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Can Daniel Bryan Save WWE SmackdownLive?

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Just two short weeks ago, the WWE Universe was shaken to its core when the announcement was made that Daniel Bryan had been medically cleared to wrestle once again. It was the culmination of a long and arduous journey for Bryan, who had spent 3 years seeking medical advice from all over the world in an attempt to do what he loves more than anything else. But ultimately, it was the start of another journey, one which should see Bryan transition from his role of being General Manager of SDLive to return to the role he suits best. WWE Superstar.

The timing of Bryan’s return couldn’t have come at a better time, with SDLive viewing figures dropping and the overall quality of the product taking a huge nosedive over the last 12 months. The blue brand has struggled for a long time in terms of star power, outside of the obvious AJ Styles, and Bryan’s return as the top babyface would undoubtedly bring viewers flooding back in. Bryan’s road back to in ring competition will begin at WrestleMania 34 in just 5 days time, where he will be teaming up with Shane McMahon to take on Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, seeking revenge against the heels for taking them both out in recent weeks. Hopefully this will be Bryan’s last appearance as GM. WWE’s obsession with authority taking centre stage is overplayed and outdated, and while it may be less of an issue over on RAW, there is no doubt that a large part of SDLive’s issues have come from an over reliance on giving Shane TV time and main event feuds. There is simply no reason to keep Bryan in the role any longer, as in terms of storyline it will make no sense after Mania and he can be utilised much better as the face of the brand.

Daniel Bryan

One of the biggest problems for SDLive has been its lack of star power in comparison to RAW. Outside of AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura and the incredible tag team division, the blue brand has a roster full of average mid card talent and jobbers whereas RAW boast a roster full of the likes of Braun Strowman, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Brock Lesnar. Hell, even the mid card superstars on RAW could feasibly be top guys on Smackdown. If there is anyone who can help to restore some sort of balance between the two main rosters, Daniel Bryan is that guy. The buzz and excitement around his return is absolutely huge, and seeing him return to the SDLive roster as a permanent fixture involved in high quality feuds could do wonders to get people interested once again in a show which only a year ago could have easily claimed to be THE show.

There is clearly a ton of interest in seeing Bryan return to the ring and WWE would be foolish not to capitalise on this. When Bryan made the announcement of his long awaited and much fantasised return, YouTube absolutely lit up, with the segment generating 1.7 million views. Only one hour later, the show closing segment with Owens and Zayn’s kayfabe firing was even more popular, amassing three million views. Bryan’s return was also most likely the catalyst for SmackDown’s viewing figures, returning to their highest for over a year after struggling badly throughout 2017/18.

Daniel Bryan

The most impressive thing about Bryan is that despite his unfortunate early retirement, his popularity never dropped for a single second. Nobody ever forgot about him, largely thanks to the ever-popular YES! chants, and he continued to be a top merchandise mover. It could be argued that even 3 years on from his last official match, he is just as popular as ever if not even more so. He is still consistently in receipt of the biggest and loudest crowd reactions in all of WWE, eclipsing even the biggest fan favourites Strowman and Rusev. WWE is a money making business first and foremost, so a permanent return for Bryan would no doubt be a very lucrative one for the company and it is almost certain that he would go straight to the top of the merchandise sales charts once again. With his popularity clearly not set to fade away any time soon, WWE need to pounce on this opportunity at a time where there are virtually no white hot babyfaces left in the company outside of Johnny Gargano in NXT.

Bryan is exactly what WWE need right now, and while Smackdown would be the biggest beneficiaries of his permanent fixture, his impact could help to ease some of the companies other fears. WWE find themselves at a crossroads with multiple superstars right now, with John Cena looking likely to be taking yet another lengthy hiatus. the Roman Reigns experiment still not paying off, AJ Styles is strongly rumoured to be switching over to RAW and there isn’t a clear-cut top guy ready to take over as the face of the blue brand. Nakamura is over with the fans but continues to flatter to deceive, Rusev isn’t quite the complete package yet and… well that’s about it really. Well that was until a couple of nights ago, when Bryan strongly hinted a number of times that his reign as GM may be coming to an end.

