Yes! Yes! Yes!

WWE announced Tuesday that the current Smackdown Live! general manager, Daniel Bryan, has been cleared to return to in-ring action. Bryan has been sidelined for over two years after he was forced to retire due to multiple concussions.

According to WWE.com, several prominent neurologists, neurosurgeons, and concussion experts gave Bryan the okay. Among them are Dr. Robert Cantu, Dr. Javier Cardenas, Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, and WWE Medical Director Dr. Joseph Maroon.

Wow. As if wrestling fans didn’t have enough to be excited about with Wrestlemania 34 less than three weeks away, WWE delivers this bombshell. After finally reaching the top of the wrestling world at Wrestlemania 30 by becoming World Champion, Bryan battled neck and concussion problems until he was told to retire.

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One can’t help but wonder if he will immediately be placed in a match on the Wrestlemania card. He has had on-screen tension with the Smackdown Commissioner Shane McMahon for quite some time now. Him being placed in a match with Shane, being added to the Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn match, or the match becoming a fatal-four-way all seem like realistic possibilities.

It is hard not to be concerned for Bryan’s well-being, and while it is easy to question the decision to allow him to compete again, it is every wrestling fan’s dream to be able to see the “Yes Man” compete in a WWE ring yet again. Can you imagine his matches against the likes of A.J. Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura? I get a chub just thinking about it. Lets hope his body holds up and we can enjoy his world class wrestling for many years to come.

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Raw Celebrates it’s 25th Anniversary

25 years of Monday Night Raw. Wow. That’s a long time. Since its debut back in January of 1993 (yeah that’s right I can do math), Raw has been a staple show on network television, and is the longest running “episodic show” in history.

Before Monday Night Raw, wrestling fans did not have much access to the product. Besides pay per views every few months and rare special event shows on cable, there was no way to watch wrestling. Raw changed all of that. Now die hard fans and casual fans alike could enjoy the stars like The Undertaker and Hulk Hogan every Monday night right from the comfort of their home.

It’s hard to believe the Raw program, and WWE for that matter, has lasted for as long as it has. Back in the mid-late 1990s, World Championship Wrestling became direct competition to Vince McMahon. Launching a rival Monday night show in the form of Monday Nitro, WCW looked poised to run WWE out of business. Ah but the “Monday Night Wars” are a blog for another day.

This past Monday night on January 22nd, WWE aired the 25th Anniversary of Raw. Broadcasted from two locations, the Barclays Center and the site of the original Raw, The Manhattan Center, it did not disappoint.

When I think of my memories of watching wrestling growing up, I think of Stone Cold Steve Austin. I think of him delivering stunners and drinking beer (my god he caught beer cans like nobody else).

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His rivalry with Vince McMahon from 1997-1999 is what put Raw on the map. So it was only fitting that Austin was part of the opening segment with the McMahon family.

And it was just perfect. From the glass shattering entrance of Austin, to Austin glaring at his former nemesis, to Vince trying to plead with him and claiming that things are different since he is a senior citizen now and a member of AARP were just awesome. After delivering a stunner to Vince and a couple to Shane, Austin was thrown a few beers while still in the ring.

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And while his beer catching skills may have been a tad rusty, Stone Cold cracked those suckers open, hit those turnbuckles, and chugged those SOBs down like only the Texas Rattlesnake could. The night could have ended there, and I would have been happy.

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While that may have made the night for me, there were still plenty of other big moments. The Undertaker made his first appearance since Wrestlemania 33, and while he did not offer any notable news on the status of his in ring career, it was cool to see him deliver one of his iconic “rest in piece” promos inside the Manhattan Center. The Miz defeated Roman Reigns to become an 8 time Intercontinental Champion in what was an awesome match. Bray Wyatt defeated “Woken” Matt Hardy clean in what was a head scratcher for me, and during another fantastic segment, many former women’s wrestlers came out to receive an ovation (and let me tell you, Kelly Kelly and Torrie Wilson were 🔥🔥). And let’s not forget, Chris Jericho calling Elias a “stupid idiot” and putting him on “the list” was hysterical.

