Writer's Note: It's been a hectic couple of days for the wrestling "dirt sheets". Countless rumors have been started, facts and theories have been analysed, and there's a lot of juicy topics to talk about. Rather than tweeting my opinion on every one of these "newsbits", I figured I'd compress them into a single column. Is good?
The Viper has lost his venom: What a horrible Boxing Day present for WWE. Joining the likes of Rey Mysterio, Christian, and The Undertaker (kind of) on the injured list is none other than Randy Orton. Orton may not be the world heavyweight champion, but he is the face of Smackdown!, and has been the blue brand's top star for the majority of 2011. However, due to a severe back injury (which was NOT caused by Wade Barrett during their match at last night's tapings), Orton is reported to miss several months of action, including Wrestlemania 28. Now, it's entirely possible that Orton's injury is just a work so they can write him off television for a weeks. Why would WWE do that? Two reasons - a) to keep Orton away from the Daniel Bryan/Big Show/Mark Henry angle and b) to make Orton a surprise entrant in next month's Royal Rumble match which just happens to be hosted by St. Louis, Orton's hometown. However, WWE would be taking a big gamble by keeping a healthy Randy Orton off television and live events for even a month, so I doubt this injury is fake. Get well soon, Randy.
'It Begins'...for Jeff Hardy? HAHAHAHAHAHA!: In case you missed it, Super Luchas ran a story in which they "confirmed" the man returning to RAW on January 2 is former WWE superstar and current TNA superstar, Jeff Hardy. However, they later denied the report, and claimed it was simply a result of it being Innocents' Day in Latin America (or, April Fool's Day). Wow, that's soooo funny! I've seen at least twenty different names brought up about who could be behind the 'It Begins' videos, and not a single one of them ended with 'Hardy'. Partly because it wouldn't make sense, and partly because no one cares about The Hardyz anymore (except little kids, if they remember him). The reason I bring this up is the stupidity behind this false report. If anyone REALLY thought Jeff or Matt were returning to WWE next Monday, they are smoking some serious dope. Vince Russo has a better chance of showing up on RAW next week than either Hardy. Come on, people.
A demotion? For what???: "Apparently", it was "reported" that United States Champion Zack Ryder was "demoted" to a storyline romance with Eve Torres because "supposedly" WWE officials blamed Ryder for the ratings drop last Monday. See how many words had quotation marks in that sentence? That's to show valid this rumor is. Simply put, IT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE! Ryder shared the main-event last week with five other guys - two current world champions and three former world champions. Yet Ryder is supposed to take all the blame since he's the U.S. Champion? Get serious, bro. If WWE wanted to punish or "demote" Ryder, they would have made him drop the U.S. title, or jobbed him out to Tyson Kidd or another random heel like JTG or McIntyre. Instead, Ryder got to team with one of the hottest divas on RAW and scored the pinfall for his team. Hey, I have a thought. Maybe Ryder isn't being paired with Eve because he can't draw. Maybe WWE are rehashing the Ryder/Cena friendship by thinking that if Ryder can make Eve look "cool", then maybe she'll get over with the Internet Wrestling Community, the majority of which hate her guts. This report is probably as accurate as Ryder having heat over dying his hair a few months ago - it's called grasping at straws.
Punk wasn't in the main-event, yet RAW's ratings barely improved: To nobody's surprise, WWE got anxious and put John Cena in both the 10pm and main-event time-slot in hopes of increasing the RAW rating. The result was successful, but barely - last week's show got a 2.93 and this week earned a 2.94. Wow. Big difference, WWE. The only remarkable change in the rating was that the show's second hour gained viewers rather than lost viewers for the first time in two months. Still, the almost-identical rating emphasizes what I said yesterday - the superstars are not to blame for a low rating, the writers are. People don't want to tune in to see just anybody - they want to watch compelling television, and that's what RAW is suffering from right now. There are never more than two or three major angles taking place, the rest of the show is always filler. Fix the stories, not the wrestlers.
