Tag Archives: Mae Young Classic

WWE’s 10 Most Fascinating People of 2018

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

What we have here is a bit of a tradition here at PI.

It started as a take-off of something Barbara Walters used to do. She’d choose and profile the 10 “most fascinating people” of the year. I’ve borrowed that concept several times over the years, and the lists can be found in our archives.

(For your convenience: 2012. 2013. 2015. 2016. 2017.)

So once again, we’re back. On this year’s list, we’ve got a UFC Hall of Famer turned WWE Champion, a heroic underdog turned monster heel, a new hot babyface taking the company by storm, among several others…

1. Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey was always going to be a marquee player for WWE. That was blatantly obvious from the get-go. And why wouldn’t she be? But realistically, Ronda could have put in half the effort she does, and made less than half the appearances, and still gotten by. She could have coasted on her name, a few suplexes, and some armbars. She could have taken many would consider to be the Brock Lesnar path.

Instead, Rousey has consistently over-delivered. Whether it was her debut match at Wrestlemania, her match with Charlotte Flair at Survivor Series, or even her title bout with Nia Jax at TLC, this has unquestionably been the best-case scenario.

Rousey has her critics, who would have you believe she doesn’t deserve the spot she has. While so much of wrestling is relative based on one’s personal taste, many of those critics need to be reminded that much of the so-called “Women’s Evolution” can be attributed to Rousey’s success in the UFC. If she doesn’t become the box office draw that she does, WWE has no reason to revamp its own women’s division. Without Rousey, women like Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and Asuka wouldn’t have the chance to headline pay per views or steal the show at Wrestlemania.

What’s more, Rousey may be about to knock down yet another door. It’s looking more and more like she’ll be part of the first women’s match to headline the show of shows…

2. Daniel Bryan
This is Bryan’s third time on the list, and it’s not hard to see why. His performances spark a ton of emotion, and fans definitely ran the emotional gambit with him this year. In March, we were thrilled to hear he was cleared to return to the ring after more than two years in a WWE-imposed retirement. The move raises a number of questions regarding other wrestlers thought to be permanently retired due to injury. Among those names is Paige, who thanked Bryan in her retirement speech, adding “…you give me hope.”

Bryan made his emotional and genuinely inspirational return to the ring at Wrestlemania. For several months, Bryan was once again one of the company’s most popular acts. Then, less than a week before Survivor Series, Bryan shocked the world by winning back the WWE Championship, turning heel on AJ Styles in the process.

Since then, Bryan has condemned fans for their consumerism, and lack of regard for the environment. In one of the year’s most talked about promos, he promised to replace the leather strap on the WWE Title belt. He’s literally gone from one of the company’s top babyfaces, to perhaps its top heel. At this rate, it’s likely he’ll once again find himself back in the WWE Title Match at Wrestlemania this year.

3. Asuka
Asuka is also returning to this list, having made it last year. The “Empress of Tomorrow” started her 2018 at the highest of highs. Since arriving on Raw in October 2017, she’d kept her fabled undefeated streak alive. She would go on to win the inaugural Women’s Royal Rumble Match, earning a title match at Wrestlemania. She would face Smackdown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair in a match that, for my money, stole the damn show.

But that’s where her luck began to change. Flair shocked the world when she ended Asuka’s undefeated streak. A strange move in hindsight, as she’d simply drop the title to Carmella. The same Carmella that would later defeat Asuka in back-to-back pay per views. Mere months beforehand, it had been unthinkable that Asuka could lose to anyone. She’d beaten the likes of Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Mickie James. But suddenly, here she was losing title matches to Carmella, and subsequently being mired in mediocrity, forming an alliance with Naomi. The two would lose to Peyton Royce and Billie Kay at Super Show-Down.

And yet, Asuka’s popularity has endured. Apparently, that’s what prompted Vince McMahon to add her to the Smackdown Women’s Title Match at TLC. Now, Asuka can add Smackdown Women’s Champion, and winner of the first Women’s TLC Match to her resume. It’s like the last 10 months never even happened…

So at last, Asuka has made it to the top. It didn’t happen the way any of us thought it would. But she is there. Now it’s just a question of whether she can stay at the top, or she’ll be lost in the shuffle again. One way or another, we’ll get our answer in 2019.

