There’s a sense of newness in WWE these days following WrestleMania and last week’s Superstar Shake-up which was done to “shake things up” as WWE Chairman Vince McMahon likes to say. Over 20 superstars from Raw and Smackdown switched brands last week while several others were called up from NXT to join the main roster.
What the moves mean is that WWE will be able to set up a number of different and fresh matchups that we’ve never seen before. It’s a reason to get excited about WWE’s spring season as we head into summer.
What type of feature matches should they do? There are a lot of matches I could pick, but I’m going to limit myself by not using any wrestler more than once. If I didn’t do that, then it would be a bunch of AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura matches. It’s important to mix things up a bit.
Here are 10 ideas that came to mind with five of them featuring Raw talent and five matches featuring the wrestlers from Smackdown Live.
Monday Night Raw
1. Brock Lesnar vs. Braun Strowman
When two bigger wrestlers face off, it can be referred to as a “hoss fight” because “hoss” is the old wrestling term used for bigger guys. Lesnar isn’t as tall as Strowman, but as a near-300 pounder Lesnar obviously fits the hoss billing.
Lesnar is the current Universal Champion who could be in line for a very long title reign. Lesnar is not expected to be on television for the rest of this month, nor will he wrestle at Payback on April 30, but at some point he’ll return. He and Strowman had an in-ring confrontation on Raw already that teased a match down the road.
The rise of Braun Strowman has been one of the best highlights of WWE television since last July’s draft. He went from being just another guy in the Wyatt Family to a main event level performer because of how strongly he has been booked. Aside from a loss to Roman Reigns at Fastlane, which I didn’t agree with, Strowman has looked like one of the most dominant wrestlers in WWE. I also thought WWE made a mistake by not having Strowman win the battle royal at WrestleMania. Maybe he should be friends with Rob Gronkowski like Mojo Rawley is. But I digress.
The current rumor is that Lesnar vs. Strowman is going to headline one of the Raw PPVs in June (Extreme Rules) or July (Bad Blood). We don’t know which show it will be for sure until it’s announced, but if they follow that plan then we’ll get to see it soon.
I think this could be an awesome match if Lesnar is willing to sell for him. One of the biggest problems facing Lesnar in the last two years is that his matches have been basic with him not selling a lot. If Lesnar sells the power moves of Strowman, then it could be great. I also believe the sight of Lesnar hitting German Suplexes on Strowman will draw a big reaction as well.
Credit Braun Strowman for elevating his game to the point where he is a viable major opponent for Lesnar. He has earned it.
2. The Hardy Boyz vs. The Revival
This could be the best tag team feud in many years. It’s not going to happen right away because the Hardys will defend the tag titles against Cesaro & Sheamus at Payback on April 30. However, once the Hardys get by them, they will likely be on a collision course with The Revival, who have looked dominant during their two weeks on the main roster.
What’s great about a rivalry like this is the Hardys have the fans behind them as a legendary team back in WWE for the first time in over seven years. They’re a little older now, but they can still go in the ring and it’s not like they are a past-their-prime duo that doesn’t belong out there. They can be big attractions at live events as well as whenever they’re on television.
The Revival is the best pure heel team in WWE since The New Day in late 2015. The difference is The Revival are not going to be doing goofy promos. They are going to talk about how they are an old-school tag team that is about “fists, not flips” while picking apart body parts such as when they storyline-injured Kofi Kingston.
I think there might be a point later in the year where WWE decides to try Jeff and Matt as singles wrestlers again because Jeff really took off in singles in 2008-09. However, for the next few months at least they should be locked in as a tag team and a feud with The Revival would be amazing.
3. Kurt Angle vs. The Miz
You might be looking at that with a confused look and wonder: “Why The Miz?” The answer is simple: He’s the best heel in WWE right now. He’s the perfect kind of heel that can be used to set up a match against current Raw GM Kurt Angle. For Angle to return to the ring, it needs to be something where an antagonist like Miz is the reason why Angle is forced to come back.
The key thing is that they must let it simmer for months. Last week on Raw, The Miz appeared in a backstage segment with Angle complaining about an attack from Dean Ambrose. That needs to be something they do every week where Miz complains to Angle about something. Remember how well Miz got over as a heel on Smackdown by getting under the skin of GM Daniel Bryan? It’s because Miz was annoying. People wanted Bryan to attack him. The only thing preventing Bryan from doing so was the fact that he’s not cleared to compete in WWE.
My point is that the things that worked with Miz and Bryan on Smackdown, which didn’t produce a match, could work on Raw leading to a match against Angle. It would be Angle’s first WWE match since he left the company in the summer of 2006. If I had to pick a date for it, I’d go with SummerSlam because they need to have Angle’s return match at a huge event. He can wrestle two or three times this year and then another match at WrestleMania next year. There’s no need for Angle to do more than that.
If WWE wants to put Angle against somebody else on the Raw roster, that’s fine too. I just think Miz would be a perfect fit even if Angle were to get the win in the match. Just being in the ring with Angle would be big for Miz and could lead to bigger things for him.
