WWE Wrap-Up

This week in WWE: The Greatest Royal Rumble takes the focus off Raw and SDL

Nakamura destroyed Styles’ old friend, Karl Anderson, ahead of their match on Friday. Photo by WWE.com

Raw

Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns previewed their match at The Greatest Royal Rumble that will take place this Friday.  Elias defeated Bobby Roode in the first match of the night with a roll up. Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt defeated The Ascension in preparation for their Raw Tag Title match against The Bar this Friday.

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn debuted their new show, The Sami and Kevin Show. Their first guest was Kurt Angle. In typical fashion, the guys went overboard with their trolling and got punished by Kurt by being placed in a tag match against Bobby Lashley and Braun Strowman. Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre defeated Titus World Wide. McIntyre grabbed the mic after the match and explained he’s not “ the man the WWE wants.” He’s “ the wake up call and reality check this company needs.” Chad Gable made his Raw debut upsetting Jinder Mahal with a Roll Up.

Braun Strowman and Bobby Lashley bulldozed through Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens in a brutal tag match. Finn Balor and Seth Rollins defeated the now abandoned Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas. A Ten Women Tag Match saw Bayley, Sasha Banks, Nia Jax, Ember Moon, and Natalya team up against Alexa Bliss, Mickie James and the Riott Squad. The match would end in a DQ after Ronda Rousey get involved trying to help out her friend, Natalya, who had sustained an injury from a Sarah Logan chop block.

SmackDown Live

The Miz opened the show with intentions of hosting Miz TV with Daniel Bryan as his guest. Instead, Big Cass showed up and explained exactly why he holds so much disdain for Bryan. Backstage, Bryan was treated by the medical staff for an injury he appeared to have sustained while making his way to the ring for Miz TV. The Iconics defeated Becky Lynch and Auska after Peyton used the ropes for leverage when pinning Lynch. Jimmy Uso defeated Eric Rowan thanks to a distraction from Naomi.

In typical contract signing fashion, Carmella was attacked by her opponent, Charlotte, for being obnoxious. Charlotte ended the segment lunging a table on top of the Champion. Shelton Benjamin defeated Randy Orton thanks to a distraction from Sunil Singh. Daniel Bryan revealed to Renee Young that Paige accepted his request to challenge Big Cass at BackLash. The team of Nakamura, Rusev and Aiden English defeated AJ Styles, Gallows, and Anderson. Styles attacked Nakamura after the match, but ended up receiving another low blow. Nakamura, then, focused his attack on Styles’ friend, Karl Anderson. Styles could only watch along as Nakamura kneed Anderson in the face.

The Greatest Royal Rumble was the focus this week and that made the shows suffer a bit. Raw threw a bunch of tag matches together. Granted, there’s filler episodes all the time, but it felt really excessive on this week’s show. The most compelling thing about Raw, is Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt working together. Their chemistry and story all points to them winning the Raw Tag Titles. Meanwhile, the Authors of Pain and Ziggler and McIntyre continue to cause hell. The biggest issue with Raw prior to the shake up was the tag team division, it seems to have been addressed very well.

SmackDown continues on the roll it has been on for a few weeks now. The fact that the show was so good without Samoa Joe and with Andrade and Sanity still left to debut, is very encouraging. I do not know what the end game is with Cass, but, like it or not, he will be a focus on this iteration of SmackDown. From top to bottom, the show is absolutely refreshed. Styles and Nakamura are in a great main event program, the tag division has two interesting feuds, and Carmella is proving to be a great obnoxious heel champion. All in all, the steady pace the show has been on continues to impress me.

The Greatest Royal Rumble is a weird, and quite frankly unique, situation the WWE has placed itself in. It will air live on the WWE Network this Friday, at 11 am no less, but it hasn’t necessarily been built with the luster of a Pay-per-view. Perhaps it is because of the distance, since the event will take place in Saudi Arabia. Ultimately, in some cases, we are seeing far more interesting circumstances than the ones we saw a few weeks ago at 'Mania. All in all, I think the show will be fun. I expect there to be some surprises, but at this point, I am no longer convinced Brock Lesnar drops the Universal Title. Frankly, it will be kind of fun to wake up to live wrestling for once.

