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Opinion

Starr: The Post-Cole NXT Championship Curse

Going from one of the championships that was coveted and defended fervently, to now claiming almost as many victims as a Madden cover; Tommy Starr explores the NXT Championship curse.

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You have all read the articles about the “NXT Champion Curse” in some form or fashion.  Many wrestling fans have listed every NXT Champion from Seth Rollins on up to determine whether or not their title reigns amounted to them seeing massive success on the main roster.  This is not one of those articles.

This particular curse that I am referring to actually does not date back all that far, but there seems to be a growing statistic with the NXT Champions going back to the summer of 2020 that is really worth analyzing.  That case is that, following Adam Cole’s longstanding reign as NXT Champion for four-hundred three days, the champions we have seen post-Cole and up to the recent Samoa Joe incident have either had reigns cut short due to injury or have had disappointing and/or short-lived runs that left a lot to be desired.  Among the wrestlers on that list are: Keith Lee, Karrion Kross, Finn Balor, and Samoa Joe.

First and foremost, the “injury curse” is something that you can trace all the way back to Tommaso Ciampa’s incident in March of 2019, where he had to relinquish the title for neck surgery.  However, even as far back as 2019, NXT’s main event scene was firing on all cylinders, to the point where they had plenty of options to run with to find a replacement champion and top title program.  Hence, we got the Adam Cole/Johnny Gargano rivalry that many NXT fans still view as the best NXT Championship feud to this day.

However, by July of 2020, things had radically shifted for NXT.  Their main event picture was not as hot, you could clearly start to see the cracks in the long-term booking strategies, and it is also important to remember during this time, Vince McMahon had been assembling a mass group of call-ups to main roster television.  Whereas in previous years, the idea would be that you would see two or three NXT call-ups in a given year, by 2020, you were starting to see double the call-ups in a shorter period of time.  So it really became impossible for NXT to even build their main event scene, with the understanding that Vince would want a hold of these talents if they started to gain even an iota of traction.

It is important to break down and analyze the (in)significance of the post-Cole NXT Champions list to better understand the gravity of the situation:

Beginning with Keith Lee’s NXT Title win (July 8-August 22 of 2020), his title reign had a lot of potential.  Not only did he dethrone Adam Cole as the longest reigning NXT Champion at the Great American Bash, but he also had previously won the NXT North American Championship and came out of this match a duel champion (NXT’s first and only duel champion).  Unfortunately, that crowning achievement was the peak of Lee’s title reign, because everything that happened afterwards completely thwarted his momentum.  First, he voluntarily (randomly) relinquished his North American Championship on TV under his own volition with zero hype and zero reasoning, other than to “prevent others from earning opportunities.”  And that was a blanket statement, in and of itself.  Then, he entered a title feud with Karrion Kross and lost his championship clean at  Takeover XXX in, what I still believe is and was, his only documented title defense.  All of this occurred within the span of a month and a half.  What did Keith get out of all of this?  He received the “don’t let the door hit you on the rear on the way out” treatment, as this match served as Lee’s final swan song for NXT.  And we all know what happened once he reached the main roster.

Then there is the whole Karrion Kross saga.  His first title win (August 22-26 of 2020) lasted all of four days before having to relinquish the title due to suffering a shoulder separation in his match with Keith Lee at Takeover.  His second title win (April 8-August 22 of 2021) served him better, but a common agreement among many NXT fans was that there was always a missing puzzle piece with Kross during his title reign.  In fact, now that I look at it in hindsight, August 22 is not a statistically great day for poor Karrion Kross.  Aside from that, his matches were mostly substandard, his title reign did not seem as impactful as it should have, and there also seemed to be a general consensus that, while Kross was the champion at the time, NXT was deliberately passing up on the opportunity to run with Kyle O’Reilly as the champion.  Factor this all in with him dropping the strap to a forty-two year old, out-of-shape Samoa Joe at Takeover 36, Kross’ “title redemption reign” never felt as meaningful as it should have.  And let us not even begin to detail his main roster run at the moment.

