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Looking at Braun Strowman vs. Tyson Fury

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Last week, at a press conference in Las Vegas, the WWE announced two mega match-ups with Brock Lesnar set to defend his championship against former foe Cain Velasquez, while Braun Strowman will square off against current boxing heavyweight champion, Tyson Fury in Saudi Arabia for the Crown Jewel pay-per-view at the end of this month.

Usually, sports stars that make in-ring cameos are reserved for Wrestlemania, the biggest show on the WWE calendar, but the propaganda campaign that the Saudi government pays for is more profitable so with roughly a month of build up, these bouts will be presented on a Thursday afternoon when much of the domestic audience won’t be able to watch it live for what is basically a glorified house show. As trivial as this might sound, I must note that these type of big matches being used for the overseas events instead of the United States, where the majority of WWE shows are held could be a major misstep, simply because the time slot doesn’t allow for the most exposure to the biggest markets. Would Mr. T’s appearances in the 80s have been as effective if his in-ring bouts aired on a Thursday afternoon? In some respects, it seems like management is cashing in now instead of using this celebrity association to propel the product in the future.

Still, one of the current heavyweight champions in boxing signed for a WWE match is a story and opens the door for some intriguing scenarios if this bout goes well. I penned an article about the upside of Cain Velasquez’s involvement last week, but the Fury equation is a very different situation. First, Cain and Brock have a history to build up that sets up for a natural rematch between the two so the angle was already in place before Velasquez showed up, which allows for a much easier path to get to the match. Arguably the more important aspect is, Cain is well-known for his time as UFC heavyweight champion, despite the injuries that derailed much of the momentum he generated throughout his UFC career. Also, Cain began training for professional wrestling early last year and did well in a pair of recent matches for AAA in Mexico.

On the flip side, Tyson Fury has none of that going for him ahead of this contest with Strowman. A fan since his youth, Fury’s eccentric and charismatic persona suggest that he would fit very well with the world of sports entertainment, but there are a few hurdles to clear for Crown Jewel. Undefeated in 30 fights, Fury has 29 victories and just one draw, a razor-close bout against fellow champion Deontay Wilder last December, on his boxing record. The British heavyweight made his name when he defeated the legendary Wladimir Klitschko for a collection of belts via unanimous decision in 2015. It was the first blemish on Klitschko’s record in nearly a decade as he reigned as the most dominate heavyweight in the sport for much of the previous ten years.

The victory should’ve marked the beginning of a run for Tyson, but months after he claimed the title, a Klitschko rematch was cancelled when Fury tested positive for cocaine. Subsequently, he vacated the belt and his future in the sport was in doubt. Along with the drug test, erratic behavior had many concerned for his safety as well. Tyson took nearly three years away from the ring to seek professional help for mental health issues and drug problems.

Remarkably, Tyson reemerged inside the ropes clean and in better shape with a win in June of last year. He followed that up with another win a few months later before the previously mentioned draw against Wilder late last year. In 2019, he has two victories, including a bout last month that saw him suffer a nasty cut near his eye, a laceration that many thought would cause the fight to be stopped, but Fury pushed forward to get the unanimous decision. Despite the cynical nature of boxing negotiations, the anticipated rematch with Wilder is expected to be inked for early next year.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4E3-rP_dr-A&w=560&h=315]

That entire situation is one of the problems for WWE, Tyson Fury simply isn’t a well-known commodity in the United States because of his extended hiatus from the sport after the title win and his limited exposure in America. Secondly, other than Braun’s “get these hands” catchphrase, there’s really no logic behind an angle with Fury. Perhaps, the biggest problem is that Tyson has no experience at all in sports entertainment, and his punches that missed by more than a mile during the recent confrontation on Raw are proof of it. Granted, it’s understandable that Fury wanted to be cautious as to not injury the security, but it might be an indication that the match at Crown Jewel could be a train wreck.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQpNlWn4LLc&w=560&h=315]

At a time when the company is trying to refresh its presentation, is it a wise move to book this match when it will probably garner coverage from other media outlets? If the contest is a total botch, is the potential negative press from it going to help the image of the product? Furthermore, is it really that important to book sports celebrities for the Saudi government?

