Enzo and Cass: One Year Later, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Last night, the WWE Network aired a special on the post-Wrestlemania XXXII edition of Raw. Naturally, we saw footage of Enzo and Cass, as they made their TV debut that night. They got a hell of a pop too. It’s tough to make a better first impression than that. A year later, its looking like they’ll be winning the Raw Tag Team Titles at Wrestlemania XXXIII.

But has their act gotten stale with age?

So many of the same “smart” fans that were marking out for Enzo and Cass on their first night are now booing them. Mind you, being on TV almost every week for a year has brought to light the repetition and flaws in their act. The constant repetition of catchphrases. The deer-in-the-headlights look on the face of Big Cass. What’s more, while Enzo has been praised as a Jedi Master on the mic, some argue he’s becoming as grating as Jar Jar Binks.

It’s a delicate balance WWE walks in the 21st century. The fans want to feel like they chose the top stars. But then when the company actually starts to go with those stars, the fans will sometimes turn on them. They’re almost screwed either way. So how do you fix Enzo and Cass? Or do they even need fixing at all?

Thankfully, this duo has a tremendous advantage: Enzo’s mic work. One of the things wrestling really misses right now is a certain cool factor. When Enzo gets on the mic and starts cutting opponents down, fans can live vicariously through him. When he talks, he sounds genuine. Almost everyone on Raw and Smackdown sounds the same, because they all recite dialogue written by the same writers. I don’t know how much input Enzo has into what he’s saying, but his delivery is truly distinct. It’s the arguably centerpiece to this team’s appeal. If they re-emphasize it, it might curb some of the boos.

These two characters also have an understated bond that serves them well. That’s something people can easily relate to. We don’t need to have another Festival of Friendship, but that’s a well WWE can go to if they don’t beat us over the head with it.

Enzo and Cass are lucky to have found each other in developmental. They accentuate one another’s positives, and camouflage the negatives. At the same time, they make a hell of a package deal. WWE seems to know that. Now if only they could write these guys a better KFC commercial. Yeesh. That might be where half the heat came from…

Ponderings From Raw:

Bayley opens the show. Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, and Nia Jax come out for a confrontation. Bayley and Sasha beat Charlotte and Nia in a tag match. Almost no interest in this from me, because it was pretty obvious where they were going. Talking segment leads to a match. They could have won me over if they skipped the tag match and just left it with a beat-down. But they obviously needed it to fill time.

Tony Schiavone said something on his podcast with Conrad Thompson yesterday that really applied to these three segments: “Showing too much sh*t hurts your product.” That’s what WWE does with everything these days. Almost everyone is overexposed. That’s one of the reasons our main event for this year’s Wrestlemania is between two guys who only show up every few weeks.

Pitbull, Flo Rida, Lunchmoney Lewis and Stephen Marley to perform at WrestlemaniaThe die-hards never like musical performances at these big shows. In this case, I’m with them. I’m one of the few that actually likes that “Green Light” song at a Wrestlemania theme. But I have no desire to see it performed on my wrestling show. This will be the bathroom break segment for yours truly.

Austin Aries def. Noam Dar. Neville joins the announce position. Fine match. In a perfect world, Neville and Aries would go to Wrestlemania and remind us what the Cruiserweight Division should be about. But we don’t live in a perfect world, do we?  Case in point: They’re on the pre-show. Hey, at least it’ll be a good pre-show, right?

Seth Rollins signs a hold-harmless agreement to face Triple H in a Non-Sanctioned Match at Wrestlemania“I liked who I was before I met you.” That was a really good line.  I wish he’d said it weeks ago. It makes things that much more personal. Hunter’s delivery was spot-on. Seth’s was missing something. I wanted a little more bite from him.

The key word for me on this one is curiosity. I’m very curious to see what these two are able to turn in on Sunday. One would think they’d be relying less on stunts and more on storytelling and psychology.

The Big Show wreaks havoc in an Over-the-Top-Rope Challenge. Braun Strowman threatens the giant going into WrestlemaniaNot much of a match here. But it got it’s point across. On the upside, Strowman finally has a match for Wrestlemania. It’s going to be the pre-show. But at least he’s on the damn card.

Neville def. Jack Gallagher. Austin Aries taunts Neville with the New Day. I’m not a fan of head-butts in general. They don’t make a lot of sense to me, and I associate them with Chris Benoit’s brain damage and Daniel Bryan’s early retirement. But for what it’s worth, that head-butt spot Neville and Gallagher did worked. I just wish Gallagher wouldn’t make a habit of it.

Putting Aries next to the New Day is…kind of a good sign, right? They trusted Aries to work with a hot act, however briefly.

Roman Reigns promises to “put the Dead Man down.” We see footage of the Undertaker digging a grave for Reigns. Obviously this graveyard stuff was classic Undertaker. “Vintage Undertaker,” as Michael Cole would say. It might not be a popular thing to say, but there’s something special about seeing these two in the ring together. This Wrestlemania match could be very special, depending on what they want to do. If it’s as simple as a clean victory for Roman, that crowd isn’t going to be happy.

Ah yes, Roman Reigns in Philadelphia. Always a fun time. Leave the memories alone…

Cesaro and Sheamus lay Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, Enzo, and Cass out with a ladder after a backstage assault by the Club. Gallows and Anderson regain the advantage, laying out the challengers. What was up with the cameras here? They seemed uncharacteristically out of position.

