Posted in Wrestling

Let’s Make Raw Talk Part of Raw

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

So I pulled up YouTube this morning, and quickly found this little gem in my cue: Sheamus on Raw Talk after winning last night’s big gauntlet match.

Pay attention to how natural he sounds. Notice how it comes off more like an athlete being interviewed on the sidelines of a game than a scripted, heavily produced WWE promo…

This comes mere days after Cesaro cut the promo of his life (Which is to say, not a great promo. But a very good one.) on the Smackdown equivalent, Talking Smack. Shortly after the first of the year, Mustafa Ali also made some headlines on the Raw Talk by mouthing off about “Legends Night” (shown below).

The best mic work on WWE television is happening on the Raw and Smackdown post-shows, rather than on the shows themselves. What kind of backwards crap is that?

For almost a decade now, WWE has continuously struggled with finding ways to keep Raw interesting for three hours. Or at least break up the monotony of things.

Here’s my pitch: Nobody watches these post-shows anyway. They’re catching these promos online after the fact. So let’s give them a bigger audience.

WWE loves their talk show segments. “Miz TV,” “the VIP Lounge,” etc. So let’s give Charly Caruso and R-Truth a weekly segment at roughly the halfway point of Raw. Call it “Raw Talk.” Call it “Chattin’ With Charly.” Call it whatever you want. But make it the equivalent of the NFL halftime report for Monday Night Raw.

And most importantly? Every week, pick a wrestler you want to spotlight, and give them a few minutes of unscripted mic time. Nothing too extensive. Just a few minutes to let their hair down and speak freely. The result? Interesting television, as we’re allowed to get to know these individuals and their characters on a different level.

Am I wasting my keystrokes? Of course. WWE has been content to revel in their own mediocrity for years now.

But as ratings continue to plummet, ask yourself: What’s the drawback to an idea like this? What do they have to lose?

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Posted in Wrestling

Nia Jax’s Butthole Wins the Internet

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

So Nia Jax took bump on her tailbone this week on Raw, and a few seconds later shouted “My hole!” The camera picked it up, and the internet has been ablaze with talk about it ever since. It’s been the subject of so many jokes and memes that even the wrestlers themselves are making light of it.

This is wrestling in 2021, folks. The most interesting thing on Monday Night Raw was Nia Jax screaming about her butthole. And they wonder why more people aren’t watching…

Though for what it’s worth, the match in question between Nia Jax and Lana has gotten over a million YouTube views. But of course, WWE has bleeped Nia’s now infamous exclamation. (Jump to 2:16 at the vid below.)

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Posted in Wrestling

WWE’s 10 Most Fascinating People 2020

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Who exactly are the “10 Most Fascinating People” in a given year? Every year when I do this list, I typically let the word fascinating speak for itself. But for 2020, a year like no other, let’s go ahead and expand on it.

Every week, these performers compete for our attention. Not just with opposing programming, but with each other. Everyone wants to be part of the story that’s the most dramatic, emotional, intriguing, inspiring, etc.

The list of WWE’s most fascinating people is a list of WWE wrestlers and personalities who, in my opinion, had the most interesting stories in a given year. They can be the culmination of a lifelong journey, as Drew McIntyre achieved this year. They can spark pressing questions, such as whether this is really the end for the Undertaker. One can even wind up on this list for the wrong reason, like Otis did with the Money in the Bank briefcase.

To put it simply: These are WWE’s most fascinating people of 2020, and these are their stories.

1. Drew McIntyre
In 2020, Drew McIntyre lived up to his old nickname and became WWE’s “chosen one,” winning the WWE Championship from Brock Lesnar.

Unfortunately, it happened at just about the worst possible time.

The COVID-19 pandemic was in its early days when Wrestlemania XXXVI took place, and the world was still coming to grips with the new rules we were (and still are) all living under. WWE was holding its televised events, including Wrestlemania, inside the Performance Center in Orlando with no fans in attendance. Thus, Drew essentially had his crowning moment in a vacuum. One might even call him “the Pandemic Champion.”

But to his credit, he forged ahead. He played the stalwart babyface we all needed to see during such trying times. He was an optimistic, hopeful babyface champion hungry to prove himself against all challengers. Mere moments after beating Lesnar, McIntyre would beat back a challenge from the Big Show. He would go on to successfully defend against Seth Rollins, Bobby Lashley, Dolph Ziggler, and Bobby Roode. He also retained twice over Randy Orton before dropping the belt to him at Hell in a Cell. Then on November 16, McIntyre would make Orton’s reign a short one, taking back the title in the main event of Raw.

Whether or not McIntyre is remembered as the champion of the “pandemic era” remains to be seen. But either way, one thing is certain: He’s been a champion we can be proud of.

2. Otis
Even if you see him strictly as a comedic character, it’s tough to deny Otis had a career year. Even if it didn’t necessarily end the way he’d have hoped.

Coming into 2020, Otis’ affection for Mandy Rose made him the lovable everyman in one of, if not the most interesting story on WWE television. The tale culminated at Wrestlemania, as Otis defeated Dolph Ziggler and got to kiss the girl. It would have been a tremendous Wrestlemania moment if there’d been fans in the building…

The subsequent decision to give Otis the Money in the Bank briefcase was puzzling. He was hot coming out of Wrestlemania. But a Heavyweight Title contender? Hardly. As such, the briefcase served to weigh Otis down more than elevate him, as fans were more interested in how WWE was going to get the briefcase off of him, as opposed to how and when he’d cash in.

It all came crashing down for Otis at Hell in a Cell. He lost the briefcase to the Miz in a match where his longtime tag partner Tucker turned on him. Adding insult to injury, both Tucker and Mandy were drafted to Raw, leaving Otis on Smackdown without his arch rival or his girlfriend.

Ouch.

3. MVP
Montel Vontavius Porter was a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble Match. Despite being eliminated in a matter of seconds, he stuck around and became an unlikely staple of Raw.

