Dean Ambrose pins John Cena, and Other Ponderings From WWE Smackdown Live

John Cena, Dean Ambrose, WWE Smackdown, September 20, 2016By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m still not over how abysmal Raw was this week. I’m not someone who basks in negativity, either. I simply call it how I see it. It was a really bad show. If you buy into the manufactured Raw vs. Smackdown stuff, Smackdown had it easy this week.

What it often comes down to with Smackdown is the very simple philosophy of “Less is more.” That’s a refreshing approach. In 2016, WWE’s approach is almost always, “More is never enough.” We’ve got more than three hours of Raw each week, and pay per views that tend to go on even longer. Not to mention supplementary content on the network.

WWE television used to leave you wanting more. You simply couldn’t wait to tune in next week to find out what happens next. Nowadays, the opposite is often true. We turn off shows feeling exhausted or frustrated. Wrestle mania XXXII went so long I actually considered turning in my fan card for awhile.

In entertainment, there’s always something to be said for conciseness and restraint. Smackdown almost feels like a throwback to an era where there wasn’t a push for so much content, and each minute of WWE TV seemed to matter just a little more.

Alexa Bliss, WWE Smackdown, September 20, 2016Ponderings From Smackdown:

Daniel Bryan hosts a contract signing between Becky Lynch and Alexa Bliss. Bryan’s a damn charmer. He had that line about keeping things civil, the audience gives him some friendly boos, and he goes: “Don’t boo that.”

Both these ladies are very natural in their roles. They had to recite lines that were obviously scripted. But Becky’s fire was great. Alexa has the snobby high school cheerleader act down pat, and she’s very expressive. I just wish they’d quit comparing her to Harley Quinn. Because here’s the thing: She’s not Harley Quinn. She’s Alexa Bliss, and she’s still coming into her own as a national TV character. The Harley Quinn thing almost sends mixed messages to the audience.

The Usos def. American Alpha to earn a Smackdown Tag Title shot at No MercyRed and black is definitely a better fit for the Usos than red and white. They actually look tough.

Both Jason Jordan and Chad Gable are absolute suplex machines. They’re both so explosive, which is part of what makes them so fun to watch. On the flip side, the Usos need another move in their arsenal besides the superkick. They do know that’s the move Shawn Michaels used to retire Ric Flair, right? And here they are practically beating it into the ground.

Apollo Crews, September 20, 2016During this segment, David Otunga mentioned something about filming a movie with Adam Sandler. That’s not exactly something to brag about in 2016, is it?

Baron Corbin def. Apollo Crews. On the subject of Otunga’s commentary, he said here that this was the first time he’d seen Crews not smiling. That’s a good thing. As athletically gifted as he is, a white meat babyface label can drag your career into the gutter. That’s largely what’s happened to Crews lately.

We also got Jack Swagger on headset during this match. Not sure what we did to deserve that.

The Miz def. Dolph Ziggler to retain the Intercontinental Title. I don’t mean to keep harping on Otunga. But during this match he said “most people never win a title during their time here.” Um, yes they do, good sir. In fact, it’s a hell of a lot more likely now that we’ve got so many belts. In January 2016 we had five titles. Now we have nine. And that’s not counting NXT. It’s a nice idea, and I understand them wanting to make the IC belt seem as prestigious as possible. But statements like that hurt an announcer’s credibility, and Otunga had so little to begin with.

I’ve enjoyed seeing Miz mimic Daniel Bryan’s old move set. It’s a creative little dig. These two may not be able to have a match, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Bryan gets Miz in the Yes Lock at some point.

WWE Smackdown, September 20, 2016, Dolph Ziggler, The MizI’ve heard some buzz about a Miz vs. Ziggler steel cage match at No Mercy. Instead of doing that, why not just have Ziggler wrestle in goggles? It’d protect him from getting sprayed in the eyes over and over, and it would save us from having to watch Ziggler lose yet another match to Miz.

Randy Orton def. Erick Rowan. Bray Wyatt cuts a promo, saying “a god can never die.” That promo was pure fluff. Bray said he and Orton are locked in “the unholiest of matrimonies.” What does that even mean? That line about never dying doesn’t mean anything either. When people talk about Bray’s promos being nonsensical, this is what they’re talking about.

Orion’s got a rematch with Brock Lesnar this Saturday at a house show in Chicago. While we’re out getting Ziggler goggles, we might want to get Orton a helmet.

Nikki Bella def. Natalya via disqualification. So Nikki gets the DQ win after Carmella interferes in a short match. I don’t mind this little program at all. It keeps Nikki away from the title picture for a little while, and allows Carmella to grow a little. It’s a win-win.

Dean Ambrose def. John Cena. Ambrose earns WWE Championship Match next week. AJ Styles had a great line in before this match: “The only way this title gets taken from me, is if I don’t have to get pinned to lose it.”

Dean Ambrose, WWE Smackdown, September 20, 2016Very surprised to see Ambrose pin Cena clean. But from a story perspective, it lends credence to what Ambrose said last week about Cena not being able to cut it in the ring anymore. Things feel nice and personal between them. I’m hoping we see them in a big pay per view match down the road.

So Cena accidentally costs Ambrose the title next week, and we take this to No Mercy.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens in a Cage, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Rusev, Roman Reigns, Kevin Owens, WWE Raw, September 19, 2016It’s that time of year, folks. School is back in session. The leaves will soon be changing colors. The Halloween shops have started opening. Monday Night Football is back on the air. Autumn is here. Which for WWE fans means the “autumn slump.”

I’m not sure if I’m the first one to call it that, but I’m not the first talk about it. The autumn slump refers to the downturn in TV quality we tend to see between September and December. In the past few years, the autumn slump has brought us a Big Show/Randy Orton program for the WWE Championship, Sheamus winning the WWE Championship at a time when his career was lukewarm at best, and what may have been the 100th John Cena/Randy Orton feud.

