A WWE TLC 2018 Preview – Looking Ahead to 2019

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Fair warning, folks: I’m going to complain a lot in this one. Of course, that doesn’t make me unique. Wrestling fans essentially do two things: Watch wrestling, and complain about wrestling on Twitter.

But to be fair, it’s not like there hasn’t been anything to complain about lately. Hell, they had Seth Rollins come out on TV Monday and verbally castrate Baron Corbin, the on-screen authority figure. He said things like…

– “Under your leadership, Monday Night Raw has sucked, and it has sucked because of you.”
– “That roster, that locker room back there, that is some of the most talented men and women that Monday Night Raw has ever seen. And you’ve got no idea what to do with it.”
– “…talent support, morale from backstage, the fan support, and the TV ratings, are all at an all-time low, and it is all because of you.”

It’s like he was reading Tweets directed at Vince McMahon.

To be fair, at least there’s an aura of honesty about this segment. But every year they go through some version of this creative drought. I call it the “autumn slump.” It usually hits some time between September and December, and ends around Royal Rumble season.

If you believe the online buzz, much of this latest slump has to do with Vince himself re-writing the shows shortly before they go on the air. It’s always boggled my mind. WWE has only gotten bigger and bigger as the decades have gone by. And yet the creative for this three-hour flagship show can still be run like a little mom and pop operation.

You know what I’m really interested to see? Not so much what happens to Raw, as it’s staying on USA Network for the next five years. But rather, what happens with Smackdown. WWE just got more than $2 billion to bring Smackdown to Fox next year. As such, there are going to be more new eyes on the product than there’ve been in a long, long time. So what happens when they get to Fox, and these new viewers are subjected to all this contrived, scripted dialogue? This awful, childish bathroom humor? These rushed, and not thought out segments? It really makes you wonder…

That being said, let’s get to TLC

MIXED MATCH CHALLENGE FINALS:
Jinder Mahal and Alicia Fox vs. R-Truth and Carmella

Between wrestler injuries, having to be consistent with storylines, and the needless change to a round-robin format, the MMC has been an absolute mess this year. I still dig the concept, though. But they need to go back to single-elimination rules next year. More importantly, establish a rule that if a team member can’t compete on a given night, that team forfeits their match. This swapping and replacing of wrestlers can’t be a thing again. The team of Braun Strowman and Alexa Bliss morphing into Ember Moon and Curt Hawkins is pure stupidity.

So we have these two…ehem…legendary tag teams, facing off to decide the season two victors. If these are the only two choices we have, I say we give it to R-Truth and Carmella. The people are into their dancing act. So throw ’em a bone.

PREDICTION: R-Truth and Carmella

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Buddy Murphy (c) vs. Cedric Alexander

Not making this a Ladder Match feels like a missed opportunity. There’s already a decent chance these two might have the best match of the night. But in a Ladder Match, they could really give us one for the ages.

That’s assuming they’re not on pre-show duty, of course.

My opinion has not changed on where the Cruiserweight Division should go heading into Wrestlemania. All roads should lead to Mustafa Ali winning the belt. It could realistically be either one of these two dropping it to him. But I’m going to go with Murphy here, as he and Ali would give us a more compelling story. If I’m Cedric, I’m looking to get away from 205 Live altogether. He’s climbed that mountain already. Find a tag team partner and go to Raw or Smackdown.

PREDICTION: Buddy Murphy

TRIPLE-THREAT MATCH FOR SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
The Bar (c) vs. The Usos vs. The New Day

All three of these teams are great. But you won’t find a better illustration of just how bad Smackdown needs new tag teams. It feels like we’re rinsing and repeating, rinsing and repeating, rinsing and repeating. If I’m Jimmy and Jey Uso, I’m pushing to go to Raw next year, just for a change of scenery. Hell, I wanted them to go to Raw this year!

I’ll say the Bar retain here. Because…why not? They’ve got just as much right to to be champs as the other two teams do.

PREDICTION: The Bar

Finn Balor vs. Drew McIntyre

As much as I hate the way Finn Balor has become a whipping boy for larger opponents like Kane and Bobby Lashley, he’s got no business winning this one. Drew is on a major ascent. And with any luck, they’ve learned an important lesson from Braun Strowman: Nothing cools a hot commodity like big losses. McIntyre already ate a pin from Dolph Ziggler last week. He doesn’t need to be losing to Balor in what is essentially a throwaway match.

Balor is another guy I wanted to switch shows this year. Hopefully he’ll find himself on Smackdown in 2018.

