A WWE Battleground 2017 Preview – Punjabi Prison Blues

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Randy Orton and Jinder Mahal will likely have the best Punjabi Prison Match of all time this Sunday at Battleground. Unfortunately, the bar has been set pretty low for Punjabi Prison Matches. So I imagine it will still suck.

It’s not necessarily their fault. The Punjabi Prison Match concept was ill-conceived from the start. Bringing it back gave WWE an opportunity to change up the rules and make it a little less convoluted. As we saw this week on Smackdown, they’ve opted to keep it the same. That doesn’t bode well.

The Punjabi Prison is a double cage, one inside the other. To win, a wrestler must escape from both. The first cage has doors, each of which can only be opened for 60 seconds before it’s closed permanently. The second cage must be climbed.

I actually like the structure itself. But they’re overcomplicating things with the door rule for the first cage. Just have both guys fight to get out. Keep the damn thing simple, and easy to grasp.

The cages also look as big and cumbersome as ever. Remember, this thing was originally built for the Great Khali. It was downright painful watching Orton climb it while holding a microphone and talking.

I don’t envy these two at Battleground. As I’ve said previously, there’s a reason we haven’t seen a lot of Punjabi Prison Matches over the years. We weren’t exactly clamoring for another one. But here’s hoping Orton and Mahal put on a decent show nonetheless.

Let’s take a look at Battleground

PRE-SHOW MATCH:
Tye Dillinger vs. Aiden English

Oh c’mon. They’re doing the same pre-show match they did at Backlash? Sami Zayn, Chad Gable, Luke Harper, and Breezango are all on the bench, but these two are wrestling again?? Lame.

I’m not sure why Dillinger wouldn’t win again here. They seem content to have him dwindle at lower midcard status for now. That’s a shame. I don’t know if he’ll ever be WWE Champion. But he’s got plenty more to offer.

PREDICTION: Tye Dillinger

FATAL FIVE-WAY MATCH TO DETERMINE TOP CONTENDER FOR SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE AT SUMMERSLAM:
Charlotte Flair vs. Natalya vs. Becky Lynch vs. Lana vs. Tamina

The lack of creativity in this company is downright maddening sometimes. Charlotte, Becky, Natalya, and Tamina have been in so many of these multi-women matches together that there’s absolutely no draw here. You may as well just do Charlotte vs. Becky. At least we haven’t seen them wrestle on pay per view in awhile.

I don’t see them doing Summerslam without Charlotte. She’s already wrestled Naomi for the belt on television. But Summerslam is obviously a much bigger stage, and they can draw out a babyface vs. babyface feud. I maintain, however, that Charlotte has no business being a babyface. It wasn’t long ago that she was arguably the best villain in the company. Perhaps a loss to Naomi at Summerslam could put her back on a path to the dark side.

PREDICTION: Charlotte Flair

WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The Usos (c) vs. The New Day

The New Day are getting the titles at some point. It’s simply a question of when. As we saw in the rap battle segment a few weeks ago, these guys can be really entertaining together. So I say we give them a little more time to do their thing. I don’t have enough faith in WWE creative to think they’ll give us something better than the rap battle. But you never know.

How about we have the Usos retain here, and then do a stipulation match at Summerslam? If the New Day lose, they can’t challenge for the belts again as long as Jimmy and Jey have them. Just a thought.

PREDICTION: The Usos

Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Baron Corbin

For better or worse, the logic regarding the guy holding the Money in the Bank briefcase is that you can beat him all you want. Because at the end of the day, he’s still got the briefcase. I’ve always hated that idea. But it can apply in isolated incidents. This match is one such incident. Nakamura needs to be kept strong, and a loss here does minimal damage to Corbin. His ruthless attitude notwithstanding, Corbin has largely been portrayed as beatable when it comes to the bigger and more established names. John Cena, Randy Orton, Dean Ambrose, etc. I chalk that up to his inexperience. In reality it’s probably just bad booking.

After beating Corbin, I’d love to see Nakamura go to Summerslam to face John Cena. That doesn’t seem to be in the cards. But one day…

PREDICTION: Shinsuke Nakamura

WWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Kevin Owens

I didn’t expect AJ to win the belt at all, much less in a non-televised match. But there he is, our United States Champion. Supposedly they did it to keep Smackdown from having too many anti-American heel champions. Fair enough. The great thing about Owens and Styles is they’ll give you good matches no matter how many times you put them out there together.

I don’t see the need to keep this feud going until Summerslam, so this should be it for these guys. KO has been doing just fine with the whole “Face of America” thing. But I’m liking AJ with the belt. Chances are, he’s not challenging for the title in August. So being United States Champion keeps him in a prominent spot, and it’s a simple way to match him up against almost anyone. As for Owens, he can do just about anything and be perfectly fine. Just keep him away from Sami Zayn.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

FLAG MATCH:
John Cena vs. Rusev

Rusev could win this match. That would sure as hell be a surprise. There’s not much harm in it, either. It’s not like he’d be pinning Cena.

I don’t see it happening, though. Cena is the American hero in a Flag Match. It’s rather difficult to picture a scenario where he doesn’t win this one, and then go on to wrestle for the WWE Title at Summerslam. As for Rusev, he could go either way at this point. He hasn’t exactly had the best creative as of late. He doesn’t even have Lana with him anymore. The “Bulgarian Brute” has rebounded before. But they’re not making it easy for him, are they?

PREDICTION: John Cena

PUNJABI PRISON MATCH FOR WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
Jinder Mahal (c) vs. Randy Orton

The Jinder Mahal experiment hasn’t been a rousing success. But it hasn’t been a failure either. I haven’t been blown away by either his matches or his promos. But the WWE machine has given him an aura of importance. They’ve created the illusion of a big star. Now Jinder just needs to live up to the hype. It’s a slow process, but he’s getting there.

A third consecutive pay per view win over Randy Orton, which is what he’ll get here, is certainly a step in the right direction. The match isn’t going to win any awards. But it’s still a hell of a coup. And it could lead to an even bigger one, depending on what they decide to do with him at Summerslam.

