A Roman Reigns Heel Turn? Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

How many years did we wait for a John Cena heel turn? Hell, some of us are still waiting. I was there at Wrestlemania XXII when he got booed out of the building during the main event. That was in 2006. So it’s been at least a decade.

The smart bet is that it’s never happening. At this point, why bother? It feels like the fans are finally starting to turn back around on Cena, and cheer him as Smackdown‘s resident legend. But there was a long period where so many of us were clamoring for Cena to snap back at those crowds that were booing him so hard.

Obviously we now have the same situation with Roman Reigns. For better or worse, he’s the company’s next chosen one. Like Cena, he comes out to a chorus of boos from most of the grown men in the audience. Children and women seem to enjoy him, but the fanboys hate him. And they’re not likely to stop booing him anytime soon, especially given this stuff with the Undertaker.

This week’s Raw segment with Roman struck a chord with me. Not just because Shawn Michaels was in there with him, but because he threatened to retire the Undertaker. As Undertaker is someone I’ve been watching since I was 11 years old, it almost felt personal.  I suspect that’s how a lot of people feel, and you’ve got to know WWE is counting on that.

I understand the generational, “passing the torch” element of WWE putting Reigns with the Undertaker. But I don’t think having Roman beat the Undertaker helps him as far as being a lead babyface. People generally don’t like seeing the Undertaker beaten in big matches. Wrestlemania XXX comes to mind.

If Roman is turning heel, however…

Keeping Roman strong is a top priority, and has been for years. In this company, you can’t look any stronger than when you beat the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. Just ask Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman. But Brock was also a heel when he did that. I don’t see how beating the Undertaker at Wrestlemania makes Roman anything less than a heel. Mind you, I’m assuming that’s the direction they’re going. But I don’t see them simply having Roman lose to Undertaker, unless the plan is for him to snap afterward and beat the hell out of him. Again, as a heel.

Perhaps it’s pie in the sky thinking, and this heat from the crowds is simply part of being WWE’s marquee man nowadays. But man, imagine the story of Roman beating the Undertaker, and officially becoming the most hated man in the company. Especially if he cheats to do it…

Ponderings From Smackdown:

AJ Styles cuts a promo on not having a match at Wrestlemania, promises to confront Shane McMahon. Hearing AJ trace his frustrations back to the Royal Rumble made this feel very reminiscent of Bret Hart in early 1997. He would always talk about being screwed out of the WWF Title. It all culminated in that famous moment on Raw when he shoved Vince McMahon, and cut that scathing, cuss-laden promo. Now all these years later, It’s AJ against Vince’s son. It somehow feels fitting.

Tom Phillips and JBL call the show without Mauro Ranallo and David Otunga. Ranallo was supposedly held up by bad weather, and Otunga is shooting a Tyler Perry movie. So for the first time in quite awhile, we had a two-man announce team on WWE television. Wouldn’t you know it, the world didn’t end. Just sayin’.

Becky Lynch def. Natalya via submission. Carmella attacks Becky after the match. Tremendous counter from the top turnbuckle into the Disarm-Her. I feel like the crowd chants for Becky Lynch every week. I’m legitimately rooting for her at Wrestlemania. She deserves a moment in the sun.

Noticed Carmella didn’t have her accent in the backstage promo that followed. Did they drop it? If so, that sucks. That was instant heat with me.

John Cena and Nikki Bella appear on Miz TV. Maryse accuses Nikki of keeping her off the first season of Total Divas. Daniel Bryan makes a mixed tag match between the two couples for WrestlemaniaFor months, the heels on this show have made it a point to talk about how Cena will never marry Nikki. Miz and Maryse did the same here, with a close-up of her wedding ring for good measure. So we’re getting a proposal at Wrestlemania, right? Seems pretty obvious to me. Hey, we’ve never seen one before. So maybe it’ll be cool.

Last week on Talking Smack, Daniel Bryan made a vague comment about possibly being able to wrestle again in a year and a half. I imagine that’s when his contract expires. Obviously, his health issues have been well documented. Please be careful, good sir…

Mickie James def. Alexa Bliss. My question last week about Mickie turning face has apparently been answered. That’s seemingly how she was positioned here. No complaints from me in that respect. Less experienced ladies on the heel side of things, like Alexa Bliss, could learn a lot from her. Phillips and JBL also told a nice story about Mickie potentially tying Trish Stratus’ record of seven Women’s Championships at Wrestlemania.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Alexa lose more matches in the coming weeks to advance how vulnerable she is in the multi-woman match at Wrestlemania.