Daniel Bryan

These words get thrown around too much these days, but the simple fact remains that as long as he hasn’t picked up any ring rust during his time away, Bryan is quite simply one of the best in-ring performers on the planet at this moment in time. The superlatives don’t end there though as D Bry is far and beyond one of the most over stars of his generation, up there with the likes of Stone Cold during the Attitude Era, and a world class overall performer both inside and outside of the ring. There is no reason whatsoever why Bryan should not be treated as one of the top guys in the entire company and certainly as one of the top guys on the blue brand upon his return. Not only would Bryan give Smackdown the star power it needs, it would also bring the added benefit of not needing to draft anyone over from RAW to replace Styles. Sure, trading Seth Rollins or Finn Balor to replace AJ sounds great on the surface but how much better does it sound to draft them over to a show which includes Daniel Bryan?

WWE have a history of making bad decisions, wasting talent and failing to strike while the iron is hot. This is one opportunity far to big to miss. Nobody can say for sure how big of an impact Bryan will have, but if history is any indication, it should be a pretty safe bet that his return change the landscape of WWE forever. It was fun while it lasted, but Daniel Bryan is not an authority figure. He spent his best years in WWE fighting against those very tyrants in an attempt to fulfil his dreams.

Do we want to see Daniel Bryan as general Manager anymore? No. Do we want to see the bearded one back where he belongs as a WWE superstar? YES! YES! YES!


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Cook: Don’t Bet Against Greatness

It’s a mistake that’s easy to make, but it’s an equally important lesson to remember. As Steve Cook says: don’t bet against greatness.

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Tom Brady Super Bowl Trophy

It’s a mistake that’s easy to make, but it’s an equally important lesson to remember. As Steve Cook says: don’t bet against greatness.

It would take at least a thousand columns like this one to explain the biggest mistakes we pundits make. I use the phrase “we” because I’ll never sit here and tell you I’m infallible. I make more mistakes than I care to remember. Today, we’ll talk about one that I’m guilty of pretty often.

Too often, we don’t give greatness the benefit of the doubt.

We jump to quick conclusions when the greats of a genre do things that don’t seem in character, or are different from what we’re used to. We don’t consider the idea that maybe these people, who have already accomplished many things in life, might actually have a better idea what they can do to improve their future than we do.

Hard to believe, I know. This past weekend saw great success for two of the most successful people in the world of sports & entertainment. They serve as perfect examples of my hypothesis.

Example 1: Tom Brady

Tom Brady

For years, I have resisted the idea of calling Tom Brady the Greatest Quarterback of All Time. I never like crowning current stars the greatest of anything, as it disrespects the people that came before them. Unless they just accomplish so damn much that it’d be silly to deny them the honor. Sometimes, people get GOAT status that don’t really deserve it. They seem to be on pace to get there, but never make the jump.

Tom Brady made that jump a long time ago. There isn’t really a metric people can use to sell him short at this point. He’s at or near the top of every significant passing category in league history. There’s also the number of Super Bowls won, and number of rings/titles/championships always wins any sports argument, regardless of the sport. It can’t really be denied at this point.

The one thread people had to hang on to? Bill Belichick. The Patriot Way. Brady & Belichick formed a dynasty together. The other players & assistant coaches always changed, but Tom & Bill were always there. Which provided a bit of drama over the past few years whenever we needed something to talk about. Who was responsible for the success? The answer was obviously a little bit of both, but it was always a big debate.

Brady went to Tampa, and some folks thought it might not work. Many talking heads went on about how Tom was just going to Tampa because he wanted out of the cold weather. He just wanted to have fun for the last couple years of his career. They didn’t think that he could do these things and also win championships.

He’s one game away from doing just that. Are you going to bet against him? I’m not!

Example 2: Vince McMahon

Vince McMahon Laughing

How many articles have you read questioning McMahon’s mental acumen? Especially over the past several years as he’s advanced in age? It seems like everybody has dismissed the old man as a fossil that needs to step aside and let the kids run things.