And so once again, WWE must try to avoid the autumn slump, and persevere through competition from Monday Night Football.

They’re not off to a good start…

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns, Mick Foley, and Stephanie McMahon open the show. Coming off the finals of the Cruiserweight Classic tournament last week, I was hoping they’d open with the cruiserweights. Instead, we got yet another long-winded talking segment. A fairly cold start to things, which led to a cold match between Seth Rollins and Rusev. Even Kevin Owens, who’s usually very natural, came off highly scripted here.

Mick Foley, WWE Raw, September 19, 2016Meanwhile, we still have no idea why Triple H interfered in the Universal Title Match a few weeks ago. Even Reigns brought up Hunter’s absence. Steph did “guess” at his motivations later in the show. But we still don’t have any answers from Triple H. Perhaps those answers will come at Clash of Champions.

Seth Rollins vs. Rusev goes to a double count-out. As good as both these guys are, I’ll admit I had this match on mute most of the time. What was at stake? And in the end, they had a non-finish. Again, such a cold, cold start.

Braun Strowman def. Sin Cara. Not the match they needed to go with at this stage of the show. Both guys were perfectly serviceable. But again, not much to latch on to between these two. I found myself utterly bored.

Sasha Banks & Bayley def. Charlotte & Dana Brooke. It took them almost an hour to give us a match that actually had something going on in it. Though were hardly perfect here. I can only assume they’re still trying to turn Dana Brooke into a babyface. To what end I’m not sure. Not only is she a natural heel, but she’s on a roster with two widely popular female wrestlers like Sasha and Bayley.

Dana Brooke, WWE Raw, September 19, 2016So…does Dana cost Charlotte the title at Clash of Champions? They made a point to put the title on Sasha several weeks ago. I assume the reason Charlotte won it back was because they didn’t know how long Sasha would be out with her back problems. Perhaps now they simply go back to their original plan with her.

Bo Dallas wins another squash match. Just when you thought the show was about to pick up… Ugh.

Cesaro def. Sheamus. Their Best of Seven series is now tied at 3-3. I must have rewound my DVR and watched that finish four or five times. Not because it was so spectacular, but because for a moment I thought Sheamus flung himself into an uppercut in the balls. Winning with your feet on the ropes is one thing. An uppercut to the balls? That’s something else.

The New Day, Enzo & Cass, & Sami Zayn def. Chris Jericho, Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, & the Shining Stars. The in-ring segment at the top of the hour wasn’t so bad until the Shining Stars came out. As talented as they are, Primo & Epico are about as appealing as a wet fart. After that, everything went downhill. Did Big E. actually say the New Day came out because they had nothing better to do? From the minds of creative geniuses, ladies and gentlemen…

WWE Raw, September 19, 2016, Cedric Alexander, Rich SwannLike most of what we saw tonight, they were just killing time with this stuff. Nothing of consequence at all.

Brian Kendrick def. Cedric Alexander, Gran Metallic  and Rich Swann to earn a Cruiserweight Title Match at Clash of Champions. Once these guys started working, it became painfully obvious they should have opened the show. While the majority of what we saw on this show still would have sucked, we wouldn’t have started with a bad taste in our mouths. The entire vibe of the show could have improved.

A few weeks ago we saw Titus O’Neil absolutely murder a pre-match scripted promo on live television. While Foley’s time out there wasn’t as bad, like Titus you could see him struggling to remember his lines. Yet another illustration of how over-scripting hinders what we see on Raw every week.

The obvious favorite to win the Cruiserweight Classic was Kota Ibushi. But Ibushi opted not to sign with WWE, so he was eliminated by TJ Perkins in the semifinals. Still, the announcers made a point to mention him more than once. So I imagine the door is still open for him.

Brian Kendrick, Cedric Alexander, WWE Raw, September 19, 2016The only part of this match I didn’t like was Rich Swann flipping around the ring for no reason. The tend to call that “showboating.” Neville does the same thing in his matches. It’s overkill.

Frankly, I’d have had Cedric Alexander go over in this one. But the story they’re telling with Kendrick is a good one. And for what it’s worth, Kendrick has experience in WWE pay per view matches. All in all, a very good start to the cruiserweight element on Raw.

Roman Reigns def. Kevin Owens in a steel cage match. At least Reigns won by escape. He didn’t pin the champion. That’s not to say it won’t happen. The way things are going, it’ll probably happen next week…

Corey Graves named the Owens/Zayn simultaneous punching spot during this match. “Hockey fight.” Is that what it’s supposed to be? It still looks awful…

Kevin Owens had the quote of the night, telling Rusev to “Machka something!”

By wrestling standards, I suppose that dive by Rollins off the top of the cage wasn’t incredibly risky. He had both Owens and Rusev to catch him. But after all the injuries we’ve seen this year, and what just happened with Finn Balor, it’s especially unwise to tempt fate these days.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

Dean Ambrose Goes Heel? Plus, Other Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

Bray Wyatt, WWE Backlash 2016By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Can somebody get Bray Wyatt a rabbit’s foot or something?

In light of Randy Orton not being medially cleared to return to face Wyatt at Backlash, the “Eater of Worlds” was instead put against Kane in a no holds barred match. Wyatt wound up getting pinned after Orton ran in for an RKO.

There should really be nothing wrong with losing to Kane, considering all he’s done over the years. But imagine all that Bray Wyatt could do here and now. His promos can get a little nonsensical at times, and maybe he is a little injury prone. But what a character. What a presence he has about him. As a babyface, he could be a bonafide superstar.

And yet, he’s been continually mismanaged creatively. This guy has been dying for a big win, and yet at Backlash they had him lose to someone in the twilight of his career. That’s not a slight against Kane. But of the two, Wyatt is the one who can offer the company more in years to come. I understand they were put in a bad spot when Orton wasn’t cleared. They obviously wanted to continue the program. But how about Wyatt gets the win, and then Orton runs in for the RKO? That at least allows Bray to brag a little bit about beating Kane. It also would have helped him build some sorely needed momentum. Instead, here we are. Another big show, another loss for Bray Wyatt.