Mojo Rawley def. Dolph Ziggler via count-out. You know what the interesting thing is about this story with Ziggler believing he deserves a bigger spotlight? He’s right! He’s legitimately more talented than everyone they’ve put him up against since his heel turn.

Randy Orton explains his actions against Bray Wyatt. One thing I would have added here: Having Orton talk about “relinquishing” his title shot at Wrestlemania, and how that was the final step in earning Bray’s full confidence. Makes sense to me.

The visual of Bray “baptizing” himself with Sister Abigail’s ashes was haunting, and I loved that he cut down on the laughing. His end of this was really good.

In a backstage promo, Baron Corbin says he’ll take Dean Ambrose’s Intercontinental Title if he can make it to Wrestlemania. No Ambrose on TV this week, which is fine. He’s selling the injury, and it builds some anticipation to when we do see him again. Corbin gave his standard delivery here, which is to say it was strictly okay. But they gave him a good line: “They say Dean Ambrose can get up from anything. Well I’m the man that puts people down.”

The Usos def. American Alpha. I’m fine with these two teams working together again, especially now that the Usos seem to have found their heel groove. But when they’re done, who do they go to next? This Smackdown Tag Team Division is in desperate need of a shake-up. The Vaudevillians and the Ascension are dead teams. Breezango is a joke. Who else is there? Once Zack Ryder comes back, there’s a chance the Hype Bros can actually become something. But until then, these two teams are seemingly all that Smackdown has.

AJ Styles ambushes Shane McMahon in the parking garage, smashes his head through a car window. Daniel Bryan apparently fires Styles, but Shane later calls him out for Wrestlemania. And here it is. I think the brawl we saw was all the impetus we need for this to be a Street Fight.

I maintain this is a good spot for AJ to be in at Wrestlemania. It’s not going to be Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom. But AJ will get to shine here, and odds are he’ll win. He’s going to be just fine, folks.

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Raw ’97: Muhammad Ali or Dennis Rodman?

Shawn Michaels, WWF Raw, February 3, 1997By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The February 3 episode of Raw was, without any sort of hype or announcement, the first ever two-hour edition of the show. This was obviously an attempt to be more competitive with WCW Monday Nitro, and there were clear efforts made to make this feel like a bigger show than it was. They were in the Toronto SkyDome, though at one point you can see it’s way under capacity. And all hands are on deck here.

This show was hyped as “Royal Rumble Raw.” We’d been told the week before that the Rumble match would be shown in its entirety. That’s not what happened, as we merely got highlights. Maybe they decided to stick with fresh content? I guess the idea of airing pay per view footage that’s two weeks old is a little lame.

Vader def. Stone Cold Steve Austin via disqualification. Before the match, Bret Hart attacks Austin from behind. Well, they weren’t going to have one of these guys pin the other before Final Four, right? They want it to look like everybody’s on an even playing field.

Steve Austin, Vader, WWF Raw, February 3, 1997Things are noticeably a little angrier on this show, presumably to hype up the drama. Before this match begins, the normally reserved yet heroic Bret Hart comes out and ambushes Austin. After the match, a commercial airs for Thursday Raw Thursday, where all the wrestlers are full of piss and vinegar. Again, even Bret, who yells: “Everybody better get out of my way!” They hadn’t quite found their famous “Attitude” yet. But they were looking for it.

Savio Vega def. Flash Funk. This is the television audience’s first exposure to heel Savio Vega, who turned heel off camera at a house show at Madison Square Garden. At this point, the only difference is a big leather jacket he wears to the ring.

Jim Ross interviews Sycho Sid. During some of these old promos with Sid, they keep his music playing at a lower volume. That’s a great effect. It keeps his mystique alive. Especially as he’s talking about evil. He’s not particularly articulate. But it sounds like he’s saying stuff that’s spooky and cool. So it works.

Doug Furnas and Phil Lafon def. The British Bulldog and Owen Hart in a WWF Tag Team Title Match via count-out. The titles do not change hands. Rediscovering Phil Lafon’s work has been a nice byproduct of this whole Raw ’97 experience. But I maintain what I’ve said before about these two: No personality. Very vanilla. So there’s not much to latch on to.

Owen Hart, British Bulldog, WWF Raw, February 3, 1997Owen as he steps through the ropes: “I hate Canada! I’m the only thing good about Canada!”

Crush def. Goldust. Savio comes in with a spinning heel kick to Goldust to cost him the match. There’s heel Savio.

These matches drag. It’s very apparent they’re not fully prepared for the move to two hours yet.

Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart come face-to-face in the ring. Austin attacks Hart from behind. The best thing on the show by a mile. I’ve always remembered one particular moment from this segment. Shawn is talking about not being liked. He says: “Everybody hated Muhammad Ali while he was the world champion. Now everyone refers to him as the greatest of all time.”

