Four Reasons The Superstar Shake-Up Makes Total Sense

  • By Chris Groves
  • 15 Apr, 2017

"Well Shake It Up Baby, Now (Shake It Up Baby)..."

Did you join the Hooked on Wrestling team for one of our EIGHT awesome WrsetleMania shows? If so, or if you watched it at home (we won’t judge) or actually saw it in person in Orlando (we won’t get too jealous), you would’ve witnessed the annual pinnacle of sports entertainment. Whilst WrestleMania is the culmination of 12 months of anticipation and booking, the real challenge comes when the dust settles and WWE must use its ‘Mania momentum to go again.

To help keep things rolling, a ‘Superstar Shake-Up’ was announced on the RAW after ‘Mania (sorry, that’s #RawAfterMania), with performers from RAW and SmackDown Live switching shows and freshening up the look of both rosters. Whilst only time will tell just how successful the shake-up is, the early signs are positive for viewers, performers and even those yet to appear on the ‘main’ roster. Let’s take a look at four ways the Superstar Shake-Up has already changed WWE for the better.

 

1)     SmackDown Live gets another boost

WWE has been trying for quite some time now to make the SmackDown show a legitimate flagship show once again, rather than the B-show behind RAW. The damage done to SmackDown during the late 2000s and early 2010s looked for a while to be irreparable, but lots of good work has gone into changing the mind-set surrounding the show. Permanently taking it live and adding the likes of Shane McMahon, AJ Styles and the actual WWE title was all in the aim of aligning it with RAW – and the Superstar Shake-Up was certainly designed with the same goal in mind.

SmackDown was at its best in the past when it offered something a little different to what RAW had to offer, but shared the same all-in, fast-paced, over-the-top presentation that we saw on Monday nights. While RAW had the big names and jacked-up monsters in the early 2000s, SmackDown shone the spotlight on outstanding in-ring performers to create a product that appealed more to different sub-sections of the WWE demographic. There have been glimpses of that same dynamic since last year’s Draft and I fully expect this to step up a notch following the Shake-Up.

While today’s RAW is still stacked with talent, SD Live now boasts Styles, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Shinsuke Nakamura, Charlotte and many more top-level performers. Even Byron Saxton is an upgrade on David Otunga. A lot of those names pull in numbers (not Saxton), so moving them to SmackDown shows more serious intent from WWE to create two genuinely entertaining shows, which can only be a good thing for viewers.

 

2)     Breathing room for NXT

The second NXT after WrestleMania was a big show for the brand. After the usual post-PPV NXT recorded before the main card on Saturday, the exceptional yellow-heavy show came complete with a new opening sequence, new music , new in-ring talent and plenty of mentions of “The New Era”. The success NXT has experienced over the last three years has not gone unnoticed and it’s clear to see that WWE hierarchy has more plans for the show.

The one aspect that hinders NXT is its bi-annual farming of talent, sent upwards to RAW and SmackDown Live. That’s by no means a complaint or a call for the show to no longer be a ‘developmental’ proving ground the red and blue brands. This was always going to be the case and it’s accepted by the loyal fanbase who, despite regularly picking up the exact moment they’re seeing a performer for the final time on NXT , are very understanding of seeing their favourite stars leave their favourite show.

But, with NXT still on the rise, the show could do some consistency over the next six months, keeping hold of its top stars, whilst infrequently adding to it with Performance Centre rookies and the odd global sensation. Of course, the actual shake-up did include plenty of the NXT roster (Tye Dillinger, The Revival, Shinsuke Nakamura, etc.), but the new look of RAW and SDLive should mean a big-name call-up shouldn’t be in order for a while to come. That means the likes of Bobby Roode, DIY, Asuka, Ember Moon and others can continue to carry NXT into the next chapter of its, ahem, ‘Evolution’.

 

3)     Surprises and shocks are what we adore right now

Of course, one of the reasons those NXT call-ups to the big stage are enjoyed so much is the shock value they carry – and in WWE right now, surprises carry a greater value than they ever have.

