WWE No Mercy Predictions, Plus: Did Jinder Go Too Far?

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

How far is too far? That’s the question many of us were asking Tuesday night after Jinder Mahal ruffled some feathers with a mildly controversial promo on Shinsuke Nakamura. They played the race card, with the WWE Champion making a handful of Asian jokes. The heaviest was probably Jinder saying, “you always rook the same.” Mahal got what may have been the first, “That’s too far!” chant.

Race is always a tricky subject. They obviously knew that going in. So much of what does and doesn’t offend people is subjective. While I’m not the most qualified person to dive into the subject of race relations, I don’t think Jinder said anything truly reprehensible. In bad taste? Sure. But it’s not worth lining up in the streets to protest.

If this segment was guilty of anything, it’s going for cheap heat. Mahal and Nakamura don’t have a hell of a lot of chemistry together. So they played the race card to add some personal stakes to the match. In a storytelling sense, it’s sad they had to go there.

But remember, the purpose behind segments like these is to get you to hate Jinder. He accuses the WWE fans of being xenophobic toward him, but then he turns around and makes about of racial jokes about Nakamura. He’s a hypocrite, and you’re supposed to want to see Nakamura kick his head off at Hell in a Cell. One way or another, I guess this segment accomplished that. People are mad at Jinder Mahal. It’s just a question of whether they’re mad for the right reasons.

Remember folks, it’s pro wrestling. It’s designed to drudge up emotions. Maybe Jinder was just doing his job…

WWE No Mercy Predictions:

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Neville (c) vs. Enzo Amore

There’s been a lot of talk these past few weeks about how “polarizing” John Cena and Roman Reigns are. Another name that should be on that list? Enzo. It’s more than just lip service when we heard all that stuff we’ve heard about how reviled this guy is by so many people. He genuinely gets under people’s skin. Me? I like him. Love him or hate him, he’s different. Say what you want about his in-ring skills, but Enzo has made more of an impression than guys like TJP, Rich Swann, or Akira Tozawa. He elevates that Cruiserweight Division.

But does that mean he’s walking away with the title? No. Not yet, at least. They’re telling an underdog story here. For him to take the title on his first try would needlessly cut it short. I do think he’s winning it at some point, though. So get ready, haters.

PREDICTION: Neville

WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
The Miz (c) vs. Jason Jordan

Really? This is the match we’re getting? I mean, really? They couldn’t have given us, say, Miz against Matt Hardy? It’s not like Matt wouldn’t get a reaction…

As I’ve said, I don’t think Jordan is the guy to take the belt from Miz. I’m fine if they want to make a failed quest for the IC Title part of a a larger story. But Jordan isn’t ready to carry the belt yet. So it’s with tremendous hope that I pick Miz. This probably isn’t over. But at least he’ll keep the belt for now.

PREDICTION: The Miz

FATAL FIVE-WAY MATCH FOR WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE:
Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax vs. Emma vs. Bayley

Had Bayley not gone down with that injury, I think she would have walked out of Summerslam with that Raw Women’s Championship. I think they put Bayley in this match to make up for lost time. Why else would they bring her back one week before the show? Because they want to put the belt on her and get back on their original course. I assume that course leads to a big match against a heel Sasha Banks. In the short term, I see her resuming her feud with Alexa Bliss, who will have a legit gripe over not taking the losing fall in this match. The one who takes that fall? Emma, of course.

PREDICTION: Bayley

Finn Balor vs. Bray Wyatt

We should really be getting the Demon this month, as opposed to last month. But we needed to have the Demon at Summerslam. So here we are. Though in all fairness, Finn’s line on Monday about the man being more dangerous than the demon was pretty good.

You know what they should do here? Insert a stipulation where the winner gets a Universal Title shot. As it is, it doesn’t feel like there’s much on the line here. I’m assuming Bray wins, and then we’ll get some sort of rubber match down the line.

PREDICTION: Bray Wyatt

WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Cesaro and Sheamus

This match would be a hell of a lot more interesting if these four hadn’t worked almost exclusively with each other for the past two months. This is essentially just another match.

I don’t see why Rollins and Ambrose wouldn’t retain here. The bigger question is, who you put them with after Cesaro and Sheamus? Gallows and Anderson have been in the mix lately. But for my money the Miztourage are a better option, simply because we haven’t already seen them work Rollins and Ambrose a bunch of times. The inevitable singles matches would also be a nice showcase for them. In the end, what both these teams need going forward is something fresh.

PREDICTION: Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose

WWE UNIVERSAL TITLE MATCH:
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Braun Strowman

This could be good. Really, really good. And they don’t have to move mountains to make it that way. It all boils down to psychology.

We’ve established that Strowman can overpower Lesnar, and that he can pop right back up from one of Lesnar’s trademark German Suplexes. If they continue to portray Strowman as invincible, and have him throw Brock around a little bit the way he did at Summerslam, that’s a recipe for great drama.

