WWE Superstar Shake-Up, Night Two: From Raw to Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Historically, Smackdown doesn’t always fare well in these drafts. It’s no secret that Raw is Vince McMahon’s baby, and he’s willing to keep it healthy at the expense of its sister show. Last year was a textbook example. While Kevin Owens, Charlotte Flair, and Sami Zayn were stellar additions to the show, Smackdown also lost Dean Ambrose, the Miz, Alexa Bliss, and Bray Wyatt.

Plus, like him or not, Jinder Mahal winning the WWE Championship only served to make Smackdown look like the B-show people already perceive it as.At first glance, it looks like the blue team did pretty well this year. Once upon a time, Smackdown had a reputation as “the wrestling show,” as opposed to the more entertainment and story-oriented Raw. As you’ll see, it may now be in a position to earn that title all over again.

The following wrestlers were drafted to Smackdown in the second night of the Superstar Shake-Up…

Jeff Hardy

I had a feeling this might happen. Especially after Jeff won the US Title on Raw. This is good news, though. If Jeff can stay clean, the smart bet is he’ll make magic on Smackdown once again.

Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville

I had pitched sending Deville to Smackdown by herself. But in truth, she’s probably not ready to be on her own yet. Ditto for Mandy Rose. I’d like to see them work heel against Paige, the babyface general manager. That way they’d get to develop a bit more.

Either way, what happened with Deville and Ronda Rousey on Raw proved my point about her ten-fold. She needed to get the hell out of there.

Samoa Joe

Now THIS is a move. One that could very well change the direction of Joe’s career.

Here’s the thing about Raw in the last year or so: If you’re a babyface, you’re living in the shadow of Roman Reigns. If you’re a heel, it’s Brock Lesnar’s shadow. Those are Vince’s two main guys right now. But Smackdown? Smackdown is seemingly anybody’s ball game. That whole “Land of Opportunity” line has some truth to it. And on this show, with this group of guys, all Joe needs is an opportunity. He’s got plenty of experience stealing the show with the likes of AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Daniel Bryan. There’s no reason to think he won’t do the same here. What’s more, he’s become one of the best and most consistent promos they have. If the cards fall the right way, 2018 could be the year Samoa Joe becomes a top guy in WWE.

SAnitY (Eric Young, Alexander Wolfe, and Killian Dane)

Full disclosure: I’m not as familiar with SAnitY as I probably should be. Eric Young has been around forever, of course. I’ve seen some awesome stuff from Kililan Dane. But I know next to nothing about Alexander Wolfe. Still, I’m very curious to see what these guys bring to the Smackdown Tag Team Division. There’s a lot of intrigue in putting them against the New Day, and I’m very curious to see how they match up against the Bludgeon Brothers.

Conspicuous by her absence is Nikki Cross, the female component of SAnitY. I’m not sure why they’d leave her out, unless they have something specific in mind for her down in NXT. A disappointment for sure. But let’s see what she does next…

Big Cass

This is it. As a solo, this is sink or swim time for Big Cass. He and Enzo obviously weren’t a team anymore when he was injured. But they were still working together. Now he’s completely on his own. Still, he couldn’t have asked for a better babyface to work against than Daniel Bryan. That’s not a feud anybody really wanted to see, but it’s the one we’re getting. So let the Big Cass experiment officially continue.

Asuka

In hindsight, this one is obvious. Asuka and Charlotte Flair stole the show at Wrestlemania. So there’s tremendous appeal in seeing them lock up again. Especially if the winner gets a shot at Carmella’s newly won Women’s Championship. Asuka has a broken streak to avenge. Now we can see her do it.

I also think an Asuka/Carmella match would be hilarious, just because of Carmella’s fearful screaming during the match. Those two characters could be a lot of fun together.

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

The story here isn’t Gallows and Anderson coming to Smackdown. It’s that Finn Balor didn’t come with them. Balor would have benefited from a fresh start every bit as much as Samoa Joe. Even worse, taking the Club away from him kills a huge portion of his invaluable cool factor.

Balor’s loss is AJ Styles’ gain, I suppose.

Sheamus and Cesaro

This one surprised me. I had these guys pegged as staying on Raw. I certainly won’t complain, though. While I’d never want to dismiss Sheamus, we now have Cesaro on a roster that also includes AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Daniel Bryan, Samoa Joe, and Jeff Hardy. Think of the possibilities.

Also, I imagine this means Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt are walking out of The Greatest Royal Rumble with the Raw Tag Team Titles. Can’t say I expected that. I thought they’d simply put them back on the Bar. But now, Sheamus and Cesaro can expand their resume to include the Smackdown Tag Team Titles.

R-Truth

How fitting that Truth was in a backstage segment with Tye Dillinger. Because like Dillinger, he’s simply on Smackdown to be a background player. No disrespect, but it’s true.

I will say this, though: The man looks damn good for 46.

Andrade “Cien” Almas and Zelina Vega

As with SAnitY, I know very little about Andrade “Cien” Almas, outside of the fact that he just lost the NXT Championship to Aleister Black. But from what I understand, this pairing with Zelina Vega really turned his career around. So I’m anxious to see what these two are about. If they catch on, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Almas gunning for the US Title before long.

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition on Twitter.

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WWE Superstar Shake-Up Predictions: The Miz, Jeff Hardy, Becky Lynch, and more!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

First of all, I hate the name “Superstar Shake-Up.” Can we please just go back to calling it the draft?

Secondly, now that Wrestlemania has come and gone, it’s once again time to reshuffle the deck between Raw, Smackdown, NXT, and even 205 Live. It’s no secret that last year Smackdown got gutted. My hope is that they’ll do a better job of leveling the playing field this year. We can also hope they’ll inject a little more drama into it than simply having the draftees just walk out there.

