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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Notes – AJ Styles To The Rescue! And, Of Course, WOOOO!, Shield vs. New Day, Omega vs. Y2J
By The Doc
Nov 8, 2017 - 12:23:22 PM

”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE's top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a worldwide 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.

Best News of the Weekend

Best Thing(s) About Monday Night Raw

Best Thing About Smackdown Live (And Beyond)

Best Thing About Smackdown Live (And Beyond): AJ Styles To The Rescue! And, Of Course, WOOOO!

QUESTION OF THE DAY: What are some possible subjects from pro wrestling that you would like to eventually see covered in ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries?

It has been a long time since WWE has had as good a night as it did on Tuesday. Big picture problems have plagued the company for much of 2017, but the combination of the WWE Championship finally being taken off the historically average Jinder Mahal (and earned back by AJ Styles no less!) and the ESPN presentation of its “30 for 30” film documenting the momentous career of Ric Flair countered with a much-needed dose of enthusiasm the six months of a “project,” to borrow from a basketball term, at the top of the card on Smackdown Live, Brock Lesnar's over-dominance on Raw, the part-timer problem during WrestleMania Season peaking, and the doomsday feeling of the telegraphed plan to try yet again to crown Roman Reigns as “The Guy” come next April in New Orleans.

The presentation in the main-event of last night's Smackdown was clear as could be: AJ Styles is better than Mahal and smarter than The Modern Day Mediocrity and his merry men put together, as evidenced by his clean as a whistle victory to regain the gold that, quite frankly, had been in a downward spiral of decreasing quality and lessening prestige since the night he lost it at the Royal Rumble ten months ago. They wasted little time hyping Styles vs. Lesnar as a result and, not surprisingly, the buzz on the internet has been very positive about that change in the Survivor Series card. Is there still time for another alteration on next week's go-home shows? Absolutely, but those who are nervous about a near-immediate reversion to the horribly mundane status-quo could take solace in Vince McMahon's historic resistance to running heel vs. heel matches – it would not surprise me if more than half of the currently planned heel vs. heel, champion vs. champion matches were altered by next Wednesday – and the fact that Styles winning the title is not nearly as random as some have suggested.

From the moment that Styles engaged Mahal a few weeks ago, it felt like AJ was on the brink of regaining the strap, to the point that I actually predicted he would become champion by November's end in my predictions for the 11th month in last week's October review. Paul Heyman ran down Mahal in he and Lesnar's response to Jinder's challenge in such a way that mirrored the feelings I and many others have been sharing since May; he made it seem like a total joke that Lesnar's dates through year-end were being used to hype and execute a match with...Jinder Mahal!? That was telling and, when adding in the context of Styles being the most logical choice to dethrone Jinder given his status as the generally regarded top performer in the entire industry and his consistent popularity (which usurps that of all of his contemporary babyfaces from either brand), it just seemed plausible that Mahal would either lose the title before the November Classic or be so broken by Lesnar in story on November 19th that AJ would pick up the scraps the week of American Thanksgiving.

What a cathartic moment it was, hollow as it may have been to a degree given that the allure of seeing Styles win back the title was arguably less than if no more than equal to (at least for me) WWE finally showing it was in its right mind by ending Jinder's reign amidst greater apathy (not a good reaction in pro wrestling) among the diehard fanbase that I can ever remember. Regardless of the emotional source of joy, fans in the United Kingdom got a hugely unexpected treat that they had deserved for a long time – when's the last time something noteworthy on that level happened at the UK tapings? It was just a feel good night for most of us, frankly.

Did you stay up afterwards to catch the Flair 30 for 30? I thought that was a tremendous victory for pro wrestling, in general. I sincerely hope that it will not be the last time that a pro wrestler or a pro wrestling story is covered in an ESPN documentary. I have loved the 30 for 30 series since its very first edition in 2009; I own a few of them specific to memories that identify with my favorite teams, and I do not know that I ever honestly thought that pro wrestling would be the topic of a 30 for 30. Now the door has been opened for filmmakers who are huge fans of pro wrestling to present our favorite pastime to the world on another mainstream platform. Personally, I think the next boom period will be the catalyst of even greater awareness of pro wrestling's rightful place among performance arts, and that will only happen through further educating the public of pro wrestling's true identity, pulling back the curtain all the way to reveal the athletes and the men and women behind the characters so that a larger audience can appreciate the storytelling that takes place on the 20'x20' canvas.

Have a PHENOMENAL day!

Best Thing(s) About Monday Night Raw: The Shield vs. The New Day!?

My weekly viewing habits have drastically shifted in recent months. Whereas before I would routinely consume Raw in about an hour and Smackdown in thirty minutes, I have basically been very non-committal as of late, sporadically watching a half hour of Raw and a KO-Sami segment on Smackdown, 205 Live once a month tops, NXT if there's a well-hyped match, etc. Spoilers aided my pick-and-choosy habit for Raw this week and there were two things that stood out from the Manchester taping that wound up translating well to my actual viewing experience: Samoa Joe vs. Finn Balor and the Tag Team Championship switch to end a chaotic climax to the main-event.

Balor vs. Joe produced a heck of a quarter hour. I admittedly tuned in to see them wrestle mainly to see how the match was booked because Finn is an interesting spot between the mid-card and main-event levels and because Joe just recently returned and I was curious to see how quickly he might rebuild his summer momentum. The no-contest, ensuing brawl, and subsequent announcement that they would each be on Team Raw at Survivor Series made them both look like major stars.

This is a time of year when WrestleMania can be seen on the horizon and, with the rumors of the main-events creating a level of apathy that I have not felt about wrestling in my thirty year fan history, I have my sights set on the secondary storylines that will fill the early hours of the year's grandest event; Joe and Balor figure to factor in pretty heavily to that scene, one would think, so their respective abilities to advance themselves to the brink of mid-card Mania glory is a focal point for me from now through the foreseeable future. Their entire segment spotlighted the advantage of the so-termed 50-50 booking philosophy, in that it allowed a pair of talents who will likely remain on the Universal Championship periphery, at least for the time being, to each look strong and maintain their place within striking distance of a headlining spot.

Also, I thought a lot more of the in-ring action between them than I anticipated. It was worth a watch, for sure. They worked a nice and stiff match that told a simple story of Joe as the enraged antagonist and Balor as the protagonist taking the moral high ground and I felt it to be a little more wide open than their matches from NXT, which often booked Joe a tad too strongly on the 20’x20’ canvas for my liking; I prefer a little bit more balance to a match - call it a 70-30 line (demarcating control by one wrestler through the run-time) not to be crossed that Joe frequently crossed into 75/80-25/20 territory.

The Tag Title match was the best of the night, as one might expect given how the previous Bar vs. Shield-ish bouts have played out this year. Who would have thought that the titles would change hands, though? That was a shocker to me when reading the spoilers, initially feeding the irritable side of my fandom that has considered giving WWE the finger and doing something else for six months, but that The New Day were the catalysts instantly quelled any ill feelings I had about the prospect of my lone Survivor Series match of interest (Ambrose/Rollins vs. The Usos) being eliminated when the realization set in that the end game could instead be The Shield vs. The New Day.

Allow me to reiterate that I was not at all engaged by The Shield's recent reunion because of who prompted it; with all due respect to The Miz et al, the combination of forces that prompted the Hounds of Justice to get back together as a trio was not to my liking. The reunion was WWE's version of broccoli - maybe it was good for them, but the manner in which it was cooked tasted awful to my palate. I wrote a column that suggested The Shield vs. The New Day among five better reasons for Ambrose, Rollins, and Reigns to get the proverbial gang back together, the rationale being that Woods, Kofi, and Big E have rounded into a formidable force with a triple threat of considerable longevity, massive merchandising success, and a series of stellar, recent performances. It is an unquestionably unique dichotomy between the two factions and one that frankly deserves in my mind a considerable build before such a rivalry hit its crescendo but, given that Survivor Series at least in my mind needs a massive shot in the arm, New Day vs. Shield would be just the medicine that the November Classic would need to get yours truly on board with it. I fully planned to skip a live viewing of Survivor Series; New Day vs. Shield absolutely gets my eyes glued to the TV on Sunday, November 19th.

