#FireJBL? Plus, Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m going to tread lightly as I discuss the alleged situation between JBL and Mauro Ranallo. We’ve heard so little about this matter from either of them that it’s almost entirely rumor and speculation. But where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.

For the unaware, Mauro Ranallo has been off Smackdown for several weeks. He’s reportedly been battling symptoms of bipolar disorder, which he’s been very open about in the past. The belief is that this episode came about due to bullying by his broadcast partner John Layfield, a.k.a. JBL. What they’ve said to each other in private is anyone’s guess. But on a recent edition of Bring it to the Table on the WWE Network, Layfield chastised Ranallo for tweeting about wining the Wrestling Observer Newsletter‘s Announcer of the Year Award two years in a row. Ranallo would later cryptically tweet, “Jealousy is a hell of a drug.”

Then Ranallo missed that first Smackdown a few weeks ago, allegedly due to bad weather. Layfield would tweet: “I made the show, everyone made the show, everyone. Maybe he shouldn’t have bashed me if he wasn’t going to show up.” He’d later delete the tweet. But Ranallo hasn’t been seen on WWE TV since, and he may not be back. While WWE released a statement confirming Ranallo is under contract until August of this year, he’s since removed mentions of WWE from his social media profiles. Ironically, this story would later be extensively reported on in the Observer. 

Adding to the noise is former WWE ring announcer Justin Roberts, whose book came out this week. He writes about JBL bullying people backstage, and possibly stealing his passport. Such stories are nothing new. Numerous wrestlers have talked about Layfield’s backstage antics over the years. The Miz even mentioned such things in a promo on Raw several years ago. And hell, we all saw him beat the Blue Meanie to a pulp on live television at ECW One Night Stand in 2005.

The online backlash against Layfield has been extensive. There’s been talk about the culture backstage in WWE, and the inherent hypocrisy of the company’s association with the Be A S.T.A.R. campaign. The operative hashtag has been #FireJBL.

But firing JBL doesn’t fix the problem, does it?

Clearly this sort of behavior is an issue with this guy, and it’s all happened under the WWE umbrella. Ergo, WWE is culpable. So if what we’re hearing about this Mauro Ranallo situation is true, WWE needs to send JBL to sensitivity training of some kind. If he opts not to go, then he should be fired.

The ironic thing about all of this is that JBL’s apparent bullying tendencies are part of what made him such a great villain on screen. Frankly, this is the kind of heat WWE should be going for with their storylines. But let’s leave that to the world of fiction. In real life, bullies need to be put in their place.

Ponderings From Raw:

The Miz and Maryse arrive on Raw, along with Dean Ambrose. I’ll give ’em credit. I didn’t expect this. Ambrose coming to Raw is significant in that it puts him on the same show with Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins, potentially reuniting the Shield. But for now, it gives Raw one of the company’s top good guys. Though granted, would a real top good guy be relegated to the Wrestlemania pre-show?

I don’t think this is a good move for Miz and Maryse. On Smackdown, Miz was starting to sniff WWE Title contention again. But he’s in a larger pond now. What would you say the odds are of him winning the Universal Title now that Brock Lesnar is champion?

With all this talk about engagement rings, did anyone else notice the ring on Ambrose’s left hand? He was wearing it when he wrestled, too.

The Revival def. The New Day. Seeing this victory gives me the impression that not only are the New Day going to Raw, but Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson are likely headed to Smackdown. The Revival and the Club have a similar vibe. You don’t need both teams on the same show.

The Big Show punches out new Raw arrival Curt Hawkins. I didn’t like this format at all. The drafts from Smackdown just come out? Where’s the drama? Where’s the anticipation? Big missed opportunity.

Neville tears down TJ Perkins backstage. Later, after a distraction from Neville, Perkins pins Austin Aries. Perkins attacks Aries after the match. Thank God. Perkins is extremely talented, but few wrestlers have needed a heel turn as much as him in recent months. This will be great for him,

Kurt Angle tells Seth Rollins he’s staying on Raw, despite what happened to Commissioner Stephanie McMahon at WrestlemaniaSamoa Joe attacks Rollins. How bad did you want to see Angle suplex Joe off of Rollins?

Great to see the crowd chanting for Seth here, as opposed to CM Punk. I guess that’s what getting Steph put through a table will do for you.

Nia Jax def. Charlotte Flair. Charlotte was seemingly positioned as the underdog babyface here. As was the case with the New Day, this loss seemingly confirms she’s on her way to Smackdown.

This was a big win for Nia. But at the same time, it didn’t necessarily do her any good to be in the ring with someone as good as Charlotte. The difference in their skill set became very apparent.

Finn Balor def. Jinder Mahal. Bray Wyatt announces he’s coming to RawThis will be a good move for Bray, if for no other reason than it’ll get him away from Randy Orton. Now the question is, will Balor end up jumping to Smackdown? If he stays where he is, these two would seemingly compliment each other well.

Apollo Crews, Kalisto, Heath Slater, Rhyno, and David Otunga coming to Raw. Byron Saxton moving to SmackdownI guess these guys all fall into the miscellaneous column. Most notable here is the drafting of Kalisto, who will obviously be a great get for the Cruiserweight Division.

Not a fan of the announcer switch at all. That news actually broke after Raw. People have been pretty tough on Saxton. But I very much prefer him to Otunga, who adds absolutely nothing to Smackdown. This seems like it was done just for the sake of moving people.

Sami Zayn def. The Miz. Nice win for Sami. They’ve been teasing him going to Smackdown for months. I expect this will be his last time on Raw for quite awhile.

