Articles by Will Pruett

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Will’s New Thing – So many feelings about Women’s Money in the Bank and how WWE followed up on it, tons of reader mail, recommended reading, and more

By Will Pruett

There are a ton of feelings to parse through after quite a long few days in professional wrestling. We’re going to stay on-brand for me and keep talking about the Women’s Money in the Bank match and Smackdown’s dealing with the fallout from it. To do so, I need to divide my thoughts into categories.

The Good:

  • Carmella absolutely killed it in Smackdown’s opening segment. She rose to a level in that promo I never expected her to reach. It was stunning. Smackdown’s writing team brought Alexa Bliss to surprising prominence and helped her find her voice. Carmella seemed to get a similar boost here. Kudos to her on an amazing performance.
  • Becky Lynch also had a standout performance on Tuesday night in her earnest backstage segment with Daniel Bryan. I’m all about Becky having any opportunity to show the sincerity she brings like no one else on the roster.
  • In the rematch, we should see a great spot where James Ellsworth gets killed by Becky Lynch.

The Bad:

  • The ending from Sunday still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I can’t shake the idea that it has never happened and likely will never happen in a men’s ladder match. It honestly ruined the show and the week in wrestling for me. There is no getting a first time ever back and WWE blew it for no real reason.
  • Carmella giving up the briefcase feels like it may have been her peak. While it was great to see her rise in this way, I worry that she won’t have a chance to do so again. Getting heat on Carmella in this situation and keeping it on her is complicated. Part of me, after watching Tuesday, wanted her to keep the briefcase because she did so well.
  • Sunday’s ending still permanently breaks the concept of the ladder match in WWE. Why wouldn’t 20 people run in and try to interfere? Why wouldn’t everyone run up the ladder at WWE TLC and steal the WWE Championship? It does long lasting damage to WWE’s storytelling.
  • This, and everything in WWE’s Diva’s Women’s Revolution Evolution feels more like corporate branding than it does an actual effort to generate equality. It’s hard to get past it simply being marketplace feminism and more for marketing than anything else. Andi Zeisler writes about this phenomenon in the broader culture in the essential We Were Feminists Once:

Within a very short span of time, feminism has come to occupy perhaps its most complex role ever in American, if not global, culture. It’s a place where most of the problems that have necessitate feminist movements to begin with are still very much in place, but at the same time there’s a mainstream, celebrity, consumer embrace of feminism that positions it as a cool, fun, accessible identity that anyone can adopt.

(There is so much more in this entire book about feminism as marketing as opposed to feminism as a belief and I cannot recommend reading it enough, especially if you desire to understand exactly the tightrope WWE is attempting to walk.)

The Confusing and Complicated:

  • There is no good way out of this situation. Carmella rose to an amazing level on Tuesday night and I believe she deserves a run with the briefcase, if not a run with the Smackdown Women’s Championship in the near future. With this said, allowing the decision to stick would be awkward as well. The only real way out of this situation is not to get into it, which WWE should have assured. I worry that handing back the briefcase doomed her character for the foreseeable future.
  • The rematch happening in the main event of an episode of Smackdown will have more viewers, which is great. It will also not have the prestige of happening on a WWE Network special, something WWE would never do with other marquee matches (like a WrestleMania main event). Does the increase in viewers necessitate the longterm damage to essential storytelling mechanisms?

These are most of my feelings coming out of the week. I do like that we’ll see a real conclusion to the match, but I don’t like how WWE is getting there. I wish this whole situation hadn’t occurred and WWE had just had James Ellsworth hold Becky Lynch’s leg while Carmella retrieved the Money in the Bank briefcase. It’s all very unfortunate.

In the follow-up, I hope we see a continued focus on the complete women’s roster on Smackdown with multiple one-on-one or two-on-two feuds. WWE has done a good job fleshing out this roster with distinct personalities and I would hate to see that fall by the wayside and become like Raw’s abysmal division.

This week’s essential viewing:

For the purposes of this column, this week will be presented as Thursday-Wednesday.

Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles’ exchange at WWE Money in the Bank (June 18, 2017) – If you couldn’t tell from my earlier writing, I was in a bad mood by the time this match rolled around. This was the only thing on this entire show to snap me out of it for a moment. Not only did this match contain the best version of Shinsuke Nakamura we’ve seen on the main roster, but it also gave us a fun preview of Nakamura vs. Styles. I’m all in on this exchange. The rest of Money in the Bank can and should be skipped.

Samoa Joe vs. Roman Reigns and the return of Braun Strowman from WWE Raw (June 19, 2017) – Not only was Strowman returning a great moment (I’m all about opening ambulance doors and yelling in rage), but Joe and Roman were having a damn good match. This was better than their encounter when Joe debuted on Raw. It was really well done. I’m looking forward to more from these two wrestlers sometime someday soon.

What I absolutely positively love in wrestling this week:

This awesome art with Ms. Marvel meeting Mustafa Ali

What more needs to be said? Both Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan and Mustafa Ali are great. Also the artist, Nadia Ramlan, produces a ton of awesome wrestling art, so she’s totes worth a follow.

What I absolutely positively love in the world this week:

Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat from Marvel Comics – This week is a little inaccurate, since this awesome series was cancelled by Marvel (Marvel tends to cancel good things rather often). I recently read the first two trades of this and it’s brilliant. There’s a great sense of humor and heart combining to make something special. This series is also delightfully inclusive. Kate Leth made something really special here and y’all should check it out.

Apparently I’m in a very Marvel comics mood this week.

Reader mail:

Got something to say/react to in today’s piece? Write to me at itswilltime@gmail.com or on Twitter @wilpruett. Just let me know whether you’d like your name attached to your statement or not. Alternately, there’s a comment section just below this article, so comment away (preferably not like a garbage human, but I can’t stop you from being one)!

People had a lot of words to say about my piece from Monday morning about the inherent sexism of the Women’s Money in the Bank match. Let’s dive in and read how upset some people get when the word “sexism” is used. Please note, the typos in any of these comments are the from the writers of them.

Alissa had this to say:

While Ellsworth might makes sense from a storyline perspective, it simply kills off the very idea of what they advertised. A history-making match! And another milestone for the women no less. That it wasn’t. If anything, it resides comfortably in Santina Marella-territory, where a comedy guy was put over 25 women all at once. I was quite hesitant to buy into the hype about this match, simply because I have lost my passion to a certain degree, especially after Bayley’s horrendous treatment. But this? As a female viewer, I feel offended. And believe me, I have accepted poor match endings for storyline reasons way too often. But in this case, it was the wrong moment to do it. It sends a message that is not very encouraging. So after 24 years watching, starting at the age of 10, why bother anymore?

Alissa, thank you so much for adding to this conversation. This gets to the heart of the matter, as does the excellent blog from Dot Net’s April Lavalle from Tuesday. It is reminiscent of the Santina Marella moment at WrestleMania 25. While the followup to this has surely been better than the followup to that, it still feels wrong. It’s hard not to lose faith when you’re getting jerked around so much. I hope they begin to get it right.

I know I was asked in the last few days why I still watch wrestling when it gets so many things wrong. There are still those moments of transcendence beyond anything else in entertainment. When the crowd is rallying behind someone and everything clicks, wrestling is magic. I watch for those glimpses of magic.

Tony is adamant about letting me know:

This was a HEEL MANAGER helping their HEEL CLIENT win a match, it’s not the first and it’s not the last.

You’re not wrong. It was exactly that. It was a heel manager helping a heel client, but why was this the first and only time in about 70 Ladder Matches in WWE history a non-participant in the match took possession of the object to win? Could it be that WWE would never do this with their main event males, but didn’t mind it with women? Why didn’t Maryse ever grab the briefcase for The Miz or Rhyno for Edge and Christian?

Someone who comments as “Reality” had this gem to add to the conversation:

Its so pathetic that this site has a couple of guys who insist on being self-righteous and politically correct. Its WRESTLING. Not “real life”. Jesus. Get off your liberal high hors and remind yourself of that. Or, maybe in the future the WWE can have “safe zones” in the arena’s for powderpuffs like his guy.

First of all, thank you for making me think of The Powerpuff Girls. They rule.

Second, how is it pathetic for a wrestling site to present different points of view? Please explain to me how awful it is for someone to want wrestling to be better than it is. I know it must be hard for you to think of how wrestling might affect others with all the “Reality” (and typos) you’re bringing, but maybe you should give it a shot. This is the last time your asinine comments will be mentioned in this section.

