1. United on WWE's Bottom Rung
Heath Slater, Curtis Axel, Bo Dallas and Adam Rose's hodgepodge group of also-rans, underdogs and misfits will make a bigger impact than expected.
The recipe is simple: Combine talented but incomplete wrestlers starving for a shot at success, let that real-life frustration bleed over into their on-screen roles and give them some airtime to experiment. Then sit back and see what happens.
Slater converged with his fellow bottom feeders on Monday's Raw, dubbing them "The Social Outcasts." The alliance felt random, a jerry-built faction thought up at the last minute, but it paid off right away.
WWE's fanbase buzzed about the foursome.
For four guys who barely get on TV and win as often as the Philadelphia 76ers, that's a huge victory. That piqued audience interest comes from the possibilities ahead. Suddenly Axel, Slater and Company aren't just glued to the background; they have a chance to see if they can spark something with this new faction.
It's easy to be intrigued by what WWE will do with them and what these wrestlers will do with a long-closed door now ajar. And the group's desperation and past failures give them a believable motivation moving forward.
As Kyle Fowle wrote for The Onion's A.V. Club, "The Social Outcasts are fighting for a reason, and that translates in their small segment tonight and leaves room for a lot more to come."
Axel is sure to provide the in-ring foundation. He's the best wrestler of the group, a man who has always been a dependable, though unspectacular, performer.
He'll lead The Social Outcasts to their best matches.
Slater is a natural leader, a charismatic goofball with an infectious enthusiasm, even in the face of certain defeat. His presence will make sure the stable is entertaining. Slater helped 3MB be more fun than it had any business being.
He's set to do that again, this time with an open-ended foundation to build on. 3MB were cheesy, wanna-be rockers. The Social Outcasts haven't fully formed their identity yet.
With Dallas and Rose in tow, the crew is certain to be eccentric. And with these four Superstars having been losers for so long, they are sure to start out as comic relief.
There is room aplenty, though, to adapt, evolve and take what the crowd reacts to and run with it.
Axel has to know that he won't get many chances after this. WWE paired him with Paul Heyman and teamed him up with Ryback, but none of it succeeded as the company had to have hoped. This feels like one last effort to see if he can catch fire before WWE gives up on him.
The same goes for Rose, Dallas and Slater.
WWE has thrown a bunch of stuff against the wall with them, hoping something would stick. Fail here, and it's likely that the company will start drafting release notices.
Expect The Social Outcasts to pour everything of themselves into this act. Expect Slater and Company to find their groove with their feet in the flames.
2. Momentum Building for Titus O'Neil
Quietly, WWE has been pushing O'Neil. He's been on his own for the most part lately, taking on the company's heels without Darren Young at his side.
Monday's Raw saw him best Stardust to start the year off 1-0.
That victory, though, is just one of many in the past few months. According to ProFightDB.com, O'Neil has gone 13-7 in his last 20 televised matches. The more eye-catching stat, however, is that the powerhouse has now won 11 straight.
That's a far cry from his usual position on the card. His place on the food chain appears to be shifting.
Keep an eye out for how WWE books him in the coming weeks. If he keeps up this pace, count on him moving into contention for a midcard championship.
3. Throwback Video of the Week: Chris Jericho
The Ayatollah of Rock 'n' Rolla returned on Monday night, berating The New Day and announcing his entry into the Royal Rumble.
Well before that moment, Jericho was tearing it up in Japan. He and longtime tag team partner Lance Storm went to battle for the War and Romance (WAR) promotion in 1995.
Their chemistry was phenomenal. Jericho was beginning to really hit his stride in terms of showmanship around this time.
This would end up being just one of many standout matches in what promises to be a Hall of Fame career.
4. Who Should Win 2015 NXT Awards?
WWE asked fans to vote for the first annual NXT Awards. When the results air on Wednesday's NXT, Bayley's name should be all over the place:
- Overall Competitor of the Year: Bayley
- Male Competitor of the Year: Finn Balor
- Female Competitor of the Year: Bayley
- Tag Team of the Year: Dash and Dawson
- Match of the Year: Sasha Banks vs. Bayley (TakeOver: Brooklyn)
- TakeOver of the Year: TakeOver: Brooklyn
Bayley was the heart of the brand for much of the year. She and Banks delivered two Match of the Year candidates, making history at TakeOver: Respect as pioneers for the women's division. When Banks went up to the main roster, Bayley then led Alexa Bliss, Nia Jax and Eva Marie to the best bouts of their careers.
Beyond that, she connected with the fans like few wrestlers have.
She made the audience invest in her journey, tearing up at her triumphs and feeling gutted when she failed. Props go to all the stellar athletes and excellent bruisers the roster boasts, but Bayley was NXT's best storyteller in 2015.
Hand her a stack of statuettes and expect more in the future.
5. From One Circus to Another
If you had five guesses as to what Mason Ryan is doing post-WWE, you would still get it wrong. Ryan noted on Twitter that he is now the chief archer for Cirque du Soleil's KA show.
It looks like he has a ready-made gimmick, should he ever make a comeback to the ring.
6. Charlotte's Reign
She has a long way to go to pass AJ Lee and Nikki Bella on the all-time list, but Charlotte's reign is beginning to reach an impressive length.
Charlotte has now been champ for over 100 days and counting. That bucks a trend in Divas Championship history. Four of the last five reigns before her didn't reach the 100-day mark.
In fact, Charlotte has already surpassed 17 previous titleholders in her first reign.
This hopefully means WWE is looking to book longer reigns to help elevate this championship. Playing "hot potato" with the belt, as the company has done with the Intercontinental Championship, devalues it. Letting her fend off challengers all the way until WrestleMania will make the title bout at that event a bigger deal.
7. Admiring The Briscoe Brothers' Verbal Game
Before heading to NJPW's Wrestle Kingdom, The Briscoe Brothers growled to the cameras about wanting to capture six-man gold in Tokyo.
Time and again, this tag team has been one of the most compelling acts with a mic. WWE prospects would be smart to make a Briscoe Brothers promo playlist and study them at work.
Mark and Jay are unnerving, convincing badasses. It's hard to look away when they begin their sledgehammer-approach to trash-talking.
8. Shinsuke Nakamura Primer
The rumors are flooding the Internet. Nakamura, AJ Styles and two members of the Bullet Club are said to be headed to WWE.
If that talent raid ends up happening, fans of New Japan Pro Wrestling will have their minds blown seeing Nakamura in a WWE ring. For those fans not familiar with his work, the following is a collection of some of his best:
- Shinsuke Nakamura vs. La Sombra: NJPW Kizuna Road 13
- Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kazuchika Okada: NJPW G1 Climax 24
- Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi: NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 9
- Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi: NJPW G1 Climax 25
- Shinsuke Nakamura vs. AJ Styles: NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 10
Note that he has thrived against a variety of foes. Nakamura has put on classics with smaller, speedier wrestlers, hard-hitters and powerhouses. Should he actually arrive on Vince McMahon's turf, the booking options are simply mouthwatering.
Nakamura vs. Seth Rollins. Nakamura vs. Finn Balor. Nakamura vs. John Cena.
9. The Rumbling Wyatt Family
Bray Wyatt and his followers will provide a subplot that promises to power the Royal Rumble.
That clan is set to bring chaos that will shake up the Battle Royal. On Monday's Raw, Wyatt led the way as his family leveled both Big Show and Ryback. This was just a peek at what's to come on Jan. 24.
Wyatt yelled, "We will ride. And they, they will all fall down."
Here's hoping that proclamation comes true. The Wyatt Family's domination of a stretch of the Royal Rumble has great potential. Much like the CM Punk-led Nexus did in 2011, this band of bruisers could be a must-watch part of the bout.
And WWE can elevate the group by having them feast on any number of big names.
10. Chris Jericho on Today's Promos
WWE Superstars don't have the freedom on the microphone they did in years past. The scripted nature of promos is an oft-criticized part of the product.
Y2J added some pertinent thoughts on that discussion. Jericho appeared on Conversations with Maria Menounos and talked about how today's stars have little chance to experiment when talking.
He said, "The opportunities to try stuff [are] becoming less and less. It's more of, 'This has been approved. Read this. Memorize these lines and say it.' I can memorize a Shakespearean play; it doesn't mean I can say it with any conviction whatsoever."
He's spot-on here. Roman Reigns is the most obvious example. Sometimes his interviews feel robotic, as WWE forces him to be something he's not.
Loosening the leash and letting wrestlers find their voices is something WWE has to do.