Mia Khalifa vs. the Wrestling Industry, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Wrestling fans can be an easily triggered group. Retired porn star Mia Khalifa found that out the hard way last week.

Khalifa was on a YouTube show last week discussing Ronda Rousey’s probable move to WWE, and said: “This is where her career will go to die. I have no respect for the WWE. I don’t think it’s a real sport. …You go from real fights to wearing a sequin unitard and pretending to fight?”

Her words obviously struck a raw nerve with wrestling fans, and eventually numerous wrestlers. The most notable response came from Shane Helms, who tweeted: “I’m not gonna get upset that a Porn Star doesn’t respect Pro Wrestling. She’s entitled to her opinion. Our bodies take a pounding. and well … so does hers.”

Numerous news and entertainment websites have picked up on the Khalifa/Helms story, with Helms catching a little bit of backlash for supposedly slut-shaming her. Khalifa has subsequently accepted an invitation to an indy wrestling show, and says she isn’t opposed to having her opinion challenged. She also says she doesn’t hate wrestlers, and just loves talking trash. I dunno. I think I hear backpedaling…

I can’t say I was bothered by what she said. One of the things wrestling fans collectively need to work on is being less insecure about what the world thinks of the sport we love. Who cares what other people think of it? We love it. That’s what matters.

The truly ironic thing about this is that both the porn industry and the wrestling industry come with an obvious social stigma. Even in 2017, with political correctness at a fever pitch, we still can’t get past “Ew, she did porn!” and “Ew, wrestling is so fake!” I’d like to think that someday we as a society will understand that everybody has to make a living somehow. If you’re doing something by choice and not hurting anybody, where’s the shame in that? Especially if it’s something you love, and that other people enjoy. Most of the wrestlers we see on a week-to-week basis are obviously passionate about what they do. As I understand it, you pretty much have to be in order to endure the hardships that come with the business.

As for Mia Khalifa, I don’t know if she enjoyed her adult film career. But she’s obviously made a living off it, and has been afforded opportunities she wouldn’t have had otherwise. So live and let live.

I will say this, though: It might not be wise to throw shade at Ronda Rousey, of all people. Yes, she lost her last two fights. But she can still murder most of us with her bare hands. Just saying…

Ponderings From Raw

Samoa Joe opens the show, calls out Roman Reigns. Sheamus and Cesaro emerge, springing a trap. Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins get beat down as well. Joe’s promo came off really scripted, especially once he tried to up the intensity. When he started talking about Roman’s “compatriots Seth and Dean,” and the Shield being “a grand stable of imperial champions,” the promo was dead.

The one line that did stick out? Joe referring to Ambrose and Rollins as Roman’s lap dogs. If they wanted it to, that line could be the spark for somebody’s heel turn down the line.

Paige and Mandy Rose def. Mickie James and Bayley. Nothing special here from a wrestling standpoint. Oddly enough, the only person that stood out to me here was Sonya Deville. She only had a couple of lines in the pre-match promo. But she was the most believable of the group. More believable than Mandy Rose, that’s for damn sure.

Another back and forth pre-taped promo airs between Bray Wyatt and Woken Matt Hardy. I ended up watching last week’s segment with Matt and Bray several times during the week. Unlike most of what we see on this show, it holds up to repeat viewings. This one didn’t fare nearly as well. They essentially did the same stuff as last week, with Matt hamming it up more. They’d best bust out a new trick or two next time.

Finn Balor def. Curtis Axel. Balor’s not exactly in there with main event talent (no offense to the Miztourage). But at least he’s not getting mauled by Kane. That’s a plus.

Seth Rollins def. Sheamus. I’ve reached the point where I automatically tune out whenever a combination of Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Sheamus, and Cesaro are in the ring together. They’ve been wrestling each other on TV for months, and it’s this kind of repetition that strangles the life out of Raw. But word has surfaced that Sheamus is dealing with spinal stenosis, the same condition that ultimately ended the careers of Steve Austin, Edge, and Sting.