He quickly aligned himself with Bobby Lashley, guiding him in a brief quest for Drew McIntyre’s WWE Championship. While Lashley would come up short, the duo would find new allies in Shelton Benjamin, and eventually Cedric Alexander. Together, they’ve formed the hottest, and certainly the most sharply dressed, faction WWE has seen in quite some time: The Hurt Business.

MVP’s staying power is lies almost entirely with the charisma and energy he brings to promos. But he’s also remained semi-active in the ring.

4. Dominik Mysterio
To say the very least, Dominik has come a long way since we saw him as the eight-year-old subject of a child custory storyline between his father Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero.

Now in his early 20s, Dominik began making appearances with his father last year, one of which saw him brutalized by Brock Lesnar. But in 2020 he established himself as a wrestler and television character by inserting himself into the feud between Rey and Seth Rollins. As a result, he was given the extremely unenviable task of having his first televised WWE match at Summerslam against Rollins. To Dominik’s eternal credit, I thought he and Rollins stole the show that night. Yes, their match had its fair share of “gaga,” including involvement by both Rey and Dominik’s mother Angie. And yes, Dominik was in good hands with Rollins. But in the end, that match told the best story that night. Much of that can be attributed to how good Dominik has become at such a young age.

Rey and Dominik were drafted to Smackdown in October, where the emphasis has been largely on Rey’s daughter Aliyah and her storyline with Murphy. Frankly, I don’t think it would hurt Dominik to spend some time apart from his father, perhaps in NXT. Though knowing how pro wrestling works, a father/son feud certainly isn’t out of the question. Especially as we move closer to Wrestlemania.

5. The Undertaker
This was the year the real-life Mark Calaway finally came out of the casket.

After his Boneyard Match with AJ Styles proved to be the unlikely show-stealer at Wrestlemania, the Undertaker went on an unprecedented media tour to promote Undertaker: The Last Ride, a documentary miniseries on the WWE Network. In the process, he pulled back the curtain on himself and the character in a way many have wanted for the better part of three decades. No one exploited the Dead Man’s new chatty demeanor more than WWE themselves, who produced numerous Undertaker-centric specials and interviews for the network. This included two lengthy interviews with Stone Cold Steve Austin.

It all culminated in a “final farewell” at Survivor Series, which marked the 30th anniversary of the character’s debut. His farewell address was short but sweet: “My time has come to let the Undertaker rest in peace.”

But as always, whether this truly is the end of the line for the Undertaker remains to be seen…

6. Roman Reigns
“The Big Dog” was absent for much of 2020 thanks to COVID-19. But when he made his return at Summerslam, he changed the entire landscape of Smackdown with both a new attitude and a new manager.

This year saw WWE give Roman Reigns the one thing they never gave to their last poster boy John Cena: A heel run. What’s more, a damn good heel run. At least thus far. Now a full-fledged Paul Heyman guy, and calling himself the “Tribal Chief,” Reigns quickly won the Universal Championship from Bray Wyatt. He went on to have two quality pay per view title matches with, of all people, Jey Uso. At Survivor Series, he once again stole the show in a champion vs. champion match with Drew McIntyre. He capped it off at TLC, retaining his title over Kevin Owens.

All the while, Reigns has been doing the best character work of his career. He projects a quiet and intimidating menace that has made him the most interest part of Smackdown for months now. Had we gotten this guy five years ago, Vince McMahon could very well have had the new mega-babyface he obviously wanted Reigns to be so badly.

7. Lana
The way things look now, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Lana challenging for the Raw Women’s Title at Wrestlemania.

That may be blasphemous to some. But we all know WWE loves a good unlikely underdog story. And in trying to become a wrestler, the real-life CJ Perry is in fact an underdog. By her own admission, she’s not the most talented on the roster. While athletic, wrestling doesn’t come naturally to her. She’s also been the center of a few cringe-worthy storylines, not the least of which was her recent marriage storyline with Bobby Lashley. Did we mention her real-life husband, who now goes by Miro in AEW, was let go by WWE in April?

I invite those who would question Lana’s presence on this list to watch her episode of WWE Chronicle on the network. It’s a very revealing look into CJ Perry’s past, her mindset, and how hard she’s working to become a success in professional wrestling.

8. Randy Orton
This year, Randy Orton got back to doing what Randy Orton does best: Being a merciless, despicable heel. He does it better than just about anyone in the business today. So it’s not necessarily a surprise that in doing so, he became one of the centerpieces of Raw in 2020.

Much of it was familiar. He attacked legends like Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels, delivering his signature punt to the head. There were plenty of RKOs out of nowhere. And indeed, Orton claimed yet another WWE Championship, defeating Drew McIntyre in a Hell in a Cell Match in October.

But what once again made Orton one of the most compelling villains in WWE was what he did with Edge early in the year. The night after Edge made one of the more emotional returns in recent memory, Orton met him in the ring and proposed they reform Rated RKO. It was all a trap, of course. Orton would beat down his former friend, capping it off with a brutal chair attack (What Edge used to call a one-man “Con-Chair-To.”) This sparked a feud that went into the spring, and included Orton hitting an RKO on Edge’s wife Beth Phoenix. They had a Last Man Standing Match at Wrestlemania, and followed it up with a match dubiously titled “The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever” in June. Edge would win the former, Orton the latter. A rubber match is almost undoubtedly in the works. No doubt when it does, Orton will be as formidable and dangerous as he’s ever been…

9. Bayley
In 2020, the Smackdown Women’s Division was all about Bayley, Sasha Banks, and when their inevitable implosion would happen. The powder keg finally blew in September when Bayley ambushed Banks in the ring.

So why put Bayley on the list and not Sasha? A few reasons…

Coming into 2020, the experiment of turning Bayley heel was still fairly new. What’s more, compared to Raw Women’s Champion Becky Lynch or NXT Women’s Champion Rhea Ripley, she had by far the least buzz or momentum. Both Bayley and her championship were cold.

The alliance, and eventual feud, between Bayley and Banks revitalized the Bayley character as a villain, and thus revitalized the championship around her waist. Also a factor was the sheer length of Bayley’s run with the title. At 379 days, she’s the longest reigning Smackdown Women’s Champion of all time, and one of the longest of the modern era as well.

