The Elias/John Cena Connection, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I found myself on a podcast binge this past Sunday. Among my backlogged shows were two respective episodes of The Steve Austin Show and E and C’s Pod of Awesomeness. As if by fate, the both happened to feature the same guest: Elias.

I hadn’t realized just how into this guy I was. But I found myself listening pretty intently to what he had to say, and it occurred to me: If portrayed the right way, Elias could be huge. To an extent, he actually reminds me of John Cena. Not necessarily in terms of his personality or the way he works, but in the uniqueness of his persona.

When John Cena started using his hip hop inspired persona in 2003, it had a flair of originality to it. We’d seen wrestlers incorporate certain rap elements into their characters, but never seen anything quite like this. Once that character became more fully developed, Cena’s battle was half won. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t as polished a wrestler as most of his peers. People bought into him because was unique, and even real to an extent.

We’ve seen our share of guitar-playing wrestlers. The Honky Tonk Man comes to mind immediately, as does Jeff Jarrett. Outside the WWE umbrella you had names like Van Hammer and Maxx Payne. But Elias has an entirely different flavor. He’s got a more grounded, modern feel to him, sprinkled with a little Johnny Cash, Jim Morrison, etc. It didn’t click with the more hardcore fans in NXT. But on the mainstream level shows like Raw and Smackdown, it works.

Elias has something that’s been missing in wrestling for a long time, but seems to slowly be creeping back in. The “cool factor.” That swagger,  that demeanor, that aura that makes the male audience in particular look at you and think, “I wish I could be like him.” Names like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Sting, and Goldberg had it. Groups like DX and the nWo had it. John Cena had it at one point. Nowadays you can see it in guys who’ve been associated with the Bullet Club. Braun Strowman has it to a degree.

We’re now starting to see traces of it in Elias. He’s hearing more boos than cheers. But give it time. Once Wrestlemania comes and goes, it wouldn’t surprise me if fans around the world are ready to walk with Elias. And when that time comes, WWE needs to be ready to pounce.

Ponderings From Raw:

John Cena opens the show, and is interrupted by the Miz. Cena challenges Miz to a match with the stipulation that the loser enters the Elimination Chamber Match first. Cena wins with the Super AA. The best line of Cena’s promo? Wrestlemania can bring a legend back from the dead.” Foreshadowing, anyone?

To anyone who’s been a fan for more than a few years, the notion of Cena not having a match at Wrestlemania is downright laughable. But that’s obviously the story they want to tell with he and Undertaker. Cena has to get a match at Wrestlemania by goading the Dead Man out of retirement.

Incidentally, I think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard an “And the loser of this match is…” announcement.

The Revival def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. Anybody else see Dash Wilder trip after he got tagged in to feed for Anderson? Whoops. Still, at least they won. A hell of an improvement over their loss to Anderson and Finn Balor last week.

Kurt Angle stands up for Jason Jordan, who will miss Wrestlemania with a neck injury. Seth Rollins emerges and asks to be inserted into the Second Chance Fatal Four-Way later that night. Angle grants his wish, making it a Fatal Five-Way. Oh good. Another Fatal Five-Way. Isn’t that just so…asymmetrical.

Rollins was presumably going to work with Jason Jordan at Wrestlemania. Obviously that’s not happening anymore, which leaves Rollins without a dance partner. So who do you put him with? Angle? I doesn’t seem like the highly speculated Triple H/Kurt Angle match is on the books anymore, and Rollins would likely give Angle a better match anyway. Finn Balor might work, as they obviously have some history. There’s also the Miz, though he’s rumored to be working with Strowman.

Bayley def. Sasha Banks. Nia Jax ambushes both women after the match. Hardly their best match, but still damn good.

While the turn isn’t official, Sasha was working heel here. It’s about damn time. I’ve been ready to boo the hell out of this woman for months. What’s more, working with a heel Sasha could do wonders for Bayley. The audience needs to be reminded why they liked her in the first place. Casting Sasha as a vicious, bratty heel could garner her some valuable sympathy.

Mandy Rose and Goldust were a team on WWE Mixed Match Challenge last week. While they lost, if you watch some of the online content WWE has put out with them, they make a hell of a duo. How about we drop the Absolution stuff and make them a next-gen Goldust and Marlena?

