Posted in Wrestling

Wrestlemania 37 Night One Predictions

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

I really can’t help it. Despite how bad Raw continues to be every Monday Night, I’m trained to care about Wrestlemania season. It’s been ingrained in me since I was 11 years old. That, and the fact that this’ll be the first WWE show in front of fans since the pandemic started, and my curiosity is piqued in terms of Wrestlemania 37.

One thing I’m slightly encouraged by as I look at this year’s card is the relative lack of part-timers on the show. We have no Brock Lesnar, no Triple H, no John Cena, and no Undertaker. I’m not one of these fans who rallies against part-timers being on the roster. But it is encouraging to see WWE give some of these Wrestlemania big spots to it’s regular, full-time performers. That’s part of how you make new stars.

And one of those new stars will hopefully be Bianca Belair…

wrestlemania_37_sasha_banks_bianca_belairWWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Sasha Banks (c) vs. Bianca Belair

Apparently, Bobby Lashley and Drew McIntyre are going to close this first night. If that’s the case, then Sasha Banks and Bianca Belair should definitely open. Frankly, you can make a pretty convincing argument for it being the other way around.

This match needs to be about making a new star. This should indeed be Belair’s crowning moment, and I don’t doubt she’ll get it. I’ve got high hopes for this one whether it opens the show or not. Belair is a tremendous athlete and personality, and Banks has proven she can deliver in big match situations. Here’s hoping they deliver.

PREDICTION: Bianca Belair

Wrestlemania 37, Lana, Naomi, Dana Brooke, Mandy Rose, Liv Morgan, Ruby Riott, Natalya, TaminaFATAL FOUR-WAY TAG TEAM MATCH:
The Riott Squad vs. Dana Brooke & Mandy Rose vs. Lana & Naomi vs. Natalya & Tamina
Winners to challenge for WWE Women’s Tag Team Titles on Night Two.

This one is a toss-up. Lots of sentimental favorites. But I’m going to go with the Riott Squad. Ruby Riott and Liv Morgan have the most history as a team and have earned a high profile spot like this. I don’t think they’ll end up winning the titles from Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler. But it’ll be nice to see them get a big win nonetheless.

PREDICTION: The Riott Squad

Wrestlemania 37, New Day, AJ Styles and OmosWWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The New Day (c) vs. AJ Styles & Omos

I’m picking Styles and Omos for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s Omos’ first match on the main roster. They don’t want to bring him in with a loss, like they did with poor Dabba-Kato. (Remember Dabba-Kato? Me neither.)

Secondly, the Raw tag team division desperately needs new blood. We can only watch the New Day against Shelton Benjamin and Cedric Alexander so many times. Styles and Omos will be new faces, if nothing else. And putting Omos in the ring with Styles will only work in his favor as far as his in-ring acumen goes. All in all, this one’s a pretty easy pick.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles & Omos

Wrestlemania 37, Cesaro, Seth RollinsSeth Rollins vs. Cesaro

I love this match, for no other reason than it gives Cesaro a Wrestlemania match. I’ve got high hopes for this one too, as I’m sure Rollins wants to give Cesaro a hell of a match. I’m equally sure he wants to put him over, which is why Cesaro is my pick to win. Whether they’re willing to give Cesaro a big moment like that remains to be seen.

PREDICTION: Cesaro

Wrestlemania 37, Braun Strowman, Shane McMahonSTEEL CAGE MATCH:
Shane McMahon vs. Braun Strowman

I’m assuming this is the kind of Cage Match where you can win by escaping. Thus, Strowman and Shane will have some climbing to do. And thus, Shane will end up falling off the cage. Not sure why they’d want to do that, considering they can’t top his fall off Hell in a Cell in Dallas several years ago. But that’s their prerogative.

Trouble is, if the winner is the one who escapes the cage first, that means Shane wins and Braun looks stupid. Maybe that’s the idea…

PREDICTION: Shane McMahon

Wrestlemania 37, Damien Priest, Bad Bunny, The Miz, John MorrisonBad Bunny & Damien Priest vs. The Miz & John Morrison

Whether people like it or not, Bad Bunny’s celebrity appeal makes this a marquee match. It’s a hell of a spot for Damien Priest to be in as well, so soon after his call-up from NXT.

This is another easy pick. The celebrities always win these things, for obvious reasons. Plus, if Floyd Mayweather can beat the Big Show, Bad Bunny can beat the Miz.

PREDICTION: Bad Bunny & Damien Priest

Wrestlemania 37, Bobby Lashley, Drew McIntyreWWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Bobby Lashley (c) vs. Drew McIntyre

It is, of course, amazing that this is going to be their first show in front of fans in more than a year. But it can be a double-edged sword, particularly with this match.

I think Drew McIntyre has built up a lot of good will over the past year, as he’s had to be Raw‘s top babyface during a one-in-a-century pandemic. And then of course, there’s the fact that last year he had to have his big Wrestlemania win over Brock Lesnar in front of an empty building. That said, they need to be careful with him here. Despite allegedly being a heel, Lashley has a lot of fan support these days. If they push McIntyre too hard, there’ll be a John Cena/Roman Reigns effect, and the fans will turn on him.

Sadly, I don’t have the confidence in WWE to do right by either McIntyre or Lashley in this instance. I say McIntyre once again walks out of Wrestlemania as WWE Champion. This time, it’ll at least be in front of fans.

PREDICTION: Drew McIntyre

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

Posted in Wrestling

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

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Wrestling

WWE Money in the Bank 2020 Preview, Plus the Drake Maverick “Controversy”

By Rob Siebert

Why is everyone so up in arms over this Drake Maverick thing?

I’m the last person that wants to see anyone lose their job. I’ve been down that road. I have all the sympathy and compassion in the world for the real-life James Curtin and everyone else WWE has had to let go in recent weeks.

But if you’re going to get fired from the largest pro wrestling company in the world, I think this is how you do it. Because right now the world is talking about Drake Maverick. Was that the case beforehand? Nope. Will the world ever be talking about him like this again? Who knows? Either way, he was able to do what so many of the characters on WWE television do: Take adversity and turn it into opportunity. He got to be part of a great story. He didn’t get a happy ending. But that just means the fans would theoretically welcome him back with open arms.

And do you honestly think WWE would have played this up the way they did if Curtin wasn’t on board with it? It’s not his ideal scenario, of course. But he got to make make the absolute most of it. How many people under the WWE umbrella have gotten to say that?

Now let’s dive in…

FATAL FOUR-WAY MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
The New Day (c) vs. The Miz & John Morrison vs. The Forgotten Sons vs. Lucha House Party

I just had to look up the names of all three Forgotten Sons. Fittingly, I’d forgotten them. Incidentally, they’re Wesley Blake, Steve Cutler, and Jaxson Ryker. These are your next Smackdown Tag Team Champions, ladies and germs.

Yeah, I hate it when this happens. A new team fresh off developmental wins the titles. Ironically, John Morrison (as Johnny Nitro) and Joey Mercury got that same push when they got called up all those years ago. But the New Day and the Usos have monopolized the Smackdown Tag Team Division for so long, and it’s dying for new blood. The Forgotten Sons are literally new to Smackdown. Miz and Morrison were a nice change of pace, but I get the sense they’re not getting back on that mountaintop. Heavy Machinery is obviously occupied elsewhere at the moment. Blake, Cutler, and Ryker might be the best option. Plus, they’ve got that whole three person Freebird Rule thing going for them.