Bret later responds with: “Muhammad Ali? I don’t think so. Dennis Rodman, maybe.”

WWF hypes the debut of Tiger Ali Singh. If you’ll recall, the highlight of Singh’s WWF career was getting audience members to lick toe jam and eat boogers. A true success story if there ever was one…

Triple H, Marc Mero, WWF Raw, February 3, 1997Hunter Hearst Helmsley def. Marc Mero after a shot with brass knocks. If you watch these shows back, you notice the announcers keep talking about Robin Hood, as they do during this match. It took me awhile to figure out exactly what the connection was.

On January 13, TNT began airing The New Adventures of Robin Hood after WCW Nitro. That night, a match between Hulk Hogan and the Giant began two minutes before Nitro went off the air, and continued during portions of the commercial breaks during Robin Hood. Unique, to be certain. But obvious fodder for jokes.

The Undertaker and Ahmed Johnson def. Farrow and Mankind in a No Holds Barred Match. We saw Ahmed make use of his beloved two-by-four in this match, chasing the Nation off and then hitting Faarooq in the back. We also saw Vader attack ‘Taker in this match before Mankind takes a Tombstone on a chair and loses the fall.

All in all, not a strong show. Even by modern standards. Though that will change next week, as we get to a pretty famous Raw moment involving HBK. Though perhaps infamous would be a better word to describe it…

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Raw ’97: It’s All About the Title

Shawn Michaels, WWF ChampionBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The January 27, 1997 edition of Raw was essentially about two things: Ahmed Johnson’s feud with the Nation of Domination, and more importantly the WWF Championship.

I’ve always been of the opinion that the most important thing in a wrestling promotion should, more often than not, be the Heavyweight Championship. That’s what motivates your characters. That’s what everyone aspires to have, and it’s what everybody shows up for. Steve Austin famously said that if you’re not trying to become the WWF Champion, then you shouldn’t be in the company at all.

This show has a great segment that’s centered around Shawn Michaels being the champion, and everyone vying to take what he has. What’s more, he says he’s willing to do anything it takes to keep it. Before you even inject the various personal rivalries into the scenario, you’ve already got instant drama.

Too often in today’s WWE, I think they take the “chase” factor for granted. More on Raw than Smackdown. We need to know how important that Universal Championship is, especially because it’s so new. Kevin Owens, though cowardly and underhanded, needs to be seen as the man on Raw. Instead, he’s simply one of a few top guys holding a prop.

Is it fair to compare anyone to Shawn Michaels in the mid-’90s? Of course not. By my point is more about how things are booked and written on television. I look forward to contrasting what was happening with the WWF Championship at this time in 1997, compared to what’s happening with the two Heavyweight Titles now.

ahmed-johnson-wwf-raw-january-27-1997Crush def. Ahmed Johnson. In 2017, Ahmed Johnson is more or less a punchline. His unintelligible promos. Those weird things he wore on his legs. Reportedly he wasn’t the safest guy to work with either. But I get what they saw in him at the time. He was a big, scary dude. When he would get mad, he was intimidating as hell. He had a presence, too. Crowds reacted to him. The real-life Tony Norris was actually the first black Intercontinental Champion, which gives him a place in history.

The story here was that Savio Vega had joined the Nation of Domination the previous Saturday at a house show in Madison Square Garden, turning on Ahmed. This was obviously off television. As this show was taped along with the previous week’s show, Savio didn’t appear to follow up on that.

I was surprised to see Crush win this one. But Vince and the King protected Ahmed by telling viewer that he’d taken a beating at the Garden on Saturday, and then wrestled on WWF Superstars the previous day. From a storyline perspective, it made sense that Ahmed was worn down. They sold us on Crush’s Heart Punch finisher too.

Time Stamp: Lawler says Ahmed is having a “New England Patriots kind of day.” The Patriots had lost to the Green Bay Packers at Super Bowl XXXI the night before.

Shawn Michaels, Vince McMahon, WWF Raw, January 27, 1997Shawn Michaels speaks for the first time since regaining the WWF Title. Rematch with Sycho Sid announced for Thursday Raw Thursday. Final Four participants confront the champion. Once again, it’s all about the WWF Championship. Everyone is dying to win it, and the man wearing it will do anything he can to keep it. I love this segment.

The essence of Bret Hart’s side of this segment is that he tells Shawn to do whatever he has to do to come into Wrestlemania with the title. One of the things he says is, “I don’t want you to injure yourself.” Considering what Shawn does on that Thursday Raw Thursday episode, that’s so ironic it’s almost laughable.