By the way, if Orton wasn’t cleared to wrestle at Backlash, how did they justify letting him run in and to an RKO? That is, as I recall, a wrestling move.

John Cena, Dean Ambrose, AJ Styles, WWE Smackdown, September 13, 2016Ponderings From Smackdown:

John Cena and Dean Ambrose vye to be the top contender for AJ Styles’ WWE Championship. Shane McMahon makes a triple-threat match for the belt at No Mercy next month. Don’t adjust your TV sets, folks. AJ Styles is the WWE Champion. And for but a brief while, all seems to be right with the world. I’d be surprised if Styles stays heel for long. People inherently want to cheer him, and he’s got such a great story.

There was some great manufactured drama between Cena and Ambrose here. Cena brings up Steve Austin’s comments about Ambrose supposedly resting on his laurels, and Ambrose calls Cena a “lazy part-timer.” Some really nice worked shoot material.

I’m surprised they’re already putting Styles back with Cena. But having Cena on the No Mercy will no doubt give it a bigger feel than Backlash had. I also don’t doubt these three can have an awesome triple-threat match.

The Usos def. The Hype Bros. What the hell were the Usos wearing? C’mon, guys. You can’t wrestle American Alpha dressed like that.

The Miz, WWE Smackdown, September 13, 2016Dolph Ziggler interrupts The Miz. Miz tells Daniel Bryan he’s competing again until his contract is renegotiated. I got a huge kick out of Ziggler telling Miz that the fans will never see him as a top guy. Pot to kettle, buddy.

So if you’ve got the book, who do you have challenge Miz next? I have no interest in seeing Ziggler face him again. Apollo Crews isn’t ready. So who? One of the only people who comes to mind is Kane. But you don’t want to put the IC Title on him. We might want to get comfortable seeing that belt on Miz’s shoulder…

Jack Swagger moves from Raw to Smackdown. Don’t listen to him, folks. Remember everything you know about Jack Swagger. He’s a good wrestler, but has little to no star power. He’s another guy who could potentially challenge Miz. But there’s no sense in putting the Intercontinental Title on Jack friggin’ Swagger. Something tells me he’s just here to get demolished by Baron Corbin.

Alexa Bliss wins a Fatal Fiveway Match to become top contender for the Smackdown Women’s Title. I was overjoyed to see Becky Lynch win the belt at Backlash. I can’t say it has quite the luster of being WWE’s sole women’s champion, which was an accolade she deserved. But it was still a great moment for her.

Alexa Bliss, WWE Smackdown, September 13, 2016I’m not a fan of Alexa’s Harley Quinn-inspired look. But then again, certain wrestlers have done well impersonating comic book characters. Just ask Sting. Alexa is about to get some precious solo time in the spotlight. Here’s hoping she makes the most of it.

Heath Slater signs a Smackdown contract, successfully defends the Smackdown Tag Team Titles with Rhyno against The Ascension. I didn’t expect Slater & Rhyno to strike gold at Backlash either. But again, a pleasant surprise. Its amazing what can happen when a wrestler gets himself over, and WWE doesn’t fight the crowd. Heath Slater really ran with this whole “free agent” thing, and they seem to have stumbled on to some nice chemistry between he and Rhyno.

Also, that “I Got Kids” shirt he was wearing is actually for sale. Imagine that. Heath Slater has a t-shirt.

Randy Orton calls out Bray Wyatt. Erick Rowan ambushes Orton, gets an RKO. I love the line, “Do not sleep.” That’s a great Bray Wyatt line. Now if only he actually had some steam.

So I guess Erick Rowan is still with Bray? And I guess Orton is cleared for physicality now? I’m confused.

Dean Ambrose, John Cena, WWE Smackdown, September 13, 2016John Cena & Dean Ambrose def. AJ Styles & The Miz. Ambrose turns on Cena afterward. Very cool to see James Ellsworth make another WWE appearance as Styles’ would-be tag partner before Miz took him out. There’s a spot for someone like him in that company. It was a nice touch that they also managed to further the Miz/Bryan storyline.

I think we can officially say the fans are ready for a Dean Ambrose heel turn. I’m not sure if what we saw here constitutes a heel turn. But listen to the boos after he hits Cena with that DDT. A few months ago, Ambrose would heard mostly cheers.

So Kevin Steen is the champion of Raw, AJ Styles is the champion of Smackdown, and John Cena is hearing mostly cheers?

I don’t know what to believe anymore.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

CM Punk’s UFC 203 Loss, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

Mickey Gall, CM Punk, UFC 203, September 10, 2016By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I had no desire to see CM Punk lose at UFC 203. But my hopes weren’t high that he’d win. The smart bet was we’d get exactly what we got: A Mickey Gall victory in the first round. Specifically, by submission at two minutes and 14 seconds.

That didn’t make it any easier to watch, though…

Full disclosure: I’m a big CM Punk fan. Many wrestling fans have turned their backs on him since he walked out of WWE. Ironically, I came to love him even more for that. Despite generous pay, the real-life Phil Brooks was feeling disrespected and misused by WWE, and was suffering from what turned out to be a severe staph infection. So he made his health and sanity his top priority, and he walked away to pursue other interests. Stories like that strike a chord with me, given some of the bosses I’ve had over the years. When I had the chance to meet Punk at a comic book convention in Chicago awhile back, I was really proud to tell him: “Thank you for setting a good example and standing up for yourself.”

For yours truly, Punk personifies what Joseph Campbell called “following your bliss.” You don’t listen to what your friends, your peers, your culture, or even your loved ones want you to do, and you simply follow your heart and passion. You live with your heart as much, if not more than your head.