Even though the Stone Cold opening segment ended up being my favorite, I went into the show awaiting the Degeneration X reunion. Shawn Michaels is my all time favorite wrestler. Period. It’s really not even close. Ever since The Undertaker retired him at Wrestlemania 26 back in 2010, I have anxiously awaited the day that he says he is coming out of retirement for one more match. Unfortunately, it seems as though that day will never come, as Michaels has remained adamant that he is content where he left his wrestling career and has no desire to wrestle again. But every once in a while we get an appearance from him that reminds us how awesome and hilarious he is. Monday was one of those nights, as he and the rest of DX came out and talked about the good ol’ times, which ended with each member hitting their finishing maneuvers on Scott Dawson, including Michaels’ patented Sweet Chin Music.

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It’s hard to believe that Raw has been airing for 25 years. Many of my childhood memories are of my parents and I sitting back and watching Raw, and I will always be grateful for that. Here’s to 25 more!

Breaking News: Paige’s Wrestling Career Reportedly Over

Paige’s professional wrestling career is reportedly over after suffering another neck injury during a house show, according to PWIinsider.com.

This is just devastating news. She just recently returned to WWE programming for the Raw brand after missing time from injury. Paige is one of the better wrestlers on the roster, yet very controversial. Married to Alberto Del Rio (Alberto El Patron), Paige was constantly in the spotlight during her hiatus. Rumors of abuse and domestic assault took over her life. Not to mention the sex tape that was released involving her and fellow wrestler Xavier Woods. Paige was a mess, but her wrestling ability was never in question. Fans waited patiently for her return.

I was pleasantly surprised to see her return as the leader of the “Absolution” faction a few months ago. She seemed ready to put all of her baggage behind her, and she seemed destined for another championship run. In tremendous shape and delivering tremendous mic work, it seemed like Paige was back to stay.

Until Friday afternoon. News broke that Paige suffered another neck injury during a house show on December 28. Sasha Banks (a Boston native) kicked her in the back of the head. But yeah, wrestling is fake. 🖕🏻 An accident. That’s it. Sasha is one of the better wrestlers in the world. But one accident can be the difference. Paige was not expecting the kick so was unable to protect herself properly. The match had to be called off, and it took Paige several minutes after the match to be able to stand under her own power. WWE is refusing to clear Paige to wrestle. This is very similar to Daniel Bryan’s situation. He was deemed unable to compete, so he retired. But now he is on the verge of being able to compete after having time off.

Let’s hope the same is true for Paige. Paige is a once in a generation talent. She started the “Women’s Revolution” in WWE. Her work in NXT (the developmental league for WWE) was superb. She was the first NXT women’s champion and was truly destined to be one of the greatest.

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At only 25 years old, we can only hope that Paige is able to continue her career after some time. But for WWE to deem her “unable to compete,” and for them to suggest she retire, seems to indicate that this is very, very serious. There is always the possibility that another wrestling promotion would clear her, but it seems highly unlikely that anyone would be willing to take such a risk. Paige was set to compete in the first ever women’s Royal Rumble match later this month. We will have to wait and see what surprises WWE has in store to replace her.

Its hard not to be genuinely concerned for Paige’s mental and emotional well being. Wrestling is all she has ever known. She grew up in a wrestling family, and has been wrestling since she was thirteen. She has said in the past that she was very depressed and had thoughts of suicide during her last hiatus, which was made worse after the sex tape was released. It’s an unimaginable thing to have something so engrained in her life to be taken away from her. God willing she will have support from family and friends to get her through this difficult time.

If this is the end, then this has already been an incredible career. At only 25 years old, the ring truly was “her house!”

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Royal Rumble Predictions

It’s that magical time of the year again. The time of year that even non-wrestling fans seem to come out and show interest in the product. The Royal Rumble pay per view marks the beginning of Wrestlemania season, which theoretically is supposed to be the climax of the “WWE year.” All storylines and rivalries are supposed to heat up and become exciting and interesting so that they are “Wrestlemania worthy.”

As opposed to the last few years, which have been total snoozefests, this year’s Rumble match could truly be one of the greatest of all time. I’m not going to rank my possible winners from most to least likely to win, since it truly is a crap shoot. But here is my list of wrestlers that I view as having a legitimate shot at winning this year’s 30 man Royal Rumble match.

John Cena: He is officially in the match, so that means he is going to win it, right? No? Your wrong, of course he will. In all seriousness, Cena is on his way out, and Vince has invested everything into the next man I am going to discuss. Cena was added to the match for star power, but he has no shot of winning.