On the subject of irony, hearing Undertaker talk about facing Shawn at Wrestlemania is almost chilling. Notwithstanding what they would do together at Wrestlemania XXV, Undertaker would be Shawn’s final opponent in the main event of Wrestlemania 13 years later. Aw man, and they’re promoting Wrestlemania XIII here. This is spooky.

As the wrestlers talk about Wrestlemania here, Vince interjects twice to remind them not to forget about Shawn’s title match with Sycho Sid. Good business on his part.

owen-hart-clarence-mason-british-bulldog-wwf-raw-january-27-1997The British Bulldog def. Doug Furnas, despite Owen Hart accidentally striking him with his Slammy Award. Owen and Phil Lafon are out there, having wrestled each other earlier in the night. Owen’s green track suit was certainly an interesting choice.

The sunset flip reversal spot Bulldog and Furnas ended this match with is the same one Bulldog and Bret Hart ended their classic Wembley Stadium match with in 1992.

Clarence Mason is associated with both the Nation of Domination, and this team of Owen and Bulldog. This used to be a fairly standard thing. Bobby Heenan’s multiple “clients” in the ’80s come to mind. We have so few managers today. But the ones we do have likely wouldn’t be with multiple wrestlers like this. The one rare exception is Paul Heyman, who a few years ago was with Brock Lesnar, Curtis Axel, and Ryback simultaneously.

The Clarence Mason character, played by a real-life attorney, is clearly a product of his time. Johnny Cochran had become a household name in the ’90s, thanks to the OJ Simpson trial. Clarence Mason wasn’t nearly as charismatic as Cochran was. But we got the idea.

vader-mankind-wwe-raw-january-27-1997The Godwinns def. Vader and Mankind via count-out. On the subject of managers, Paul Bearer was put with Vader after helping him beat the Undertaker at the Royal Rumble. That’s an odd pairing that’s even odder when you throw Mankind in there.

We’ve heard Mick Foley, and other wrestlers talk about taking Vader’s punches in the corner. In this match, you can see exactly what they’re talking about. The big guy gets Phineas Godwinn (later known as Mideon) up against the buckles and pops him in the head repeatedly. And this was in the era before they were so mindful of concussions. On top of that, Vader later takes an unprotected chair shot to the head from Foley.

Ahmed tries to attack the Nation with a two-by-four moments before Raw goes off the air. For some reason, a two-by-four always seemed to be Ahmed’s weapon of choice. I damn sure wouldn’t want to be around this guy when he’s got a weapon…

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Raw ’97: Bret Hart Quits the WWF

***Pro wrestling changed forever in 1997. From the rise of icons like the Rock and Bill Goldberg, to the Montreal Screwjob, to ECW’s pay per view debut, its impact would be felt for years to come. Personally, it’s always been my favorite year in wrestling. Here on Raw ’97, we’ll take a look back at what was happening on the WWF’s flagship show 20 years ago to the day. We’ll dig up hidden gems, and reexamine moments we’ll never forget.***

steve-austin 1997 royal rumbleBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The January 20 edition of Raw was our post-Royal Rumble show. This was the Alamo Dome Rumble that’s obviously very topical these days, as this year’s Rumble takes place in the same venue. Obviously it’s also the 20-year anniversary.

As much as the Rumble revolved around Shawn Michaels winning the title back from Sycho Sid in his home town, what I’ve always remembered about that show was Steve Austin’s performance in the Rumble Match. He was the fifth entrant, and essentially dominated the match until Bret Hart came out at number 21. And like a true heel, he cheated to win. When the referees were distracted by a brawl on the outside, he dumped the Undertaker, Vader, and Hart out to win the match.

Needless to say, Austin had the evening’s stand-out performance. I think the first few months of Austin’s program with Hart were when the perception of him started to shift. Going toe to toe with Bret the way he did was a big push toward main event status. This Royal Rumble Match was the next step up. Not only did winning the Rumble put Austin in some pretty elite company, but the way he won it was beautifully in character.

Obviously this was a big night for Shawn too. But Austin’s career would never be the same again.

Bret Hart quits WWFBret Hart quits the WWF. This is a pretty famous Raw moment. Fed up with being screwed by the WWF, Bret Hart quits in protest.

In his book, Bret says he was wondering where the payoff was for his character after a night like this. Supposedly his heel turn wasn’t presented to him until a few days before Wrestlemania XIII. It seems things were being switched up constantly in the weeks leading up to that show. If you believe what Bret wrote, it’s because of Shawn not wanting to lose to him.

