Where are the new stars? It’s a question worth asking and one that Daniel Bryan was asked when he was out promoting the new WWE video game with Stone Cold Steve Austin on the cover:
“One of the things I think it shows is that we have not really created enough new stars… We need to not just rely on people from the past. There is almost this mentality these stars are bigger than the current stars, and they keep going with the mentality when the guys now are every bit as good as the guys from before, it is just they need to be given the platform.”
It’s an interesting question. And it’s one that I considered when the WWE revealed that it would be Austin gracing the cover rather than a current superstar. In all likelihood, Bryan would’ve probably been on the cover if he hadn’t suffered another concussion that kept him out of action shortly after Wrestlemania.
Seth Rollins: WWE champion, architect of The Shield, first superstar to cash in Money in the Bank at Wrestlemania.
Brock Lesnar: The most dominant and entertaining force in the WWE right now. Despite some breaks, he’s seen enough action as champ to warrant a cover.
The Undertaker: His return to confront Brock Lesnar at one PPV and then feud with him through Wrestlemania brought new life to WWE shows that are usually slow this time of year.
This all comes back to the writing as well. Guys don’t seem to be pushed the right way and there’s a lot of wasted potential, leaving writers to rely on bringing back relics of the attitude era like Stone Cold for the cover, Sting for the main event of Night of Champions, and The Dudley Boyz to challenge for the titles in a suddenly thin tag team division.
Now, the WWE is doing a good job of putting on shows and, in the short term, those Attitude Era stars are great for the fans. But in the long term, Daniel Bryan is right. The WWE needs to do a better job of featuring the next generation rather than living in the past.
So let’s get on with the preview. As is the tradition, started by Playmaker Magazine’s first WWE beat writer Brandon Troy, we’ll start with the least to most anticipated matches of the night.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Rusev
Speaking of the Attitude Era, sometimes the love for the most intense and memorable era of professional wrestling gets a pass on some stuff. Yes, the hits were awesome, but sometimes the stories were ridiculous, insensitive, and bordering on offensive.
Take for example the time that Lita was pregnant. She was kidnapped by Kane, who was fighting for her affections with Matt Hardy. She revealed that the baby was Kane’s and was later forced to marry him after Matt Hardy lost a “‘Til Death Do Us Part” match. Later, she miscarried after Kane fell on her following an attack from Gene Snitsky.
Yeah, that happened. So nothing like the Attitude Era for WWE to go digging up storylines. I can only imagine this writers meeting:
“You know what we need more of? Sexual harassment bordering on assault. I think the audience would really dig a story in which Dolph Ziggler exposes himself and then forces himself on Summer Rae, leading to a discussion in which she admits to basically saying no but meaning yes. The Divas Revolution may be happening, but we can still knock women down a peg or two!
Prediction: A pregnancy scare leads to a debate on whether WWE doctors should be forced to provide birth control as part of Divas health coverage. Ziggler attempts to explain to Rusev that taking a birth control pill every day doesn’t mean a woman is having sex every day. So… Ziggler wins.
Neville & The Lucha Dragons vs. The Cosmic Wasteland (Stardust & The Ascension)
I have to admit, I was just a little disappointed by the tag team SummerSlam match that featured Arrow’s Stephen Amell. I was expecting to see a featured display of athleticism unlike any we’d seen from other celebrities that have been featured on WWE programming. But it was a lot of stalling and stilted action, like the WWE was over-compensating for his lack of skills or physicality. He had a nice jump off the top rope, but it was overall underwhelming.
I’ll give the WWE writers credit for finding a new twist to keep this comic feud going. Adding the Lucha Dragons to Neville’s team is a great way of repurposing a team that had hit a wall in the tag team division and, who knows, this could create two new factions to challenge the New Day as well. What they’re doing with Neville and Stardust is rare, because really, who cares about story? Let’s just have some fun!
Prediction: Stardust carries The Ascension to their first ever meaningful win in WWE while Neville plans revenge with the Lucha Dragons under “to be continued” white text that appears on the screen.
Divas Championship Match
Nikki Bella (c) vs. Charlotte
There’s one, true greatest Divas champion of all time and that’s AJ Lee. Argue about Trish Stratus and Lita all you want, but no Diva of the past or present can touch AJ’s mic skills and performances in and out of the ring. She absolutely owned the crowd in every way you could possibly imagine.
This past week, Nikki Bella technically became the longest-reigning WWE Divas Champion of all time, passing AJ. It was a blatant ploy by WWE to erase her from the record books, likely because of her marriage to CM Punk. But consider this every time Nikki or The Authority bring up Nikki’s record:
Nikki Bella only defended the Divas championship seven times in her 300+ days as champion.
Our biggest complaint during the current Divas Revolution storyline is that the emphasis was taken off the title, taking away any stakes that the faction war could have. I was really hoping that Charlotte would prevent Nikki from breaking the record on Monday Night Raw this past week, but of course, The Authority allowed Nikki to use twin magic to her advantage again and get away with losing the match but retaining the title.
This time, no matter how Nikki loses if she does lose, she’ll lose the title along with it. While I’d love to see Charlotte win, along with everyone else that’s been following her since she premiered at NXT, a victory rings a little more hollow now that Nikki Bella is in the record books.
Prediction: Charlotte wins the title but Paige keeps losing matches and develops some jealousy of Charlotte’s new championship, creating tension in Team PCB.
WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match
Seth Rollins (c) vs. Sting
Sometimes one moment is worth an entire feud. And, in all honesty, if Sting has to bridge create a bridge so that Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker have a little more time before Lesnar goes after the title again, then that’s fine with me. Sure, there’s no way Sting should have a title shot right now, but the novelty of the WCW franchise finally wrestling under the WWE for a WWE title is fresh enough that it’ll serve it’s purpose in filling some time until the Road to Wrestlemania.
