Tag Archives: Asuka

WWE Money in the Bank Predictions – Get Ready for Ronda!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

You know, I was going to write a little bit about CM Punk here. But looking at the Money in the Bank card, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover.

So let’s not waste any time. We’ve got some good ol’ fashioned speculatin’ to do…

Bobby Lashley vs. Sami Zayn

All we can hope here is that our destination is better than our journey. WWE has done Bobby Lashley no favors with this creative. There’s a difference between being soft-spoken and being a chump. From a personality standpoint, Lashley has indeed come off like a chump in this program with Sami Zayn. We need to see that this guy has another gear. We need to see that he can get angry. When Zayn mades that “Did you really serve in the military?” comment, Lashley should have rushed after him. Because he should have been pissed. Instead, this all feels wishy washy because there’s so little emotion involved.

Either way, Lashley beats Zayn here. They seem to really want Lashley to be a headline guy. But as was the case the first time around, for whatever reason they just can’t get him there.

PREDICTION: Bobby Lashley

WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The Bludgeon Brothers (c) vs. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

There’s been a decent amount of speculation lately about where the Authors of Pain have been, and why they disappeared from Raw so quickly after their debut. Supposedly WWE didn’t have any plans for them. I’m wondering if they’ve decided to move them to Smackdown so they can challenge the Bludgeon Brothers for the tag belts at some point. Right now, the only other team I can see beating them is the Bar. But I’m not exactly sold on that. You might be thinking SAnitY, but they’ve been MIA as well.

Either way, it’s not going to be Gallows and Anderson. Sorry, brothers.

PREDICTION: The Bludgeon Brothers

Daniel Bryan vs. Big Cass

Thus far, Cass’ singles push has gone strictly okay. That’s not to say there isn’t potential there. But it’s very obvious that he’s new at this. Still, as I’ve said before, he’s in good hands out there with Bryan. The right guy won when these two wrestled at Backlash. Despite the size difference, Bryan is much more experienced and a much better pure wrestler. Now I think it’s time for Cass to get a victory. Not necessarily a clean one. But something to justify a third match at Extreme Rules next month. Because that’s probably where this is going.

PREDICTION: Big Cass

Roman Reigns vs. Jinder Mahal

Watch them make this the main event…

They might actually give this one to Jinder. Like Bryan and Cass, I can see them going to Extreme Rules with this one. (Let’s just hope they don’t make it another Punjabi Prison Match.) Roman can beat him there, and then go on to face Brock for the title yet again at Summerslam. Because yes, I guarantee you that’s where they go with this. Best case scenario, it winds up being a Triple Threat Match with somebody like Seth Rollins in there too.

PREDICTION: Jinder Mahal

WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
Seth Rollins (c) vs. Elias

I haven’t been into Raw very much lately. But this Seth Rollins/Elias stuff has been a notable exception. Rollins is a hot Intercontinental Champion, and Elias would make a hell of an IC Champ in his own right. The stuff with the guitar has been simple but effective.

I don’t see them taking the title off Rollins just yet. But Extreme Rules (Notice a theme developing here?) might be another story. Elias can win the belt in some kind of gimmick match. Then, God willing, Rollins can work in the main event of Summerslam. His resurgence in popularity after that Gauntlet Match on Raw has been really cool to see. Let’s hope he can ride that wave all the way back to the top of the card.

PREDICTION: Seth Rollins

WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Carmella (c) vs. Asuka

I have no desire to see Asuka lose another match. She’s teetering dangerously close to being just another woman on the roster. That’s the opposite of what she should be. Especially after they pushed her to the moon.

But I’m not ready to see Carmella drop the title either. She’s been a lot of fun on TV these past few months. So I’m thinking this is one of those rare instances where a disqualification or count-out finish is necessary in a pay per view match. Fans balked when she pinned Charlotte at Backlash. So let’s not do that again. Have her weasel her way out, and then go to a three-way title match with Asuka and Charlotte down the road. Summerslam, maybe?

