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5 things to watch for on Raw 10-23

Chris Schubert

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Raw In this March 29, 2015, file photo, Brock Lesnar makes his entrance at Wrestlemania XXXI in Santa Clara, Calif. Lesnar, the former WWE and UFC heavyweight champion, was selected Monday, June 27, 2016, as the cover superstar for the WWE 2K17 video game that is set for an Oct. 11 release. (AP Photo/Don Feria, File)
AP Photo/Don Feria

Last night, despite being thrown into a state of flux, the WWE put on their TLC pay-per-view. It didn’t have the promised return of the Shield, or the Demon Finn Balor taking on Sister Abagail, but it did provide the in-ring return of Kurt Angle and a dream matchup between Balor and A.J. Styles. Tonight, the WWE moves forward toward Survivor Series. Here are five things to watch for on tonight’s episode of Monday Night Raw.

Hitting the reset button

The real-life news of a viral infection plaguing members of the WWE locker room had a major impact on the WWE TLC PPV, with Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt missing the show. What isn’t known is how long both of those guys will be out for, and what impact, if any, it will have on the build to Survivor Series in November.

After a PPV, the WWE has the opportunity to hit the reset button, wiping the slate clean on all of their major feuds. That includes whatever the plan was for Balor and Wyatt. Tonight, the WWE needs to quickly shift gears and get all of their major players in place for whatever is next for them. Even if that means having loose ends, the WWE would wise to put the past in the past and shift gears toward Houston.

Brock answers Jinder’s challenge

One thing that last week’s news did not alter is the rumored Survivor Series main event between Universal Champion Brock Lesnar and WWE Champion Jinder Mahal. Last week on SmackDown Live, Mahal made the challenge clear. He wanted The Beast one-on-one at Survivor Series.

Tonight, Lesnar and Paul Heyman are expected to respond to the challenge laid down by the Modern Day Maharaja. A champion vs. champion matchup pitting SmackDown against Raw would be exactly the main event WWE wants for an entire pay-per-view that they are building around the two brands feuding.

Lesnar’s response will give us a clear guide as to what direction this match is taking, and how seriously we should take it.

The Shield’s next move

It wasn’t the return the fans were looking for, as we still have yet to see the Shield team up together in a match, but Sunday’s pay-per-view provided a glimpse of what that return could look like. While Rollins and Ambrose picked up the victory, it felt as though their battles with the Miz and Co. were just beginning.

Without Reigns, it will be interesting to see if the numbers game catches up to Rollins and Ambrose, and what role it all might play in Survivor Series.

Braun Strowman

When we last left Braun Strowman, he was getting crunched by a garbage truck. The Monster Among Men was not seeing eye-to-eye with Kane, and the remaining members of Team Miz teamed up to take out Strowman and dispose of him in said truck.

First of all, we need to learn whether or not Strowman is alive. If that is the case, it seems likely that his sights will be set on the Big Red Machine to seek revenge. So far, nobody has been able to stop Strowman. That includes Roman Reigns trying to kill him by backing up an ambulance into a truck. Since Strowman survived that, I’ll put nothing past him at this point.

Ready for Asuka

Lost in the shuffle of AJ/Finn and Kurt Angle’s in-ring return was the WWE pay-per-view debut of Asuka. She took down Emma in her first match, albeit not in the dominating fashion that we saw from her back in NXT.

Emma does not seem to be done with Asuka, so a rematch may be on the horizon. After that, the door is wide open for Asuka’s next feud. The Women’s Title picture is probably a little ways away for Asuka, as there is a ton of potential in a Nia Jax/Asuka title feud. Sasha Banks could be around since she rid herself of the crazy Alicia Fox on the pre-show.

Whatever is next for Asuka, hopefully, it can do a better job of making her feel like a special attraction.

Chris is a recent graduate of Arizona State University, where he majored in Journalism and Mass Communication. He has covered spring training, the Super Bowl, WWE and the MLB for a variety of websites in the past.

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WWE

Rey Mysterio should be a part of Best of the Super Juniors

Chris Schubert

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Screenshot AXS TV

In a few short months, one of the more exciting tournaments in all of professional wrestling will get underway. The months of June and July are consumed by New Japan’s Best of the Super Juniors tournament. Featuring all of the high-flyers from the junior heavyweight division, this tournament steals the show each and every year.

This year, they could steal it even more with an addition to the pool. Current free agent Rey Mysterio being a part of the tournament would take it to another level.

It isn’t like getting Mysterio to be a member of New Japan would be all that difficult. Mysterio was slated to face Jushin “Thunder” Liger at Strong Style Evolved back in March before suffering an arm injury that forced him to withdraw.