2. Day 419
7. The WWE Network is coming. Although wrestling fans won't be able to view this channel until early 2012, the announcement that the network will one day become a reality is worthy of being the seventh-biggest story of the year. Unlike WWE's first attempt at a network, WWE Classics On Demand, which is limited to nothing but retro shows and matches from AWA, WCW, ECW, WWE, and more, the WWE Network promises to include a bit of everything. Little is known of the content thus far, but the thought of WWE creating a network based solely on wrestling-related material 24/7 makes a hardcore wrestling fan like myself foam at the mouth. Let's just hope WWE can live up to the network's hype.
6. The Hardy Boyz' fall from grace. 2011 was not kind to Jeff and Matt Hardy. From getting arrested for drug possession, posting a fake suicide video, and of course, driving under the influence, Matt spent more than a few nights behind bars this year. Getting fired from TNA and kicked out of WWE-sponsored rehab didn't do the elder Hardy brother any favours. But poor little Jeff wasn't so good either. He showed up to a TNA Pay-Per-View intoxicated and TNA actually allowed Jeff to wrestle Sting in the main-event of Victory Road. Fortunately, the match ended quickly, and Hardy was suspended from the company. Going into 2012, Jeff seems to have his head on straight, but he might have to keep an eye on his brother...
5. A documentary on the Chris Benoit family is in the works. One of the most controversial stories of 2011 (and one of the most sickening, in my opinion) is that a film company has been allowed to create a documentary on former WWE superstar Chris Benoit and his family, Nancy and Daniel. Reportedly, the documentary will primarily focus on the events that led to the final weekend of the Benoits' lives, what they believe happened there, and how the incident tore the world of professional wrestling apart. I'm sure there are millions of people who want to see this documentary, but not me. This is a tragedy that should be left in the past, not brought back to light. If this film becomes a big hit, you can expect pro wrestling's image to take another major hit in the public eye.
4. CM Punk leaves WWE as the world champion. In what many fans considered the most exciting storyline of the year, CM Punk vowed to leave WWE after the Money in the Bank whether or not he beat John Cena for the WWE Championship. To this day, very few people know the truth behind Punk's contract status back in July. Was it a work or was it legit? Honestly, it didn't really matter, as the angle created a buzz not felt in years among many wrestling fans. It's too bad WWE screwed up the post-MitB storyline because it had the potential to turn Punk into a MEGA star.
3. "Macho Man" Randy Savage passes away. Every year, at least a handful of wresting names die. Some of them are young and lose their lives due to drug abuse or drunk driving. Some of them are Hall of Famers who simply succumb to old age, and their years of bumping in the ring did them no favours. It's always a shame to hear the news, but most fans have become numb to it. However, no one expected to hear that Randy Savage had passed away - no one. In his prime, the "Macho Man" was one of the biggest superstars in the business, second only to Hulk Hogan. Like Hogan, Savage was a house-hold name - his Slim Jim catchphrase "OHHHH YEAHHHH!!!" made him famous across the world. Thus, when the news broke that Savage's car had collided with a tree and Savage didn't make it, not just the wrestling world was in shock, but the rest of the world as well. Former wrestling fans had tears in their eyes remembering the legend. Countless superstars mourned the loss of one of their biggest idols and inspirations. Savage will be missed, no doubt about it.
2. The Rock returns to WWE. When WWE announced that the guest host for Wrestlemania 27 would be revealed on RAW, many fans dreaded the moment because they were sure it would be Justin Bieber, who WWE were reportedly in talks with. But boy were they wrong! For the first time in years, The Rock appeared LIVE (not via satellite) and gave one of the best return promos in WWE history. Granted, it may not have been the most clever or unique promo, but the fans ate it up, and Rock showed that he's still one of the greatest superstars to ever pick up a microphone. Rock's return helped drew back a lot of former fans at least until Wrestlemania 27, which saw the PPV do over a million buys. Rock even wrestled his first match in seven years by teaming up with John Cena at Survivor Series to defeat The Awesome Truth. Now, all that's left to do is wait until Rock and Cena finally go one-on-one in the main-event of Wrestlemania 28.
1. Edge legitimately retires from pro wrestling. If 2011 proved anything, it was how big a star Edge was on Smackdown!. The Rated R Superstar had carried to the blue brand to new heights over the years. Whether it was while electrifying the tag team division from 2003-2004, engaging in an amazing feud with The Undertaker, or putting on one great match after another, Edge was arguably the face of Smackdown!. Don't get me wrong, Edge was very successful on RAW (his feuds with Matt Hardy and John Cena took place on the red brand), but to me, Edge was at his best while on Smackdown!. Therefore, when Edge shocked the world less than two weeks after Wrestlemania 27 by announcing he had to retire, I didn't believe him...until I saw the tears in his eyes. Folks, there are plenty of "fake things" in professional wrestling, but emotion is not one of them. On that night, we watched one of the greatest performers of the 21st Century say goodbye.