Moments after Bret quits, Stone Cold Steve Austin comes out and takes the mic. Late ’96 and early ’97 Stone Cold is my favorite Stone Cold. Listen to how angry and bitter he sounds. It’s no wonder he captured everybody’s imagination the way he did. My favorite lint from Austin’s rant here is about his main event match with the Undertaker: “Drag his dead ass out here! I’ve got somethin’ for him!”

The British Bulldog and Owen Hart def. Doug Furnas and Phil Lafon. Objectively, Furnas and Lafon were great wrestlers. But they come off very vanilla compared to all the other big WWF personalities. They might have been better served to come in as heels.

faarooq-wwf-raw-january-20-1996Faarooq def. Bart Gunn. Just over two years before he got knocked out by Butterbean, Gunn gets taken down by Ron Simmons and the Nation of Domination. Bart didn’t win much after the Smoking Gunns broke up. That’s a shame. I liked Bart.

Time stamp: Both JR and King mention Bill Clinton’s second inauguration, which occurred on this day.

Gorilla Monsoon announces the main event of the February In Your House pay per view: Bret Hart vs. The Undertaker vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Vader. The winner faces the champion in the main event of Wrestlemania XIII. Austin responds. Hart returns, brawls with Austin. Austin: “You sit there and call yourself the gorilla, yet you hee-haw out here like a jackass!” Love it.

Bret was right to be concerned about coming off like a whiner. He quits when he doesn’t get his way, then comes back when he gets another opportunity. By the time we got to Wrestlemania XIII (I was in the arena that night), Bret was basically a heel. It’s not hard to see why.

The Undertaker vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin went to a no-contest after outside interference from Vader and Bret Hart. In the middle of this match, Lawler gets up from the announce desk, stands at ringside and yells for Austin to go after ‘Taker’s ribs. I can only assume this was improvised. Either way, it was funny.

bret-hart-wwe-raw-january-20-1997At one point in this match, ‘Taker comes up behind Austin, and gets surprised with a Stone Cold Stunner. But the crowd doesn’t react at all. It’s so damn surreal. Did they not register the move because it didn’t come with the usual boot to the gut beforehand?

Over on NitroThe Giant comes out to attack Hulk Hogan just as Nitro abruptly goes off the air.

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Raw ’97: The Rock Pulls Double Duty?

***Pro wrestling changed forever in 1997. From the rise of icons like the Rock and Bill Goldberg, to the Montreal Screwjob, to ECW’s pay per view debut, its impact would be felt for years to come. Personally, it’s always been my favorite year in wrestling. Here on Raw ’97, we’ll take a look back at what was happening on the WWF’s flagship show 20 years ago to the day. We’ll dig up hidden gems, and reexamine moments we’ll never forget.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

sycho-sid-wwf-raw-january-13-1997On January 13, 1997, Raw was still a one-hour show. Just north of 45 minutes, if you subtract commercials. In 2017, when we’re used to three-hour Raw broadcasts, that’s incredibly surreal.

In addition, because they taped multiple episodes in one night, this was an era where you didn’t see all the big stars wrestling every week. You might see them in backstage interview segments, or doing commentary. But not in the ring. In contrast, two weeks ago Raw featured Roman Reigns going against Kevin Owens. This past week? Reigns against Jericho. This coming week? Reigns vs. Owens and Jericho in a handicap match. There’s an obvious struggle to keep things fresh on a week to week basis, particularly with triple the air time.

Bottom line? Sometimes less is more.

Hunter Hearst Helmsly and Jerry “The King Lawler” def. Gloats and “Wildman” Marc Mero via disqualification. Lawler is such a great whiney, cowardly heel. There’s a moment in this match where he’s trying to tag Hunter, but Hunter doesn’t want to get in there with Goldust. So he just whines for his partner to come help. Great stuff.

Honky Tonk Man, WWF Raw, January 13, 2017Honky Tonk Man on commentary: [Hunter] will keep his cool just like OJ Simpson did just today on the witness stand.” Yeesh.

Sycho Sid speaks on location from the Alamo Dome in San Antonio. Sid more or less quotes Nietzsche in this promo. The actual quote is: ““Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster…” Sid goes on to say that both he and Shawn will have to become monsters at the Royal Rumble. It’s a clever concept for a wrestling promo. But wow, Sid and Nietzsche. There’s a tag team for you.

Shawn Michaels cuts a promo from San Antonio. Not much to this one. Shawn essentially rebukes all of Sid’s stuff, and says he’s going to kick Sid’s teeth down his throat. I do like that shot of Shawn with the fans, though. I was surprised he didn’t name drop Bret Hart when talking about facing the winner of the Royal Rumble Match at Wrestlemania. But Vince made sure to connect the two mere seconds later, when Bret came out for commentary. His exact words: “… the man that Shawn Michaels took the WWF Championship from.”

owen-hart-bret-hart-wwf-raw-january-13-1997Rocky Miavia def. The British Bulldog via count-out. Owen Hart came out during this match and stood right in front of Bret, blocking his view of the match. That’s one of the really cool things about this Bret/Owen rivalry. It never really ended. These two had their famous program in late ’93 and most of ’94, and yet here we are in 1997.

They’d done an angle on the previous episode of Superstars where Steve Austin took out Bret’s knee. Continuing on that theme, Austin takes out Bulldog’s knee here. But Owen can’t see it because he’s watching Bret. Bret then goes after Austin. I remember Austin and Bulldog having some kind of bad blood around this time. They kept teasing a Bulldog babyface turn, and a feud against Owen. You can argue that never fully culminated because of what happened after Wrestlemania XIII. Though they did have an awesome match to crown the first ever European Champion, which we’ll cover later.

Hilariously, a few minutes after this match they went back to the footage of Shawn in San Antonio, and Rocky popped up. Vince simply said, “Hey, there’s Rocky!” They tried to cover it up in the next segment, with Honky chiding Vince about seeing Rocky in two places at once. But it’s clearly him.

nation-of-domination-wwf-raw-january-13-1997The Undertaker def. Crush via disqualification. Vader decimates Undertaker before their match at the Royal RumbleThis was back when the Nation of Domination had JC Ice and Wolfie D, a.k.a PG-13, accompany them to the ring. Those two didn’t last long. I missed them when they were gone.

This was also the era where they’d paint a black teardrop on the Undertaker’s face. The teardrop tattoo obviously has murderous implications, and is such a great little detail for the Undertaker character.

Honky Tonk Man on commentary: [Who wins this match] is a tough one for the Honky Tonk Man to call. There’s not a lot of tough things for me. But this is probably the toughest.” Really? This is the toughest thing to call?

Over on Nitro: Diamond Dallas Page famously refuses to join the nWo. Hulk Hogan faces the Giant in a non-title match.

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Raw ’97: Bret Hart vs. Vader, Sid Powerbombs Pete Lothario

***Pro wrestling changed forever in 1997. From the rise of icons like the Rock and Bill Goldberg, to the Montreal Screwjob, to ECW’s pay per view debut, its impact would be felt for years to come. Personally, it’s always been my favorite year in wrestling. Here on Raw ’97, we’ll take a look back at what was happening on the WWF’s flagship show 20 years ago to the day. We’ll dig up hidden gems, and reexamine moments we’ll never forget.***

Terri Runnels, flash, Shotgun Saturday NightBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The January 6, 1997 edition of Raw was heavy on footage from Shotgun Saturday Night, which had premiered less than 48 hours earlier. Broadcast from the Mirage Nightclub in New York City, this was the episode where Terri Runnels (playing Marlena at the time) famously flashed the Sultan. And as we saw repeatedly during this Raw show, Ahmed Johnson gave D’Lo Brown the Pearl River Plunge on the roof of a car.

This was an attempt by the WWF to present something edgier, supposedly in response to ECW’s popularity. The original incarnation of the show, broadcast from nightclubs and what not, only lasted six weeks before it essentially became just another syndicated WWF show. I’ve got fond memories of those first several Shotgun episodes. In hindsight, it’s an obvious precursor to the Attitude Era. It’s a shame they never tried anything like that again.

Mankind def. Owen Hart. Chances are you’re going to hear this a lot as I watch these old shows: I have no memory of this match. Specifically, Mankind beating Owen. Not that it was so far-fetched. But Owen was my favorite wrestler at the time. You’d think I’d have at least a faint recollection of him going down via the Mandible Claw. This was also a heel vs heel match, an interesting way to start the year.

What I came away from this match thinking about was Owen’s spinning heel kick. He threw a couple of those here. That used to be a trademark of his.

Owen Hart, Mankind, WWF Raw, January 7, 1997Lawler on commentary: “I hope Jose [Lothario] is not gonna come out here, is he? … Are all his veins still clogged with those refried being and tacos and enchiladas? I heart they took an x-ray of his heart and there was a big jalapeño blocking his aorta.”

Doug Furnas and Phil Lafon def. Razor Ramon and Diesel. Keep in mind, this is January of ’97. So we’re not seeing Scott Hall or Kevin Nash as Razor and Diesel. This is Rick Bognar, and the man who would be Kane, Glen Jacobs.

This one was a dud for me. More or less a throwaway match. More entertaining was the Honky Tonk Man joining Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler on commentary. This was when he was looking for a protege, who would later turn out to be Billy Gunn as Rockabilly.