Now that Miz and Daniel Bryan aren’t on the same show anymore, should Miz still be using his kicks? That doesn’t really make sense.

Braun Strowman destroys Roman Reigns backstage, tipping over an ambulance with his bare hands in the process. This was a great angle. It may as well have turned Strowman babyface. How do they expect him to hear anything but cheers now? He decimated the man who retired the Undertaker. Very well done, and an excellent way to re-emphasis Strowman.

“The Drifter” Elias Samson appears on stage during an eight-man tag. I’m not at all familiar with Samson’s work in NXT, though the buzz I’ve heard about the character hasn’t been stellar. Curious to see what he’s about.

Alexa Bliss and Mickie James arrive from Smackdown. Nia Jax lays out the babyfaces. Well, here we go. Your new layout for the Raw Women’s Division. Looks like we’ve got an alliance between Alexa and Nia Jax. I can dig that. It’s a much better role for Nia.

Our long form story here continues to be about Bayley and Sasha. It’s looking like they may go the babyface route with Sasha before she eventually turns. Again, I can dig that.

Dean Ambrose def. Kevin Owens. Chris Jericho hits Owens with a Codebreaker after the match. Historically speaking, when they move a champion from one show to the other, the counterpart championship also has to move. This would seemingly indicate that Kevin Owens is on his way to Smackdown. That’s a surprise, if for no other reason than Sami Zayn seems to be on his way over there. One of the biggest upsides to moving Zayn to Smackdown was to get him away from Owens. Now it looks like they may be drafted together yet again. That’s lame.

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Broken Matt Hardy in WWE? Plus Ponderings From Smackdown

Broken Matt Hardy, Jeff HardyBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

As he revealed on his Twitter this week, Matt Hardy is gone from TNA. Reports say Jeff is on his way out as well.

Long story short, their contracts were set to expire and TNA reportedly bungled negotiations. We’ve heard similar stories in the past about the company’s dealings with AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode, among others. Mind you, Matt announced his departure just one day after TNA Grand Champion Drew Galloway also announced his. Ouch.

Matt’s departure is undoubtedly a huge blow for TNA. The whole Broken Matt/Brother Nero thing was the only thing in that company with any life to it. But from a fan perspective, it conceivably opens a huge door: Broken Matt Hardy’s arrival in WWE.

There’s been talk of Matt doing this bizarre character in WWE almost since he started it. Could it ever happen? Would WWE have any interest in it? If so, how much creative control would he have? Would he be forced to recite the awful dialogue we hear so often on Raw and Smackdown?

Broken Matt Hardy, TNAWWE is in an interesting spot with the Hardys. Obviously, they’d be fools not to at least explore the possibility of bringing Matt and Jeff back. They were immensely popular, and could headline a Hall of Fame class someday. But if they simply try to bring them back in their old characters, a giant portion of the audience will inevitably clamor for Broken Matt and Brother Nero. I can practically hear the “Delete!” chants now.

While they’ve obviously toned down their attempts to “re-brand” talent from other promotions, all this Broken Matt stuff originated on TNA television. I can see Vince McMahon rejecting it simply because it’s not a WWE creation. It’s the same reason we’ve never gotten a War Games Match on WWE TV. And that’s to say nothing of the outright silliness of the whole thing. Imagine the 70-year-old McMahon’s reaction to things like Senior Benjamin, Vanguard 1, and King Maxel.

I think what this all really comes down to is Matt’s priorities. Jim Ross has talked about the two Cs, cash and creative, being the primary reasons a talent departs a promotion. Matt has a young son, and another child on the way. One more WWE run could put his kids through college someday, and get him back in the loop with the biggest wrestling promotion in the world. But money isn’t everything. Matt has a good thing going with this character. It doesn’t necessitate him jumping off ladders every month. He can do it for another year, he can do it for another 10 years. If he’s found something that makes he and his family happy, I say stick with it.

wwe-smackdown-february-28-2017-john-cena-the-mizPonderings From Smackdown:

John Cena and the Miz get personal on Miz TV. Nikki Bella comes to Cena’s aid, the two share a kiss in the ring for the first time. They tried to do way too much with Miz here. He seemed to be stumbling trying to cover all the bases. From a story perspective, this renewed animosity between Cena and Miz seemed to come about spontaneously in the Battle Royal last week. But in this promo they tried to justify a deep-seated hatred of Cena by the Miz. They threw so much out there about Cena’s wrestling skills, his alleged politicking, and his latest attempts to balance WWE and Hollywood. But they don’t need all of that. They just needed to pick one motivation for Miz and stick with it. What we got here was all over the place.

Cena’s stuff about the Undertaker was really interesting. I highly doubt that was ad-libbed. But I’d like to think it was…

Inevitably, the John Cena/Nikki Bella relationship has come to Smackdown. In a way, this reminds me of when Randy Orton hit Stephanie McMahon with the DDT on Raw several years ago, and an enraged Triple H emerged from the back. Everyone knew they were together, but now it was “TV official.” It’s the same case here.

becky-lynch-wwe-smackdown-february-28-2017Becky Lynch def. Mickie James in a 2-out-of-3 Falls Match. Alexa Bliss unintentionally costs James the third fall. Good match. These two are fun to watch in the ring, and they compliment one another very well. This program has been exactly what I imagined it would be, and that’s a good thing.

Was Becky screaming “Becky Balboa!” after she won?

