Articles by Will Pruett

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Pruett’s Pause: WWE Smackdown – Naomi vs. Charlotte Flair main events, Randy Orton suffers the shame of Championship Theft perpetrated by Jinder Mahal, Shinsuke speaks, and more!

By Will Pruett

This is an all random thoughts edition of the Smackdown Pause, because not every show deserves a 500 word essay.

– Shinsuke Nakamura’s entrance opening Smackdown was very welcome. Dolph Ziggler’s entrance following it was not as welcome. I know WWE wants to build up Shinsuke as a charismatic artist. They seem to be trying to make him Japanese Jeff Hardy (circa 2009). It’s a fair strategy. I wish Shinsuke would have had a chance to talk prior to Dolph’s introduction and without the mouthguard in.

– Dolph Ziggler has poor comedic timing.

– AJ Styles and Baron Corbin had another decent match with Kevin Owens’ commentary effort making it fun to watch. Baron Corbin seems to be horrible at defending against surprise roll ups. He should work on that aspect of his game.

– Sami Zayn saving AJ Styles assures AJ is a good guy (and the top good guy) on Smackdown now. I am all about a Baron Corbin and Sami Zayn program going forward. It seems like a fun way to pass some time.

– I am fundamentally opposed to the Beat The Clock concept and Beat The Clock matches. Both are illogical. Of course a team wants to win quickly. Why wouldn’t they? WWE has done away with time limits because they seem too old school, but they regularly bring back a weird system where the team with the weakest competition wins a title match.

– The Colons vs. American Alpha surprised me, both by occurring and with American Alpha getting a win. It didn’t feel like the right moment in the program of either.

– Rusev’s demand for a championship match at Money in the Bank was interesting. I am fine with Rusev getting a shot at Randy Orton after Jinder Mahal. It helps to keep Orton occupied for a month and it keeps a massive amount of talent in the Money in the Bank Ladder Match.

– Rusev certainly seemed sad while asking for a title match.

– Randy Orton and Erick Rowan had a fine garbage brawl. It might have been a career highlight for Rowan.

– Jinder Mahal absconding (I love how often the word “abscond” was used on this show) with the WWE Championship served a couple purposes: It kept the title from being in the weird House of Horrors thing on Sunday and it gave Orton a reason to be mad at Jinder.

– I didn’t love Jinder Mahal’s work on this show. His promo style was simply shouting and more shouting. It didn’t work. I also can’t say I bought into the content, as for the second week in a row, WWE used Jinder Mahal to make diversity the heel in their own story. I don’t need Smackdown to become the Alt-Right brand (unless Raw plans to become massively progressive).

– To echo this excellent piece Stella at Cageside Seats wrote a couple weeks ago, Lana’s dancing is truly embarrassing. Lana has defended herself saying there was no music playing while she was recording, but this is a major WWE production flaw. It looks like garbage to have Lana lacking rhythm just kind of snapping and moving on a chair. It says nothing about her personality unless her revamped character is going to be “poor dancer” when she eventually debuts. It’s a weird series of vignettes and I haven’t found them particularly effective.

– I’m glad Tyler Breeze and Fandango are getting a chance to shine. I am a little confused about whether they are good or bad people, but I’m glad two talented and hardworking wrestlers will get an opportunity. They should have a very good match with The Usos.

– Naomi vs. Charlotte Flair in the main event was fun. The end of the match was predictable and heavily hinted at throughout the night. The body of the match did a lot to build Naomi and Charlotte up as evenly matched foes. I appreciated the effort there. I do eventually expect Naomi to lose to Charlotte in a Women’s Championship match, but I’m glad it didn’t happen on this show.

– Where was Becky Lynch at the end of Smackdown? Fans were expecting her and WWE did show us Becky in the building earlier in the night. This was odd. Why wouldn’t Becky run out to help (or at least to beat up James Ellsworth)? Maybe the eventual idea is Becky being asked by Charlotte to help? That wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Overall, this was an okay show. Nothing stood out as awful, aside from Lana’s offbeat dancing, but nothing was exceptional either. It was a maintenance show with a lot of time to go until Backlash (and a few Raw stories that need to conclude before true Backlash build can begin).

Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Pruett’s Pause: WWE Smackdown – Smackdown embraces xenophobia as Jinder Mahal and Kevin Owens show the evils of diversity, Naomi has her best match to date with Charlotte, Styles vs. Corbin, and more

By Will Pruett

Was I enjoying Smackdown or an awkward stroll into the racist part of Twitter (which is probably most of Twitter)? What exactly was WWE trying to do with the writing of this particular episode of Smackdown? In promo segments featuring Jinder Mahal and Kevin Owens, WWE managed to set the wrestling industry back to the 1970’s by using xenophobia and absurd nationalism to get wrestlers over.

Jinder Mahal surprisingly became the number one contender to the WWE Championship on this show. I don’t mind this move at all. Jinder is a fine opponent for Randy Orton after Orton finishes with Bray Wyatt and while Kevin Owens and AJ Styles feud over the United States Championship.

What I do mind is the language WWE put in Mahal’s mouth after this victory. Mahal didn’t win because he is better or athletically superior, he won because Americans fail to embrace diversity. I want to remind you this is a heel saying this. This is a negative character fans are supposed to strongly dislike telling people about the wonders of diversity. This is WWE attempting to make an arena filled with 10,000 people boo the concept of diversity.

The most depressing part of this: it works. People seem happy to boo a man telling them about how great diversity is. Combine this with The Bollywood Boys showing up to help Mahal and you have WWE grouping together wrestlers of the same race with only their race in common. This is classic WWE and classic pro wrestling (it’s also classic pro ‘rasslin’).

Let’s move on to Kevin Owens showing us all how evil he is by speaking French. Much like Mahal before him, knowing two languages is supposed to be evil. WWE strongly embraces a culture of anti-intellectualism and this was another example of it. Both Mahal and Owens were using their skill of speaking multiple languages to get people to hate them. This is common in WWE and far more common than praising those who have this skill.

This episode of Smackdown was fine. I don’t mind Owens and Mahal being in the positions they’re in. I don’t mind them being antagonists. I mind the idea of diversity as a negative aspect of the world. I mind Mahal and Owens (as characters) encouraging an attitude that says multiculturalism is wrong. I mind WWE telling children at home watching not to accept foreigners and making them out to be a menace.

There’s a reason wrestling stories (for the most part) have moved past xenophobia. It’s a stupid idea to garner cheap reactions and make a bunch of drunk dumb-dumbs chant “USA!” Did the Smackdown writing team miss this memo? Did they decide to embrace the real-life worldview of the McMahon family?

And now for some random thoughts:

– This really was a good episode of Smackdown. It got everything out of the talent it used, provided nothing but entertaining matches, and even hit us with a few surprise moments. We saw new stars highlighted in important video packages. This episode of Smackdown, if it hadn’t had the Breitbart-esque influence in a couple segments, I would be talking about this as an almost perfect wrestling television show.

– Naomi had the best match of her career (that I’ve seen) with Charlotte. Charlotte had a highlight performance as well. It wasn’t just their match on this show that I enjoyed though, it was their promo work at the top of the show. Both of these women were presented as main event talents and they proved it in their match. I’m looking forward to seeing them wrestle again next week and the eventual feud they’ll likely have.

– Jinder Mahal becoming number one contender did shock me, but it doesn’t bother me. Mahal has worked hard to get in great shape. Mahal has shown promise on the mic. Mahal has been a solid talent. Him defeating Dolph Ziggler, Sami Zayn, Mojo Rawley, Luke Harper, and Erick Rowan was fine, especially since he had help.

– I hope The Bollywood Boys are aligned with Mahal for more reasons than their shared cultural heritage, but I doubt it.

– AJ Styles vs. Baron Corbin did a lot to prove that Styles is the current number one protagonist on Smackdown. I thought as much after Styles and Shane McMahon shook hands a couple weeks ago, but I know it now. This is a great direction for Styles, who fans couldn’t help but respect during the past year.

– Baron Corbin continues to seem capable when against the right wrestlers.

– Shinsuke Nakamura and Tye Dillinger only getting video packages on this show was fine by me. I like the idea of making fans want more and giving them a bit of backstory. Nakamura’s was especially great for this.

– Carmella (and James Ellsworth), Natalya, and Tamina as the jealous and angry girls threatening Charlotte could lead to some fun. I could see those three women against Charlotte, Becky Lynch, and Naomi as a logical pay-per-view match.

– Kevin Owens teasing an open challenge then easily beating a local wrestler was great. Owens was also great on commentary for the main event.

– Remember when American Alpha had fun characters fans could embrace on NXT? What happened to that?

– Primo and Epico seem revived on Smackdown and I’m happy about it. If Primo and Epico reach the upper echelon on this tag division, Smackdown could make a lot of waves with great tag team wrestling in 2017.

– Sami Zayn coming up just short needs to continue.

Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Pruett’s Pause: WWE Raw – The Hardys and WWE’s nostalgia problem, Braun Strowman and Big Show demolish a ring, Alexa Bliss’ Women’s Division, and more!

By Will Pruett

Will Pruett watches the 90 minute Hulu edit of Raw because it’s better.

“You’re talking about nostalgia, that’s exactly what The Hardys actually really truly is.” – Booker T

Booker T on commentary is a true gift. He may be horrible and a random soundbite generator, but Booker T also finds a way to cut to the truth of the WWE world in a way most commentators are forced to avoid. The above quote about The Hardys is a key example of this. Booker T unintentionally described one of the biggest issues with the return of The Hardys and all of WWE in this moment.

The return of The Hardys at WrestleMania was awesome. I was happy to see Matt and Jeff Hardy make their triumphant entrance into Orlando and impressed by their effort (not to mention the amazing effort they put forth the evening before with The Young Bucks at ROH’s Supercard of Honor XI). I understood bringing Matt and Jeff in as a tag team and making it as exciting as they could.

This episode of Raw featured the first promo from The Hardys to air on WWE television (Raw Talk doesn’t count). They were in “Awwww shucks, we’re happy to be back” mode and it wasn’t the most flattering look. While Matt and Jeff are still charismatic, it wasn’t as dynamic as they could be. They simply said they’re happy to be the 2001 versions of themselves once again.

At this point, dear reader, you may be expecting me to advocate for the “Broken Universe” Hardys to be in WWE, but I’m not about to do that. I understand why these characters who went on a journey in TNA to become who they were are not entering into a half-told story in a new promotion. I’m fine with lacking The 2016 Hardys, but I’m not fine with returning to 2001.

WWE is all too content to rely on nostalgia. We see it at every WrestleMania and SummerSlam. We need to nostalgia roster come in and push the regular full time roster down the card. It’s disappointing and, honestly, frustrating as someone who enjoys watching wrestling. I don’t always want to hear about how great the year 2001 was. I watched it. I lived it. I understand the good and bad of 2001. I can tell you every pay-per-view main event of 2001 off the top of my head. Why would I want to watch it today?

Nostalgia is the business WWE deals in, but it doesn’t have to be. The Hardys returning with the same music and entrance they had so long ago is an example of this. WWE knows how important Matt and Jeff can be beyond their 2001 personas. They saw it in 2009.

I will cut the nostalgia tag team run for Matt and Jeff Hardy a little more slack, but it is time for WWE to stop dealing solely in nostalgia and become modern. The rest of the world is waiting.

And now for some random thoughts:

– I’ve officially added seeing a ring collapse in WWE as a part of my wrestling bucket list. I have no idea how I am going to accomplish this goal, but I must. It looks like a ton of fun live. My only problem with the collapse of the ring on Raw this week was the multiple replays of fans reacting to it. It made the moment seem less important each time a bewildered, tired, and maybe drunk fan put their hands above their heads in surprise.

– Big Show and Braun Strowman are magic together. They have great chemistry and are quite fun to watch wrestle. It’s not the fastest match, but they are athletic marvels and can bring the best out of each other. I know Show has had a long career, but Strowman might be in my top five favorite opponents he’s had.

– Remember when John Cena and Alberto Del Rio had to have a Last Man Standing match in a collapsed ring? That was terrific.

– Alexa Bliss becoming the number one contender for Bayley’s Raw Women’’s Championship made total sense. Bayley does her best work against a strong antagonist. Bliss is the strongest antagonistic star on Raw right now. I only wish there was more time to build to this match. These two women should be able to produce promo magic together, but I don’t think one week is enough time.

– Alexa Bliss vs. Nia Jax vs. Mickie James vs. Sasha Banks was a fun, but occasionally clunky, match. Nia played the monster well and didn’t seem to risk anyone’s life the way she did Charlotte’s a week ago. James and Banks had their moments as well. What I’d love to see in the coming weeks is a feud below the title feud. James and Banks could be a great one.

– Samoa Joe and Chris Jericho had a good, but slow match. Nothing was really bad, but sometimes it looked like watching two wrestlers mark their pace instead of going full out.

– Seth Rollins was fine on commentary, but when he was delivering his promo to Joe, something was missing. Joe and Rollins didn’t click on the mic this time and both men seemed to be saying lines they don’t believe. The lack of motivation was a stark contrast to Rollins’ great segment a week ago.

– Jeff Hardy vs. Cesaro was a fun match.

– Color me surprised to see Finn Bálor wrestling on Raw after his concussion from Jinder Mahal last week. His squash over Curt Hawkins was exactly what it needed to be.

– The Miz and Dean Ambrose seem to be feuding, which is odd. Why bring two guys over from Smackdown and have them instantly feud. This is the opposite of a shakeup.

– Good guy authority figure Kurt Angle is still doing nice work.

Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Pruett’s Pause: WWE Smackdown – Charlotte Flair, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, New Day, and more find out they officially bleed blue as Smackdown gets shaken up in a superstar manner

By Will Pruett

In light of the Superstar Shakeup (or is it the Super Star Shake Up?) I am simply looking at the prospects for each new wrestler to a brand and whether or not this is a positive move for them. If you missed my Pause on Raw where I did the same thing, click on this conveniently placed link!

Charlotte Flair – This might be the biggest move of the entire Superstar Shakeup. On Talking Smack, Shane McMahon talked about the main event experience Charlotte Flair brings with her. Charlotte can take a Women’s Division that already was heavily featured and a highlight of Smackdown and raise it up. She’s the only first round draft pick to move from Raw to Smackdown.

Although he had been on an unlucky streak on Raw, she was presented as a major deal on Smackdown. Fresh opponents abound on the blue brand as she has yet to meet up with Becky Lynch (her first great main roster opponent), Naomi, and Natalya since the brand split.

Charlotte also gets to escape the larger pool on Raw and be a main focus of a show. She gets out of the never-ending feuds with Sasha Banks and Bayley. She gets a chance to be a fresh star without baggage and with a ton of opportunity.

Kevin Owens – This move seemed obvious after Dean Ambrose moved over to Raw and it was the right move. Owens is the star Raw was built around during the fall. He was overexposed during this time and the comedy approach Raw’s creative forces took with him didn’t work very well.

Owens can do just about anything, from having a great match to entertaining you with a 20 minute headlock. He’s a main event star on house shows, television, and any pay-per-view not named WrestleMania.

He replaces the depth Smackdown lost with Dean Ambrose and The Miz moving to Raw. He escapes the Raw roster, which may be dominated by a year long Brock Lesnar Universal Championship reign. Owens has a ton of upward mobility on Smackdown, especially since he could be the top antagonist on the show.

Sami Zayn – Since Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens are destined to wrestle each other into eternity, I’m okay with this. Zayn needed a change of creative team and a change of roster. He’s a wrestler with a ton of potential waiting to be actualized and the Smackdown creative team has shown the ability to get the most out of everyone by American Alpha.

Zayn moves over to a roster stacked with in-ring talent. AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura are waiting for big matches against him. Wrestlers like Baron Corbin can shine against him. Rusev (who we’ll talk about a in a few names) can be rebuilt against him. Sami could be a low-key MVP of Smackdown over the next year.

The New Day – Well, Kofi Kingston, Xavier Woods, and Big E had beaten everyone on Raw (aside from The Revival). It was time for them to move and, with Kofi out injured, probably time to take them off TV for a few weeks. The New Day can fill the biggest flaw of Smackdown’s creative team over the last year: the amazing disappearing tag team division.

Smackdown’s tag teams seem to be split between the haves (Usos, Alpha) and the have nots (Ascension, Breeze and Fandango). Now, New Day can bring some personality and hopefully demand some time.

I also appreciate the idea of New Day branching out on singles paths without being broken up and Smackdown has the roster space where all three men could have solid singles roles (and still support each other with trombone-playing antics).

Tamina – While her introduction didn’t do her a ton of favors, as it came off like a joke on her, I like the idea of Tamina in this Women’s Division. She’s bigger than most of the women on this roster and can play some sort of monster. I’m a little worried about comparisons to Nia Jax, but feel WWE could do worse with her.

Tamina helps to add depth to a shallow division. I had hoped for a few more bodies to be added to this, simply to stack the roster a little, but I get keeping it as small as it has been.

Rusev and Lana – Rusev was Raw’s go-to comedy figure and it wasn’t going well for his career. While I appreciate how funny the Bulgarian Brute can be, I also found myself wishing a wrestler as talented and delightful as Rusev would be used in a stronger way. Smackdown can use the upper-mid-card depth Rusev provides.

The interesting part of this is Lana, who was given a vignette dancing on the WWE stage. Is she breaking off from Rusev? Will she be wrestling full time? Will they still be paired? I’m intrigued by this.

The Shining Stars – Primo and Epico are very talented wrestlers. They’ve been given perhaps the worst creative effort of any wrestler in a decade. They were matadors. They were travel agents. Why can’t they just be Primo and Epico and sink or swim on their own?

This is what I’m hoping we saw the beginning of on Smackdown. I don’t want everything to be serious, but a more serious approach to The Shining Stars would benefit WWE.

