WWE has had a problem in recent years establishing new stars at a level that compares to previous generations. Outside of John Cena, who has followed in the footsteps of The Rock into stardom beyond WWE, it has been a mighty struggle.
One of its biggest successes of the last couple of years, "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt, has been on a monumental tear. And with the exception of a couple of too-long matches, his run to the Universal championship has been one of the few bright spots during an inconsistent stretch of programming.
On Thursday in Saudi Arabia at Super ShowDown, Wyatt lost in a matter of minutes to 53-year-old WWE Hall of Famer Goldberg, dropping the Universal championship in the process.
The match lasted less time than the combined entrances for both competitors. They started the match nose-to-nose, staring each other down. Goldberg speared Wyatt while he was taking off his jacket, and then it was off to the races.
Wyatt locked in a mandible claw, but Goldberg fought Wyatt off and hit a second spear. And then a third. And a fourth. But as he has in rivalries with Seth Rollins, Finn Balor and Daniel Bryan, Wyatt shook it all off.
Wyatt popped back up again and locked in another mandible claw. Headbutts and knees to Wyatt got Goldberg out of that predicament, allowing him to lift Wyatt up for an abysmal-looking jackhammer. Where weapons and dozens of finishing moves had failed, that was enough to put Wyatt away.
Soon after Goldberg ascended to the top rope, Wyatt popped back up, the lights went out and Wyatt was gone.
Wrestlemania ramifications: There are many. It could line up for Reigns to take his shot at Goldberg, and if that match closes WrestleMania 36, rest assured it will get booed out of the building in another wild miscalculation from WWE. John Cena also returns Friday on SmackDown and could factor into the equation, though it's hard to say what the appeal of a Cena-Goldberg match at this stage of their respective careers really brings to the table.
And then there's Wyatt, who could charge back in immediately or fade from the title scene and target Cena or someone else entirely.
SmackDown women's championship: Bayley (c) def. Naomi
By all accounts, this was an important match, not just for Bayley and Naomi, but for what it meant. A year after Natalya and Lacey Evans became the first women to compete in Saudi Arabia, Bayley and Naomi would become the first women to compete for a title.
Along with the social implications, this seemed like an appropriate matchup on a big stage. Naomi has been at the top. She is ultra-talented, but between creative decisions and injuries, she had fallen down the ranks for the better part of a year. And while she came up short Thursday, she reminded the WWE universe she has the chops to be at the top.
Early on, Naomi was the more inspired competitor. A mule kick and jump-split nearly landed her a pinfall, but it was the champ's ruthlessness that evened out the battle.
The cadence of the match did not change. Naomi connected with some of her artistry, while Bayley slowed the action with her fists and holds. As the match wore on, both Naomi (with a jawbreaker and springboard kick) and Bayley (with a Bayley-to-belly) had chances to win. The crowd knew it and began familiar chants of "this is awesome."
As straightforward as this match was, Bayley ended the bout in unorthodox fashion as she cleverly was able to wrap Naomi's feet in her own shirt and then slam her head into the mat for the win.
WrestleMania ramifications: There is a slight chance we will see a rematch come April, but the more likely scenario is that Bayley's longtime friend Sasha Banks will become her fiercest enemy. While they have competed before in what was an awkward storyline, this showdown would feel more visceral. Expect Naomi to enter the women's battle royal.
Steel cage: Roman Reigns def. King Corbin
Raise your hand if you've seen this matchup before.
They're calling this the final chapter in a rivalry that has gone on for months, in many iterations. And while it likely was the end, this was really about setting Reigns up for the next chapter in his return to main-event status. More on that below.
The steel-cage element did add a nice twist, though it was never going to play a factor in the end result.
Corbin took advantage early, first throwing Reigns, then grinding his face into the cage. Eventually, both men looked to escape the cage and traded shots back and forth from the top of it before they made their way back to the mat.
Corbin made a couple half-hearted attempts to escape through the door, but Reigns was too quick on his feet and caught his foe both times. Feeling emboldened, Corbin mocked Reigns' Superman punch stance, but ultimately paid the price.
Reigns ultimately took full control of the match with a series of punches before wrapping the steel chain that he wore around his neck (as he walked to the ring) around his fist, and Superman punched the lights out of Corbin for the three-count.
WrestleMania ramifications: Reigns will make his way into WrestleMania and almost certainly will vie for the SmackDown championship. The WWE creative team has made a concerted attempt to make his rise back to the top slow, whether or not it changes the fans' reaction toward him. Nonetheless, another championship would be gravy to a superstar who not so long ago overcame a much more important battle against cancer.
WWE championship: Brock Lesnar (c) def. Ricochet
Brock Lesnar doesn't get paid by the hour, and that much was clear at Super ShowDown as he annihilated Ricochet in a flash to retain his WWE championship. As soon as the bell rang, Ricochet charged towards Lesnar and attempted a dropkick, but Lesnar denied his opponent, pounded fists into Ricochet's chest and then went to work. Lesnar hit a release vertical suplex, followed quickly by two release German suplexes. Lesnar paused for just a moment to catch his breath, looming over Ricochet before re-engaging and nailing a third release German suplex. He picked Ricochet up by the throat, nailed an F-5, and effortlessly retained his WWE championship.