WWF Champion Sycho Sid is interviewed in the ring by Jim Ross. HBK emerges to do commentary during the main event. Sid apologies for what he’s going to do. The famous Royal Rumble show from the Alamo Dome in San Antonio was coming up on January 19, and Sid was set to defend against the hometown hero Shawn Michaels.

On a recent episode of Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard, the former WWF producer revealed Sid was at one point discussed to be Hulk Hogan’s successor as the top babyface. But Sid allegedly turned it down to stay heel. That’s a fascinating idea, especially when you look at Sid’s mic work. As we see in this promo here, Sid has a great presence and a commanding delivery. But I don’t think one would ever mistake him as the most articulate guy in the room. I think his best mic stuff was always short and sweet.

Bret Hart vs. Vader, WWE January 6, 1997For some odd reason, Shawn came out in jeans, boots, and a bathrobe. The things you can get away with when you’re the Heartbreak Kid…

Vader def. Bret Hart. This was another one that took me by surprise. I remember Vader pinning Shawn, and even pinning Undertaker. But I had no idea he’d ever beaten Bret. Not a clean victory,  mind you. Bret took a stunner from Steve Austin in the aisle. But Bret getting pinned after a Vader Bomb is still surreal. Had things worked out differently for Vader in the WWF, this match might have happened on pay per view.

At this point, it seems like they were still building for Bret vs. Shawn at Wrestlemania XIII. That didn’t happen, obviously. But Shawn’s agenda during this segment is clearly to talk smack about Bret, and their history dating back to Wrestlemania XII. There’s also a lot of talk from Vince about Bret being a marked man in the upcoming Royal Rumble Match. Bret was reportedly in line to win at one point, which isn’t difficult to see.

Shawn on commentary: “[Bret] is telling everybody he’s a brain surgeon and an angel. Believe me folks, he ain’t no angel. And if I could come clean, I would. But I know [Vince] will smack me in the face if I do.”

Sycho Sid, Pete Lothario, WWF Raw, January 6, 1997That’s really interesting to hear, considering the marital infidelities Bret talked about in his book. I can only assume Shawn and the other wrestlers knew.

During the main event, Sid grabs a camera man, and films himself powerbombing Jose Lothario’s son Pete on a table. Pete Lothario. There’s a name from the past for you.

Again, short and sweet with Sid’s mic stuff: “I’m sorry to do this. It’s going to hurt me to do this. But I’m going to have to.” Shawn legitimately sprinted to the back, adding to the drama. As a kid, I remember thinking Sid wasn’t somebody you wanted to mess with. That’s probably still the case 20 years later.

Over on Nitro: Rey Mysterio Jr. beats Psicosis. The Giant gets beat down by the nWo, but gets a chokeslam in on Vincent.

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A WWE Payback 2016 Preview – The Rise of the Bullet Club?

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Chances are that once Payback is over, many of our questions regarding the WWE equivalent of the Bullet Club will have been answered.

Ever since word hit that WWE was in talks with AJ Styles, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows, speculation ran rampant about a Bullet Club invasion (though perhaps not with that name). Now that all three are on WWE TV, it looks like the time is near. Except the smart bet is that Anderson and Gallows will turn out to be against Styles.

So the question is, who do you put in that third spot? A heel Roman Reigns? The recently de-throned NXT Champion and former Bullet Club member Finn Balor? Or does there even need to be a third member? Could Anderson and Gallows stand on there own?

So many questions. And as I’ve said before, lingering questions are a good thing…

WWE Payback 2016, Ryback, KalistoPRE-SHOW MATCH FOR WWE UNITED STATES TITLE:
Kalisto (c) vs. Ryback

The only reason I can think of to put t these two together again would be to have Ryback win the title. Unless they’re punishing him for what he said in the media about not being happy with his spot on the Wrestlemania card. But if that’s the case then why put Ryback in a title match at all? I maintain Kalisto could do great things with the United States Title. But we haven’t seen much of him on Raw recently. His most recent appearance consisted of him being kayfabe injured in a match with The Dudley Boyz. He’s not a lost cause, but signs seem to indicate Kalisto’s time with the title is done with. Kind of a shame, but not a big loss in the grand scheme of things.

PREDICTION: Ryback

WWE Payback 2016, Dolph Ziggler, Baron CorbinDolph Ziggler vs. Baron Corbin

This one is pretty obvious. Ziggler loses to Corbin, in the process giving him a match that’s decent at the very least. I’ve said this from the start: Corbin is in great hands with Dolph. It’ll be interesting to see how he does when he works with wrestlers who don’t bump and sell like their lives depend on it. But for now, Corbin is in a good spot.