Braun Strowman gives his own take on one of Elias’ performances, smashes the Drifter with a cello. These WWE comedy segments crash and burn so much that you wonder if they’re even worth the effort. Then something like this comes along and it almost makes the bad ones all worthwhile. Even after accidentally breaking the strings, Strowman sold the bit and made it work. And seeing him smash Elias with the cello? Priceless.

How is this man not headlining Wrestlemania? Apparently Brock doesn’t want to work with him anymore after what happened at the Rumble. So what? Brock makes a hell of a lot of money working fewer dates than almost anyone. Suck it up, buttercup.

Roman Reigns def. Sheamus. This match brings back bad memories from late 2015. But then they wind up going at each other so hard that you wind up forgiving them.

The announcers actually brought up a valid point early on in this match. A pretty damn sad point, at that. Cole noted that Sheamus may be one of the most underrated stars in WWE history. They listed of all his singles accomplishments, and then added that they’re often forgotten because he’s now in a tag team with Cesaro. Think about that. On paper this guy has a Hall of Fame resume. WWE Champion, World Heavyweight Champion, King of the Ring winner, Royal Rumble Match winner, Money in the Bank winner, US Champion. And yet all that gets glossed over.

I don’t doubt the history books will be kind to Sheamus. But I can’t help but wonder if he’ll ever get the respect he truly deserves. 

Ivory announced for WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2018. Ivory was always a favorite of mine. Ahead of her time, in that she could always do the sports entertainment stuff, but she was a wrestler’s wrestler. And a good chunk of her WWE career was spent with ladies who, with due respect, really had no business being in a wrestling ring. Thus, she had to stoop to performing in various slop matches, Evening Gown Matches, Bra and Panties Matches, and a various other things that really don’t age well. She a lot was classier than the material she was given. The real-life Lisa Moretti has earned her spot in the Hall of Fame as much as just about all of her peers. 

The “Second Chance” Fatal Five-Way Match ends in a tie between Finn Balor and Seth Rollins. Both earn a spot on the Elimination Chamber Match. We’ve never had seven guys in a Chamber Match before. I assume it’ll be three guys in the ring at the start, with the remaining four entering as usual. Either way, it doesn’t matter. Roman Reigns is winning.

It’s curious that they’d put Apollo Crews in this match. In terms of his spot on the card, he was clearly below everyone else in that match. The good news, however, is that he definitely held his own out there. I feel like I talk about how athletic this guy is every single week. This was a hell of a chance to show off, and I think he took full advantage of it. Also, Apollo has some personality buried in there somewhere. We just need to dig…

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Booker T/Corey Graves Heat? Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Booker T isn’t happy. But we all should be.

Last week on his Houston-based radio show, the former WCW Heavyweight Champion made some bold statements about being replaced by Jonathan Coachman on the Raw announce team. Comments specifically directed at Corey Graves.

According to Booker, Graves is “the reason that I’m not on Monday Night Raw right now.” Booker claims he was removed because people in the company were worried about a physical confrontation between the two, based on how they were interacting on television.

He continued: “Me personally, everybody knows my reputation… I get mean, when you mess with my green. And right now, my green is being messed with, you know what I mean? So, me and Corey Graves… Wrestlemania coming up, right? There’s room for one more match. … I’m calling Corey Graves out to a fight. Not a match. Not a pre-show posedown or anything like that. I’m calling Corey Graves out to a fight.”

Graves’ only response was the following tweet…

Then on Raw, Graves randomly threw out the line: “You better be careful, Coach. You’ll be doing ESPN radio locally.” Yeesh…

This feels like a work, especially given what Booker said about Wrestlemania. But for a moment, let’s go with the notion that he was shooting. Let’s say Graves somehow got Booker moved back to pre-show duty.

He did us a favor, folks.

When Booker subbed in for David Otunga on the Raw announce team, I think most of us were relieved. Almost anyone is a better choice than Otunga. And for awhile, Booker was a breath of fresh air. But as the months went on, his work went off the deep end. It became a ongoing gag for Cole and Graves to make fun of him for saying nonsensical things. As a wrestler, Booker was a bona fide star. But as an announcer he was drowning. Given the choice between Booker T and Jonathan Coachman, they’d have been foolish not to go with Coach.