Apparently Alexa Bliss’ nickname amongst the NXT crew was “Baby Trish,” as in Trish Stratus. Listening to her promos, I can absolutely see why. Intentional or not, I can see a lot of of heel Trish Stratus in her. Considering the great success Trish had, there’s no one better for Alexa to emulate.

AJ Styles def. Luke Harper to earn a WWE Championship Match at Wrestlemania. Shane McMahon takes an accidental kick from Harper. This one surprised me. I thought for sure we were getting a three-way between Wyatt, Orton, and Harper. Now it looks like we may get Wyatt, Orton, and Styles.

I wouldn’t count out the match between Styles and Shane, though. They a point to put those two out there together a few times, including what we saw on Talking Smack. This is a nice way to keep AJ in the title hunt in the months leading up to Wrestlemania, but I don’t know if I see him in wrestling for it this year.

dean-ambrose-february-28-2017Dean Ambrose calls out Baron Corbin. Not Corbin’s best mic work by a long shot. Often times he’s very hit or miss in that respect. I’m buying into this stuff with he and Ambrose, though.

Dolph Zigger def. Apollo Crews in a Chairs Match. It’s funny. I hate Chairs Matches on the TLC pay per view. But this one didn’t bother me. I guess they’re fine on free TV,  but not if you have to pay for them?

Are they building this up to Crews finally rising to the occasion and getting a singles win over Ziggler? Otherwise, he’s looked like a jobber. An athletic jobber, but a jobber nonetheless.

Randy Orton turns on Bray Wyatt, burning down the Wyatt Family compound. I wasn’t crazy about Randy’s dialogue in this segment. But that’s the only thing I can really nitpick here. This was a great piece of business, using a setting that’s long been a part of the Wyatt Family lore. They even explained why that place is so precious to Bray, what with Sister Abigail being buried there.

Have we ever seen a vengeful, enraged Bray Wyatt before? I don’t know that we have. Certainly not like this. Certainly not like he’s bound to be now. An angry Bray Wyatt against an angry Randy Orton? That could be some interesting television…

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A WWE Elimination Chamber 2017 Preview – Bray Wyatt’s Big Moment?

Bray Wyatt, Raw, October 2, 2015By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Don’t get your hopes up too high for Bray Wyatt, folks.

Do I think he’s going to win on Sunday? Yes, I truly do. But if there’s one thing this company has excelled at in recent years, it’s breaking our hearts around Wrestlemania season. Considering some of the creative choices Vince McMahon has made, is it really that far-fetched he’d pick Cena to go over here? As such, we’d have John Cena/Randy Orton in Match #375 for Wrestlemania. *shudders* Be ready for anything. That’s all I’m saying.

That being said, signs do indeed point to this being Bray’s night, as they further the implosion of the Wyatt Family. It all seems very sudden. But I’m not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. The character has been immensely intriguing from day one. But some of the booking and creative decisions he’s endured over the years have been baffling. From his loss to John Cena at Wrestlemania XXX, to the inexplicable break-up of the Wyatt Family in 2014, to the overall failure to establish him as a top star. Granted, not all of this can be pinned on creative. They’ve put Wyatt in several marquee matches with the likes of Cena, Undertaker, Roman Reigns, and Dean Ambrose. But he’s also been plagued with numerous ill-timed injuries. And while his promo delivery has been consistently good, what he says often lacks focus. While it all sounds good, he’s not really saying anything.

But the potential for superstardom has always been there. And if there’s one thing WWE has desperately needed in the last 10 years, it’s new big-name stars. Putting the WWE Championship on him would obviously a huge step toward making Bray Wyatt the star we’ve always known he could be. Personally, I think he could be a tremendous lead babyface. But one step at a time…

Let’s look at our card for Elimination Chamber.

dolph-ziggler-kalisto-apollo-crews-wwe-elimination-chamber-2017HANDICAP MATCH:
Dolph Ziggler vs. Kalisto and Apollo Crews

Not sure what their thought process is on this one. The babyface is usually the one at a disadvantage in a pay per view Handicap Match. I can only assume the idea here is to have Dolph cheat to win. That makes Kalisto and Crews look like a pair of jabronis. But that’s not much of a stretch from how they’ve been booked on TV, is it?

PREDICTION: Dolph Ziggler

nikki-bella-natalya-wwe-elimination-chamber-2017Nikki Bella vs. Natalya

This is the first of three women’s matches on this show. For some, I imagine that’s an acquired taste. But I think it’s cool. It says a lot about how WWE has upped the quality of their Women’s Division in the last two years or so.

After seeing some of the brawls these two have been in, I’m curious to see what they put together here. The promos between these two have been very personal. So I’m hoping we get something nice and physical. I see Nikki coming out on top here. Her role at Wrestlemania is still up in the air. But I imagine they’ll want her going in looking strong.

PREDICTION: Nikki Bella

becky-lynch-mickie-james-wwe-elimination-chamber-2017Becky Lynch vs. Mickie James

I’m not sure what to expect on this one. These two have never worked together, but on paper it looks great. I certainly don’t have any doubts about whether Mickie can still go. It’s just a question of chemistry.

Obviously Mickie is here to put the newer talent over. But I think it’s important to reestablish her as a force to be reckoned with. That’s why I see her going over Becky here. She’ll cheat to win, of course. So we’ll get a rematch. Probably several rematches, actually. That’s a good thing. From an in-ring standpoint, this could end up being one of the best female pairings we’ll see all year.