See, this is what the women should have done early in the show. Rather than just giving us another match, they shook things up a little bit. I actually wondered if they were going to turn the Wrestlemania bout into a Ladder Match.

Sami Zayn def. Kevin Owens, retaining his job on Raw. Samoa Joe tries to interfere, but Chris Jericho cuts him off. Jericho to Owens: “You just made the list!” Don’t have any ideas for Raw? Just book Kevin Owens against Sami Zayn. That’s not to say they don’t have good matches. Heck, they have great matches. But the law of diminishing returns has indeed come into effect. How many times have Owens and Zayn wrestled on Raw alone? At least in this one they got to brawl around the arena.

I cringed when Zayn did that somersault off the stage. Obviously it’s not nearly as high as it used to be. But when you’re flipping and falling like that, a bad landing always in the cards somewhere.

It’s been a good year thus far for the character of Sami Zayn. The stuff with Braun Strowman and Mick Foley was strong, and now he’s standing up to Stephanie. Hell, Steph put his job on the line in this match. He may not have a Wrestlemania match. But they’re building him, slowly but surely.

I’ve been waiting for Jericho to use that list line on Owens. Not sure I would have waited this long. But at least it got done.

Brock Lesnar and Bill Goldberg cross paths before Wrestlemania. Goldberg spears Lesnar again. A Paul Heyman promo is as good as almost any Raw main event you’re ever going to get. Notice that Heyman took the time to play up the importance of the Universal Title, calling it the “Holy Grail” of WWE.

I always get a kick out of Brock chuckling at Heyman’s remarks. People always say Brock doesn’t love wrestling, and maybe he doesn’t. But at least he’s having a little bit of fun.

Goldberg’s spear to Lesnar at ringside was extremely anticlimactic. It felt like somebody mistimed something. Still a better moment on the go-home Raw for Wrestlemania than Lesnar had with Roman Reigns. Remember that weird belt tug-o-war they had before Wrestlemania XXXI?

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Triple H Annihilates Seth Rollins, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponderings From Raw:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WWE Fastlane 2017 Predictions, Plus Ponderings From Raw

seth-rollins-wwe-raw-february-27-2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Some quick thoughts from Raw before we get into Fastlane predictions…

– The big news coming out of this show is that Seth Rollins is apparently still going to get physical at Wrestlemania. From a storyline perspective, it seems like Hunter baited Seth into a confrontation by demanding that he “not call me out at Wrestlemania.” Do we eventually find out that was his plan? Either way, I’m happy Rollins won’t be missing his second consecutive Wrestlemania. He caught an awful break, and he deserves the chance to finally have this match.

– There’s been plenty of talk these past few weeks about Samoa Joe being Triple H’s puppet, and what Hunter has done to his old allies. Is this something they’re planting a seed for in case Rollins somehow has to pull out of Wrestlemania? Or is this a more long term plan? Perhaps it’s both.

wwe-raw-february-27-2017– Good match between Joe and Cesaro this week, as one would expect. Samoa Joe weighs almost 300 lbs, and Cesaro kept picking the damn guy up. Honest to God, just get this guy some acting classes and let him have a singles run. Hell, give him the US Title again! Why not?

– Did everybody pick up on the whole New Day/Oscars joke? See, the envelope said the wrong name. Like what happened with La La Land at the Oscars. They’re spoofing current events. Get it? Huh? Did ya get it?????

Of course, like their usual attempts at topical humor, it was brutal. I’m actually starting to dread New Day segments. Please give these guys something else to do.

And now on to Fastlane. I skimmed the Sasha Banks/Nia Jax match off here, as well as the pre-show match. Couldn’t muster up much enthusiasm for ’em, and it’s not like there’s any shortage of stuff to go over otherwise…

wwe-fastlane-2017-luke-gallows-karl-anderson-enzo-and-cassWWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson (c) vs. Enzo and Cass

If I’ve got the pen here, Enzo and Cass win the Tag Team Titles at Wrestlemania. Gallows and Anderson just won them a few weeks ago, and I don’t see any reason to take the belts away from them a month before the big show. Then again, I thought for sure Bayley’s first title win would happen at a show like Wrestlemania or Summerslam, and they did it two weeks ago on Raw. But a title change here would be, in the words of Gorilla Monsoon, “highly unlikely.”

PREDICTION: Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

wwe-fastlane-2017-neville-jack-gallagherWWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Neville vs. Jack Gallagher

I like these two together. They overachieved last week in that contract signing segment. Gallagher is a lot of fun, and I imagine he will be Cruiserweight Champion someday. But that day isn’t today. Neville is the hottest thing they have in that division right now. He’s been such a breath of fresh air on Raw. They’ve got a good thing going with him. Let’s not nix it prematurely.

PREDICTION: Neville

wwe-fastlane-2017-sami-zayn-samoa-joeSamoa Joe vs. Sami Zayn

I can’t imagine Zayn winning this match. But considering this was originally supposed to be Seth Rollins’ spot, it’s a hell of an opportunity for him to show off in a brighter spotlight. I imagine he won’t disappoint.

So…what does Joe do at Wrestlemania now? Be in Triple H’s corner?