PREDICTION: The Forgotten Sons

WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Bayley (c) vs. Tamina

At over 200 days, Bayley is the longest reigning Women’s Champion in Smackdown history. I wasn’t aware of that until recently. The longer Bayley holds that title, the better her story becomes. If she can walk out there every week and say she’s the longest reigning Smackdown Women’s Champion of all time, she’s somebody important. She becomes somebody worth beating. Ergo all her title matches become special. To an extent, at least.

Mind you, this match is against Tamina. So how special can it really be? But it’s another successful defense for Bayley. Another log to throw on the fire that Sasha Banks will one day put out. At least, that’s how this should go. Lord knows they’ve gone nowhere with these two in the past…

PREDICTION: Bayley

MEN’S MONEY IN THE BANK LADDER MATCH:
Rey Mysterio vs. AJ Styles vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Baron Corbin vs. Aleister Black vs. Otis Dozovic

I give them a lot of credit for thinking outside the box on these Money in the Bank Matches, and having them be set inside Titan Tower. I love the “climb the corporate ladder” idea.

Whether it works in practice is another story. Apparently they’re going the “cinematic” route with this match, a la the Boneyard Match and the Firefly Funhouse Matches from Wrestlemania. I don’t know that you need that here. I think their regular style is fine for this one. Think back on all the Hardcore Matches we saw in the ’90s and early ’00s where wrestlers would leave the arena. What about the Hollywood Backlot Brawl from Wrestlemania XII? Why can’t they do that here? Apparently the men and women will be competing simultaneously, so it doesn’t have the same potential to be boring the way Edge and Randy Orton’s Last Man Standing Match was.

Speaking of “cinematic” matches, how do you come back from being buried alive? Winning a gauntlet match is nice. Winning Money in the Bank is better. That’s exactly what AJ Styles is going to do Sunday.

Could they give it to Aleister Black? Sure. Is Otis a dark horse? Yep. I’m probably the only person who wouldn’t mind if they gave it to Baron Corbin. But that briefcase is AJ’s to take. This is how he re-establishes himself as a contender for the WWE Championship. Ultimately, when that time is right he’ll take that too.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

WOMEN’S MONEY IN THE BANK LADDER MATCH:
Carmella vs. Shayna Baszler vs. Nia Jax vs. Asuka vs. Dana Brooke vs. Lacey Evans

It might be Shayna Baszler. But that seems a little obvious, don’t you think?

You can make an argument for Asuka. Clearly Uncle Vinny is high on her lately. Specifically, her ability to be really loud on the mic.

None of the ladies from Smackdown leave me particularly inspired this year. Dana Brooke? She’s improved. But no. Carmella? Been there, done that. Lacey Evans? Nah. So who does that leave?

Sorry kids. It’s Nia Jax.

Yes, they’ve been pushing her really hard on TV lately. So she has the same sort of “too obvious” argument against her as Shayna. But think of it in terms of stories that haven’t been told yet. Nia Jax was the one who gave Becky Lynch a “broken face” prior to Survivor Series 2018. The combination of outrage at Nia and support for Becky helped propel the latter into the main event of Wrestlemana. Nia can argue Becky would never have gotten there if not for her.

Is Nia Jax legitimately dangerous in the ring? Yes. Keep in mind she wasn’t supposed to hurt Becky. We also saw that scary bump Kairi Sane took from her a few weeks back. But her in-ring skills, or lack thereof, have never stopped them from pushing her before. Remember, she won the Raw Women’s Title at Wrestlemania the same year she broke Becky’s face. Would she be my pick to win? No. But is she going to win? Probably.

PREDICTION: Nia Jax

WWE UNIVERSAL TITLE MATCH:
Braun Strowman (c) vs. Bray Wyatt

Bray Wyatt’s alter ego “The Fiend” should be virtually unbeatable. Even for Goldberg. (Rrrgh.) But plain ol’ Bray is a different story. Strowman should defeat Wyatt here, leading to an eventual match with the masked man.

Under normal circumstances, Strowman vs. The Fiend is a match I’d have saved for Summerslam. It certainly has a story worthy of such a big show. But with things the way they are now, they may not be able to wait until August. So do we get some kind of gimmick match at Extreme Rules in July? Another Firefly Funhouse Match, perhaps? I dunno if I’m ready for that just yet…

PREDICTION: Braun Strowman

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Drew McIntyre (c) vs. Seth Rollins

This is random as hell. But that’s a fine lookin’ jacket Seth Rollins is sportin’ these days. I’m sure it’d look great with the WWE Championship draped across it.

Oh well.

Unless they’re pulling some kind of wild move here, there’s no reason Drew McIntyre should be dropping the title. For all intents and purposes, he’s the star of Monday Night Raw right now. A victory over Rollins is a great credibility-builder as he moves forward. I’m sure Rollins will give him a hell of a match too. I’m not sure if this quite feels like a match worthy of main-eventing a pay per view. But in execution, it certainly should be.

PREDICTION: Drew McIntyre

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

Posted in Wrestling

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

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

Night One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But even so, he did it again.

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

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

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

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

Night Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lesnar/Goldberg principle. One to live by.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Wrestling

Undertaker’s Best Promos: The Dead Speak!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

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

So watch it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holy crap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even the Rock wasn’t safe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I present to you, Exhibit A.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Wrestling

The Silent Wrestlemania – Previews and Predictions

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

This sucks.

It’s not WWE’s fault, of course. But boy this really sucks.

Wrestlemania at the Performance Center. Wrestlemania with no fans. Wrestlemania with “social distancing.” All because of this damn Coronavirus.

Still, despite some awkwardness, I’ll credit WWE with making the best of an awful situation. They’ve gimmicked up some of the marquee matches, presumably to make them look different. They’ve split the show into two nights, which some would argue should have been done years ago.

The promos overall have been much better. Edge and Randy Orton, for instance, did some of the best mic work of their careers. Even the Undertaker got in on that action this past Monday.

But of course, problems persist. Several wrestlers, most notably Roman Reigns, have either opted out or been forced off the show due to complications related to the Coronavirus. So some of the matches I’m laying out here may not be the ones we end up getting. It should be noted that, as far as we know, this entire show has already been taped. So these matches have already occurred.

That being said, let’s take a look at what I call the “Silent Wrestlemania.” We’ll start with the matches that have biggest question marks hanging over them. Beginning with a match that might have main-evented the show…

WWE UNIVERSAL HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Bill Goldberg (c) vs. ?

As he’s immunocompromised due to his history with Leukemia, Roman Reigns has opted out of this match. Can’t say I blame the guy. Plus, let’s face it: It’s not like he’ll never get another title match at a Wrestlemania again…

So now the pressing question becomes, who do you plug in to replace him? Who’s worthy of challenging Goldberg in a marquee Wrestlemania match for the Universal Title?

There’s been a lot of buzz about Braun Strowman taking that spot. He’s certainly the biggest star they’ve got who isn’t already booked for a match. But I don’t know that he’s ready for that big a match. WWE is still trying to rebuild him after all those months of bad booking.

Bray Wyatt is another popular theory. As the show takes place over two nights this year, they can have him wrestle Cena one night, and Goldberg on the other. If that’s the match, the Fiend should definitely get the belt back.

