The Top 10 Most Important Matches in WWF/E Championship History

This isn’t going to be a particularly long blog, but it’s one that will be no less important. After a conversation with some friends and colleagues in my Club Kayfabe wrestling group on Facebook (home of my podcast!), I decided to count down, what I consider to be, the most important matches in the history of the WWE (and WWF) Championship.

Call it the WWF World Championship, the WWE Undisputed Championship, the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, but no matter what you call it, there is no denying that this one title belt and its history boast some of the most significant matches in the history of the sport. Only 43 individuals have held the championship since its inception on April 25, 1963. To be one of those 43 men selected is enough to cement your legacy as a legend in the wrestling business. In fact, just about every single person who held this title is a WWE Hall of Famer, or destined to be one someday. That’s a huge accomplishment for their respective careers.

To figure out which matches made the most impact, I focused solely on the historical significance of the match, and not the actual quality of the match itself. This list is based more on why the match happened, what the match signified, and who the participants were, more than anything else. The title doesn’t even have to change hands for the match to mean something important.

I asked people in the group what matches they’d consider, and while my list didn’t change based on their suggestions, some of their choices are worth an honorable mention near the end of this list.

You may agree with some, and disagree with others, but that’s okay. There’s no right or wrong answer. There are only fond memories of important title matches of days gone by.

So what WWE Championship Matches do I consider to be the most important in history? Let’s begin the countdown!

 

THE TOP 10 MOST IMPORTANT MATCHES IN THE HISTORY OF THE WWF/E CHAMPIONSHIP

 

10. “NATURE BOY” BUDDY ROGERS VS. BRUNO SAMMARTINO, MADISON SQUARE GARDEN SHOW, MAY 17, 1963

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While the initial tournament to crown the first ever WWF Champion was an important one, as it signified the World Wide Wrestling Federation’s independence of the National Wrestling Alliance, it was what happened on May 17, 1963 that carried the most historical significance for the championship title belt. On this night in Madison Square Garden, the legendary Bruno Sammartino defeated “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers to capture his very first WWF Championship. Bruno would go on to hold the title for eleven years over the course of two reigns, becoming the greatest WWF Champion in history in many fan’s eyes. His first reign would last until January 18, 1971, spanning a total of 2,803 days.

Think about that for a minute – 11 years. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson wasn’t even an active wrestler for that amount of time! Over one tenth of Bruno’s life was spent with him holding the WWF Championship. That’s a huge accomplishment, and one that will never be duplicated. Bruno is also proof positive that a championship reign’s quality is always superior to the quantity of championships held, something a lot of modern fans, workers, and promoters don’t always seem to understand. Bruno’s second and final reign would last a little over 3 years – still longer than any modern champion has managed to hold the belt for. Indeed, this was a historical night, as it truly cemented one of pro wrestling’s greatest legends as one of the greatest.

 

9. MANKIND VS. THE ROCK, NO DISQUALIFICATION MATCH, RAW IS WAR, JANUARY 4, 1999

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For historical purposes, it must be pointed out that this match was taped on December 29th. Why that’s important will become clear very shortly.

Mankind’s victory over the Rock to win his very first WWF World Championship was a huge night for the business in a lot of ways, and ironically, many of those ways didn’t even involve Mankind or the WWF!

Called “the single most destructive Nitro” by many pro wrestling historians, the Nitro that aired head-to-head that Monday night from Atlanta, Georgia, featured one of the biggest blunders the company ever made, the blunder that officially snowballed the company into oblivion. While Nitro was live, Raw from Worcester, MA had been pre-taped. And since WCW was hell-bent on taking the WWF down in the ratings, Eric Bischoff decided to give away the results of Raw on his telecast, thus preventing viewers from switching over to Raw from his program. Tony Schiavone announced to the viewers at home that there was no reason to switch to Raw that night, since “Mick Foley, who had once competed here as Cactus Jack, is going to win their world title. Ha! That’ll put some butts in the seats!” Indeed it would, as HALF A MILLION viewers IMMEDIATELY switched channels to Raw to watch Mankind win the championship.

Why was this such a big deal and a miscalculation? Mick Foley has always had detractors, but what WCW failed to realize was that he’s beloved by a good portion of hardcore fans. Fans who had been watching WCW when he was competing there and always thought he deserved to be the champion. So they switched channels to see their icon win the title he deserved. Among casual fans, Foley was a big babyface hero, so they also wanted to see this championship match. The WWF destroyed WCW in the ratings, with the biggest gap coming right after Schiavone’s announcement. In one of the single loudest crowd reactions in history, Mankind defeated the Rock and celebrated, while WCW did the infamous “finger poke of doom” title change with Hulk Hogan and Kevin Nash. This single night turned off a majority of WCW fans once and for all, and brought them to the WWF, a scar WCW was never able to recover from. And that’s why this match was one of the most important matches in WWF Championship history.

This won’t be the last you hear of WCW though.

 

8. JOHN CENA VS. CM PUNK, MONEY IN THE BANK 2011

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It’s one thing to fill your championship title matches with dramatic storylines to compel people to tune in and watch the event. It’s quite another to fill the match with a dramatic affair boiling behind the scenes too. When fans learned of the reality of the situation, they tuned in in record numbers to see just what would unfold.

Already documented well in the CM Punk documentary, this championship title match had plenty of real world implications. With Punk’s contract set to expire, and Punk looking for a way out of the company after years of frustration, WWE did something to simply test the waters. They let Punk have a live microphone and vent his frustrations on the company, saying anything he wanted. Punk’s infamous “pipe bomb” promo was so well done, that Vince and Triple H and other officials were giving him high fives afterwards (even though they cut him off when he started to talk about Vince). Triple H later said in interviews that while he thought the idea was dangerous at first, it made for great television and proved to everyone that re-signing Punk was the right move. Punk literally re-signed his contract that night (though we as fans didn’t know it at the time) and wound up shocking everyone when he pinned John Cena and walked out of the WWE as the world champion – in his hometown of Chicago no less.

What happened next was always controversial. Many felt WWE brought Punk back too fast when they should of really played up his exit more. People weren’t thrilled with Rey Mysterio’s victory and then dethroning that same night. Most people were confused and unsure of what was happened. But, everyone was talking, and everyone was into the storyline, understanding the reality of the situation and understanding how much history they were witnessing. This made for one of the most dramatic title affairs in years, and also one of the greatest matches of both men’s careers. This match is still talked about to this day, and rightfully so.

