The Owen Hart Chronicles: The Road to Kinghood

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

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Owen Hart Chronicles: Shawn Michaels, August 12, 1996

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

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Out of all the matches Owen Hart and Shawn Michaels had, this might be the least remembered. Yes, it was a Raw main event. It was really just a way to get Shawn and Vader in the ring together before a big pay per view main event the following Sunday.

But for yours truly, this match has always been special. In August 1996 my interest in wrestling was really ramping up. So at my younger brother’s behest, I tuned into watch my first live (or live-to-tape in this case) Raw match, featuring two men that at that point I’d only seen either on video cassette or in Super Nintendo games. Shawn Michaels, and the man who was quickly becoming my favorite wrestler of all, Owen Hart.

THE BUILD-UP: We were a week out from Summerslam 1996. Shawn Michaels, the WWF Champion, was booked to defend the title against Vader in the main event. At that time, Jim Cornette managed not only Vader, but Owen Hart and the British Bulldog. Obviously, such a scenario begs for the heels to set a trap for the babyface. Thus, announcers Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler told a story of Shawn putting himself in jeopardy mere days before his big match.

BELL TO BELL: What struck me about this match more than anything was how quick and smooth it was. These guys were both in their athletic prime here, and it shows.

Case in point, Shawn and Owen trade the famous twirl-and-nip-up-out-of-an-attempted-hammerlock spot (patent pending, and each end it with a takedown via hair pull takedown. Obviously choreographed? In hindsight, yes. But smooth as silk.

Shawn also hits Owen with a martial-arts style back leg sweep. He might have seen that in a movie and decided to try it, as I can’t recall him making that part of his repertoire.

This was during the “cast phase” of Owen Hart’s career. Much like Bob Orton Jr. a decade earlier, Owen was feigning a broken arm. But would use the cast as a weapon in his matches. If you’re looking for a hint of Owen Hart’s brand of comedy in this match, watch him as he sells an arm bar from Michaels. He doesn’t overdo it. But he’s not exactly subtle either.

This match was hardly Shawn and Owen’s best encounter. Not the least of which because they had a Botchamania moment on the finish. Shawn catches Owen in the chest with the superkick, rather than the face. Thankfully they recovered, and the champ hit another one for the three-count.

THE AFTERMATH: Predictably, Vader comes out toward the end of the match to try and cost HBK the win. They have a cute little standoff afterward with Vader holding a chair and Shawn clutching Owen’s cast. But in the end our hero does indeed fall victim to not one, but two Vader Bombs.

Vader would go on to lose to Shawn at Summerslam in what would, for better or worse, be the pinnacle of his WWF run. The match is perhaps best remembered for a botched elbow drop spot after which a frustrated Shawn yelled “Move!” at him.

Owen, meanwhile, would defeat Savio Vega in the opening match

Years later, Shawn would write in his book, Heartbreak and Triumph: The Shawn Michaels Story: “Working with Owen Hart was fantastic … by far the most talented of all the Harts. With Owen you could call things on the fly, change things up, experiment, and basically do anything you wanted to do. He was a pure joy to work with.”

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

Raw Needs Austin: How Stone Cold Can Help Salvage the Show

By Rob Siebert
Has never stomped a mudhole.
Nor walked it dry.

Let’s get one thing straight: WWE itself does not need salvaging. Quite the opposite in fact. It’s ludicrously been deemed an “essential business” in the state of Florida. During this Coronavirus pandemic, they have continued to run three weekly shows, albeit with no fans in attendance, and a bare bones cast and crew.

Granted, these shows have been great for the likes of Aleister Black, Zelina Vega and her new faction, and even Apollo Crews. Promos in general have been awesome too. But on this week’s show, we also got such stellar matches as:

– NXT Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair defeating Kayden Carter (an NXT star who is a bigger deal on that show, but has done nothing but lose on Raw.)
– Shayna Baszler squashing Indi Hartwell (an NXT wrestler who’s not even listed on their “Superstars” page.
– Bianca Belair beating Santana Garrett. (Ditto).

Mind you, I have nothing against enhancement matches, or any of the women who played the “enhancement” role on Monday. But c’mon. This is supposed to be the flagship show! Yes, these are obviously very unique circumstances. And to their credit, WWE has been thinking outside the box to compensate for that. But there has to be something they can do to spice up Raw a little more…

*cue the glass shattering*

I’ve very much enjoyed The Broken Skull Sessions on the WWE Network. Largely because Steve Austin has become an amazing interviewer. Seriously. He’s got a no B.S. style that’s better than a lot of the so-called journalists we see on television today.

My only real issue is that so far it’s mostly been “usual suspects,” i.e. guys Austin has interviews a bunch of times already. Legends like the Big Show, Ric Flair, and Bret Hart. I imagine Shawn Michaels is coming up soon. Mick Foley too. Maybe Kurt Angle.

But what if The Broken Skull Sessions wasn’t just another interview show with the legends? What if it was more timely? What if it featured the stars of today, in addition to the stars of yesterday? What if they talked about current events? Like say, the friggin’ global pandemic we’re in the middle of, and how it’s devastated WWE? How about WWE being named an “essential business” by the state of Florida? What about the current product? Not just how everyone’s been effected by the pandemic, but how it works when things are running on all cylinders.

Most importantly: What if they put it on Raw?

Honestly, why the hell not? COVID-19 has forced them to come up with new ways of doing things. Who says they can’t fill at least one hour, maybe 90 minutes of Raw with Steve Austin, one of the biggest stars the industry has ever seen and a proven ratings commodity, and The Broken Skull Sessions? Let him talk to not only the legends, but today’s top stars. Let him help get some of these people over in the process!

