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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The Bullet Club vs. The Roman Empire? Plus, Ponderings From WWE Raw

Luke Gallows Karl Anderson, Roman Reigns, WWE Raw, April 18, 2016By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This week on Raw, we saw the beginnings of what may end up being WWE’s version of the Bullet Club. Granted, I don’t recall them actually using that name on television. Signs are pointing to a renewed alliance between AJ Styles, Karl Anderson, and Luke Gallows.  But let’s be honest, how likely is that? Best case scenario: We’ve got a swerve coming our way. More on that in a bit.

But here’s a happy trend for ya: Raw has been good for three consecutive weeks. When was the last time we were able to say that?

Ponderings From WWE Raw:

Chris Jericho def. Sami Zayn. These past few months have been the first time I’ve been able to consistently watch Sami Zayn wrestle. Like most fans, I’ve loved what I’ve seen. From a performance standpoint he’s been on a roll. His match with Shinsuke Nakamura at NXT Takeover: Dallas, his performance in the Wrestlemania Ladder Match, and his match with AJ Styles last week were all great. And and now he’s working with Chris Jericho. Tonight’s match wasn’t amazing. But Jericho and Zayn have a nice heel dynamic, especially with Jericho cowering and then thumbing the eye to get the win.

Cass & Enzo, WWE Raw, April 18, 2016Enzo & Cass def. The Dudley Boyz to advance in the tag team tournament. I’m surprised they gave the first match between these teams away for free. But in terms of developing a rivalry, it makes sense. The Dudleys will likely cost Enzo & Cass the tournament finals, leading to more matches down the road.

AJ Styles reunites with Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson backstage. They later attack Roman Reigns. This is obviously a strong indicator that Gallows and Anderson will be turning on Styles in the near future, likely costing him his title match at Payback. But what does that do for Roman Reigns? If they finally wake up and turn him heel, a three-man group with Gallows and Anderson would be…unexpected. But not necessarily in a bad way.

Neither of these guys are great talkers, but they held their own out there. They kept it short and to the point, which was a smart move. As little credibility as the announcers have these days, they were right when they said this match has a “big fight feel.”

Also, we get it, Roman. You’re not a bad guy or a good guy. But if most people don’t like you…doesn’t that make you a bad guy?

Baron Corbin, WWE Raw, April 11, 2016Baron Corbin def. Fandango. Attacks Dolph Ziggler during and after the match. Baron Corbin is by no means perfect. But that End of Days move is pretty cool.

Cesaro crashes Miz TV, which turns into an 8-Man Tag. Two talk show segments in one show, huh? Hrm. Not exactly ideal, but whatever.

Miz obviously flubbed the first sentence in that Taken monologue. But that almost made it better, considering he’s an annoying heel. In contrast, Cesaro’s take on “When my hand goes up, your mouth goes shut” was a pretty good line.

Miz and Maryse continue to be a winning combo, and WWE seems to know that. As unlikely as it seems, it looks like Miz is the next in line to get a crack at bringing some prestige back to the Intercontinental Title. He’s not exactly known for his amazing mat skills. But the Intercontinental Championship has long been associated with some of the best bad guys WWE has ever seen. Think about the likes of Rick Rude, Mr. Perfect, Shawn Michaels, The Rock, among others. That’s not to say Miz is in their league, but putting the title on him makes more sense when you look at it that way.

I can’t say I was enamored with the match involving Cesaro, The New Day, The Miz, and The League of Nations. But the babyfaces were over big, so more power to them.

Natalya, WWE Raw, April 18, 2016Bret Hart to appear in Natalya’s corner at Payback. Charlotte taps out to the Sharpshooter on RawWith this match at Payback, they now have the exact same set up they had when Nattie faced Charlotte for the NXT Women’s Title in 2014. They had Bret Hart and Ric Flair in their corners then as well, and that was a hell of a match. Granted, Bret and Ric were simply the garnish. I’m not sure if that’ll be the case at Payback, as we’ve established that Flair interferes in Charlotte’s matches. Either way, it’s great to see Natalya getting an opportunity to shine. Though I don’t see her walking out of Payback with the title.