PREDICTION: Samoa Joe

wwe-fastlane-2017-bayley-charlotte-flairWWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Bayley (c) vs. Charlotte Flair

Ugh. Fine. Just give the damn belt back to Charlotte. At this point they have to, don’t they? They’ve built up this pay per view undefeated streak to the point that they can’t just break it now. With this in mind, their decision to put the belt on Bayley two weeks ago seems even more ridiculous. But they’re struggling for stories to tell in this Women’s Division right now, because they just don’t have enough wrestlers. It seems like Bayley’s first title win was just done for the sake of filling time. Dhe deserved better than that. Either way, what’s done is done. Just give Charlotte the belt back, and we can look ahead to what I assume will be a multi-woman match at Wrestlemania.

PREDICTION: Charlotte Flair

wwe-fastlane-2017-roman-reigns-braun-strowmanRoman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman

I imagine this one will be better than some are thinking. Roman is so athletic and explosive. I’m picturing a sort of irresistable force meets immovable object scenario which could be fun.

An appearance from the Undertaker seems likely here. They planted that seed in the Royal Rumble Match, so this would be as good a time as any to give us the next chapter in that story. Roman can be on the verge of winning, and then you get the standard Undertaker gong, the lights go out, and he hits him with a Tombstone or something. No matter how it happens, a pinball victory over Roman Reigns is a big deal. It’s a hell of a feather in Braun’s cap as we head into Wrestlemania.

PREDICTION: Braun Strowman

kevin-owens-bill-goldberg-wwe-fastlane-2017WWE UNIVERSAL HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Kevin Owens (c) vs. Bill Goldberg

Very little doubt about this one. Goldberg wins his first title in over a decade. It’s just a question of how it happens, and how quickly.

There’s a lot of potential for run-ins and chaos here, both from Brock Lesnar and Chris Jericho. If I had to pick one, I’d say Jericho. He and Owens did that great angle on Raw, and they did another one more recently at an overseas show.

But they really don’t need any interference here. If Goldberg can squash Brock Lesnar in under two minutes, it’s not going to hurt Kevin Owens to sustain a similar loss. Don’t blink during this one, folks.

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Undertaker to Rumble Again, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

Wrestle Kingdom 11, main eventBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I don’t watch a lot of Japanese wrestling. Not because I don’t like it or I don’t care. It’s just there are only so many hours in a week, and habitually I’ve always watched American stuff. Obviously the emphasis has been on WWE stuff. But the buzz about the Kenny Omega/Kazuchika Okada match from this past week’s Wrestle Kingdom 11 has been so phenomenal that I couldn’t resist.

Wow. From a presentation standpoint, what a breath of fresh air. The respect shown to the actual wrestling was such a contrast to what we see on Raw and Smackdown. I’ve never been of the mindset that WWE should be presented the way MMA is, with the entertainment element nixed. But people also know that they’re watching a wrestling show. So why downplay the wrestling? Why not dive into the wrestling element? Tremendous work by Kevin Kelly and Steve Corino at the announce booth.

The match itself was supremely athletic. They beat the crap out of each other for about 45 minutes. In particular, that back drop Omega took out of the ring through the table was brutal. He looked like he landed right on his tailbone. And that suplex Okada took off the top toward the end? He landed right on his damn head. How either of these guys are still walking, Okada in particular, is beyond me. And of course, you had Omega’s constantly going for the One-Winged Angel but never getting it. Great stuff.

Okada, Wrestle Kingdom 11Some fans have said this was the greatest match they’ve ever seen. Dave Meltzer gave it six stars, saying Okada and Omega may have put on “the greatest match in pro wrestling history.” I can’t say I agree with that. But it was a hell of a match, a hell of a story, and a hell of a spectacle in front of all those Tokyo Dome fans.

If you’ve never seen a NJPW show, I’d highly recommend Wrestle Kingdom 11, this match in particular. It sets the bar pretty high. But this is what pro wrestling should be about.

Ponderings From Raw:

An attempt to start the US Title Match featuring Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho escalates into a brawl with Braun Strowman. Seth Rollins saves Reigns. Stephanie McMahon makes Rollins vs. Strowman. The highlight of this segment? Rollins busting out a Van Daminator on Strowman. Happy to see the big guy pissed off after the double spear last week.

Seth Rollins vs. Braun Strowman goes to a double count-out. Like Sami Zayn, Rollins was able to use his experience and relatively smaller size to make Strowman look good. To his credit, Rollins looked more credible against the giant than Zayn did. He’s so damn explosive and athletic. But like everyone else, he looked like he was running into a brick wall when put against Strowman.

That drop Rollins took from the top rope to the ringside barricade did not look like fun…

Drew Gulak, Jack Gallagher, WWE Raw, January 9, 2017Jack Gallagher def. Drew Gulak. Loved the sound of that clothesline Gulak gave Gallagher from the second rope. Ouch.

Gallagher is emerging as one of the stand-out personalities in the Cruiserweight Division. Key word: Personality. (For my money, the others would be Neville and Rich Swann.) I’m not sure if the crowds are quite with him yet, and that particular post-match promo wasn’t the greatest. But he’s got something.

Shawn Michaels gets interrupted by Rusev, Lana, and Jinder Mahal. Enzo and Cass come to his aid. I can’t help but smile when Shawn’s music hits. Call me a mark, but he’s such a damn star.