Supposedly these interviews are shot in Los Angeles. So have WWE send a production crew, and then every week a new talent can travel down there to be interviewed. If the talent doesn’t want to travel? Have them Skype in. There’s no harm in that. Austin could talk to his damn walls and make it entertaining!

Who would he talk to? I’m glad you asked…

1. Vince McMahon
Vince has to be first. Because of the risks involved with traveling, it’s got to be the “Vince doesn’t ask people to do things he wouldn’t do” principle.

You could very well fill all three hours of Raw with this one, given the topics at hand. What Vince thought as he realized how serious COVID-19 was getting, his decision to go ahead with Wrestlemania, the choice to keep shooting new TV, Florida deeming WWE an “essential business.” And of course, they can talk about the current product.

If Austin is allowed to be himself and ask whatever he wants, this could be the most compelling episode of Raw in years.

2. The Rock
As far as I know, Austin has never interviewed the Rock. What better time than now? Based on his social media, he seems to be at home with his young daughter (as he should be). But he’s been active, and taking fan questions. He even had a chat with California Governor Gavin Newsom.

So if some jabroni named Gavin can get the Great One’s time, you’d better believe Stone Cold should be able to.

Again, they could fill all three hours with this if they wanted to. They can’t get a bigger name than Dwayne Johnson. They can talk about their matches, Rock’s transition into movies, his comeback against John Cena and what he thinks about the current stars, that cute little hand-washing video he made with his daughter. They could even talk about….*gasp*…AEW.

3. Seth Rollins
When I originally thought of this idea, Seth Rollins was the first name that came to mind. Because while he’s no Shawn Michaels, the man’s become fairly controversial over the last year. From how he was booked as Universal Champion, to his new Monday Night Messiah character, to competing in an empty arena at Wrestlemania. Rollins has also been one of WWE’s biggest flag-wavers lately. And one can argue he’s paid the price for that. This is all great fodder for an interview.

Notable Omission: Braun Strowman
Strowman won the Universal Title in a match that stunk up the PC at Wrestlemania. He also made some really tone-deaf comments recently about indie wrestlers making a living during the pandemic. He doesn’t need another chance to put that giant foot in his mouth right now.

4. Becky Lynch
From the “Man’s Man” to the Man herself. Becky’s been the Raw Women’s Champion for over a year now. As she once told Bayley, she’s THE Women’s Champion in WWE right now. What’s more, she’s risen to become one of the faces of the company.

Lynch was one of the guests on Austin’s USA Network show Straight Up Steve Austin. But I’d like to see the Rattlesnake get down to brass taxes. From her early life including her training as a circus performer, to her unlikely rise to the top, to Ronda Rousey’s recent inflammatory comments (that were obviously worked).

5. Triple H
Like anyone in the McMahon family, Triple H is almost always going to be topical in terms of an interview. Many of the same questions posed to Vince can be posed to Hunter. Particularly about the Coronavirus stuff.

But as WWE has been more than happy to point out lately, this month marks Triple H’s 25-year anniversary with WWE. He spent a sizable portion of those two and a half decades working with Stone Cold. So they can run down their history together. And of course, there’s always NXT.

6. Charlotte Flair
Whether people believe it or not, one day WWE is going to call Charlotte Flair “the greatest of all time.”  She’ll be to the women what John Cena is to the men. As least in terms of PR speak.

Except in Charlotte’s case, they might actually be right. If you don’t count what the Undertaker and AJ Styles did as pro wrestling, then Charlotte and Rhea Ripley had the best match at this year’s Wrestlemania. And for my money, she’d already done it twice before. As Dr. Venkman might say, she’s a legitimate phenomenon in that ring. She displays knowledge and ring prowess well beyond her years.

Between her Wrestlemania matches, being one of the first women to main event Wrestlemania, Rousey’s comments, her 12 championship reigns (if you count the NXT and Diva’s Titles), and the mounting pressure of not only living up to her father’s legacy, but the one she’s made for herself, there’s plenty of ground for Austin to cover.

Notable Omission: Drew McIntyre
He’s the WWE Champion, and essentially the star of Raw right now. Best not to overexpose him and have the fans turn on him even quicker than they did Rollins.

7. Edge
Obviously Edge’s comeback would take up the lion’s share of this interview. But he and Austin are both Attitude Era guys, so I’m sure there’ll be more than one trip down memory lane.

Edge also didn’t seem to take too kindly to fans who didn’t like his Last Man Standing Match at Wrestlemania. So I’d definitely like to see Austin press him on that. Furthermore, what’s next for him? Does he come back at Summerslam? Or does he wait until the Coronavirus craziness goes away?

8. Paul Heyman
Heyman is an awesome interview no matter who he’s with. He’s great with Austin in particular. We’ve heard them talk about ECW. We’ve heard them talk about Brock Lesnar. They can do that again, of course.

But what I really want to hear about is Heyman being Executive Director of Raw.

I suppose the actual content of the interview depends on how shoot-oriented they’d want to do this on TV, as opposed to the network. But Paul Heyman and Vince McMahon have famously butted heads in the past. But what’s their working relationship now? What’s it like running Raw on a week-to-week basis? What’s his schedule like these days? How difficult is it to be creative under Vince? The questions practically ask themselves.

9. John Cena
Other than the Rock, and maybe Vince, this is the biggest get they could…well, get. Austin and Cena. Two generations. Two icons.

There’s been a lot of talk about the Ruthless Aggression era lately. I don’t see why that wouldn’t continue in a setting like this. Cena made his now famous debut on Smackdown mere weeks after Austin walked out on the company. They just missed each other. That’s a hell of a place to start. From there, they can segue into Hollywood, Cena’s thoughts on the future of WWE, and all that jazz.

But above all else, Austin needs to ask what the hell was up with the Firefly Funhouse Match.