With that, here’s what I guess you’d call a “Mock-Up Shake-Up” of sorts. My various draft picks. Some of these have been talked about for quite awhile, and some are a little more fresh. We’ll kick it off with a man who just returned to television this week…

Jeff Hardy to Smackdown

Now that Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt are a team, Jeff is free to be his own man. And as we’ve seen in the past, when he’s his own man Jeff is pretty damn good. As in, multiple time former Heavyweight Champion good. There are a lot of really interesting  dance partners for Jeff on Smackdown, not the least of which is the WWE Champion himself, AJ Styles. Whether WWE would once again trust Jeff in a lead role remains to be seen. But he’s stood at the top of Smackdown before. He can do it again.

Becky Lynch to Raw.

Becky Lynch is criminally underutilized on Smackdown. I mean it. It’s actually a crime, and someone should be prosecuted for it. The fans love her, and she’s got all the talent in the world. Let’s give her a new sandbox to play in, and maybe she can pick up some speed again. A feud with a heel Sasha Banks would be a great start. But you’ve also got Asuka and Ember Moon on the Raw side of things. And lest we forget Ronda Rousey. While I doubt she’d win, seeing Becky face Ronda in a battle of the arm bars could be fun.

Bayley to Smackdown

Sasha Banks and Bayley need to get away from one another. They’ve been teasing a big match between them for months, but they’ve missed their window. At this point, they’d be best served to just draft Bayley to Smackdown and come back to it later. The Bayley character can thrive if she’s put with a good heel. Carmella might be able to fill that role. But a better candidate might be Natalya. That could work really well  if they don’t make the same mistakes they made with Bayley and Alexa Bliss.

The Usos to Raw.

Jimmy and Jey reinvented themselves on Smackdown, and became one of the best teams in the entire industry. But now it’s time for something new. For months now, the Smackdown Tag Team Division has essentially been the Usos and the New Day. So like Sasha and Bayley, they need to get away from each other. A move to Raw can facilitate a feud between the Usos and the Bar, not to mention the newly called-up Authors of Pain. The prospect of the Usos vs. The Revival doesn’t exactly send me running either.

Finn Balor to Smackdown

Finn Balor can be one of the top guys in WWE. But it’s been a year since he came back, and he has yet to fully regain his momentum. Competing for real estate with the Shield didn’t help matters, nor did an embarrassing program with Bray Wyatt. Finn should be one of the cool kids on the block. So let’s move him to Smackdown and see if he can gain some traction in a smaller pond. Putting him on the same roster with AJ Styles could open up some really interesting doors. And that’s to say nothing of guys like Shinsuke Nakamura, Sami Zayn, and even Daniel Bryan…

Naomi to Raw. This one is two-fold. Firstly, if her real-life husband Jimmy Uso is moving to Raw, then it would be a dick move not to put Naomi there as well. Secondly, Naomi got a nice momentum boost by winning the Wrestlemania Women’s Battle Royal. So a move to Raw would be more impactful. In terms of new opponents and feuds for Naomi, she already has some history with Sasha Banks and Alexa Bliss. Nia Jax is a route they could take, but I can’t say I’m overly enthused about it. Ditto for Asuka and Ember Moon. Actually, looking at the number of babyfaces compared to the number of babyfaces in the Raw Women’s Division, Naomi may want to consider a turn to the dark side.

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson to Smackdown

The Club, meaning the trio of Finn Balor, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson, have something very important going for them: The Cool Factor. At Raw 25, they put those three guys in there with DX to do the whole “Too Sweet” thing. It was something of a passing of the torch moment, and that says a lot. So if Finn is going to Smackdown, Gallows and Anderson need to join him. Hopefully they can establish themselves as more serious contenders for tag team gold, as opposed to having silly Halloween matches with Heath Slater and Rhyno.

Mojo Rawley to Raw.

I’m moving Mojo to Raw primarily so he can get away from Zack Ryder. Yes, the Hype Bros were a thing. The team served its purpose and got Mojo on to the main roster. But it’s over now, and the feud between the two has been tepid at best. Mojo needs somebody new to work with, and bounce his charisma off of. For whatever reason, I can specifically picture him working against either Titus Worldwide or Goldust. The latter certainly wouldn’t hurt, as he could get a hell of an education.

Sonya DeVille to Smackdown

Now that Paige is the Smackdown General Manager, I think we can safely say Absolution is no more. Ergo, there’s no reason Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville need to be together anymore. And as I’ve said before, Sonya desperately needs to drop this MMA persona she’s got. Or at least develop it a little more. Putting her on the same roster as Ronda Rousey does her no favors at all. So lets shift her over to Smackdown and see what happens. Worst case scenario, Paige is there now. So they can use that association to develop her character a little more.

Randy Orton to Raw.

Orton doesn’t necessarily need to go to Raw. But he does need a change. The whole Viper persona has been stale for a few years now, and I think the “RKO Outta Nowhere” thing is a little old too. It felt like they only gave him the United States Title so he’d have something to do at Wrestlemania. At the very least, moving to Raw will give Randy a fresh environment to work in, with fresh opponents. If he says babyface, he can go against Samoa Joe or Elias. If he goes heel, as he apparently wants to, they can put him with Braun Strowman, Bobby Lashley, or even have him feud with Seth Rollins again. Either way, a move to Raw would be a bandage on the larger problem.

The Miz to Smackdown

It seems like he says it every week. But it’s true. Miz has indeed made the Intercontinental Title feel important again. In 2018, if you think of that title, you think of him.

So let’s take it away from him.

In other words, let’s use the momentum the Miz has built to push him into the WWE Title picture on Smackdown. The current champion is AJ Styles, one of the most well respected and best pure wrestlers on the planet. With respect he’s essentially the opposite of the Miz. They’d make natural opponents. A move to Smackdown would also open the door for a match with Miz’s longtime rival Daniel Bryan. While I’m not sure they can wait that long, WWE could do that match at next year’s Wrestlemania if they wanted to.

However, if Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel wind up staying on Raw, the Miz is going to need a new Miztourage. Whether it’s Maryse or Dallas and Axel, when it comes to Miz the garnish completes the presentation. With a new baby in the house, I expect we won’t be seeing Maryse for awhile. So we’ll need to put somebody new with him…

Enter Fandango and Tyler Breeze, a.k.a. the Fashion Police. Their comedy gimmick has run its course. So let’s let them bump around as Miz’s lackeys for a little while. A heel turn could do them some good.