PREDICTION: Carmella

WOMEN’S MONEY IN THE BANK LADDER MATCH:
Charlotte Flair vs. Alexa Bliss vs. Sasha Banks vs. Natalya vs. Becky Lynch vs. Naomi vs. Ember Moon vs. Lana

Lana in a Ladder Match, huh? That seems needlessly risky…

In predicting these Money in the Bank matches, for me it’s always process of elimination. I always look at who either doesn’t need the briefcase or isn’t ready for it yet. Two names we can knock out immediately are Charlotte and Lana. You can seemingly give Charlotte a title shot any time, as she’s that good. Lana, on the other hand, might not even deserve to be in this match. I’m legit worried for her.

Alexa Bliss and Naomi…meh. Kind of a waste of the briefcase. I’m sure a program between Bliss and Ronda Rousey is on the horizon anyway, and it might actually be time to give Naomi a fresh coat of paint. The whole “feel the glow” thing is has gotten old. Sasha Banks doesn’t necessarily need it either, though I admit she’d at least be interesting.

Becky Lynch is always a bridesmaid and never a bride. Does she deserve to win? Yes. Will she? No. For now, that’s just her lot in life.

So it comes down to either Ember Moon or Natalya. The former is a fresh NXT call-up who’s turning a lot of heads, and could gain a lot with a big win here. On the other hand, Natalya is obviously about to work a big program with Ronda Rousey. That’s a story they have a lot of money invested in via Ronda. The briefcase would obviously be a great dramatic tool in that regard. When you look at it that way, it almost seems obvious.

PREDICTION: Natalya

LAST MAN STANDING MATCH FOR WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

At the risk of pissing off smart fans, this whole program has been a disappointment. Simply put, these guys were victims of their own hype. Not to mention bad creative. This could have been an epic back-and-forth between two of the industry’s best and brightest. Instead, it became about low blows and ball shots.

What’s more, for all the good the heel turn has done him, I don’t think Nakamura gets the belt here. I still don’t think he’s ready for it. At this point, I think we’d be better served doing Styles vs. Samoa Joe, or even Styles vs. Daniel Bryan. For now, Nakamura has missed his window. After the awesome moment he had at the Royal Rumble this year, that’s a damn shame. But like Lashley and Zayn, I think the best we can hope for here is for them to stick the landing.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

MEN’S MONEY IN THE BANK LADDER MATCH:
The Miz vs. Kevin Owens vs. Finn Balor vs. Samoa Joe vs. Bobby Roode vs. Braun Strowman vs. Rusev vs. [New Day Member]

Despite the buzz about Big E, the New Day member that joins this match is probably going to be Kofi Kingston. Given his proficiency with high spots, and how experienced he is in these matches, that seems pretty obvious. It’s almost a moot point anyway, as the New Day isn’t getting the briefcase.

Braun Strowman isn’t either, as he clearly doesn’t need it. Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe wouldn’t disappoint with it, but I don’t think they need it either.

Rusev is the Becky Lynch of this match, in that he probably should get it, but won’t. Finn Balor is almost in that same spot. It seems like he’s one or two big wins away from getting his momentum back, much like Seth Rollins did. But while I’d love to be wrong, I don’t see this for him right now.

I’d be okay with Bobby Roode winning this match if it meant they were going to tweak his character. This guy was okay as a babyface when he first came in. But these days he’s drowning. WWE seems to know that, and since he’s come to Raw it feels like they’ve been slowly inching him in that direction. If a Money in the Bank win can further that story, I’m all for it.

But in the end, I think Miz becomes the second man to win a Money in the Bank Ladder Match more than once. I’d argue he falls into the same “doesn’t need it” camp as Owens and Joe. But he’s been on such a roll lately that something extra like this could be the boost he needs to really take off into the stratosphere. The fact that he and Maryse are about to get their own reality show on USA Network doesn’t hurt his case either.