4. Bray Wyatt vs. Finn Balor
The match was teased on last week’s Raw, so I’m not going to take credit for coming up with this one. It’s a natural rivalry because Bray Wyatt’s got the most unique character in WWE due to the various things he provides with having the magic powers that guys like The Undertaker and Kane had in the past as well. Also, Finn Balor’s “demon” look makes him stand out from the pack. The thought of these guys making their elaborate entrances leading to a big match is appealing enough on its own without even ringing the bell.
I think this feud would benefit both guys since they have both held major championships (Balor is a former Universal Champion and Wyatt is a former WWE Champion) and likely will again, but with Brock Lesnar entrenched as the current Universal Champion it may be a while until they hold gold. In the meantime, they can have this first time feud with Wyatt locked him as an evil heel while Balor is one of the more popular faces on the roster.
Wyatt is currently booked against Randy Orton at Payback on April 30 for a WWE Title match. Balor isn’t announced for a match at that show yet, so they can wait until June or July to kick off the rivalry for good.
The goal of most matches is to make at least one of the competitors look better after the match is over. I think in this case, it would elevate both guys just to present something different than what we’re used to seeing. They shouldn’t have a problem in terms of having chemistry. Wyatt needs a strong feud after his rivalry with Orton flopped a bit in the last month. Balor could be the guy to help Wyatt deliver a few classic matches.
5. Sasha Banks vs. Mickie James
Sasha Banks will be a heel soon. I think we all know it’s coming based on a number of hints that have happened. She will probably feud with her “best friend” Bayley for several months and likely be the one to take the title off her. After that happens, Banks will need some new opponents and that’s where Raw newcomer Mickie James comes to mind. James is my favorite WWE women’s wrestler ever and I think she’ll bring a lot to the show.
Both women want this feud to happen too. Here’s what Banks said in March 2017 to The Mirror:
“Oh yeah, absolutely, I was actually quite jealous to find out Mickie was going to SmackDown, I was like ‘damn I really want to wrestle her’. But it wasn’t to be and anything can happen, hopefully after the next draft our paths cross because she is someone I would like to get in the ring with. That’s what the future is for and keeping you guys on your toes again! Mickie James is an absolute legend, she is great.”
In October 2015, Mickie appeared on my podcast specifically mentioning Banks when talking about women she would want to face:
“It’s really hard to say. I’ve said Sasha Banks on Twitter before because she’s awesome. I think she’s a star. She’s got it! She can walk, she can talk, she can work… she’s really good.”
They’ve never wrestled before, but I think it would be awesome. Banks is the younger, cocky heel that knows how to rile up the fans and James is a prototypical babyface who has the support of the fans. It needs to be built up well but when they do the match, I have high expectations for it later this year.
1. AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
If I could pick just one match that I want to see more than anything else, it would be Styles vs. Nakamura. Granted, I’ve seen them wrestle before when they were in Japan at events like Wrestle Kingdom 10 and they had amazing matches over there, but it’s different in WWE. The presentation is different, the crowd reactions are better in a lot of ways and I feel like they can top what they did in Japan as well.
Styles is the best wrestler in WWE. I’m not going to say “one of” or “arguably” because I think he’s clearly at a level that nobody else is at right now. That’s not a knock on the rest of the roster either. It’s simply a case of Styles performing at a ridiculously high level for over a year now and proving he can have a great match with anybody.
Nakamura has been built up slowly following his main roster debut on the Smackdown after WrestleMania. He did his elaborate entrance during two weeks ago. Last week, he interrupted Dolph Ziggler, told him his name and shoved him down. It’s simple at this point. It’s building up his first match, likely against Ziggler at May’s Extreme Rules PPV, which should be a Nakamura win. After, Nakamura will likely face other heels on the roster and could go on an undefeated streak like he did in NXT. Simply put, he’s going to a huge star on the Smackdown brand.
This is the kind of match that I would save until WrestleMania next year. Both guys are faces now (Styles’ turn happened two weeks ago) and I don’t think either of them is going to change any time soon. Keep them locked in as faces, keep them apart for a full year and set up this “WWE dream match” for the biggest show of the year. There’s no better place for it than the Superdome in New Orleans at WrestleMania 34.
If WWE wants to do Styles vs. Nakamura before WrestleMania, that’s fine. I certainly won’t complain about ever seeing this match. However, if they put it in their back pocket and save it for the right moment, it will feel more special.
(Note: I know the title of the column says “this year” in it. I consider a year in WWE to be WrestleMania to WrestleMania, so think of it that way.)
2. Randy Orton vs. Kevin Owens
They have wrestled before in singles match on Raw in 2015, a triple threat and several tag matches, but they haven’t had a proper feud. With Orton locked in as a face that is the current WWE Champion and Owens working as a heel that’s the US Champion, it would make a lot of sense for them to have a rivalry soon.
At Payback on April 30, it will be Orton vs. Wyatt one more time for the WWE Title while Owens will probably defend the US Title against AJ Styles at Extreme Rules. After that? It’s fair game. This could be one of Smackdown’s biggest rivalries this summer.
Orton is the kind of wrestler who likes to slow the pace down while having the same basic match repeatedly and he’s in a comfort zone. That’s why I think Owens would be perfect for him. Owens is the kind of guy that brings out the best in his opponents because he’s a crafty heel who does creative things in his matches while adding in trash talk when needed as well. Owens’ antics may lead to him meshing with Orton very well while bringing out the best in him.
I think Owens was moved to Smackdown because he had done all he could with the likes of Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins on Raw. The creative team likely felt that Owens would be best served as a Smackdown guy that would be a new rival for Orton. It certainly makes sense to me.
3. Charlotte Flair vs. Naomi
I think it’s fair to say that current Smackdown Women’s Champion Naomi and former Raw Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair are the best athletes in WWE’s women’s division.
That’s not a knock against any other woman in the company because a lot of them are great athletes too. It’s just that Charlotte can do things in that ring that nobody else can do while making it look easy. I’m not just talking about the moonsault off the top rope to the floor. She does little things too. Naomi is also very athletic while finally putting it all together as an overall performer. Her entrance is the most unique in all of WWE, she’s got the fans behind her and has even developed a good submission move to finish off her opponents.
It seems likely that this rivalry is going to start as soon as this week. Charlotte is basically replacing Alexa Bliss as the top women’s heel on the Smackdown brand right now. It’s possible that somebody like Natalya, Becky Lynch or Carmella could face off with Naomi, but I think Charlotte is the most obvious choice.
They can do some fantastic things together by showing off their athleticism in a case of “Can you top this?” Naomi hasn’t had a breakout feud in her career yet. Facing off with Charlotte, who is the best women’s wrestler in WWE right now, will help Naomi. It can be a rivalry that benefits both women.
4. John Cena vs. Sami Zayn
I want Sami Zayn to be elevated this year and I want John Cena to be the guy to do that. There’s nobody that can do it better than Cena due to the credibility that he brings to the table.
A lot of you probably remember the only singles match they had on Raw on May 4, 2015 in Zayn’s hometown of Montreal. Zayn was so excited about the match that when he stood on the ring steps to hype up the crowd he hurt his shoulder, which required surgery and kept him out of action for the rest of the year.
At some point this year, Cena’s going to return to action after he’s done his movie commitments. Let’s say it is on a Smackdown prior to SummerSlam. Cena could be in the ring talking about how the landscape has changed on the show since he’s been gone because of the roster changes. He can mention that he’s got an open invitation to face anybody from Smackdown at SummerSlam when suddenly, Zayn’s music hits.
Zayn could talk about how two years earlier he had the biggest match of his career in his hometown of Montreal. He can add that he got hurt before that match even began, but he busted his ass and nearly beat Cena. For over two years, he has wanted to get another shot at Cena. That’s when Cena can play to the crowd, ask them if they want to see this match at SummerSlam and when the fans chant “yes” for that they can make it official.
I would have Zayn go over in the SummerSlam match using some kind of counter move rather than his Helluva Kick finish. Make it seem like an upset that makes people take notice of Zayn because he beat Cena clean. After that win, Zayn would be a bigger star immediately and WWE can continue to elevate him from there. Use veterans like Cena to put over younger guys like Zayn. That’s how wrestling works.
5. The New Day vs. American Alpha
The tag team division on Raw is superior to Smackdown at the moment because of depth, but there are still good teams at the top of the food chain on SD Live thanks to SD’s Tag Champs The Usos as well as The New Day and American Alpha. I’ve already seen The New Day vs. The Usos and The Usos vs. American Alpha a bunch of times, but the tag match we haven’t seen is The New Day taking on American Alpha.
At the moment, both The New Day and American Alpha are locked in as faces. It doesn’t mean they will always be in those roles, though. If one of them were to turn (New Day have been heels in the past) then that could set up a natural rivalry between the teams. Even if they both stayed as face teams, I think the chemistry would be amazing between. American Alpha are great technical wrestlers with a lot of athleticism that have had awesome matches with so many different kinds of opponents. I’m sure both teams would want to do this match too.
The Smackdown tag division is hurting a bit in the depth department, but New Day’s addition certainly helps a lot. I’m interested to see how the division does in the weeks and months ahead.
I hope you liked this column and some of my suggestions. I could have picked dozens of other matches because of the depth of the current WWE roster. A lot of good names were left out of this column. I thought about doing a Shield reunion as an example, but it’s hard to find three good heels for them to face off with on the Raw brand. There are all kinds of scenarios that would work featuring different talents that could mesh with new opponents. Who knows what might happen? I’m trying to be optimistic because that’s the kind of fan I am.
I’ll be back Tuesday for the Raw review column and Smackdown on Wednesday as well. Have a great week.