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Good news for Jose Altuve. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

One never knows how things will play out but of the known General Manager candidates, Jim Crane nailed it in hiring Dana Brown out of the Atlanta Braves' organization where he was Vice President of Scouting. The 55-year-old Brown's scouting and development pedigree is stellar. The Braves have been a talent-producing machine in recent years. Obviously all the credit isn't Brown's but his four years with the Braves preceded by a productive pipeline he was part of in Toronto speak highly of him. Not that it was or should have been the guiding principle to Crane's decision-making, but the Astros now have the only African-American General Manager in Major League Baseball (Ken Williams is Executive Vice President of the Chicago White Sox).

Brad Ausmus is a super-smart guy, but if had he gotten the GM gig it would have been in large part because he was teammate besties with Jeff Bagwell. While “It's not what you know it's who you know” plays a role in many, many hires, it would have been a poor rationale for tabbing Ausmus. Maybe Ausmus would have done a great job. Maybe Brown does a lousy job. Brown was the much more strongly credentialed candidate. While Bagwell has moved way up Crane's confidante list, Brown played college baseball with Craig Biggio at Seton Hall.

Speaking of Halls…

If I could tell you as absolute fact that exactly two members of the 2023 Houston Astros will someday make the Baseball Hall of Fame, who are you picking? Jose Altuve isn’t a lock just yet but he is obvious pick number one. So for the second spot are you going with Alex Bregman or Yordan Alvarez? We’ll get back to this a couple of paragraphs down.

As was basically a given, former Astro (and Phillie, Met, Red Sox, and Brave) Billy Wagner was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, but as I suggested last week the voting returns were very favorable toward Wagner making the Hall next year, or if not next year in his final year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association ballot for the Class of 2025. “Wags” in the Class of ’24 is looking good. Wagner jumped from 51 percent to 68 percent “put him in” votes. The only guy this year to get the necessary 75 percent for election is worthy third baseman Scott Rolen. Two years ago Rolen got 53 percent of the votes needed, last year 63 percent, before getting the call to Cooperstown with 76.5 percent this year. Wagner going from 51 to 68 to 75-plus looks likely. Of course it’s not as if Wagner can pad his case with a good 2023 season, but this is how the process works. The other ballot returnee well positioned to make it next year is former Colorado first baseman Todd Helton. Unlike this year there’s a sure-fire first time ballot guy going in next year. Third baseman Adrian Beltre will undoubtedly wear a Texas Rangers cap on his plaque.

As expected Carlos Beltran didn’t come close to election in his first year of eligibility, but drawing 46 percent of the votes sets him up well to eventually get the Cooperstown call. Beltran was a fabulous player and his Hall credentials are solid. However, no one reasonable would argue that Carlos Beltran was as good or better than Barry Bonds. In his first year of eligibility back in 2013 Bonds garnered 36 percent of the vote. There has been some turnover in the voter pool over the last decade, but it's clear that Beltran’s central role in the Astros’ sign stealing scheme was not held against him to the extent that PED use (actual and/or suspected) was held against Bonds and Roger Clemens. And Alex Rodriguez. And Sammy Sosa. And Manny Ramirez. And others. Foremost right now that’s encouraging for Beltran, but it’s also encouraging down the line for fellow Astros of 2017-18.

What does this mean for Jose Altuve?

If Jose Altuve retired today (perish the thought!) he’d have a good case for the Hall. He had superstar seasons in 2016, 2017, and 2022, and has five other seasons that while not in the realm of his three best certainly rate as excellent. If you judge a player by his five best seasons, there aren’t 10 second basemen in the history of the sport who’d rank ahead of Altuve. Among those who clearly would: Joe Morgan, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, and Nap Lajoie. Among those four only Morgan played more recently than 1937. Then there’s a group of arguable guys like Jackie Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and yes Craig Biggio. Altuve has had the prime of a Hall of Famer. What sort of final numbers will he accrue? In late May or early June he should reach the 2000 hit plateau. How many more prime years does Altuve have left before inevitable decline? His career batting average is .307. Four years ago it was .316. Will Altuve retire a .300 hitter?

Bregman or Alvarez? Bregman gets extra points for being an everyday third baseman as opposed to a left fielder-designated hitter, but by age alone Yordan is the better play. Bregman turns 29 on opening day this year. Yordan doesn’t turn 26 until late June. When Bregman was 25 (2019 season) he put up a season more valuable than Alvarez’s tremendous 2022. In the three years since Bregman hasn’t approached that level, though his big second half last season could be a springboard back to that stratosphere. Yordan is in that stratosphere and figures to stay there for a while if his health holds up.

Can't get enough Astros coverage?

Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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