Assassin V, on the Dot Net Member’s ad free website (it’s a great way to experience this site, y’all) commented:

Agree 100% and nothing brought it home to me in how upset my girlfriend was after it. Here is someone who is a very casual fan and they have ruined something she was looking forward to experience.
The only other part I would add is this clusterf— feels to have the fingerprints of Vince all over it. Something this heinous going through and not getting fixed could only have been green lit from the top with no one having the balls to stop it.
I do not think even a public apology would even suffice because in some parts they do not even suspect they did anything wrong. It will take a lot to come back from this grievous error of judgment.

I know I was excited about this, but I was surprised by my wife’s eagerness to see these five women fight in a ladder match. She was into it, right up until Ellsworth pulled down the briefcase. Then she was mad. She was really mad. She doesn’t care about professional wrestling in the same way I do and she doesn’t hold it to the standards I try to. She was just as mad about this as I was. There’s no way to fix this. That anger directly translates to not wanting to watch anymore, not excitement about a rematch.

Max opened his comment with this:

I think playing the sexist card is stupid honestly. Get back to me when they have a few more and they all end in the same manner.

That’s the thing, Max. They have had one. It ended this way. Another women’s ladder match hasn’t happened in WWE (I know one is on Tuesday). I purposefully called this sexism because that’s what it is. It’s sexism when men can have over 70 of these matches and nothing like this happens, but when women have one, it does. The strong reaction from people trying to say “it was dumb, but not sexist” has been obnoxious. Why do people feel like calling WWE, a company with a history of sexism and sexist treatment of female wrestlers, sexist is wrong?

Charlie felt the need to add his response to a cavalcade of stupidity saying:

Go cry about snowflake.

Words are hard, Charlie. Better luck next time.

There are plenty of other ignorant comments and vows to never read prowrestling.net again, but I’ll stop now. I’m all out of f—‘s to give.

SSMGOTW (Superfluous Shane McMahon Gif of the Week):

This week’s wrestling reading:

From time to time, I want to highlight some of the best wrestling reading I’ve found over the past week.

WWE Still Suffers From the Curse of the Attitude Era by Stephen T. Wright

The WWE Women’s Revolution: Just Add Men! by Ashly Nagrant

Let’s Not Be Angry About the Women’s Money in the Bank Match by Kate Foray

This Thread which not only features women’s actual MITB responses and how those women are treated by men online

We’re Done Here:

I had a lot to say this week. I know this approach to wrestling isn’t for everyone. I know some people would rather wrestling wasn’t examined on a deeper level. I’m not about that life though. Any entertainment worth enjoying is worth examining. I’ll leave you with another gem from Andi Zeisler’s We Were Feminists Once:

As someone who honestly believes that pop culture is a force that can, and has, changed the world, I want to at least entertain the thought that a culture half-changed by feminism can harness that power and finally go the whole nine.

Have the best week, everyone!

Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. Of interest to him are diversity in wrestling and wrestling as a theatrical art form. To contact, check him out on Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email him at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Pruett’s Blog – WWE’s first ever Women’s Ladder Match ends in sexist stupidity

Prowrestling.net Live returns today at 3CT/4ET at PWAudio.net. Will Pruett and Jason Powell will be taking your calls during the live audio show.

By Will Pruett

There were 51 ladder matches in WWE prior to Money in the Bank 2017. There have been 19 TLC matches. There have been a total of 70 matches where a ladder is climbed to retrieve an object in WWE history prior to Sunday. All of these matches involved men as participants. Never has a non-participant in any of these matches climbed the ladder and retrieved the object.

Last night in the first ever ladder match in WWE history to involve women as participants, WWE had a man climb the ladder and retrieve the Money in the Bank briefcase. This has happened 0 out of 70 times in men’s ladder matches. This has happened in 100% of the women’s ladder matches in WWE.

If you can’t see how this is some sexist bullshit, I’m not sure what to tell you. If you can’t see how this completely invalidates the entire idea of the ladder match (one of WWE’s most compelling special matches), I’m not sure how to convince you. WWE dealt damage to their company, their ongoing “women’s revolution,” and my personal affection for them last night.

Let’s start at the beginning. WWE was telling us all about how women were about to make history. We were seeing the gradual movement of WWE towards equality take another massive step with women being in one of the more dangerous and exciting matches. I was excited. I was telling friends about it. I love when these big moments happen and the wrestling world that I saw promote inequality for decades gets a little more equal.

The video package before the match played and in a couple moments, I felt the emotion of it. Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Tamina, Carmella, and Natalya all seemed ready. This was exciting. My wife, who long ago gave up on watching WWE with me (because it’s bad and long) was even excited for it.

The match seems to be getting into gear when James Ellsworth climbs into the ring. He tried to ascend the ladder, but I assume it’s just to take a huge fall from it. He doesn’t.

WWE, a company overly consumed with optics and how it’s perceived at every turn, allows the “history making first ever women’s Money in the Bank match” to be won by a man. A man climbs the ladder while the women around him can do nothing but look shocked and disappointed.

There will never be another first women’s ladder match in WWE. There will never be another first Money in the Bank match for these women. There will never be the final moment of a first women’s ladder match with the eventual winner struggling to get to the briefcase and finally making it. We will never share in the true thrill this match should have provided.

Is it worth losing these epic moments to get James Ellsworth over? Is a low-rent character like Ellsworth really worth this logic-violating effort?

Now, before you tell me to wait until Tuesday night to be mad about this, know that they could have the best f—ing ladder match in history in the main event on Smackdown and I’d still be mad about this. Before someone tries to explain that WWE is telling a story, please know I would have no issues with Carmella having won this match with help from Ellsworth. She could have been on his shoulders in a fun callback to Rhyno helping Edge and Christian. This isn’t a situation where anything gets better through a wait and see approach.

The evidence from WWE suggests to me that they would have never pitched this finish for a men’s ladder match. They’ve had 70 opportunities to do so and it has never happened. If this had been the 15th women’s ladder match in WWE history, it might have been acceptable (but still quite dumb and infuriatingly illogical). It wasn’t. It was the first.

To call this anything but a sexist and tone deaf storytelling decision from WWE would be a mistake. WWE has shown an institutional bend towards sexism for as long as the company has existed and, despite using feminism (a word too dangerous for WWE, so they say “Divas Revolution,” “Women’s Revolution,” and now “Women’s Evolution” to soften the impact) as a marketing device.

This was a bad storytelling decision. This was a bad public relations decision. This was a bad wrestling decision. There is no excuse for the horrid ending to the first ever Women’s Money in the Bank match and WWE should publicly apologize for it.

Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. Of interest to him are diversity in wrestling and wrestling as a theatrical art form. To contact, check him out on Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email him at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Will’s New Thing – Okada vs. Omega II: The ultimate professional wrestling sequel, the Shane McMahon gif of the week, podcast recommendations like whoa, and more!

By Will Pruett

It turns out Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada are magic together. There is no other way to describe the insane chemistry they have in the ring. Take it from someone with a full sleeve of tattoos dedicated to Harry Potter, it’s magic. At NJPW Dominion they showed this magic once again in a 60 minute draw over the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.

I’ve never enjoyed a 60 minute draw before. Honestly, I don’t usually enjoy long drawn out matches. While I’ll always go back and site Michaels vs. Hart at WrestleMania XII as one of my favorite wrestling moments, the first half hour is skippable. Orton and Cena literally had to try to blow each other up to make 60 minutes bearable at Bragging Rights 2009. People can talk all they want about the great 60 minute draws Ric Flair had in untelevised 1980s matches, but 99.5% of them sound boring to me. I can be easily bored in one hour and I wasn’t watching this.

I was interested for the entire 60 minutes and didn’t even realize 60 minutes were passing. I avoided spoilers prior to watching and watched with the Japanese commentary team (English was an available option, but I can’t handle Kevin Kelly calling NJPW. He’s not good at things.). I didn’t realize we were coming up on the time limit until about two minutes before the end.

One of the instincts we have as human beings, and especially wrestling fans, is comparison. People want to figure out if this Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada match was better than their Wrestle Kingdom 11 encounter. Here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter which match was better. It doesn’t matter which match gets more snowflakes on someone’s keyboard. It doesn’t matter which match a particular individual enjoyed more. Both of these matches are works of art and we, as appreciators of art, are lucky to have experienced them.

Instead of attempting to compare these matches, think of them as a series. We don’t sit around wondering which Star Wars film is better. While some have definitive rankings they follow, for the most part, we can all agree that Star Wars movies rule, as long as they aren’t the prequels (which still have their moments of greatness).

I’m going to suggest we think of Okada vs. Omega II as a just that, a sequel. Part of what made this match so good was the way it played on their Wrestle Kingdom 11 encounter. Omega spent the entirety of the Wrestle Kingdom 11 match trying to hit the One Winged Angel, but he never could. At Dominion, he did, but Okada was able to get to the ropes and break the pin. It was beautiful. It was heartbreaking. It was high art.

Friends, I’m not trying to fawn all over this match, but it’s honestly impossible not to.