PREDICTION: Mickie James

tag-team-turmoil-wwe-elimination-chamber-2017TAG TEAM TURMOIL MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
American Alpha (c) vs. The Usos vs. Breezango vs. The Vaudevillains vs. The Ascension vs. Heath Slater and Rhyno

I like a good Tag Team Turmoil Match. But here’s the problem with what we have here: The Usos are the only team in this match that looks like a credible threat to American Alpha. Everyone else is just undercard oatmeal. Even the former champions Slater and Rhyno have lost their momentum. Perhaps that’s the point. To have a lesser team get the belts off Jordan and Gable, and then have them chase. But who? Aside from the Usos, each of these teams is a joke.

I’m going to take a shot in the dark and say the Usos take the belts here. They always gave us good matches with American Alpha, and they seem to be the best option here.

PREDICTION: The Usos

alexa-bliss-naomi-wwe-elimination-chamber-2017WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Naomi

The rise of Alexa Bliss as Smackdown Women’s Champion caught me completely off guard. I fully expected them to run with Becky as champion for awhile. But here we are. It’s certainly possible they could surprise us again and give the belt to Naomi. But my gut says Alexa keeps the title. She’s found a new ally in Mickie James, so they can have her come out and screw Naomi out of the victory. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Naomi end up with that belt eventually, though. Perhaps sooner rather than later.

PREDICTION: Alexa Bliss

luke-harper-randy-orton-wwe-elimination-chamber-2017Randy Orton vs. Luke Harper

I don’t see how Randy doesn’t win this one. He’s challenging for the title at Wrestlemania. Unless they want to make a three-way with Bray, Orton, and Harper. But that seems unlikely. Either way, this is a big match for Luke Harper. The biggest of his career, in fact.

Harper vs. Orton isn’t as intriguing as Harper vs. Wyatt. That’s why it’ll be interesting to see whether Bray is still champion after Wrestlemania. Harper would be a natural challenger for him.

PREDICTION: Randy Orton

WWE Elimination Chamber 2017, John CenaELIMINATION CHAMBER MATCH FOR WWE HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
John Cena (c) vs. AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Bray Wyatt vs. The Miz vs. Baron Corbin

Look for your usual Elimination Chamber stuff here. Slams on the grate, faces being raked against the chain walls, maybe even someone getting thrown through a pod. It should be fun.

Assuming Bray is winning here, that obviously sets up the WWE Title Match at Wrestlemania. But there’s also been some buzz about a mixed tag match at ‘Mania, featuring John Cena and Nikki Bella against the Miz and Maryse. If that’s the route they want to go, they could have Miz do something to cheat Cena out of the title.

There’s been a lot of speculation about what AJ Styles could end up doing at Wrestlemania. I don’t expect we’ll get that answer here. But as Ambrose and Corbin don’t have dance partners either, and the card is already starting to take shape, the answer may be yet another multi-man ladder match for the Intercontinental Title. While they’re usually fun to watch, I hate those matches from a creative standpoint. Chances are the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal will be back on this show. That’s your multi-man match right there. Give us a real Intercontinental Title Match, and give AJ something of substance to do. After the year he’s had, he deserves it.

PREDICTION: Bray Wyatt

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Cena vs. Orton at Wrestlemania? Plus Ponderings From Smackdown

Randy Orton vs. John CenaBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

John Cena defending the WWE Championship against Randy Orton at Wrestlemania? After so many years, and so many matches, it almost seems unthinkable they’d go to that well again.

Chances are they won’t. We’ve got Elimination Chamber in two weeks, and Wrestlemania is still two months away. So there’s lots of time to change things up. The smart bet is Orton challenging Bray Wyatt, who many are speculating will win the Chamber Match. While putting the title on Bray seems sudden, that match is undeniably more attractive.

But there is the 15th anniversary element to think of. As WWE highlighted in a post Royal Rumble press release this week, 2017 marks Orton and Cena’s 15th anniversary in the company. They could market the match around that. To be fair, these two have put on some great performances together. It’s entirely possible they’d have another.

But that Wrestlemania crowd would boo them out of the building, just like they did Roman Reigns and Triple H last year. Putting Orton and Wyatt together is the right move.

But who does that leave for Cena…?

WWE Elimination Chamber 2017, John CenaPonderings From Smackdown:

John Cena to defend the WWE Championship in an Elimination Chamber Match against AJ Styles, Bray Wyatt, Baron Corbin, The Miz, and Dean Ambrose. This was more or less what I thought the match would be. I originally thought Bray would be doing something with Orton and Luke Harper. But obviously Orton’s Rumble Match win changed all that.

Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton interrupt John Cena at the top of the show. Luke Harper comes to Cena’s aid. The Wyatt Family wins the subsequent tag match. Lots of interesting stuff here. Not the least of which is Cena getting pinned after an RKO. They’re keeping Orton strong, and getting people thinking about Orton and Cena. Again, I doubt that’s the direction they’ll go. But I put nothing past these people.

After what happened at the Royal Rumble, it looks like Harper has indeed separated himself from Bray. I like the idea of him fighting Bray’s influence despite his defection. The impetus is now on WWE, and obviously Harper himself, to distinguish himself a little more. When they broke up the Wyatts before, Harper essentially stayed the same. He can’t do that this time. We need to break some new ground.

Carmella def. Delilah Doom. Yes, I know she was called Delilah Dawson on the show. But she wrestles on the indies as Delilah Doom. I adore this girl’s look. WWE doesn’t have anybody like her. She’s welcome back any time as far as I’m concerned.

