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Undertaker vs Cena build a slap to face of fans

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Feb 21, 2016; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; Professional wrestler John Cena speaks during a press conference before the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

John Cena might be the best WWE superstar of all time. Not the best wrestler, but when it comes to everything Vince McMahon wants his top performers to be, Cena has it in spades.

One of his best — and most irreplaceable — traits is his ability to leverage his character into tangible levels of engagement with the audience. Arenas aren’t quiet or passive when Cena hits the ring. Twitter doesn’t slow to a crawl during his segments.

When Cena speaks, people listen and, more importantly, people react passionately.

It’s a well the WWE has almost become too comfortable drawing from. The prevalent feeling seems to be that “Big Match John” doesn’t need months to build up matches. He needs weeks, even if the match in question is going down at WrestleMania.

In the case of WrestleMania 34, it seems like the WWE is pushing this approach to the absolute limit. Because we’re down to one Monday Night Raw and one SmackDown Live show before the biggest event of the year, and we still haven’t seen Cena and Undertaker in the ring at the same time yet.

In fact, we haven’t seen the Deadman in the ring at all since Raw’s 25th-anniversary show. That night, everyone assumed we were going to kick off the Cena vs Undertaker angle for WrestleMania 34. It seemed like a safe assumption. The WWE would want a marquee match spawning from something that went down on this important landmark show.

Or so we thought.

Yet the night came an went, and Cena has been trying to find his road to WrestleMania ever since. Now it’s all but guaranteed that ‘Taker will be at Raw next week, and that really seems like a slap in the face to fans who have paid to go to shows over the last few weeks.

At the moment, all the “build” has consisted of is Cena screaming insults at Undertaker into a mic, only to have nothing happen. It’s being presented as a more serious version of Chris Jericho calling out Bill Goldberg in WCW during the Monday Night Wars, knowing full well that the then-undefeated wrestler wasn’t in the building.

The Undertaker doesn’t owe fans anything but at the same time, asking us all to emotionally invest in a match based on a single week of actual interaction is simply asking too much. It’s a trick not even John Cena can turn, and the WWE has set itself up for a disaster in New Orleans.

During their prime years, both Cena and ‘Taker were excellent performers. But they’re getting up there in years, and the generally accepted notion has been that this is a match that should have happened half a decade ago. There would have been something on the line that way.

Now, this just feels like a cheap way to get Undertaker and Cena onto the WrestleMania 34 card. They are there just to be there. It’s not going to be a great wrestling match, and we have zero build up in terms of a story between the two men. Right now, Cena just looks and sounds desperate. A 40-year-old fading star calling out a 53-year-old shade of a wrestler, because that’s the only way he can get onto the Show of Shows. By piggybacking on someone else’s legacy.

It’s not a story that’s becoming of John Cena, and it certainly doesn’t make the Undertaker look good.

So at this point, what is there to actually gain by going through with this match? WWE fans are going to be treated to seven days of the Undertaker, and then he won’t be seen again for another year. Meanwhile, Cena is going to vanish into Hollywood smoke, as he’s established himself as a solid draw as an actor.

It’s not difficult to imagine fans turning sour for this one, and any feeling of negativity towards this bout will be 110 percent justified.

Franklin Steele is the assistant editor and featured writer of FanRag Sports' NHL side. He also covers the WWE for FRSSLAM.com. Steele, who joined FanRag Sports in October 2013, has been watching and playing hockey since the age of 6. His work has also appeared on TheHockeyWriters.com, FanSided.com and Bleacher Report. All told, he has more than 3,000 bylines to his name and more than six million people have read his work since 2011. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @FranklinSteele (NHL) and @SteeleTheHeel (WWE).

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WWE

PWG’s move to bigger venue a sign of wrestling’s bright future

Chris Schubert

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PWG’s All-Star Weekend the last two days could be considered a bittersweet moment for long-standing fans of the California promotion. While any PWG card always lives up to the hype, this one was a little different. Everybody in the building knew that it was going to be one of the last events that PWG ran in the American Legion Hall in Reseda, as the building is reportedly being sold.

That is going to force PWG to move on to a new venue, and that is a good thing for professional wrestling. PWG moving on to bigger venues, where their product can get more eyeballs is a sign of the bright future that this business has.

It was just recently that PWG needed to move out of the Hall because of a PayPal error, causing too many tickets to be sold. At the time, I hypothesized that this could have been a case of PWG testing the waters for bigger and better things. Not long after that, the news comes out that the Hall is being sold and that PWG is looking for a new home.

For years, PWG has been very complacent in their status as a wrestling promotion. They like the fact that their shows draw a small, intimate crowd. They don’t hold any of their shows on iPPV, meaning that if you aren’t there and want to see the show you need to buy a DVD of it.

How can a company that does things so backwards in the year 2018 be so successful? Mainly, they bring in the best workers in the world and put on some of the best matches of the year every time they put on a show.

That trend will continue as PWG runs a bigger venue for the future events. Just like they did at Reseda, tickets will continue to sell out in minutes.

Normally a move this drastic can be scary, but today’s professional wrestling climate might be perfect for PWG to expand. Independent wrestling might be the best it’s ever been, with promotions all over the globe pumping out quality cards week in and week out.

Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks are self-financing a show later on this year. New Japan is tapping into the growing United States market that they have captured. Just look at what events were running the same weekend as WrestleMania in New Orleans. Wrestling might be on the cusp of a golden age.

If a small promotion in California can be one of the most talked about things in all of pro-wrestling, that is a sign of the times. PWG might have accidentally stumbled into more success for themselves (depending on what you want to think about the “PayPal error”) and the entire wrestling world will be watching their every move.

The professional wrestling world continues to grow in front of us all, and PWG is the company that might be leading the way.

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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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