Though you certainly wouldn’t know Sheamus is having neck and back issues. The Blockbuster he took off the top rope, his use of the Stretch Muffler, the Superplex followed by the Falcon Arrow, etc. Pro wrestlers are damn near superhuman. But if history is an indicator, Sheamus is wrestling on borrowed time. Here’s hoping he gets to make the most of it.

Cedric Alexander def. Mustafa Ali, Tony Nese, and Ariya Daivari to advance closer to a Cruiserweight Title Match. The elephant in the room during this match was obviously Rich Swann’s arrest for domestic battery and false imprisonment. As one would imagine, he’s been indefinitely suspended. Really ugly situation.

Drew Gulak was on commentary for this match, and they were doing a bit where he played a politician pivoting and avoiding questions. It was entertaining enough.

Alexander and Ali did that hockey fight spot that we used to see Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn do all the time. I hate that spot. Hate it, hate it, hate it.

Roman Reigns def. Cesaro in an Intercontinental Championship open challenge match. Excellent match. Compelling story with Cesaro targeting Roman’s arm, which lead into a series of exciting false finishes. Something of an abrupt ending with the Spear. But quality work nonetheless.

We’ve long since passed the point where we can deny what Roman brings to the table every week. As for Cesaro, every time he gets in there with a big name he delivers awesome matches. Every. Time. It’s a damn shame he may never get a chance to be a big name himself.

When Absolution gangs up on Asuka, the women’s locker room empties to fend them off. Yeah, these Paige promos are officially bad. When it comes to Absolution’s dialogue, less is more.

Samoa Joe def. Dean Ambrose. Surprisingly, this one didn’t do it for me. Maybe a little too slow in the early going to grab my attention. Happy to see they protected Ambrose a little bit, though.

The Disaster Artist just came out. So more eyes are now on The Room and its star Tommy Wiseau than ever before. At some point, can somebody give Tommy a Kane mask just so we can see how close the resemblance is? For whatever reason, I’m interested.

Kane vs. Braun Strowman went to a double count-out. A post-match brawl ends with Strowman Powerslamming Kane through a table. The stipulation here was that the winner would get to face Brock Lesnar at the Royal Rumble. My guess is it winds up bring a three-way. I can’t say I have high expectations for that one.

But I didn’t have high expectations for this one either, and it wound up being pretty harmless. I expected this one to be pretty slow and sluggish, not because of Braun, but because of Kane. As great as he can be, his slower pace can work to his own detriment. When they were putting this match together, they countered that by keeping the wrestling portion of it short and to the point. They then threw in the weapons to up the stakes. They’ve consistently been smart with how they’ve protected Strowman in these main event matches, and that needs to continue into the new year.

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Woken Matt Hardy, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

News leaked last week that longtime WWE composer Jim Johnston had been released after more than three decades with the company. That’s a hell of a downer.

Not surprising, mind you. If you look at Most the music WWE has produced in the last several years has been with CFO$, who have essentially become their in-house band. But Johnston was still working for WWE in some capacity. His most recent, and apparently final, theme song for the company was “I Bring the Darkness,” which Baron Corbin uses.

Consider how vital music is to the overall WWE experience. We literally can’t have matches without it, as wrestlers all have their own distinct entrance themes. This isn’t just the case in 2017. What would the Ultimate Warrior have been without the adrenaline-pumping guitar riffs as he sprinted to the ring? What is the Undertaker without the awe-inspiring orchestra that backs his entrance? How much did “Voices” change the tone of Randy Orton’s entire act?

The list goes on and on. Stone Cold Steve Austin, Dusty Rhodes, Degeneration X, Ted DiBiase, the Rock, the Big Bossman, Triple H, Goldust…

Johnston didn’t do it all himself, obviously. But he was the backbone of all things music-related in WWE for so long. He helped shape not only the product itself, but the careers of generations of wrestlers.

Johnston produced much of the soundtrack our childhoods. So thank you, sir. For so many years, and so many great songs.