I can’t say it’s a match I’m dying to see, but the story pretty much writes itself. John Cena wins a Flag Match with Rusev, and then defends his country’s honor yet again at one of the biggest shows of the year. But does the Jinder Mahal experiment end there…?

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Kurt Angle’s Big Reveal, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Dixie Carter made her WWE TV debut last week…sort of.

Carter was briefly shown on last week’s WWE 24 special about Kurt Angle’s return to the company. She didn’t get tons of screen time. But there she was. They even listed her as “former president, tna wrestling.” This wasn’t exactly Eric Bischoff showing up on Raw. But it was a moment, and about as surreal as it gets in the modern era.

People love to dump on Carter for being naive about the wrestling business. Some would even say downright stupid. But give her credit: She kept TNA afloat for all those years. As such, guys like AJ Styles and Samoa Joe became stars on the national level.

This olive branch extended to Carter by WWE opens a few doors. TNA has undergone two name-changes since her departure in January, and the company is obviously under new management. The Dixie Carter/TNA era is effectively over. If that means WWE is now willing to acknowledge that promotion’s existence, Carter could be a valuable asset to the WWE Network. They obviously don’t have the rights to any footage. But in future documentaries or specials, they can bring her in to add her perspective on the careers of former TNA athletes that have since become WWE stars. Styles and Joe obviously come to mind. But you’ve also got guys like Bobby Roode, Eric Young, and Drew McIntyre. You can even throw the Hardys in there. Especially if they wind up getting the “Broken” IP.

There’s also been speculation about Carter possibly being an on-air character for WWE. That’s more far-fetched, if you ask me. I’ll say it again: Dixie Carter is not Eric Bischoff. When Bischoff showed up on Raw, most of the audience knew who he was. He’d been one of the faces of a nationally televised war for ratings supremacy. Hell, WWE had referenced him on television multiple times. He was ruthless. He was cunning. He was the enemy. That’s why it was so shocking to see him walk out on Raw.

Dixie Carter doesn’t have much of that intrigue. Was she the enemy? Maybe. But was she ever a threat? Not really. Could she get heat? Sure. But probably not enough to justify bringing her in for a recurring role. What’s more, WWE would have to do a lot more explaining to the uninitiated about who this woman is, what TNA was, etc.

Maybe I’m wrong. But I wouldn’t bet on it. I respect Dixie Carter more than a lot of “smart” fans do. But lets not classify her as this major get for WWE. She could do some cool things with them. But most of them involve being interviewed for WWE Network specials. Let’s keep this in perspective, people.

Ponderings From Raw:

Dean Ambrose calls out the Miz and the Miztourage. Seth Rollins apologizes for betraying the Shield. Miz and his henchmen destroy Ambrose and Rollins. I liked this. Rollins apologizes to Ambrose for stabbing him in the back and breaking up the Shield, and then offers him a free shot with the steel chair. It’s probably the most babyface thing Rollins has done since they shoehorned him into that role almost a year ago.

But did you see what they did here? They’re starting already. I talked about this a few months ago. At it’s core, this Shield thing is going to be about getting Roman Reigns cheered. That’s what they were looking for when they brought out Miz, Curtis Axel, and Bo Dallas. They wanted you to chant for Roman to come out and make the save. I’ll give them this, there were “Roman!” chants. They weren’t loud, but they were there.

Bayley def. Alexa Bliss. Seeing these two in the ring brought back bad memories. As such, I pretty much tuned this one out. It doesn’t help that we’ve seen so many combinations of Bayley/Alexa Bliss/Sasha Banks/Nia Jax in the last several months. This division desperately needs some new blood.

Jack Gallagher and Mustafa Ali def. Brian Kendrick and Drew Gulak. I didn’t recognize Drew Gulak. He’s really changed up his look since the last time I saw him. But as I don’t watch 205 Live, that was probably awhile ago…

Enzo Amore cuts a promo on Big Cass. Cass comes out, winds up in a fight with the Big Show. There’s been a lot of buzz lately about Enzo having heat backstage. But the fans are still reacting to him. In the end, that’s what matters.

Wasn’t a fan of Enzo opening this promo with the line about Newton’s third law. Pretty far out of character. A lot of thus stuff sounded out of character, actually. Not what he was saying, but how he was saying it. As opposed to his emotional promo two weeks ago, this sounded much more scripted.

Based on what we saw Show do with Braun Strowman several weeks ago, I’d say Cass is in good hands here. Cass may not have the acting chops quite yet, but they may end up overachieving in the ring.

Finn Balor def. Elias Samson via disqualification. Bray Wyatt appears on the tron, announces he’s coming for Balor. YES! A guitar shot from Samson! A shot which apparently left a nasty gash in Balor’s head. Ouch. I’ve seen a lot of those guitar shots over the years, and it seems like the idea is to hit the top of the head. Samson hit Balor like he was swinging a baseball bat.

It looks like we’re finally getting Bray Wyatt vs. Finn Balor at Summerslam. Bray has a little bit of momentum after beating Seth Rollins at Great Balls of Fire. But I suspect they built him up to have Finn Balor, as the Demon, slay him. Fair enough, I suppose. At least they waited awhile before bringing the Demon back.

Ariya Daivari def. Akira Tozawa when Titus O’Neil stops the match. Tozawa might not have enjoyed having Titus out there with him. But I sure as hell did. He’s no Bobby Heenan. But he’s a lot of fun.

Kurt Angle announces he fathered an illegitimate child: Jason Jordan. Huh. Vince McMahon’s “illegitimate child” was a pre-established WWE star, and now it turns out Kurt Angle’s is too. What an amazing coincidence that is.

There’ve been rumors abound these last few weeks about this big Kurt Angle revelation being an illegitimate child storyline. One of the obvious candidates for such a role was Chad Gable of American Alpha. Well, they were close…

With Jordan now on Raw and Gable still on Smackdown, this is obviously the end of American Alpha for the time being. That’s a bit sad, as that team never became quite what they could have been on the main roster. But both guys have a lot of potential as singles wrestlers. Jordan isn’t necessarily great from a charisma standpoint. But this is obviously a great opportunity for him. If he can put the pieces together, he could wind up being truly amazing.