The sheer exhaustion both Okada and Omega displayed at the end as they summoned all of their energy to hit one final move, praying it would put their opponent away, was palpable. There have been very few matches that could take me through an entire emotional journey, then tear my heart out. This is exactly what happened with each near fall. I didn’t take sides, but I wanted to see someone earn a victory.

In a couple weeks, I’ll be at the New Japan Pro Wrestling shows in Long Beach and I’ll see both of these men, but not against each other. Part of me wonders if NJPW is crazy enough to put the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on Cody Rhodes at this show. Could Cody back into the win Omega earned? This would be a quality way to make Omega the protagonist in NJPW’s ongoing story, establish Cody as an antagonist fans truly want to hate, and change the dynamic of an eventual Omega vs. Okada rematch.

Professional wrestling gives us moments of transcendence, but it rarely does so. It can bring exhilarating athletic action, but inspiring real emotion is a rare feat. This is the first match I’ve seen this year that has inspired real emotion in me. I’m eternally thankful for these moments.

This week’s essential viewing:

For the purposes of this column, this week will be presented as Thursday-Wednesday.

Kazuchika Okada vs. Kenny Omega for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship from NJPW Dominion (June 11, 2017) – Read the above essay, then go watch this f—ing match. It’s amazing.

Smackdown’s opening segment plus The Usos and The Colons vs. The New Day and Fashion Police (June 13, 2017) – This wasn’t transcendent, but it was a ton of fun. New Day entering with a live band was pure fire emoji. The Usos and all the subsequent promos produced some fun. The actual match was really enjoyable. This was good time-filling action from the Smackdown tag teams.

What I absolutely positively love in wrestling this week:

Marty and Sarah Love Wrestling – It’s a very podcast-filled week for my recommendations. I actually find myself looking forward to this show on a weekly basis and get excited when I see it has downloaded on Thursday mornings. It’s not serious. It’s filled with jokes it may take you an episode or two to catch on to. It has the best wrestler impressions in the world in a wide array of buddies. This is a gosh darn great show and you should add it to your weekly podcast consumption.

What I absolutely positively love in the world this week:

Harry Potter and the Sacred Text – This podcast is one of my favorite things in the world. It asks a simple question: “When was the last time you treated something you love as if it were sacred?” There is an element of sincerity to their exploration of the Harry Potter series that I truly love. They had a live show in Los Angeles on Tuesday night and it was a joy to experience a large group of like-minded Harry Potter nerds. If you love this book series, go to the beginning of this podcast feed and give it a shot.

Reader mail:

Got something to say/react to in today’s piece? Write to me at itswilltime@gmail.com or on Twitter @wilpruett. Just let me know whether you’d like your name attached to your statement or not. Alternately, there’s a comment section just below this article, so comment away!

This has been a mail free week for me, which must mean everything I said in last week’s piece on how to fix 205 Live was absolutely correct. I’ll just sit here with a self satisfied smirk on my face rejoicing in my rightness.

SSMGOTW (Superfluous Shane McMahon Gif of the Week):

This week’s wrestling reading:

From time to time, I want to highlight some of the best wrestling reading I’ve found over the past week.

What Pro Wrestling Would Look Like Under Socialism by Jetta Rae

We’re Done Here:

This week may have felt thin on WWE talk, especially with Money in the Bank around the corner, but such is life. I promise to have more words to type about WWE soon-ish! Thanks, as always, for reading everyone. This week has been a burst of positivity in wrestling blog form. Since it’s so happy, I’ll leave you with Leslie Knope and these inspiring words…

Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. Of interest to him are diversity in wrestling and wrestling as a theatrical art form. To contact, check him out on Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email him at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Will’s New Thing – Why 205 Live is a garbage show and how to fix it, Wonder Woman is the greatest, must-watch matches from PROGRESS, NJPW, WWE, and more!

By Will Pruett

Last week, I talked about one of WWE’s great creative victories of the last decade: their tournaments run exclusively for WWE Network. This week, it is time to talk about one of the biggest creative failures I’ve experienced as a wrestling fan: 205 Live.

205 Live is horrid. It might be the worst wrestling show I’ve seen since the time I tried to watch WCW Worldwide in 1999. To make a show as bad as 205 Live, one actually has to try to be awful. It’s not enough to just say this show is bad. This show is exceptionally boring, bad at telling stories, and depressing.

To illustrate how much of a clusterf— 205 Live is, let me tell you about the world-class talent roster it has. Akira Tozawa, Austin Aries, Brian Kendrick, Rich Swann, Jack Gallagher, Neville, Gran Metalik, Mustafa Ali, Cedrick Alexander, TJ Perkins, and Noam Dar. If this were an indie lineup a promoter put together 12 months ago, I’d be at that show. It’s insane how great the wrestlers on 205 Live are.

We are talking about some of the best wrestlers in the industry today who are supposed to be wrestling a high-impact style. How the f— is this show failing? Take these wrestlers and put them literally anywhere else in all of wrestling and they would be insanely successful. The failure of the Cruiserweight Division cannot be blamed on talent, since the talent is the strongest WWE could possibly have.

While I find the overly purple look of 205 Live to be an unnecessary waste of tape on a weekly basis, I also can’t blame the look of the show. Who would stop watching a show because of a graphics package and rope color? Yellow ropes are hideous, but I still watch NXT. Even the red and blue color schemes of Raw and Smackdown are tedious, but still watchable. There’s nothing wrong with purple.

The first flaw in 205 Live has to do with atmosphere. The show is recorded after Smackdown every week, which makes absolutely no sense. Smackdown usually ends with a crescendo, propelling fans out of the arena to the merch area and their transport methods home. Sitting through another wrestling show, especially a show with nothing at stake, after Smackdown is exhausting. There’s no reason 205 Live couldn’t be pre-taped like NXT. Heck, go to Full Sail every two weeks and tape two 205 Not-So-Lives and two NXTs.

I’m not one to enjoy the Full Sail University crowds, but they are at least paying attention for 75% of a wrestling show. They would know the wrestlers appearing in front of them. They would probably even have distinct feelings to express about said wrestlers.

The bigger (honestly, the biggest) issue with 205 Live isn’t the atmosphere though. The biggest issue is the lack of stakes on the show. What exactly have Noam Dar and Rich Swann been fighting for? What is Mustafa Ali attempting to win in random matches? What’s Drew Gulak’s ultimate goal? There is one championship on 205 Live and only one wrestler and story can be built around it.

When the same two wrestlers have been feuding over the Cruiserweight Championship for three months, what happens to the rest of the show? 205 Live is one holding pattern after another until a championship feud ends. This is a major issue.

I don’t condone putting another championship in the mix on 205 Live. WWE has a bevy of belts right now.

What if WWE rolled out a ranking system for the Cruiserweights? I’m not saying they should do this through the entire roster, but just the 205 Live competitors. What if once a month, there were rankings (say numbers one through ten) revealed at the top of 205 Live? The top five wrestlers could go into a five-way elimination match for a title shot.

This gives everyone on the card something to fight for. If a wrestler is unranked, they can earn their way into the rankings with a win over a ranked star. If the number ten wrestler beats the number two wrestler, this will be reflected in a month. This gives greater internal logic to 205 Live.

WWE has already shown an ability to take Cruiserweight wrestling seriously with the Cruiserweight Classic. Why not bring this seriousness to a weekly format. Try giving the show greater internal logic. Make every match and moment on the show matter. Give fans a reason to watch every moment of 205 Live.

WWE has to do something to fix this broken hour of WWE Network programming. The insanely great wrestling talent on 205 Live deserves better than they’re getting right now. On Sunday night, fans sat on their hands during a Neville vs. Austin Aries match that got almost 20 minutes on pay-per-view. This is absurd to think about and it needs to be rectified as soon as possible.

This week’s essential viewing:

For the purposes of this column, this week will be presented as Thursday-Wednesday.

Jinny vs. Toni Storm vs. Laura di Matteo from PROGRESS Chapter 49: Super Strong Style 16 Day 2 (May 28, 2017) – PROGRESS Wrestling’s first Women’s Championship match delivered in a major way. This was the first PROGRESS show headlined by a women’s match and they earned the slot. This match goes everywhere and features three delightful and different performances from three great wrestlers. Storm, Jinny, and di Matteo should be commended for their performance and you should go out of your way to see this match.

Will Ospreay vs. KUSHIDA in the NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 24 (June 2, 2017) – Will Ospreay is amazing to watch in the ring and constantly getting better. KUSHIDA has been great for years and is the centerpiece babyface of NJPW’s Juniors division. Both men delivered great performances in this main event. More than this, the story told to put KUSHIDA back into title contention against Hiromu Takahashi was fantastic. This was one of the best matches this year and part of a great story. Where could you go wrong?

Samoa Joe vs. Roman Reigns. Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor vs. Bray Wyatt from WWE Extreme Rules (June 4, 2017) – Would this match have been better as a Scramble Match? Absolutely. This isn’t even a debatable point. Was this a really fun match? Yep. The last ten minutes of this five way were some of the most unpredictable and exciting wrestling I’ve seen all year. Seth Rollins seemed to return to high flying form. Finn Balor was able to look great in defeat. Roman Reigns was kept away from the title, as he likely will be until WrestleMania. Samoa Joe’s win was unpredictable, yet made perfect sense.

Samoa Joe Chokes Out Paul Heyman on Raw (June 5, 2017) – I’m not particularly amused by Paul Heyman’s promos these days. I’m not particularly compelled by Samoa Joe’s promos either. When the mics were down and Joe got in Heyman’s face and calmly explained what he was about to do? I was in. All in. Completely in. This was everything I want Samoa Joe to be.

What I absolutely positively love in wrestling this week:

Mojo Rawley – You’re probably looking at me like I’m crazy right now, but I have a soft spot in my soul for Mojo Rawley. He brings a fun earnestness to his promos (like backstage with Shane McMahon this week). He literally makes me smile while he’s in the ring. Mojo is a weird pure shot of joy for me. He doesn’t just get hyped, he stays hyped and I like that about him.

What I absolutely positively love in the world this week:

WONDER WOMAN!!!

Gal Gadot is a f—ing badass. This is an amazing superhero movie made more amazing by the portrayal of the protagonist. It’s not just the first superhero movie of the new era with a female protagonist, it’s one of the best ever. Given that Marvel has produced 15 films at this point without a female protagonist among them, this movie stands out even more. GO WATCH WONDER WOMAN!!!!!

Reader mail:

Got something to say/react to in today’s piece? Write to me at itswilltime@gmail.com or on Twitter @wilpruett. Just let me know whether you’d like your name attached to your statement or not. Alternately, there’s a comment section just below this article, so comment away!

Brittany wrote in sharing some GLOW excitement:

Like you, I’m also pretty excited for GLOW when it hits Netflix. While my knowledge of that promotion is pretty slim, I’m interested to see just how the show does, especially since Awesome Kong/Kharma is in the show.

I had completely forgotten about the former Awesome Kong being involved in this show and now I’m even more excited. Hopefully acting becomes a solid second act for Kong, who was spectacular in her prime.

Arky challenged me with the following:

Wrestling isn’t a short-run prestige drama. It’s a soap.

I’m sure the quality of the action would be higher if they only had to produce 10 tightly scripted shows a year and could shoot and re-shoot to ensure it was all as good as it could possibly be. So what? I reckon all wrestling fans are a lot happier with year-round live shows with the highs and lows that result from that than they would be 10 episodes a year.

This is an interesting point. My piece last week seemed to endorse wrestling in short bursts only and I don’t believe that’s necessary. I also don’t believe wrestling needs to have poor quality just because it’s weekly. WWE employs an army of writers, most of whom are pretty talented. The doldrums WWE regularly exists in aren’t necessary. You don’t have to be a short-run show to avoid them. You need to be a better show.

SSMGOTW (Superfluous Shane McMahon Gif of the Week):

Slow motion Shane McMahon is peak Shane McMahon…

This week’s wrestling reading:

From time to time, I want to highlight some of the best wrestling reading I’ve found over the past week.

I Hate Wrestling Nazis: White Supremacy and Indie Wrestling by Ed Blair

We’re Done Here:

So many wrestles happened in the last week and there was so much to see, read, and experience. It’s been pretty great. This hasn’t been the easiest week for me personally, but watching wrestling has been a joy for most of the week. This reminds me of the immortal words of Albus Dumbledore…

Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. Of interest to him are diversity in wrestling and wrestling as a theatrical art form. To contact, check him out on Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email him at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Will’s New Thing – Prestige TV and Professional Wrestling: Can one be the other, reader mail, and the superfluous Shane McMahon gif of the week!

By Will Pruett

Television has gone through a revolution in the last 15 years. While some has gone for the lowest common denominator (non-Total Divas reality TV, Impact Wrestling, etc) and made a mockery of the medium, some has transcended what was previously believed about the art form. The genre of prestige television has come into existence and I’m personally grateful for it. This week, I want to look at prestige television, wrestling, and if wrestling has evolved the genre.

First we have to ask what is the prestige television equivalent for wrestling? I don’t believe it’s a foreign/alternate language wrestling show. We all have a friend who got super into French Netflix shows and won’t shut up about them. They’re the friend who watches every NJPW show and considers you a dumbass for not. I also wouldn’t say only major shows count. NXT Takeovers are amazing, but the weekly television show is often less exciting than watching paint dry.

The closest thing to prestige television I’ve seen in professional wrestling is the one-off tournaments WWE has produced for WWE Network. We’ve seen two of them thus far and a third (this time with women!) isn’t far behind. These tournaments have a ton in common with modern prestige television:

  • They’re limited. Game of Thrones has ten episode seasons (except for this year). Breaking Bad only had five seasons in it. WWE’s tournaments only have a few episodes. They can only last as long as the tournament is scheduled to go.
  • They have a self-contained universe. This is really important. There are rules the worlds in these television shows function by and those rules are not broken. Look at WWE’s United Kingdom Championship Tournament to see how simple, but complete the rules of the universe are. Pete Dunne broke those rules and was able to become a top level heel.
  • There is a seriousness in tone. Prestige television famously lacks a funny bone. While this is starting to change, there’s no doubt Mad Men exemplified self-importance. These WWE tournaments don’t have much room for jokes. There aren’t any weird non-serious moments that cause second takes. There are wins and losses and they matter.

For WWE, much of what gives these tournaments their quality is structure. WWE ignores their own structure so often on Raw and Smackdown, it now doesn’t seem to exist. In these tournaments, we find WWE following a narrative formula. While this may seem to constrict what WWE could do, the structure offers them even more creative opportunities.

When have we ever seen a story about an older wrestler seeking one last moment like Brian Kendrick’s in the CWC? Has anything been as simple, but effective, as Tyler Bate’s ascension to the WWE UK Championship? Cedric Alexander vs. Kota Ibushi was a simple underdog story, but arguably the most effective WWE match of the last year.

This rigid structure gives WWE a box to create in. When they limit what they can do, what they do is better.

Next week: Fixing 205 Live and how WWE broke their Cruiserweight Division after a great start.

This week’s essential viewing:

For the purposes of this column, this week will be presented as Thursday-Wednesday.

Io Shirai vs. Shanna from June 6, 2016 – I’m going far outside of the past week here, but the past seven days haven’t produced wrestling I have considered essential. In between keeping up with the week in wrestles, I’ve found myself on a Io Shirai kick. This happened to be the first match of hers I watched this week. From the beginning you can tell how skilled she is as a performer. She’s one of the best wrestlers in the world, regardless of gender. It’s worth subscribing to Stardom World to see her back catalog of work.

Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins from WWE Raw (May 29, 2017) – While I currently find both of these characters difficult to emotionally connect to, in the ring they are still great. What I enjoyed about this match was the timing they seemed to have with each other. There’s a great chemistry to Reigns and Rollins when they wrestle and it’s worth watching every time. Rollins jumping into Superman Punches was a thing of beauty here.

Pete Dunne vs. Mark Haskins vs. Mark Andrews from PROGRESS Chapter 48: Bang The Drum (May 14, 2017) – If you’ve enjoyed Pete Dunne in WWE, you’ll greatly enjoy his efforts in this non-stop triple threat match from a couple weeks back. This match is pure energy from beginning to end and should totally be seen.

What I absolutely positively love in wrestling this week:

Netflix’s GLOW trailer – Okay, this is only tangentially in wrestling, but I believe it still counts. Hell, it’s even relevant to this week’s main essay topic in a way. This looks like a fun dive into 1980s wrestling stereotypes. I’m also a sucked for Alison Brie in basically any show. I’m counting down the days until June 23.

What I absolutely positively love in the world this week:

“Requiem” from the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Dear Evan Hansen – This is a beautiful and complicated song that had me crying as I drove from Los Angeles to Orange County this week. There’s a mournful spirit to it, but it refuses to mourn. It confronts a ton of the complicated feelings those around someone who has taken their own life have to deal with. It may seem like a downer as you read it, but Laura Dreyfuss’ soaring vocals make this a pleasurable listen. Check it out!

Reader mail:

Got something to say/react to in today’s piece? Write to me at itswilltime@gmail.com or on Twitter @wilpruett. Just let me know whether you’d like your name attached to your statement or not. Alternately, there’s a comment section just below this article, so comment away!

Feedback from my first week doing this has been really fun to wade through. Thanks to everyone writing in! Keep it up!

Ender B emailed some very kind feedback, including this:

“My daughter, just barely 3, loves Charlotte, Bailey, Banks, and Bliss. I’ve been working really hard to introduce her to powerful, talented, hard-working women early on. I owe a lot of that to wrestling, believe it or not.”

I write a ton about representation mattering for this very reason. I have a young niece who watches WWE. One day, I hope to have a child that watches with me. Wrestling is a superhero story where you can go and watch the heroes save the world live in an arena just like on television. It’s magical. I’m happy to see more strong women amongst those heroes and will continue to push further.

“Juggalo Steve” offered his most assuredly awkwardly face-painted voice to the conversation saying:

“Small doses of you are irritating enough. This is the most “must skip” item this site has ever turned out. It might be enough to make me dump visiting the site for a while in hopes that numbers dwindle until your awful, blatantly dishonest, one-sided SJW garbage is gone.”

As far as must-skip items, Jason used to post individual wrestlers birthdays as stories. Those were the epitome of must-skip. I always laugh at the accusation of my clearly marked editorials being one-sided. Of course they are. It’s my side. I have no responsibility to present another argument for any reason but obliterating it, which I’m about to do. Finally, SJW, or Social Justice Warrior still sounds more badass to me than insulting. It makes me think of Ultimate Warrior, but without his blatant homophobia, racism, ableism, and the other generally awful portions of his personality.

Russell kindly commented

“An MFA in Drama? I knew there was a reason I enjoy your point of view, Will. Keep up the good work.”

Well, Russell, I’ve always believed the entire point of having a terminal degree in my field was flaunting it. Since I no longer work in academia and can no longer place it pretentiously in my email signature, I have to occasionally mention it while talking about professional wrestling. Thanks for giving me the chance to do so this week.

SSMGOTW (Superfluous Shane McMahon Gif of the Week):

This week’s wrestling reading:

From time to time, I want to highlight some of the best wrestling reading I’ve found over the past week.

Pro Wrestling’s Culture of Blind Followership and Lack of Creative Thought by Brandon Howard

Wait, is Jinder Mahal actually a babyface? by April Lavalle

We’re Done Here:

And thus ends another week! Thank you to everyone who wrote in with names, ideas, or thoughts after last week. I’m settling into a fun rhythm here and I hope you’re all enjoying it. Today, I’ll leave you with the wise words of troubled fictional character Don Draper, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.”

Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. Of interest to him are diversity in wrestling and wrestling as a theatrical art form. To contact, check him out on Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email him at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Will’s New Thing – What Tomasso Ciampa and Jinder Mahal tell us about the nature of villainy in wrestling, this week’s essential viewing, and more in Will Pruett’s new weekly feature

By Will Pruett

Let’s try something new. Let’s try something different. Let’s try something I can get excited about.

Okay, so new is an overstatement. I’m still a white dude pontificating about professional wrestling.

I’ve been watching weekly WWE television for my entire adult life. Despite the assertions from my parents that I’d eventually grow out of it, I never did. Wrestling saw me through being mocked in middle school, being mocked in high school, being eventually accepted as a weird theatre kid in high school, being shy in college, being bold in college, not giving a cuss in grad school, and into my professional life.

It’s wild, to be honest, to have loved something this much for this long. So, why change what I’m doing now? I’ve watched and reviewed weekly WWE television in some from since 2009. It’s been eight years. A lot has changed about WWE TV. A lot has changed about me. My writing has been as much about my own relationship with professional wrestling as it has been about wrestling itself. As my interests in life have changed, what I look for in wrestling has changed. As I’ve found myself reading more feminist literature, I find myself looking for more actively feminist professional wrestling. As I’ve found myself questioning narratives and power structures, I can’t help but do so in professional wrestling.

Wrestling is more than just a couple people, a 20 square foot space, and fans. Wrestling is a reflection of our shared culture. Wrestling is as much about the stories we tell ourselves about good and evil as it is about athleticism. It’s as much about morality plays and melodrama as it is about 450 splashes and irish whips. Wrestling is a great art form despite it being frequently maligned.

I love professional wrestling. I love the pure heroism of it. I love the villains it can produce. I love the stories, both simple and complex it can create.

Looking at the last week in WWE, I can’t help but reflect on the nature of villainy. Wrestling doesn’t work without villains for heroes to overcome. This is basic sports storytelling as well. Watch ESPN going into a Super Bowl and you’ll see attempts to make various players the heroes and villains in the narrative arch they create. Wrestling, obviously, does this in a more direct way.

WWE made great strides in establishing two key villains this week: Tomasso Ciampa and Jinder Mahal.

One of these men is being presented as a the standard foreign antagonist we’ve seen time and time again in this art form. It’s common to see crowds get riled up over nationalism and WWE is finding a way to tap into a nationalistic instinct they’re never far from. They’re harnessing this by making Jinder Mahal an avatar for and a preacher of diversity. While Mahal has other villainous aspects, his character is rooted in a long tradition of xenophobia in wrestling.

The other man is being presented as simply ruthless and angry. There is no misunderstanding to justify Ciampa’s actions at the end of NXT Takeover: Chicago. WWE went as far as highlighting Johnny Gargano sacrificing himself for Tomasso Ciampa prior to Ciampa’s turn. Ciampa was angry, vicious, and unrelenting. Ciampa punished Gargano for an unknown reason. Ciampa is a villain because of his ruthless cruelty. He is not justified in a traditional sense, but I assume he’ll be justified in his own mind.

What makes a better villain? Is simply being a different race, despite the significant diversity of the WWE roster, enough? Is overwhelming cruelty enough? What makes these men wrong to standard viewers? For me, it is far easier to despise cruelty than it is to despise otherness. It is harder to empathize with exceptional and vicious anger than it is being different.

My plan is to use this space to discuss many of the things about professional wrestling I love, but I also want to use this space to call professional wrestling to be better than it has been for years. I want to advocate for social progress in professional wrestling, just as I would any form of entertainment. I know some folks are uncomfortable with this, but my hope is they’ll read and give it a shot. I promise to work in some jokes, weird musical theatre references, silly turns of phrase, and all the other semi-enjoyable things I offer on a regular basis.

This week’s essential viewing:

For the purposes of this column, this week will be presented as Thursday-Wednesday.

Pete Dunne vs. Tyler Bate for the WWE UK Championship from NXT Takeover: Chicago (May 20, 2017) – Remember what I said about simple professional wrestling stories being great? Pete Dunne is a bad guy willing to do anything to get ahead. Tyler Bate is a good guy who got ahead through hard work, despite his young age. They fought. It was amazing. Fans, even those unfamiliar with Bate and Dunne before this, were able to buy into the simple compelling story. This was a masterclass in how simple and effective wrestling storytelling could be.

Will Ospreay vs. Ricochet from NJPW’s Best of the Super Juniors (May 18, 2017) – They made a ton of noise with their statement match in the Best of the Super Juniors tournament last year. This year they had a similarly styled match, but the drama at the end was much more intense. Once again, this match stated that wrestling is an art form and, if you’ve read what I’ve written up to this point, you know I’m a fan of this perspective. If you’re into the state of the art in high flying drama, this is a match for you.

Tomasso Ciampa’s actions after the main event of NXT Takover: Chicago (May 20, 2017) – There was a lot going on here. WWE subverted the post-NXT main event curtain call trope they’ve played into time and time again. The good guys lost and, when they lost, they took a long bow. It seemed like the show was neatly wrapping up, but Ciampa made sure it didn’t. This wasn’t just great in the moment, it was great in the long line of NXT Takeovers as well. WWE did some high-level storytelling with this.

Jinder Mahal’s WWE Championship Celebration from Smackdown Live (May 23, 2017) – This should be Jinder Mahal’s entrance forever. I don’t care how much money it costs to fly an Indian dance troupe all over the world, it’s worth it.

What I absolutely positively love in wrestling this week:

Since production is what I’ve learned to do in life (In case you didn’t know, I have a MFA in Drama), I look at wrestling production in a particular way. When NXT started running larger arenas in 2015, they did something really unique and cool. They turned the lights down on the crowd and focused attention on the ring when action was happening in the ring. At some point, they got away from this, lighting the NXT Takeover: Brooklyn II crowd the same as the SummerSlam crowd. In Chicago, NXT returned to its former basic lighting approach during matches and it was delightful.

What I absolutely positively love in the world this week:

Master of None, Season 2, Episode 8 “Thanksgiving” – Can we talk about Master of None on Netflix for a moment or three? I think it’s my favorite television show of all time. Aziz Ansari has produced two seasons of insightful, enjoyable, funny, and touching television I can’t help but re-watch again and again. One of the many highlights of the recently released season is the “Thanksgiving” episode, which offers amazing insight into multiple cultures I am on the outside looking into. By the end of this episode, I found myself laughing through tears.