10. Edge
There was just something about seeing him come out at the Royal Rumble.

Edge had hit a spear during the Summerslam pre-show in 2019, which caused a little buzz about a return to the ring. That buzz increased tenfold when the wrestling news sites started reporting he’d be an entrant in the 2020 Royal Rumble Match. So it’s not like we had no clue he was coming…

But when his music hit that night, it had all the magic and grandeur it deserved. The “Rated R Superstar” had defied medical science and returned to the ring after nine years. And he wasn’t stopping with the Rumble.

The following night, Edge started a program with his former tag team partner Randy Orton that would extend into the summer. The two had a Last Man Standing Match at Wrestlemania, which would receive mixed reviews at best. They followed it up with a much better match, dubiously advertised as  “The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever” at Backlash. Sadly, Edge would suffer a torn triceps in that match that would leave him on the shelf for the rest of the year. But the smart bet is he and Orton will go one more round at this year’s Wrestlemania.

Assuming he can stay healthy, the best of Edge’s return has yet to come. Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic has largely robbed him of the chance to wrestle in front of live audiences again. He, and WWE at large, may fare better in 2021. Either way, he’s got a laundry list of big match opponents. From AJ Styles to Roman Reigns to Seth Rollins and beyond. With luck, Edge’s comeback tour has only just begun.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Posted in Wrestling

A WWE Survivor Series 2020 Preview: Survivor Series Swap-Out

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Once is incidental. Twice is coincidence. Three times is a pattern. Or perhaps in this case, a tradition.

Call it the annual <i>Survivor Series</i> swap-out. When the WWE Championship abruptly changes hands during the build-up to Survivor Series to make the big champion vs. champion match more appealing.

In 2017, we were staring down the barrel of Universal Champion Brock Lesnar against WWE Champion Jinder Mahal. Because there was so little interest in the match, WWE had Mahal drop his title to AJ Styles a few weeks before the event.

In 2018, history repeated itself when the newly villainous Daniel Bryan took the title off AJ Styles. In both cases, Styles and Bryan went on to have show-stealing matches with Brock Lesnar.

This past Monday, history once again repeated when Drew McIntyre beat Randy Orton for the championship with less than a week to go until Survivor Series. And while we don’t have Brock on the show this year, there’s a good chance McIntyre and Roman Reigns will steal the show nonetheless.

The Survivor Series swap-out. It’s a thing, people.

Here are some more things…

CHAMPION VS. CHAMPION:
Bobby Lashley vs. Sami Zayn

Most of these matches are pretty cold, as most of our opposing champions haven’t been able to interact in television by virtue of being on different shows. But this one? This is the coldest. Two heel champions, cut from very different cloth, squaring off in a match that, like most of these other matches, means little to nothing. The fact that the Intercontinental Title is now ugly as hell doesn’t help either.

Because of how hot the Hurt Business is on Raw, and the fact that dominance is kind of his thing, I’m picking Lashley to come out on top here. A loss won’t hurt Sami. Come to think of it, none of the losers on this show will be hurt that bad. That’s what happens when your pay per view matches are so inconsequential.

PREDICTION: Bobby Lashley

CHAMPIONS VS. CHAMPIONS:
The New Day vs. The Street Profits

I like this match.  I hated the way they swapped the Raw and Smackdown Tag Team Titles a few weeks back. But this match? All good. 

My pick for this match comes down to, of all things, commercials. Recently, the Street Profits have been featured in ads for both Skittles and Head & Shoulders. That tells me the WWE promotional machine is firmly behind Dawkins and Ford. A win here might serve them well in that sense.

Mind you, the WWE promotional machine has been firmly behind the New Day for years. But hey, I’ve got a 50/50 chance here, right?

PREDICTION: The Street Profits

CHAMPION VS. CHAMPION:
Asuka vs. Sasha Banks

These two tend to deliver in big-match situations. So I’ve got high hopes for them here.

My logic on this one is pretty simple: When these two wrestled at Summerslam, Asuka won. So this time Sasha will win. Normally I’m against that kind of 50/50 booking. But because they’re both champions, it works out. The fact that we’re fresh off Sasha’s appearance on The Mandalorian doesn’t hurt her case either.

PREDICTION: Sasha Banks

WOMEN’S SURVIVOR SERIES MATCH:
Team Raw: Nia Jax, Shayna Baszler, Lana, Lacey Evans & Peyton Royce
vs.
Team Smackdown: Bianca Belair, Ruby Riott, Liv Morgan, ? & ?

This match has been a mess. We’re still missing two wrestlers on the Smackdown side of things. Then, for whatever reason, on Monday they swapped out Mandy Rose and Dana Brooke for Lacey Evans and Peyton Royce. In terms of who’s winning this match, I doubt WWE even knows at this juncture.

First thing’s first: Who do you plug in on the Smackdown team? Peyton Royce’s presence on the Raw side makes Billie Kay an obvious choice. There’s also Bayley, who doesn’t have anything to do on this show yet. If all else fails, Natalya is also waiting in the wing.

The only big story coming into this match is the one between Nia Jax and Lana. The whole “Lana goes through a table every week” thing was an eye-roller at first. But it’s actually starting to grow on me. I’m thinking Team Raw picks up the win here, with Lana potentially being our sole survivor. Then, of course, Nia Jax will put her through a table.

Don’t discount the possibility of Jax and Lana facing off for the Raw Women’s Title at Wrestlemania. There’s enough time to make that happen…

PREDICTION: Team Raw

MEN’S SURVIVOR SERIES MATCH:
Team Raw: AJ Styles, Braun Strowman, Sheamus, Keith Lee & Riddle
vs.
Team Smackdown: Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, King Corbin, Jey Uso, & ?

These Smackdown teams seem to be an afterthought. If they’re not even finished the week of the show, then it must not be that important who’s on them.

Depending on what happens in his match with Murphy this Friday, I wouldn’t be surprised if Seth Rollins winds up not being in this match. His real-life wife Becky Lynch is about to have her baby. So it obviously behooves him to be at home with her right now. His obvious replacement? Murphy.