One name I haven’t heard very much is Sheamus. He was mowing down opponents before everything was shut down, and getting babyface reactions in the process. He’s a dark horse candidate. But one that might give Goldberg an interesting match.

In the end, unless they decided to make Bray Wyatt the challenger, I think you give Goldberg the victory here. Let him retain so he and Roman can have their “Spear vs. Spear” match whenever things get back to normal. Plus, Goldberg’s mystique revolves around him winning, and winning decisively. This would be a nice little notch to add to his belt.

PREDICTION: Bill Goldberg

TRIPLE-THREAT LADDER MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
The Miz & John Morrison vs. The New Day vs. The Usos

Yeah, this one’s not happening either. At least not as advertised.

Apparently the Miz showed up to a taping sick, which was one of the things that prompted Reigns to bow out. So obviously, Miz is now out too.

What they do here largely depends on who they had at the building when this was taped. They could have plugged an NXT guy in there to be Miz’s replacement. Matt Riddle comes to mind. He one half of the NXT Tag Champs, but his partner Pete Dunne is stuck overseas due to flight restrictions.

But I would think the more likely solution is to simply have John Morrison defend the titles by himself. The New Day and the Usos are no stranger to big matches like this. So let them do their thing, and then Morrison can sneak in the back door and swipe the belts.

PREDICTION: The Miz & John Morrison

Elias vs. King Corbin

Because they’re splitting the show into two nights, they obviously need to pad the card out a little. Which is ironic, because there’s usually such a struggle to get everybody and their mother on to the Wrestlemania card.

In any event, that’s how Elias vs. King Corbin winds up on Wrestlemania. Vince McMahon is high on Corbin. Plus, he just knocked Elias off a balcony on Smackdown. So barring a surprise appearance by someone like Jeff Hardy, Corbin takes this one home.

Aleister Black vs. Bobby Lashley

I’m not sure this was the kind of big Wrestlemania match Bobby Lashley had in mind when he came back. But hey, it could have been worse. He could still be stuck with Rusev.

Allegedly, had they not gone with Drew McIntyre as this year’s Royal Rumble winner, Aleister Black was on deck. That should tell you all you need to know about who’s winning this match.

PREDICTION: Aleister Black

Dolph Ziggler vs. Otis Dozovic

Ziggler sent out a really depressing tweet on Monday: “15 years in the making & I am less than 1 week away from having as many singles matches at #WrestleMania as Michael Cole”.

Oh, what might have been…

There are bound to be shenanigans in this match. Mandy will obviously be out there. You’ve got to believe Tucker will be in Otis’ corner. Bobby Roode and Sonya Deville could be in the picture as well.

Dolph Ziggler should win this match. Despite never having had a singles match at Wrestlemania, he’s won all kinds of singles titles. Otis, on the other hand, is still relatively new to the main roster,and has spent most of his career in a tag team.

But here’s the rub: Dolph should win the match, but Otis should get the girl. Whoever is pulling the wool over Mandy’s eyes should be discovered, and she should leave Wrestlemania with Otis. Now if only there were fans in the building to give that moment the epic pop it deserves.

PREDICTION: Dolph Ziggler

WWE WOMEN’S TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The Kabuki Warriors (c) vs. Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross

Kairi Sane has been highly conspicuous by her absence these last few weeks. Heck, this year in general. So Asuka has had to do virtually all the heavy lifting on the Kabuki Warriors’ side of the build-up to this match. Reportedly, she’s been at home with her husband in Japan, having recently been married. She will however, be part of this match. Hopefully to take the pinfall.

Yes, when they’ve both been around, the Kabuki Warriors have proven to be a nice shot in the arm for WWE’s otherwise pitiful Women’s Tag Team Division. But it’s time to switch the titles. I say give them back to Alexa and Nikki, and then have them actually jump across brands to defend them. Rematch the Kabuki Warriors on Raw, then go against Sasha and Bayley on Smackdown. Clearly they’re looking to put stars on NXT. And now that everything is at the Performance Center, there’s no better time to defend the belts on that show. You’ve got some of the best talent in the world. Use it!

PREDICTION: Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross

FATAL FIVE-WAY MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE:
Bayley (c) vs. Sasha Banks vs. Naomi vs. Lacey Evans vs. Tamina

Originally, this was announced as a Six-Pack Challenge. But this match was another victim of Coronavirus paranoia. Carmella would have been a natural participant, but apparently opted out of the show altogether. Dana Brooke was to have been in it, but she wound up in quarantine. Ergo, we have a Fatal Five-Way.

This is yet another instance where they should have simply let Bayley and Sasha wrestle. My guess is it comes down to those two anyway. And what the heck? Let’s put the belt on Sasha and see if she can hold on to a main roster championship for once. That naturally leads into a feud with Bayley, which it feels  like we’ve been waiting on for decades.

PREDICTION: Sasha Banks

WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The Street Profits vs. Angel Garza & Austin Theory

Austin Theory. Y’know, the guy who lost to Tyler Breeze last week? Yeah, he’s got a tag title shot now.

Not that it makes much of a difference. They’re working to establish the Street Profits as Raw‘s top tag team. No reason to have them drop the belts here, even if it were Andrade with Garza.

PREDICTION: The Street Profits

WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
Sami Zayn (c) vs. Daniel Bryan

Well I’ll be damned. Sami Zayn is the Intercontinental Champion. I didn’t expect it. But I won’t complain about it. It does suck, however, that Shinsuke Nakamura and Cesaro have to essentially serve as his henchmen.

There’s no reason for them to put that hideous looking new IC Title on Bryan. His M.O. these days is obviously to help get other talents over, a la Drew Gulak. So he’ll give Zayn the biggest win of his career, and then I’m guessing he goes away for a little while. He’s about to welcome a second child into his family, after all.

PREDICTION: Sami Zayn

Seth Rollins vs. Kevin Owens

It feels like these two were put together out of attrition. Neither had an organic opponent, so they were put together.

Still, there’s been some decent mic work leading up to this one. Particularly Rollins’ promo about being responsible for the Performance Center, NXT, etc.

The fact that Rollins brought up Owens’ Wrestlemania record makes me think they’re giving Owens the win. Raw needs top babyfaces right now. Drew McIntyre is obviously being groomed for the top spot. Aleister Black seems like a natural pick for that role. Owens is too. So let him get a big moment here.

PREDICTION: Kevin Owens

NXT WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Rhea Ripley (c) vs. Charlotte Flair

Keep in mind, they wanted Charlotte to be the one to finally beat Ronda Rousey at last year’s Wrestlemania. Becky was not supposed to be in that match. So despite how backward it seems, Charlotte Flair is walking out of Wrestlemania with the NXT Women’s Title.

Still, all is not lost for Rhea Ripley. For my money, Charlotte been in two show-stealing matches at Wrestlemania. The first against Sasha and Becky, the second against Asuka. If she and Rhea give us that caliber a performance, it almost won’t matter who wins. Especially if Charlotte cheats to win, or Rhea hangs in there with her and just comes up short.

PREDICTION: Charlotte Flair

BONEYARD MATCH:
The Undertaker vs. AJ Styles

“Graveyard Match.” That’s what they’re trying to say here. I think AJ even said something to that effect recently.