Ponderings From Raw:

Both Jason Jordan and Samoa Joe attempt to answer Roman Reigns’ open challenge for the Intercontinental Championship. Jason Jordan gets the match, which Reigns wins. Joe attempts to attack Reigns after the match, but Jordan stops him with a suplex. Reigns repays him with a Superman Punch. Jason Jordan may have won me over in this segment. He was whiny and annoying as he clearly played the father/son card. But at the same time, they’ve tried to make this heel turn organic by giving a certain amount of legitimacy to his gripes. He’s a legit bad ass who can hang. When Jordan’s turn becomes official, they may actually have something with him.

Paige def. Sasha Banks. Absolution once again destroys Banks, Bayley, and Mickie James. The announcers have consistently remembered to bring up the fact that Sasha Banks has never successfully defended the Raw Women’s Title. They’re saving that little factoid for down the road. Hopefully it’s the Sasha heel turn we’ve been waiting on for months.

As annoying as I’ve come to find Sasha, when it comes to big bumps she goes all in. That Sunset Flip she took off the top rope was nasty.

Both this one and the opener went pretty long. In the first hour and a half of Raw, we only got two matches. Commercials notwithstanding, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Nia Jax flirts with Enzo backstage. Alright, sure. This could be decent. Just don’t let her wrestle him for the title…

Drew Gulak def. Cedric Alexander, Mustafa Ali, and Tony Nese. WWE announced this week that 205 Live is going to start running live events, starting with three on January 19, 20, and 21. This happens to be the weekend before the Royal Rumble. Supposedly, they’re looking for smaller venues for future events.

Considering a lot of the crowds for Smackdown have been half-empty lately, this seems like a disaster waiting to happen. Mind you, this comes on the heels of WWE sending out a fan survey asking why people aren’t watching the show. But I do like the idea of the cruiserweights performing in smaller venues. I’d be in favor of WWE moving 205 Live to a different night (Thursday?), so they could move it somewhere about the size of the facility NXT takes place in. Moving it out from the shadow of Smackdown could be a good thing. And smaller crowds could help recreate the intimate setting of the Cruiserweight Classic. Whether Enzo and that crew can sell tickets? That could be another story entirely. 

Damn, I wish Cedric Alexander could talk. His big dive over the rope, the standing Spanish Fly with Ali, and of course the Lumbar Check. He’s so damn good. But verbiage is the missing element for him.

The crowd was actually awake for this one. That’s a nice change of pace.

Braun Strowman dominates Elias before Kane interrupts via the tron to announce a match with Strowman next week. So does Kane go away after next week? Or does he stick around a little longer? Finn Balor could certainly use some retribution.

Strowman has been part of some really good Raw main events this year. He and Kane have a high bar to rise to. I’m not exactly optimistic, but I’m not dreading it either.

Asuka def. Alicia Fox. Absolution has another staredown with Asuka before annihilating Fox. I said this last week: I’m not a fan of Asuka backing out of the ring Paige, Deville, and Rose surround her. They’re having her smile, so you know she’s not cowering away. But it’s awkward, and doesn’t make a lot of sense. She clearly wants a fight, and could very well kick the hell out of them. Whether it’s ill-advised or not, why not just stand there and wait for them to make a move?

Finn Balor def. Bo Dallas. So Balor isn’t getting a match with Brock Lesnar at the Royal Rumble, and he just can’t seem to solve the Kane conundrum. But he can beat Bo Dallas! So that’s something…right?

“Woken” Matt Hardy makes his WWE television debut via pre-taped promo intercut with one of Bray Wyatt’s usual tron promos. Hardy sentences Wyatt to deletion. This little segment has been a long time coming. Some of us have been waiting on this since the Hardys came back at Wrestlemania. It’s been almost a year. But Broken Matt is finally here, albeit under a different name.

I was fine with this character’s first exposure to WWE audiences coming via pre-tape. As cool as it can be, it’s undeniably goofy. This lets the fans in on the joke before we inevitably get the bells and whistles the die-hards want to see.