Not the smoothest segment they’ve ever done. But Shawn, Rusev, and Enzo are all very natural out there. So it still came off fairly well. And it was fun to see them ad lib.

Big Cass def. Jinder Mahal. This whole match was about one thing: The super kick. We spent the whole match waiting for it. It must have been really cool for Rusev to take that.

There was some buzz during the fall that Shawn was going to come out of retirement to face AJ Styles at the Rumble. As much as I love Shawn, I don’t ever need to see him in the ring again. Let the impetus be on the current stars to match what he created.

Neville, Lince Dorado, WWE Raw, January 9, 2017Neville def. Lince Dorado. Rich Swann saves Dorado from a beatdown. Really good showing from Lince Dorado early on here. This guy has been around since the division restarted, but I still don’t have much of an impression of him. Despite the loss, this was a good night for him.

Swann showed some great fire out there. He and Neville have an nice hero/villain dynamic. I’m looking forward to the inevitable title match.

Sheamus def. Luke Gallows. I turned the volume down when I saw Cesaro was joining the announce position. Not because I wasn’t interested in hearing him, but because we already had Karl Anderson joining our usual three talking heads. You can argue three guys are already too much. Four is ridiculous. And five? I’m out.

Gallows may have lost tonight, but I’m still not over the novelty of Anderson getting a singles win last week. Over Cesaro, no less.

The Undertaker announces his entrance into the Royal Rumble Match. Listen to the crowd during this segment. They all chanted his name in unison. Why the hell wasn’t this the main event?

So he says “No one controls the Undertaker,” then he walks over to Stephanie and says: “No one.” I assume that was scripted. But it’s a hell of a lot more fun to imagine it wasn’t.

The Undertaker, Mick Foley, January 17, 2017They seemingly tipped their hand by showing us Braun Strowman backstage during this promo. There was a buzz about Strowman facing Undertaker at Wrestlemania last year. Is that back in the cards this year?

Charlotte and Nia Jax def. Bayley and Sasha Banks. Yet another example of why Raw needs more women. These are essentially the only four active female wrestlers the show has. Lately, they’ve got Alicia Fox mixed up in a love triangle. Speaking of which…

Alicia Fox surprises Noam Dar with a kiss backstage, remarks that he “can’t handle a real woman.” The “real woman” line seemed lost in the shock of the kiss. She obviously insulted him, but it definitely seems like she’s playing Dar and Cedric Alexander against each other.

Kofi Kingston def. Titus O’Neil. Before the match, the New Day had Titus try and carry a keg around the ring in less than 12 seconds because…he fell down when he tried to do it in 2010? No thanks.

Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho def. Roman Reigns in a handicap match for the United States Title. Jericho is declared champion. This probably would have had more of a punch if they’d done it earlier. But whatever. At least they finally made a change instead of essentially giving us the same US Title Match over and over.

Now watch them have Roman exercise his rematch clause against Jericho next week.

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Ronda Rousey’s UFC 207 Loss, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

Ronda Rousey, UFC 207By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I find it somewhat odd that I’m commenting on yet another UFC fight, as I’m a pro wrestling guy through and through.

Then again, maybe it’s not so odd. Ronda Rousey changed the world. She’s a bonafide superstar that opened doors for women not just in MMA, but athletics at large. Her impact has been felt more in pro wrestling than most sports. The “women’s revolution” we’ve seen in the last few years didn’t happen because WWE suddenly changed their minds about how to portray their female talent. The popularity of Ronda Rousey opened the door for Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, etc.

Given all this, it was very jarring to see Rousey sustain yet another quick loss at UFC 207. I’ll never claim to be a UFC aficionado. But you don’t have to be one to see she’s looked like a different fighter in there.

Twitter trolls were pretty hard on Ronda that night. There was a lot of talk about Rousey retiring, and even trading in her fighting gloves for pro wrestling tights. There’s been some debate about how much of an attraction she would be now that she’s lost twice. My response to that: Brock Lesnar had sustained losses in the UFC prior to his WWE return. Now he’s arguably the biggest attraction they have. And even after CM Punk’s UFC loss, I don’t doubt they’d kill to have him back. Rest assured, Rousey would do just fine in WWE.

But frankly, I’m hoping Rousey doesn’t retire just yet. Her career has meant too much for her to pack it in after a couple of rough losses. If MMA is something she’s still passionate about, she’s earned the right to stay in the octagon. And I know there are plenty of people who’d still pay money to see her.

Don’t listen to the haters, Ronda. Go out on your own terms.

WWE Raw, January 2, 2016Ponderings From Raw:

Stephanie McMahon announces Chris Jericho will challenge Roman Reigns for the United States Title in the main event. Kevin Owens vs. Seth Rollins is made, with the loser being banned from ringside in the main event. Toward the end of this segment, Steph mentioned how Smackdown beat Raw in the ratings last week, and that Raw has a ratings war to win. I wouldn’t exactly call more Owens/Reigns/Rollins/Jericho a winning strategy. It feels like we’ve been watching the same matches for months. In fact, this same title match took place on Raw a month ago.

