April 9th was a phenomenal day for wrestling fans. April 9th marked the start of WWE’s programming the week after Wrestlemania, which for most of us marks the most eventful shows of the year on a WWE calendar, we expect surprises, returns and a rabid internationally flavoured crowd to entice us for a 3-hour edition of RAW & 2-hour edition of SmackDown.
This year, we certainly got some eventful moments.
The initial call-up of NXT’s Authors of Pain & Ember Moon was exciting, Carmella cashed in her Money in the Bank contract to claim her first major championship, AJ Styles took on Daniel Bryan, Jeff Hardy returned to WWE after a prolonged absence & Paige announced her retirement while being made General Manager of SmackDown just 24 hours later. None of those topics however sparked the interest that Bobby Lashley’s long awaited return did.
Lashley’s initial run with the WWE had some astounding highlights, including a match where he helped the current President of the United States Donald Trump shave the head of Vince McMahon in front of 80,000 people at Wrestlemania 23. On the whole however, he was clearly being pushed too fast for what his ability was and needed more time to establish himself before being expected to achieve the results that management wanted, which is rumoured to have played into his mid-2008 departure.
From there Lashley actually found some resounding success, improving himself immensely and grew himself similar to departed stars such as Drew McIntyre, Jinder Mahal & even Bill Goldberg to a certain extent prior to his return. It is clear however that unlike those men, something is missing from the new take on Lashley’s character and an element WWE is clearing missing the opportunity on this time round.
So, let’s get to the bottom of it.
TNA, Round 1
Just over a year after his departure from the WWE, TNA naturally did what has now become an NXT staple, pick up recently released talents they see potential in and re-push them under their own image. The company at the time had done this with Kurt Angle, Sting, Kevin Nash, Booker T, Rhyno, Mick Foley & event Scott Steiner, even though they more or less retained their gimmick most of what they did hugely differed from their on-screen characters on WWE programming.
TNA had Lashley on their list next and quickly picked up the former ECW & United States Champion in hopes of gaining their brand some further recognition which ended up just as well as you remember. With absolutely nothing of note happening for the 6 months he appeared as a part of their brand.
Quickly given the nickname ‘The Boss’ Lashley made an impressive debut for the company but it was all downhill from there. Despite getting top feuds with both Samoa Joe & Scott Steiner nothing the company attempted with his character seemed to full resonate with the fans, who instead turned on the former WWE star rather than embrace him. The reasoning of this could have been the over abundance of former WWE talent jumping ship and resulted in the fans clamouring for more homegrown talent rather than rejects from their competition and this only got worse when TNA had no clue how to book the man in the first place.
His time with the company came to an abrupt end in February 2010 as he set his sights on a potential MMA career and fans neither cheered, booed or cared in the slightest. Lashley simply left and was never to be spoken of again until almost 5 years later.
Dominating the world of MMA
It’s no wonder many fans make the comparisons between Bobby Lashley & Brock Lesnar, considering how similar their career choices have been, both started out in professional wrestling, left in hopes of chasing their dreams in the MMA industry and eventually come back right to where they began.
However, Lashley’s MMA pursuits didn’t receive close to the attention that Lesnar did during his MMA days, partially due to the latter’s popularity & star power from his WWE days, but this doesn’t mean Lashley wasn’t a success, which he surprisingly was. The transition from wrestling to MMA is something I can’t imagine is easy, the two sports are of different worlds and require different commitments from those who participate, and it was incredibly impressive to see Lashley garner some great success.
Even though he bounced in and out of wrestling for this time, Lashley spent almost a decade in the world of MMA and through doing so earned a 15 win & 2 loss record which speaks volumes on the mans talent across any profession he’s pursued. Brock Lesnar’s MMA record stands at 9 wins & 5 losses and considering WWE’s track recorded of using numbers to further establish stars (take the Undertaker’s undefeated streak as the best example) it’s astonishing how this statistic hasn’t been utilised yet.
Anyone who has seen Lashley’s MMA fights also knows how integral they’ve been in transitioning his style of professional wrestling over the last number of years. His time in MMA has clearly developed him as a competitor in the ring, making his style less one dimensional, typical powerhouse into a versatile and dangerous athlete who may even have more all around ability than Brock Lesnar if we’re being honest.
His last fight as of now was on the 21st of October 2016 but a recent statement by Bellator MMA stated that he is still under contract with the company with no future fights currently announced. With Lashley’s current record, I wouldn’t be surprised if a return is somewhere in his future.