To this day, Smackdown! is not the same without Edge. We've seen new faces pushed on the blue brand (Mark Henry, Christian, Daniel Bryan) but you can't shake the feeling that someone's missing. Like Ro said, Edge's retirement changed the game completely. 2011 would not have turned out the way it did if Edge was not forced to walk away.
3. Day 420
When Kane interrupted the John Cena vs. Mark Henry match from RAW a few weeks back, no one was expecting an appearance from the Big Red Machine. Yet, those that were anxiously awaiting Kane's return were thrilled to see Glen Jacobs return with his mask on (or two masks, if you want to be precise). Why? Because although the Kane from 2004-2011 was dominant in the ring, had some great - and awful - storylines, and put on some stellar big man matches, something about Kane just seemed off. Without the mask, Kane was the opposite of his earlier character - he almost seemed humanized.
Yet here we are, a few years shy of a decade since Kane was forced to unmask on RAW, and The Big Red Machine is back for vengeance. Although he competed without his mask, 2010 was arguably one of the best years of his career, as he captured the world heavyweight title for the first time and unlike his one day stint as WWE Champion, went on to have a lengthy run with the belt (in today's world, July-December is decent, especially with all the Pay-Per-Views in between). To no one's surprise, Kane had a lackluster 2011. Even if he didn't miss a third of the year sitting on the sidelines, I doubt Kane could have topped his success from the previous year.
Going into 2012, Kane has all the momentum in the world for one last reign at the top. He just seems so refreshed. Not only is Kane playing the heel character (a role he has always excelled at), but he has a new Look (kind of) and is feuding with the face of the company and someone he's never feuded with before in John Cena. After watching Kane face guys like The Undertaker and Edge for so long, and Cena versus Miz and Del Rio, it's a breath of fresh air to see two veterans engage in a rivalry that's never been done before.
Another important fact to keep in mind is that once a superstar is done feuding with Cena, he either moves up or down the card - rarely does he stay in place. Unlike giants who have been fed to Cena in the past (Umaga, Khali), I think Kane has a good chance of coming out of this feud on top and positioning himself for one last run in the world title picture. Many Cena haters will tell you that is highly unlikely, as Cena will "bury" Kane sooner rather than later, but I don't believe it. If Kane's career is winding down, I don't think he'd be used to put over Cena, who does not need the rub. The best bet would probably be to build Kane up as an unstoppable force for most of 2012 and then have him lose to a ready-to-breakout babyface (sort of the way they used Henry this year, as I'm sure he would have dropped the world title to Daniel Bryan or Sheamus at Wrestlemania 28 had Henry not been injured).
One also has to wonder what Kane will do at Wrestlemania 28. If Chris Jericho does not come back to WWE to feud with CM Punk in January, and WWE does not pull the trigger on a Dolph Ziggler WWE title run or Royal Rumble victory, there's a good chance we could be getting Kane vs. Punk for the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania. Why? Because Punk has no one else to face. No one will buy Miz or Del Rio as credible challengers for quite some time, and apart from the above names, there are no other heels on RAW ready for that kind of push. So if we don't get Punk vs. Jericho or Punk vs. Ziggler at Wrestlemania, I'm pretty sure we'll get Punk vs. Kane, which isn't a terrible option.
I've never been the biggest Kane fan on the planet, but I'm excited about him returning with his mask and ending his career with his mask back on. I have no clue when Kane plans to call it quits, but until then, I hope WWE wrong a lot of the mistakes they did with his character from 2005-2009 and book him strong in the coming months. Now that Kane has been resurrected, let's just hope WWE doesn't plan on killing him again.
4. Day 421
Writer's Note: This is it, the year-end countdown we've all been waiting for. After weeks of counting down 2011's best matches, feuds, and headlines, today we're going to look at the top seven superstars of 2011. At first, I was going to include a name or two from the TNA roster, but I couldn't bump any of these guys off the list, so it will be WWE-exclusive. With that said, let's get started with number seven!