The Vaudevillains def. The Usos to advance in the tag team tournament. So now we’ve got two teams fresh up from NXT competing to become WWE Tag Team Champions. It’s tough to complain about that. If my earlier prediction about Cass & Enzo is true, that means The Vaudevillains are winning this tournament. Considering Cass & Enzo have already won the crowd over with charisma, it’d be nice to see Simon Gotch & Aiden English take it home. That gimmick could make or break them, depending on how they’re portrayed in these next few weeks.

A brief profile on Apollo Crews airs. Crews defeats Heath Slater. They did a profile like this on Baron Corbin last week. It wouldn’t hurt them to do something similar on with The Vaudevillians. Sadly, this didn’t do Crews any favors, as he came off like a white meat babyface. But his athleticism makes him hard to dislike, at least this early in his run.

Apollo Crews, WWE Raw, April 18, 2016Conspicuous by his absence this week was Adam Rose, who along with Konnor of The Ascension, was hit with a suspension last week for violating the company’s wellness policy. That’s always sad to see. I won’t say this Social Outcasts thing has done Rose a lot of favors. But at least he was on Raw most weeks.

Dean Ambrose def. Kevin Owens in the main event. Jericho comes in for the ambush after the match. Certainly not the best match these two have had. But it was a solid Raw main event.  Yet again, I found myself genuinely iinterested in the last segment of the show. Sad as it is, that’s a departure from the last several months.

Images courtesy of WWE.com.

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Dean Ambrose and False Hope, Plus Pondering From WWE Raw

Bret Hart, WWE ChampionBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Before we get to Raw, let’s touch on a couple of stories. The first one just broke yesterday, and it’s a bit of unfortunate news regarding an all-time great…

Bret Hart announces he’s battling prostate cancer. Bret himself made this announcement on his Facebook. He seems optimistic about it, which is good news. Bret is a hero to many, and he’s in the hearts of a great many this week. Good luck, Bret. We’ll be thinking of you.

Vince McMahon allegedly angered by The Rock going off-script on last week’s RawI, like a lot of fans, really enjoyed that moment last week when The Rock went “off the script” and talked to those cosplayers at ringside. They were having fun, and the crowd was having fun, so The Rock decided to have fun. But low and behold, Vince allegedly didn’t like it.

Considering how WWE has been booked over the last few years, that sounds about right.

I loved The Rock’s response to said heat on Twitter: “…at @WWE events, going “off script” is what I live for. So much fun for the fans. Nightmare for Vince.”

Dean Ambrose, WWE Raw, January 1, 2016Ponderings From WWE Raw:

Dean Ambrose confronts Brock Lesnar at the top of the show, Lesnar attacks Ambrose to close the show. Well how about this? For once, it wasn’t all about Roman Reigns. They let Ambrose have the headline story this week.

I’d love to think WWE might surprise us at Fastlane, and give Ambrose the main event with Triple H. It’d damn sure be something different. The fans are into Ambrose, and the suspense when he and Hunter were the last ones in the Rumble Match was amazing. And it could create some interesting tension between Ambrose and Reigns! It won’t happen, of course. WWE has been bound and determined to make Reigns their guy for over a year, and they’re not about to stop now. But it’s fun to think about.

Still, it’s clear WWE has faith in Dean Ambrose. They trusted him to hold his own in there with Lesnar, and he did just that. Ambrose can be such a huge star for WWE. I just hope they realize what they have with him.

Stephanie McMahon, Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, WWE Raw, February 1, 2016Michael Cole hypes Stephanie McMahon’s appearance on Good Morning America, as part of a series on women making a difference and serving as positive role models. That bit of copy Michael Cole read during Dolph Ziggler’s entrance is a perfect example of the disconnect that exists between WWE and its fans, and it’s one of the many reasons why fans just don’t get into WWE like they used to.