Sheamus and Cesaro def. Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose to retain the Raw Tag Team Titles. Samoa Joe interferes in the match, costing the Shield the titles. It’s the feud that just won’t die. I’ve seen these four wrestle so much I nearly snoozed right through this one. Considering how good all these guys are, that tells you something. Can this please be the end? Please?

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Batista on His Way Back? Plus, Ponderings From Raw and Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Batista made headlines during a recent guest spot on The Ross Report. The former WWE Champion and Guardians of the Galaxy star told JR he’s been in talks with WWE about a return to active wrestling. More specifically, for a run against Triple H.

Meh. Batista and Triple H? Been there, done that. Done it to perfection, actually. More than a decade later, how could they possible hope to match what they did leading up to Wrestlemania XXI? It’s a set-up for failure. At least on paper.

On the other hand, Batista against today’s stars? Specifically, against these five top stars? That might be a different story…

1. Roman Reigns
The obvious choice. Any time you have a big name from the past come back, you think about matching them with the company’s current big star. Like him or not, Roman is that guy. What’s more, he’s a guy that’s proven he can excel in big match situations. A Roman/Batista match would also pull in the kind of media coverage WWE clearly wants Reigns to get. This one might not be as far-fetched as people think.

2. Baron Corbin
Corbin is in a weird spot right now. Despite winning a Money in the Bank Ladder Match, and taking the United States Title from AJ Styles, he’s an underachiever. They want him to be a big star. But he’s having trouble living up to his push in terms of both his in-ring work and his mic work. That being said, he’s very easy to dislike. He’s got a natural smugness about him. Doing a returning hero vs. young punk story with Batista might help Corbin get some of his momentum back. Especially if they loosen the creative reigns, and let Corbin be himself out there.

3. The Miz
This is an easy one. The Hollywood star against the guy who thinks he’s a Hollywood star. What’s more, Miz is more well-rounded than he’s ever been. Not just his mic work, but his ring work. I don’t see it being a five-star classic. But I imagine they’d give us something worthwhile. Plus, we’d get to see Batista throw the Miztourage around. Tell me that doesn’t sound like fun…

4. Samoa Joe
This one would play more toward Batista’s MMA experience. He actually does have one fight under his belt, which is more than we can say for Joe. But that’d be a fine lens to look at this pairing through. It worked well enough for Joe and Brock Lesnar. What’s more, I’d like to see what Batista would do when faced with Joe’s intensity.

5. Kevin Owens
There’s a lot to be said about KO’s work with Goldberg earlier this year, and what came of it. But one thing is certain: Owens played his role about as well as one could hope. He might be the best and most consistent mic guy they have. His matches don’t leave much to be desired either. He’d have a nice loudmouth villain chemistry with Batista. There’s a little intrigue in the obvious physical differences between them as well. You’d be hard pressed to find a better option than KO.

Let’s hit some of the highlights from Raw and Smackdown

Ponderings From Raw and Smackdown:

Roman Reigns issues an open challenge for the Intercontinental Title, which is accepted by Elias. Reigns pins Elias later in the evening. Samoa Joe ambushes Reigns after the match. This was a pretty good match. Maybe the best Elias has had since coming to the main roster. This guy has yet to emerge as a real player. But frankly, I

This is the second week in a row we’ve had a crowd be really into Roman. They broke into a chant for him in the opening segment, and even Roman himself looked surprised. I doubt this will continue once the Shield separates again. But for now, WWE is getting what they want from this Shield reunion.

Matt Hardy has a “breakdown” following a loss to Bray Wyatt. Well, here it is. It’s almost a year too late. But it looks like we’re finally getting Broken Matt Hardy in WWE. That’s a great thing. Now it’s just a question of how much creative control Matt has, and what they choose to do with this character. It’s unlike anything WWE, or pro wrestling itself, has ever seen before.

