This past week on WWE Raw and Smackdown Live, both shows were a breath of fresh air as some familiar names returned to the shows while talent from NXT finally got their much-deserved promotion to the main roster.
What I’m going to do is comment on each individual case while also looking at their outlook in the weeks and months ahead.
Kurt Angle As The Raw General Manager
Angle’s return to WWE television was expected ever since they announced his Hall of Fame induction in January. Since he is 48 years old, it was unrealistic to expect him to wrestle on a full-time schedule anymore. Perhaps he could have been like a Brock Lesnar, Goldberg or Undertaker with rare TV appearances to build to a match, but I think making him the GM is the best role.
This past Monday was his first time on Raw since he left the company in the summer of 2006. He didn’t talk that much in the ring other than saying thanks to Vince McMahon, but they allowed him to show his comedy skills backstage. When he “met” Enzo & Cass, they did their usual promo routine with Angle noting that Cass yelling “S-A-W-F-T” is now how you spell soft. The crowd laughed because it was perfect comedic timing from Angle.
Outlook: Being the GM will allow him to build long term storylines with wrestlers. There’s a slow build to a feud between some heel on Raw and Angle. Let’s take Kevin Owens as an example. If a guy like Owens thinks that he is being treated unfairly by Angle they can have them do regular segments together leading to arguments with Owens acting as the heel that hates his boss. Owens can keep egging him on, then something physical can happen and they can have a big match at a show like SummerSlam.
If Angle works a few matches per year it will keep him fresh while also making all of his matches feel like a big deal. I’ve seen most of Angle’s matches in the last few years and he’s still very capable of having great matches.
Balor is one of the best all around talents in WWE. He’s also one of their shortest main event wrestlers, so it’s going to be an uphill battle for him. Keep in mind that they did choose to make him the first Universal Champion last summer, so the height issue may not be a problem in today’s WWE. It feels really good writing that, by the way.
While I enjoyed his return on Raw this past week, I think WWE made a mistake by not using him at WrestleMania. Think about it this way. The man got hurt early in his SummerSlam Universal Title match, worked another 15 minutes after the injury and gave up the title the next day. He started wrestling at live events in early March. If you’re WWE, you should reward a guy for that. He busted his ass in the title match after the injury and you can’t find a spot for him on the WrestleMania card? Come on WWE, you can be better than that.
Outlook: Balor’s presence will help the Raw brand immensely. With that said, if they wanted to move him to Smackdown in a swap for AJ Styles or somebody else then that’s certainly fine too. It’s going to be tough for everybody to get a push on Raw and it’s such a loaded roster (potentially) that people may be lost in the shuffle.
I think he should be a face for the foreseeable future. While a reunion with his Bullet Club “brothers’ Gallows & Anderson would be fun to see on Raw, he’s got a special connection with the fans that needs to grow. Keep him as a face for at least another year or two. There’s plenty of time to try a heel turn down the road.
There are plenty of heels on Raw for him to feud with such as Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Braun Strowman and perhaps Brock Lesnar at some point, who is more of a tweener at this point. A big rematch against Seth Rollins is possible even though they are faces. Balor also beat Roman Reigns clean last summer, so that’s something they can do again. To summarize all that, I think it’s going to be very easy for Balor to thrive.
The Hardy Boyz (Matt & Jeff Hardy)
The current WWE Raw Tag Team Champions returned as the biggest surprise at WrestleMania. While a lot of people expected the Hardys to return to WWE soon, we didn’t know if it would be at WrestleMania. It was the right call to make the Raw Tag Title match a ladder match and to bring them out when they did. The reaction for their entrance drew the loudest ovation of WrestleMania. When they won the titles, it was a shocking moment and the right decision because if somebody else would have won that match it would have been hated by the crowd. It was the most memorable part of the show in terms of positive things because I would put The Undertaker’s retirement ahead of it overall.
On Monday’s Raw, the Hardys defended the tag team gold against former champions Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson. It was a competitive match to show the fans that the Hardys look as good as ever. It sucks for Gallows & Anderson, but again it was smart for WWE to put over the Hardys in a big way.
The most EXHILARATING Tag Team in history.#GreatestTagTeamInSpaceAndTime
REBORN BY FATE
The Hardys pic.twitter.com/m9X2PVWXFd
— MATT HARDY (@MATTHARDYBRAND) April 8, 2017
Outlook: The Hardys are a draw as a tag team unlike no other team that WWE has. They are arguably the greatest team in WWE history. Most fans don’t think of a tag team as guys that can legitimately main event shows and even PPV events, but if any team could it’s probably the Hardys at this point.
I’m hoping that over time, Matt can adopt the “Broken” gimmick because it was such a successful thing for him in Impact Wrestling. Since signing with WWE, he hasn’t done it. Even though the “Broken” character isn’t on WWE TV yet, the fans are chanting “Delete” about the character. It’s awkward that WWE hasn’t explained why fans are chanting “Delete” at them, but maybe that’s something that can happen over time. It would really allow Matt to stand out.
I don’t think the “Brother Nero” version of Jeff Hardy is as good as the regular Jeff that became a main event level talent in WWE. With Matt, the “Broken” gimmick works better. Jeff is great on his own as the underdog type wrestler that takes a lot of risks and keeps fighting back. He could have great matches with bigger type heels such as Braun Strowman, Samoa Joe, Kevin Owens and Baron Corbin to name a few.
The Hardys working as a team is fine for most of the year, but I think there’s going to come a point later in the year where WWE will want to see if Jeff can be a main event draw again. He was a big draw in 2008 and 2009 when they really got behind him. I think he can get to that level again. I also hope that it means Matt can be “Broken” again if they sort of the legal issues with Impact Wrestling.
The Revival (Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder)
They were arguably the best WWE tag team of 2016 and now they are on the main roster. In terms of having the best matches, I think they were the best tag team last year. If I recall in my 2016 awards, I gave my Tag Team award to New Day and that was one of the ones that people complained about the most because of how good these guys are. The matches they had with teams like American Alpha and #DIY reminded fans of how awesome tag team wrestling by using some of the oldest tricks in the book.
What I like about The Revival is they don’t look like everybody else on a wrestling show. They are regular guys who happen to be very good in the ring. They aren’t jacked, but that’s okay because they are awesome technicians when they are in a tag match. They are the most believable team in WWE that aren’t actually brothers because you believe they care about each other and have a chip on their shoulder that helps them succeed.
By the way, the crowd signing their “We Go Hard” theme song on Raw this past Monday was amazing. It’s one of my favorite songs in WWE right now.
Outlook: They are the perfect heel tag team. I never want to see them go face. I know they got cheers on Raw, but that was mainly because it was their main roster debut in front of the hottest crowd of the year. They are pure heels that know how to wrestle a tag like an old school tag team as if they were the Midnight Express or Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard all over again.
Another idea for them is to join this potential Triple H-led NXT favorites stable. You know how Samoa Joe and Kevin Owens have been working together? Add The Revival to that group and it would be a destructive force that can help carry Raw as the faces on the show try to stop them.
If they remain a team on their own then that’s perfectly fine too. A long-term feud with the Hardys would be amazing because of how great those teams are. They will probably win the Raw Tag Titles by August if not sooner.
What makes me worry about them a bit is they may get lost in the shuffle. After all, The Ascension and The Vaudevillains did nothing on the main roster even though they were NXT Tag Team Champions. The reason I’m not overly concerned is because this is a better team. Yes, they are smaller guys, but I don’t think that’s going to stop them. I’m trying to be optimistic about it.
This is the debut (or return) that excited me the most because of how good he is. When he walked out there on Smackdown I was cheering as loud as anyone, believe me. I think Nakamura is one of the five best wrestlers anywhere in the world and maybe second to AJ Styles in WWE right now. His entrance is the coolest in all of wrestling (along with Bobby Roode), he’s the most charismatic guy on any WWE show and obviously he can go in the ring with a unique “strong style” offense. A lot of guys in WWE that use forearm, elbow and kick strikes were influenced by Nakamura, who is 37 years old and has been one of the best in the world for over a decade.
When it comes to selling an injury he’s really at a high level. His last two major matches with Bobby Roode featured a lot of that. Selling is the most important part about building up a match because you have to get the crowd to buy into what you’re doing, then make the comeback and have them buy into it. Shawn Michaels is the best in-ring performer ever in my opinion and a big reason why is his selling. Nakamura is very similar in that sense.
As for what he did, it was cool to see him make his entrance with Lee England Jr. on violin, but I would have liked to see more. They could have had Miz go up to him, ask him why he was out there interrupting him and Nakamura can hit him with a kick leading to a big pop. I think they held off on that because they might do something like that next week. It’s a slow build.
Outlook: I think Nakamura will be a featured performer on Smackdown right away. With John Cena away for a few months to film a movie and AJ Styles potentially being moved to Raw (that’s the rumor), Nakamura would easily slot in there at the top of the card for Smackdown.
A feud with The Miz is likely going to pick up next week. Miz can bitch about how Nakamura interrupted him last week and it can escalate from there. Since Miz is an upper midcard talent, it puts Nakamura near the top of the card with one of the best heels in the company – some people might say THE best heel right now.
What hurts Nakamura is that English is his second language. However, if you followed his career in NXT then you know he speaks English well enough and if you limit his promos to small doses he’ll do fine. He’s not going to be that guy that delivers a five-minute monologue to rip on an opponent. With him, actions speak louder than words.
Nakamura will likely go on an undefeated streak for a while similar to what he did in NXT. He needs to be built up like a major superstar especially since he won’t be doing those long promos week after week.
Speaking of Cena, it wouldn’t shock me if he has a big match with Nakamura at some point. Cena has gotten to work with the biggest “new” stars like Kevin Owens and AJ Styles in the past. I’m sure he will want to get in there with Nakamura to see what he can do with him. Nakamura vs. Cena at SummerSlam? Sounds like a great idea to me as long as Nakamura gets the win. Just throwing it out there.
The concern with Nakamura is that historically speaking, there really haven’t been a lot of foreigners that have done well as main event talent. People may point to Yokozuna, but he wasn’t really Japanese. He was presented that way and headlined back to back WrestleManias as a heel. Nakamura’s a face that should never go heel since he’s so good at being a face.
The early booking of Nakamura will be crucial. Book him strong and don’t hurt him by making him do long promos. Keep it simple. Please don’t screw it up, WWE.
At the Royal Rumble in January, the #10 entrant was Tye Dillinger. It made a lot of sense since he’s “The Perfect Ten” that lead the crowd in ten chants. He didn’t do much in that match, but it was great to see him there. While that was a great moment, an even better moment took place this week on Smackdown when he answered a challenge from Curt Hawkins and the crowd gave Dillinger a huge ovation.
The “ten” chant is over huge, so much so that fans chant it a lot even during a regular a match when wrestlers are getting counted out on the floor. Is it the chant that is over or is it Dillinger himself? I think it’s a bit of both. Fans like chanting simple things like “WHAT?” and “YES” as we know, so “TEN” falls into that category. Fans also know that Dillinger is a very good in-ring performer, which makes it easy to cheer for him. Dillinger didn’t rack up that many key wins in NXT, though. That hurts him a bit.
Outlook: I’m not sure where Dillinger is going to fit on the Smackdown roster because I don’t see him going over the likes of Bray Wyatt or Baron Corbin any time soon. The Miz is probably going to be busy with Nakamura for a few months. I think Dolph Ziggler might be a guy that Dillinger feuds with just because he’s there for newer faces to feud with. How did that Ziggler/Crews feud work out? Not good for either guy.
The name Tyler Breeze comes to mind when I think of Dillinger too. Breeze was in NXT for a long time, he had a lot of good matches and also lost quite often…just like Dillinger. When Breeze got called up to the main roster, it was celebrated by a lot of people. However, he didn’t do much when he got there. Now he’s in that “Fashion Police” gimmick with Fandango that has led to a lot of losses for that team. Don’t forget that he also had to dress up like Nikki Bella on multiple occasions and get beat up by her. I’m happy he’s on the main roster, but when that’s how you are being used it’s not a great thing.
I hope there’s a plan in place for him. Right now, though, he’s the guy I worry about the most among everybody I mentioned in this column.
The post-WrestleMania season is an exciting time for new storylines to start featuring new talent in key roles. Some of these guys aren’t new because they are returning from long breaks, but that time away allows them to feel fresh. There’s a lot of talent here that will hopefully be used right. Some of them will be. Others will not. That’s just how WWE is.
Let me know your thoughts using the contact info below or use our commenting system below. Thanks for reading.
John Canton – firstname.lastname@example.org