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition on Twitter.

 

Wrestlemania Predictions: Daniel Bryan’s Return, Styles and Nakamura

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

You talk about gettin’ a shot in the arm. Daniel Bryan, arguably the most popular star to grace a WWE ring since John Cena, is cleared to return. There was a time we thought we’d never see him wrestle again. And now, here he is.

I’m expecting genuine euphoria in New Orleans when he comes out. Mind you, this is the same arena he won the title in a few years ago. They couldn’t write a better story.

You’ve also got AJ Styles against Shinsuke Nakamura for the WWE Championship. If you’re a die-hard wrestling fan, that’s a dream match. WWE is even promoting it as a dream match. But have they maximized the storytelling potential between these two? For my money, the answer is no.

(For more predictions, check out our look at the Kick-Off Show matches, some of the title matches, and the matches involving the women.)

Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

And to think there were rumors of Owens and Zayn winding up in the battle royal.

This one started as get-them-on-the-card filler for Owens, Zayn, and Shane McMahon. But Bryan’s return has made it a tentpole attraction worthy of Wrestlemania. He’s obviously overshadowed everyone else in the match. But let’s not downplay the fact that Owens and Zayn deserve this spot. I shudder to think what Smackdown would have become without them these past several months.

Without Bryan in the ring, I’d have given this match to Owens and Zayn. But now he and Shane have to win. We’ve got to have the Yes Kicks, and the Yes Lock, and the Yes chants. All that stuff. It’s going to be a hell of a moment.

PREDICTION: Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

The history between AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura is present in what they’ve given us. But you have to squint to see it. It’s in the subtext. Little allusions to Japan, the Tokyo Dome, “storied history,” etc. But they never gave us anything with any kind of depth. That’s what this has been missing. They didn’t have to talk about New Japan Pro Wrestling, or the Bullet Club, or any of that stuff. But it would have been nice to hear something like, “AJ beat Nakamura in Japan. Now Nakamura wants his win back, and the WWE Title along with it.” They haven’t even said that much about Nakamura coming to America, and how that journey has led him to a WWE Title Match at Wrestlemania.

I’m still on the fence about whether Nakamura is ready to hold the WWE Championship. Some of it is his fault, some of it has to do with his English, and some of it is WWE’s fault. It’s been a year, and they still don’t have a firm grip on how to present this guy. That being said, I think that’s where they’re going. They’re giving him the Wrestlemania journey storyline. He won the Rumble, and now he’s going to win the title. My only hope is that this match can live up to some of the hype surrounding it. Nakamura has given us some damn good matches. But he’s also turned in some duds. If there was ever a time for him to come through, it’s now.

PREDICTION: Shinsuke Nakamura

More predictions to come!!!

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition on Twitter.

Ronda Rousey’s WWE Debut, Plus Ponderings From the Royal Rumble and Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

“The landscape has changed.” That’s one of their go-to lines, isn’t it? Whenever something supposedly big happens, somebody has to say: “The landscape has changed.” It doesn’t really make sense, does it?

But last night the landscape did change, didn’t it? At least as far as women’s wrestling is concerned. Ronda Rousey is apparently now a full-time performer with WWE. What exactly “full-time” means for her has yet to be determined. Somehow I doubt she’ll be making all the house shows. She may end up being the female equivalent to Brock Lesnar. But one way or another, this is happening. Ronda Rousey is a professional wrestler.

People can say what they want about how Rousey last few fights went. But this woman is a legit superstar, and a true trailblazer in the world of women’s sports. Would the so-called “women’s revolution” in WWE have even occurred if not for what Rousey did in the world of MMA? The answer is no. What’s more, she’s a legit wrestling fan. This is apparently a legit passion project for her. Look no further than what she was wearing when she showed up after the Women’s Royal Rumble Match last night. A clear homage to Rowdy Roddy Piper, whose nickname she adopted in the UFC as “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey. That leather jacket legitimately belonged to Piper.

I always hesitate to use words like “legitimacy” or “credibility” when it comes to pro wrestling. This stuff is worked. It’s not the same as what Rousey did in the UFC, and it never will be. But a superstar like Rousey choosing to devote the next chapter of her career to WWE lends the business an amazing level of credibility. It’s a message to the world at large about what wrestling is and what it means to our popular culture. It’s also a hell of a shot in the arm for women’s wrestling overall.

We may be in the midst of a women’s revolution. But Ronda Rousey is about to start a revolution of her own.

Ponderings From Raw (with some added from the Royal Rumble):

Shinsuke Nakamura wins the 2018 Royal Rumble Match, challenges AJ Styles for Wrestlemania. Simply put, this was the best Royal Rumble Match in years. And not just because the right guy won. The Philadelphia crowd was hot, and they milked the drama so perfectly during those last several minutes. It’s been a long time since a wrestling match has actually made me nervous. But when we were down to Nakamura, Reigns, Cena, and Balor, my heart was in my throat.

What’s more, they’re giving us a match truly worthy of Wrestlemania: Shinsuke Nakamura against AJ Styles for the WWE Championship. Depending on how much time they have, these two could make magic. This was the career moment Nakamura needed, and the smart bet is he’ll have yet another one at Wrestlemania.

Rey Mysterio Jr. returns to WWE as a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble Match.  As I type this, the YouTube clip of Ronda Rousey’s appearance has almost two million views. The clip of Rey’s return? Almost five million. That should tell WWE all they need to know about whether to bring him back. Supposedly they want him to work a full-time schedule and he’s not up for it. I can’t say I blame him. The last time we saw him in WWE he looked tired and beat up. He’s earned the right to some breathing room.

Stephanie McMahon brings out Women’s Royal Rumble winner Asuka at the top of the show. An Elimination Chamber Match for the Raw Women’s Title is made for the upcoming pay per view. Sasha Banks challenges Asuka to a match, which is made for later in the night. When Asuka started speaking in Japanese, I wondered if they needed to give her a translator. But I’d say she got her message across just fine…

The Women’s Royal Rumble Match itself worked out fairly well. The right woman won, obviously. And despite my general distaste for Sasha Banks, I give her a world of credit for being out there as long as she was. Ditto for Becky Lynch.

