning seems most likely because it feeds his character’s ego, builds him to be a stronger presence on the shows and further entrenches his claim to be the guy in WWE; which is exactly what this match needs to do because when he does lose it’ll matter more.
Let’s fantasy book a little though. Understanding the Rock-centric rumors are still circulating for next year’s WrestleMania and that’s probably what’s happening, to me, the better story is to have Reigns dominate Cena and win in a way where Cena stays true to his mantras but loses and has to comeback and prove to himself (and to his fans) that he can still go. I had it argued to me that this goes against Cena’s character, but I disagree. Cena is basic in terms of character, but it works because the foundation inspires so many people and he’s an inspiring thinker. But what’s more interesting in terms of story — the guy who spouts his catchphrases and always wins, or the guy who spouts those catchphrases to the same man twice and loses twice, only to “never give up” and come back to win?
There’s a great story in Cena losing to Reigns decisively and then coming back from the mortality of his own career and actually winning for himself, his fans and giving WWE a 17 time world champion. Is that what’s in the cards, is that something Cena wants to do? Who knows, but probably not. Nonetheless, Cena proved he can still hold the crowd in the palm of his hand, and I think regardless of what’s planned for him, this story is worth exploring because it’s the ultimate John Cena Rocky Balboa-like story. Much like Rocky, you don’t always need complicated characters to inspire people, which is in WWE’s wheelhouse.
So buckle up pals and frenemies alike, regardless of the route they take it should be an interesting month in WWE. As for Raw this past Monday, that’s another chat for another day. Yeah…
Impact’s Slammiversary….Wow. OK.
Money in the Bank was fantastic on its own, but my favourite moment of the weekend was on Impact’s show where at the end of the night after Kenny Omega defeated Sami Callahan in a No DQ match, a ghost of Omega’s recent past arrived to put the fear of Kenny’s dear and fluffy lord into his heart. His face actually looked like someone lied to him about becoming a Street Fighter 5 character.
IWGP NEVER Openweight champion (and Bullet Club leader) “Switchblade” Jay White finally arrived to confront the former Bullet Club try-hards amid months of verbal sparring online between old and current members of the faction.
For those unaware, White and Omega had a match for the IWGP U.S. title in early 2018 when White was only 24 and in the 30-40 minute affair Omega threw absolutely everything at White to the point he was so beaten down his kick outs consisted of barely lifting his shoulder off the mat — envision being so exhausted you can’t move, but you can slightly lift your shoulder off the floor. That’s this. It was a typical Omega match in the NJPW strong style/King’s Road hybrid style where they competitively went back and forth until Omega gained control and beat the tar out of White — but he couldn’t finish him. And as the match wore on, Omega began to slowly unhinge and lose focus until White caught him with the Bladerunner to claim the IWGP U.S. title.
That match put White on the map, and he hasn’t looked back since to the extent that I and others consider him the best, most complete heel in wrestling. He’s that good (never mind the MJF talk) and I wrote up a snapshot on why I think that is back in January (Kota Ibushi, ‘Switchblade’ Jay White Story is Timeless). At the time rumors that his NJPW contract was expiring were circulating and there was some speculation he might jump to WWE if his tenure was indeed ending. (It never did, he just worked everyone into thinking he was leaving.)
In terms of what the arrival means now though, it’s definitely a situation where if Omega is kayfabe already questioning his status as champion or “top flight alpha” in wrestling, that this bruise on his ego from a man who has only gotten better since 2018 is enough to petrify him. In some ways, part of the dynamic actually flips the Reigns and Cena story in a weird way.
In kayfabe, for all Omega’s wins and championships and 7-star dynamically awesome amazing matches, White represents the one thing he can’t beat; that’s someone who’s better than him, works harder than him and believes he’s better because he knows he’s better. And for someone like Omega in character who’s all ego-based, depends on outside accolades or positive reinforcement from external forces whether it’s Meltzer star ratings or Don Callis, the arrival of Jay White in Impact, whatever the purpose is pulls the rug out from him and makes him question himself completely. I can’t imagine White will head back to Japan for the G1 before having another bout with Omega, and that should be very, very good.
If I’m a mark for any wrestler, it’s Jay White. It’s just the way it is, I think he’s that good. Moving on…
The rest of the show was good, although obviously less exciting to me than the closer. Chelsea Green, Mickie James and No Way Jose (eh) all debuted on the show, FinJuice (David Finlay and Juice Robinson) returned, while Gallows and Anderson regained the Impact tag titles. Never mind Thunder Rosa’s arrival to challenge Deonna Purrazzo for the Knockouts title. Somehow in this show roster members from AEW, NJPW, ROH and the NWA all appeared, at least in part to build toward both Impact and NJPW’s big August shows and NWA’s Empowerrr PPV in late August featuring all women on the card, and it’s just fun to watch it all develop; it’s still really the best part of companies outside WWE working together in 2020 and 2021.
Part of what’s exciting to me about promotions coming together like this on “rival cards” is it creates an unknown element in the products companies book, and I feel wrestling is at its best when you can’t fully figure out what might come. That’s why MITB was so much fun Sunday, it’s why we like Royal Rumbles and that’s why with White I was excited even though I’ve been expecting it for a while. It’s the unknown of element of “when” something is going to happen.
While these cross promotional efforts might not be everyone’s cup of tea, or think it’s bush league (I think you’re wrong, if so), it’s an exciting coupling next to the WWE products because as a complete whole you get everything you can think of as a fan; in the end that’s what’s best for the business. And this weekend was good for wrestling.