This is a match I’ve been asking for since Styles first came in. Who could possibly be better equipped to give Undertaker a good match? Granted, I was expecting the match to take place in a ring. In a big arena. In front of people…

I stand by what I’ve said previously. There’s no reason for the Undertaker to lose at Wrestlemania ever again. Yes, the Streak is long dead. But an Undertaker victory is a feel-good moment. Almost a rite of passage. So let him have it.

One thing we’ve definitely learned this year? If you want a Wrestlemania match with a WWE legend, just attack their wife. Apparently it works really well.

PREDICTION: The Undertaker

WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Becky Lynch (c) vs. Shayna Baszler

I know a lot of people didn’t like the biting angle they did with Shayna. But I loved it. I thought it made Shayna look like a vicious predator willing to do things Becky hasn’t seen before.

There was some buzz recently about Vince McMahon supposedly not thinking Shayna Baszler is worthy of this spot. First of all, she most certainly is. Secondly, who else could they have put with Becky? Rhea Ripley, I suppose. But that ship has obviously sailed. No one else was ready for her. And frankly, if Shayna doesn’t win the belt here, I’m not sure who they put with Becky next. It’s Baszler’s time. Plain and simple.

PREDICTION: Shayna Baszler

FIREFLY FUNHOUSE MATCH:
“The Fiend” Bray Wyatt vs. John Cena

Without the crowd, it almost feels like a waste to even have Cena this year. Could he have given us an IOU for Wrestlemania next year?

I’m sure this will be something akin to the House of Horrors Match Bray had with Randy Orton a few years ago. Again, I like that they’re mixing the card up so not everything takes place in an empty building.

The outcome here should be pretty simple. Cena won at Wrestlemania XXX. The fans all knew it at the time. And as Bray has never really been the same since, I’d say we’ve been vindicated. So let’s correct that mistake and put him over here.

Now if only we could correct the Undertaker/Brock Lesnar match from that night as well…

PREDICTION: Bray Wyatt

LAST MAN STANDING MATCH:
Edge vs. Randy Orton

Edge may actually be right about making Randy Orton better. This is undoubtedly the hottest Wrestlemania match he’s been in since the main event against Batista and Daniel Bryan.

In terms of having the best build-up, this match wins and it’s not even close. It sucks that Edge’s first Wrestlemania back has to be in an empty Performance Center. But all that quiet has allowed him to cut two of the best promos of his career. Hell, Orton even had one of his best. This has been a great story. The veteran star comes back and gets betrayed by his former partner.

While Undertaker vs. AJ Styles and Bray Wyatt vs. John Cena are taking place in constructed sets (at least that’s my assumption), I’d wager this match is the one that goes all around the Performance Center. Something like the brawl Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa had on NXT a few weeks ago. I also wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see Beth Phoenix cameo in here somewhere.

As for the winner, is there any doubt?

PREDICTION: Edge

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Drew McIntyre

In a way, Roman Reigns pulling out of the show is a blessing in disguise. There was some early buzz about Reigns and Goldberg supposedly getting the main event spot. Nothing against either guy. But that would have been really, really wrong. Roman headlined four Wrestlemania cards in a row. Let someone else have a turn.

Whether it’s in a jam-packed venue in Tampa, or an empty performance center, it’s important for Drew McIntyre to main event this show. Even though the show is way too long nowadays and the fans are usually tired and cranky by the end, the main event of Wrestlemania still means something. If WWE is serious about wanting to make Drew McIntyre a star, there’s no better way to anoint him as such than having him headline this show. In theory, anyway. Roman Reigns never quite got that big coronation, did he?

Barring Vince McMahon changing his mind as he’s famous for, and opting to give Brock another surprise Wrestlemania win, I don’t see any reason why McIntyre shouldn’t win this match. I don’t care who’s in the building. This is his night, and it’s his time.

PREDICTION: Drew McIntyre

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

Posted in Wrestling

WWE Extreme Rules Predictions – Peeking Back in

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

There’s a reason I haven’t written about wrestling in awhile. Simply put, the WWE product sucks right now. It’s largely sucked since Wrestlemania. I almost posted something awhile back entitled, “Lapsed WWE Fan Confessions: Why I Finally Tuned Out.” Because I had tuned out. I’d check the websites, and listen to a podcast or two. But as far as watching Raw and Smackdown every week? After more than two decades, I was done.

Why? Yeesh. How much time do you have? Among various other elements, we have…

– Uninspired writing, for characters that have become largely flat and boring, resulting in stories that are largely flat and boring.

– The continued over-scripting of promos and segments, resulting in something that, over time, bears less and less resemblance to the world we live in, and more like it’s own “WWE Universe.”

– The “Wild Card Rule,” which allows select wrestlers from Raw to appear on Smackdown each week, and vice versa. Raw wrestlers are allowed to challenge for Smackdown titles, and vice versa. Thus, everything is watered down, and the rules of engagement are blurred. What’s more, the two tag titles, two women’s titles, two world titles, etc, are even more redundant than they were before.

But the recent news that WWE has hired Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff to serve as “Executive Directors” of Raw and Smackdown respectively, piqued my interest. While neither man supposedly has the level of control he will have (Bischoff apparently hasn’t even started yet), I was curious enough to get me to check things out again. While I can’t say I’m in love with what I see, my creative juices are flowing a little bit more.

So let’s take a look at what’s on tap for Extreme Rules this weekend…

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Drew Gulak (c) vs. Tony Nese

I was happy to see Tony Nese get the spotlight during Wrestlemania season. He’s obviously got the talent and the look, if not necessarily the charisma, of a champion. Still, Drew Gulak is just as deserving, if not a little more. He’s successfully transitioned from a comedic character doing powerpoint presentations to a credible and dangerous shooter champion. As he just won it at the last pay per view, I don’t see any reason to take the title off him now. Let’s let him have a little bit of a run and see what develops.

PREDICTION: Drew Gulak

Aleister Black vs. Cesaro

I don’t know if you’ll find a better first opponent for Aleister Black (or anyone, for that matter) than Cesaro. So from a wrestling standpoint, I’m expecting great things here. But from a story perspective? This whole thing has been pretty hokey, with the whole “knocking on the door” thing. The split-screen segment between these two on Smackdown was almost cringe-worthy. Hopefully what they give us between the ropes can make us forget that.

PREDICTION: Aleister Black

WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The Revival (c) vs. The Usos

When I last saw the Revival, they were losing the Raw tag belts to Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder on the Wrestlemania pre-show. Apparently, absolutely nothing was done with them as champions, so the belts simply went back to Dash and Dawson.

For all the talk there’s been about the Revival leaving WWE once their contracts expire, at least WWE has started showing them a little respect. They’re the champions again. So I say we just let them have the lengthy reign everybody seems to want them to have. Supposedly, the reason the Street Profits have been on Raw lately is because Heyman really likes their work. So in my little head, they’re the team that eventually get the rub from Dash and Dawson.

PREDICTION: The Revival

TRIPLE-THREAT MATCH FOR SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
Daniel Bryan and Rowan (c) vs. Big E. and Xavier Woods vs. Heavy Machinery

I’m really liking Daniel Bryan and Erick Rowan (or rather, just Rowan) as tag champs. That’s one of the reasons I hate the Wild Card Rule so much. If both sets of tag champs can appear on either show, then what exactly are Bryan and Rowan the champions of?