Meanwhile, Mick Foley had yet another verbal gaff during this match. Oh Mick…

Seth Rollins def. Kevin Owens via disqualification. Owens is banned from the main event. It’s a shame Rollins does’t have more momentum as a babyface. He’s so damn athletic. What a horrible missed opportunity it was to not bring him back as a babyface last year.

Karl Anderson def. Cesaro. As soon as Gallows and Anderson’s music hit, I figured they were dropping the fall here. When they announced Anderson was in the match, it was virtually a guarantee. And then low and behold, Karl Anderson pins Cesaro. Imagine my shock. Great looking neckbreaker off the top rope. But spoiler alert: Gallows and Anderson ain’t gettin’ the tag belts.

Braun Strowman, Sami Zayn, WWE Raw, January 2, 2017Braun Strowman def. Sami Zayn in a Last Man Standing Match. I wish they’d saved this for the main event, or at least the top of the third hour. You could have built the entire show around this match. It’s a great David vs. Goliath story. Loved the backstage brawling. It’s been refreshing to see them get back to that in recent weeks.

I wish we’d seen a match like this earlier in Zayn’s main roster run. It would have done wonders to establish his character.

WWE hypes the premiere of Bring It to the TableThis actually looks pretty good. One of the questions they hyped for it was about whether Hulk Hogan would ever return to WWE. The fact that they even said that on television means he’s coming back, most likely around Wrestlemania.

Titus O’Neil auditions to be a member of the New Day, loses to Xavier Woods. I liked this audition segment. Titus got to be entertaining and show off his personality. He took his share of criticism in 2016. But he’s better than a lot of people give him credit for.

Stephanie McMahon tells Bayley she never wanted her on RawI don’t say this about Steph’s segments very often, but I loved this. It fit her character perfectly. And you can potentially pay it off down the road with a Bayley/Stephanie match. I’d love to see more.

Drew Gulak, Cedric Alexander, WWE Raw, January 2, 2017Drew Gulak def. Cedric Alexander. There wasn’t much to this one. I can only assume Alicia Fox will eventually turn on Cedric and go with Noam Dar.

Roman Reigns def. Chris Jericho to retain the United States Championship. I couldn’t help but tune out of this one a bit. That’s no reflection on the talent these two have. But we’ve seen them wrestle so many times that the novelty has just worn off. Still, seeing Reigns smack the ring post on that attempted Drive By was cool.

Interesting that Jericho did that Eddie Guerrero spot with the implied strike with the title belt. He’s obviously supposed to be a heel. But longtime fans have happy memories of Eddie doing that.

TJ Perkins def. Brian Kendrick. I was legit surprised Perkins won. I feel like it’s been months since he got a win on television. I guess statistically it had to happen.

Rusev and Jinder Mahal def. Big Cass in a Handicap Match. It’s nice to see Jinder has something to do as Rusev’s run-in buddy. Dude’s looking jacked these days, to the point where people were making wellness policy jokes. I won’t go that far. Innocent until proven guilty, folks.

Nia Jax, Bayley, WWE Raw, January 2, 2016Bayley def. Nia Jax to earn a Raw Women’s Title Match at the Royal Rumble. What is Nia Jax’s bodysuit made out of? Is it actual leather? Is that a stupid question?

@TheMarkySmark on Twitter posted something funny when Sasha Banks came out to post Nia the match: “Watch out Nia Jaxx, a 90lb woman is coming after you!” (sic) She makes a good point.

The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels announced for Raw next week. I got goosebumps when they announced ‘Taker would be appearing in New Orleans for the first time since the Streak ended at Wrestlemania XXX. This feels like a big announcement. Could it even be the announcement that Wrestlemania XXXIII will be his last go-around? I hate to even put that out there, considering we’ve been speculating about that for 17 years. But it gets more likely every year…

Bill Goldberg appears on the inaugural edition of the Kevin Owens Show. Goldberg and Roman Reigns hit a double-spear on Braun Strowman. Chris Jericho threw his name in the hat for the Royal Rumble Match. Given the likelihood of an Owens/Jericho match at Wrestlemania, does he actually have a shot at winning?

Braun Strowman should have a strong presence in the Rumble Match. I’m curious to see where he goes as we get closer to Wrestlemania.

Roman Reigns, Goldberg, WWE Raw, January 2, 2017Nice to see Goldberg and Kevin Owens share a ring. The presence Owens has out there matches well with Goldberg’s superhero aura. Seeing Goldberg and Jericho out there together also bring back interesting memories. I doubt we’ll see Reigns and Goldberg wrestle, but there’s obvious intrigue there.

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

Chris Jericho’s Date with a Cage, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

WWE United Kingdom ChampionshipBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

With the announcement of the crowning of a United Kingdom Champion on the WWE Network next year, there’s naturally been a lot of buzz. The idea, reportedly, is for the network to have weekly UK show similar to what 205 Live is for the Cruiserweights. So there’ve been questions about the continued oversaturation of content, WWE potentially trying to create its own territorial system, what this means for other promotions across the world, etc. All valid questions.

Quite frankly, I don’t know if or when I’ll be able to see any of this UK content. There are only so many hours in a week. But for now, I’m taking an optimistic approach. This tournament has a big upside. The UK is in the midst of its own wrestling boom right now, and I’ve been able to see very little of what’s going on over there. All these guys now have a chance to wrestle in front of a whole new audience, and educate a lot of American fans about British wrestling.