Of course, Lesnar needs to somehow squeak out a victory here. How it happens is anybody’s guess. Outside interference, maybe? Either way, I imagine it’ll take more than one F5 to get it done. I’ve got high expectations for this one.

PREDICTION: Braun Strowman

John Cena vs. Roman Reigns

I actually feel a little bad for Lesnar and Strowman. If this were any other match, they’d be far and away the main event of this show. But Cena and Reigns inevitably pull focus.

This is a Wrestlemania-worthy main event. I assume there are two main reasons it’s not happening at ‘Mania. The first deals with ratings as we head into football season. The second is that this is the first match in a series. And that’s why I think Cena is going to take it.

It’s fitting that they references Cena’s feud with the Rock on Monday. The Rock won their Wrestlemania XXVIII match, and it hung over Cena until the rematch the following year. I don’t see them drawing this out that long. But Cena is the resident legend here, and ultimately it’s up to Reigns to rise to his level. I see Cena getting the win in an evenly fought match, causing Reigns to obsess over beating him in the inevitable rematch. To an extent, history would be repeating itself, a la Rock and Cena.

Then again, Reigns cheating to win would be a hell of a finish too…

PREDICTION: John Cena

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A Batman, Vol. 3: I Am Bane Review – Jokerize Your Fries?

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 3: I Am Bane
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLERS: David Finch, Mitch Gerads, Clay Mann
COLLECTS: Batman #1620#2324
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED:
Aug 30, 2017

***Need to catch up? Check out the first two volumes: I Am Gotham and I Am Suicide.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Bane has never been the most sophisticated of characters. Created in the early ’90s, he was essentially the Bat-books’ answer to what Doomsday was in the Superman books. A big brute who could physically overpower the hero. A ‘roided up dude in a luchador mask, he certainly looks the part. But unlike Doomsday, who was basically a mindless killing machine, Bane was intended to have more depth. He had a tragic backstory and a cunning mind to match his physical dominance.

Oddly enough, I Am Bane explores the character’s more layered side, while at the same time making him look like a big dumb ape at certain points. It’s actually a fascinating balancing act.

After pulling the Psycho-Pirate from Bane’s clutches in Santa Prisca, Batman is now preparing for a full on assault from his old enemy. No one close to Bruce Wayne is safe. Adamant about taking Bane on alone, Batman places Alfred, Claire Clover (a.k.a. Gotham Girl), and the Psycho-Pirate in perhaps the unlikeliest of places to protect them: Arkham Asylum. Now Bane must make his way through a living hell to confront the Dark Knight. Once again, these two arch rivals will square off. In the end, one will be left broken.

I’ll credit author Tom King with giving Bane’s invasion of Gotham the weight it deserves. The first two issues have a grim tension in the air. In issue #16, Bruce insists that most of his surrogate family members flee the city, fearing for their lives. He hides Psycho-Pirate and the others inside Arkham, in a chamber designed by Mister Miracle. But Batman’s obsessive preparation isn’t enough, as Bane still manages to strike at those close to him, including Catwoman. The tone is terrific, the threat feels real, and we seem to have the makings of a hallmark Bane story…until the big man opens his mouth in issue #18.

King, David Finch, and their team are clearly going for classic early ’90s Bane. We get a big, bloody, brutal fight intercut with flashbacks as Bane taunts our hero. Think Batman #497, when the character broke Batman’s back. But King goes way too far over the top with Bane’s dialogue. In issue #18, as he rambles off comparisons between himself and Batman’s other enemies, he almost seems to be reciting a poem…

“I am not a joke! I am not a riddle! I am not a bird or a cat or a penguin! I’m not a scarecrow or a plant or a puppet! I am not your broken friend! I am not your regretful teacher! I am not a child’s fairy tale! I am not a circus act here to amuse and frighten you!”

Alright, dude. We get it…

Things get worse in issue #19, when he storms Arkham and starts running into various villains. He spouts off little one-liners. Thing that would be fine on their own, but clumped together in one issue almost make Bane a parody of himself.

Two-Face: “…what’re you offering?”
Bane: “Pain. I offer pain.”

Scarecrow: “What nightmares are you having?”
Bane: “I don’t have nightmares, I GIVE nightmares!”

Mr. Freeze: “Impossible…”
Bane: “Not impossible. Bane.”

The fight winds up ending on yet another stupid, overblown catchphrase. Not from Bane, but from Batman. The sad thing is that the action itself is pretty good, for the most part. If King had trimmed a lot of this excess verbiage and allowed the art to speak more for itself, this would have been much more effective. I understand wanting to show the animalistic side of Bane. But they overdid it.

I will say, however, that the contrasting flashbacks between Bruce’s childhood and Bane’s are very well done. There’s a school of thought that many of Batman’s villains double as examples of how Bruce could have turned out after his parents were killed, had circumstances been different. This is about as on-the-nose as you can get in that respect. But it works.

