Neville No More? Is the “King of the Cruiserweights” Gone?

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

When I closed out last week’s Raw review with a question about where Neville was, this wasn’t quite what I was expecting.

But low and behold, here we are. The real-life Benjamin Satterley reportedly walked out on WWE before Raw this past Monday. There are conflicting reports on whether it happened that day, or some time the previous week. But either way, the “King of the Cruiserweights” is likely gone from WWE TV. At least for the foreseeable future.

Jim Ross, who once served as WWE’s head of Talent Relations, has said that the reason a talent leaves the company is usually about one of two things: Cash or creative. With Neville, it’s reportedly both. Obviously we’re in the dark about much of this. But allegedly two of the factors for Satterley walking out were the direction of his character, and being left off the Wrestlemania 33 DVD. The later was also a factor in Austin Aries, ironically Neville’s opponent at the event, leaving the company. Not being on the DVD affects a talent’s royalties in a big way. I expect that was a big shot to Satterley’s wallet. 

It’s not really my place to talk about the money involved here, as I don’t know the particulars. However, from a creative perspective, this is a real shame. I’m not immensely familiar with Satterley’s pre-WWE work. But having watched him these last two years, it seemed like things finally picked up for him when he became a part of the 205 Live crew. He might be the only one who can make that claim. Sorry TJP, Rich Swann, and almost everyone from the Cruiserweight Classic

My big criticism of the Neville of 2015 and most of 2016 was that he had no personality. He was like a video game character who could do all these cool flippy moves, and of course the breathtaking Red Arrow. But there was no substance or personality to him beyond that.

But Neville’s entry into the Cruiserweight Division, more specifically the accompanying heel turn, gave him a chance to finally showcase some charisma. In doing so, he became far and away the star of 205 Live, and dare I say one of the best heels in the entire promotion. He found the missing ingredient, and seemed to be on track to bigger and better things.

So why walk out? Obviously, all this is all speculation. And as I said, I’m not going to dive into the financial element. But there are clues to be found…

First, let’s consider how WWE isolates the Cruiserweight Division compared to the rest of its roster. It’s rare to see a designated Cruiserweight get to wrestle someone outside the 205 Live roster. For instance, you wouldn’t see Jack Gallagher wrestle Sheamus, or Rich Swann against Seth Rollins. Gallagher and Swann would have to face each other in that equation, as they’re both Cruiserweights. The one exception to this rule seems to be Enzo Amore, who can apparently have one-off matches with the Miz, and get mauled by Braun Strowman. But everyone else has to stay in their division. Heck, the Cruiserweight Division even travels together as a whole, regardless of who is a babyface and who is a heel. They’ve all come out together numerous times to stare angrily at Enzo as he verbally castrates each of them.

It seems as though WWE is trying to avoid confusing casual viewers as they attempt to get the 205 Live brand over. I imagine they want the Cruiserweight Division to stand on its own before allowing it to bleed over into other areas of the show. Ergo, being a Cruiserweight essentially pigeonholes you into one corner of the roster. For someone like Neville, who’s clearly capable of graduating to a higher spot on the card, this would create an agonizing glass ceiling. Winning the Cruiserweight Title may have been both the best and worst thing to happen to him.

This general lack of flexibility on WWE’s part plays into the stifling of creativity that has already lead numerous big names to leave the company. CM Punk is the most prominent example. But there are also the likes of Cody Rhodes, Austin Aries, Ryback, and Wade Barrett. All those guys are awesome talents. But for whatever reason, they weren’t allowed to take their best shot at stardom because of how their characters were portrayed, or their stories were written. I understand not everyone can be in the main event picture. But doesn’t everyone deserve a chance to try? Doesn’t everyone deserve the chance to be themselves out there, and contribute to the product in their own unique way? Wouldn’t that make a more compelling television show?

The answer, of course, is yes. But that’s just not how it works in today’s WWE. Sometimes you simply are where you are. In terms of Neville, that’s such a missed opportunity. Once he found his groove on the main roster, it was obvious he had more to offer than a gorgeous finisher.