Rich Swann def. Akira Tozawa, Noam Dar, and Ariya Daivari. This ended up being pretty good, for as little reaction as it got. Poor Rich Swann took that big suplex on the outside, which literally got no reaction at all. Why? Because no one in this Cruiserweight Division outside of Enzo Amore is over. It’s a damn shame. Especially for somebody like Swann, who is objectively spectacular.

The newly named “Absolution” triple-teams Sasha Banks, has a staredown with Asuka. The Asuka staredown was a nice teaser for the Asuka/Paige match I had no clue I wanted to see. I wish Asuka hadn’t had to back out of the ring the way she did. But they’ve got her looking unstoppable. Tough to ask for much more than that. As for Sasha, she’s still got go-away heat with me these days. So this beatdown from Absolution was almost the equivalent of a babyface turn for me.

Kane gets disqualified in a match with Finn Balor. He destroys Balor before Braun Strowman attacks his throat. There’s been a lot of buzz about Balor allegedly being removed as Brock Lesnar’s opponent for the Royal Rumble because Vince McMahon doesn’t think he’s over enough. If that’s really the case, this did him no favors. Just like having Kane beat him up the night after TLC did him no favors. Or having Kane lay him out with a Tombstone before leaving him for dead did him no favors. If the idea here is to have Balor get his revenge in a big way, then lets get on with it. He could be one of WWE’s biggest stars, but the negatives of this situation are outweighing the positives at this point.

Mojo Rawley turns on Zack Ryder following a loss to the Bludgeon Brothers. This was my first time getting to see Harper and Rowan doing the Bludgeon Brothers thing. Really cool entrance. That’s really all there is to say at this point. Lets see if they can gain any traction.

I legitimately thought it was going to be Zack Ryder going heel, with the idea being to push Rawley as a babyface. I think he could have handled that. I was very curious to see how they might have handled a Zack Ryder heel turn. Moot point now, I guess.

The Riott Squad def. Charlotte Flair, Naomi, and Natalya. Natalya abandons her team. Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan incapacitate Naomi. Charlotte is left on her own. I absolutely adore Ruby Riott’s look. She’s about as different as you can get. And of course, I’m glad to have three more bodies in the Smackdown women’s roster. But this trio of Ruby, Liv Morgan, and Sarah Logan is at a disadvantage when you compare them to Absolution over on Raw. With Paige, they have a very distinct voice and identity. The Riott Squad are essentially just three new girls. What’s more, three new girls who had to cut a really scripted, bland backstage promo before this match.

The announcers even made a point to reference the similarities between Absolution and the Riott Squad. That might lend some credence to the rumor that Paige will be revealed as the mastermind behind both groups.

Sami Zayn interferes in the Randy Orton vs. Kevin Owens main event, despite being banned from ringside. Owens picks up the win. They’re obviously positioning Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan against each other, with the idea that Bryan will end up aligning with the heel Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. The notion of turning Bryan heel is, on paper, ridiculous. It seems like they’ll be fighting the crowd every step of the way. But all three of those guys are extremely talented, and extremely charismatic in their own way. So I’m trying to keep an open mind…

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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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Kurt Angle Returning to the Ring, Plus WWE TLC Predictions

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve been a wrestling fan for more than 20 years, and I can’t ever remember a WWE pay per view being changed so significantly with so little notice. For the better, mind you.

Both Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt are reportedly suffering from viral infections, and have been pulled from this Sunday’s TLC show. As such, Smackdown‘s AJ Styles will replace Wyatt in the match with Finn Balor. But the bigger news is that Kurt Angle will wrestle his first WWE match in over a decade, as he replaces Reigns in the main event. The match will see Angle team with Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose in a Handicap Tables, Ladders, and Chairs Match against the Miz, Braun Strowman, Kane, Sheamus, and Cesaro.

To call this a wild move is an understatement. There’s obviously been buzz about Angle wrestling again since he came back. But you’ve got to believe he didn’t have much more notice about this than we did. Has he passed a physical? What’s he capable of doing? How far are they willing to push their luck? Remember, this is one of the most violent and dangerous matches WWE puts on all year. And having seen Angle wrestle for so many years, you know he’s not going to go half-assed.