The New Day have little to no use for tag team gold at this point, and it’s too soon to put the belts on Heavy Machinery. So Bryan and Rowan get the win by process of elimination. But also because they’re the best team for this spot right now.

PREDICTION: Daniel Bryan and Rowan

HANDICAP MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE:
Bayley (c) vs. Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross

So here we have Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross, two Raw wrestlers, wrestling for the Smackdown Women’s Title. So if they win…do they go to Smackdown? For that matter, if Nikki scores the fall, does that mean Alexa wins the title? How does this work?

In the end, I think we’re going to find out. I do indeed see this match ending with Nikki pinning Bayley. Whether she wins the title, or more likely, Alexa gets it, that advances their story enough to lead to a match between the two. Most likely at Summerslam.

PREDICTION: Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross

LAST MAN STANDING MATCH:
Braun Strowman vs. Bobby Lashley

Lashley needs Lio Rush. Seriously, he does. Rush was the perfect mouthpiece for him. Don’t send Rush to 205 Live, don’t send him back to NXT. Put him back with Lashley on Raw. That’s where he belongs.

I dug the whole set crash/explosion angle. But more importantly, I dug the way they followed it up. Both the wrestlers and the announcers took it seriously. And this is the kind of thing I don’t mind them mentioning across different “brands,” a la Smackdown and 205 Live.

As he’s meant to be a dominant giant, I’m of the mindset that Braun Strowman losses should be few and far between. That’s why he’s my pick to win. But because Strowman doesn’t have to be pinned to lose here, a Lashley victory wouldn’t be the end of the world. It’d be that much more effective with Lio Rush, backing him up, but still…

PREDICTION: Braun Strowman

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

So here we have the rubber match. Ricochet defending against the now heel AJ Styles, who once again has Gallows and Anderson backing him up.

To give some credibility back to the Club, who apparently just signed new deals, I see them costing Ricochet the title. Naturally, that leads to a rematch of some kind at Summerslam, where Ricochet wins the title back. But for now, the belt leaves with AJ.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Kofi Kingston (c) vs. Samoa Joe

I love the good guy/bad guy dynamic between Kofi and Joe. So in that sense, this is a great pairing. What’s not so great is that we have yet another instance of a Raw wrestler challenging for a Smackdown title. So again, what happens if Joe wins?

He won’t, though. As great as Joe is, and he is great, he’s always a groomsman and never a groom when it comes to these title matches. He’s the best pure heel WWE has right now, and maybe even the best promo. For whatever reason, it just never seems like the right time. Such is the case here as well. Granted, if they wanted to extend this thing until Summerslam, Joe might be able to take it there. But here? On this show? No. Kofi Kingston’s got the belt at least until Summerslam.

PREDICTION: Kofi Kingston

EXTREME RULES MATCH FOR WWE UNIVERSAL AND RAW WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIPS:
Seth Rollins (c) and Becky Lynch (c) vs. Baron Corbin and Lacey Evans
Winners take all.

I actually like the winners-take-all stipulation for this match. Now that we’ve established Rollins and Lynch as an on-screen couple, it’s a nice tool for drama. Though I’m not sure it’s one they’ve been able to play up to it’s full potential. The audience is still getting used to this pairing. So to tease friction or tension between the two of them so early is awkward.

Like many others, I’d say it’s taking place about a month too late. Corbin and Evans have failed to win these titles individually on multiple occasions. So now we’re supposed to believe they can do it in a tag match?

Rollins and Lynch keep their belts here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did a “Dusty finish” here, i.e. make it seem like Corbin and Lynch have won, but then re-start the match and have the champions retain. The ensuing Twitter explosion alone would be worth it.

PREDICTION: Seth Rollins and Becky Lynch

NO HOLDS BARRED MATCH:
Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs. Shane McMahon and Drew McIntyre

You know what’s weird? They’ve hardly played up the Undertaker’s match with Roman at Wrestlemania 33. Granted, from a wrestling standpoint that’s a match ‘Taker probably wants us to forget. But it was the main event of a Wrestlemania, and Reigns has been calling WWE “my yard” ever since. From a storyline perspective, he took ‘Taker’s spot and temporarily retired him. You’re telling me there’s no tension between them? At all?

My hope is that this match finally puts an end to the Roman/Shane stuff, and potentially paves the way for the Undertaker to put Drew McIntyre over at Summerslam. With any luck, the bells and whistles in this match, and a decent performance next month can wash the foul taste of that Undertaker/Goldberg match out of everybody’s mouth.

I say Shane takes a Tombstone and the pinfall, prompting McIntyre to come out the next night and say ‘Taker never beat him. Ergo, the Summerslam match. As for Roman, next month seems like as good a time as any for a “brother vs. brother” match with Seth Rollins for the Universal Championship.

PREDICTION: Roman Reigns and The Undertaker

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

Posted in Wrestling

Royal Rumble 2019 Results and Ponderings

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

We’ve got a lot to get to. Like, a lot. Like most WWE pay per views these days, this thing went way too long. So let’s just get right into it.

Royal Rumble 2019. Let’s go!

Bobby Roode and Chad Gable def. Scott Dawson and Rezar. I was in and out during this match. I know Akam is out healing from an injury. But why was Rezar teaming with Dawson?

Shinsuke Nakamura def. Rusev to win the WWE United States Championship. I only caught the finish to this one. Can’t say I saw this coming at all. Nakamura may have been relegated to the pre-show a year after his big Rumble Match win. But at least he can say he won a title.

Buddy Murphy def. Hideo Itami, Akira Tozawa, and Kalisto to retain the Cruiserweight Championship. I got this one wrong too. I called Itami. Nothing wrong with keeping it on Murphy, though.

I had the audio of this match on in my car. And I just kept hearing those kicks. I know they’re worked, but those smacking sounds are enough to make your skin crawl.

Asuka def. Becky Lynch to retain the Smackdown Women’s Championship. Really good start to the show, which included a nasty fall to the outside. Mrs. Primary Ignition actually came in to check on me, as I let out an “ooo” when that happened.

Nice suspenseful sequence to the finish. Counter after counter, hold after hold. Did not expect Becky to tap out at all. Great win for Asuka. But they kept the camera on Becky after the match. Her story was obviously not over…

Shane McMahon and The Miz def. The Bar to win the Smackdown Tag Team Titles. Shane really went all out in this one. That leap from the top on to Sheamus, then going straight into the uppercut from Cesaro. The Coast to Coast into the Cesaro Swing. Then finally, the Shooting Star Press for the win.

Really happy that they brought Miz’s dad in, and that he’s part of this story. I’m enjoying this Miz/Shane thing for what it is.

Ronda Rousey def. Sasha Banks to retain the Raw Women’s Championship. I’ve totally lost track of where ___ the human being begins and the character of Sasha Banks takes over. But either way, regardless of my personal critiques of her attitude, Sasha showed us why she’s one of the best in the world. Not just because of her wrestling, but her character work. She and Ronda brought a great personal intensity to the match. Her facial expressions, the bending of the fingers, a la Pete Dunne. Plus, her borderline sore loser mentality after the match. I wanted her to pull a Jericho/Nakamura style heel turn.

Becky Lynch won the 2019 Women’s Royal Rumble Match.