Booker T is a bona fide Hall of Famer, and he deserves our respect. But the time had come to bump him off Raw. At least for the time being.

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns def. Bray Wyatt to qualify for the Elimination Chamber. Woken Matt Hardy attacks Wyatt after the match. It doesn’t get much easier to call than this. Crowd was into it, though. Has it only been a year since Bray won the WWE Championship in a Chamber Match? Seems like a lot longer…

Loved those opening pre-tapes. What’s more, they were looking into the camera!

Finn Balor and Karl Anderson def the Revival. My ears perked up when Scott Dawson used the phrase “tag team specialists.” On a recent episode of Something to Wrestle, Bruce Prichard explained that phrase used to be applied to teams made up of smaller guys, i.e. the Midnight Rockers. The idea was they were relatively easy to beat as individuals, but as a team they were nearly unstoppable.

Then Dash and Dawson lost to Balor and Anderson, who teamed up on a whim. Whoops. Hey, at least Balor beat somebody.

Cedric Alexander and Mustafa Ali def. Drew Gulak and Tony Nese. New 205 Live General Manager Drake Maverick (formerly Rockstar Spud) joins the announce team. I’m familiar with Rockstar Spud’s work from Impact Wrestling, though not extensively so. Here’s what I’ll will say: He did amazing out there on commentary. An absolute natural. That was his first time out there on Raw. I say we make this guy the new Austin Aries. Put him out there on commentary every week for the Cruiserweight matches to give them some unique flavor.

Alexander took a beating in this match. Not just the fall on the shoulder, but that landing after the somersault over the ropes. He looked like he landed on his tailbone.

I’m not a regular 205 Live viewer. But with Roderick Strong debuting against Hideo Itami, tonight’s show is appointment television.

Kurt Angle announces Bayley, Sasha Banks, Mickie James, Mandy Rose, and Sonya Deville will challenge Alexa Bliss in the first ever Women’s Elimination Chamber Match. Bliss calls Angle out for not having Brock Lesnar defend the Universal Title in a Chamber Match. I was actually surprised to hear Alexa call Kurt a sexist. You’d think with everything being so ultra PC these days, they wouldn’t even want to suggest such  thing. It got a nice reaction, though.

Angle also announced Asuka vs. Nia Jax for Elimination Chamber. If Jax wins, she gets in on Asuka’s championship match at Wrestlemania, whoever she picks. I don’t see Nia beating Asuka. But this could help pave the way for her challenging Alexa at Wrestlemania.

Asuka def. Bayley. This was pretty good. Loved the reverse roll-through counter to the Asuka lock. That was almost an old Bret Hart spot. Probably Bayley’s best Raw match since the night she won the title from Charlotte. Now if only Bayley had gotten any kind of reaction when her music hit. If she keeps having matches like this, she’ll be on the comeback trail. But she’s not there yet.

The Miz def. Apollo Crews to quality for the Elimination Chamber Match. Crews has had a good couple of weeks. Now if only he could find some personality.

The Bar def. Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns to retain the WWE Raw Tag Team Titles via DQ, with an accidental assist from Jason Jordan. Apparently Jordan has some neck and back issues, which is why we haven’t seen him wrestle in awhile. The timing couldn’t be worse, of course. But they’ve been creative in how they’ve kept him involved. Based on what we saw here tonight, the official heel turn should be coming sooner than later.

Nia Jax won an enhancement match. In her post-match promo, Nia announced to Asuka that she’s “the only one in that locker room you can’t beat.” Um, she did beat you. Less than a month ago. It was the best match you ever had…

Mickie James def. Sonya Deville. I’d love to know what Sonya Deville thinks about Ronda Rousey and Shayna Baszler both being under the WWE umbrella. I imagine it’s something to the effect of, “So much for my gimmick…”

Elias def. John Cena and Braun Strowman in a Triple-Threat Match to earn the right to enter last in the Elimination Chamber Match. There’s been a good amount of buzz about Strowman challenging Miz for the Intercontinental Title at Wrestlemania. But I think they’d do just as well to put Elias in that spot. The guy’s getting cheers.

