Punjabi Prison Match Returning, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I turned Raw off this week at about the 90-minute mark. It was the first time I’d given up on a show since November. Apparently I missed some good stuff afterward, including a follow-up on the split between Enzo and Cass, Samoa Joe choking out Brock Lesnar, and a Gauntlet Match with the women.

What a shame I missed it. But I just couldn’t take it anymore. The show was actively irritating me.

It started when they brought Josh Duhamel out to do commentary during a six-man tag. He was there to promote Transformers: The Last Knight, and an upcoming film he’s working on with WWE Studios. They spent a large portion of the match asking Duhamel questions about the movies before actually bothering to talk about what was happening in the ring. I’ve been watching this stuff for over 20 years, and this kind of thing  is nothing new. But it’s seldom been as grating to me as it was here. It’s like they were trying to mimic a talk show interview.

Later in the show, they did a Miz TV segment with someone named Lamelo Ball and his son LaVar Ball, and then his other son Lonzo Ball. I had no idea who any of these people were. Apparently Lonzo just got drafted by the LA Lakers, so it was partially meant to appeal to the crowd in Los Angeles. But this was just not good. It was an obvious attempt by WWE to get coverage from the major sports outlets so they’d look “legitimate.” Whatever that means…

It was then made worse when 15-year-old Lamelo used the N-word twice. It happened during Dean Ambrose’s entrance, so the music pulled a little bit of focus from it. But it happened. Some of the blame goes on Lamelo for that. But he’s just a kid. What the hell was he doing with a live mic?

And frankly, as a wrestling fan, there’s a larger issue at play for me here. The Ball family shouldn’t have had a featured role on Raw to begin with. I understand WWE wanting to get “the rub” from celebrities. It makes good business sense, and it’s certainly worked in the past. Think of names like Mr. T, Cindi Lauper, Mike Tyson, and Floyd Mayweather.

But WWE has bigger problems right now that can’t be masked by celebrity involvement. They’re the same problems that have been there for years now. Everything is overly sanitized. The wrestlers are too scripted. Certain characters feel hollow. Nothing feels real. The show is too long. The list goes on.

The ratings reflect it, too. Viewership fell below three million people again this week. Pundits talk a lot about WWE’s “base” audience. As in, the people that are going to watch the shows no matter what. Usually, I’m part of that base. But this past week, they chased me off before I could see most of their big angles. If it’s gotten to the point that they’re chasing hardcore loyalists like myself off, how do they expect to bring casual viewers back to the product?

Over seven million people have watched the YouTube video of the first Brock Lesnar/Samoa Joe’s confrontation on Raw. So it’s not like there’s no interest in the WWE brand. I think a lot of the more casual fans are simply waiting for Raw to be good again. Why should they waste their time otherwise?

So what do they have to lose by changing up the presentation and the creative? More importantly, how much do they stand to gain by taking some risks? It’s not like what they’re doing now is setting the world on fire. Anything so we don’t see crap like that Miz TV segment anymore. That thing stunk like balls…

Sorry. I couldn’t resist. Let’s move on to Smackdown.  

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Daniel Bryan opens the show, Carmella vies to get her Money in the Bank briefcase back. James Ellsworth is ejected from the building. I chuckled at Ellsworth’s crack about Bryan not being able to cut it in the ring anymore. Bryan has made no secret about wanting to get back in there. He just can’t get cleared by WWE doctors. The smart bet his inevitable return take place in Ring of Honor or New Japan Pro Wrestling. That’s sad news for WWE buffs. But as much as anyone, Bryan deserves to live life on his own terms.

The Usos def. The Hype Bros. The New Day to challenge for the Smackdown Tag Titles at BattlegroundSurprised the Hype Bros lost this match clean. Maybe that Zack Ryder heel turn is coming sooner than I expected.

So Kofi Kingston insults the Usos, and they just stand there and take it? Yes, they’re heels. But do they have to be wusses too? At least tease some physicality.

Breezango interrogates the Ascension about attacking them at Money in the Bank. Konnor: “The only reason we were at Money in the Bank is because we wanted a match on the card.” Hey, at least he’s honest.