The Revival def. The Hardy Boyz. How long do you think it’ll be before they have to turn the Revival babyface? What’s not to like about them? Especially if you’re an older fan.

Matt and Jeff Hardy have now lost to Sheamus and Cesaro, Gallows and Anderson, and the Revival. This losing streak seems tailor made for a descent into that “Broken” madness. The Hardys and Anthem have different stories as far as a deal being reached. So whether it actually happens is still a guessing game. But one can always hope.

Braun Strowman decimates Roman Reigns and Samoa Joe, breaking up their match to determine the top contender for SummerslamNot the best match these two have had. But they got the finish right. I imagine we’re now headed for a Fatal Four-Way Match for the Universal Title at Summerslam. I’m just grateful it’s not another damn Fatal Five-Way…

Samoa Joe is almost 300 lbs. So seeing Strowman pick him up for a Powerslam was damn impressive. Seeing anyone pick this guy up is damn impressive.

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John Cena’s New Frontiers, Plus WWE Great Balls of Fire Predictions

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Ugh. Rusev, no. You do not come out and challenge John Cena on the Fourth of July. There’s no way that ends well.

Nevertheless, “Big Match John” is back. And apparently he’s not allowed to wrestle on both Raw and Smackdown because…well, just because. So as far as opponents go, he’s got the pick of the litter. He dropped a bunch of names on Smackdown this week, planting a numerous seeds for potential matches.

It’s unclear just how much time we’ll have with Cena going forward. I mean that both in the short term and the long term. He’s got a TV show, and he’ll likely have various film projects that take him away from the ring. Ergo, the matches he does have will become a bigger deal as time goes on. It’s the Brock Lesnar effect.

So with the roster now wide open, and his matches more important than they’ve ever been, who do they put with John Cena in the months to come? We’ve already seen him go up against so many current stars. AJ Styles, Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, etc. So who’s a fresh name they can put him with on pay per view?

I’ll give you five of them.

1. Shinsuke Nakamura

We haven’t necessarily seen that first amazing Nakamura match on the main roster yet. But considering the success Cena had with AJ Styles, Cena vs. Nakamura might be it. In establishing Nakamura as a top babyface on Smackdown, pairing him with Cena could go a long way. They made a point to have Cena say his name this week when throwing out potential opponents. So it seems like this one might be in the pipeline. Hell, they could do it as soon as Summerslam if they wanted to.

2. Bobby Roode

They said Cena was a free agent, right? Which means he could potentially go anywhere, right? So why not NXT?

John Cena and Bobby Roode would have a great traditional babyface/heel dynamic that could be really entertaining if done right. It doesn’t have to be for the championship. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be in NXT! They could have Roode’s first exposure to the national audience be in a program with Cena! It worked wonders for Kevin Owens, after all.

3. Samoa Joe

This is something fans have talked about for years. But now that Joe is such a hot commodity, it really needs to happen. Think about it: The Samoan Submission Machine against the man who never gives up. The promos alone could be worth it.

And if you like seeing Cena get hit really hard, chances are you’ll love this one!

4. Finn Balor

When Balor was called up to Raw, they pushed him to the moon. He got a clean win over Roman Reigns on his first night in. That’s a hell of an endorsement, no matter who you are. But since he’s come back from his injury, they’ve taken their time with him. Most likely to see how his body holds up. A great performance against John Cena, and hopefully a win, would propel him right back into the upper echelon on Raw. Plus, they’d have a kick ass match.

5. Roman Reigns

John Cena vs. Roman Reigns could main event a Wrestlemania, and probably will. Sooner rather than later.

Many, myself included, have likened this to a modern day equivalent to Hulk Hogan vs. the Ultimate Warrior. The two men who’ve been positioned as the top stars in the company, going head to head to find out who the top dog is. To a generation of fans, this would be as epic as Hogan vs. Warrior was all those years ago. Though I don’t doubt for a second that a big section of the audience would try to boo this match out of the building. But both Cena and Reigns have a proven track record of delivering in big match situations. And this could very well be the biggest match WWE is capable of putting together right now. It’s practically inevitable.

Now let’s get to Great Balls of Fire

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Neville (c) vs. Akira Tozawa

I’ve been waiting on this one for quite awhile. Tozawa was spinning his wheels with Brian Kendrick for way too long. Of course, it’s on the pre-show. Because why wouldn’t it be?

While I’m sure the match will be good, I don’t see Tozawa taking the belt. It occurred to me on Monday that the person who ultimately takes down Neville probably won’t be Tozawa, or Cedric Alexander, or Rich Swann, or anyone like that. It’s going to be Enzo Amore. They won’t put on a mat classic. But it’s a good match personality-wise. We’ve still got at least a few months before we get there, though. So until then, hail to the king!

PREDICTION: Neville

WWE INERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
The Miz (c) vs. Dean Ambrose

As hot as the Miz is right now, he desperately needs a new rival. Ambrose does too. This is like the feud that never ends. So let’s put the final nail in this thing. Let Miz keep the belt, then move him into a program with Finn Balor. As for Ambrose…Elias Samson maybe? Seems like the logical choice. Either way, I’ve seen this episode a million times. Let’s just get it overwith.

PREDICTION: The Miz

Seth Rollins vs. Bray Wyatt

If a hero is only as good as the villain he fights, then Seth Rollins is in big trouble. It seems like a long time ago that Bray Wyatt was WWE Champion. Somehow it feels like he has absolutely no credibility left. He’s calling himself a god lately. But as I said earlier in the week, a god would theoretically win a match once in awhile, right?

Meanwhile, Seth Rollins is still doing in babyface purgatory. People like him, and the company is obviously behind him. But his on-screen persona is still missing something. They’ve been trying to make him more relatable by talking about his past transgressions and mistakes. But that’s not cutting it. He’s desperately missing a certain cool factor. A factor that, ironically, 2K Games gave him in their recent commercial for WWE 2K18.