There’s no question about whether Benjamin Satterley will be okay. Clearly he will. Other promotions will flock to him. But to me, the more pressing question is what WWE can do to allow their talents to be more creative, and have more of a voice in the presentation of their characters. In the long run, who knows what that might cost them? WCW let Steve Austin, one of the hottest stars in the history of the business, slip through their fingers. Who’s to say WWE isn’t sending future marquee talent out the door by refusing to let them realize their full potential?

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Austin Aries Leaves WWE, Plus Ponderings From Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

So Austin Aries is gone from WWE? Well that’s a damn downer.

Depending on who you believe, either the real-life Daniel Solwold Jr. asked for his release, or WWE let him go. Aries; unhappiness with WWE’s decision to not include his Wrestlemania pre-show match with Neville on the DVD release was apparently a source of contention.

Regardless, the separation seems to be amicable. Aries tweeted some things that seemed vaguely happy. But from a fan’s perspective, it’s a shame. Aries is over. He was undoubtedly the top babyface they had on 205 Live. But by that same token, he could have gone so much further than the Cruiserweight Division. Aries has a metric ton of charisma, and could have made that company a lot of money in the right role.

The good news is Aries won’t be wanting for work. Between New Japan, Ring of Honor, the recently re-branded Global Force Wrestling, and the current indy scene, he’s got plenty of options. Ultimately, WWE’s loss is a major gain for somebody else.

It’s just a damn shame they had to lose him.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

AJ Styles opens the show by reinstating the US Championship Open Challenge. John Cena attempts to answer, but Kevin Owens interrupts. Rusev then jumps Cena and a fight ensues. The cool thing about AJ Styles winning the US Title in an untelevised match over the weekend isn’t just the surprise factor. It’s the fact that AJ Styles, a man that many thought would never grace a WWE ring, won a title in what is essentially the promotion’s home arena. Imagine that.

Styles said the United States Championship has been “overlooked way too many times.” I appreciate the sentiment. But it seemingly doesn’t apply anymore, does it? They’ve kept that belt on upper card, main event level guys for quite awhile now. Owens, Cena, Roman Reigns, Chris Jericho, etc. The secondary titles have been in a much deserved renaissance lately, and we’re all reaping the benefits.

Jinder Mahal def. Tye Dillinger. Mahal promises to bring the Punjabi Prison to Smackdown next week. Is WWE management underwhelmed with Dillinger? The crowd obviously likes him, but until recently he’d been off television for awhile. What gives?

I’m still waiting for the Singh Brothers to get in the ring…

JBL mentioned how the Punjabi Prison dwarfs Hell in a Cell. Not sure that’s a good comparison to make. There’s a reason we haven’t seen a lot of these Punjabi Prison Matches, but there’s a Hell in a Cell pay per view.

Xavier Woods def. Jey Uso. Which Uso said the “R-rated” line in the rap battle last week? Let’s just say it was Jey. Because I love the irony of WWE editing that line out of the YouTube clips from the show, but then putting those two in the ring the next week.

A brawl breaks out between Shinsuke Nakamura and Baron Corbin before they can have a match. Cue a match between these two at Battleground. Let’s get this one out of the way so we can hopefully get to Nakamura vs. Cena at Summerslam.

Natalya and Tamina def. Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch. Battleground Fatal Five-Way Elimination Match to decide challenger for Women’s Title at SummerslamI’m hoping we can soon get back to one-on-one feuds in this division. We’ve seen so many multi-woman matches lately. If I had to guess, I’d say we get Naomi vs. Charlotte at Summerslam.

Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley appear on the latest edition of “The Fashion Files.” Last week Rawley eliminated Ryder from the big Battle Royal, and they made a point to mention it again this week. The smart bet is a Ryder heel turn is coming. But the guy is so likable. Both are, actually. It’ll be interesting to see if Ryder can garner any real heat after being a sympathetic underdog for so many years.