4. Shawn Michaels
It’s tough to remember HBK coming out of retirement, isn’t it? As big a deal as it is, it was drowned out by all the controversy surrounding WWE Crown Jewel. Not to mention the announcement that Roman Reigns would be stepping away to fight leukemia.

But indeed, Degeneration X reunited in Saudi Arabia to face the Brothers of Destruction. While many cried that Triple H, the Undertaker, and Kane showed their age out there, even after eight years away Shawn still managed to look pretty damn good. And while Shawn himself indicated he’d be going right back into retirement, there’s been plenty of speculation about “Mr. Wrestlemania” making yet another appearance at the show of shows. Another Undertaker match seems like the obvious route. But Shawn has no shortage of other options. I myself floated six of them.

In hindsight, I still wish Shawn hadn’t done this match. I really wanted him to be the one guy that stayed true to his word. But what’s done is done.

5. Tegan Nox
This one hurt. Like, it really hurt. You just wanted to reach through the screen and comfort this poor woman. She’d already been through hell, and now she was going to have to do it all over again.

Tegan Nox, whose real name is Steffanie Newell, was supposed to be in the first Mae Young Classic. But a torn ACL kept her out of the ring. For this year’s tournament, they were telling that story with her. In fact, she was one of the favorites to win the whole thing.

Then, mere seconds into her second-round match against Rhea Ripley, her other knee goes out. We later learned she’d torn that ACL as well. It was a legitimately heartbreaking moment for not only Newell, but everyone watching.

The only upside in all of this? We seem to be on the road to yet another redemption story for this character. In the aftermath of all this, Rhea Ripley, who has gone on to become the NXT UK Women’s Champion, started a war of words with Nox on Twitter. So assuming Nox will indeed be back in the ring, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see her wearing that title in 2019.

So get well soon, Miss Newell. Great things are waiting for you.

6. Johnny Gargano
As cliche as it is, I’ve got to go with the classic Harvey Dent quote from The Dark Knight on this one: “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Former tag team partners Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa have put on some of the best matches in all of wrestling this year. But the feud has transformed Gargano, arguably one of the last old school babyfaces in the business, into a man consumed with destroying Ciampa. So when Ciampa wrestled Aleister Black for the NXT Championship in July, Gargano attempted to interfere and cost him the match. It ended up backfiring, as Gargano hit Black with the belt, and essentially handed the title to Ciampa.

A Triple-Threat Match was made for the championship at NXT Takeover Brooklyn IV, but a mysterious attack took Black out of the match. Gargano failed to win the title, at it was later revealed the he was the one who attacked the former champion. Naturally, a feud ignited between the two, culminating in a steel cage match this past week on NXT, which Ciampa would help Gargano win. This has lead to rampant speculation that this blood feud between Gargano and Ciampa has ultimately led them to team up all over again.

This slow journey of Johnny Gargano’s, from victim, to heroic avenger, to fallen hero consumed by revenge, to villain, is a textbook example of pro wrestling done right. Deep, emotional stories, told through amazing in-ring action.

7. Dean Ambrose
Ambrose was absent for much of 2018, healing from a torn triceps. But when he returned in August, he was once again part of the Shield. But seeds of dissension were quickly planted by rivals Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler. We all sensed a turn was coming. But there was no way we could have predicted what actually happened…

Mere hours after Roman Reigns announced he was stepping away from the ring to fight leukemia, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins successfully challenged McIntyre and Ziggler for the Raw Tag Team Titles. With emotions still running high after the Reigns announcement, Ambrose shocked Rollins with a DDT, and then a brutal beatdown. While many would cry foul over the timing, for my money it was ultimately one of the best things WWE did all year. It did what pro wrestling is supposed to do: It sucked us in. Got us invested in the characters and their stories. It sparked raw emotion in the audience.

However, WWE’s handling of Ambrose since the turn has been hit-or-miss. While I actually like the new Bane-inspired gas mask look, Vince McMahon’s influence on some of his promos has been quite evident. He’s talked about how the fans smell, how they’re all lazy and unmotivated, etc. Very little with any emotional weight to it.

Still, Ambrose is an awesome performer. Given the right material and the right opportunities, he’s as capable of delivering the goods as anyone. And they have a potentially hot storyline practically gift-wrapped for them, as Ambrose’s real-life wife Renee Young is sitting there on commentary every week. She might just be the ticket to him becoming the vile, despicable heel we all know he can be.

8. Drew McIntyre
Daniel Bryan may have had the comeback of the year, but Drew McIntyre had an epic comeback story of his own. McIntyre reinvented himself after being released by WWE in 2014. He found success in Impact Wrestling, Evolve, and PWG. When he returned to WWE via NXT in 2017, he was almost unrecognizable.

When McIntyre finally returned to the main roster this past April, he formed an unlikely alliance on Raw with Dolph Ziggler. The pair would ultimately up each other’s game, and be a dominant force on the show for most of the year. McIntyre would prove to be one of the show’s most consistent performers, both in the ring and on the mic.

Now a solo act again, the “Scottish Psychopath” will almost certainly challenge for the Universal Championship in 2019. McIntyre’s near five-year journey from the bottom of the wrestling may culminate with him standing at the very top. Frankly, it would be foolish to bet against him at this point.

9. Shinsuke Nakamura
Nakamura is back on this list this year, but unfortunately it’s for the wrong reasons. He and Asuka were very much on parallel journeys this year. They each won their respective Royal Rumble Matches, but failed to win gold at Wrestlemania. While Asuka failed to win the Smackdown Women’s Title from Carmella on two different occasions, Nakamura was unable to take the WWE Title from AJ Styles several times before finally dropping out of contention. He found a little bit of new life as a heel, and won the US Title from Jeff Hardy as a consolation prize. But his run has been fairly unremarkable, highlighted by a losing effort against Seth Rollins at Survivor Series. And while I won’t spoil this week’s Smackdown, the odds of Nakamura walking into 2019 with the belt are slim to none…

It would be easy to blame Nakamura’s failure as a main-eventer on WWE creative. The guy didn’t book himself to lose, after all. WWE also didn’t seem to know how to convey his unique persona, other than simply calling him “the Artist.” Losing multiple title matches to Jinder Mahal in 2017 didn’t help either.

But at the end of the day, Nakamura simply didn’t connect with mainstream American audiences well enough to justify the push he got. Yes, he’s a bona fide legend in Japan. Yes, he did very well in NXT. But on Raw and Smackdown you’re catering to the casuals and the average joes. And while we saw flashes of Nakamura’s greatness, over the long haul we never really got a good reason to invest in him emotionally, be it as a heel or a babyface. You can’t chalk all of that up to creative. Much of it, in fact, a majority of it, is about what happens in when the cameras are rolling.

Supposedly, Nakamura’s contract is up next month. If I’m in his shoes, I’m headed back to Japan. Because I’m at something of a loss as to how you build him back up at this point.

10. Becky Lynch
Up until recently, Becky Lynch was “always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” While her talent, charisma, and likability have been apparent almost from the start, WWE always seemed reluctant to fully get behind her. She was the only one of the “Four Horsewomen” of NXT to never win the NXT Women’s Title. While she did indeed become the inaugural Smackdown Women’s Champion, she only held the belt for two months. She more or less became a second-tier babyface afterward. This, despite fans clamoring to see her in a more prominent role.

We got our wish. Now, Becky Lynch may very well be the most popular wrestler in all of WWE.

Many of us, myself included, balked when Becky turned heel at Summerslam. But in hindsight, it gave her the creative freedom to become the defiant badass she is now. She’s often compared to Stone Cold Steve Austin, and that’s not entirely unjustified. Fans feel she’s been overlooked, and now they’re rooting for her to conquer the system that’s held her back for so long. Even when she was injured by Nia Jax and pulled out of a match against Ronda Rousey at Survivor Series, the fans stood behind her, every bit as outraged as she was. Now, she may be in a position to make history by headlining Wrestlemania with Rousey.