So in effect, this match gives us both a babyface and a heel that aren’t where they should be in the pecking order. So does it really matter who wins if we’re not adequately invested in either guy? In any event, expect Rollins to take it. Because why should Bray gain any real momentum now?

PREDICTION: Seth Rollins

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

Not quite sure what to expect from this one. Obviously there’s great potential here, both in terms of the in-ring product and the personalities clashing. If WWE would loosen the creative reigns with these two, as they did with Brock and Joe on Monday, the promos could be explosive. I doubt we’ll get that lucky.

I see Alexa cheating to win, leading to a rematch around Summerslam. In theory, they could throw Bayley into the mix. But for the time being, the best option for her may be to remain on the sidelines.

PREDICTION: Alexa Bliss

30-MINUTE IRON MAN MATCH FOR WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLES:
Sheamus and Cesaro (c) vs. The Hardy Boyz 

You know, if you watch all the different combinations of matches these four men have had since Wrestlemania, you’d probably have a 120-Minute Iron Man Match…

I don’t envy the Hardys, having to get thrown around and beat up by Cesaro and Sheamus for half an hour. Hopefully this is the last we’ll see of this match for awhile. My gut says to go with the champs on this one. The Hardys have done wonders for them. In a perfect world, Matt would snap after losing this match, and revert back to his “Broken” persona. Supposedly, the Hardys are close to getting the rights to that IP. I’ll believe it when I see it.

PREDICTION: Sheamus and Cesaro

Enzo Amore vs. Big Cass

Give Enzo, Cass, and all parties involved credit for making this feel like a big grudge match. I have no idea what kind of match they’ll turn in. But for me, the wrestling aspect is almost irrelevant here. It’s more about the internalization of the characters. Just how ruthless is Cass going to be? What will be going through Enzo’s mind as he tries to fight his former best friend? And from an acting standpoint, can Cass keep up with Enzo? His mic work on Monday left something to be desired…

Whether Cass has got acting chops or not, the outcome of this match has never really been a question. Cass goes over. They’ve got their eye on him for a higher profile role. As for Enzo, he proved on Monday that he deserves a prominent role as well. As I mentioned above, he might want to consider taking a run at the Cruiserweight Title. Though if all else fails, it seems he has a tag team partner in the Big Show.

PREDICTION: Big Cass 

AMBULANCE MATCH:
Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman

Like the Dumpster Match he had with Kalisto, Braun Strowman can lose an Ambulance Match without having to be pinned. That’s definitely advantageous in terms of keeping up his monster vibe. Then again, he’s in the ring with the one guy who’s pinned him before. So maybe it doesn’t matter.

The story they’ve told is that Roman Reigns already has his ticket punched for Summerslam. Win or lose, he’s wrestling for the Universal Title. So it would make sense for Reigns to win here. But they can still play around with things if they’re so inclined. A victory for Strowman could propel him into that spot, giving us the much anticipated Brock Lensar vs. Braun Strowman match. Such a victory could also lead to a multi-man main event with Brock, Roman, and Strowman. Hell, they could even throw Joe in there if they wanted to.

In the end, I imagine WWE will stick to what’s been their prime directive in recent years: Make Roman look strong.

PREDICTION: Roman Reigns

WWE UNIVERSAL TITLE MATCH:
Brock Lesnar vs. Samoa Joe

I’m trying to think of the last time we had a WWE Championship Match that was this highly anticipated or well built. The only one that comes to mind is John Cena vs. CM Punk from Money in the Bank in 2011. I don’t know if this is quite that good. But it’s in that same orbit.

It would be a crying shame to see this match turn into just another visit to Suplex City, i.e. Brock just throwing the guy around a bunch. I want to see a fight. I don’t care if they translate that into a bunch of stiff punches, a submission wrestling clinic, a big brawl, or something else. Give me a competition. Make me believe. Leave me wanting more. That’s what I’m looking for from this match.

The one sad thing about this is that it’s virtually guaranteed that Joe is going to lose. That doesn’t mean he has to come out of it looking like a loser. But it does take a little bit of the edge off. In the end, what’s most important is that WWE takes note of how well Joe has performed in this role. Whether he stays heel, or this program turns him babyface, these past few weeks have essentially been a big coming-out party for Joe. After all these years, he’s finally a bona fide WWE superstar.

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

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Samoa Joe’s Boiling Point, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Two guys looking for a fight. One guy that’s the best, one guy that wants to be the best. It’s always been as simple as that. So why do they try to make it more complicated? Probably because they have all those damn writers on staff…

Monday’s segment with Brock Lesnar, Samoa Joe, and Paul Heyman was awesome for multiple reasons. First and foremost, it felt real. More so than anything they’ve given us in a long time. Instead of each person taking turns speaking, waiting to say their lines, Brock and Joe were fighting to be heard. Like it was an actual argument. WWE needs to look long and hard at this segment, and then at the heavily scripted in-ring scenes they’ve been  pushing out for so many years. This is what it should be like.

Secondly, it was so damn simple. Brock is the man. Joe wants so badly to be the man that he wants to fight Brock now. There are no tyrannical authority figures involved. No convoluted storylines. Just a raw competitiveness between two alpha males that can only be settled in the ring. I’ll say it again: This is what it should be like.

Thirdly, Joe came off like a ruthless killer here. He may as well be a babyface at this point. He’s brave, confident, and strong enough to take the fight to the company’s biggest and baddest monster. Are his tactics heelish? Absolutely. But his bad ass demeanor and bloodlust are something that coveted male 18-34 demographic can live vicariously through. It’s the same reason so many fans cheer for Braun Strowman. They’re fearless wrecking machines who will stand up to anyone.

WWE loves to talk about putting smiles on peoples faces. This segment damn sure put a smile on mine. For a few precious minutes, WWE wasn’t so sanitized, structured, and rehearsed anymore. A few years ago, Triple H called this the “reality era” of WWE. For once, the product lived up to that moniker.