AJ Styles and John Cena def. Kevin Owens and Rusev. This one didn’t do much for me. The only thing really notable here was the in-ring return of Rusev. He looked fine out there. But man, you talk about drawing the short straw. He comes back, and is immediately put into a Flag Match with John Cena. You can certainly do worse than Cena as far as pay per view opponents go. But they’ll want Cena to have momentum going into Summerslam, so Rusev’s chances of winning are slim to none. Here’s hoping he’ll have a better time once we get through August.

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WWE Extreme Rules 2017 Preview, Plus: Enzo and Cass Splitting?

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The end could very well be near for the team of Enzo and Cass.

They’ve been telling a mystery assailant story for a couple of weeks now with Enzo. The Revival are the obvious suspects. But even with WWE’s fairly lazy standard of storytelling in the modern era, the obvious suspects rarely commit the crime. Considering how often tag partners turn on each other (Golden Truth, anyone?), Big Cass could very well end up being Enzo’s attacker. That prospect is…unsettling.

I’ve talked before about how Enzo and Cass were lucky to have found each other in developmental. They compliment each other so well. More importantly, they camouflage each other’s weaknesses. What Enzo lacks in stature, Cass makes up for. What Cass lacks in charisma and mic skills, Enzo makes up for in spades. As a team, they’re a complete package. As individuals? Not so much.

All the more worrisome is the idea of making Cass the heel in the equation. In WWE, the importance of personality always outweighs in-ring talent. Is that the way it should be? Probably not. But that’s how it’s always been. And from a personality standpoint, Cass has always ridden Enzo’s coattails. Putting him in a position where he has to talk people into disliking him is a recipe for disaster. If anything, it should be the other way around, with Enzo as the villain.

But this whole idea is silly to begin with. Enzo and Cass have a lot of mileage left as a tag team. Odds are they’d have won the Raw Tag Titles by now if the Hardys hadn’t come back and upstaged them. These two have earned their moment at the top of the mountain. Let’s at least let them have it before we break them up.

And now, on to Extreme Rules

MIXED TAG TEAM MATCH:
Sasha Banks and Rich Swann vs. Alicia Fox and Noam Dar

Eh, no thanks.

There’s just not a lot of heat to this one. One thing I will say: It’s nice to see Rich Swann not confined to 205 Live anymore. But this is definitely the “popcorn match.” It doesn’t really matter who wins. But let’s just say Fox and Dar. Why not?

PREDICTION: Alicia Fox and Noam Dar

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Neville (c) vs. Austin Aries

While it doesn’t matter who wins that Mixed Tag, it matters who wins this one. For Aries in particular. He was really hot when he got back in the ring around Wrestlemania season. But the consecutive pay per view losses to Neville have cut his knees out from under him. So I’m thinking it’s time. Neville has had the title since January, and he’s definitively established himself as the top dog in the Cruiserweight Division. So let’s let Aries beat him with the Last Chancery and let him have a turn with it as the cool babyface champion. With the viewership for 205 Live at such a low, do they really have anything to lose?

PREDICTION: Austin Aries

STEEL CAGE MATCH FOR WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLES:
The Hardy Boyz (c) vs. Sheamus and Cesaro 

The nostalgia novelty of having the Hardys back with in original “Team Xtreme” packaging has mostly worn off, as far as I’m concerned. It seems like we’re all just waiting for Matt to be Broken again.

In the meantime, I’d enjoy seeing Matt and Jeff drop the belts to Sheamus and Cesaro. They can then chase them to prove they’re more than just a nostalgia act that had the element of surprise on their side at Wrestlemania. Do I think that’ll happen? No. Especially since the Hardys picked the stipulation here. The Hardys are going home with the gold.

PREDICTION: The Hardy Boyz

KENDO STICK ON A POLE MATCH FOR WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE: 

I can never get a good feel for when Alexa Bliss is going to win or lose championships. I’ve been wrong almost every time, going back to when she won her first one on Smackdown. That being said, I feel like she’ll sneak out of this one with the title. What’s more important is that we see some fire from Bayley. The question they’ve been asking in recent weeks is whether she can “get extreme.” For my money, whether this match succeeds or fails depends on them delivering that. Bayley needs to get angry. So let’s make it happen.

