Posted in Wrestling

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.

Posted in Wrestling

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.