It wouldn’t shock me to see Big E fill in that final spot on Team Smackdown. There’s also Apollo Crews, or even Rey Mysterio. They could even throw us a curveball and put Lars Sullivan in there.

This match is a toss-up. If Big E or Lars wind up in this match, it would make sense to put them over. But in the end, as more time and effort have gone into Team Raw, I think they’re a solid bet to win. I expect to see Keith Lee and/or Riddle standing tall by the end.

PREDICTION: Team Raw

CHAMPION VS. CHAMPION:
Drew McIntyre vs. Roman Reigns

Now this is a main event. Hell, this is a Wrestlemania main event. So much so that I’m actually surprised they’re doing it here.

Roman has been doing some of his best work on Smackdown these past few months, and Drew will have been the WWE Champion for less than a week when this match takes place. So a loss isn’t ideal for either man. A double-disqualification, or some kind of non-finish in this match certainly isn’t out of the question. But if you held a gun to my head, I’d pick Roman to win over Drew. He’s the best villain WWE has right now. Going into Wrestlemania, it’s to their advantage to keep him as strong as possible.

PREDICTION: Roman Reigns

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Posted in Wrestling

A WWE Summerslam 2020 Preview – Enter the ThunderDome

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

So that’s the “ThunderDome”, eh? Alright sure. What the hell? Let’s give it a whirl.

There are so few upsides to this pandemic. But one of the few is that these drastic circumstances have led to forced creativity and innovation. Not just in wrestling, but all walks of life. We just wrapped up the first ever all-virtual Democratic National Convention. Now, we’re about to get the first ever all-virtual pro wrestling crowd.

One thing’s for sure: Brawling into the crowd is going to be a lot different.

I’m as anxious to get back to normal as anybody else. But this kind of inventive mindset should be encouraged. Even if we only get one good idea for every 10 bad ones. Case in point, at Wrestlemania, the Last Man Standing Match and the Firefly Funhouse Match weren’t really my cup of tea. But the Boneyard Match was awesome!

Let’s see how Summerslam looks…

WWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
Apollo Crews (c) vs. MVP

Here’s my question: Why MVP and not Bobby Lashley? Even if you ignore the fact that Lashley pinned Crews in that gauntlet match on Monday, Lashley would be the next logical person in line after MVP lost in his title match a few weeks back. So why go with MVP again? Is it because we’re still rehabbing Lashley from all that crap with Lana and Rusev?

Actually, that’s not a bad reason…

I’m inclined to think they wouldn’t be going with MVP again unless they were going to put the belt on him. They may have even been planning to do it at Extreme Rules. Now MVP can be the cowardly heel, using Lashley and Shelton Benjamin to hold on to the championship while Crews chases. I’m not sure I expect his run to be a long one, but it’ll still be pretty cool to see him hold it again after so many years.

PREDICTION: MVP

WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The Street Profits (c) vs. Andrade & Angel Garza

I’ve gone back and forth on this one. The titles would be good with this Andrade/Garza/Zelina package. I definitely like the idea of giving Garza a more prominent spotlight. But on the other hand, Dawkins and Ford have grown on me as the tag champs. In an era where WWE needs new stars as badly as they ever have, putting some more shine on the Street Profits wouldn’t be a bad thing.

In the end, I think that’s exactly what they do. Dawkins and Ford go over early on the card. And for their next challengers? How about Bobby Lashley and Shelton Benjamin? I’d be curious to see what kind of chemistry they have.

PREDICTION: The Street Profits

HAIR VS. HAIR MATCH:
Mandy Rose vs. Sonya Deville

I love this match. Not just because of the Hair vs. Hair stipulation. Although I do believe it’s the first female Hair vs. Hair Match since Victoria vs. Molly Holly all those years ago.

I love this because Mandy and Sonya are getting an opportunity to shine on what, in theory, is the second biggest pay per view of the year. This is the kind of match that would have gotten bumped if you had the likes of Brock Lesnar, John Cena, Undertaker, or other part-timers on the card. If we really are trying to make new stars, this is a wise move. And frankly, it’s well deserved. Mandy and Sonya have both stepped their game up this year. I’ve got high hopes that these two will deliver a great Summerslam moment.

As for who wins, I’ve got to go with Mandy. Sonya will rock a buzz cut for a few weeks, then nail some kind of short hairdo.

PREDICTION: Mandy Rose

WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Bayley (c) vs. Asuka

The elevation of Asuka has been a really pleasant surprise this year. For so long, it seemed like she had become an afterthought. And she’s just too good to relegate to the back of the line. Now she’s doing something that I don’t think anyone’s ever done at Summerslam before: Challenge two different singles champions for two different titles.

Based on what we’ve seen in recent history, I’m guessing they’ll do these matches back-to-back. On Raw, they established that Bayley is defending her title first. I don’t see why Sasha Banks wouldn’t be at ringside for this, as they’ll need her in short order. So I’m thinking Sasha does something underhanded to cost Asuka the Smackdown title. It’s just as well. The fact that they’re borrowing someone from Raw for the second-biggest show of the year doesn’t speak well to the status of that division.

PREDICTION: Bayley

WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Sasha Banks (c) vs. Asuka

Having just lost to Bayley, Asuka will seem like easy pickings for Sasha. Thus, Sasha can underestimate her and get rolled up for the shock title change. They can do it clean, or have some kind of mishap involving Bayley. I’m good either way.

I don’t think Sasha has defended the title since she won it last month. Thus, her streak of winning the Raw Women’s Title and then quickly losing it on her first defense remains intact. You’ve got to wonder if they’re doing that on purpose at this point. Are they even that clever?

PREDICTION: Asuka

STREET FIGHT:
Seth Rollins vs. Dominik Mysterio

Look for all sorts of shenanigans in this match, with both Rey Mysterio and Murphy getting involved from ringside. This should be fun. Dominik is in good hands with Rollins.

Dominik has no business beating Seth Rollins. And yet, I expect that’s exactly what will happen here. It’s time for the heel to get his comeuppance. As sick as I am of all the eye stuff, I wouldn’t mind seeing Rollins get “hit” in the eye with a kendo stick or something. Then we can get eyepatch-wearing, pirate-looking Seth Rollins.