We think we have evidence for this theory from WWE television. I’ll admit it, Raw most weeks is thoroughly unwatchable. You may disagree, but I’m the one typing this thing up. SmackDown is a little bit better, but Raw’s ineptitude overshadows it for the most part. Then there’s NXT, which most people seem to agree goes downhill the more that Vince pays attention to it.

A good percentage of the Internet wishes that Vince would step aside and not be all over everything.

This places us on the opposite side of most investors, who don’t watch the shows religiously, if at all, and don’t get inside knowledge from the dirt sheets & message boards. What they know is that Vince McMahon is the most successful promoter in wrestling history, and that he knows how to make a lot of money. Which, most would argue, is a lot more important than the quality of the shows one produces.

McMahon has shown an ability to make the right business moves at the right time. 1984 was the right time to go national and wipe out the territories, cable television expanding wrestling program reach made it only a matter of time. Vince was the first one to jump.

The late 1990s when the company was at a mainstream acceptance high was the right time to go public. You didn’t see him trying it in the early 1990s when he was fighting off various scandals and the company was at a mainstream acceptance low. Once people forgot about the steroid & sex stuff and saw how popular the Superstars of the time were, it was time to buy in.

Streaming was the wave of the future when WWE Network started becoming a thing. It was the culmination of nearly thirty years of Vince McMahon collecting nearly every bit of wrestling footage he could. He wanted to own wrestling & create his own history, then he wanted to get everybody else’s history too. He got most of it. There’s stuff sitting in the WWE archives that still hasn’t seen the light of day, and maybe it never will. Everybody and their brother has some kind of streaming service now. WWE was there before most, and now they got the chance to cash in from a media company trying to bolster their own streaming service.

Now, McMahon’s business record isn’t perfect. We know about the WBF & the XFL (twice). We remember how WWE wasn’t the original name. The early 90s scandals have been mentioned. And as major UFC and boxing events have shown, Vince was too quick to give up on pay per view. Left some money on the table there.

Every businessman makes mistakes. Its how they recover from those mistakes that matters. McMahon always comes out of his smelling like roses. There’s never really a long-term negative effect afterward. Vince got Dwayne Johnson to buy the XFL. His attempt to compete in bodybuilding led to no hard feelings. We all eventually got used to saying & writing “WWE”.

All those things we get mad at about Vince? They don’t keep most of us from watching his programming. Which is why WWE is so valuable to media companies. WWE has an audience that it can’t scare away, no matter what it does. People will follow them from USA to Fox to Spike TV to the WWE Network, whatever’s got some of that sweet content.

So the next time somebody wants to tell you that Old Man Vince is out of touch and doesn’t get it anymore…ask that person the last time they deposited a billion dollar check. If it was sometime in the last week, then they might have a point.

I might not be in love with most of the wrestling Vince McMahon produces these days. Are you going to bet against him making money off of it? I’m not!

Do not bet against greatness. More often than not, you will lose.


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Andrew’s Top 5 Matches: Week Ending 1/24/2021

Well even on a quiet-ish week, all of the bigger NA companies get a version of representation and even AJPW found their way into the Top 5! Let’s see what we’re working with!

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Well now, we didn’t have much that really stood out on North American television, but we did get a few additions from All Japan Pro Wrestling!

Last week’s voting was pretty cut and dry, NXT UK: NXT UK Championship: Walter (c) vs A-Kid, managed to control the voting narrative. Now we get this week, and it’s definitely a little more interesting.

Which match will get the most support? Let’s find out!

