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WWE gets it right with surprise Kane return

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WWE Logo (Phelan Ebenhack/AP Images for WWE)
Phelan Ebenhack/AP Images for WWE

The last hour of this past Monday’s edition of Raw was action packed and chock full of intrigue. TLC is this coming Sunday, and it was WWE’s last chance to entice fans to either subscribe to the Network for the first time or tune in to catch the matches.

They had a Big Red Machine up their sleeves as the final wild card, and when they played it, it caught everyone off guard.

Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman were put on a collision course in a steel cage for the main event in Portland, Oregon. And things only got more interesting from there as Raw rolled on.

Miz — who might as well be going by Miz the Maestro at this point — goaded general manager Kurt Angle into tacking on a stipulation to the main event early in the show. This, of course, after he already managed to turn the main event of the TLC Network Special into a four-on-three handicap match against the Shield in his favor.

If Reigns won, then the TLC match would revert back to the originally scheduled three-on-three pitting the Sheild against Miz and the Bar. But if Strowman emerged victoriously, the match would then turn into a five-on-three in favor of Miz’s team — which already included Strowman after last week’s show.

It was an appealing twist, and the outcome became even more must-see once Miz slyly revealed that Curtis Axel — who had presumably been pummeled by the Shield and dangled upside-down from a forklift moments before the cage match began — was never going to be his fifth man.

The cage match was grueling, as both Strowman and Reigns beat each other senseless. Say what you want about the “Big Dog,” but that man doesn’t shy away from monster bumps. The superplex he took from the top of the cage was no joke.

As the match wore on, there were several near finishes that were derailed by outside interference. Which was odd since Angel banned “everyone” from ringside during Raw’s open. Just when it seemed like the pair were out of false finishes, the lights in the arena went dark and an eerie organ boomed over the Moda Center’s speakers.

Then Kane, of all people, emerged through the ring.

With the rest of the Shield trapped backstage fighting the Bar thanks to some sneaky garage door work from Miz, Kane and Strowman dropped Reigns with a rapid-fire sequence of brutal finishers. Two chokeslams, a tombstone and two running powerslams later, and suddenly the Sheild is facing insurmountable odds at TLC. (Sidenote: would anyone have been surprised if Reigns had kicked out?)

In the immediate aftermath of the finish, many wondered how Kane fit into the big picture of the main event. A five-on-three handicap TLC match seems like an odd close for a Network Special, and adding Kane into the mix creates more questions than answers.

And you know what? That’s a positive thing for a creative team that has come under fire for various predictable story arcs over the last few years. Wrestling is at its best when it isn’t predictable, and having Kane emerge from beneath the ring to help Strowman is the last thing most fans saw coming. What a terrifying, truly imposing tandem those two make. Brothers of Destruction Vol 2.

Catching folks off guard at the end of a Raw is one thing. Keeping them entertained during a lengthy TLC match is another thing entirely. Reigns and Dean Ambrose have been built up as two of the toughest workers in the company — and Seth Rollins is a physical freak of nature. Yet pitting them against Miz, the Bar, Strowman and Kane seems overwhelming.

Perhaps that is the point. Fans are still wondering how long the Shield will remain intact, and having them gain sympathy through an outright beatdown could be positive for their long-term prospects. With so many wrestlers involved, it also sets creative up with tons of possible storylines to work with as we move forward. Maybe we see one of the Miz’s teammates go rogue for some reason. Maybe the Sheild is allowed a fourth member because the Bar tried to interfere in the match first. Maybe it’ll be Sister Abigail. Or Paige. Who knows.

In the short-term, the presence of a previous fan favorite like Kane gives the main event of TLC a bit more star power. According to PWInsider (h/t to inquisitr.com), there was some concern that a final match with no belts on the line lacked enough intrigue to get people to tune in. As far as surprise returns go, this is about as good as the WWE could have done and it sounds like there are plans to keep Kane involved beyond his appearance in Portland on Monday.

If the goal was to force fans to watch this Sunday — and it sounds like that is the case — then this looks like a home run for the TLC Network Special.

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

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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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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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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