RAW Deal: New year, new wrestling

Joe 'the Grappler' Marsalis
RAW Deal: New year, new wrestling
Should Daniel Bryan be back for WrestleMania? How will the NJPW wrestlers be handled in WWE? These subjects and more are tackled in this week's RAW Deal

SAN ANTONIO, TX—Happy new year! 

We’re just coming off of the first week of 2016, but by God has it been a crazy week for wrestling already. It’s not just an insane seven days of wrestling, but also for wrestling. As in the entire world of wrestling. We’re talking international ramifications there, and you’ll see why in just a bit.

This is why I realized that maybe it’s time to tweak the scope of RAW Deal. RAW is the flagship show of the WWE, the biggest company in the world, sure, but so many other amazing (and equally dreadful) things happen outside the ambit of wrestling on Monday nights. What I’ve decided to do now is to start covering the entire week of WWE, and sometimes just a little bit of the universe outside it. New year, new you, right? It’s time fans started educating themselves about the rest of the scene as well.

Without further ado, let’s begin! 

Roman Reigns is on the spot

Let’s get this one out of the way first, as it’s the biggest bit on everyone’s awareness right now. After royally pissing Vince McMahon off, Roman Reigns is now defending the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in the Royal Rumble match itself. It’s something we haven’t seen since the 1992 Royal Rumble, when the WWF Championship was vacant and Ric Flair won it. 

What a great way to save a confusing main event last Monday on RAW. It’s a booking move that just made total narrative sense—as compared to the WWE putting up big stipulations for the sake of the wow factor—because why wouldn’t the evil boss try to get even by giving the babyface employee he’s oppressing the biggest odds to overcome? And why shouldn’t Vince have him start the Rumble at #1?

This might very well be an unintended Swiss knife of wrestling booking. Reigns ends up looking good no matter what happens here: if he wins (and in a dramatic fashion) he’s going to look like a champion that’s stronger than ever. If he loses, which is the better creative option here, in order to get him even more mileage as a Dusty Rhodes-esque champion, he won’t look weak at all considering the Rumble is a ridiculously difficult match to win. Even if he won it last year. Getting the title off him is a safe way of setting up all the moving parts of WrestleMania, although all the threads they’ve been knitting have been thrown off a little thanks to a huge wrinkle in the plans.

John Cena is injured 

That’s right—the Face That Runs The Place is not immune to the curse that’s befalling the WWE’s top stars recently. He’s joining Randy Orton, Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan (who is all ready to go), Cesaro, Tyson Kidd, and his own girlfriend Nikki Bella on the sidelines. Even if he can pull off his superhuman recovery skills like he always does, he won’t make it in time for the show. It will be the first WrestleMania he’s missing as part of the main roster since WrestleMania XIX. (That’s dedication.) 

At this point, the WWE has to bring back Daniel Bryan, a guy who’s been waiting in the wings since the second half of 2015. He’s okay. His doctor says he’s okay. WWE and their doctor says he isn’t, and they just want him to not have another concussion in the ring. That’s a justifiable fear, but it’s counterproductive at this point—the fans want him back, he wants to be back, there’s so much money being left on the table the more he sits on the sidelines. WrestleMania is all about star power, and Bryan is a star. If he isn’t brought back at this year’s WrestleMania in some wrestling capacity (preferably with one of the WWE’s biggest rumored signee—more on that in a while) then I’m confirming my conspiracy theory that they’re intentionally holding him down. 

The New Japan invasion

If you’re a fan on the Internet, then you may have heard or seen some of your fellow wrestling fans either rave or weep about this online. At least 4 of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s biggest stars are rumored to be heading over to the WWE, and the most amazing thing about it is that word immediately went out after NJPW’s own version of WrestleMania. 

So who are these people, and why should you care? 

Well, you don’t have to burst into ecstasy, but you should definitely care about them because Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles, Karl Anderson, and Doc Gallows will be raising the WWE’s already high in-ring stock. You’ve likely already heard of Styles and Gallows (ne Luke Gallows, CM Punk’s former Straight Edge Society follower); you might not have thought much of Gallows, but he was always solid and he got a lot better in his time away, while Styles is nicknamed the Phenomenal One for a reason. You must have heard about him even if you didn’t really watch TNA, and that’s because he’s that good. 

Meanwhile, Anderson had been a dominant presence in NJPW’s heavyweight tag team scene, formerly tagging with Matt Bloom (aka A-Train, Albert, Lord Tensai) before co-founding the Bullet Club with Finn Balor. It remains to be seen whether Anderson and Gallows (although maybe not Styles) will come down to NXT to officially form the Balor Club stable, but that’s looking like the possibility. Styles should be his own man on the main roster.

And then there’s the King of Strong Style, Shinsuke Nakamura. I already predicted at the start of the year that it’s looking like he’s finally coming over in 2016, but I didn’t expect it to be this soon, and I didn’t expect him to bring the others with him. If you haven’t seen him work yet, do so. He’s one of the best in the world—if not the best in the world, sorry Punk—and there are so many dream matches waiting to happen with him on the WWE roster. Here was his match with AJ Styles at Wrestle Kingdom 10 earlier this week:


Can you imagine the possibilities of that on a WWE show? Now can you imagine them tearing the house down with the best of the WWE?

SmackDown moves homes

Yep—new network, new lead announcer, hopefully a revitalized direction for the show. I caught the premiere episode on the USA Network and I have to admit that not much about the formula was changed. That’s neither a bad thing nor a good thing, as SmackDown has traditionally cemented itself with more solid wrestling and less talky segments (although a lot more silly segments than RAW, which is saying something). However, it needs to step its presentation up if it wants to stay on the same channel as RAW: more hype, more gravity, more impact. I think it can easily manage that, as long as someone high up has the political will to make it happen.

Speaking of impact… 

Impact Wrestling’s “new beginning”

This is the last item on the list this week, as Impact Wrestling found its third home in 3 years. It was supposed to signal a fresh start for the ailing wrestling company (thanks to a lot of boneheaded creative decisions) and while the premiere episode was all right, it felt like more of the same. Nothing truly promising, except the debut of former Ring of Honor stars Mike Bennett and Maria Kanellis (who you’ll remember from the WWE last decade as well). But that’s it. Same TNA, same packaging, same questionable decisions, just a different day, channel, and timeslot. I honestly wonder if they can figure out a way to not completely die off this year. 

Do you listen to podcasts? Would you want to listen to a local podcast about pro wrestling? If the answers to those questions – especially that last one – are yes, then you should check out the cleverly-named Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast, featuring Mellow 94.7 DJ and PWR General Manager Stan Sy, wrestling writer Romeo Moran, and all-around multimedia person and former voice of PWR Raf Camus! On their latest episode, the boys award the best (and worst) WWE theme songs of 2015! Listen to it here! – Rappler.com

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