PREDICTION: Alexa Bliss

STIPULATION MATCH FOR WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE:
Dean Ambrose (c) vs. The Miz
Title can change hands via disqualification. 

Miz is overdue to get the belt back. That stuff about him rejuvenating the Intercontinental Title? It’s not just hype. They’ve really got something with him right now. Considering how tepid Raw is these days, they need to go anything they can to heat things up. So putting the belt back on Miz seems like a no-brainer.

The question is, what happens to Dean Ambrose now? They’ve kept him out of the Universal Title picture since bringing him to Raw. Does he move back up once he no longer has the IC belt?? Or are they intentionally keeping him away from Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins to increase the impact of the inevitable Shield reunion?

PREDICTION: The Miz

FATAL FIVE-WAY EXTREME RULES MATCH:
Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins vs. Bray Wyatt vs. Finn Balor vs. Samoa Joe
Winner becomes top contender for Universal Title. 

Last week’s segment between Finn Balor and Paul Heyman was a pretty strong indicator that it’s going to be Finn going over here. Unless they want to save that for Summerslam or something. But more likely it ends up being Balor vs. Lesnar for the title. That says a lot about WWE’s faith in Balor. With so little time on the main roster, they’re already gearing him up for a match against one of their biggest cash cows.

WWE has had a weird fixation on five-person matches lately. As groan-inducing as that is, this match could be really good if they take full advantage of the Extreme Rules gimmick. These are five bona fide main-eventers. There’s no reason this match shouldn’t steal the whole damn show.

PREDICTION: Finn Balor

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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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Randy Orton’s Twitter Drama, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Oh Twitter. Your petty wonders continue to amaze.

Randy Orton and Bully Ray/Bubba Ray Dudley made a couple of headlines this week after the former posted a photo (shown right) of him diving off the top rope at an ROH show. Seemed innocent enough.

Orton would subsequently tweet: “Lol there is a difference between a young hungry talent diving and an old outta shape ‘vet’ …….falling”

That tweet would catch ire from many a fan, and even Bully’s wife, who Impact Wrestling fans know as Velvet Sky. Orton later posted a little statement, talking about making five million dollars over the course of 11 shows overseas. He added, among other things: “I know to some that doesn’t equate to a standing room only crowd of 15 people paying $8 at an armory somewhere…but in the big boy world that’s called putting asses in seats. So enjoy your flips, dives, and 20 superkicks per match.”

I admit, I chuckled a little bit. The current wrestling landscape is littered with meaningless dives, way too many super kicks, among other stupid trends. And to be fair, Orton was sort of piggybacking on what one of his trainers, Rip Rogers, had tweeted previously.

Still, Orton’s point was overshadowed by the abrasive way he made it. It came off very disrespectful toward Bully Ray. Especially when you consider how many opportunities Orton has had compared to most of his peers. He hasn’t had to do all those dives and flips because, as Bob Orton Jr’s son, he’s never had to fight for attention the way most of those indy guys have. Randy Orton is wrestling royalty. But he came off like Prince William shaming a window washer because he missed a spot.

Of course, the good news for Orton is that he doesn’t give a damn what most of us think.

Ponderings From Raw:

Kurt Angle announces a Fatal Five-Way Match for Extreme Rules to decide the top contender for the Universal Title: Roman Reigns vs. Finn Balor vs. Bray Wyatt vs. Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe. The participants emerge, a brawl ensues. I can’t help but cringe every time someone says “Fatal Five-Way.” I’ve been saying Fatal Four-Way for so many years that it just sounds weird. Tell you what, how about Seth Rollins and Samoa Joe have a big match, and the winner gets a spot in a Fatal Four-Way Match at the pay per view? On the plus side, Joe is in his first WWE pay per view main event.

