Like it or not, these three words have taken the WWE Universe (how I hate that term) by storm. Ever since Skip Sheffield returned from injury several months ago and debuted his new Ryback persona, he has put the wrestling world on notice. Not because he came in and won a championship less than a month into his return. Not because he came in and started feuding with John Cena or CM Punk. Not because he won his first match with some crazy 900 splash, nearly killing himself and his opponent in the process. No, friends, Ryback has become a star by doing what very few people have done before him - make fans care about squash matches.
Any wrestling fan will tell you that squash matches have been around for decades, and they're 100% correct. Whenever WWE, WCW, or any wrestling promotion wanted to get somebody over - usually a monster heel, but if not a 'hoss', then an upcoming heel instead - they would have that superstar dominate his opponents in impressive fashion. Sometimes the poor jobber would get some offense in, but the result was always the same - the bigger name was going to win. Many call it a brilliant strategy and in all honestly, it is. Squash matches allow the upcoming superstar to "get his feet wet" both in the ring and exposed to a larger audience. That way, when the superstar finally moves on to a feud with an established opponent, the fans will know who he is, he won't be regarded as a newcomer by all.
However, this can also backfire. Just look at Tensai as a recent example. WWE had Tensai squash jobbers like Alex Riley and Yoshi Tatsu in his first two matches. I for one enjoyed those matches because it introduced me to Tensai's offense, and I thought it was cool how both matches ended via referee stoppage rather than pinfall or submission, as it made Tensai stand out a bit. Unfortunately, WWE got impatient and quickly tried to establish Tensai as a main-event heel by giving him victories over their top two stars, CM Punk and John Cena. And what happened? The audience was not ready for Tensai, he was not over, and as a result, he has been dropped down the card, and is currently being repackaged. I'm no prophet, but had WWE played their cards right and let Tensai squash other jobbers and low-midcarders before entering a feud with Cena or Punk, Tensai could have made it. Instead, Tensai/Albert will have to start from scratch.
The good news for Ryback is WWE are being patient with him. He has competed against nothing but jobbers since his (re)debut. While some people are bored with his squashes and want him to move on, I'm still fine with them. Why? Because his matches are always fun to watch. Instead of Ryback playing the heel who dominates one or two unknown opponents that the crowd does not care about, he is either winning matches against two heel jobbers (brilliant idea, by the way) or a heel the audience cannot stand (Heath Slater and Jinder Mahal are perfect victims for Ryback).
The thing I like the most about Ryback is the intensity he brings to his matches. Instead of coming out, doing his thing, and leaving, Ryback seemingly makes an effort to make his match stand out. Don't believe me? Go watch any of his matches, from entrance to exit. When he comes out, he moves in sync with his music, which I think is a nice touch. He is charismatic, and manages to make a connection with the audience right off the bat. Then, during his match, he pulls off some of the most unique offense I've ever seen during my ten+ years of fandom. Whether he's practically decapitating an opponent with a sick-looking lariat, using one guy as a weapon against the other unlucky jobber, or hitting his Shell Shock finisher on both opponents at once (something that I will never get tired of seeing), Ryback brings something new to the table. Call me crazy, but I like it.
Another good sign for Ryback is the crowd really seems to be getting into him. More and more Ryback signs are popping up in the crowd, and when he chants "Feed me more" or "Feed me three" after his matches, there are fans in attendance who are chanting along. Sure, the "Goldberg" chants are still there, but less audible than before, and I have a feeling they will eventually subside. Obviously, not anytime soon (people STILL chant "Batista" whenever Mason Ryan is in the ring), but one day, they will chant "Ryback" instead. I would argue that Ryback is getting over big-time, maybe even more so than Brodus Clay (in my opinion).
But wait Chrisss, why do you think Ryback is more over than Brodus and has a brighter future than The Funkasaurus? Simple - like I said earlier, Ryback's matches are almost always different, while Brodus' matches are nearly identical. Before Brodus got involved with the Big Show/John Cena feud, he seemed to have the same moveset every match, and when he wasn't dancing, he seemed to be going through the motions. With Ryback, you get a new combination of moves every match, and even if the result is the same, Ryback seems to tell a story from beginning to end. For me at least, it makes Ryback's matches more intriguing than seeing Brodus dance and wrestle.