2011 started off shaky for The Celtic Warrior. Despite winning the United States Championship from Daniel Bryan, Sheamus failed to stand out on RAW, and was even scrapped from the Wrestlemania at the very last second. However, a few weeks later, Sheamus was drafted to Smackdown!, where he became one of the brand's top heels. But not for long, as Sheamus would turn face and go on to feud with Mark Henry and Christian, putting on some above-average matches. Sheamus may not have won a world title in 2011 like most of the other guys on the list, but going into the new year, Sheamus has a new attitude, a crazy winning streak, and is a top contender to win the Royal Rumble and headline Wrestlemania 28.
2011 was arguably the greatest year in Christian's career, which is telling considering how long he's been in the business. Captain Charisma is a former tag team, Intercontinental, European, and ECW Champion, but before Extreme Rules 2011, had never won a world title. That all changed when Christian's longtime friend Edge was forced to retire and vacate the world heavyweight championship. This tragedy gave Christian the opportunity to win the world title - for less than a week. Randy Orton would defeat Christian for the belt on Smackdown! the very same week, which started an amazing rivalry between the two, which saw Christian turn heel, win back the world title, and establish himself as a main-eventer. Although Christian may be injured as of this writing, expect big things from him in 2012.
5. John Cena
As usual, Cena had a big year in the WWE, but not his biggest. To many people's surprise, he failed to defeat The Miz for the WWE Championship in the main-event of Wrestlemania 27, but he avenged that loss with a title victory at the following month's Extreme Rules Pay-Per-View. Cena would hold the title until he was defeated by CM Punk at Money in the Bank in one of the year's best matches. Cena would go on to win the WWE Championship twice more in 2011, although both reigns were forgettable and lasted less than a month. On paper, Cena had a great year - multiple world title reigns, amazing matches with CM Punk, Rey Mysterio, and others, and building towards his showdown with The Rock at next year's Wrestlemania. 2011 was a good year for Cena, but an even better year for numbers 4-1.
4. Mark Henry
Unlike Cena, Mark Henry had his biggest year EVER. Before getting drafted to Smackdown!, Henry was merely a blip on the radar. He was nothing more than a face midcarder, and no one expected him to become the number one heel on the blue brand. But Henry took the ball and ran with it. Not only did The World's Strongest Man produce some excellent feuds with the likes of The Big Show and Randy Orton, but he wrestled some amazing matches as well (many people believe his match with Big Show at Vengeance and his match with Orton at Night Of Champions are two of the year's best matches). Mark Henry revitalized his career and had a great run as world heavyweight champion which was cut short due to injury. One can only hope The Hall of Pain will return stronger than ever in 2012.
3. Alberto Del Rio
He's still not the Internet Wrestling Community's favorite person, but even his haters can't deny the incredible year he's had. In fact, his resume speaks for itself: winning the biggest Royal Rumble in history, competing for the world heavyweight title at Wrestlemania 27 (ironically, Edge's last match), winning the Money in the Bank briefcase in July, and winning the WWE Championship twice - once at SummerSlam and once at Hell In A Cell. Neither title reign was spectacular, but they helped establish Del Rio as a main-event heel. Many people feel Del Rio was not ready for the push he received this year, but maybe he can win some of his critics over in 2012.
2. Randy Orton
The runner-up for Superstar of the Year is a man who was arguably the best wrestler of the year. All year long, Orton competed in one stellar match after another. It didn't matter if his opponent was The Miz, CM Punk, Christian, Mark Henry, or Wade Barrett - Orton made every one of his rivals look like a million bucks in the ring. Orton has no doubt developed his "Five Moves of Doom" that he hits every match-up, but I'd argue that has helped get Orton over as a face and added excitement to each of his bouts. In addition, Orton stepped up as the top face on Smackdown! and did a great job of putting over young up-and-comers like Rhodes and Barrett, and even made main-eventers out of veterans like Henry and Christian. Orton had a busy but amazing 2011.