When Sting faced Triple H at the “Showcase of the Immortals,” it was pretty entertaining, but that’s because it basically broke down into an NWO vs. Degeneration X match. Now, Sting basically gets a handicap match because Rollins will have already faced Cena earlier in the night for the United States championship. Can Sting carry a full match on his own at the main event? Will the WWE create another gimmick to get Sting through this one?
Prediction: I’ll give Seth Rollins a lot of credit. He’s come so far in a short period of time and it capable of being entertaining even if he’s stuck in a match with someone who shouldn’t be in the same ring as he is. Sting, as a seasoned vet, should be able to pull off some nice spots, but Rollins carries him through and picks up the victory.
Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, & a MYSTERY PARTNER(!) vs.
The Wyatt Family (Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper, & Braun Strowman)
Yeah, it would be awesome if The Shield reunited for one night only and Rollins wrestled in three matches in a single PPV (never been done in WWE history), but there’s no way that’s happening if only because Ambrose and Reigns have hinted that they actually like the guy that they’re bringing in. So let’s speculate! Here are the top 5 (realistic, so not CM Punk) mystery partner reveals for this match:
5. Damien Sandow
Damien Sandow has spent the most recent part of his career as a mimick, getting over as Damien Mizdow (The Miz’s stunt double) and then enjoying a match as Macho Mizdow. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if the lights went down and Mizdow came out dressed as Bray Wyatt?
4. The Undertaker
The Undertaker already took on Bray at Wrestlemania. You might think this unrealistic, but The Undertaker might want to stay fresh for another future match with Lesnar and wouldn’t have to expend too much energy as part of a three-man team.
3. Chris Jericho
Here’s another man who has history with Bray Wyatt, actually defeating him in their first match and putting on entertaining matches early in Wyatt’s career. He’s still quite active and vocal as a member of the WWE without wrestling on TV. This is probably the most likely outcome.
2. The Rock
The WWE is open about Dwayne Johnson being Roman Reigns’s cousin. The first time The Rock made an appearance on WWE programming in 2015, he was saving Reigns during the Royal Rumble (and getting booed out of the building). It’s been more than two years since he wrestled and Reigns needs all the help he can get to stay over with the crowd.
1. Daniel Bryan
He’s been cleared by his personal doctors and, rumor has it, he’s been cleared by WWE doctors to return as well, they just won’t let him compete because of his history with concussions. It’s been more than five months since Bryan saw in-ring action and, based on the press he’s done, he’s dying to come back.
I’m probably like any other WWE fan in that, any time I hear the beginning of Ride of the Valkyries, my heart rate immediately jumps and I just want to stand up and start chanting “YES!” If Bryan returns on Sunday, it’s all anyone is going to be talking about the following day. Anything short of this list is going to be a disappointment and people will wonder why WWE kept the mystery partner a secret at all.
Prediction: Bryan returns, gets the pin on Strowman, and we all feel sorry for whatever match has to follow that.
WWE Tag Team Championship Match
The New Day (c) (Kofi Kingston, Big E, Xavier Woods) vs. The Dudley Boyz
The return of the Dudley Boyz is not the return of Sting. The two aren’t equivalent because, as we’ve seen in the weeks leading up to Night of Champions, Bubba Ray and Devon have still got it. Their return was completely welcome and absolutely necessary. The thing tag team division had run out of legitimate contenders for the titles and it’ll be exciting to see what happens going forward, especially how the Prime Time Players will factor in hopefully some entertaining TLC matches in the future for these teams.
Prediction: The Dudley Boyz are victorious and finally put more of the New Day through tables!
Intercontinental Championship Match
Ryback (c) vs. Kevin Owens
It’s been quite the rollercoaster for Kevin Owens since he entered the WWE. He blasted on to the scene by challenging and even beating John Cena only to lose his next two matches to him. He had no direction for awhile until putting on a great match last month against Cesaro. Thinking that such a feud would carry us through some amazing matches the rest of the year though was an incorrect prediction that led to disappointment. But beating Ryback for the Intercontinental Championship is a pretty good direction for him to go in as well.
Smarks will sigh at the idea of a title meaning anything or signifying how good a wrestler is. But titles mean a lot to the fans and can increase the stakes in any feud. It’d be great to see Owens win the title and then have Cesaro come after him for the belt.
Prediction: Owens dominates Ryback. Ryback works surprisingly well as an underdog, which is a solid setup for the future. I can’t wait to see what a pop-up power bomb looks like on a guy as big as him.
United States Championship Match
Seth Rollins (c) vs. John Cena
We already know it. The best match of the night is going to be John Cena and Seth Rollins in the middle of the card. Cena has been working magic in 2015 as a lower-tier champion and the guy who has brought out the best in him has been Seth Rollins.
Rollins is everything that The Authority wanted CM Punk to be. He really does have it all, including the it factor that can generate heat with just a few words, and especially the ability to bring out the best in everyone he faces. Oh and he completely accepts front office decisions without any real complaint. His ability to carry other superstars will truly be tested against Sting in the main event, but where he most resembles Punk is getting the best out of John Cena.
Every time these two have wrestles in 2015, it’s been instant classic material, from the triple threat match with Brock Lesnar to the United States Championship match on Raw to the title unification match at SummerSlam. And the best part of this feud is that, try as we might to predict the future of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and United States title, we really don’t know what’s going to happen next. We just know we’re going to enjoy what we see.
Prediction: Cena wins the United States championship back, but by also beating the champ, he’s entitled to a championship match in the future. Hopefully this will set up an interesting triple threat between Cena, Sting, and Rollins, including a possible Cena vs. Sting match on Raw in the lead-up to Hell in a Cell next month.
Photos courtesy WWE