Jinder Mahal – I honestly believe his entire travel schedule for the next year was changed so he could be beat up by Gronk again in Boston this week. Jinder will replace what Smackdown lost in Curt Hawkins.

Sin Cara – I forgot Sin Cara was still a thing. Did you know Sin Cara is a thing? At best, he is mid-card depth. At worst, he brings back the ridiculous lighting for all of his matches.

Wrestler(s) I’m overjoyed didn’t get moved – Enzo Amore and Big Cass not moving to Smackdown brings me great joy.

Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Pruett’s Pause: WWE Raw – Shiny new toys abound on Raw as Dean Ambrose, The Miz, Bray Wyatt, Alexa Bliss, and more get their complimentary red t-shirts

By Will Pruett

In light of the Superstar Shakeup (or is it the Super Star Shake Up?) I am simply looking at the prospects for each new wrestler to a brand and whether or not this is a positive move for them. Expect the same in my Pause on Smackdown tomorrow.

Dean Ambrose – The man with the worst nickname in WWE comes to Raw with the Intercontinental Championship and a real lack of momentum. Ambrose was WWE Champion when the initial WWE Draft happened and was Smackdown’s first pick. At one point, he looked to be the future centerpiece of the brand, but aside from a compelling series of matches with AJ Styles, Ambrose has floundered.

Part of this is a staleness of character. Ambrose is the wacky irreverent jerk you want to cheer. This type of character doesn’t last long, especially as the wackiness is ratcheted up. A character shift in the future could be huge for Dean. Ever since The Shield dissolved, we haven’t seen Dean as a lead antagonist. I assume at some point (should Reigns and Rollins stay on Raw) we’ll see a Shield reunion, which could be a launching point for Evil Ambrose to come out.

Raw gives Dean an opportunity to change and he needs it after a less than stellar 8 months on Smackdown.

The Miz and Maryse – This is the change I have the most qualms about. In 2016, The Miz became a standout performer for the second time in his WWE career. He elevated himself to main event status on Smackdown and was able to shine on one of Smackdown’s best features: Talking Smack. The Miz changed the narrative about him in the last year and now leaves the creative team who got behind him. This worries me.

Miz also comes to a show where he doesn’t have as natural as a protagonist. Daniel Bryan always provided a backdrop for Miz’s insults. Their amazing chemistry when improvisationally insulting each other was perfect. Who can be this positive force for Miz to press against? Who can he fight? Raw is also a more talent dense brand, which could lead to Miz being cast aside.

I’m not completely down on a change of scenery for Miz and Maryse, who have been a consistent highlight of WWE programming over the last year, but I hope it comes with elevation for Miz and not a demotion. He’s too good to waste.

Bray Wyatt – I feel like I’m in the minority when it comes to online opinions about Bray Wyatt. I don’t think he is not talented, but I don’t find him to be especially talented. A large part of this comes from the way he is frequently used. Wyatt constantly gets built up as both a mythical figure and a threat, but often loses the first major match after this happens. Wyatt has magical powers, which allow him to disappear, turn off the lights, and summon rocking chairs. These powers don’t allow him to win matches.

In this way, no matter where Bray Wyatt ended up, I’m not sure I’d be excited. He’s a cool entrance, a unique promo styles, and evidence of how poor WWE storytelling can be. Raw is a fresh environment for Bray, which is great, but I don’t expect Bray Wyatt to be much more than he already is.

Alexa Bliss – Has anyone been a bigger surprise since the WWE Draft than Alexa Bliss? I had almost no expectations for her when she was brought to Smackdown, but she has constantly performed above what I perceived her ability to be.

Alexa enters into a women’s division in flux on Raw. It looks like Charlotte, who has dominated the division as the main antagonist, is leaving (or turning). Nia Jax is en route to becoming the monster she should always be. Sasha Banks seems to be slow burning towards being Bayley’s biggest foe. Where does Alexa fit in?

Bliss gives the Raw Women’s roster some much needed depth and ability to tell more stories at one time. She’s been an amazing get for Smackdown and I believe WWE has a ton of confidence in her. I’m looking forward to seeing how Alexa outperforms expectations this time.

Mickie James – Since returning to WWE in the La Luchadora costume, James has fallen flat. She was a sidekick for Alexa, then seemed to become her own human just in time for WrestleMania. This was all very strange. Mickie James is very talented and can work as either a good person or bad person in WWE’s stories. She’s a versatile performer, but she also needs some consistency.

I believe the Raw women need a secondary or tertiary protagonist more than they need another antagonist. Bayley needs some tag match partners, especially with Evil Emma and Alexa coming to town. James can be the legendary mentor to the current roster and fulfill her potential.

Kalisto – Kalisto should have been in the Cruiserweight Division from the very beginning.

Apollo Crews – I expected Crews to be an instant stand-out performer post-draft after being fast-tracked through NXT to the main roster. This did not happen. Sadness ensued. Crews needs a reboot and he needs a personality. Hopefully on Raw, these things can happen for him.

Rhyno and Heath Slater – From the first ever Smackdown Tag Team Champions to possibly the lowest tag team on the Raw totem pole. Hey, at least Slater got that above ground pool. These guys are good enhancement tag team wrestlers, so I don’t plan to be upset about this.

Curt Hawkins – He’s an enhancement wrestler there to get heat, lose, and fill out house shows. Hawkins will do all of these things well.

“The Drifter” Elias Sampson – Okay, he didn’t light the world on fire in NXT, but I think there’s potential for The Drifter as a weird heel on Raw. Starting with him drifting through the background is perfect.

Predictions for Smackdown – (I’m going to wish I hadn’t published this tomorrow) Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Andrade Almas, Charlotte Flair, Rusev and Lana, Gallows and Anderson, Peyton Royce and Billie Kay, Bo Dallas, Titus O’Neil, and Goldust.

Wrestler I’m overjoyed didn’t get moved – AJ Styles.

Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Pruett’s Pause: WWE SmackDown Live – Shinsuke Nakamura debuts, dances, and leaves, Alexa Bliss vs. Naomi, and Randy Orton makes me want to sleep

By Will Pruett

At long (well, a year) last, Shinsuke Nakamura has come to WWE’s main roster. The most charismatic wrestler in the world and the most exciting addition to WWE’s roster in quite some time has left NXT behind him and is now on Smackdown. This is a moment I want to revel in for a little bit.

When it was announced over a year ago that Nakamura was on his way to WWE and debuting at NXT Takeover in Dallas, it was truly wonderful. He had a great match against Sami Zayn and settled in as the top star on NXT. Everyone waited and wondered why Nakamura was still on the minor league show.

On this episode of Smackdown, without videos announcing his debut or any real hints, Nakamura emerged as a top star on Smackdown and the (unusually subdued for a post-WrestleMania) crowd went ballistic. This was how you present someone as a top star, put them in front of a crowd, display what makes them unique, and still save something for later.

Accompanied by violinist Lee England Jr, who played him to the ring at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn II, Nakamura was able to soak in the adulation of the fans and make a distinct impression on the fans who may have never seen him.

Nakamura also seems set for success as far as his opponent goes. Unless something major is shaken up in the Superstar Shakeup Shuffle on Raw, Nakamura looks to be heading towards a feud with The Miz. This is perfect. Miz is one of the two most important heels on Smackdown. He’s capable of putting just about anyone over and retaining his heat. He can have decent showcase matches (see his 2016 matches with AJ Styles for examples. Miz outperformed Chris Jericho against AJ). Miz is capable of carrying a feud in the promo department, allowing Nakamura to say little.

More than anything else, people enjoy hating The Miz and they enjoy loving Shinsuke. Those matches will be fun.

Now, I just have to hope and pray AJ Styles stays on Smackdown and we can get Styles vs. Nakamura sometime soon.

And now for some random thoughts:

– Randy Orton is hellaciously incomprehensibly frustratingly boring. There is no other way to put it. I can’t remember the last great Orton match. I can’t remember the last compelling Orton promo. The only moments where this character seemed to have any earned interest in the last year were when he was going full-on Wyatt on us. Now, we are left with the same old Randy coming to the ring and talking in his trademark slow cadence. It’s bad, y’all.

– This crowd was not as dynamic as the Raw crowd was after WrestleMania. I’d imagine having another full day to day drink/be hungover in Orlando, a series of late nights, and all around wrestling exhaustion made this crowd a little less excitable. I was fine with a little bit less than we saw on Raw, but it wasn’t as fun of a show to watch either.

– In other debut news, “The Perfect 10” Tye Dillenger is finally getting an opportunity on WWE’s main roster. Tye has become almost a mascot for NXT, standing on the side of the good and pure and never really winning. His “10” spots are over and fans love chanting at him. I also know most wrestlers really appreciate his work and find him underrated. I’m not confident “The Perfect 10” is anything more than a mid-card gimmick, but it’s good to see Tye finally get this chance.

– I have a pitch for the Mojo Rawley character. He learns that he can commune with spirits from beyond the grave and constantly tells stories about partying with Andre The Giant. He says he now has to do Andre’s work on earth and starts drinking a barrel or keg of beer per night. I’m not sure how this ends, but it’s mostly to see Mojo hold weekly seances.

– Naomi getting another fun reaction in her hometown to her great theme music (I’d say it’s amay-ay-ay-ay-zing) was great. Naomi vs. Alexa Bliss for the Women’s Championship seemed a little premature for a rematch, but I’d guess Alexa will move to Raw next week. Hopefully Alexa continues to be a spotlight player in WWE, as she’s been very impressive since the brand split.

– AJ Styles and Shane McMahon having a bro-down in the middle of the ring made me happy. I hate to see my two favorite humans fighting like that, especially when I clearly had to take Shane McMahon’s side. While I kind of expect Styles to move to Raw next week, him staying on Smackdown as the top babyface is intriguing. I love the idea of Styles as Smackdown’s franchise guy. It gives both the show and Styles a little more identity.

– Baron Corbin vs. Dean Ambrose was a step up from their WrestleMania pre-show match. Good for them.

– I’m going to miss Maryse’s Nikki Bella impersonation.

– I’m going to miss Nikki Bella.

– Randy Orton agreed to a House of Horrors match with Bray Wyatt before knowing what this was or meant. This isn’t brave. This is stupid. What if it means Orton has to lose because those are the rules of the match? What if it means Orton doesn’t get his buddy Spermy the Snake to come to the ring with him? What if Randy Orton has to confront his one weakness and actually wear pants while wrestling? Those aren’t risks I’d be willing to take if I were Randal.

– Erick Rowan is back, so Bray Wyatt has his least skilled henchman. I just can’t care about the Wyatt characters or Orton at this point. I’ve tried. It’s impossible. Hopefully this feud ends after the first Smackdown pay-per-view after WrestleMania.

– Did you know there isn’t a Smackdown pay-per-view until May 21? They had the longest stretch without a pay-per-view before WrestleMania and they have the longest one after.

Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Pruett’s Pause: WWE Raw – The Life-Changing Magic of Hating Roman Reigns, Finn Bálor returns, The Revival debuts, and the post-WrestleMania crowd yells

By Will Pruett

If wrestling television shows were eligible for major awards (aside from Slammys), I would encourage WWE to submit the first 15 minutes of Raw for both the Golden Globes and Emmys. I have never seen anything like this and WWE, foregoing their usual pattern of playing against a rebellious crowd, fully embraced it. Roman Reigns soaked in hate and seemed to have the star quality he’s been missing.

Let me set the scene for you. It’s the night after Undertaker, the long-term hero and conscience of WWE, left his gloves, jacket, and hat in the middle of the ring. He sadly walked up the ramp and was lowered into his career’s final resting place. WWE recapped this in photos at the beginning of Raw, then let the crowd take control.

This crowd didn’t disappoint. They picked up on the cues of chanting “Thank you, Taker” and “Undertaker” for a long time, then, as the show went on and nothing happened, the chants for Undertaker organically turned to hatred for Roman Reigns. In the dueling chant pattern made famous on a national level by John Cena and the crowds who hated hated him, we heard “Thank you, Taker” and “Roman Sucks.” This was not a duel. This was every fan in the building chanting every word.

I go to a ton of theatre and produce live entertainment for a living. I can promise you that this kind of emotional engagement is something every artist dreams of.

As the chants for Undertaker and against Roman Reigns started to peak and looked like they may fall off, the music of Roman Reigns hit. He walked to the ring without a smile. He was serious. This wasn’t the winking Roman Reigns who once roofied Stephanie McMahon’s iced coffee. This was the all new all serious Roman.

Once he was in the ring, the fans were reenergized by his presence. This is among the most brilliant theatrical moments I’ve ever seen in wrestling. Without a word, Roman spurred them on. He didn’t antagonize the crowd in an overt way, but simply stood there. He took the flack for retiring The Undertaker and manage to absorb it. Every time it looked like Roman might speak, the fans got louder. The chants shifted from “Roman sucks” to the more profane and delightful “Fuck you Roman.” (Profanity, when used in this way, is the best. I’m pretty sure the first time I swore in my entire life was chanting “asshole” at Vince McMahon. It was the first of billions of swears.)

Finally, when he spoke, Roman didn’t deliver a ten minute promo. He didn’t wax poetic about what Undertaker meant to him. He didn’t lay out a challenge for any one human. He simply repeated the claim that began his entire feud with Undertaker. He let us know that the ring was his yard, dropped the mic, and walked away.

Why did this work so well? WWE has evolved to being able to predict and manipulate the Night After WrestleMania crowd. The unruly fans who once outright rejected a Sheamus vs. Randy Orton match after WrestleMania 29 are now the fans WWE can grab. The fans who spend a ton of money to attend all the WrestleMania weekend events are happy to play into WWE’s narrative and it works! Look at this reaction for Roman. Look at how well it lines up with all of WWE TV.

No one is pretending fans like Roman Reigns anymore. No one is pretending he isn’t being booed. WWE embraced the reaction and let Roman live in it. When WWE embraces these reactions, they build goodwill with their most ardent fans. Instead of feeling silenced while the corporate public relations line is “you can cheer and boo anyone,” fans will feel compelled to actually express their feelings. This is only good for WWE.

Do I think WWE wants “fuck you, Roman” chants on a weekly basis? Probably not, but I do believe they, like any artist, would love this level of passionate engagement every night. The first 15 minutes of Raw were the most compelling 15 minutes of WWE television since the heartbreaking retirement of Daniel Bryan.


And now for some random thoughts:

– Vince McMahon appeared on this show and announced the 2017 WWE Draft Superstar Shakeup. I have no idea what the Superstar Shakeup is or if it is supposed to help market the new WWE Superstar Shakers coming to a kitchen near you. What I assume will happen is a bevy of roster moves made to help each show seem fresh. I like the idea of doing this just after WrestleMania as a means of carrying over the post-WrestleMania excitement through another week.

– McMahon also announced Kurt Angle as the new General Manager of Raw. This is a good move on a number of levels. Kurt being back in the WWE family is awesome. Giving Raw a babyface authority figure and assuring that Stephanie McMahon is absent is necessary. WWE’s biggest mistake in the last decade has been making their own brand a heel in their stories. If WWE can use Angle, without the overbearing presence of Stephanie, to correct this on their number one brand, they’ll be much better for it. If they can restore a sense of fairness to WWE’s core storytelling (like we see in NXT), WWE will be much easier to watch.

– The Revival were called up to the WWE main roster on this show and entered into what could be a feud (unless one of these teams is shaken to Smackdown) with The New Day. This is perfect. The Revival is a serious team who can get over by opposing the silly antics of The New Day. This will build some credibility for Dash and Dawson and build a bonus feud in the tag team division away from the tag titles.

– Finn Bálor’s return to Raw to help Seth Rollins fight Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe in the main event was delightful. The crowd responded to him like a major star and Bálor soaked it in. The combination of Rollins and Bálor seemed a little odd, but they played on it well.

– I’m glad Samoa Joe wasn’t involved in the decision in the main event, simply because he’s still the unbeatable monster. Even without a WrestleMania match, Joe is still a very important piece of the roster.

– Emma’s return as Evil Emma made my heart smile. The women’s rosters on both brands need depth and Emma offers it to Raw. She should be a major challenger for Bayley in the next few months and get WWE out of the odd feedback loop they have going with Bayley, Sasha, and Charlotte.

– It’s interesting to note that the Women’s Division received very little airtime on Raw. Looking at the Raw Breakdown Project for this week, we only had six percent of the show dedicated to the women’s roster. WWE can and should do better.

– Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman’s victorious promo was fascinating. It’s obvious that WWE is building towards WrestleMania 34 already with a possibly ill-advised Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar main event. The crowd in this building didn’t want to see it, but that’s fine. They don’t have to. WWE can make fans want to see this match over the coming year, especially if the continue down the road Roman started on tonight.

– Braun Strowman as a challenger for Brock Lesnar looks and feels awesome. I want to see this hoss fight and I want to see it as soon as possible (okay, well likely at Payback).

– The Hardy Boys (No, I will never spell “boys” with a Z) had a fine comeback match for them. I didn’t expect much as they spent the last two nights in Ladder Matches, but this was alright. I know some fans are broken hearted about the lack of Broken Matt, but this is the right way to reintroduce Matt and Jeff. When the time comes and the nostalgia run is over, Matt and break and Jeff can be the main eventer he was in 2009.

– This crowd may have had some great moments, but breaking out a beach ball (which WWE glorified on a documentary and on this show) is absurd. Doing it during a good Mustafa Ali vs. Neville match is infuriating. I get turning on Sheamus vs. Randy Orton, but turning on a good match with two great competitors is ridiculous.

– I want to see what the next few months hold for Sami Zayn. If I were WWE, I’d be aiming to do Zayn vs. Lesnar on a Summer or Fall Raw pay-per-view. Sami could be built up to it and finally overcome something huge, then eventually show heart and guts in getting killed by Brock.