Kalisto, Dolph Ziggler, WWE Smackdown, January 31, 2017Dolph Ziggler def. Kalisto. Apollo Crews comes to Kalisto’s rescue again after the match. I assume the Ziggler/Crews match will finally happen at Elimination Chamber. I’ve actually got a bad taste in my mouth when it comes to Crews. I rolled my eyes when he came out at number 22 in the Royal Rumble Match. At that point, we were waiting for guys like Undertaker and Goldberg. Apollo Crews, who’s been cold as ice for months now, was not the guy to send out that late in the match. It almost reminded me of when Rey Mysterio Jr. came out last in the 2015 Rumble, when everyone was desperately hoping for Daniel Bryan.

Naomi and Becky Lynch def. Alexa Bliss and Mickie James. I’d have made Mickie’s first match back more of a big deal than this. She’s was on the losing end of two tag matches this week, the first of which took place on the Royal Rumble pre-show. Granted, she didn’t lose either fall. But what the hell? Why not have Mickie make her return against Becky at Elimination Chamber?

Naomi is obviously Alexa’s next challenger, having pinned her twice in the same week. This spotlight has been a long time coming for her. If you follow her Twitter, you know she’s felt underutilized for quite awhile. I don’t see her winning the title. But then again, I didn’t see Alexa taking it from Becky. Stranger things have happened.

WWE Smackdown, January 31, 2017, American Alpha, The UsosNumerous teams attempt to accept an open challenge from American Alpha. We now have a Tag Team Turmoil Match featuring the Vaudevillians, Breezango, the Ascension, Heath Slater and Rhyno, and the Usos at Elimination Chamber. That’s fine by me. It feels like it’s been awhile since we’ve seen the Usos. I don’t think they’ve quite gotten the hang of their new heel personas yet. They seem underdeveloped.

AJ Styles def. Dean Ambrose. At one point during this match we had Mauro Ranallo, JBL, David Otunga, the Miz, and Baron Corbin all on commentary. Of course, nowadays they usually have Tom Phillips on headset to chime in whenever they’re transitioning to something new. So he was just awkwardly sitting there the whole time. It’s so crowded at that table that JBL tripped over all the equipment on live TV last week. Once Corbin got there, I just hit the mute button. It was all too much.

The problem I had with the Styles/Ambrose pairing a few months ago was that we were seeing them wrestle too often. But they’ve always had good chemistry, and usually they deliver. This was no exception. After his stellar performance with Cena at the Royal Rumble, AJ Styles is more valuable to WWE than ever. Now that he’s lost the title, I’m hoping he doesn’t get lost in the shuffle as we move toward Wrestlemania. As much as anyone, he’s earned a chance to shine on the company’s biggest stage.

Neither Raw nor Smackdown were kind to their champions this week. Our WWE Heavyweight, United States, and Intercontinental Champions were all pinned, as were both Womens Champions. That’s astounding, the more I think about it.

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James Ellsworth Kills Time, and Other Ponderings From WWE Smackdown Live

AJ Styles, James Ellsworth, WWE Smackdown, October 18, 2016 By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This week, Raw brought us the return of Bill Goldberg after 12 years. And over on Smackdown we’ve got…James Ellsworth challenging for the WWE Championship. In a way, that makes perfect sense.

Let’s be honest, Smackdown is basically just killing time until they really start to build toward Survivor Series. That’s why we’ve had our champion messing around with James Ellsworth for two weeks. Yes, Dean Ambrose is in those segments very prominently. But we’re not exactly clamoring for another Ambrose vs. Styles match, are we? Ambrose vs. Cena, on the other hand…

On the subject of Cena, rumor has it he’ll be wrestling at Survivor Series. This means Smackdown‘s team will likely consist of Styles, Ambrose, Cena, Randy Orton, and Bray Wyatt. That’s a damn good team. And hopefully they can use that match to transition into different programs, i.e. Ambrose vs. Cena and Styles vs. Orton.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Bray Wyatt, WWE Raw, October 18, 2016During a match between Randy Orton and Luke Harper, Bray Wyatt comes to the ring in a casket. Wyatt is later surprised when Kane emerges from the casket to attack him. This was not a good promo night for Randy Orton. When he’s fierce and fired up, he can be really good on the mic. But tonight he sounded monotone and uninterested. Almost bored. Never a good way to start a show.

In WWE, caskets are Undertaker imagery. Bray even had his own spin on ‘Taker’s druids. So it was no surprise to see the Dead Man’s baby brother dust off the old surprise casket appearance trick. But here’s my question: Why is Kane even involved in this program anymore? The story is about Orton and Wyatt, and Orton doesn’t need a run-in buddy, Give Kane something else to do.

Alexa Bliss def. Naomi. Naomi is really coming together as a single. It’s not just her entrance, but she’s so athletic out there. That being said, the right woman won this match. Alexa has a title match coming up, and now she looks that much more threatening.

After taking a punch, Curt Hawkins opts not to face Apollo Crews. When I realized who was supposed to be wrestling, I balked. As de-emphasized as Apollo has been lately, there was no way they were going to let him lose to Curt Hawkins. Especially when Hawkins is playing a pretty silly character. A character who’s going the Eva Marie route, with all these premature exits.

WWE Smackdown, October 18, 2016, Nikki Bella, CarmellaCarmella calls Nikki Bella out for her relationship with John Cena. I’m never happy when Nikki gets a microphone. I get memories of, “I wish you died in the womb!” Carmella also seemed to have trouble sticking to her accent. But from a substance perspective, this was a good segment. They even let Carmella have the last word, talking about how Nikki had used both her looks and Cena to get to the top.  While this likely means we’ve got more talking segments from Nikki in our future, this could go someplace interesting.