And I want more. A lot more.

Ponderings From Raw:

Enzo Amore opens the show, cuts a promo on Big Cass. Enzo then jumps Cass backstage. Most of this was really, really good. Enzo looked right into the hard camera, spoke with passion and truth, and the crowd was behind him. I really dug the line about Cass being “nothing more than a seven foot catch phrase. That I wrote.”

They did, however, let him go a little long. Then he apparently forgot something. He dropped the mic, they hit his music, he started to leave…and then he picked the mic back up and started talking again. That was pretty cringeworthy. But to his credit, Enzo didn’t let it phase him. There’s that confidence he talked about. Not sure how much of this was scripted. But if they could produce promos like this more often, Raw would be a much better show week to week.

Enzo seemingly flew into the frame when he jumped Cass. Awesome intensity. It feels like we’ve got a lot of real emotions twisted up in this. As for Cass’ mic work? Pretty wooden. But in his defense, Enzo is a damn tough act to follow. For him, the real test will come after he’s done with Enzo.

Sasha Banks and Bayley def. Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax. WWE is wise to shift focus away from Bayley right now, given how shoddy they’ve booked her lately. It’s damage control. Case in point, Bayley being taken out of this match early. Thus, they’ve upped the emphasis on Sasha. I’ve soured on Sasha’s mic skills quite a bit. But her ring work looks as good as ever. I’m very curious to see what she and Alexa turn in at Great Balls of Fire.

Cedric Alexander def. Noam Dar. Nice win for Cedric. But how long has this story been going? I’m fine with keeping Noam Dar and Alicia Fox together for the time being. But let’s give them somebody else to work against, shall we?

Miz TV addresses last week’s show, tears down Dean Ambrose. Heath Slater demands an Intercontinental Title Match. Before this segment, they hyped up how much “great coverage” they got from that atrocious Ball family segment last week. Mind you, they left out the 15-year-old kid using a racial slur. Hear that? That’s the WWE spin cycle in full effect.

Miz gave us yet another good promo, once again talking about Ambrose’s wasted potential. The “Dean Ambrose can’t handle success” line was interesting. They should follow up on that…

The Miz def. Heath Slater to retain the Intercontinental Championship.  Dean Ambrose was on commentary for this match, and he did the unthinkable. He pointed to the giant pink elephant in the room. While talking about Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel, the “Miztourage,” he says to Michael Cole: “What do they call themselves? The Miztourage? That’s really bad. Miztourage is bad. That’s about as bad as Great Balls of Fire. Who came up with that name?”

I could practically hear Vince McMahon screaming through the headsets.

Emotionally, this was a really good match. As we’ve seen before, Slater makes an amazing sympathetic underdog. I’d love to see him win the Intercontinental Title.  Will it ever happen? Who knows. But this just gives more credence to the fact that Slater can be a singles star.

Did not expect that big Powerslam from the top rope. Slater is never going to be John Cena or Roman Reigns. But he can have that suspenseful, barn burner of a match if they just give him a chance.

Goldust premieres “The Shattered Truth.” R-Truth attacks his former partner. I liked how this was set up. Goldust center stage in the director’s chair. He’s another guy that can go the distance if they keep giving him opportunities like this. I’ve talked at length about that before, but it bears repeating.

Seth Rollins def. Curt Hawkins. Rollins cut a promo after making quick work of Hawkins, and went the after-school special route again. He talked about embracing your transgressions, how they make you who you are, blah blah blah. It’s such a far cry from the cool vibe we got in that WWE 2K commercial. Where the hell is that guy?

Neville def. Mustafa Ali. Awesome Spike DDT by Mustafa Ali in this match. He and Neville told an awesome story out there, showcasing the champion’s mean streak. I feel like I don’t see enough of Ali. If he was featured more prominently, I might actually give a crap about 205 Live.

Bray Wyatt speaks to Seth Rollins from the Arizona desert. Nice to see them step outside the box a little bit. Bray looked good out there. Now if only he had his credibility back. The guy calls himself a god. But hypothetically, don’t gods have to win matches once in awhile?

Finn Balor def. Cesaro. It occurred to me during this match that Balor doesn’t have a match at Great Balls of Fire. He and Elias Samson didn’t even make the pre-show. That’s kind of weird. As much as I enjoy both Miz and Dean Ambrose, I’d rather see Balor wrestle just about anyone than see those two have yet another IC Title Match.

More matches between these two please. Balor’s agility and grace compliment Cesaro’s strength tremendously.

Braun Strowman def. Apollo Crews. Roman Reigns surprises Strowman with a post-match attack, spearing him off the stage. Well how about that. Apollo Crews and Titus O’Neil got to be in a Raw main event. Crews paid a price for it, though. That bump he took on his head was nasty. Makes for a hell of a Twitter gif. But damn.

So…why did Strowman lick Apollo’s head? Crews was decimated by that point, and I get the idea of Strowman being dominant. But why lick his head? Is that going to be a thing?

Apparently Titus isn’t a heel anymore. He stood up to Strowman, and genuinely cared about Apollo’s wellbeing. Makes sense to me. Titus is a hard man to dislike.

Despite what some would have you believe, Roman Reigns delivers in big pay per view matches. Given what he and Braun turned in last time, and the chaotic nature of an Ambulance Match, they could give us something really cool at Great Balls of Fire.

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Punjabi Prison Match Returning, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I turned Raw off this week at about the 90-minute mark. It was the first time I’d given up on a show since November. Apparently I missed some good stuff afterward, including a follow-up on the split between Enzo and Cass, Samoa Joe choking out Brock Lesnar, and a Gauntlet Match with the women.

What a shame I missed it. But I just couldn’t take it anymore. The show was actively irritating me.

It started when they brought Josh Duhamel out to do commentary during a six-man tag. He was there to promote Transformers: The Last Knight, and an upcoming film he’s working on with WWE Studios. They spent a large portion of the match asking Duhamel questions about the movies before actually bothering to talk about what was happening in the ring. I’ve been watching this stuff for over 20 years, and this kind of thing  is nothing new. But it’s seldom been as grating to me as it was here. It’s like they were trying to mimic a talk show interview.