Roman Reigns: When in doubt, pick Roman. I’m sure there are many out there who like Reigns and would love to see him win, but it is just way too predictable for me. Every damn year this guy dominates the main event scene, without changing things up or improving his promos. The guy can wrestle, don’t get me wrong, but my god is he boring.

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He simply cruises along because he has “the look” that Vince McMahon salivates over. Roman needs a heel turn in the worst way, because he simply doesn’t fit the typical babyface mold. He is cocky, smug, and arrogant. People boo him already anyway. If they turn him heel people will get behind him since he would be an amazing bad guy. Whatever. I’m done. Sorry for rambling. A Reigns win would set up the rumored rematch with Lesnar at Wrestlemania that Vince has been waiting for, so it certainly would not surprise me. However, I see at least two other guys with a better chance to win…

Shinsuke Nakamura: If I had it my way, this would be the man to win the Rumble this year. One of the top wrestlers in the world, Shinsuke has been head-scratchling under utilized since getting called up to the Smackdown brand. Creative doesn’t seem to have a clue with what to do with him. Nakamura’s limited English obviously impacts this to a degree, but surely they can find meaningful programs with a wrestler of his caliber. The biggest reason I want him winning the Rumble is that it would set him up for a WWE championship match with AJ Styles. These two have wrestled all over the world, and put on one of the best matches of all time at Wrestlekingdom 10 for the New Japan Pro Wrestling promotion in 2016.

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These two in the main event of Wrestlemania for the WWE championship is every die-hard wrestling fan’s dream. Unfortunately, I just don’t have faith in Vince McMahon to make it happen. History suggests that he simply doesn’t have the interest to push a Japanese star with limited English. Nakamura isn’t the stereotypical, meathead wrestler that McMahon generally gets behind (cough cough Roman Reigns cough). In the end, I see the next man as the most likely to win.

Finn Balor: This man is one of the top 10 wrestlers in the world. But my god what a waste of talent. After winning the Universal Championship at Summerslam 2016, the leader of the “Balor Club” has been quiet. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but creative seemingly doesn’t have anything for him. Shocking, I know. After a feud with Bray Wyatt, Balor has been completely wasted, working meaningless matches. He defeated AJ Styles at the Raw pay per view Tables, Ladders, and Chairs in what was an incredible match, but that was a one-off match that only happened because Wyatt was hurt. So why do I think he has a good chance of winning the Rumble then? I view this as the perfect opportunity for creative to start to get behind him. He has a marketable look that McMahon surely loves, and this just seems like the perfect opportunity for him to rise to the top. Also, that would seemingly lead to Balor versus Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship at Wrestlemania, an absolute dream match (and it would get us out of the inevitable Reigns/Lesnar match).

Jinder Mahal: Nope. That’s all I have to say. Unfortunately he needs to be mentioned since he was WWE champion for most of the summer and fall of this past year, but that dark period in WWE history is a part in which I would rather forget about and pretend didn’t exist. I’m going to hope and pray that WWE learned it’s lesson and has jumped off the Jinder bandwagon.

Rusev: I don’t see Rusev as having a realistic chance to win, but I wanted to mention him for the simple fact that he has started coming on huge with the fans. Rusev is another wrestler who hasn’t done much of late, but he has recently teamed up with Aiden English, and they are hilarious. Every time Rusev has a mic he claims it is “Rusev Day,” a gag that has caught on in a massive way with the fans, who join in and chant “Happy Rusev Day!” I foresee some “Rusev Day ” goodness in the Rumble match, even if he is unlikely to win.

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Surprise Entrant: Part of the appeal and magic of the Rumble is looking forward to seeing what surprises it brings. There is always at least one surprise entrant that no one sees coming. I, for one, still get goosebumps thinking of Chris Jericho’s #2 entrance into the 2013 Royal Rumble to seek revenge against #1 entrant Dolph Ziggler.

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I don’t foresee any major surprises this year, but I will include the usual suspects for the heck of it. The Undertaker hasn’t been seen since he lost to Reigns at Wrestlemania, and it is unclear if he actually retired or if he will come back at some point. My guess is that WWE is intentionally leaving the door open in hopes that the Deadman will be ready to go for another match or two. A Rumble appearance is certainly a possibility. The Rock would be another fun surprise, but I don’t see him coming back anytime soon. Triple H is always a possibility. And I would absolutely love to see the Raw GM Kurt Angle be a surprise entrant. The Olympic gold medalist can still go, and it would be a ton of fun to see him go head to head with some of the best. My money would be on Angle and Chris Jericho being surprise entrants.

