WWE Smackdown Live Ponderings: Cena vs. Nakamura

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Is Mike Kanellis dead? Not the man himself, of course. But the character and his chances for success in WWE. That’s what a lot of smart fans have been saying since his loss to Sami Zayn at Battleground. He was also pinned by Sami Zayn in a tag team match two nights later. I’ll admit, it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. But does that mean Mike Kanellis is dead?

Let me say this up front: Wins and losses matter in pro wrestling. No matter how much some will tell you otherwise, it’s built into the fabric of the business. In theory, it’s why we tune in each week. It’s what drives the characters, and pushes their stories forward. Otherwise, what’s the point?

But let’s also not lose sight of the fact that these are still characters in a story. Maria and Mike Kanellis are heels. As I’ve said before, villains can bounce back from losses a lot quicker than heroes can. They can be motivated by revenge, selfishness, greed, etc. That path is a bit more narrow for the heroic types, as they’re bound to their honor.

Granted, if the bad guy never gets any kind of an edge or a win, he sacrifices his credibility and he’s no longer a threat. That’s when you end up with a character like Bray Wyatt, who’s just now starting to gather some steam again. At least, for now.

Did those losses to Sami hurt Mike Kanellis? Maybe. Maybe not. But for crying out loud, the act isn’t dead. Not every new WWE talent needs to go on a big winning streak once they come up to the main roster. Yes, you want to get them with the audience. But there’s more than one way to do that.

Maria and Mike Kanellis might not be a main event act together. But they still make a damn good package. I think the whole “Power of Love” thing is brilliant. Having them fawn over each other on television strikes a great nerve. We can’t just write these two off because Mike lost a match or two early on. He’s not a made man. But there are still plenty of opportunities ahead for him.

Wins and losses matter. But they aren’t the only thing that matters. 

Ponderings From Smackdown Live:

AJ Styles def. Kevin Owens to retain the United States Title. After a controversial finish, a Summerslam rematch is made, with Shane McMahon as the guest referee. Objectively, these two have had good matches. That’s no surprise, as they’re two of the best in the world. But for some reason I just haven’t been feeling this feud. It’s not a lack of chemistry. There’s just some intangible that isn’t there. That’s why I was hoping to see this end after Battleground.

Referee Mike Chioda took a “punch” from KO in this match that clearly didn’t connect. Bad break. Especially considering it led to the finish.

On the subject of chemistry, Kevin Owens and Shane McMahon have an intriguing tension going on. Something between the two of them could help Smackdown maintain interest as we move into the fall, which is often the company’s most creatively challenging (and frustrating) period.

The Usos mock the New Day’s entrance, and cut a scathing promo. More awesome stuff. Tough to believe WWE has had these guys on the main roster since 2010, and we’re just now seeing this side of them.

Aiden English def. Sami Zayn. Maria and Mike Kanellis come out to rub salt in the wound. Aiden English gets a CLEAN win over Zayn? Damn. That’s the biggest win of this guy’s career. They did a fine job of making it look like a fluke victory, with the flash pin. I’m an Aiden English fan. His matches aren’t incredibly memorable. But he’s got a different kind of look and some decent singing chops. Very pleased he’s getting a chance to shine, as opposed to getting lost in the shuffle after Simon Gotch’s release.

Naomi and Becky Lynch def. Natalya and Carmella. Interesting counter to Carmella’s Code of Silence by Naomi. How much of a chance does Nattie actually have of beating her at Summerslam? As great as she is, I’d imagine it’s slim to none.

Rusev def. Chad Gable. Rusev issues an open challenge for Summerslam, which is accepted by Randy Orton. Really good showing here between these two, which had a great first chapter. Rusev threw Gable a little bit, playing to the size and power difference. Thus, it was that much more impressive seeing Gable suplex Rusev the way he did. The big Bulgarian got the victory in the end. But this did what it was designed to do. Both guys got over.

But poor Rusev. This guy keeps running into brick walls. First John Cena, now Randy Orton. It seems unlikely they’d have Orton lose a fourth consecutive pay per view match after putting Jinder Mahal over three times. Granted, you never know. But the smart bet is Rusev loses. Again. *sigh*

This match got me thinking: Could Rusev have been the guy WWE strapped the rocket to, instead of Jinder Mahal? For my money, the answer is yes. Rusev could have made just as good an evil foreign champion. Especially if he payed tribute to Vladimir Putin like he used to. Granted, the Russian connection isn’t quite as strong without Lana at his side. But they could make it work. He’s also better in the ring and on the mic. Did they miss an ample opportunity with this guy?