Ironic though, that Punk would leave the company less than three years later for good, over the EXACT reasons he vented in his shoot promo. Life imitates art.

 

7. BRET “THE HITMAN” HART VS. SHAWN MICHAELS, 60 MINUTE IRON-MAN MATCH, WRESTLEMANIA XII

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I’ve already spoken on why this match was important, as it’s one of my all-time favorite matches, and unquestionably my favorite match at a WrestleMania event. So I’ll keep it brief.

Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels were the epitome of the New Generation, an era ushered in my Hart’s title victory over Ric Flair in 1992 (an honorable mention match). These two then signed off for the first 60 minute Iron Man match at a WrestleMania, and for the WWF Championship. To the best of my knowledge, it was the first Iron Man match in the WWF as well. The two masters of their craft gave one of the best performances ever seen in a wrestling match, and created an incredible overtime storyline that led to one of pro wrestling’s iconic moments: “The boyhood dream as come true!”

However, Shawn and Bret would have another epic title match in November of 1997, but it would be historical for negative reasons:

 

6. BRET “THE HITMAN” HART VS. SHAWN MICHAELS, SURVIVOR SERIES 1997

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The infamous Montreal Screwjob is the only match on this list that served a historical purpose in a negative light. Much like the Iron Man match, everything that can be said about this match has already been said, so I won’t go too long here.

Telling Bret that the WWF was in financial peril, Vince McMahon gave his blessing for Bret Hart to consider working for WCW. This was a crucial point in the Monday Night Wars, as WCW was destroying the WWF and many WWF stars were jumping ship to the competition. Bret wasn’t just any old star though, he was their world champion, and Vince wanted him to drop the title to Shawn Michaels. As it’s been well documented – from Bret’s autobiography, to the Wrestling with Shadows documentary, to the Death of WCW book, to WWE’s Greatest Rivalries DVD – Shawn didn’t want to do the job to Bret after a very heated and real rivalry had developed between them. Through a lot of backstabbing, mind changing, and personal vendetta service, the decision was made to ultimately screw Bret out of the gold in his native Canada.

The end result was Vince McMahon claiming that he did the right thing, and the WWF stood by that belief for over a decade before they finally caved in and said they could have handled business better. Bret would wind up in WCW, Mr. McMahon would become one of the WWE’s greatest heels, and many people honestly believe that these events contributed to the death of Owen Hart – as Bret always maintained Owen never would have gone through with the stunt had Bret still been in the WWF to look out for his little brother.

2010’s return of Bret Hart to the WWE saw the hatchet buried once and for all, and the Montreal Screwjob animosity has finally vanished, for the most part. Unfortunately, history cannot be re-written, and nobody will ever truly forget that fateful night in the Great White North.

 

5. “STONE COLD” STEVE AUSTIN VS. CHRIS JERICHO, VENGEANCE 2001

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One of the most historic years in professional wrestling had to be 2001, when WCW went out of business officially, and the WWF snatched up all their acquisitions, including their top championship belt. Following the conclusion of the failed InVasion storyline, it was time to unify these top belts into one Undisputed Championship belt in pro wrestling.

“Stone Cold” Steve Austin was the WWF Champion, and The Rock was the WCW Champion. Austin had already defeated Kurt Angle, and Chris Jericho had conquered Rocky for the WCW Championship belt (a belt he had to leave WCW in order to win). In the main event of the evening, Chris Jericho would topple Steve Austin and unify the championship title belts.

December 9, 2001, in San Diego, California, signified the official death of WCW once and for all. Once the WCW Championship was united with the WWF’s, it signaled the end of everything WCW as a whole in professional wrestling. WCW has done so much good in wrestling years earlier, even defeating the WWF in the ratings was for 83 consecutive weeks. But bad booking and business decisions, and the rise of the Attitude Era, led to the WWF dominating WCW into the ground. The WWF purchased everything WCW, and brought the title belt to television, but after the InVasion angle was considered a bust, the WWF decided to simply create one undisputed champion. They gave the duke to Chris Jericho, and he became pro wrestling history’s FIRST Undisputed Champion, an accomplishment that can never be taken away.

Even when the WWE unified their World Heavyweight Championship with the WWE Championship at TLC 2013, it didn’t hold as much significance as this moment, since the WWE’s version of the WHC was essentially their creation, and the history dated back to WCW only when they felt like it. Jericho actually won the WCW Championship belt, which would eventually be abolished altogether for a shiny new title shortly after Jericho’s 3 month reign ended.

And that was the end of WCW.

 

4. JBL VS. JOHN CENA, WRESTLEMANIA 21

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Certain title changes can mean big things for the long-run. They can usher in new eras, new stars, and new generations of talent all in one shot. That’s exactly what happened in Los Angeles on April 3, 2005, when WrestleMania went Hollywood.

John Cena debuted in the summer of 2002, and had a great showing with Kurt Angle on an episode of Smackdown. Later that year, Cena would play Vanilla Ice on a Halloween episode of Smackdown, and launch his Doctor of Thuganomics character. This character netted him instant exposure, and even a forgotten WWE Championship match at Backlash 2003 against Brock Lesnar that really showed the WWE was ready to usher in its next generation of stars. Cena wouldn’t get his first taste of championship gold until WrestleMania XX, but his character would continue to rise and evolve, and gather new fans during a babyface run (although Cena lost me as a fan personally by the time WMXX rolled around, but that’s not important).

JBL had won the Undisputed Championship from Eddie Guerrero at the Great American Bash in 2004, and would hold the title for 280 days, until John Cena dethroned him at WrestleMania 21, officially ushering in the era of the CeNation, and cementing John Cena is THE star of this generation. Cena would go on to become one of the WWE’s biggest stars of all time, and one of the biggest crossover names in pro wrestling, outside of stars like Hulk Hogan and The Rock. Whether you love him or hate him, you simply cannot deny the popularity of John Cena and his impact on the WWE as a whole. And it all started on this night in Los Angeles.

 

3. HULK HOGAN VS. THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR, WWF CHAMPION VS. INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPION, WRESTLEMANIA VI

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There have been many true “passing of the torch” moments in professional wrestling, but none more important than the night of April 1, 1990, which was the 6th annual WrestleMania event emanating out of the SkyDome in Toronto. It was on this night in professional wrestling history, that the WWF’s Intercontinental Champion would clash with the WWF Champion, in an extremely historical match.