Don’t kid yourself, folks. Miz can be the centerpiece of Smackdown. In fact, I think it’s only a matter of time.

PREDICTION: The Miz

WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Nia Jax (c) vs. Ronda Rousey

They really couldn’t contain themselves, could they? And yes, I think they’re going to do it. Ronda Rousey wins the Raw Women’s Championship in her first singles match.

For a moment, set aside the fact that Rousey is about to be the first female inductee into the UFC Hall of Fame, and WWE being able to leech even more publicity off of that by giving her the belt. Ronda winning the title in her first pay per view match tells a interesting story. It gets people talking. It opens some interesting doors too. Obviously, every other woman on the roster will be able to point at Ronda and say, “She doesn’t deserve that! She didn’t earn it!” Thus, Ronda has to prove she deserves it by beating them one by one on pay per view. It’s an easy segue into matches with women like Sasha Banks, Alexa Bliss, Mickie James, and of course Natalya. Naturally, Nia Jax will get a rematch as well.

And for the record, as fans, let’s not get a stick up our ass about Ronda being champion. This whole Diva’s Revolution/Women’s Evolution thing would never have happened without her becoming a star in the UFC. That’s not to take anything away from what Charlotte, Sasha, Becky, or anyone else did to make it happen. But if Ronda Rousey doesn’t become the mega-attraction that she does, what incentive does WWE have to put them in main events? Or give them ample time at shows like Wrestlemania? Or market them the way they do now? Would it have happened eventually anyway? Maybe. But it didn’t happen until Ronda kicked that door down for everybody.

This could all be much ado about nothing, of course. Natalya, or somebody else from the Raw side, could easily cash in during this match and steal the belt before Ronda can win it. That’s another a good story possibility. But I think it happens here.

Go get ’em, Ronda.

PREDICTION: Ronda Rousey

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

Jeff Hardy

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

Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville

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

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

Samoa Joe

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

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

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

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

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

Big Cass

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

Asuka

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

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

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

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

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

Sheamus and Cesaro

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

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

R-Truth

How fitting that Truth was in a segment with Tye Dillinger. Because like Dillinger, he’s on Smackdown to be a background player.

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

Andrade “Cien” Almas and Zelina Vega

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

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

Wrestlemania Predictions: Women’s Evolution

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

I can never keep it straight. Apparently it’s the “Women’s Evolution” and not the “Women’s Revolution.” Either way, the women of WWE are as prominent a part of this year’s Wrestlemania as they’ve ever been. In addition to the battle royal on the pre-show, we’ve got both the Raw and Smackdown Women’s Titles on the line, and a major attraction involving Stephanie McMahon and Ronda Rousey.

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

WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Nia Jax

Alexa Bliss really should have dropped an F-bomb. She should have called Nia Jax fat. She’s not, of course. But you talk about a way to get heat in this ultra-PC age…

I’ve gradually become a Nia Jax fan over the last several months. I dig what she does for body positivity. I don’t know if you’d call her an unlikely babyface. But from a character standpoint, I’ve enjoyed her progression.

Obviously Nia is going to get the win and the title eventually. I’d actually like to see Alexa cheat to win here, and give Nia yet another humiliation to overcome. But given this story, I don’t know that they’re brave enough to have the hero not prevail at their big show. So congratulations will be in order for Nia Jax on this one.

PREDICTION: Nia Jax

WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Charlotte Flair (c) vs. Asuka

This match has the misfortune of being on the same card as AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura, Daniel Bryan’s big return, and most likely John Cena and the Undertaker. Thus, it’s not necessarily getting all the attention it deserves. But make no mistake about it: This is a big one. Most likely red letter day in the careers of both women. Though in all honesty, I’m not sure what kind of match we’re going to get here.

Charlotte would be a fine choice as the one to break Asuka’s streak. But it’s not going to happen here. Asuka has only been on the main roster for about six months. Her shtick is just starting to catch on with mainstream audiences. Making such a big change would be a terrible mistake. Unfortunately for Charlotte, the streak must go on.