For more than a decade now, we’ve been in the era of forced babyfaces. Wrestlers we’re told we should cheer for, rather than heroes who earn those cheers organically. John Cena and Roman Reigns are both extremely talented, and great at what they do. But for most of their careers they’ve been going against the grain in terms of fan reception.

Becky Lynch is the exact opposite. No one told us to cheer for her. If anything, it’s been the exact opposite. But like Daniel Bryan before her, she’s started an uprising from the audience. And such uprisings should never be ignored, lest the main event of Wrestlemania be drowned out by chants of “Becky! Becky! Becky!”

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

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WWE’s All-Women Event: Let’s Book the Show!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Rumor has it WWE is planning an event this fall that will be strictly for female talent. A sort of make-good for the ladies being left off the Greatest Royal Rumble show in Saudi Arabia.

I’m inclined to believe it will happen, and that they’ll  make a pay per view out of it. Why not? WWE wants to be seen as progressive. We’ve had the women main event TV shows and pay per views. They’ve had a Royal Rumble Match, an Elimination Chamber Match, Money in the Bank Ladder Matches, etc. This seems to be the next logical step.

But who or what do you put on an all-female pay per view? Supposedly, this would be like the Women’s Royal Rumble Match in that it would include names from the past. Though in truth, I’m not sure they need to do that too extensively. If they focus on telling good stories, they’ve got more than enough ladies to put on a good show. Maybe even a great one.

My usual speculation is going to look a little bit different this time. Whereas with predictions I start from the bottom of the card and work up, with this one I’ll be starting with the main event and working down. I’m also jumping to conclusions about who the champions will be once we get to this show. But with or without championships, the matches should work just fine.

And if WWE is going to promote an all-female pay per view, you know who they’ll have pegged for a main event position…

WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Ronda Rousey (c) vs. Natalya

The seeds for this one have obviously been planted for awhile now. It’s just a question of how long they want to wait.

I wouldn’t try and make a big Wrestlemania match out of Ronda and Nattie. But for something like this it would work just fine. There’s also a great story there if Ronda is the champion. Natalya comes from a wrestling family, and has seen the hardships it can wreak. Her husband suffered a career-ending injury in the ring. She herself spent years working her way to the top of WWE. And yet, here Ronda is with one of the top titles in the industry after less than a year.

Here’s a sad truth: Natalie Neidhart-Wilson’s contributions to the “Women’s Evolution” are largely overlooked. But in many ways she was ahead of her time. Before we had Sasha Banks, Bayley, Becky Lynch, or even someone like Paige, we had Natalya working a more sophisticated, technically sound style. The first Charlotte Flair match that really got people buzzing was with Nattie at the inaugural NXT Takeover show.

Here’s where I’m going with this: Nattie deserves to main event a show like this. Future generations will look back on her the way we now look back at names like Molly Holly.

LADDER MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE:
Asuka (c) vs. Charlotte Flair

If the die-hards aren’t hooked by Ronda vs. Nattie, this should do the trick.

I’ve touched on this a little bit already, but WWE needs to work on rebuilding Asuka a bit. She lost her undefeated streak at Wrestlemania, then she lost to Carmella at Money in the Bank, failing to win the Smackdown Women’s Championship on both occasions. It was once unthinkable that someone could beat Asuka. Now she’s dangerously close to becoming just another woman on the roster.

As such, Asuka needs to beat Carmella at Extreme Rules. Then she needs to retain over Charlotte Flair at Summerslam, with this being the rubber match. The ladder is some nice icing on the cake. Though I’ll admit, I’m nervous about Charlotte potentially doing one of her moonsaults off the damn thing.

Mickie James vs. Trish Stratus

One of the highlights of this year’s Women’s Royal Rumble was Mickie James and Trish Stratus being in the ring together for the first time in over a decade. The fans popped big. It was the first time Mickie hast generated that kind of buzz since she’s been back.

So if the people want to see it again, let’s give it to them!

As you’ll see, I’m reticent about giving alumni prominent spots on this show. Because, and I’m sorry to say this, most of them weren’t that good at the Rumble. But there were exceptions. (Michelle McCool, Beth Phoenix, Molly Holly hitting the Molly-Go-Round.) Trish was one of them. I wouldn’t ask her to go 30 minutes with Charlotte or Sasha. But a veteran like Mickie can carry a match with her as a special attraction.