PREDICTION: Dominik Mysterio

WWE UNIVERSAL HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Braun Strowman (c) vs. “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt

Involving Alexa Bliss in this program was a smart move. Not only did it freshen things up and add a new layer to the feud as we head into Summerslam, but it pays off something from as far back as that first Mixed Match Challenge. Braun and Alexa have a really cool on-screen chemistry that I’m happy to see again.

Clearly, Bliss is going to factor into the finish somehow. The question is whether it benefits Braun or Bray…

At the end of the day, I think it’s time to correct the mistake that was made before Wrestlemania when Bray lost the title to Goldberg. It’s time to put the title back on the Fiend. As for Alexa, it’s time for her to return to her villainous roots. Babyface Alexa Bliss isn’t nearly as fun as heel Alexa Bliss. So let’s bring her back, and maybe feud her against Nikki Cross.

PREDICTION: Bray Wyatt

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Drew McIntyre (c) vs. Randy Orton

Getting back to his legend-killing, punt-kicking ways has done wonders for Randy Orton. He’s once again one of the hottest heels in the business. He’s just what the doctor ordered in terms of giving Drew McIntyre a great villain to face.

But as hot as he’s been, Randy Orton does not need to be WWE Champion for a 14th time. At least not now. I’m sure falling ratings have scared WWE. But now isn’t the time to fall back on old habits. They need to stay the course with McIntyre, and focus on telling good stories with him as the hero. If this were a relatively normal year and we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic, it might be a different story. If John Cena or Brock Lesnar were challenging, it might be a different story. But not Randy Orton. Not here and not now.

They need to stick it out with Drew until Wrestlemania at the very least. Let him be that stalwart champion that gets us through the so-called “pandemic era.” Then we can think about changing things up.

PREDICTION: Drew McIntyre

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Posted in Wrestling

The Owen Hart Chronicles: The Road to Kinghood

***Everyone has seen Owen Hart’s matches with his brother Bret. But Owen had the talent, charisma, and ability to hang with anybody. That’s what we’re here to illustrate. These are “The Owen Hart Chronicles.”***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Owen Hart’s star would never shine brighter than it did on June 19, 1994. That night, one year after his brother Bret had one the tournament the year before, Owen took the crown for himself.

Like Bret, Owen had to win three matches in one night to win the tournament. He took down Tatanka in the quarter-finals, and would beat Razor Ramon in the finals. But Owen’s best match that night came in the semi-finals when he faced the 1-2-3 Kid, a.k.a. the real-life Sean Waltman.

The story coming in was that Kid had scored an upset over Jeff Jarrett in the quarter-finals. Jarrett then attacked Kid, potentially taking him out of the tournament altogether. Thus, coming into this match both men were perfectly cast. Kid was the wounded underdog, and Owen was the underhanded heel determined to advance at all costs. The latter is very much evident when Owen dropkicks his opponent through the ropes before the bell even rings.

The irony here is that while the story of the match is about one of the wrestlers being injured, these two work a quicker and more dynamic pace than we were used to seeing in the WWF at the time. It’s a sprint, clocking in at 3 minutes and 37 seconds. But these two defined what it means to “maximize your minutes.”

Owen capitalizes on his early attack by hitting a top-rope splash, only for Kid to kick-out and send him into the corner, with Owen taking Bret’s trademark sternum-first bump into the buckles. Kid then hits a cross-body off the rop rope.

To their credit, in just over three minutes Hart and Waltman turned in a back-and-forth performance that made you believe the Kid had a chance, despite being hurt before the match. He hangs in there with a number of counters, martial arts kicks, a Fisherman’s Suplex, and a somersault over the top rope.

Owen is finally able to go for the kill after, of all things, a powerbomb. Specifically, a counter of an attempted head-scissor into a powerbomb. Certainly not something we saw Owen pull out regularly. But this was one of the rare occasions he was the bigger man in the match. So it works. A Sharpshooter clinches the win for Hart.

Watching this back, what I’m struck by is that even on one of the biggest nights of his career, Owen still finds himself in Bret’s shadow. I didn’t mean to reference Bret with that sternum bump. But I’ve seen Bret do it so many times it’s burned into my brain. Owen wears the pink singlet and the sunglasses, just like Bret. He of course uses Bret’s finisher, the Sharpshooter. Later, his victory speech will essentially be all about Bret.

Much of this is part of the story they were telling, of course. The idea was to set Owen up for the now classic Steel Cage Match against Bret for the WWF Championship at Summerslam. But I wonder to what extent (if any) this characterization hurt Owen’s career later on. Even as he’d win championships and continue to turn in good matches in the coming years, he’d still largely be seen as Bret’s bratty little brother.

Owen was a star in his own right. Unfortunately, you had to squint to see it. How ironic that it was Bret who got a documentary called Wrestling with Shadows. That same title can be used for much of Owen’s career.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Posted in Wrestling

Best of WWE Extreme Rules: A Playlist Before This Year’s “Horror Show”

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

“It’s the one night of the year where WWE goes extreme!!!!”

What does that mean? Eh, nothing really. It’s a line they used to tack on to this Extreme Rules pay per view. In reality, it’s a show where they throw in some gimmick matches for the sake of the title. Extreme Rules is the descendant of ECW One Night Stand. So if they really wanted to make this show special, they’d stick it in a smaller venue like the Hammerstein Ballroom (shown above) to make it look like an old ECW show. Or maybe even someplace like Full Sail University, and up the ticket price accordingly to compensate for the smaller capacity.

Of course, you can’t do that now. Damn Coronavirus.

But where there is creativity and performance, there is inevitably some greatness to be found. As we build to this year’s Extreme Rules: The Horror Show show on July 19, here’s a playlist representing the best of this event over the last 11 years. Despite being WWE’s sanitized version of “extreme,” you might be surprised at the quality of what you find…

NO HOLDS BARRED MATCH:
Rey Mysterio vs. Chris Jericho
June 7, 2009
New Orleans, LA

It was on this night that Jericho won his ninth and (thus far) final Intercontinental Championship. That’s a record that stands to this day, and may in fact stand as long as the title exists.