However, the match did suffer for featuring several women who were either relatively inexperienced, hadn’t wrestled in a long time, or weren’t necessarily qualified to be wrestlers in the first place. While former stars like Trish Stratus and Beth Phoenix looked outstanding, I could have easily done without Vickie Guerrero, Kelly Kelly, and Torrie Wilson (despite the pop she got). The biggest problem this match had was its need for bodies. They were filling space for the sake of filling space. It’s forgivable this year. But next year they need to do better.

Jonathan Coachman rejoins the Raw announce team full-time. Given Coach’s experience with ESPN, this was a nice get for WWE. I appreciate that he’s in an analyst role, as opposed a lead announcer. He’ll certainly do better than Booker T, whose commentary had long since gone off the deep end.

At least it’s not David Otunga.

Braun Strowman overturns part of the Raw stage on to Kane during a Last Man Standing Match to earn a spot in the upcoming Elimination Chamber Match. At this point, Braun is essentially WWE’s answer to the Hulk. Every week he performs some kind of superhuman feat of strength, leaving a trail of destruction behind him. That’s not a bad role to have. People love the Hulk, don’t they?

Gotta love Kurt Angle yelling at Braun about the whole thing. Um, Kurt? You booked it…

Elias def. Woken Matt Hardy, with an assist from Bray Wyatt, to advance to the Elimination Chamber. It’s been several weeks since we first saw Woken Matt on Raw, and my interest is tapering off. It doesn’t help that he’s been losing more than winning. The whole reason for Matt’s awakening in the first place was that he couldn’t win a match. So where does that leave him now?

The Miz def. Roman Reigns to retain the WWE Intercontinental Title. Why would Miz try to chop him? Roman Reigns wears a damn vest. Think, you idiot! Think!

Good match, though. These two have better chemistry than you would think, given how different their backgrounds are.

The Revival def. Heath Slater and Rhyno. You know what I wouldn’t mind seeing? The Revival against a babyface Sheamus and Cesaro for the Raw Tag Team Titles. Sounds like a Wrestlemania match to me.

The Dudley Boyz announced for WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2018. I still say it’s a shame Bubba and D-Von never got to hold the tag belts again after they came back. Even so, this is obviously well-deserved. They’d never tell you this on Raw, but the Dudleys are the only team to have won championships in WWE, ECW, TNA, and New Japan Pro Wrestling. They’re one of the most widely popular tag teams in wrestling history. This has long since been an inevitability. Congrats, gentlemen.

Asuka def. Sasha Banks. I expected to see Bayley during this match after Sasha tossed her out of the Rumble last night. That’s the kind of thing that’d make you think a Bayley heel turn is coming. Personally, I’d rather they do babyface Bayley right.

Loving all the talk about Asuka’s streak potentially ending. We need more of that. The streak is on the line every time Asuka steps in the ring, and with each victory it grows.

Between the Rumble and this match with Asuka, Sasha’s had a hell of a weekend. It looks like they’re finally working toward a heel turn for her. Works for me. I don’t think it’s a secret that I’m done with her as a babyface. As a heel, though…

Whether hero or villain, she needs to stop those damn dives. This wasn’t the first nasty fall she’s taken with one of those. She’s tough as hell for getting up and continuing the match, and it was obviously a hell of an effort from both ladies. But enough is enough.

The Miz, Finn Balor, and John Cena cut backstage promos using handheld devices. I ADORE this. Scripted or not, it comes off so much more naturally. And by God, they’re looking into the camera! Glory, glory, hallelujah!

The Bar def. Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews to retain the Raw Tag Team Titles. Corey Graves said something during this match about Dana Brooke being the missing ingredient for O’Neil and Crews. As unlikely as it is on paper, that seems to be the case.

Crews was a stud out there this week. Eve after taking that nasty Power Bomb from Sheamus. He’s so explosive. Like a damn human super ball.

John Cena def. Finn Balor to advance to the Elimination Chamber. There’s no shame in losing to John Cena. Cena certainly puts enough people over in his own right. I just wish they’d let Balor pick up some steam. He’s one of the coolest acts on the roster, and he puts on great matches consistently. But he just keeps losing. This guy can headline Wrestlemania this year if they wanted him to. But he just can’t seem to bust through the glass ceiling. What gives?

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

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WWE Royal Rumble 2018 Predictions. Plus: This is the XFL…again.

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

He’s really going to try this, isn’t he? I can’t believe it…

As most of you reading this already know, Vince McMahon announced this week that the XFL will be revived in 2020.

This revamped version of the league, which hosted one season in 2001, will attempt to come at the game from a different perspective. McMahon noted the league will emphasize safety, be non-political, and exclude players with criminal records.

Professional football has never been my thing. But even I can see that Vince is once again aiming for disenfranchised NFL fans. He still doesn’t wish to compete directly, as the XFL season will kick-off after the NFL season has wrapped up. The league will supposedly not effect McMahon’s role as chairman and CEO of WWE.

As facepalm worthy as this is, I do give Vince credit. The guy wants a football league, and he’s going to try again regardless of the inevitable criticism and ridicule. There’s a lot to be said for that. He’s also not using WWE money this time. He’s started a new company, Alpha Entertainment LLC, specifically to pursue outside entertainment endeavors. Did we mention he’s 72 years old. That old catchphrase rings true: Vince really does have balls the size of grapefruits.

That said I have virtually no interest. I’m a pro wrestling guy. Vince McMahon is also a pro wrestling guy. WWE has always been his bread and butter, and almost every time he’s tried something else it’s ended badly. The original XFL obviously comes to mind. But he also tried the World Bodybuilding Federation in the early ’90s. In 1998 he bought the Debbie Reynolds Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for $10 million, which nothing came of. WWE Studios hasn’t exactly set the movie industry on fire, though at least it’s still alive after more than 15 years. You might even lump Linda McMahon’s senate campaign in there. So despite what WWE would have you believe, Vince McMahon is not a genius.