Later in the show, they did a Miz TV segment with someone named Lamelo Ball and his son LaVar Ball, and then his other son Lonzo Ball. I had no idea who any of these people were. Apparently Lonzo just got drafted by the LA Lakers, so it was partially meant to appeal to the crowd in Los Angeles. But this was just not good. It was an obvious attempt by WWE to get coverage from the major sports outlets so they’d look “legitimate.” Whatever that means…

It was then made worse when 15-year-old Lamelo used the N-word twice. It happened during Dean Ambrose’s entrance, so the music pulled a little bit of focus from it. But it happened. Some of the blame goes on Lamelo for that. But he’s just a kid. What the hell was he doing with a live mic?

And frankly, as a wrestling fan, there’s a larger issue at play for me here. The Ball family shouldn’t have had a featured role on Raw to begin with. I understand WWE wanting to get “the rub” from celebrities. It makes good business sense, and it’s certainly worked in the past. Think of names like Mr. T, Cindi Lauper, Mike Tyson, and Floyd Mayweather.

But WWE has bigger problems right now that can’t be masked by celebrity involvement. They’re the same problems that have been there for years now. Everything is overly sanitized. The wrestlers are too scripted. Certain characters feel hollow. Nothing feels real. The show is too long. The list goes on.

The ratings reflect it, too. Viewership fell below three million people again this week. Pundits talk a lot about WWE’s “base” audience. As in, the people that are going to watch the shows no matter what. Usually, I’m part of that base. But this past week, they chased me off before I could see most of their big angles. If it’s gotten to the point that they’re chasing hardcore loyalists like myself off, how do they expect to bring casual viewers back to the product?

Over seven million people have watched the YouTube video of the first Brock Lesnar/Samoa Joe’s confrontation on Raw. So it’s not like there’s no interest in the WWE brand. I think a lot of the more casual fans are simply waiting for Raw to be good again. Why should they waste their time otherwise?

So what do they have to lose by changing up the presentation and the creative? More importantly, how much do they stand to gain by taking some risks? It’s not like what they’re doing now is setting the world on fire. Anything so we don’t see crap like that Miz TV segment anymore. That thing stunk like balls…

Sorry. I couldn’t resist. Let’s move on to Smackdown.  

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Daniel Bryan opens the show, Carmella vies to get her Money in the Bank briefcase back. James Ellsworth is ejected from the building. I chuckled at Ellsworth’s crack about Bryan not being able to cut it in the ring anymore. Bryan has made no secret about wanting to get back in there. He just can’t get cleared by WWE doctors. The smart bet his inevitable return take place in Ring of Honor or New Japan Pro Wrestling. That’s sad news for WWE buffs. But as much as anyone, Bryan deserves to live life on his own terms.

The Usos def. The Hype Bros. The New Day to challenge for the Smackdown Tag Titles at BattlegroundSurprised the Hype Bros lost this match clean. Maybe that Zack Ryder heel turn is coming sooner than I expected.

So Kofi Kingston insults the Usos, and they just stand there and take it? Yes, they’re heels. But do they have to be wusses too? At least tease some physicality.

Breezango interrogates the Ascension about attacking them at Money in the Bank. Konnor: “The only reason we were at Money in the Bank is because we wanted a match on the card.” Hey, at least he’s honest.

Naomi def. Lana to retain the Smackdown Women’s Title. I was actually rooting for Lana here. How much heat would she get if Rusev came down and cost Naomi the match? Is Lana as good wrestler yet? No. But neither was Stephanie McMahon when she was Women’s Champion. Just do it!

Randy Orton interrupts Aiden English to challenge Jinder Mahal to another WWE Title Match. Shane McMahon grants his request, allowing Mahal to choose the stipulation Mahal chooses a Punjabi Prison Match. How nice that they just happened to have that stock footage of the Punjabi Prison structure standing by. That’s the kind of thing that just shatters your suspension of disbelief.

Jinder name-dropped the Great Khali in this segment. Not sure how good an idea that was. Considering the quality of previous Punjabi Prison Matches, do they really want people Googling them with the Great Khali’s name attached? Not exactly a recipe for quality content.

Baron Corbin def. Sami Zayn. They had Sami Zayn interrupt Maria and Mike Kanellis on his way to the ring. Not a bad first opponent for Mike Kanellis. Not a bad first opponent for anybody, really.

Carmella def. Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Natalya, and Tamina Snuka in a Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match to regain the briefcase. Great effort from all the ladies involved here. It seemed like they were trying to slam each other hard to make up for a lack of hitting one another with the ladder.

They did a weird sequence where Charlotte and Tamina (with her Joan Jett look) were holding a closed ladder straight up, and Becky Lynch tried to leap up and climb it. They held it there for several seconds, then let it drop across the ropes as Becky remained perched. A few seconds later, they then attacked her. Very tentative. Again, it hurts your suspension of disbelief. But then again, I’m not the one out there on the ladder…

That chair shot Carmella gave to Becky at the end of the match looked weak as hell. If you’re going to use the damn chair, make it look good! That being said, this was the right finish. Carmella gets heat with how she won at the pay per view, and she keeps it here. Smackdown has its new top heel in the Women’s Division. But lay that damn chair in! Also, don’t let the cameras catch you peeking at the ring when you’re supposed to be down on the outside!

You live and you learn…

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Brock Lesnar Returns, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Brock Lesnar was back on television this week for the first time since Wrestlemania week, with the Universal Championship across his shoulder. Anytime Brock is on television it’s a big deal. Now that he’s got a Heavyweight Title again, that’s the case even moreso.

Nowadays we’re hearing a lot of the same talk we heard during Brock’s last run with the WWE Championship. He needs to be on TV more, not having him there takes away from the show, things like that. And yes, not having your champion there is a big adjustment. That title is usually what everyone is fighting for. It’s the motivation for most of the main characters on this TV show.