One of WWE’s big drawbacks in the last several years has been its inability to create new stars. Using the Cruiserweight Classic tournament, they’ve been able to bring guys like Rich Swann, TJ Perkins, and Cedric Alexander to the main roster. Whether they’ll become big stars remains to be seen. But they’re commodities. They’re fresh faces. As somebody who watches Raw and Smackdown every week, it’s tough to complain about a potential new source of fresh faces.

Mick Foley, WWE Raw, December 19, 2016Ponderings From Raw:

Mick Foley announces Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns for the Universal Title at the Royal Rumble, with Chris Jericho suspended from the ceiling in a shark cage. Poor Mick. He tries so hard. And he’s still got some of his trademark charm despite being forced to recite scripted dialogue. But then he makes an embarrassing mistake like he did here, saying they were in Pittsburgh instead of Columbus. I love Mick Foley, I really do. But I’m glad he’s reportedly got a couple weeks off. He needs a break.

Some guys who need a break from each other? Kevin Owens, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Chris Jericho. It feels like they’ve been working together nonstop since September. The Jericho stipulation notwithstanding, the Universal Title Match announcement was a disappointment. If I’m Roman Reigns, I’m expecting a dome full of boos at the Rumble, justified or not.

Rusev def. Big Cass via disqualification. Enzo later attends sensitivity training. Shorter is probably better with Rusev and Cass right now, so I won’t complain about what we saw here. I’ll credit Cass with one thing: He looked legit pissed at Rusev.

One of the stories on this show involved Enzo being sent to sensitivity training after being “naked” on the show a few weeks back. This didn’t do much for me. It seemed like they were trying to mimic the success they had with the Daniel Bryan/Kane anger management skits a few years ago. But once again, I credit them for doing something different, breaking up the monotony, and extending a plot thread through much of the show.

WWE Raw, December 19, 2016, Sasha BanksNia Jax interrupts Sasha Banks. Firstly, mad respect for Sasha for her performance at Roadblock. She doesn’t have to take the risks she does. Often they’re unnecessary. But you can’t doubt her passion. That always shines through.

That being said, I turned the volume down when she started talking. This might be unpopular, but her promos now officially annoy me. It’s not entirely her fault. She’s just written as a white meat babyface right now. I will credit her with looking into the hard camera, though. Eye contact = connection. She can also put on a great boo-hoo face (shown above).

Champion or not, it wasn’t hard to figure out Nia Jax and Sasha were going to be partnered after Roadblock. Again, lack of roster depth. Given their obvious size difference, I’m intrigued. I liked Nia calling Charlotte a “little girl.” This program will be good for her.

Austin Aries makes his Raw debut at the announce desk. Cedric Alexander def. Noam Dar. I’ve got high hopes for Cedric Alexander in 2017. He’s so damn explosive, and that Lumbar Check is awesome. I also think this is the first time we’ve seen Cedric and Alicia come out together on Raw.

After the match, Noam Dar got on the mic and essentially said he wanted Alica. I’m certainly not Shakespeare, but here’s a writing tip: When another man says, on national television mind you, that he wants to get with your girlfriend, you kick his ass. You don’t just stand there and get angry. It makes you look like a chump.

Noam Dar, WWE Raw, December 19, 2016If I’m not mistaken, this was Austin Aries’ Raw debut. A little understated, considering what his status was in other promotions. But at least he’s there. He’s not a good announcer yet. But I like that they’re having him tag in for Cruiserweight matches. It’s a little bit like what Mike Tenay used to do on Nitro.

Sheamus, Cesaro, and the New Day def. Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, and the Shining Stars. I never hated the “penny” tag belts the way some fans did. The tag titles they used on Raw during the first brand split looked so generic that I was just grateful for something different. That being said, the red belts Sheamus and Cesaro got on this show look better.

The pre-match dialogue with New Day, Sheamus, and Cesaro was actually pretty good. Then Gallows and Anderson came out and spoiled it. Then the Shining Stars came out and killed it dead. No interest in the eight-man tag. I assume the New Day will get a tag title rematch soon.

Also, Big E’s little ad lib about Charlotte becoming a 16-time champ by next month was on point. I tip my hat to you, sir.

A commercial airs for John Cena’s return to Smackdown next week. I don’t normally comment on these things, but this spot for Cena’s return was really well done. It was like a super-condensed career retrospective, and played up Cena as the elder statesmen and legend they want him to be.

WWE Raw, December 19, 2016, TJ Perkins, Rich SwannAfter turning on Rich Swann at Roadblock, Neville cuts his first heel promo on Raw. He and Brian Kendrick lay out Swann and TJ Perkins. Neville’s delivery was pretty good here. I don’t really see him as a big promo guy, but he surprised me. I was really skeptical about him turning heel. But if he switches up his in-ring game a little bit, this heel turn just might work for him.

Lately TJ Perkins has become the Dolph Ziggler of the Cruiserweight Division. Lately all he does is lose to Swann and Kendrick. Plus, he ran out there to save Swann, and immediately ate a kick from Neville. Thanks for coming, idiot. He needs to write a sternly worded letter to creative.

After Foley refuses to give him another shot at Sami Zayn, Braun Strowman decimates Sin Cara and Titus O’Neil. There was something very cathartic about seeing Braun Strowman rip apart that hokey Raw Christmas set. That’s something I’ve wanted to do for years.