PREDICTION: Baron Corbin

Enzo & Cass vs. The VaudvillainsTAG TEAM TOURNAMENT FINAL:
Enzo & Cass vs. The Vaudvillains

Enzo & Cass didn’t barely scratched the surface of what they could have done with The Dudley Boyz. That’s why I see Bubba and D-Von running in on this one to cost them the match. That’ll give us more matches between those two teams, and at least one outing between The Vaudevillians and The New Day for the tag belts. Granted, they could have Cass & Enzo win, and then do the angle with the Dudleys during a title match. But given how over both those teams are as babyfaces, that seems like the kind of match you’d save for Summerslam. Plus, a win for The Vaudevillians gives them a chance to shine. If they lose, they’re left with nothing to do. Their cartoony villain personas will mesh well with The New Day.

PREDICTION: The Vaudevillians

The Miz, Cesaro, WWE Payback 2016WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
The Miz (c) vs. Cesaro

I see Miz weaseling his way out of this one somehow, likely with Maryse’s help. Having his wife with him has largely reinvigorated Miz’s career. If they give these two a nice long run, at least until Summerslam, they really have the chance to create something memorable. Of course, that means Cesaro has to lose this match. But if he loses the right way, it doesn’t have to be a setback. In any event, Cesaro doesn’t need the Intercontinental Title to get to the next level. If he keeps doing his thing and stealing the show on Raw, they won’t be able to ignore him.

PREDICTION: Cesaro

Chris Jericho, Dean Ambrose, WWE Payback 2016Chris Jericho vs. Dean Ambrose

Dean Ambrose could really use a big win. This guy was so close to winning the Royal Rumble, but came up short. Then he got pinned in the triple threat match at Fastlane. Then Triple H beat him in a title match at Roadblock. Then Brock pinned him in an underwhelming street fight at Wrestlemania. Can somebody throw this guy a bone? And by somebody, I mean Chris Jericho. Have Ambrose get the win, and then they can do a crazy gimmick match at Extreme Rules next month. Hopefully they can make that match mean a little more than this one does. I’m sure these two will have a good match, but this story could stand to have a little more meat to it.

PREDICTION: Dean Ambrose

Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens, WWE Payback 2016Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens

The cool thing about this program is that the rivalry between these two is so personal, we can learn more about the Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens characters by how they interact with each other. Or at least, the potential is there for something like that.

I’m hoping they let these two feud for awhile. Not just because these two have such a personal history, but because Zayn is such a great traditional babyface (which is rare these days), and Owens is such a good heel. Obviously, there’s potential for great television there. As for this match, I say we give Zayn the first win. That way, Owens has extra impetus to cheat to win the rematch, most likely at Extreme Rules. This one could be the dark horse to steal the show.

PREDICTION: Sami Zayn

Charlotte, Natalya, Ric Flair, Bret Hart, WWE Payback 2016WWE WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Charlotte (c) w/Ric Flair vs. Natalya w/Bret Hart

Much like Sami Zayn, Natalya is a great traditional babyface. She’s naturally very likable. This new era in the WWE women’ division is right up her alley. Anyone in the Hart family is bound to thrive when wrestling and match quality are emphasized.

Unfortunately, this isn’t her time. There’s no reason to take the title off Charlotte now. And while some feel otherwise, I think she and her dad make a nice combo. While he could have easily stolen her thunder, Flair is adding to her presentation rather than taking away. I’m not sure who you put her with after Nattie (Paige? Becky Lynch again?), but I get the feeling Charlotte will hold on to that title until she runs into Sasha Banks again.

PREDICTION: Charlotte

Roman Reigns, AJ Styles, WWE Payback 2016WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Roman Reigns (c) vs. AJ Styles

Well, here we are. Yet another opportunity for WWE to turn Roman Reigns heel. Will it happen? Probably not. But he’s in there with AJ Styles. In Chicago, of all places. WWE knows full well Reigns is walking in there to a chorus of boos. Hell, he walks into every arena to a chorus of boos. If they were going to turn him, now is as good a time as any.

Whatever happens with Anderson and Gallows, there’s no way Reigns drops the title here. Styles is hot right now, but he’s not that hot. The story also lends itself to AJ’s former friends turning on him. As WWE has spent the better part of a year stubbornly digging their feet in as far as Reigns being a babyface, I say if there is a third man to help cost Styles this match, it’s Finn Balor. WWE even ran a video on their web site about Balor possibly showing up on the main roster. He’s been ready for awhile now, and a program with AJ Styles will give him a hell of a start on the national stage.

PREDICTION: Roman Reigns

Images courtesy of WWE.com.

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