I do not want to gloss over Finn Balor.  Among the list of names of the post-Cole title curse, many people would rate Balor’s title reign as a massive success.  And to an extent, that is true.  However, when you really split hairs and examine Balor’s title reign for what it was, his championship run served as more of a transitional role than anything else.  It was actually something very counterculture to what we were accustomed to seeing with NXT Champions for its entire existence.  The idea at this time was that, even though Kross was out with injury, he was still the priority and the focus of who they wanted as their champion upon his return.  In the meantime, they needed a longer-term placeholder champion that they could rely on to deliver quality main event matches and serve as their top talent for a period of time; Balor was the perfect fit for that moment.  While you still had guys like Ciampa, Gargano, and Cole, Balor was fresher to the scene and had more momentum from fans than most of the roster.  So while Balor was a good-fitting champion for their particular circumstance at that point, he was never their focus of attention; he was “right place, right time.”  His title reign served as more of a “thank you” than any kind of milestone story redemption or career resurgence.  That is not to say that any of this is to degrade or belittle the impact of Balor’s title reign, but we also have to be pragmatic about this.  Simply put, had Kross not been injured, do you think NXT had any storyline plans or long-term goal to put the title on Balor?

That ultimately brings us to the Samoa Joe situation.  His title reign (August 22-September 12, 2021) lasted all of twenty-one days, having not defended his title a single time and having only made one televised appearance since winning the title at Takeover 36.  The odd thing about this “injury” is that it remains undisclosed, even as of the writing of this article, September 18.  No news sources have provided an update on what the damage is, his expected recovery time, a return date, nothing.  It is almost as if there is more to the story that we are not being informed of.  Of course, this is insignificant in terms of course direction for the NXT Title, seeing as how Ciampa successfully won the title this past Tuesday on NXT television in a four-way against Pete Dunne, LA Knight, and (some guy named) Von Wagner (and no, he is not a music composer.  I checked).  All that said, this circles back to the “championship curse” theory, and Joe is not excluded from that conversation.  Whether or not the injury is grave does not invalidate the fact that he is another victim of the post-Cole championship situation.

What do you think?  Is this is the Post-Cole NXT Championship Title Curse?  The only thing we can hope for coming out of this is that Ciampa does not meet the same fate as the other names on this list.

Sources:

  • Wikimedia Foundation. (2021, September 15). List of nxt champions. Wikipedia. Retrieved September 18, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_NXT_Champions.


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Opinion

King: Top 5 Championship Matches in WWE Royal Rumble History

Chris King looks at the best championship matches that have taken place at a WWE Royal Rumble event!

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2020 WWE Royal Rumble

Chris King looks at the best championship matches that have taken place at a WWE Royal Rumble event!

I have gone back in time to reflect over Royal Rumble’s over the last decade. From 2012 to 2022 the WWE Universe bared witness to some amazing matches including AJ Styles defending his WWE Championship against Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn, The Rock defeating CM Punk and ending his historic championship reign, and even the ‘Beast Incarnate’ Brock Lesnar successfully defending his WWE World Heavyweight Championship against John Cena & Mr. Money in the Bank Seth Rollins in a classic triple-threat match.

Here are the top five championship matches at the Royal Rumble over the last decade.

Honorable mentions:

  • Brock Lesnar VS. Finn Balor (Universal Championship): Royal Rumble 2019
  • Brock Lesnar VS. Kane VS. Braun Strowman (Universal Championship): Royal Rumble 2017
  • Randy Orton VS. John Cena WWE World Heavyweight Championship (Royal Rumble 2014)
  • Daniel Bryan VS. AJ Styles (WWE Championship): Royal Rumble 2019

Top 5 Royal Rumble Championship Matches 

5. Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns (Universal Championship): Royal Rumble 2017

In August of 2016, the WWE Universe was shocked when Triple H turned on his former protege Seth Rollins and essentially handed the Universal Championship to Kevin Owens in a crazy fatal-four-way match. Over the next few months, Owens and Chris Jericho would become best friends and true enemies of Rollins and former Shield-mate Roman Reigns. After Reigns was screwed out of the title at Roadblock they would deliver a Shield bomb through the announce table to Owens.

Reigns and Owens would battle again at the Royal Rumble this time, Jericho would be locked inside of a shark cage to prevent interference. Both superstars delivered an impressive performance and threw out everything to defeat one another. Reigns was minutes away from winning the Universal Championship until Braun Strowman obliterated him, which allowed Owens the conniving champion to keep his title.

4. CM Punk vs. The Rock (WWE Championship): Royal Rumble 2013

The self-proclaimed ‘Best in the World’ CM Punk was on a complete tear going through the roster successfully holding the title for a historic 434 days. At Raw 1000, The Rock came back and challenged whoever was the champion at the time to a WWE Championship match at Royal Rumble. Later in the night, Punk would turn heel attacking ‘The People’s Champion’ and aligning himself with Paul Heyman shortly afterwards.

The Shield would work as mercenaries for Punk to retain his title since the 2012 Survivor Series where they debuted. Vince McMahon informed Punk that if The Shield got involved in the championship match he would be stripped of the title. After twenty minutes of back and forth action between champion and challenger, the lights went out and The Shield interfered yet again. McMahon came out to strip Punk of his championship but, The Rock had other plans and the match was restarted. The People’s Champion would deliver the People’s Elbow to end the historic reign of Punk.

3.  Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins (Universal Championship): Royal Rumble 2022

‘The Head of the Table’ Roman Reigns had conquered all of his challengers on Friday Night SmackDown, so a handpicked wild card was chosen from Monday Night Raw to challenge for the Universal Championship. Enter Seth ‘Freakin’ Rollins. The two former Shield-mates had faced each other in the past but, this time felt different. Reigns was the arrogant and cocky heel while Rollins portrayed more of a tweener character. Rollins mocked the champion’s historic title reign and infuriated Reigns the go-home episode of SmackDown.

The Universal Championship match was the first match to open the show to a white-hot crowd. Reigns made his long grand entrance waiting for his challenger until a familiar theme erupted throughout the WWE Universe. Rollins not only mocked The Shield’s old entrance through the crowd but, was also decked in full Shield attire which pissed off the champion.

I feel like it’s impossible for these two superstars to have a bad match. They have incredible chemistry whether as partners or rivals. Reigns locked in his challenger with the Guillotine Choke but Rollins made it to the ropes. The Tribal Chief was relentless and would not break the hold so Rollins won by disqualification.

2. AJ Styles vs. John Cena (WWE Championship): Royal Rumble 2017

Let me start of by saying this was a very difficult choice to make because I went back and forth on making this number one. ‘The Phenomenal’ AJ Styles shocked the world in 2016 not only for turning heel on John Cena but, beating him at Money in the Bank via shenanigans and SummerSlam completely clean in the middle of the ring. Styles went on to have an incredible run as WWE Champion over on SmackDown Live.

Cena went off and did his own thing after a devastating loss to his rival but, came back returned in time to challenge for the title to not only become a sixteen-time champion but to tie the illustrious record held by Ric Flair. Both superstars used every maneuver in their arsenal to win the match, but it came down to the final sequence to understand where Cena’s passion lies. Mr. Never Give Up hit the Attitude Adjustment and deadlifted Styles to deliver another thunderous AA to become the sixteen-time WWE Champion. What a freaking match!

1. Brock Lesnar vs. Seth Rollins vs. John Cena (WWE World Heavyweight Championship): Royal Rumble 2015

Even though the match before was tieing the legendary Ric Flair’s championship record, I still can say with full confidence that this triple threat match is one of the best matches in Royal Rumble history. Brock Lesnar had an impressive 2014 starting off with ending The Undertaker’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania, and then obliterating John Cena at SummerSlam to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

At Night of Champions Cena was minutes away from winning the title and defeating ‘The Beast Incarnate’ until the arrogant Mr. Money in the Bank Seth Rollins caused a disqualification. Leading up to the Royal Rumble, Cena and Rollins would face off in a tables match at the TLC pay-per-view, while Lesnar vanished. A huge triple threat match was set for the 2015 Royal Rumble pitting all three superstars against each other. Rollins who was still holding the briefcase bragged about if he didn’t win the title with Plan A, he would just cash-in and become the champion with Plan B.

From the moment the bell rang, the action began between Cena and Lesnar. Rollins played the manipulative cocky heel picking his moments to strike. Rollins and Cena took out The Beast on the outside to make it one-on-one. Lesnar was stretchered out of the match but miraculously came back and displayed his freakish strength taking anyone who moved to Suplex City. Rollins hit the champion twice with his briefcase and set up for the Curb Stomp. Lesnar bounced up and delivered a thunderous F5 to retain in a fantastic match.

I love this match so much because it was the first time that I believed Lesnar can deliver a great match and good story when he wants to. We’ve experienced this in his matches against AJ Styles, Daniel Bryan, and even Finn Balor. The Beast is a very smart performer and knows how to sell for his opponents to make them look like a megastar.

There you have it, those are my top five championship matches at Royal Rumble. Let me know what you think!


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Opinion

Greg DeMarco’s Top 5: WWE WrestleMania 39 Opponents For Roman Reigns Not Named The Rock

The Road to The Royal Rumble is here, which means we will soon have an opponent for The Tribal Chief! Greg DeMarco explores potential candidates…

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Roman Reigns Seth Rollins WWE WrestleMania 39

The Road to The Royal Rumble is here, which means we will soon have an opponent for The Tribal Chief! Greg DeMarco explores potential candidates…

Daddy’s back with something for you that is meant to be fun–and a distraction from the news surrounding Vince McMahon’s (likely terrible) return to WWE. Being a fan is meant to be fun, and one of the most fun things we get to do is look ahead to WrestleMania.

The main question, for this article at least, is who will be Roman Reigns’ opponent at The Granddaddy Of ‘Em All? Now everyone wants it to be The Rock, so we will explore the alternatives to that match.

In order to do that, I am making the following assumptions, even if some might not be true in the end:

  • Roman Reigns only wrestles one match, the final match on Night 2.
  • Roman Reigns is defending both the WWE and the Universal Championships in that match.
  • Roman Reigns–and this is just purely me–is not losing.

Honorable Mentions

I did have a few ideas who simply didn’t make the list. Check ’em out:

  • Drew McIntyre – Simply put: Why? Why would we put Drew McIntyre against Roman Reigns in a football stadium when we just saw him against Reigns in a football futbol stadium last fall?
  • Kevin Owens – Similarly, why would we do this right after we do it at the Royal Rumble?
  • Karrion Kross – Ok, now I’m just trolling you. He ain’t the guy, brother–not with this gimmick.
  • Ricochet – Personally, as an underdog babyface against Roman Reigns, I love Ricochet winning the Royal Rumble and challenging The Tribal Chief. But we have a better underdog on the list already.

With that all out of the way, it’s time to have some fun. I give you…

My Top 5 WWE WrestleMania 39 Opponents For Roman Reigns Not Named The Rock

5. Sami Zayn

The bloom is off the rose for Sami Zayn, at least in the eyes of The Tribal Chief. The eventual turn is one of the most telegraphed things in recent memory, and in this instance that is perfectly fine. Sami Zayn is insanely over, and him fighting the uphill battle with The Bloodline would get him Daniel-Bryan-Danielson-at-WrestleMania-30 levels of heat along the way.

People love Sami Zayn. His awkward charm and seemingly unlimited charisma won over the audience so well that his storyline with The Bloodline had to get extended multiple times over. However, it’s obviously coming to an end.

The obvious match is Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn against The Usos, but you could also slot Kevin against Solo Sikoa if Sami were to indeed get the nod.

4. Bron Breakker

You probably think I’m crazy, and I totally get it. Bron Breakker comes from NXT and goes right to the WrestleMania main event?

If you want to create a new star in Bron Breakker, this is how you do it. (At least, it’s one way you can do it.) Look at Roman Reigns himself–part of the story of his WrestleMania 31 challenge of Brock Lesnar was that he was growing into the role. JBL told the story on commentary, and the match was all about Roman ascending to the level of Brock.

Of course it was all the perfect set-up for Seth Rollins to give us the greatest Money In The Bank cash-in in WWE history, but in the process Roman proved that he belongs.

So make this year’s Royal Rumble the ultimate opportunity–the most shocking winner since Rey Mysterio, the NXT Champion Bron Breakker.

3. Seth (Freakin’) Rollins

Seth Rollins seems to be in a never ending program with Austin Theory, and it’s time to move on. Seth is an automatic main eventer in WWE at this point. He’s a made man, probably the next biggest star (on the men’s side) in WWE after Roman Reigns.

And he also has a very specific distinction that no one else has: a singles victory over Roman Reigns since he made his huge return in 2020. Yes, it was by disqualification, but he has proven his abilities to get inside the head of the Tribal Chief.

And Seth Rollins is going to have a match at WrestleMania, and 50,000+ in Sofi Stadium are going to be singing his song. Might as well be in the match that closes WrestleMania Night 2.

2. Sheamus

This is purely a match on my playlist–but this is MY list. And to me, Sheamus makes perfect sense.

In fact, I thought the feud between The Bloodline and The Brawling Brutes would lead to Sheamus challenging Roman Reigns at the Royal Rumble. And had Sami Zayn’s involvement in The Bloodline not taken off the way it did, we still may have.

Sheamus is more popular now than ever, and at 44 years of age he is doing some of his best work. Sheamus winning his second Royal Rumble and challenging Roman Reigns would be the Lifetime Achievement Award he deserves.

But it’s more than that! The match? It would deliver in a big way. History? There’s plenty between Sheamus and Roman, going back to when Sheamus cashed in Money In The Bank on Reigns, and when Reigns eventually beat The Celtic Warrior to win one of his world championships. The fans? They would be solidly behind Sheamus, and would go nuts for every near fall. Don’t sleep on Sheamus as your WrestleMania 39 main event opponent for Roman Reigns.

1. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin

Full credit for this idea belongs to PC Tunney and Dave Ungar, as shared in the Chairshot Radio Twitter DM thread. And it’s steal-worthy indeed.

Three major legendary names are rumored for WrestleMania 39: The Rock, John Cena, and Steve Austin. All three make sense for a multitude of reasons. But The Rock will be launching a football league (which might be a reason to do this–the publicity), and is still in insane demand in Hollywood. Cena seems to be free at the present time, and we’ve seen the videos of Austin working out.

Remember, I am assuming Roman Reigns is going to win. If that’s the case, then this WrestleMania is but another moment in Reigns’ legacy. Why not add Steve Austin to his list of victories?

It would sell. ✅
The fans would buy it. ✅
Austin proved he can go. ✅

This type of match is what WrestleMania is all about. If it’s not The Rock, it should be “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.

And there you have it, my list of–

Wait a minute Greg, what about Cody Rhodes?!?!

Man, I thought I could slip this one past the goalie!

Cody Rhodes is a great question. But you have to look at my assumptions above. I am assuming Roman only wrestles one match, defends both championships, and–most importantly–doesn’t lose. Given those assumptions, you want Cody Rhodes as far away from this match as possible.

If we do split the titles, then Cody needs to be the guy to walk away with the WWE Championship. He does that either over Seth Rollins, or in a triple threat on Night 1 against Reigns and Rollins–but Rollins still eats the fall.

But under my conditions, losing at WrestleMania doesn’t do anything for Cody.


What do you think? Let me know on social media!

Hit me up:

Until next time, remember: enjoying wrestling is a choice…make the right choice!


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