Some of the most memorable moments on WWE programming in recent years have not been matches. They’ve not been scathing promos or iconic images, either. All they’ve been is the entrance music of someone we had absolutely no idea was in the building that night. The reaction when Shane McMahon returned in February 2016 was one of the best reactions I’ve seen from a modern day WWE crowd. The Royal Rumble match is now as much about shock competitors than it is about the eventual winner. Then of course, at this year’s WrestleMania, the stand-out moment of an exceptional show was two old boys who were relevant in the ‘90s turning up for a tag match…

Of course, I’m being sarcastic. Anyone in London’s Walkabout Temple for the HoW ‘Mania party knows how I popped like a child finding a puppy under the Christmas tree when Matt and Jeff Hardy walked out at the Citrus Bowl.

That was a shining example of how much the current WWE audience enjoys the unexpected. While telling us a week in advance to tune into RAW next Monday for a big title match is a tried-and-tested strategy to draw in viewers, how exciting was it to be tuning into RAW and SmackDown Live having almost no idea who we were going to see? That unknown element isn’t something that can’t be replicated too often, but doing it so soon after WrestleMania, to keep that momentum going, was a smart way of tapping into a key interest of WWE fans.

Speaking of momentum…

 

4)     Top stars won’t see their momentum tail off

As it so often does, WrestleMania appeared to signal the end of a number of rivalries between talent.

The women’s division of both flagship shows looked like all options had been exhausted after the big show. AJ Styles had basically seen off every SmackDown Live babyface. Sami Zayn had faced off against every big guy this side of King Kong Bundy. Anderson and Gallows’ elongated run to the RAW Tag Team Titles meant they had very much finished business against every other team on the show. The natural cycle of WWE that Vince McMahon referenced on the RAW after ‘Mania had reached its natural conclusion. So, as with most of the great promo segments in recent years, McMahon claiming that a shake-up was needed was a piece of entertainment, doused in reality.

All the aforementioned stars have so much to give, but regurgitating old rivalries and facing off against the same opponent every night doesn’t do much for your reputation – unless you’re Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. Moving things around gives those stars a chance to add more strings to their bow, thriving in matches that have more interest on allure due to them being fresh.

Charlotte has the chance to solidify her spot as the queen of WWE by squaring off against new opponents with different styles. Charlotte vs Naomi, in particular, has the potential to be a show-stealer. Arguably the most improved performer over the past two years, Alexa Bliss can put her superb heel character to the test against long-standing babyfaces in Bayley and Sasha Banks. Even those who haven’t switched shows will reap the benefits; Randy Orton, for example, looks set to stay at the top of the SmackDown Live roster alongside guys he’s rarely (if ever) faced, including Zayn and Nakamura. Too many talents get lost in long-standing rivalries. Shaking things up gives the roster every chance (and no excuse not) to further establish themselves.

 

Are you a fan of the changes made in the Superstar Shake-Up? Who do you think will benefit most? Let us know your thoughts.

 

Chris - @OTPChris


By Paul Benson 18 Aug, 2017
Are you excited for SummerSlam? We sure are. We hope you are planning on joining us at one of our ELEVEN SummerSlam parties around the country on Sunday. It really is the best way to watch outside of being in the Barclays Centre. If you want to join us, head to Ringside World and search 'Hooked On' to see if we are in a city near you. 

Over the last week we have been posting individual match previews for the thirteen matches on the main card and kick off shows. In short, we are expecting one hell of a show. If it comes close to living up to it's potential then it will be the best show of the year quite comfortably.

Do you agree with our picks? Strongly disagree? Either way, why not enter our SummerSlam Prediction Competition. If you can prove yourself to be the wisest wrestling fan in the competition, you can win not only bragging rights over your mates but also VIP tickets to our Royal Rumble parties in January. If you want to play, just click here .

So without further delay, read on to see what we expect to see from each of the individual matches on the card.

All match graphics courtesy of WWE.com .


By Paul Benson 18 Aug, 2017
Seriously, talk about last minute! They didn't even book this on the last Raw. They waited until three days before the PPV to even tease that these guys were going to be on the card. Obviously it smacks at them mopping up the major players they hadn't booked in to a match to make sure they were featured. I would say WrestleMania seems a long time ago for Matt & Jeff but at least they're not still wrestling an owl.....

This match has face win written all over it. Why else would it be put together? Miztourage can of course take the fall, protecting the Intercontinental Champion in the process and it gives the fans a chance to pop for The Hardy's antics both old and new, and gives Jordan a chance to further his arc of blue chipper turned entitled Daddy's boy. 

This should be a fun ten minutes but not too many people are going to remember it once the PPV itself starts.

