Why Rybaxel should contend for the WWE Tag Titles

Photo courtesy WWE.com
A little more than a year ago I never would have believed it if I was told I would soon become a fan of either Ryback or Curtis Axel, but the men have become some of my favorite elements of the WWE and, in my opinion, absolutely need to be in the Tag Team Championship picture.

The stop-and-start tag team division in the WWE has been in all but shambles of late, with The Usos (Jimmy and Jey) and The Wyatt Family (Luke Harper and Erick Rowan) being the only real focus. Not to complain - All four men are extremely talented, and they have put on consistently entertaining matches that have shocked just about everyone with their spots and outcomes. There are more teams to consider, however, if only a few at this point.

The wildly talented duo Cody Rhodes and Goldust - The Brotherhood, The Dust Brothers, or whatever they may be going by now - were riding a nicely unique wave of momentum when the younger brother broke up the team only to reassemble it under his newly embraced and very entertaining reinvention, Stardust. I'm not sure if the suitably bizarre backstage segments they've been doing instead of wrestling can be considered a continuation of that momentum, though. Whether this "cosmic key" quest they are on (reminiscent of much younger brothers playing pretend in a basement or backyard) amounts to anything more than simply a return to the ring is yet to be seen.

Xavier Woods also recently became one of the more exciting personalities in the company as he adopted an apparently Malcolm X-inspired gimmick to unite with Big E and Kofi Kingston in what is one of the most exciting angles we're currently seeing. Nothing has come of the new union of yet, however, and I would be surprised if the faction's first goal is obtaining championship gold (or bronze, or whatever the less-than-attractive new belts are supposed to be made out of).

Unless you count Slater-Gator (which has major potential and is already getting over), this brief rundown has already about exhausted the current main roster teams... which brings me to Rybaxel.

Neither the monster Ryan Reeves (Ryback) nor the third-generation legacy Joe Hennig (Curtis Axel) began with flattering runs. Ryback was over possibly just due to a catchphrase and CM Punk's renowned heel work, but his one-dimensionality made him ill-suited as a face. As for Axel, despite a marquee against Triple H and an Intercontinental Championship run, the man once unfortunately known as McGillicutty simply did not seem to have "it". Even the poet laureate of promos Paul Heyman couldn't help matters, and a feud with, yes, CM Punk made Axel out to be a glorified jobber.

Ryback turned heel against John Cena the night after WrestleMania XXIX, and after two hit-and-miss months of a World Title feud began his bully-hating bully gimmick. This tweak to The Big Guy's character, which wound up becoming an extension of the man's reputation with the Internet Wrestling Community, was a brilliant move that instantly made him more entertaining before he joined forces with, yes, Paul Heyman. Once both performers' time with Heyman was mercifully up a tag team was dubiously formed, as if there was nothing better to do.

Turns out, the pairing of Ryback and Curtis Axel has been a great success. I mean, I have no idea if either man is selling boatloads of merchandise or anything, but between the ropes and even in backstage segments the team chemistry has been improving week by week. The two bring out the best in one another, and a sense of friendly competition drives them to make that best better.

Whether highlighted on Raw or relegated to D-show Superstars, Rybaxel brings an infectious jock camaraderie to the programming. Modern kayfabe be damned - these real-life friends are going to show off their brute abilities, gloat about it to camera and hi-five on a job well done. At times the duo is reminiscent of Power & Glory (though for my money they are more talented than Hercules and Paul Roma).

If Harper and Rowan couldn't capture the titles from The Usos, and if they are indeed moving back in to a program under patriarch Bray Wyatt as they seem to have been since Battleground, another team needs to step up. No team other than Rybaxel is looking qualified enough at the moment. Ryback even enjoyed a singles victory over an Uso recently, and the teams have squared off at least twice on television since, so perhaps the idea of Rybaxel contending isn't so far-fetched anymore (though this article has been a long time coming).

Reports from last week's SmackDown taping did indicate Ryback walking out on Axel after suffering a loss, but this did not seem to wind up on Friday's broadcast. Perhaps folks backstage decided there's more longevity to Rybaxel and cut the bit. If this is indeed the case, I say it's a wise move, even if possibly inspired by a lack of depth elsewhere in the tag roster.

Rybaxel as tag team champions - which would be Ryback's first WWE championship - would be the spotlight the hard-working team deserves, and a possible stepping stone to a next chapter wherein the two competitors will move on to more successful singles careers than they had previously.


WWE Battleground: Evaluation of Response

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Nearly everywhere I turn on the 'net today I see complaints about last night's WWE Battleground special. People are saying it was awful, and that we the fans deserve better. Now, I can't disagree it was far from the greatest wrestling event of the year, but there is no call for the ire being tossed its way by the vitriolic Internet Wrestling Community.