Shinsuke Nakamura def. John Cena to earn a WWE Championship Match at SummerslamWould you call this an upset? I know that question will piss people off. But remember, this is WWE. It’s Cena’s house.

This was the right move to make. Nakamura has been on the main roster for a few months. But they’re still trying to establish him as this legendary wrestler to the casual fanbase. A clean victory over Cena goes a long way in that regard.

The match itself was pretty good. Naturally, much of it was about the feeling out process between Cena and Nakamura. Their personalities made for an interesting clash.

It’s almost a given that at some point during a big John Cena match, his opponent is going to kick out of the Attitude Adjustment at least once. Nakamura did it twice in this match. Cena’s been using the AA for over a decade. In all that time, hasn’t anyone considered giving him a different finish? He could still use the AA. But how about giving him something that actually works?

Up to this point, the prevailing theory about Summerslam had been that it would be Cena challenging Mahal for the title. So if not Jinder, then who…?

Baron Corbin attacks Nakamura. Cena gives him an Attitude Adjustment through the announce table. Ahhhh, there we go. It’s Cena vs. Corbin.

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Chris Jericho is Back?!? Plus, Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Question: At what point does a midcard title mean as much, if not more, than a Heavyweight Title? Some would say that’s where we are with the WWE Title and the United States Title.

We always used to hear that kind of talk in the late ’90s, when Rob Van Dam held the ECW Television Title. His matches were outperforming the Heavyweight Title Matches on such a consistent basis that the perception of the title changed. While the ECW Championship was still the top title in theory, a large portion of the fanbase placed more value in the TV Title.

We’ve got a similar situation now with Jinder Mahal as the WWE Champion. In a way, it’s unfair to judge Mahal the way you would previous champions. He’s so inexperienced as a top guy, going from the undercard to the main event in a matter of weeks. Meanwhile, the guys competing for the US Title aren’t exactly slouches: Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, and Chris Jericho. They’re more experienced than him, more charismatic than him, and put on better matches than him.

But does that mean that while AJ and the others are elevating the US Championship, Jinder is dragging the WWE Championship down? The answer is: Sort of. It goes beyond Jinder himself. It’s about the story they’re telling, and the importance that should be placed on that WWE Championship.

Given how recently Jinder was an undercard guy, the WWE Title can easily seem like an undercard belt while he holds it. That’s especially the case when he’s not as good a worker as a lot of the other guys. The way you change that is by telling a good story. Essentially, that story is about Jinder and the Singh Brothers stealing the title. This undeserving, unqualified charlatan of a champion is holding it hostage until someone can overcome the odds and take it. WWE’s equivalent to the Ark of the Covenant has been stolen. We, as the audience, need to understand just how important that is. All is not right with the world, and our heroes are striving to fix it. This needs to be played up on a weekly basis. Not just by the announcers, but the script writers. An immense injustice has occurred, and continues to occur every time Jinder retains that title with the help of the Singh Brothers, and now the Great Khali. This way, Jinder is more than a stereotypical foreign menace. He becomes a true villain.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with elevating the United States Championship. For so many years it was mired in irrelevance. The more prestigious it is, the better off your product is. But let’s not lose sight of where our priorities should be. There’s a reason Jim Ross always called the WWE Title the “richest prize in the industry.” If they’ve allowed us to forget that’s the case, then something has gone very, very wrong.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Chris Jericho makes a surprise return to Smackdown. Shane McMahon announces a Triple Threat Match for the US Title: Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho. This one came way out of left field. Definitely an awesome shot in the arm for Smackdown. Especially after Battleground was received so negatively.

There was absolutely no buzz about Jericho coming back any time soon, so there’s not much word on how long we’ve got him. For now, I’m just happy he’s back. Even with just a little bit of time, he can do quite a lot.

Damn, I love when wrestling is good.

Shinsuke Nakamura def. Baron Corbin. The match from Battleground did not get good reviews at all. The most notable thing that came out of it was a gif of Nakamura doing an exaggerated eye roll. The DQ finish certainly didn’t help. At least they got that part right this time. Why couldn’t they have done that Sunday?

This wasn’t much better. But you knew this wasn’t going to be magic either way.

Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch def. Lana and Tamina. Really surprised Charlotte didn’t win the match at Battleground. Does this mean she’s not going to be on the Summerslam card? That’s really odd. She’s a marquee player. You’d think she’d have a place on a show like Summerslam.