– I wouldn’t call this a thrilling Rumble Match. But the ending was exactly what it needed to be. Becky as the big underdog winning in the end. And what a feel-good moment it was. For as long as she’s been left on the backburner, she deserves it. If you look closely after the match, she looked out into the crowd and said, “We did it. It’s happening.”

– Nice spot for Lacey Evans. It allowed her to do some introductory character work, at least for the mainstream audience.

– Very few eliminations early on. Do they feel like they need to have more women in there to maintain the audience’s attention? I think this match needed more stories. More rivalries. It felt like we were longing for something to sink our teeth into. Case in point, after the Mandy Rose/Naomi stuff, we went straight into Maria Kanellis and Alicia Fox fighting over a hat.

– I’m not nearly as familiar with names like Nikki Cross or Rhea Ripley as I should be. But I’m becoming a huge fan of both really quickly. Each has such presence and energy.

– Good use of the Riott Squad after Ruby’s entrance. Has that ever been done before? The faction picking people off from the outside? Really made the group look formidable.

Daniel Bryan def. AJ Styles to retain the WWE World Heavyweight Championship after interference by Erick Rowan. You know who I really love? Angry Daniel Bryan. He’s incredible. Needs new music, though.

It’s not always the most thrilling thing in the world to see two guys work a body part like Bryan and Styles did here. But between Bryan’s viciousness, and the way Styles sold it, they made it work. I can’t say I was ever bored. That being said, the placement of this match didn’t do it any favors. After an hour-long Rumble Match and Becky’s big win, we were all coming down. It’s what smarks often call the “death spot” on a card.

So Erick Rowan is Daniel Bryan’s muscle, eh? Can’t say I expected that. But he’s got the big beard. So he at least looks the part. Let’s see how they pair together.

Brock Lesnar def. Finn Balor to retain the WWE Universal Heavyweight Championship. Really good match. Maybe the match of the night. The formula was what you expected it to be. Balor defies the odds to make us believe he can beat Brock, only to have Brock pull it out in the end. But they really went all the way with it here. Balor had the majority of the offense in this match, with that corner-of-the-table spot adding that precious element of believably. They made it look like Balor spooked Brock. Thus, even in losing, Balor comes out better than he was going in.

2019 Men’s Royal Rumble:

– The Rumble Match kicked off at about the point the show should have ended. Mind you, I was still excited for it. But it’s been said a million times, and it needs to be said again here: These shows are too damn long.

– Really cool moment for Jeff Jarrett, coming out at number two. Nice little nostalgia moment. I was actually hoping they’d do the duet. They’ve never done that to kick off a Rumble before! Elias didn’t exactly endear himself to old school fans here. But Jarrett put him over. At the end of the day, it was the right thing to do.

– Didn’t expect Kurt Angle to be in and out so quickly. And he went out with such a whimper. Great to see him. I just wish we could have seen more.

– While Johnny Gargano and Pete Dunne were more than suitable NXT entrants in this match, this big one for my money was Aleister Black. Out of those three, I expect Black will be on the main roster the soonest. Eliminating Dean Ambrose certainly didn’t hurt his case in that regard.

– While he was a dark horse pick at best, I wouldn’t have minded seeing Mustafa Ali take this match. He’s got all the talent in the world, and nobody would have seen it coming. His elimination of Samoa Joe was a nice moment.

– Ugh. That was an ugly botched elimination by Lashley. He didn’t exactly look almighty there…

– Surprising to see Dolph Ziggler in this thing. Much less as the guy to eliminate Drew McIntyre. Rumor has it he’s got one foot out the door. Maybe they want him to put McIntyre over one more time before he goes.

– For a few minutes, that Nia Jax stuff was downright spooky. Don’t for a second put it past WWE to put her over in a spot like this. It turned out to be pretty harmless, and even a little fun. But oh, what might have been…

– This match wasn’t as suspenseful as last year’s. But as with the women’s match, the right person won. Congrats to Seth Rollins!

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

Posted in Wrestling

WWE’s 10 Most Fascinating People of 2018

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

What we have here is a bit of a tradition here at PI.

It started as a take-off of something Barbara Walters used to do. She’d choose and profile the 10 “most fascinating people” of the year. I’ve borrowed that concept several times over the years, and the lists can be found in our archives.

(For your convenience: 2012. 2013. 2015. 2016. 2017.)

So once again, we’re back. On this year’s list, we’ve got a UFC Hall of Famer turned WWE Champion, a heroic underdog turned monster heel, a new hot babyface taking the company by storm, among several others…

1. Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey was always going to be a marquee player for WWE. That was blatantly obvious from the get-go. And why wouldn’t she be? But realistically, Ronda could have put in half the effort she does, and made less than half the appearances, and still gotten by. She could have coasted on her name, a few suplexes, and some armbars. She could have taken many would consider to be the Brock Lesnar path.

Instead, Rousey has consistently over-delivered. Whether it was her debut match at Wrestlemania, her match with Charlotte Flair at Survivor Series, or even her title bout with Nia Jax at TLC, this has unquestionably been the best-case scenario.

Rousey has her critics, who would have you believe she doesn’t deserve the spot she has. While so much of wrestling is relative based on one’s personal taste, many of those critics need to be reminded that much of the so-called “Women’s Evolution” can be attributed to Rousey’s success in the UFC. If she doesn’t become the box office draw that she does, WWE has no reason to revamp its own women’s division. Without Rousey, women like Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and Asuka wouldn’t have the chance to headline pay per views or steal the show at Wrestlemania.

What’s more, Rousey may be about to knock down yet another door. It’s looking more and more like she’ll be part of the first women’s match to headline the show of shows…

2. Daniel Bryan
This is Bryan’s third time on the list, and it’s not hard to see why. His performances spark a ton of emotion, and fans definitely ran the emotional gambit with him this year. In March, we were thrilled to hear he was cleared to return to the ring after more than two years in a WWE-imposed retirement. The move raises a number of questions regarding other wrestlers thought to be permanently retired due to injury. Among those names is Paige, who thanked Bryan in her retirement speech, adding “…you give me hope.”

Bryan made his emotional and genuinely inspirational return to the ring at Wrestlemania. For several months, Bryan was once again one of the company’s most popular acts. Then, less than a week before Survivor Series, Bryan shocked the world by winning back the WWE Championship, turning heel on AJ Styles in the process.

Since then, Bryan has condemned fans for their consumerism, and lack of regard for the environment. In one of the year’s most talked about promos, he promised to replace the leather strap on the WWE Title belt. He’s literally gone from one of the company’s top babyfaces, to perhaps its top heel. At this rate, it’s likely he’ll once again find himself back in the WWE Title Match at Wrestlemania this year.

3. Asuka
Asuka is also returning to this list, having made it last year. The “Empress of Tomorrow” started her 2018 at the highest of highs. Since arriving on Raw in October 2017, she’d kept her fabled undefeated streak alive. She would go on to win the inaugural Women’s Royal Rumble Match, earning a title match at Wrestlemania. She would face Smackdown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair in a match that, for my money, stole the damn show.

But that’s where her luck began to change. Flair shocked the world when she ended Asuka’s undefeated streak. A strange move in hindsight, as she’d simply drop the title to Carmella. The same Carmella that would later defeat Asuka in back-to-back pay per views. Mere months beforehand, it had been unthinkable that Asuka could lose to anyone. She’d beaten the likes of Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Mickie James. But suddenly, here she was losing title matches to Carmella, and subsequently being mired in mediocrity, forming an alliance with Naomi. The two would lose to Peyton Royce and Billie Kay at Super Show-Down.