But they’re doing the right thing with Brock Lesnar, champion or not.

Brock is special. That was the case even before he became UFC Champion and all that. Now he’s one of the precious few difference-making attractions WWE has. So when Brock is on Raw, sparse as it may be at times, it’s special. It’s must-see TV. That shouldn’t change because he has the title.

The impetus, therefore, needs to be on WWE to provide us with compelling television despite the lack of a Heavyweight Champion. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, they haven’t consistently done that. But there are bright spots to be found. They’ve reintroduced certain mystery and soap opera elements that have been absent for awhile. The mystery of who’s attacking Enzo and Cass, the question of what’s going on with Kurt Angle, etc. They’ve got so many talented people on that Raw roster. The absence of your champion is a circumstance, not an excuse.

There’s also something to be said for restraint. Before the so-called Monday Night Wars, you didn’t see all your marquee stars in the ring every week. The announcers would talk about them, and you might see an interview. But they wouldn’t necessarily wrestle every week. Once WWE started fighting for ratings, that all changed. WWE would benefit greatly from not throwing everything and everyone at us each week. Yes, they have three hours to fill. But again, that’s not an excuse. It’s a call for them to be more creative.

What’s more, they’ve shown they can do it. Not just with Brock, either. Finn Balor hasn’t wrestled on Raw in two weeks. We saw a video package about him. But they kept him off the live show. Roman Reigns got the same treatment this week. Ergo, they’re a little bit fresher the next time we see them.

Ergo, despite what you might hear, Brock Lesnar’s less frequent appearances are an example of what WWE is doing right these days. Frankly, the anticipation and freshness they help create is something they should strive for with more of their main event talent.

Ponderings From Raw:

A brawl erupts between Brock Lesnar and Samoa Joe. There was a definite tension in the air when Brock and Paul Heyman came out. A tension which grew thicker with Heyman’s promo, and then even thicker when Joe finally came out.

What followed was a pull-apart brawl very reminiscent of the one we got between Brock and the Undertaker a few years ago. I’m disappointed they couldn’t come up with something different. But the two things I came away from this thinking about were Joe’s opening shot to Lesnar, and the kick he snuck in. They came off pretty evenly matched, but Joe was the one who got put over. In the end, this accomplished what it needed to.

Elias Samson def. Dean Ambrose after a distraction from Miz and Maryse. Wonder how many of the kids at home got Corey Graves’ Bobby Boucher reference…

Decent match. Nice to hear the crowd get into it. That’s not always what we get with some of these Raw crowds. This Ambrose/Miz thing needs to be over already. Between Raw and Smackdown, we’ve been seeing it for months now. Give us a fresh IC Title challenger, and let Ambrose work with Samson long form.

Afterward, we saw Kurt Angle get angry at Miz backstage. So…the GM was mad that a wrestler interfered in another wrestler’s match? He does know what show he’s in charge of, right?

Cedric Alexander def. Noam Dar. The tried a new story device here by putting Alicia Fox on the tron, framed inside an image of a phone (shown right). The idea was she was using FaceTime or something. They really should have set this up beforehand. Like, in the backstage segment we saw prior, have Dar tell Fox he’s going to put her up on the tron so people can still be treated to her beauty. Something like that. The transition was jarring. At least the match was short.

Roman Reigns to make an announcement regarding Summerslam next week. I like this. It seems pretty open-ended as far as who Reigns will be working with. So it could be just about anybody. It’d be nice if we could just do Reigns vs. Lesnar, and get it out of the way now. I expect we won’t be that lucky. Braun Strowman, maybe? I know he’s a Smackdown guy, but could it be John Cena? If so, it would make sense for them to start promoting it now.

Bray Wyatt and Seth Rollins come face-to-face in the ring. They must have used an old bumper for the backstage portion of Bray’s promo. There were some images of Randy Orton in there.

News broke yesterday about Bray’s wife filing for divorce, citing an alleged affair with ring announcer Jojo Offerman. I’m not defending what the real-life Wyndham Rotunda supposedly did. But it sucks whenever one’s dirty laundry gets aired like that. My heart goes out to the family.

Bray said, “You don’t want this fight, Seth. My power is more than you can possibly imagine.” Oh really? You lost clean to Roman Reigns last week. Also, you and Rollins have wrestled before, including in the main event of Raw not long ago. So yeah, I’m pretty sure he can imagine just fine.

Bray’s little disappearing act during this segment was very Undertaker-ish. He then said another line that made no sense: “Face your fear, man….and run.” Face your fear and run? What the hell does that mean?

Apollo Crews def. Kalisto. Titus O’Neil continues to try and recruit Akira Tozawa to the Titus Brand. Nice powerbomb finish to an okay match. I’d expect to see Titus, Apollo, and Kalisto start showing up on 205 Live to further this story. If they haven’t already, that is. Like most people, 205 Live isn’t much of a priority for me.

Sasha Banks, Mickie James, and Dana Brooke def. Alexa Bliss, Nia Jax, and Emma. Emma caught a really bad break with an injury shortly after she finally got back in the ring. So it was cool to see her return. Then of course, she tapped out. Some people just can’t catch a break.

Corey Graves does a sit-down interview with Bayley. After not being able to use the kendo stick on Alexa Bliss at Extreme Rules, Bayley says she’s going to do things “her way” regardless of what people think. That’s a nice sentiment, and it’s very in-character. I just hope that after the bad booking Bayley has had to endure, the older fans don’t turn on her for being a white-meat babyface. I’m interested to see what kind of reaction she gets the next time she’s in front of a TV crowd.

Heath Slater and Rhyno def. The Miz and “Bear.” Well great. The crowd was chanting for the bear. Now we’ll be seeing the Miz in segments with it for weeks to come.

So Miz unmasks the bear, and it’s not Ambrose. Then a second bear comes in, and it is Ambrose. They seemed to lose the crowd at that point. Apparently Miz’s tag team partner being in a teddy bear costume was okay. A sudden costume switch? Not okay.