Quick Top 5:

  1. AJPW New Year Wars Final Round: Triple Crown Championship: SUWAMA (c) vs Shotaro Ashino
    Rating: **** 1/4
  2. AJPW New Years Wars Final Round: World Junior Championship: Fuminori Abe vs Koji Iwamoto (c)
    Rating: *** 3/4
  3. WWE Raw: Ricochet vs AJ Styles
    Rating: *** 3/4
  4. IMPACT! Private Party w/Big Money Matt Hardy vs Beer Guns (James Storm & Chris Sabin)
    Rating: *** 1/2
  5. NXT: Fight Pit: Tommaso Ciampa vs Timothy Thatcher
    Rating: *** 1/2

 

Honorable Mentions:

  • NXT UK: Dave Mastiff vs Rampage Brown
    Rating: *** 1/4
  • NXT: Imperium vs Lucha House Party
    Rating: ***
  • WWE Raw: Asuka vs Alexa Bliss
    Rating: ***
  • AEW Dynamite: MJericho vs Sammy Hager vs Santana & Ortiz
    Rating: ***
  • NXT: KUSHIDA & Leon Ruff VS The Way
    Rating: ***

4t. NXT: Fight Pit: Tommaso Ciampa vs Timothy Thatcher

From Mitchell’s Coverage:

The ref checks on Thatcher but Thatcher grabs at Ciampa over the ref’s back! Ciampa uses the leverage for WILLOW’S BELL!! But Ciampa can’t win off a cover, he wants to know if that knocked Thatcher out! The ref starts a count, Thatcher is still conscious but he has to get up before 10! The count is 5, then 6! Thatcher uses the cage and drags himself up at 9.9! But Ciampa CLOBBERS him, underhooks, but Thatcher spins out to throw EuroUppers! Ciampa forearms, they’re brawling back and forth with fury! The fans are fired up as Ciampa CHOPS but Thatcher tackles him into steel!

Ciampa throws elbows, has a facelock, and he RAMS Thatcher into steel! FAIRYTALE ENDING!! And then a SLEEPER HOLD!! Ciampa wants Thatcher to pass out, but Thatcher fights up! And scoops Ciampa to RAM him into the steel! Thatcher gets Ciampa in a sleeper hold of his own, but Ciampa uses the corner to go up! Thatcher shoves Ciampa into the corner! Thatcher CLUBS Ciampa over and over and over, then has the leg trapped in the girder! HANGING STRETCH MUFFLER!! Ciampa shouts in pain, he TAPS! THATCHER WINS!!

Winner: Thatcher Hanging Stretch Muffler

 

4t. IMPACT! Private Party w/Big Money Matt Hardy vs Beer Guns (James Storm & Chris Sabin)

From My Results:

Fast paced as expected, but early on we see Tony Khan and Jerry Lynn walk out to sit at ringside and watch the match. Storm didn’t slow down too much, which is surprising since aside from his brief stint back in Impact at the end of 2020, we saw him tagging with Eli Drake in much slower, less workrate dependent matches.

Private Party were their usual high flying, fun having, break dance inspired flourishes to some offense we’ve seen for years. Beer Guns had a cool tandem move with Sabin Sunset Flipping from outside in, Quen rolled right into the Backstabber from James Storm. Lots of signature spam, a few dives, highlighted by a nice Fosbury Flop from Quen.

Sabin looked to be setting up for the finish, when Jerry Lynn hops the familiar guardrail, grabs Sabin’s foot while Matt Hardy distracted the ref; and Private Party hit Gin & Juice for the heel tactic upset! Interestingly, Private Party still comes off as great babyface kids who are being swindled by scummy adults. So they aren’t playing heel, but everyone around them is doing it for them.

Winner: Private Party via Gin & Juice

 

2t. WWE Raw: Ricochet vs AJ Styles

From Mitchell’s Coverage:

Ricochet is frustrated but Omos is relieved as Styles survives. Ricochet fireman’s carries but Styles fights out. Ricochet mule kicks a leg then back flips into the DEAD LIFT GERMAN! Bridging cover, TWO! Ricochet grows further frustrated but he watches Styles stand. Ricochet runs out from the corner but Styles dodges. Styles runs in, Ricochet elbows back, QUEBRADA into a LARIAT! Styles gets Ricochet up, SNAP BRAIN BUSTER!! Cover, TWO!! Styles fireman’s carries Ricochet for USHIGOROSHI! Cover, TWO! Omos says it’s alright but Styles is still surprised Ricochet survives!