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least it’s not David Otunga.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is Paige’s Career Over? Plus, Ponderings From Raw and Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m sure Paige isn’t someone who would want to be pitied. But man, this girl has had a rough couple of years. And I thought my 20s were a mess…

Over the last severals days, various wrestling news outlets have reported that after sustaining an injury at a house show on December 28, WWE officials are opting not to clear the real-life Saraya-Jade Bevis to wrestle again. This news comes mere weeks after she made her return to the promotion after a lengthy absence.

WWE has confirmed Paige’s absence from the upcoming women’s Royal Rumble Match, but hasn’t gone any further than that. Perhaps they want to run some more tests? Or maybe they don’t want to announce a forced retirement as we head toward next week’s big Raw anniversary show. Maybe it’s a combination of both.

Despite how things look now, I wouldn’t get too broken up about this just yet. Until WWE or Paige officially say that she’s done, she’s not done. That might seem like denial, but stranger things have happened.

Furthermore, WWE refusing to clear Paige does not mean she’ll never wrestle again. I hesitate to compare the two, but the situation with Daniel Bryan comes to mind. He’s outright said he will wrestle again, whether it’s in WWE or not. If Paige wants to wrestle again, she will. It’s just a question of when.

But if this is indeed the end of Paige’s time in WWE as a wrestler, there’s still plenty she can do with them while she’s under contract. She’s obviously a good talker, and despite the so-called “Women’s Revolution,” there are still no women calling the action on a regular basis. With some practice, that’s a role Paige could easily fill. She could also use her verbal skills as a manager or valet, helping get a less experienced talent over. Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville obviously come to mind.

Or quite frankly, she can opt to pursue something outside of wrestling. It’s so easy to forget how young this woman is. She’s 25. She started wrestling when she was 13. Bevis has accomplished so much in the wrestling industry. Perhaps it’s time to conquer another frontier. She’s made a name for herself with WWE, and has a devoted fan base that would likely follow her into another endeavor. It’s simply a question of what she wants to do.

When she’s performing in the ring, Paige loves to tell us: “This is my house!” But if it can’t be her house anymore, she can always look for another one. Perhaps in a completely different neighborhood…

Ponderings From Raw and Smackdown:

After Braun Strowman opens Raw with a promo, Kurt Angle fires Strowman for last week’s attack on Brock Lesnar and Kane. Strowman goes on a rampage over the next hour. At some point during all of this, Michael Cole called the destruction caused  by Strowman “unprecedented.” I understand why the announcers say stuff like that. But considering how much they want us to buy the WWE Network, which literally has hours of footage of guys like Steve Austin laying waste to their surroundings, it’s just so stupid.

Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews def. Sheamus and Cesaro, aided by a distraction from Jason Jordan. I’m still getting used to Dana Brooke’s new duds. For whatever reason, seeing her portray a statistician in this segment made me wonder if she even has a college degree. So I looked it up. Turns out she has a BS in fashion, merchandising, and design, with a minor in business administration. I wouldn’t have guessed that…

Cedric Alexander def. Tony Nese. Nothing too interesting here, as the outcome was never a question. Nese took the Lumbar Check like a beast, though.

So they had Goldust out there with Alexander, and Enzo out with Nese. Goldust vs. Enzo is a match I never knew I wanted.

Angle re-hires Strowman after he overturns a semi truck and throws Michael Cole off the stage. As Cole went flying, he should have screamed: “This is unprecedented!!!!” Kudos to him for doing that, though. It looked staged as hell with all those “security guards” clumped together to catch him. But still.

Asuka def. Nia Jax via referee stoppage. I loved this match. No joke. This was the best thing either of these ladies have given us since their main roster debuts. It wasn’t wall-to-wall action, but the story an the intrigue were there. This is the most vulnerable we’ve ever seen Nia Jax, and it was the unstoppable Asuka that took her to that point. Both ladies sold everything really well, and I’m actually anxious to see them in the ring together again. Well done.

The Revival win an enhancement match, then cut an impassioned promo. I don’t have a good feeling about Dash and Dawson knocking Austin, DX, and the nostalgia names that will be at next week’s anniversary show. Remember what happened to the Ascension? I’m having flashbacks to that segment with the nWo, the APA and the New Age Outlaws that essentially killed them dead.

Coincidentally, all those guys will be there next week…

Roman Reigns def. Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas in a Handicap Match. Again, not too much interest in this one because the outcome was so obvious. But at least it wasn’t another Miztourage/Finn Balor match.