But perhaps more importantly, this is one of the better IC Title matches of the so-called “PG Era.” We had a compelling yet simple story coming in about Jericho wanting to unmask Rey Mysterio Jr. Jim Ross and Todd Grisham were on commentary for this one, and the former did an excellent job playing up the importance of the mask to Rey. Not to mention its cultural significance. So in the end, when Jericho snatches Rey’s mask off during a 619 attempt and then rolls him up for the pin, it actually means something.

These two managed to cut a hell of a pace too. At certain points, you’d think they were still part of WCW’s renowned Cruiserweight Division. Moments before the finish, we get something we’d never see today: A chairshot to the head. Mind you, Rey “works” the shot to Jericho’s head fairly well. But a shot to the head is a shot to the head.

If this match proves anything, it’s that Jericho was and still is one of the true artists in the world of pro wrestling. Whoever elevates whomever he works with. Even if that person is already a legend like Ricky Steamboat, Shawn Michaels, or in this case, Rey Mysterio Jr.

LADDER MATCH:
Edge vs. Jeff Hardy
June 7, 2009
New Orleans, LA

I probably shouldn’t have, but I felt sorry for Edge, Jeff, and all those TLC guys for a long time.

Yes, I know those ladder matches and TLC Matches made stars out of the Hardys, the Dudleys, and Edge & Christian. But those matches would also follow all those guys around for the rest of their careers. They became synonymous with the Ladder Match to the point that so many of their big bouts had to be Ladder Matches. So when they started this program with one another, it was inevitable there’d be a Ladder Match at some point.

And this is how jaded we’d all become at that point: This match isn’t even that exciting. Yes, there are some brutal bumps. Edge takes a nasty bump between the rungs of a ladder. Later, he tries to recreate the famous mid-air spear spot from Wrestlemania. The results are mixed at best. The match is highlighted by that last visual of Edge being trapped between the ladder rungs, “crucified” as Todd Grisham puts it, as Hardy climbs up and takes the title.

This match earns its spot here because of the effort put forth by its participants. Hardly the most thrilling Ladder Match you’ll ever see. But you’ve got to take your hat off for what both these guys were willing to do to their bodies.

LADDER MATCH FOR VACANT WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
Alberto Del Rio vs. Christian
May 1, 2011
Tampa, FL

I don’t make a habit of going back and watching a lot of Alberto Del Rio matches. But in hindsight, he had a pretty good shtick with his personal ring announcer, the limo, the music, the big smile. If he weren’t such a sleaze bag in real life, I’d be inclined to say I miss him.

But of course, this match isn’t really about Del Rio. It’s all about Christian finally winning the big one. Would he lose it two days later at a Smackdown taping? Yes. But this is still a great moment that’s all the more relevant given how they just used him in the Edge/Randy Orton storyline.

CHICAGO STREET FIGHT:
CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho
April 29, 2012
Chicago, IL

We didn’t need the benefit of hindsight to see these two got overshadowed by the Rock and John Cena at Wrestlemania. We knew going in that it would happen. In the end, they’d once again be overshadowed at Extreme Rules by Cena and Brock Lesnar. But that doesn’t take away from the quality of the work they did. And this whole program, with a heel Chris Jericho getting personal with CM Punk about his father’s alcohol issues, was quality.

The fact that they were in Chicago did nothing but help them. This was less than a year after the famous Punk/Cena match at Money in the Bank. This crowd was every bit as pro-Punk as that one was. All these years later, I’d forgotten that Punk’s family was in the front row too. So when Jericho douses Punk in beer and beats the hell out of him with a kendo stick, it resonates that much more. The same can be said for when Punk finally pulls it out and retains the WWE Championship.

EXTREME RULES MATCH:
Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena
April 29, 2012
Chicago, IL

Mere moments into this match, Lesnar had Cena’s blood on him.

This match wasn’t necessarily as exciting as I remembered it. But as Brock Lesnar’s first match in eight years, it was still bigger and more important than almost anything that happened at Wrestlemania the previous month. This match was “big fight feel” defined.

In hindsight, this was structured not unlike the classic Cena and Lesnar would have at Summerslam two years later. Which is to say it was all about Cena being brutalized  by this WWE Champion turned MMA fighter, and the question of whether he could survive. Particularly under the Extreme Rules stipulation.

This match may also have one of the most hotly debated finishes in company history. Certainly in the last decade. Common sense would indicate that Brock would prevail here. Thus, they’d tell the story of Cena suffering yet another devastating loss just a month after losing to the Rock, and setting Brock up as a near invincible and monster.

Of course, they didn’t do that. They had Cena win after punching Lesnar with his old Thuganomics lock and chain, followed by an A.A. on to the steel ring steps. They didn’t even do a contested finish, i.e. “You can’t pin somebody on the steps!” It was just, “Cena wins. LOL.”

Still, it’s definitely a match worth looking back on. Arguably the best WWE match of 2012 overall.

EXTREME RULES MATCH:
Roman Reigns vs. AJ Styles
May 22, 2016
Newark, New Jersey

I’m not sure how politically correct this is to say, but AJ Styles became a made man in WWE by working with Roman Reigns.

Yes, he came in and worked with Chris Jericho. Yes, he’d go on to have some amazing matches with John Cena. But by putting Reigns over in back-to-back title matches at Payback and Extreme Rules in two great matches, Styles proved that not only was he an all-time great performer, but one that could succeed within the WWE system. These matches proved he was here to stay.

You can tell both these guys are really going for it here. Reigns had just won the WWE Championship from Triple H at Wrestlemania, and had a lot to prove to his critics. Meanwhile, I suspect Styles knew what a big opportunity this was for him, and set out to over-deliver. He succeeded, taking some downright scary bumps in the process. These included a very high backdrop off one announce table through another. Styles actually over-rotated, taking what looked like a painful landing on his butt. That’s how you crack your tailbone, right there.