That combination is important - wrestling and storytelling. The WWE roster is loaded with incredible wrestling talent right now, to the point that it may have never been better. The storytelling keeps it all in motion, however, rendering the in-ring action all the more exciting. Not every scene can be a climax, and not every outcome can be what you wanted. Battleground is a midway point between two major specials, and it did a solid job of propelling its key stories forward without blowing many off before SummerSlam.

Saying "we deserve better" is forgetting what a hot streak the WWE has been on since WrestleMania. By all means, Payback several months ago should have been a middling show. It's not a gimmick event like Money in the Bank, and it's not one of the "Big Four" like the Royal Rumble, but Creative and the included roster rose to the occasion and delivered a memorable night of wrestling and storytelling. Much of the same can be said for Extreme Rules.

To be fair, WWE could stand to scale back their special event schedule in many cases. Three weeks is simply not enough time to prepare a legitimate marquee, even with longer episodes of Monday Night Raw and a multitude of other weekly in-ring shows. No one can predict factors like Daniel Bryan's neck surgery taking him out of action - we don't have to imagine those wild cards throw major plans out the window - but when booking these events so far in advance the company would do well to afford each event enough time to develop. Since the company isn't doing this consistently now, however, in some cases it just comes down to being a wise consumer. If you were truly excited by the three weeks of lead-up and shelled out $45+ for Battleground, I would be surprised if you didn't get what you wanted. If you wisely subscribe to the WWE Network, there's really not much complaining to be done. Even if the monthly rate eventually goes up as is rumored, it's still a mind-bogglingly excellent deal to be getting every special event live for such a low amount of money, not to mention everything else the Network offers.

Being satisfied with one relatively mediocre event should not suggest I am complacent with the low-priced Network potentially meaning less exciting events. On the contrary. In 2012 I could barely stomach the product. In 2013 it had higher highs but was difficult to stick with enthusiastically. This year, with the Network and the company trying their damnedest to sell it, I'm gung-ho for WWE and the great wrestling and storytelling they've been putting out. That I paid a $9.99 subscription fee to access Battleground just makes me that much less disappointed that the night wasn't WrestleMania Junior.

Sure, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins didn't have the sanctioned match that had been billed, but the two stars occupied three major segments of the show and made for some of the most entertaining moments. It's difficult to imagine being too upset about this, as we got to see the two go at it in multiple venues, we got to see the furthering of their story, and now the inevitable showdown between the two of them at SummerSlam is that much more anticipated.

Sure, Jack Swagger vs. Rusev was riddled with rest holds, but not everyone can be a cruiserweight flipping maniacally off the top rope. In fact, this was my most anticipated match of the night and I was satisfied with what I got. I'm even more excited that the feud does not appear to be over and that I might be getting what I really wanted - a rematch at SummerSlam.

And sure, John Cena may have won and Bray Wyatt may have lost. I am admittedly biased here as throughout 2014 Cena has made a fan of me, and Wyatt has lost me as each cryptic promo has turned out to mean less and less. You really can't be upset that these guys won and lost, respectively, though. Your guys can't always win. We were all 99% assured Cena would be taking this one home, anyway, and it seems clear the Wyatt/Jericho feud is far from over. Does it not make sense, after all, that a guy who has needed the help of his cronies for the majority of his wins wound up losing after said cronies were ejected from ringside? Wyatt is not being "buried" with losses. His character plays a psychological game and his confidence on the microphone has had him constantly working with contemporary legends. He's fine. And besides, would you really have wanted Reigns' first big victory to have come from a throwaway Fatal Four Way?

And don't get me started on The Miz' victory. There were plenty of deserving individuals in the Intercontinental Battle Royal, but none with more legitimate momentum than The Miz, who seems to be in a do-or-die situation with this new Hollywood heel reinvention. He's 'doing', and proverbial 'death' does not seem imminent. The rest of the match brought the best entertainment of the night with Kofi's ever-inspiring anti-elimination creativity, some strong (if fleeting) underdog showings and more.

I understand some dissatisfaction with Battleground, but with the WWE Network as an economic option, a streak of four excellent specials in the rear view and SummerSlam on the horizon, it really doesn't make sense to complain about what was a suitable connect-the-dots piece leading to bigger things.


WWE Battleground: Predictions for Every Match

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Battleground may well be the most "minor" Pay-Per-View (or "special event" on the WWE Network) of 2014, but the 'E has stacked the card (in refreshingly unusual haste, no less) with matches that could render this coming Sunday one of the better outings of the year depending on the ever-important coalescence of performance and creative.

Hit the jump to find out how things could quite probably unfold at the pre-SummerSlam extravaganza.


Almost Arthouse #29: 'Tammy' & 'Deliver Us from Evil'

Ty Landis and Tom Stoup go to town on new releases "Tammy" and "Deliver Us from Evil" in the latest episode of Almost Arthouse, following a disturbing 4-month hiatus.

Listen to the episode at Sound on Sight, and follow us on Twitter @AlmostArthouse.