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jzxtzac04Dc&w=560&h=315]

Don’t get me wrong, I hope Tyson Fury does well in the squared circle, and in many respects, he is a tremendous success story, but this particular performance has too many red flags that could led to a disaster if the match is too sloppy. Keep in mind, Fury is not only still a regular competitor in boxing, he also has a mega payday ahead of him for the Wilder rematch. Obviously, he will make millions for this Saudi contest, but he’s still risking legitimate money if he gets injured against Braun Strowman. Hopefully, he can get the chance to practice the sequences of the match prior to the pay-per-view, but with just a week until the show, how much can he realistically train for pro wrestling?

Reportedly, Fury will make an estimated $15 million for the Saudi match, but the return bout against Wilder will earn him even more than that so it’s a tough situation when he and Braun have to at least have something that can be considered a match, but not anything that might jeopardize the boxing payday. All things considered, much like this entire pay-per-view, this match-up is more about what the Saudi government wants than anything that will have an effect on WWE. The deal that brings the heavyweight champion to the country is basically because there’s an initiative to get more boxing there, as another heavyweight title bout with Andy Ruiz vs. Anthony Joshua will take place in Saudi Arabia in December. As much as Fury’s involvement could be used to push Braun, make no mistake about it, Tyson Fury’s angle is nowhere near the same level as Mike Tyson’s storyline two decades ago.

Depending on how this contest goes, it’s very possible that Fury’s persona would translate well to the squared circle for more than a one-off match after he retires from boxing, but at just 31, he will probably continue to pursue his original sport for at least a few more years. In truth, it appears that WWE brass more or less shoehorned Tyson Fury into the pay-per-view to maintain status quo of the mega paydays from these stadium shows. As mentioned, there’s no direct angle or history for Fury in WWE, and there’s no logical reason to risk the millions of dollars on the table for the Wilder rematch other than the major Saudi money for this event.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta

For more Pro Wrestling coverage visit FightBoothPW.com

WWE

What Cain Velasquez brings to WWE

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This month marks nine years since Cain Velasquez defeated Brock Lesnar for the UFC Heavyweight championship via TKO in the first round. Since the bout where referee rescued Brock from further damage and declared Velasquez the winner, each athlete took different paths, but ironically found the same destination.

For Lesnar, the devastating defeat was more or less the beginning of the end of his stint in MMA, as a combination of diverticulitis and an aversion to punches to the face led to the conclusion of his UFC career with a record of 5-3-1 in the sport. Still, Brock was a very wise businessman and often used the potential of an MMA return as a bargaining chip to get a better WWE deal. As I’ve discussed before, the Brock experiment has yielded mixed results and arguably diminishing returns. The repetitive move set and routine set up for angles were stale.

The concept of Brock as a continuously dominant champion the past few years with limited appearances became an excuse for the lack of intriguing booking otherwise. The most important aspect of this scenario is, did the investment into Brock’s hefty contract pay off? More specifically, how many other performers were made bigger stars after they worked with him? Remember when Lesnar mailed in a match at Wrestlemania 32? How about when Brock’s mega push was supposed to pay off and finally get Roman Reigns over as the top star? Does Seth Rollins draw more money since he beat Lesnar twice this year?

The title switch during the Fox debut was more to pay lip service to the network to create some buzz at the start of the $1 billion TV contract. As mentioned previously, the modern era has a lack of legitimate money-drawing stars on the current roster, and Kofi Kingston’s title run is essentially a prime example as to why the ratings boost from nostalgia acts aren’t retained the following weeks with the current product.

Kofi’s moment at Wrestlemania 35 was a very memorable moment that he earned with over a decade under contract. After that win, he was paired against Dolph Ziggler, an entertaining athlete, but used as a glorified enhancement talent in between sporadic pushes so that didn’t do much to elevate his status as WWE champion. His run also played second fiddle to Brock’s MITB win and cash-in. Plus, a few average matches against Orton leaves Kofi’s title reign basically just that tremendous moment at WM. The point being, in the six months that he was champion, Kingston wasn’t spotlighted as the featured star at any particular point during that run. I’ve seen some on social media claim that the flash victory, similar to fast KOs in MMA, paints the defeat as a fluke. I completely disagree for two main reasons. First, one of the advantages that sports entertainment has over MMA is that pro wrestling can make sure the fans get a show instead of a lackluster fight if a contest is one-sided.