It’s rare that a match becomes must-see in such an abrupt way. As we get into TLC predictions, I just hope all parties know what they’re doing…

PRE-SHOW MATCH:
Sasha Banks vs. Alicia Fox

Supposedly, this was supposed to be Sasha Banks against Nia Jax. That changed when Nia took a leave of absence. I’m a Nia Jax fan, but I don’t think we’re missing much by swapping her out for Alicia. We’ve seen Sasha and Nia wrestle so many times, and we’ll undoubtedly see them wrestle again soon enough. As for who wins, I don’t see a reason why it wouldn’t be Sasha. This is a throwaway match, and I doubt they’re leveling Alicia up.

PREDICTION: Sasha Banks

Cedric Alexander and Rich Swann vs. Brian Kendrick and Jack Gallagher

As someone who doesn’t regularly watch 205 Live, I’ve got almost no investment in this match from a story perspective. I do, however, like Alexander and Swann as a tag team. My hope is that these four can overachieve in what is essentially a filler match. We’ll need new babyface challengers for the Cruiserweight Title soon (more on that later), so it makes sense for Alexander and Swann to go over. Let’s just hope they look good doing it.

PREDICTION: Cedric Alexander and Rich Swann

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

This program has been everything I hoped it would be. It rejuvenated Mickie James. She’s too good to be the bit player she’s been since coming to Raw. Since returning to WWE, really. She got to show a little more personality, and newer fans got to know her a little better. If they don’t cast her aside after TLC, she could remain a commodity. After all, if there’s one thing this Women’s Division needs right now, it’s more names.

That being said, I don’t see her getting the belt. I’m not sure how quickly they’re going to move Asuka into the title picture. But we’re clearly moving in that direction, and Alexa is the perfect heel opponent for her. Even if Mickie didn’t get the belt, it wouldn’t be for long. A better use for her would be a pay per view match against Asuka, attempting to recapture some of the magic from their NXT Takeover match.

PREDICTION: Alexa Bliss

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

Was Kalisto even supposed to be Cruiserweight Champion? We know now that the Lumberjack Match in which he won it was originally supposed to be Enzo against Neville. But Neville walked out, and here we are. Was Kalisto simply going to be another opponent for Enzo? Or was he supposed to win this pay per view match, effectively ending Enzo’s “no contact clause” with the Cruiserweight Division?

Either way, one thing is certain: Now that Neville is gone, Enzo is the only true star on 205 Live. The best case scenario here is that he’s able to give the rub to somebody new. This was a nice little boost for Kalisto. But the pendulum now has to swing back in Enzo’s direction. Expect him to leave TLC as the “realest champ in the room” once again.

PREDICTION: Enzo Amore

Asuka vs. Emma

You know what’s sad? This is the biggest match Emma has had since she came up to the main roster. She’s clearly capable of more, and she’s actually developed a certain charisma since coming back from the Emmalina fiasco.

But of course, this match isn’t about her. It’s all about Asuka, and for good reason. They’ve got something with her. Not just in terms of her persona, and her in-ring style, but her winning streak. She was never beaten in NXT, and toward the end of her run they were really starting to play that up. That needs to continue on Raw.

Thankfully, Asuka doesn’t work by the hour. I’d expect her to make quick work of Emma to show us who and what she is. Expect suplexes, expect kicks, and expect the Asuka Lock. Whatever you do, don’t take a pee break during this one.

PREDICTION: Asuka

Finn Balor vs. AJ Styles

This is a bigger match than most casual WWE fans realize. Not that they’ll tell you why…

In 2014, AJ Styles was the man who succeeded Finn Balor as leader of the Bullet Club over in New Japan Pro Wrestling. They weren’t rivals. In fact, they barely spent any time in the promotion together, as Styles came in right as Balor was leaving. But that’s an irresistibly intriguing commonality between them.