I’m guessing this marks the end of Punk’s UFC career, at least for now. But if MMA is where he finds his bliss, then he should continue to pursue it. He’s undoubtedly having a rough few days. But his wrestling career was built in part on defying expectations and proving people wrong. I see no reason why his MMA career shouldn’t be the same way.

Ponderings From Raw:

wwe-raw-september-12-2016-bayleyMick Foley, Charlotte, Dana Brooke, Sasha Banks, and Bayley open the show. After too much disrespect, Dana slaps Charlotte across the face. Sasha vs. Bayley vs. Dana is made to decide the top contender for the Raw Women’s Title.  Right after Sasha came out and said she was going to take the belt back at Clash of Champions, there was a long, awkward silence. Nobody said anything. Charlotte didn’t respond to Sasha’s threat, Sasha didn’t follow up with anything, Mick didn’t interject. They just stood there. And why? Because Bayley’s cue got messed up somehow. So they all stood there like high school kids in a play.

This is why I wish they didn’t overly script these segments. Granted, it sucked that Bayley’s entrance was late, and it was a bad position for anyone to be in. But if you’re performers, and you’re in the moment, you can compensate for that.

The audience definitely popped when Dana slapped Charlotte. But imagine if Dana hadn’t been playing such a bratty heel the whole time. Imagine if she actually had some sympathy. Imagine how much more impactful it would have been…

On a more positive note, I Iiked shy Bayley. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of that side of her character. Very endearing.

sasha-banks-wwe-raw-september-12-2016Sasha Banks def. Bayley and Dana Brooke to earn a Raw Women’s Title Match at Clash of Champions. I loved how the TV audience barely saw Sasha and Bayley wrestle in this match. Dana Brooke was constantly between them. That’s how it should be. The novelty of seeing them wrestle for the first time on the main roster should be protected as much as possible.

Of course, Sasha did end up sneaking in to catch a quick pin on Bayley. My question is, were they both supposed to have their shoulders on the mat? Was that supposed to be a double pin that the ref didn’t see? If so, that’s a nice way to protect Bayley until they eventually meet.

In a pre-tape, Enzo challenges Epico to a match. The only one of Enzo’s catchphrases I’ve soured on is the one about “a cuppa haters.” He overuses it.

So Primo & Epico are literally Puerto Rican travel agents at this point?

Bo Dallas wins a squash match. I’ll give them this much: I’m interested to see what happens when Bo stops squashing jobbers. I’m not hopeful he’ll get very far reciting poems like Heidenreich used to to. But you never know.

Chris Jericho, WWE Raw, September 12, 2016Sami Zayn is a guest on Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel. Zayn bringing up “the old Chris Jericho” is likely a foreshadowing of what we’ll see from the inevitable Jericho vs. Owens feud. Owens obviously can’t play the babyface. So it looks like we’ll be getting the return of the Ayatollah of Rock ‘n Rolla. In the meantime, Jericho vs. Zayn seems imminent.

Cesaro def. Sheamus in match five of their Best of Seven series. The current score is Sheamus: 3, Cesaro: 2. Cesaro cheats to win, like true babyfaces always do. Ugh. They’ve timed this so the last match can take place at Clash of Champions. This “championship opportunity” the winner gets is pretty vague. I suppose it’s too much to ask that Cesaro earn a Universal Title Match at Hell in a Cell in October. More likely they go with Seth Rollins again.

Nia Jax def. Alicia Fox. Very effective outing for Nia. The size difference between these two ladies was almost unsettling. I can’t recall ever seeing someone hurled into the barricade by their hair. Also, have we ever seen one of the girls do e a spear through the barricade? I can’t think of one offhand.

I got a chuckle at Cole referring to Fox as “one of the most accomplished competitors here in the WWE women’s division for years.” I get what he was trying to do. But c’mon, Cole. Accomplished? When was the last time she even won a match?

WWE September 12, 2016, Gallows & AndersonLuke Gallows & Karl Anderson def. The New Day. I find it funny that in the pre-match promo, Kofi talked about how Gallows & Anderson’s “Old Day” segment from last week wasted five minutes of everyone’s time. Why would I want to watch this show when the performers themselves are telling me it’s wasting my time? Still, at least WWE has a sense of humor about how bad that damn skit was. Also, Anderson & Gallows were back to being serious ass kickers this week.

This was another instance of WWE basically giving us the pay per view match early to…wait for it…promote the pay per view match. Because that always works so well.

Jinder Mahal def. Jack Swagger. Wow. They gave us this match during the third hour, and expect to hold the casual fan’s interest? This is basically a Superstars match.

After the match they had Tom Phillips mention Swagger’s Raw contract expiring soon. I guess that might be interesting. Jack Swagger has basically been Dolph Ziggler’s constant reminder that things could always be worse…

Epico def. Enzo Amore. So they gave us Jinder Mahal, Jack Swagger, and Epico in the third hour. Even with him winning, I’d call that a tactical mistake, wouldn’t you?

Rusev, Roman Reigns, WWE Raw, September 12, 2016Kevin Owens def. Roman Reigns thanks to a distraction by Rusev. So now we’ve got Kevin Owens vs. Seth Rollins at Clash of Champions, and chances are we’ll get Roman vs. Rusev as well. No doubt a lot of people are happy about Reigns being kept out of the Universal Title picture. I can’t say it breaks my heart.

So what’s the deal with this Seth Rollins/Mick Foley stuff? Where does that go? Not in a match, we know that much. Will they find themselves at odds over where Stephanie’s loyalties lay? Come to think of it, we still don’t know why Triple H helped Owens win the title. Hopefully they can answer that one sooner than later…

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

A WWE Backlash 2016 Preview – The Return of “Brand Specific” Pay Per Views

WWE Backlash 2016, promo artBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Whew boy. We’re back here again, aren’t we? A Smackdown-only pay per view…

History doesn’t look kindly on “brand specific’ pay per views, specifically the Smackdown shows. They’re notorious for being either one-match shows, or altogether bad. For instance, at WWE Armageddon 2004 we got an awesome fatal fourway match for the WWE Title. It was JBL defending against The Undertaker, Eddie Guerrero, and Booker T. But in the hours leading up to it, we got such thrilling bouts as Spike Dudley vs. Funaki, Dawn Marie vs. Jackie Gayda, and Kurt Angle against Santa Claus. Seriously. Look it up.