– A crowd booing Roman Reigns relentlessly, then treating the man who is making Roman inherently boo-able, Vince McMahon, like a god among men is absurd. It’s proof that many of the hardcore fans are bigger fans of WWE than anything else. They lost a lot of street cred.

Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Pruett’s Pause: WWE WrestleMania 33 – The End of The Undertaker, Love triumphs eternal for Cena and Nikki, Shane McMahon returns to greatness, and more!

By Will Pruett

For as long as I have watched wrestling, there has been one constant; The Undertaker. Before I was a fan of wrestling, just catching glimpses as my brother watched, The Undertaker was always present. He was an ominous and foreboding character, even in his earliest days carrying with him a special charisma rarely seen in professional wrestling. He has been the perfect combination of wrestler and character, blazing a trail no one could ever follow. The Undertaker’s wrestling career ended at WrestleMania 33 and professional wrestling will never be the same.

I couldn’t imagine being an adult and experiencing Undertaker for the first time. It must seem absurd. The man is essentially a wrestling zombie who becomes impervious to pain at various points in his matches. He’s also a MMA fighter. He’s also a biker. Undertaker has inhabited so many identities over a long period of time that, without living through his history, he must be hard to fathom.

My first deep emotional investment in the career of Undertaker came in 1998. I remember recording wrestling shows and watching with my brother. On the Raw when Undertaker returned, rising out of a casket to confront Kane and accept a match at WrestleMania XIV, I remember watching and getting so excited. I left my brother a note on that VHS tape about how great it was. Undertaker has been a part of my personal experience of professional wrestling since that day.

When Undertaker and Shawn Michaels fought at WrestleMania for a second time in 2010, I had to be there. My wife, the amazing human that she is, agreed to go to Phoenix with me. I found myself in the crowd of WrestleMania XXVI pleading for The Streak to end, not wanting to see Shawn Michaels career fade away. My pleading was in vain as Undertaker delivered a massive Tombstone and ended the match. I’ll never forget this moment as a fan. I’ll never forget screaming for it not to happen in Phoenix.

I could tell more stories about my appreciation for the career of The Undertaker. I could write thousands of words about it (actually, I have). Instead, I want to talk about WrestleMania 33 and how Undertaker ended.

Roman Reigns vs. The Undertaker was not a good match. After pulling out so many classics far past the age when he should have been capable of it, Undertaker came up short in his last attempt. The story of the match was supposed to mirror that of Ric Flair vs. Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXIV and Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXVI. On those nights, Flair and Michaels pulled out everything and came up short. At WrestleMania 33, Undertaker’s physical limitations kept him from being able to physically accomplish what he needed it.

Undertaker not being able to lift Reigns up for The Last Ride (The Last Last Ride?), lock in Hell’s Gate in a non-awkward way, and roll through a Tombstone reversal was, in a way, fitting for the match. Undertaker was looking for a man to put him down. It was time. While Michaels and Flair went out proving they could still do everything they could dream up, at least for one night, Undertaker went out when he had nothing left.

Roman Reigns was the antagonist in this match and the man picked by Undertaker to finally put him down. Reigns played the reluctant and merciful wrestler well, finally being pushed to the point Undertaker needed him to get to. After Undertaker referenced Reigns not having testicles (Why did testicles have to come up in this match? It wasn’t an awful moment, but Undertaker could have said 1,000 better things than “You don’t have the balls”), Roman finally summoned up all two (I assume) of his and delivered the deathblow to the dead man.

The aftermath of the match was compelling, far more compelling than the match. While Undertaker failed to capture the WrestleMania magic he has come to define between the bells, he captured it as he left. He put his entrance gear back on and stood in the ring as his music played and the lights faded to purple. He took off his gloves, his jacket, and his hat and placed them in the center of the ring. Were it not for the lighting, I assume we would have seen a tear or two on the face of a man I once believed was undead.

Undertaker retired in the closing minutes of a show he has come to define over the last decade. No performer has meant more to WrestleMania than The Undertaker. His matches in the last ten years with Batista, Edge, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and CM Punk have been true highlights. His feud with Shane McMahon truly saved WrestleMania 32 from being a complete fiasco. The end of The Streak at WrestleMania 30 provided us with a true WrestleMania shock. The Undertaker is the defining performer of WrestleMania and ending his career on the show he defined was a wonderful touch.

Will I look back on Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns with some sort of fondness? I doubt it. I don’t know how often I’d want to go back and watch the whole match. In a way, it’s too depressing to do so. However, I know I’ll never forget the end of The Undertaker.


For the first 32 years of WrestleMania, women have participated in a maximum of two matches on the show. This only happened twice. Often, there was only one match with female participants (20 times). At ten of the 32 past WrestleMania events, there was not a single match with a female participant. WrestleMania 33 featured a record breaking three matches with women participating in them and almost a full hour of the show dedicated to them.

While nothing on this year’s WrestleMania matched the grand gesture of equality WWE extended last year, there is a ton of cause for celebration. Both Raw and Smackdown’s Women’s Championships were defended on this show and both were a part of some special moments. Bayley successfully defended the Raw Women’s Championship in a four way elimination match and successfully brought a tear to my eye. Naomi regained the Smackdown Women’s Championship in a great hometown moment, complete with one of the most spectacular entrances on the show.

Beyond the two championship matches, we also saw Nikki Bella and Maryse involved in a story with John Cena and The Miz, a match that may have had the best build up of any match on this card.

This is not a small thing. WWE has had to be dragged into the 21st century in treating women equally. They’ve had to be forced by fan pressure. Even this past week, WWE didn’t plan to have all three of these matches on the main card until fans spoke up and their desire for equality was registered. WWE has embraced their “Women’s Revolution” as a money-making vehicle, but they haven’t fully embraced it as a philosophy to book the company by.

There still hasn’t been a one-on-one singles match for women at WrestleMania in the last decade. Women have still not had one match at WrestleMania that went over 17 minutes. A Women’s Division match still has not main evented WrestleMania. The time to do this is now. WWE has the most talented Women’s roster they’ve ever had. This roster will only get deeper with the upcoming Women’s Tournament. Now is the moment when WWE should look down the road to WrestleMania 34 and decide two women will close that show. It’s time to build up those wrestlers. It’s time to decide how to get there and tell the story the right way.

The last year has seen WWE take some major steps forward, but WrestleMania showed how far there is to go. The two Women’s Championship matches had ten participants between them. This is ridiculous. Of ten matches on the main card of WrestleMania, three involved Women. WWE can do better than that. Of the 15 pay-per-view events since WrestleMania 32, women have only main evented one.

It’s time to push WWE to do more with the immensely talented women they have.


As WrestleMania has become increasingly dependent on the return of stars from the past to produce moments and major matches, it has also gotten longer. This year, we reached a point of absurdity with the main card last a full five hours and 11 minutes. This is longer than the Super Bowl. This is longer than Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. This is longer than a wrestling show should ever be.

I understand (to an extent) WWE’s dilemma. They feel they need guys like Brock Lesnar, Triple H, Goldberg, Undertaker, and Shane McMahon to make WrestleMania feel like WrestleMania. They also have to fit in the more regular part-time wrestlers like John Cena and Chris Jericho. This creates a situation where the show has to be extremely long just to give each person a spot on it.

Where does this finally end? With Undertaker retiring, we are losing one of the all time great WrestleMania part time performers. Will he be replaced or will this slot become the domain of full time wrestlers again?

Sheer length hurts the overall enjoyment of WrestleMania. Most years, when I’m not attending the show, I throw a party at my home and invite over friends who, because they’re decent people, indulge me even though they aren’t into wrestling. This year I didn’t do so. It’s not that I didn’t want company, but five hours is far too long. I didn’t want anyone to feel obligated to sit with me through the plodding Triple H match, the Flo Rida concert, or the long Undertaker goodbye.

Something has to be done about the length of WrestleMania in the years to come. It’s absurd to argue that WrestleMania is geared towards casual fans when the show is literally five hours long. No one sits down to casually watch anything that is five hours long.


And now for some random thoughts:

– Overall, this was a very good show. It lost some momentum towards the end, but as far as WrestleManias go, this was a B+ (or an A- if I’m feeling generous).

– The production of this year’s show was amazing. Everything from the set to the lighting to the video packages looked professional and beautiful. WWE does a pretty neat thing with WrestleMania every year and this may have been the best they’ve ever done.

– My only issue with the production: The absurdly long ramp leading to the ring. I would have been clutching my side and writhing in pain halfway down that thing. John Cena was even winded after running down it. Never again should a ramp be that long without a motorized mini-ring ala WrestleMania III to carry wrestlers.

– It was great to hear Jim Ross on commentary for the main event. I got a little misty watching that one.

– If you’ve read to this point and read my work often, you’re somehow questioning how I haven’t fawned all over Shane McMahon yet. Well, HOW GOOD WAS THAT MATCH?!?! Oh my goodness did Shane McMahon and AJ Styles absolutely kill it! It was basically perfect. Styles made Shane look as good as he could and daredevil Shane was in full force with the Coast-to-Coast, Table Elbow, and the SHOOTING SHANE PRESS!!!

– I loved AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon and love that this was Styles’ WrestleMania match this year. Let it be known that McMahon had a better match with Styles than Chris Jericho.

– Can we take a moment to talk about Triple H riding to the ring on the three-wheeled motorcycle a grandpa purchases when grandma won’t let him ride anyone? Triple H didn’t look bad ass during his entrance, he looked like an upset grandpa slowly scooting down the ramp on a tricycle with a police escort. This might have been my favorite Triple H entrance ever for sheer absurdity.

– The return of Matt Hardy and Jeff Hardy to win a Ladder Match for the Raw Tag Team Championship was perfect. This was a major WrestleMania moment and had to feel like a major life moment for the hard working Hardys. Matt and Jeff reinvented themselves and forced themselves to stay relevant. When they left WWE, they were both in bad shape, but over the years they’ve grown and changed. Their story is truly inspiring and I’m glad to see them in this spot today.

– Speaking of WrestleMania moments, Charlotte’s giant flip on the outside was spectacular.

– Watching John Cena propose to Nikki Bella at WrestleMania was basically everything. I was ugly crying by the end of it. The little crack in John Cena’s voice as he got down on one knee was instantly likeable and charming. I’m all about this moment and will likely watch it ten times this week.

– The WWE Championship match between Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt was the worst match on the show. The confusing use of projection technology kept it from developing any real rhythm. Orton winning was a foregone conclusion. Nothing about this match was fun. I want images that make me squeamish kept out of wrestling forever as well.

– The Universal Championship match between Goldberg and Brock Lesnar was short and exciting for what it was. I’ve heard it argued as the best match on the show, but I’m assuming those people didn’t see Shane vs. AJ or the Ladder Match.

– It’s interesting to me that the two least impactful or important matches on the show were the WWE and Universal Championship matches. WWE had more interesting stories everywhere on the card aside from those for Lesnar, Orton, Wyatt, and Goldberg. I hope this isn’t a trend we see continuing into the next year, but I fear it will be.

– Ambrose and Corbin put on a performance they should be ashamed of. That was not good.

– Neville and Aries had a very good pre-show encounter and I’m happy to see the story continue in its current form. It’s not time for Neville to no longer be king.

– Mojo Rawley winning The ‘Dre was fine by me. How will getting involved in this match change Rob Gronkowski’s fantasy ADP for the next year?

– Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho had the challenge of following the best match of the night and they did really well with it. If one performer deserved a single match spotlight at WrestleMania, it was Kevin Owens. I’m quite happy for him.

– Nia Jax was able to look like a monster before being eliminated, but the story of the Raw Women’s Championship match confused me after this. Sasha Banks going out when she did was surprising and the finish with Bayley dropping the Randy Savage elbow on Charlotte didn’t feel like an ending. I’m happy to see Bayley get a big moment, but this women’s division needs to expand so these four can spend some time with other opponents.

– Triple H vs. Seth Rollins was about seven minutes longer than it needed to be, but in the end it got the job done. Hopefully Rollins can move forward as his own character and not be tied to Triple H and Stephanie eternally now.

Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Pruett’s Blog – Watching all the WrestleMania Weekend Shows: Short Reviews of ROH Supercard of Honor XI, Progress Orlando, Flo Slam/Evolve’s offerings, and more!

By Will Pruett

For the last two years, I’ve traveled to WrestleMania’s host city and attempted to gorge myself on as much wrestling as possible. This year, I decided to stay home in the sunny theme park ruled city of Anaheim, California instead of going to the sunny theme park ruled city of Orlando, Florida. One would think I’d experience less wrestling this way, but nope. I’m watching way too many shows! Here are some short reviews of them, along with what you must watch from each one!

ROH Supercard of Honor XI

My biggest takeaway was how great this show looked on TV. ROH’s newly professional production standards were on full display and in stark contrast to what I’m used to from them during WrestleMania weekend. Not only did this show look good, but it was actually good as well. There were a couple great matches and nothing truly bad. I’d only criticize the presence of an intermission, but I criticize anything with an intermission (I legitimately get grumpy during intermission whenever I see a play).

I was on the fence about ordering this show, especially with a $30 price tag, but ended up deciding to do it. I am without regret on this one.

Must see: The Young Bucks vs. The Hardys in a Ladder Match was fantastic. I expected fun nostalgia, but it was so much more than that. Also, Adam Cole vs. Marty Scrull was better than I expected.

Progress Orlando

My first takeaway from this show was the garbage experience offered by WWN Live as an iPPV provider. While it isn’t the provider for Evolve anymore, the site was the only place to see and order Progress’ US debut. My second takeaway: No one can shoot Progress like Progress. This was a detriment. While the show was good, it didn’t look and feel like Progress Wrestling. They have a unique and great production style and it was missing. Progress doesn’t usually feel like everything else and this weekend it did.

Must see: Mark Andrews vs. Tyler Bate for the WWE UK Championship and Pete Dunne vs. Mark Haskins for the Progress Championship. I’ll toss Zack Sabre Jr vs. Jimmy Havoc on here as well.

Flo Slam, as a service

This is its own section, because I have to rant a little about the usability of Flo Slam. This weekend has been my first experience with it. For double the monthly cost of WWE Network, I now subscribe to a service that is organized in a worse way (which I didn’t think was possible). Flo Slam’s app is divided into 2016 and 2017, with shows from as early as 2010 in each folder. The Evolve shows on it are in a super weird order making them impossible to find. It’s not an intuitive app. It’s not a good app.

On top of a bad app, Flo Slam’s shows itself have looked awful. I’m talking a lot about production and not wrestling, but production is important. People should be able to enjoy shows without distractions, but since no one at the Flo Slam shoot decided to white balance their cameras, they now have one super yellow hard camera shot (most evident at Evolve 81). The lighting on these shows has been atrocious. Why can’t Flo Slam rent a lighting rig for the weekend? They’re doing something like 10 shows. Split the cost between everything and provide the people paying twice what the WWE Network costs some good looking shows!

And for the love of all that is holy, do a simple white balance on your cameras. It’ll take four minutes. If you don’t know how, call me.

Evolve 80

Now that I’ve ranted about production, I can say this show (from Thursday night) was alright. It featured solid wrestling from top-to-bottom with a couple worthwhile matches.

Must see: Ricochet vs. Keith Lee, which began what has become a breakout weekend for Keith Lee. Zack Sabre Jr vs. ACH.

Evolve 81

For me, only one match on this show was worth writing home (or, well, to you) about: Keith Lee vs. Donovan Dijak. It was a fun encounter from two big dudes. Keith Lee is really impressing me this weekend and I’m hoping it’ll continue through the rest of the shows I watch. Lee could be a breakout performer of 2017.

Must see: Keith Lee vs. Donovan Dijak.

Got thoughts on any of these shows or the weekend in general? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Pruett’s Pause: NXT Takeover: Orlando – Venturing into the new NXT with the same champions as Bobby Roode, Asuka, and The Authors of Pain retain

By Will Pruett

Much like in 2016 when NXT Takeover: The End happened, branding seemed to be more interesting on this show than a lot of the in-ring happenings. With this Takeover, we heard an awful lot about “The New” NXT and were given new symbols of it: New NXT Championship Belts. This show seemed to be about two things, providing good-to-great in-ring action and setting up for the future of NXT. It did both with great success.

With this being a show more about setting up the future than executing it, it stands to reason it wouldn’t be a newsworthy show. This is true. It wasn’t. All three of the major NXT Championships were retained. The dominant heel faction continued to dominate. The most newsworthy moment was the debut of Aleister Black, but even he did what was expected in winning his match.

What’s interesting about this rebuilding phase for NXT is that NXT has been rebuilding for about a year. The first large-scale call up of the NXT era was after WrestleMania 32. The next (and even bigger) one was at the WWE Draft. NXT saw a ton of turnover in 2016 and essentially held itself together with scotch tape. This is the curse of being the developmental brand, especially when you’re also the brand people expect great wrestling from.

Bobby Roode is absolutely a symbol of the NXT status quo. While Roode is a solid wrestler and a fine character, the only thing truly special about him is his theme music. If one were to take the entrance away from Roode, he’d be in a tag team right now. With shouts of Glorious Roode has made his way to being the top star in NXT. Those shouts have made him special.

One nice thing about Roode is the way WWE has positioned and branded NXT. Because NXT has embraced its audience instead of constantly deriding them (you know, like the rest of WWE and a great deal of professional wrestling in general), the audience is more apt to support a weak champion. While fans watching Raw are likely to rebel against someone they consider mediocre in a top spot, fans watching NXT are asked to have faith in the product because the product has had faith in them. Fan service has worked both ways for NXT now.