Notable Omission: Bray Wyatt
Again, it depends on how shoot-oriented they’d want these to be. But I have no desire to see Bray Wyatt out of character right now. And if it’s going to be in character, then it’s got to break down and end with Austin in the Mandible Claw.

10. The Street Profits and Bianca Belair
Wait, what? The Street Profits and Bianca Belair? Yup. Austin should talk to talk to all three.

Angelo Dawkins, and especially Montez Ford, have charisma coming out their pores. But when they were called up to the main roster, they were inexplicably put in weird hype segments for other segments on the show. This was before they’d made their in-ring debut mind you. Afterward, the hokey dialogue would continue. Yes, they eventually became the Raw Tag Team Champions. And in recent weeks, they’ve been joined by NXT call-up Bianca Belair.

But in NXT Dawkins and Ford had a certain charm about them that they’ve largely been missing since their move to Raw. They’ve had plenty of mic time, but it feels like they’ve been stuck behind a script. And who knows the power of being unhindered on the mic than Stone Cold Steve Austin. When he would be on headset during the formative days of his character, he reportedly asked Vince McMahon to not overly edit his work, as it was (and still is) largely what sets him apart from everyone else.

So lets have Austin sit down with Dawkins, Ford, and Belair. They can dive into Ford and Belair’s real-life marriage if they want to. But that’s by no means a must. They talk about coming up in a very different type of wrestling business than Steve did. They can dish on NXT, coming over to Raw, their characters, their favorite matches, etc.

Plus, seeing Austin drink beer out of a red solo cup would be kinda neat.

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

The Silent Wrestlemania Recap – Undertaker and AJ Steal the Show!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Well, alright then. Wrestlemania XXXVI (or as I call it, “The Silent Wrestlemania” happened.

Was it weird? Definitely. Awkward at times? Oh  yeah. But was it bad? No. Not even remotely.

I tweeted this yesterday, and I’ll reiterate it here: I think the world needs Wrestlemania now more than ever. So as long as it was done on a volunteer basis, Vince McMahon was right to carry on with the show in whatever form it took.

So thank you to all the wrestlers, producers, crew members, and everyone that made these shows possible.

Night One

Cesaro def. Drew Gulak.
Admittedly, I didn’t see this one. Was busy during the pre-show. But hey, technically Cesaro got a singles match at Wrestlemania. A win at that.

Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross def. The Kabuki Warriors to win the WWE Women’s Tag Team Titles.
Was surprised they kicked off the main card with this one. Not sure if they’d have gone that route if there was a crowd. But they put on a good match.

As far as I know, Asuka and Kairi Sane were the first wrestlers of the evening to play to a crowd that wasn’t there. Since Asuka did commentary on Raw that night, it seems like these two have been asked to be louder and more obnoxious. If that’s the case, they were successful.

Elias def. King Corbin.
True story: I fell asleep during this match. No disrespect to either man. It had been a long day. I went back and watched it though. Went a little long. At least Elias actually had a match at Wrestlemania, as opposed to in-ring skits. Then again, both those skits were with John Cena. Maybe he was better off before…

Becky Lynch def. Shayna Baszler to retain the WWE Raw Women’s Title.
Good match. Wrong finish.

The psychology was right in this one. It felt like a fight. Loved the spot where Shayna whipped her head-first into the announce table. But ultimately, Shayna lost to a version of the Bret Hart “pin yourself by not releasing the hold” spot. It’s a good spot. It’s just a shame Baszler has already lost a big match to that same pinning combo. Yup, Kairi Sane beat Shayna for the NXT Women’s Title almost the exact same way at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn IV.

Between this loss, the way she lost (though that’s minor in the grand scheme of things), and the fact that an alleged killer like her couldn’t win the Women’s Royal Rumble at the number 30 spot, Shayna does not look good coming out of this.

The upside? Becky continues to dominate. Plus, my guess is these two aren’t done. And there’s plenty of room for Shayna to get even more vicious.

Sami Zayn def. Daniel Bryan to retain the WWE Intercontinental Title.
These two were the first to really take advantage of the fact that we could actually hear the wrestlers talking to one another. That played to Sami’s strengths as an annoying heel. In the end, the right guy won. There’s still a lot Sami can do as the Intercontinental Champion.

You’ve got to wonder what Shinsuke Nakamura was thinking. It wasn’t long ago that he was challenging for the WWE Heavyweight Championship at this show…

John Morrison def. Kofi Kingston and Jimmy Uso to retain the WWE Smackdown Tag Team Titles.
I give these three a hell of a lot of credit for doing a spot-fest like this without any fans in the arena. It just wasn’t the same without the crowd reactions. Although those ladder shots did sound that much more painful.

Creative finish with John Morrison plummeting to his doom, albeit with the titles in hand. Fitting for the weirdest tag team title match in Wrestlemania history.

Kevin Owens def. Seth Rollins in a No Disqualification Match.
You can argue this was the best match of night one. (More on that in a moment.) It made Owens look like a million bucks. As Raw continues to be in need of top babyfaces, that’s the best outcome they could have hoped for.

Braun Strowman def. Bill Goldberg to win the WWE Universal Title.
Yeah, this sucked.

I’m pretty sure we saw a total of two moves in this entire match. The Spear from Goldberg, and the Powerslam from Strowman. I understand Goldberg is somewhat limited in what he can do, and that this match came together on short notice. But c’mon. This was the best they could put together?

In hindsight, it was silly for me to predict a Goldberg victory no matter who he was wrestling. He does short term deals. That’s his thing.

Alright. So here we have it. Braun Strowman is the Universal Champion. I’d argue it’s about two years too late. But it happened. Now it’s all about the follow up.

The Undertaker def. AJ Styles in a Boneyard Match.
Damn. He did it again. The son of a bitch did it again. The Undertaker stole the show at Wrestlemania.

