WWE Survivor Series Predictions, Plus: The Jinder Mahal Experiment

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It’s been a week now since the Jinder Mahal experiment ended. For now, at least. So let’s pose the question: Did it work? All these months later, can we call Jinder Mahal’s reign as WWE Champion a success?

It depends on what your definition of success is. If the idea was to make Jinder a red hot WWE Champion, then this bet didn’t pay off. But if they were simply trying to elevate this guy and make him a commodity, then they got what they wanted…sort of. Either way, the results aren’t exactly stellar.

Jinder Mahal has been compared to JBL quite a bit. Jinder was abruptly shoved into the main event scene due to a lack of upper card heel talent, much like Layfield was in 2004. In hindsight, that’s a fair comparison. But only to a point. By 2004, JBL was a name. Not a huge one, but he’d achieved a measure of stardom with Ron Simmons in the APA. He was hardly the best worker in the world, but the Clothesline from Hell was a great finisher. He’s also a natural heel who could cut stellar promos. To this day some people still can’t stand the guy. (#FireJBL anyone?)

By comparison, Jinder has almost none of that going for him. That’s not to say he wasn’t talented in his own right. He’s a decent talker and has an amazing physique. But before the big push, he was just another guy on the roster. Most fans knew him from his days with 3MB, a comedy act whose job it was to put the real stars over. Mahal was actually cut, then brought back last year to fill space when they split the rosters again. He was a glorified enhancement guy. So giving him any kind of believability was an uphill battle from the start.

That’s not to say it couldn’t have worked. But instead of glossing over Mahal’s abysmal win/loss record, they should have leaned into it. Play Jinder up as a bottom-of-the-card guy who stole the WWE Title with help from the Singh Brothers. Every day he holds that championship is a travesty of justice. This is where having good announcers can come in handy. You have them say Jinder’s name with disdain, and remind us he’s an unworthy champion week after week.

Instead, we got things like the Punjabi Prison Match with Randy Orton and a feud with Shinsukt Nakamura that did nothing for either man. In the end, WWE had to abandon their newest pet project because no one bought him as an opponent for Brock Lesnar. For now at least, the experiment with Jinder Mahal and the WWE Championship is over.

Thankfully for Jinder, all is not lost. Now that he’s no longer under the pressure of being WWE Champion, he has a chance to actually prove himself as a commodity on Smackdown. They can develop his character and show us who he is when he doesn’t have to live up to the likes of Bruno Sammartino, Randy Savage, John Cena, etc. Heck, I’d take Jinder as the US Champion over Baron Corbin. Then he can play up the whole “Americans are prejudiced!” approach.

Did Jinder Mahal have any business being WWE Champion? Probably not. Either way, he’s now a player on WWE television. The question now is whether he can prove he deserves it.

Let’s jump into predictions for Survivor Series 2017…

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Enzo Amore (c) vs. Kalisto

Kalisto desperately needs to go to promo class. Either that, or WWE needs to tweak the way they present him. He’s capable of some truly amazing aerial stunts. I still vividly remember him hitting the Salida del Sol off a ladder a couple of years ago. If they emphasize that stuff, instead of making him another white meat babyface in the Cruiserweight Division, he might have a shot at being champion again. But for now, they’d be foolish to take it off Enzo.

PREDICTION: Enzo Amore

CHAMPION VS. CHAMPION:
The Miz vs. Baron Corbin

My expectations for this one are very low. It’s a heel vs. heel match with two guys who’ve never worked together, in a feud that will likely stop dead in its tracks after Survivor Series. Why should I care?

I’m always hopeful these kind of matches will prove me wrong. But considering Miz calls Corbin the “bathroom break of Smackdown,” it wouldn’t shock me if this became the bathroom break of Survivor Series.

I don’t see why you’d have Corbin beat Miz. The latter is easily the hotter commodity. Corbin is still a work in progress. There’s something there. But putting him next to Miz doesn’t make him look good at all.

PREDICTION: The Miz

CHAMPIONS VS CHAMPIONS:
Sheamus and Cesaro vs. The Usos

Another heel vs. heel match. But at least in this one we’re likely to get come good wrestling. Between their stellar promos and an outstanding run with the New Day, the Usos have been on fire this year. What’s more, Sheamus and Cesaro have more than proven their worth as a team on Raw. Given enough time and freedom, these four could turn in something great.

I think you give this one to the Usos. They’ve got a really hot act right now. As this is a one-off, why cool it down? Give them one more thing to get on the mic and brag about. Now it’s just a matter of finding them more teams to feud with…

PREDICTION: The Usos

CHAMPION VS CHAMPION:
Alexa Bliss vs. Charlotte Flair

I wish they’d had more time to build this, as it’s legitimately a pretty big match. It’s Alexa’s giant personality against the uncanny athleticism of Charlotte. I don’t know what to expect, but I’m intrigued.

This feels like a Charlotte victory to me. They just put the belt on her this week. Plus, despite Alexa’s rise to the top these past two years, Charlotte remains the bigger star. So at least for now, the Queen of Smackdown trumps the Goddess of Raw.