Who can step up to challenge Roode? It seems like Shinsuke Nakamura is preparing to make his USA Network debut on Monday or Tuesday night. Samoa Joe is gone. Austin Aries is gone. Who can step in to challenge Roode? NXT hasn’t done a good job of building up a deep pool of challengers, but the new NXT has a shot. The babyface team in the opening match had two wrestlers I expect to see headlining a Takeover at some point this year: Roderick Strong and Kassius Ohno. These men weren’t signed by accident. Speaking of not being signed by accident, great professional wrestler and better brand cheerleader, Drew McIntyre (of Drew Galloway fame) appeared on this show and seems NXT bound. He is a perfect wrestler for the NXT main event scene. In fact, it seems like the most valuable role he could play in WWE. Another strong possibility is Aleister Black being shot to the top of NXT quicker than one would imagine.

What about the other titles? Asuka has completed one year as Women’s Champion and doesn’t seem ready to stop holding this title. The new twist is her new attitude, which sets up some great challenges from the likes of Ember Moon (again) and Ruby Riot. We also have yet to see a true continuation of Asuka against Nikki Cross. The Women’s Division in NXT is actually getting far deeper and this is before the WWE Women’s Tournament this Summer. This can only be a good thing.

The NXT Tag Team Division looks particularly shallow, but it has two amazing teams hovering around the top in DIY and The Revival. If either of them stay past the weekend to build the new NXT, the tag division will be fine. The Authors of Pain also seem to be rapidly improving in skill.

This weekend (and by weekend, I mean Tuesday, which is actually the middle of the week) will end with quite a few NXT departures. My hope for NXT is that the rebuilding phase can end this time and not be perpetual. I know there will always be some roster movement, but the restocking of the NXT roster and the building up of main eventers has been ineffective. It’s time for “The New” NXT to be like the old NXT and create actual depth.

And now for some random thoughts:

– As far as Eric Young-led factions go, Sanity currently ranks somewhere between the Super Friends and World Elite. Team Canada, which Young merely participated in, but never lead, should also be mentioned in this debate.

– Ruby Riot stood out for me in the opening eight-human tag team match. I am not super familiar with Riot’s indie work, but I know she came to WWE with a very good reputation. Her unique look sets her apart and she seems quite able. She’d be a great babyface foe for Asuka in the near future.

– The opener was fast-paced, crazy, and fun. It made for a great launching point for this show. It was fun to see former WrestleMania weekend standouts Kassius Ohno and Roderick Strong get some nice spots in. I’m sure they’re thankful to not be wrestling 10 matches of the course of the weekend like they have in years past.

– I don’t understand the point of Sanity. I don’t understand what they do, why they’re friends, or how I’m supposed to feel about them. How are these feelings supposed to be enhanced by eye makeup? I’m not trying to be dense, I just don’t feel like the group has purpose.

– Aleister Black’s debut was good, but not amazing. I wouldn’t have had him in such an even match. Andrade Almas isn’t the guy I would put Black against. It was an awkward mix of styles and Black didn’t come off quite as impressive as I would have hoped. Alas, the man looked like a major star anyways and should be at the top of NXT for the foreseeable future.

– How good was Authors of Pain vs. DIY vs. The Revival? Can someone please distill that match into a whiskey and gift it to me? I need more of that frantic exciting action in my life.

– The wonderful thing about the goodness of the triple threat tag team match? The Authors of Pain held their own with two of the best teams out there today. AoP seem to be getting better and better with each progressive week.

– Seeing Revival and DIY team up at various points in this match felt wrong, but very right. It was some of the best wrestling storytelling I’ve seen in awhile.

– I do not envy Asuka and Ember Moon for having to follow that tag match, but like the NXT women usually do, they did an admirable job. This was a good match with a great story of Asuka being overmatched, then finally deciding to break the rules. It completed her turn and now opens up all sorts of new match possibilities.

– Asuka is already the best X Division Champion of the last 5 years.

– All three of the new NXT Championship belts are improvements over the old ones, but I can’t say I’m in love with the design of any of them. The biggest improvement is over the absurd top men’s championship, which was just giant letters. No one wants to carry giant letters. It’s a wonder NXT ever became the “cool” brand of WWE with a stupid belt like that.

– Bobby Roode vs. Shinsuke Nakamura was good, but not great. This is a common theme with Roode. It bums me out, simply because I’m aware of what Nakamura can do. This was towards the top end of (what I perceive to be) Roode’s ability. It was alright, but nothing amazing.

– I am all about live music as a part of wrestling entrances (as long as music is actually being played, not like that time Shinsuke had 20 silent violinists poorly miming). One of my favorite wrestling things of the last few years was this WWE 2k15 ad featuring Sting’s music being played. I want more live music in entrances. I want full orchestra pits playing to support WrestleMania. Give me more live entrance music!

– Shinsuke Nakamura’s red pants with black stripes were wonderful.

– The aesthetics of NXT have majorly changed over the last year. If you remember the Dallas Takeover, NXT was dimming the lights on fans as matches happened, not using the mega-elaborate WWE set, but a scaled down one, and embracing less of the spectacle. Now, they are leaving fans fully lit, as is WWE’s habit on Raw and Smackdown. They use a giant set when available. I miss the scaled down NXT set, simply because of the intimacy it gave shows. The intimate feeling was always false, but with less production in the way, it felt true.

– Speaking of aesthetic touches, anyone know why NXT using only-school barricades and not WWE’s usual padded ones?

Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Pruett’s Pause: WWE’s last TV shows before WrestleMania 33! Goldberg and Lesnar face to face, Orton and Wyatt face to screen, contract signings, and more!

By Will Pruett

With just a few days before WrestleMania, I find myself starting to get excited. Despite a slight lack of enthusiasm about the overall card, I’m counting down the days and annoying the non-wrestling fans around me by mentioning WrestleMania too often. While I’m not going to be in Orlando this year, I still cannot wait to gorge myself on way too much wrestling over the coming weekend. What confounds me, as I look at WrestleMania weekend, is the two least compelling matches: The Universal Championship and WWE Championship matches.

There are a ton of commonalities with these two matches. Both were prominently featured in the closing moments of Raw and Smackdown this week and both of those segments made me want to see them less.

On Smackdown, Randy Orton returned to the place where Bray Wyatt rubbed himself down with his santanic sister’s ashes when Wyatt returned to the place that Orton burned to the ground after exhuming a body where Wyatt used a shed for rocking chair storage. Yeah, this whole “shed burning” doesn’t light my fire either. Orton returned to this place with some sort of magic sword symbol to dig into the ground. What the hell is all of this? Who likes this? Who wants this? Orton and Wyatt would be a fine match without all the burning and grave digging and ash rub downs. Is this feud featuring arson and desecration of graves aimed at kids? That seems weird.

On Raw, Paul Heyman did the talking, Brock Lesnar did the bouncing, and Goldberg did the walking. This was the whole segment. Heyman may be the best thing about this feud, but I haven’t found myself enamoured with his promos. I don’t particularly care about the “How Brock Got His Groove Back” elements of this story. Brock Lesnar’s groove has never been my concern.

Bruce Mitchell at PWTorch.com has frequently called Goldberg a comet. He burns bright and then falls quickly to earth. On Raw, I saw proof that he has fallen already. WrestleMania could be a rough night for him.

How are the two title matches so uninspiring? Often fans deride the idea of championships being props, but that’s exactly what they are. They should be props endowed with meaning. In this case, they are props endowed with the idea that you are the best when you win them. This isn’t what Goldberg, Brock Lesnar, Bray Wyatt, and Randy Orton are fighting to prove. This isn’t the culmination of a journey. This isn’t a major moment. This is just another day to bounce, walk slowly backstage, burn down a shed, or rub one’s face with burnt up body chips.

While the other matches at WrestleMania 33 seem to have a hook, be it a long-term fed for Jericho and Owens, a new elimination stipulation for the Raw women, the battle of yard-ownership for Reigns and Undertaker, or the fun drama of John Cena and Nikki Bella vs. Miz and Maryse. These matches have hooks. These matches have stories. These matches make sense. For the two top title matches, we are not living a history-making story. We are simply hoping to get through it to the other side.

And now for some random thoughts:

– While I don’t love the title matches, I’m getting excited for this WrestleMania card. Triple H vs. Seth Rollins was built up really well over the last month. Shane McMahon vs. AJ Styles should be a fun spectacle.

– I guess I was premature in celebrating WWE breaking the record for matches involving women at WrestleMania a couple weeks ago. It’s frustrating to see the Smackdown women relegated to the pre-show once again. They have a talented and compelling roster that deserves to be on the actual WrestleMania show. The pre-show is not WrestleMania. For more on the startling sexism of WrestleMania history, check out my Pause from a couple weeks ago.

– Undertaker and Roman Reigns has had a classic Undertaker WrestleMania build, complete with digging. This match has been speculated about as the WrestleMania closer and I really like that idea. It’s not just that the title matches are bad. Fans care about Undertaker. Fans care about Roman Reigns. This match will have the most emotional investment of any match on the show.

– I was happy to see the first 30 minutes of Raw dedicated to the Bayley vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax elimination match. I’m not happy to not have a one-on-one feud for either Women’s Championship, but such is life. This should be a great match and I’m hoping WWE gives it the time it deserves.

– The Total Bellas segments from Miz and Maryse have been really fun. I’m all about this mixed tag at WrestleMania. It honestly might be the best built match on the entire card. Add in the possibility of John Cena proposing at the end and I’ll definitely be hanging on every moment of this WrestleMania match.

– Could anything yell “The Hardys are coming” more than adding a ladder stipulation to the Raw Tag Title match? I’m about this. WrestleMania has suffered in the recent years it hasn’t had a major ladder spectacle. It’s an annual tradition. I am also all about Matt Hardy and Jeff Hardy showing up, no matter what form they’re in.

– Naomi’s return on Smackdown was gosh dang delightful.

– Was anyone else surprised to hear Shane McMahon vs. AJ Styles was a regular match? This startled me. What can Shane fall from in a regular match? How will this play out? I’m still confident in the ability of Styles to make Shane look awesome (Shane is awesome). I’m still looking forward to this match, but I would be more about a “falling off of tall things” match.

– The ‘Dre looks packed this year and the brand split has given us more potential winners. I like this.

– I’m bummed about Austin Aries and Neville being on the WrestleMania pre-show, but I’m convinced they’ll kill it no matter what. This will be a fun match.

– There was a Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens match in the main event of Raw and it seemed like no one cared. I know the show is a marathon, but this was sad. Add in Sami’s Raw career being on the line and I can’t help but be disappointed.

– A lot happened on these shows and I doubt I’m covering all of it. It’s WrestleMania week. We all know I’ll write a ton more. Have a fun week, everyone!

Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Pruett’s Pause: WWE SmackDown Live – AJ Styles throws Shane McMahon through a window, Miz and Maryse vs. John Cena and Nikki Bella becomes official, and how to ignore the tag champs!

By Will Pruett

Many current and former wrestling writers focus on one thing when looking at how talent is presented: positioning. What is the promotion doing on the television show to demonstrate to all of us how big of a deal something is. I find looking at positioning to be a fascinating study of what promoters care about and what they’re prone to ignore. On Smackdown, we saw the highest of high positioning and the absolute lowest, all in one segment.

WWE finally gave us the major angle for Shane McMahon and A.J. Styles’ expected WrestleMania encounter. It involved Shane’s head, a roll up door, and a car window. It was a decent moment where Styles seemed to let his temper get the best of him and Shane played the late arriving commissioner getting torn to pieces rather well. This was presented as the biggest possible event on this episode of Smackdown. It didn’t just get replayed, but it was replayed over and over, plus analyzed with added angles.

Another anticipated event happened on this show, The Usos took on Smackdown Tag Team Champions American Alpha. If one were to glance back in time (or if they were in possession of a time turner), they’d see that American Alpha vs. The Usos seemed like the signature tag team feud for the Smackdown brand coming out of the draft. It didn’t happen right away, but some time was spent positioning both teams.

About a month ago, The Usos and American Alpha began the proper road toward this feud. Things seemed to be getting into high gear, with a couple weeks of “It’s not paranoia, it’s The Usos” speeches from the antagonists, but then both teams disappeared. For the last two weeks, The Usos and American Alpha were noticeably missing from Smackdown. Where had they gone?

This week, after Bray Wyatt gave himself the ol’ cremated ash rub down, we found out Alpha and The Usos would meet (without a word from the announcers). This match was positioned as nothing. It was positioned almost randomly. It wasn’t the anticipated showdown between the two best teams on the show, it was just a random match. It could have been any match. It could have been another Mojo Rawley match for no apparent reason.

Despite this being the best match the division had to offer, neither team was given any promo time. Neither team was given a chance to establish stakes. Neither team got to remind fans who they were after two weeks off of television.

This seemed fine, because once the match started, I was confident in The Usos and Alpha’s ability to capture my imagination. My confidence was misplaced, but not because the teams were bad. My confidence was misplaced because these four athletes never got the chance. Jimmy, Jay, Jason, and Chad were routinely interrupted by the excitement of a concussed and bleeding Shane McMahon wandering the backstage area.

Instead of a main event tag team match getting the chance to entertain the masses, we were told Shane McMahon’s stumbling was a bigger deal. Instead of four talented performers getting an opportunity to entertain, we got an authority figure slowly meandering. This was truly disappointing.

I know Shane McMahon vs. AJ Styles is the biggest Smackdown match at WrestleMania (Let’s not pretend anyone cares about Randy’s weird viper analogies or Bray’s dead body facial). I know the positioning of this match is important. I don’t have an issue with it being the most important thing on the show. I just wonder if the Smackdown Tag Team Champions and the biggest match in the Smackdown tag division needed to be downplayed in such an extreme way to demonstrate it.

Positioning is key and this wasn’t just Shane McMahon vs. AJ Styles being positioned as the top program, it the was downplaying (to almost nothing) of the already struggling Smackdown tag team division.

And now for some random thoughts:

– This was, overall, an awkward show. It felt far longer than the two hours allotted and nothing seemed to flow. It was a disjointed series of matches and segments presented in seemingly random order. This didn’t resemble the Smackdown we were seeing just two months ago. It seems like interference in the normal Smackdown storytelling process has happened. I’d guess it’s the big boss (Vince McMahon) getting more involved during WrestleMania season and not letting the skilled story-tellers on Smackdown tell their stories. Then again, I’m just guessing. It could just be bad stories.

– What the actual swear word is up with Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton? Wyatt decided to smear the ashes of Abigail (a body exhumed by Randy Orton two weeks ago, then burned) all over himself. Why? Abigail is now the spawn of satan as well? This is all too much. This is just absurd. I sat on my couch laughing at this entire segment. Wyatt isn’t a character that inspires fear and now he just seems to weirdly festishize ash baths.

– Randy Orton is settling into his standard role of uninspiring babyface. “If you can’t beat ‘em, screw ‘em” is one the weakest lines I’ve ever heard WWE’s writers try to get fans excited about. With the repetition of it this week, one has to wonder if there will be awkward t-shirts with the phrase. Will WWE roll out some truly cringe-worthy merch that most people will somehow think is referencing genitalia?

– One highlight of this awkward episode was the Miz and Maryse Miz TV segment along with the John Cena and Nikki Bella. This was a nice verbal exchange leading into their match at WrestleMania. It left me more excited for this mixed tag many have mixed feelings about. Daniel Bryan positioning this as his revenge on The Miz also delighted me.

– Daniel Bryan calling WrestleMania “The Ultimate Face Punching Extravaganza” was great. Anyone calling WrestleMania “The Ultimate Thrill Ride” makes me want to die inside.

– I honestly believe John Cena proposing to Nikki Bella after their match at WrestleMania would be one of the greatest moments in WrestleMania history. I’ll basically be that human in a red shirt crying after Elizabeth reunited with Randy Savage, but at home. I hope and pray we aren’t robbed of this by Cena’s desire to never get married again.

– Alternately, I will hate John Cena with a passion should he not propose to Nikki. Damn it, John, your time is up, Nikki’s time is now.

– The randomness of Smackdown’s women’s division was on display here with Alexa Bliss losing to Mickie James and Becky Lynch defeating Natalya. Bliss and James having a match here felt weird. James returned to back of Bliss. Fans didn’t know who to cheer, so they were silent. It was awkward. Natalya and Lynch didn’t have this issue.

– Smackdown continues to give the women on the show a significant chunk of time. This is good. The WrestleMania story disappoints me because it’s not a story, but a lazy excuse to throw everyone together.

– Mojo Rawley sure does stay hyped. Dolph Ziggler sure does fail to inspire any emotions inside me.

Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Pruett’s Pause: WWE Raw – Seth Rollins looks ready for WrestleMania as he confronts Triple H, Mick Foley is forced to fire someone, Dana Brooke turns, and more!

By Will Pruett

Will Pruett watches the 90 minute Hulu edit of Raw because it’s better. This is an all random thoughts edition of the Pause.

– The most striking element of this show for me was the total lack of clean finishes. Aside from Roman Reigns defeating Jinder Mahal, there wasn’t a single clean finish on the 90 minute version of Raw. Sasha Banks and Dana Brooke had a disputed roll up. Bayley and Nia Jax featured a disqualification, as did Samoa Joe and Kevin Owens vs. Chris Jericho and Sami Zayn. While I understand shying away from clean finishes in WrestleMania season to produce more conflict, what is the point of the wrestling matches? I’d argue this show would have benefitted from more squashes and fewer disputed finishes. This is especially true with Mick Foley having to “fire” a competitor at the end of the show.

– Speaking of Mick Foley being forced to fire someone, this felt like a play straight out of the Vince Russo playbook. I hate angles like this. It’s not often that I watch the NFL playoffs wondering about someone’s job security, why should WrestleMania season WWE be any different? This show was built around Mick Foley’s personal anguish and not around the actual wrestlers who will be doing the wrestling things at WrestleMania in three weeks.

– Triple H and Mick Foley yelling at each other? Man, WrestleMania 2000 is going to be lit.

– The Triple H and Seth Rollins moment that came out of the “firing” and WrestleMania 2000 promo was terrific. Seth Rollins proving he was ready for WrestleMania and Triple H still getting the upper hand were both perfect. This was the highlight of the show. Triple H vs. Seth Rollins seemed like a pretty cold match, even going into the Royal Rumble. Now, even with Seth’s injury and rehab, this match feels red hot.

