Botter's Top Rope 10: NXT Stars Make Abrupt Debut, Daniel Bryan, The Man, More

Jeremy Botter@jeremybotterMMA Senior WriterFebruary 20, 2019

Welcome to the first installment of my new weekly column here at Bleacher Report. We've got a lot to process, so let's not waste time. 


NXT's Biggest Stars Make Curious Debuts

With WrestleMania 35 approaching on April 7, the four biggest stars from the NXT roster all debuted on Monday's Raw and appeared the next night on Smackdown. 

There was no anticipation built and no vignettes introducing the characters. There was no mystery. They didn't wait until the night after WrestleMania. WWE simply tweeted the news a few hours before Raw started.

On Smackdown, they did air vignettes introducing fans to the new arrivals, but that's something that should have been ready to go on Monday.

I don't want to be the old guy who talks about the good old days all the time, but I'm going to.

WWE used to put care and creativity into building anticipation for debuting wrestlers. Now, we get out-of-nowhere debuts announced on social media.

Yes, the four NXT stars were booked strongly. All scored multiple wins over established main roster stars in good matches that were given time to develop. And it wasn't their fault the Lafayette, Louisiana, crowd was an all-time bad WWE audience who will be lucky to get another house show, much less a TV broadcast. 

But it would be nice to see just a bit of planning and care put into these things.

A company source told me all of the NXT call-ups (including those who were announced in January) will continue appearing on Raw and Smackdown in addition to NXT until after WrestleMania and likely the yearly draft before being assigned a permanent brand.


Who Needs Continuity?

I wrote much of this column on Monday after Elimination Chamber but before Raw. That was a mistake.

I had to delete roughly half of the original draft before the first hour of Raw was over. So that's great. 

One of my now-deleted points was about the befuddling decision to split up Bobby Lashley and Lio Rush so quickly. I guess someone at WWE had the same thought, because they were back together without much explanation on Raw.

You know how it looked like Lashley was forming a new faction with Baron Corbin and Drew McIntyre at Elimination Chamber? Yeah, that's not happening. There wasn't even a mention of it on Monday.

Oh, and Dean Ambrose apparently has amnesia and has forgotten about the time he turned on Seth Rollins and the ensuing months. It's quite funny, and it's at least some sort of explanation for the sudden character change, which is more than we've been getting lately.

Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano are back to being the version of DIY they were before, you know, they tried to kill each over for over a year on NXT. 

These aren't huge issues, but it's hard to get invested in a character and storyline when it's clear the people behind the story aren't invested themselves.


Vince McMahon Going All-In with Becky Lynch

For the past few years, Vince McMahon used WrestleMania season to try to make Roman Reigns the company's new top guy. The fans revolted, but the WWE chairman ignored them and tried again. 

This year, the fans and promoter are on the same page.

Becky Lynch is the hottest act in pro wrestling. Fans haven't united behind a character in this manner since Daniel Bryan six years ago. McMahon refused to get behind The Yes Movement until fan reaction at live events forced him to change plans, which he did only begrudgingly.

We have no such worries with him and Lynch. It's clear the chairman is on board, even going so far as to dust off his Mr. McMahon suit to play the evil promoter desperate to prevent the anti-corporate rebel from getting what she already earned: a place in the main event of his WrestleMania.

We've seen this story before, most prominently with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, who Lynch is prematurely drawing comparisons with.

It's been a long time since it worked as effectively as it did then, but it's worth remembering what kind of magic can happen when McMahon and the fans are behind a white-hot rising star. 


Daniel Bryan Has the Perfect WrestleMania Opponent

Before Elimination Chamber, I had no clue who Bryan's opponent at WrestleMania might be. Not because WWE was playing its cards close to its chest, thoughthere just didn't seem to be anything special in the offing.

If you're just looking for someone to have a great match with Bryan, there's an easy solution; anyone can have a great match with him. The WWE champion could make me look good for the three minutes between the time the bell rings and when I pass out from exhaustion. 

But it's WrestleMania. A championship match needs a strong story to cement it alongside other big Mania moments. And there just weren't any compelling, fresh stories standing out. 

Now, though? There's only one person who should be standing across the ring from Bryan on April 7Kofi Kingston.

Yeah, Bryan vs. Kingston is scheduled for Fastlane, while a company source told me Tuesday evening that The Beard's opponent for WrestleMania will be Kevin Owens; those videos of KO hanging out with his family and eating bad food make a lot more sense now.

Bryan vs. a returning babyface Owens will be good.

But there's something special happening with Kingston right now. They put together a stellar ending as the final two entrants in the Elimination Chamber match, and the fans reacted big when the New Day member pinned Bryan during the six-man tag team main event on Smackdown.

The fans have also rallied behind Kingston in recent days in the same way they've rallied behind Lynch. They are invested in the story of a guy who has been in WWE for 11 years and, in all that time, has never been considered for a run at the top. Yeah, those are two good reasons to make the match. 

And there is the built-in storyline that's been staring us right in the faceever since Bryan debuted his new eco-villain characterand I can't believe it didn't hit me until after Elimination Chamber's conclusion: The New Day represent everything he hates. 

While he's trying to save the planet and teach us about the horrors of processed foods and the evils of excess, they're parading around in garish outfits, pitching corporate products and sugar-loaded cereal to kids. 

Speaking of Bryan...


Bryan Is Better Than He's Ever Been Right Now

Bryan has been one of the best wrestlers in the sport for a long time. Right now, though, after everything he went through to get back in the ring, he might be putting on the best performances of his career.

I was surprised at his heel turn last fall. He made a dramatic return to the squared circle earlier in the year after repeated concussions forced him into an early retirement. His determination to do whatever it tookhundreds of tests on his brain, hyperbaric chamber sessions, anything he could possibly do to help his causewas as inspirational a story as pro wrestling can muster. And it was real.

So I was skeptical whether fans would ever accept him as anything but the hero they'd turned him into over the past five years.

My skepticism is gone. Bryan went from being the best babyface to unquestionably WWE's top heel. His slow-burning, layered unveiling of his new eco-crusader persona has been a thrill to watch, and the fans have responded precisely how he wants them to.

He has always been great in the ring, but now he's the most complex character in the company.  


Rousey vs. Riott Was Right the First Time

Judging by reactions on Twitter (and we know Twitter is an accurate gauge for how the world feels about things), people were unhappy with Ronda Rousey beating Ruby Riott in a squash match on Sunday.

Nonsense, I say. Getting the Raw women's champion ready for WrestleMania is the only thing that matters to McMahon.

She has to be pushed as an unstoppable force who is not just better than everyone she faces but multiple levels better, so it means something when Lynch's current story concludes at The Show of Shows.

So, of course, they had an immediate rematch the next night, with Riott nearly pinning Rousey several times and appearing every bit her equal, thereby undoing the progress made the night before.



In The 'Why?' Department

Mandy Rose pinned Asuka cleanly on Smackdown. It was a non-title match, and she badly faked an injury before the pin, but still...

I don't have a lot to say about this. I just wanted to point out how dumb it is that The Empress of Tomorrow, who was insanely popular with fans during her NXT run because she never lost, is now losing on random Smackdown shows to Mandy Rose.

I wonder if there's any correlation between those losses and her sharp decline in popularity? 


D-Generation X Goes to the Hall

The news leaked late Sunday night that D-Generation X (both iterations) would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame this year.

The company confirmed the news to ESPN the next morning.

This is good news for two reasons. 

First, it allows the late Joanie "Chyna" Laurer to finally be honored. Laurer, who died in 2016, would have been inducted years ago if not for her post-WWE career choices.

Triple H explained WWE's hesitancy on Austin's podcast in 2015. His point of view is not unreasonable given the company's status as a mostly-family-friendly product, but Laurer deserves to be lauded for her time in the company.

I hope they'll eventually give her memory the solo spotlight it deserves. For now, though, this is a good start. 

This honor also gives Sean "X-Pac" Waltman an induction that is long past due. 


All Elite is Wrestling's Hottest Ticket

Most of the tickets for All Elite Wrestling's first official event on May 25 were sold out in just 26 minutes during a pre-sale event.

Sources with knowledge of the promotion's operation told me that over 40,000 people were logged in at the start of the pre-sale, waiting for their chance to buy tickets to the Memorial Day weekend event. The rest of the tickets sold out immediately when they went on general sale days later.

That's an astonishing number, and it is one that indicates demand for AEW is far greater than we thought.

Maintaining that sort of demand will be difficult, and right now, the AEW schedule is a mystery beyond this first event.

However, their considerable financial backing, imminent major weekly television deal and vision should have all pro wrestling fans intrigued for what they have in store.


Reader Mailbag

The final entry in each week's column will be dedicated to your questions. Submit these to me each week via Twitter by using the #TopRope10 hashtag. 

I used to enjoy the old annual King of the Ring events; they were a great place to create potential new stars in one night, and I loved how the winner would spend he next year calling themselves "king," complete with robe and crown.

Harley Race had dudes carry his throne to the ring. I miss that. Sadly, it's probably gone for good. WWE has used the name several times to promote tournaments on television, but we all know it's just not the same. 

On MITB: I enjoy the MITB-themed pay per view, so I wouldn't make it exclusive to Mania. 

The only way to make tag wrestling in WWE important is to make it important. I'm not being glib. The tag division is treated like an afterthought, so it's regarded as an afterthought.

WWE does know how to make tag team wrestling seem important. Look at the women's tag team match at Elimination Chamber. Those belts meant something, and that's because the company made them feel important, like there were actual stakes.

Bayley and Sasha Banks' win felt like a big deal because they treated it as such. 

They can give their entire tag division, male and female, the same treatment. But I am not optimistic it'll happen in the long term.


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