But let’s not miscast him as a fool, either. At his core, Vince McMahon is a gutsy and stubborn entrepreneur who takes calculated risks and is willing to endure failure. Most of his greatest successes are things he’s willed into existence. The global expansion of WWE. The creation of Wrestlemania. His ratings war with Turner Broadcasting. Now he’s trying to will the XFL into existence once again.

Part of what makes Vince so successful is his penchant for both spectacular success and spectacular failure. So in the end, win or lose, this XFL resurrection will be a sight to behold. It’s hard not to root for the guy sometimes. Even when it seems like he’s stubbornly beating a dead horse.

With that, let’s take a look at the Royal Rumble. I’m skipping the kick-off show matches this year, as we’ve already got a lot to cover on the main show…

2/3 FALLS MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
The Usos (c) vs. Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable

I’m going with Benjamin and Gable on this one. The Usos have had the belts for awhile now. As babyfaces, it might do them good to chase a heel team. Benjamin and Gable have also been growing on me as complaining heels. Gable in particular has done some really nice mic work, which is a good sign as far as a potential singles run is concerned. So let’s give ’em the belts and see what happens.

By the way, do Benjamin and Gable have a team name? I was never a fan of the “World’s Greatest Tag Team” name. Nothing like that, please.

PREDICTION: Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable

WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan (c) vs. The Bar

A win for Sheamus and Cesaro might help everybody here. I’d wager the Bar are on their way to a babyface turn. The respect factor is getting tougher to ignore as the weeks go by. On the flip side, Jason Jordan is starting to come into his own as an annoying heel. A loss to the Bar can easily transition into a feud with Rollins, who could sorely use a program with some heat to it. An audience clamoring for Rollins to curb stomp Jordan doesn’t sound so bad.

I can’t say I’m any less tired of seeing Rollins wrestle Sheamus and Cesaro. But even so, this one could be the dark horse to steal the show.

PREDICTION: The Bar

HANDICAP MATCH FOR WWE HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

If the Raw Tag Title Match doesn’t still the show, this one probably will. These three have all proven they can turn in epic pay per view matches. The 2-on-1 format also lends itself to good storytelling. So I’ve got high expectations.

I don’t see why Styles wouldn’t retain here. Though it doubt it’ll be without controversy. Expect to see Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan during this one, leading to a confrontation or a dispute that allows Styles to pick up a win. Something is obviously going to happen with Bryan and Shane at Wrestlemania. It’s just a question of what, and whether it involves Bryan lacing up his boots again…

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

TRIPLE-THREAT MATCH FOR WWE UNIVERSAL HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Braun Strowman vs. Kane

In terms of match quality, these three are fighting an uphill battle. Brock’s matches are hit or miss depending on who he’s in there with. His match with Strowman at No Mercy was a groaner. And despite his status as a WWE icon, Kane’s matches tend to be slow. It might be better if they got this one over with quickly.

On the other hand, Brock’s multi-man matches have historically been pretty great. The fatal four-way match at Summerslam, the triple-threat with John Cena and Seth Rollins a few years back. If Brock, Strowman, and Kane can pique the audience’s interest early, they could overachieve

Either way Brock wins, hopefully pinning Kane. He’d better pin Kane. So help me God, if he pins Strowman again…

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

2018 WOMEN’S ROYAL RUMBLE:

I was pretty excited for this until I read that Stephanie McMahon will be on commentary for it. From a publicity standpoint, I get it. They want her to be heavily associated with the “women’s revolution.” But I have no desire to hear that woman talk for an hour. Especially when there are multiple women they could plug in who’d be a better fit. Lita comes to mind, as she did commentary for the Mae Young Classic. But there’s also Renee Young. What about Charlotte Flair and Alexa Bliss? They’re the two champions and they’re not wrestling that night. So have them lend some insight to the match. Yes, a five person announce desk is overkill. But it beats having Stephanie out there.

You know who really deserves to win this match? Becky Lynch. Crowds love her, and she deserves a big match at a Wrestlemania. They’ve also played up her friendship with Charlotte for awhile now. That could set up a great reluctant opponents storyline. But I have very little faith they’ll do the right thing with her.

Nia Jax is a possibility. Notwithstanding the beatdown Asuka put on her, they’ve established her as a dominant force from the start. She and Alexa Bliss have been connected as far back to their NXT days. A match between them could be intriguing, but I don’t see it for Wrestlemania. More likely she gets ganged up on and eliminated, or someone surprises her.

The big favorite is Asuka. She’s finally starting to pick up speed on the main roster as an undefeated, unstoppable force. In that respect, winning the first Women’s Royal Rumble Match could be like tossing gasoline on a fire. But it seems so obvious. It feels like they want us to think it’s her just so they can swerve us.

There are 30 women in this match. As of this writing, only 18 have been announced. So I’m making this prediction with more than a third of the participants unknown. As I’ve said, I’m inclined to think some of the women we saw at Raw 25 will be here. Trish Stratus, Jacqueline, Nikki Bella. Maybe Torrie Wilson and/or Kelly Kelly. They need bodies in this thing. We almost have to see some NXT names. Ember Moon, Peyton Royce, Billie Kay, Nikki Cross, etc. Maybe Shayna Baszler.

It should be noted that Ronda Rousey has denied she’s in this match. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. It just means she’s denying it.

In the end, I’ve got to go with Asuka. Yes, it’s obvious. But they’ve gone the obvious route with Rumble Matches before. Asuka vs. Alexa Bliss is one of the more intriguing matches they can do on the main roster right now. For that matter, so is Asuka vs. Charlotte. They really can’t lose with her.

PREDICTION: Asuka

2018 MEN’S ROYAL RUMBLE:

Oddly enough, there are only 17 names announced for the Men’s Royal Rumble compared to 18 for the women. You wouldn’t think that’d be the case, as they’ve obviously got so many more male wrestlers.

Like the John Cenas and Randy Ortons of the world, Roman Reigns is always a top contender for the Rumble Match. The buzz since Wrestlemania 33 has been about him headlining this year’s show with Brock Lesnar. So in theory, he could take this one home….*shudders*

I doubt it, though. I can’t see them wanting the Rumble Match drowned out by boos again. So we’ve got to look elsewhere. So with Lesnar occupied on the Raw side, we’re looking for a challenger for the WWE Championship on Smackdown. Going into Wrestlemania, your champion is probably going to be AJ Styles. Who do you put with AJ?

Finn Balor’s name jumps out immediately. Yes, he’s on Raw. But we’ve seen guys win the Rumble and jump ship before. Balor is with Gallows and Anderson now, and we’ve established that they have a history with AJ in Japan. And of course, AJ was with Gallows and Anderson in WWE for awhile. I’m not sure how much they’d want to go into all the New Japan/Bullet Club stuff. But they can always touch on it and then branch off into their own story. Remember, Finn pinned AJ in that throw-together match at TLC. Balor can be a marquee player for WWE. He just needs the right story. This could be it.

They could do AJ Styles vs. Randy Orton. But the match Orton had with Bray Wyatt left a bad taste in people’s mouths. Plus, Orton just won it last year. So I’d steer clear of him.

The only other name that makes sense is Shinsuke Nakamura. That’s a bigger risk than some would admit. Nakamura is clearly special and obviously a star. I can’t complain about most of his matches. (The Jinder Mahal stuff notwithstanding.) But I don’t know that he’s connecting with the audience at a level that justifies a Rumble win. The language barrier is part of it. But I still don’t feel like I know anything about this guy. Yes, he’s a legend in Japan. But why? What makes him such a “Rock Star” or an “Artist” or whatever they want to call him?  I’d like to see Nakamura win the title. I’d like to see him work with AJ. But if they still don’t have a solid grasp on how to portray him, maybe now isn’t the time.

Then again, they put the title on Jinder Mahal. If they can take a risk with Jinder, they can take a risk with Nakamura. A win for him win would get a big reaction. It could also make for a feel-good story about the Japanese legend who comes to America and wins the title. I’m not overly confident with this pick. But Nakamura has a shot this weekend.

PREDICTION: Shinsuke Nakamura

MISCELLANEOUS RUMBLE MATCH PREDICTIONS: 

I expect Elias to eliminate Cena, and going on to face him at Elimination Chamber. He’s essentially getting the role Samoa Joe was supposed to have.

There’ve been rumors about EC3 making his debut in the Rumble Match, now that he’s left Impact Wrestling. More power to him. It did wonders for AJ a few years ago.  He went somewhere else and made a name for himself. He deserves another shot.

As they’re in Philadelphia again, a surprise ECW entrant seems likely. Tommy Dreamer, maybe? They could always throw Rhyno in there. But as an ECW fan, I’m still not over Rhyno dressing up like Mrs. Clause.

So does Tye Dillinger have to come in at number 10 every year now?

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Enzo Amore’s Release, Plus Ponderings From Raw and Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It was only a matter of time before the #MeToo movement touched pro wrestling. I can’t say I expected Enzo Amore to be the one effected. But here we are.

The real-life Eric Arndt was suspended and subsequently released by WWE this week after rape allegations against him emerged via Twitter. Supposedly Enzo was fired not because he was accused, but because he failed to alert WWE that he was being investigated.

Either way, it’s a rotten situation. If he did it, then he deserves everything that’s coming to him. If he didn’t, and simply failed to be transparent with WWE about it, then this whole thing was needless. Arndt certainly isn’t the best in the ring. But he’s still incredibly talented, and can go far. If he is innocent, then hopefully he’ll be back. Perhaps a little wiser for the experience.

Ponderings From Raw and Smackdown:

Vince McMahon is honored by his children, Shane and Stephanie. Stone Cold Steve Austin interrupts, hitting the Stone Cold Stunner on Shane twice, and once on the chairman himself. This Raw 25 show as a disappointment for a variety of reasons. But we can’t say they didn’t start strong. At 72, Vince is every bit the showman he’s always been. And of course, it doesn’t get any hotter than Steve Austin.

Remember the days when Austin could hit the Stunner on Stephanie? Ahhh, good times…

Asuka, Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Mickie James def. Nia Jax, Alicia Fox, Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville. Asuka throws her teammates over the top rope afterward, in a preview of the Women’s Royal Rumble Match. Asuka is obviously a heavy favorite in the Women’s Royal Rumble Match this Sunday. But she’s also a little obvious. Who’s the dark horse candidate? Nia Jax? Becky Lynch, maybe?

The Undertaker returns to the Manhattan Center, says it’s time for those who’ve fallen to “rest in peace.” Lots of fans holding up smartphones during the Undertaker’s entrance. I’ll never understand that. Be in the moment, folks. Put your damn phones away.

Filming at both the Barclays Center and the Manhattan Center was a complete waste. I feel for the fans at the Manhattan Center, who obviously felt cheated with what relatively little they got. Watching current stars on that throwback set is such a great visual. Why not just do the Manhattan Center? Just jack up the ticket prices. The die-hards will pay.

There was a ton of speculation about an angle being shot for Undertaker vs. John Cena at Wrestlemania. I’m not necessarily disappointed we didn’t get that. But we didn’t get much of anything from ‘Taker. He said some drawn out stuff about his old enemies, and then he left. Again, seeing him back in the Manhattan Center was cool. But in the end, this was a big disappointment.

The Miz def. Roman Reigns to win the Intercontinental Championship. Loved the finish to this one, with the exposed turnbuckle pad being a surprise. Miz cheats to win, and gets his belt back in a match that the crowd was pretty into. Take note future champions: For the Miz, that IC Title is every bit as important as the WWE Title. That’s how you lend prestige to a championship.

Christian hosts Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan on the Peep Show. Jason Jordan’s got heat. Bar babyface turn? Sheamus and Cesaro interrupt. A brawl ensues. and Rollins accidentally takes out Jordan. A babyface turn for Sheamus and Cesaro is probably inevitable. They’ve got that cool factor going for them. Especially when they’re up against someone like Jason Jordan, who’s definitely coming into his own as a heel. He’s gettin’ there. Slowly but surely…

Bray Wyatt def. Woken Matt Hardy. Another opportunity they missed with the Manhattan Center presentation? Howard Finkel. That had him announce Undertaker’s entrance, but they switched to Greg Hamilton for the remainder of the night. The never even showed Finkel on camera. Why? What’s their aversion to letting this guy be on TV?

On the plus side, it’s always great to hear Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler on headset. Lawler alluded to us one day finding out who/what Sister Abigail is. I’d like to think that means the whole Bray in drag thing is being forgotten. More likely, they’re not as familiar with the recent product.

Chris Jericho appears in a backstage segment with Elias. Again, a total waste not having Jericho appear in front of the live crowd. Though at least for this one they have an excuse, what with the whole New Japan thing. He was even wearing his “Alpha Club” t-shirt. Did they just miss that?

Elias is interrupted by John Cena. A fight breaks out. Elias low blows Cena, and smashes him in the back with a guitar. Very cool to see Jimmy Fallon in the front row. Like him or not, he’s the host of The Tonight Show. That means something.

One thing I love about Cena? His love for spontaneity. He’ll go with the crowd. Even if he’s just pointing out the stupid beach balls. That lends an energy to things that’s been sorely lacking for a long time.

Mark Henry finds out the Godfather is “grown up,” and now a married man. Of course the Godfather can’t have hoes anymore. That was an edgy gimmick back in the ’90s. I’m almost surprised they even let him be on TV nowadays.

The Dudley Boyz interrupt a tag team match. Heath Slater takes the 3D through a table. Why exactly couldn’t we get that Bubba Ray heel run last year? Hell, why couldn’t the Dudleys even get a token tag team title run? This seems to be a recurring theme, but what a waste…

Shawn Michaels, Triple H, the New Age Outlaws, X-Pac, and Scott Hall celebrate Raw’s 25th anniversary with the Balor Club. Gallows and Anderson defeat the Revival. The legends beat up Dash and Dawson. It tugged at my heartstrings to hear Hunter name-drop Chyna. It’s such a damn shame she never got to come back and take a bow. She absolutely deserved it.

Supposedly, this Revival stuff was supposed to have been done by Enzo. Dash and Dawson did just fine, of course. And somehow it wasn’t as bad as what the Ascension got from JBL and the gang a few years back.

The “Too Sweet” bit with the Balor Club felt like an unofficial passing of the torch moment. BNow if only Balor hadn’t lost to Seth Rollins last week.

A confrontation between Brock Lesnar, Kane, and Braun Strowman ends with Strowman Powerslamming Lesnar through an announce table. They did this table spot at Summerslam, right? Still a good spot. Now if only Strowman were winning the title this Sunday.

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn open Smackdown. AJ Styles agrees to face them in singles matches later in the show. They really want us to get behind the “Kami” nickname for Owens and Zayn. Coming from AJ, it almost feels like a dad joke. Good thing he’s the best in the damn world…

Chad Gable def. Jey Uso. Gable’s roll-through German Suplex somehow never gets old.  He’s so smooth in there. But at 5’8, his height could work against him in terms of a singles push. Granted, guys like Eddie Guerrero have been Heavyweight Champions at around that height. So it’s not unheard of.

Naomi def. Liv Morgan. The women’s locker room empties in anticipation of the Women’s Royal Rumble Match. Charlotte Flair wishes them good luck, “especially to the winner.” Saw someone on Twitter say that Liv Morgan looks like a Bratz doll. I’m not even sure what that means. But somehow I know it’s true.

We haven’t heard anything official about past stars coming in for the Women’s Rumble Match, which seems odd. I would imagine everyone they trotted out for that little hello on Raw is a candidate. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Nikki Bella show up. I’m sure Jacqueline would be happy to get in there. Trish Stratus seems like a must. I’ve also heard Molly Holly’s name mentioned. You’d think at least a few names would have been announced. Especially with them in attendance like that.

Randy Orton interrupts a match between Shinsuke Nakamura and Baron Corbin. Hits the RKO on both. Baron Corbin’s entrance music may be the best thing he’s got going for him right now. True story.

Hell of an entrance by Orton. He friggin’ flew into frame with that first RKO. His wife went on a little Instagram rant about how he was left off Raw 25. At least he didn’t miss much…

Bobby Roode, Kofi Kingston, and Xavier Woods def. Jinder Mahal, Rusev, and Aiden English. That “Keap of Faith” Kofi does over the top with his back turned is damn crazy. Talk about a trust fall…

AJ Styles def. Kevin Owens quickly after Owens seemingly injures his knee. After a pre-match beatdown, Sami Zayn pins the WWE Champion. The best part of all this? Zayn finally won a match with the Blue Thunder Bomb. It’s the best move he’s got, but he’s always used it as a set-up move.

The dead giveaway that Owens wasn’t really hurt? They kept showing him on camera during the match. Typically if somebody gets hurt, they don’t do that if they can help it.

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Women’s Royal Rumble Match, Plus Ponderings From Raw and Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve been gone for a few weeks. As such, I haven’t gotten the chance to talk about the upcoming women’s Royal Rumble Match.

Like almost everybody else, I’m cool with the match itself. I just wonder if this isn’t the beginning of WWE continuing to water down their big pay per view shows. Historically, there’s only been one Rumble Match each year. Now we’re getting a second. I imagine we’ll get the women’s Rumble at the top of the show, and the men’s Rumble as the main event. I’m very curious to see how that Philadelphia crowd reacts to two of these matches on one show. Does the novelty wear off for the second one?

I’m also curious to see how they fill those 30 slots. Almost every eligible woman on the main roster is now in the match. Factoring in Dana Brooke and Alicia Fox, who haven’t been announced yet, you’ve got 19 main roster names you can put in there. Thus, they have 11 spots they have to fill with either NXT talent or returning wrestlers. That’s a pretty big gap…

Obviously all of this is still very much in the experiment phase. Growing pains for the Women’s Division, which continues to grow. Much of what goes wrong (if anything) this year can be corrected in the years to come.

Ponderings From Raw and Smackdown:

Jason Jordan interrupts Roman Reigns’ opening promo, talks about a three-man group between Reigns, Jordan, and Seth Rollins. Finn Balor, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson interrupt. A six-man tag is made for the main event. This Shield reunion was apparently snake bit from the start. First Reigns has to bow out of their first main event together, and now Dean Ambrose goes down with an injury that’ll put him out for nine months. That’s a rotten break. But as these things sometimes are, it may be a blessing in disguise. Going away for awhile will hopefully freshen Ambrose up, and maybe even lead him back to heavyweight title contention.

Jason Jordan came off really well here from the standpoint of being a hokey, lame daddy’s boy trying to insert himself into the Shield. On the flip side, it’s great to see Balor teaming with Gallows and Anderson at long last. But the cool vibe they’ve got going for them gets undercut real quick when they have to recite that contrived WWE dialogue.

Sasha Banks and Bayley def. Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville. After a few weeks off, I still find Sasha Banks annoying. Absence doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder.

On Wrestling Observer Radio last week, Dave Meltzer mentioned that WWE has given up on Bayley. I’m inclined to believe him. But they’ve got no one to blame but themselves for that one. They wrote Bayley into a hole that she still hasn’t been able to escape.

Matt Hardy def. Curt Hawkins, stares down Bray Wyatt. Memphis was pretty quiet for this one, unless Matt was prompting them to chant. Then they had that weird staredown. Not the best night for the Woken one…

The Miz returns on Miz TV, announces he’s coming for the Intercontinental Title. This was pretty by-the-book. Good to see Miz back, of course. Raw missed him.

So apparently Miz and Maryse are getting a reality show on the USA Network. That’s actually a pretty big deal. I’m not a Total Divas fan at all, but that show caters to an audience that Raw and Smackdown obviously don’t. Given Miz’s background as a reality TV star, not to mention the couple’s work on Total Divas, this could be an awesome thing for them.

Cedric Alexander def Enzo Amore via count-out. Enzo retains the Cruiserweight Title. Ouch. Kudos to Enzo for finishing the match after getting busted open by a kick. Also, he was either selling really well, or he legit hurt his ankle. Did they have to call an audible on the finish?

Got a chance to catch Enzo on Straight to the Source, Corey Graves’ interview show on the WWE Network. Enzo spouted off a lot of catchphrases, but he still did damn good with that platform. He also seemed to set up a feud with Big Cass when he returns.

Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews def. Seams and Cesaro. So Dana Brooke is obviously with Titus and Apollo now. That business casual look actually suits her. It’s sort of a throwback to Debra’s old look. I would never have pegged “statistician” as a good role for Dana Brooke. But for now it’s working.

Kane ambushes Brock Lesnar after a Paul Heyman promo. Braun Strowman surprises them both, and then brings a lighting rig down on his Royal Rumble opponents. Firstly, since I didn’t get to say it last week, Brock sitting up and laughing at Kane’s Chokeslam was awesome. A really nice nod to the Undertaker.

So…that lighting rig obviously didn’t touch either Lesnar or Kane. That was pretty clear even on television. But still a pretty cool stunt for Strowman. And I liked the juxtaposition of Kane pulling himself back up with Lesnar getting loaded into the ambulance. I just wish the match stood a chance of living up to this hype.

Samoa Joe def. Rhyno, announces he’s targeting John Cena at the Royal Rumble. Crowd was dead for this one too. But in all fairness Rhyno has essentially become an enhancement talent. The final ECW Heavyweight Champion, ladies and gentlemen.

Finn Balor, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson def. Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Jason Jordan. The Miz and the Miztourage ambush Reigns after the match. Teaming with Gallows and Anderson is already producing results for Balor. He got to score the pin and beat a team that’s not the Miztourage!

AJ Styles is interviewed at the top of the show. A Handicap Match is made for the main event. AJ’s end of this promo was weird. For one thing, he actually said “smart booking” on WWE television, which feels like something he’s not supposed to say. He also seemed legit flustered at one point. That’s sort of where he was supposed to be coming from in the promo. But I’m not sure he’s that good an actor…

Becky Lynch def. Ruby Riott. It was confusing that Charlotte and Naomi came out after Becky. Neither of them were in the match…

During this match I tweeted: “If Absolution is Coca Cola, then the Riott Squad is RC Cola.” That’s to say, Ruby and her crew seem like a cheap knock-off. That’s a shame, as Ruby’s look is so distinct. The big difference is Paige. Between Absolution and the Riott Squad, she’s the only established WWE name. We’re still getting to know everyone else.

Mojo Rawley def. Zack Ryder to advance to the semi-finals in the United States Championship tournament. This was hardly a shock. Ryder was always going to end up putting Rawley over. Though I still maintain a heel turn would have worked for Ryder.

There’s not much suspense in this tournament, as it’s obviously going to be Bobby Roode against Jinder Mahal in the finals at the Rumble. I’m assuming they’ll give it to Jinder as a way to rehab him after his WWE title run.

Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable demand justice for the Smackdown Tag Team Titles. Daniel Bryan puts them in a Two-Out-of-Three Falls Match at the Royal Rumble. Gable and Benjamin were alright on the mic here. The big reason Benjamin was never able to reach that top echelon was he never had much of a personality. I think his opportunity to be a main-eventer has come and gone But if Gable can help bring a little more charisma out of him, he could still reap some big benefits down the road.

Breezango def. Rusev Day. Despite their loss here, Rusev and English should be tag champs before the year is through. For whatever reason, this Rusev Day thing is over.

AJ Styles, Randy Orton, and Shinsuke Nakamura def. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in a Handicap Match. Shane McMahon adds stipulations to the match when Owens and Zayn try to get counted out, and then disqualified. I’m never a fan of the babyfaces outnumbering the heels in Handicap Matches. It throws the psychology out of whack. You can make a legitimate case that Shane is the heel here. He’s essentially trapping Owens and Zayn in this match. But that seems to be what they’re going for. This Shane McMahon/Daniel Bryan thing is all about shades of gray. It’s interesting, but confusing at times.

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