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Austin: Smackdown Women’s Division Gets Big Upgrades

From Zelina to Nox to Shotzi to Toni, WWE Smackdown is seeing an influx of women’s talent, and Austin is here to break it down!

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Zelina Vega WWE Return

From Zelina to Nox to Shotzi to Toni, WWE Smackdown is seeing an influx of women’s talent, and Austin is here to break it down!

Lack of numbers on the main roster has been a problem for WWE due to talent being released or signing with other promotions after their contract expires. One area of the company that has perhaps suffered the most is the Smackdown women’s division. In June, 2021, the total number of competitors on the Smackdown women’s roster was seven: Bayley, Bianca Belair, Carmella, Liv Morgan, Natalya, Sasha Banks, and Tamina. Reckoning (Mia Yim) of Retribution was reportedly moved to Smackdown in April, but has yet to be seen or heard from on television. 

Zelina Vega’s return

The division now looks to be headed in the right direction, adding four new women to the roster in recent weeks. On the July 2nd episode of Smackdown, Zelina Vega made her return after a seven-month hiatus, having been released in November of 2020. Vega was introduced by Sonya Deville, and was announced as an entrant into the women’s Money in the Bank ladder match. Although Vega lost her match that night to Liv Morgan, she is a very talented competitor and could once again find herself in the title picture. 

Shotzi and Nox debut

Two more additions to the roster are NXT call ups Tegan Nox and Shotzi Blackheart. The two debuted on the July 9th Smackdown, working as a tag team. Tegan Nox had not competed since August of 2020, suffering her third ACL tear in her time with the company.

Blackheart was also coming off of an injury, but was only sidelined for a couple of months. She recently held the NXT Women’s Tag Team Championships with partner Ember Moon, but lost them right before the injury to Candice LeRae and Indi Hartwell. Nox and Blackheart tagged in NXT for a number of weeks, so they have experience working together. Both women have been successful in the company and WWE appears to have big plans for them as a tag team, knocking off current Women’s Tag Team Champions Tamina and Natalya in their debut.

Toni Storm is in waiting

The final addition to the roster is another NXT call up that has yet to be seen. Also on the July 9th episode of Smackdown, a vignette was shown advertising that Toni Storm is coming soon. This will be a great move both for the roster and for Storm, as she has lacked a storyline or feud on NXT for a number of months. At only 25 years old, Storm is an immensely successful wrestler, winning tournaments and championships in Progress Wrestling, World Wonder Ring Stardom, and WWE. Storm won the 2018 Mae Young Classic tournament, defeating Io Shirai at WWE Evolution. Storm also held the NXT UK Women’s Championship, defeating current Raw Women’s Champion Rhea Ripley in the finals. 

Although the WWE Draft is right around the corner, it’s nice to see some new talent added to the depleted roster. All four of these women heading to Smackdown is the right call, giving them roughly the same number of superstars as Raw. While the new talent will shine, the Smackdown women’s division did take a huge hit recently. 

News broke that Bayley had suffered a leg injury in a training session and would be out of action for nine months. Bayley was arguably the most talented woman on the roster, and was set to challenge Bianca Belair for the Smackdown Women’s Championship at Money in the Bank. Sonya Deville made the announcement on Smackdown that Carmella would be the replacement to challenge Belair. Returning as a heel, Zelina Vega is another option to replace Bayley as top female heel on Smackdown. Deville also tweeted on Monday that Natalya would fill one of the final two spots for the women’s Money in the Bank ladder match.

and now we have rumors of Sonya Deville herself returning to the ring sooner than later. The Smackdown Women’s Division is starting to heat up…


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News From Cook’s Corner 12.6.21: The Kids Are All Right

Cook’s news has a grab bag of interesting topics! New faces in weird places, an NXT major event and more!

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Hi, hello & welcome to News From Cook’s Corner! I’m Steve Cook, and I can’t believe we’re approaching the end of 2021. It just seems like yesterday we were talking about how 2020 was the worst year ever and were excited to see it coming to an end. I haven’t seen that sentiment as much about 2021, but I think that’s because time moves so quickly that we don’t have the opportunity to take these things into account.

Has 2021 been good or bad? I have no idea! It’s been a year, as far as I can tell.