Second, if the fluke victory was designed to make sure Kofi wasn’t squashed then there would be a set up for a rematch, but it’s doubtful that happens and it does, would there be any chance management would book Kofi to beat Lesnar? The most simplistic explanation is usually the right answer, and the harsh reality is that WWE brass probably doesn’t have more main event plans for Kingston any time soon. This is emphasized when you consider that the story from the Fox debut is Cain Velasquez vs. Brock Lesnar, not a Kofi rematch.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RG75bcKtjPI&w=560&h=315]

Speaking of Cain Velasquez, prior to and after his dominate win over Brock, he looked to be on the path to become the greatest heavyweight in the history of the sport. A smaller, but still powerful heavyweight, Cain’s amateur wrestling background gave him technique and speed that he blended with boxing skills to have a well-rounded style that had no major flaws. But, in the nine years since he claimed the UFC belt, injuries completely derailed his momentum throughout his career in the cage. Shoulder, Knee, and back injuries put him on the sidelines for extended periods of time and saw bouts delayed or cancelled. After two and a half years outside of the octagon, Cain returned to the UFC this past February for a contest against Francis Ngannou on ESPN. Velasquez was clipped with a punch that led to a stoppage in just 26 seconds of the first round. The defeated prompted questions about his future in MMA. Still, Cain is a former two-time UFC heavyweight champion with a 14-3 record.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4C6d2-KcN4&w=560&h=315]

A well-known wrestling fan, Cain made headlines last year when he trained at the WWE Performance Center, fueling speculation that he could make the transition to the squared circle. Eventually, Velasquez did make the jump to the ring when he debuted for AAA at their Triplemania event in August and then followed that up with another match last month. Despite it being his start in sports entertainment, Velasquez did well and garnered rave reviews for his performance in Mexico. The Rey Mysterio attack on Raw was very well done and proves Lesnar could put it into a second gear if he wants to really deliver an impactful segment. That set up very well for the Velasquez debut on Smackdown, as it’s the popular Mexican heavyweight that’s a true fan of lucha libre showing to save the Mexican legend.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEgfm9zlHeE&w=560&h=315]

The contract situation of all this get a little murky. Cain was signed to at least a three-match deal for AAA, but the group cancelled its scheduled Los Angeles card where Velasquez was supposed to wrestle a match. Perhaps the cancelled event voids the deal? As of this writing, the former champion is still under contract to the UFC, but he withdrew from the USADA testing pool last week so it’s very possible that he will retire from MMA. Even if Cain still has a deal with UFC, it wouldn’t prevent him from inking a WWE contract. If Velasquez retires from MMA, he could sign for other projects, but would simply still be under UFC contract if he decides to return to the sport. The WWE side of negotiations get more complex, as depending on their plans for him, Cain might be signed for a Goldberg deal or something more full-time for the company.

Similar to Ronda Rousey, Cain’s notoriety from the octagon makes him a commodity, but if he signs for any major length of time, his inexperience might be considered to avoided exposing any weaknesses. Considering his accomplishments and history with Lesnar, Velasquez can’t logically start his career squashing Jinder Mahal every week on Smackdown. If this is a brief deal then a few well-planned matches are all that are needed, but if WWE is going to put him over Lesnar at any point, you can bet they wouldn’t want him to be able to take that momentum elsewhere. At 37, Cain probably isn’t the next top Hispanic star that Rey Mysterio passes the torch to, but his addition to the company gives them a very valuable boost as the organization starts their major TV contracts.

How much Velasquez can do in the ring and how he develops as a potentially full-time wrestler could answer many of the possible questions about this scenario. The Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer speculated that the Lesnar vs. Velasquez match could take place later this month in Saudi Arabia because of the amount of money the Saudi government would be willing to pay for the bout, but let’s hope that’s not booked, simply because most of the viewing audience wouldn’t watch it with the random afternoon time slot. If that is the scheduled match then Brock/Cain is basically a one-off match because the momentum of the “rematch” wouldn’t be utilized for the majority of WWE’s audience. Despite the financial aspect of the Saudi shows, Wrestlemania is still the biggest show of the year and could have a bigger impact on the rest product than a random Saudi show.

Cain Velasquez vs. Brock Lesnar should happen at Wrestlemania, but it remains to be seen how management could stretch the feud six months, especially without a match before that. I have to be honest, I was very surprised that Velasquez showed up on Smackdown because I thought he would work regularly for AAA for a while before he made any type of move in sports entertainment. At a time when the show needs it, the former UFC champion brings a lot of star power to the table and gives viewers a reason to watch on Fox. Hopefully, this won’t become a Hogan/Warrior situation where Velasquez was brought to WWE so that Lesnar could “get his win back” so to speak. Unless this angle will be designed to launch Cain as a full-time wrestler, I’m not sure where it goes from here.

Lesnar has worked with and defeated almost everyone that would be considered a credible opponent on the WWE roster, and new stars haven’t been made during that process so what other opponents are there for him? The initial Velasquez vs. Lesnar match will be major money and publicity for WWE, but unless Cain goes over, management will be back to this situation where Brock doesn’t have fresh opponents. If a series of makes with Lesnar solidifies Velasquez in sports entertainment then it creates an entirely new scenario for the product That said, this adds a fresh dynamic to WWE and more importantly, its something new for Lesnar since his run has been stale the past few years.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta

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UFC 234 pre-fight press conference live stream

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via UFC: Ahead of UFC 234: Whittaker vs Gastelum, the UFC will hold a press conference featuring Dana White, Robert Whittaker, Kelvin Gastelum, Israel Adesanya, and Anderson Silva.

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Is WWE Ready To Rumble?

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In less than two weeks, the road to WrestleMania kicks off with the Royal Rumble, theoretically the start of the build up to the biggest show of the year, at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona.

The stadium lists 48,000 seats, but with the stage set up, there will be roughly 45,000 tickets available for the pay-per-view. On the surface, the Rumble, one of the historic events on the year, might be a stadium-level show, but the scenarios currently within the WWE landscape might not be a draw of that magnitude. Granted, WWE brass still have next week’s show to attempt to generate some buzz, but there’s a noticeable lack of hype ahead of this event, mostly because of some key decisions that were made previously.

Obviously, the traditional Royal Rumble matches are the main draw, but with Roman Reigns on the sidelines, and Brock Lesnar more or less in the witness protection program with the title, there isn’t anything in particular that’s a draw for an anticipated match that could be set up by the Rumble. This past week on RAW, the Universal title match was randomly switched because Braun Strowman, the promoted challenger still isn’t medically cleared from an elbow injury that required surgery a few months ago.

I wrote about it several times prior to this, but Roman’s failed super push came with an “opportunity” cost.

Everyone else on the roster, no matter how over they were with the audience for the past 4-5 years, was booked secondary to the “big dawg” to ensure he was presented as the top star. That was management’s agenda and as long as they maintained revenue, which they did, they could book their chosen champion. However, without Roman on the roster, the writing team is forced to sell the concept that some of those that were stuck in the mid-card should suddenly be perceived as main event level stars.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3RAcRmlyFqk&w=560&h=315]

Make no mistake about it, Finn Balor is one of the most talented athletes on the roster, but for the past several months, the perception of his persona on television is a mid-carder that lost matches to Baron Corbin. Now, he’s supposed to be considered a legitimate threat to Brock Lesnar’s reign as champion? Don’t get me wrong, Finn Balor SHOULD be a main event star and undoubtedly has the skills to be successful in that role, but for the general audience, it’s about perception and presentation. Has Balor been presented as a potential main event competitor since his return from the shoulder injury a few years ago?