Lana has a lot of haters over her perceived lack of wrestling skills. They don’t seem to realize they’re supposed to be hating her, and as such are playing right into her hands. That’s part of her character, you morons…

John Cena comes out to challenge Jinder Mahal to a WWE Championship Match at Summerslam. Daniel Bryan makes a match between Cena and Nakamura for next week, with the winner challenging Mahal at the pay per view. I happened to be watching the first half of this show with Mrs. Primary Ignition. As Jinder was speaking Punjabi, she says: “I feel like this is pretty racist.” I tell her that’s the idea,

Her reply: “That’s a little too redneck for me.” Man, some people just don’t get it.

Loved Cena’s attitude toward Mahal, totally brushing him off as an opponent. That’s obviously the way a lot of the fans feel about him too. The good news for the Cena haters is that probably means the champ is retaining at Summerslam. I doubt they’d let Cena crap on Vince McMahon’s new pet project if he wasn’t going to get the win in the end.

As for the Cena/Nakamura match next week, that’s a hell of a bombshell. They’ve got my attention, that’s for sure. Here’s hoping they pop a decent rating with a week’s build-up.

Sami Zayn and Tye Dillinger def. Mike Kanellis and Aiden English. So Mike Kanellis loses at Battleground, then drops the fall again tonight. I wouldn’t be worried for him just yet. Not everybody gets a big undefeated streak. Given his whipped husband character, it might work for him in the short term.

A lot of fans have been quick to put Mike Kanellis’ gimmick into the “Wrestlecrap” category. Again, it’s too soon to judge. They just started. Give it some time. See how things play out…

The New Day are ambushed by the Usos. This was pretty quick and to the point. Considering how long some of the beat-downs go these days, that’s hardly a crime.

AJ Styles def. Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho to win the WWE United States Championship. Styles to defend against Owens in a rematch next week. Pretty good match. Rumor has it the finish to the Styles/Owens match at Battleground was changed with very little notice. This is pure speculation, but I imagine this was part of the reason why. Jericho’s return was a great twist in the story. I can’t say I’m dying to see Styles and Owens potentially work yet again at Summerslam. But there are certainly worse matches one could book…

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A WWE Battleground 2017 Preview – Punjabi Prison Blues

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s take a look at Battleground

PRE-SHOW MATCH:
Tye Dillinger vs. Aiden English

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

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

PREDICTION: Tye Dillinger

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

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

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

PREDICTION: Charlotte Flair

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

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

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

PREDICTION: The Usos

Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Baron Corbin

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

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

PREDICTION: Shinsuke Nakamura

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

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

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

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

FLAG MATCH:
John Cena vs. Rusev

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

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

PREDICTION: John Cena

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

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

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

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

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Punjabi Prison Match Returning, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponderings From Smackdown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You live and you learn…

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WWE Backlash 2017 Predictions – Can Jinder Mahal Strike Gold?

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Not much of note coming out of Smackdown this week. They filled out the Backlash card a bit, and Baron Corbin sustained yet another loss to Randy Orton. But other than that, this was fairly week considering it’s the go-home show for a pay per view.

So let’s not waste any time, shall we? Let’s get right to Backlash predictions…

PRE-SHOW MATCH:
Tye Dillinger vs. Aiden English

I’m surprised Dillinger hasn’t been more prominently featured since his main roster debut. That’s not to say he should be at Nakamura’s level. But people are definitely into the whole Perfect 10 thing. Maybe creative is still feeling him out? Either way, he’s picking up a win here.

PREDICTION: Tye Dillinger

Luke Harper vs. Erick Rowan

These two didn’t exactly light the world on fire last week. They’re obviously being brought in to kill time.

My gut tells me Rowan gets this one, as he did last week. Could it be that Erick Rowan is actually a higher priority for WWE than Luke Harper? To that I simply say, why? Because he has a scary mask? It just seems odd that they’d put Rowan over at the expense of Harper, who showed a lot of promise earlier this year. Not that it matters much, anyway. These two have no heat at all right now.

PREDICTION: Erick Rowan

Sami Zayn vs. Baron Corbin. 

Rumor has it Corbin is one of WWE’s big projects right now, but you wouldn’t know it considering his win/loss record in singles matches lately. He lost to Dean Ambrose on the Wrestlemania pre-show, and this week he dropped yet another clean loss to Randy Orton. The story seems to be that Corbin has a lot of raw talent and rage, but is unrefined. Thus, he’s susceptible to being outworked by more experienced wrestlers. That doesn’t seem like it’s too far from the truth, actually.