Predicted Winners: The Hardy Boyz & Jason Jordan

Image Courtesy of WWE.com
By Paul Benson 18 Aug, 2017
Anyone else find it a bit odd that WWE gave us this long brewing match on Raw? Did they just want a different set up? Something fresher than Neville defending again? Maybe they just wanted the fun scene of Titus celebrating in front of a hot Boston crowd. Whatever it was, Neville is going to be a man possessed to get that belt back and you know what? He's probably going to get it.

His whole character is based on being the best. Being The King Of The Cruiserweights. To be that he has to actually have the belt. It's a very old school champion set up in that regard isn't it? Like Ric Flair or HHH of old. He is defined by the belt and him having it makes both him and the championship itself stronger.

For that reason, we expect Neville to walk out of Brooklyn as the two time cruiserweight champ. Long live The King!
By Paul Benson 18 Aug, 2017
Bold prediction....This might well end up being the greatest match ever on the history of pre-PPV shows.

That sounds like damning with faint praise but really it isn't. There have been some fabulous pre-show matches in the recent past and most of them have featured guys in this match. The pick of the bunch for me is likely The Usos Vs. Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns in 2013. I genuinely think this is going to top it.

By any measure, it's a crime that these guys have been 'relegated' to the pre-show. These are unquestionably the two best teams on SmackDown and two of the best that have come along in a long time. The Usos have reignited their careers as heels and The New Day keep on doing their thing. By all rights it should have got stale by now but somehow, it hasn't. They keep reinventing themselves just enough to stay fresh and entertaining.

This match will feature four men (Five if you count the spare New Day member) who will be desperate to prove themselves. Desperate to steal the show. Desperate to show that it was a mistake and an insult to bump them from the PPV itself. And you know what? I would bet big on them doing this match. We go in to the match, the third in the trilogy, with a very well built, old school tag team feud. Match one, the heels retained by shenanigans. Match two, the faces took the belt thanks to a career performance from their perceived weak link (Woods). Match three is the cap on the trilogy and these guys will want to put a rather nice bow on this feud.

My money goes on The New Day retaining. For one thing, it's the logical step in the story. Also, the bigger picture seemingly needs face champs. The next challengers feel like they are going to be heels. That could well be the team that have been attacking Breezango. Who could that be? Up in the air. Could be Harper & Rowan, The Bollywood Boyz or even a new team from NXT such as The Authors Of Pain Or Sanity. Whoever it is, expect them to be pushed into the challengers role quite quickly after running through the Fashion Police.

In conclusion, this is my dark horse match of the evening. Do not be surprised if this is the match of the weekend. Who needs PPV anyway?

Predicted Winners: The New Day

Image Courtesy of WWE.com
By Paul Benson 18 Aug, 2017
I'm trying really hard to resist any BIG plays on words for this match....

This is the last match to preview on the main card and for many, it's going to be the most likely to be a dud, quality wise on extremely strong overall show. For fans of bell to bell action, it isn't looking good. Big Show knows his role as a giant and it's tried and true after over 20 years in the business. Cass on the other hand is still trying to put all the physical tools to good use to become a convincing big man. At the moment he feels a long way off where he needs to be. If we are being cruel, he really lacks the mean, rough look and his physique, whilst tall, is still quite gangly. More basketballer than gigantic grappler. This feud is clearly designed for him to work with a master of the craft and hopefully some of Show's experience will be passed on to the younger man. Let's hope that mission is accomplished at least.

For that reason, Cass should and will win this match. There are some wildcards in play of course. Enzo being in the cage could be a factor or it could be just another way to haze the unpopular loudmouth. Also, the interjection by The Club this past week on Raw may also come in to play at some point. But overall, this seems like a sub-ten minute Big Cass banker. 

Predicted Winner: Big Cass

Image Courtesy of WWE.com
By Paul Benson 18 Aug, 2017
We are going to put as much effort in to this match as WWE have booking it. So, it's going to be a pretty good match and Orton will win with the RKO. Done and dusted.






Oh hang on, you want a bit more? OK, fair enough. How's this for a hot take? WILL SOMEBODY PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF WHATEVER HIGHER POWER YOU BELIEVE IN, GIVE RUSEV SOMETHING MEANINGFUL AND EXCITING TO DO. PLEASE!!!!