The Miz & the Spirit Squad def. Dolph Ziggler, Heath Slater & Rhyno. Mauro happened to mention Ken Doane played college football after leaving WWE. I’d forgotten he was only 19 when he made it to the main roster in 2006. That’s really something, considering some of the stuff he got to do during that run,

I’m still not used to Heath Slater getting the hot tag. It works. But I’m not used to it. Of course, he lost to a roll-up, as at least one person has to do on every WWE broadcast.

Natalya vies to be the first entrant in the women’s match at Survivor SeriesSo when Nattie came into Bryan’s office and pitched herself for the match, Daniel Bryan went “Why you?” Excuse me? This woman was one of your first female draft picks. She’s a former champion and a Hart. So why the hell not her?

Baron Corbin, WWE Smackdown Live, October 20, 2016Baron Corbin def. Jack Swagger. One of the better Corbin outings I’ve seen on national TV, specifically the spot with the forearms on the barricade. This guy still has miles to do, but he’s making progress.

James Ellsworth def. AJ Styles via disqualification, with Dean Ambrose as the guest ring announcer. For the second time this week, I was pleasantly surprised at how into things the crowd was. Ellsworth is more over than guys a lot bigger than him, who probably make a lot more than him. So he deserved this chance to shine, and AJ even sold his “no chin music” super kick like a champ. We’ve even got a James Ellsworth t-shirt. I can’t imagine what this guy’s worth must be like these days.

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Dean Ambrose pins John Cena, and Other Ponderings From WWE Smackdown Live

John Cena, Dean Ambrose, WWE Smackdown, September 20, 2016By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m still not over how abysmal Raw was this week. I’m not someone who basks in negativity, either. I simply call it how I see it. It was a really bad show. If you buy into the manufactured Raw vs. Smackdown stuff, Smackdown had it easy this week.

What it often comes down to with Smackdown is the very simple philosophy of “Less is more.” That’s a refreshing approach. In 2016, WWE’s approach is almost always, “More is never enough.” We’ve got more than three hours of Raw each week, and pay per views that tend to go on even longer. Not to mention supplementary content on the network.

WWE television used to leave you wanting more. You simply couldn’t wait to tune in next week to find out what happens next. Nowadays, the opposite is often true. We turn off shows feeling exhausted or frustrated. Wrestle mania XXXII went so long I actually considered turning in my fan card for awhile.

In entertainment, there’s always something to be said for conciseness and restraint. Smackdown almost feels like a throwback to an era where there wasn’t a push for so much content, and each minute of WWE TV seemed to matter just a little more.

Alexa Bliss, WWE Smackdown, September 20, 2016Ponderings From Smackdown:

Daniel Bryan hosts a contract signing between Becky Lynch and Alexa Bliss. Bryan’s a damn charmer. He had that line about keeping things civil, the audience gives him some friendly boos, and he goes: “Don’t boo that.”

Both these ladies are very natural in their roles. They had to recite lines that were obviously scripted. But Becky’s fire was great. Alexa has the snobby high school cheerleader act down pat, and she’s very expressive. I just wish they’d quit comparing her to Harley Quinn. Because here’s the thing: She’s not Harley Quinn. She’s Alexa Bliss, and she’s still coming into her own as a national TV character. The Harley Quinn thing almost sends mixed messages to the audience.

The Usos def. American Alpha to earn a Smackdown Tag Title shot at No MercyRed and black is definitely a better fit for the Usos than red and white. They actually look tough.

Both Jason Jordan and Chad Gable are absolute suplex machines. They’re both so explosive, which is part of what makes them so fun to watch. On the flip side, the Usos need another move in their arsenal besides the superkick. They do know that’s the move Shawn Michaels used to retire Ric Flair, right? And here they are practically beating it into the ground.

Apollo Crews, September 20, 2016During this segment, David Otunga mentioned something about filming a movie with Adam Sandler. That’s not exactly something to brag about in 2016, is it?

Baron Corbin def. Apollo Crews. On the subject of Otunga’s commentary, he said here that this was the first time he’d seen Crews not smiling. That’s a good thing. As athletically gifted as he is, a white meat babyface label can drag your career into the gutter. That’s largely what’s happened to Crews lately.

We also got Jack Swagger on headset during this match. Not sure what we did to deserve that.

The Miz def. Dolph Ziggler to retain the Intercontinental Title. I don’t mean to keep harping on Otunga. But during this match he said “most people never win a title during their time here.” Um, yes they do, good sir. In fact, it’s a hell of a lot more likely now that we’ve got so many belts. In January 2016 we had five titles. Now we have nine. And that’s not counting NXT. It’s a nice idea, and I understand them wanting to make the IC belt seem as prestigious as possible. But statements like that hurt an announcer’s credibility, and Otunga had so little to begin with.

I’ve enjoyed seeing Miz mimic Daniel Bryan’s old move set. It’s a creative little dig. These two may not be able to have a match, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Bryan gets Miz in the Yes Lock at some point.

WWE Smackdown, September 20, 2016, Dolph Ziggler, The MizI’ve heard some buzz about a Miz vs. Ziggler steel cage match at No Mercy. Instead of doing that, why not just have Ziggler wrestle in goggles? It’d protect him from getting sprayed in the eyes over and over, and it would save us from having to watch Ziggler lose yet another match to Miz.

Randy Orton def. Erick Rowan. Bray Wyatt cuts a promo, saying “a god can never die.” That promo was pure fluff. Bray said he and Orton are locked in “the unholiest of matrimonies.” What does that even mean? That line about never dying doesn’t mean anything either. When people talk about Bray’s promos being nonsensical, this is what they’re talking about.