Zayn should be able to get a pretty good match out of Corbin, just as he did with Braun Strowman earlier this year. Ultimately, the outcome should be the same. Corbin needs a big win. Sami can come back and beat him later if they want to keep this going. But let’s give the guy some of his momentum back.

PREDICTION: Baron Corbin

Naomi, Charlotte, and Becky Lynch vs. Natalya, Carmella, and Tamina.

I don’t like this as a pay per view match. I admit, Six-Person Tags have to overachieve for me to enjoy them. But this feels like it belongs at the midway point of a Smackdown.

They can salvage this a little bit by having Charlotte reassert herself as a heel and attack her teammates, presumably costing her team the match. I don’t think it’s time for babyface Charlotte yet. They can get some more mileage out of her working with Naomi, and then reviving her feud with Becky Lynch. Granted, that thins out the babyface side of the Smackdown Women’s Division. But they’ve only got two hours to fill. They can make it work for a little while.

PREDICTION: Natalya, Carmella, and Tamina

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

This has worked out much better than I thought it would. That’s a credit to WWE creative making good use of Tyler Breeze and Fandango, and those two men capitalizing on their opportunity. They’ve both been criminally underrated for quite some time. Fandango in particular, who was never adequately positioned to capitalize on that “Fandangoing” buzz he got a few years ago.

That being said, right now the Usos are as hot as they’ve ever been. Any time you put a mic in their hands, it’s money. So I say keep the belts on them for now. But I wouldn’t be at all opposed to this thing with Breezango continuing. The Usos need a good team to play off of right now. Depending on how the chips fall, Tyler Breeze and Fandango could be that team.

PREDICTION: The Usos

Dolph Ziggler vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

This match could easily steal the show, depending on how competitive they let Ziggler be. As I’ve said previously, Nakamura couldn’t have a better first opponent than Ziggler. He’ll bump around and sell for him so much that anyone who isn’t already sold on him will be after this match.

The outcome here isn’t really in doubt. Nakamura wins in his debut. The fact that they’ve made him the centerpiece of the advertising for Backlash is very encouraging in terms of WWE’s willingness to push him despite his limited English. This match could go a long way in determining Nakamura’s immediate future.

PREDICTION: Shinsuke Nakamura

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

If Nakamura/Ziggler doesn’t steal the show, this one will. Hell, they could easily have these two main event the show, and have Orton/Mahal open it. They did that when Styles, Dean Ambrose, and John Cena opened No Mercy back in October.

I don’t really see the need to put the US Title on AJ Styles. The world is clamoring for him to compete for the WWE Title. So I see Owens winning with some sort of screwball finish. For my money, the draw here isn’t the chemistry these two have as rivals, but the quality of match they’ll end up having. Here’s hoping they live up to the hype.

PREDICTION: Kevin Owens

WWE HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Randy Orton (c) vs. Jinder Mahal

Don’t laugh, folks. Jinder Mahal has a chance here.

I keep coming back to the JBL/Eddie Guerrero program from 2004. No one thought JBL had a chance. But he ended up getting a sort of fluke win from Eddie in their second outing. They could easily do the same thing with Jinder here. Especially when you consider that Orton being champ has been met with a resounding “meh” from fans.

Here’s what it comes down to for me: Jinder needs to be built up more. He won the Six-Pack Challenge. He pinned Sami Zayn. He pinned Orton in a tag match. This week, he even got to pin AJ Styles, albeit with some help. That’s all well and good. But he needs more credibility if they want to put the title on him. So I say give this one to Orton. If the plan is to actually give Jinder the belt, then they can do a disputed finish, or even a DQ finish involving the Singh Brothers, and come back again at Money in the Bank. 

Question: You think the fans will be chanting for Bully Ray during this match? Wouldn’t surprise me at all.

PREDICTION: Randy Orton

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Will Jinder Mahal Shock the World? Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

it looks like business just picked up. WWE and Jim Ross announced this week that the Hall of Fame broadcaster will lend his famous voice to the shows WWE recently taped in Norwich, England. The shows will be centered around the new WWE United Kingdom Division, of which the center is UK Champion Tyler Bate. Ross will work alongside Nigel McGuinness.