Watch. This. Show.

Reader mail:

Got something to say/react to in today’s piece? Write to me at itswilltime@gmail.com or on Twitter @wilpruett. Just let me know whether you’d like your name attached to your statement or not. Alternately, there’s a comment section just below this article, so comment away!

To kick off this column, let’s go to the comment section of my last Pause where Arky wrote “The Scramble match is silly because effectively only the last fall matters.”

Arky, I respectfully disagree with your premise that the Scramble Match is silly in any way and refuse to listen to the paragraphs of reason you followed up with. Thank you for reading and have a great day!

Reader Alissa commented “As far as Bayley goes…and maybe my hearing is just bad, but it seems to me as if people are turning on her already. Her cheers are nowhere near the level they were when she debuted. And having her go at it on the mic with Bliss certainly doesn’t help. I agree with making things hard for her, since she got too much too soon anyway, but if you do that, have Bliss use really underhanded tactics to get the last laugh while Bayley refuses to give up until the eventual happy ending. But looking at the last weeks, Bliss didn’t need dirty tactics. She simply beat Bayley clean at Payback and easily dispatched her on RAW this week. All that does is make Bayley look like a weak chump. And while that wasn’t that different from her NXT-career at times, viewers on RAW might and probably will react a little different. And as a fan of hers, that’s not encouraging.”

Alissa, I couldn’t agree more about the diminishing crowd reactions to Bayley and them being symptomatic of a bigger problem. WWE is not doing justice to this character. They’re making many of the mistakes they avoided in her NXT run while at the same time hoping fans who loved her in NXT stay emotionally invested through bad booking decisions. WWE clearly doesn’t know what story they’re trying to tell with Bayley’s character and it’s all getting lost on the bloated Raw program. Raw is also not a show that encourages fans to cheer for nice people, which will be a problem for Bayley. Thanks for commenting!

SSMGOTW (Superfluous Shane McMahon Gif of the Week):

This week’s wrestling reading:

From time to time, I want to highlight some of the best wrestling reading I’ve found over the past week.

Don’t Hinder Jinder (with xenophobia) by Nadir Shirazi

The 5/22 Raw Breakdown by Kate Foray

We’re Done Here:

So this was week one of a new thing. Feedback, either positive or negative would be awesome from y’all! Heck, if you have a better name suggestion, I’m about that as well. Let’s get interactive in this space and have some fun with it. I have to throw a thank you out there to Jason Powell, who has been nothing but supportive of me basically getting to write the kinds of things I’d like to read.

Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. Of interest to him are diversity in wrestling and wrestling as a theatrical art form. To contact, check him out on Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email him at itswilltime@gmail.com.

Pruett’s Pause: WWE Raw – Why the hell isn’t the “Fatal Five Way” a damn Scramble Match, Rollins vs. Wyatt, Balor vs. Reigns, and more!

By Will Pruett

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

If five top level main event stars are going to participate in one match together, there is only one acceptable match type for it to be. No, a “Fatal Five Way” is not the correct type. It will never be the correct type.

First of all, WWE has used “Fatal Four Way” incessantly despite the fact that no one has ever died during a match. Second, it also shows a massive breakdown in the automatic alliteration acclimator WWE uses to come up with weird match names. Why use “Fatal” twice in a row? Were there no other f-words WWE could come up with?

Fantastic Five Way?

Formulaic Five Way?

Festival Five Way?

Final Five Way?

Fortunate Five Way?

You know what, this shouldn’t even be a problem. WWE’s lackadaisical laziness when it comes to alliteration shouldn’t be a problem, because this match should have just one stipulation.

In 2008, WWE came up with one of the few concepts they would only ever do on one night. It was confusing, but for some reason they had three of these matches on the same show (WWE Unforgiven 2008). The Scramble Match was the flavor of the evening with three matches each featuring temporary champions and a massive amount of pins, submissions, and finishes. This is what we need at Extreme Rules.

This is a match type custom built for five wrestlers. WWE is putting their top five wrestlers on Raw (aside from the always inactive Brock Lesnar) in one match. Why not stagger the entrances? Why not have multiple falls? Why not allow us all to enjoy the goodness of a gosh darn Scramble Match once again?

This is certainly better than a Seth “Freakin’” Five Way at Extreme Rules. This is the future wrestling fans want.

SCRAMBLE MATCHES FOREVER!!!!

And now for some random thoughts:

– Why has Raw been the show with weird welding graphics for years? What is it about Monday nights that makes WWE continuously insist on welding sparks flying across the screen? I’m tired of welding. Welding is lame.

– Roman Reigns and Finn Balor had their second ever match on Raw and it was another good one from the two of them. It’s a weird dynamic to see these two together because the size difference tends to make Balor the more sympathetic option. Also, Roman Reigns (as a character) is kind of an ass. This was a fun match and probably the most worth-watching thing on Raw.

– As far as opening segments with six people saying almost nothing go, the opening of Raw was alright.

– WWE spent time promoting WWE 24’s Finn Balor special on this show and I couldn’t help but think these awesome documentaries should be a part of Raw. They’re a great way to let fans get to know all of the stars. I know it’s not the most exciting thing for a live crowd, but neither is Titus O’Neil and apparently he’s still a thing.

– Dean Ambrose vs. The Miz was almost as good as the Balor vs. Reigns match. This was a solid night for ring work. I enjoyed the disqualification in this match to build for Extreme Rules. It’s a logical way to get to a match between the two with the opposite of Extreme Rules at Extreme Rules.

– Alexa Bliss was sent out with very little text of substance to say. She still made it work.

– The portrayal of Bayley on this show was pretty harmful. I wish Bayley’s character was still clicking, but WWE has done a lot of harm to her.

– A Kendo Stick on a Pole match is almost as dumb of an idea as not having a Scramble Match.

– Seth Rollins is going to be attacked by Samoa Joe for the rest of his life. In every match, this is his destiny. He will never win by anything but disqualification again. Samoa Joe will spend the next 15 years shouting “This isn’t over” at Rollins.

– Jeff Hardy vs. Sheamus was fun, but I’m not sure about Sheamus losing this close to his heel turn. I would prefer some actual momentum behind Sheamus and Cesaro prior to losing again.

– Hulu Raw rarely believes in cruiserweights. I appreciate this.

– It took more self control than I’d like to admit to not say “F—ing Five Way” in my above list.

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 – Overseas Raw episodes and sleepiness, Miz vs. Ambrose takes center stage, Rollins vs. Samoa Joe, and more!

By Will Pruett

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

WWE has a very distinct formula when they go overseas to film an episode of Raw. After doing this twice a year for over a decade, it’s easy to spot the trend. Instead of forwarding a ton of stories and taking some of the risks they’d usually take with a normal live Raw episode, WWE relies heavily on time-filling in-ring action to get through the three hour marathon with minimal character or story development.

Sometimes, this formula works wonderfully. Shawn Michaels and John Cena put on the best Raw match of all time, going over an hour in April of 2007. Sometimes, the formula is terrible and it results in a super obnoxiously unfathomably boring show. This show found a balance in the middle. Nothing was terrible, yet nothing will stand out or even be remembered in a week. This week’s Raw was among the “meh-est” Raws of all time.

The show was built around a feud WWE has already seen to completion on Smackdown and was more about the interesting personalities of super-serious bad guy The Miz and wacky Dean Ambrose. It was all in the name of building up their Intercontinental Championship match next week. While I’m happy to see these two get some build up for their match next week, this program is not exactly my favorite. I’m more anxious for the personality of Ambrose to shift to something less comedic.

Ambrose and Miz was the bookends (with Miz vs. Balor and Ambrose vs. Wyatt) and the throughline of the show, as they were also the co-General Managers for the night. I tend to dislike wrestling shows built around a “OMG can you believe who is in charge?!?!” plot and this was no exception. This was some of the most illogical fictional world destroying content WWE could have produced. It ruins many of the things WWE tries to constantly tell us about their universe and it wouldn’t be accepted in any other fictional medium.

WWE often gets a pass for illogical (and awful) storytelling because it is wrestling. I’m not about that noise. WWE should be held to the standard of any entertainment product.

Anyways, this show also featured a whole lot of noise from Samoa Joe and Seth Rollins, but very little development. There was one segment for the Women’s Division again, with little character development and some puzzling decision making (Bayley taking all of the babyface attention away from Mickie James). There was a good tag team turmoil match with a good story centered on Cesaro and Sheamus that highlighted the show.

Everything else on this show hardly stands out to me. This was a boring show and it was hardly worth the 90 minutes I invested in watching it.

And now for some random thoughts:

– The new Hulu Android interface is very poor.

– Mickie James should have come off like a major star in this match, but instead she was second fiddle to Bayley. It was really strange.

– Braun Strowman’s injury comes at an unfortunate moment, but WWE can do a lot with it. Him returning to once again take on Roman Reigns will be highly anticipated. Braun taking on Brock Lesnar, as he said he wanted to do on this show, should be a major match (possibly for SummerSlam). This isn’t the worst moment for a Strowman injury and people will be happy to see him when he returns.

– Maryse isn’t asked to do much at The Miz’s side, but she stands out in really fun ways. I love the subversion of the “heel hiding behind a woman” trope when Maryse steps in to guard Miz. She’s done it two weeks in a row and it’s great.

– Kalisto’s new theme music sounds like a mistake.

– Nia Jax and Alexa Bliss in an alliance should be fun.

– The crowd on this show was pretty awful. London has a reputation for electric crowds, but this crowd was intent on being a distraction or doing nothing. We needed a middle ground between the two. This was bad form from the London crowd and I’m sad that Smackdown will be there tonight.

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 Book Review: The WWE Book of Top 10s – A list about a book about lists!

By Will Pruett

On May 9, 2017, The WWE Book of Top 10s will be released. I know what you’re all thinking, every website ever in the history of mankind has made page after page of lists. Lists are the internet’s strongest asset (aside from a free exchange of ideas). However, to properly review this book of lists, I felt the need to make a list.

Top 10 Things You Need to Know about The WWE Book of Top 10s

  1. The forward is written by list-maker extraordinaire Chris Jericho and is pretty funny. I might have gone for the “Perfect 10” Tye Dillinger in a book so heavily reliant on the number ten, but I understand both tactics. Jericho is definitely a more prolific and charming writer than I assume Tye is.
  2. This isn’t the book you’re going to purchase to satiate your hardcore wrestling fandom and debate about definitive lists. This is the book you’re going to purchase for a healthy dose of WWE nostalgia or as a fun way to show the younger fans in your life moments you love and cherish.
  3. There are 100 lists in this book, all in vibrant full color. It grabs your attention with each page and, even in moments when you find yourself being that human and disagreeing with the book (I did this a few times), there’s always another list on the next page.
  4. The best list in this book is the Top 10 Emotional Championship Victories. Reading through this list and remembering each of these moments was a nice way to pass between two and four minutes.
  5. The worst list in this book is the Top 10 ECW Champions because it leaves off Vince McMahon. It also weirdly just lists lengths of ECW Championship reigns and few other reasons for wrestles to appear on the list.
  6. The strangest list has to be Top 10 Non-Title Matches. I can’t help but imagine a group of wrestling scholars gathered around a table for multiple years watching every non-title match in WWE history to come up with this list. I’ll give them credit for including a Shane McMahon match on the list though!
  7. I learned the title of Steve Austin’s theme music from the non-grammatically named Top Ten Entrance Music list. Apparently it’s “I Won’t Do What You Tell Me,” which seems a little too on the nose.
  8. There’s a list of Top Ten Rising Superstars, so you should probably buy this book soon. This page won’t be relevant forever.
  9. A suggested game to play with this book: Divide some friends into Family Feud-esque teams and try to guess all the contents of a list. Find a way to copiously drink while doing so. Have a great time!
  10. This is a very walk down nostalgia lane with a fun mix of modernity in it as well. It’s not for everyone, but if you want a fun hit of wrestling nostalgia along with some silly numbers, this book is for you!

Got thoughts on this book 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 – Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, and the right place for endings, Jinder Mahal vs. Sami Zayn, and JBL gets back to being terrible

By Will Pruett

Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens ended the program they began just before SummerSlam 2016 when they were a random tag team to face Enzo and Cass on this show. It ended with the final defeat of Jericho at the hands of Owens and a major injury angle to finally write Jericho off of WWE television. I left this very good match and delightful performance from Jericho and Owens wondering about the nature of endings in professional wrestling.

Wrestling is built around endings. The “blow-off” match for a feud is usually the biggest match after all of the other options in a feud have been exhausted. With any luck, it’s promoted and becomes the main story on a show it is on. Professional wrestling can offer what no actual sport can: a guaranteed ending with a satisfying conclusion. This is a huge advantage to the scripted medium and one of the biggest reasons to enjoy a scripted medium over a real one.

The timing of endings is often questionable to me. Some stories end at WrestleMania (like The Rock vs. John Cena after two and a half long years), but some seem to end (like this one) on a random episode of Smackdown. I don’t mind taking an ending away from the WWE Network, but it seems like a strange strategy. If I’m supposed to have the Network and never want to miss an important ending, shouldn’t I be given endings there? What’s the point of an ending happening on television?

I know more people see WWE television than see the WWE Network, but this has always been true, especially in the era of major pay-per-views.

I didn’t always find myself enjoying this feud between Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens. Most of what they did as a team didn’t appeal to me, especially while trying to handle the weight of the Universal Championship and carrying the bulk of Raw through the summer. I loved the turn, but not necessarily the timing of it. I haven’t clicked with Jericho’s babyface schtick. Despite all of this, the ending here made sense.

Owens and Jericho are a couple good performers who gave us a conclusion worth watching. I’m happy about this and glad this run could occur for Jericho.

And now for some random thoughts:

– JBL returned to his insufferable self on this episode of Smackdown and it severely decreased my enjoyment of the overall show. He was overbearing, far too loud, and altogether obnoxious. He detracted from Smackdown itself making me wish I could pay Hulu an extra $4.00/month to get rid of JBL’s commentary like I can for commercials.

– Maybe I’m in a good mood this week, but I really enjoyed the silly Fashion Police segment with Tyler Breeze and Fandango. It’s not what I’d do with them, but this segment was a fun promo about The Usos. It did something to establish these two as characters, while also giving us some fun easter eggs (especially on the bulletin board behind them). I will give the Fashion Police a thumbs up for now.

– Working AJ Styles into the show early on to keep him out of the Jericho vs. Owens rematch was a nice device. I’m excited for Owens vs. Styles at the top program on Smackdown.

– It’s interesting to see WWE really emphasize the secondary championships on Raw and Smackdown this week. Both shows were without their top champions and they chose to make the Intercontinental Championship and United States Championship feel important. Endowed props are only worth the worth their endowed with. This was a great week for secondary titles.

– Now that Jinder Mahal is in a key role in WWE, I am waiting for him to prove he deserves it. He had a thoroughly unexciting match with Sami Zayn where he looked clumsy and slow. He still yells every word he says instead of speaking like a normal human. Giving Mahal an opportunity to shine is fantastic for WWE and Smackdown. Jinder Mahal now needs to prove he belongs where he is.

– Without Randy Orton on this show, I was left to wonder if he is still trapped in a weird house in San Jose, in the ring at the SAP Center in San Jose, or in some sort of post-match hell Bray Wyatt has created. Wyatt said Randy could never leave; what if he was right?

– Becky Lynch sure did take awhile to run out and help Charlotte and Naomi. The setup for the attack was obvious, as was the solution. The idea of conflicted Becky Lynch hasn’t struck a chord with me. What is making her feel conflicted? She’s been fighting Natalya and Carmella for a long time. This should be a cut and dry position for the clearly morally superior character Lynch has been. Adding weird conflict feels like overwrought mystery for the sake of mystery.

– Charlotte Flair is being portrayed as the new top protagonist in Smackdown’s Women’s Division and, in a way, the top protagonist on all of Smackdown. She’s been painted as the biggest star on the show and is being put in segments normally reserved for major stars (top of the show, top of the second hour, and end of the show). I’m hoping WWE doesn’t go too quickly to Flair winning the Women’s Championship. If they build it up, it could (and should) be a major main event moment on pay-per-view. Honestly, I’d look at putting Charlotte’s eventual fair title shot on last at SummerSlam.

– With Carmella pinning Naomi, I wonder if that’s a future Women’s Championship match. It would be a way to delay Charlotte getting a shot for a little longer.

– Shane McMahon is still an enjoyable professional wrestling character. It’s difficult not to delight in him being on screen.

– The “Let’s Go” on Smai Zayn’s video wall shows up before Sami’s music shouts “Let’s Go” and this annoys me.

– Tye Dillinger was essentially the mascot for NXT fans to get behind for years (Like Captain New Japan). I wonder if this will click for Smackdown. Dillinger is pretty talented and is early in his main roster run. I hope he is able to become something compelling for Smackdown.

– Aiden English is funnier than we all give him credit for.

– Dolph Ziggler is very bad at being a naturalistic arrogant bad guy. He’s overdoing everything by about 34% and it’s not fun. Ziggler getting upset about Shinsuke Nakamura is getting exhausting. Their match at Backlash couldn’t come soon enough.