1. CM Punk
The internet loves him. The casual fans love him. Even WWE management is starting to recognize his value by pushing him as the top face on RAW and letting him carry a PPV by giving Cena the night off. Whether those rumors of the office being displeased with Punk's drawing power as champion are true or not will be revealed in 2012, 2011 was a really good year for Punk. From leading The New Nexus, to stealing the show at Wrestlemania with Randy Orton, to creating change by defeating John Cena and "leaving" with the WWE Championship at Money in the Bank, 2011 was certainly the year of Punk. In addition to his matches with Orton and Cena, Punk also had great matches with Triple H at Night of Champions, Del Rio at Survivor Series, and an awesome TLC match against Del Rio and Miz at TLC. One can't forget Punk's MOTY candidate with Dolph Ziggler on RAW, either. Overall, 2011 was the year Punk really came into his own as as superstar. Five world titles later, CM Punk has finally arrived.
5. Day 422
Last night, Chris Jericho returned to the WWE after a two-year hiatus and reminded the world why he truly is the best in the world at what he does. No, it wasn't anything he said. It was what he didn't do that showed how awesome he is. Jericho's return "promo" is already an early frontrunner for promo of the year, and I'm not even joking.
Let me explain.
If you haven't already figured it out, Chris Jericho did something last night that has probably never been done before in professional wrestling. In the span of ten minutes, he went from getting the loudest pop of the night to getting booed heavily without even saying a word. How? By purposely overstaying his welcome.
There is absolutely zero chance that Jericho was "caught up in the moment" and decided to soak in the fans' cheers rather than cut a promo. If I recall correctly, his 2007 return got an even bigger reaction from the live audience but that didn't faze Jericho, as he went onto school then-WWE Champion, Randy Orton. As a fifteen-plus-year veteran, do you really think Jericho got overwhelmed by the fan support and decided to run around for ten minutes, celebrating? Come on, now. This is Chris Jericho we're talking about. He knows all about the "crafty" internet. He knows the "smarks" out there have spoiled his return in the past. Therefore, he decided to fool us with a swerve that caught 99% of the world off-guard.
Think about it. Jericho has said multiple times in the past that he would only return if he could do something completely different, something that's never been done before. Well, he did just that last night on RAW by returning as a mega-face, but wore the crowd out to the point that they just wanted him to go away. In less than ten minutes, Jericho went from being the most over man in the building to being someone so obnoxious the fans wanted him gone. That, my friends, is the work of a great heel.
But just for fun, allow me to play Devil's Advocate. What if I'm wrong, and Jericho didn't turn heel? What if Jericho did ad-lib and sabotage his promo? That wouldn't make sense, mainly because Jericho is not needed as a main-event face. WWE already has Cena, Punk, Sheamus, Bryan, Big Show, and Orton (who is due back in a few weeks) holding down the top face slots on both brands. On the heel side though, who do they have? Del Rio - injured. Henry - injured. Christian - injured. Miz - feuding with R-Truth. Kane - feuding with Cena. Ziggler and Barrett are the only two heels close to the main-event, and even I wouldn't call them main-eventers just yet. WWE is clearly lacking in top heels at the moment.
Enter Chris Jericho. As a face, he has absolutely no one to feud with at the moment, except maybe Barrett. But as a heel, Y2J can immediately jump into a feud with Sheamus, Orton when he returns, Punk after the Rumble, Bryan after Smackdown! - the possibilities are endless. WWE needs Jericho as a heel because their main-event scene is terribly lopsided. It makes no sense to use Jericho as a face for the time being.
So before you blast WWE on Twitter about ruining the "It Begins" videos, maybe you should take a moment and rewatch Jericho's return on YouTube. Look a little bit closer this time, and you might not see a face playing to the crowd, but an over-the-top, obnoxious heel instead.
Welcome back, Y2J.
6. Day 423
Right before I went on my "hiatus", you probably recall me counting down some of the best parts of 2011 in wrestling - the top superstars, matches, feuds, etc. However, you might have noticed that I left out a category that is included more often than not, and that category being the year's best finishing maneuvers. While I MAY have come up with a top three or even a top five, there was no way I could list seven amazing, mind-blowing finishers that debuted in 2011. That's because most wrestlers are sticking with what works. Moves like Randy Orton's RKO and Dolph Ziggler's ZigZag are devastating and can be hit from out of nowhere. Not only that, but a superstar's finisher often defines him and helps get him over. As they say, if it ain't broken, don't fix it.