Orion’s got a rematch with Brock Lesnar this Saturday at a house show in Chicago. While we’re out getting Ziggler goggles, we might want to get Orton a helmet.

Nikki Bella def. Natalya via disqualification. So Nikki gets the DQ win after Carmella interferes in a short match. I don’t mind this little program at all. It keeps Nikki away from the title picture for a little while, and allows Carmella to grow a little. It’s a win-win.

Dean Ambrose def. John Cena. Ambrose earns WWE Championship Match next week. AJ Styles had a great line in before this match: “The only way this title gets taken from me, is if I don’t have to get pinned to lose it.”

Dean Ambrose, WWE Smackdown, September 20, 2016Very surprised to see Ambrose pin Cena clean. But from a story perspective, it lends credence to what Ambrose said last week about Cena not being able to cut it in the ring anymore. Things feel nice and personal between them. I’m hoping we see them in a big pay per view match down the road.

So Cena accidentally costs Ambrose the title next week, and we take this to No Mercy.

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

A WWE Summerslam 2016 Preview – Are You There, Goldberg? It’s Us…

WWE Wrestlemania XX, Bill Goldberg, Steve AustinBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The publicity train is really rolling this weekend, and Bill Goldberg may as well be the engineer.

Fans have been speculating about the return of Goldberg since the WWE 2K17 trailer hit, with the image of the former WWE star looking at a “Suplex City” sign. Now, both Goldberg and Brock have been having some fun at the press events for both WWE 2K17 and Summerslam.

Goldberg calls out BrockBrock talks about Goldberg going to Suplex CityGoldberg calls out Seth Rollins. Yeesh. Slow down! I’m trying to keep up.

This all but confirms that Brock Lesnar/Bill Goldberg II is taking place at some point. I’d bet on it for Wrestlemania XXXIII. The only match that might be bigger than that would be Brock against the Rock. And I don’t doubt we’ll get that at some point as well.

But will all this jaw-jacking going on, who’s set to fire the first shot? And where?

Well, Brock just happens to be in the main event of WWE’s second-biggest show of the year. Seems like that might be a good time…

Moving on to predictions, in the wake of Eva Marie’s suspension (more on those when I review Raw), I’m leaving out the women’s tag team match that was booked on Smackdown, because I assume it’s going to change. I assume they’ll either fill her spot with someone else, or make it to a traditional two-on-two match.

WWE Summerslam 2016, big tag team matchPRE-SHOW MATCH:
American Alpha, The Usos & The Hype Bros vs. Fandango & Tyler Breeze, The Vaudevillians, & The Ascension.

Apparently WWE wants to remind us that Smackdown has a tag team division, likely in preparation for the show getting its own set of tag belts. They had this exact same match on Smackdown this week, and the babyfaces won. I’ll give it to them again, for no other reason than American Alpha is on that team, and they’re being built up right now. As they should be.

PREDICTION: American Alpha, The Usos, & The Hype Bros

WWE Summerslam 2016, Sami Zayn, Neville, The Dudley BoyzThe Dudley Boyz vs. Sami Zayn & Neville

The Dudleys are breaking up. At lest that’s my assumption. Bubba’s been giving D-Von frustrated stares after their losses on Raw these past few weeks. They haven’t been doing anything with the Dudleys these last few months, so it makes sense. This match keeps the angle going by having Zayn and Neville, another throw-together team, beat them. Simple as that.

PREDICTION: Sami Zayn & Neville

WWE Summerslam 2016, Sheamus vs. CesaroPRE-SHOW MATCH:
BEST OF SEVEN SERIES, MATCH ONE:
Sheamus (c) vs. Cesaro

What we have here is an obvious attempt to create the kind of magic Chris Benoit and Booker T had when they did this in WCW. I don’t have high hopes, but I won’t put it past them either.

My question is, what’s at stake here? What does the winner of this series get? A shot at the Universal Title seems like a good answer.

We’ve established on Raw these last few weeks that Cesaro has Sheamus’ number. I say we keep that trend alive here with a Cesaro win. Then, if I had the book, I’d have Sheamus find some way to injure Cesaro in the second match, allowing him to pick up a bunch of consecutive victories. Thus, our Swiss Superman can fight from underneath and hopefully be victorious in the end.

If this is done well, it could really benefit two guys who could really use some extra shine right now. Best of luck, gentlemen.

PREDICTION: Cesaro

Enzo & Cass vs. Jericho & Owens, WWE Summerslam 2016Enzo & Cass vs. Chris Jericho & Kevin Owens. 

This match really needs to go on first. Enzo & Cass in front of a Brooklyn crowd? That‘s the kind of pop you open Summerslam with.

I don’t see why the hometown boys shouldn’t win here. As great as Jericho and Owens are together, a win for them would hurt Enzo & Cass more than anything else. Plus, my guess is they were just thrown together to give Enzo & Cass a pair of great heels to go against.

I had originally pegged Summerslam as the night for Enzo & Cass to win the tag titles. But it looks like they’re playing the long game. Nothing wrong with that at all. These guys both cut their teeth in Orlando, which happens to be where Wrestlemania is next year…

PREDICTION: Enzo & Cass

WWE Summerslam 2016, The Miz, Apollo CrewsWWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
The Miz (c) vs. Apollo Crews

Simply put: I don’t think Apollo Crews deserves the Intercontinental Title yet. Yes, he’s incredibly explosive and dynamic in the ring, and you can argue the IC Title doesn’t mean much nowadays anyway. But as a character, I don’t think he’s ready. Plus, while I may be in the minority here, I like the Intercontinental Title on Miz. Maryse has breathed a whole new life into his career. He’s worthy of the title. I’d like to see him weasel his way out of at least one more title defense. Crews can afford to chase for another month.