Why were these shows so bad? To quote Paul Heyman: “Smackdown is the b**ch of WWE,” meaning it’s the perpetual B-show. Smackdown would be fed just enough to be kept alive, while Raw took priority. That’s still the case today. It’s why Raw has three hours and Smackdown has two. It’s why Raw has been called “the flagship” broadcast for so many years. Raw is the show that rocketed WWE to new heights in the late ’90s, while Smackdown is just “the other show.”

But per USA Network, Smackdown has now taken on a renewed importance. In many ways, Backlash will serve as a progress report for WWE’s efforts to make the show a true commodity. But they’re fighting an uphill battle. Not only is John Cena missing from the card, but this roster split is still fairly fresh. Newer, younger stars like Baron Corbin and Apollo Crews aren’t true commodities yet. Thus, roster depth is an issue. At only six matches, the card is also a little light.

Smackdown needs to overachieve with Backlash, lest history repeat itself.

The Usos, WWE Raw, February 1, 2016SMACKDOWN TAG TITLE TOURNAMENT FINALS:
Heath Slater & Rhyno vs. The Usos/The Hype Bros.

So the winner of The Usos vs. The Hype Bros. advances to face Heath Slater & Rhyno in the tournament finals. If Slater’s team wins, he gets a Smackdown contract, and is no longer desperate for a job. Slater & Rhyno have a chance to be the first Smackdown Tag Team Champions. Who’da thunk it?

But he Smackdown tag team division is all about making American Alpha at this point. And how do you make a good babyface tag team? You give them good heels to feud with. In this case, the Usos. Jimmy and Jey are due for a change, and they’re already getting heat for their association with Roman Reigns. What better way to keep those boos coming than by having them not only injure Chad Gable (as they did this week on Smackdown), but cheat Heath Slater out of a WWE contract? What’s more, the Usos are already a decorated team, very much worthy of being called the first Smackdown tag champs. This night belongs to them.

PREDICTION: The Usos

WWE Backlash 2016, The Miz, Dolph ZigglerWWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
The Miz (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler

When I talked about Summerslam last month, I talked about how Miz had to retain over Apollo Crews, as the latter wasn’t worthy of the title yet. This month, it’s more about Miz. Between the length of his title run and the epic promo he cut on Daniel Bryan, Miz deserves the win here. This is arguably the most momentum he’s had since he was WWE Champion, and they have yet to follow up on what he did with Bryan in any meaningful way. Now isn’t the time to take the belt from him.

Plus, after what happened at Summerslam, babyface Dolph Ziggler is officially a loser. Ambrose said he’d prove Ziggler wasn’t as good as he thought he was. Then he pinned him clean. The guy needs a heel turn, and badly. If I had my way, this match would be the next step in that direction.

PREDICTION: The Miz

WWE Backlash 2016, Women's Title MatchSIX-PACK CHALLENGE TO CROWN WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S CHAMPION:
Natalya vs. Naomi vs. Becky Lynch vs. Natalya vs. Carmella vs. Alexa Bliss

You know who really deserves to win this belt? Becky Lynch. She’s the personification of “always a bride’s maid, never a bride.” She’s the only one of the “Four Horsewomen” (the others being Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Bayley) to never win the NXT Women’s Title. She’s also been in multiple matches for the Raw Women’s Title, but has yet to win it. All this, despite being a legit star. She’s got a great look, she’s great on the mic, and more than knows her way around a wrestling ring.

But let’s be honest, this is probably Nikki Bella’s night. Why? Because…well, they love her, that’s why. That’s not to discount everything she went through with her neck surgery, and her drive to come back. I’m not even saying she doesn’t have wrestling talent. But I find myself longing for a new face at the top. This is supposed to be the new era, right? Apparently WWE’s fascination with the Bellas never changes…

PREDICTION: Nikki Bella

WWE Backlash 2016, Randy Orton, Bray WyattRandy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt

Bray Wyatt hasn’t had a great year. He’s been plagued by injuries to the point that he’s been of most of the major shows. Backlash is a chance for him to build up some steam again. I maintain Bray should be a babyface. He could be one of the biggest fan-favorites the company has. But that’s a battle for another day. Right now I just want him to win a damn match.

But I don’t see that happening here. Randy took a hell of a beating from Brock Lesnar last month, and the smart bet is they’ll want him in a pay per view title match soon. So a win here would boost him back into title contention. Also, they may just want to see if Bray can stay injury free for awhile before they do something of real significance with him.

PREDICTION: Randy Orton

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:AJ Styles, Dean Ambose, WWE Backlash 2016
Dean Ambrose (c) vs. AJ Styles

Some have soured on Dean Ambrose as the WWE Champion. I’m still into him, especially after his mic work this past week on Smackdown.

But I get it. It’s AJ’s time. He’s more than proved his worth in the short time he’s been with the company. He’s stolen the show with Roman Reigns and John Cena, proved he can hang on the microphone, and all in all become one of WWE’s best assets. Styles is in a position to become Smackdown‘s franchise player. As a fan, I’d happily tune in each week to see what he pulls out of the hat next.