Best News of the Weekend: Jericho to New Japan Pro Wrestling

Well, ladies and gentlemen, the time has come to change it up a bit. I have been around LOP for over thirteen years and, be it as reviewer or columnist or podcaster, the one consistent thing about yours truly has been a generally positive view of the product, even when the general opinion of pro wrestling (particularly WWE) was not so great. In the last few months, though, I have slipped into that dangerous abyss of my favorite pastime taking more away from me than it was giving, and I have been feeling quite jaded about it, as some of you have noticed.

As a genuine life philosophy, nothing is allowed to stay in my world if it is not contributing more good than bad. Faced with the reality that I disliked WWE more today than I had at any point in my adult life and that current rumors for the near future were only worsening my fan condition, I made a choice recently to drastically change the way I consumed wrestling and, thus, how I write about it. That is where the concept of “Doctor's Notes” comes into play. When I have thought deeply and tried to flesh out my thoughts in written form, about half of what I have been coming up with since the summer has sent me tumbling further down the glass-is-half-empty rabbit hole. A blog, of sorts, that champions the very best thing from Raw, Smackdown, other shows, pay-per-views, and news? That, conversely, stands to get me back into a better groove as a fan, podcaster, and writer.

That having been stated, the weekend brought substantial news that Chris Jericho will be wrestling Kenny Omega at New Japan Pro Wrestling's biggest show of the year, Wrestle Kingdom 12, in January. Huge fans of the promotion are understandably excited about it as a showcase for the man that some believe to be the world's best wrestler, Omega, against the highest profile opponent he will have ever faced. I, on the other hand, have a different reason for excitement.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about Neville's exit from WWE and how, until Vince McMahon and Company shore up a few important details about talent deployment and roster positioning, the former King of the Cruiserweights would merely be the latest on a growing list of disgruntled talents to walk away in their primes to take advantage of the overall health of the industry, giving up WWE dreams in the process. The unanswered question taken from that column was what might prompt WWE to shore up said details and further its evolution as a product fit for the modern era. While certainly it would be fair to point out that not one thing, sans for Vince stepping down unexpectedly, would be the stimulus for such changes, Jericho taking his game to the Tokyo Dome is a noteworthy happening that could come to be thought of in the future as an occurrence that helped move WWE in a better direction as it relates to its big picture issues.

Jericho, outspoken not long ago about the complimentary and helpful role he feels a veteran wrestler with considerable name value such as himself should play in WWE, is coming off one of the most celebrated runs of his twenty year mainstream wrestling career; he is one of the most respected, well-known personalities to have made his name in sports entertainment. Make no mistake about it, this is a big deal. For him to fight Omega at Wrestle Kingdom 12 sets an exciting new precedent; we have seen the big NJPW star have a top flight, featured match at WK and then do the same at the next WrestleMania (AJ Styles did it in 2016), but we have not seen it in the reverse order of a big WWE star having a headlining-caliber bout at WM turn around and do the same at the next Wrestle Kingdom. That one of Vince McMahon's favorite sons is the one setting the precedent is certainly intriguing.

NJPW is not a threat to WWE’s global empire, its currently strong vitality akin more to the European professional basketball scene as compared to the NBA. However, it has emerged as a most viable competitor for WWE’s increasingly disgruntled diehard fanbase. Jericho re-establishing a working relationship – his appearance at WK12 will be his first for a Japanese promotion since 1998 – has already prompted fans who love pro wrestling but who feel disenfranchised by WWE to cancel the Network and sign-up for NJPW’s streaming service. Competition is good for the industry.

The Euro-League influences the NBA through player development and in-game strategy; and that influence would stand to become that much more pronounced if Dwyane Wade left the NBA to play there – even if he was a shell of himself – because of the spotlight that it would provide. Jericho, at the very least, has already and will continue to get more people talking about NJPW than at any point in recent history (maybe ever), which can only be a good thing for the business in general. At best, his match at Wrestle Kingdom could mean something more; I hope it further instigates change in WWE, even it is just the tiniest step forward.

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