– Roman Reigns’ confrontation with Shawn Michaels was pretty well done. Shawn Michaels stepped into his serious shoes for the night and did a nice job. Reigns continued to come off as Undertaker’s antagonist. This is WWE’s top heel against their top babyface. This match could be something special, especially if Roman keeps his word and retires Undertaker.

– Paul Heyman confidently talked. Brock Lesnar confidently bounced. The heavy lifting is done for Brock Lesnar vs. Bill Goldberg. Hopefully the match doesn’t disappoint.

– The setup for the tag title shot going to both teams was a little too obvious. WWE should be careful when they put this many cheap finishes on one show.

– Sami Zayn feels like an odd man out heading into WrestleMania and it brings me sadness. Zayn has been a great foil for Strowman and Jericho over the last few months. WWE has used him to get wrestlers over and ready for big moments. I hope Sami finds a solid role in post-WrestleMania Raw. He’s one of the guys being hurt the most by the deluge of part-time nostalgia acts.

– Dana Brooke finally snapping and attacking Charlotte is a curious development. Much like Jericho and Owens, this feels like a turn WWE could have waited on. Brooke on her own as a babyface will be sort of weird. She’s a natural heel and often plays her character better than most heels in WWE. I don’t see her fitting in when it’s time to tag with Bayley. This will be an odd story to watch develop.

– With Emma returning, why not find a way to pivot Brooke into her original pairing with the fantastic Evil Emma. Evil Emma is great.

– If Seth Rollins is truly the Kingslayer, he’ll have a gold hand at WrestleMania and be unable to sword fight.

Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Pruett’s Pause: WWE SmackDown Live – Celebrating International Women’s Day by looking at Smackdown’s Women’s Championship match at WrestleMania and the history of women at WrestleMania

By Will Pruett

In honor of International Women’s Day, today I’m focusing solely on the women of the Smackdown show.

Alexa Bliss vs. all the other women on Smackdown was announced on this show as the Smackdown Women’s Championship Match at WrestleMania. This is a difficult proposition for me to get behind.

Let’s start by stating that WWE, in the last year, has done a lot to further the cause of equality for women’s wrestling. They moved the outpouring of support for solid women’s wrestling from their minor league to the majors with WrestleMania 32’s statement of radical equality. This was a watershed moment for WWE and one I’m not going to dismiss. In the time since WrestleMania, women have main evented the two major television shows, a pay-per-view, and (mostly) been presented as tellers of important stories. This is huge. I cannot understate what WWE has done.

Historically, WWE makes their biggest and most important statements of the year at WrestleMania. This is the show where WWE proudly proclaims who they are and what they do. Last year’s WrestleMania was highlighted by a major women’s match.

I decided to look back at WrestleMania history and see how women have been featured at WrestleMania throughout time (note: this does not include pre-shows, which are not actually WrestleMania). Here are some notable finds:

  • There have been 24 total matches involving women as participants at WrestleMania.
  • Of those 24, three have been mixed tag matches.
  • There have been 11 one-on-one women’s matches at WrestleMania events.
  • The last one-on-one women’s match at a WrestleMania was Melina vs. Ashley Massaro at WrestleMania 23. This, however, was a Lumberjack match with the rest of the women’s roster at ringside.
  • The last one-on-one women’s match not to involve other women was Trish Stratus vs. Mickie James at WrestleMania 22.
  • Out of the 21 matches that were supposed to solely feature women (example – not mixed tags), one was won by a man (Santino Marella at WrestleMania 25).
  • There has been a women’s match at every WrestleMania since WrestleMania 14, with the exception of WrestleMania 29.
  • The most matches with women as participants ever held at a single WrestleMania is two. WrestleManias 20 and 22 are tied for this record.
  • There is an average of 3/4ths of a women’s match at every WrestleMania.
  • The longest women’s match at WrestleMania occurred last year at WrestleMania 32. It was over 16 minutes long.
  • The next longest match is the WrestleMania 14 mixed tag with Sable and Marc Mero taking on The Artist Formerly Known as Goldust and Luna. It was just over nine minutes long.
  • The longest WrestleMania women’s match (before 2016) not involving male participants was Trish Stratus vs. Mickie James at WrestleMania 22. It was eight minutes, 48 seconds long.
  • The shortest WrestleMania women’s match was at WrestleMania 2. Fabulous Moolah vs. Velvet McIntyre was one minute, 25 seconds.
  • At WrestleMania 25’s 25-woman Battle Royal the match time divided by participant was 17.8 seconds/person.

This should paint a picture for you. Even as WWE has improved, history shows their treatment of women at WrestleMania has been less than spectacular. They may say their women are main event stars today, but what are they showing us on the biggest show of the year?

This WrestleMania looks set to break the record for most women-involved matches on a WrestleMania show with three. Those three are a mixed tag, a triple threat, and a full female roster jamboree. There is not a one-on-one match to be found. In fact, if this holds and WWE doesn’t change a match or add a one-on-one match, it will have been a full decade since women had a one-on-one match at WrestleMania.

Think about the epic WrestleMania matches and moments throughout history. Most of them have come from one-on-one encounters. Most WrestleMania main events have been singles matches. We remember the biggest matches from the biggest shows and they tend to be singles matches.

WWE, while I have to congratulate them for progress, repeated one of their biggest (and most frequent) mistakes with the Smackdown Women’s Championship match. Instead of focusing on a feud and allowing two women a chance to shine, they are focusing on everyone and allowing this match to fade to the background.

WWE knows better than this. WWE knows how to present stars like Mickie James, Alexa Bliss, Becky Lynch, Natalya, and (possibly) Naomi like individual major characters. They also know how to cram all of them into one match making sure no one receives the opportunity to stand out. This is an intentional choice. This is a lack of prioritization of women’s wrestling. This is WWE doing what they’ve done for the last 30 years.

After WrestleMania last year, I was optimistic. I saw the potential for more great matches and more great feuds. I saw the most talented women’s roster in WWE history poised to shine. I dared to speculate that one day maybe a full half of WrestleMania would be women’s matches and WWE would embrace the idea of gender equality.

This year, as I look at WrestleMania’s plans for WWE’s immensely talented roster, I see progress and signs for optimism, but I also see that it is not enough. WWE must take the idea of equality they have allowed to permeate their programming over the past year and embrace it further. It is WWE’s own documentaries and interviews that speculate about women one day main eventing WrestleMania. WWE has to work towards this goal.

Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Pruett’s Pause: WWE Raw – Goldberg and Brock Lesnar get physical, Undertaker returns and attacks Roman Reigns, Austin Aries confronts Neville, and more as WrestleMania takes shape

By Will Pruett

Will Pruett watches the 90 minute Hulu edit of Raw because it’s better.

Raw has four weeks to build to WrestleMania. This is a stark contrast to the last few years when every WWE show had seven or more weeks (and all stars appeared on both shows). This is more of a rapid-fire WrestleMania build than WWE has shown us in a long time. On this episode of Raw, WWE predictably, but effectively, built towards the biggest show of the year.

Let’s start with the top match on the top show. While I wrote yesterday about my overall disappointment in WWE’s lazy storytelling strategy concerning the WrestleMania main event, Goldberg and Brock Lesnar kicked this chapter of their feud off well. I found it a little jarring that Paul Heyman did the talking for both of them, but both men are a bit limited in their speaking abilities and, in front of a Chicago crowd that could be hostile, this was the right choice.

One advantage Lesnar and Goldberg have heading into their match is that their story has been told over the course of months and this match was the first announced for WrestleMania. Adding the Universal Championship was the final touch, not the opening blow. Both of these men had a solid night.

Moving on to the former Universal Champion, I appreciated the way Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens got straight to the point. There were no false flags planted, they got straight to their WrestleMania match for the United States Championship. While I still don’t quite get why they didn’t do the Festival of Friendship on this episode of Raw to cheer up Owens after his loss, only for him to turn, I liked what happened here.

The Raw Women’s Championship picture was murkier as WWE had the first of many scenarios where they split fans affections for their two top female babyfaces. Sasha Banks and Bayley meeting on Raw with Sasha’s chance to be at WrestleMania on the line should have been compelling, but throwing it out on this show without buildup was a mistake. It was also a mistake to not give fans a reason to fully cheer Bayley.

Bayley’s promo chastising Sasha for interfering was solid, but a few weeks too late. Charlotte continues to be the main character in this division, which also hurts the other two women. While I’m sure the match will be good, I’ll go on the record and say a triple threat Raw Women’s Championship match at WrestleMania is a major mistake. I know some people just want to see all of their favorites on this show, but not giving us an individual feud with a major conclusion at WrestleMania bums me out.

Undertaker made his return after being eliminated from the Royal Rumble and began the feud we all expected with Roman Reigns. This feud has me both excited and trepidatious. Reigns vs. Undertaker is a major marquee match. It’s a big deal. At the same time, Undertaker hardly looked fit to compete a few weeks ago. We also have the specter of Braun Strowman, who had an easy night of work simply backing away from Undertaker slowly.

What exactly is the plan for Undertaker and Reigns? What is Strowman’s role in the feud, if any? This was a weird segment to close Raw and a weird way for a WrestleMania feud to begin in the middle of another big story. Strowman backing away seemed symbolic of the way all full time talent seems to back away from being featured at WrestleMania. Everyone takes two major steps back, then enters a silly battle royal and pretends to be thankful for the opportunity to be on the main show.

WWE kicked off the final countdown to WrestleMania in a big way on Raw and, for the most part, it was fun. I liked the rapid fire pace. I liked the way WWE didn’t need to stretch for time. It is refreshing to see this when we’ve had overly long (and bad) WrestleMania builds over the last two years.

And now for some random thoughts:

– Sami Zayn is doing some great work losing big matches right now and it’s benefitting his character. The Strowman feud was great at establishing both men. His continuing work seems to be hitting this same stride. Sami is the rare wrestler fans can attach themselves to in defeat. He’s worth cheering because he never gives up. While these losses are piling up, we’re seeing greater attachment to Sami. I hope WWE sees this and is actively calculating a way for Sami to get his big win in the coming months.

– Samoa Joe vs. Chris Jericho should have felt a little more important than it did, but it seemed like an afterthought (and overly short) when we finally got to it. The ending tells me there will be more, which I’m mildly excited to see.

– Neville vs. Rich Swann was a very fun match. Neville is the centerpiece the Cruiserweight Division sorely needs. The intense antagonist character is perfect for him. His performances have been the highlights of both Raw and 205 Live. This was a good match with an even better story at the end.

– Austin Aries emerging from the commentary table and finally being pushed too far by Neville was great. I’m not exactly sold on Aries as a babyface. He was a decent one at one point in TNA, but floundered when he came into WWE. Alas, this is the role he’s needed in and he is capable of filling it. I believe Aries vs. Neville at WrestleMania will be a very good match.

– At this moment, I don’t see the massive eight human Ladder Match WWE resurrected a couple years ago at WrestleMania and embraced. This bums me out a little. While these matches became mid-card purgatory for Dolph Ziggler and Cody Rhodes, they also gave us a different sort of excitement for WrestleMania. They provided some relief from the long line of singles matches and were a fun feature of the show.

– With this said, elevating the star power going after The ‘Dre with Ziggler, Zayn, Strowman, and others will be fun as well.

– I’ve already decided I dislike both the WrestleMania theme song and the obnoxious WrestleMania commercials. What exactly is “the ultimate thrill ride” and why would I want to watch it? Is it so hard to just promote wrestling shows like they’re wrestling shows? Show me a 30 second commercial on Goldberg vs. Lesnar if you think that’s a compelling main event!

– I don’t need constant authority figure bickering and I definitely don’t need it in the Women’s Division. Move that garbage to Raw’s Tag Team Division where I’ll never have to see it on the 90 minute edit.

– Seth Rollins’ rehab video was good, but I wish there was a little more motivation to go after Triple H and a little less to just “make it” to WrestleMania. This seems like it should conclude with a road trip where Rollins arrives at the stadium, not a segment where he fights Triple H.

– Speaking of fighting Triple H, Trips had a very good snarky promo about WWE healthcare.

Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Pruett’s Pause: WWE Fastlane 2017 – Bill Goldberg wins the WWE Universal Championship as WWE abandons long-term stories for immediacy, Braun Strowman and Charlotte Flair’s streaks end, and more

By Will Pruett

Prowrestling.net Live returns today at 3CT/4E at Blogtalkradio.com/prowrestlingdotnet. Jason Powell and I will be taking your calls coming out of WWE Fastlane and leading into tonight’s Raw.

A common counter-cultural cry in modern wrestling fandom is “WrestleMania is not for the hardcore fans.” I have probably said something to this effect at some point. This statement would seem to be true coming out of Fastlane with Bill Goldberg becoming the WWE Universal Champion and likely WrestleMania closer, but it’s completely false. WWE Fastlane was an example of outright laziness from WWE.

The idea that “hardcore” fans, or, as they should be called, committed fans can’t enjoy WrestleMania is based on the idea of WrestleMania as a cultural spectacular meant to draw in more than just the ordinary wrestling fans. We would be told it’s meant to appeal to a broader community than just those “internet” fans (which I suppose would be wrestling fans with internet access, which is everyone). This is why we annually have weird concerts, odd sponsorship moments, a massive amount of commercials, and more on the overly-bloated WrestleMania show. WWE is trying to appeal to people who want to pay $10 to see Kid Rock perform two songs in front of a stadium that doesn’t care about him.

WrestleMania is meant to be for every fan. It’s not supposed to be the showcase of the part-time stars, it’s meant to be the biggest possible show with concrete results going forward. WrestleMania should matter for the rest of the year in WWE. It’s considered WWE’s biggest night and it should have this same level of importance going forward. Think about last year’s WrestleMania. Now, pretend it never happened. Are you missing any defining event in WWE? Are you missing anything? Likely not.

This brings us to Bill Goldberg. I’m not going to argue that Kevin Owens should still be Universal Champion. He was a poorly written champion more prone to comedy than legitimacy and this character choice made Raw largely unwatchable for the latter half of 2016. While Kevin Owens is an amazing talent and the best shot WWE has at another massively popular Daniel Bryan-esque character, he should not be in the main event of WrestleMania. I’d also say Bill Goldberg shouldn’t either.

Goldberg returned to WWE sponsored by a video game and received an amazing reaction. He’s a star from 20 years ago fans remember fondly from their childhoods. He’s the last true star WCW managed to make. Bill Goldberg might be a fun attraction as an in-ring competitor once again, but he should never be a main event guy.

WWE has shown us absolute dominance from Goldberg. He’s beaten two top wrestlers in a matter of seconds. He’s proven himself better than everyone on the Raw roster in a very small amount of time. What does this do for WWE? What does this do for them in two months when Goldberg is at home and they’re trying to sell tickets in every city in America? How does this make the non-committed sometimes wrestling fan want to watch?

WWE doesn’t want to build new stars to take the place of the rapidly aging generation of 1990’s wrestlers they’ve relied upon to anchor WrestleMania for the last decade. WWE isn’t trying to make mega-stars to be the legends of tomorrow. WWE doesn’t want major stars who aren’t already major stars.

Building new stars is hard. The wrestling business is tricky and difficult. Modern fans are even trickier. WWE has decided to rely on short-term moments featuring past stars because they’re lazy. They’ve decided new fans and old want to cheer wrestlers from 20 years ago. They’ve decided to become a nostalgia show instead of a modern show. WWE is not just angling for the “casual” fans. They’re angling to get out of the hard work of making stars.

Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar main eventing WrestleMania 33 is the product of laziness. It is the product of a lack of forethought. It is the product of WWE’s unwillingness to create and foster an environment where a new wrestler can rapidly rise.

WWE is too lazy to tell a good story, so we all suffer. WWE is too lazy to give us consistent characters with consistent actions, so we all sit around hoping for a magic moment. WWE is too lazy to book WrestleMania with anything but stars from the past and give it long-term payoffs.

WrestleMania may not be for the hardcore fans, but it should be. WrestleMania may not be for the casual fans, but it should be. WrestleMania should tell us good stories and allow us to invest in the outcomes (and the fallout from them). WrestleMania is for fans fantasy booking a 1998 supercard on WWE 2K17.

WrestleMania is, increasingly, an exercise in the absurd moves WWE can make to avoid making stars.

And now for some random thoughts:

– Who would have guessed two streaks would end on the night Goldberg became Universal Champion? Charlotte lost a puzzling match to Bayley, thus ending her pay-per-view win streak without much coming from it. Braun Strowman was pinned in the middle of the ring by Roman Reigns and Strowman’s dominant win streak is now over. Neither of these decisions make long-term sense.

I believe Roman Reigns will be WWE Universal Champion by summer. Why not save a conclusive finish to Strowman vs. Reigns until it means something down the line? This was simply a match, why not save the major outcome until it could be a main event championship clash?

The same goes for Charlotte Flair’s pay-per-view winning streak. It was built up to mean something, but in ending, it meant nothing. It wasn’t a landmark moment for Bayley, who defeated Charlotte. It wasn’t a major title change. It didn’t really matter after it happened. WWE gave up a solid long-term investment in Charlotte for nothing. It was weird.

– Bayley’s character looks really inconsistent in accepting the constant help from Sasha Banks to win matches. I always say characters are defined by their actions and Bayley is acting like a heel in this feud with Charlotte. It proves that WWE lacks a moral compass in their storytelling and they don’t realize what “doing the right thing” actually means to fans.

– Kevin Owens losing the WWE Universal Championship was, as I said above, fine with me. The Chris Jericho involvement puzzled me. I still don’t understand why Owens made a major character shift going into this match and not coming out of it. Owens and Jericho as allies against Goldberg, then breaking up, would have been more logical.