PREDICTION: Charlotte Flair

SURVIVOR SERIES ELIMINATION MATCH:
Alicia Fox, Asuka, Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Nia Jax vs. Becky Lynch, Carmella, Naomi, Tamina, and ?

It’s Paige. Paige is going to Smackdown, and she’s the final member of their team.

She was at Raw this past Monday, after all. But they opted not to use her. Why? Because they wanted to save her for the pay per view. Why not? It gives her return, and the match as a whole, a lot more kick.

The x-factor in all of this should be Asuka. They’re still trying to establish her as a dominant force on Raw, and it’s proven more challenging than I think anyone expected. She should take out two or three members of Team Smackdown, before ultimately getting into a brawl with someone on her own team that leads to a count-out. Thus, we get her out of the match without pinning her.

If Paige is indeed coming back on Smackdown, then Team Smackdown needs to win. She can be the sole survivor. But I’d also like to see her and Becky Lynch standing tall at the end. Either way works for me.

PREDICTION: Team Smackdown

The New Day vs. The Usos

Expect big things from this one, folks. It could easily steal the show.

Let’s not lose sight of what a big deal this is for the New Day. Putting them next to the Shield is a big deal. Reigns, Rollins, and Ambrose all went on to become legit singles stars after they broke up. They’ve headlined pay per views, won world titles, etc. While Kofi Kingston had a good amount of success on his own, he was never a main eventer like his opponents here. So indicating that the New Day are competition for the Shield is a great endorsement for Kofi, Big E, and Xavier. I’d love to think it’s a good indicator for life after the New Day.

All that being said, you can’t beat the Shield. Not now. They just got back together. You can’t rain on the parade mere moments after it begins. These guys have a least a couple of months left in them before they start losing and Sports Betting Dime is giving them favorited odds of 3/17 – Believe that.

PREDICTION: The Shield

CHAMPION VS CHAMPION:
Brock Lesnar vs. AJ Styles

Imagine the heat they could have built for this with more than two weeks notice. Imagine what they could have done if they hadn’t spent that time hyping Brock vs. Jinder…

I don’t know what to expect from a Brock Lesnar match anymore. I’d have thought the one with Braun Strowman would have been amazing. Not so much. On the other hand, he turned in good stuff at Great Balls of Fire and Summerslam. And if there’s one person on the planet that’s qualified to give Brock a great match, it’s AJ Styles. He’ll bump around like a maniac for all Brock’s big moves. It could very well be a sight to behold.

But good match or bad, Brock wins. That’s usually the scenario, isn’t it? Brock’s got a date with Roman Reigns at Wrestlemania, and he’s walking in with a (mostly) clean record.

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

SURVIVOR SERIES ELIMINATION MATCH:
Kurt Angle, Triple H, Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, and Braun Strowman vs. Shane McMahon, John Cena, Randy Orton, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Bobby Roode

As good as Brock vs. AJ or the Shield vs. the New Day could be, this is the match that needs to main event the show. For no other reason than all the different combinations we might see. Shane vs. Triple H. Cena vs. Balor. Cena vs. Joe. Triple H vs. Nakamura. Angle vs. Nakamura. The list goes on…

So we’re obviously getting Kurt Angle vs. Triple H at Wrestlemania. Possibly even the Royal Rumble. They had him lay out Jason Jordan on Raw. Despite how stupid Angle looked just standing there watching, they can’t let that go. It’s got to lead to a fight. I suspect Hunter lays out Angle at some point during this match to further things.

Two men who aren’t in this match? Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. Two men who need to interfere in this match? Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. We saw them bail during the big Raw vs. Smackdown fight on Tuesday. That set a natural precedent for them coming in and costing Shane his triumph over Raw. More importantly, it sets them up as the top heels on Smackdown.

Grab some popcorn, kids. I imagine this one will go the distance.

PREDICTION: Team Raw

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Brock Lesnar vs. Jinder Mahal, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

We learned last week that Luke Harper and Erick Rowan are coming back to Smackdown, a tag team once again. This time they’ll be called the Bludgeon Brothers.

On one hand this is a shame, especially for Harper. This guy can go. His match with Randy Orton at Elimination Chamber was awesome. But any time he gets some momentum as a single, it fizzles out. So they put him back with Rowan, as that’s worked in the past. Plus, it’s not like Rowan was doing much anyway.

No matter what these guys do, they’ve been painfully stuck in the shadow of the Wyatt Family. This is no different. Their vignettes are shot in a wooded area, which is synonymous with the old Wyatt Family vignettes. Rowan still has the sheep mask. And what their saying is in very much the same tone as their promos with Bray. They’ve shifted the focus, but essentially they’re the same characters.

So at this point, is there any harm in just putting them back with Bray? The poor guy is dying a miserable death on Raw right now. I’ve talked about how he needs a new coat of paint or something. While the Wyatt Family is hardly new, at least it worked. Why not trade Harper and Rowan to Raw, and bring two guys of equal value over to Smackdown. Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews come to mind.

Or better yet, why not just move Bray back to Smackdown? On Team Red, he’s become a punch line. On Team Blue, he was WWE Champion. Can somebody throw this poor guy a lifeline? Throw all three of them a lifeline!

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Daniel Bryan opens the show in his home state of Washington. A confrontation with Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens ensues. This opening segment made me realize how much I miss Bryan as a wrestler. Clearly I’m not the only one. He’s more over than any of today’s full-time guys.

It’s almost a waste for heels to prod Bryan about not being able to wrestle anymore. It’s not going anywhere, but it makes people want to see it that much more.

Heel Sami Zayn is a lot of fun. Or at least he was this week. He needs new music, though.

Michael Cole fills in for Tom Phillips, who is “on assignment.” First we get Corey Graves on both shows, now we’ve got a few weeks of Cole on both shows. Do we just want to have Saxton pull double duty and get it over with?

Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and Naomi def. Natalya, Tamina, and Lana. Carmella was on commentary for this match. At one point, Graves asks her who she’d like to be champion when she cashes in her Money in the Bank contract. She said something about it not mattering. What she meant was, “Lana. She can’t wrestle. She also doesn’t know how to sell the Figure 8.”

Sin Cara def. Baron Corbin via count-out. Sin Cara isn’t becoming the United States Champion. Not now, anyway. He’s good enough for a larger role, though. He’s damn sure got the talent for it.

Jinder Mahal challenges Brock Lesnar to a match at Survivor Series. AJ Styles interrupts and attacks the WWE Champion. Well, they went and did it. It’s Brock Lesnar vs. Jinder Mahal at Survivor Series. The silver lining in all this?  I’m very curious to see how Paul Heyman puts Jinder over as a credible opponent.

Styles took exception to Mahal saying he’d beaten everyone worth beating on Smackdown, since “you haven’t beaten AJ Styles.” For the record, Jinder beat AJ in May, during the build-up to the Backlash match where he won the title. In their defense, I wouldn’t want to highlight that in building to a match between them.

Dolph Ziggler def. Bobby Roode. 50/50 booking rears its ugly head again. Not exactly a stellar match, either. On the upside, they didn’t have Roode lose on pay per view.

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn def. Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura. Really good match. Particularly for Nakamura, who’s had a rough couple of months. He and Jinder had ZERO chemistry, and their matches suffered for it. So for Nakamura to be in there with Sami Zayn, who he had an amazing match with in his NXT debut, was a huge breath of fresh air.

Also, Corey Graves called Nakamura a “combat artist.” Has he done that before? I like that. It works a lot better than simply calling him, “the Artist.”

Zayn and Randy Orton were awesome together. How about a program with them, and then one between Nakamura and Owens as a palette cleanser from Summerslam and Hell in a Cell?

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WWE Hell in a Cell 2017 Predictions, Plus More on Sister Abigail

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There was a decent amount of buzz about Sister Abigail coming out of Raw this past Monday. For years we’ve heard about this mysterious mentor figure from Bray Wyatt’s past. So hearing him say, “Sister Abigail is alive,” made for a pretty loaded moment. The natural assumption was that this would lead to the debut of a new character. Possibly a new manager to freshen up Bray’s presentation. The guy could certainly use a new coat of paint.

But now, rumor has it that this is leading not to a new character, but to an alter ego for Bray. Sort of his own heel version of Finn Balor’s Demon persona. I imagine it will be Sister Abigail vs. the Demon at TLC later this month.

This development is…disheartening. I understand the notion of Sister Abigail as this figure from Bray Wyatt’s past that he draws a demented sort of inspiration from. But it’s only natural for us to be curious about who she was, what she looked like, etc. Not introducing us to her feels like a wasted opportunity.

Plus, knowing WWE this Sister Abigail alter-ego will simply be a flash in the pan. Something they use to extend Bray’s program with Finn Balor. Once Balor wins, which I assume he will, there’ll be no reason to go back to it. Just another page in the “wasted ideas” portion of Bray Wyatt’s career. A portion that sadly gets bigger year after year.

Anyway, let’s take a look at the card for Hell in a Cell this Sunday…

PRE-SHOW MATCH:
The Hype Bros vs. Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable

Clearly, the Hype Bros are either turning heel or breaking up. Given that Mojo Rawley seems like a natural babyface, I’ve been banking on a heel turn for Zack Ryder. It’s a little bit of a crap shoot. But it’s been a long time since he’s walked on the dark side. It’s worth a try. Either way, there’s no reason Benjamin and Gable shouldn’t walk away with this one. It’s simply a question of when they’ll pull the trigger on something with the Hype Bros.

PREDICTION: Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable

Bobby Roode vs. Dolph Ziggler

This has always been about Roode coming out of the gate strong with a great opponent. Ziggler played this same role with Shinsuke Nakamura several months ago. So the winner here has never been in in doubt.

Ziggler has taken some flack for his promos on big, elaborate entrances these past few weeks. But I actually think they’ve been among his best mic work. They make sense to me. In his mind he’s the best. But the fans don’t care. So he’s lashing out at the people they do care about. I have no idea what’s next for Ziggler. But hopefully he continues to get mic time.

PREDICTION: Bobby Roode

Randy Orton vs. Rusev

If there’s any justice in the world, Rusev wins this match. But because there clearly isn’t, it’s probably going to be Orton.

Last week I talked about whether WWE would have been better off strapping the rocket to Rusev, as opposed to Jinder Mahal. I’m hardly the only one to pose that question, either. We’re never going to know, obviously. But hindsight being 20/20, Rusev does seem like a much better option. Especially if Lana were still with him. Rusev and Lana are obviously more of a money pairing than Rusev and Aiden English. Or friggin’ Lana and Tamina…

PREDICTION: Randy Orton

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

Charlotte and Sasha Banks literally made history at this event last year. It was the first time a women’s match main vented a pay per view, with the first women’s Hell in a Cell Match. And she won! Tough act to follow…

I don’t see her faring quite as well this year. She’ll get the belt eventually, of course. But this feels like Nattie’s time. She’s not exactly lighting the world on fire. But there’s something there with her. There always has been. I’m not willing to give up on her as champion just yet. There’ll be plenty of time for Charlotte to be in that spot later.

PREDICTION: Natalya

WWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Baron Corbin

I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Tye Dillinger added to this match at the last minute. Especially after he beat Corbin on Smackdown this week. He’s been in the mix with Styles and Corbin almost since their program began. It’s breathed some much needed life into his run on the main roster, and it makes sense for him to be here. Plus, if they decide to put the belt on Corbin, they can do it without having him beat Styles.

I don’t see that happening though. At least not yet. Losing the Money in the Bank briefcase was a big step backward for him, and they’ve done too good a job building the US Title up to give it to him as a consolation prize. He needs some rehabbing before he wins gold. And he will win gold. We just need to slow his ascent a bit.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

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

They really should give it to Nakamura, shouldn’t they? After all the racial stuff Jinder threw out there, it would be pretty crappy not to have him get his comeuppance in the end. Mind you, I don’t think Nakamura is ready. Not in terms of how he’s been portrayed on television, at least. I still don’t feel like I know this guy. But that didn’t stop them from putting it on Jinder, did it? And at least Nakamura was a commodity for them in NXT. Let alone his massive body of work overseas…

But Jinder is probably going to keep it. WWE is going to India this December. Supposedly, one of the reasons they put it on him to begin with was to generate interest from India, so pulling the plug on him now would seem like a big admission of defeat. That means he’ll likely have it until the Royal Rumble at the earliest, Wrestlemania at the latest. It’s a real shame for Nakamura, as this program didn’t do him any favors at all.

At least they didn’t shoehorn this match into the cage.

PREDICTION: Jinder Mahal

HELL IN A CELL MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
The New Day (c) vs. The Usos

I’ve been saying for weeks that this should be main eventing the show. These guys have earned it. Every time I think I’m done with this feud, they find a way to inject new life into it. Great matches, great promos. They’ve just made it work. I don’t expect this to be any different.

My gut tells me the Usos will take this one, which should really come as no surprise. They’ve been switching the belts back and forth this entire program. So why stop now? The New Day lose very little at this point. It also gives them a perfect line about turning Hell in a Cell into the Uso Penitentiary.

They may as well turn the Usos babyface after this. The respect factor is clearly there, and the fans have been digging their promos for quite awhile now. The only problem is finding a heel team worthy of challenging them. After all this, I doubt the Ascension are going to cut it. Ditto for the Hype Bros…

PREDICTION: The Usos

HELL IN A CELL MATCH:
Kevin Owens vs. Shane McMahon

This week they added a Falls Count Anywhere stipulation to this match, which seems to contradict the whole point of a cage match. Unless, of course, the plan is to break out of the cage and do a big bump. In which case that stipulation allows them to go out on the most dramatic note possible. For a Shane McMahon match, that only makes all the sense in the world.

They’ve built this up for quite awhile. You can even trace it back to before the brand split, with Shane and KO having little moments together. That, combined with how they’ve heated this program up over the last few weeks, makes this a match worthy of the cell. I maintain that they don’t absolutely need it, and the New Day/Usos match could have headlined. But this works fine too.

While Shane doesn’t need to win this one, I suspect he will. Had they not brought up Shane’s kids, I might think differently. This feels like a situation where the good guy should win. Perhaps the bigger question is what the crazy bump in this match is going to be. On Tuesday, Owens literally threatened to throw him off the cage. How can you not do something big after saying that in the build-up?

Keep in mind though, it doesn’t have to be Shane taking a big fall. KO could just as easily get himself a highlight reel moment.

PREDICTION: Shane McMahon

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The Jinder Mahal Experiment, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m starting to realize that I like what Jinder Mahal could be as WWE Champion, rather than what we’ve been given in reality.

When Jinder got his big push, I think a lot of us remembered Muhammad Hassan, the Arab-American character WWE created a few years after 9/11. He would accuse both the fans and other wrestlers of persecuting him because of his ethnicity. He wasn’t the most polished guy in the ring or on the mic, but the act got plenty of heat. It lasted about a year, ending when WWE took things too far in an angle that happened to air after the London bombings of 2005. Hassan was erased from WWE television shortly afterward.

They obviously want to strike some of the same chords with Jinder Mahal. We’ve heard Jinder talk about racism and xenophobia. WWE could easily have portrayed him as an underneath guy who used the Singh Brothers to cheat Randy Orton out of the WWE Championship, and then continued to cheat in subsequent title defenses. Announcers and other wrestlers would point to him with disgust as an undeserving paper champion holding the WWE Title hostage. In response, Jinder could point back and play the race card. “I’m an honorable champion, but you all hate me because I look different!”

I get the sense that’s the vibe they were going for with last week’s racially charged promo. Obviously they missed the mark pretty badly, opting for racial jokes as opposed to character-driven heat. The world is a very different place in 2017 than it was in 2004 and 2005. We’re all much quicker and easier to offend. Realizing this, they seem to be tempering Jinder’s material, trying not to cross a certain line. So what we have here is a foreign menace heel that can’t fully play that foreign menace role for fear of offending people too much. Ironically, that led to them pushing the envelope in the wrong direction, garnering exactly the kind of outrage they were trying to avoid.

So is it time to call the Jinder Mahal experiment a failure? Neither his matches nor his promos have been lighting the world on fire. They don’t seem to trust him to hold main event timeslots on Smackdown anymore. He also has hardly any chemistry with Shinsuke Nakamura, who he’s wrestling at Hell in a Cell.

I keep holding out hope that there’ll be a sudden breakthrough with Jinder. That he’ll suddenly find that right opponent or have that great promo. But at this point, maybe the best thing for him would be to take a step back and work on his character. After all, it’s not like he had a lot of time before being thrust into the spotlight. The Jinder Mahal experiment happened pretty fast. But it’s not too late for it to work.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Sami Zayn tries to talk sense into Kevin Owens. A match is made between the two for later in the evening. At one point, what we were seeing on WWE TV was dubbed the “Reality Era.” It was just a gimmick, of course. For the most part, there was nothing more real about what we were seeing than any other point in the company’s history. But considering the content of the promos we’ve been seeing lately, we may be in the middle of a miniature reality era right now.

Consider what we’ve seen lately. The stuff between John Cena and Roman Reigns was very insider-oriented, with lines about Roman’s real-life drug test failure, Cena’s Hollywood priorities, etc. You’ve got people on TV talking about how annoying Enzo is backstage. Hell, Miz and Maryse even announced their very real pregnancy on the air.

And then there’s this segment with KO and Sami Zayn, which illuminated what appear to be legit frustrations Sami has over his position on the card since coming to Smackdown. He and Daniel Bryan even had a little Twitter exchange about that recently.

You can debate the how “real” some of this stuff really is. But here’s the thing: Even if Sami isn’t really upset about his push, the story is somewhat based in reality. Sami hasn’t been featured prominently on Smackdown, and he’s never been a champion on the main roster. It’s something tangible that people have seen with their own eyes. It’s better storytelling. It’s an improvement.

Baron Corbin def. Tye Dillinger by count-out. So we’ve got AJ Styles vs. Baron Corbin at Hell in a Cell for the US Title. I don’t really have a strong opinion on Corbin being the US Champ. And perhaps that’s enough of a reason not to put it on him. For now, Styles is just fine with it.

Jinder Mahal cuts another promo on Shinsuke Nakamura. Nakamura finally gives Mahal and the Singhs their comeuppance. At the very least, the people were happy to see Nakamura finally come out and destroy these guys. There’s still not much heat or chemistry between them. But it was a nice moment.

The Usos def. The Hype Bros. The New Day to defend against the Usos inside the cage at Hell in a Cell. Well, at least we’re getting a Cell Match between these guys. While the Kevin Owens and Shane McMahon are fine for the cage, this Tag Team Title Match should not only be the only Cell Match on the card, but should be the main event. The New Day and the Usos have earned it.

Rusev’s Pride of Bulgaria victory celebration is crashed by Randy Orton. Aiden English had a really nice part in this segment, getting to sing Rusev to the ring. You know who else could have played a role? Lana. No, I will not let this go…

Rusev’s promo wasn’t amazing. But does anyone honestly think he wouldn’t be a better WWE Champion than Jinder Mahal? Mind you, I say that as a Jinder fan.

Charlotte Flair def. Carmella. I’m not really into inter-gender wrestling, but somehow the idea of Charlotte wrestling James Ellsworth amuses me. I’m sure the match would be abhorrent. But the visual is interesting.

Dolph Ziggler impersonates the Undertaker. Bobby Roode challenges Ziggler to a match at Hell in a Cell. And so we get the match we all knew this was building to. Incidentally, Dolph Ziggler vs. Undertaker? I’m game if they are.

Kevin Owens def. Sami Zayn via match stoppage. Shane McMahon comes after Owens. I still hate the hockey fight spot. Probably always will. On the flip side, that suplex Zayn gave Owens on the apron was sick. These two are always great in the ring. It’s simply about the law of diminishing returns. We’ve seen these guys wrestle so many times that it can become boring if we see it too much in a given timeframe. They used to wrestle all the time on Raw. But if I’m not mistaken, this is the first time they’ve wrestled one-on-one on Smackdown. So I’ve got no complaints here.

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Does Rusev Want Out of WWE? Plus Ponderings From Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Can you really blame Rusev for wanting out of WWE?

At least that’s the rumor. Allegedly, the “Bulgarian Brute” is frustrated with how he’s being used lately, and even went as far as to ask for his release. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It’s the same reason Cody Rhodes left. Ditto for Ryback, Wade Barrett, and a few others on a list that’s growing longer and longer as time goes on.

It’s not like there isn’t a precedent for Rusev playing a more prominent role. He’s worked with both Roman Reigns and John Cena on major pay per views. You can throw Randy Orton on that list too, despite their Summerslam match lasting all of 10 seconds. Considering where he’s been, it’s understandable that he’d be frustrated with where he is now. Because these days Rusev is just…there. He’s an established heel for babyfaces to beat as they build momentum toward a bigger match. Has he reached his ceiling in WWE for the time being? Is he better off leaving and building on his reputation elsewhere?

Rusev has never been a top guy. I don’t know how much value he has in terms of being a marquee babyface. But he’s got a hell of an upside as a menacing monster heel. He looks the part, he’s got a good amount of charisma, and he’s more than capable in the ring. He’ll ever be a Roman Reigns type of star. But he deserves bigger opportunities than he’s being given right now. And he can get them.

WWE may be reluctant to grant Rusev his release, given how it would effect his real-life wife Lana. But if the real-life Miroslav Barnyashev (What a name…) and Catherine Perry get a chance to shine outside the WWE bubble, they should take it. There’d be no shortage of wrestlers willing to step up and take Rusev’s spot. And as we’ve seen numerous times already, a WWE run can be just as good, if not better, the second time around.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

WWE Champion Jinder Mahal opens the show. The Singh Brothers apologize for failing last week against Shinsuke Nakamra. Mahal, Rusev, and the Singhs get the better of Nakamura and Randy Orton in a scuffle. “I should be revered as your WWE Champion!” The word is pronounced “re-veered,” Jinder. Not “reh-verred.”

This was not good. Nakamura was apparently supposed to knock the Singhs aside and get to Jinder. But he just gave them a little push, and they just jumped out of the way. The Singhs were way too cartoony here, like henchmen on the ’60s Batman show. Brutal.

Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable def. The Ascension. Benjamin looked as good as he’s ever been. Once he and Gable get over to teams like the New Day and the Usos, we could see some really amazing stuff.

Hearing JBL call an Ascension match in 2017 is interesting, considering he buried them so much on commentary when they first came up to the main roster. He really damaged them, seemingly beyond repair. A repackaging could help these guys. But for now, they’re more dead than disco.

Tye Dillinger answesr AJ Styles’ United States Championship open challenge, despite being attacked by Baron Corbin beforehand. Styles gets a quick win with the Calf Crusher. While there’s no shame in losing to AJ Styles, I continue to be disappointed in how WWE is using Tye Dillinger. There’s something there with him. But he’s become just another guy on the roster.

So AJ’s next program is indeed going to be Corbin. The match between Corbin and Nakamura may have crapped the bed. If anybody can give him a good match, it’s Styles.

Bobby Roode def. Mike Kanellis. Speaking of just another guy on the roster. I was optimistic about Mike Kanellis’ spot on the roster. But now? Things look a little different…

Kevin Owens interrupts Aiden English to badmouth Shane McMahon. After responding, Shane sends Sami Zayn out to face English. Owens makes himself the referee, Powerbombs Zayn to give English the win. When Zayn’s music hit, I thought for sure we were getting him against KO. Have we seen these two go one-on-one since they came to Smackdown? I don’t think they have. That’s shocking, considering how often we used to see it on Raw.

The Usos def. The New Day, will decide the stipulation for the Tag Team Title rematch. I wish they wouldn’t keep giving this match away on free TV. On the Summerslam pre-show these guys proved they deserve to perform on the big stage. They shouldn’t diminish them by simply throwing them out there week after week.

This was decent. Obviously not as good as the Summerslam match. But it wasn’t meant to be. Interested to see what they do with the stipulation. As I said last week, they should really put these guys in Hell in a Cell. But I doubt they can wait that long.

Tamina won a squash match with Lana in her corner. Byron Saxton said he’d never seen a duo like Tamina and Lana before…

He’s never seen two people who can’t wrestle before? Is that what he means? It must be.

Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura def. Jinder Mahal and Rusev. Orton hits the RKO on Nakamura after the match. Orton and Nakamura to wrestle next week to determine top contender for WWE Title. Pretty standard stuff here. And of course, Rusev took the fall. The upside? They didn’t pin Jinder again.

The obvious direction for them to go is Jinder against Nakamura inside Hell in a Cell, the idea being the cage will keep the Singh Brothers out. But that program doesn’t deserve the cell. Plus, while I like what they’ve done with Jinder, his pay per view matches haven’t exactly been stellar. How much he’s to blame for that is up for debate. But he’s not ready for Hell in a Cell. Frankly, I’m not sure Nakamura is either.

One way or another, we’re probably going to find out.

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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.

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John Cena’s New Frontiers, Plus WWE Great Balls of Fire Predictions

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Ugh. Rusev, no. You do not come out and challenge John Cena on the Fourth of July. There’s no way that ends well.

Nevertheless, “Big Match John” is back. And apparently he’s not allowed to wrestle on both Raw and Smackdown because…well, just because. So as far as opponents go, he’s got the pick of the litter. He dropped a bunch of names on Smackdown this week, planting a numerous seeds for potential matches.

It’s unclear just how much time we’ll have with Cena going forward. I mean that both in the short term and the long term. He’s got a TV show, and he’ll likely have various film projects that take him away from the ring. Ergo, the matches he does have will become a bigger deal as time goes on. It’s the Brock Lesnar effect.

So with the roster now wide open, and his matches more important than they’ve ever been, who do they put with John Cena in the months to come? We’ve already seen him go up against so many current stars. AJ Styles, Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, etc. So who’s a fresh name they can put him with on pay per view?

I’ll give you five of them.

1. Shinsuke Nakamura

We haven’t necessarily seen that first amazing Nakamura match on the main roster yet. But considering the success Cena had with AJ Styles, Cena vs. Nakamura might be it. In establishing Nakamura as a top babyface on Smackdown, pairing him with Cena could go a long way. They made a point to have Cena say his name this week when throwing out potential opponents. So it seems like this one might be in the pipeline. Hell, they could do it as soon as Summerslam if they wanted to.

2. Bobby Roode

They said Cena was a free agent, right? Which means he could potentially go anywhere, right? So why not NXT?

John Cena and Bobby Roode would have a great traditional babyface/heel dynamic that could be really entertaining if done right. It doesn’t have to be for the championship. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be in NXT! They could have Roode’s first exposure to the national audience be in a program with Cena! It worked wonders for Kevin Owens, after all.

3. Samoa Joe

This is something fans have talked about for years. But now that Joe is such a hot commodity, it really needs to happen. Think about it: The Samoan Submission Machine against the man who never gives up. The promos alone could be worth it.

And if you like seeing Cena get hit really hard, chances are you’ll love this one!

4. Finn Balor

When Balor was called up to Raw, they pushed him to the moon. He got a clean win over Roman Reigns on his first night in. That’s a hell of an endorsement, no matter who you are. But since he’s come back from his injury, they’ve taken their time with him. Most likely to see how his body holds up. A great performance against John Cena, and hopefully a win, would propel him right back into the upper echelon on Raw. Plus, they’d have a kick ass match.

5. Roman Reigns

John Cena vs. Roman Reigns could main event a Wrestlemania, and probably will. Sooner rather than later.

Many, myself included, have likened this to a modern day equivalent to Hulk Hogan vs. the Ultimate Warrior. The two men who’ve been positioned as the top stars in the company, going head to head to find out who the top dog is. To a generation of fans, this would be as epic as Hogan vs. Warrior was all those years ago. Though I don’t doubt for a second that a big section of the audience would try to boo this match out of the building. But both Cena and Reigns have a proven track record of delivering in big match situations. And this could very well be the biggest match WWE is capable of putting together right now. It’s practically inevitable.

Now let’s get to Great Balls of Fire

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Neville (c) vs. Akira Tozawa

I’ve been waiting on this one for quite awhile. Tozawa was spinning his wheels with Brian Kendrick for way too long. Of course, it’s on the pre-show. Because why wouldn’t it be?

While I’m sure the match will be good, I don’t see Tozawa taking the belt. It occurred to me on Monday that the person who ultimately takes down Neville probably won’t be Tozawa, or Cedric Alexander, or Rich Swann, or anyone like that. It’s going to be Enzo Amore. They won’t put on a mat classic. But it’s a good match personality-wise. We’ve still got at least a few months before we get there, though. So until then, hail to the king!

PREDICTION: Neville

WWE INERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
The Miz (c) vs. Dean Ambrose

As hot as the Miz is right now, he desperately needs a new rival. Ambrose does too. This is like the feud that never ends. So let’s put the final nail in this thing. Let Miz keep the belt, then move him into a program with Finn Balor. As for Ambrose…Elias Samson maybe? Seems like the logical choice. Either way, I’ve seen this episode a million times. Let’s just get it overwith.

PREDICTION: The Miz

Seth Rollins vs. Bray Wyatt

If a hero is only as good as the villain he fights, then Seth Rollins is in big trouble. It seems like a long time ago that Bray Wyatt was WWE Champion. Somehow it feels like he has absolutely no credibility left. He’s calling himself a god lately. But as I said earlier in the week, a god would theoretically win a match once in awhile, right?

Meanwhile, Seth Rollins is still doing in babyface purgatory. People like him, and the company is obviously behind him. But his on-screen persona is still missing something. They’ve been trying to make him more relatable by talking about his past transgressions and mistakes. But that’s not cutting it. He’s desperately missing a certain cool factor. A factor that, ironically, 2K Games gave him in their recent commercial for WWE 2K18.

So in effect, this match gives us both a babyface and a heel that aren’t where they should be in the pecking order. So does it really matter who wins if we’re not adequately invested in either guy? In any event, expect Rollins to take it. Because why should Bray gain any real momentum now?

PREDICTION: Seth Rollins

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

Not quite sure what to expect from this one. Obviously there’s great potential here, both in terms of the in-ring product and the personalities clashing. If WWE would loosen the creative reigns with these two, as they did with Brock and Joe on Monday, the promos could be explosive. I doubt we’ll get that lucky.

I see Alexa cheating to win, leading to a rematch around Summerslam. In theory, they could throw Bayley into the mix. But for the time being, the best option for her may be to remain on the sidelines.

PREDICTION: Alexa Bliss

30-MINUTE IRON MAN MATCH FOR WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLES:
Sheamus and Cesaro (c) vs. The Hardy Boyz 

You know, if you watch all the different combinations of matches these four men have had since Wrestlemania, you’d probably have a 120-Minute Iron Man Match…

I don’t envy the Hardys, having to get thrown around and beat up by Cesaro and Sheamus for half an hour. Hopefully this is the last we’ll see of this match for awhile. My gut says to go with the champs on this one. The Hardys have done wonders for them. In a perfect world, Matt would snap after losing this match, and revert back to his “Broken” persona. Supposedly, the Hardys are close to getting the rights to that IP. I’ll believe it when I see it.

PREDICTION: Sheamus and Cesaro

Enzo Amore vs. Big Cass

Give Enzo, Cass, and all parties involved credit for making this feel like a big grudge match. I have no idea what kind of match they’ll turn in. But for me, the wrestling aspect is almost irrelevant here. It’s more about the internalization of the characters. Just how ruthless is Cass going to be? What will be going through Enzo’s mind as he tries to fight his former best friend? And from an acting standpoint, can Cass keep up with Enzo? His mic work on Monday left something to be desired…

Whether Cass has got acting chops or not, the outcome of this match has never really been a question. Cass goes over. They’ve got their eye on him for a higher profile role. As for Enzo, he proved on Monday that he deserves a prominent role as well. As I mentioned above, he might want to consider taking a run at the Cruiserweight Title. Though if all else fails, it seems he has a tag team partner in the Big Show.

PREDICTION: Big Cass 

AMBULANCE MATCH:
Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman

Like the Dumpster Match he had with Kalisto, Braun Strowman can lose an Ambulance Match without having to be pinned. That’s definitely advantageous in terms of keeping up his monster vibe. Then again, he’s in the ring with the one guy who’s pinned him before. So maybe it doesn’t matter.

The story they’ve told is that Roman Reigns already has his ticket punched for Summerslam. Win or lose, he’s wrestling for the Universal Title. So it would make sense for Reigns to win here. But they can still play around with things if they’re so inclined. A victory for Strowman could propel him into that spot, giving us the much anticipated Brock Lensar vs. Braun Strowman match. Such a victory could also lead to a multi-man main event with Brock, Roman, and Strowman. Hell, they could even throw Joe in there if they wanted to.

In the end, I imagine WWE will stick to what’s been their prime directive in recent years: Make Roman look strong.

PREDICTION: Roman Reigns

WWE UNIVERSAL TITLE MATCH:
Brock Lesnar vs. Samoa Joe

I’m trying to think of the last time we had a WWE Championship Match that was this highly anticipated or well built. The only one that comes to mind is John Cena vs. CM Punk from Money in the Bank in 2011. I don’t know if this is quite that good. But it’s in that same orbit.

It would be a crying shame to see this match turn into just another visit to Suplex City, i.e. Brock just throwing the guy around a bunch. I want to see a fight. I don’t care if they translate that into a bunch of stiff punches, a submission wrestling clinic, a big brawl, or something else. Give me a competition. Make me believe. Leave me wanting more. That’s what I’m looking for from this match.

The one sad thing about this is that it’s virtually guaranteed that Joe is going to lose. That doesn’t mean he has to come out of it looking like a loser. But it does take a little bit of the edge off. In the end, what’s most important is that WWE takes note of how well Joe has performed in this role. Whether he stays heel, or this program turns him babyface, these past few weeks have essentially been a big coming-out party for Joe. After all these years, he’s finally a bona fide WWE superstar.

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

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