If they’re looking for someone for Miz to feud with, I wouldn’t mind seeing Slater get that spot. He’d make a great underdog challenger.

Neville lays out Rich Swann before their match can begin, advices Akira Tozawa to “tread carefully.” I’ve been waiting to see Tozawa and Neville mix it up since the former first appeared on Raw. I’m ready for this!

Big Cass is once again attacked backstage. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson defeat Enzo and Cass moments later. The Big Show comes to Enzo’s aid afterward. I’ll give them credit. I’m more interested in this story than I ever thought I would be. The big question seems to be about who’s going heel? Is it Enzo or Cass? I still don’t think they should be broken up. But it seems like that’d be the only worthwhile payoff…

 Sheamus and Cesaro vs The Hardy Boyz go to a double count-out in a 2 out of 3 Falls Match for the Raw Tag Team Titles. Love the positioning of this match. Really made the titles feel important. It’s also a break from the usual suspects being in the main event. Reigns, Rollins, etc.

Sheamus and Cesaro have been put over like a million bucks these past few weeks. First they pin everyone in a Tag Team Turmoil Match. Then they win the belts at Extreme Rules. Now the Hardys fail to beat them for the belts in a 2 out of 3 Falls Match. They may not have won here, but they are believably and definitively positioned as the top team on Raw right now. Maybe the top team in all of WWE. Good on you, gentlemen. Looking forward to seeing where it goes next.

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Dolph Ziggler Leaving WWE? Plus, Ponderings From Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

YouTube vlogger Trisha Paytas says Dolph Ziggler is leaving wrestling soon. Who the hell is Trisha Paytas? How well does she know Ziggler? Does she have even the slightest amount of credibility? I can’t answer any of these questions. Though apparently he stood her up on a date.

Either way, I hope she’s right. At least as far as WWE is concerned. Not because I have anything against Ziggler, but because the real-life Nick Nemeth deserves better.

I’ve talked about this before, and I’m certainly not the only one. Dolph Ziggler is one of the few guys I’ve ever seen who can really do it all. In the ring, he’s about the closest thing we have to a modern day Shawn Michaels. His physique is ripped to shreds. From a personality standpoint, he can do whatever you need. He can be a good guy, a bad guy, dramatic, intense, funny, you name it. He’s got practically everything you could want in a WWE star, and he’s been scratched and clawed his way toward the top year after year after year. While he’s certainly had his share of accolades, including a short run with a Heavyweight Title, so many wrestling fans justifiably believe Dolph Ziggler could have been so much more than they’ve allowed him to become.

We’re long overdue for Dolph to step away from WWE, and go the route of guys like Cody Rhodes and Drew Galloway. If he wants to stay in wrestling, it’s time for him to reinvent himself outside of their umbrella. I don’t doubt for a second that Dolph Ziggler could make bank in New Japan Pro Wrestling. For my money, Nick Nemeth as the IWGP Heavyweight Champion isn’t the least bit far fetched. Ironically, he’d then likely find more opportunities in WWE if he were to come back.

Dolph Ziggler just needs to take that leap of faith, and prove he doesn’t need WWE to be a success in pro wrestling. There are entirely different crowds just waiting for him to show up and show off. The time is now.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Lana arrives on Smackdown, asks to be part of the Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match. Lana in a Ladder Match? Good lord. Why even mention that? Are they trying to kill her?

Lana’s still got the Russian accent, which is fine. If they wanted her to drop it, now would have been the time. It’ll be interesting to see where she is in relation to Rusev when he finally gets back on TV. It also looks like she’s getting some of the packaging that the Emmalina character might have gotten.

Naomi came off really scripted here. But I’ll give her this: She’s got charisma.

Natalya, Carmella, and Tamina def. Naomi, Charlotte Flair, and Becky Lynch. Lana interferes to cost Naomi the fall. Lana is later granted a championship match against at Money in the Bank. Not to pick on Naomi, but I really hate that spot she does with the rapid kicks. It looks so damn staged and fake.

I’m not sure how much better or worse Lana has gotten in the ring. Bad kicks or not, I wouldn’t want to be Naomi having to carry Lana through a match.

AJ Styles def. Dolph Ziggler. I was shocked as hell to see Ziggler get a clean win over Styles last week. But of course, Dolph can’t maintain any substantial momentum, can he? We had to have 50/50 booking this week.

I really shouldn’t complain though. These guys are about as smooth as it gets. Nice and fluid counter into the Styles Clash for the win.

WWE Champion Jinder Mahal def. Mojo Rawley. What have they done with Mojo that’s been of any kind of substance since he won that Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal? Nothing, really. The missing piece of the puzzle for him at this point is Zack Ryder. Once Ryder comes back, their tag team will mean that much more than it did when he got hurt.

They’re playing up the fact that Money in the Bank is in St. Louis, Randy Orton’s hometown. Traditionally, that’s a dead giveaway that the hometown wrestler is walking away with a win. But lately it’s gone primarily in the opposite direction. Bayley lost the Raw Women’s Title to Alexa Bliss in her home town. Styles lost to Ziggler in his home state of Georgia last week. And those are just two examples. Chances are the Jinder experiment isn’t over yet.

The New Day def. The Colons. The Usos cut a promo after the match. Primo and Epico had that renewed push for about two weeks. Now they’re right back to where they were before.

The Usos will turn themselves back into babyfaces into this rate. They’ve got something WWE desperately needs right now: The cool factor.

Shinsuke Nakamura def. Kevin Owens in a non-title match. Baron Corbin attacks Nakamura after the match. When you listen to him on commentary or on Talking Smack, it’s clear there’s a big difference between Baron Corbin talking, and Baron Corbin reciting lines. He sounded so natural here.

An okay showing for Nakamura and Owens here. There’s been a little bit of buzz about Nakamura winning the Money in the Bank Ladder Match. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Corbin walk out with the briefcase, though. While they haven’t given him any big wins lately, he’s a long-term project for WWE. And they’d have as much as a year to build him up as a title contender. Don’t be surprised if it happens, folks.

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