Hulk Hogan was the WWF Champion. He won the belt a year earlier at WrestleMania V, against his former tag team partner “Macho Man” Randy Savage in the epic destruction of the Mega Powers. Meanwhile, the Ultimate Warrior had been on quite a tear too, winning back the Intercontinental Championship from “Ravishing” Rick Rude, who had defeated him at WrestleMania V in controversial fashion. Hogan and Warrior met in that year’s Royal Rumble, planting the seeds for the match as Hogan issued “The Ultimate Challenge” to the Warrior. The match was signed, and it would be champion vs. champion for the first time ever, with both titles on the line.

While Hogan had been the dominant player in the WWF for the first five years of WrestleMania, history would be made at the SkyDome when the Ultimate Warrior delivered the Big Splash and successfully pinned the Hulkster to take home the gold. Hogan graciously shook the Ultimate Warrior’s hand, as Warrior celebrated his victory on top of the world as both World and Intercontinental Champion. Although the IC belt would be vacated after the event, for that brief moment, Warrior held both titles, and had won the main event at WrestleMania, defeating Hulk Hogan. The torch was truly passed that night, cementing Warrior’s legacy as a wrestling legend and a WWE Hall of Famer.

While there have been other duel champions and torch-passing moments in wrestling history, this was one of the biggest and most important nights for pro wrestling. Historically, it’s still one of the biggest nights of all time, and deserves the recognition it received.

 

2. HULK HOGAN VS. THE IRON SHEIK, MADISON SQUARE GARDEN SHOW, JANUARY 23, 1984

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As big as a passing the torch moment is, in order for it to have significance, the person passing the torch has to be an icon of the sport. The icon in question for the Warrior-Hogan match was, naturally, Hulk Hogan, who is the biggest star in the history of professional wrestling. No matter how many other stars come along, Hulk Hogan’s will always shine brightest, and will always be a name everybody recognizes, whether or not they’re actually a wrestling fan.

On a cold winter’s night in January of 1984, Hulkamania was born. The Iron Sheik was given the WWF Championship by defeating Bob Backlund the night after Christmas in 1983, so that Vince McMahon could usher in the era of the WWF and capitalize on his national exposure. The chosen one would indeed be Hulk Hogan, who would defeat the Iron Sheik at Madison Square Garden for his first run as WWF Champion. This moment began the era of Hulkamania, which skyrocketed the WWF to becoming an national organization, and the single most iconic professional wrestling promotion in the world. It made Vince McMahon the world’s greatest promoter, and it made Hulk Hogan a household name. And it all happened on a chilly night in January in a 5 minute match.

Hulk Hogan would reign as champion for the next four years, until he would be defeated by Andre the Giant in a controversial manner. In that time, Hogan would main event the first three WrestleManias, making history each time, get his own cartoon show, and become an icon in sports and pop culture. While Hogan would hold the belt 6 times in his career, it was his first reign that made him a legend, and that made the WWF the powerhouse that it is today.

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

There are simply too many important matches in WWF Championship history to list them all, but when I considered this list, here are some of the other matches I looked at. They are all just as important as the matches in my top 10.

-Bret Hart’s victory over Ric Flair, where “the biggest dreams really do come true.” This ushered in the New Generation Era and cemented Bret’s hall of fame legacy.

-Hogan Vs. Andre at WrestleMania III is one of the most iconic matches in pro wrestling history, where the irresistible force met the immovable object.

-Eddie Guerrero defeating Brock Lesnar in 2004 told an incredible Cinderella story that showed that years of hard work could truly pay off for such a beloved man.

-When Ivan Koloff dethroned Bruno Sammartino’s epic reign as champion, it was said that you could hear a pin drop inside Madison Square Garden.

-When Arnold Skaaland threw in the towel, The Iron Sheik won the championship, despite Bob Backlund never officially submitting.

-The first Money in the Bank cash-in saw Edge defeat a bloody and battered John Cena, setting a precedent for all future MITB contract holders.

-Rob Van Dam defeated John Cena to simultaneously hold the WWE and the ECW Championship titles at the same time. The match was also a powerfully dangerous one, as the rabid ECW fans threatened to riot had Cena walked out as the champion that night.

-CM Punk defeating Alberto Del Rio saw Punk go on a 434 day title run, the longest in the modern era, especially with modern fans now conditioned to expect frequent title changes.

-Brock Lesnar defeated The Rock for another torch passing moment, mere months after Lesnar debuted on the main roster.

-The title unification of the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships at TLC 2013 signified the end of the Brand Extension era, which had already been over, and created one top title in WWE again, instantly making the belt (and all others) most prestigious and important.

-When Buddy Rogers defeated Pat O’Connor, the WWF became its own entity, and was no longer an NWA affiliate.

 

1. “STONE COLD” STEVE AUSTIN VS. SHAWN MICHAELS, WITH SPECIAL GUEST ENFORCER MIKE TYSON, WRESTLEMANIA XIV

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The single most important match for the WWF Championship happened at WrestleMania XIV, on March 29, 1998, in Boston, Massachusetts. On this night, the Austin Era began, and the snowballing effects of this match would create the WWE monopoly and super global entertainment force you know today.

HBK was still pretty hated for the actions in Montreal, and it would take a real anti-hero to shut him up. The WWF got their anti-hero in “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, who started an authority-defying character that created an “everyman vs. everyboss” feud between him and chairman Vince McMahon. The feuding up to the event saw Mike Tyson involved as Austin continuously defied authority and challenge Vince on every episode of Raw. WCW meanwhile was presenting lame television and recycled storylines with constant New World Order run-ins. Since the ratings weren’t changing, nobody thought anything was wrong. Too bad that with Austin Vs. McMahon & D-Generation X building, the audience was ready to turn on WCW to see the WWF had in store.