TNA, Round 2 (The good round)
On March 9th, 2014 the world (or the estimate 10-12,000 fans watching at home) witnessed the return of a new, reinvigorated Bobby Lashley, one that had put his WWE past behind him and felt like an entirely different character to the one in 2009.
Shortly after his initial return, Lashley turned heel joining MVP & Kenny King in the new faction known as ‘The BDC’ (or ‘Beat Down Clan’) and quickly begun a hostile takeover of the company while running through any and all competition. The run as part of the BDC exposed the growth he had undergone, becoming not just a better in-ring performer but clearly carrying more confidence in his overall performance as a heel.
It was on June 19th, 2014 that marked the resurgence of Lashley’s career, defeating then-champion Eric Young to claim his first TNA World Heavyweight Championship and in the process mark him as the first African-American Heavyweight Champion in company history. This initial reign spanned close to 5 months and delivered some fantastic matches against the likes of Samoa Joe, Eric Young, Kurt Angle, Bully Ray, Austin Aries & Bobby Roode whom he’d eventually drop the title to later that year.
The next 12-18 months were spent in the main event scene or chasing mid-card championships before his eventual claim to fame was made, his 2nd World Championship reign following the destruction of drew Galloway at Slammiversary in 2016. TNA on this occasion not only proved their capability of booking a champion larger than life, but more importantly a champion with genuine fear behind them as a competitor. Lashley spent much of this time shredding apart the competition, from EC3 all the way to Aron Rex (the former Damien Sandow of WWE fame) and was established as one of the best things going in the business at the time and few would dare question that statement.
While WWE were using Brock Lesnar, a champion who only made scarce appearance on their programming to defend his gold, TNA had produced Lashley who week in & week out reminded fans of his threat and that most importantly, he wasn’t going anywhere. It’s characters like these that present the best obstacles for babyfaces in the business, ones that are so unstoppable it keeps fans waiting, waiting for the day someone actually comes out on top.
That was the beauty of Lashley in TNA. Instead of relying on absence or the feeling that your champion is ‘in control of the company’, TNA made Lashley a weekly character who made his name by appearing weekly and walking over his opponents rather than sit at home teasing his next appearance should it even happen. At this point fans were adamant assuming that Lashley would one day return to the WWE and potentially go up against the man I have seemingly brought up on more than one occasion throughout this article.
What would happen should the former ECW Champion return? Only time could tell, and boy did it tell.
Stone Cold Fever: Is Kevin Owens the Next Big Thing in WWE?
Is this rendition of KO Mania real?
Kevin Owens is quickly becoming the hottest Superstar in WWE. The former Universal champion is embarking on a war with Shane McMahon and while that war is only just beginning, KO is already reaping the benefits.
Owens is getting over and there’s no denying that. Many fans believe that this is just the beginning of something epic for KO and it’s hard to argue that point. But as with everything in WWE, Owens’ future depends on his booking and how much the company truly wants to invest in him. So will Kevin Owens be the next big thing in WWE?
It’s as if WWE suddenly flipped a switch and activated this new KO. The man that so many felt was on his way to superstardom in the company has always been just on the verge of greatness, but he always seemed to fall just short. It’s been through no fault of his own however as Owens has consistently always delivered, both in the ring and on the mic.
But despite how much he’s accomplished, there always seems to be an asterisk by his name. The same is true of other potential main event stars as well, like Finn Bálor and Braun Strowman. All three men have excelled on the worldwide stage but for whatever reason, none of the three have truly achieved legendary status in WWE.
While the men involved may not be too concerned with such positioning, the fans have been all too consumed with it. In their minds, the time for these talents and many more, is now. Why wait, when the business is experiencing such a resurgence in popularity? The time to strike seems to be now, so why not move ahead and make a massive impact with guys that can handle the pressure?
Perhaps that is exactly what the WWE faithful are seeing right now with Kevin Owens. Owens is capable of rising to the occasion and he’s done it many times before. Maybe there’s no better time for him to prove what he can do and maybe the company finally recognizes that.
But nearly every time fans depend on “maybe,” they wind up disappointed. WWE has not always been the most reliable company when it comes to doing right by hardworking talents, especially those who deserve a shot at the next level. Owens has been counted among those talents for far too long and now he’s getting a chance to finally step up.