This is a hell of a selling point, not just for these UK shows, but for the WWE Network in general. JR’s voice is desperately missed on WWE television. He’s one of the best overall storytellers they’ve ever had. He could bring you inside the ring, break down the psychology, and put talent over in a way that most announcers today just don’t do. That’s a disservice to both the wrestlers and the fans. As many network subscribers will still be unfamiliar with the UK talent on that show, Ross’ name also has tremendous value.

I’m hopeful WWE will continue to bring JR in to call matches on the big shows, specifically Summerslam, the Royal Rumble, and Wrestlemania. We don’t need him to call every match. But he added some nice extra garnish to that Undertaker/Roman Reigns match. When WWE wants a match to feel special, they can always plug JR in to knock one out of the park. He’ll do it every time.

After WWE inexplicably let him go a few years back, it’s tremendous to see these two sides rebuilding that bridge. Let’s start making up for lost time.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Randy Orton appears for the first time since the House of Horrors Match. A brawl ensues with the other main eventers. A Six-Man Tag is made for later in the night. Jinder’s mic work had some heat to it. It wasn’t necessarily well-delivered. But if they keep working at this little experiment, they could have something here. The real question is what happens to Jinder after Backlash

By the way, does this grouping of Jinder Mahal and the Singh Brothers have a name? It seems like they should.

Natalya def. Becky Lynch. A Six-Woman Tag Match is made for Backlash, pitting the “Welcoming Committee” against Charlotte Flair, Naomi, and Lynch. Speaking of factions, can we get another name for this Nattie/Carmella/Tamina tandem? The Welcoming Committee is really damn lame.

Not a huge fan of the SIx-Woman Tag route they’re taking for Backlash. That’s a match for Smackdown, not a pay per view. The Welcoming Committee isn’t exactly the Shield.

Erick Rowan def. Luke Harper. Did Harper sleep with somebody’s wife or something? What does he have to do to get a substantial, sustained push?

Harper and Rowan are running into the same problem they had the last time the Wyatt Family broke up. They can’t seem to break out and distinguish themselves outside of being Bray Wyatt’s former henchmen. Harper has been close. But we still don’t know much about him. And the only thing we’ve ever really known about Rowan is his affinity for sheep masks. Why does he even wear it anymore?

Shinsuke Nakamura confronts Dolph Ziggler. A match is made for Backlash“You treat me like a contagious disease.” I like that line. I actually might steal that someday. Good mic work by Ziggler.

Be ready, folks. That Chicago crowd is going to go absolutely nuts for Nakamura.

In a WWE.com, Aiden English explains why he’s so emotional. Last week, Dave Meltzer speculated that WWE had English cry on television because they were mocking Mauro Ranallo. I’m not sure I buy that. I’m more curious why English is calling himself an “artist,” when that’s also Nakamura’s moniker. Apples and oranges, obviously. But still.

Breezango def. The Ascension, after another edition of “The Fashion Files” airs earlier in the evening. The Usos come out to cut a promo. So are Tyler Breeze and Fandango babyfaces now? They’re seemingly being shifted to a more comedic role. That suits their wit and delivery, so long as WWE doesn’t overdo it. Which they will, of course.

Another great promo from Jimmy and Jey. Where the hell have these guys been for the last seven years?

Kevin Owens, Baron Corbin, and Jinder Mahal def. Randy Orton, AJ Styles, and and Sami Zayn. Mahal scores the pinfall on Orton. Last week Jinder beats Sami, this week he pins Orton. I don’t know if it’s officially my prediction yet, but Jinder Mahal could very well shock the world at Backlash. They could position him as the beatable champion who needs his run-in buddies to retain the title. Stranger things have happened. In that sense, I can’t help but continue to think of him in the same vein as JBL circa 2004.

Randy Orton isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire as a babyface WWE Champion. Granted, he hasn’t had a lot of time yet, nor a particularly hot feud. But right now, anyone not named AJ Styles is going to have an uphill battle if they want to be the top babyface.

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Chris Jericho’s Run Ends, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I remember catching an episode of Smackdown with a buddy of mine about 10 years ago. Not a regular viewer, he was confused about the number of title belts he was seeing. He said to me, “I thought only the best wrestlers were supposed to have belts.”

Man, WWE was frustrating in the mid-2000s. Actually, it’s still pretty frustrating. But at least now the belts mean something.

For so many years, it seemed like WWE was just moving belts from wrestler to wrestler just for the sake of moving the belts. Almost as if it were an obligation. Not so much with the top titles. But the Intercontinental and United States Titles most certainly suffered. Only in recent years has the company tried to breathe some life back into those two belts, and play up their importance.

While some may not want to hear this, it really all started with John Cena. His run with the US Title reinvigorated it, and at times made it as important as the WWE Championship. That seemingly created the blueprint for other uppercard wrestlers to carry it, and that momentum also translated to the IC Title. Fast-forward to this week, and we’ve got guys like Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, and Chris Jericho fighting for them in the main events of Raw and Smackdown. It’s such a far cry from the days when the belts would essentially just be props that certain wrestlers would hold. Now it feels like they actually represent something. Prestige. Honor. Glory. Status.

The WWE and Universal Heavyweight Championships should always be the crown jewels of their respective shows. If you win one of those, you’ve reached the top. But the Intercontinental and United States Titles should be no one’s consolation prize. They aren’t second-place trophies. They’re championships with rich legacies of their own. WWE should never again allow us to forget what an honor it is to hold them. Especially now that Brock Lesnar is the Universal Champion. If this week’s Raw is any indication, the Intercontinental Title may soon become a vital part of Raw every week. And that’s exactly how it should be.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Chris Jericho opens the show. AJ Styles and Kevin Owens each interrupt, before brawling with each other. Not much to this segment, really. It was essentially Jericho’s re-introduction to Smackdown. I’m curious if they’ll actually keep him on this show when he inevitably comes back.

Jericho’s US Title win at Payback was a big surprise. By no means did they have to give him the belt. But it was a nice win for him on his way out. Also, conspicuous by their absence on this show were Randy Orton and the “suspended” Baron Corbin. Assuming WWE knew they would be absent coming into this show, that would explain Jericho being used as a band-aid of sorts.

Jinder Mahal def. Sami Zayn. Decent match. Three weeks ago, there wouldn’t have been a doubt in anybody’s mind that Zayn would go over here. Not only did Jinder win, but he’s building momentum for a WWE Championship Match. What a world we live in.

I like this alliance between Jinder and the Singh Brothers (formerly the Bollywood Boyz). Has there ever been any sort of Indian faction in WWE? I’ve been a fan for over 20 years, and nothing comes to mind.

Tye Dillinger def. Aiden English. Nice intensity from Dillinger here, for a quick win. This was more or less a glorified enhancement match. But we can’t say they haven’t started him out strong.

Natalya and Carmella def. Naomi and Charlotte. Becky Lynch runs out to help the babyfaces afterward. They’ve essentially done a 180 with Charlotte these past two weeks, turning her babyface. That’s a little odd, as she’s turned out to be such a natural heel. My guess would be they wanted to even out the babyface/heel ratio amongst the women on Smackdown.

The obvious direction would now be a Six-Woman Tag Match at Backlash. I can’t say that thrills me. As Carmella pinned Naomi in this match, I’d almost prefer to see the two of them have a match for the championship.

Dolph Ziggler def. Sin Cara. Not a fan of Sin Cara’s new gear. Not that it matters much. He’s in the exact same role on Smackdown that he had on Raw. Then again, it only took one night for Jinder Mahal to become top contender for the WWE Championship…

Another vignette airs for Lana’s Smackdown debut. My wife and I were at another couple’s home this weekend, and they happened to have Total Divas on. It was the episode where Lana and Rusev got married in Bulgaria. I can honestly say Lana was the most obnoxious woman on that show. Considering how irritating I find the Bellas, that’s really saying something. Rumor has it she may be dropping her Russian accent, which is fine. It seems like she’s not going to be with Rusev anymore. So why risk further accent slippage on TV?

“The Fashion Files” airs, starring Breezango. Tyler Breeze and Fandango target the Usos and the Smackdown Tag Team Titles at BacklashThese two have deserved a more prominent role for some time now. This fashion police gimmick has essentially been comedy fodder. To their credit, they got a chuckle or two out of me in this segment. But they can be much more than that. I don’t expect them to get the belts at Backlash. But at least they’re in the title picture.

Kevin Owens def. Chris Jericho to win the WWE United States Title. Owens destroys Jericho after the match. I’m surprised we didn’t see AJ Styles again in the closing moments of the show. He and Owens mixed it up in the opening segment, after all.

Nice clean win for Owens, followed by an injury angle to send Jericho away for however long he’ll be gone. Perhaps the best testament to how good this run has been for Jericho is how sorry so many of us are to see him go. He’ll obviously be sorely missed.

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