Steve Austin’s rise to the title did exactly that. As soon as Austin was champion, the ratings tide turned. His run as top dog in the company he was rebelling against officially ushered in the Attitude Era, and dethroned WCW’s 83-week ratings win once and for all. Austin Vs. McMahon, and subsequent storylines, destroyed WCW’s product. This caused panic and hotshotting in WCW, speeding up the company’s eventual decline, while the WWF moved forward with the most successful formula for television ratings ever seen in pro wrestling. Eventually, WCW would die off completely, be bought out by Vince McMahon, and he would quite literally own American professional wrestling. Since then, other companies have tried, from TNA to WSX, and nobody has come close to touching Vince McMahon’s empire. In essence, Vince McMahon became American pro wrestling, and it all started when a WCW outcast won the WWF’s top championship belt in March of 1998.

Without that Austin win, there would be no WWE as you know it today, and that’s why that was the most important championship match in WWF history.

 

With so many matches offering so much historical significance, odds are I missed out on one or two. Sound them off in the comments, and let me know what matches you think were the most historically important when it came to the WWF or WWE Championship. Remember, no WHC or WCW title matches, only the linage of the WWE Championship belt. And the quality of the match doesn’t matter so long as the match itself has historical significance.

 

Got an idea for a top 10 you’d like to see me tackle? I’m always open for suggestions! Let me know what you want me to talk about, and if it’s a subject I can do justice, I will give it a shot!

The Biggest Party of the Summer, Now With 100% Less Hispanics

This Sunday is WWE’s annual SummerSlam PPV (on the WWE Network for the low price of only $9.99!), an event that started in 1988 at Madison Square Garden. The main event was the Mega Powers team of Hulk Hogan and Randy “Macho Man” Savage battling the Mega Bucks team of Ted DiBiase and Andre the Giant. Jesse “The Body” Ventura served as the special guest referee, and begrudgingly counted the three (with an unwanted assist) giving the victory to Hulk Hogan’s team, much to the Body’s chagrin. This year, at the 27th annual event, we’ll get to see Brock Lesnar wrestle his first match since ending the Undertaker’s legendary WrestleMania winning streak at…umm, WrestleMania, as he battles John Cena for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. We’ll also see a decent (on paper) undercard that may live up to the hype, unlike many previous year’s SummerSlam events which were letdowns in the end. I’m going to address the card in today’s blog, and then address two big news stories in WWE – that of recent departures, and recent hirings, and why they’re significant.

First off, I want to say that this will be a special SummerSlam for me personally, as it will be my last WWE event living in the state of Florida, which means it’s the last time I will get to see a variety of my Florida wrestling friends. They’re turned this PPV viewing into somewhat of a going away party for my wife and I, and I think that’s a really cool way to see us off. It means a lot that I get to see these friends one last time and get to say a formal goodbye, so I may be more into the party itself than the actual PPV. Still, I’m going to focus on the card at hand now, and see if I can accurately predict what’s going to happen.

WWE has schedules a full card of eight matches for us to enjoy, and for the most part, they’ve all been given decent storylines and buildup. WWE has not announced a pre-show match officially (it’s rumored to be a fatal four way for the tag straps) but that’s okay, because I’d prefer to focus on the SummerSlam card itself – the matches that will be “SummerSlam” matches in the archives. So let’s jump right in and talk about some WWE’s biggest party of the summer!

THE INTERCONTINENTAL MONEY MAKER & THE SHOW OFF

When WWE unified their top tier championships into one, it immediately gave credibility back to the Intercontinental Championship, a prestigious title that has spent the good portion of the last decade floating about in obscurity. The IC strap is known as the “working man’s championship,” and I can’t think of two harder working individuals in the WWE right now than The Miz and Dolph Ziggler.

Ziggler has been bouncing about in the mid-card for a while now, ever since his propensity for concussions became a concern in WWE – a concern that they don’t take lightly (and shouldn’t, ever since the tragic deaths of Eddy Guerrero and Chris Benoit). Christian said it best on Chris Jericho’s podcast, Talk Is Jericho: “The days of us shrugging off our injuries like they’re no big deal are over, and that’s the way it should be.” Christian, who is looking at retirement due to concussions, also talked about how he wants to end his career on his own terms, which is something his best friend Edge was unable to do. He also talks about how the admittance of injuries may halt pushes (as what happened to Fandango after his character took off) but WWE DOES work with people who fight back and go for a while without getting hurt again (poor Bad News Barrett, there goes that push).

The point of all this is that WWE was gun shy about pulling the trigger on Dolph Ziggler again, but after going for over a year without any additional injuries, WWE is getting behind him again. They see his value as a worker, and consider him the top babyface in WWE behind John Cena, which is why he main evented and won a string of house show matches over Randy Orton. With CM Punk gone, Daniel Bryan hurt, and Chris Jericho part time, WWE’s single best in-ring worker is Dolph Ziggler, and it’s pretty evident that WWE is starting to give him that edge again. He’s getting prominent wins, getting protected in losses, and getting plenty of interview time. WWE’s next step is to give him a good program to really steal the show with. Enter The Miz.

Fresh off his latest film project, Miz returned to WWE television with a new Hollywood persona. Miz is playing your classic old school over exaggerated heel character, where he thinks he’s bigger than he really is, and blows up all of his accomplishments into bigger deals than they have any right to be (IE, he’s a major movie star after starring in a direct-to-DVD sequel). He also has a new gimmick that works: the money-maker act, where he’s too worried about his face getting hit. This creates an instant story to tell in his matches, which makes his matches better than they’ve been since he debuted. While Miz isn’t as bad of a worker as many will claim, there are little nuances he does wrong that the average fan won’t see, but a fellow worker will. To his credit, he’s worked hard to correct a lot of those, although his recent babyface run saw him forget how to tell stories in the ring. Miz is better suited as a heel, and since his return, has told a decent story in every match he’s been in. Miz, as IC champion, is bringing the “work” back to the “worker’s championship.” And now, he has to face the best worker WWE has – Dolph Ziggler.

This match has show-stealing potential, as Miz works great as an insufferable heel, while Ziggler works great as the never-say-die babyface. These two are classic, textbook, 1980s style characters, who work in the year 2014. They play well off each other, know exactly how to rile up the live crowd, and can each tell a good story. I don’t think Miz is going to drop the title, but I don’t think he’s going to win clean either. I think an underhanded tactic will stop Ziggler in his tracks, setting up for potential rematches and more character development from both sides, especially with the rumors of adding Bo Dallas to the program. Regardless, this will be a good one, and well worth tuning in for.

My Personal Pick: Dolph Ziggler
My Prediction: The Miz retains, though not in clean fashion

ARRIVE. WAVE FLAG. LEAVE. EVENTUALLY SLEEP.

SummerSlam will be home to a Flag Match this year, putting Old Glory against the red, white, and blue of the Russian regime. Representing the United States is a Real American named Jack Swagger, and his manager Zeb Colter. Representing the former Soviet Union is Rusev, the Bulgarian who moved to Moscow and left his first name in another country, and his manager/shoot girlfriend Lana, the Russian from Northern Florida who was in Pitch Perfect. Swagger represents a town in Oklahoma called Perry, while Lana’s real last name is Perry. My cat’s name is Perry. That’s a lot of Perry.

Flag matches, traditionally, are boring. It’s the exact same concept as the “on a pole” match concept, only the item on the pole is a flag, and there’s two flags. It’s a grown-up game of Capture the Flag but with bodyslams. However, given the right story, the match can at least have some appeal behind it, and WWE has really gone the extra mile making this Swagger-Rusev feud feel bigger than it was when it started.

Jack Swagger is finally getting back into the groove of meaning something, after his lovely DUI screwed him out of a world championship push in 2013. Sobriety is finally pulling through for Jack, who is getting exposure as a babyface for the first time in his career, especially given that he had yet to work face, and his turn was seamless. Zeb Colter, who has been brilliant since his return to the WWE, really helped give Swagger that extra nudge, as Zeb can do all of Jack’s talking for him. The athletically gifted Swagger simply couldn’t cut it on the microphone, and was often placed in situations where he didn’t have to, which was always his best role. Now, as a flag-waving American, the audience can give him off all their support as he patriotically takes on a member of an anti-nation, that being Rusev.

Rusev, a powerhouse worker, quickly became exposed when he was forced to work a match more than a minute in length against Big E. While Big E is not a great worker by any stretch of the imagination, it was evident that Rusev wasn’t very gifted either, and desperately needed a program with someone who could make him look good. Swagger was a perfect choice, both as a worker and as a character, to mesh with Rusev. He has the athletic skill and extra set of eyes in Zeb to believably thwart the plans of the eeeeeeevil Lana and her personal man-beast. With both parties playing their roles to perfection, and Lana’s somewhat fake accented rants getting horribly under American’s skin, it was time for these two to mesh in a match, quite literally, for patriotic pride.

So why a flag match? Well, other than the obvious country war it represents, this is the perfect way for Rusev to take a loss without looking weak. Swagger can take his country’s flag not by overpowering Rusev, but rather outsmarting him, and Rusev can lose without being pinned or submitting. It’s win-win for both parties, even if the match itself will likely be some chain grappling with the phony “can they can’t they” climbing stipulation thrown in. Still, this feud is centered in deep political hatred, so I think they’ll make it a flag match worth watching.

My Personal Pick & Prediction: Jack Swagger outsmarts Rusev and waves Old Glory proudly

CRAZY AND PEPPY? MEET DARK AND CUNNING.

AJ Lee and Paige have been the main women’s feud this year, and while they’re not the biggest diva feud on the card, they have the championship title and the history of events on their side.

Paige debuted the night after WrestleMania and dethroned the long-reigning AJ Lee in an impromptu match in a shocking way. Unfortunately, despite being a gifted wrestler having matches that could outshine the boys in NXT, Paige ran into a brick wall – the main roster divas talent pool. Rather than work programs with Natalya or Naomi, Paige was forced to work with Alicia Fox and Eva Marie, resulting in bad matches that she was taking the blame over. Much like Xavier Woods and Adam Rose, an NXT star got called up and put into awful situations, and then were blamed for not delivering as expected. When you’re set up to fail, there’s only so far you can push to succeed. Fortunately, AJ’s return and the alignment double-turn breathed new life into Paige’s character (the ANTI-DIVA) and the feud finally started to have legs. And asses. Great legs and asses.

With Paige taking a somewhat sick pleasure in her mockery and torture of the Divas Champion, it established her as a badass and let the formerly insane AJ Lee flourish as a fan-favorite. Their matches have been good – not Trish Stratus good, but better than anything anyone outside of Nattie or Naomi has given us in the past year. Now they can collide at SummerSlam for another chapter, although I still don’t think AJ is going to be dethroned. While WWE may have some faith back in Paige, I really think they look at AJ as THE top diva, and want her to be the champion for another long run. I think it would make more sense to trade off the belt this time, but I don’t see that happening.

My Personal Pick: Paige wins and feuds with AJ as the heel anti-diva Paige.
My Prediction: AJ Lee retains and remains on top of the division.

HE’S THE SAVIOR THEY NEED, NOT THE ONE THEY DESERVE

When Chris Jericho made his return to WWE for this run, he wanted to work with Bray Wyatt. When WWE pitched a Bray Wyatt feud to him, he accepted. I was excited to see my favorite wrestler of all time collide with my favorite character on the roster right now, but they haven’t lived up to my – or a lot of people’s – expectations yet. Their first match was good, and Jericho getting the win made sense, but the feud as a whole had simply been missing something. Jericho was able to beat Luke Harper and Erick Rowan to prevent them from being at ringside, but that still didn’t give the feud the spark it needed.

Until this past Raw, where they had Wyatt and Jericho in a sit-down interview, and the feud got more than the spark it needed – it got an entire bonfire lit under it’s ass.

It’s an incredibly simple story. Bray wants to be a savior to the masses, and while he claims he isn’t, you can tell that’s what his character’s motivation truly wants. He lives through lies and deceits, doing things he feels is right even if it only makes sense in his twisted mind. He’s a perfect anti-hero, and an extremely dangerous character, since every action he takes, he feels, is for a bigger purpose. Now here comes this brash talking, good looking, hero to the people – a hero who always claimed to be their savior. These two simply can’t coexist, and Bray decided to prove that Jericho is a fraud with everything he claims. Jericho, being just as intelligent as Wyatt, made the same claims right back to Bray, and each of them presented the other with their own personal agendas and accounts of one another. The result was a goosebump raising one-on-one that told the entire story in a few minutes time, and made you feel this feud. Now, Wyatt Vs. Jericho really is must-see, because both of them presented really strong and compelling arguments, but only one of them will successfully back up their words on Sunday.