There are a few wrestlers that I could see as potential “wild card” candidates to win, including Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode, Seth Rollins, or a returning Dolph Ziggler. But in the end, I just don’t see any of these guys as realistic options. As much as I love Joe, Roode, and Rollins, I don’t see how they would fit into possible title matches.

I’m gonna go with Balor as my pick to win it all this year, with Nakamura as a solid #2. I continue to hold out hope that they won’t have Reigns win yet again. I won’t hold my breath, and if I was a betting man I would go with Reigns. Luckily, I am not. Happy Wrestlemania season everyone! Sit back and enjoy the ride!

WWE Tag Team of the Year

When I say Oose, y’all say ooohhh. Oose ooohhh! Oose ooohhh!

Yes, we understood. The Uso’s were Samoan and enjoyed tribal dancing and painting their faces. Their entrance was cool. They sang a jaunty tune. Some pyro went off. They had some colorful shorts. They smiled a lot. They made their way to the ring. And they did their thing. Neat.

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Don’t get me wrong, they were an incredible tag team. But they were the typical generic babyface tag team that wasn’t destined for much else despite their numerous tag title wins. It truly was incredible that the gimmick made it as long as it did without the fans turning on them. Until they did. Something needed to be done to “spice” the act up.

Welcome to the Uso Penitentiary.

The Usos finally turned heel in September of 2016, after blaming the fans for giving up on them and cheering for other teams. After a few months, their image began to change, as they became more vicious and thug like. They altered their music and arrived to the ring with less energy and less charisma. They adopted the motto “down since day one-ish,” signifying that they have always felt under appreciated and disrespected. Before they entered the ring, they would grab a mic and welcome their opponents to the “Uso Penitentiary.” This new gimmick was money, and so much more entertaining and believable than their happy-go-lucky babyface run before.

On March 21st 2017, the Usos defeated American Alpha to become the Smackdown tag team champions. Over the summer, they began a program with The New Day, which was a rivalry that I consider to be the greatest of the year on either brand. These two teams were so evenly matched, and they tore the house down every time they met, whether it was on Pay Per View, a pre-show, or an episode of Smackdown.

They met for the first time in June at the Money in the Bank pay per view, where the Usos got themselves intentionally counted out to retain the titles. The next month at Battleground, however, The New Day defeated them to become the champs. The Usos regained the titles at Summerslam, only to lose them in a street fight less than a month later to The New Day on the September 12 edition of Smackdown. This “hot potato” game they played with the tag titles may have been annoying to some, but it really showed just how evenly matched these two teams were: any team was capable of winning on any given night. The Usos decided to invoke their rematch clause at the Hell in a Cell pay per view in October. The match was to be contested inside the ominous Hell in a Cell structure. The stage was set for an epic showdown that was being labeled as the final match between the two teams.

 

And an epic showdown it was. In what was a vicious and brutal match between the two teams that lasted over 20 minutes, the Usos defeated The New Day to win the Smackdown tag team championships for the third time, thus ending this epic rivalry.

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On the next Smackdown, the Usos called out The New Day and offered a truce, thus turning them into faces once again (albeit a bad ass face team that kept their street-like gimmick).

At Survivor Series in November, the Usos defeated the Raw tag team champions The Bar (Sheamus and Cesaro) in a champion versus champion match. This match was interesting in that it was between, in my opinion, the two best tag teams of the year. Sheamus and Cesaro are two of the better wrestlers WWE has rostered, but had been criminally underutilized for some time on the Raw brand. After being paired together, however, they formed a team that didn’t just set “the bar,” they claimed that they were “the bar.” In the end, however, the Usos left Survivor Series with the W. The Usos have since started a program with Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin, in what is shaping up to be another tremendous rivalry.

The Usos simply dominated 2017. Period. They completely revitalized their career by turning a boring, generic babyface gimmick, into a bad-ass, street-like one. Their improved promo work, in addition to their already tremendous in ring work, has resulted in an elite tag team. They have firmly cemented themselves as one of the better tag-teams of their generation, and they seemingly keep getting better. They may have been “down since day one-ish,” but they have since climbed all the way to the freaking top.