The good news is that so far, it’s working. The live crowds are loving what he’s doing and no one can do it quite like he can. The comparisons to Stone Cold Steve Austin are coming like never before and KO, as well as WWE, obviously see that. The fact that Owens uses the Stunner as much as he does is proof that the entire angle is a tip of the cap to The Texas Rattlesnake.
It’s not that Owens needs to use anyone else’s finisher, just as he doesn’t need to mimic anyone else’s gimmick. KO can succeed based on his own merit and everyone knows that. But he’s saluting Austin and in doing so, reminding a legion of fans why they fell in love with WWE in the first place. There is no way to really revive The Attitude Era, but that’s not the point.
Kevin Owens is bringing back a taste of the past and making it relevant to his cause, as well as to the company’s current climate. The Stunner is as much of an anti-authority move as the middle finger, both of which keep Stone Cold on the minds of fans who love him for what he did in the business.
So is WWE truly headed for a new era of relevancy in the industry? Vince McMahon’s company has always been at the forefront of the business and for many fans, they’ve been the only game in town for a very long time. But with the rise of New Japan, Ring of Honor, as well as various promotions around the world, the wrestling world is becoming a much bigger place.
Of course much of the focus on the business right now is due to the birth and evolution of AEW. Cody Rhodes’ fledgling company is making waves and turning heads, just as everyone knew it would. But AEW has also captured WWE’s attention, despite any belief to the contrary. If Owens’ new run is a result of WWE going against the grain and trying something familiar, yet new, then that’s definitely a good thing.
But the bad news is that this is still WWE, which can change plans at a moment’s notice. Things can fluctuate at any time and when they do, an entire storyline can either twist in a different direction, or end altogether. Could this happen with KO versus Shane McMahon?
Much of what happens from here depends on just how long WWE can keep the fans invested in this angle. The live crowds are connected and the same is true of the audience at home. Everyone seems truly intent on following this story and they’re all rooting for Kevin Owens to keep rising higher on the card. If KO continues to get hot and if the company really gets behind him, then the entire landscape of WWE could change.
Kevin Owens is not the next Stone Cold Steve Austin and he surely does not want to be. KO has fought his entire career to be the best he can be and this new storyline is just the latest avenue for him to rise up. Maybe it will only go up from here and maybe Kevin Owens will finally realize his potential in the company that desperately needs the next big thing.
Andrew’s G1 Climax 29 Ratings & Analysis: Night 7 A Block
KENTA and Okada may start pulling away in A Block! Who falls first? The Rainmaker or The NOAH Outsider?
KENTA and Okada may start pulling away in A Block! Who falls first? The Rainmaker or The NOAH Outsider?
Aside from the big names being stuck in the middle of the pack, we’ve got poor little Zack Sabre at zero points. Can he twist Fale into a pretzel and figure it out?
Then we have Okada facing a banged up Ospreay, while KENTA takes on a rising EVIL.
Do we still have any undefeated participants in A Block after today?
- Yota Tsuji & Juice Robinson vs Jon Moxley & Shota Umino: Shooter wins via Boston Crab @3:55 – ** 1/4
- Taichi, Minoru Suzuki & Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs Toru Yano, Hirooki Goto & Yuya Uemura: Kanemaru wins via Deep Impact @8:50 – ***
- Yujiro Takahashi, Chase Owens & Jay White vs Jeff Cobb, Tomoaki Honma & Toa Henare: Chase wins via Package Piledriver @9:50 – ** 1/2
- Shingo Takagi, BUSHI & Tetsuya Naito vs YOSHI-HASHI, Ren Narita & Tomohiro Ishii: BUSHI wins via MX @7:35 – **
- A Block: Zack Sabre Jr vs Bad Luck Fale: Sabre wins via Countout @6:30 – ** 1/4
- A Block: Lance Archer vs Hiroshi Tanahashi: Tanahashi wins via Victory Roll @12:00 – ** 1/2
- A Block: KENTA vs EVIL: KENTA wins via Go 2 Sleep @15:05 – *** 1/2
- A Block: Kota Ibushi vs SANADA: Ibushi wins via Kamigoye @19:15 – *** 3/4
- A Block: Will Ospreay vs Kazuchika Okada: Okada wins via Rainmaker @21:55 – **** 1/2
Still a lot of heat from their NXT past and Moxley’s debut match in NJPW. Juice and Mox don’t face each other until the end of their block schedule, but if this needed more heat…well this was gasoline. Juice and Mox stay on each other, brawl to the back while the Young Lions fight, but Mox apparently gets the best of the brawl. He returns to the ring to help Shooter, hit their Hart Attack tandem move and Shooter sinks in the Boston Crab.