I really dug that lingering shot of Mick Foley standing there looking over the body of Sin Cara, observing Braun’s damage and pondering the consequences of his actions.

WWE Raw, December 19, 2016, Bayley, Charlotte FlairCharlotte Flair gloats after her Roadblock victory. Bayley interrupts. Bayley pins Charlotte in controversial fashion. Corey Graves called Charlotte the “Iron Queen” as she came out. I like that. That’s different. As with Sasha, I give Charlotte a world of credit for the effort she put into that Iron Man Match. She’s the best female talent they have right now, and arguably the best overall heel in the company.

Good line: “Well, you are dressed like a fifth grader. So let’s go to school!”

Bad line: “Every month … you subscribe to the WWE Network thinking this is going to be the month that Charlotte loses, and every month I disappoint all of you.” Um, Charlotte has lost the title to Sasha three times now. I don’t need to buy the network hoping to see her lose. I can see it for free. Hell, I saw it this week! I get what she was going for, what with the pay per view winning streak. But there’s something to be said for clarity.

Based on what we saw here, I’m optimistic about what we’ll get from Charlotte and Bayley. This could lead to Bayley’s best in-ring performances since her main roster debut.

Braun Strowman interrupts the main event, attacking Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins. This might not be a popular opinion, given WWE’s obsession with three-man announce teams these days. But the Michael Cole/Byron Saxton/Corey Graves dynamic is growing on me. Specifically with the role Saxton is playing as the cheesy, aw-shucks babyface announcer that Graves hates. They had a little sarcastic exchange about Graves getting Saxton the night off next week, with Cole adding that Saxton should spend time with his family. Saxton’s reply: “You guys are my family!” I won’t lie, I laughed.

Brain Strowman, WWE Raw, December 19, 2016After sitting through yet another Raw main event with Owens, Jericho, Reigns, and Rollins (or some combination of said four), I was really pleased to see Strowman out there. Not only does it do him good to rub shoulders with the main eventers, but it did Sami Zayn a bit of good to have the announcers mention his role in all this during a main event segment.

I honestly never through I’d see the day Braun Strowman would be the best part of a Raw main event. But here we are.

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

WWE Roadblock 2016 Predictions, Plus Ponderings on Dolph’s Big Win

Dolph Ziggler, AJ Styles, WWE Smackdown, December 13, 2016By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Here we go again. It’s almost fitting that Dolph Ziggler has modeled much of his look after Shawn Michaels. He may very well be the new Heartbreak Kid. Only Dolph will break your heart for entirely different reasons.

Tuesday night, Dolph Ziggler became the top contender for AJ Styles’ WWE Championship, winning a fatal fourway match. He will now face Styles on the December 27 edition of Smackdown. Sound familiar? It should. Ziggler won a similar match to earn his WWE Title shot at Summerslam. The one he lost clean. He would then go on to lose match after match to the Miz. He finally pulled out a win when his career was on the line, only to eventually drop the title right back to Miz. Now, in one match, he’s back in the WWE Title hunt.

Don’t fall for it, folks. This is a rerun. Not only is Dolph Ziggler not winning the title, he’s not being elevated back to main event status. He’s in this spot because WWE ran out of babyfaces to challenge Styles for the belt. They’ve put him with Dean Ambrose a million times. He’s worked with John Cena quite a bit, and may again come Wrestlemania. Who else is there?

Dolph Ziggler, Dean Ambrose, WWE Smackdown, August 2016

From a performance standpoint, I love Dolph Ziggler. He’s stellar in the ring and solid on the mic. The problem is, I just don’t see him as a credible threat to Styles. Remember, AJ has spent the last several months picking up some of the biggest wins of his career. Ziggler has gone in the exact opposite direction.

Moreover, as a viewer I’ve lost faith in Ziggler. Why is he the new Heartbreak Kid? Because watching him continue to bust his ass yet still be denied the spot he deserves is downright heartbreaking. They just keep dangling that carrot in front of him, and he just keeps reaching.

Having an underdog character is one thing. But the audience can only take so much heartbreak. Eventually, they lose faith in you. This is why I think Ziggler should have lost to Miz at No Mercy. He could have gone away and come back revitalized. But of course, they can’t do that with him because they need bodies on that Smackdown roster. He deserves to be in this spot because of his talent and athleticism. But in the end, what it boils down to is attrition.

Moving over to Raw territory, let’s talk Roadblock

WWE Roadblock 2016, Big Cass, RusevPRE-SHOW MATCH:
Rusev vs. Big Cass

Rumor has it Vince McMahon likes Big Cass. And why not? Hell, I like Big Cass. He’s seven feet tall, and apparently you can’t teach that. Is Cass ready to be a singles star? Nope. Not at all. His mic skills need to be sharpened. He doesn’t have to be what Enzo is, but I need to believe him when he talks. Right now, that’s not the case.

Still, the guy has potential down the road. So it would behoove WWE to protect him. I don’t know if he’s going to pin Rusev clean, but Cass definitely isn’t taking the fall. My guess is Enzo comes in for some kind of screwball finish.