What doesn’t work as well for me is the Batman-themed fast food restaurant we see in issue #16. Dick, Jason, Damian, and Duke drag Bruce there for a family meeting of sorts. It’s decked out various paraphernalia from the various Batman heroes and villains. The scene opens with Bruce talking to a kid behind the counter, who’s wearing a cheap Batman mask. He asks Bruce if he wants to “Jokerize your fries?” I get what they were going for. There’s a fun meta aspect to having these characters see their own licensing and merchandising. “Jokerize your fries” is actually a pretty good line. But from an in-story perspective, using the most feared man in Gotham City’s likeness to sell fast food stretches the gag too far for me. I understand that’s part of the joke. But to me that would be the equivalent of selling Bin Laden burgers in the real world.

David Finch handles most of the art in I Am Bane. I’ve been pretty critical of his work. But I’ve also said that if you have to have him, you want him on dark or gritty stories like this. I Am Bane is one of his better recent outings. In issue #16, he has the extremely unenviable task of drawing Bruce, Dick, and Jason, all unmasked in the fast food scene. They’re all handsome, dark haired, clean shaven dudes. Finch has to make them all distinct and recognizable. The job he does isn’t amazing. But it’s serviceable. Thankfully, they’re not all wearing the same clothes, as they were in that creepy splash page in The Court of Owls.

Like many artists, Finch draws most of his superhero characters like competition bodybuilders. Thankfully, that’s right in Bane’s wheelhouse. The character looks every bit as gigantic and chiseled as he should without going overboard, which we saw from Finch’s work on the New 52 Dark Knight series. This version of Bane also has a great ferocity you don’t always see. That obviously works well during the big fight. One complaint: I’ve never liked it when artists put giant green tubes on Bane, as we see Finch do here. It brings back bad memories of Batman & Robin.

Inker Danny Miki (later joined by Trevor Scott) and colorist Jordie Bellaire compliment Finch very well. He’s got a team here that accentuates his strengths. Bellaire in particular is an absolute rock star.

After the main story, Mitch Gerads takes the pencil for issue #23, a standalone story featuring Swamp Thing. Despite being brutally titled “The Brave and the Mold,” it manages to be a fun issue. Gerads’ contributions to this series have been tremendous, going back to issues #15 and #16. He and King give us some fun visuals contrasting the vast difference in stature between Batman and Swamp Thing. A two-page spread with Bruce and the monster in Wayne Manor, shots of them in the Batcave and Batmobile, etc. The issue is broken into chapters that are separated via panels with text designed like silent movie intertitles, which is a cool tone device.

I’ve already talked at length about Batman #24, which contains a pretty big moment between Batman and Catwoman. A few months after its release, what has stuck with me is the exchange between Batman and Gotham Girl about happiness. We learn that Batman is Bruce Wayne’s attempt at finding happiness. As a longtime Batman fan, that notion fascinates me. We’re so used to Batman being dour, moody, and broody. So the idea that he’s doing all this to be happy is a little off-putting. But it makes a certain sense when you boil it down. In the end, that’s what we’re all trying to do, right? Find happiness. In that sense, Bruce is no different than anyone else.

By and large, the Bane portion of this book is a step down from I Am Suicide. But King, Finch, and the team really stick the landing with issue #23, and especially #24. There’s a lot of strictly okay stuff you’ve got to swim through. But when this book hits a homer, it really hits a homer. As far as issue #24 is concerned, that ball is still sailing.

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Kevin Owens Attacks Vince, Ponderings From WWE Smackdown Live

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

We got a pretty cool moment this week on Raw when the Miz announced he and Maryse are having their first child. Obviously they met through WWE, so for them to have that moment in the ring together was really nice.

The only downside to this situation is that the Miz is probably going away for awhile. Maryse certainly will be. Not necessarily in the near future, but close enough down the road that it merits discussion. WWE is taking a lot of flack for running shows on Christmas and New Year’s Day. But I doubt even Ebenezer McMahon would deny the Intercontinental Champion a little paternity leave. He’s certainly earned it, given he’s almost single-handedly made that IC belt mean something again.

So naturally, the question becomes about who you give the title to when he’s gone. They’ve previously tried to maintain Miz’s momentum by having him drop the title to guys like Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler. On paper, those were great choices. But in both cases, the magic was gone.

The most likely candidate to take the belt from Miz seems to be Jason Jordan. That’s a bad idea. A really bad idea. Notwithstanding his recent strong outings with John Cena and Roman Reigns, Jordan is still far too “white meat” to get the belt. He’s not established enough, either in terms of character or credibility. If he continues having quality singles matches, he’ll get there in due time. But that time isn’t now. They can’t just throw Jordan a belt and expect him to be a made man. The fans will chew him up and spit him out.

So if not Jordan, then who? You’ve got more than a few good options. I’ll give you five…

Jeff Hardy’s name comes to mind right away. There was a good amount of buzz when he won that Battle Royal a few weeks ago, and got a shot at Miz. He didn’t win, obviously. But there’s plenty of interest in another Jeff Hardy singles run. The IC Title would be a fine way to start him down that path.