Mysterio still made an appearance at the event, getting in the ring after Liger’s match with Mysterio’s replacement, Will Ospreay. The current IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion made a challenge to fight Mysterio in a New Japan ring, to which Mysterio didn’t seem to object to.

Following an attack by Marty Scurll on Ospreay, Mysterio hoped into action, getting his mask ripped off by Scurll. In a matter of minutes, New Japan had setup three future feuds for Mysterio. One with Liger, who he was supposed to face in the first place. Another with Ospreay, who challenged Mysterio. Then a third with Scurll, for ripping Mysterio’s mask off.

What better place for New Japan to be able to get the best of all three of those feuds than the Best of the Super Juniors tournament? Mysterio being a surprise addition to that tournament would create a massive buzz for casual New Japan fans, potentially getting them to sign up for NJPW World to see Mysterio in action.

It’s well known that the last BoSJ was the last for Liger, but a potential match with Mysterio could certainly convince him to give it one last go. If not, New Japan can still get Mysterio against the rest of the division and give it another high profile name alongside the mainstays of the division.

Rumors have circulated about Mysterio’s involvement with WWE’s Greatest Royal Rumble event later on this month. While it’s unclear if that would be a one-off or not, Mysterio has been using the free agency thing to his advantage.

Because he is able to bounce around from promotion to promotion, it has made him into a huge attraction these days. His tenure with Lucha Underground is a perfect example of that, taking an already popular product and getting more people interested in it because he’s there.

That same theory can apply to the BoSJ. It’s an event that has gained major appeal over the last three to five years because of the wrestlers that are involved.

Adding Rey Mysterio to that group, even if it’s just for those two months, would be a huge coup for New Japan. They are trying to expand into the United States; why not add the face of lucha libre in the United States and Mexico for the past 10-plus years?

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5 questions we need answered on SmackDown Live 4-17

Chris Schubert

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SmackDown

Night two of the Superstar Shakeup is here, and SmackDown Live is going to need an influx of talent. In the first night, the blue brand lost Bobby Roode, Dolph Ziggler, Jinder Mahal and Natalya, among others. We did learn on Monday Night Raw that The Miz would be coming back to SmackDown Live. Who else could be joining him?

With that in mind, here are five questions we need answered on tonight’s edition of SmackDown Live.

So which superstars will be joining SmackDown Live?

Paige seems to already be making her mark as the new general manager of SmackDown Live. She was able to survive Raw’s purge of the roster and keep Daniel Bryan, Shinsuke Nakmaura and A.J. Styles as part of the blue brand.

Tonight we get to see what she was able to get from the Raw roster. We know that The Miz is coming over, but surely there is more talent coming to Tuesday nights. One of the mid-card champions needs to come back over, and Seth Rollins would be a perfect choice. Surely a tag team will be moved, perhaps The Revival.

Then there is the NXT element. We saw Drew McIntyre make his return to WWE television alongside Dolph Ziggler. Perhaps another former NXT champion and his associate could make SmackDown Live “tranquillo.”

Does Daniel Bryan finally get his hands on The Miz?

It was a segment that put SmackDown Live on the map during the first version of the new brand-split. The Miz cutting a vicious promo on Daniel Bryan, who then was the GM of SmackDown Live and unable to complete, during Talking Smack. Now, Bryan is back in the ring and he pulled some strings to get The Miz back over to the blue brand.

This is a match that most fans didn’t think we would see again, but now we have that chance. Does WWE put it on tonight? Or do they have this be The Miz’ first feud on SmackDown Live and let it burn until Backlash?

Will Shinsuke Nakamura explain his actions this time?

Sarcastic heel Nakamura had a great first week on SmackDown Live with his new character. He cut a very good promo and then proceeded to ruin a dream matchup between Styles and Bryan.

There haven’t been a lot of answers to why Nakamura has taken this direction as a character, and that mystery is adding to this angle. With Bryan now being thrown into the mix, does this now become a triple-threat angle for the WWE Championship? Either way, Nakmaura needs to start answering for his actions.

What does the reign of Carmella look like?

Carmella finally cashed in the Money in the Bank briefcase to become the new SmackDown Live Women’s Champion, defeating Charlotte. The Queen was busy getting attacked by the IIconics, allowing the Princess this opportunity.

Now that she is the champion, and she will have to face Charlotte in an actual match for the championship, can the reign of Carmella last? Tonight is the first week of her reign, so we will clearly see how they are setting up Charlotte/Carmella.

Can the Usos prove they can hang with the Bludgeon Brothers?

The Usos earned another chance to become SmackDown Live Tag Team Champions, getting another match against the Bludgeon Brothers.

So far, it’s been very difficult to gain the upper hand against Rowan and Harper. Jimmy and Jey will have to find a way to do that if they want to recapture their championships.

