The Eternal Optimist Presents a Loaded Column: Evaluating the Potential for Success for All NXT Call-Ups and Returning Stars, Predicting the Superstar Shakeup, Paige as GM, and the Idiocy of Wrestling Fans Over Styles/Bryan and Undertaker/Rusev

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Who would you like to see switch brands during next week’s Superstar Shakeup?

Hi kids.

The WWE sure didn’t let the week after Wrestlemania go to waste. There were a ton of NXT call-ups, several big-time wrestler returns, a blockbuster TV main event and a series of announcements for The Greatest Royal Rumble Ever that has our fan base absolutely losing their collective minds.

With so much to get to, I’m going to jump right in.

The Eternal Optimist Presents: Evaluating the NXT Call Ups and Returning Superstars, Predicting the Superstar Shakeup, Paige as GM, Why Fans Were Wrong on Bryan v Styles and Even MORE Wrong About Taker v Rusev.

Evaluating the NXT Call-Ups.

Smackdown only had one call-up, but they sure made it count. The Iconic Duo was put into an extremely important angle upon their debut. I loved everything about this – from the promo they cut to the viciousness of their beat down to the tremendous cash-in of the MITB Briefcase by Carmella. Peyton Royce and Billie Kay are a lock to be successful. Being Australian, they bring something unique to the table. They are both BEAUTIFUL. That still matters, even in the age of female empowerment. They are decent workers and can cut a solid promo. Being inserted into the main event angle against the Alpha Female in Charlotte won’t hurt either. Out of all of the NXT moves to the main roster, this is the one that I have the least reservations about.

Raw on the other hand, definitely provided a mixed bag with their call-ups. First up was Ember Moon. Being the NXT Women’s Champion, she was the highest profile of all the moves. However, I feel that she is less-suited for the main roster than ANYONE else that was moved up. She’s small and doesn’t have a great look to her. Her finisher is awesome but nothing else about her in-ring work stands out. She’s unimpressive on the microphone. Most important of all, the WWE doesn’t seem to know what to do with her. They introduced her as a surprise tag team partner to Nia Jax without any fanfare. Her best chance at being successful is for the WWE to put her into a program with Asuka immediately. At least with that, they can take advantage of some of her history in NXT. Outside of that happening, I fear that she could be a complete bust.

No Way Jose was perhaps the most surprising of all of the call-ups. He’s a guy that was used sparingly in NXT. I haven’t seen him on a Takeover show in what feels like forever. With that said, his personality and gimmick are far better suited for the WWE main roster than they were for NXT. While I don’t expect the same type of advancement that Elias had upon his main roster debut, I could easily see the crowd getting into his Conga Line routine and chanting his name. Much as is the case with Ember Moon, his debut – a thirty second squash match against a local jobber, doesn’t give me the impression that the WWE has a real plan for him. I think his ceiling is a lower mid-card novelty act, while his floor is Adam Rose and gone from the company. If I had to bet money on which way he will turn out, I’m going with the latter.

Lastly, The Authors of Pain finally made their main roster debut. I’m really torn about how it was handled. I think the sky is the limit for the AoP. They are huge and size always sells in the tag division. With only the Bludgeon Brothers on Smackdown being of the large variety, there was a wide open spot for the AoP to be the dominant tag team on Raw. Unlike with Ember Moon and No Way Jose, the WWE has a clear plan for the AoP. They seemingly split with their long-time NXT manager in Paul Ellering. I have mixed feelings about whether or not this was the right direction to go in. On one hand, the fact that the WWE has a storyline for the AoP is promising. On the other, I think that Ellering would have been a valuable mouthpiece for them on Raw. All in all, I think their talent will win out. They are too big and too good not to end up being the top team on Raw in short order.

Thoughts on Bobby Lashley and Jeff Hardy’s Returns.

Two huge names made their long-awaited returns to the WWE this week. Bobby Lashley returned after a ten year absence and Jeff Hardy returned from a serious injury. I think both will have a tremendously positive impact.

I’ll start with Lashley. I don’t get the hate for him at all. He was a rising star in the WWE his first time around. He was put into the highest profile Wrestlemania 23 match as the baby-face in the Trump v McMahon storyline. He entered into a feud with the entire McMahon Family, an honor only reserved for the top superstars. He was put into a high profile feud with John Cena. The only reason he left was because of a management dispute over how he perceived his wife was being treated. Had he not, I’m fairly certain that the WWE would have given him a run with the World Title.

He is a much more polished product now than he was during his original WWE tenure. Both his mic skills and his in-ring ability have improved by leaps and bounds due to his run with TNA. While not a star on the level of Ronda Rousey or Brock Lesnar, his stint with Bellator MMA has provided him with a rise in stature and additional legitimacy. I don’t know how much longer Brock Lesnar will be staying with the WWE, but I find it hard to believe that the WWE isn’t going to run with a Lashley v Lesnar showdown prior to his departure. That is nothing but good news for Bobby Lashley.

While some may question whether or not Lashley will be successful on this go-around, NO ONE has those same questions about Jeff Hardy. He’s such a versatile asset. He’s someone that the WWE can plug into any main event or mid-card storyline and be assured that he’ll get the type of baby-face pop that they are looking for. Pairing him up with his brother again? No problem. Inserting him into the IC Title mix? That works – the matches between him and the likes of Seth Rollins, Finn Balor and The Miz will be great. Bump him to the main event for a one-off against Brock Lesnar? Sign me up for that too. I’ll argue for something else altogether with Hardy in another section of the column, but make no mistake about It – he will continue to be a smash hit in the WWE.

The Superstar Shakeup – Who Should Move?

Before I dive into who I think SHOULD move, I need to preface the entire discussion. I think another Superstar Shakeup is a BAD idea. The entire concept is flying under the radar right now, but it had a TREMENDOUS impact on the product last year. Smackdown was gutted of all of its entertaining mic workers, and the brand is only now starting to regain form.

Nonetheless, the WWE is steadfast on moving forward. I worry that the WWE will make wide-sweeping changes again and ruin a good thing, but since this is my column and I get to make the call, I’m going to advocate for minor moves only. Here we go:

To Raw:

1. Randy Orton – He’s done everything he could do on Smackdown. I have no interesting in seeing him back in the main event against the likes of Daniel Bryan, A.J. Styles or Shinsuke Nakamura. I don’t want to see a retread of his feud with Jinder Mahal either. On Raw, there are fresh upper mid-card feuds waiting for him with the likes of Braun Strowman, Samoa Joe, Elias or Finn Balor. This move seems like a no-brainer to me.

2. Bobby Roode – His entire main roster run on Smackdown couldn’t have been handled more poorly. He has been mis-cast as a baby-face and I’m close to thinking that irreparable damage has been done. A move to Raw is a perfect opportunity for a heel turn and a shift back to the personality that made him successful both in TNA and NXT. The Intercontinental Title has two incredibly strong baby-faces in Seth Rollins and Finn Balor competing over it, so a heel Bobby Roode would be the perfect fit. I’m not all that confident that he will ACTUALLY move, but I think it’s the right call.

3. Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin – I’m a big fan of the pairing but they look like a team that could get lost in the shuffle on Smackdown. I feel like they are a team that people want to cheer for, and there’s a wide open spot for the #2 face tag team behind Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt on Raw. I’d love to see matches between them and the likes of AoP and The Revival. Moving Gable to the same show as Jason Jordan isn’t the worst thing that could happen to his career either.

4. The Riot Squad – With The Iconic Duo now on Smackdown, there is no place for The Riot Squad to gain any traction. The same can be said for Absolution on Raw now that their leader and the only reason to care about their group is gone. Since none of these ladies have much of a chance on their own or in their current stable, I’d merge the two groups together on Raw. A 5 person stable can be dominant, even if none of the individual members bring anything special to the table. The Raw women’s division is a bit light on heels after Alexa Bliss, so this move would add tremendous depth.

To Smackdown:

1. The Miz – This is the move that I am the most passionate about. Although he eventually thrived as Intercontinental Champion, there was absolutely no reason to move him to Raw last year. He was ready to take his rightfully earned spot as the top heel on Smackdown before having his legs completely cut out from under him. Although I’m enjoying Nakamura’s heel turn, he doesn’t strike me as the long term top heel on the brand. Smackdown is going to need someone to be Daniel Bryan’s equal, and with their past history and his main event push being long overdue, The Miz is the guy that needs to fill that role. I will be beyond aggravated if this doesn’t happen next week.

2. Jeff Hardy – Although there are some enticing options for Jeff on Raw, I think the move to Smackdown is the wise one. While his segment with Seth and Finn being confused over how he talked to Matt and Bray was entertaining, the dynamic presented would provide challenges over time in how you book Hardy. He’d almost end up pigeon-holed into becoming Brother Nero again. On Smackdown, Jinder Mahal needs fresh faces to feud with over the U.S. title. Moving Randy Orton and Bobby Roode out of the way and replacing them with Rusev and Jeff Hardy provides much needed life to the Smackdown mid-card.

3. The Bar – This should be obvious to anyone paying any attention. Sheamus and Cesaro have done everything that could do on Raw and feuded with every possible team. Moving to Smackdown is the ONLY option for them.

4. Mickie James – I think that with Carmella as a fresh champion, The Iconics as equally fresh heels to back her up and top three baby-faces in Charlotte, Naomi and Becky Lynch, I could have easily justified not moving ANY of the Raw women over to Smackdown. I felt like it wasn’t realistic to move Smackdown Women to Raw but not return the favor, so Mickie is my choice. She’s a solid worker who can play a heel or face role equally well. She adds versatility and depth to an already stacked division.

Overall – I’m advocating for very few major changes, as I believe that both brands are going in the right direction. I am fairly certain that the WWE will take a bulldozer to both rosters though, and I hope that it doesn’t take another year to recover from the damage done.

Paige as General Manager of Smackdown.

I’m not an emotional guy. I can’t remember the last time that I cried over anything. Yet here I was on Monday with tears in my eyes as I listened to Paige officially call it quits. I never really had any type of attachment to Paige as a wrestler or a character. I felt for her because of how young she is and how concerned I was over her future life outside of wrestling. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to see her land the spot of The Smackdown General Manager the following night.

I don’t think she’s a perfect fit for the role. Although she cuts a reasonably strong promo and is generally entertaining, she has largely done so in a secondary storyline capacity. There is a MASSIVE difference between cutting promos on that level and cutting the promo that often defines the direction of the weekly show as General Manager of Smackdown.

That aside, I’m excited to see what she brings to the table. The wrestler v authority figure storyline has been done to death on the male side of things, but hasn’t been touched that often on the female side. Although Paige received a sympathy baby-face pop on Smackdown, I fully expected her role to be as a heel. While Charlotte is busy going after The Iconics and Carmella, I’d love to see Paige butt heads with the likes of Becky Lynch and Naomi from a storyline standpoint.

My gut tells me that this will be a long-term role for Paige, and I’m happy to see that. I look forward to seeing the storylines that abound as a result.

The IWC Is Wrong About Bryan v Styles.

I really can’t help but laugh at how little the majority of the diehard portion of the fan base understands the way the business works. The butt hurt over Daniel Bryan v A.J. Styles being “given away on free TV” is insane to me.

The Raw and Smackdown after Wrestlemania are both MASSIVELY IMPORTANT shows for the WWE. The fans that attend those shows are the same fans that are shelling out a TREMENDOUS amount of money to travel to see Wrestlemania, Takeover, The Hall of Fame, Axxess, and all of the other festivities that go into Wrestlemania week. Providing the most value that they can to these fans is of the utmost importance to the WWE. They can charge exorbitant ticket prices for this particular Raw and Smackdown because the fans in attendance know that they are getting a much better show compared to the usual TV effort.

Styles v Bryan is a dream match that was the PERFECT way to thank the fans who had spent their hard-earned money on the 5th major WWE event in a five day stretch. By putting that main event on, the WWE sent a very strong message to this particular set of fans. Their loyalty is important, and it will be rewarded.

As for those who think the WWE ruined a dream match that can headline any PPV – take a seat. This was a non-finish and just an amazing taste of what will come between the two down the road. When that match finally drops on a huge show, you will be no less excited about it because they squared off last Tuesday. You can continue to live in your dream world, but the reality is that this was a spectacular idea that will have a long term and positive impact to the WWE’s business.

The IWC Has An Even WORSE Take On The Undertaker/Rusev Saga.

The idiocy that I have heard surrounding the announcement and removal of The Undertaker v Rusev Casket Match at The Greatest Royal Rumble event has no equal.

When the match was announced – all I heard was “wah wah, why is Rusev being buried”, and “wah wah I don’t want to see The Undertaker anymore”. Now that he’s been replaced by Chris Jericho, all I’m hearing is “wah wah Rusev deserved the match. He should ask for his release”. WHAT? I’d call all of the people with this reaction brain damaged, but it would be an insult to all people who actually have a developmental disability.

Here’s the deal – one point at a time.

First – Rusev being paired with The Undertaker would not have been a burial. It is a tremendous honor to be paired with The Undertaker under any circumstance. Being selected to have a match on an important show with the Undertaker tells me two things. 1) The Undertaker thinks highly of Rusev. He isn’t wasting a match on anyone that he doesn’t respect. 2) The WWE brass ALSO thinks highly of Rusev. Kevin Owens discussed this exactly issue on a podcast somewhat recently. His explanation was something to the effect of “you know that management likes you when you get to work with part-timers”. That makes sense to me. Part-timers have that role because they are revenue drivers. The WWE isn’t going to pair them with anyone that they don’t think highly of, because they want to make as much money as possible. At no point on any planet would a match against The Undertaker have been a burial of Rusev.

Second – you personally can be sick of seeing The Undertaker, but NO ONE, ESPECIALLY not the WWE, cares what you think as an individual. The Undertaker is a tremendous draw for the live crowd at every event he’s at. That will continue FOREVER regardless of whether or not he wrestles another match longer than 5 minutes. Just look at Wrestlemania 34. He wrestled a two minute squash match against John Cena. The majority of the people watching at home thought it was terrible. The majority of the people in attendance went absolutely nuts for him. For whatever reason, this particular event is Saudi Arabia is of tremendous importance to the WWE brass. They are looking to put their best foot forward in order to draw a MASSIVE gate. That best foot forward includes The Undertaker.

Lastly, and here’s the one that gets me the most – Rusev’s removal from the match is NOT a slight on Rusev! Chris Jericho is a mega-star. If you wanted to make an event as special as possible and entice the most amount of people to come, and you had to choose between The Undertaker v Rusev and The Undertaker v Jericho, you’re going to choose Jericho every single time. This has NOTHING to do with Rusev and everything to do with the obvious – Chris Jericho v The Undertaker is a dream match. Lana posts an IN CHARACTER tweet and Rusev unfollows the WWE on Instagram and the IWC loses their mind. Repeat after me – RUSEV IS NOT LEAVING THE WWE. He makes a ton of money, is crazy over and sells a boatload of merchandise. His wife also makes a ton of money to basically do NOTHING. Get a grip people. I’m done with this topic.

That’s a wrap kids. I’m excited to announce that I’ll be resuming my Royal Rumble Countdown on Monday of next week. Agree or disagree with my opinions? Sound off below!