This feud has the potential for one more big blow-off match at the next PPV before Jericho goes on hiatus again, so even though I think Bray will get the win Sunday, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jericho go 2-0 against Bray, leading to a big stipulation match to blow off the feud.

My Personal Pick: Bray Wyatt wins, although Harper & Rowan will still find a way to sneak in.
My Prediction: This one can honestly go either way, but I’m going to stick with Bray going over.

WHEN YOU’RE SURROUNDED BY YOUR ENEMIES, EVERYONE LOSES

Dean Ambrose & Seth Rollins have been working their tails off since the Shield breakup to establish themselves as individuals, especially in the light of Roman Reigns getting the big push from the group. While a lot of people called Reigns being the breakout star, most people accurately predicted that he wasn’t ready to move up so quickly, and evidence has really started to stack up against him. But we’ll get to him, let’s talk about Rollins and Ambrose.

Seth Rollins has been one of the best booked Money in the Bank briefcase holders in years. He wins decisively and aggressively, and comes off as someone who could be a real threat to the world champion. He has the Authority’s backing, so he’s somewhat free to run amuck and break the rules with the powers that be turning a blind eye. This adds to his street cred, as he can push the envelope as far as he wants, and knows that the Authority will be there to bail him out. Rollins has really gotten over as a bully heel in that respect, and has more than proven his worth on the microphone to boot. His smug attitude and talented workrate will keep him relevant for years, even though there are still wrestling pundits claiming he will be released before 2014’s calendar end.

Dean Ambrose, on the other hand, took a much different approach. Angered at Rollins’ double cross, and knowing full well how high the briefcase cash-in stakes are, the loose cannon Ambrose has made it his mission to ensure that Rollins will fail in his eventual title match. This creates an intriguing storyline, as Rollins could cash in and lose, and still manage to not lose momentum, if his title shot is sabotaged. Since Ambrose has become a target of the Authority, protecting Rollins, he’s changed his look to a very street rebel look, and basically acts as the outcast and loner of the roster, a role he plays to perfection. Channeling elements of both Steve Austin and Brian Pillman, as well as Heath Ledger’s Joker, Dean Ambrose has come into his own as a rebellious babyface, one that the fans can really sink their teeth into. His indy background in hardcore promotions like CZW can actually come into play with his in-ring style, and make sense in a storytelling perspective. Despite everything that’s happened, I think Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins have evolved into much better characters than their former cohort Roman Reigns has, and I think their future as a whole will be brighter because of it.

Their match on Sunday is a Lumberjack Match. Many people scoffed at this stipulation, much like the flag match in the Rusev-Swagger match, because many people feel like Ambrose and Rollins could have a much more hardcore and devastating match than just surrounding the ring with people. However, anyone who watched the buildup and stipulation announcement could explain why this makes so much sense. As the Shield, Ambrose and Rollins stood side-by-side as they amassed a roster full of enemies in the WWE. Now, to settle the score, Ambrose is taking the poetic justice approach and forcing a battle to take place with said enemies watching their every move. It makes sense, and with the street fight like battles Dean and Seth have had, expect this one to be violent and exciting, especially with the unpredictable roster at ringside.

Plus, Zack Ryder gets to be on PPV now. WWWYKI.

My Prediction & Personal Pick: Dean Ambrose wins, decisively and aggressively.

POOR TESTING ON HOUSE SHOWS? BETTER KEEP THE FEUD GOING

The one match that has the potential to not deliver isn’t the one with Brie Bella and Stephanie McMahon. Granted, Stephanie isn’t a wrestler, and Brie isn’t Trish Stratus, but expectations for that match aren’t nearly as high as what’s expected out of Roman Reigns and Randy Orton. And on Sunday, these two are going to collide in a match that’s been built poorly on television, and has tested extremely negatively at live events.

The story is simple, Roman Reigns hates the Authority and the Authority hates Roman, stemming from the Shield breakup. Roman has been a thorn in the side of Triple H, Corporate Kane (or Demon Kane, depending on the week now) and their hand-picked franchise player, Randy Orton. The television buildup hasn’t kept me intrigued, but it’s mostly been Orton getting cheap shots and Reigns wanting to silence the cocky and arrogant Randy. Unfortunately, both men don’t deliver well in promos, and in-ring, both are less than exciting, but in different ways.

Roman is simply inexperienced, or green. Without the protection of his Shield brothers, he’s exposed in singles competition. While he has a devastating looking spear and a cool apron dropkick move, he doesn’t exactly light the ring on fire. Although he can work better than a lot of big men in the past who’ve been given his spot, he’s being groomed for a WrestleMania main event style push, and he simply isn’t there yet. Of course, with the right program, he could really get over and improve his skills tenfold, but the right program isn’t Randy Orton.

While I’ve been neutral on Randy Orton for a very long time, 2014 has really soured me on him as a performer. Despite his run as world champion, he hasn’t done much of anything exciting. Unlike John Cena who CAN work matches quite well, and to say that he can’t proves you know nothing about wrestling, Randy doesn’t work matches that well at all. His matches are full of slow spots, rest holds, and weird psychology that maybe makes sense to him, but not to me. His slow, methodical talking patterns is designed to make him sound deep, dangerous, and cunning, but he doesn’t deliver in that fashion. If anything, he sounds bored, confused, and like he’s reading off a script. Jake “The Snake” Roberts he ain’t. Randy hasn’t changed or fine-tuned his character in years, and that’s a big problem in 2014, when so many younger guys are taking their game to the next level. Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Bray Wyatt, Dolph Ziggler, The Miz, Cesaro, Bad News Barrett and several others are only one small step away from snatching Orton’s spotlight out from under him. Even Roman Reigns is perched and ready to seize his moment in the sun, and he could potentially do so on Sunday.

I don’t have high hopes for this match, but it may turn out to be better than expected, since it’s not expected to be that great at all. The smart move here is to put Roman Reigns over clean, to establish his character, especially if they want him to be prominent at WrestleMania 31. A big match SummerSlam win over someone as big on the roster as Randy Orton will certainly make that happen for him. And honestly, he could win in a minute and still not hurt Orton, with how protected Randy is in his programs. There’s no excuse not to put Reigns over here.

My Prediction and Personal Pick: Romen Reigns with a decisive victory, despite any Kane interference.