Angle mentioned Braun Strowman here, and how surgery revealed his elbow is shattered, and may require up to six months recovery time. That’s a heartbreaker. Strowman is one of the only things on this show that has real momentum as of late. They’ve done such a fantastic job building him. A Brock Lesnar/Braun Strowman match would have been money. It looked like they were setting it up for June or July. Now we may not even get it until 2018, if then. Damn…

Jeff Hardy def. Sheamus. Sheamus and Cesaro get another shot at the tag belts at Extreme Rules. The smart bet is they make this a Ladder Match or something.

I don’t know if this is what they’re going for, but I’m starting to get the itch for another Jeff Hardy singles run.

Alicia Fox def. Sasha Banks. Yup. You read that right. Yuck. I get it, as these two had a disputed finish last week. But damn. That hurts.

It almost feels like we’ve been in Bizarro World for the past month. Alicia gets a clean win over Sasha. Breezango is challenging for tag team gold. And the top contender for the WWE Championship? Jinder Mahal.

The Miz def. Dean Ambrose in an Intercontinental Title Match via disqualification. Ambrose keeps the title. Pretty good outing for Ambrose and Miz, which later set up a rematch for Extreme Rules. Ambrose almost seems conspicuous by his absence in the Universal Title picture. I understand why he’s not there, as he’s obviously the IC Champ. Plus, it’s not necessarily time to have the three Shield guys sharing a ring yet. But it feels like he should be there…

Bayley interrupts Alexa Bliss to announce she’s invoking her rematch clause at Extreme RulesA fight breaks out. Alexa attacks Bayley with a kendo stick. A Kendo Stick on a Pole Match is made for the pay per view. Alexa Bliss has gotten so good at ad-libbing. That “If you’re a failure, say what!” line was great.

Despite how hokey this talk about Bayley “getting extreme” is, the hardcore stipulation at Extreme Rules could be good for her. She’s gotten by on charm, and obviously raw talent as well. But this could be a chance for her to show some fire. Now if only they hadn’t felt the need to revive the “on a pole” stipulation.

Neville and TJP def. Austin Aries and Jack Gallagher. Fairly cold match. The idea is for these matches to draw people to 205 Live, right? Viewership for that show is reportedly down. I wonder why…

Also, why is TJP a better name than TJ Perkins?

Roman Reigns def. Finn Balor. Good match. Despite the loss, Balor is regaining some valuable steam. Corey Graves mentioned during Balor’s entrance that his best friends are Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows. That’s not the first time Graves has connected the former cohorts…

The announcers always act so surprised when someone kicks out of the Superman Punch. Booker T even said it’s “normally the knock-out punch.” Um…no it’s not. How many of those does Reigns usually hit in a given match?

Goldust turns on R-Truth before their match. As I said last week, Goldust deserves to be in a higher profile role. How long has it been since he’s been a heel? Getting the fans to boo him might be an uphill battle. But the change could be good for him.

Big Cass def. Titus O’Neil. Titus mocking Enzo on the way to the ring was funny as hell. He even got a little personality out of Apollo Crews. It’s a little early, but this Titus/Apollo experiment may be working.

Seth Rollins def. Bray Wyatt via disqualification. Predictable Samoa Joe interference at the end. Reigns and Balor really should have had the main event. Both those guys are more over than Rollins is. Crowd was sitting on their hands. Granted, we were at the tail end of hour three. But by the time they got into the overrun, I was begging for this one to be over.

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Bray Wyatt’s House of Horrors, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Aw c’mon. You guys can do better than that.

That was the one thing that went through my mind as I watched WWE’s first ever House of Horrors Match at Payback. As many expected, it was literally inside a house. They put a bunch of horror-type gimmicks inside, played with the lighting, and gave us some spooky music and sound effects. Later, they ended up back in the ring, a la the Boiler Room Brawl that Undertaker and Mankind had all those years ago.

This was fine. Worthy of a second one, if they decide to go that route. But they could have done so much more. The most twisted thing they did in this match was hanging a bunch of deformed baby dolls from the ceiling. Considering the presentation was so cinematic, it feels like they wasted an opportunity by playing it fairly safe.