Seriously though, how frustrating to see this guy being constantly wasted. He's such a force in the ring with an incredible personality out of it. With a bit of care and investment of time he could EASILY have been part of the Raw main event with the other working brutes and he would not have seemed remotely out of place. When he came back in late June he could easily have been positioned as a face and got some great support. It was such an easy story. The one time enemy of the US has realised just how much opportunity living in the country has given him and how he now wants to right his previous wrongs and defend it against Jinder Mahal etc. It's so easy. It would be like the Nikolai Volkoff turn all those years ago only with a guy that could actually work a lick. Instead he is spinning his wheels in a tired anti-American heel role. Hell, he's not even the only one doing that gimmick on his show. Jinder Mahal and Kevin Owens (To an extent) are doing the same blooming thing higher up the card. There's two opponents for him straight away. Honestly, I'm getting frustrated even writing this!

Anyway, Orton is going to win by RKO, as above. Let's just hope that I am wrong and this is all a holding pattern for a big Rusev push. He arguably deserves it more than anyone in the company.

Predicted Winner: Randy Orton

Image Courtesy of WWE.com
By Paul Benson 18 Aug, 2017
First of all, how refreshing is it to get title matches for both women's titles on a main PPV that are both (wo)mano a (wo)mano?  It so often feels like multi-person matches are thrown together to get more superstars on the card at the expense of proper story. Well, not this time.

That said, this story hasn't been too compelling so far. That's not a huge problem as it's a fairly fresh match with a belt involved so they don't need to ladle on the soap opera but if I were to nitpick, I would quite like a bit more sizzle with this particular steak.

Naomi as champion is an interesting one. She clearly has cracked it in terms of presentation. The 'Feel The Glow' stuff is truly unique. Sure, the purists will spit out their cookies at the neon flashing title but what the heck, it's not always about us old fogies. I'm sure the generation before us would have been equally upset with entrance music at one stage. No, they've done a great job giving her a real brand but no she needs to step up to the plate in terms of the substance behind the neon. Don't get me wrong, I think she's doing fine, no complaints. But when you look at the strides Alexa Bliss has made in a similar time frame, she's lagging behind a touch. Will she get there? Actually, yes, I think she will. She's got good basics, a huge work ethic and goodwill from the fans. She's on the right path. And working with veterans like Natalya will absolutely help her down that path.

Expect this match to be a nice showcase for Naomi with the champ coming out on top. The obvious wrinkle is Carmella and her Money In The Bank briefcase. We had our fingers burned talking about SummerSlam cash ins earlier this week so we won't be so bold as to predict she cashes it in with any certainty but it does feels like the right stage for it to happen.

Predicted Winner: Naomi

Image Courtesy of WWE.com
By Paul Benson 18 Aug, 2017
Clearly WWE aren't too fussed about subtlety when it comes to Bray bringing out The Demon are they? To their credit, it has been exactly a year since we've seen Finn in the paint and they've got merch to shift so who can blame them?

So far with these previews I've been largely positive and deservedly so. Unfortunately, that ends here for now and the reason is not the man from Bray, it's the man called Bray.

Most fans have long since tired with Wyatt's act. It just doesn't accomplish anything. He comes out, spouts his gobbledy gook, laughs, loses and then carries on like nothing happened. Is that even a gimmick? It's certainly not a character. Frankly, the closest comparison in terms of past superstars to Wyatt's act is The Boogeyman. Both 'monsters', both ridiculous and both use props and elaborate entrances. Neither of them were useful and neither of them engage in useful feuds that entertain or elevate other performers and themselves. The only difference is that Wyatt is a better worker. Not great but much better than The Boogeyman. I'm now of the belief that Bray Wyatt, the character, needs to go. For good. Not only is he not entertaining but he's actively dragging down other characters and performers on the show. Think back over the last few years. How many guys have come in to a feud with Wyatt with decent momentum only to have that completely sucked out of them afterwards. A few months trading wins with Wyatt in average at best matches and they come out the other side far less over than when they went in. Think about it. Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Randy Orton, John Cena, Chris Jericho, Luke Harper, The New Day...You could probably name more. All have feuded with Wyatt (Or the Wyatt Family as a whole). How many of them have come out in a better position? None. How many have come out damaged in some way? All of them in my opinion. And unfortunately, Finn Balor is the next in line to hit the Wyatt wall. And this really is the last thing he needs. After coming to Raw last summer and immediately winning the new Universal Championship, his injury hiatus meant he returned this spring having to prove himself all over again. So far he simply has not done that and Wyatt is not helping one bit. Here's hoping whatever he does next (A heel turn, please!) can put him back on track.

The match itself will be standard Wyatt fare. Nothing exciting. It will be a straightforward win for Balor. Let's be honest, this match is all about the entrances and Balor's faceprint.

I promise I will be a bit more positive with my next review!

Predicted Winner: Finn Balor

Image Courtesy of WWE.com
By Paul Benson 17 Aug, 2017
Has there ever been a feud in wrestling between two such beloved performers that has turned out so....meh? If there is, I can't think of one. On paper, this is a dream feud between two of the very best wrestlers in the world. What's not to love? Well, most of it in execution. In terms of excitement and entertainment it hasn't really got off the launching pad. It would be easy to blame WWE booking for this (And it has been dry in terms of entertainment value) but you would still expect these guys to turn it on when they get in the ring but they just haven't. Every match has been decent but these two should be capable together of significantly better than just decent. Why has it been such a let down? Hard to say. It's not like either has been left mired without a push for a length of time as both are coming off world title reigns and sit towards the top of the card. Maybe it's just a case of two guys just not clicking. If that's the case, that's at least a good reason to be optimistic about this match. Both men are clearly hard working perfectionists and if the matches have been less than stellar, we can rest assured that they will want to do something about it. And what better place to do that than the second biggest show of the year with a McMahon as special guest referee?

Am I expecting something great despite past mediocrity? Actually, I am. I just can't believe that given plenty of time on a big stage with a hot crowd that these two won't leave us with something quite special. Keep the faith, people!

In terms of the outcome, I'm expecting a Styles win. One would suspect that KO will attempt to pull the wool over Shane's eyes only for it to backfire and lead to Money Mac favouring Styles either inadvertently or purposefully and raising Styles hand. Expect the fallout to be the end of the feud and the start of real hostilities between Owens and the Smackdown commissioner. 

Predicted Winner: AJ Styles

Image Courtesy of WWE.com
By Paul Benson 17 Aug, 2017
Let's talk Alexa Bliss. She's not making too bad of a job of this being a champion lark is she?

She's been on the roster little over a year. Her call up was met with little fanfare. Sure, her work in NXT had been appreciated as the bitchy vixen valet for Blake and Murphy (Blurphy?) but did anyone expect her to be the standout woman in WWE this year? Because she really, really has. Nobody else has come close. She has embraced the opportunity to dial up her catty, entitled character and improve her ringwork significantly. It's phenomenal to see her rise. Not being one of the famed Four Horsewomen meant she wasn't supposed to be the crown jewel of the WWE Women's revolution, but here she is. 

Her opponent has had mixed fortunes in the same timeframe. This writer was lucky enough to be at AT&T Stadium for WrestleMania 32 and undoubtedly, the person who felt like the biggest star in an actual match, after The Undertaker, was Sasha Banks. Her entrance felt like you were in the presence of greatness. Unfortunately, that momentum hasn't really been sustained. Opinions are mixed on her regular trading of the title with Charlotte in 2016 but no doubt she has taken a back seat this year. In fact, she wasn't originally booked for SummerSlam at all until Bayley went down with an injury. That said, the match she had on Raw this week was the best of Nia Jaxx's career and the memory of her NXT match with the aforementioned Bayley in the same arena as she will appear this weekend still lives in the memory. This match feels like a big deal, basically. They have met before on PPV but given the stage and the presentation, this feels different. I think we are going to see a match that's given a relatively long time and will be one of the top four matches of the night in terms of entertainment value.

Who will win? Alexa. And if I had to choose one match to put the mortgage money on this weekend, this would probably be it. For starters, her reign is going rather blooming well and it needs to continue for a good long time yet. Secondly, Sasha is due a heel turn. The likelihood is that that turn would have come at Bayley's expense which isn't happening for a few months now so maybe that will throw a spanner in the works. 

One thing we want to put on record though: Alexa is doing such a good job that it's only a matter of time before she starts to get cheered by the masses. If the marquee women's match at WrestleMania 34 is likely to be WWE's Four Horsewomen against Ronda Rousey's Four Horsewomen, then expect Alexa to be the big babyface vying for one of the Women's championships on the same card.

Predicted Winner: Alexa Bliss

Image Courtesy of WWE.com
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