PREDICTION: Asuka

Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle vs. Stephanie McMahon and Triple H

Do I even need to predict this one? It’s been pretty obvious from the get-go. Ronda makes Steph tap out, probably with an arm bar. The only potential variation on that is Hunter tapping to the arm bar.

I wouldn’t expect us to see a lot of Ronda in the ring. Not just because she’s so new to wrestling, but because Ronda’s fights were famously quick. Women’s revolution notwithstanding, I expect Kurt and Triple H do most of the actual wrestling, with Ronda getting the finish.

You know what I hope we see here? A taste of who Ronda was in the UFC. Bad ass Ronda Rousey. Death stare Ronda Rousey. Gladiator Ronda Rousey. It won’t be exactly the same, of course. But that’s what I want to see. That’s what everybody wants to see.

PREDICTION: Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle

More predictions to come!!!

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

Kurt Angle’s Acting Woes, Plus Ponderings From Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

You know who we really could use right about now? The Big Show.

Or at least someone like Big Show. People can say what they want about the pace he cuts in the ring. But that guy can take WWE’s scripted material and act the hell out of it. We’ve seen him break down and cry on live television. He can garner an amazing amount of sympathy for someone so big and powerful. Case in point, those segments from a few years ago when Stephanie McMahon would blackmail him into doing the Authority’s bidding.

Kurt Angle really needs some acting tips from the giant. Because they’re trying to cast him in a similar role heading into Wrestlemania. Coming off the contract signing at Elimination Chamber, it’s obvious Ronda Rousey’s first WWE match will see her team with Angle against Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. Rousey has taken to sticking up for the Raw General Manager as he’s been condescended to, belittled, and as we saw on Raw this week, outright attacked by WWE’s power couple.

The trouble is that in trying to recite WWE’s scripted dialogue, Angle often comes off like a bumbling fool. A likable fool, perhaps. But still a fool. That undercuts the story they’re trying to tell. And one with pretty high stakes, considering all they’ve invested in Rousey. On paper, Angle is a fantastic choice to team with Rousey. But depending how they script this, he could wind up dragging her down.

There could be one saving grace, however. Remember when Triple H surprised Angle with a Pedigree at Survivor Series? The next night on Raw, Angle marched up to him and said if he ever did it again, “…you can take this job and shove it, because I’m comin’ for you!” We’re inevitably going to see that Kurt Angle again in the next few weeks. The Raw General Manager will go away, and the Olympic champion will return. That’s got the potential to be a hell of a moment, and Rousey’s presence will only accentuate it.

If they can’t make this thing work from a story perspective, then maybe they can pump in a little more of that big fight feel….

Other Ponderings From Raw:

Alexa Bliss and Mickie James open the show. Asuka emerges, but walks into a trap set by Bliss, James, and Nia Jax. Sasha Banks and Bayley join the fight, and a six-woman tag match is made. The babyfaces prevail, despite Bayley refusing to tag Banks out of a predicament. God damn. Alexa Bliss cuts a career promo for the second night in a row. This woman is money on the mic. I don’t know if it’s right to call her an overachiever or not. But she’s damn sure maximized her minutes.

Supposedly, Sasha Banks and Alexa Bliss had legit heat at one point. Supposedly Banks didn’t think she had legit passion for the business. Seeing how well they work together, I wonder if that’s still a thing…

Banks isn’t a full fledged heel yet. But she’s damn close, and she’s that much better for it.

Question: Why exactly did Mickie James turn heel? I missed that memo.

John Cena talks about his failure at Elimination Chamber, challenging the Undertaker, and earning a match at Wrestlemania by moving to Smackdown. The big news item coming out of this segment was Cena announcing he will not be wrestling the Undertaker in New Orleans. Mind you, that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. It just means he said it’s not happening. Time will tell.