WWE won’t talk about the Bullet Club, especially after that little “invasion” stunt a few weeks ago. But in the preview for this match over on WWE.com, they do mention that Balor and Styles briefly crossed paths in Japan. That’s likely as far as they’ll take it. That’s a shane. Especially considering Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, also former Bullet Club members, will likely be in the building.

Balor was originally supposed to be in his Demon get-up for this match. That seems wholly unnecessary now. While he and AJ have a history of sorts, there’s not enough bad blood here to merit the Demon’s presence. Not yet, anyway.

They’re obviously gearing AJ up to challenge for the WWE Championship soon. So having him lose to Balor wouldn’t be great from a timing standpoint. Also, Balor has racked up two pay per view victories over Bray Wyatt. So he can afford to drop one here. But in the end, this one isn’t necessarily about who wins. It’s more about what they’ll deliver from an artistic standpoint. Given enough time and opportunity, these guys could turn in a classic.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

HANDICAP TLC MATCH:
Kurt Angle, Seth Rollins, and Dean Ambrose vs. The Miz, Braun Strowman, Kane, Sheamus, and Cesaro

This match was already a little messy. Now that Reigns has been swapped out for Angle, I barely know what to make of it.

The story here was about the Shield overcoming impossible odds. But taking Reigns out ruins that, and inserting Angle creates a whole new equation. Now, it’s all about what Kurt will do, and the question of what he’ll be like in the ring after all these years. It actually doesn’t make much sense for it to be a Handicap Match anymore.

How about this: Add Matt Hardy and Angle’s “son” Jason Jordan to the mix. Now you’ve got an even five-on-five. And how about we put something on the line? Maybe the winners get to represent Raw in a traditional Survivor Series Match against Smackdown? They can figure out a way to sub Miz or Strowman in there later. I’m just looking to add stakes to this match.

Either way, the outcome here was never in doubt. The good guys win. This match will likely go a long way in determining Angle’s in-ring future. They could easily use this to set up a future match with Miz, or even Strowman. All of that in due time. For now, I just want Kurt to get through this match safely. Needless to say, this wasn’t how any of us expected his in-ring return to go.

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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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The Shield Returns at Last, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

A few quick thoughts from Hell in a Cell before we get into Raw

It’s amazing how the Usos and the New Day have continued to top themselves over the last several months. They did it again here, turning in a performance with every bit as much drama and bad blood as the Kevin Owens/Shane McMahon match. One can even argue it was better artistically. In a match where everyone expects some kind of 20 foot dive off the cage, it takes real creativity to deliver on the Hell in a Cell concept while actually staying inside the cell. Both teams were elevated here. All these guys should be very proud.

While the signs were there in retrospect, Sami Zayn’s heel turn seemed to come out of nowhere. It’s a hell of an intriguing twist that could potentially breathe some valuable new life into Sami’s run on Smackdown.

So that’s twice Shane has tried the elbow drop off the top of the cell, and twice he’s crashed and burned. Maybe it’s time to pluck that one from the playbook, eh? Really good match, though. Now if only they hadn’t gotten that shot of one of Shane’s kids grinning as Owens was beating up his dad and taunting him.

Ponderings From Raw:

The Shield finally reunites against the Miz, Cesaro and Sheamus. This was obviously something they’ve built to for months. So to see Reigns, Rollins, and Ambrose back together is cool. I imagine we’ll get them back in their trademark black outfits at TLC.

I’m trying to enjoy this for what it is. But one thing that does put a damper on it is that it’s obviously all just another attempt to get Roman Reigns cheered. Just look at the blocking in the segment. Rollins on the left, Ambrose, on the right, Reigns in the middle. And of course, Reigns kept using the Shield music after they broke up. So their entrance is going to be synonymous with him in particular.

Yes, I’m nitpicking. But this is also very transparent. What’s more, it’s not even going to work. For better or worse, most fans have made up their mind about Roman. As soon as this is over, the haters will start booing again.

