SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
The U.S. Title Tournament Begins…
Recap: The show began with Daniel Bryan in the ring. He showed a replay of Dolph Ziggler abandoning the US Title last week. He stated that Dolph has not been returning his calls since then, and as a result the title is vacated. He wished Dolph the best, referred to him as an all-time great, and announced a tournament to crown a new champion. In the first round of the tournament, Bobby Roode defeated Baron Corbin and Jinder Mahal defeated Tye Dillinger.
Evaluation: Last week, I said I’d be surprised if we had seen the last of Dolph. After this week, however, I think he may legitimately be gone. Daniel Bryan wishing him well felt sincere, and the charitable reference to him as an “all time great” further makes me believe that it was a farewell.
The U.S. Title picture is a perfect place for Jinder Mahal. While his first world title run didn’t work out, he still has a great look and is a dedicated hard worker behind the scenes. The US Title picture is a great place for him to develop.
Forecast: Considering the way he’s been booked, Dolph being gone could be a good thing. Dolph is undeniably talented in the ring. I’d like to see what he can do in the independent circuit and/or ROH with more creative control over his character. We’d find out whether the problem was all on WWE’s end, or if the blame lied with Dolph himself.
On the other hand, even if Dolph really is coming back, they’ve played this angle well enough to legitimately fool me.
Shane is Becoming Increasingly Heelish…
Recap: Backstage, Shane expressed displeasure at Daniel Bryan booking a US Title tournament as well as the A.J. Styles vs. Kevin Owens match without banning Sami Zayn from ringside. He also indicated that he was bothered by being compared to his father in a negative way last week. He defended his father’s history in innovating the wrestling business. He also said that while he didn’t necessarily agree, “people are saying” that Bryan has been showing favoritism to Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens.
Later, during the A.J. Styles vs. Kevin Owens match, Shane came down the ramp and banned Zayn from ringside. The commotion distracted the referee, who missed a pin from A.J. Owens then rolled up A.J. for the win.
Evaluation: The writers seem to be accepting that Shane playing heel is the only realistic way to move forward. He defended his heel father. He then criticized Daniel Bryan’s alleged favoritism of Owens and Zayn with the passive-aggressive “I would never say this, but people are saying” rhetorical trick. Lastly, intentional or not, his actions cost the most popular guy on the roster his match tonight. A.J. even shot Shane a disapproving look on his way backstage.
Forecast: When this feud finally comes to a head, it appears the writers will be going with Shane has the heel. This is a very good decision, as ultimately the crowd never would’ve turned on Daniel Bryan. The tricky part will be handling Owens and Zayn. It’s too early to turn Zayn. They could end up teaming with Shane. Much like Sami Zayn when he turned, Shane could say he eventually realized that Owens’ criticisms have been right all along.
Benjamin & Gable get a Shot at the Tag Titles…
Recap: Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable demanded a shot at the tag titles, telling Daniel Bryan that their loss at Clash of Champions shouldn’t be held against them since they never received a one-on-one match. Rusev Day and New Day also pled their cases. Daniel Bryan set a triple threat among the teams for the number one contendership. Gable and Benjamin won the match.
Evaluation: Chad Gable continues to impress me in the ring, and tonight’s match was no exception. The double German suplex in particular stood out. I’m happy to see these guys get a shot at the tag titles.
It was ironic that the direct result of Gable and Benjamin complaining about being in a multi-way match at Clash of Champions was them being placed into another multi-way match this week.
Forecast: The title match is next week on SmackDown, not at Royal Rumble. I’m hoping to see an inconclusive finish so a one-on-one feud with the Usos can continue for a while.
-This was another week with a storyless Women’s Division. The corporate PR video package about the women’s Rumble match ran again, going on and on about the historic nature of it. Stephanie McMahon was again emphasized. The Ruby Riott v Naomi match ended with a brawl involving the entire women’s locker room (again). I’ll repeat from last week: the best way to promote the Rumble match is to give us storylines and athletes we care about, not randomly throwing the women together and virtue signaling….
-Rusev consistently had the biggest pops of the night. Hopefully WWE can capitalize without overplaying the gimmick…