In the end, what they turned in here was very much a WWE style brawl, complete with a fight through the crowd and outside antics from the Usos and Gallows & Anderson. In the end, Reigns countered a Phenomenal Forearm into a spear for the victory.

30-MINUTE IRON MAN MATCH:
Dolph Ziggler vs. Seth Rollins
July 15, 2018
Pittsburgh, PA

This match was better than the Pittsburgh crowd gave it credit for. They spent a good portion of this match counting along with the clock, Royal Rumble Match style. Meanwhile, Rollins and Ziggler were putting on a clinic in there.

They gave us a little bit of everything in this one. We had the babyface Rollins gain an early lead. We had Ziggler’s heavy Drew McIntyre come in to interfere. Then we had the heel Ziggler even it out. Then we had the heel go up, forcing the babyface to fight from underneath. We go into sudden death, a la Wrestlemania XII. Then it was McIntyre once again playing a role to give Ziggler the win. So McIntyre gets over as a force to be reckoned with, and Rollins and Ziggler get over as two workhorses, with Ziggler getting the added rub of main-eventing his first pay per view.

Let’s also not lose sight of the fact that this was the first time the Intercontinental Title was defended in the main event of a pay per view since Bret and Bulldog at Summerslam in ’92. So we’re not only elevating our two wrestlers, but we’re once again elevating the Intercontinental Title.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Posted in Wrestling

A WWE Extreme Rules 2020 Preview – Prelude to a “Horror Show”

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

As much as they’ve been shoving the whole “Horror Show” thing down our throats, I really don’t mind the name itself. It suggests they’re taking a bit of a step outside the box creatively.

But here’s my question: What is it about this year’s Extreme Rules that makes it a horror show, per se? Is it the way they’re going to shoot the matches? Is it that we’re going to see a spooky “Swamp Fight” between Braun Strowman and Bray Wyatt? Is it that they’re advertising someone’s eye being gouged out? A combination of all that, perhaps?

I just hope they have some kind of idea. I hope it’s something. One of the few upsides to this COVID-19 situation is that it’s forced them to flex a few more creative muscles. So c’mon, WWE. Give us a damn horror show!

Now, let’s dive in…

WWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
Apollo Crews (c) vs. MVP

Part of me really wants MVP to win the title here. He’s more a manager now than anything else. Thus, he hasn’t been positioned as a threat to Crews, or anyone for that matter. But he’s so good on the mic, and it would be such an interesting story to see him win the title back after all these years.

Still, the ones you want to push in this equation are Crews and Bobby Lashley. I suspect that’s the match we’re getting at Summerslam. If that is indeed where we’re going, Crews should win here.

PREDICTION: Apollo Crews

WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Bayley (c) vs. Nikki Cross

After that fire we saw from Nikki Cross in her brief verbal exchange with the IIconics several weeks ago, I was excited to see her get this shot. She’s not winning, of course. But I’m excited to see her featured on a pay per view.

So it doesn’t look like Bayley vs. Sasha Banks is the match for Summerslam. I can only assume then that they’re saving it for Wrestlemania XXXVII. Let’s hope they actually get to have that match in front of a crowd…

PREDICTION: Bayley

WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Asuka (c) vs. Sasha Banks

Ultimately, the destination for Sasha Banks is going to be (or at least should be) Bayley and the Smackdown Women’s Title. Granted, that’s not to say she couldn’t take a little detour with the Raw belt. But I don’t see it happening. One way or another, Asuka is the star of the Raw Women’s Division, and she’ll stay that way for at least a little while longer.

The upside? The last time these two had a high profile match together, they tore the house down. Hopefully they have an opportunity to do the same here.

PREDICTION: Asuka

EYE-FOR-AN-EYE MATCH:
Rey Mysterio vs. Seth Rollins

I don’t like this Eye-For-An-Eye stipulation at all. The idea is that you lose when one of your eyes gets extracted from its socket.

Yuck. In more ways than one.

I liken this to those Inferno Matches that Kane used to have, most notably with the Undertaker. It’s a compelling idea on paper. But in practice, it’s a lose-lose situation. If you look at it from an in-story perspective, booking this stip looks needlessly brutal and cruel. But from a showbiz standpoint, it almost exposes wrestling. Because you know nobody’s actually getting their damn eye taken out. And in case it needs to be said, that’s a good thing…

I have no idea how they’re going to get out of this. I assume there’ll be a bunch of shenanigans involved with Rey’s son Dominic, Murphy, Austin Theory, etc. In the end, I think Rey gets the win. Not just because the good guy should win in this scenario, but the image of Rollins with an eye patch is mildly amusing.

PREDICTION: Rey Mysterio

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Drew McIntyre (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler

Regardless of what the stipulation ends up being, this match is designed to do the same thing as McIntyre’s bouts with Rollins and Lashley: Build Drew up as a credible champion. Dolph is the guy WWE always turns to when it’s time to shine someone up. While I don’t think Drew needs Dolph’s help in that respect, he certainly couldn’t have a better dance partner to meet that end.

Drew wins. No big surprise there. To me it’s more a question of who they put him with at Summerslam. He needs to be up there with a big marquee name. That means it’s got to be either Brock Lesnar again, or Randy Orton. As Orton is hot right now, I’m putting him with “the Viper,” and saving Lesnar for further down the road. Dare I say, Hell in a Cell?

PREDICTION: Drew McIntyre

SWAMP FIGHT:
Braun Strowman vs. Bray Wyatt

I’m not sure what their plans are as far as “cinematic” matches on this show. But obviously this one would lend itself best to that treatment. I’m picturing something shot like the Boneyard Match, with some of the spooky tricks used in the Firefly Funhouse Match.

My understanding is the Universal Title is not on the line in this match. Thus, Bray Wyatt can win and justify a match between Strowman and the Fiend at Summerslam. Bray should win anyway. The swamp is, in theory, his home turf after all.