Sonya Deville def. Sasha Banks. This was a surprise. Really nice moment for Sonya Deville, though. With Shayna Baszler making waves in NXT, most of the luster is off her MMA-inspired presentation. So the more she can do to stand out, the better.

Matt Hardy def. Heath Slater. This seems like as good a time as any to bring up Samoa Joe, who apparently hurt his foot during his match with Rhyno last week. Thus, he’s on the injured reserve list yet again, and will miss the Royal Rumble. Horrible break for Joe, who’s at risk for being labeled “injury prone.”

Digging Matt Hardy’s piano music. They should take the voiceovers out though. Just let the music speak for itself.

Bill Goldberg announced for WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2018. This one isn’t a surprise. But it’s still very cool. He got to close his career on a great note last year, and this is great icing on that cake.

Seth Rollins def. Finn Balor. This match had the wrong winner. Balor has finally picked up speed again since reuniting with Gallows and Anderson. Rollins wouldn’t have been hurt by a loss to Balor, especially if it were accidentally caused by Jason Jordan.

Great to see the Curb Stomp back, though. That one’s been gone for a few years now. Let’s hope it sicks around.

Jinder Mahal def. Xavier Woods to advance to the finals of the United States Title tournament. Good story here. Xavier was the underdog from the get-go, as the announcers cast him as the “little brother” of the New Day. Despite the loss, this was a nice individual spotlight for Woods.

Bobby Roode def. Mojo Rawley to advance to the finals of the United States Title tournament. Roode challenges Mahal to have the finals later that night. Daniel Bryan makes the match. It was fairly obvious from the get-go that it would be Jinder vs. Roode in the finals. But this tournament was good to Mojo. He got to beat Ryder again, and he got to be really aggressive here. Despite the potential he had as a babyface, the heel stuff is working for him.

The Riott Squad def. Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and Naomi. I spent most of this match watching Liv Morgan. Her inexperience is somewhat obvious. But her demeanor, the way she carries herself out there, is fun to watch. I don’t know much about her from NXT, but there’s clearly something there with her.

Baron Corbin, Randy Orton, and Shinske Nakamura cut backstage promos for the Royal Rumble using handheld cameras. I liked this. Anytime wrestlers can cut solo promos for the Rumble Match, it feels old school. The handheld cameras were a nice touch as well. More of this, please.

The bit with Nakamura, though… Does he stand a chance of winning the Rumble, and actually being in a big Wrestlemania match? I go back and forth.

Bobby Roode def. Jinder Mahal to win the United States Title tournament. This surprised me. I thought for sure it was going to Mahal. I won’t complain, though. It’s a career moment for Roode. That stuff they say about people not thinking he’d make it to WWE? It’s a shoot. The longer he spent with TNA, the less likely it seemed he’d ever get to work for WWE. So him coming in and having the success that he’s had makes for a great story.

Not sure why they opted to crown the new champ on this show as opposed to the Royal Rumble. But it made for a good night, and it gave us a breather from seeing the main event guys in the ring every week.

Finn Balor and Sasha Banks def. Shinsuke Nakamura and Natalya in the first edition of WWE Mixed Match Challenge. Right off the bat, we’ve got too many announcers. They had Renee Young and Byron Saxton open the show on handheld mics, just to turn it over to Cole, Corey Graves, and Beth Phoenix.

You want to make this show different? Take a risk. Pull Cole and Saxton out. Have our announce team be Young, Graves, and Phoenix. Fans have wanted to see Renee Young take another crack at play-by-play for years. This is a great chance. It’s a short broadcast, and Graves will be there to help steer the ship if she needs it.

As far as Beth’s announcing is concerned, it was obvious she’d never done it before. She came off a little nervous. But there’s a lot of potential there. Between she and Paige, WWE has their share of options as it relates to female announcers.

The way Nattie and Nakamura played off each other was fun. The babyface/heel personality clashes we’re going to see of this show could be interesting. Big E and Carmella, Sami Zayn and Becky Lynch, etc. It’s tough to predict anything at this point. But Finn and Sasha are favorites, as are Miz and Asuka. I wouldn’t necessarily bet against Bobby Roode and Charlotte Flair, either.

