Last night on Raw, WWE showed a graphic announcing the return of “free agent” John Cena on the July 4 episode of SmackDown Live.
It’s a strange show for Cena to return on. WWE TV broadcasts on July 4 tend to have low ratings due to the holiday, so it is unclear why WWE are wasting what would surely otherwise be a ratings spike any other week by having Cena come back on that date.
The graphic is the first time that Cena being a free agent has been mentioned, which has naturally led to much speculation about his future. It seems clear that WWE would not promote Cena’s newfound status if it did not mean something.
According to the Wrestling Observer, Cena will be transcending the brand split and appearing on both Raw and SmackDown Live. This is obviously a response to the tumbling ratings – Cena is the only real numbers mover on the roster.
Of course, having Cena appear on both shows completely destroys any semblance of perceived competition between the two brands, bastardising the idea of two rival shows battling for supremacy. WWE did this last time they split the brands and the result was a watered down mess which eventually failed. If the company do not handle Cena’s brand bouncing correctly then this incarnation of the split will go the exact same way.
What a shame, they were doing so well with it too.
A story broke by the Daily Mail claims that Bray Wyatt’s wife Samantha has filed for a divorce after five years of marriage, accusing the former WWE Champion of having an affair with ring announcer JoJo Offerman.
While JoJo is not named in the court documents submitted to Hernando County in Florida, Samantha’s lawyer Ray Rafool told the tabloid that he obtained phone records showing Wyatt maintaining “continuous contact” with the former Total Divas star.
Wyatt, represented by attorney Jim Knox, has filed an injunction in an attempt to force his wife to keep quiet about the split, in which she is accused of making “defamatory statements about the husband to several people in the community in an effort to ruin his reputation.”
Samantha bit back via her representation, saying that “it is a a shame that [Bray] would make such false claims and attempt such media gaming” adding that Wyatt’s allegation and claims were nothing more than a “media ploy and endeavour to create an offense to defend his adultery and misdeeds.”
Neither Wyatt nor JoJo have publicly responded to the claims, with the former directing all comments through his lawyer and Offerman yet to publicly comment.
It will be interesting to see if either of the accused are part of tonight’s episode of Monday Night Raw.
The decades-long ill-feeling between Vince Russo and Jim Cornette shows no sign of abating following a recent public spat on their podcasts and social media.
On the latest edition of his podcast The Jim Cornette Experience, the opinionated industry veteran dismissed Russo’s talk on other podcasts of the two getting together for the sake of charity to put their differences aside, grumbling:
“You know that ain’t gonna happen ’cause we got nothing to talk about.”
Cornette instead challenged Russo to a legitimate fight, telling him:
“If you give me a date, time and an address, I will meet you there and I will bring five grand in cash. As long as the rules are no cops, no guns, and no knives. And what happens, happens.”
Cornette continued the tirade, ripping into Russo for, among other things, stabbing everybody in the back who he has ever worked with, killing careers with goofy gimmicks, and making the wrestling business into a joke.
Russo was unable to resist the bait and responded in turn by posting a video on his social media accounts. During the 12-minute rant he refused Cornette’s offer of a fight, mocking his “barn door wide ass”, “Kamala belly”, “Gumby-like arms” and “ripped chiseled stomach”, then arrogantly dismissed $5000 as “not a lot of money”.
Russo then sarcastically apologised to Cornette, stating:
“First and foremost, I want to apologize for you blowing out your knees when you fell off that scaffold because you are a mark who didn’t know how to take a bump.
I want to apologize Jim for you putting Smoky Mountain Wrestling out of business.
I want to apologize Jim for you being fired from Ring of Honor for a public emotional outburst.
I want to apologize Jim for being fired from WWE for assaulting another employee.
I want to apologize Jim because I’m from New York.
I want to apologize Jim because in my entire life I was never fixin’ to do anything.
I want to apologize Jim that I don’t believe the Dukes of Hazard is a reality show.
I’d like to apologize that I never went on national television and dressed like the village idiot.
I want to apologize that I never asked a wrestler to chew on an Alka-Seltzer so it would appear like he’s foaming at the mouth.
I want to apologize that even the great Terry Funk didn’t get over when you had him come out of a box.
I want to apologize for setting ratings records at both the WWE and TNA and also raising the ratings at WCW the whole nine months that I was there. I sincerely apologize for that.
And last but not least, Jim, from the bottom of my heart, I apologize for both Dixie Carter and Vincent Kennedy McMahon for choosing me over you. Because at the end of the day, 18 years later, that is what this is all about. It sticks in your craw because no matter what you do, no matter what you say, no matter what asinine promo you cut, it does not go away. From a creative standpoint, the numbers clearly dictate I was better than you, and I know that is hard for you to accept and I know that is hard for you to deal with so that is why from the bottom of my heart, I apologize, I am sorry, and I hope from this point on we can move forward.”
We will not get into the personal spat part of things, which amounts to little more than handbags at dawn he-said-she-said playground level silliness, but some of Russo’s claims require some dissection.
Firstly, those living in glass houses should not throw stones. Having the gall to criticise Cornette’s famous scaffold bump when he doesn’t have a lick of wrestling experience himself (and no, booking yourself to play wrestler does not count) is one thing, but more importantly, let’s not forget who it was that penned Owen Hart’s Blue Blazer storyline in 1999. Unable to fathom how to get a real wrestler over, Russo made one of the finest technical grapplers on the planet descend from the rafters dressed as a superhero buffoon, resulting in him plummeting to his death when the stunt went wrong. I wonder if Russo considers him a “mark who didn’t know how to take a bump” too?
Russo’s claim that he set ratings records in WWE are fanciful. While he was head writer for Raw’s highest rated show (8.1 on May 10, 1999) it was far from the highest rated WWE TV show ever. That accolade belongs to The Main Event I in 1988 headlined by Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant. The broadcast pulled a phenomenal 15.2 rating, which equated to an unheard of 33 million views.
Russo’s constant claims of having improved the Nitro rating during his WCW tenure are propped up by strawman logic too. Russo is always quick to point out that the ratings were 3.0 when he took over and 3.4 when he left. Well, that’s true, but little over one month earlier WCW was hitting 3.4’s and above regularly – the 3.0 was a dead rubber show in a holding pattern awaiting the new regime. And the 3.4 he drew was also the highest number he managed in his three months at the helm.
The key is, those ratings were on three hour shows, which average out to smaller numbers than the two hour broadcasts Russo was penning by the end. To put that into perspective, had Nitro been two hours the week before Russo took over, it would have pulled a 3.3 rating. So the difference is negligible.
Not only that, but in cutting the show to two hours, WCW lost out on a fortune of ad revenue. Ratings points are far less important than people – Russo in particular – think they are compared to concrete figures of actual revenue being generated (live attendance, merchandise, pay-per-view buy rates, ad revenue). Russo also fails to acknowledge that pay-per-view buy rates tanked when he was in charge. People might have been willing to watch his car crash booking for free, but they sure as hell weren’t paying for it. WCW’s biggest show of the year, Starrcade only managed a meagre 0.23 buy rate under Russo, down from a 1.15 the previous year.
Russo also defends his decision to put the WCW Title on actor David Arquette, justifying it based on the media they got off the back of the decision. But media coverage is only any use if it results in more eyes on the product. When Arquette won the belt, the next episode of Nitro fell from a 3.0 to a 2.5. Similarly, the pay-per-view where Arquette defended the title pulled a 0.14, down from a 0.25 the previous month. People turned off the show when Russo made that ridiculous call. And that’s before we even get into the small matter of the millions of dollars WCW hemorrhaged during his time at the top.
As far as we are concerned, this round goes to Cornette.
After two weeks of consecutive record low ratings, Raw bounced back on Monday with its highest viewership number since April.
Credit goes to the interest coming off the pay-per-view Extreme Rules, in which Samoa Joe won a five-way match to become the new number one contender for the Universal Championship. The first hour number of 3.11 million suggests that there was a lot of interest in how WWE would follow up from the night before.
That WWE retained the number for the second hour shows that fans were invested in what they were seeing. With Samoa Joe’s segment with Paul Heyman coming in the second hour, it seems that the fresh Joe-Lesnar match-up being hyped was what kept the audience.
After dropping almost 20% from last year’s numbers over the past two weeks, Raw this week was down only 7.8% from this time in 2016, the 7th lowest drop of the year. WWE will be hoping they can sustain the momentum over the next four weeks in the build-up to the Great Balls of Fire pay-per-view.
This week’s episode of Raw was a mixed bag, with two strong television matches counterbalanced by one of the worst segments of the year.
After the obligatory show-opening talking segment to set up a throwaway, feud-combining multi-man (in this case Miz-Ambrose and Hardys-Sheamus & Cesaro), we were given the first chapter in an unfolding mystery. Announcer Corey Graves sh*t-stirred with GM Kurt Angle by showing him a text message which called the Olympic Hero, “A disgrace and embarrassment to the WWE and besmirched (WWE love that word) his reputation as a gold medalist.” The full contents of the message were not revealed, however, though evidently there was more to it as Angle said that if true it could ruin him. It’s been a while since WWE did a good old episodic whodunit, and having an intriguing thread running through a few weeks of television should lead to at least a degree of spirited online speculation as to where the angle is going next. Chances are it could result in a return to the ring for Angle, though one expects WWE might prefer to save that for WrestleMania, unless those low recent ratings really are starting to concern them.
Elias Samson took us back in time to 1995 with both his pre-match concert (stirring up memories of Man Mountain Rock, albeit without the amazing logo guitar that MMR used to have) and his quick destruction of jobber Zac Evans. One can only assume that Samson is being built for an eventual WrestleMania showdown with SmackDown Live’s own musical maestro Aiden English… Perhaps not.
One of two excellent matches on the show took place next as Samoa Joe defeated Bray Wyatt and Finn Balor in an excellent three-way match, designed to build up to the Universal Title number one contenders match at Extreme Rules. If you apply WWE’s formulaic booking logic then Joe’s win removes any chance of him winning on Sunday’s pay-per-view. The match was very good, though I couldn’t shake the feeling that it would have been stronger had Wyatt pulled up his rocking chair at ringside and observed rather than competed. As decent as he is in the ring, he simply cannot hold a candle to Joe and Balor.
On Sunday, WWE will presents a mixed tag match featuring the odd pairing of Sasha Banks and Rich Swann (who appear to have been thrown together because they both enjoy a spot of dancing) against Noam Dar and his main squeeze Alicia Fooooooox. The prospect of this bout is sure to cause headaches for WWE’s ring crew when they try to work out what colour ropes to put around the ring. With the cruiserweights competing convention dictates they be purple, but the women’s involvement throws a spanner in those works. Maybe they will go half and half. To set up the match Swann defeated Dar, practically ensuring that Dar and Fox will emerge victorious at the weekend.
In a brief segment, The Revival denied all knowledge of having attacked the glass-jawed Enzo Amore last week, even after being presented with footage showing them hastily departing the scene of the crime. For the second time in the night Corey Graves stuck his nose in, implying that Enzo’s partner Big Cass had done the deed, an opinion he quickly backed down from when Cass came out to confront him. Later in the night, Enzo was attacked again. The plot thickens! This, and the Angle mystery, both signify a small change in ethos from WWE’s usually-prosaic writers. For years every “angle” on Raw has been drab and uninspired, usually seeing two parties fighting for the sake of it, with no semblance of storyline progression to further the issue. This is a much-needed step in the right direction; long may it continue. My front-runners for who committed the attack are the Hardy Boyz, Corey Graves himself, and The Fashion Police (teaching Enzo a lesson for his terrible fashion sense). This being WWE, it will be who we all thought it was in the first place: The Revival.
After a worthless Titus O’Neil squash win over the unbearable Kalisto, we were given a segment which smacked of desperation from WWE: Alexa Bliss presenting This Is Your Life – Bayley. As everyone knows, WWE champions a This Is Your Life segment with The Rock and Mick Foley in 1999 as its highest rated segment on Raw ever (it wasn’t, the highest was a WWF Title match between The Undertaker and Steve Austin), and with ratings down this seemed like a futile attempt to recapture that elusive lighting in a bottle. Unfortunately, the skit failed on every level. Bliss is usually one of the star performers on the show but the material she was given to work with here was WWE’s badly-scripted verbiage at its unflattering worst. Bliss struggled through the lame attempts at comedy as she mocked Bayley for among other things still playing with dolls and for winning a trophy for “sportsmanship”, all of which felt forced and fell incredibly flat. The introduction of characters purportedly from Bayley’s past dragged things down further. The acting from the presumably trained professionals was some of the worst ever seen on WWE TV, which is saying something. After what seemed like half an hour of being insulted by Bliss, Bayley finally came out to defend herself… then got her ass kicked again by the Raw Women’s Champion. What a mess WWE has made of the Bayley character, who at one point looked set to be this generation’s female role-model for the masses. Bayley will almost certainly retrieve the weaponry first in their Kendo Stick On A Pole showdown at Extreme Rules in order to exact her revenge, though I see absolutely no reason why WWE would take the title off Bliss at this stage.
In the second callback to 1995 of the evening, Goldust continued with his retro Hollywood act, making vague threats from his director’s chair towards former tag partner R-Truth. In response, Truth interrupted the vignette with one of his own, playing Goldust at his own game by quoting Pulp Fiction. This was the most tolerable Truth has been in months, perhaps years. Rather than goofy, he came across like something approaching a bad ass. Goldust going back to the glory days of his character is a definite positive too. Maybe this feud won’t be so bad after all.
In the main event, former Shield partners Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins went at it full tilt in a pay-per-view quality match. The pair have great chemistry and assembled a spirited battle that fans were fully invested in. The result – Reigns over clean with a spear – like the three-way earlier, perhaps telegraphs the result of the Extreme Rules main event. Reigns is not going to face Lesnar at Great Balls Of Fire – WWE are saving that showdown for WrestleMania – so they gave him a win here to keep him ticking over. If we once again apply WWE logic then Rollins came out of Raw weaker than the other likely winner, Finn Balor, in the sense that he was pinned whereas Balor was simply out of the ring when Joe won the three-way. In other words, put your money on Rollins in the five-way on Sunday.
Overall this was a much better episode of Raw than in recent weeks, with strong matches and intriguing storyline progression throughout. It’s just a shame it was dragged down by that horrific segment.
It’s perhaps the craziest wrestling related story of all time – former multi-time WWE Champion Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is seriously considering running for President in 2020.
The story first picked up steam in January when he told GQ that he “had not ruled politics out” and that the thought of being President was “alluring”. Two weeks ago, Johnson told GQ in a follow up interview that that giving up being the highest paid movie star in the world to run for President was “a real possibility.”
Earlier this week a Public Policy Polling result showed that the ex-wrestler was already favoured (by a margin of 42-37) by voters when asked who they would choose to elect between Johnson and current President Donald Trump.
Johnson appeared this week on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon to promote his latest blockbuster movie Baywatch, taking time out to address the Presidential talk:
“The surge and groundswell has really been amazing,” said Johnson, “I’ve really been blown away, it’s so flattering.”
When pressed as to why he had so much support – from a general public far and wide, way beyond just wrestling fans – Johnson theorised: “I think over the years I’ve become a guy a lot of people relate to. I get up early in he morning at a ridiculous hour and go to work. I spend time with the troops. I take care of my family. I love taking care of people. I think that kind of thing really resonated with people, especially today.”
It seems that what likely started as an offhand comment has quite quickly turned into a potential reality. Jesse Ventura, Atsushi Onita, The Great Sasuke, Rhyno, Kane, Ludvig Borga, and Linda McMahon have all dabbled in politics to different degrees of success, though it goes without saying that Johnson becoming President would eclipse all of those achievements combined.
Not that he would be the first pro wrestler to swap the squared circle for the oval office – the great Abraham Lincoln spent some time wrestling in his youth back in the 1800s.
If you are a gambler, you can get odds of 25/1 for The Rock to become President in the 2020 election. We suspect that as this campaign begins to pick up steam, those odds will be significantly slashed. It seems ludicrous, but then, a few years ago so did the idea of Donald Trump as President. Stranger things have certainly happened.
If you live in the UK you may enjoy the occasional flutter on the outcome of WWE pay-per-views, especially given how predictable and formulaic they tend to be these days. With that in mind, here are the updated betting odds for Sunday’s SmackDown Live pay-per-view Backlash:
WWE Championship Randy Orton (c) vs. Jinder Mahal
Randy Orton 1/4 (was 1/6)
Jinder Mahal 5/2 (was 7/2)
Prediction: It’s perhaps the most surprising pay-per-view main event match-up in over a decade, yet the odds do not strongly reflect the two competitors’ respective typical standings on the roster. Ordinarily Randy Orton would be the white-hot favourite to destroy Mahal, yet that is not the case. While still the favourite,’The Viper’ has actually seen his odds come in over the past couple of days. This suggests that either a lot of money has come in on outsider Mahal, or the bookies have had a change of heart. With WWE looking to expand into the lucrative Indian market we think Mahal is a good price at 5/2 and worth a £10 bet (which would return £35).
WWE United States Championship Kevin Owens (c) vs. AJ Styles
AJ Styles 8/11
Kevin Owens evens
Prediction: The odds have not changed on this match at all, and they are fairly close to begin with, suggesting the bookies are finding it tough to call. Styles is the slight favourite, though with Owens only recently trading the title with Chris Jericho, we feel another switch is unlikely. Tread carefully on this one, as the odds do not offer any value and it is perhaps the most difficult match on the card to predict.
WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship
The Usos (c) vs. Breezango
The Usos 4/7 (was 4/6)
Breezango 6/5 (was 11/10)
Prediction: The price of the Usos has come in, which means they are even more favoured today than when the odds were first published. Breezango are a low level comedy act and not worth challengers to the tag straps, they are placeholder challengers until New Day return. The Usos will likely win here, but again the poor odds do not warrant a bet.
Prediction: As much as WWE enjoy trolling their audience, there is no way Nakamura is losing on his main roster debut. One quick glance at the SmackDown Live homepage on WWE.com shows that Nakamura is considered by WWE as one of the show’s top stars. There is no justifiable reason for perennial midcard act Ziggler to beat him. The 4/1 odds (£50 return on a £10 bet) may seem tempting, but that bet is highly unlikely to reap any reward. If the odds go out further prior to the final hour or so before the show starts then bet a “daft pound”, but otherwise avoid this match.
Naomi, Charlotte Flair & Becky Lynch vs. Natalya, Carmella & Tamina
Prediction: The babyface team are the slight favourites here, though we feel the bookies have got this one wrong. Naomi is the Women’s Champion, so a win for any of the heels over her would set up a program for the title. WWE historically beats its champions in multi-person matches or bouts where the belt is not on the line, so go with formula and back Natalya’s team. The odds are not great, especially since they have come in over the past couple of days, though a £10 bet still more than doubles your investment with a return of £22.50.
Baron Corbin vs. Sami Zayn
Baron Corin 2/5 (was 4/7)
Sami Zayn 7/4 (was 5/4)
Prediction: The odds reflect what will happen here, as Corbin is clearly in WWE’s future plans while Zayn is floundering in midcard obscurity and generally treated like a joke. The price makes this a wasted bet unless you can get it as part of an accumulator. However, if you have plenty of money to risk for little potential return, Corbin is probably the safest bet on the show.
Luke Harper vs. Erick Rowan
Luke Harper 8/15 (was 4/6)
Erick Rowan 11/8 (was 11/10)
Prediction: Rowan defeated Harper on TV recently so 50-50 booking suggests that Harper will get his retribution at Backlash. Once again, the price is poor and barely worth your time unless you can get an accumulator. If there was any match where WWE would look to buck the predictability of the show then it would perhaps be this one. Harper vs. Rowan can last for months, so they may look to give Rowan a credibility-improving pay-per-view win, but we doubt it.
If you can get an acca using our predictions (Mahal, Styles, Usos, Nakamura, Heel Women, Corbin, Harper), the return would be £524.40 from a £10 bet.
Please remember to bet responsibly, and make sure to keep a close eye on the odds in the final few hours before the show.