YOU’RE A VINDICTIVE [WORD REDACTED]

The big money women’s match, and one of the main event programs for SummerSlam, involves Brie Bella and Stephanie McMahon. Surprisingly, this one of the better built matches going into this card. Even though the two girls playing the roles have limited acting talent, raw emotion is taking center stage for this feud.

The Authority feud started with Daniel Bryan, who after getting hurt, was ordered to relinquish the championship. Bryan’s refusal got him over as a rebellious babyface fighting the system, and even though Stephanie’s actions were technically the right ones (the fans deserve a fighting champion) the fans voted quite loudly that they didn’t want Bryan to lose the gold. Stephanie took out her aggressions on Brie, prompting her to quit the company rather than be fired, but they ended up taking the gold off Bryan anyway, causing Brie’s actions to be in vain. This promoted Stephanie to abuse her power on Brie’s sister Nikki, which led to Brie arriving in the crowd and being assaulted in a fan capacity, which led to Stephanie’s arrest. Corny as this was, and as eye rolling as the overuse of the word “bitch” can be, this led to intriguing television and got the fans solidly behind Brie and against Stephanie, and it’s not hard to understand why this story works.

If you watch Total Divas (which most of you reading this don’t), Brie and Bryan have an incredibly realistic relationship. In essence, they’re the “every couple.” They’re laid back, easy-going, family and friends-oriented, and just love each other. Nikki’s relationship with John Cena is all based on acts of selfishness, fancy possessions, spending money, and living lavishly. Regardless of how scripted the “reality” portion of the show is, it’s obvious who the more relatable couple is. And with Bryan as a champion of the fans, and a champion of the people, the fans have no problem getting behind Brie as a result. Fans relate to Bryan, just like they relate to Brie, because they’re just like them – a story point that took center stage for Triple H and Stephanie.

Stephanie McMahon is the pure opposite. She was born into luxury, was spoiled and handed everything in life. She went from the daddy’s girl character of the Attitude Era into the strong businesswoman character today, by abusing her power and calling the shots to her own personal preference. The “best for business” mantra has generated great heel heat, because it allows for her and Triple H to do whatever they want, and justify it by manipulating the story to sound like it’s for the greater good, even when it’s not. They play horrendous bully power-mongers, and created the ideal scenario where you absolutely need to see them get their comeuppance. And they’re doing it so well, it’s generating major buzz for a match where the two girls aren’t the greatest workers on the roster, but they don’t need to be. This match will be 100% driven by story and emotion, and will be an absolute fight to the death.

Some people think Stephanie will win, with Nikki potentially turning heel in the process, and Brie will stay out until Bryan returns, but I don’t think that scenario works. A heel Nikki won’t have much to work with, since WWE is already pushing so many other girls as heels. Plus, Brie losing will suck the wind out of the feud, since it’s been building for a lot longer than just one month. The Authority needs to have it stuck to them on Sunday, because the revenge they will plan in response will be much better than the typical “we told you so” angle they will undoubtedly do. I think Brie wins, gets her job back, and continues fighting the machine until Bryan is cleared to come back.

My Personal Pick & Prediction: Brie Bella, with a potential shocking return of Mr. McMahon because it’s been too long now.

BLOOD, PISS, VINEGAR, AND OTHER FLUIDS IN YOUR WORLD TITLE MATCH

The final match of the night is the much anticipated and much hyped fight between Brock Lesnar and John Cena for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. This match is being given a “big fight” feel, through some incredible video packages, and the walking hype machine Paul Heyman. When your biggest detractors sit back and go “wow, Paul Heyman is selling this feud” you know you’re onto something. But all Heyman is doing is telling the story until the bell rings. Once the bell rings, it’s up to Cena and Lesnar to deliver like they’ve never delivered before.

People were shocked and appalled when Brock ended the Undertaker’s WrestleMania undefeated streak. But when that moment happened, nobody really grasped what it really represented, the era of a new super-draw. With Lesnar having accomplished one of the biggest achievements in professional wrestling’s modern history, he is now a hot committedly, and something that will now be sought to be conquered by those beneath him. Being the one in 21-1 is pretty big, but to topple the one in 21-1 will be just as big of a moment. But in order to make sure that moment is as significant as it needs to be, it needs to be done right. In reality, Lesnar has to destroy John Cena on Sunday.

I don’t mean he needs to win in 30 seconds. Hell, he doesn’t even need to win the championship. He needs to batter Cena within an inch of his life, and leave him in a pile of his own…well, he already said it. Even if it was a DQ finish (which would sound like BS at first), Lesnar can still walk out of this one destroying the WWE’s franchise player like he’s never been destroyed before.

Now I know how critical people are of Brock Lesnar since his return, but let’s set a few things straight here:

Just because Brock is a “part time” guy doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve a run as champion. Brock can still work every PPV and remain relevant, and a huge threat, even as champion. Cena didn’t work the last month, and his match on Sunday still feels gigantic and special. It’s possible to do this with careful booking. It also sets up the long term picture – the person who dethrones Lesnar becomes THE man in wrestling, almost instantly, because that person took down the guy who took down the roster. It’s a smart, long-term booking plan that has serious benefits to the next guy in line, which is something a lot of short sighted people seem to be missing out on. Whether WWE chooses the right guy or not remains to be seen, but it’s a booking plan that could work.

Remember, and this is something any younger worker in the business should take heed, if you think that someone else deserves Brock’s spot, then ask yourself what have they done to deserve that spot. Don’t feed me the classic “they work full time” excuse either – Zack Ryder works full time too, but that doesn’t mean he deserves a world title spot because of it. Brock’s booking has made him a special attraction, and special attractions draw money, ratings, exposure, and a lot of stuff that benefits EVERYONE in the company, top to bottom. Brock has the street cred to back it up, and whether you like it or not (and a lot of you don’t) you still pay attention to everything he does.

Do I agree with it? Not all the time, but what you and I think doesn’t matter here, because the benefits of the long-term out weight the short-term, by a lot.

What I always chuckled at were how many people started clamoring for Brock to take the belt off Cena, because they don’t want Cena as the champion. Many of those people were calling for Brock’s head when he ended Taker’s streak, so why is he suddenly your hero now? Fickle fans hurt the presentation sometimes.

In any case, regardless of how you feel about this match, Lesnar losing to Cena hurts his mystique and kills off any chance of anyone capitalizing on the one in 21-1. Cena is not that guy, so let him take the beating and let the next person in line dismantle the beast and cement WWE as the next guy. Roman Reigns? Bray Wyatt? Cesaro? Dolph Ziggler? The Miz? Someone else? Time will tell.