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Matt Hardy Becomes “Woken”

“Matt Hardy Version 1.” “Big Money Matt.” “Broken Matt Hardy.” The older Hardy brother has certainly kept himself relevant through the years by constantly reinventing his image.

Growing up, I always viewed him as the “less impressive brother” of the legendary Hardy Boys tag team. Seemingly forever hidden in the shadow of his younger brother Jeff, Matt was destined for the undercard once the inevitable split came.

And this assumption seemed accurate initially. Matt Hardy Version 1 was clever, and he dominated the Smackdown cruiserweight division for some time in 2003, but the gimmick had a short shelf life. After a short stint on Raw, Hardy left WWE after his then girlfriend Lita’s affair with Adam Copeland (Edge) became public knowledge.

In July of 2005, Hardy returned to the WWE to seek retribution against Edge, channeling his “I will not die” mindset. Shortly after Unforgiven in September of 2005, Hardy lost a loser leaves Raw match to Edge, sending him to the Smackdown brand. In late 2006, the Hardys reunited and had some fantastic matchs against MNM. During the Summer of 2007 , Matt won the US title from MVP. In September of 2008, Hardy won the ECW championship from Mark Henry, an accomplishment in the fact that it was a “major championship” by name (McMahon had damaged the title beyond repair at this point after relaunching the ECW brand. Oh, and the title was silver. Why silver?) While these can certainly be classified as accomplishments, Matt was very much just “treading water” at this point, while his younger brother had firmly cemented himself as a bonafide main eventer.

At Wrestlemania 25 in 2009, Matt defeated his brother Jeff on the grandest stage of them all, seemingly proving the doubters wrong and showing that he was legitimate. After a mediocre end to his WWE run, however, Hardy seemed washed up (physically and mentally) and he departed once again.

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Enter TNA.

Fast forward to January 2016, and Matt Hardy is World Champion for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. The “Big Money Matt” character was a legitimate wrestler who needed to be taken seriously. Once he lost the title, however, he started acting like a crazy lunatic. And so his “Broken” persona was born. He was a broken man who had seemingly lost his mind. His main goal at this point became to permanently “delete” his brother from existence. Matt became obsessed with this mission, and he started chanting “delete” at random times during promos and matches. After numerous wins against Jeff, including the spectacle known as the “Final Deletion” match that was filmed on Matt Hardy’s estate, he forced Jeff to take the name of “Brother Nero,” thereby “deleting” the “Jeff Hardy” character. Complete insanity, I know.

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Now known as the “Broken Hardys,” they once again won tag team championships (because in the professional wrestling world brothers forgive and subsequently team up with each other after one brother defeated and tried to kill the other). Broken Matt and Brother Nero would leave TNA shortly afterwards.

The Hardys made their triumphant return to WWE at Wrestlemania 33 and won the Raw Tag Team Championships. Fans immediately began to wonder if the Hardys would be given the freedom by McMahon and WWE creative to use the “Broken” gimmick that became so popular in TNA. I found it hard to believe that WWE would be willing to let the brothers use a gimmick made popular in another wrestling promotion, and I viewed their return as nothing more than a nostalgia act designed to get fans excited as they relived their glory days from ’99-’02

Incorrect.

After Jeff got injured during a match, an injury that is expected to cost him 6 months, Matt was left all alone, where he immediately began losing. Enter the genius that was his “Broken” character. Now referred to as “Woken,” Matt has been reborn and is aware of his shortcomings as a singles competitor. He has vowed to change. Matt began a feud with Bray Wyatt that will last presumably through the Royal Rumble Pay Per View in January.

And my goodness how incredible this gimmick is. Matt kills the unhinged and disturbed persona. Not only is it incredible in its own right, but it elevates Bray’s gimmick as well, a gimmick that has been severely damaged from poor creative decisions. Bray always thrives when he has an actual program that makes sense and that he can sink his teeth into. The unexpected injury to Jeff has been a blessing to the underutilized and under appreciated Matt, who is being given the creative freedom to show what he is truly capable of both in the ring and on the mic.

Matt has been “Woken” yet again, and dare I say this gimmick looks main event worthy. Best of luck to Bray Wyatt and the rest of the Raw roster as they avoid “deletion” in 2018.