As recently as a year ago, I couldn’t imagine myself saying this. But here goes: AJ Styles is going to win the WWE Championship. The former heart and soul of TNA is set to claim WWE’s richest prize. Frankly, the sheer joyous outpour from the fans may be enough to turn him babyface. Ambrose, on the other hand, may be looking at a turn to the dark side.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

Mick Foley Returns to Promoland? Plus, Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Before we get into Raw, there’s a nasty rumor circulating that WWE threatened to fire Paige if she didn’t break off her relationship with Alberto Del Rio. There’s obviously some truth to it, as the two of them were drafted to separate shows. Now Del Rio seems to be done with the company, and we have no idea what the future holds for Paige after her recent violation of the wellness policy. Coincidentally, her violation was announced just a day before Del Rio got popped as well.

Here’s the bottom line: Don’t mess with people’s relationships. It’s bad karma. It also seems to be bad for business. Live and let live.

WWE Raw, September 5, 2016, Mick Foley, Stephanie McMahonPonderings From WWE Raw:

Mick Foley goes back to “Promoland” for Raw‘s opening segment In one of his books, Mic referred to the headspace he got into for big wrestling interviews as Promoland. Though it may have been written for him, I’d like to think this segment represents a return to Promoland for everyone’s favorite Hardcore Legend.

I loved this. Stephanie played the alpha female role, as she always does. But Mick didn’t cower. He humanized her with a sweet story, prompting Stephanie to melt a little. Some of that harsh exterior melted. And that last line about Steph possibly being a “really good liar and a really bad person,” was awesome. There was no screaming, no threatening of violence, no menacing stare, or any of the stuff we saw in some of his classic promos. But this was truly some of the best Mick Foley verbiage we’ve seen in quite some time.

Seth Rollins interrupts Kevin Owens’ victory celebration. Rollins really shouldn’t have said “bull crap.” It made him sound like a grade schooler. Just saying “bull” might have actually been better.

Still, Rollins brought a nice intensity to this segment. He actually got up in Steph’s face and got pissed off for a change. And once again, Steph wasn’t exactly fighting back. She certainly wasn’t emasculating the male stars as she’s done in the past. It was a refreshing change of pace to say the least.

WWE Raw, September 5, 2016, Chris Jericho, Kevin Owens, Stephanie McMahon, Mick FoleyAlso, why is it called Clash of Champions and not Clash of the Champions?

They followed this up with a backstage segment in which Chris Jericho called Owens the “longest reigning WWE Universal Champion in history.” That was a great line.

Bayley def. Charlotte in a non-title match. If you listen to The Steve Austin Show or The Ross Report, you hear a lot about the importance of selling. With that in mind, I paid extra attention when Bayley sold her left knee after the half Boston crab. Really nice work.

So what happens after Charlotte and Dana Brooke break up? That’s obviously where they’re going here. Do they turn her babyface? I don’t know if I buy her in the hero role quite yet. She’d likely be better off going back to NXT at this point.

Bo Dallas returns to Raw, winning a squash match. Apparently a recent arrest for intoxication hasn’t adversely effected Bo’s career. Hell, it seems to be helping! He might want to ditch the singlet that says “outcast,” though.

Seth Rollins def. Chris Jericho. Now that Rollins is transitioning into a babyface, it’s time for a new theme. CFO$ and Downstait seem to be on the case.

Seth Rollins, WWE Raw, September 5, 2016Rollins’ athleticism should never be taken for granted. That diving somersault off the top rope into a neck breaker? Awesome. That frog splash? Excellent. The sad thing is, those moves would likely all mean more if they’d just made him a babyface when he came back. The transition is indeed underway, but he’s in that awkward middle ground right now. It could have been so easily avoided.

Sheamus goes up 3-0 in the Best of Seven Series against Cesaro. As was the case in the Charlotte/Bayley match, I kept an eye on the selling of the injury. In this case, the focus was obviously Cesaro’s match. We had some really nice storytelling here, with Sheamus focusing much of his offense on the back. The five backbreakers in a row were a great sequence. I’d have been perfectly fine with the match ending there. The Brogue Kick was almost redundant at that point.

The announcers talked about the winner getting a championship opportunity. But which championship? Does it go without saying it’s the Universal Title? I wouldn’t mind seeing Cesaro challenge Owens.

The Shining Stars def. Enzo & Cass. Big Cass got a real nice shine from last week’s main event. He and Enzo are still an amazing package deal, and he’s still nowhere near ready for a singles push. But he’s little more ready than he was last week…

The Shining Stars, WWE Raw, September 5, 2016Of course, a loss to Primo & Epico doesn’t exactly help his case. These two have absolutely nothing to talk about other than their Puerto Rico shtick, which is long since stale. Can’t we give them anything else to say?

Nia Jax won a squash match. They established here that the jobber was a friend of Alicia Fox, and it looks like they’re finally giving Nia a mini-program. One I suggested last week, no less. They had a little backstage segment later in the show where Nia jabbed Fox about Total Divas and reality TV. Fox actually said the line: “This isn’t reality.” Hm…how about Summer Rae? Didn’t I suggest her too?

Gallows & Anderson spoof The New Day. I actually enjoyed Gallows & Anderson’s “Ringpostitis” gag, as stupid as it was. But I’m ready for them to get down to business. These guys should be the ultimate killjoys, not stealing from Edge & Christian’s playbook. Actually, this whole thing felt like they were struggling to kill time.

Darren Young def. Jinder Mahal. So Jinder Mahal has had three matches since he’s come back, and he’s lost three times. Good on ya, man…

Titus O’Neil was on commentary for this match. Any time that happens, I can’t help but remember him cracking up Cole and Lawler a few years ago. Great stuff. But if they really wanted entertainment, they’d let Bob Backlund do commentary.

WWE Raw, September 5, 2016, Braun Strowman, Sin CaraAlso, can we not act like Bob Backlund is this frail oxygenation? He’s probably stronger than a lot of the active wrestlers.

Braun Strowman def. Sin Cara via count-out. Whaddaya know? Like Nia Jax, Braun Strowman gets a break from squash matches! Strowman also got a nice little story here about ripping off the jobber’s mask last week. I was wondering if Sin Cara would lose his mask as well. Perhaps that’s still in the cards.

Sasha Banks returns, teases retirement, will face Charlotte for Raw Women’s Title at Clash of ChampionsSasha wearing less make up was a nice, subtle change. She wasn’t dressed as the Boss. She was just herself. As she talked about the progression “Women’s Revolution” in WWE, I absolutely adored her for the line: “No more stupid butterfly title.”

I’d love to think this wasn’t scripted for Sasha. She really opened up and let that passion come out. She really got us too, didn’t she? We’ve seen a few retirement speeches on Raw in the last several years, and this felt like one of them. But let’s be honest, they wouldn’t have had her tweet about “bad news” if she was really retiring. I, for one, am very pleased her final chapter hasn’t been written yet.

Kevin Owens, WWE Raw, September 5, 2016Kevin Owens def. Sami Zayn. I’m very encouraged that they haven’t forgotten about Zayn beating Owens at Battleground. That puts Zayn in the title picture. He’s by no means in the center of that picture. But at least he’s there. This one didn’t top the Battleground match, but it was a worthy main event. The right guy won, with the champ going over. Though Owens may not be so lucky next week…

Mick Foley announces Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens for next week, giving Reigns a chance  to enter the main event at Clash of Champions. Charlotte got pinned this week, and now next week Owens is in a position to be beaten by Reigns. I don’t like that they’re starting to pin champions on TV again. Those belts need to mean something. It’s bad enough we’ve got so many of them again. But if the champions and the titles aren’t protected, what’s the point of any of it? Here’s hoping we see the reappearance of Rusev next week, costing Roman the match.

Then again, that means the US Title is once again in danger of leaving Rusev’s waist, which I’m not a fan of. But let’s take it one week at a time, folks.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

A WWE Summerslam 2016 Preview – Are You There, Goldberg? It’s Us…

WWE Wrestlemania XX, Bill Goldberg, Steve AustinBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The publicity train is really rolling this weekend, and Bill Goldberg may as well be the engineer.

Fans have been speculating about the return of Goldberg since the WWE 2K17 trailer hit, with the image of the former WWE star looking at a “Suplex City” sign. Now, both Goldberg and Brock have been having some fun at the press events for both WWE 2K17 and Summerslam.

Goldberg calls out BrockBrock talks about Goldberg going to Suplex CityGoldberg calls out Seth Rollins. Yeesh. Slow down! I’m trying to keep up.

This all but confirms that Brock Lesnar/Bill Goldberg II is taking place at some point. I’d bet on it for Wrestlemania XXXIII. The only match that might be bigger than that would be Brock against the Rock. And I don’t doubt we’ll get that at some point as well.

But will all this jaw-jacking going on, who’s set to fire the first shot? And where?

Well, Brock just happens to be in the main event of WWE’s second-biggest show of the year. Seems like that might be a good time…

Moving on to predictions, in the wake of Eva Marie’s suspension (more on those when I review Raw), I’m leaving out the women’s tag team match that was booked on Smackdown, because I assume it’s going to change. I assume they’ll either fill her spot with someone else, or make it to a traditional two-on-two match.

WWE Summerslam 2016, big tag team matchPRE-SHOW MATCH:
American Alpha, The Usos & The Hype Bros vs. Fandango & Tyler Breeze, The Vaudevillians, & The Ascension.

Apparently WWE wants to remind us that Smackdown has a tag team division, likely in preparation for the show getting its own set of tag belts. They had this exact same match on Smackdown this week, and the babyfaces won. I’ll give it to them again, for no other reason than American Alpha is on that team, and they’re being built up right now. As they should be.

PREDICTION: American Alpha, The Usos, & The Hype Bros

WWE Summerslam 2016, Sami Zayn, Neville, The Dudley BoyzThe Dudley Boyz vs. Sami Zayn & Neville

The Dudleys are breaking up. At lest that’s my assumption. Bubba’s been giving D-Von frustrated stares after their losses on Raw these past few weeks. They haven’t been doing anything with the Dudleys these last few months, so it makes sense. This match keeps the angle going by having Zayn and Neville, another throw-together team, beat them. Simple as that.

PREDICTION: Sami Zayn & Neville

WWE Summerslam 2016, Sheamus vs. CesaroPRE-SHOW MATCH:
BEST OF SEVEN SERIES, MATCH ONE:
Sheamus (c) vs. Cesaro

What we have here is an obvious attempt to create the kind of magic Chris Benoit and Booker T had when they did this in WCW. I don’t have high hopes, but I won’t put it past them either.

My question is, what’s at stake here? What does the winner of this series get? A shot at the Universal Title seems like a good answer.

We’ve established on Raw these last few weeks that Cesaro has Sheamus’ number. I say we keep that trend alive here with a Cesaro win. Then, if I had the book, I’d have Sheamus find some way to injure Cesaro in the second match, allowing him to pick up a bunch of consecutive victories. Thus, our Swiss Superman can fight from underneath and hopefully be victorious in the end.

If this is done well, it could really benefit two guys who could really use some extra shine right now. Best of luck, gentlemen.

PREDICTION: Cesaro

Enzo & Cass vs. Jericho & Owens, WWE Summerslam 2016Enzo & Cass vs. Chris Jericho & Kevin Owens. 

This match really needs to go on first. Enzo & Cass in front of a Brooklyn crowd? That‘s the kind of pop you open Summerslam with.

I don’t see why the hometown boys shouldn’t win here. As great as Jericho and Owens are together, a win for them would hurt Enzo & Cass more than anything else. Plus, my guess is they were just thrown together to give Enzo & Cass a pair of great heels to go against.

I had originally pegged Summerslam as the night for Enzo & Cass to win the tag titles. But it looks like they’re playing the long game. Nothing wrong with that at all. These guys both cut their teeth in Orlando, which happens to be where Wrestlemania is next year…

PREDICTION: Enzo & Cass

WWE Summerslam 2016, The Miz, Apollo CrewsWWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
The Miz (c) vs. Apollo Crews

Simply put: I don’t think Apollo Crews deserves the Intercontinental Title yet. Yes, he’s incredibly explosive and dynamic in the ring, and you can argue the IC Title doesn’t mean much nowadays anyway. But as a character, I don’t think he’s ready. Plus, while I may be in the minority here, I like the Intercontinental Title on Miz. Maryse has breathed a whole new life into his career. He’s worthy of the title. I’d like to see him weasel his way out of at least one more title defense. Crews can afford to chase for another month.

PREDICTION: The Miz

New Day vs. Gallows & Anderson, WWE Summerslam 2016WWE TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The New Day (c) vs. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson

It’s time. The New Day won the belts at Summerslam last year, now they drop them at Summerslam this year. It’s a nice circle. Plus, Gallows and Anderson have been ready for a couple of months now.

I can only assume Big E. will be back for this match. You never know just how much a guy brings to an act until he’s not there. His energy is sorely missed, as are his dance moves.

PREDICTION: Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson

WWE Summerslam 2016, Rusev, Roman ReignsWWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
Rusev (c) vs. Roman Reigns

Prior to Monday, I’d have given this match to Roman. But they had him pin Rusev in the main event that night. Why go ahead and do that unless Rusev were somehow walking out of Summerslam with the belt? Then again, that’s logical thinking. Logic isn’t always WWE’s strong point…

But why even do that match as the Raw main event? Because they didn’t have any better ideas? Maybe. But from a booking standpoint, what does pinning Rusev do? It keeps Roman looking strong. We all know how much they love that. So even if Rusev somehow gets out with the title via a disqualification, as I think he will, he still doesn’t pin Roman. That way Roman can move on to bigger things without losing any face, and Rusev gets a little but of a rub from having worked a pay per view match with Roman. Everybody wins…kinda.

PREDICTION: Roman Reigns via disqualification

WWE Summerslam 2016, Sasha Banks vs. CharlotteWWE WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Sasha Banks (c) vs. Charlotte

I told somebody on Twitter recently that I don’t see this match topping what Sasha and Charlotte did on Raw last month. I can’t imagine they’ll have as much time on this show. Plus, they really had lightning in a bottle that night, and we had the thrill of Sasha winning the belt for the first time. In a way, this match feels like an afterthought.

But it never pays to underestimate any of the “Four Horsewomen” of NXT (the others being Becky Lynch and Bayley). So I’ll be interested to see what they pull out of the hat. Either way, I see Sasha continuing on as champ, and Charlotte moving on to other things.

PREDICTION: Sasha Banks

WWE, Summerslam 2016, John Cena, AJ StylesJohn Cena vs. AJ Styles

I’m surprised a one-on-one rematch took this long. These two wrestled at Money in the Bank, so it’s been about two months. I’m amazed WWE waited this long to do it. Not a bad thing, just a surprise.

This one’s a toss-up, really. It’s more about the performance than who wins. Cena has very little to gain by beating Styles at this point. But I can see WWE wanting him to get a win at one of their biggest shows of the year. So how much does Styles have to lose? Well, he lost to Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania, and he lost both of his matches to Roman Reigns in the spring. And yet, here he is. Whether they go back for a third match or not, both men are winners here.

PREDICTION: John Cena

Dean Ambrose, WWE Summerslam, 2016, Dolph ZigglerWWE HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler

I smell a heel turn.

So you’re Dolph Ziggler. You finally get a shot at the WWE Title after years of toiling in the midcard, and you lose. You blew it. Dean Ambrose was right. You’re not as good as you say you are. So what do you do as your reality comes crashing down around you? You snap. You throw the rules out the window and you attack the champion with no mercy (which happens to be the name of an upcoming pay per view). What was a feud about professional pride has become very, very personal.

WWE is in need of strong heels right now. And Ziggler’s been a babyface for a long time now. Just saying.

PREDICTION: Dean Ambrose

Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, WWE Summerslam 2016MATCH TO CROWN FIRST WWE UNIVERSAL CHAMPION:
Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor

Well that didn’t take long, did it? Finn Balor has been on the main roster about a month, and he’s already in the semi-main event of Summerslam. In a heavyweight title match, no less.

There’s a good chance these guys steal the show, much like Rollins did with John Cena last year. As for who wins, I say we go for it. Put the belt on Balor. With the roster now split, this company needs more stars. Finn Balor hasn’t been a product of start and stop pushes, or 50/50 booking, or anything that’s plagued guys like Ziggler, Bray Wyatt, Sheamus, the Miz, Rusev, and so many others. He’s a fresh face. A fresh face who can wrestle like the dickens, and has this “Demon King” persona that’s sports entertainment personified. So I say let’s go for it. Place him in a role of significance from the start, so people know he’s a big deal. Raw has needed a shake-up for a long time. And this could be the start of a big shake-up. Let’s do this.

PREDICTION: Finn Balor

WWE Summerslam 2016, Brock Lesnar, Randy OrtonBrock Lesnar vs. Randy Orton

Of course this is the main event. Why wouldn’t it be? Brock Lesnar is one of two genuine megastars they have on that roster, and he only wrestles a few times a year. Plus, Brock is in the news right now for the doping scandal. I’m really intrigued as to how the New York crowd will react to him. The build for this match has been underwhelming. But hopefully the end product will be worth it.

Brock said it himself: “Randy Orton isn’t the guy to beat Brock Lesnar.” Orton is a star, and this is very much a marquee match. But Brock hasn’t been pinned or made to submit since Wrestlemania XXIX. (Last year’s Summerslam finish doesn’t count. He passed out.) The man who broke The Undertaker’s streak has a little streak of his own going. Randy Orton isn’t ending that streak.

On the subject of streaks, does Bill Goldberg have any big plans next spring? Just curious.

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar