WWE’s Most Fascinating People of 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Yeah, I’m still stealing this Barbara Walters bit. What can I say? I like it. I’ve been able to do it every year (with one exception) since 2012.

This list is subjective, as always. These are 10 people who, for reasons both good and bad, stood out to me over the course of 2017. We’ve got unlikely champions, call-ups from NXT whose journeys have been more tumultuous than anticipated, a veteran who’ll be on the Wrestle Kingdom 12 card, and many more.

So let’s get down to business…

1. Jinder Mahal

Jinder was one of WWE’s biggest gambles this year. The company made him their poster child for their attempts to break into the Indian market. In the process, Mahal went from glorified enhancement talent to WWE Champion in a matter of weeks. With help from the Singh Brothers (the former Bollywood Boyz), Mahal scored three consecutive pay per view victories over Randy Orton. He went on to retain over Shinsuke Nakamura at Summerslam and Hell in a Cell.

Though he held the title for most of the year, Mahal became a controversial figure for a variety of reasons. The question of whether he deserves this sudden shove into the limelight has always been there, with his matches and promos being highly critiqued. Also, the nature of his physique has been in question for quite some time. Many have suggested his increased musculature has come from steroids, or other performance enhancing drugs. The racial overtones used in his program with Nakamura did him no favors either. He actually got “That’s too far!” chants during a promo in October when he said of the Japanese star: “You always rook the same.”

Signs pointed to Mahal being the champion and the focal point of WWE’s two December shows in India. But by the time they got there, not only had the belt been taken from Jinder, but one of the shows had been cancelled. The “Maharaja” was still in a high profile match with Triple H. But he ended up eating the pin. He’d also been pulled from a headline match against Universal Champion Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series.

While success inevitably breeds envy and criticism, it’s safe to say the Jinder Mahal experiment hasn’t worked out the way anyone hoped. He may have an uphill battle ahead of him if he wants to stay near the top of the card.

2. Asuka

The “Empress of Tomorrow” made her long-awaited debut on the main roster in October. While she’s maintained her undefeated streak, Asuka has run into a familiar problem. Like many of her peers, she’s had trouble translating her NXT success to the main roster.

To WWE’s credit, they brought Asuka in with a ton of hype. But her match with Emma at No Mercy left fans underwhelmed. She scored a hard-fought victory, but she wasn’t presented as the dominant destroyer they’d come to know. They quickly switched gears, placing her in enhancement matches akin to those done for Braun Strowman and Nia Jax early in their Raw tenures. But you only get one chance to make a first impression, and for Asuka it had come and gone.

Thankfully, they seem to know what they have in her. She was the sole victor in the women’s match at Survivor Series, has started to score decisive wins over lower card wrestlers like Alicia Fox and Dana Brooke, and has publicly declared her intent to come after the Raw Women’s Championship. Asuka would be a perfect pick to win the recently announced Women’s Royal Rumble Match.

Asuka got off to a rocky start. But she seems to be picking up speed. I’d certainly hate to see her end up like a certain other woman on the Raw roster…

3. Bayley

Bayley’s 2017 was…okay. Just okay. She started out fairly strong, defeating Charlotte Flair on Raw to win her first Raw Women’s Title, and then breaking Flair’s pay per view undefeated streak shortly thereafter. She would go on to retain the title in a multi-woman match at Wrestlemania. Things seemed to be going well for her.

But by mid-year she’d fallen off track. WWE writers seem unsure of how to write Bayley. To an extent that’s understandable. Her character is very unique. You don’t see very many relentlessly positive, squeaky clean underdogs in 2017. But when paired against the spunky brat Alexa Bliss, she became a wishy-washy wet noodle. Bayley needed to show fire against Alexa. We needed to see that she could get angry when she had to. We didn’t get that. Instead we got bad dialogue, capped off by an absolutely atrocious “This Is Your Life” segment that was meant to garner sympathy for her.

By the time summer game around, she was getting the opposite. There were noticeable boos for WWE’s resident hugger, even when she was sidelined with a separated shoulder. These days, Bayley essentially just another name on the roster. From a creative standpoint, that’s an absolute travesty. Bayley is a special kind of character, who at one point had a special connection with a variety of fans. If there’s one person in all of WWE who could use a little character rehabbing, it’s her.

4. Matt Hardy

When it came to Matt Hardy, we spent most of 2017 waiting.

But just a few weeks ago, an on-screen breakdown led to the emergence of “Woken” Matt Hardy. The difference between Woken Matt and Broken Matt? Semantics. He’s got the same gear, the same hair, the same accent. For all intents and purposes, Broken Matt Hardy has come to WWE.

We haven’t seen a lot of him yet. It’s mostly been pre-taped promos, going back and forth with Bray Wyatt. Die-hard wrestling fans were already sold on Broken Matt. But the more casual fans watching Raw are seeing him for the first time. So far so good. Crowds have been reacting fairly well, and Matt has even breathed a tiny bit of life back into Bray.

There’s no shortage of options as to what can be done with this alternate version of Matt Hardy. In Impact, Jeff got in on the action as Brother Nero. But Matt’s wife, father-in-law, and children also became on-screen characters. We saw outrageous stuff on location at the Hardy compound. We saw a friggin’ drone. If Matt has a decent amount of control here, which he reportedly does, he could be one of the best parts of Raw in 2017.

5. Enzo Amore

Enzo faced a lot of criticism in 2017, but wound up proving a lot of his haters wrong. He started the year doing his usual shtick with Big Cass. Now he’s got the Cruiserweight Title and has essentially been made the star of 205 Live.

He could very well have fallen off the map after Cass went heel on him in June. But he ended up cutting some of the most passionate, scathing promos we heard on WWE TV all year. When Cass went down with an injury, Enzo was quickly moved into the Cruiserweight Division and put with Neville. Smart marks cried foul when Enzo somehow pinned Neville for the Cruiserweight Title in September. But the double turn that followed, turning Enzo heel and Neville babyface, turned out to be amazing. Enzo’s mic work and undeniable star power are undeniable. He’s earned his spot.

Enzo reminds me a lot of an early incarnation of the Miz. He won’t win any prizes for his wrestling. But his character work is on a different level than almost everybody else. When he talks, you believe him. In WWE, that’s a golden ticket that can take you almost anywhere. Enzo can be a singles wrestler, a tag team wrestler, a manager, an announcer, or whatever they need him to be. If Enzo is as tenacious and hard-working as Miz, he’s going to be around a long time.

And as long as we’re talking about him…

6. The Miz

Mike Mizanin’s suitability for pro wrestling stardom has been questioned from the start. Mainly because of his background as a reality TV star. But his wrestling ability has also been heavily critiqued. Throw in his success, including headlining a Wrestlemania, and he’s been a polarizing figure amongst die-hards.

But 2017 seemed to be the year Miz finally won over his critics. The majority of them anyway. He’s no slouch in the ring. But it”s mostly been a matter of his mic work and the presentation of his character. The continued inclusion of his wife Maryse, the slick suits, the good to great promos week after week, the incorporation of Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel as his “Miztourage.” It’s all come together. Now, roughly seven years after he main-evented Wrestlemania, he once again feels like a main-eventer. In 2017 he continued to make the Intercontinental Title feel prestigious again. He defended it, and in some cases traded it with, the likes of Dean Ambrose, Jeff Hardy, and Roman Reigns. It’s likely he’ll challenge for it again when he returns. Then again, perhaps it’s time for a new frontier…

Perhaps 2018 is the year Miz once again becomes WWE Champion.

7. Sami Zayn

Under the WWE umbrella, Sami Zayn was always portrayed as a sentimental underdog. It’s a role he wears well. Case in point, his work with Braun Strowman early in the year. But the underdog role isn’t always a good one to have. Yes, cases like Rey Mysterio Jr and Daniel Bryan will always exist. But the thing about being an underdog is that you sometimes have to lose. A lot. And despite what some in the WWE creative department would have you believe, wins and losses matter. As such, Sami Zayn’s time on the main roster as “the Underdog From the Underground” hasn’t been the most eventful. Even Sami himself has dropped hints of his frustration at how things have gone.

Then Hell in a Cell came around, and Sami aligned with nemesis Kevin Owens against Smackdown General Manager Shane McMahon. In the days to come it became clear that the underdog had become the villain.

It was just what the doctor ordered. Zayn tapped into a side of his personality that’s delightfully annoying, and become an atypical sort of heel. He described it on a podcast as: “…like when you’re dating a girl and she kind of has these quirks, but they’re lovable. But once you break up, it’s like, ‘oh, God! She was so annoying! … the things you used to love about her, now, you hate about her because you don’t love her anymore.”

Lovable or not, it’s working. Zayn has been a lot of fun to watch these past few months, and at the Royal Rumble he’ll be wrestling for the WWE Title. Now that’s progress.

8. Shinsuke Nakamura

Hopes were high this past spring when Shinsuke Nakamura was called up to Smackdown.    Performers like him don’t come by every day, and having him be on American television for the first time (not counting NXT) was a big deal. But WWE isn’t exactly known for giving their performers the best material to work with, even less for letting the performers be themselves. So the question of how he’d fare loomed ominously.

Coming from someone who hasn’t seem much of his work in Japan, Nakamura’s time on the main roster has been underwhelming. Almost a year later, it still feels like we hardly know the guy. The announcers call him things like “Artist” and “Rock Star.” But those are empty nicknames. Who is this man? Why is he the way he is? Granted, they’re not exactly writing Shakespeare for him. His program with Jinder Mahal was a low point for WWE television all year, particularly when the racial stuff started coming into play.

Still, bad creative can’t take away the performer Nakamura is. The crowds are still into him. There’s even been a little bit of buzz about him winning the Royal Rumble Match this year. Hope isn’t lost for Nakamura’s WWE tenure yet. But the guy needs a hit. That one great match. That one great promo or vignette. Something.

9. Braun Strowman

There’s an argument to be made that Braun Strowman, not Roman Reigns, should be WWE’s poster boy. At the very least, he’s not hearing the kind of boos Roman is.

It’s fitting then, that Strowman’s best work this year was with Reigns. They had an uncanny amount of chemistry, especially when you consider Strowman’s experience level. He’s only been around a few years. But these matches with Reigns have been damn good. That image of Strowman heaving a chair at Roman’s head is as awesome today as it was when it happened.

More importantly, Braun Strowman represents a tremendous success on WWE’s part. They’ve created a genuine homegrown star. And unlike a John Cena or a Roman Reigns, the male fans aren’t threatened by him. So if WWE went with Braun, he could potentially have a relationship with the audience that we haven’t seen from a “chosen one” in a long time. A top babyface that the fans actually want to cheer for. Imagine that. This could be it. This could be the year the “Monster Among Men” stands at the top.

10. Chris Jericho

One of WWE’s most fascinating people just wrestled Kenny Omega at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s biggest show of the year.

Chris Jericho’s choice to compete at Wrestle Kingdom 12 made a hell of a statement about NJPW’s foray into the United States, and its potential as an alternative to WWE. It also speaks volumes about who Chris Jericho is as a performer, and his resolve to continually challenge himself and grow. As if he wasn’t already the most versatile and multi-faceted performer in wrestling history.

Jericho also ended his latest WWE tenure on a high note. Coming into 2017, his rapport with Kevin Owens continued to be highlight of Raw every week. It culminated in a “Festival of Friendship,” which was arguably the most entertaining segment all year. Jericho and Owens weren’t nearly as compelling as enemies. But Owens got a Wrestlemania victory out of the deal, which is a nice feather in his cap. It’s a feather in Jericho’s cap too, as he got to help elevate yet another wrestler on their journey to WWE superstardom.

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Bobby Roode’s Debut, Plus Ponderings From Smackdown Live

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Baron Corbin’s had a bad week. Last Tuesday, he unceremoniously cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase, and lost in a matter of seconds. Granted, it was after a distraction from John Cena on the outside. There was a lot of talk about this being done to heat up their match at Summerslam, with a furious Corbin getting a, angry, violent brand of revenge on Cena.

Then Cena won at Summerslam. Yikes. Either of these instances without the other? You can write it off as simply the story they’re telling with him. But combined? It looks like the Lone Wolf is getting neutered. Or at least “de-pushed.”

Rumors have obviously been swirling about WWE being upset with Corbin for some reason. Certain reports have cited a Twitter spat with Dave Meltzer, of all things. Either way, he’s clearly being punished for something. They had him involved in the main event on this week’s Smackdown, so he’s not dead in the water. But my guess is Corbin won’t be in the WWE Title picture anymore. At least for the foreseeable future.

I can’t say I’m heartbroken. Corbin is getting there. But is he ready to be WWE Champion? Probably not. Considering they’ve already taken something of a risk by abruptly putting the belt on Jinder Mahal, it’s probably best that Corbin gets a little more experience before being elevated to the top spot. The guy can get heat. But let’s have him see a few sights before he arrives at his destination.

Thankfully, if WWE needs someone to fill a gap in the upper card, this episode showed us a glorious new name they can plug in…

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Kevin Owens disputes Shane’s referee work at Summerslam. McMahon and Styles allow Owens to pick a guest referee for the main event. Owens eventually chooses Baron Corbin. Shane said that this was KO’s last shot at the title, one way or the other. Can we get that in writing?

Bobby Roode def. Aides English. Did you catch JBL’s Beer Money reference?

After being a heel for his entire NXT run, I’m surprised to see Roode called up as a babyface. It works, though. Crowds are going to cheer him regardless. He’s in good hands on Smackdown.

Daniel Bryan reveals Shelton Benjamin as Chad Gable’s new tag team partner. Shelton caught a bad break last year. He was set to come back, but had to deal with a torn rotator cuff. So this is a long time coming. He and Gable are a much needed addition to the Tag Team Division, and the matches should be epic.

JBL happened to mention the World’s Greatest Tag Team on commentary. Say, what’s Charlie Haas doing these days anyhow? Just curious…

The Usos def. The Hype Bros. Well, there goes a program between the Usos and the Hype Bros. So what happens now? Do we do the Usos and the New Day again? I thought I’d be sick of seeing them at this point. But after they tore the house down on the Summerslam pre-show, it’s tough to turn down more of that. Maybe throw in a cage or a ladder next time?

Actually, I’m just now noticing that Smackdown‘s next pay per view is Hell in a Cell. Right now, the Usos and the New Day are the closest thing Smackdown has to a real blood feud. Why not give them the cell?

Shinsuke Nakamura def. The Singh Brothers. Nakamura hits Jinder Mahal with the Kinshasa after the match. I’ve been calling for the Singh Brothers to wrestle for awhile now. They didn’t exactly look imposing here. But if they’re looking for challengers for the Usos or the New Day down the road…

Naomi and Becky Lynch def. Natalya and Carmella. I liked the story here, with Nattie not being able to trust Carmella. I was blown away when she took the belt at Summerslam. Not at all the direction I thought they were going. But I’ll never complain about someone getting their due. Natalya deserves to stand at the top of the mountain as much as anybody else.

On a more sour note, Carmella’s real-life boyfriend Big Cass apparently suffered a torn ACL on Raw, and will be out for about nine months. That’s an awful break. Cass was starting to get some decent heat, too. Best wishes for a speedy return.

Dolph Ziggler cuts a return promo. Don’t be fooled, kids. Sadly, all we’ve got coming from Ziggler is more of the same. My guess is they’re putting him with Bobby Roode.

AJ Styles def. Kevin Owens to retain the United States Championship. Corbin blows off his referee duties when Shane McMahon intervenes. Shane takes over as the official in the closing moments of the match. I’m really hoping they don’t put Owens and Shane inside Hell in a Cell. Or worse, Mahal and Nakamura. Considering how they normally do things, I’m sure we will get one of those. But I’m tellin’ ya, the Usos and the New Day are the way to go.

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

Braun Strowman as “the Guy,” Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Summerslam erased any lingering doubts: Braun Strowman needs to be WWE’s next “Guy.’ In other words, the top dog. The big cahuna. The man everyone vies to face. The spot currently occupied by John Cena, and the spot WWE has been trying to shoehorn Roman Reigns into for years.

While Brock Lesnar may have walked out of Summerslam‘s Fatal Four-Way with the Universal Title, make no mistake about it, Braun Strowman was the star of the match. To his credit, Brock Lesnar put him over like 10 million bucks. Has anybody ever given Lesnar a beating like that? Certainly not since he came back in 2012. But I can’t think of anything comparable in Brock’s entire WWE career. The result? Magic.

Michael Cole also deserves a pat on the back for his role in the Lesnar/Strowman stuff. He made a point to not only sell Strowman’s unprecedented dominance over “the Beast,” but to point out how it’s different from what Bill Goldberg did last year. Goldberg surprised Lesnar. Strowman conquered him.

They’ve really got something with this guy. He’s a giant that wants to dominate and destroy all challengers. Simple and to the point. More importantly, the fans are into him. And it happened organically. After what we saw at Summerslam, Lesnar vs. Strowman could easily main event Wrestlemania XXXIV.

Which is why it absolutely sucks that they’re blowing it off at No Mercy

Ponderings From Raw:

After a promo from Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar, Braun Strowman interrupts and destroys the Universal Champion. A title match between the two is later made for No MercyObviously, I understand the appeal of doing what these two did at Summerslam, and then putting them together the following month. But imagine if they just waited. If they let it stew until April. Have Braun win the Royal Rumble Match, and then make it your Wrestlemania main event.

Instead we’re probably getting Brock against Roman. Go figure.

Enzo Amore def. Big Cass in a Brooklyn Street Fight due to match stoppage when Cass suffers a knee injury. This doesn’t do much to cool Enzo’s backstage heat, does it? It didn’t look like it was Enzo’s fault, though. Just a bad fall by Cass.

Cass was obviously frustrated, his cussing apparently needing to be censored. We don’t have any sense of what the injury is. But the timing is terrible. Sending good vibes his way.

Nia Jax def. Emma. I guess there’s something to be said for getting TV time and having a storyline. But Emma has, for the time being, been cast as a loser.

Elias def. R-Truth. The Drifter has had his critics. But the crowds have been into him. You can’t deny that.

John Cena appears on Raw to confront Roman Reigns after Twitter smack talk. The Miz interrupts. A tag match is made for the main event. Lots of talk about Cena’s “bald spot” on Twitter. Hey, when you’ve got as much money as this guy, you can wear your hair however you want. Don’t believe me? Ask Trump.

When he was in there with Cena and Roman, Brooklyn made Miz the babyface. Miz. That says a lot, doesn’t it? What’s more, they had Miz play into it. I actually wondered if he was ad-libbing until he said the lines about the fans “not knowing whether to cheer or boo” Cena and Reigns. Classic WWE whitewashing, right there.

Cena was more or less expected on Raw after Summerslam, based on the local advertisements. They’re obviously planting the seeds for Cena against Reigns at some point. Lots of talk about big moments in this segment. Well, there’s nothing quite like an arena chanting, “You both suck!”

Cedric Alexander, Rich Swann, Mustafa Ali, and Gran Metalik def. Ariya Daivari, Tony Nese, Noam Dar and Drew Gulak. Remember that Raw in 1997 when Kane came down and beat up a bunch of midget wrestlers? I really wanted that here. Nothing like a little old school Kane to stir up some cruiserweight oatmeal…

Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose def. The Hardy Boyz. This one didn’t do it for me. The match looked good on paper. But it seemed like they never quite got into a groove. I’d be open to another match, though.

Alexa Bliss interrupted Sasha Banks’ celebration. I couldn’t. Sorry, folks. I couldn’t bring myself to listen to a Sasha Banks promo. But obviously, things are continuing between she and Alexa Bliss. Works for me.

Finn Balor def. Jason Jordan. These two had better chemistry than I expected. The announcers mentioned the time they spent together in the Performance Center. I expect that has something to do with it.

So how about this: At some point, Jason Jordan cheats to win a big match, drawing disapproval from his father, Kurt Angle. Thus, the start of a Jason Jordan heel turn, and a father vs. son feud. Jordan is so milquetoast right now. He needs something to spice things up.

John Cena and Roman Reigns def. The Miz and Samoa Joe. Reigns accidentally hits Cena with a Superman Punch during the match. The Brooklyn crowd had started the beach ball stuff during the Balor/Jordan match. Then in this match they did a friggin’ wave. And of course, Cena fed right into it.

The purist in me wants to bury the fans in the Barclays Center. But that’s what happens when your show is too damn long.

Booker: “I don’t want to remember the last time I was in the ring with Joe, because he left me bruised, battered, torn, and all busted up. … It also happened in my home town. I’ll never forget that.”

It was also in TNA. So WWE probably wants you to forget.

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A WWE Summerslam 2017 Preview, Plus: Baron Corbin Goes Bankrupt

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

From pre-show to main event, Summerslam 2017 has 13 matches. THIRTEEN. Do we even have time for an introductory editorial?

Looking up and down the card, what comes to mind is that we’ve got an awesome main event. But everything else? Meh. Objectively, it’s a stacked card. But for me personally, it’s pretty much a one-match show. Not exactly ideal for the second biggest show of the year.

Let’s take a look…

PRE-SHOW MATCH:
The Hardy Boyz and Jason Jordan vs. The Miz and the Miztourage

It’s not often that you see the Hardys or the Miz on the pre-show. For better or worse, this card is like a double-stuffed Oreo…

Considering the direction they’re going with Jason Jordan, it seems unlikely that they’d have him lose here. I’m picturing him pinning Bo Dallas or Curtis Axel. I imagine they’ll have him challenge Miz for the Intercontinental Title at the next Raw pay per view. At least they didn’t rush into it.

PREDICTION: The Hardy Boyz and Jason Jordan

PRE-SHOW MATCH FOR WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE:
Akira Tozawa (c) vs. Neville

Ugh. Well what was the point of doing this on Raw if we’re just going to turn around and put it on Summerslam? I can’t stand it when they do this. At least with Finn Balor and Bray Wyatt they used it as an excuse to bring out the Demon. This just feels wasteful. Like they didn’t know how to kill time with them on Raw, so they just decided to switch the title. The one upside? They probably got more time on Raw than they will here.

I see them giving the belt back to Neville. Champion or not, he’s the best thing they’ve got going in that division. Winning the belt gave Tozawa a certain legitimacy. But as a character, Neville is more intriguing.

PREDICTION: Neville

PRE-SHOW MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
The New Day (c) vs. The Usos

The Usos deserve to get the belts back here. Their whole image change has been amazing. Their promos are among the best in the entire company. They’re like an entirely different team. And while they’d upped the ante and put some kind of stipulation on this match, they work really well with the New Day.

However, now that they’ve put the belts on Kofi, Xavier, and Big E., it feels like they need to stay there for awhile. I have no idea who they’ll put them with next. But it will almost certainly be a step down.

PREDICTION: The New Day

Randy Orton vs. Rusev

Remember when Rusev was an unstoppable monster? Seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it? The thing is, he could easily be that guy again if he could just get a few big wins under his belt.

Sadly, that’s seemingly not in the cards for him at Summerslam. Randy Orton just put Jinder Mahal over three times on pay per view. Despite inexplicably pinning Jinder last week, he’s owed a pay per view rebound. Apparently when a big babyface needs an obligatory win, Rusev is the guy you call.

PREDICTION: Randy Orton

Bray Wyatt vs. Finn Balor

Obviously, they had Bray beat and humiliate Finn on Raw to justify a Demon appearance at Summerslam. It’s a little cheap. But I’m just happy Bray got to beat him at all. Even without the Demon paint, it would have been easy to just have Balor get his big win and move on. At least he saves a little bit of face this way.

If Balor is breaking out the Demon stuff, he’s got to win. This is only the second time we’ve seen this alternate personality of his compete. When the Demon finally does lose, it should be a big deal. But he needs to be built up first. Thus, it’s a victory for Balor.

PREDICTION: Finn Balor

WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Naomi (c) vs. Natalya

With all due respect to Natalya, this seems more like the title match you’d make at a “B” pay per view. A No Mercy or an Elimination Chamber. It would be another thing if Nattie was on this big roll, and we had a sense they were going to go with her. But that’s not the case. This seems more like a match they’re putting out there as an excuse for Carmella to cash in her Money in the Bank briefcase. But after what we just saw with Baron Corbin on Smackdown, that seems a lot less likely. An attempted cash-in? Maybe. But nothing that will actually stick.

With that in mind, I can only assume Naomi keeps the belt. Natalya deserves a big moment as much as anyone. I just don’t think this is it.

PREDICTION: Naomi

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

Her talent, guts, and passion notwithstanding, Sasha’s been getting on my nerves as of late. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is. But it’s somewhat related to her alleged real-life heat with Alexa. She was on Raw Talk awhile back and called her a fake, implying Alexa didn’t love wrestling as much as she did. Granted, it was a worked shoot. But Sasha strikes me as the kind of person to take herself too seriously in that respect.

Still, I see things paying off for her at Summerslam. Before Bayley got hurt, it seemed like they were setting her up to win the belt back from Alexa. Realistically, without Bayley around this is the biggest match they can do in that Raw Women’s Division as it exists now. Unless someone like Asuka shows up after Summerslam, they’re going to need to shake things up. Putting the belt on Sasha accomplishes that for now.

PREDICTION: Sasha Banks

WWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Kevin Owens
Guest Referee: Shane McMahon

It’s highly doubtful this match, or any match on this card, tops what AJ Styles did with John Cena at last year’s Summerslam. Especially given that he and Owens haven’t necessarily had the best chemistry. But adding Shane to the mix gave the program that extra push to get it here. I am intrigued to see how things play out with Shane. He and Owens have a really interesting dynamic.

Owens is obviously going with Shane after Summerslam. So it makes sense to have Owens lose after getting in Shane’s face and prompting a physical reaction. They could have AJ win clean, I suppose. But Shane is in there. May as well use him.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

The Big Show vs. Big Cass
Enzo Amore to be encased in a shark cage. 

Cass is one of WWE’s big projects right now. Regardless of how popular Enzo is, everything they’re doing here is about elevating him. So it should go without saying that he’ll wind up getting the win here.

It’s not often that you see a babyface trapped in the cage for a match like this. It’s almost always designed to keep a bad guy isolated so he can’t interfere. We just saw that with Chris Jericho at the Royal Rumble. If Enzo does wind up interfering, I imagine him somehow costing Show the match, furthering his status as the village irritant. To his fellow wrestlers, at least. To most fans? Not so much.

PREDICTION: Big Cass

WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Sheamus and Cesaro (c) vs. Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose

As hokey as it was at certain points, the build-up to the reunion of Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose was very effective. If you need proof, look no further than the crowd that night. It was a cool moment. A moment I imagine they’ll try to top once Roman Reigns comes into the picture.

But first, we’ve got to establish that Rollins and Ambrose can still do big things together. To do that, they’ve got to take the tag belts away from Sheamus and Cesaro. I expect that’s exactly what we’ll see here. The crowd should really be into this one as well. The Shield magic notwithstanding, all four of these guys can go. There’s a good chance this winds up being one of the better matches of the night.

PREDICTION: Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose

John Cena vs. Baron Corbin

Prior to Tuesday’s Smackdown, I had Cena pegged to win this one. But Corbin’s failed cash-in has me second-guessing things. If Cena costs Corbin his big match, and then beats him at Summerslam, where does that leave him? If they want him to remain a player, Corbin needs to get his revenge on Cena. Otherwise, he’s going to have to climb his way back up the card. Or worse, he could be the next Damien Sandow. Only not as talented. Or as over.

You know who I’d like to see? Frustrated, bitter, angry, violent Baron Corbin. Show me that this man is dangerous. Convince me that I should be afraid of him not just because of his physical stature, but his cunning and ruthless mind.

PREDICTION: Baron Corbin

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Jinder Mahal (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

This wasn’t at all what I expected for Nakamura at this show. Considering he just popped up on television in April, it’s a little quick for his first WWE Championship Match. But I can’t bring myself to gripe too much about it. At least it show us that WWE has enough confidence in him to place him in a big match like this. It’s reminiscent of where AJ Styles was last year.

Nakamura’s match with Baron Corbin at Battleground was a disappointment. If he and Jinder Mahal turn in a stinker on a big stage like Summerslam, some of that stink might stay on him for awhile. What’s more, Jinder hasn’t had that epic WWE Championship Match yet. So it’s in both these men’s interest to give us something great and memorable.

Ultimately, I don’t think the Jinder Mahal experiment is over just yet. I see this match having the same outcome that a lot of his matches do. The Singh Brothers meddle in the match, which results in either a dirty finish or a disqualification. Either way, the title stays on Jinder. After Randy Orton’s victory over the champ two weeks ago, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve got a three-way dance for the title coming up between Mahal, Nakamura, and Orton. I can’t say I’m dying to see it. But there’ve certainly been worse matches.

PREDICTION: Jinder Mahal

FATAL FOUR-WAY MATCH FOR WWE UNIVERSAL TITLE:
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe vs. Braun Strowman

From a conceptual standpoint, this is a fairly flawed show. That being said, they got the main event right. All four of these guys are hot right now, and any of them could conceivably walk out with the belt. On paper, that makes for an awesome main event.

WWE tried to throw a curveball our way by having Paul Heyman announce that if Brock loses the title, both of them will walk out. Considering Brock is not only under contract until Wrestlemania, and he’s being advertised for shows post-Summerslam, it seems unlikely he’ll drop it here. That’s not to say he can’t lose it, go away, and then come back later. But my gut says Brock keeps the title.

For me, the real drawing power of this match lies in the potential for sheer brutal chaos. All four of these guys hit hard and throw far. Hopefully, no matter who comes out on top, the audience wins.

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

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Ric Flair’s Legacy, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Ric Flair has once again become a hot topic. The iconic wrestler underwent major surgery this week. The exact nature of that surgery is unknown. But Flair was reportedly placed in a medically-induced coma. As we’re all too familiar with heartbreak and tragedy in situations like this, many of us feared the worst.

While the situation is still very serious, it seems like the real-life Richard Fliehr has a good amount of stylin’ and profilin’ left to do. That’s cause for celebration. The wrestling business has seen far more than its share of tragedy.

