And just like that, SmackDown crowned a new United States Champion.
After Dolph Ziggler’s abdication a few weeks back (we still don’t know where the Show-Off really is) the blue brand hosted a tournament for a new champ, the first tournament for the title ever since… it was activated on the show all the way back in 2003. Bobby Roode faced Jinder Mahal in a surprise finals match this week on SmackDown when we all thought it was gonna happen at the Royal Rumble next week. It’s a solid match, and not totally a terrible idea for the show.
Bobby Roode is a fine champion to help anchor a sprawling SmackDown midcard, which is pretty much anyone’s game right now considering who was part of the tournament, but it’s time for the WWE to really invest in him. Right now, the Glorious One is merely a modern-day Ric Flair with a catchy theme song, and not much is known about him beyond those things. I’d appreciate a mini-documentary series they could air on SmackDown after the Royal Rumble that sheds a brighter light on who Roode really is, how long it took him to get here, and so on. This is one of the things NXT gets right, so I hope they take time to build up one of their star acquisitions from 2016.
The Mixed Match Challenge doesn’t really break any walls down
This week, WWE started their first wave of programming on Facebook’s new broadcasting platform Facebook Watch, the Mixed Match Challenge. For those who haven’t been keeping up, it’s a 10-week tournament in which 12 teams of male and female superstars from RAW and SmackDown Live duke it out for a charity of their choice. One match a week will be aired on FB Watch. (It’s not available for people outside the US yet, but it’s already on the WWE Network, where they’ll upload it a few days after.)
The idea itself is droolworthy because you’d think we’d finally be getting intergender action, but WWE’s still pretty touchy about that so the men can only wrestle fellow men, and women can only wrestle other women. They do make up for it with a rule that automatically makes both partners the legal wrestlers after one team makes a tag, but it can only do so much. The wrestlers have to find creative ways to get around pacing issues brought by these restrictions, and the first match between the team of Finn Balor and Sasha Banks against Shinsuke Nakamura and Natalya felt like two separate singles matches taking turns.
The action did start picking up in the last third of the match, where Banks and Natalya were starting to meddle with their male opponents, so there’s some hope for this tournament. Otherwise, what could’ve been a progressive and creative move forward for the business is hampered by old-school objections. Maybe they’ll do better next time.
WWE signs big new indy stars
Earlier this week, WWE announced the signing of four top talent: ROH tag team War Machine, Mae Young Classic competitor Candice LeRae, and highflying international sensation Ricochet. This actually comes after quite a bit of industry speculation, especially for Ricochet, whose exclusive TV contract with Lucha Underground expired after its third season wrapped earlier this year.
The signings of all these wrestlers are a huge coup for the divisions they’ll be landing in. The NXT tag team division currently needs a bit of a boost even with the Authors of Pain, the Undisputed Era, Sanity, and Street Profits holding it down. The NXT women’s division is slightly decimated after five women were called up to the main roster recently. The cruiserweight division is also in need of a big star to go toe-to-toe with Enzo Amore after luminaries like Neville and Austin Aries gave up on it (thanks to a lack of real organizational support for 205 Live, which I’ll talk about in a future column). It’s on the WWE now to not mess Ricochet up, being the most high-profile signing they’ve made. And I hope Ricochet knows what he just got himself into signing with the WWE.
Want to catch this year’s Royal Rumble live with a bunch of other Filipino wrestling fans? You’re in luck—local wrestling blog Smark Henry is hosting another live Royal Rumble viewing party! It’ll be on Monday, January 29 at Skinny Mike’s Sports Bar in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig at 6 a.m. For only P300, you get a free drink and the chance to catch one of pro wrestling’s biggest events of the year live as it happens!
How about some live local wrestling? Philippine Wresting Revolution’s first show of the year, PWR Live: Kingdom Come, is happening on Sunday, January 21 at the Power Mac Center Spotlight in Circuit Makati! Former PWR champion Ralph Imabayashi takes on current champ Chris Panzer for the title in the main event, PWR Tag Team Champions the Network defend their title once more against the YOLO Twins, and a mini-tournament to crown new #1 contenders for the tag titles is happening too! Tickets are only P400 at the door, and show starts at 2 pm!