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 – Finn Balor vs. Seth Rollins vs. The Miz shows some rare efficiency, Alexa Bliss could be the best in the world, and more!

By Will Pruett

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

It’s not often I can praise Raw for its efficiency, because the nature of the show is stretching out everything as long as humanly possible until the entire world starts watching on Hulu. I come to you today to say Raw’s main events was one of the most efficient wrestling matches I’ve seen in years in the number of feuds it built without killing overall match quality. Seth Rollins vs. The Miz vs. Finn Balor was very enjoyable.

When I say efficient, I don’t mean to say the match wasn’t long. The main event of Raw had plenty of time allotted to it. It had three very capable wrestlers able to fill time with both solid action and story. It also set up the characters involved well throughout the night.

We had Rollins and Balor both angling for a shot at Brock Lesnar’s Universal Championship. We had Dean Ambrose letting everyone know his Intercontinental Championship is more important. We had The Miz making general trouble with the three protagonists. Add in Ambrose’s surprisingly fun “interview” moments throughout the night and Wacky Dean Ambrose helped to make this match feel important.

In the actual match, we saw three individual feuds built with the three competitors. Three stories advanced to another chapter in the space of about ten minutes.

For once, interference at the end of a match didn’t feel obnoxious or overdone. Samoa Joe’s absence earlier in the show was explained when he attacked Seth Rollins prior to the conclusion. Bray Wyatt’s re-emergence as a supernatural foe for Finn Balor made sense in a similar way. Characters with solid motivations were fighting each other and circumstances lead to The Miz winning.

This was a dynamic and fun main event that I’ll remember as a sort of pinnacle of what Raw can do.

And now for some random thoughts:

– Alexa Bliss was absolutely great in the opening segment of Raw. I am not sure how else to describe it. She had a confidence she never even reached on Smackdown. She had fire behind her words. If this form keeps up for Bliss, she’ll be the best performer in WWE and it won’t even be close. This was the best promo on the whole show (that was filled with promos).

– While I’d rather see multiple women’s matches on every WWE show, they dedicated a ton of time to the eight woman tag on Raw and used it well. Alexa needed another big victory and this served a great purpose. I’m still hoping we can get a couple concurrent feuds in this division (possibly Mickie James vs. Alexa Bliss and Bayley vs. Sasha Banks) and maybe even some story to feature Emma.

– I can’t say I’m super into seeing The Miz vs. Dean Ambrose again, but I do like the chance to get the Intercontinental Championship around the waist of The Miz.

– Samoa Joe and Seth Rollins are going to yell a lot in the next month, aren’t they?

– What exactly was Bray Wyatt saying to Kurt Angle? I’m not even sure Mr. Wyatt uses real words in his promos these days.

– Is an Angle vs. Wyatt match possible? That would be a weird use of Angle.

– Bray Wyatt trying to draw out The Demon is probably going to annoy me. Others may like it. This is the subjective artistic world of professional wrestling.

– I enjoyed the opportunity Cesaro and Sheamus got to speak about/justify their actions the previous night. I did not enjoy the segment quite as much. The promo seemed to just be tossed out there without a crowd who knew how to react. It wasn’t my favorite thing on the show.

– Austin Aries vs. TJ Perkins was a fun little match. It added the necessary dynamic in-ring action Raw needs to pick it up in the final third of the show.

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 Payback – The Roman Reigns hate has gone too far, Braun Strowman as Raw’s great creative victory, and Alexa Bliss makes history

By Will Pruett

It finally happened in the last month. I had seen this coming for years. It has taken longer than I thought to get here, but friends, I believe the hate has gone too far on Roman Reigns.

I understand why so many people have embraced the backlash to Roman Reigns. At a time, it was a logical thing to do. Daniel Bryan was the hottest star in wrestling and Reigns appeared to be usurping him without the crowd support to justify it. After being told a year earlier to reject WWE’s plan and force their own narrative, fans tried to do so once again. It didn’t work. WWE stayed the course with Reigns and Bryan eventually retired. This damaged Reigns more than anyone anticipated.

WWE didn’t lean into fan reaction with Reigns, they stayed the course. In doing so, some people genuinely became fans of Roman Reigns. Personally, while the character has always lacked something, I have found his in-ring work to be fantastic most of the time. Reigns has had amazing matches over the last few years and his run in The Shield should not be forgotten either. Roman Reigns is a good-to-great professional wrestler.

This is the weird thing in modern WWE. I’m not sure why people actually hate Roman Reigns at this point. Many say he’s pushed too hard, but plenty of wrestlers have been given main event pushes throughout time. It’s common for wrestling shows to have main events and for those main events to be filled by main eventers. Roman Reigns wrestles in main events. WWE has gone out of their way to embrace Reigns as a main eventer, but no more than they did for Hogan, Austin, Rock, Cena, and so many others.

What is it that make Roman Reigns so easy to hate? He was likable in The Shield as the heavy for the three man group. He’s probably had the best career outside The Shield of the three men.

The only justifiable reason to hate Roman Reigns is the lack of humanity he shows on WWE television. I don’t believe WWE has ever fully figured out who Roman Reigns is and without the ability to connect to that, Braun Strowman could throw Reigns into a volcano and fans would cheer. WWE has come close to humanizing Reigns, but at every turn they fail somehow.

What I enjoy about Reigns are the performances he manages to deliver even when his character has been so under-developed. In the ring, it’s hard to think of a Roman Reigns match I didn’t find compelling. Fans invest emotionally in Reigns even when WWE hasn’t given them the emotional human to latch onto. This is actually remarkable. Roman Reigns, despite an underdeveloped character, still brings a certain drama to his matches other wrestlers in WWE cannot.

As Braun Strowman did all he could to murder Reigns last night and fans chanted “you deserve it” and “thank you, Strowman” I couldn’t help but not enjoy it. It’s not funny anymore. It’s not even fun anymore. It’s too much. Before Roman Reigns, I often said John Cena was the best wrestler to ever get thrashed for his wrestling ability, but Roman has taken this mantle.

I’m not advocating for anyone to love Reigns or not express themselves, but I am saying the hate for Roman Reigns has gone too far.

And now for some random thoughts:

– Alexa Bliss vs. Bayley was my favorite match on this show and my favorite match of Alexa’s career. It was better than most of Bliss’ matches have been and better than just about anything Bayley has done on the main roster (aside from her Raw main event with Charlotte). WWE does have something special with the Bayley character, but they messed up somewhere along the way with her title reign. Alexa Bliss is a great talker, a solid worker (who is growing into her own), and probably the best standard bearer for the Raw brand right now.

– Any reason why this pay-per-view didn’t have at least two women’s matches?

– As much as I’d like to see Sasha Banks vs. Bayley eventually be for the Raw Women’s Championship, I’d actually rather see them get a major match on a pay-per-view without a title. We need more than one feud in the Women’s Division.

– Braun Strowman is the great creative triumph of all of Raw. He has been solidly built and he is still a monster. It’s remarkable, since I saw nothing in him when he debuted. It’s great to see him doing such great work in a character that fits him well.

– Samoa Joe vs. Seth Rollins was good, but missing something. These two can tell great stories in the ring, but it reminded me of the Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens match earlier in the night that was just a little slower than I would have liked.

– Why have Chris Jericho win the United States Championship? Maybe he’ll be doing more than just a show or two on Smackdown but at this moment I expect Jericho to lose the title quickly and Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles to still be the top program on Smackdown.

– How many houses does Bray Wyatt own? He has a full compound with a few homes on it. He has millions of followers in weird sheep masks. He also has a home in the Bay Area, which I assume cost him about $2,000,000 given the cost of home ownership in silicon valley.

– The House of Horrors match between Wyatt and Randy Orton was not as bad as it could have been, but it was plenty silly. WWE broke out all the weird string instrument effects on their synthesizer to soundtrack it, which thoroughly annoyed me.

– Matt and Jeff Hardy continue their nostalgia run sponsored by overly baggy jeans, but at least at this moment, they will have some motivation. I’m glad Cesaro and Sheamus turned after a pretty good tag team match. I’m excited to see where this feud and all of these characters go next.

– Neville and Austin Aries had a good match with a lame finish. I know Neville is the cowardly champion, but I worry the future will have him overly reliant on finishes like this and he’ll lose the edge he had when he took over the division.

– Is everyone getting pinned by surprise roll ups these days?

– This was an odd show from a construction standpoint. Finn Balor, Sasha Banks, Dean Ambrose, Nia Jax, The Miz, and other high level wrestlers were left off. Is this simply because WWE didn’t know what to do coming out of the Superstar Shakeup? Was the Shakeup planned before or after plans for this show? It was weird.

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 – 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.