So is this going to be a “Three Faces of Foley” type thing with Bray Wyatt? We already see him swap back and forth between his smiling, sweater-wearing persona and the sinister Fiend. Is the only swamp-dwelling, “Follow the Buzzards” Bray Wyatt a personality he can switch into as well? I’m not necessarily opposed to that. But that Bray Wyatt had a tendency to choke in big-match situations. Just ask John Cena…

PREDICTION: Bray Wyatt

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Posted in Wrestling

The Owen Hart Chronicles: Dropping Gold to HBK and Stone Cold

***Everyone has seen Owen Hart’s matches with his brother Bret. But Owen had the talent, charisma, and ability to hang with anybody. That’s what we’re here to illustrate. These are “The Owen Hart Chronicles.”***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

You know what’s really surprising? This was not the main event of the May 26, 1997 edition of Raw.

Consider who we’ve got here. We’ve got our Tag Team Champions Owen Hart and the “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith, two company mainstays who’ve held the belts a long time, and also have both secondary titles.

They’re facing Shawn Michaels, one of the company’s biggest stars, who’s coming off a controversial injury. (This was when he “lost his smile.”) His tag partner is Stone Cold Steve Austin, the hottest rising star in the industry, and thus far one of its great untapped talents.

But what got the main event slot? A talking segment with the Undertaker and Paul Bearer. I love both those guys, but c’mon…

You can very much tell we’re in the era of pay-per-view quality matches being put on free TV. Given all the build-up that went into this could easily have been second from the top on an In Your House. Especially given the story of Austin and Michaels being reluctant tag team partners trying to take something from the Bret Hart and his group, the Hart Foundation.

Not surprisingly, Owen starts it out with Austin. In theory, you’d want to big deal out of Shawn’s entrance into the match, so you keep him on the sidelines at the beginning. Oddly enough, that’s not what ends up happening. Shawn’s entrance gets a tepid response. Owen, of course, is in there to start the match at a fast pace.

As is becoming a pattern here, despite being in the main event of Raw, this match isn’t necessarily about Owen specifically. Or in this case, Owen and Bulldog. The story they’re telling is about Austin and the returning Michaels teaming up to face the Hart Foundation at large. So even though the smaller story is about the Tag Team Titles, it’s Owen and Davey’s job to shine up their babyface challengers and make them look like the big heroes they are. Both men do that very well. What this essentially becomes is a glorified exhibition for Stone Cold and HBK.

Watching this match back in 2020, there’s an elephant in the room. A little more than two months after this match, Owen famously botches a piledriver at Summerslam and alters the course of Austin’s career. So there’s an added weight when those two are in the ring together. Perhaps it’s just hindsight coloring the match, but as good as they both were, to me it never seemed like those two had a lot of chemistry…

The finish to this match surprised me. Shawn superkicks Davey when the referee is distracted with Owen, allowing Austin to get the pin. I’m not sure why, but the whole thing came off very rushed and awkward. Not at all how I remembered it.

Lost in all the storyline hoopla was the fact that this match ended a roughly eight-month Tag Team Title reign for Owen and Bulldog. I don’t know that history remembers their team as much as it should. They were damn good. Certainly as good as any team you’ll see in any promotion today.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Posted in Wrestling

The Owen Hart Chronicles: May 6, 1996 – The Utility Player (feat. the Undertaker)

***Everyone has seen Owen Hart’s matches with his brother Bret. But Owen had the talent, charisma, and ability to hang with anybody. That’s what we’re here to illustrate. These are “The Owen Hart Chronicles.”***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Why don’t we talk more about Owen Hart’s matches? Why is he primarily remembered for the work he did with his brother Bret in the early ’90s, and less the work he did with other wrestlers?

I think much of that has to do with how the WWF higher-ups viewed Owen. Obviously he worked great as a villain for Bret, and then later as Bret’s “lovable brother” in the Hart Foundation. But when he wasn’t in Bret’s orbit, I just don’t think they saw him as a top star, whether a heel or babyface. As evidence, I would cite them not going further with him in 1998, despite the Hart family being very much in the spotlight.

It seems like the WWF saw Owen as a midcard utility player. Need to plug somebody in against your champion on a go-home show for a pay per view? Owen will give ’em a good match. Need a midcard heel tag team? Put somebody with Owen. Or in this case, does one of your top babyfaces just need a solid exhibition? Owen can do that too.

Case in point, this match between Owen and the Undertaker from the May 6, 1996 edition of Raw. This may have been the only televised singles match these two ever had. You’ll see several tag matches where they’re both involved. But they rarely had a reason to wrestle one-on-one. The Dead Man was usually busy slaying giants like Yokozuna, King Kong Bundy, Mabel, etc. But I think these two could have made magic together.

The story of this match was definitively about Undertaker and Goldust, and their upcoming Casket Match at In Your House: Beware of Dog. Goldust (accompanied by Marlena) is on headset, and actually learns it’s going to be a Casket Match on the air. To his eternal credit, the real-life Dustin Runnels does some amazing character work here. They were still playing the gay card pretty heavily with the character at this time. It doesn’t necessarily age well by modern standards. Though it’s objectively hilarious when Goldust comes on to Paul Bearer.

Owen is sort of the Larry Fine of this match. Your attention is focused on Moe and Curly, i.e. Undertaker and Goldust. But if you take a moment to focus on Owen, his subtle reactions are great. Watch him when the bell rings. He slinks around the ringside area, too apprehensive to get in there with ‘Taker. Then you’ve got his selling of the “supernatural” stuff. The zombie no-sell, the big choke, etc.

Once the match really gets going, Owen works the knee. But he also takes a couple of big moves from Undertaker, including a shove over the top to the outside. The finish comes when the Dead Man reaches over the ropes to grab Owen, who’s been distracted by Goldust. In one smooth motion, Undertaker pulled ups him up and over the ropes, and into position for a Tombstone Piledriver. Owen actually gets the so-called “Super Tombstone, where ‘Taker jumps into the air and lands on his knees, as opposed to simply dropping down. I can’t imagine putting that much trust in someone. That move looks scary as hell.

Whether you’re looking at Owen, Undertaker, Goldust, or even Paul Bearer, there’s greatness to be found in this match. You have to look a little harder to see some of it. But it’s definitely there.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.