PREDICTION: Big Cass

WWE Roadblock 2016, Rich Swann, Brian Kendrick, TJ PerkinsWWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Rich Swann (c) vs. Brian Kendrick vs. TJ Perkins

I’m not expecting anything special here. That’s kind of sad, isn’t it? The cruiserweights had so much buzz after the Cruiserweight Classic. Nowadays, there’s very little to distinguish them from the rest of the roster outside of the purple ropes and title belt. They’re just…there.

I don’t see Rich Swann dropping the belt here. He’s proven to be the charismatic babyface you’d want at the top of your division. So I’d keep the belt on him for awhile, at least until a worthy new heel emerges.

You know who’s in an odd spot these days? TJ Perkins. He was the inaugural Cruiserweight Champ, then lost the belt to Kendrick fairly quickly. Now Swann has taken his spot as the division’s lead babyface, and he’s recently lost singles matches to both Swann and Kendrick. On a recent episode of 205 Live, Austin Aries flat out asked him: “Can you beat these guys at anything besides video games?” I’d say it might be time for a heel turn, but I don’t see WWE dropping his kid-friendly image in the near future.

PREDICTION: Rich Swann

WWE Roadblock 2016, Sami Zayn, Braun StrowmanSTIPULATION MATCH:
Braun Strowman vs. Sami Zayn
Match has a 10-minute time limit.

I like this match. The time limit plays up how dangerous Braun is supposed to be, while also masking his relative inexperience. It also plays perfectly into Sami Zayn’s underdog character.

Braun has to be the victor here, one way or the other. Maybe he’ll pin Sami, maybe we’ll see the match stopped. Either way, he’s not getting pinned. Zayn’s best hope here is a disqualification or count-out victory. That’s how it should be. Strowman has been one of WWE’s success stories this year. Why slow him down now?

PREDICTION: Braun Strowman

WWE Roadblock 2016, Seth Rollins, Chris JerichoSeth Rollins vs. Chris Jericho

This should be a good match. But from a story perspective, it doesn’t do much for me. I will, however, give them credit. At least they’ve laid out a reason for this match to occur. Rollins wants to be Universal Champion again, so that he can force a confrontation with Triple H. For that to happen, he needs to isolate Kevin Owens. For that to happen, he needs to get rid of Chris Jericho.

But I don’t see that happening. The “best friends” duo of Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho seems to be all but officially dissolved. This would seemingly indicate a match between the two is imminent, possibly at the Royal Rumble. Jericho doesn’t need to win this match to propel him toward a Universal Title Match. But it couldn’t hurt. Plus, with Rollins calling out Triple H the way he is, they have the perfect excuse to pull shenanigans and cost him the match. So why not?

PREDICTION: Chris Jericho

WWE Roadblock 2016, Kevin Owens, Roman ReignsWWE UNIVERSAL TITLE MATCH:
Kevin Owens (c) vs. Roman Reigns

For better or worse, Roman Reigns is still “the guy” in WWE. Ergo, he can become the Universal Champion (or the World Heavyweight Champion for that matter) at any time. I’d like to think that’s not what we’re going to see here. Owens hasn’t set the world on fire with that belt. But of the two he’s more intriguing, not to mention more entertaining.

I’m inclined to say Owens on this one. But it could go either way. Aside from Seth Rollins vs. Triple H and Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg, Wrestlemania still looks wide open. It would piss off many a smart mark, but they could give the belt to Reigns to set him up for a big title defense. The question is, against who? If you leave the belt on Owens, you keep the door open for not only a big match with Chris Jericho, but a confrontation with Finn Balor, who is eyeing Wrestlemania for his return. It seems like Owens is the one to go with. But if he doesn’t win this one, don’t expect Reigns to be too far from the title picture as we move forward.

PREDICTION: Kevin Owens

WWE Roadblock 2016, Sasha Banks, Charlotte Flair30-MINUTE IRON MAN MATCH FOR WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE:
Sasha Banks (c) vs. Charlotte

Two questions on this one…

1. What Women’s Title Match do we want to do at Wrestlemania?

2. Just how important is Charlotte’s pay per view winning streak?

The likely candidate to challenge for the title is Bayley. She’s been kept fairly strong, and she’s got a history with Sasha that would lend itself to a big match like that. On the other hand, Charlotte is objectively the best all-around female performer WWE has right now. She needs to do something at Wrestlemania, and a Women’s Title Match seems like the most natural spot for her. Plus, they’ve built this pay per view streak up quite a bit. If they want to break it, Wrestlemania seems like the right place.

You also have the Ric Flair factor. I sincerely doubt he’s there strictly as the garnish. Odds are he plays some sort of role in the outcome. The obvious route would be to have him swerve Sasha, and have the belt once again go back to Charlotte. Again, with Wrestlemania still wide open, this one could go either way. That’s especially true when you consider the back and forth nature of this program. It’s all been very pattern-based. Sasha wins it on Raw, Charlotte wins it on pay per view.

But let’s go out on a limb. Let’s say this is where they finally break the cycle. Sasha wins, feuds with Nia Jax between now and Wrestlemania, and then gets to Bayley at Wrestlemania. As for who that leaves for Charlotte…um…Nikki Bella? That’s a tough one. There’s no way she doesn’t get on Wrestlemania, though. One way or another, Charlotte will return to wrestling’s grandest stage.

PREDICTION: Sasha Banks