– Neville and Jack Gallagher put on the best match of the night and one of my favorite matches from WWE’s Cruiserweight Division since its revival. Gallagher was able to look very strong in this one, with Neville having to break out every move in his arsenal to win. It was a delightful ray of sunshine on this puzzling show.

– Samoa Joe vs. Sami Zayn was exactly what I expected it to be and quite good. I have to wonder what Samoa Joe is going to be involved in at WrestleMania. He doesn’t seem to be slotted for a major match, but definitely shouldn’t be absent from the show.

– The Raw tag team division is in shambles. I didn’t care about the Gallows and Anderson vs. Enzo and Cass title match. I cared even less about the Rusev and “Cycled On” Jinder Mahal singles match jamboree. This was the low point of the show and I zoned out of it both times I attempted to watch.

– Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax was an odd match with an odd finish.

– Why was Big E a 1998 Scott Hall tribute act?

Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Pruett’s Pause: WWE SmackDown Live – Randy Orton becomes Randy Arson, AJ Styles wins his WrestleMania title shot leaving us mired in mystery, and John Cena and Nikki Bella acknowledge each other!

By Will Pruett

Eight years ago, as we sped towards the “25th Anniversary of WrestleMania” that was actually just the 25th WrestleMania, Randy Orton went through a traumatizing experience. As he stood in the ring, he saw his home broken into, his “wife” frightened, and his processions smashed by “The Game” Triple H. This obviously left an effect on Orton.

Like many trauma survivors, Orton didn’t go to therapy to work through his issues. He didn’t find someone to talk to who would be receptive. He let anger and rage fester inside of soul and, eventually, would bring a similar trauma onto someone else. This isn’t healthy. This is a cycle of abuse.

The scene felt almost familiar as Orton explored Bray Wyatt’s wooden shed temple burial ground. The place where Sister Abigail rested in a shallow grave beneath the floorboards was desecrated by Orton like he was an oil company in North Dakota.

Orton lived long enough to see himself become the villain in this story, which somehow, much like Triple H, makes him the actual hero in this narrative. WWE often seems to blur the lines between the two, perhaps because there is no actual moral compass anywhere in the company, but Orton is being presented as the hero for this villainous act.

It’s a confusing twist on this Road to the fake 33rd Anniversary of WrestleMania (actually called WrestleMania Sun). Orton had previously forfeited his championship shot against Bray Wyatt, but he seems to have been setting everyone up for confusion. Orton promised, as he stood in front of a burning shed he had previously doused in gasoline after gaining the trust of the owner of the shed over the course of half a year, that he would come for the WWE Championship.

Where does AJ Styles go from here? Not only did he kick Shane McMahon, but he also beat Luke Harper and should, contractually (if contracts exist) be the number one contender. Did Randy Orton actually sign the paperwork, or was it sent to his former address, a home he hasn’t entered since Triple H demolished it one fateful night?

Smackdown continued its course for WrestleMania on this show and it seems like a sub-optimal use of their allotted resources. We have the biggest star in all of wrestling in the mid-card, two mid-carders in the main event, and the best wrestler in the world being set up to take on the boss’ son. When stated this way, WrestleMania’s Smackdown presence doesn’t delight me.

I could get behind one or two of these matches, but altogether, this is not a WrestleMania worthy card. Then again, while it is WrestleMania, an argument could be made for holding back. Why give up major main events when monthly Smackdown pay-per-views need hooks? Why present the biggest matches possible only to have them overshadowed by a short contest between Goldberg and Brock Lesnar? Why not settle into WrestleMania’s B-slot only to rise from the ashes like a shed somewhere in Florida like Wyatt is sure to do?

And now for some random thoughts:

– While I’m critical of it as part of the grand picture, I like John Cena and Nikki Bella against Miz and Maryse as a WrestleMania match. It gives Cena, who seemed to be the odd man out when Raw called dibs on every part time guy, some necessary direction that doesn’t involve the title. It gives two women a major spot on the card. It rewards Miz for an amazing comeback year. I like the idea of this match even if, taken with everything else, it contributes to a subpar Mania presentation.

– John Cena and Miz were allowed to talk for a little too long. It’s not a major criticism, but they could have held something back. We’ve got a full month until WrestleMania.

– Nikki Bella’s promo, including this week’s use of the word “bitch” was great.

– It was hard to get into the rhythm of the two out of three falls match between Mickie James and Becky Lynch. The constant commercial interruptions disrupted it. It’s also possible these two just don’t click as well as they should on paper.

– Natalya’s promo with Alexa Bliss seems to be leading to a pre-WrestleMania title shot. I wonder if Smackdown will still go with the obvious four-way and slot Nattie in instead of Naomi. I’d call this a downgrade in fan investment and maybe one in overall wrestling ability.

– AJ Styles vs. Luke Harper was better than their battle royal closing sequence last week, but that’s a low bar to reach. Harper was able to show off his athleticism, which was pleasant. I only wish he hadn’t been pinned twice in a rapid fire way. Harper can mean a lot and after his great match with Orton at Elimination Chamber, he looked to be on his way. Sadly, it looks like Luke Harper isn’t meant to be truly elevated at this moment.

– Shane McMahon getting kicked seemed to assure that Styles vs. Shane is happening. I’m both fearful and giddy. Is that normal? Is there a German word to describe this specific feeling?

– I thought I couldn’t be less invested in Apollo Crews and Dolph Ziggler, then the words “Chairs Match” were uttered.

– Smackdown is going a little heavy on the stipulations these days.

– My Randy Arson pun in the title of this piece is my greatest work.

Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Pruett’s Pause: WWE Raw – In the fast lane to Fastlane with Goldberg, Kevin Owens, Mick Foley’s sad face, Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns signing paper, and more!

By Will Pruett

Will Pruett watches the 90 minute Hulu edit of Raw because it’s better. This is an all random thoughts edition of his Pause, because longer essays aren’t always the best way to communicate.

– Goldberg opening Raw is still an odd sight for me. As someone who watched his career from the beginning of his WCW run to the end of his initial WWE run, I cannot get over the odd visual of seeing the WWE logos and “GOLDBERG” appearing in big letters on WWE’s big screen.

– While I’m critical of WWE using Bill Goldberg in a main event the way they are, I have to praise how WWE has presented him. They’re getting the most out of the limited Goldberg and maximizing the use of his star power. I’m very impressed by how carefully Goldberg has been presented.

– With this praised heaped on Goldberg, I have to express some worry about Kevin Owens’ character. While Owens’ performances as the serious version of himself have been great, what happens when this version of his character loses in almost no time to Goldberg? It seems like WWE could have delayed the entire “Festival of Friendship” with Jericho and Owens for the show after Fastlane. This would have been a logical moment for a character shift for Owens. Will his suddenly serious persona seem as important after taking a major loss?

– Goldberg guaranteeing a WWE Universal Championship win was logical. At this point, it’s the right thing to do. I would be shocked is Goldberg vs. Owens goes more than five minutes.

– The New Day’s weird parody of the controversial and awkward ending of the Oscars was not enjoyable.

– The New Day’s match with Rusev and Jinder Mahal was not enjoyable.

– Cesaro proved why he isn’t a main event wrestler in his backstage segment with Samoa Joe. Instead of acting in a natural way, Cesaro was the high school theatre version of himself. Joe has a natural and threatening presence onscreen, while Cesaro seems to be putting on multiple disingenuous layers. I like Cesaro as a performer, but his lack of growth is apparent in these moments.

– Stephanie McMahon is good at being very mean. She’s a fine television character when given enough direction and consistent storytelling. Sadly, she doesn’t have either of those things right now. She’s a dominating personality, but WWE would be wise to only use her in necessary moments. Her weird segment with Mick Foley was not fun to watch. Seeing Mick Foley get consistently embarrassed by Stephanie isn’t good television. It’s sad.

– I was a defender of Bayley keeping the Raw Women’s Championship after Sasha Banks’ interference until last week. WWE brought forth a logical case against Bayley where she could have been a classy athlete giving up something she hadn’t rightfully won. Please see how La La Land producer Jason Horowitz handled handing the Best Picture Oscar over to the producers of Moonlight. He didn’t just run off and say nothing, he rightfully praised the winning film. Bayley’s character has been harmed by this.

– In this harm, you have one of the moral centers of WWE storytelling now off center. Just as I criticized WWE for years when John Cena didn’t do the morally good things, I will criticize their direction with Bayley. Few characters act as true examples for younger fans the way Bayley does.

– Charlotte bringing out Nia Jax as her partner made a ton of sense. Dana Brooke hasn’t been portrayed as important in any way.

– I know what WWE is doing with Sasha, Bayley, Charlotte, and Nia, but I’m not excited about it. They will likely have a four way match for the Raw Women’s Championship at WrestleMania. I would rather see a singles match or two from this group of women. WWE has grown in a ton of ways concerning their treatment of women, but placing four top women in one match instead of giving them more time on the card bums me out.

– Seth Rollins’ speech about missing WrestleMania took a little longer than I would have prefered, but it was well delivered. This segment picked up nicely when Triple H and Samoa Joe came to the ring. I loved the threat of Joe being on Rollins’ blindside. Triple H played his role really well. Everything about this clicked by the end as Rollins swore to make it to WrestleMania to call out Triple H.

– I respect the way WWE went about promising us a Rollins and Triple H confrontation at WrestleMania. I doubt it will be a match, but it should be something fun and, perhaps a nice reprieve from monotony, at WrestleMania.

– Samoa Joe is an important badass on WWE TV. Cesaro is an undercard tag team wrestler. Their encounter on this show made sense.

– Sami Zayn blindsiding Joe was nice to see. I am really looking forward to Joe vs. Zayn on Sunday at Fastlane.

– Is next week when we get the yelling promo and write-off for Mick Foley?

– Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman had a heck of a contract signing. These two are the biggest mystery for me going into Sunday. What will they do when it comes time for one of them to win and one to lose? Strowman is too dominant to lose right now. Reigns needs big wins if he’s facing Undertaker at WrestleMania.

– I’ve said it a few times, but I’d be more excited about Braun Strowman winning the Universal Championship right now and heading into a match with Brock Lesnar.

Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Pruett’s Pause: WWE SmackDown Live – Thoughts from in the building on Bray Wyatt’s first night as WWE Champion, Wyatt vs. Cena vs. Styles, and what the heck Randy Orton is doing, plus bonus 205 Live thoughts!

By Will Pruett

I was lucky enough to attend this week’s Smackdown at the Honda Center, so these thoughts are straight out of section 209.

– Attending wrestling shows is one of the most enjoyable things I get to do as a writer for this site. I’m continuously grateful for the privilege and ability to do so. No matter how good or bad a show is, it’s better experienced live.

– I got into the arena with little trouble yesterday, having walked over from a local brewery instead of parking at Honda Center. I was surprised by the lack of crowds around the place. The parking lot seemed emptier than I expected, as did the security line and concessions lines.

– Inside, most of the upper deck was closed, aside from the area directly across from the hard camera. Seating was sparsely populated on the floor on the same side as the hard camera.

– This brings up one of the many challenges of attending a WWE TV show on the West Coast: It starts around 4:45pm. One has to take a half day at work or school to make it to the arena.

– After a fun comedy dark match featuring Heath Slater and Rhyno beating Tyler Breeze and Fandango, Smackdown itself started.

– The crowd was more enthusiastic about Bray Wyatt than I expected. It felt like Wyatt’s adoration from live crowds diminished in the last couple of years. To me, he was just another guy. This crowd greeted him as a conquering hero, proving my internal narrative about him wrong.

– Speaking of being greeted like a hero, I love experiencing the entrance of John Cena live. People love Cena and love to hate him. At this point, I don’t believe anyone is angry at Cena and I can’t believe anyone thinks of him as truly undeserving. Much like chanting “You suck” with Kurt Angle’s music, the “John Cena sucks” song is merely a way of greeting Cena. Whenever Cena is present, there is an extra level of intensity in a crowd. It’s a wonderful thing to see.

– Seeing AJ Styles, John Cena, and Bray Wyatt in the ring was interesting. To me, all three seem like protagonists/babyfaces. This is a major issue for Smackdown. Wyatt isn’t trying to garner heat. Cena is John Cena. Styles does the best job at being an antagonist, but he’s far too skilled. People love him because he’s skilled. He will be greeted as a hero because he’s very good at wrestling. How does WWE combat this? Who could be a lead antagonist on Smackdown when Styles abdicates this role?

– Daniel Bryan is terrific.

– American Alpha vs. The Ascension was certainly a match that happened. Smackdown hasn’t developed who Chad Gable and Jason Jordan are, and because of that, people don’t care when they’re in the ring. The writing team for Smackdown needs to find a way to make people care about American Alpha and they need to do so soon.

– A feud with The Usos is a nice start for making people care about American Alpha, but it can’t just be The Usos showing personality. Let us see Gable and Jordan react to challenges and grow because of them.

– Why exactly did an explosion happen just before Dean Ambrose’s body hit some of the WWE production road boxes? Is everything in the arena rigged to explode at the slightest touch? This worried me. Was my beer suddenly going to explode if I drank it? I DID NOT ORDER AN EXPLODING BEER!

– Nikki Bella and Natalya in a Falls Count Anywhere match could be great fun. Their effort on Sunday was good and I’d expect them to have an even better/more exciting walking brawl through the arena.

– Dolph Ziggler is an older relative’s facebook feed complaining about those damn millennials. It’s ineffective.

– Mickie James  and Becky Lynch had a better match on Smackdown than they did at Elimination Chamber. They also had a better crowd response. I didn’t mind their Chamber effort, but this was great to see.

– Also, it’s just great to see Mickie James live again! She’s great.

– It was weird to see Naomi not get to make a triumphant entrance on TV after winning the Smackdown Women’s Championship. When Naomi limped to the ring, I was really worried. Was she about to forfeit the title? Was the story I had been imagining where she has to overcome obstacle after obstacle to achieve her WrestleMania dream about to be ruined?

– Thankfully, it seems like Naomi will be able to defend her title. I assume WWE would have had her forfeit it here had she been super seriously injured.

– Alexa Bliss is an awesome character. She seems completely fully formed and she seems to know her character well. This is important when she’s standing across from someone like Naomi. I like Naomi, but hope she has some defining moments along the way to Mania.

– Smackdown seems to have an easier time defining their antagonists. This is generally true of wrestling. It’s easier to make people hate you than love you.

– Time during Smackdown flew by. I was surprised when Wyatt, Cena, and Styles made their entrances for the main event.

– The surprise attack from Luke Harper on Bray Wyatt was great. It gave us all a chance to revel in the goodness of John Cena and AJ Styles one-on-one. It made viewers think the WWE Championship was actually in jeopardy of changing hands. It gave me a reason to sit forward in my seat hang on every moment of the action. It also further developed the story of Luke Harper. Wasn’t he reluctant to do anything to Wyatt when he teamed with Cena against Orton and Wyatt?

– The closing four minutes of Wyatt vs. Cena vs. Styles were a really fun sprint. I’m surprised to see Cena lose clean again to Wyatt, but it does help make Wyatt look stronger.

– The end of Smackdown was confusing from where I was sitting. I couldn’t quite make out what Orton was saying, let alone interpret it. Now, knowing the story, I get it. Randy Orton seeming to forgo his WWE Championship shot feels like the last part of the intricate (and very coincidentally planned) deception Orton is committing. This feels like him just waiting for the ring moment to strike.

– Randy Orton’s video wall says “In His Veins” and I have no idea what that means. What is in Randy Orton’s veins? Should I be concerned? What do his veins have to do with anything anyways?

– It feels like WWE is going to go the Triple Threat route at WrestleMania now with Harper vs. Orton vs. Wyatt. I enjoy Harper getting a marquee slot and feel like he deserves it. I don’t love how little winning the Royal Rumble seems to mean. I also don’t love how low this match will likely be on the WrestleMania card (both in importance and in when it happens).


– Guys, I also watched 205 Live live (that’s challenging to say), so have some bonus thoughts!

– A friend of mine who was in the arena (shout out to Mike, who I went to high school with and saw for the first time in like a decade last night) had no idea 205 Live would be happening. WWE needs to do a better job at educating their audience about this show.

– The changeover from Smackdown to 205 Live was impressive. The guy taping the ropes to make them purple is a true artist.

– There was a mass exodus of people as Smackdown ended, then the exodus settled during 205 Live. It became a slow trickle as people lost interest. It was sad to see talented wrestlers losing the interest of so many fans.

– Rich Swann is a delight.

– Gran Metalik was awesome live. His match against “The Man That Personality Forgot” Drew Gulak was great. Introducing Metalik’s flashy style in a squash was necessary. I hope WWE can tall some compelling stories on this show now with both Tozawa and Metalik finally around.

– I really enjoyed Neville vs. TJ Perkins, but it should be noted how little those around me cared about it. This match seemed to re-trigger a mass exodus. People who didn’t know this show would be taped were confused. WWE did a poor job running down how the night would go from the beginning and it almost feels like a surprise bonus show, but with wrestlers people care about less. I want 205 Live to be good, but as long as it is taped in front of the Smackdown crowd after Smackdown ends, it won’t be. I’m not sure what the solution to this is (that isn’t just having more massive Full Sail tapings in front of that less-than-delightful crowd), but WWE needs to find one.


– The show concluded for live fans with The Miz vs. Dean Ambrose in a fun dark match that mostly featured Miz singing to Maryse for Valentine’s Day.

– All things considered, this was a pretty fun way to spend a Tuesday night.

Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Pruett’s Pause: WWE Raw – Wrestling with Feels: A comprehensive list of emotions felt during and after Bayley’s Women’s Championship win, Samoa Joe impresses, Owens and Jericho split

By Will Pruett

Will Pruett watches the 90 minute Hulu edit of Raw because it’s better.