There’s history between Taichi and Goto centering around the NEVER Openweight Title, Yano and Suzuki have fun history and it looks like Uemura is stepping up to Suzuki. So there’s a lot of fun moments, Uemura has a death wish trying to fight Suzuki, but it’s still fun. A lot of moving pieces in this one that kept it very entertaining.
Honma got put through the paces, Jay White got tossed around a little bit by Jeff Cobb, but the Bullet Club tag partners proved to be more useful than Cobb’s. Chase has picked up a few wins in the tag matches, so he might get some kind of push coming soon.
BUSHI continues to pick up pinfalls in these tag matches, and this sort of builds for Ishii and Naito, but not a ton happens. YOSHI-HASHI is there, Shingo looks like a million bucks and BUSHI wins the match, LOL. This was very paint by numbers.
Sabre jumps all over Fale at the start and tries a plethora of submissions to no avail. A kendo stick shot from Jado pushes the action to the outside. Fale and Bullet Club look to have an advantage, but Sabre dodges some double team tactics, grounds Fale with a Triangle Arm Bar, and then races to the ring to beat the 20 count. Fale couldn’t make it back fast enough, so Sabre gets the first Countout win of this year’s tournament.
Tanahashi is really showing the age and injuries this year, so all of these flukey wins just come off as forced. The match was slow, had moments of being interesting, but Tanahashi not even being 50% of what he used to be makes these hard to watch at times. Archer is getting over well, but Tanahashi winning at this point does hurt the credibility a little. I get the story they’re telling, but unlike last year where Tanahashi could push through injuries, this year, they are much more obvious, and he’s much more hampered.
EVIL took the fight to KENTA and then they went to the outside. Through the back and then into the crowd area next to the ramp. EVIL went for Darkness Falls on a bunch of a chairs, but KENTA stopped him and suplexed him onto said chairs. When it got back in the ring, EVIL tried to weaken the legs and KENTA went after EVIL’s upper body to mitigate the power advantage. Heavily booed, KENTA played up heel nicely (I guess WWE did help for something), and eventually he gets the best of EVIL and lets him take a nap. KENTA moves to 4-0.
We get a solid match between two guys who are right on the precipice of the Main Event scene. Kota outsmarts SANADA early by not going for the stupid dueling Dropkick spot, and from then on it was an interesting struggle. Between fan support and the general “anything you can do, I can do better” pacing, this was entertaining, yet slow and felt too long in some spots. Both looked pretty good, but this could’ve been told faster and SANADA’s perpetual struggles are a little frustrating for anyone who is a fan of his.
Okada and Ospreay were expected to blow the roof off, and well I’d say this was a damn good shot. Ospreay is obviously dinged up, but he fought through the pain and pulled off numerous flipping counters and found a few different ways to hit the Os-Cutter. They both let their personalities fly and this was a lot of fun to watch. Okada always has this older brother aura since he’s the one that brought Ospreay to New Japan and Chaos, so whenever they get together, it’s very much like two siblings trying to outdo the other. Ospreay had a great flurry at the end, flipping through a Rainmaker attempt, to try his Stormbreaker, but Okada flipped through that and hit a short arm lariat. Rolling Rainmaker and a normal Rainmaker later, Okada edges out the little brother. Great match.
Overall Score: 7/10
Well this night struggled cause the first two Block matches were really weak. The next two amped-up the intensity a little, but fell short of a memorable match. The main event was fantastic, but generally speaking this felt like it was slow, plateau’d for a while and only picked up at the end. Nothing out right awful, but a lot of matches that could’ve been a little better.
Still a solid enough night if you’re following it all, but only the main event is worthy of seeking out individually. It is nice to see that everyone is on the board with some points. So if Okada and KENTA stumble a little, the rest of the block could plausibly catch up.
Block A Standings:
- Kazuchika Okada: 4-0 (8 Points)
- KENTA: 4-0 (8 Points)
- Lance Archer: 2-2 (4 Points)
- EVIL: 2-2 (4 Points)
- Kota Ibushi: 2-2 (4 Points)
- Hiroshi Tanahashi: 2-2 (4 Points)
- SANADA: 1-3 (2 Points)
- Will Ospreay: 1-3 (2 Points)
- Bad Luck Fale: 1-3 (2 Points)
- Zack Sabre Jr: 1-3 (2 Points)