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5 questions we need answered on Raw 4-16

Chris Schubert

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Raw

If the buzz from WrestleMania is wearing off, don’t worry. The WWE is here to provide its audience with even more buzz and excitement with the Superstar Shakeup. Tonight, superstars will begin to switch brands and the makeup of both Raw and SmackDown Live will undergo a makeover.

With that in mind, here are five questions we need answered on tonight’s edition of Raw.

Who is coming over from SmackDown Live in the Superstar Shakeup?

Both Raw and SmackDown Live need fresh superstars to mix into their main event scenes and their rosters in general. SmackDown Live, in particular, had gotten boring and stale.

So who from SmackDown Live could come over and get a fresh start on Monday Night Raw? A popular name that has been thrown around is Daniel Bryan. Bryan is clearly the most over superstar in the company, but Vince McMahon will probably hesitate on putting Bryan and Roman Reigns on the same show.

Perhaps Randy Orton could come to Monday Night Raw. A.J. Styles is the WWE Champion, so it’s tough to move him. Shinsuke Nakamura is probably tied at the hip to Styles for the time being. It doesn’t leave a lot of options, so it will be interesting to see what WWE does to shake up Raw besides sending people to SmackDown Live.

Is Roman Reigns being punished?

That’s the way that Roman Reigns portrayed his upcoming contest against Brock Lesnar at Greatest Royal Rumble. His promo last Monday indicated that the people in the back were punishing him by putting him in matches for the Universal Championship.

Reigns has an opportunity to win a championship and, in kayfabe, earn more money/fame/glory. He might be the only person on the WWE roster that looks as that as a bad thing.

That’s at least how WWE is trying to portray it. No wonder Reigns can’t get over with fans. Reigns needs a promo tonight where he saves this, and explains himself. Or else none of this makes any sense.

Will Bayley and Sasha Banks settle their drama tonight?

The Bayley/Sasha Banks saga has been going on since the Royal Rumble back in January. Now, on Raw tonight, they will get the chance to finally do battle and settle this score.

These two have had an odd relationship over the last couple of months, seeing both act in heelish ways at times. This is actually a feud that WWE has booked well, and haven’t given away the payoff at all before their first encounter.

It’s weird that it’s happening on free TV, but that might mean one of these two ladies is headed over to SmackDown Live.

What’s Bobby Lashley going to be doing?

Somewhat lost in all of the post-WrestleMania buzz and Superstar Shakeup rumors was Bobby Lashley’s return to WWE. Lashley showed up to destroy Elias and make a statement in his return for the company.

So what will Lashley be doing? Is a feud against Elias up first? Rumors have been circulating of a Lashley/Lesnar feud at some point, but Lesnar’s contract may make that impossible. Only time will tell what WWE’s plan is for Lashley.

Does ‘Woken’ Matt Hardy’s expedition of gold continue?

Matt Hardy procured Andre the Giant’s trophy. Now, Hardy is on an expedition of gold, hoping to become the Raw Tag Team Champions. He isn’t doing so alongside his brother Jeff Hardy; this time it’s Bray Wyatt who is teaming with the Woken One.

Hardy and Wyatt need a victory tonight to secure themselves a spot at Greatest Royal Rumble against The Bar for the titles. Can this newly found (and weird/cool) partnership earn themselves a championship opportunity?

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So far so good for Shinsuke Nakamura’s heel turn

Jaime Eisner

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WWE shocked the world on WrestleMania Sunday when they decided to have fan-favorite Shinsuke Nakamura turn on WWE Champion A.J. Styles following the conclusion of their title match. The low blow heard ’round the world was the beginning of a new journey for the King of Strong Style, a journey some are skeptical of.

Can Nakamura — a highly-popular wrestler fans actively want to cheer — be successful as a heel? Will he be able to cut promos that get him over as a bad guy?

We’re now one week in. So far, so good. We don’t want to get too carried away just one show in, but the way Nakamura was utilized on SmackDown Live this week gives us plenty of hope for the future.

Nakamura had two key moments to build his character on Tuesday. The first was a backstage promo with Renee Young and he aced that test. His sarcastic, disingenuous apology to Styles was the stuff of heel gold. His “sorry, no speak English” walk-off retort drew a massive pop from those in attendance in New Orleans. It was the best promo segment he’s done on WWE television.

Act II of his first SmackDown as a heel was breaking up the dream match between Daniel Bryan and Styles. Clearly something was up since it seemed odd to book that caliber of a match for a 15-minute spot, unadvertised, at the end of the show. There was no chance we got a clean finish — and we didn’t.