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

Ponderings From Raw and Smackdown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Well I’ll be damned…

Kenny Omega vs. Chris Jericho at Wrestle Kingdom 12.

If you’re a pro wrestling geek, this is a huge match in just about every way possible. Granted, Jericho may only work one date for New Japan. A handful at most. But let’s pause for a moment and consider not just what this means artistically, but for NJPW’s presence in America.

Chris Jericho is obviously not under contract to WWE right now. But he’s a WWE superstar in every sense of the word. When he’s around, it’s a big deal. He’s been able to reinvent himself time and time again, making comeback after comeback and being consistently athletic and entertaining each time. This year, at age 46, he and Kevin Owens had one of the key storylines heading into Wrestlemania.

Perhaps most importantly, Jericho has wrestled exclusively for WWE since 1999. He’s a multi-faceted performer, and has a lot of irons in the fire. But when it comes to wrestling, for almost 20 years there’s only been one place to find Chris Jericho. He’s always said he only wanted to work for the top promotion in the world, and anywhere else would be a step down. Chris Jericho has been a WWE guy through and through. Until now.

Think about that. Think about what that says about Kenny Omega as a performer. Think about what that says about New Japan’s growing prominence in America. Think about what that says about NJPW’s potential as an alternative to WWE.

And if they can get Chris Jericho, who else can they get on more of a full-time basis?

Ponderings From Raw:

Kurt Angle appears on Miz TV at the top of the show, announces Miz vs. Braun Strowman in the main event. Miz had a great line here about Baron Corbin being “the bathroom break of Smackdown.” There’s a reason these guys haven’t been cutting promos on each other directly. In a war of words, Miz destroys Corbin every time. It’s not even close.

Jason Jordan def. Elias in a Guitar on a Pole Match. Angle later names Jordan to Team Raw at Survivor SeriesI don’t know why I expected this match to end with a guitar shot to the head. Maybe it’s because I’ve been trained to expect it after so many years watching guys like Jeff Jarrett smash guitars over people’s craniums. Maybe it’s because Elias got to hit Finn Balor in the head with it awhile back. Either way, this match ended on a whimper when Jordan smashed the damn guitar over Elias’ back. Either gimmick the guitar really well and go for it, or don’t book the damn match.

So Kurt Angle puts his “son” Jason Jordan on Team Raw. I like this a lot if it’s headed where I think it is…

Asuka won an enhancement match. I obviously don’t know how things sounded live. But on television this Manchester crowd sounded dead as a doornail. No one suffered the ill effects worse than Asuka did in this match. WWE are still trying to get her over with mainstream audiences, and this did not help. At all.

Samoa Joe runs through Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews, and issues an open challenge. Finn Balor accepts. The match goes to a double count-out. Kurt Angle later names both men to Team Raw. I hadn’t quite realized how much I missed Joe until I saw his promo here, and the subsequent match with Balor. Neither were great. But Joe’s intensity and believability are off the charts.

I really wish the announcers hadn’t mentioned the Kane thing from two weeks back. When Balor is stepping up and accepting a tough guy’s open challenge, it doesn’t help his cause to harken back to when got his ass handed to him in another open challenge. Frankly, I think we’d all love to forget that match ever happened…

Sasha Banks and Bayley def. Alicia Fox and Nia Jax. Sasha is later picked for the Raw women’s team. It’s amazing how stupid WWE thinks we are sometimes. The announcers speculated about whether Sasha and Bayley could be the two women to fill the remaining spots on the Raw women’s team. Shut the hell up. We all know it’s going to be them. Dana Brooke is an afterthought, and they’re not going to pass either of them up for Mickie James.

The only person worthy of replacing either of them would be Paige. Come to think of it, this would have been a good opportunity to bring her back. It’s her home country, after all.

The crowd woke up a little for Bayley. It’s been awhile since she got a reaction like that. Far too long, actually.

Braun Strowman def. The Miz via disqualification after interference from Kane. Mrs. Primary Ignition happened to be sitting next to me during Miz’s entrance. She doesn’t know much about wrestling. But she watched him during his MTV days. She was confused by what he wore to the ring…

“His outfit looks like he’s wearing a dress. I have no problem with a man wearing a dress. It just seems so out of character for him.”

That’s Hollywood fashion for you.