My Prediction and Personal Pick: Brock Lesnar wins, either by DQ, or becomes the champion.

And since some people have asked, no I don’t think Undertaker’s legacy is ruined by this. In fact, he’s more prominent in 2014 than he has been in the last few years, since his name is still fresh on everyone’s minds. And no, I don’t think the absence of the streak will hurt a potential Taker-Sting showdown at WrestleMania, because a match like that can be built as a HUGE special attraction, without the streak getting in the way. They can tell a whole different story in Sting-Taker, and the streak doesn’t have to be a thing.

Remember kids, even a long-term storyline ending doesn’t mean anything negative if the booking is right. Promoters, take note of that too.

Overall, I predict a fun and solid SummerSlam, devoid of any pesky Hispanic pro wrestlers.

Ohhh, what’s that? Didn’t like that comment? Don’t blame me, blame WWE for recent events.

THE SAGA OF ALBERTO DEL RIO, AND THE FALL OF HISPANIC WORKERS IN WWE

Alberto Del Rio was fired recently, for unprofessional conduct not becoming of a professional athlete. Here’s essentially how the story breaks down.

Some social media PR employee made a snide comment about how it’s Del Rio’s job to clean the plates. Del Rio got wind of this and confronted the employee over the racist comment. The employee offered no apology and smirk, so Del Rio offered his hand in the guy’s face. He was slapped so far he fell to the floor, and Del Rio stormed off, issuing insults back.

Who’s wrong in this situation? Everyone.

Let’s get this out of the way first. While it’s pretty clear Del Rio was the victim in this, he still made a big mistake slapping the employee. Assault is assault, and when you’re an independent contractor hitting a company payroll employee, you’re the one who ends up paying the price. A national television star and public figure just committed assault, and that’s a no-no in any business practice, regardless of the circumstances. Should he have been fired? Not necessarily, but there were other factors working against him. Namely, his soon-to-be expiring contract, his public comments of not wanting to re-sign, past attitude problems, and the fact that WWE is a little budget-cut crazy these days. This was nothing more than the excuse to pull the trigger on eliminating another roster member. It was a poor judgment call, and there wasn’t a worse time to do it.

Now, do I sympathize with Del Rio, and objectively feel like he was mistreated here? Yes, a million times yes. The employee was the one who started the situation, making an extremely unprofessional comment not becoming of a public relations representative. Comments like that are not, and should not, be allowed in any working environment, no matter how big or how small. But as far as I know, the PR employee (who isn’t liked by any of the wrestlers) was not fired. That means WWE is free to spin their own PR story, and essentially, encourage other employees that racism is okay. It’s, well, bad PR.

But who does WWE have to blame for allowing comments like this? WWE themselves. Ricardo Rodriguez recently left WWE because they wouldn’t let him wrestle regularly, and he didn’t want to just be a guy at the Spanish announce table. But another issue was the fact that WWE wanted his weight under control, and Ricardo himself said that Triple H would often mock him, calling him Bumblebee, a reference to the portly Simpsons character Bumblebee Man, who is an extremely stereotypical character as well. Actions like that seem to indicate that WWE encourages racist comments towards their Hispanic workers. Even if that’s not true, the fact that Triple H, the (soon to be real) owner of the company and a PR representative can get away with comments like that without repercussion, does not sway this argument in their favor.

However, don’t feel badly for Alberto Del Rio. He doesn’t. Friends of his have said that although he was unhappy with his final run in WWE, he was very happy with his exposure as a whole, and was leaving his contract willingly anyway, to return to his native Mexico and compete for AAA again as an even bigger star than before. If he’s happy, then I’m happy for him, and his fans should be happy too. With AAA getting an American television deal soon, fans of Del Rio can still watch him compete in the ring from their living rooms. He was going to leave the company anyway, and by WWE forcing him out in a crappy way, he gets to return as an even bigger star in a “stick it to them” fashion. Good for him.

One article I read stated that by losing Del Rio, WWE lost it’s entire connection to the Hispanic audience. While I don’t entirely agree with that statement, its reason for existing isn’t hard to see. WWE doesn’t have a lot of Hispanic wrestlers on their roster right now, and the ones they do have, they don’t utilize very largely. Rey Mysterio, one of the biggest names in Mexican wrestling history, is too injured to offer much to the table anymore, and wants out of WWE due to contract disagreements. Sin Cara, despite now being played by someone in good standing with the company who CAN speak English, is mostly used as an afterthought, or in a tag team in NXT with Kalisto. Kalisto is, of course, still in NXT. That leaves Primo & Epico, who are running around in a goofy matador gimmick with a midget dressed like a bull. So who’s fault is it that Del Rio and Ricardo wanted out of their contracts? Doesn’t seem like it was their fault at all.

Read into the story any way you choose, but I think both men will benefit from a return to AAA, as will Mysterio. If WWE doesn’t like it, then they should avoid their top corporate guy making disparaging comments about a Hispanic wrestler, and they should take better action when an employee oversteps their boundaries.

KENTA, STEEN, DEVITT – GOOD MOVES

Before I close out this blog, I want to touch on WWE’s newest signings.

WWE recently made three very big acquisitions in talent recently. They hired a huge Japanese name in KENTA, a huge international and domestic star in Prince Devitt, and one of the most gifted big men in independent wrestling in Kevin Steen. This is significant, because it’s proof that WWE still looks to seek out the best talent possible for their roster, a move that will be much more appealing to those superstars looking to make an impact in their careers during a time when TNA is dying and GFW isn’t launching yet.

People are nervous about how these guys will get treated in NXT, but I don’t think we have anything to worry about. The WWE has openly taken notice that these are all major signings and big assets to the future of the company. For fans of NXT, we may see them all debut at Takeover 2 on September 11th (never forget) and after a solid tear up the scene run in NXT, come to the main roster and be exactly who they need to be.

I’d say more, but I’ve drained my creative juices and writing willpower on this one. It was a fun write, and hopefully you enjoyed it. Will any of my predictions come true? We’ll find out on Sunday. But no matter what happens, I look forward to my swan song as a Florida wrestling fan, once and for all.

Jersey Rain is coming to Pennsylvania.