Nakamura kicking Bryan in the head fits his character’s move set and also plays into the angle WWE apparently is going to run ad nauseam regarding Bryan’s previous head injuries. Nakamura low blowing Styles multiple times hammered home the point that the old Shinsuke isn’t coming back (for awhile).

It may seem basic, but making a great heel doesn’t have to be convoluted. Nakamura, a legit international star who (in kayfabe) has the ability to beat anyone in the world with his skill set is resorting to low blows simply because he can — and he’s doing it over and over and over. He’s not hitting Styles below the belt because he has to, he’s doing it because he wants to.

What annoys a fan base in any sport more than an athlete who resorts to dirty tactics when they have all the talent to succeed the right way? That, at its core, is what Nakamura’s heel turn is about. So far, it’s working marvelously.

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WWE

Assessing future for post-WrestleMania NXT call-ups

Jaime Eisner

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NXT Logo (WWE)

The Raw and SmackDown Live shows after WrestleMania did not disappoint this year. One of the major reasons why was the handful of NXT call-ups that made surprise appearances, signaling the official beginning of their main roster journey.

Where do they go from here? What is their potential upside?

With the Superstar Shakeup only days away, it would be foolish to predict exact scenarios. But let’s take a big-picture look at the six wrestlers who now call the main roster home.

Ember Moon

The highest upside of the first wave of post-WrestleMania NXT call-ups belongs to Ember Moon. The former NXT Women’s Champion not only succeeded in bridging the gap between the Asuka era and the current Shayna Baszler/Kairi Sane era, she built her character into a main event-caliber act fans are more than willing to pay to see.

Moon has found the perfect character mix of being a true babyface that’s not afraid to be aggressive when the situation warrants. It’s quite difficult to trek into the area of ruthlessness while being a character babyface, but her feud with Baszler allowed Moon to put her full skill set on display.

She has “Women’s Champion” written all over her. She can carry a brand (likely opposite of Charlotte Flair) as the top female, both as a scratch-and-claw babyface and a dominant yet likable champion. Her ascent to the top of the main roster women’s division may be slower than some fans prefer, but it will be worth it in the end.

No Way Jose

We’ll call this the “Apollo Crews call-up” — the one no one really saw coming, but there’s no concrete argument against it. It’s been a while since No Way Jose was a mainstay on NXT television, but if not for injury this call-up would be right in line with the arbitrary timetable many would’ve put on him after his NXT debut.

Jose is a rare true babyface through and through. He’s fun and brings energy whenever his music plays in the arena. There’s always the concern that he falls into the Brodus Clay or Adam Rose world of WWE — a short-lived comedy act that quickly wears out its welcome. However, the role those aforementioned talents filled was a valid one and Jose has the benefit of being a better worker.

The upside here is limited, though. Jose appears destined to be a mid-to-upper-mid-card performer, which is perfectly OK. Jose can fill a vital feel-good role for WWE with the ability to wrestle in more serious situations when needed. He’ll be a fan favorite and a solid merch seller.

Iconic Duo — Peyton Royce and Billie Kay

It’s about time.

The Iconic Duo have been off NXT TV for far too long, so it was awesome to see them debut on SmackDown Live in a pivotal segment involving Charlotte Flair and Carmella.

Women’s tag team wrestling may not be a thing (yet) in WWE, but the writing team will have a lot of fresh storyline ideas to choose from with these two women. Whether they “Freebird” one of the women’s titles or decide to recruit/hold try-outs for a new third wheel every week for 6-woman tag competition, expect to see something just a little bit different from the norm.

There’s plenty of upside for both women, but Peyton Royce will be groomed to be the breakout singles star by 2020. Expect a 12-18 month reign of dominance, pettiness and comeuppance for the Iconic Duo before Billie Kay turns on Royce, creating a new heel and babyface for the women’s division on either Raw or SmackDown Live.

Authors of Pain — Akam and Rezar

Labeling this call-up “overdue” doesn’t show enough respect for the Authors of Pain’s sensational run on NXT television of late, so let’s just say they had the ability to be on the main roster sooner. The evolution of Akam and Rezar during their time at NXT was truly something special to watch.

The duo squashed the fear of them being just another big guy tag team very early in their NXT run. They put on athletic, story-filled wrestling matches with every team they faced. They learned how to sell but not die in the ring against smaller opponents while maintaining the realism their stature dictates. They learned that every move means something when you’re that size. They became one of the greatest tag teams in NXT history.

Their ascent may be rapid. Assuming they’ll be on the show opposite of the Bludgeon Brothers, the Authors of Pain seem destined for a tag team title run in the next six months. They won’t have Paul Ellering by their side any more, so now we’ll see if they can talk enough to hang with the main roster talent. It would be a mistake to doubt the ability of these two.

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