For instance, WWE.com has played up the fact that this month marks Orton’s 15-year anniversary with the company. Why not have a little fun with that? Have Bray put some old photos of Orton on the wall and deface them to his liking. You can even play with old footage. If the story was that Bray has prepared this house to fight Orton in, they could have made this House of Horrors Match every bit as psychological as it is physical.

One person who should be very happy about how this match was presented? Matt Hardy. The House of Horrors Match was clearly influenced by the “Final Deletion,” “Delete or Decay,” and a lot of the Broken stuff they did in Impact Wrestling. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, I suppose. And this isn’t the first time WWE has used Bray Wyatt to imitate what Matt and Jeff Hardy did in Impact. Broken Matt’s arrival in WWE seems inevitable at this point. So a match like this between Matt and Bray would undoubtedly make for interesting television.

They also went with the right finish, which saw Jinder Mahal and the Singh Brothers (formerly the Bollywood Boyz) come in and cost Orton the match. Hey Jinder? Next time be a little more convincing with that belt shot to the back of the head. Looked more like a shot to the shoulder…

Ponderings From Raw

Alexa Bliss holds a coronation ceremony for herself. In a subsequent match, Bliss, Nia Jax, Emma, and Alicia Fox defeat Bayley, Sasha Banks Mickie James, and Dana Brooke. “The Queen is dead.” That was an interesting little line, obviously directed at Charlotte Flair. Last night at Payback, Alexa Bliss became the first woman to have held both the Raw and Smackdown Women’s Titles. That’s a distinction that many, myself included, thought Charlotte Flair would achieve first. For all intents and purposes, she’s been the face of the so-called women’s revolution. So it’s nice to see someone else get a landmark win.

The match didn’t do much for me. But I did love Bayley’s facial expressions during the coronation segment. Don’t be fooled, folks. The long term story here is still about Bayley and Sasha.

Luke Gallows def. Enzo Amore. We were at about the 40 minute mark here, and it became obvious that this show was missing something. Normally by this point we’ve seen Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, or somebody involved in the top storyline on the show. This week, that would have been either Reigns or Braun Strowman. As we hadn’t seen them yet, things felt oddly cold.

In all fairness, Enzo and Gallows had a decent match. Has Gallows lost some weight?

Seth Rollins and Finn Balor vie for a Universal Title shot. Dean Ambrose says the Intercontinental Title is now the hottest title on Raw. Rollins vs. Balor vs. the Miz made to decide top contender for the IC Title. Rollins was really lame at the top of this segment. Trying to rile up the crowd, and then all that stuff about sticking it out when times are tough. He came off like a white meat babyface. Balor was a little bit better. He seems to have improved on the mic a little bit since he’s been gone.

I have no problem with the Intercontinental Title being elevated. I just wish they’d had Ambrose and Miz sell us on it a little more. Maybe have Ambrose stick it to Brock a little more. Drive home the point that he’s the top guy on Raw, because he’s the Intercontinental Champion. He defends it all the time, Brock rarely shows up, etc. We got that here, but it wasn’t emphasized enough.

Jack Gallagher, Rich Swann, and Akira Tozawa def. Brian Kendrick, Tony Nese, and Noam Dar. Cold match. Came off just like any other six-man you’d see on Raw. Tozawa could be something, but he’s stuck in purgatory on 205 Live.

Cesaro and Sheamus address the fans after ambushing the Hardys at PaybackI didn’t expect a heel turn for these two. But in retrospect it seems rather obvious. I expected them to up the aggression, but still stay in babyface territory. I actually found their little bromance endearing.

But it’s something new for them to do. They were always going to be the number two babyface team now that the Hardys are back. Maybe number three, factoring in Enzo and Cass. So now they have a chance to be the top heel team. It’s not like it’s tough to dislike Sheamus.

Apollo Crews def. Heath Slater. The fans were chanting “He’s got kids!” for Slater at one point. I’m not sure where the ceiling is for him, but it’s higher than where he’s at now.