Naomi def. Lana to retain the Smackdown Women’s Title. I was actually rooting for Lana here. How much heat would she get if Rusev came down and cost Naomi the match? Is Lana as good wrestler yet? No. But neither was Stephanie McMahon when she was Women’s Champion. Just do it!

Randy Orton interrupts Aiden English to challenge Jinder Mahal to another WWE Title Match. Shane McMahon grants his request, allowing Mahal to choose the stipulation Mahal chooses a Punjabi Prison Match. How nice that they just happened to have that stock footage of the Punjabi Prison structure standing by. That’s the kind of thing that just shatters your suspension of disbelief.

Jinder name-dropped the Great Khali in this segment. Not sure how good an idea that was. Considering the quality of previous Punjabi Prison Matches, do they really want people Googling them with the Great Khali’s name attached? Not exactly a recipe for quality content.

Baron Corbin def. Sami Zayn. They had Sami Zayn interrupt Maria and Mike Kanellis on his way to the ring. Not a bad first opponent for Mike Kanellis. Not a bad first opponent for anybody, really.

Carmella def. Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Natalya, and Tamina Snuka in a Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match to regain the briefcase. Great effort from all the ladies involved here. It seemed like they were trying to slam each other hard to make up for a lack of hitting one another with the ladder.

They did a weird sequence where Charlotte and Tamina (with her Joan Jett look) were holding a closed ladder straight up, and Becky Lynch tried to leap up and climb it. They held it there for several seconds, then let it drop across the ropes as Becky remained perched. A few seconds later, they then attacked her. Very tentative. Again, it hurts your suspension of disbelief. But then again, I’m not the one out there on the ladder…

That chair shot Carmella gave to Becky at the end of the match looked weak as hell. If you’re going to use the damn chair, make it look good! That being said, this was the right finish. Carmella gets heat with how she won at the pay per view, and she keeps it here. Smackdown has its new top heel in the Women’s Division. But lay that damn chair in! Also, don’t let the cameras catch you peeking at the ring when you’re supposed to be down on the outside!

You live and you learn…

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Money in the Bank Takes Shape, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There was a little bit of buzz Monday night about WWE changing a match graphic midway through Raw. I’m amazed people notice this stuff, honestly.

In advertising the Matt Hardy/Sheamus match, WWE initially showed the above image. Later in the show it was changed to show us a more even tempered Matt. Rumor has it this was done to avoid drama over the “Broken” intellectual property, which is owned by Anthem Sports and Impact Wrestling. That’s obviously much to the chagrin of wrestling fans who want to see Broken Matt and Brother Nero in WWE. ProWrestlingSheet.com has the full story, for those interested.

I don’t know that I agree with what Anthem has done here. As an artistic type, I’m usually inclined to favor creator ownership, and the Broken stuff always seemed like it was coming straight from Matt and Jeff. But I can appreciate the situation Anthem finds themselves in. The Broken characters generated interest the likes of which they haven’t seen in years, and certainly haven’t seen since. They want that stuff associated with the Impact brand. It’s good business.

But what’s not good business? Damaging your rep with wrestling fans even further. Now as much as ever, people love the Hardys. Fans are going to be on their side, especially when it comes to these Broken characters. In keeping that IP locked up, Anthem is denying us one of the hottest acts in all of wrestling. That has already created a backlash resulting in a lot of bad press. And if there’s one thing Impact doesn’t need more of, it’s bad press.

So yes, Anthem’s retention of the Broken Hardys IP is good business…for now. But how much money are they shooing away in the long run by leaving a bad taste in the mouths of potential viewers? I shudder to think.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Shane McMahon announces the participants for the 2017 Money in the Bank Ladder Match: AJ Styles, Baron Corbin, Sami Zayn, Dolph Ziggler, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Kevin Owens. Pretty good line up. Nakamura and Styles in the same Ladder Match? That may be worth the price of admission alone.

I got curious when Ziggler came out, so I looked it up: This will be his seventh Money in the Bank Ladder Match. One more and he’ll have appeared in more of these than anyone else. Of course, they put him in these things because they know how good he is at them. Can’t be easy on his body, though.

Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch def. Natalya and Carmella. And so the Charlotte babyface turn continues. I was waiting for the other shoe to fall.

Later on, they made a Fatal Five-Way for next week to decide the top contender for the Women’s Title. What is their obsession with Fatal Five-Way Matches lately? It’s like a shiny new toy they just can’t put down. Rumor has it Carmella is in line to hold the belt next, so there’s a decent chance she’ll walk away with it.

Sami Zayn def. Baron Corbin with a quick roll-up. Corbin destroys Zayn after the match. Damn. Corbin can’t seem to buy a win these days. That’s…okay, the more I think about it. Not everybody should be an unstoppable giant. It’s also pretty obvious that Corbin lacks the experience that guys like Zayn and Orton do. Plus, win or lose, he beat the hell out of Zayn in the end.

Jinder Mahal holds a Punjabi celebration after winning the WWE Title at Backlash. Randy Orton to invoke his rematch clause at Money in the BankSurprised as hell that Orton didn’t come out and trash this thing. That’s usually what the babyface does. I’m assuming they wanted to hammer home this Jinder Mahal thing that much harder.

From a character perspective, Randy Orton should be embarrassed and mad as hell. The guy that comes back from this shouldn’t be the calm and reserved dude. We need to see Randy our for revenge. Hell, maybe he’ll burn Jinder’s house down too

Tyler Breeze def. Jey Uso with a distraction roll-up in a quick match. Fandango then does the same to Jimmy Uso. Factoring in the Corbin/Zayn match, that’s three roll-up finishes in the same broadcast. I get that they were going for comedy, and I like Breezango more and more as the weeks go by. But that’s too much.

The Usos def. Breezango to retain the Smackdown Tag Team Titles. At least it didn’t end with a roll-up. I imagine they’re gearing the Usos up to face the New Day soon. But WWE would do well to keep Breezango on television. They’ve become a really fun act.

Side note: Where is American Alpha? Are they just giving them a little break?

AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura def. Kevin Owens and Dolph Ziggler. Both the announcers and the fans made a big deal out of Styles and Nakamura teaming together for the first time. Rightfully so, given their history in New Japan.

I enjoyed seeing Styles work with Ziggler here. Typically when they’re building to a multi-man match like this, they have everybody wrestle each other in singles matches during the build-up. So we could see our first Styles/Ziggler match as early as next week.

They kept calling Nakamura a rock star, as if that’s his new nickname. Meh. There’s worse things to be called, I suppose.

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WWE Backlash 2017 Predictions – Can Jinder Mahal Strike Gold?

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Not much of note coming out of Smackdown this week. They filled out the Backlash card a bit, and Baron Corbin sustained yet another loss to Randy Orton. But other than that, this was fairly week considering it’s the go-home show for a pay per view.

So let’s not waste any time, shall we? Let’s get right to Backlash predictions…

PRE-SHOW MATCH:
Tye Dillinger vs. Aiden English

I’m surprised Dillinger hasn’t been more prominently featured since his main roster debut. That’s not to say he should be at Nakamura’s level. But people are definitely into the whole Perfect 10 thing. Maybe creative is still feeling him out? Either way, he’s picking up a win here.

PREDICTION: Tye Dillinger

Luke Harper vs. Erick Rowan

These two didn’t exactly light the world on fire last week. They’re obviously being brought in to kill time.

My gut tells me Rowan gets this one, as he did last week. Could it be that Erick Rowan is actually a higher priority for WWE than Luke Harper? To that I simply say, why? Because he has a scary mask? It just seems odd that they’d put Rowan over at the expense of Harper, who showed a lot of promise earlier this year. Not that it matters much, anyway. These two have no heat at all right now.

PREDICTION: Erick Rowan

Sami Zayn vs. Baron Corbin. 

Rumor has it Corbin is one of WWE’s big projects right now, but you wouldn’t know it considering his win/loss record in singles matches lately. He lost to Dean Ambrose on the Wrestlemania pre-show, and this week he dropped yet another clean loss to Randy Orton. The story seems to be that Corbin has a lot of raw talent and rage, but is unrefined. Thus, he’s susceptible to being outworked by more experienced wrestlers. That doesn’t seem like it’s too far from the truth, actually.

Zayn should be able to get a pretty good match out of Corbin, just as he did with Braun Strowman earlier this year. Ultimately, the outcome should be the same. Corbin needs a big win. Sami can come back and beat him later if they want to keep this going. But let’s give the guy some of his momentum back.

PREDICTION: Baron Corbin

Naomi, Charlotte, and Becky Lynch vs. Natalya, Carmella, and Tamina.

I don’t like this as a pay per view match. I admit, Six-Person Tags have to overachieve for me to enjoy them. But this feels like it belongs at the midway point of a Smackdown.

They can salvage this a little bit by having Charlotte reassert herself as a heel and attack her teammates, presumably costing her team the match. I don’t think it’s time for babyface Charlotte yet. They can get some more mileage out of her working with Naomi, and then reviving her feud with Becky Lynch. Granted, that thins out the babyface side of the Smackdown Women’s Division. But they’ve only got two hours to fill. They can make it work for a little while.

PREDICTION: Natalya, Carmella, and Tamina

WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The Usos (c) vs. Breezango

This has worked out much better than I thought it would. That’s a credit to WWE creative making good use of Tyler Breeze and Fandango, and those two men capitalizing on their opportunity. They’ve both been criminally underrated for quite some time. Fandango in particular, who was never adequately positioned to capitalize on that “Fandangoing” buzz he got a few years ago.

That being said, right now the Usos are as hot as they’ve ever been. Any time you put a mic in their hands, it’s money. So I say keep the belts on them for now. But I wouldn’t be at all opposed to this thing with Breezango continuing. The Usos need a good team to play off of right now. Depending on how the chips fall, Tyler Breeze and Fandango could be that team.

PREDICTION: The Usos

Dolph Ziggler vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

This match could easily steal the show, depending on how competitive they let Ziggler be. As I’ve said previously, Nakamura couldn’t have a better first opponent than Ziggler. He’ll bump around and sell for him so much that anyone who isn’t already sold on him will be after this match.

The outcome here isn’t really in doubt. Nakamura wins in his debut. The fact that they’ve made him the centerpiece of the advertising for Backlash is very encouraging in terms of WWE’s willingness to push him despite his limited English. This match could go a long way in determining Nakamura’s immediate future.

PREDICTION: Shinsuke Nakamura

WWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
Kevin Owens (c) vs. AJ Styles

If Nakamura/Ziggler doesn’t steal the show, this one will. Hell, they could easily have these two main event the show, and have Orton/Mahal open it. They did that when Styles, Dean Ambrose, and John Cena opened No Mercy back in October.

I don’t really see the need to put the US Title on AJ Styles. The world is clamoring for him to compete for the WWE Title. So I see Owens winning with some sort of screwball finish. For my money, the draw here isn’t the chemistry these two have as rivals, but the quality of match they’ll end up having. Here’s hoping they live up to the hype.

PREDICTION: Kevin Owens

WWE HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Randy Orton (c) vs. Jinder Mahal

Don’t laugh, folks. Jinder Mahal has a chance here.

I keep coming back to the JBL/Eddie Guerrero program from 2004. No one thought JBL had a chance. But he ended up getting a sort of fluke win from Eddie in their second outing. They could easily do the same thing with Jinder here. Especially when you consider that Orton being champ has been met with a resounding “meh” from fans.

Here’s what it comes down to for me: Jinder needs to be built up more. He won the Six-Pack Challenge. He pinned Sami Zayn. He pinned Orton in a tag match. This week, he even got to pin AJ Styles, albeit with some help. That’s all well and good. But he needs more credibility if they want to put the title on him. So I say give this one to Orton. If the plan is to actually give Jinder the belt, then they can do a disputed finish, or even a DQ finish involving the Singh Brothers, and come back again at Money in the Bank. 

Question: You think the fans will be chanting for Bully Ray during this match? Wouldn’t surprise me at all.

PREDICTION: Randy Orton

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