But that line of thinking is not universally true. In fact, I can think of five men who can greatly benefit by changing up their finishing move. Which five men am I talking about? I'm glad you asked.
We're only two weeks into the new year, but it looks like WWE is interested in pushing Santino again. Although I may have dissed his character in some of my recent columns, claiming that face Santino has "grown stale", I have enjoyed how WWE have been using him recently. His backstage segments are not as over-the-top as they once were, and when he gets in the ring, he's becoming more aggressive, which has resulted in him emerging victorious quite often in recent weeks. But if the Santino push is to continue, he needs a new finisher. The Cobra is weak, and it's "comedic appeal" has run it's course. It's time to move on already. Considering Santino isn't the biggest man on the roster, I would suggest giving him a submission finisher rather than a power move. Such a move would further illustrate how Santino is goofy outside the ring but when it comes to actually wrestling, Santino can get it done.
Maybe it's just me, but it feels like Ted DiBiase has been using Dream Street for years now. The problem with that is despite it's antiquity, it always take me a moment or two to react after he delivers the move. Now, on paper, Dream Street is a cool move - going from a potential submission to a slam is pretty clever. Unfortunately, DiBiase rarely sets up for it and if you blink, you miss it, and don't feel bothered to catch a replay. Like Santino, I think DiBiase would be best suited having a submission finisher instead. That finisher? His father's Million Dollar Dream. Instead of using it to set up a slam, I would have DiBiase hold onto the move until his opponent passes out. The move helped get DiBiase Sr. over decades ago, and I can't see how his son wouldn't be able to benefit from it.
Alberto Del Rio
For the above two superstars, I suggested changing their "power" finishers into submission holds, but for Del Rio, I'm thinking the opposite here. The way Del Rio sets up his Cross Armbreaker is unique, but the execution isn't nearly as convincing. If Del Rio is to remain heel for the foreseeable future, then I would recommend him adopting a power or strike move instead. It's a shame he uses that enziguri so often or else I would have suggested him using that as a finisher. Instead, I'll go with Plan B. Since Del Rio is athletic and quite stiff with his kicks, then he might be well off bringing back the Shining Wizard as a finisher. While The Shining Wizard may not be the newest or most effective move in history, if delivered by someone the size of Del Rio, it could look pretty nasty. In any case, the Armbreaker has to go.
When I was planning which wrestlers to include in this column, a troubling thought came to me. Bobby Roode does not have a finishing move. Now, it's normal for many wrestlers who spent years competing in a tag team to not have a signature move once they split up (although there are exceptions), but keep one thing in mind - Roode is the TNA World Heavyweight Champion. Not only that, but he's been champion for almost three months, and while he's continued to put on one good match after another, he is yet to develop a finisher to call his own. This is a wrong that must be made right as soon as possible. Even James Storm, Roode's old partner, has adopted the Superkick as his finisher, but Roode is still searching. How many world champions in wrestling history can you name who wrestled without a finisher to call their own?
Last but not least is a man who's credibility has been booked to hell over the past few months. In fact, Miz's booking has been so bad since losing the WWE Championship to John Cena at Extreme Rules that he didn't even make my list for the top superstars of 2011. Obviously, I don't mean to imply that dropping the Skull-Crushing Finale in favour of something with more "flash" will suddenly make Miz worthy of a world title match at Wrestlemania 28, but it would be a step in the right direction. Many people have been down on the SCF since it's inception, and adopting a more unorthodox, unique finisher would certainly raise Miz's stock value at a time when he needs it the most. It's too bad the Piledriver is illegal because such a move would suit Miz and his character perfectly. WWE has really dropped the ball with The Miz recently, but giving him a new finisher would certainly aid in re-freshening his persona.
Well, that's who I think is most in need of a new finisher. What do you have to say? Are these guys' finishers perfectly acceptable? Can you name someone else who needs to change their finisher? If so, let me know!
7. Day 424
Let me guess. 99.9% of you are expecting me to go on a 20,000 word tirade against the WWE, management, and their writing team. Most of you are probably expecting me to bitch and moan about Zack Ryder being "buried" last night. There might even be a few of you who think I'm on way to WWE headquarters to assassinate Vince McMahon as we speak.