Kurt Angle announces Braun Strowman has a torn rotator cuff. Bray Wyatt introduces himself to the Raw General Manager. I panicked when Angle said the line about Strowman’s torn rotator cuff. Him going down now would be every bit as bad as when Finn Balor got hurt at Summerslam. But it’s reportedly just part of the storyline. Thank god.

Austin Aries def. TJP. Apparently TJ Perkins is just TJP now. Um…why?

The crowd was dying off at this point. Granted, it doesn’t help that some nights it feels like the Cruiserweight Division is dying off. This was definitely one such night.

Almost everything felt a little bit too long on this show. Almost as if they re-wrote or cut something, and had to compensate for it.

The Miz def. Seth Rollins and Finn Balor to become top contender for the Intercontinental Title. Bray Wyatt and Samoa Joe interfere. Good match. Loved Miz bowing out and after the bell and trying to avoid a beating. Great heel move. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him get the IC belt again.

I held out a little bit of hope that Balor was going to do something with Gallows and Anderson. Obviously he is indeed going with Bray. No doubt we’ll be hearing a lot of talk about demons in the coming weeks.

I’m actually starting to worry about Balor during his matches. He and Rollins had that scary cross body block landing. The last thing this guy needs is another bad head shot. The people are into him. But he obviously needs to stay healthy to maintain his momentum.

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WWE Payback 2017 Predicitons, Plus: Nakamura and the “It” Factor

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

What exactly is the “it” factor? We hear wrestling insiders and experts talk about it all the time. This guy didn’t become a star because they were missing “it.” That guy connected because he had “it.”

So what the hell are they talking about?

“It” is something intangible and undefinable. Something that makes you unique. “It” draws people’s eyes to you when you walk into a room. It prompts them to put their money down to see you.

Shinsuke Nakamura has “it.” He just made his main roster debut a few weeks ago, but you only need to see him once to know he’s something special. HIs tremendous in-ring work aside, he simply has a presence about him. He’s an original. How often can you really say that about someone in pro wrestling? And perhaps more importantly, there’s a certain coolness about him. So little about the business is cool nowadays.

But Nakamura has a disadvantage that virtually no other major WWE babyface has had: His English. Listening to him speak, it’s quite obvious that English isn’t his forte yet. To be fair, he’s only been in America for about a year. Learning any language takes time, even when you don’t have the pressure of national television. But for all their efforts internationally, WWE has always been an American product through and through. For all his talents, Nakamura’s English could be his achilles heel. If there’s one thing standing between him and true WWE stardom, it’s that.

That’s why I hold my breath whenever they’ve put a mic in Nakamura’s hand, as they did this week on Smackdown. They’ve wisely kept his speaking time limited. But thus far, Nakamura’s done alright out there. Not great, but alright. At this stage, alright might just be good enough. But it won’t be that way forever. Nakamura’s star is rising fast, and he’s not going to speak perfect English any time soon. So when he’s is ready to take that next step, will WWE be ready to get behind him?

While Nakamura is undoubtedly an original, one person you might compare him to is Rob Van Dam. Rob Van Dam was a star in WWE. But he never became the superstar he could have been. This is largely because WWE, perhaps Vince McMahon in particular, couldn’t fully embrace his character. RVD wasn’t an aggressive promo guy. He was laid back and cool. But when the bell rang, the fans chanted his name because he did things no one else could do. He was different. Just like Nakamura is different. Neither man expresses himself in the traditional WWE style. But the fans respond to them nonetheless.

The question now is whether WWE can accept something it’s audience has always known: Different is good.

And now, let’s get to Payback…

PRE-SHOW MATCH:
Enzo and Cass vs. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

I’m curious to know how Enzo and Cass really feel about the Hardys being back. Had Matt and Jeff stayed with Ring of Honor, or gone else where, odds are Enzo and Cass would be the Raw Tag Team Champions right now. Instead, they’re working Gallows and Anderson again. On the pre-show, no less. I don’t expect their luck to improve here.