No one will ever be able to say with any certainty who the greatest professional wrestler of all time is. So much of this industry is subjective when it comes to the good and the bad. But as I scanned through the various well-wishes and tributes to Flair that popped up in my Twitter feed, it occurred to me that he may indeed be the closest we ever get to a definitive answer. For no other reason than if you ask any given wrestler, or even a knowledgable fan who the greatest of all time is, more often than not they’ll say Ric Flair. He’s synonymous with excellence and prestige in the wrestling industry. That’s not an accident. He inspired a generation of wrestlers with his incomparable promos and nearly unparalleled athleticism. Flair has given us so many memories. He’s a man who’s earned his place of honor in not only the wrestling industry, but popular culture itself.

So thank you, good sir. Have a speedy recovery.

Ponderings From Raw:

Dean Ambrose calls out Seth Rollins. The two come to blows. Sheamus and Cesaro come out to attack, but the former Shield members fight them off. Ambrose and Rollins finally do their trademark fist bump and reunite. The two duos to clash for the Raw Tag belts at SummerslamHave you ever seen a more milked fist bump? Jeez. Just make out, already.

Though I will say this: It worked. The crowd wanted to see them get back together, and WWE effectively built it up over several weeks. Now the question is, will they be as enthusiastic to see Roman Reigns rejoin the group?

Spoiler alert: No.

Sasha Banks def. Nia Jax to earn a Raw Women’s Title Match against Alexa Bliss at SummerslamAlexa’s silver lifeguard chair was an interesting touch to all this. Brings certain Baywatch-esque imagery to mind…

As time has gone on, Sasha has come to grate on me in more ways than one. But I’ll never deny how hellacious some of her bumps are. That swing she took into the barricade? Ouch. No way to protect your head on that one.

After a promo from Big Cass erupts into a fight, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson help Cass injure Big Show’s punching hand. What a difference a hot crowd makes. A different town would have given Cass the “What?” treatment. The fans in Boston made him look like a star. Cass even got to ad-lib a little bit. While he’s still not an awesome talker, this was his best segment thus far as a villain.

Akira Tozawa def. Neville to win the WWE Cruiserweight Title. I saw someone on Twitter say that Neville “legitimized” the Cruiserweight Division. While I wouldn’t go that far at all, it’s tough to understate what he’s meant to the 205 Live crew. He’s been the only one in this division with any kind of heat. He’s literally been an island. While this Cruiserweight Division has been an albatross for some (Austin Aries comes to mind), it’s been arguably the highlight of Neville’s entire WWE run. He made it work, and deserves a lot of credit for that. He deserves to graduate and move on to bigger things. But I imagine he’ll get his rematch in the near future.

One thing that has been legitimized? Akira Tozawa. He stood out from he moment he first appeared on Raw. And taking the belt off Neville after all this time is a huge deal.

Bray Wyatt def. Finn Balor. Wyatt dumps red paint on Balor afterward. This was the second of two matches on this show that were originally pencilled in for Summerslam. We later learned that it will now be Bray against Finn’s Demon personality at the pay per view. That’s pretty cheap, given how they got there. But at least Finn is getting on the show. I was worried this meant they were pulling the match. Not that it was all that amazing…

Mickie James def. Emma. Well, in Emma’s case I suppose a losing streak story is better than no story at all. Or worse yet, no TV time. Prior to last week, when was the last time we’d even seen Mickie on television? She deserves so much better.

After a match between Jason Jordan and the Miz ends in a disqualification, Jordan and the Hardy Boyz beat Miz and the Miztourage in a Six-Man Tag Team Match. This Jason Jordan thing had better end in a heel turn. Because right now he’s about as milk-toast as can be. Ironically enough, this is what they did with Kurt Angle in 1999 to make him a bad guy.

By the way, stellar job last week guys. Putting Jordan against a job guy from Canada, in Canada. Oye. I don’t claim to be an expert in wrestling psychology. But that’s pretty basic, isn’t it?

A brawl erupts between Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns, Samoa Joe, and Braun Strowman. Lesnar and Strowman need to be pulled apart. This main event is pretty damn strong. And they can get some mileage out of putting Brock with all three of these guys in singles matches down the road. As we saw here’s there’s obviously some fun, unexplored territory between Brock and Braun. Brock is reportedly going to be around as we move into Autumn. Seems like a damn good way to hold fan interest coming out of Summerslam.

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WWE Raw Ponderings: Brock Lesnar’s Big Announcement

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

And so the plot thickens…

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

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

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

Ponderings From Raw:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Shield Reunion Looms, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

Oh…great.

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

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

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

Ponderings From Raw:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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