1. Save the U.S. Title, Y2J
Chris Jericho freed the United States Championship.
The title sputtered in Roman Reigns' grasp. It was a minor subplot to Reigns' quest for the Universal Championship. It was a thrown-in element that often went unmentioned.
But that can now change.
With best friend Kevin Owens' help, Jericho toppled Reigns on Monday's Raw to win the U.S. title. Y2J's reign will allow the championship to be at the center of its own story—to be a trophy foes hunger for more often.
As talented as Reigns is, his time as champion underwhelmed.
WWE simply didn't do much with it. It wasn't included in Reigns' narrative enough. The gold draped across The Big Dog's shoulder wasn't key to his character the way the Intercontinental Championship was for The Miz.
As Kyle Fowle of the A.V. Club wrote, "Ever since that title found a home on the soaking wet shoulder of Roman Reigns though, it's been nothing but an empty signifier of Reigns' superiority."
Sean Ross Sapp of Fightful was among those wishing for WWE to move the belt off Reigns:
And now that it has, the title's momentum will pick up. Reigns can now focus on chasing Owens and the universal crown. Jericho can be the conniving heel holding tight to his precious prize.
As a nine-time intercontinental champion, Y2J has plenty of experience boosting midcard belts. Some of his best feuds have revolved around the IC title—from Christian to Rey Mysterio.
It will help, too, that this is Jericho's first U.S. title reign. He can play up how special it is to him and how this championship puts him on an even higher tier in the WWE pantheon of greats.
His arrogance and disdain as a slimy champ will be fun to watch.
Should Owens drop the universal title to Reigns at Royal Rumble, the expected feud between the current besties could get underway. It will be a more powerful story with the U.S. title at the center.
That's the prize Owens first sought when he entered WWE and challenged John Cena.
The KO-Y2J rivalry, Jericho's prowess as champ and added attention will elevate the U.S. title in the coming months. Rather than being tied to a Superstar who is regularly rejected by fans and who WWE can't seem to book correctly, it will be strapped to one of 2016's best acts.
That's just the upgrade the belt needed.
2. John Cena's Televised Kingdom
It wasn't the least bit surprising that John Cena overcame Baron Corbin on Tuesday's SmackDown. The 15-time world champ wins—and often.
But it will be interesting to see if WWE still books him to be a juggernaut, or maybe 2016 was an indication of a shift downward toward the company's mere mortals.
Cena victories on Raw and SmackDown have been the norm for years. His dominance took a hit, though, last year.
Per CageMatch.net, his winning percentage in TV bouts dipped noticeably in 2016:
- 2012: .784
- 2013: .875
- 2014: .878
- 2015: .793
- 2016: .500
Injury and outside commitments kept Cena's match total at a career low in 2016. The powerhouse had only eight televised contests.
Is the .500 record a result of small sample size, or will Cena begin to show more vulnerability at this stage? That's something to keep an eye on as 2017 unfolds.
3. Throwback Video of the Week: Undertaker's 1st Royal Rumble
Undertaker promised to dig 29 holes for 29 souls in this year's Royal Rumble match when he announced his entry into the annual Battle Royal on Monday's Raw.
The Deadman first competed in this match back in 1991, only the fourth event in Rumble history. SmackDown women's champ Alexa Bliss wasn't even born yet.
The foes surrounding Undertaker as he looked to be the last man standing that night is a startling reminder of just how long he's been in this business. Jake Roberts is long retired. The same goes for Greg Valentine and Rick Martel.
4. UK Tournament Spotlight: Pete Dunne
Dynamite Pete Dunne is going to be one of the highlights of this weekend's tournament for the United Kingdom Championship.
The self-proclaimed "bruiserweight" from Birmingham, England, is among the most talented wrestlers competing in the event. He does everything well inside the ring—mat wrestling, high-flying, bullish strikes.
Dunne has been a rapidly rising star in the UK independent scene.
He generated buzz during a 2013 stint in Japan's Michinoku Pro Wrestling before storming UK-based promotions Revolution Pro Wrestling and Progress Wrestling. Dunne captured the Progress World Championship late last year, as Alan Boon noted for Figure Four Online.
He's faced and thrived against a variety of foes, including Matt Sydal (formerly Evan Bourne), Zack Sabre Jr., Yuji Nagata and Cody Rhodes. Dunne also collided with Jack Gallagher in a Cruiserweight Classic qualifying match last year.
It's now time for him to reach a new audience on the WWE Network. The company has to showcase him, pushing him deep into the tourney. Dunne is a compelling figure in the ring and one of WWE's best options to crown its first United Kingdom champ.
Will Ospreay summed up Dunne's ability in succinct fashion:
The UK tourney is the place to let that fire grow and have Dunne grind his way to fame on this side of the pond.
5. Bringing in Vic
House of Hardcore announcer Vic Travagliante is reportedly coming to WWE.
PWInsider.com's Mike Johnson wrote that WWE signed him and added, "The belief is Travagliante will be working on the WWE NXT brand, although we have not yet confirmed what his role there would be."
Travagliante will be no stranger to the type of abuse NXT and WWE announcers are known to take. During his stint with Prime Wrestling Online, he found himself in the clutches of a madman.
NXT may not be much different from that experience. He'll soon have to deal with the lunatic-filled stable Sanity.
6. More Phenomenal One, Please
This year's Royal Rumble poster set off a firestorm of criticism from fans.
Part-timers Goldberg, Undertaker and Brock Lesnar stand prominently at the front of the image. The WWE champion, meanwhile, has to settle for a spot way in the back.
Some will dismiss this backlash as fans overreacting, but this is about more than a poster. It's indicative of WWE's recent habit of letting big names from the past overshadow those from the present. Why not have AJ Styles front and center, signifying that everyone is chasing after him and his title?
No worries, though. WWE fan MrBigShowoff seems to have "fixed" the poster:
No way to miss the world champ now.
7. Back to The Big Easy
WrestleMania is headed to Cajun country again. WWE announced this week that New Orleans will host WrestleMania 34 in April 2018.
WWE had long ignored that city for major events, but things have changed in recent years. New Orleans has hosted five PPVs, including one previous WrestleMania, per the Internet Wrestling Database.
Those trips to The Big Easy have resulted in ample title changes.
The WWE Championship has changed hands three times in New Orleans. And out of the 22 PPV title matches in the city, 10 have resulted in new champs.
8. Other Omega Matches
Some fans first came to know Kenny Omega after hearing all the impassioned online response to his clash with Kazuchika Okada last week at New Japan Pro Wrestling's Wrestle Kingdom 11.
Omega has been firing off stellar matches for some time, though. To discover what the electric performer can do at his best, check out these highlights from some of his top bouts:
- Kenny Omega vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi: NJPW The New Beginning in Niigata
- Kenny Omega vs. Will Ospreay: Pro Wrestling Guerrilla All-Star Weekend XI
- Kenny Omega vs. Michael Elgin: NJPW Dominion 6.19 (ladder)
- Kenny Omega vs. Tetsuya Naito: NJPW G1 Climax 26
- Kenny Omega vs. Hirooki Goto: NJPW King of Pro Wrestling 2016
These performances have to leave WWE officials drooling. And Omega has to be on the top of the company's to-sign list.
There may not be a wrestler as white-hot as he has been in the past two years—Styles included.
9. Ziggler Revitalized
As we have seen with Neville and The Usos recently, a heel turn can ignite a stagnant wrestler. Dolph Ziggler is the most recent example of that, as he's suddenly the most compelling he's been in a long time after embracing his dark side.
A string of losses has unraveled The Showoff. He's grown vicious and desperate—an animal pushed into a corner.
His enraged outburst on Tuesday's SmackDown, where he laid out both Apollo Crews and Kalisto, was inspiring.
This is the absolute right direction to take Ziggler's character. One can only push through tough losses for so long before the defeats have lasting effects. He's been excellent in the early going of this transformation.
And in 2017, Ziggler will be one of SmackDown's most intriguing figures, thanks to his shift in character.
10. Tommy End on His New Ring Name
Recently signed NXT prospect Tommy End is now known as Aleister Black. It's an eerie, powerful name that suits him well.
The Dutch bruiser's response to bearing a new moniker is haunting:
The artist formerly known as Tommy End has seemingly embraced his new role and name. Hopefully this bit of dark poetry is a sign of things to come with his character.