PREDICTION: The Miz

New Day vs. Gallows & Anderson, WWE Summerslam 2016WWE TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The New Day (c) vs. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson

It’s time. The New Day won the belts at Summerslam last year, now they drop them at Summerslam this year. It’s a nice circle. Plus, Gallows and Anderson have been ready for a couple of months now.

I can only assume Big E. will be back for this match. You never know just how much a guy brings to an act until he’s not there. His energy is sorely missed, as are his dance moves.

PREDICTION: Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson

WWE Summerslam 2016, Rusev, Roman ReignsWWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
Rusev (c) vs. Roman Reigns

Prior to Monday, I’d have given this match to Roman. But they had him pin Rusev in the main event that night. Why go ahead and do that unless Rusev were somehow walking out of Summerslam with the belt? Then again, that’s logical thinking. Logic isn’t always WWE’s strong point…

But why even do that match as the Raw main event? Because they didn’t have any better ideas? Maybe. But from a booking standpoint, what does pinning Rusev do? It keeps Roman looking strong. We all know how much they love that. So even if Rusev somehow gets out with the title via a disqualification, as I think he will, he still doesn’t pin Roman. That way Roman can move on to bigger things without losing any face, and Rusev gets a little but of a rub from having worked a pay per view match with Roman. Everybody wins…kinda.

PREDICTION: Roman Reigns via disqualification

WWE Summerslam 2016, Sasha Banks vs. CharlotteWWE WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Sasha Banks (c) vs. Charlotte

I told somebody on Twitter recently that I don’t see this match topping what Sasha and Charlotte did on Raw last month. I can’t imagine they’ll have as much time on this show. Plus, they really had lightning in a bottle that night, and we had the thrill of Sasha winning the belt for the first time. In a way, this match feels like an afterthought.

But it never pays to underestimate any of the “Four Horsewomen” of NXT (the others being Becky Lynch and Bayley). So I’ll be interested to see what they pull out of the hat. Either way, I see Sasha continuing on as champ, and Charlotte moving on to other things.

PREDICTION: Sasha Banks

WWE, Summerslam 2016, John Cena, AJ StylesJohn Cena vs. AJ Styles

I’m surprised a one-on-one rematch took this long. These two wrestled at Money in the Bank, so it’s been about two months. I’m amazed WWE waited this long to do it. Not a bad thing, just a surprise.

This one’s a toss-up, really. It’s more about the performance than who wins. Cena has very little to gain by beating Styles at this point. But I can see WWE wanting him to get a win at one of their biggest shows of the year. So how much does Styles have to lose? Well, he lost to Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania, and he lost both of his matches to Roman Reigns in the spring. And yet, here he is. Whether they go back for a third match or not, both men are winners here.

PREDICTION: John Cena

Dean Ambrose, WWE Summerslam, 2016, Dolph ZigglerWWE HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler

I smell a heel turn.

So you’re Dolph Ziggler. You finally get a shot at the WWE Title after years of toiling in the midcard, and you lose. You blew it. Dean Ambrose was right. You’re not as good as you say you are. So what do you do as your reality comes crashing down around you? You snap. You throw the rules out the window and you attack the champion with no mercy (which happens to be the name of an upcoming pay per view). What was a feud about professional pride has become very, very personal.

WWE is in need of strong heels right now. And Ziggler’s been a babyface for a long time now. Just saying.

PREDICTION: Dean Ambrose

Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, WWE Summerslam 2016MATCH TO CROWN FIRST WWE UNIVERSAL CHAMPION:
Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor

Well that didn’t take long, did it? Finn Balor has been on the main roster about a month, and he’s already in the semi-main event of Summerslam. In a heavyweight title match, no less.

There’s a good chance these guys steal the show, much like Rollins did with John Cena last year. As for who wins, I say we go for it. Put the belt on Balor. With the roster now split, this company needs more stars. Finn Balor hasn’t been a product of start and stop pushes, or 50/50 booking, or anything that’s plagued guys like Ziggler, Bray Wyatt, Sheamus, the Miz, Rusev, and so many others. He’s a fresh face. A fresh face who can wrestle like the dickens, and has this “Demon King” persona that’s sports entertainment personified. So I say let’s go for it. Place him in a role of significance from the start, so people know he’s a big deal. Raw has needed a shake-up for a long time. And this could be the start of a big shake-up. Let’s do this.

PREDICTION: Finn Balor

WWE Summerslam 2016, Brock Lesnar, Randy OrtonBrock Lesnar vs. Randy Orton

Of course this is the main event. Why wouldn’t it be? Brock Lesnar is one of two genuine megastars they have on that roster, and he only wrestles a few times a year. Plus, Brock is in the news right now for the doping scandal. I’m really intrigued as to how the New York crowd will react to him. The build for this match has been underwhelming. But hopefully the end product will be worth it.

Brock said it himself: “Randy Orton isn’t the guy to beat Brock Lesnar.” Orton is a star, and this is very much a marquee match. But Brock hasn’t been pinned or made to submit since Wrestlemania XXIX. (Last year’s Summerslam finish doesn’t count. He passed out.) The man who broke The Undertaker’s streak has a little streak of his own going. Randy Orton isn’t ending that streak.

On the subject of streaks, does Bill Goldberg have any big plans next spring? Just curious.

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar