WWE Raw Ponderings: Brock Lesnar’s Big Announcement

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

And so the plot thickens…

Roughly 48 hours after Brock Lesnar was challenged by new UFC Champion Jon Jones, Paul Heyman announces on Raw that Brock will leave WWE if he doesn’t retain the Universal Title at Summerslam. They didn’t mention Jones or UFC. But a good portion of the audience undoubtedly knew about it.

Obviously this is meant to plant yet another seed of doubt as to who’s walking out of Summerslam with the belt. While there’s been plenty of talk lately about Brock potentially making another return to the octagon, I don’t think this confirms anything. Even if he loses the title, who’s to say he leaves WWE altogether? He could bow out for awhile and then come back around the Royal Rumble or Wrestlemania. We saw something similar when he fought Mark Hunt.

Either way, a Jon Jones vs. Brock Lesnar fight seems likely. It’s just a question of when. And if/when it does happen, that means Brock remains a hot commodity. All the more reason for WWE to continue pursuing him in the years to come.

Ponderings From Raw:

Kurt Angle opens the show in his hometown of Pittsburgh. Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman interrupt to make the aforementioned announcement. Remember when Kurt did that backstage segment with Enzo and Cass? The one that ended with, “That’s not how you spell soft…” I wish we could see more of that Kurt Angle. The cheesy all-American boy he played when he made his debut in 1999. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the guy we’re getting nowadays. But the “vintage” style Kurt Angle would be much more fun to watch. At least once in awhile.

The Hardy Boyz def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. A three-team brawl erupts with the Revival afterward. After the show, the Hardys dropped yet another tease for the “Broken” stuff on Twitter. We’ve been waiting on this for months. All I can say is I’ll believe it when I see it.

Akira Tozawa, Rich Swann, and Cedric Alexander def. Ariya Daivari, TJP, and Tony Nese. Hey! The ropes weren’t purple! Are they finally scrapping that?

I wouldn’t want to take that Senton from Tozawa. He gets some mad height on that.

Jason Jordan appears on Miz TV. This was about what I expected it to be. Miz baiting Jordan into a confrontation, doing most of the heavy lifting in terms of mic work. Right now, Jordan is where you’d imagine he’d be in terms of his mic skills. He hasn’t had much of a chance to talk on front of a national audience. He’s inexperienced. But that doesn’t mean he’s doomed. Let’s give him a little time. Scrap that new entrance theme, though.

Seth Rollins def. Sheamus. Dean Ambrose saves Rollins from a beatdown. Speaking of entrance music, they added that little “Burn it down!” lyric to the opening of Rollins’ theme. Seth has needed a song with more punch to it for a long time. This is hardly the solution. But it’s a start.

Bray Wyatt cuts a promo on Finn Balor. Balor attacks, sending Bray reeling. About three quarters of the way through Bray’s promo, I hit the fast-forward button. As usual, they let him go way too long. As with a lot of Bray’s programs these days, this one is about hope and heroism. The fans look to up to Balor and cheer for him, so Bray wants to put him down. I’ll say this much: It means a little more after Bray beat Seth Rollins at Great Balls of Fire. And yet it feels like he’s been playing this same tune for months. A lot of people weren’t happy with the Bray Wyatt/Randy Orton program. But at least there was some good storytelling there.

Roman Reigns def. Samoa Joe and Braun Strowman in a Triple-Threat Match. Give them credit. They made this feel like a big main event. Parts of it had a pier 6 brawl vibe that I’d love to see more of at Summerslam.

The match itself was decent. All three guys came off strong at different points. Wasn’t a fan of Joe being pinned by Reigns. But better him than Strowman. Also, Joe has beaten Reigns twice. So it’s not like it kills him.

They made a point to remind us a few different times on this show that Roman retired the Undertaker. I’ve talked before about how that does nothing to endear him to the die-hards that hate him. Then again, it’s not like he’s going to win those folks over anyway….

Elias def. Kalisto. Elias Samson lost his last name some time last week. Thus, he’s now simply Elias. For the past 20 years or so, WWE has too many guys without last names. But this sort of fits with the vibe of his character. So fair enough, I guess.

Hey, remember when Kalisto beat Braun Strowman in a Dumpster Match? Me either.

Bayley def. Nia Jax via count-out. Damn, this show needs more women. How many times have we seen Bayley against Nia Jax? How about Bayley against Emma? Would they dare actually let her be competitive out there?

Still, not a bad match. They protected Nia, and made Bayley look like the underdog challenger chopping down the big tree.

Big Cass def. The Big Show via disqualification. What the hell was Enzo saying about bananas? Oye…

Corey Graves said something about Enzo not being a great tipper. Considering the story that came out last week about Enzo at a strip club, that’s a fairly hot line.

Based on how much time they had left when the entrances started, it was clear we weren’t getting a lengthy one here. And that’s fine. This was obviously a Summerslam appetizer. After seeing what Show did with Braun Strowman, I was actually looking forward to this one. What we got didn’t exactly break the ring. But being in there with Show gives Cass some valuable credibility.

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A Shield Reunion Looms, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The Twitterverse hasn’t been kind to Sunday’s Battleground pay per view. There are a variety of reasons why. But one of the prominent ones has to do with the big guy on the right. The Great Khali is back.

Oh…great.

The seven-foot giant helped Jinder Mahal retain the WWE Championship in a Punjabi Prison Match. This actually makes sense from a story perspective. The Punjabi Prison Match was indeed created for Khali. Plus, in the build-up to Battleground, Jinder called Khali his hero. Admittedly, it was a surprise to see the big guy lumber out there. But it’s difficult to even articulate in English how little I want to see Khali wrestle again. Even WWE themselves have joked about how limited his in-ring skills are. Beyond chopping and bear-hugging, that is.

WWE apparently brought Khali in because of his popularity with the Indian market. They want Jinder to “get the rub” off him, so that WWE Network subscriptions go up in India. Fair enough, I guess. I do like the idea of an Indian faction. Khali could ideally serve the role of a bodyguard for Mahal, with the Singh Brothers finally becoming part of the Smackdown Tag Team Division.

Still, I can’t say Khali’s return gets me any more excited to watch Smackdown. Actually, it’s the opposite. If anything, I might be more inclined to fast-forward through the Jinder Mahal segments. Khalil’s segments were tough to get through before. So putting him with your new heel champion? Not the move I would have made…

Ponderings From Raw:

Kurt Angle announces Brock Lesnar will defend the Universal Championship against Roman Reigns, Samoa Joe, and Braun Strowman in a Fatal Four-Way Match at Summerslam. A brawl ensues between the challengers. This was the right move. Amidst all the buzz out there right now about Brock possibly going back to the UFC next year, having these three in there just ups the speculation about him dropping the belt. As was the case with Wrestlemania XXXI, they can have Brock lose the title without being pinned. Perhaps more importantly, this match has a great “Who’s the man?” vibe to it. Any of the four of them could walk away with the title.

Everybody had great intensity here. Loved Joe interrupting Angle’s exit. Roman has such a great smugness to him. He’d make such a great heel. But admittedly, part of me respects that kind of attitude from a babyface perspective…

Somebody posted a gif on Twitter of Strowman chucking one of those “security guards” out of the ring. Holy crap. The dude flew over the ropes and landed flat on his back. Spot of the night, right there.

Elias Samson def. Finn Balor in a No-Disqualification Match. Bray Wyatt gives the assist, hitting Balor with Sister Abigail. It’s amazing what a little bit of blood can do. I haven’t been to into these Balor/Samson matches. But after the nasty gash that guitar shot left in Balor’s head last week, I was looking forward to this one. It looked like they were really laying it in out there, too.

You know, now that Reigns vs. Lesnar may not be happening at Wrestlemania, I can think of one guy who never lost that Universal Title.

Big Cass def. Enzo Amore. So after the match, Big Show comes out. As he’s about to get in the ring, Cass has Enzo by the head, and is threatening to snap his neck. Well, death threats are one way to get over as a heel…

Nia Jax def. Emma. Emma has essentially been a jobber since she’d come back. I’d love to know how much of that has to do with the Emmalina persona not working out.

Nia Jax gets a lot of crap from “smart fans.” But that rolling Senton was awesome.

Akira Tozawa calls out Ariya Daivari, but gets Neville instead. Daivari lays out both. I was shocked as hell to see Daivari not only beat up Tozawa, but Neville as well. When Daivari first started showing up on Raw, it didn’t seem like he could get a win to save his life. Now this is happening. Pretty cool. But as long as Neville is in the Cruiserweight Division, he’s the top heel. Bar none. I shudder to think what it would look like without him.

Bayley def. Sasha Banks to earn a title match against Alexa Bliss at Summerslam.  In a backstage interview earlier in the night, Alexa called Sasha and Bayley “Team Gag Reflex.” That’s a good line. And when it comes to some of their promos, an accurate one.

But Sasha and Bayley got to the dance because of what they bring between the ropes, often against one another. This was the most prominent Sasha/Bayley match we’ve seen since they came to the main roster, and we got to see some of that magic. Portions of this were really smooth. Great to hear the crowd get into things as they cranked up the intensity in the second half. Really good match.

So now we’ve got another Bayley vs. Alexa Bliss match for Summerslam. Hopefully they resist the temptation to add Sasha to the match, and give us yet another multi-woman match on a pay per view. If Sasha does show up at Summerslam, she needs to accidentally cost Bayley the match. Or perhaps not accidentally?

Jason Jordan def. Curt Hawkins. Very explosive performance from Jordan. Crowd wasn’t buying much of this. But they’re still establishing Jordan as a single. Let’s see what happens when he gets something with some meat to it.

The Revival def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. The Hardys attack Dash and Dawson afterward. Anderson and Gallows cut what seemed to be a babyface promo before this match. I’m game for a face turn. If you’re into wrestling podcasts, you know Luke Gallows is extremely likable. They’ve also got a natural cool factor. Let’s see if they’re still going for cheers next week.

Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose def. The Miz, Curtis Axel, and Bo Dallas. Rollins attempts a show of solidarity with Ambrose after the match. Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas in a Raw main event in 2017. Do you believe in miracles?

They made a point to show Sheamus and Cesaro watching this match backstage. Are we about to see Rollins and Ambrose going for the tag straps?

Great image at the end. Rollins goes for the signature Shield fist bump, but Ambrose leaves him hanging. I’m still digging this. This is the first time I’ve really been into babyface Seth Rollins. While the Shield reunion is clearly being done to benefit Roman, Seth may be the one who benefits the most in the end.

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Kurt Angle’s Big Reveal, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Dixie Carter made her WWE TV debut last week…sort of.

Carter was briefly shown on last week’s WWE 24 special about Kurt Angle’s return to the company. She didn’t get tons of screen time. But there she was. They even listed her as “former president, tna wrestling.” This wasn’t exactly Eric Bischoff showing up on Raw. But it was a moment, and about as surreal as it gets in the modern era.

People love to dump on Carter for being naive about the wrestling business. Some would even say downright stupid. But give her credit: She kept TNA afloat for all those years. As such, guys like AJ Styles and Samoa Joe became stars on the national level.

This olive branch extended to Carter by WWE opens a few doors. TNA has undergone two name-changes since her departure in January, and the company is obviously under new management. The Dixie Carter/TNA era is effectively over. If that means WWE is now willing to acknowledge that promotion’s existence, Carter could be a valuable asset to the WWE Network. They obviously don’t have the rights to any footage. But in future documentaries or specials, they can bring her in to add her perspective on the careers of former TNA athletes that have since become WWE stars. Styles and Joe obviously come to mind. But you’ve also got guys like Bobby Roode, Eric Young, and Drew McIntyre. You can even throw the Hardys in there. Especially if they wind up getting the “Broken” IP.

There’s also been speculation about Carter possibly being an on-air character for WWE. That’s more far-fetched, if you ask me. I’ll say it again: Dixie Carter is not Eric Bischoff. When Bischoff showed up on Raw, most of the audience knew who he was. He’d been one of the faces of a nationally televised war for ratings supremacy. Hell, WWE had referenced him on television multiple times. He was ruthless. He was cunning. He was the enemy. That’s why it was so shocking to see him walk out on Raw.

Dixie Carter doesn’t have much of that intrigue. Was she the enemy? Maybe. But was she ever a threat? Not really. Could she get heat? Sure. But probably not enough to justify bringing her in for a recurring role. What’s more, WWE would have to do a lot more explaining to the uninitiated about who this woman is, what TNA was, etc.

Maybe I’m wrong. But I wouldn’t bet on it. I respect Dixie Carter more than a lot of “smart” fans do. But lets not classify her as this major get for WWE. She could do some cool things with them. But most of them involve being interviewed for WWE Network specials. Let’s keep this in perspective, people.

Ponderings From Raw:

Dean Ambrose calls out the Miz and the Miztourage. Seth Rollins apologizes for betraying the Shield. Miz and his henchmen destroy Ambrose and Rollins. I liked this. Rollins apologizes to Ambrose for stabbing him in the back and breaking up the Shield, and then offers him a free shot with the steel chair. It’s probably the most babyface thing Rollins has done since they shoehorned him into that role almost a year ago.

But did you see what they did here? They’re starting already. I talked about this a few months ago. At it’s core, this Shield thing is going to be about getting Roman Reigns cheered. That’s what they were looking for when they brought out Miz, Curtis Axel, and Bo Dallas. They wanted you to chant for Roman to come out and make the save. I’ll give them this, there were “Roman!” chants. They weren’t loud, but they were there.

Bayley def. Alexa Bliss. Seeing these two in the ring brought back bad memories. As such, I pretty much tuned this one out. It doesn’t help that we’ve seen so many combinations of Bayley/Alexa Bliss/Sasha Banks/Nia Jax in the last several months. This division desperately needs some new blood.

Jack Gallagher and Mustafa Ali def. Brian Kendrick and Drew Gulak. I didn’t recognize Drew Gulak. He’s really changed up his look since the last time I saw him. But as I don’t watch 205 Live, that was probably awhile ago…

Enzo Amore cuts a promo on Big Cass. Cass comes out, winds up in a fight with the Big Show. There’s been a lot of buzz lately about Enzo having heat backstage. But the fans are still reacting to him. In the end, that’s what matters.

Wasn’t a fan of Enzo opening this promo with the line about Newton’s third law. Pretty far out of character. A lot of thus stuff sounded out of character, actually. Not what he was saying, but how he was saying it. As opposed to his emotional promo two weeks ago, this sounded much more scripted.

Based on what we saw Show do with Braun Strowman several weeks ago, I’d say Cass is in good hands here. Cass may not have the acting chops quite yet, but they may end up overachieving in the ring.

Finn Balor def. Elias Samson via disqualification. Bray Wyatt appears on the tron, announces he’s coming for Balor. YES! A guitar shot from Samson! A shot which apparently left a nasty gash in Balor’s head. Ouch. I’ve seen a lot of those guitar shots over the years, and it seems like the idea is to hit the top of the head. Samson hit Balor like he was swinging a baseball bat.

It looks like we’re finally getting Bray Wyatt vs. Finn Balor at Summerslam. Bray has a little bit of momentum after beating Seth Rollins at Great Balls of Fire. But I suspect they built him up to have Finn Balor, as the Demon, slay him. Fair enough, I suppose. At least they waited awhile before bringing the Demon back.

Ariya Daivari def. Akira Tozawa when Titus O’Neil stops the match. Tozawa might not have enjoyed having Titus out there with him. But I sure as hell did. He’s no Bobby Heenan. But he’s a lot of fun.

Kurt Angle announces he fathered an illegitimate child: Jason Jordan. Huh. Vince McMahon’s “illegitimate child” was a pre-established WWE star, and now it turns out Kurt Angle’s is too. What an amazing coincidence that is.

There’ve been rumors abound these last few weeks about this big Kurt Angle revelation being an illegitimate child storyline. One of the obvious candidates for such a role was Chad Gable of American Alpha. Well, they were close…

With Jordan now on Raw and Gable still on Smackdown, this is obviously the end of American Alpha for the time being. That’s a bit sad, as that team never became quite what they could have been on the main roster. But both guys have a lot of potential as singles wrestlers. Jordan isn’t necessarily great from a charisma standpoint. But this is obviously a great opportunity for him. If he can put the pieces together, he could wind up being truly amazing.

The Revival def. The Hardy Boyz. How long do you think it’ll be before they have to turn the Revival babyface? What’s not to like about them? Especially if you’re an older fan.

Matt and Jeff Hardy have now lost to Sheamus and Cesaro, Gallows and Anderson, and the Revival. This losing streak seems tailor made for a descent into that “Broken” madness. The Hardys and Anthem have different stories as far as a deal being reached. So whether it actually happens is still a guessing game. But one can always hope.

Braun Strowman decimates Roman Reigns and Samoa Joe, breaking up their match to determine the top contender for SummerslamNot the best match these two have had. But they got the finish right. I imagine we’re now headed for a Fatal Four-Way Match for the Universal Title at Summerslam. I’m just grateful it’s not another damn Fatal Five-Way…

Samoa Joe is almost 300 lbs. So seeing Strowman pick him up for a Powerslam was damn impressive. Seeing anyone pick this guy up is damn impressive.

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Jinder Mahal: WWE Champion, Plus Ponderings From Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

See, this is why you always go with your gut.

Going into Backlash, my gut told me Jinder was winning the belt. But I took the common sense approach and predicted Randy Orton would retain. I figured Jinder hadn’t been built up enough yet, and needed another month or so before getting the title.

But I’d forgotten one very important thing. This is pro wrestling. Common sense has little to no place. Ergo Jinder Mahal, mere months after being a jobber, defeats Randy Orton in the main event of a pay per view to win the WWE Championship.

Jinder was on Talk is Jericho last week, and talked about how Vince McMahon has taken tremendous interest in his character, even personally working on his verbiage. That should have been the giveaway. Between Jinder’s physical transformation, the idea of appealing to the Indian market, and him becoming Vince’s new project, the writing was on the wall.

I maintain that Jinder Mahal’s character isn’t at a level that merits being champion. But that’s not to say he can’t get there. I’ve been continually intrigued by this group he’s formed with the Singh Brothers. It’s something different, and I’m very interested in what it could become, if not necessarily what it is now.

That’s really the bottom line as far as Jinder is concerned. He’s not there yet, but he could be. He can grow into the role. The evil foreign menace is Pro Wrestling 101. If McMahon’s interest in Jinder maintains, and he gets a little more comfortable, he and the Singh Brothers could have something special here.

On the other hand, this could all be a flash in the pan. But the question of whether or not that’ll be the case has renewed some of my waned interest in Smackdown. At the very least, they’ve accomplished that.

Ponderings From Raw:

Bray Wyatt opens the show, but is interrupted by Roman Reigns. Kurt Angle makes a match between the two. Bray’s big monologue was frustrating.  I’d have stuck with the whole “I alone can slay the beast” narrative, and had less of the “I can save you all” stuff. Sometimes he just goes too far into the metaphorical. Also: Stop laughing, idiot.

The “It’s my yard” stuff is cool. But every time Roman says that, he grates on the people who grew up with and loved the Undertaker. And there are a lot of us.

Roman Reigns def. Bray Wyatt via disqualification when Samoa Joe interferes. Seth Rollins attacks Joe. Kind of a blah match. Though I admit, seeing the four of them in the ring together piqued my interest a bit for Extreme Rules. If they’re allowed to really play up the no holds barred elements, this match could end up being really good.

Akira Tozawa def. Ariya Daivari. Brian Kendrick watches and comments from backstage. We don’t see nearly enough of Tozawa on Raw. He’s one of the few guys in that Cruiserweight Division that doesn’t feel played out or overexposed. Even Austin Aries has suffered. After failing to capture the magic of the Cruiserweight Classic for so many months, it’s like the whole division has a stink on it.

While Tozawa himself seems to be fine, I’m amazed this story with Kendrick is still going on. No wonder 205 Live is so dead right now.

“The Drifter” Elias Samson makes his Raw wrestling debut, defeats Dean Ambrose via disqualification when Miz interferes. Not a bad start for Samson. Hell of a leaping knee strike to Ambrose. The character is still a little iffy for me. But they’re easing him in. We’ll see how things look in a couple of weeks.

Enzo Amore is attacked by a mystery assailant. Somebody get Enzo some damn pepper spray or something. He’s always getting attacked before he gets the chance to wrestle. Or at least tell Cass not to let the little bastard of his sight for awhile.

Paul Heyman interrupts Finn Balor’s pre-match promo, wishes him luck at Extreme RulesBalor vows to beat Brock Lesnar. We were overdue for a Heyman promo. They shouldn’t use him every week. But while Brock is gone, we need him every so often to represent the champion’s interests.

This segment is essentially an assurance that, at least for now, WWE plans to put Balor over at Extreme Rules. That’s good news as far as I’m concerned. Some dismiss the idea of a Finn Balor/Brock Lesnar match as not being believable. But this is the same company that just made Jinder Mahal one of their top champions. The key is not to stretch the audience’s suspension of disbelief too far. I don’t see that being an issue here. How good did Brock vs. CM Punk ended up being?

Finn Balor def. Karl Anderson. From bell to bell, Balor always looks like a star. But Karl Anderson is so underrated. He’s spent so much time as the fall guy for his tag team that people don’t realize just how talented he is. It’s always nice to see his singles game.

They’ve been dancing around this Bullet Club stuff for a few weeks. I’d love to see a program between Balor, Gallows, and Anderson. But considering Gallows and Anderson’s status as a tag team, and how big a singles star Finn Balor is, would that work?

Sasha Banks def. Alicia Fox. There’s been some buzz about Sasha losing to Alicia last week because Vince McMahon isn’t high on her, and thinks she’s injury prone. I don’t know that I buy that. I wasn’t happy seeing Alicia beat Sasha either. But this just comes off as them needing to find something for Sasha to do while she’s not in the title picture.

In a pre-taped promo, Goldust declares: “The Golden age is back.” As a longtime fan, I loved this. This is exactly how they should be using Goldust. Let people see just how unique this character can be. He’s so more than just a dude in makeup.

Kalisto def. Apollo Crews. A little surprised to see Kalisto get another win here. He might actually want to take Titus O’Neil up on becoming part of the Titus Brand. He could try and leach some of Titus’ charisma.

Matt Hardy def. Sheamus to decide the stipulation for the title match at Extreme Rules. The Tag Champions will defend in a Steel Cage Match. Corey Graves called Cesaro the “Swiss Cyborg” during this match. I actually like that name bettie than Swiss Superman. They should use that.

I thought we’d get another Ladder Match with these two at the pay per view. But a Cage Match changes things up, and hopefully it’ll leave these guys with less wear and tear.

Austin Aries def. Tony Nese. Neville to defend against Aries in a Submission Match at Extreme Rules. Look for Aries’ knee to be part of the story at Extreme Rules. I’d love to see him get the belt. But if he doesn’t, I say we go to Akira Tozawa as the next challenger for Neville.

Alexa Bliss def. Mickie James, wallops her with a kendo stick. Great facial expressions from Alexa here. I like that they’re playing up the damage a kendo stick can do. I’m still not a fan of the Kendo Stick on a Pole stipulation, but at least they’re making the stick mean something.

Bray Wyatt and Samoa Joe def. Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins. Can we get another Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe match? Those guys are both dynamic, explosive, and they hit hard. Something about those Samoans…

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Triple H Annihilates Seth Rollins, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

WWE announced Monday that Jack Swagger has been granted his release. The real-life Jake Hager had apparently been looking to get out for awhile, even bringing it up on Chael Sonnen’s podcast earlier this month.

Hager was signed to a WWE development deal in 2006. So he spent about a decade with WWE. He had a run that a lot of guys would be jealous of. The company clearly saw a lot of potential in him, perhaps as someone in the Kurt Angle mold. They did their best over the years to establish him as a top guy. Had the dice fallen differently, it might have worked. But fate just didn’t seem to be on Hager’s side in that respect.

Hager is a very good wrestler. But when it was time to talk, he was in trouble. He has a little bit of a lisp, and it was noticeable whenever he got on the mic. It undercut the wrestling stud vibe they were going for with him, and it became tough to take him seriously. They had him win Money in the Bank, and later made him World Heavyweight Champion on Smackdown. But it just didn’t click.

They seemingly found an answer in 2013, when Dutch Mantel came in to manage Swagger. As the character Zeb Colter, he essentially became what Paul Heyman is to Brock Lesnar. Dutch cut tremendous promos, weaving in contemporary political elements, most notably immigration. They even got a touch of mainstream buzz over the character. Swagger was put against Alberto Del Rio for the World Heavyweight Title at Wrestlemania XXIX, and seemed primed to win it…

And then he got arrested for DUI and drug possession (marijuana). He and Mantel remained together, but it was essentially over as far as Hager being a top guy.

But Hager’s career doesn’t have to end here. Like Drew Galloway, Cody Rhodes, and so many others who’ve left the WWE umbrella, he can thrive on the independent scene. I also wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see him show up in TNA in a few months, as his old pal Dutch is now back on the creative team there.

Brighter days are ahead for Jake Hager, and I commend him for having the guts to step outside the safety of the WWE bubble.

Ponderings From Raw:

Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar address Bill Goldberg. Herman’s prediction: “Down goes Goldberg!” That “down goes Goldberg” line is something they’ll be returning to in the weeks to come. It’s something Corey Graves, as the heel announcer, can come back to at the event itself. It’s a great line.

Note that Heyman also put Goldberg over, referring to his latest run as “the greatest championship comeback in sports entertainment history.”

Sasha Banks def. Dana Brooke. After taking abuse from Charlotte post-match, Dana attacks her. Dana has gotten a lot of bad press these past few weeks for her in-ring skills. Looking at this match, I can’t say it’s unfounded. But the real-life Ashley Sebera has only been wrestling since 2014. She’s still trying to learn. But she’s doing it on national television. It takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there like that. Having said that, she could really use another run on NXT. She can re-establish herself there, and come back later for a fresh start. Perhaps that’s where this turn is headed. I doubt it, but one can always hope.

Brian Kendrick and Tony Nese def. Akira Tozawa and TJ Perkins. TJ Perkins had a good match with Shinsuke Nakamura on NXT last week, and he was tremendous in this match. But this guy needs a heel turn. He’s looked like a loser for months, and he’s officially grating. I wouldn’t mind seeing he and Tozawa in a program.

Kevin Owens vows to take Chris Jericho’s US Title at Wrestlemania, and leave nothing left but the “Tears of Jericho.” Owens and Samoa Joe get themselves disqualified in a match with Jericho and Sami Zayn. Another really good promo from Owens. In classic heel fashion he justified his actions, believing himself to be right. He accused Jericho of wanting to get close to him just to get close to the Universal Championship. I love when bad guys do that. No one really believes they’re evil. We all usually believe we’re doing what’s right.

This Owens/Joe team-up did nothing to dispel the rumors of them forming a faction alongside Triple H. I’m not sure you need Triple H on TV every week in a group. But the prospect of Owens and Joe together consistently remains ntriguing.

I wouldn’t have had Owens and Jericho touch here. At the very least, I’d have limited their contact to that super kick Owens gave him. But then again, Owens obviously beat the hell out of him at the now infamous Festival of Friendship. So I guess we’ve been there and done that.

Big Show to compete in Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. They did a “New Day Talks” segment, which was supposed to be their take on a talk show segment. It ended up with Titus O’Neil being mad at Big Show because he wasn’t in the WWE/Jetsons movie that comes out this week. Wow. What compelling TV…

But what I got out of this segment was the line about Show getting the opportunity to be a two-time winner of the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Ouch. I guess that makes it official: Shaq is out of Wrestlemania. That’s a rotten break for Show. He supposedly spent months preparing for that match, getting himself in the best shape of his career, only to be stuck in the Battle Royal again this year.

Cass had some really nice fire in that pre-match promo. He still had some that deer-in-the-headlights look going on. But he made me believe.

Sheamus and Cesaro vs. Enzo and Cass goes to a no-contest after Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson interfere. Not much suspense to this match. Earlier in the show, Anderson and Gallows cut that promo about taking the spotlight for themselves. The finish to this one was pretty obvious at that point.

As if it wasn’t already pretty clear what the match is going to be at Wrestlemania. And of course a short time later it was made official: a Triple-Threat Tag Team Match for the Raw Tag Team Titles.

The Undertaker’s trademark gong goes off during Roman Reigns’ match with Jinder Mahal. Reigns calls the Undertaker out. Shawn Michaels surprises him. Reigns: The Undertaker retired you, and I’m the guy that’s gonna retire him.” Well, they went there. Let the speculation about the Undertaker’s retirement continue. This is already so damn emotional. Damn…this could really be it…

If this does turn out to be Undertaker’s retirement match, how fitting is it that it’s Shawn Michaels who planted that seed in Roman’s mind. Nice continuity there.

Austin Aries def. Ariya Daivari. Austin Aries wrestling on Raw. By God, what a time to be alive.

Bayley def. Nia Jax via DQ. Couldn’t muster up much enthusiasm for this one. We’ve seen this one so much. I dig the larger story they’re telling here, though. The idea is that Bayley can’t win big matches without Sasha’s help, so all these women are worthy of title shots. I expect Nia to be added to Wrestlemania in short order.

Mick Foley refuses to fire someone by order of Stephanie McMahon. Triple H comes out to belittle him. Seth Rollins makes the save, but the Game destroys the would-be “King Slayer.” I loved this segment. I really did. Everybody was perfectly in character, and it made perfect sense. This was great drama.

Seeing Mick and Triple H in the ring together was a nice nostalgia trip. They’ve always had a great lovable hero meets cunning villain chemistry. Foley was good on the mic here, too. He stumbled a bit, but he was in the zone. He hasn’t had an easy time in this role. But I was proud of him tonight.

Didn’t expect Rollins to be on the losing end of that confrontation with Hunter. But it makes sense when you stop to think about it. Seth’s knee has a big question mark over it. So now we’re left guessing.

Those CM Punk chants aren’t going away, are they? They’re following Steph, in particular. Considering the adverse effect that character has had on this show in recent years, I’m not complaining. I’m a Punk fan, after all.

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

Bayley’s Big Moment, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

Bray Wyatt, WWE Elimination Chamber, February 12, 2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Bray Wyatt had a good night at Elimination Chamber, as many of us expected. He won the titular match, pinning both John Cena and AJ Styles in the process, to take home his first WWE Heavyweight Title.

This was overdue. Despite his often convoluted promos, the real-life Windham Rotunda has made the Bray Wyatt character an intriguing and valuable commodity from day one. He deserves the chance to be more than a transitional champion. The John Cena/Undertaker Wrestlemania match was allegedly nixed because Vince McMahon wants to play for the long-term instead of the short-term. I’d like to think they wouldn’t put the belt on a newer star, just to turn around a month later and give back to someone who’s been a made man in that company for 15 years now.

The match itself turned out very well, as did the new Chamber structure itself. It seems a little safer, with the metal grate outside the ropes covered up, and more room above the pods. Ambrose and Styles in particular were really dynamic in there. I was surprised to see Corbin rolled up and pinned the way he was by Ambrose. But considering he wasn’t winning, they protected him as well as they could. I’m encouraged by the early sign of a match between the two at Wrestlemania. And some seeds were indeed planted for a mixed tag match involving John Cena, Nikki Bella, The Miz, and Maryse.

Still no apparent dance partner for AJ Styles…

Roman Reigns, WWE Raw, February 13, 2017Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson via disqualification. Full disclosure: I DVRed right through the opening segment with Steph and Roman. You’ve heard of channel-changing heat? Steph has fast-forward heat.

So Gallows and Anderson essentially throw out the rulebook, opting simply to beat the hell out of Reigns instead of win the match. Coming from them, I can respect that. But of course, Reigns gets to be the babyface that overcomes the odds by the end of the segment. Considering he would have to overcome big odds at Fastlane to beat Braun Strowman, I can respect that too. I am, however, going to start counting Superman punches during his matches. Our number here was two. But if you look at his pay per view matches, I think it can get as high as five.

Teddy Long announced for Hall of Fame Class of 2017. Long has been around for over 30 years. This is a cool honor for him. Who knows? Maybe he’ll use his Hall of Fame speech to make a tag team match, playa.

Kofi Kingston def. Bo Dallas. For the uninitiated, Bo Dallas and Bray Wyatt are actually brothers. After seeing this segment, I felt for the real-life Bo Rotunda. One night after his brother wins the WWE Championship, he’s getting beaten in what’s essentially a comedy match, which culminates with him getting cereal poured down his gullet. And to think, after the roster split they were actually trying to heat him up a little bit.

The New Day, Bo Dallas, WWE Raw, February 13, 2017The good news is, there’s hope for Bo. If they get him over to Smackdown, they can either put him with his brother, or do an Owen Hart style jealous sibling feud with the two of them. Either way, it’s time to pull that card.

Jack Gallagher def. Noam Dar. Gallagher to challenge Neville for the Cruiserweight Title at FastlaneNot much to say about this one. I noticed Dar has “No Role Model” on the back of his tights. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if next week they said “Alicia Fooooooox.” That’s basically his gimmick, right?

From a personality standpoint, Neville and Gallagher are an interesting match. I’m curious to see how their styles mesh in the ring at Fastlane.

Emma finally re-debut as Emmalina, says we’ll now see the makeover of “Emmalina to Emma.” Well, this is one way to get heat.

After months of those vignettes, I assume this is the last we’ll see of Emmalina. I’m going to withhold judgment until I see what, if anything, they do with her next week. But if they’re simply dropping the whole thing, then this whole thing has been a giant indictment of the WWE creative process. This woman sat at home for months so we could have this?

Emmalina, WWE Raw, February 13, 2017Here’s what I will say, though: When the vignettes started I was skeptical as to whether Emma could pull off a more demanding role from a speaking standpoint. But she was fine here. Granted, it only lasted a minute and a half. But she was better than I thought she would be.

Braun Strowman def. Mark Henry. Strowman and Roman Reigns go at it after the match. When they announced this match, I tweeted that it would probably be a slow one. I wasn’t wrong. But Strowman putting Henry on his shoulder for a powerslam was amazing. Strowman actually did a dropkick of sorts in this match. I didn’t mind it so much. But hopefully he doesn’t make a habit of that.

Roman hit two Superman Punches on Reigns after the match, bringing our total count for the night to four.

Samoa Joe does a sit-down interview with Michael Cole. This was a good line: “For the past 18 years, I’ve laid a path of destruction across the world. And the only reason I wasn’t here, is because they were scared of hiring me.” Though this case, “across the world” mostly means Florida.

Also a good line: “I’m not some Sami Zayn, who’s just happy to be on Raw.” Well, there’s your Fastlane match, right there. I also like the creator and destroyer stuff.

samoa-joe-wwe-raw-february-13-2017Not a good line: “…I beat ‘the Man,’ and I beat ‘the Guy.'” I get the gist of what he’s saying, but that’s just stupid writing.

Joe said in this interview that Seth Rollins would miss Wrestlemania for the second year in a row. I wouldn’t take that as confirmation of anything. If Rollins is indeed going to try and make it back for Wrestlemania, I imagine the story will be about his injury, and whether he’ll be in any shape to face Triple H.

Sami Zayn def. Rusev. Zayn fires back at Joe, resulting in Joe jumping him moments later. Zayn seems to be gradually creeping up the ladder, while Rusev is gradually creeping down. Though at least they played Sami’s win off like a shocker.

Zayn makes a fine replacement for Rollins at Fastlane. This opens up a nice opportunity for him to put on yet another show-stealing performance on pay per view, and up his stock even more.

Akira Tozawa def. Ariya Daivari. I’ve become a Tozawa fan very quickly. If Neville keeps the belt, a title match between the two of them would be something to see. Wrestlemania might be too soon, but you never know.

On the subject of the Cruiserweight Division and Wrestlemania, supposedly Austin Aries has been cleared to wrestle again. Food for thought…

Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Festival of Friendship, WWE Raw, February 13, 2017Kevin Owens turns on Chris Jericho during their “Festival of Friendship.” This was a lot of fun, and it ended with precisely the impact it needed. Jericho hammed it up wonderfully, and Owens’ reactions were great. Even the stupid hat was a nice touch.

In hindsight, the return of Gilbert was inevitable, wasn’t it?

I think Owens smashing Jericho’s head into that sign was meant to be a callback to Jericho smashing Shawn Michaels’ head through the TV several years ago. If you listen closely, you can hear Owens say, “I hate you” just before he does it. The refs putting the towel over Jericho’s head afterward added a bit of drama too. This lived up to expectations. It really did. A fantastic Raw moment.

Cesaro def. Enzo Amore. That pre-match Enzo and Cass promo was a rare miss for the two of them. It didn’t really become one until Cass said that line about marshmallows.

This one went a little long. I might lead to a top contenders match at Fastlane, with the winners facing Gallows and Anderson at Wrestemania. Enzo and Cass would get their big moment there.

Bayley def. Charlotte Flair to win the Raw Women’s Championship. This was surprising. And not necessarily in a good way.

Bayley, Champion, WWE Raw, February 13, 2017Bayley is special. I think most fans would agree with me on that one. She has a connection with the fans, young fans in particular, that you rarely see. Her first title win deserved to be a big moment. As in Wrestlemania big. Instead, they did it on Raw.

Was this a great moment? Absolutely. But it could have been so much more.

Yet again, I go back to Wrestlemania. I’m concerned about what this means for Bayley and Charlotte going into that show. They’re clearly in love with Charlotte being undefeated on pay per view. My concern is they gave the belt to Bayley just to have Charlotte win it back at Wrestlemania. Or worse, at Fastlane. Charlotte is a star, and the best female wrestler they have right now. I’d never take that away from her. But Bayley is a star too, and she deserves her time in the sun.

On the fringe here is Sasha Banks, who ran some interference in this match. It was reminiscent of what Steve Austin did to help Mankind win the title all those years ago. There’s clearly a heel turn in the works here. It’s just a matter of when. Do they have Sasha cost Bayley the title at Fastlane to lead to a multi-woman match for the belt at Wrestlemania?

Not surprisingly, the match itself was good. I wouldn’t necessarily put it up there with the matches Charlotte had with Sasha. For the second week in a row, we got a whiplash spot with Bayley, and turned it into a nice story.

Either way, congratulations are in order. Well done, miss. You deserve this moment.

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

Kurt Angle’s HOF Shocker, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

Jimmy SnukaBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

We’ll get to Kurt Angle in a bit. But first, a more somber note…

A matter of days after being cleared of murder charges, Jimmy Snuka passed away on Sunday at 73 years old. He’d been battling stomach cancer for quite some time.

It seems like how you remember Jimmy Snuka largely depends on when you became a wrestling fan. If you were a fan in the ’80s, you probably remember him as one of the first true WWF superstars. He obviously had a very distinct look, and his Superfly Splash from the top rope is one of the most fondly remembered finishes in history. He actually came into the company as a heel, managed by Captain Lou Albano. In a precursor to what we’d see generations later with guys like Steve Austin, he won fans over to the point that they had to turn him babyface. He’d go on to have a very famous Steel Cage Match with Don Muraco in Madison Square Garden that people talk about to this day.

But then there’s the other side of Snuka’s legacy, and the Nancy Argentino story. I invite you to check the story out for yourself. (Here’s Dave Meltzer and Jim Cornette discussing it in detail on Cornette’s podcast.) But to make a long story short, in 1983 Argentino, Snuka’s girlfriend at the time, died of traumatic brain injuries. There were suspicions against Snuka at the time, but he was never charged. When the case was re-examined in 2013, it was revealed that the coroner report detailed Nancy had injuries that were consistent with an abusive relationship. Snuka was later indicted on charges of third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. But on January 3 of this year, the charges were dismissed, as Snuka was deemed unfit to stand trial. That’s a controversial topic in and of itself. Over the years, he also reportedly told several stories as to how Argentino allegedly died.

jimmy-snuka-2010s

Whether or not you believe Snuka was responsible, there’s a large number of people out there that essentially see him as the OJ Simpson of professional wrestling.

Mick Foley, who was famously inspired by Snuka’s leap off the cage in Madison Square Garden, wrote a lengthy message on Snuka this week. He said he was finding comfort in the words of Bruce Springsteen: “Trust the art, not the artist.” I’m not sure how much I buy that notion. But the fact is, Snuka’s art and his legacy will stand the test of time. He inspired and opened doors for a great many. Whether he deserves all of he adulation he’s getting right now is a matter far bigger than any pro wrestling show.

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns, Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Seth Rollins, Braun Strowman and Brock Lesnar vie for dominance before Wrestlemania. Sami Zayn ambushes Strowman. Roman says he isn’t complaining about losing the US Title. Why not? You lost your belt, man! Get pissed off! That’s a page out of the John Cena playbook.

This was a nice kick-off to the show, with Lesnar adding some extra oomph. Didn’t expect to see Zayn out there. He was a nice touch.

Big Cass, WWE Raw, January 16, 2017Enzo and Cass def. Rusev and Jinder Mahal. Happy to see Enzo back in the ring. But I wasn’t any more interested in this match than I was the Cass/Jinder match from last week. I zipped through this one.

Lita is highlighted in an “extreme moment” sponsored by XXX: The Return of Xander CageUmmm…didn’t they just fire Lita?

Ariya Daivari def. Lince Dorado. Jack Gallagher joins the announce position. Dorado hits a damn good springboard stunner. Puts Cena’s old attempts at it to shame. Though I suppose it’s an unfair comparison. Cena’s a lot bulkier.

They seem to really be embracing Gallagher. I enjoyed him on commentary here. He could stand to speak up a little. But I expect that will come with time.

Footage is shown of Sasha Banks being ambushed earlier in the day by Nia Jax. I liked this. Something a little different. My only complaint is that Nia was in her ring gear. I’d rather she have been in street clothes or Tap Out gear. Something to make it look a little more spontaneous.

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, WWE Raw, January 16, 2017Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson def. Sheamus and Cesaro via disqualification in a Raw Tag Team Titles. The titles do not change hands. So Sheamus knocks the ref out on accident, another ref comes down and counts three for Anderson and Gallows, then the first ref reverses the decision and makes it a DQ. I believe this is a “Dusty finish” (as in Dusty Rhodes), where they reverse the decision after a wrestler has already been declared the winner.

Gallows and Anderson have needed rehabbing for awhile. In theory, they’re the top heel team on Raw. But they’ve been beaten so much they haven’t looked like much of a threat to Sheamus and Cesaro. This was a step in the right direction. But I still don’t see them taking the belts.

Neville attacks Rich Swann before a match. Neville has quickly become the most interesting guy in the Cruiserweight Division. It certainly helps that, unlike most of the wrestlers in that division, he was around beforehand. Decent promo afterward.

WWE Raw, January 16, 2017, Big E., Titus O'NeilBig E. def. Titus O’Neil, retaining his spot in the Royal Rumble Match. In the pre-match skit, Big E actually said to Titus: “No more showing up at our porch with fake mustache and a pizza box with a hole at the bottom.” Holy crap. If he got heat for cracking a joke about all of Charlotte’s title wins, I can’t imagine what he’s going to get for that.

Charlotte digs up Bayley’s old photos and poems. I liked this segment a lot. I feel like we got to know Bayley more here than at any point since her main roster debut. When they brought her up, hey seemed to take for granted that a lot of viewers already knew who she was. They can’t afford to do that. We made up for some lost time here.

Cedric Alexander def. Brian Kendrick. Alicia Fox comes to ringside for the match. What did Graves call that move where Kendrick’s knees went right into Kendrick’s head? A springboard slingshot moonsault? Either way, it looked like it hurt like hell. So Cedric and Alicia are broken up now, which mean she’ll likely end up with Noam Dar at some point. I’m mildly curious to see how they match up as a pair.

Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, and Braun Strowman def. Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Sami Zayn. They’re really struggling with this Raw main event scene right now. There’s this awful, boring, sameness to everything week after week. All I could think of during this match was, who cares? There were no stakes or consequences. It was just another match.

Perhaps this needs to be a rule: Having main event level guys in a match it doesn’t make it a main event.

Kurt Angle, WWEKurt Angle announced for WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2017. This one came way out of left field. There’d been some buzz about Angle coming in this year. But I think most of us assumed it would be for a big match. But this was a genuine surprise. Kudos to WWE for keeping a lid on it.

While the announcement itself is a shock, Kurt Angle going into the Hall of Fame has been an inevitability for over a decade now. It was just a matter of when. Angle was one of the greatest mat wrestlers the company ever saw. But Michael Cole really nailed it when he called him “one of the great entertainers” in WWE history. I remember watching Kurt’s first nationally televised match at Survivor Series in 1999. He was entertaining from the start. It was plain as day that he had that undefinable “it” factor that you need to be a WWE star. I would estimate he succeeded beyond anyone’s imagination.

Angle had so many great matches in WWE. But off the top of my head, these are a few essentials to check out…

– Summerslam 2001 against Steve Austin.
Wrestlemania XXI against Shawn Michaels (my personal favorite).
– Royal Rumble 2003 against Chris Benoit.
No Way Out 2006 against the Undertaker.

Congratulations, Mr. Angle. It’s an honor you truly deserve.

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