And yet, Asuka’s popularity has endured. Apparently, that’s what prompted Vince McMahon to add her to the Smackdown Women’s Title Match at TLC. Now, Asuka can add Smackdown Women’s Champion, and winner of the first Women’s TLC Match to her resume. It’s like the last 10 months never even happened…

So at last, Asuka has made it to the top. It didn’t happen the way any of us thought it would. But she is there. Now it’s just a question of whether she can stay at the top, or she’ll be lost in the shuffle again. One way or another, we’ll get our answer in 2019.

4. Shawn Michaels
It’s tough to remember HBK coming out of retirement, isn’t it? As big a deal as it is, it was drowned out by all the controversy surrounding WWE Crown Jewel. Not to mention the announcement that Roman Reigns would be stepping away to fight leukemia.

But indeed, Degeneration X reunited in Saudi Arabia to face the Brothers of Destruction. While many cried that Triple H, the Undertaker, and Kane showed their age out there, even after eight years away Shawn still managed to look pretty damn good. And while Shawn himself indicated he’d be going right back into retirement, there’s been plenty of speculation about “Mr. Wrestlemania” making yet another appearance at the show of shows. Another Undertaker match seems like the obvious route. But Shawn has no shortage of other options. I myself floated six of them.

In hindsight, I still wish Shawn hadn’t done this match. I really wanted him to be the one guy that stayed true to his word. But what’s done is done.

5. Tegan Nox
This one hurt. Like, it really hurt. You just wanted to reach through the screen and comfort this poor woman. She’d already been through hell, and now she was going to have to do it all over again.

Tegan Nox, whose real name is Steffanie Newell, was supposed to be in the first Mae Young Classic. But a torn ACL kept her out of the ring. For this year’s tournament, they were telling that story with her. In fact, she was one of the favorites to win the whole thing.

Then, mere seconds into her second-round match against Rhea Ripley, her other knee goes out. We later learned she’d torn that ACL as well. It was a legitimately heartbreaking moment for not only Newell, but everyone watching.

The only upside in all of this? We seem to be on the road to yet another redemption story for this character. In the aftermath of all this, Rhea Ripley, who has gone on to become the NXT UK Women’s Champion, started a war of words with Nox on Twitter. So assuming Nox will indeed be back in the ring, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see her wearing that title in 2019.

So get well soon, Miss Newell. Great things are waiting for you.

6. Johnny Gargano
As cliche as it is, I’ve got to go with the classic Harvey Dent quote from The Dark Knight on this one: “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Former tag team partners Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa have put on some of the best matches in all of wrestling this year. But the feud has transformed Gargano, arguably one of the last old school babyfaces in the business, into a man consumed with destroying Ciampa. So when Ciampa wrestled Aleister Black for the NXT Championship in July, Gargano attempted to interfere and cost him the match. It ended up backfiring, as Gargano hit Black with the belt, and essentially handed the title to Ciampa.

A Triple-Threat Match was made for the championship at NXT Takeover Brooklyn IV, but a mysterious attack took Black out of the match. Gargano failed to win the title, at it was later revealed the he was the one who attacked the former champion. Naturally, a feud ignited between the two, culminating in a steel cage match this past week on NXT, which Ciampa would help Gargano win. This has lead to rampant speculation that this blood feud between Gargano and Ciampa has ultimately led them to team up all over again.

This slow journey of Johnny Gargano’s, from victim, to heroic avenger, to fallen hero consumed by revenge, to villain, is a textbook example of pro wrestling done right. Deep, emotional stories, told through amazing in-ring action.

7. Dean Ambrose
Ambrose was absent for much of 2018, healing from a torn triceps. But when he returned in August, he was once again part of the Shield. But seeds of dissension were quickly planted by rivals Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler. We all sensed a turn was coming. But there was no way we could have predicted what actually happened…

Mere hours after Roman Reigns announced he was stepping away from the ring to fight leukemia, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins successfully challenged McIntyre and Ziggler for the Raw Tag Team Titles. With emotions still running high after the Reigns announcement, Ambrose shocked Rollins with a DDT, and then a brutal beatdown. While many would cry foul over the timing, for my money it was ultimately one of the best things WWE did all year. It did what pro wrestling is supposed to do: It sucked us in. Got us invested in the characters and their stories. It sparked raw emotion in the audience.

However, WWE’s handling of Ambrose since the turn has been hit-or-miss. While I actually like the new Bane-inspired gas mask look, Vince McMahon’s influence on some of his promos has been quite evident. He’s talked about how the fans smell, how they’re all lazy and unmotivated, etc. Very little with any emotional weight to it.

Still, Ambrose is an awesome performer. Given the right material and the right opportunities, he’s as capable of delivering the goods as anyone. And they have a potentially hot storyline practically gift-wrapped for them, as Ambrose’s real-life wife Renee Young is sitting there on commentary every week. She might just be the ticket to him becoming the vile, despicable heel we all know he can be.

8. Drew McIntyre
Daniel Bryan may have had the comeback of the year, but Drew McIntyre had an epic comeback story of his own. McIntyre reinvented himself after being released by WWE in 2014. He found success in Impact Wrestling, Evolve, and PWG. When he returned to WWE via NXT in 2017, he was almost unrecognizable.

When McIntyre finally returned to the main roster this past April, he formed an unlikely alliance on Raw with Dolph Ziggler. The pair would ultimately up each other’s game, and be a dominant force on the show for most of the year. McIntyre would prove to be one of the show’s most consistent performers, both in the ring and on the mic.

Now a solo act again, the “Scottish Psychopath” will almost certainly challenge for the Universal Championship in 2019. McIntyre’s near five-year journey from the bottom of the wrestling may culminate with him standing at the very top. Frankly, it would be foolish to bet against him at this point.

9. Shinsuke Nakamura
Nakamura is back on this list this year, but unfortunately it’s for the wrong reasons. He and Asuka were very much on parallel journeys this year. They each won their respective Royal Rumble Matches, but failed to win gold at Wrestlemania. While Asuka failed to win the Smackdown Women’s Title from Carmella on two different occasions, Nakamura was unable to take the WWE Title from AJ Styles several times before finally dropping out of contention. He found a little bit of new life as a heel, and won the US Title from Jeff Hardy as a consolation prize. But his run has been fairly unremarkable, highlighted by a losing effort against Seth Rollins at Survivor Series. And while I won’t spoil this week’s Smackdown, the odds of Nakamura walking into 2019 with the belt are slim to none…

It would be easy to blame Nakamura’s failure as a main-eventer on WWE creative. The guy didn’t book himself to lose, after all. WWE also didn’t seem to know how to convey his unique persona, other than simply calling him “the Artist.” Losing multiple title matches to Jinder Mahal in 2017 didn’t help either.

But at the end of the day, Nakamura simply didn’t connect with mainstream American audiences well enough to justify the push he got. Yes, he’s a bona fide legend in Japan. Yes, he did very well in NXT. But on Raw and Smackdown you’re catering to the casuals and the average joes. And while we saw flashes of Nakamura’s greatness, over the long haul we never really got a good reason to invest in him emotionally, be it as a heel or a babyface. You can’t chalk all of that up to creative. Much of it, in fact, a majority of it, is about what happens in when the cameras are rolling.