Pete Dunne makes his Raw debut, gaining a win over Enzo Amore. UK Division wrestlers to appear on 205 Live. For months there’s been buzz about the WWE Network adding a show dedicated to the guys who wrestled in the UK Championship Tournament. For whatever reason, that hasn’t happened. But if you’ve got these guys signed to a deal, you may as well use them. I was happy to see Pete Dunne show up in the homegrown hero role, even though he’s obviously a natural heel. I’m not thrilled that these UK guys may end up associated with 205 Live, as that brand is so tainted. But you may as well do something on TV with them.

Until Dunne came out and the physicality started, almost everything about this segment seemed clumsy. Enzo’s promo went on so long the announcers were trolling him on-air. Then Dunne’s music hit. But instead of just having him come out, they had Angle show up and introduce him. So basic wrestling logic (If such a thing exists…) begs the question: Why not just hit Angle’s music, then do Dunne’s after his name is said? I’m assuming this was a mistake. If not, it’s very weird.

Cesaro and Sheamus def. Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose to win the WWE Raw Tag Team Titles after the New Day cause a surprise distraction. This was a surprise. Not so much that they switched the titles, but that they had the New Day play a role in it. The reason seems obvious: A six-man tag at Survivor Series. I imagine they weren’t sure if Roman would be back in time, so they held off this angle just in case. I obviously don’t know that for a fact, but it makes sense.

Either way, if it happens that match could easily steal the show. It’s got a big match vibe not unlike the Shield vs. Wyatt Family stuff from a few years ago.

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Emma’s Release, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

At the end of the day, this is for the best. Honestly, what were they doing with Emma anyway? She can do better, and now she has the chance to prove it.

WWE announced Sunday that it had come to terms on the releases of Tenille Dashwood (Emma), Frederick Rosser III (Darren Young), and Danielle Moinet (Summer Rae). Mosser and Moinet had both been off television for quite awhile. More than a year in Moinet’s case. As a fan, when someone has been off TV that long, you know this is a possibility.

But I’m never happy to see someone lose their job. Especially when it’s likely their dream job. In Moinet’s case, I don’t doubt there will be plenty of opportunities for her outside of wrestling. She actually just wrote a piece for In Style. Rosser has plenty of options too. He can obviously stay in wrestling, but he might make some decent money as a motivational speaker. He’s got a great story.

The timing of Dashwood’s release is very strange. They just put her with Asuka in the character’s much hyped debut matches on the main roster, the first of which was on pay per view. They even gave her the lion’s share of the offense at TLC. She was hardly a major player. But she had a character and was appearing on Raw more often than not. That’s certainly a far cry from the days of Emmalina.

It’s currently unclear whether Dashwood wanted out, or if they let her go for some reason. This is the only thing she’s said online since the news broke…

I’m not sure why WWE would want to let Emma go. I just got done talking about how they need more women on the main roster. Here’s someone who’s good at what she does, and has come into her own in terms of her charisma. What’s more, she has a vocal fan following. More than a few fans were tweeting #HireEmma in the wake of her release.

And what’s why this may be the best thing that could have happened to Dashwood. Wrestling fans know how good she is, which means she’ll be in demand. She’s more than qualified to have a Drew Galloway/Cody Rhodes style career renaissance. And I’m looking forward to seeing it.

Ponderings From Raw:

Raw Commissioner Stephanie McMahon returns, announces General Manager Kurt Angle will captain Team Raw at Survivor Series. What I expected when Stephanie’s music hit was more or less what we got. The verbal castration of Kurt Angle. I think that’s in the job Raw GM job description. You’ve got to let Stephanie yell at you on national television without rebuttal.

Hopefully this isn’t a sign that Stephanie is returning to TV on a more regular basis. I’m actually shocked they kept her off TV as long as they did. Outside of a brief appearance on Smackdown during the Vince McMahon/Kevin Owens headbutt angle, we haven’t seen her since Wrestlemania. (She really should have given Rollins a look or something on the way to the ring.) When it comes to the loud, domineering Stephanie appearances, less is definitely more.

But I will admit, it was cool to see Steph and Kurt in the ring together after so many years.

Apparently now that TLC has come and gone, they’re not going to be shy about having Kurt wrestle. At least in big tag team matches. Considering there’ll be 10 men in this match, Kurt may have even less to do here than he did at TLC. Or maybe they’ll push him a little more and make him the Raw guy in the match.