He didn’t do it alone, of course. I’ve said that we’ve reached the point where they need to use smoke and mirrors to give us a quality Undertaker match. In this case, he not only had one of the best workers in the world in AJ Styles, but the entire WWE production juggernaut backing him up.

But even so, he did it again.

Before I go any further, WWE really needs to send Matt Hardy a thank you note for this one. They deny him his ability to work creatively, prompting his departure from the company. But then Undertaker and AJ Styles have a Wrestlemania match that captures the world’s imagination using the cinematic style he essentially pioneered.

I suppose whether you call this the show-stealer depends on your definition of what a wrestling match is. Jim Cornette, for instance, would not call this a wrestling match. The cinematic presentation, the music, the special effects. It was more like a short film. I saw someone on Twitter last night ponder if this is the future of the wrestling business. I hope not. I say you can only get away with something like this once a year, if that. But if you can do it, and it works…

Not only did this give us back the dominant, tough-as-nails Undertaker that we’ve missed, it told a great story. My favorite part isn’t a particular spot or stunt. Rather, it’s when Undertaker has Styles, and he’s taunting him with things like, “What’s my wife’s name?” and “You wanna talk about how old I am?”

I don’t think you could have done this in an arena. In that sense, the current circumstances worked in their favor. But one way or another the Undertaker, along with AJ Styles, has stolen the show at Wrestlemania. In 2020. Who’da thunk it?

Night Two

Liv Morgan def. Natalya.
Nice moment for Liv, I suppose. Though I doubt anything comes of it.

Charlotte Flair def. Rhea Ripley to win the NXT Women’s Title.
If you don’t count Undertaker vs. AJ Styles as an actual wrestling match, then this was the best match of the weekend. It should come as a surprise to no one that Charlotte Flair is involved. For my money, her matches 2016 and 2018 were both show stealers.

What made this match stand out to me was the tension in the air. This Charlotte/Rhea thing hasn’t been going on that long. But if you came into this cold, you’d think they’d hated each other’s guts for years. There was just this nasty, hateful, vicious vibe in the ring. I loved it.

Does it suck that Rhea Ripley lost? Of course it does. But if you’ve been paying attention, you knew it was coming. Charlotte Flair is the poster girl for their “Women’s Revolution.” She was the inaugural Women’s Champion at Wrestlemania 32. She broke Asuka’s undefeated streak at Wrestlemania 34. She was shoehorned into the main event of Wrestlemania 35. Notice a pattern?

However, as I speculated, these two were able to have an amazing match. And that benefits Rhea much more than winning a standard one does. Her star is still on the rise. So have no fear.

Aleister Black def. Bobby Lashley.
What does it say about this match that the only thing I could focus on for awhile was the fact that Lashley was wearing pants instead of trunks.

Loved the closing spot here, the attempted Spear from Lashley into the Black Mass Kick for the win. As Lana was the one who called for the Spear, does that mean we’re headed for a Lashley/Lana split?

Otis def. Dolph Ziggler.
This match pulled off a rarity. It had the right ending but the wrong winner. Otis needed to get the girl in the end, and he did. I can only imagine the pop that kiss would have gotten in front of a crowd.

The problem I had with this one is that Dolph is one of the most decorated wrestlers WWE has had in the last two decades. Otis on the other hand, is a tag team wrestler who’s only recently made it to the main roster. Ziggler should have won. Perhaps by cheating. So Dolph wins the battle, but not the war.

Incidentally, why was Mandy dressed to wrestle? Was it just one of those “always bring your gear” kind of things?

Edge def. Randy Orton in a Last Man Standing Match.
I give both these guys a lot of credit for this one. They beat the absolute piss out of each other in front of ZERO fans. Lots of creativity on display here. In terms of fighting all over the performance center, this was exactly what you wanted it to be. I can’t say I disliked much of what I saw.

Having said that, I couldn’t believe they let Orton choke Edge with the gym equipment. It’s been a long time, but that absolutely screams Benoit. Especially because those Dark Side of the Ring episodes aired so recently.

That being said, we need to talk about something I’ll call the Lesnar/Goldberg principle. They might have had the best built match going into Wrestlemania 33. And it lived up to the hype. But they only needed about five minutes to deliver on that. It was quick, high impact, and about as concise as you could ask for. They stole the show that year.

My point is, just because a match has such an amazing build doesn’t mean it needs to go 30 to 45 minutes. Whether a match is good or not usually has nothing to do with it’s length. Triple H’s big matches tend to have a problem with this.

The Lesnar/Goldberg principle. One to live by.

The Street Profits def. Angel Garza & Austin Theory to retain the WWE Raw Tag Team Titles.

The story here ended up being Bianca Belair, who saved Ford and Dawkins from a post-match beatdown. I assume will be with the Street Profits on Raw from here on out. Works for me. She’s earned her main roster spot. Becky Lynch is also going to need new challengers in the near future.

Bayley def. Sasha Banks, Naomi, Tamina, and Lacey Evans to retain the WWE Smackdown Women’s Title.
This is another one where hindsight is 20/20. I predicted it would come down to Bayley and Sasha. But for whatever reason, WWE avoids that match like the plague. Or in this case, Coronavirus.

I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of time they gave this match. The Smackdown Women’s Division may be cold right now. But they gave these ladies a decent-sized canvas to create on.

Also…no, Michael Cole. Team B.A.D. was not a huge part of the Women’s Revolution. Just like Team P.C.B. wasn’t. And Team Bella damn sure wasn’t.

“The Fiend” Bray Wyatt def. John Cena in a Firefly Funhouse Match.
Coming into this match, I was expecting something akin to the Boneyard Match, only it would take place in some sort of demented funhouse setting.

That’s not what we got. In fact, in over two decades watching this stuff, I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything quite like what we got. It was more like a Saturday Night Live sketch than a wrestling match. It’s like they got together and said, “Bray Wyatt is crazy. So let’s just go nuts. Let’s throw shit against the wall.”

I’ll give you this much, I enjoyed its devotion to continuity. They really dove into history for this one, picking apart both characters.

I can’t say I enjoyed the Boneyard Match then turn around and say I didn’t like this one. For all intents and purposes they played by the same rules. But whereas I’d be game for seeing something like the Boneyard Match once a year, this is the kind of thing you can only do once maybe every five to 10 years.

Drew McIntyre def. Brock Lesnar to win the WWE World Heavyweight Title.
To my dismay, this match basically followed the same formula as the Goldberg/Strowman one. Hit the finishers a bunch, then have the challenger go over. In both matches it’s like they just wanted to get it over with.

Still, this one had the right outcome. Drew got his moment, unconventional though it was. One of the highlights of night two was him reaching out to the camera and saying, “Thank you.”

Congratulations, good sir. Your moment doesn’t look like anyone else’s, but it’s yours. So be proud. You earned it. You deserve it.

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

Undertaker’s Best Promos: The Dead Speak!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

For my money, on Monday the Undertaker cut one of his best promos in years. If you haven’t seen it, you should see it.

So watch it.

In recent years a lot of fans have been clamoring for him to return to his American Bad Ass/Big Evil persona. That’s the closest we’ve gotten to it in a long time. In the right context, this Undertaker is every bit as menacing and intimidating as the Dead Man persona.

Like fine wine, the Undertaker improved with age. Critics, podcasters and “pundits” have talked about his matches with Kurt Angle, Batista, Edge, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, CM Punk, among others. Mind you, the first of those matches took place in February 2006. The real-life Mark Calaway had been wrestling for almost 20 years, and played the Undertaker for about 16 of them.

But what about the Undertaker’s mic work? His “character work,” so to speak. At the start of his run he was given a mouthpiece: Paul Bearer. The formula for an Undertaker/Paul Bearer promo was pretty simple. Paul would do most of the talking in that unsettling high pitched voice, and ‘Taker would chime in with something spooky at the end. But at that point he was playing the character like a zombie, or Frankenstein’s monster.

Below is a perfect example, and actually one of my favorite times we heard the Dead Man speak…

But after years at Paul Bearer’s side, and six years of growing and evolving the character, he clearly became more comfortable on the mic and began to take a more commanding presence in his promos. At times it was almost to the point where Bearer would simply speak to compliment what Undertaker would say.

Case in point, this little gem where he talks about a match on Valentine’s Day…

In 1996, the Undertaker/Paul Bearer tandem was split up. The Dead Man was left to fend for himself on the mic. Some nights were better than others. But on certain shows, he could make absolute magic. Especially when he had the production team behind him. These promos for the Buried Alive pay per view that fall are the stuff of legend.

Holy crap.

The changes continued into 1997 and 1998. The introduction of the Kane character, and the revelation of the Undertaker’s storyline family history would humanize the Dead Man in ways we’d never seen. In rare occasions he’d be in street clothes, albeit still black. As they built to an Undertaker/Kane match at Wrestlemania XIV, he would have to talk about his parents, his childhood, etc. The emotional needs of the story required a kind of acting that would prove challenging for anyone not trained traditional theater.

In the scene below, we see him talking to his deceased parents at their grave site. Y’know, that standard wrestling promo you’ve seen a thousand times…

But pre-produced Undertaker was not the same as arena Undertaker. That’s not to say he was bad. But a spooky, undead character obviously lends itself to more quiet settings. When you’re among screaming fans, it’s obviously very different.

Here we have a fairly famous “worked shoot” promo from 1998. He’s dressed in plain clothes, but allegedly that’s because his gear was lost in transit. It’s not the most polished mic work you’ll ever see. But the substance of it is great. I love the “slayer of dragons” line.

I’m not in love with this next one. But certain elements of it are very strong. Most notably Undertaker not looking into the camera as he’s threatening Vince McMahon. Mind you this is 1999. Years before WWE wrestlers were told not to look into the camera. This was done for effect. Then you’ve got the music, the lighting, the hood. It’s just a great looking piece of television.

Then came the American Bad Ass. In 2000, all the talk about taking souls and eternal damnation was over. After 10 years, the Undertaker was simply a tough-as-nails biker, looking like he might kill somebody at a moment’s notice. We’d seen a humanized Undertaker before. But I’d argue this was the first time we heard the Undertaker talk like Mark Calaway.

Even the Rock wasn’t safe.

The American Bad Ass would morph into Big Evil. The difference? As Bruce Prichard once said, “Semantics.” Although I suppose you could argue the American Bad Ass was a babyface, and Big Evil a heel.

By the time Wrestlemania XIX rolled around, ‘Taker wanted a match with Ric Flair. And he was going to get it. By any means necessary…

In hindsight, the really bone-chilling thing about this segment is that he references not only the future Charlotte Flair, but the late Reid Fliehr.

This next one from April of 2002 was special. Not just because of its delivery, but because they put the Undertaker with the recently-returned Hulk Hogan, and they let him talk about the elephant in the room. They let him talk about his first WWF Championship win in 1991 and say, “I beat you.” For so long, it had been taboo to reference Hogan unless it was some kind of joke or parody. But now he was back. And as you’ll see, he was fair game.

Big Evil was around until the end of 2003. By Wrestlemania the following year, the Dead Man was back. And yes, he would wear gold again. Specifically, the World Heavyweight Championship, a.k.a. the “Big Gold Belt.” He wore it three times between 2007 and 2009.

Here he is on Smackdown in 2009 after taking it CM Punk in a Hell in a Cell Match the previous Sunday. My favorite part of this promo is that he puts the belt over, and explains why he wanted it so badly. He even calls it “the Holy Grail of everyone who steps foot in this ring.”

At this point, what we were getting was a Dead Man/Big Evil hybrid. Lots of talk about souls, graves, etc. But at times, we’d see flashes of Big Evil.

Earlier that year, Wrestlemania XXV had taken place. The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels had that classic match, and started what would ultimately be a four-year saga that in time would include Triple H.

Once Triple H got involved in 2011, we started to see in-ring segments between all three. What resulted were some of the best, if not the best back-and-forth promos of all their iconic careers. There’s a tension in the air that you can’t script. It has to come from the performers and their chemistry.

I present to you, Exhibit A.

A year later, Triple H and the Undertaker would face off again. This time inside Hell in a Cell, with HBK as the guest referee. But initially, Hunter refused to face the Dead Man again.

What’s interesting about this segment is that it’s one of the rare times we see Undertaker come from a place of vulnerability. He’s been waiting a year for this opportunity, and he needs Triple H to say yes.

You wanna talk tension? That line about Shawn being better isn’t remotely as effective out of context. But with these characters and this dynamic, it’s huge.

Fast-forward to 2015, and we’ve got the Undertaker coming for Brock Lesnar after the Streak was broken at Wrestlemania XXX. I was so dissatisfied with that initial promo ‘Taker cut on Brock. It made him look like a sore loser. If they’d simply done something like the promo below, and included something about revenge and ‘Taker having nothing left to lose, it would have been perfect.

This next segment contains, in my opinion, the Undertaker’s last really good promo. Until last Monday, of course.

There’s not much to it, really. It’s ‘Taker declaring himself for the Royal Rumble Match. But it’s always stood out to me for two reasons. First, I love the “29 holes for 29 souls” line. Secondly, and more importantly, look at how he acts toward Stephanie McMahon. At this point (and perhaps to this day), nobody stood up to Stephanie like that.

But what could she do? He’s the Undertaker.

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

Alexa Bliss Bowls for Soup?

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Imagine my surprise yesterday, pulling up my Spotify “Release Radar” playlist and seeing a Bowling For Soup song. Much less, a bowling for Soup song about Alexa Bliss. Random, much?

Low and behold, here’s the official video for it.

Reportedly in an interview awhile back, Alexa mentioned Bowling For Soup was her favorite band. The BFS front man reached out to her, fast-forward, she’s got her own Bowling For Soup song and music video.

By all accounts, the real-life Alexis Kaufman is a legit fan. The pic at left looks like it’s from her pre-WWE days as a fitness model.

You know what this video reminds me of? My pre-teen crush on Sunny. Like Alexa, she had that “girl next door” quality to her. I’m certainly not the only one she…*ehem*…pushed into puberty. And judging by her  obsessed army of Twitter followers, Alexa has that same “impact” on a lot of kids these days.

Either way, a cool little “worlds collide” moment that I can safely say I never saw coming.

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

WWE’s 10 Most Fascinating People of 2019: Becky Lynch, CM Punk, and More!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

So I think I’m just going to claim this “Most Fascinating People” thing as my own. Barbara Walters doesn’t do it anymore. And I’ve been doing it on WWE personalities for years now…

Speaking of which, we’ve got some repeaters this year, as we always do. One of which I never thought we’d see again. (You’ll know him when you see him.) I’m sure a lot of them are obvious choices when you think about it. But I’d say two or three of them aren’t.

So once again, let’s get fascinating!

No? Not a good catch phrase? Just trying it on…

1. CM Punk
So yeah, this is happening.

After years of bad blood between Punk and WWE, including a lawsuit filed by WWE doctor Christopher Amann (Punk won), the old adage of “Everyone comes back eventually” was once again proven true. Well, kinda…

After weeks of speculation, on November 21 Punk did indeed become a part of WWE Backstage on FS1, serving as a frequent guest analyst. However, Punk’s deal is with Fox, not WWE. Ergo, he finds himself in the unique position of being able to critique the product as he sees fit, with seemingly no repercussions from the company. He’s already managed to stir things up with Seth Rollins. There’s no telling whose feathers he may ruffle next. Which is, of course, the point of bringing him on in the first place.

Naturally, this opened the floodgates for fans to make assumptions about an in-ring return. Truth be told, there is an aura of inevitability about it. It’s all guesswork as to when it could or would happen, but a Wrestlemania seems like an obvious choice. I wouldn’t expect “clobberin’ time” to come in 2020, though.

Punk is in a position to do things on his terms. That’s not a dynamic WWE is used to in 2019. But if there’s one person who’s been able to make this company squirm in recent years, it’s CM Punk. Seeing him do it again, even if it’s only in a storyline, would make for interesting TV.

This is CM Punk’s third appearance on the list, having been on it in 2012 and 2013.

2. Dean Ambrose
Before Jon Moxley became one of AEW’s hottest acquisitions, Dean Ambrose had perhaps the most amicable departure in WWE history.

In January, WWE put out a press release announcing that the real-life Jonathan Good would not be renewing his contract when it expired in April. The release continued: “We are grateful and appreciative of all that Dean has given to WWE and our fans. We wish him well and hope that one day Dean will return to WWE.”

This was, in many ways, unprecedented. WWE barely, if ever, calls attention to one of their top guys leaving the company. But there it was, right out in the limelight. Ambrose reportedly turned down a significant offer from WWE, citing all the “hokey” material he’d been given as of late. If you go back and watch some of what he was doing at that time, it’s not hard to see what he means…

The announcers usually danced around it on Raw. But most fans knew it was happening. To the further surprise of many, Ambrose wasn’t buried or jobbed out during his remaining months with the company. Yes, he was left off the Wrestlemania card. But he was also given a proper send-off via one more Shield reunion with Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns. WWE even made a network special out of his last night, calling it The Shield’s Final Chapter.

When you get right down to it, that’s got to be why they were so nice to Ambrose on his way out. Despite being open about his frustrations with the WWE creative process (including a scathing appearance on Talk is Jericho), the Shield has become one of their most bankable commodities of the last decade. They want to keep that door wide open for Ambrose to come back someday However, as Moxley has signed a multi-year deal with AEW, don’t expect that to happen any time soon.

This is Dean Ambrose’s second appearance on the list. He appeared on it last year.

3. Shayna Baszler
This year, Shayna Baszler became one of the key components in elevating NXT to cable television, and thus the same level as Raw and Smackdown. But before that happened, she dominated the entire NXT Women’s Roster. With the exception of a brief hiccup last year, Baszler has been the most dominant NXT Women’s Champion since Asuka.

We recently heard her run down the list of names herself. But this year alone she beat back Bianca Belair, Io Shirai, Mia Yim, and Candice LeRae. But her true crowning moment came at Survivor Series, when she defeated Raw Women’s Champion Becky Lynch and Smackdown Women’s Champion Bayley in a Triple-Threat Match. And although she just recently lost her NXT Title to Rhea Ripley, Baszler has a legit claim to being the top female wrestler in all of WWE.

Furthermore, there’s no shortage of bad blood between Baszler and Lynch. While it may trace back to Lynch toppling her friend Ronda Rousey at Wrestlemania, Baszler has been adamant that she’s not Rousey. She has her own legacy to create. My guess? That legacy continues with a victory in the 2020 Women’s Royal Rumble Match, and a title match against Lynch at Wrestlemania this spring.

4. Baron Corbin
Simply the name “Baron Corbin” is enough to make some people’s skin crawl. People hate this guy. Some fans think he’s boring. Others say he can’t wrestle. While some just see him as the smug prick he’s trying to come off as.

Either way, he may very well be one of the only true heels in all of wrestling. In an era where everybody wants to be a cool heel, a la Bray Wyatt or Adam Cole, Corbin isn’t afraid to draw legit heat from a crowd. And one of the oldest rules in the book is that if you can get people to hate you, they’ll pay to see you get beat up. That’s why they had him beat Kurt Angle in his final match. That’s why they had him win the King of the Ring. That’s why he’s feuded with the likes of Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns this year. They see him as a commodity. Or at least a commodity in the making.

Granted, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Corbin in 2019. The program with Rollins didn’t exactly leave us wanting more. Quite the opposite, in fact. And older fans have balked at some of the more childish antics he’s employed against Reigns. But mark my words, folks: At this rate, Corbin will be a Heavyweight Champion down the road. Possibly even this year.

5. Rey Mysterio
It’s no coincidence that Rey has been featured much more prominently since Paul Heyman became Raw‘s executive director. He brought Rey into ECW in the mid ’90s. Years later, when Heyman was writing Smackdown, he gave Rey a key role. So this is clearly a winning combination, and it was no different in 2019.

Rey obviously wants to set up some kind of “passing the torch” moment with his son Dominic, who is currently in training at the Performance Center. Father and son would share a sentimental moment backstage, when Dominic convinced Rey not to retire after a disheartening losing streak.

But there was nothing sentimental about the beating they’d both take from Brock Lesnar. After a brief detour involving Cain Velasquez, we got the obvious match: Brock vs. Rey for the WWE Championship at Survivor Series. Like so many before him, Rey failed to defeat Lesnar. But regardless, Rey Mysterio was once again in a marquee match at a major WWE pay per view. And to his credit, he did some damn good mic work along the way. The promo where he’s looking into the camera and has the pipe in his hand was simply awesome.

6. Rhea Ripley
Ripley has created her share of headlines. She was part of the infamous Mae Young Classic match where Tegan Nox’s knee exploded, and then famously mocked her on Twitter. She would go on to become the inaugural NXT UK Women’s Champion, and ultimately stay tucked away on that show for more than half the year.

Then in August, she made a surprise return to Full Sail, confronting then-NXT Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler. It was a moment that created instant buzz and speculation about Ripley challenging, and possibly becoming the one to finally dethrone Baszler.

In November, Ripley would lead her team to victory in the first-ever women’s War Games Match, defeating a team led by Baszler. Ripley would close out the year by doing what many expected, and defeating Baszler for the NXT Women’s Title on December 18.

Over the years, a select few have not only held that title, but in essence become the face of the NXT Women’s Division. Bayley played that role, as did Asuka. And for about two years now, Baszler has been the face of the division. Now, Rhea Ripley has an opportunity to make her mark on the ever-growing legacy of the NXT Women’s Title. I’ve got a feeling she won’t disappoint.

7. Bray Wyatt
This could have gone really, really wrong. Thankfully, it all worked out. Mostly…

C’mon, this is WWE we’re talking about. They could easily have fumbled the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde persona Bray took on when he finally returned to television with his “Firefly Funhouse” segments. Wyatt would take on a Mr. Rogers-like demeanor, complete with a red sweater and puppets. But there were obvious sinister overtones, which would lead to the debut of Bray’s new alter ego, “the Fiend.” Sporting a mask designed by famed horror and special effects guru Tom Savini, the character quickly became a hit, despite still playing a heel. After years of repetitive promos, and being virtually booked into oblivion, Bray Wyatt was experiencing a full fledged career resurrection.

WWE’s first major misstep with the character came when they rushed him into a title match with then-Universal Champion Seth Rollins. A Hell in a Cell Match, no less. To make matters worse, the match inexplicably ended via ref stoppage, resulting in a massive uproar among fans. WWE attempted to correct the misstep by putting the title on the Fiend at Crown Jewel. But the match would leave a stink on both Rollins and Wyatt for weeks.

Bray continues to reign as Universal Champion, as both he and the title have been moved to Smackdown. He’s once again embroiled in a feud with Daniel Bryan, which fans seem to be into. I have a sneaking suspicion he’ll come face to face with a certain Big Dog come Wrestlemania season. But in any event, Bray Wyatt has become what so many of us knew that he, with this character, could be: A top guy. He’s the Heavyweight Champion on a show that airs weekly on Fox. Now that’s a comeback story.

8. Kofi Kingston
Kofi had a comeback story of his own in 2019. One that, ultimately, would end in disaster.

Kofi Kingston was not supposed to be challenging for the WWE Title at Wrestlemania. My guess is he and the New Day would have been involved in some sort of multi-team tag match on the undercard. But fate stepped in when Mustafa Ali was injured in February, and Kofi replaced him in the Elimination Chamber Match for the WWE Championship. The fans fell in love with him all over again as he came within an eyelash of finally winning the big one after 11 years in WWE. He became an instant underdog sensation, as “KofiMania” was born. To WWE’s credit, they altered their storyline plans, and at Wrestlemania 35 in New Jersey, Kofi would steal the show with WWE Champion Daniel Bryan. The match culminated in an emotional victory celebration in the ring.

Kofi would keep the championship longer than many anticipated, retaining it against the likes of Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Dolph Ziggler, and even his old rival Randy Orton.

Then, along came Brock Lesnar. On October 4, in the main event of Smackdown’s debut broadcast on Fox, Lesnar would squash Kingston in less than 10 seconds to win the title. He hasn’t even sniffed a Heavyweight Title since then, having returned to tag team competition.

It’s debatable whether Kingston could  have played that top guy role longer. In the end, the real injustice here is that he’s seemingly been swept under the rug. Could Kofimania rise again? Perhaps. But it doesn’t seem likely, does it?

9. Seth Rollins
This was supposed to be Seth Rollins’ year. And in a lot of ways, it was. He won the Royal Rumble, and went on to defeat Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship at Wrestlemania. Shockingly, he’d beat Lesnar a second time at Summerslam. As if that weren’t enough, he got engaged to Becky Lynch, and the two would become an item both on and off screen.

But oh, the power of social media. Of all things, it was a series of ill-conceived tweets that started to turn the fans against Rollins. Throw in a post-Wrestlemania feud with Baron Corbin that went far too long, and the finish to his Hell in a Cell Match with Bray Wyatt, and he was dead in the water as a babyface. What’s more, I don’t think the pairing with Lynch did either of them any favors. The closest thing I can think to equate it to would be when they put The Undertaker’s wife Sara with him on television. It just wasn’t a side of him that people wanted to see. Ditto for both Rollins and Lynch here.

WWE would, once again, do the right thing by changing their plans and turning Rollins heel. Now aligned with AOP, he finds himself jockeying for the top heel spot on Raw against AJ Styles, and ironically enough, WWE Champion Brock Lesnar.

The more things change, the more they stay the same…

This is Seth Rollins’ second time on the list, having made it in 2015.

6. Becky Lynch
As far as I’m concerned, Becky Lynch was the face of WWE in 2019. And there isn’t even a close second.

Lynch rode a wave of momentum into the Royal Rumble, where she would tap out to Asuka, but then win the Women’s Royal Rumble Match. After an injury forced her to miss out on her chance to wrestle Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey at Survivor Series, fans desperately wanted to see those two collide. To their credit, both ladies made it feel like there was legit bad blood between the two. It was a match worthy of the Wrestlemania main event. To the dismay of many, Charlotte Flair was added to the match, and it became a three-way for both the Raw and Smackdown Women’s Championships. Becky would pin Ronda (albeit clumsily) to win both titles, victorious in the first women’s match to headline a Wrestlemania.

In the months that followed, we learned just how much a great hero needs a great villain. With Ronda gone, and the Charlotte feud played out, Lynch was put with Lacey Evans. With respect to Lacey, the matches were about as thrilling as they sound. Thankfully, the freshly heel-turned Sasha Banks would come to Becky’s rescue. Their program would culminate in an excellent Hell in a Cell match in October.

At Survivor Series, Becky wrestled Smackdown Women’s Champion Bayley and NXT Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler in a Triple-Threat Match. During the build-up, we saw some really nice tension between Lynch and Baszler that was reminiscent of what Lynch had with Rousey. Baszler was adamant that she is not Ronda Rousey, and I suspect she’ll be in a position to prove that to Becky in the near future. But for now, Baszler is licking her wounds after losing her title to Rhea Rhipley, and Becky wants to avenge her loss to Asuka at last year’s Royal Rumble.

Becky was always extremely likable. A natural babyface. Ironically, it was when they tried to turn her heel last year that the fans truly rallied behind her. Becky got angry, and they got angry with her. From a storytelling perspective, there were a lot of comparisons to Stone Cold Steve Austin’s rise to the top. That’s not entirely unjustified. But I think the similarities are superficial at best. I think one of the reasons fans got behind Becky so much is because she showed us something most modern babyfaces don’t: Legitimate passion and fire. So many wrestlers are struggling to memorize lines, and make the schlock written for them into passable television. All Lynch really had to do was go out there and be herself.

In the end, I think that’s something almost everyone has to do if they want to get over to any large extent. You show people who you are, albeit with the volume turned up and certain things exaggerated, and either they like you or they don’t. It’s not nearly as complicated as it seems, or as WWE makes it.

That’s something to keep in mind as we head into 2020…

This is Becky Lynch’s second time on the list. She was on it last year as well.

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