PREDICTION: Drew McIntyre

TABLES MATCH:
Natalya vs. Ruby Riott

People shouldn’t be upset about this Jim Neidhart storyline because it’s tasteless. They should be upset about it because it’s been so damn silly. I’m a big Ruby Riott fan, and I’m thrilled she’s getting a pay per view spotlight like this. But what has she really done to disrespect the Anvil’s memory? Break a pair of plastic sunglasses and put his picture on a table? Gimme a break…

There’s definitely such a thing as going too far. WWE has crossed that line more than a few times over the years. But in this ultra-sensitive era we live in, people forget that pro wrestling is meant to stir up emotion. To get you to hate the villain and cheer the hero. That’s all they’re doing here.

Still, the sad truth is Jim Neidhart is gone. This whole story is designed to give Nattie a feel-good win to pay tribute to her dad. So let’s give her a nice win and move on.

PREDICTION: Natalya

LADDER MATCH:
Elias vs. Bobby Lashley

I’ve enjoyed what Bobby Lashley and Lio Rush have been doing lately. And of course, Elias has a great act. One that might even deserve to be featured more prominently. But I have to ask: Why does this match deserve the ladder stipulation?

Not AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan. Not Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins. Not the Cruiserweights. Not even the three-way tag match, where you could spread the big bumps out between six or seven guys. But this match. I don’t get it.

As I assume Rush will be ringside here, it would be easy to justify giving Lashley the win due to interference. But an Elias win is the right move here. The crowds are eating out of his hand, and he’s got a cool factor to him that so few have nowadays. Plus, he doesn’t have to pin Lashley to get the win here. It’s practically gift-wrapped for him.

PREDICTION: Elias

CHAIRS MATCH:
Randy Orton vs. Rey Mysterio

Thank God! A Chairs Match! I was worried we wouldn’t get one this year! Who could ever forget all those classic Chairs Matches from years past! Ones like…er…um…John Cena and Wade Barrett had one, didn’t they?

As the Smackdown title picture is essentially anybody’s ball game right now, there’s a decent chance one of these guys will be going for the WWE Championship come Wrestlemania. AJ Styles vs. Randy Orton? What aboutDaniel Bryan vs. Rey Mysterio? Don’t rule it out, folks. It’s more likely than you think.

I went back and forth in picking a winner for this one. But in the end, Randy Orton has a good thing going with his current heel run. While I have no desire to see him wrestling for the title at Wrestlemania again, it makes sense to keep him a credible threat to the babyfaces.

PREDICTION: Randy Orton

STIPULATION TLC MATCH:
Braun Strowman vs. Baron Corbin
If Corbin wins, he becomes the permanent General Manager of Raw.
If Strowman wins, he gets a Universal Title Match.

Don’t let ’em fool ya, kids. This is not the main event. I don’t understand why this match is still being advertised. I assume Strowman will be at TLC in some capacity, or they wouldn’t still be promoting him. So either they’re going to do a quick squash and get this overwith quickly, or they’re going to put him in an extremely dangerous match mere weeks after elbow surgery.

What’s more, it’s not like this match was going to wow us either way. Frankly, on paper Strowman vs. Corbin kinda sucks. Even with the TLC stipulation. So why not just do another multi-man TLC brawl like they’ve done in years past? Book Strowman, Balor, and Elias against Corbin, McIntyre, and Lashley. And if they want to keep Strowman out of the ring, plug Dolph Ziggler in there as his replacement. Or better yet, what about Kurt Angle? He’s got built-in heat with both Corbin and McIntyre.

As for who wins, I was originally inclined to say Corbin. But I just can’t justify having Strowman lose another pay per view match. Realistically, this guy should have been challenging for the Universal Title at Wrestlemania this year. Now, it looks like he may finally be in a position to be in that title picture. So for crying out loud, lets not have him lose this one. Lets oust Corbin from power, and shake Raw up a little bit. While this year’s autumn slump can’t be attributed to Corbin alone, hopefully removing him will be a nice palette cleanser for everybody so we can all move on

PREDICTION: Braun Strowman

WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Ronda Rousey (c) vs. Nia Jax

I can’t say I had a particular desire to see this match again. But at least now that Nia has all that heat for punching out Becky, this match has some heat to it. People will cheer like hell when Ronda taps her out to the arm bar. And yes, that’s exactly what needs to happen here. May as well do it quick, too. I hate to pile on, but God forbid Nia throws another stiff punch and hurts Ronda.

For Ronda, it seems like all roads lead to the main event of Wrestlemania. The question is, against who? Becky Lynch? (Yes.) Charlotte Flair? (No.) Becky and Charlotte in a three-way? (If you must.)

PREDICTION: Ronda Rousey

WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
Seth Rollins (c) vs. Dean Ambrose

You know what? I like Dean Ambrose’s Bane look. (Bane Ambrose?) It’s different. At least he doesn’t have the silly accent, right?

Along the same lines as the Ruby Riott/Natalya thing, Ambrose doesn’t deserve to be crucified for making thinly veiled comments about Roman Reigns these past several weeks. Is it in poor taste? Yes. Was it over the line? I personally don’t think so. I did, however, think it was rather stupid on Monday when Charly Caruso basically asked him: “What would Roman think if he knew this was happening?” If Roman knew? What, does he not have a TV? Or a smartphone? Or,  you know…these guys’ phone numbers?

If Seth Rollins’ comments this week about Brock Lesnar are any indicator, they are indeed moving forward with Lesnar vs. Rollins at Wrestlemania. Assuming Lesnar is keeping the Universal Title until then, that means they’re probably going to have to get the IC Title off of Rollins. Ambrose is as good a person for him to lose it to as anyone.

By the way, don’t write off Renee Young’s on-screen involvement in her husband’s storyline. They’re already having Corey Graves address their real-life marriage. So it’s not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when.

PREDICTION: Dean Ambrose

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Daniel Bryan (c) vs. AJ Styles

Well, whaddaya know? It’s the Daniel Bryan heel turn we never knew we wanted.

A return to the title picture seemed like a natural direction for Bryan to go in as we headed toward Wrestlemania. So his heel turn came way out of left field. It’s been a very pleasant surprise, though. As much as fans like myself love to armchair quarterback this stuff, this was a good decision. It gives Bryan so much more creative freedom. I’m sure that feels great after so much time on the sidelines.

Styles vs. Bryan in a pay per view environment has been a dream match for years. Now they finally have a chance to do it. But these dream match scenarios have not been kind to AJ this year. Case in point, his Wrestlemania match against Shinsuke Nakamura. Still, these two are bona fide in-ring artists. So naturally, there’s a lot of intrigue going into this match.

Bryan’s heel turn has left me at a complete loss for what the WWE Title picture will look like as we get closer to Wrestlemania. So I’m somewhat at a loss in terms of predicting this one. I’m going to go with the whole “they wouldn’t give him the belt just to take it off him” approach, and say Bryan wins. But there’s still time for AJ to once again walk into Wrestlemania with the title.

PREDICTION: Daniel Bryan

TRIPLE-THREAT TLC MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE:
Becky Lynch (c) vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka

Supposedly, Asuka was added to this match because WWE was pleasantly surprised by her sustained popularity. I can’t say I disagree, given all the nothing they’ve done with her since Wrestlemania. But hey, she’s back in the title picture, and working with two of the company’s hottest stars. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

Not that I think she’s winning. My assumption is this match turned out the way it did so they could get the title off Becky Lynch without pinning her. Throwing a third person in there, no matter who it is, muddies those waters a little bit more.

Plus, I think they’re kinda throwing us a bone on this one. How Asuka has not won either the Raw or Smackdown Women’s Championships by now is a mystery the likes of which I can’t even begin to solve. And yet, here we are. I’d love to see her get another title shot at Wrestlemania this year. Perhaps this is a good sign in that respect.

Either way, one thing we know for sure is they want Charlotte kept strong. That’s why I see her taking the belt here. That will give her momentum heading into Wrestlemania season. And again, it’s simply a question of how they want to proceed with her, Ronda, and Becky. Maybe Charlotte winds up in a completely different match. Against maybe…a certain Empress of Tomorrow? Charlotte broke Asuka’s streak, and she hasn’t been the same since. If there was ever a reason to seek revenge…

PREDICTION: Charlotte Flair

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

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Panels of Awesomeness: Putin and Superman

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

CREATORS: Geoff Johns (Author), Gary Frank (Penciller), Brad Anderson (Colorist)

THE SCENE: After a tragic accident in which Firestorm turns hundreds of people into glass statues, presumably killing them, Russian President Vladimir Putin is prepared to declare war on the United States. Superman arrives to resolve the matter peacefully.

WHY THEY’RE AWESOME: Naturally, Doomsday Clock has been working hard to mimic the tone of Watchmen. The ticking clock, the sense of inevitable impending doom, etc. Taking that into consideration, along with current world events, I’m actually surprised it took eight issues for him to show up. It’s incredibly surreal seeing him on the page like this. Talking to an American icon like Superman, no less.

It’s all very surreal. Uncomfortable, even. Which of course, it’s supposed to be. Especially when we see Putin getting mad, and saying things like “We are at war…” The fact that Gary Frank’s Superman looks so much like Christopher Reeve just adds to the weirdness.

 I really like the way Johns wrote Superman here. Peaceful. Non-violent. Only taking physical action when he has to, saving lives in the process. To some, that’s what makes Superman boring. But to yours truly, it’s just the opposite.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

Toy Chest Theater: Horror Icons by Jeremy Hale

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

I don’t do horror very much. Nothing against it. Just isn’t my thing. Still, the overlap with the world of comic books is rather obvious. So it makes sense that they’d land in this space.

It makes even more sense when you see that the amazing Jeremy Hale does quite a bit of work with horror action figures. Case in point, the images you see here, which are among my favorites in his portfolio…

Hill has a tendency to photograph his figures with woodsy dioramas. When paired with the right lighting, it creates a deliciously ominous vibe. As always, my standard for great action figure photography is that, at least for a brief moment, it makes you forget you’re looking at a toy. All three of these images accomplish that.

What is it about water? With the right figure(s), the right lighting, and the right photographer, it can turn a strictly decent image into a great one. That’s the case with Jason and Pennywise here. Particularly in Jason’s case, as he’s got the lake in his origin story. Plus, the shot almost brings the viewer into the scene as his next victim…

More of Jeremy Hale’s work can be found on ActionFigureFriday.com, as well as his Instagram.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

Astonishing Art: Robin by Marcio Hum

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

My favorite Robin costume is the original one from 1940. The “pixie boots” costume, with the bare legs and the yellow cape. It may very well be the the most illogically flamboyant costume in the history of superhero comics. Especially in the context of Batman’s world. But its become iconic as the decades have gone by, no matter how much certain creators have tried to sweep it under the rug.

That’s why I love this piece by Brazilian artist Marcio Hum so much. It shows us the character in what may currently be his most popular (not to mention outrageous) incarnation from Teen Titans GO! It’s a really fun contrast with the classic Robin. Plus, the pencil sketch background makes the costumes bright colors pop that much more.

Hum has drawn similar pieces for Cyborg, Starfire, Raven, and Beast Boy. They can be found on his Instagram. Hum is also the designer of Mini Co Collectibles.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

Panels of Awesomeness: Obi-Wan Kenobi by Mike Mayhew

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

CREATORS: Jason Aaron (Author), Mike Mayhew (Artist)

THE SCENES: Living as a hermit, Obi-Wan Kenobi watches over a young Luke Skywalker as he grows up on Tatooine.

WHY THEY’RE AWESOME: Lately I’ve been obsessed with the version of Obi-Wan Kenobi that Mike Mayhew drew for Marvel’s Star Wars title. Specifically, issues #15 and #20, which hit the stands in 2016.

Mayhew was by no means a stranger to the Star Wars universe at this point. Perhaps most notably, he was the artist for The Star Wars, which adapted an early draft of the original film. For Star Wars #15 and #20, however, he was tasked with depicting entries in what author Jason Aaron called “The Journals of Old Ben Kenobi.”

What I find so interesting about Mayhew’s version of Kenobi is that he didn’t take the obvious route, and draw him to look like Ewan McGregor. But he didn’t go the Alec Guiness route either. Mayhew opted for something more his own. A figure that captures the essence of the character, without being beholden to either one of the actors. That approach isn’t so far-fetched in the world of licensed comic books. Often it’s met with an eye-roll from yours truly.

This, on the other hand? This works. Something about it screams classic Star Wars. As if it’s transplanted from an era before the prequels, where we were still imagining what a young Obi-Wan Kenobi might look like. It achieves a warm and fuzzy nostalgic quality without feeling like it’s trying too hard for it.

Though Jason Aaron has been off Star Wars for awhile now, I’d love to see them revive this journal framework. If they can bring Mike Mayhew back for it, all the better!

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

Toy Photography: C-3PO in the Snow

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

This is what happens when you have writer’s block on your day off. You wind up trying your hand at toy photography. Whaddaya think? Not bad for a first-timer, right?

To an extent, I’m trying to mimic the shot from The Empire Strikes Back where Luke is lost in the snowstorm and the camera pulls back. As the landscape expands, we see just how alone he truly is. This shot doesn’t have the same effect, obviously. But there’s a certain cuteness to it that I enjoy.

Oddly enough, I originally just plopped Threepio into the snow and took the shot. But of course, the best action figure photos are the ones that allow you to forget you’re looking at little plastic toys. So I made some little footprints next to him so he didn’t simply look like a toy someone left outside. Now he’s impacting his environment. It actually turned out to be my favorite part of the image.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

YouTube Spotlight: Star Wars and the Catholic Church

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

The other day, I stumbled across this video from the folks at Wisecrack, a channel that examines pop culture through a philosophical lens. It makes the extravagant, though not altogether inappropriate comparison between the Star Wars fandom and social systems facing a legitimation crisis. Case in point, fans rebelling against the direction Disney is taking the Star Wars franchise.

The most concrete comparison the video uses is to the legitimation crisis faced by the Catholic Church in the 1500s. The invention of the printing press allowed the masses to get their hands on more hard copies of the Bible, and thus develop their own interpretations of the text. At first, it’s an easy comparison to scoff at. But the video does a pretty convincing sell job. And the points it makes have stuck with me. So clearly it did something right.

Check it out for yourself, and may the Force be with you!

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.