Nia Jax def. Bayley. Alicia Fox picks Jax for Team RawAt one point there were rumors Nia Jax walked out a few weeks ago. Now the buzz is she was dealing with a back injury. Either way, I’m glad to see her back. As she continues to grow and mature in her role, she becomes more and more valuable. She’s different. Different is usually good.

Samoa Joe returns, defeats Apollo Crews. Have we really not seen Joe since Summerslam? I knew it had been awhile. But that long?

Crews is essentially a jobber these days. I feel like I’ve said it a million times: He’s an amazing athlete, but he’s severely lacking in the personality department.

The Miz def. Matt Hardy to retain the Intercontinental Championship. Matt Hardy is another guy who’s cooled down quite a bit. That’s a damn travesty, as he was arguably the hottest thing in wrestling when he and Jeff came back.

That being said, that moonsault was awesome. That man is 43, ladies and gentlemen.

Asuka won an enhancement match. This is more like it. Not the smoothest match I’ve ever seen. But Asuka was dominant and hard-hitting. Build her up for the Bayleys and the Sashas. That’s where the drama comes from.

Daniel Bryan tries to mend fences with Raw, gets ambushed by Kane. Bryan’s acting in this segment was cringeworthy at times. And on top of everything, after the attack from Kane, Booker T ruins the dramatic tension on commentary by immediately saying Bryan got what he deserved.

Finn Balor def. Cesaro. Kane and Balor get into a scuffle, Kane hits a Tombstone Piledriver on the stage. Before Kane came out, I was thinking “Where was this match last week?” A victory over Cesaro is a damn good way to follow up a pay per view win over AJ Styles. But then they went and did this.

I can only hope Balor isn’t simply Kane’s whipping boy, and that we’ll eventually see the Demon send Kane back into politics. Assuming Braun Strowman doesn’t get do it first…

Kane def. Seth Rollins. Dull match. Kane’s got that dominant, vicious monster vibe going for him once again. But snooze-fests like this don’t help. Even when the post-match stuff happened with Ambrose, Sheamus, and Cesaro, the crowd was dead.

Heath Slater and Rhyno def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson in a Trick-or-Street-Fight. Obligatory Halloween gimmick match. I’m sure this is what Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson where imagining when they came back. Going from the Bullet Club to the pumpkin patch. Even the announcers didn’t know what to say during this one. If the Kane stuff killed the crowd, this buried it six feet under.

Who are these hokey holiday matches supposed to be for, anyway? The kids? I guarantee they were as bored during this as the rest of us were.

Jason Jordan interrupts an Elias performance. The Drifter’s new guitar winds up smashed. Poor Elias had to follow that awful gimmick tag match. Usually the crowd is with him. Not so much for this one.

Kalisto def. Drew Gulak. Enzo Amore jumps Kalisto after the match. I’m becoming a Drew Gulak fan. The corny, straight-laced, milquetoast thing works for him. He might actually be a reason to pay a little more attention to 205 Live. You can’t say that often, so consider it a compliment.

Alexa Bliss def. Mickie James to retain the Raw Women’s Title. I legit thought they might switch the title here to give the match with Natalya at Survivor Series a new dynamic. They’ve already got another heel vs. heel match with Miz against Baron Corbin. It would make sense to shift one of those to a traditional babyface vs. heel bout. But let’s be honest: If they have to take a title off of either Alexa Bliss or Natalya, Alexa isn’t the one you pick. Not right now, anyway.

Alexa and Mickie had built nice momentum with some good wrestling in the closing minutes of this match. Then it ended with a simple punch to the face. Lame.

Braun Strowman attacks Miz and the Miztourage in the closing moments of Raw. Curtis Axel takes six Powerslams, the last of which is through the announce table. There was an obvious horror movie vibe to what they did here. The victims trying to get out of the car, the slow reveal of the monster, Corey Graves even got a line in about Miz starring in a monster movie.

You know what would have been a nice touch? Having Axel or Bo Dallas take a Tombstone Piledriver. That is, assuming Strowman can do it safely. We saw it earlier in the evening. Plus, it sends a really cool message to Kane, who is obviously Strowman’s real adversary in all of this.

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