I felt some feels during the Raw Women’s Championship match between Charlotte Flair and Bayley. Here is a semi-comprehensive chronicle of them:

 

  • Excitement: Whoa. This is the Raw main event. I’m super glad the women get to main event Raw on a regular basis. WWE is really doing well to position them as main eventers, especially on the Raw side.
  • Confusion: Remember that whole Emmalina/Emma thing earlier? What the cuss was that? What did we all do to deserve that awkward two minutes?
  • Joy: Seeing Bayley hug young fans during her entrance is the greatest thing.
  • Concern: Charlotte has lost the title on Raw three times. They wouldn’t do this again, right?
  • Anger: I strongly dislike commercial breaks during important matches. It takes away the “anything can happen” feel of professional wrestling. During commercial breaks, only headlocks can happen.
  • Amazement: How did Charlotte get the height and rotation to do a Moonsault off the barricade and onto Bayley? That was amazing (thus the amazement).
  • Questioning: This is going long and getting really good. They might actually pull the trigger on this Bayley win. What happens if they do (at this point I quickly wiped away a tear and tried not to think about it too much)?
  • More Amazement: The near fall after the top rope huracanrana was quite good.
  • Befuddlement: Dana Brooke hasn’t been around for months. Why did she just pop back up here? I’m confused.
  • Delight: We don’t see wrestlers rush to save their friends when interference is happening. This is especially true in the main event scene. Sasha Banks rushing to Bayley’s aid was necessary.
  • Elation: What the heck? They’re going to do it! The crowd is going insane for it! Screw it! It’s Bayley’s time! (This is around the point Bayley hit the Belly-To-Bayley and I decided to enjoy the experience.)
  • Heartfelt Happiness: Bayley is one of the best characters WWE has created in the last decade. Seeing her get this moment at the end of Raw is truly awesome. She deserves this title win. She deserves to be WWE Raw Women’s Champion.
  • Worry: Is Bayley just going to drop the title in a rematch at Fastlane? Something about that doesn’t feel right at all. I know they love the “Charlotte: Queen of Pay-Per-View” monicker, but how often will the sacrifice big babyface moments to a desire to further it? How many times will Charlotte lose, then immediately win, the championship?
  • Introspective Unease: Will there ever be a point where major moments for the Bayley character don’t make me cry? Will this mean I’m numb to all feelings? Is this even a place I want to be?
  • Slight Disappointment: Seeing Bayley win the title here was awesome. The match was good. The moments leading to the end worked. This was a good main event match and a good moment, but it could have been so much more. I had hoped to see Bayley’s first title win happen like her NXT Women’s Championship win. I wanted the big build up and the journey. I loved this moment, but it wasn’t everything I wanted it to be.
  • Acceptance: Much like going through the stages of grief, I understand that wrestling will not always use or have the specific storytelling beats and elements I want to see. I was really lucky to get to experience Bayley’s journey on NXT. We all were. The main roster is a different beast altogether. Bayley has so much more story to tell and more evolutions to undergo. This is a chapter in the story and a true accomplishment for the character. I could sit around being the worst form of critical, or I could acknowledge the flaws and move on. I’m going with acknowledge and move.
  • Confusion: Seriously though, what the frick was that Emmalina thing?

And now for some random thoughts:

– Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho broke up. Unlike the main event match, this left me feeling an awful lot of nothing. Count me among those who hasn’t found Chris Jericho’s 2016 evolution all that fun. The list didn’t do it for me. The “drink it in man” moments weren’t enjoyable for me. I can see and, occasionally, appreciate the humor, but it didn’t actually make me laugh.

– I’m honestly surprised the break up of Owens and Jericho happened here. I expected this on one of the Raw episodes following Fastlane. Jericho and Owens as a team seemed like the only threat big enough to give Goldberg any sort of challenge at Fastlane. Now, with this break up already happening, WWE has to get to WrestleMania for this actual match. It felt a little too soon.

– I hope this is the end of silly list-holding Chris Jericho. I’m more than over it.

– Kevin Owens looking like a remorseless monster after a chat with Triple H is interesting. Samoa Joe is Triple H’s other star on this roster. Could we see an alliance of some kind between Owens and Joe in the future? I’d be cool with this sort of team.

– Speaking of Samoa Joe, how great was his sit down interview with Michael Cole? Joe seemed poised, confident, and remorseless. It was a great portrait of Joe as a character. Slipping a line in there about Sami Zayn was another nice touch. WWE fabricated a feud between Joe and Zayn completely logically in two segments. This is why I get so upset about poor storytelling. This wasn’t a challenging thing to do and WWE knocked it out of the park. Please do more good storytelling like this.

– Let the record show that I predicted Gillberg on Dot Net Live yesterday afternoon.

– As good as most of Raw was, the opening segment and match with Roman Reigns against Gallows and Anderson was pretty bad. Reigns still feels like a very limited talker. Stephanie McMahon wasn’t at her best here. Seeing one main event star beat up the Tag Team Champions, even if he isn’t pinning one of them, is disappointing. WWE showed a true lack of forethought here.

– Braun Strowman is still a monster. I like this.

– Mark Henry probably shouldn’t wrestle anymore. I don’t want to be mean, but it’s hard to watch him in the ring and enjoy it. His body doesn’t seem up to it.

– What in tarnation was the whole Emmalina thing though?

Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Pruett’s Pause: WWE SmackDown Live – The All New All Different Elimination Chamber, Bray Wyatt’s WWE Championship win, and the weakness of Smackdown’s undercard

By Will Pruett

As most readers of my writing know, I love going to live wrestling shows. It’s basically the coolest thing ever. I’ve had the opportunity to most special structure matches live. Every time I see the Elimination Chamber on the calendar, I feel a little twinge of regret. In a sense, it’s my white whale. There are only two special structure matches I can think of I haven’t experienced inside an arena:

  • The Punjabi Prison Match.
  • The Elimination Chamber Match.

While I know I’ll always regret not road-tripping out to the Allstate Arena for No Mercy 2007 to see Batista and Great Khali in a sure-fire epic, I have resigned myself to never seeing a Punjabi Prison match.

The Elimination Chamber is still happening and has now been modified to be most pleasant to wrestle in and to watch.

The old chamber was as unforgiving as advertised, with metal grating on the outside that demanded wrestlers sacrifice their backs to it. It also created a ton of challenges on the sides. The structure practically demanded that wrestlers climb to the top of the pods to jump off, creating spectacular moments, but it didn’t provide them the necessary room. It was an interesting stipulation match, but the structure itself seemed to limit the match more than it helped.

Enter the All New All Different Elimination Chamber last night. The new Chamber follows WWE’s odd trend of outfitting everything possible with LED Lights. They can’t help themselves. Kevin Dunn must have lights lining every surface in his office in WWE headquarters. It’s seriously absurd. I’d ask if LED lit wrestlers were next, but Naomi and Chris Jericho have proven that the answer is yes.

This is a taller and less round Chamber. It has corners for wrestlers to stand in and the same “Lexan” pods that a bullet could never make it through (obviously a major concern in the troubled times). It also has the same “Lexan” in various placed on the top of the Chamber. This allows us to actually see down into the ring through crane camera shots. This was pretty neat, but it seemed like the director kept trying something that didn’t work how they thought it would when the same shot kept just showing us a closeup of where the roof met the wall with minimal ring.

For the match itself, this Chamber provided more opportunities for excitement and for wrestler safety. This sort of match will always hurt, but this was the Chamber getting the chance to ramp up excitement and ramp down risk. This is the best of both worlds.

In this actual Elimination Chamber match, we saw Bray Wyatt get his big moment in winning the WWE Championship. It seemed like a foregone conclusion going into this show and it felt like one as we left. Even Daniel Bryan’s assertion that there are seven weeks until WrestleMania felt hollow, as the writing has been on the wall for a month.

I enjoyed this Chamber match and would put it in the upper echelon of this match type. There was never an aura of unpredictability, but there was some good storytelling throughout. John Cena and AJ Styles continued their very even feud. The Miz’s fear of Baron Corbin continued. Corbin was able to look like a monster while slipping on a banana peel. Wyatt was almost an afterthought in this match until we saw the final three of Wyatt, Cena, and Styles.

Bray Wyatt as the All New All Different WWE World Champion (Am I forcing a reference to Marvel Comics’ 2015 relaunch? Yes.) is fine, but he certainly doesn’t feel like a WrestleMania main event worthy champion. Wyatt and Orton have been telling this story for a long time, but it isn’t clicking with me as anything more than a mid-card program.

The end of this show saw Orton and Wyatt looking at each other and me thinking about how low on the card this could be at WrestleMania. I hate seeing a good year of Smackdown end up with a disappointing main event at the biggest show of the year.

The structure worked. The match was fine. The result was expected. The New Elimination Chamber didn’t provide any surprises. Hopefully I’ll get to see one live sometime. Also, hopefully we’ll have one last Punjabi Prison Match as well.

And now for some random thoughts:

– Smackdown needs to figure out a better plot device than having heels attack babyfaces after they’ve lost. On this show Natalya, The Usos, Baron Corbin, and Dolph Ziggler all did this. These were four separate segments in four separate matches. An after-the-match/elimination attack is the new contract signing. They can be better than this.

– The Smackdown undercard was exposed as underdeveloped and fairly weak on this show. With six of the top male stars on the brand in one match together, WWE had a lot of space to fill. They didn’t fill it with compelling stories between various tag teams. They filled it with all the tag teams in multiple pointless matches. They didn’t decide to give us a major character moment for anyone. Smackdown is a solid and logical show, but it isn’t developing characters in the undercard. Does anyone have a reason to care about four of the tag teams, Kalisto, or Apollo Crews?

– Naomi winning the Smackdown Women’s Championship was a surprise to me. I am not sure about the move. Alexa Bliss has been clicking as Champion and it felt like she could be a longterm lead in the division. It would feel a little similar to Charlotte on Raw though. Naomi’s quest to walk into her hometown for WrestleMania as Women’s Champion does provide a neat story (and some obstacles for her to overcome). Their match was alright, but it never seemed to get going at a high level. Generally, the Smackdown Women’s Division is missing the statement-style matches Sasha and Charlotte have been able to have on Raw. I wonder if Naomi is capable of delivering on this level.

– I appreciated the effort to put three women’s division matches on this show. Smackdown does a nice job with the small women’s roster it has.

– Becky Lynch vs. Mickie James was fun, but I’d argue the wrong woman won. James needs a major establishing moment after a semi-flat return. I’ve enjoyed her character and mic work, but she needs a big win. Lynch didn’t have much to lose here and it would have set up some interesting stories to be told with James going forward.

– Randy Orton vs. Luke Harper was a good match and a good moment for Harper, despite the fact that he lost. I’m interested to see if Harper gains anything from this big moment. He is one of the most underutilized wrestlers in WWE when comparing his ability and his story. I don’t want to see Harper get lost in the shuffle and I’d probably structure (what I assume will be) the Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match at WrestleMania around him getting a big win.

– Natalya and Nikki Bella had a good match, but the ending and continuation of the story does nothing for me. I have long been tired of their feud and the way it has been built around John Cena. Nikki hasn’t been a great babyface as she’s had trouble refuting claims that her career only exists because of Cena. Where is the fiery promo from Nikki showing this isn’t true? It’d be awesome to hear.

– I could see Nikki Bella and Natalya main eventing a future Smackdown episode. We have to do something to get to WrestleMania.

– While I strongly dislike Apollo Crews, I am super tired of Dolph Ziggler as well.

– American Alpha doing a weekly open challenge and having weekly great tag matches would be a far better idea than anything Alpha has done on the main roster.

Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at itswilltime@gmail.com.

 

Pruett’s Pause: WWE SmackDown Live – Returning to Daniel Bryan’s hometown and confronting his retirement, Cena vs. Orton, final Elimination Chamber hype

By Will Pruett

I don’t know if anyone else has this issue, but it still kills me to remember Daniel Bryan has retired. It’s easy for me to mentally return to the moment he said goodbye to wrestling last year and the wound is still raw. I don’t know Bryan Danielson, but somehow his career became personal to me. The opening of this Smackdown was a rough reminder of the beauty and pain of being a fan of Daniel Bryan.

Before his music hit, I had a feeling it would be him. WWE is in Seattle and since the moment in December 2013 when Seattle took over an awkward belt-hanging ceremony with Bryan chants, WWE has known what Seattle wants. Bryan’s opening monologue gave me far too many flashbacks to his retirement speech. The emotion wasn’t as fresh. It didn’t feel as personal, but the flashbacks were still there.

The Miz interrupting this moment was welcome, as I would hate to start sobbing about wrestling as I cooked dinner. Miz and Bryan have some sort of magic animosity I’ll always appreciate. They play off of each other well. Miz brought me back to the reality of Bryan never wrestling again. It sucked, but it was necessary.

It did cause me to wonder where this Bryan and Miz story will terminate. Bryan cannot get revenge on Miz himself. Bryan probably cannot and should not rush the ring and deliver some swift kicks to Miz. What could be done here?

One option is John Cena stepping up in defense of his almost-brother-in-law. This has been heavily rumored as being Miz and Maryse vs. Cena and Nikki Bella. This might be the best possible option. What else could be done to advance the story of Miz and Bryan?

It doesn’t feel as good as a Daniel Bryan story should, but it might be all we can get. This episode was a stark reminder of Bryan no longer being able to wrestle.

And now for some random thoughts:

– We should describe super-over wrestlers as “Over like Bryan in Seattle.”

– The prospect of a new Elimination Chamber structure is the most exciting thing about Sunday’s Elimination Chamber show to me. I will always love the reveal of new matches or match types. I’m almost regretting not making the long drive out to Phoenix for this show.

– Baron Corbin beating AJ Styles, Miz, and Dean Ambrose by pinning Styles is a nice feather in his cap (or vest). Corbin has been one of the victories of Smackdown’s creative efforts since the draft.

– I’m rather excited about having three women’s matches at Elimination Chamber. This should be a regular occurrence on single-brand shows when possible. I dream of a day when WWE shows feature 50% women’s matches.

– Luke Harper seems like nothing more than an obstacle for Randy Orton to quickly go through at Elimination Chamber, but I remain excited about what Harper can be. Given that I anticipate Wyatt and Orton to be the WWe Championship match at WrestleMania, Harper could do some pretty neat things.

– As excited as I am for the plentiful amount of women’s matches on Sunday, this Nikki and Natalya promo has featured some truly cringe-worthy promos. Please make it stop.

– I thought I’d care more about Dolph Ziggler after a turn, but my newfound hatred of Apollo Crews has caused me to care less. Now Ziggler is being set up as the bad guy at an almost unfair disadvantage on Sunday.

– The combo-platter contract signing for Mickie James vs. Becky Lynch and Naomi vs. Alexa Bliss was well done. James’ promo was the centerpiece of it and she did a really nice job. Lynch’s response was excellent. This type of exchange between a delusional heel and an easy to support babyface is missing from far too many areas in WWE.

– I’m still not in love with frequent contract signings.

– 12 man tag team matches shouldn’t happen. The tag team scene on Smackdown is the disappointment of the show. Who knew Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley were holding everything together?

– American Alpha should really just be doing open challenges every week. Steal the John Cena gimmick and let them get over with it.

– Randy Orton vs. John Cena was what I expected it to be. The Wyatt Family interference with the referee knocked out was one of those ridiculous “only in wrestling” moments. The referee’s resurrection made me laugh.

Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Pruett’s Pause: WWE Raw – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Goldberg, Samoa Joe, Braun Strowman, Nia Jax, Brock Lesnar and Raw’s major monster era

By Will Pruett

Will Pruett watches the 90 minute Hulu edit of Raw because it’s better.

Raw is quickly becoming the kingdom of monsters. Wrestling has always had mysterious big men who wear single-shoulder singlets and likely destroy catering, but Raw has been stocked with various types of monsters and this show highlighted all of them.

First, there is the legendary monster. In this case, his name is Goldberg. Brock Lesnar would also tend to fit into this mold. This monster destroys everything in his path (as a monster should), but does so on rare occasions. This is a special monster we don’t see very often, but one who must destroy (or yell or snarl) when seen. In the case of Goldberg, it looks like he’s about to become one of two central monsters on Raw, as he’s likely going to win the Universal Championship at Fastlane.

Moving on to the new monster, Samoa Joe. While Joe isn’t new to me and likely isn’t new to you reading this, Joe was new to the audience last week when he attacked Seth Rollins. Joe is the sort of monster I’m most fond of. He’s the technical monster. It’s not just his size, but his ability and agility contributing to his monstrousness. Joe is the rare monster who can wrestle a 20 minute match without exhausting himself or running out of fun things to do. Samoa Joe was able to display his full range on Raw, both with a strong opening promo and with a good match against Roman Reigns. As a side note, this is the sort of monster Brock Lesnar was originally in 2002.

Speaking of this match with Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman’s interference in said match displayed another of form of monster: the unbeatable giant. This was exactly what Big Show has been at his very best and what Andre The Giant was going into WrestleMania III. This is high praise for Strowman, but Strowman has had the best creative effort on Raw since the brand split. Now we see the interesting period of Strowman’s monstrous life. He’s beyond the jobber phase, although beating four of them was fun to watch. Strowman is now up against credible main eventers and he can’t just be the monster demolition machine he has always been.

In a way, Nia Jax has this in common with Braun. She has been the sole monster in Raw’s Women’s Division and has been fun to watch. Going back to the first Raw episodes after the brand split, Braun and Nia were the monsters getting weekly squash matches. We’ve seen an effective effort for both. Now Nia has to find a way to stay monstrous but occasionally lose. This is a true challenge and a turning point in the career of a monster.

Raw has monsters all over the top of its card. Now, they have to find a way to keep any of them from becoming stale. This is a true creative challenge, since monster stories tend to be very similar to each other. How will Raw make sure Nia Jax, Braun Strowman, Samoa Joe, Bill Goldberg, and Brock Lesnar all have different enough stories going into Fastlane and WrestleMania?

And now for some random thoughts:

– Samoa Joe vs. Roman Reigns was a good main event. I would have timed Braun’s interference not to coincide with Roman setting up the Spear on Joe, but this is a small criticism. Overall, Joe was allowed to look tough in his second week on Raw. I’ll take that.

– Bayley getting a Women’s Championship shot next week has me worried that WWE will do another story about Charlotte losing the belt on Raw. This is a poor decision on a number of levels. I love the Bayley character and thus feel WWE hasn’t done to work to lead up to a Bayley win. Just as they did with Sasha Banks, WWE would be losing an epic story they could tell with Bayley. Heck, it’s a story they’ve already told to great success with Bayley on NXT.

– I’d be all for a great main event between Charlotte and Bayley with a heartbreaking Bayley loss. I’m all about twisting the figurative knife as Bayley loses and breaks down in tears. Let fans feel the agony of defeat. It’ll make the rush of victory even better.

– Goldberg vs. Kevin Owens for the Universal Championship is going to happen at Fastlane. I’m currently of the opinion it’ll last four or fewer minutes.

– Goldberg’s promo segment with Owens and Chris Jericho wasn’t my favorite thing. I have had trouble investing in Goldberg since his return and this is continuing here.

– Sami Zayn vs. Chris Jericho felt like a whole lot of nothing.

– Why did I have to see Gallows and Anderson vs. Cesaro and Sheamus with a terrible ending instead of the Raw debut of Akira Tozawa? 90 minute Raw edits can hurt you sometimes.

– The conflicted nature of Mick Foley on this show was really well done. I don’t enjoy the constant focus on authority figures instead of wrestlers, but at least WWE chose to tell an interesting story of conflict between Foley and Stephanie McMahon. I’ll take this instead of overwrought authority promos any day.

– At long last, Raw is getting good. Yay!

Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Pruett’s Pause: WWE Raw and SmackDown Live – In the Post-Royal Rumble world, Samoa Joe debuts, Styles vs. Ambrose, Cena’s celebration, Lesnar’s challenge, and more!

By Will Pruett

That’s right, y’all. I watched both Raw and Smackdown this week and, as we blast off into the good, bad, and ugly of WrestleMania season, I’m going to bring a supersized collection of thoughts on WWE moving forward. Are you ready?

– First and foremost, I’m all about this debut of Samoa Joe. Joe had been on the NXT roster for more than long enough. WWE is weak when it comes to top heels and Joe can be just that. Raw needs an antagonist. Seth Rollins needs an antagonist. Samoa Joe is a delightful one.

As I look at what Joe’s path can be going forward, I’m slightly concerned. Is Joe’s destiny to lose at Fastlane? I don’t want to see him take a major loss this soon. How does Joe stay protected, move into a major slot at WrestleMania, and become a top antagonist moving forward? WWE has to be artful in their booking of Samoa Joe as Triple H’s heavy.

– The news coming out about Seth Rollins has me in a Wednesday morning funk. If his knee is actually reinjured to the point that he misses WrestleMania, it will be quite sad. Rollins hasn’t clicked as a character since his return, but he was starting to. He had a clear path to WrestleMania that was once again interrupted. Here’s wishing Rollins the best.

– If Rollins should miss WrestleMania, I believe WWE could do some serious card restructuring. Triple H will need a match. Samoa Joe might be without a dance partner. Hopefully WWE will be better than they were last year at improvising.

– The first major WrestleMania challenge was the most obvious one. Brock Lesnar has challenged Goldberg through a fairly standard Paul Heyman promo. Goldberg will answer next week. The intrigue I currently have about this match is whether or not the Universal Championship will be involved. It seems like a better slot for this championship than with Kevin Owens (sorry, internet world).

– More than with Goldberg, while watching Raw, I actually wanted to see Braun Strowman win the Universal Championship. Pulling the trigger on Braun on the night after the Rumble might have been pretty exciting.

– Why did it take two hours of Raw to mention that Randy Orton won the Royal Rumble?

– At least Orton was in the opening segment of Smackdown. Said segment was pretty delightful. John Cena did some heavy promo lifting of AJ Styles, making sure Styles looked good in defeat. Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt continued to be the best of friends, at least while it benefits Orton. More intriguing than anything was Luke Harper’s help of Cena. The moment when Cena’s eyes widened and he saw Harper was on his side was quite fun.

– Fears of Cena vs. Orton as the WrestleMania 33 main event should be calmed by the announcement that it’ll happen next week. I don’t think Cena and Orton would clash this close to ‘Mania if they were going to close that show. This match should provide an interesting platform for the Wyatt Family drama to continue.

– Who is Luke Harper in this whole Randy Orton story? Will he simply be the guy Randy beats on his way to WrestleMania? Could Luke Harper have a bigger role than this? WWE has an opportunity to make Harper through the process of a Wyatt vs. Orton main event.

– The Elimination Chamber match participants weren’t announced in a great way, but they should create a fun match. Cena, Styles, Wyatt, Baron Corbin, The Miz, and Dean Ambrose look poised to have a delightful Chamber encounter. One benefit to the Chamber happening on the Road to WrestleMania is the way it can set up future ‘Mania encounters. Cena and Miz should have a chance for this.

– When American Alpha promised to have an open challenge, I hoped it would echo John Cena’s open challenge segments until WrestleMania (or after). Alpha is a team that shows a ton of personality through their in-ring work. Giving them a weekly showcase and possibly bringing in outside talents on occasion to make the matches feel important would be awesome. I didn’t enjoy what the segment became.

– Imagine getting a fantastic American Alpha match on a weekly basis…

– Is Nia Jax going to kill Sasha Banks on a weekly basis? It sets up Sasha to leave and come back for the 200th time in her main roster career. It establishes Jax as a monster, which I enjoy. It also gives me more opportunities to listen to Jax’s theme music (the greatest theme this side of the Royal Rumble theme music).

– I like Neville as the Cruiserweight Champion quite a bit. I’m not sure he needs to be a king, but I get it.

– Rich Swann should have a better time on a chase for the Cruiserweight Championship than he did as champion. WWE needs a defining feud in the Cruiserweight Division to build fan interest. I hope Swann and Neville can figure it out.

– Bayley should probably be sad when she loses. Fans wouldn’t feel betrayed by her sadness, it would cause people to emotionally invest in her winning. WWE doesn’t allow their pure babyface characters to feel a full spectrum of emotions.

– Roman Reigns stopping the Owens vs. Strowman match should have seemed obvious, but I didn’t think of it until it happened. This was some solid Royal Rumble follow up.

– Reigns vs. Strowman seems like another match WWE will need to protect all participants in. Undertaker vs. Reigns seems likely. Strowman should probably be a monster up to and through WrestleMania. How can both men be protected?

– Sami Zayn vs. Chris Jericho was fun. This seems like another Fastlane match in the making.

– Enzo Amore is a serial sexual harasser. Cheer for him!

– Carmella getting squash matches to build up her (and her pairing with James Ellsworth) is a worthy cause. Smackdown does a great job of keeping characters on the back-burner, but still doing something.

– Will Elimination Chamber have three women’s matches? It seems like Smackdown could put Alexa Bliss vs. Naomi, Mickie James vs. Becky Lynch, and Nikki Bella vs. Natalya all on the same show. This would impress me.

Overall, this was a pretty fun week of WWE’s two major shows. Coming out of the Royal Rumble, most segments seemed to have purpose. WWE has their Road to WrestleMania firmly established and seems to know what they’re doing at both pay-per-views before WrestleMania.

Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Pruett’s Pause: WWE Royal Rumble 2017 – When a great show has a bad ending, John Cena and Randy Orton re-establish the status quo, and more!

By Will Pruett

Before I get started with the wrestling analysis, I want to say a quick thank you. Today marks six years of me writing at prowrestling.net and it has been a true privilege to do so. Thank you to everyone who has read, commented, interacted in some way, or listened to me over the last six years. Thank you to Jason Powell, who has given me an absurd amount of freedom to write about wrestling and anything else. Thank you to everyone else on staff (especially Jake Barnett) who make sure to produce high quality wrestling related content and keep me from ever having to do live coverage of a show. Alright, enough with the sappy sincerity, let’s get to the criticism.

Think about your favorite story for a moment. Whether it’s a wrestling match, a novel, a film, or some wonderful piece of theatre you’ve experienced, think about it. Whatever story you’re imagining (Let’s be real, it’s The Empire Strikes Back), I’m guessing the climax and denouement of it are key in your decision to make it a favorite. Good stories tend to have good endings that leave us hanging on until the final second/page. This is true of wrestling shows. I am flummoxed by the 2017 Royal Rumble as a full show because, up until the final 15 minutes, I believed it was truly great.

After John Cena and AJ Styles tore the rather large house down with their breathtaking match, I sat back and waited for the Royal Rumble match to begin. It started slow, but seemed to pick up some steam. The first act of the Rumble, built around Braun Strowman’s beastly dominance, was well-structured. The story of Braun and Sami Zayn was a fun thread to keep an eye on.

Things looked less promising as the Rumble went on and it became apparent that the ring was being stocked for the final five entrants. While I was excited about the possibilities of this Rumble, the idea of Goldberg, Brock Lesnar, and Undertaker getting standout spots 15 years after the youngest of them debuted disappointed me. This is where the show truly went downhill.

It really was the last 15 minutes of the overall Royal Rumble show that killed it for me. Much like when a TV series fails to nail the finale and you’re left wondering why you watched at all, I was left with a poor taste in my mouth. Should a show with matches as good as Styles vs. Cena, Bayley vs. Charlotte, Reigns vs. Owens, and Neville vs. Swann be seen as anything but great? What does an ending mean to an overall experience?

Right now, just over an hour after the end of the Rumble, I feel like the ending wasn’t satisfying and it caused some letdown. It’s not just being letdown by one night of wrestling, but feeling letdown by the direction of WWE over the next few months. Since the Royal Rumble is where WrestleMania matches begin coming together and where we see what will be dominating our televisions in video package form for the foreseeable future, the disappointment is likely to continue.

What are the exciting prospects in WWE right now? Randy Orton will main event (in some way) WrestleMania. Who will he face? Will it be John Cena, the man who just won the WWE Championship? We are far past the time when Orton vs. Cena should even main event a B pay-per-view or an episode of Smackdown. Since it isn’t 2007, I’ll vote no. What about Bray Wyatt, Orton’s current friend who may not be a friend but could possibly be a friend? This seems likely and means Wyatt will have to end Cena’s historic 16th title win quickly.

So, what about the non-Orton portion of the card? Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar looks set in stone. This match does little for me, but I’ll give them credit for the creative setup. Triple H vs. Seth Rollins will definitely occur. Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns seems like it could be a thing. I believe it could even be a good thing. This might be the most exciting match on my mental WrestleMania card.

WWE has, on their roster right now, the right mix of wrestlers to create something exciting and fun. Shinsuke Nakamura and Samoa Joe are there. Throw one of them on each brand and let the big matches make themselves. Finn Bálor should be back from injury in time for WrestleMania, so that’s another main player. WWE has some amazing talent hanging out waiting for big spots, but the bulk of their roster and time seem dedicated to Orton, Cena, Undertaker, Brock Lesnar, Goldberg, and the rest of the Attitude Era hangers on.

This Royal Rumble show was good, but the actual Rumble match exposed (again) WWE’s flawed approach they’ve built around for the last 15 years. This was a Royal Rumble match without surprise and thoroughly lacking in joy.

A good story needs a good ending. A good book isn’t worth picking up if it falls apart at the end. A fine musical with a poor act two and no real resolution won’t win any awards. People hate the way Lost and How I Met Your Mother wrapped up, because the endings didn’t deliver. I feel the same way about this show. WWE had greatness in their grasps, but they failed when it came to locking it in.

And now for some random thoughts:

– I guess the question I have to answer is “What would have made for a good ending?” WWE actually (and perhaps unintentionally) set up something that could have been magical. They had Sami Zayn come in as a major focus of the show. They allowed Sami to take a ridiculous amount of abuse, including one of those crazy diving RKO’s and a Jackhammer. What if Sami had lasted to the very end? What if Sami had actually won? Not only would it have shocked the world, but it would have set up a logical WrestleMania match between Zayn and Owens.

It’s not a perfect scenario, but it’s a way to make a new top star, have a major surprising moment, and do some major fan service. WWE ignored all of these things by having Orton, who has been a top star for the last 12 years, win.

– The humans who brought signs encouraging others to donate to the American Civil Liberties Union are magical. Let’s all go to ACLU.org and do what they recommend (or donate to your local ACLU chapter).

– AJ Styles and John Cena are gosh darn magic together. They did it again with their exciting and dynamic match for the WWE Championship. While the last couple weeks didn’t make me feel like John Cena was about to make history, the actual match where he accomplished this feat was remarkable. They played perfectly off of their past efforts and truly elevated each other. I could watch Styles and Cena wrestle forever.

– Speaking of AJ Styles, is the rumored Shane McMahon match his destiny after delighting us all at the Elimination Chamber? While I do love Shane McMahon more than a human should, I do question the wisdom of this matchup. It’s a big slot for Styles, who does get something from being in the ring with Shane. It’s also not the kind of role I’d like to see the best wrestler in the world in. Perhaps in modern WWE, this is the best they can do with a talent like Styles on a show that has to bow down at the feet of 1998 (WrestleMania).

– Bayley vs. Charlotte was a good first chapter of what will be Bayley’s chase for the Raw Women’s Championship (The most important championship on Raw). Bayley was able to show a ton of heart in defeat. Charlotte took the match to a great level, especially at the very end with the Natural Selection on the ring apron. I’m hopeful that we will see plenty more from these two.

– Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens for the Universal Championship surprised me. I knew it would be a quality match, but I expected a title change. I’m pleasantly surprised by not seeing one. I still expect Owens vs. Jericho at WrestleMania, but I now wonder if Owens will have the Universal Championship on his shoulder heading into it.

– One should never build a pyramid of steel chairs and not expect to crash through them. It’s Chekov’s Law of Steel Chairs.

– Braun Strowman interfering to help defeat Roman Reigns was a fine device. It fed into the stories told in the build up to the Rumble, but wasn’t completely obvious. Hopefully it leads to more than Strowman being fed to Reigns.

– I could have done without the super long video package about the Royal Rumble match in the middle of the show. Maybe the Smackdown Women’s tag match or Nia Jax vs. Sasha could have happened there.

– The Alamodome looked huge and quite full on TV. I was disappointed by the set for the Rumble, which could have been something special, but was just the Raw set in a larger setting. This is a regular disappointment for me with modern pay-per-views.

– Big Cass and Enzo getting slot number one to monologue for a while was lacking in novelty. These two have lost much of what made them great six months ago.

– Chris Jericho hiding out of the ring for half of the Rumble continued the trend of Jericho doing charming heel things that bore me.

– Up until Braun Strowman came out, this was looking like the jobberiest Rumble that ever jobbed.

– I did enjoy the elimination spree of Strowman, so the jobber quotient was a little necessary.

– I like Jack Gallagher, but other than the novelty of seeing an umbrella in the Rumble, there was little logic to his appearance. Why did he cross the lines of his established weight class to participate? Would he be eligible for a Universal or WWE Championship shot?

– Big Show looks to be in amazing shape, but he has done basically nothing in the ring since getting in said shape.

– I did love seeing Strowman treated like anything less than an unstoppable monster by Big Show. WWE has something special with Strowman and, even against another giant, he should be protected.

– Tye Dillinger as the number ten entrant in the Royal Rumble felt obvious. It also feels like the peak of Dillinger’s career. Where does he go from here? He lost at Takeover and (obviously) lost the Rumble. His only character development seems to be getting fans to enthusiastically chant a number. Who is Tye Dillinger aside from this? Whether he’s on the main roster or remaining in NXT, Tye needs more than a number to be a quality character.

– Carmella’s James Elsworth pants are amazing.

– Kofi Kingston’s near elimination moment was well executed and nowhere near as silly as some of his past spots. I liked it.

– It was around the middle point of the Rumble, with Braun out and with Undertaker, Lesnar, and Goldberg still set to enter, that the ring got way too full. Saving those giants in the match until the final five entrants caused the entertainment value of the match to take a hit.

– It’s truly disappointing when you have #22 in a Royal Rumble pool and think it could be Randy Orton entering just after Bray Wyatt. I knew about the Orton rumors and began to think I’d be $100 richer by the end of the match… Then Apollo Crews’ music hit and I realized I would never enjoy his matches again.

– WHY WOULD ANYONE EVER FOR ANY REASON JUMP OFF OF ANY OBJECT HEADFIRST AT RANDY ORTON?!?! DAMN IT SAMI!!!

– Enzo Amore getting slot #27 was strange at best. Did this portion of the Rumble need comedy?

– The ramp was entirely too long for most wrestlers to make an entertaining entrance on. I’m an advocate for the Madison Square Garden entranceway from 2008. Keep it short and sweet.

– At least Undertaker didn’t have to walk down the aforementioned ramp. We’d still be watching the Rumble.

– Quick question: What was the point of Brock Lesnar leaving Randy Orton a bloody mess at SummerSlam?

– Goldberg and Undertaker’s stare down had a combined age of 101 years. Both men were prominent in wrestling in 1998. Sigh.

– WWE did an intelligent thing when they had Roman Reigns enter at #30 and look like he was about to win. They found a way to convince fans to cheer for Randy Orton’s eventual victory. WWE used the standard reaction to Reigns to their benefit for once. This is a stark contrast to the last two Royal Rumbles.

– While I’ll call using Reigns’ lack of babyface appeal smart during the Rumble, I do believe Reigns entering at #30 hurt the match. This was a Rumble match without a surprise. This was a Rumble match thoroughly lacking in joy. Roman Reigns made sure of this.

Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at itswilltime@gmail.com.