As for this past week in the world of wrestling…it was a week! Just glancing over the week’s news gives me the feeling that nothing happens when people aren’t getting released. Uncle Dave spent most of his time talking about who should make his hall of fame. Heck, the main thing to rock Wrestling Twitter last week was a casting decision for the NXT WarGames pre-show panel. I had no idea people still watched those things, especially on an NFL Sunday where there were a number of exciting finishes. I did catch the last bit of it though, and from what I saw I don’t think we have to worry about the future of wrestling journalism being corrupted.

I’m trying to work up some kind of take on the whole thing, because I know people love it when I go off on other Internet wrestling journalists/personalities for perceived grievances or for being hypocritical sycophants. Unfortunately, I don’t really know any of these people, and as far as I know they haven’t said any shit about me or my friends. So I’ve got nothing, other than my opinion that Denise Salcedo is more visually appealing than David Bixenspan. I know! It’s a hot take, but I went there!

Let’s look at what happened at NXT WarGames, a show I was interested in more than Broncos vs. Chiefs. Looks like I was right on that one.

Raquel Gonzalez, Io Shirai, Cora Jade & Kay Lee Ray beat Toxic Attraction & Dakota Kai in the Women’s War Games Match

First of all, credit to all the women involved, because they put it all out there and did the best they could. The only issue was a little bit of booking getting in the way. There’s a reason why War Games is almost always worked with the heels having the advantage. Unless Toxic Attraction & Dakota Kai aren’t heels, which I thought they were, but the match layout had the effect of having them get sympathy for most of it. Also some awkward moments where the heels got the advantage even whilst outnumbered. However, there was more than enough to make up for the weird psychology. Lots of weapons, Cora Jade losing her mind and doing a swanton off the top of a cage through a table, good times.

And I’ll probably get some crap for it, but I still don’t like the whole “pinfalls in WarGames” thing. I know it’s been a thing here in NXT, but give me “Submit or Surrender” any day of the week. In any event, it was nice to see the young girls do a good job here and shove it in the face of those that didn’t think they could pull off a WarGames match. Give the kids a chance, I say.

Imperium defended the NXT Tag Team Championship against Kyle O’Reilly & Von Wagner

Fabian Aichner likes to jump around, doesn’t he? I thought this was a pretty solid match, which did one thing much better than most of the NXT Tag Team Championship matches I’ve seen over the years. Imperium eventually hit their finisher after everybody did a bunch of stuff. One finisher ended it. Didn’t need to do five Imperial Bombs to get it done on one of these shows. I can dig that.

Then in a shocking surprise, KOR actually got the better of Von in the attempted post-match beatdown. We expected Wagner to drum the poor boy out, but that’ll have to wait for another day. O’Reilly also threw up some Undisputed Era sign language, just the thing to get people talking.

Cameron Grimes beat Duke Hudson in a hair vs. hair match

NXT’s crowds certainly have their rough moments, but I do appreciate their knowledge of mid-90s WWF Superstars leading to a “Duke the Dumpster” chant. The more I noticed the tell-tale signs of male pattern baldness on Hudson, I had a feeling where this was going. He got the ol’ weedwhacker haircut too, which is much worse than the clean shave. Match was ok, just killing time until the haircut.

Roderick Strong retained the Cruiserweight Championship against Joe Gacy

Roderick did the best he could with this one. Frankly, I would have been ok with Gacy becoming an All Inclusive champion, but that would have been a division-killing move more than anything else. 205 Live does seem to still be a thing for some reason, so that doesn’t seem imminent. I’m sure Gacy will find something to do, as we liberal scum always have some hopeless cause to fight for.

Kyle challenged Von to a cage match on Tuesday, because cage matches are the thing in WWE these days. Big E vs. Kevin Owens on Monday, this on Tuesday, all kinds of house show ones apparently. Not sure what the deal is there.

Team 2.0 defeated Team Black & Gold in the Men’s War Games Match

The young boys pretty much had to win this one in order to be taken seriously, and that’s exactly what they did. Proper WarGames psychology with the heels continually getting the advantage. You got Gargano & Ciampa doing their old tag team spots one last time. LA Knight showed more fire than usual. The youngsters were fine, but Bron Breakker easily stood out amongst the pack. We thought that Bron might get the win over Gargano, but Bron getting the win over Ciampa was the smarter move, to further set up the eventual title change. Lots of crazy spots, weapons randomly brought into the ring. I’d say it stood up well against previous iterations of the WarGames match.

I know that my general opinions on NXT fly in the face of most folks’ on the Internet. They’re upset that the super indy is no more. At some point, however, one must move on. Or at least try to give the new thing a chance. I will say that the wrestlers on this particular show put on a good effort, and I was especially impressed with the folks that people told me weren’t ready for a WarGames match.

The one downside of NXT 2.0 that I can’t deny? You’ll get some dumb shit like this:

Fortunately I was in the bathroom when this happened live. So my best advice to you would be to drink a lot of water so you’ll be in the restroom during commercials.

Who Was Where?

With all these companies releasing people lately, it’s only natural to expect names to show up different places than you might expect. When possible, I’ll try to update you on these matters so you know who to expect in what places.

AEW: Matt Taven & Jonathan Gresham were backstage at the AEW tapings in Duluth, GA this week. Both men are under ROH contract until the end of the year and currently have other things going on, but it wouldn’t be shocking if Tony Khan was interested in bringing either in based off of their working ability. Gresham is from the Atlanta area, while Taven was in town for the NWA’s Hard Times 2 event, which featured some other interesting names in a different place than usual.

NWA: The aforementioned Hard Times 2 saw a couple of interesting debuts for the company. Dirty Dango, formerly known as Fandango, appeared after the tag team championship match, forming a team with none other than JTG. Seems like an awfully random teaming, but I’m sure they worked together at some point during their tenure with WWE. It seemed like they were both there forever.

Matt Cardona also made his debut with the company, he’ll be targeting the NWA World Championship. I said the other night that Impact Wrestling should put their title on Cardona to try & make themselves more relevant, and the same definitely holds true for the NWA. Cardona easily has more buzz than anybody else working NWA shows right now. Heck, his positive buzz might cancel out some of the negative buzz surrounding other people on that roster.

AAA: A couple of familiar names returned to AAA at their TripleMania Regia event, neither coming as much of a surprise. Taya Valkyrie sent in a video declaring her intention to challenge Deonna Purrazzo, current holder of the Reina de Reinas Championship. Makes sense, as Deonna was the last woman to wrestle Taya before her ill-fated stint with WWE NXT. Taya has spent most of her career working for AAA and didn’t leave on bad terms, so her return was always just a matter of time.

A name less familiar to most of you but one I remember from back in the day also returned, as Cibernetico made his first appearance with AAA since 2015. He was one of the company’s top stars during the 1990s & 2000s, and has had several stints with the company. He usually seems to leave due to some sort of an issue with Konnan, and has returned to re-establish his issue with Konnan. Lots of people have issues with Konnan, what can I say? If you’re old like me, you might remember Cibernetico’s brief stint with the WWF as part of an AAA invasion deal that helped fill out the card for the 1997 Royal Rumble in San Antonio.

Jeff Hardy Sent Home

PWInsider reported that Jeff Hardy was sent home by WWE after Saturday’s live event in Edinburg, TX. He was working a six-man tag team match with Drew McIntyre & Xavier Woods against The Bloodline. Apparently Hardy spent most of the match selling in a more sluggish way than usual, and after tagging out he went into the crowd, not returning for the post-match celebration.

Naturally, given Jeff’s history people are going to be alarmed whenever reports like this come out. Hopefully things will end up all right.

AEW Had A Release

I almost forgot, we had another AEW release made public this week. Big Swole’s contract expired at the end of November, and she asked not to renew it. Swole hadn’t wrestled for AEW since a Dark taping on September 11, and hadn’t been on TNT since October 14, 2020. Her highest-profile feud was with Dr. Britt Baker D.M.D, and Swole even defeated Dr. Baker in the infamous Tooth & Nail match.

Swole is married to Cedric Alexander, who’s still under WWE contract. That used to be a pretty good way to get hired over there, but not so much these days.

Welp, that’s all we have time for this week! Thanks for reading, and until next time, keep your stick on the ice.


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Cook’s NXT War Games 2021 Gambling Picks

Everyone might not love NXT 2.0, but we all love money! Cook brings us the gambling picks for WarGames just in case anyone wants to roll the dice on making some cash.

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NXT is presenting their first Network special of the 2.0 era today. It’s the first non-TakeOver special in quite sometime, as NXT starts a new era with the latest edition of War Games. We’ll see lot of experienced talent taking on some not-so-experienced talent. Should be interesting, and it could be even more interesting if you want to put your money where your mouth is!

Odds provided by BetOnline

Hair vs. Hair
Cameron Grimes (-120) vs. Duke Hudson (-120)

Grimes is one of those guys who can excel in most environments you put him in. Whether it’s the Old or the New NXT, he fits in quite well doing what he does. I’m honestly not too familiar with Duke Hudson outside of his work here in NXT, but apparently he was a big deal in his native country of Australia. We all know that Australians are taking over the wrestling world, so it’s tough to bet against Hudson being a big deal here in America eventually. Especially since he’s got the billed height & weight that WWE wants out of its Superstars.

So if you’re asking me who has the brighter future with this company, I would say “Duke Hudson”. If you’re asking me who needs their hair more, I would say “Cameron Grimes”. Hudson’s look might benefit from a trim, so expect Cameron Grimes to take it to the moon.

Men’s War Games Match
Bron Breakker, Carmelo Hayes, Grayson Waller & Tony D’Angelo (-200) vs. Tommaso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano, Pete Dunne & LA Knight (+150)

It’s New School vs. Old School, 2.0 vs. Black & Gold or whatever fun names you want to give these teams meant to signify the different eras of NXT. Ciampa & Gargano have been two of NXT’s top stars for most of the past several years. Dunne ran things over in the UK. LA Knight…well, he isn’t exactly one of the top names in NXT’s history, but he’s an established veteran that NXT fans know from other places. He’s been around a while, while these young whipper-snappers haven’t.

Of course, the idea of this match is to make a young whipper-snapper or two. Bron seems to be the chosen one, so I’d be shocked if he wasn’t beating somebody into submission or oblivion to end this thing. Most likely Gargano since he’s the one that has an expiring contract. Team 2.0 should get the win here. Keep an eye on Ciampa here though. I feel like they want him to be the heel against Bron, and a good way to do that would be to have Ciampa beat up Gargano after the match. You know, to give his DIY partner a proper send-off.

NXT Tag Team Championship Match
Imperium (-200) vs. Kyle O’Reilly & Von Wagner (+150)

Another one of those matches where contract issues have to be considered. Nobody would really think of KOR & Von as a long-term team under normal circumstances. Since Kyle’s contract comes up sometime this month, we can go ahead and assume that tag team isn’t lasting past…this match? Sounds about right to me.

Imperium wins. Also, I don’t get Von Wagner’s name. He sounds like he should be part of Imperium but he’s actually from Minnesota.

NXT Cruiserweight Championship Match
Roderick Strong (-185) vs. Joe Gacy (+140)

Joe Gacy is tired of your bodyshaming. I must say, as one that has had difficulty with their weight and been bodyshamed by my peers on countless occasions, I understand where he’s coming from. Part of me wants him to beat Rod Strong and claim the Cruiserweight Championship for all of us who have been discriminated against just because we eat a little more than the average person. Then the other part of me thinks that Rod Strong is a much better professional wrestler and deserves to have a title belt around his skinny waist. So it’s a tough call.

When in doubt, I go with the guy getting the push. Sure, the Diamond Mine has been getting some TV time, but Gacy’s doing what Vince & Bruce want, getting some attention from the lamestream Fox media. Roll with the underdog here, and if you’re one of those people whining about Joe Gacy not weighing 205 or under…be thankful that he hasn’t targeted the Women’s Championship in his crusade against barriers.

Women’s War Games Match
Raquel Gonzalez, Io Shirai, Cora Jade & Kay Lee Ray (-125) vs. Toxic Attraction & Dakota Kai (-115)

Toxic Attraction has been one of the focal points of NXT 2.0. It’s not the worst idea they’ve ever had. Mandy Rose, Gigi Dolin & Jacy Jayne have a lot going for them. It’s tough to take your eyes off of them for too long. I think we can all agree they’re pretty great…until the bell rings. Then things are a bit more debatable. War Games isn’t exactly a match you would expect them to fare well in, which has led to much complaining over their inclusion in this match.

Thing is, that’s part of the reason to be interested in this match. We don’t know how Toxic Attraction will fare. We figure Dakota Kai knows what’s up. Certainly, the likes of Io Shirai, Kay Lee Ray & Raquel Gonzalez will be just fine. Cora Jade? Well, she’s a youngster, but War Games seems like something she’d be into. Perhaps our worrying is for nothing, and Toxic Attraction are at least as ready for this thing as we presume Cora Jade is. I’m willing to give it a chance.

As for a winner, the non-Toxic Attraction team is the way to go here, ideally setting up a challenger for Mandy’s championship.


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