Well, you're only partly right. I am going to talk about the now former United States Champion, Zack Ryder, but with a lot more optimism than you think. There might be some swearing and fantasy booking involved, but today's column will NOT be a rant of any kind. So bear with me.
Did WWE do the right thing in taking the U.S. title off Ryder on RAW last night? Hell no. Ryder's title defence was not only his first since winning the belt at TLC, but it was also his first singles matches on television since the December Pay-Per-View. Ryder didn't even get a chance to defend his title against the man he defeated for the belt, Dolph Ziggler, who had promised to cash in his automatic rematch clause.
However, things aren't as bad as they look. For one, consider the way Swagger won the U.S. title. Not only was Ryder "not medically cleared to compete" - which meant he was approximately 50% weaker - but it took not one, not two, but THREE Gutwrench Powerbombs from Swagger to finally put away Ryder. Long Island Iced Z got in next to no offence from start to finish, but he would just not stay down for the three count, despite his "injured ribs". In fact, Ryder was probably the first man to ever kick out off three consecutive Gutwrench Powerbombs, a move Swagger once used as his finisher (and occasionally, still does to this day).
The way Ryder lost his title, with or without the rematch clause, you know Ryder will get another chance in the near future to reclaim the U.S. title. He may very well get that shot at the upcoming Royal Rumble PPV, or he may get it on an even bigger stage, say Wrestlemania 28?
But let's not get too ahead of ourselves. Another plus that can be taken from the Ryder vs. Swagger match is that Ryder may finally be done with Kane. Before Ryder played the third wheel in the Cena vs. Kane storyline, Ryder had no direction on RAW. Sure, he was the United States Champion, but the man who he was waiting to face in a rematch for the belt, Dolph Ziggler, got himself inserted into the WWE Championship picture. As a result, Ryder was left with no immediate challengers. At least now that Swagger is the champion (who I've been a fan of since his days as ECW Champion, by the way), Ryder clearly has someone to feud with.
But there might be a bigger picture we're not seeing. With Swagger being the United States Champion and Ryder emerging as one of WWE's newest top faces, I can't imagine either man being left off the Wrestlemania card, or simply placed in the Money in the Bank Ladder Match (if it happens). At the same time, even if Ryder and Swagger do feud until Wrestlemania, I don't know if WWE would be confident enough in letting the two of them have a singles match at the biggest PPV of the year.
Enter Dolph Ziggler.
There is always a chance that Ziggler could defeat CM Punk for the WWE Championship in two weeks at the Royal Rumble. In fact, with John Laurinaitis admitting last night on RAW that he does intend on screwing Punk out of the title, there is a very good chance Ziggler could be the WWE Champion at the end of the month. But for some reason, I don't see it happening. I have a gut feeling that Punk will retain and will go on to face Chris Jericho - the 2012 Royal Rumble winner - for the title at Wrestlemania 28.
So let's assume I'm correct, and Ziggler is unsuccessful in both winning the WWE Championship and the Royal Rumble. Where does he go from there? If there is an Elimination Chamber match for the WWE Championship next month, I'm sure Ziggler will be part of it, but definitely not win it. So what can Ziggler do that wouldn't be a waste of time on April 1?
Simple - get back in the U.S. title hunt. I know, I know, in today's day and age, competing for a midcard title after getting a shot at the world title is a huge downgrade. BUT, I never said Ziggler has to win the U.S. title, he just has to compete for it, and put over his opponent(s). After coming up unsuccessful at both Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber, Ziggler could bring up the fact he never got his rematch for the U.S. title, and go after the current champion, who I'm assuming will still be Jack Swagger. However, I'm sure Zack Ryder will still be in the U.S. title hunt as well, and after weeks of build-up, it could all come down to a show-stealing triple threat match at Wrestlemania. And you know what could very well happen? Ryder could win back the U.S. Championship by pinning Ziggler, and on the grandest stage of them all. Swagger would then get pissed and turn on Ziggler for losing the match, and one of them turns face, which results in a feud between the two.
I know it's a lot of fantasy booking to swallow, but I'm predicting Ryder vs. Swagger vs. Ziggler for the United States title at Wrestlemania 28, and that's where Ryder will become a two-time champion.
The Ryder Revolution isn't over, not by a longshot.
Song Of The Day:
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