2/3 FALLS MATCH:
Sasha Banks vs. Bayley

By the time we get here, I assume Sasha and Bayley will have had a couple of pay per view matches already. So this is my attempt at letting these two blow off this program once and for all by putting on a clinic. I don’t know if can top their famous NXT Takeover: Brooklyn match.  But they can certainly try. The winner of this match would theoretically be in line for a Raw Women’s Title Match. That’s a natural doorway to Ronda vs. Sasha, if you ask me.

#1 CONTENDER MATCH:
Becky Lynch vs. Naomi vs. Carmella

Admittedly, this is a throw-together match. I had originally put Becky with Charlotte, but figured Charlotte vs. Asuka would be the bigger match. I do think Charlotte vs. Becky would be money, though. It’s well documented that those two are good friends.

On the upside, I would have Becky win this one. While WWE loves their multi-person matches, I’d keep it at three here. No need to muddy the waters. If they want to put more Smackdown ladies out there for this one, they can put somebody on commentary. Peyton Royce and Billie Kay come to mind. But they could have Lana do it as well.

Lita & Ember Moon vs. Alexa Bliss & Victoria

A little more nostalgia in this one. I like Lita being with a spiritual successor in Ember Moon. As for Victoria, she was conspicuous by her absence at the Royal Rumble, and deserves a spotlight like this. She’s also a great heel. So she makes sense for this spot.

Inevitably, Lita has to do a moonsault in this match. But for crying out loud, lady, please be careful. That one at the Rumble scared me…

STIPULATION HANDICAP MATCH:
Nia Jax vs. The Riott Squad
If Nia loses, her head is shaved.
If the Riott Squad loses, Ruby’s head is shaved.

We see Handicap Matches on Raw all the time. But I like the idea of the larger Nia Jax against the three Riott Squad members. The hair stipulation makes for some nice garnish. Plus, I bet Ruby looks good bald!

The caveat here is that Ruby might be injured and unable to wrestle. If that’s the case, depending on how much she’s healed at this point, I say you keep her on TV as much as possible. Have her mentor Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan in backstage segments.

On the subject of backstage segments, it would be cute if after the match, Molly Holly came up to a freshly bald Ruby Riott and said something like, “Don’t worry kid, it’ll grow back.”

NXT WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Kairi Sane (c) vs. Shayna Baszler

Without spoiling anything, unless something unexpected happens, this match will very happen again in the very near future. I see Kairi Sane winning her first NXT Women’s Championship in that encounter. This would be Baszler’s rematch for the belt.

Normally I’d be reticent to put NXT matches on a main roster card. But given what NXT has done for women’s wrestling in the last few years, to not include this championship on a show like this almost seems improper.

Shayna Baszler and Kairi Sane also wrestled in the inaugural Mae Young Classic. So they can tell that story, and connect it to this year’s tournament. I assume it will be over by the time we get here. But if it isn’t, having the finals on this show would be tremendous.

James Ellsworth Open Challenge

“Aw c’mon! Ellsworth has no place wrestling on an all-female pay per view! It was bad enough when he helped Carmella win the first Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match! It’s disgusting! It’s a disgrace!”

Shut up. It’s pro wrestling, not the Olympics.

Part of Ellsworth’s character is that he wrestles women. And he loses. Every single time. So obviously he loses here too. They went to the trouble of bringing him back. So let’s use him! Have him go out there and throw out an open challenge to any woman in all of WWE.

There are a couple directions they can go in here. One is to bring an alumni out. Beth Phoenix would be a great choice for this spot. She’d hit a clothesline, a press slam, a Glam Slam, and then be done.

On the other hand, they could put Lana in there. She’s billed at 5’7, while Ellsworth is about 5’8. Weight wise, they can’t be too far from each other. So you can have that moment of tension, in which it actually looks like Ellsworth can beat Lana up. Then you maybe have her do a high-kick and knock him out. Either way, same kind of match.

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition on Twitter.