Jason Jordan def. Karl Anderson. I’m not sure Booker T is the guy to be playing up the notion of Kurt Angle giving his son special treatment. His amazing career notwithstanding, he has virtually no credibility. As the weeks go by he just becomes more a verbal whipping boy for Michael Cole and Corey Graves. Granted, better to have him out there than David Otunga. But that dynamic between Angle and Jordan is important. Better to have Graves play it up.

Elias def. Apollo Crews. When Titus is on, he’s really on. Hokey as it was, I got a kick out of the banjo stuff before the match. This manager gig really suits him.

On the flip side, I’m not at all amused that Elias broke out the Undertaker’s “Old School” spot and walked the top rope. The announcers didn’t even acknowledge it. Though to be fair, Graves alluded to it, calling it a “disrespectful version of a cover song.”

Kurt Angle puts Enzo Amore in a Cruiserweight Title Match against Kalisto for later in the evening. Enzo called it the “Loserweight Division.” That one might stick.

Braun Strowman def. Matt Hardy. The Shield emerges, Powerbombs Strowman through the announce table. This was really good. To his credit, Roman nailed his line about them being “the three workhorses that run this business now.” He even got to look into the camera.

Mickie James and Alexa Bliss exchange words leading up to TLC. Last week I talked about how WWE should exploit Mickie’s talent for country music and have her record her own entrance theme. We didn’t get that here, but it was definitely a step in the right direction. Mickie was in country gear here, and even put a little twang in her voice. This is good. For WWE audiences, this is fresh. And apparently, they like the term “biscuit butt.”. More of this, please.

Brian Kendrick and Jack Gallagher def. Cedric Alexander and Mustafa Ali. Why is Jack Gallagher is wrestling in that get up? Yes, he’s a heel now. But why does that mean he can’t wear wrestling trunks?

Both Alexander and Ali are so damn good. It’s such a shame they haven’t been able to get over to any real extent

The Shield to headline TLC against the Miz, Sheamus, Cesaro, and Braun Strowman in a Handicap TLC Match. Four on three? That’s a little weird. Strowman could do some amazing things in that environment, though. Especially with support from the veterans in this match.

Bray Wyatt reveals his “Sister Abigail” persona to Finn Balor. So Sister Abigail is Bray Wyatt with some kind of shroud over his head and a weird voice filter. Wow. What a great pay off to years of build-up.

And this was in the new “main event” spot. They wanted people to stay tuned in for that third hour after this. Balor can’t move on soon enough.

Emma def. Sasha Banks, Bayley, Alicia Fox, and Dana Brooke to earn a match with Asuka at TLCGraves: “I don’t really know what to say about Emma anymore. I’m so baffled by the fact that she still exists.” Wow. What an awesome endorsement for Asuka’s first challenger.

To be fair no one actually expects Emma to beat her. That’s half the reason they chose Emma for this spot. She’s someone they can feed to Asuka, but also give her good match. Somehow I don’t think the same can be said for Alicia Fox or Dana Brooke.

I’m worried Dana Brooke is going to hurt somebody someday. That sequence she had in there with Bayley was….yeesh. But Alicia, and even Emma looked like they had two left feet out there too. This one just didn’t click.

Roman Reigns to face Braun Strowman in a Steel Cage Match next week. They’re going back to the well with these two, which is fine by me. Like the Usos and the New Day, they always deliver.

Kalisto def. Enzo Amore in a Lumberjack Match to win the WWE Cruiserweight Title. I hate to go back to Graves again, but he was really tearing Enzo down during his entrance here. I can’t tell if there’s legit heat between those two. Either way, it doesn’t pay to piss off one of the guys that calls your matches every week.

So Enzo puts his hand on Mustafa Ali during the match. Ali later gets his receipt, which more or less costs Enzo the match. If this means Ali gets to be in a (relatively) high profile feud with Enzo, I’m game. He deserves a shot.

I’d be surprised if Enzo didn’t get the belt back soon. This seems like something they concocted to get out of the no-contact clause thing. He could very well get it back at TLC.

By the way, where was Neville during all this?

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