Personally, I think ‘Taker shows up at Wrestlemania. The fan interest is obviously there, as illustrated by how the crowd popped when Cena said his name. But after what we saw from him last year, I wouldn’t be heartbroken if he is fact done. If anyone has earned the right to stay retired, it’s him.

Bray Wyatt destroys Heath Slater and Rhyno, says the “great war” with Matt Hardy is far from over. STOP LAUGHING, you idiot. You lost a big match. On pay per view. Again. You’re on the road to becoming as much of a jobber as…well, Heath Slater and Rhyno.

After an impassioned promo from the Miz, the Intercontinental Champion loses a non-title match to Seth Rollins. Finn Balor comes out to upstage Rollins’ win. Miz is in a really special place right now. He was always a good mic guy. He became a great mic guy. But when he cuts promos like the one he did on this show, he proves he’s becoming one of the greatest promos of his generation. Not just the passion he spoke with, but some of the little entitled character bits he threw in there. And of course, he got to look in to the camera, which never hurts a damn bit. Homie was in the zone out there.

I wasn’t around last week to talk about it. But Seth Rollins’ stock is pretty damn high after last week. Probably as high as it’s been since he turned face. I’m well aware I’m not the first to say this, but I’ll say it anyway: Last week Rollins put on one of the best performances in Raw history. That being said, a lot of fans got swept up in the afterglow of the match, declaring Rollins could now feasibly be put against Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania. Assuming Roman Reigns went down with an injury, of course.

No. Just, no.

I’ve never taken anything away from this guy’s talent or his drive. He’s one of the best in the world right now. But the Seth Rollins character isn’t ready for a big match like that. He took a big step in that direction week. But he still needs to give us a little more to latch on to. Calling him the “Kingslayer,” or worse “the Architect” does nothing for his identity.

It’s a shame, especially when you look at some of the stuff this guy does out there, i.e. that freakish Frog Splash across the ring.

Finn Balor def. The Miz. So are we looking at a Fatal Four-Way for Wrestlemania? Miz vs. Rollins vs. Balor vs. Strowman? Or is Strowman even in the IC Title hunt anymore? You’d think he would be after what we saw in the Chamber Match.

Roman Reigns: “Brock Lesnar is an entitled piece of crap who hides behind his contract.” They were smart to play this card. It’s similar to the one Cena played against the Rock several years ago. The loyalty card. The full-timer/part-timer card. The “I care and he doesn’t” card. It’s simple, but effective. Because it’s rooted in truth. Roman is there almost every week, Brock isn’t.

Between Alexa Bliss and the Miz, I’ve talked a lot about mic work this week. While I wouldn’t call Roman a great talker, he can deliver big when he’s got something to sink his teeth into. He showed us that here tonight.

I highly doubt it’ll get Roman cheered any more than he would have been otherwise. But it’s about as good a shot as they can take.

The Bar def. Titus O’Neil and Apollo in a 2/3 Falls Match to retain the WWE Raw Tag Team Titles. The champs gloat on the mic. Sheamus and Cesaro have a point. Who have they got left to beat? Is it time to call up a team from NXT? This close to Wrestlemania, that seems doubtful.

Braun Strowman def. Elias via disqualification. This one really dragged. But both these guys are hot right now. I’ve actually been on quite the Elias kick lately. To the point that I actually looked forward to his song routine this week.

So are these two headed to Wrestlemania? Seems like that might be the case…

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

Graves’ only response was the following tweet…

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

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

He did us a favor, folks.

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

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

Ponderings From Raw:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least it’s not David Otunga.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PREDICTION: Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable

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

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

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

PREDICTION: The Bar

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

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

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

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

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

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

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

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

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

2018 WOMEN’S ROYAL RUMBLE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PREDICTION: Asuka

2018 MEN’S ROYAL RUMBLE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PREDICTION: Shinsuke Nakamura

MISCELLANEOUS RUMBLE MATCH PREDICTIONS: 

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

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

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

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

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