Another name to consider is Finn Balor. This program with Bray Wyatt isn’t lighting the world on fire, but the fans are still into him. As he’s already been established as a main event guy, an Intercontinental Title run would be believable.

You’ve also got Samoa Joe. He’s currently out with a knee injury, but given the high profile losses he suffered at Great Balls of Fire and Summerslam, a little break will do him good. Joe needs to rack up a few big wins. One way to do that would be to make him a dominant IC Champ. Joe has yet to wear gold on the main roster, and the title would be a valuable addition to his resume.

Goldust didn’t have a good night on Raw this week. But I’m tellin’ ya, this guy can do great things if they just give him the ball again. They re-established him in a low profile feud with R-Truth, but have thus far failed to follow up in a meaningful way. Having Bray wipe his face paint off was a big step in the wrong direction. But all is not lost. If Goldust mounts a strong comeback, he can still be a contender. Plus, he and Miz could have a great feud.

Then there’s Elias. I never expected to say this, but he’s overachieved since coming to Raw. Despite being a heel, the fans seem to be into him. They certainly were in Anaheim this week. He’s not quite ready for the IC Title yet. But character-wise, he’s in a better spot than Jason Jordan is. Give him another few months, and he might just be singing about Intercontinental gold.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Kevin Owens opens the show, talks about suing the McMahons and turning Smackdown into The Kevin Owens Show. Dolph Ziggler trolls the audience with Shane McMahon’s music. Daniel Bryan comes out and says Mr. McMahon will be there later. I got a big kick out of Sami Zayn being the first person “fired” from the Kevin Owens show. A nice little touch there.

Kevin Owens and Dolph Ziggler are the tag team I never knew I wanted. I mean, why not? The whole impersonator gimmick is usually the kiss of death, so what exactly does Dolph have to lose?

AJ Styles def. Tye Dillinger to retain the WWE United States Championship. Baron Corbin attempts to interfere in the match. Corbin announces he’ll face Styles for the title next week. An okay outing for Styles and Dillinger. I think most people knew going in that Dillinger wasn’t going to take it. Especially since they haven’t gotten much mileage out of Styles using the open challenge gimmick yet.

WWE Champion Jinder Mahal mocks Shinsuke Nakamura’s facial expressions. This was pretty lame. But on the plus side, it was so annoying that I definitely want to see Nakamura kick Jinder’s head off. I’m not sure that’s heat, per se. But it’s something.

The New Day def. The Usos to win the WWE Smackdown Tag Team Titles. Parts of this were nice and stiff. These guys took some nasty falls. When Big E. goes into that second gear, he’s money. Now that we’ve gotten to know him over the years, they might have something with him If he can ever transition into a more serious role.

Natalya def. Naomi to retain the WWE Smackdown Women’s Title. Carmella and James Ellsworth look on from ringside, get taken out by Naomi during the match. So Carmella literally has Ellsworth on a leash now? A little on the nose. But I guess that’s one way to garner some sympathy for the guy.

Dolph Ziggler mocks Bayley and the Ultimate Warrior’s entrances. Interestingly enough, both Bayley and Warrior’s widow were in the building for the Mae Young Classic. Coincidence? Probably.

Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable def. The Hype Bros. Zack Ryder opts not to shake hands with Benjamin or Gable afterward. That Zack Ryder heel turn is finally coming. I’ve been ready for this for awhile now. Not because I think he’ll be this amazing super-heel (Though I guess he could be…), but out of sheer curiosity.

Kevin Owens attacks Vince McMahon after a Hell in a Cell Match is made for KO and Shane McMahon. I’d still prefer the New Day and the Usos get the cell match. But Owens and Shane are a better choice than Nakamura and Mahal would have been. You win some, you lose some…

So KO headbutts Vince, opening him up immediately. Thanks a lot, man. Vince’s creative choices are weird enough without tacking on additional head trauma…

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Asuka Coming to Monday Nights, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

After quite a bit of speculation, we learned Monday night that Asuka will be coming to Raw this fall. I assume it will be some time next month, as she’s currently nursing an injured collarbone.

Of course, Asuka is famous to WWE fans as the woman who went undefeated as NXT Women’s Champion for 534 days. She’s never been beaten in a WWE ring, and comes to Raw with more momentum and notoriety than arguably any of her fellow female NXT alums. Her matches are almost always among the highlights of the NXT Takeover shows.

There are more talented women on the WWE roster right now than at any time in the company’s history. Though obviously a marketing term, there’s a lot of validity to the “women’s revolution” they’ve been touting for awhile now. The problem is because of the brand split, we only have a handful of women on Raw and Smackdown. As such, we get a lot of the same combinations week after week. This is especially problematic on Raw, where matches are often drawn out to fill time.

The mystique of Asuka revolves around her being dominant, turning back challenger after challenger. But that approach becomes problematic when she has to be on television every week, and she’s only got three or four women to work with. Granted, they’ll probably feed her enhancement talent at first, as they did with Nia Jax. But once they get past that phase of her run, what’s to stop Asuka from becoming just another face in the crowd? How do you maintain that mystique? And how do you maintain the importance of her undefeated streak with so few names to beat?

There’s not necessarily an easy solution here. But I think part of it involves bringing more women on to the Raw roster. There was a good amount of talk about Bayley getting booed on Raw a few weeks ago. The boos weren’t necessarily directed at her, but at the way she’s been handled creatively. Like everyone else on that roster, she’s been overexposed. What’s more, she was in there with the same handful of names every week. It was always Bayley and Alexa. Or Bayley and Nia. Or Nia against Sasha, who has Bayley in her corner. And of course, there’s Bayley and Sasha against Alexa and Nia.

Like anything else, if you get the same thing over and over again it becomes boring. It’s not exclusive to the Women’s Division by any means. I’ve been saying this Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Sheamus, and Cesaro for weeks now. And of course, all four guys were in the ring together again this week.

More bodies in the Women’s Division will give all the ladies more breathing room, so they’re not necessarily doing the same thing every week. In Asuka’s case, she’ll have more challengers to beat, and a bigger talent pool to conquer. Now, if only there was a convenient place WWE could find more women to add to their roster….

By the way, did you guys see the Mae Young Classic?

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns def. Jason Jordan. Reigns trades insults with John Cena again. This wasn’t what the Cena/Jordan match was. But this match still achieved its goal. Jordan’s not quite where he needs to be yet. But matches like these giant him valuable credibility.

One of these days Jordan is going to turn that double Northern Lights Suplex combo into a triple. Fans are going to lap that up. Myself included.

I credit WWE with trying to make this Cena/Reigns stuff as reality-based as possible, even going as far as to reference Roman’s failed drug test. Despite being obviously scripted, it’s created a lot of buzz. So again, it achieved its goal.

Sasha Banks def. Emma. So Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax were both out there on commentary, and they’ve got them sitting next to one another at the announce desk. I don’t understand why they’re still supposed to be friends. Nia turned on Alexa. So what motivation does Nia now have to keep up this alliance? On top of it all, they’ve got them awkwardly sitting next to each other like kids in detention. It just doesn’t make sense.

Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman call out Braun Strowman. Strowman lays out Lesnar yet again. The best part of this segment? The look on Lesnar’s face when he saw Strowman had gotten back up after the big German Suplex.

This is a good story, and one we haven’t seen before. Brock Lesnar is the underdog, and Strowman has all the momentum in the world.

Bray Wyatt def. Goldust. Wyatt wipes the paint off Goldust’s face to reveal, “He’s just a man!” Finn Balor comes out for the save. LOVED that somersault off the apron Goldust did. Remember, Goldust is 48 years old and has been wrestling for the better part of 30 years. As Corey Graves said, the man seems to age in reverse.

Sadly, they seem to have pulled the plug on his renewed push. The only reason he was even wrestling Bray was because he had face paint on. So they had Bray beat him. I stand by my statement that Goldust could be something big if pushed the right way. If they can strap the rocket to Jinder Mahal, they can do it with Goldust.

On the upside, Bray won a match. That’s more of a rarity than it should be.

A fight breaks out between Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Sheamus, Cesaro, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. This is a little more my style, in contrast to the Alexa/Nia stuff earlier. A bunch of pissed off guys unable to restrain themselves. I just wish it hadn’t led to yet another consequence-free eight-man tag.

A vignette airs for the arrival of Asuka. God damn. That was the best character introduction vignettes they’ve done in years. Loved the use of the different masks, the spooky lighting, the music, the little glimpse of her face at the end.

Good God, WWE. Pllease don’t screw this up…

Elias def. Kalisto. Obviously Elias is supposed to be a bad guy, insulting the crowd the way he is. But the people were with him. A babyface turn isn’t out of the question here…

John Cena def. Braun Strowman via disqualification. Pretty good match. They spent a good amount of time building to Cena slamming Strowman. So you knew it was going to happen at some point. That doesn’t make it any less impressive, of course.

Would have loved to see Brock come out and try to get some payback from earlier. I guess you can write that off strategic discretion.

So Strowman hitting Cena with the steps on the outside isn’t a DQ. but Strowman getting him in the ring and slamming him on top of the steps is? Just a ring of the bell. Is that so hard?

The Miz and Maryse announce their pregnancy on Miz TV. Enzo interrupts. Miz gets disqualified as he and the Miztourage beat down Enzo. First and foremost, congrats to Miz and Maryse. Mrs. Primary Ignition and I are actually working on headin’ down that road ourselves. So I appreciate it that much more.

“Don’t you dare ‘How you doin?’ my wife.” Good line.

Between the Cena/Reigns stuff and Miz talking about Enzo being hated backstage, they’ve been much more reality-based lately. It’s a marked improvement.

I assume all that stuff with the mic was supposed to be there. It seems like Miz and Enzo messed up a spot, then Enzo took the mic and made the “your wrestling is straight to DVD” comment. Either way, it felt spontaneous. That’s the important thing.

Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, and the Hardy Boyz def. Sheamus, Cesaro, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson. I fully expected Cena and Strowman to main event the show. So when it became clear they were going to close things out with this big tag match, I wondered if they were going to do a big angle. Nope. Business as usual. A hell of an anticlimactic ending to what ended up being a pretty damn good show.

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An Undertaker Return: Is it The Boy Who Cried Wolf?

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Since Wrestlemania XXXIII, there’s been truckloads of speculation about the Undertaker’s retirement. It’s a pretty natural conclusion to come to, given the way that show ended. The #ThankYouTaker hashtags broke out again, you saw all kinds of tributes to him, and WWE have played that moment up in a big way ever since. “I retired the Undertaker” is practically Roman Reigns’ new catchphrase. They’ve also given him Undertaker’s “This is my yard” line. Undertaker’s name was even thrown around in the big Roman Reigns/John Cena promo on Raw last week, with Cena calling the Dead Man a “battered veteran at the end of his career with a bad hip.” Hmm…

What people have been keen to point out, however, is that the announcers have been more tentative as far as ‘Taker’s retirement. They always talk about Reigns “potentially retiring” the Undertaker, as opposed to giving it any sort of finality. And of course, despite all the speculation there hasn’t been any confirmation about Undertaker being done. Until they spell it out for us that he’s retired, there’s a decent chance we’ll be seeing him in the ring again. Actually, there’s probably a really good chance we will.

I’m not sure how I feel about that.

While the Undertaker/Roman Reigns match wasn’t anything to write home about, the closing moments of Wrestlemania XXXIII were genuinely touching. There was an outpouring of emotion as fans seemingly said goodbye to a man who’d given so much of himself for over a 25 year career. Many of us had been watching him since we were children. Now, as adults, we were watching him ride off into the sunset.

To renege on a moment like that is almost in bad taste. This is twice now that we’ve gotten misty-eyed saying goodbye to the Undertaker. The first was after he lost to Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania XXX, ending his big winning streak. Me? I didn’t buy that as the end. But this Roman Reigns thing is different. In addition to drudging up all this emotion, it had a nice passing of the torch element to it. While the build-up could have been done much better, the generational aspect of the story was very appealing. And while so many detest Roman Reigns, the match had the right finish. If Undertaker comes back, it spoils all that.

Let’s also factor in the Undertaker being 52 years old, and not exactly blowing anyone away with what he did in the ring this year. Was it all his fault? Not necessarily. Remember, ‘Taker had recently come off hip surgery. He would reportedly go on to have a full on hip replacement done. There’s a lot to be said about a potential Reigns/Undertaker rematch, or the John Cena/Undertaker match so many have wanted. But if the real-life Mark Calaway is unable to perform at a high level, is bringing him back even worthwhile?

But at the same time…he’s the Undertaker. If anyone has earned the right to come and go on his own terms, it’s him. Let’s also remember that much of ‘Taker’s best in-ring work was done in his early to mid-forties. Think about his Wrestlemania matches with Batista, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and CM Punk. He has defied father time before. Given enough recovery and preparation time, it’s entirely possible he could do it again.

Regardless, the smart bet is that ‘Taker will be back sooner than later. But here’s my last lingering question: When he finally does say goodbye, how many of us will actually buy into it again? At what point does this Undertaker situation become just another version of The Boy Who Cried Wolf?

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Big Show’s Big Night, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

In the wake of JBL announcing his departure from the Smackdown Live announce team, WWE has quickly chosen a replacement for him. And it’s none other than Corey Graves. Indeed, Graves will now serve as a color analyst on both Raw and Smackdown. Nigel McGuinness will take his place on Main Event and 205 Live.

I’ve come to love the work Graves does. In a relatively short amount of time, he’s become the most credible announcer WWE has at their disposal. Fans may not know just how valuable he is until the day we have to live without him. That being said, having Graves on both Raw and Smackdown is not a good idea.

Setting aside the “too much of a good thing” lesson we’ve learned from all these years of three-hour Raw broadcasts, having Graves on both shows dilutes the integrity of the roster split. In theory, Raw and Smackdown are supposed to be two separate brands. It’s not simply a matter of different wrestlers and championships. The shows are supposed to have different looks and feels to them. The announcers are a critical component in that respect, as they literally give the shows their respective voices. Having Graves call both Raw and Smackdown blurs that line of distinction. What’s worse, it opens the door for the further blurring of that line. We’ve already got Corey Graves on both shows, and John Cena has been a “free agent.” Since they’ve gone this far, who’s to say certain wrestlers can’t show up on both shows?

It’s this kind of thing that led to the discontinuation of the original roster split. The integrity had been eroded to the point that there was no point in continuing the charade any longer. It got so bad toward the end that our two Heavyweight Champions wrestling in throwaway matches in the middle of Raw

Graves is an amazing announcer. But there are plenty of other qualified people WWE can call on to fill JBL’s seat. We just had Jerry Lawler back on last week’s Raw. Give him a buzz. Have Lita or Renee Young tag in to bring a female perspective to things. Mick Foley was an announcer on Smackdown several years ago. Could they talk him into coming back? Hell, what about Daniel Bryan? He was awesome on the Cruiserweight Classic. Yes, he’s an on-screen authority figure. But that’s a dynamic we’ve rarely if ever seen. Why not try it?

I’m hopeful this winds up being a band-aid until WWE can find a new permanent announcer. On the plus side, this is obviously a hell of an endorsement for Graves. A well-deserved endorsement at that, and one that seems to indicate WWE knows just how good he is. But let’s not ruin him by oversaturating the airwaves with his voice.

Ponderings From Raw:

John Cena def. Jason Jordan. Roman Reigns come out, and another verbal sparring session occurs. Really strong opener with a nice story. Very wise of them to incorporate that old Smackdown footage of Cena and Kurt Angle. Cena’s facials were strong early on. He looked caught off guard by Jordan’s amateur style.

This was the finish I expected. But Jordan got what he needed. It was his first really strong performance as a single, and perhaps the first time he really lived up to the new role WWE has cast him in.

The word coming out of last week’s segment with Cena and Reigns was that most of it was indeed scripted. Reigns did forget his lines at one point, which prompted Cena’s “It’s called a promo” jab. They played off that a little bit here. But this was clearly designed to have Roman get one up on Cena, just as Cena got one up on him last week. Reigns called Cena out for a fight, and “Big Match John” stepped back. Advantage Reigns.

Both these guys said “I don’t respect you.” Expect that to be a focal point moving forward. WWE has been big on “respect” storylines for a long time.

Sheamus and Cesaro def. Heath Slater and Rhyno. Pretty straightforward stuff here. I’m just happy to see Cesaro and Sheamus wrestling guys other than Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose.

The Miz def. Jeff Hardy to retain the Intercontinental Championship. Really good match, with Miz getting a (mostly) clean win. I wasn’t expecting them to change the title, but Miz and Jeff planted that seed of doubt in my mind. That’s how you know you’re seeing two greats. When just for a few minutes, they make you feel like a kid again. When they make you believe.

Enzo Amore, Cedric Alexander, and Gran Metallic def. Noam Dar, Tony Nese, and Drew Gulak. Enzo’s promo went too long for me. But the crowd was with him, so I can’t call it a flop.

They need to find something more substantial for Tony Nese to do. I’ve been saying it for months, this guy’s got something.

Bray Wyatt challenges Finn Balor to face him without using his Demon persona. This booking defies traditional logic. Usually they’d start with Bray against Finn, and then move to Bray against the Demon. It reminds me of John Cena facing Randy Orton in a straight up singles match at the Royal Rumble several years ago, after we’d already seen them in virtually every other match under the sun.

Still, this was one of Bray’s stronger promos in recent memory. It probably helps that it’s been a few weeks since we’ve heard him ramble and laugh nonsensically.

Nia Jax and Emma def. Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks. The Raw Women’s Championship Match at No Mercy will now be a Fatal Four-Way between these women. I’m hoping we’re headed for an Alexa Bliss/Sasha Banks double turn. As talented as she is, and as hard as she works, Sasha seems to become more and more of a brat as the weeks ago by. I’m sure much of that is my own evolving perception of her. Though a lot of fans are angry at Sasha right now for calling out fans who stalk her in airports. I won’t fault her for that. Boundaries, people. Boundaries.

Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. Sheamus and Cesaro were at ringside to watch Rollins and Ambrose, but they wound up scrapping with Gallows and Anderson. I imagine we’ll see those two teams face off next week. As long as they’re staying clear of Rollins and Ambrose until the pay per view, I’m good. I doubt that’ll end up happening. But I’ll enjoy it for now.

Braun Strowman def. The Big Show in a Steel Cage Match. There was a lot of talk here about Big Show being in the business for 23 years. I’ve been watching this guy for about 20 of those years. So believe me when I tell you: This was the best he’s ever been. Remember, he’s 45 years old.

Let’s start with that pre-match promo. Epic. Positively epic. He had fire. He was articulate, He was passionate. You got riled up because he was riled up. Show has been a good promo for most of his career. But this might have been his best.

Then you’ve got the bumps he took for Strowman. He dusted off the top rope elbow (shown above), which wound up being the highlight of the match. Then he took yet another Superplex from the top. And after the finish, they did the spot where Strowman slammed him through the cage wall. That last one came off a little choreographed. But who cares? Remember, this man is seven feet tall  and weighs over 300 pounds. Any time he takes a bump like that it’s a huge deal. But three in one match? Unbelievable.

You’ve also got to take your hat off to WWE for making this feel like an epic main event. They did a tremendous job playing up the Superplex spot from April, particularly when they interviewed the referee who took that great bump. This really came off like a Godzilla vs. King Kong level confrontation between monsters. And you know it’ll be that much bigger when they inevitably face off again.

Awesome. There’s no other way to put it. Simply awesome. A career night for this 20-plus year veteran.

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Does Rusev Want Out of WWE? Plus Ponderings From Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Can you really blame Rusev for wanting out of WWE?

At least that’s the rumor. Allegedly, the “Bulgarian Brute” is frustrated with how he’s being used lately, and even went as far as to ask for his release. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It’s the same reason Cody Rhodes left. Ditto for Ryback, Wade Barrett, and a few others on a list that’s growing longer and longer as time goes on.

It’s not like there isn’t a precedent for Rusev playing a more prominent role. He’s worked with both Roman Reigns and John Cena on major pay per views. You can throw Randy Orton on that list too, despite their Summerslam match lasting all of 10 seconds. Considering where he’s been, it’s understandable that he’d be frustrated with where he is now. Because these days Rusev is just…there. He’s an established heel for babyfaces to beat as they build momentum toward a bigger match. Has he reached his ceiling in WWE for the time being? Is he better off leaving and building on his reputation elsewhere?

Rusev has never been a top guy. I don’t know how much value he has in terms of being a marquee babyface. But he’s got a hell of an upside as a menacing monster heel. He looks the part, he’s got a good amount of charisma, and he’s more than capable in the ring. He’ll ever be a Roman Reigns type of star. But he deserves bigger opportunities than he’s being given right now. And he can get them.

WWE may be reluctant to grant Rusev his release, given how it would effect his real-life wife Lana. But if the real-life Miroslav Barnyashev (What a name…) and Catherine Perry get a chance to shine outside the WWE bubble, they should take it. There’d be no shortage of wrestlers willing to step up and take Rusev’s spot. And as we’ve seen numerous times already, a WWE run can be just as good, if not better, the second time around.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

WWE Champion Jinder Mahal opens the show. The Singh Brothers apologize for failing last week against Shinsuke Nakamra. Mahal, Rusev, and the Singhs get the better of Nakamura and Randy Orton in a scuffle. “I should be revered as your WWE Champion!” The word is pronounced “re-veered,” Jinder. Not “reh-verred.”

This was not good. Nakamura was apparently supposed to knock the Singhs aside and get to Jinder. But he just gave them a little push, and they just jumped out of the way. The Singhs were way too cartoony here, like henchmen on the ’60s Batman show. Brutal.

Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable def. The Ascension. Benjamin looked as good as he’s ever been. Once he and Gable get over to teams like the New Day and the Usos, we could see some really amazing stuff.

Hearing JBL call an Ascension match in 2017 is interesting, considering he buried them so much on commentary when they first came up to the main roster. He really damaged them, seemingly beyond repair. A repackaging could help these guys. But for now, they’re more dead than disco.

Tye Dillinger answesr AJ Styles’ United States Championship open challenge, despite being attacked by Baron Corbin beforehand. Styles gets a quick win with the Calf Crusher. While there’s no shame in losing to AJ Styles, I continue to be disappointed in how WWE is using Tye Dillinger. There’s something there with him. But he’s become just another guy on the roster.

So AJ’s next program is indeed going to be Corbin. The match between Corbin and Nakamura may have crapped the bed. If anybody can give him a good match, it’s Styles.

Bobby Roode def. Mike Kanellis. Speaking of just another guy on the roster. I was optimistic about Mike Kanellis’ spot on the roster. But now? Things look a little different…

Kevin Owens interrupts Aiden English to badmouth Shane McMahon. After responding, Shane sends Sami Zayn out to face English. Owens makes himself the referee, Powerbombs Zayn to give English the win. When Zayn’s music hit, I thought for sure we were getting him against KO. Have we seen these two go one-on-one since they came to Smackdown? I don’t think they have. That’s shocking, considering how often we used to see it on Raw.

The Usos def. The New Day, will decide the stipulation for the Tag Team Title rematch. I wish they wouldn’t keep giving this match away on free TV. On the Summerslam pre-show these guys proved they deserve to perform on the big stage. They shouldn’t diminish them by simply throwing them out there week after week.

This was decent. Obviously not as good as the Summerslam match. But it wasn’t meant to be. Interested to see what they do with the stipulation. As I said last week, they should really put these guys in Hell in a Cell. But I doubt they can wait that long.

Tamina won a squash match with Lana in her corner. Byron Saxton said he’d never seen a duo like Tamina and Lana before…

He’s never seen two people who can’t wrestle before? Is that what he means? It must be.

Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura def. Jinder Mahal and Rusev. Orton hits the RKO on Nakamura after the match. Orton and Nakamura to wrestle next week to determine top contender for WWE Title. Pretty standard stuff here. And of course, Rusev took the fall. The upside? They didn’t pin Jinder again.

The obvious direction for them to go is Jinder against Nakamura inside Hell in a Cell, the idea being the cage will keep the Singh Brothers out. But that program doesn’t deserve the cell. Plus, while I like what they’ve done with Jinder, his pay per view matches haven’t exactly been stellar. How much he’s to blame for that is up for debate. But he’s not ready for Hell in a Cell. Frankly, I’m not sure Nakamura is either.

One way or another, we’re probably going to find out.

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