Styles goes to a corner, goes to the apron, and takes aim. Styles springboards, but Ricochet hits the RECOIL!! Both men are down, Ricochet crawls to the cover, TWO!! Styles survives and Ricochet is beside himself! Ricochet goes to the corner, climbs up top, but Styles trips him up! Ricochet lands hard on his stomach and flops to the apron! Omos coaches Styles as Ricochet drags himself up. Styles goes to the corner, brings Styles up, but Ricochet hotshots! Ricochet aims, slingshots, but into Styles’ suplex, that rebounds off the ropes! Into the STYLES CLASH!!! Cover, Styles wins!

Winner: AJ Styles via Styles Clash

 

2t. AJPW New Years Wars Final Round: World Junior Championship: Fuminori Abe vs Koji Iwamoto (c)

Iwamoto has finally started to blossom as the Ace of the current Junior Division. Fuminori Abe on the other hand, is a freelancer who can do anything and everything. This should be a great test for the Junior Ace, since Abe can hit you from every conceivable angle.

There’s a brief period of feeling out we saw the versatility of Abe. He delved into a little bit of his comedic side with the long set up on a Penalty Kick to the back, but he also snapped off some great Frankensteiners and high spots. He also worked over the upper body well to try and go for his signature Octopus Hold, but Iwamoto was able to get the rope break.

Iwamoto’s saving grace was his Judo background. A few Dropkicks to get distance and just catching Abe with multiple Judo Throws, set up beautifully for the Koko no Geijutsu, because it is also a fast snapping Judo Throw, but he uses the ropes for the added momentum to make it a finish.

Smooth as butter, and only rated under a 4 because of how fast the match was. If it had a longer build or another back and forth, this could’ve been epic. But it was still a damn great match.

After the match Cima challenged via video.

Winner: Koji Iwamoto via Koko no Geijutsu

 

1. AJPW New Year Wars Final Round: Triple Crown Championship: SUWAMA (c) vs Shotaro Ashino

Suwama’s hand picked opponent because of their similarities. Ashino being the former ace of Wrestle-1, a disciple of Keiji Mutoh and an accomplish amateur style wrestler; this all rings true with Suwama. So we get part two of the Mutoh’s favorite son challenge!

This match did have a few of the same issues as their first one, since a slower mat based style doesn’t resonate well with no crowd or a muted crowd. Suwama did keep up with Ashino for the most part, and the match had many similar elements as the first match. Ashino worked over the Ankle and went for the Ankle Lock; where Suwama showed he could counter most of it and apply his own submissions.

Smartly, Ashino did his best to avoid the Last Ride Powerbomb, which is how he lost his first challenge, and force Suwama to dig deeper. Ashino was explosive with German Suplexes, but he fell into the SANADA trap. Ashino drags Suwama to position him from the corner, even commentary is confused since Ashino is no high flier, but Ashino goes for the Mutoh Moonsault, and hits nothing!

After the miss it felt like Ashino was looking for something he didn’t have to take down Suwama. Suwama did have to pull off numerous Backdrop Drivers and finally the Backdrop Suplex Hold to retain the title. A very solid defense that built off the previous matchup, and would’ve been much better if the mat wrestling didn’t feel like it dragged because of the world situation.

Kohei Sato comes out after to challenge.

Winner: Suwama via Backdrop Suplex Hold

 

Thoughts:

Now I’m really intrigued at how this vote will shake out. A few matches from the lesser view AJPW, a match from Raw, a crossover with AEW & Impact and a gimmick match from NXT.

My vote personally will go to Private Party vs Beer Guns, because this is the first interaction that really does feel interesting for the invasion/war/crossover/takeover whatever story. Great use of former Impact talent, great screwjob and ideally should lead to bigger things. Plus it’s nice to see a younger/undercard team like Private Party getting their star elevated a bit.

Do I think any of these matches touch the first week of the year? No, not at all. But they weren’t stinkers, so let’s make the month interesting before Royal Rumble!


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