Supposedly, Nakamura’s contract is up next month. If I’m in his shoes, I’m headed back to Japan. Because I’m at something of a loss as to how you build him back up at this point.

10. Becky Lynch
Up until recently, Becky Lynch was “always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” While her talent, charisma, and likability have been apparent almost from the start, WWE always seemed reluctant to fully get behind her. She was the only one of the “Four Horsewomen” of NXT to never win the NXT Women’s Title. While she did indeed become the inaugural Smackdown Women’s Champion, she only held the belt for two months. She more or less became a second-tier babyface afterward. This, despite fans clamoring to see her in a more prominent role.

We got our wish. Now, Becky Lynch may very well be the most popular wrestler in all of WWE.

Many of us, myself included, balked when Becky turned heel at Summerslam. But in hindsight, it gave her the creative freedom to become the defiant badass she is now. She’s often compared to Stone Cold Steve Austin, and that’s not entirely unjustified. Fans feel she’s been overlooked, and now they’re rooting for her to conquer the system that’s held her back for so long. Even when she was injured by Nia Jax and pulled out of a match against Ronda Rousey at Survivor Series, the fans stood behind her, every bit as outraged as she was. Now, she may be in a position to make history by headlining Wrestlemania with Rousey.

For more than a decade now, we’ve been in the era of forced babyfaces. Wrestlers we’re told we should cheer for, rather than heroes who earn those cheers organically. John Cena and Roman Reigns are both extremely talented, and great at what they do. But for most of their careers they’ve been going against the grain in terms of fan reception.

Becky Lynch is the exact opposite. No one told us to cheer for her. If anything, it’s been the exact opposite. But like Daniel Bryan before her, she’s started an uprising from the audience. And such uprisings should never be ignored, lest the main event of Wrestlemania be drowned out by chants of “Becky! Becky! Becky!”

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

Posted in Wrestling

WWE Crown Jewel Predictions – A Giant Friggin’ Headache

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

This thing has been a giant friggin’ headache, hasn’t it?

Despite intense pressure to cancel or perhaps move Crown Jewel out of Saudi Arabia following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, WWE has stayed the course. The show will proceed as planned, even as two of the company’s biggest stars, John Cena and Daniel Bryan, have opted not to go.

This is not a good look, ladies and gentlemen. Obviously they couldn’t have known something like this would happen back when they signed the 10-year deal with the Saudis, which is expected to make them up to $40 million this year. But now that it has happened, pushing forth with the show makes WWE look like your stereotypical greedy, soulless American corporation. Maybe that’s what they are at the end of the day…

While I myself won’t be watching Crown Jewel on Friday, the event will obviously impact what we see on WWE television in the near future. So even though writing about this show makes me want to take a shower, let’s take a look at the wrestling element of Crown Jewel.

WWE WORLD CUP TOURNAMENT:

They really made a mistake naming this thing. It should be the King of the Ring tournament, as opposed to the World Cup. Because the name World Cup comes has certain global implications to it. And it’s no secret that all these guys are born and bred Americans. So why give yourself that marketing headache?

Still, this could be a career moment for somebody. Even big established names like these eight men have. So who do you give it to?

I think we go to Kurt Angle vs. Rey Mysterio in the finals. That’s a match we haven’t seen in WWE for a long time. How long it’ll go, or what it’ll look like is anybody’s guess. But it could be really interesting to see what those two do in a ring in 2018.

In the end, I think this tournament belongs to Kurt Angle. To me, this World Cup idea seems like a way to give him something in the same ball park as his Olympic Gold Medal win. In theory, at least. If he really is gearing up for another in-ring run, what better way to establish that he can still hang than giving him a bunch of victories over two modern day stars and a fellow legend? Of course, this can organically lead to a match at Survivor Series to conclusively decide who the General Manager of Raw is.

Although, speaking of Baron Corbin, he could easily do a run-in and cost Kurt the final match. That would definitely amp up the bad blood. Either way, there are a lot of directions they can go with this…

PREDICTION: Kurt Angle

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

I really didn’t think they would take the belts off the New Day so soon. But here we are.

In all honesty, I don’t have a strong opinion about the outcome of this match. This one could really go either way. I’m just hoping the match itself is good. It feels like WWE put the titles on Sheamus and Cesaro just so they could have a title change on Smackdown 1000. But since they’ve taken the trouble of switching the belts, I say we go ahead and keep them on the Bar.

PREDICTION: The Bar

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Samoa Joe

I can’t decide if we should be happy about the change from AJ Styles vs. Daniel Bryan to another match with Samoa Joe. On one hand, Joe gets another title shot. But on the other, the smart bet is he’s going to lose again.

Supposedly Joe is dealing with yet another injury, which doesn’t bode well for his main roster championship aspirations. I’m actually a little surprised they didn’t stick the recently returned Big Show in this spot. But here we are with Joe again.

In terms of its outcome, I don’t see why this match should be any different than the other three. I suspect that after Crown Jewel, AJ will go right back to feuding with Bryan. Joe could still be involved, of course. They could build to a Triple-Threat Match at Survivor Series. But I’m not holding my breath.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

MATCH FOR VACANT WWE UNIVERSAL HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP:
Brock Lesnar vs. Braun Strowman

For a lot of fans, this match is just a formality. An obligation we have to meet just so we can get the belt on Braun Strowman. After all, Lesnar’s going back to the UFC, right?

Everybody likes to think they know where Brock stands with WWE. But we really don’t know much, do we? We were positive Wrestlemania was the end for him. Then he came back for the Greatest Royal Rumble. Then he came back for Summerslam. Now he’s back for Crown Jewel. So what are the odds that this isn’t the end either?

One of Paul Heyman’s big talking points this year has been about Brock Lesnar becoming a two-sport champion, holding the UFC Championship and the Universal Championship at the same time. As Lesnar is still making shots for WWE all these months after his deal was supposedly up, I wouldn’t take that notion lightly anymore. Remember, WWE has a lot of money invested in Brock Lesnar. And if Crown Jewel has taught us anything, it’s that this company isn’t about to leave money on the table.

Throw in the current feud between Braun Strowman and Drew McIntyre, and you’ve got the perfect out for Brock to win the belt after interference from McIntyre.

Yes, friends. It might not have been the plan before. But I suspect it’s the plan now. Brock Lesnar’s second reign of terror is about to begin.

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

Degeneration X vs. The Brothers of Destruction

*sigh* Oh, Shawn.

Yeah, these guys are probably going to headline the show. Why wouldn’t they? They headlined Super Show-Down. And it’s Shawn’s big return match, after all.

The persistent rumor has been that this is a three-match series. We had Triple H and Undertaker at Super Show-Down. We’ve got this match for Crown Jewel. Then supposedly it all culminates with another Shawn Michaels/Undertaker match at Survivor Series. I didn’t want to believe HBK was coming back. But now that he is, I’ve got no reason to believe he’s not wrestling Undertaker in a few weeks.

I’m thinking Undertaker and Kane take this one home, leading a pissed off Shawn Michaels to challenge the Dead Man to a one-on-one match. Those two have a hell of a legacy to live up to. More than eight years after their last match, I’m extremely skeptical they can give us something worth the return.

But then again, if anyone can do it, it’s these two…

PREDICTION: The Brothers of Destruction

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