WrestleMania ramifications: If there were ever any lingering doubts (there weren't), it's Lesnar vs. Drew McIntyre at WrestleMania 36. With the longest build-up of any match on the card, as well as the most on the line, that has to be the current favorite to close the show. As for Ricochet, who made the most of every outing up until this point, his future is anyone's guess.
Mansoor def. Dolph Ziggler
Chalk this one up as a win for the local crowd.
Mansoor is the hometown hero, the first Saudi Arabian WWE superstar and a staple at these events. Who better to take the fall than Dolph Ziggler? For as many accolades as he has, these days he's largely a stepping stone for his opponents.
Before the match began, Mansoor dropkicked a fired-up Robert Roode, who escorted Ziggler to the ring and was kicked out of the ringside area for his actions. When the bell rang, the action was methodical, with neither opponent able to take an extended advantage. While Ziggler wasn't spectacular, he was taunting Mansoor continuously.
The crowd perked up when Mansoor knocked Ziggler silly with a kick to the face and neck-breaker, but Ziggler knocked the babyface off the top rope and connected with a Zig Zag.
Ultimately, Mansoor landed a reverse DDT and finished Zigger off with a moonsault that was anything but on target. Still, it was enough for the win.
"Thank you," Mansoor said afterward, when addressing the crowd. "Your voices carried me tonight. When I have nothing left, you picked me up and gave me hope."
WrestleMania ramifications: None, not really anyway. Ziggler and Roode could be part of a multi-team match for the tag team titles, but that's as far as it will go.
Raw tag team championships: Seth Rollins & Buddy Murphy (c) def. The Street Profits
Unlike the SmackDown tag team championship match, this one never seemed like the result would be in doubt, even if Rollins and Murphy were pushed by their talented opponents.
Rollins' work as a heel has been a revelation and a revitalization, as his disingenuous sermons have given fans a new level of contempt for him. Before the match, Rollins spoke of the lack of moral compass in their opponents and that he'd have to correct it.
While that wasn't the case, Rollins and Murphy did show the Street Profits they're not ready for gold -- not yet anyway. Still, there was excitement as Angelo Dawkins crushed on Murphy with a spear. For a few moments anyway, the the challengers were on fire.
Eventually, the action slowed and Murphy found an opening and sent Montez Ford into the announcers' table. The tide changed again when Dawkins received the hot tag, hitting his foes with a drop kick and a series of suplexes. A few minutes later, Ford went skyward, landing a splash on Murphy. Then the challengers double-DDT'd the champs, starting a string of crafty offensive moves.
As has been his MO of late, though, when the referee's back was turned, Rollins struck Dawkins with a curb stomp while he was draped over the bottom rope and Murphy was there to capitalize for the three-count.
WrestleMania ramifications: Don't expect the Street Profits to find a straight rematch at the biggest event of the year. It's possible they could be a part of a multiteam showdown, but more than likely, Rollins and Murphy will rekindle their rivalry with Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe (if and when he returns).
Angel Garza def. Humberto Carrillo
This all-family affair between cousins seemed destined for high-flying action, and even if the match didn't quite live up to expectation, chemistry was not an issue in the latest iteration of this rivalry.
Carrillo struck first with a spinning leap from the top rope, then followed up with a perfectly timed suicide dive through the ropes that sent Garza into the first row.
Garza was able to slow down the action with a series of camel clutches. Later, Garza caught Carillo with a devastating drop kick as Carrillo leaped from the top rope. Garza continued to taunt his cousin while delivering more punishment, including an ear-popping superkick.
Just when it seemed the match pace would pick up, Garza reversed a sunset flip from Carrillo for a quick roll-up win. Just like that the match was over, to the surprise of most in the stadium.
WrestleMania ramifications: This rivalry will continue, but not in a one-on-one scenario like we saw Thursday. Expect these two, along with any part of a group that includes Ricochet, Rey Mysterio and perhaps even Rusev or Bobby Lashley to compete for Andrade's United States championship.
SmackDown tag team championships: The New Day (c) vs. The Miz & John Morrison
The New Day dominated the action in the early going, with both The Miz and John Morrison taking turns taking damage before turning the action around with subterfuge. Big E absorbed the damage for a few minutes until he was finally able to fight off The Miz with a uranage in the corner. Kofi Kingston scored the first major high-flying effort of the contest with a springboard into a Frankensteiner on Morrison.
Big E and Kingston hit a combined double stomp and powerbomb, but Miz changed the momentum again by throwing Kingston into the barricade. Miz and Morrison set Big E up in the corner with a stomp/neckbreaker combo, but Big E moved out of the way as Morrison launched himself into Starship pain.
Big E made the tag, staggered Morrison, and then set themselves up to hit the Big Ending. Miz broke up the pinfall, though, and when Kingston went for his Trust Fall attack, it left Big E vulnerable for a Skull-Crushing Finale. It only got him a two-count. Big E wriggled out of harm's way, but he had to tag in a damaged Kingston. As Kingston attempted a series of roll-up pins, he ended up near the ropes and vulnerable to a chair shot to the ribs from Morrison. That allowed Miz to roll up Kingston, and with a handful of tights, he managed a three-count.
The last time Miz and Morrison held tag team gold together was in April 2009, when they lost their belts in a tag team title unification match to The Colons at WrestleMania XXV.
WrestleMania ramifications: It seems likely that these two teams will clash again at WrestleMania, but over the last few weeks it appears that SmackDown has done a better job than Raw getting their tag team division in order. Don't be surprised if The Usos and potentially even Heavy Machinery enter the WrestleMania fray for these titles before all is said and done.
Gauntlet match: The Undertaker def. AJ Styles, Andrade, Bobby Lashley, Erick Rowan, R-Truth and Rey Mysterio
The gauntlet match started off with Bobby Lashley and R-Truth, and predictably began with Lashley physically dominating the early action. Lashley was able to draw the ire of the Saudi crowd with ease throughout the match, while R-Truth spent the bulk of his offensive efforts emulating "his hero" John Cena. Truth pulled off what has to be considered a surprise by pinning Lashley in slapstick fashion. Lashley missed a spear, ran into the turnbuckle and tripped backwards over R-Truth while he was on his hands and knees. R-Truth paid for his good fortune with a post-match attack and a spear from Lashley.
Andrade took his time getting down to the ring, and then took his time breaking down R-Truth by focusing on Truth's left arm. Andrade dominated the bulk of the action, but as Andrade went for a back elbow, he and Truth clashed heads, which allowed R-Truth another unlikely pinfall when he collapsed directly into a pinfall on the United States champion.
Erik Rowan was the fourth participant in the match, and though Rowan also established an early advantage, Truth showed up his high-flying skills with a plancha over the top rope. But once Rowan sent Truth into the steel stairs, Rowan's caged creature went flying -- sending him into a rage. Rowan picked up the steel steps and slammed them into Truth, triggering a disqualification, and then added a claw powerbomb for good measure.
AJ Styles walked into this scenario with a predictably cocky swagger, even going so far as to mock Truth's dance moves and throw in a few of his own. After taking his time, Styles ultimately locked in a calf crusher and forced R-Truth to submit.
Rey Mysterio's music hit, but Styles had a knowing smirk on his face. Mysterio's music and video hit a second time, and still, there was no sign of the future Hall of Famer. The camera cut backstage, where Gallows and Anderson were attacking and incapacitating Mysterio. Styles got on the mic, asked the ref to raise his hand and asked for the bell to ring. As the ref started to count Mysterio out, the camera cut backstage once more, to Gallows and Anderson down on the ground as the familiar boots of The Undertaker walking past.
The gong rang out in the arena, the lights went out and The Undertaker slowly made his walk down to the ring. He chokeslammed Styles and pinned him to win the Tuwaiq Trophy -- continuing the precedent set by Shane McMahon as an unscheduled participant walking into a Saudi show at the end to claim a trophy.
WrestleMania ramifications: For Styles and The Undertaker, it seems fairly obvious that they will meet in Tampa. As for the other participants in the match, Mysterio and Andrade could well meet in a four-way match with Angel Garza and Humberto Carrillo with the United States championship on the line. The paths of Rowan, R-Truth and Lashley are far less clear.
Kickoff Show: The OC def Viking Raiders
It was nice to see two tag teams that have been absorbed into other people's stories get a chance for an extended showcase, albeit one where the stakes were low on the Super ShowDown Kickoff Show. They brought a lot of energy to the match, with each of the four men getting time in the spotlight, but the match ultimately rested on one big move. Ivar's missed attempt at a top-rope moonsault fed directly into the Magic Killer, reinforcing Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson as the "best tag team in the world", at least in this region.
As mentioned on the Super ShowDown broadcast, both of these teams had parallel careers and each won the IWGP heavyweight tag team titles (among many others) before joining the WWE. Each of these teams can be a pillar upon which a tag team division is built, but until the Raw tag team titles become a priority again (Murphy and Seth Rollins have defended them exactly once since winning them from Erik and Ivar more than a month ago), these teams will continue to be secondary acts.
WrestleMania ramifications: Unless tag team wrestling becomes a priority again in a hurry, there are three realistic possibilities for these teams at WrestleMania: The Viking Raiders will get their shot at Seth Rollins and Murphy -- unlikely, as Rollins will probably have a spotlight match -- while The OC either works as backup for AJ Styles or finds their way into a battle royal. They could both be in a multi-way tag title match. Or there might not be a Raw tag team championship match on the show at all.