Now, I'm not saying Brodus won't achieve success. I think he has the ability to be a great midcarder, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him win the United States or Intercontinental Championship before the end of the year. But Ryback seems destined for bigger things. He is yet to beat anyone of note, but he already feels like an established star, while Brodus has victories over guys like The Miz, Dolph Ziggler, and Jack Swagger, and still feels like he was squashing JTG one month ago on RAW. Again, this isn't a debate of whether who will be more successful - Brodus or Ryback - but if I had to choose one, it would have to be the former Nexus member.
Eventually, Ryback will move on to bigger and better things, and my guess is it will be a feud with whichever heel defeats Christian for the Intercontinental Championship. It's a shame Mark Henry is out of action, as I would love to see a match or two between those strong bastards. If Wade Barrett doesn't get a main-event push upon his return, than a feud between the two former Nexus allies would be intriguing as well.
I have a lot of faith in Ryback as he screams "future star" to me, but what do you think? Am I over-rating Ryback? Or do you see something in him as well?
2. Day 2
James Storm is taking the fun out of the Bound For Glory series.
There, I finally got that off my chest. Those of you who have been reading my columns for some time now will know that I'm a big supporter of The Cowboy, James Storm. I was never high on his tag team with Robert Roode (sorry, Beer Money Inc. never did much for me, bar their feud with The Motor City Machine Guns), but for some reason, I became a fan when he randomly defeated Kurt Angle after Bound for Glory to become TNA World Champion for the first time ever. Then, when he dropped the title to Bobby Roode a few weeks later, I enjoyed Storm chasing after the title. I thought (and still think) TNA dropped the ball by not putting the world title back on Storm at Lockdown, which I thought was the climax of the Roode/Storm rivalry.
Now, it looks like TNA is trying to make up for that lost opportunity by having Storm and Roode finish their rivalry almost a year after it started - at this year's Bound For Glory. The way I see it, Bobby Roode will almost certainly still be champion by October, and therefore, a face victory is the likely outcome of the ongoing Bound For Glory Series. While I have nothing against the idea of a face challenging Roode (TNA are already low on top heels - there's no way they'll have a heel vs. heel world title match at their biggest Pay-Per-View of the year), I just don't feel as excited as I should be for this year's series, and I blame it on Storm's recent mega-push.
Before the participants in the Bound For Glory series were even named, I already had a prediction - James Storm would win it all, and challenge his nemesis Bobby Roode at the October PPV. However, I envisioned Storm's victory to be more dramatic, similar to how Roode himself won the tournament last year. For those that don't remember, Roode missed many weeks of the 2011 Bound For Glory series due to injury, but he returned just in time to get the necessary points to qualify for the semi-finals at No Surrender. It worked, as it made the outcome more surprising (believe it or not, people actually thought GUNNER would win the series last year) and the fans enjoyed cheering for an underdog. TNA would then put a lot of effort into building up Roode as a top babyface heading into Bound For Glory, and then they ****ed up by letting Kurt Angle retain the title. But I digress.
TNA seems to be doing the opposite with this year's series and making the winner painfully obvious. The current standings have Kurt Angle in third place with 10 points, Samoa Joe in second place with 17 points (believe it or not), and James Storm at number one with 36 POINTS! The other nine participants, which includes top names like Aj Styles, Jeff Hardy, and Rob van Dam, either have seven points or zero.
Now, I know the competition has a long way to ago, as summer is just getting started, but since his return to television two weeks ago tomorrow, James Storm has racked up over 30 points, placing him way in the lead. Keep in mind that live event BFG matches count, so it's not unlikely for someone to tie or even surpass Storm in the coming weeks, but it seems all too obvious Storm will be making it to the semi-finals this fall. The fact that he just won a match against the second place competitor, Samoa Joe, makes him appear even more superior, in my eyes.
If you're a fan of The Cowboy, this isn't a bad thing. Hell, I'd love for one of my favourites like Bully Ray or even Magnus to embark on a winning streak. The problem is, it feels like TNA is shoving Storm down my throat and forcing me to cheer for him. Well, that's not how it works. Fans choose who they want to support, they don't want to be told who the next big thing is. I like Storm, but his push is really turning me off from the entire BFG series for the moment. Instead of making it look like it could be anyone's ball game, all the focus seems to be on one man, and I think that's a big mistake.
I hope I'm wrong, but we might be witnessing the birth of "Super Storm". Some may consider it a good thing, but I don't.
What do you think? Am I being too dramatic and over-hyping Storm's push? Or is the fun and unpredictability of the BFG series quickly being drained away?
3. Day 3
I'm not going to lie - this isn't a great time to be a WWE fan. With plenty of superstars sitting on the sidelines (either due to injury or suspension), a brand split that is unofficially over, and a creative team that is in complete shambles, it has become a chore to tune into RAW and SmackDown on a weekly basis. To be fair, the product has not hit rock bottom - today's storylines are superstars are still better than they were in, say, 2005 or 2007, but not by much. The writers seem to have all but given up, John Cena and CM Punk are now pulling double-duty to make up for lost star power, and for the first time since it's 2010 inception, I am not looking forward to the upcoming Money in the Bank Pay-Per-View.
Rather, I wasn't looking forward to the PPV until WWE announced a special guest referee for the WWE Championship match between Punk and Daniel Bryan - this woman:
For better or worse, Aj is the best thing going on in WWE today, hands down. Some will argue that it's the entire storyline with Aj, Punk, and Bryan that's more compelling, but I disagree. Aj has done something that has not been done in ages - made people care about the divas again. In fact, she's done such an awesome job that her match with the divas champion Layla actually kicked off SmackDown last night. That's right, a divas match was the curtain-jerker for a WWE televised event. When's the last time that happened?
Of course, Aj's match with Layla was more about furthering the angle with Bryan, as the number one contender to the WWE title gave Aj a taste of her own medicine by interrupting the match and distracting Aj, which allowed Layla to win via SUPER DIVA ROLL-UP OF DOOM! Still, the action was decent while it lasted, and I hope what happened afterwards (with Aj snapping and beating up Layla) will lead to a title match between the two at a later date, possibly/hopefully SummerSlam. But again, the big news is that Aj, a diva, was the main focus of the first 30 minutes of SmackDown. That's almost unheard of in today's WWE, especially for an active diva.
The question is, why is WWE putting the spotlight on Aj? Why do they suddenly care about a diva? Don't get me wrong, Aj might be the cutest woman in the world, but what has she accomplished? She's never been the divas champion, hell, it was less than two years ago that she was eliminated from Season Three of NXT - she didn't even make the top two! Technically, she's a nobody that was fortunate to be romantically paired with Daniel Bryan on-screen.
Aha, now wait a minute. It cannot be a coincidence that Aj, who didn't have a match at Wrestlemania, and her ex-boyfriend, the man who lost in eighteen seconds at Wrestlemania, are suddenly two of the biggest stars in WWE today. Surely, that was not part of the plan. WWE wanted to get Sheamus over as a top face so they had him go over Bryan in record time at 'Mania. However, as we all know, that backfired, and despite Bryan not holding championship gold since April, he seems to be the bigger star, not The Great White. As for Aj, it's more than being in the right place in the right time. The rise of "CrAjy" was writer's luck from the creative team, but one brilliant performance after another from the girl herself has got Aj over, more so than half the male roster.
You see, it takes two to tangle. WWE saw they had an interesting angle with Aj and Bryan, and decided to take advantage of it. They told her to act like a nutcase and to do her best. Aj has not let the opportunity pass her by. She deserves to win an Emmy for the performance she's giving, week-in and week-out. Unlike other WWE divas (past, present, and future), Aj doesn't half-ass her character - she's making you believe her insanity is real. She's doing such a great job, I wouldn't be surprised if Bryan, Punk, and Kane all have moments of doubt whenever they interact with her. WWE will always be "scripted entertainment", but Aj is making you believe in the angle, making you believe in her madness.
Where does this all lead? Will it result in Aj becoming divas champion? I think that's a strong possibility, and with no offense to Layla (who is criminally underrated as champion), she could really help rejuvenate the title. But I think we will see Aj show her true colours at Money in the Bank, as I have a feeling we might be in for a screwjob ending in the WWE title match. That is, don't be shocked if Aj 'does something crazy' and Daniel Bryan walks away as the new WWE Champion.
Then again, with Aj, you never really know what she's thinking. And that's the beauty of it.
Did You Know?
Once upon a time, Aj dated one of her trainers - former TNA X-Division Champion, Jay Lethal. Don't worry guys, that was a few years ago, she's currently single.