It seems natural that whoever wins here would get a Raw Tag Team Title Match. Assuming Matt and Jeff will finish their business with Cesaro and Sheamus at Payback, as heels Gallows and Anderson seem like they’d be next in line. Though part of me really hopes some kind of program with Finn Balor is in the works for them.

PREDICTION: Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Neville (c) vs. Austin Aries

What the hell? Put the belt on Aries. The guy’s hot right now. Why not capitalize? They can always put it right back on Neville if they want.

Some thought these two got slighted when they were put on the pre-show at Wrestlemania. In hindsight, that may have actually helped. These two were never going to be put in a position to do anything truly substantial on the main show. But Payback could be a different story. Here’s hoping…

PREDICTION: Austin Aries

WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The Hardy Boyz (c) vs Cesaro and Sheamus

Look at Matt’s face in that picture. How bad does this guy want to be Broken again?

He won’t get his wish at Payback, but he and Jeff will walk out with the tag titles. They just won them at Wrestlemania. To take them away now would almost be a waste. Sheamus and Cesaro have become more fun to watch in recent months. But the Hardys are as hot as they’ve ever been.

PREDICTION: The Hardy Boyz

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

The big picture here still needs to be about Bayley and Sasha. Hopefully for Summerslam. With that in mind, I don’t see Alexa winning here. I see Bayley taking it, then Alexa bringing in Nia Jax as back-up the night night on Raw. That could add a little extra garnish for a rematch at the next Raw pay per view.

That being said, I didn’t see Alexa winning the Smackdown Women’s Title last fall either. So anything’s possible.

PREDICTION: Bayley

Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe

Rollins just got one of the biggest wins of his career against Triple H. As the “Kingslayer,” it finally seems like he has a little bit of momentum as a babyface. It’d be a shame to have him walk right into a loss to Joe.

Joe has been handled almost perfectly since showing up on Raw. He’s been the dominant monster we all know, scoring big wins over Roman Reigns, Sami Zayn, and Chris Jericho. Rollins squeaking by with a victory won’t hurt him.

PREDICTION: Seth Rollins

WWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
Kevin Owens (c) vs. Chris Jericho

This is clearly a blow-off match. As such, I’m really hoping these two get the chance to give us an ending worthy of the whole “best friends” story they’ve told over the last several months. In a perfect world, they’d get to have a big brawl. But it seems like that’s what the House of Horrors Match is going to be.

This entire program has really been about building Kevin Owens. To the credit of all those involved, it’s worked tremendously. So it’s more than fitting that Owens go over here, and likely send Jericho packing for awhile. And so ends one of the best runs of Jericho’s entire career. I can’t help but wonder what our next “Gift of Jericho” will look like, and when we’ll get it…

PREDICTION: Kevin Owens

HOUSE OF HORRORS MATCH:
Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton

We still have very little indication of what a House of Horrors Match is, which is fine. Part of the draw is finding out about the match itself. Based on Bray’s promos, it seems like it’ll take place in some kind of actual house or structure.

They should really let Bray have this one. It’ll allow him to regain some of the momentum he lost at Wrestlemania. As I’ve mentioned, a victory over the WWE Champion could catapult him into contention for the Universal Title. Hell, have Jinder Mahal run interference if you don’t want to beat the champ cleanly. But for cryin’ out loud, let Bray win.

PREDICTION: Bray Wyatt

Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman

Just as Bray Wyatt needs to avenge his Wrestlemania loss to Randy Orton, Braun Strowman needs to avenge his Fastlane loss to Roman Reigns. Fastlane was seemingly about building Roman up for the Undertaker. This match should be about building Strowman up for Brock Lesnar. Not in the near future. But hopefully at a bigger show like Summerslam.

I don’t know that it matters whether Strowman beats Reigns cleanly or not. But if they want to give an excuse, the man was just beat to a pulp by Strowman two weeks ago. They said he had a separated shoulder and busted ribs, right? So they can play all that up, and have Roman fight through the pain only to fall short in the end. The important thing is Strowman wins.

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