How exactly will Lesnar’s title defense be built as something important with just two weeks until the event? The whole scenario is so thrown together that the Universal championship match, and thus Finn’s spotlight almost become an afterthought. “Balor will lose so who wins the Rumble to challenge Brock at Wrestlemania?” will be the narrative ahead of the pay-per-view.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ra6DEjWLRio&w=560&h=315]

It’s possible that Braun ends up as a later entrant and doesn’t have to do much to win the match to set up for WM, but at this point, especially considering the injuries, would Strowman be the right choice to win it? In my opinion, even if Braun will be healthy enough to compete by WM, the demand for him to win the title has already peaked and he isn’t nearly as over as he was this time last year. Most of the booking decisions minimized his star power, including the random heel turn before Roman’s exit because of illness. The elbow injury halted nearly all of the momentum he had, and the harsh reality is that WWE brass might’ve missed the boat on Braun Strowman.

Again, it can’t be understated how important it is for management to capitalize when a competitor’s popularity peaks to get the most from a specific storyline. For example, if Vince McMahon decided that Steve Austin didn’t defeat Shawn Michaels at WM 14 or that Brock didn’t pin The Rock at Summer Slam 2002, the launching point of their major runs wouldn’t have been as strong if the plan was delayed six months. Part of the ability to make stars is to know when it let a talent run with it, and at this stage, management might’ve fumbled the chance to get the most out of Braun Strowman’s popularity.

Speaking of declining popularity, I wrote detailed reasoning behind it several times so I’m not going to fully discuss it again, but I’m honestly not sure what the logic is for another WM based around “who can defeat Brock Lesnar?” I penned an article over a year and a half ago that explained the diminishing return of the Brock Lesnar experiment, but the former UFC heavyweight champion is still at the top of the card.

Keep in mind, the entire Brock run last year was intended to get Reigns over, but it didn’t. If that’s simply because nothing at that point would’ve gotten Roman over or if Lesnar was too stale that a win wouldn’t have got him over is a moot point. The bottom line is, the investment into Brock is mostly a flop. You can’t blame Lesnar for that either, he took the money on the table for a very limited schedule, and continued to use the UFC as leverage to negotiate with WWE.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojUIGoA2GaY&w=560&h=315]

Perhaps, the sluggish ratings for Raw are because it’s difficult to generate viewers for a product when the audience knows the championship, which is promoted as an important accomplishment, isn’t a part of the show. The whole “rare appearances make the champion special” became more of a defense for the show that lacked direction than an effective marketing strategy

Aside from the lackluster build up to the Universal title match, it almost transfers over to the men’s traditional Royal Rumble match because title match is usually linked with the Rumble since it creates speculation for the matches at Wrestlemania. I’d say Smackdown is a factor, but in truth, SD has more or less been a continuously better show in recent months so there’s no reason to shift direction from the AJ/Bryan feud. Plus, with RAW as the flagship show and the program with lower ratings than usual, the Rumble winner will probably be featured on Raw as a way to boost numbers. But, without hype around the champion, there’s indirectly not much hype around a potential Rumble winner. Again, this is another result of some on the roster being kept at the mid-card during the Reigns push.

Who is really a WM main event talent right now? Rollins is great, but he was stuck in Intercontinental incognito when Brock was ice fishing instead of working pay-per-views. At some point, Rollins could become typecast of “the IC guy”that works just underneath the main event. Again, you can have a stacked roster, but if almost everyone is presented in a 50/50 manner, how many legitimate money-drawing main event stars are there?

This is just my two cents, but I think they should book John Cena to win the Rumble and challenge Brock for the title with the angle for WM being the chase toward setting the record for the most world title wins. Yes, it’s a retread, but it gives the WWE something to promote that books a credible main event star at WM and a way for them to distance themselves from the Lesnar experiment.

Another potential benefit is that it sets up for a “passing of the torch” when Cena eventually drops the belt. Most importantly, it buys time until Roman Reigns returns and will be one of the most legitimately inspirational stories in sports. Cena/Lesnar for a record-setting championship and Ronda Rousey/Becky Lynch could be important bouts on the card that draws a sell out the stadium at WM, but it will be extremely interesting to see if the Rumble will sell out with the scheduled card.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta

For more WWE coverage, visit FightBoothPW.com

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