Every week on television, Stephanie McMahon plays a tyrannical heel authority figure. But because WWE is so image conscious, they make a point of hyping up her humanitarianism, her involvement with charities, etc. There’s nothing wrong with her doing any of that, but when they go out of their way to mention that on TV, they contradict the stories they’re trying to tell. They’re breaking the illusion they’ve created in their fictional universe. Yes, we know Stephanie isn’t really an evil person. But can you let us suspend our disbelief when we watch your damn show?

Dolph Ziggler, Kevin Owens, WWE Raw, February 1, 2016Dolph Ziggler def. Kevin Owens. Really good match. I loved the way Ziggler attacked that turnbuckle when Owens Irish-whipped him into the corner. Shades of Bret Hart, there.  The fact that Ziggler isn’t consistently main eventing Raw is a crime, and yet another indictment of just how screwed up creative is right now.

“Even Steven Booking” strikes again on this one. Owens beat Ziggler last week, Ziggler beats Owens this week. The sad thing is that Owens is one of the few good heels WWE has right now. If WWE wanted to build him up as a potential Undertaker opponent for Wrestlemania, they could easily have a really good program. I originally thought Owens and Sami Zayn were going to wrestle on that show, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Alas, Owens is left spinning his wheels for no good reason.

Brie Bella def. Charlotte. OH HELL NO…

Brie Bella, Charlotte, WWE Raw, February 1, 2016What the hell happened here? We were doing so well. Charlotte was in a compelling storyline with Becky Lynch that allowed both of them to shine. Then at the Royal Rumble we introduced Sasha Banks into the title picture. And now…Charlotte gets beaten by Brie? (Her right shoulder may not have even been down, as you can see on the right.)  Seriously, what the hell? I suspect this is will lead to a title match at Fastlane, which I suppose I can tolerate as long as Sasha gets the Wrestlemania match. But what a disappointing direction to take things in.

Naomi & Tamina turn on Sasha Banks during her match with Becky Lynch. I love how they slipped that little Kanye/Wiz Khalifa reference into the talking segment. “We’re hip! Really, we are!”

Happy to see Sasha is officially separated from Naomi and Tamina. She’s destined to be a star on her own. And if/when she becomes champion this year, they can easily come back to one or both of those two for a title defense. Neither of them would have given Ric Flair or Shawn Michaels a run for their money, but they’re both decent hands in their own right.

AJ Styles, The Miz, WWE Raw, February 1, 2016AJ Styles appears on Miz TV. Not at all what I was hoping to see Styles do on Raw this week, but at least they’re investing time in him. Granted, the fact that Miz talked for 90 percent of the segment doesn’t say much for their faith in his mic skills. But there are worse guys for him to spend TV time with than The Miz.

The Big Show def. Erick Rowan before getting decimated by The Wyatt Family. I’m still disappointed that babyface Big Show is back. He’s so much better as a heel. But the upside is, at the rate his turns have been going, he’ll be a heel again in no time.

They’re obviously building toward a Big Show/Braun Strowman match at Fastlane. Goody goody gumdrops. I will say that it’s good to see The Wyatts looking strong again. But as wrote last week, an Undertaker/Strowman match, if that is indeed what they’re building for, is a terrible idea. Especially when there are so many superior opponents available for the Dead Man.

The Usos, WWE Raw, February 1, 2016Lilian Garcia botches The Usos’ introduction, refers to them as “Grammy Award winning tag team of the year.” Okay, so Lilian botched an intro. With all due respect, it wasn’t the first time and it probably won’t be the last. And of course they made fun of her, because they’re bullies like that. But they actually took the time to replay it when they came back from a commercial break. Well, that’s one way to kill time on a three-hour broadcast. Hey, at least Vince was having fun on the headset…

On the plus side, we’ve apparently gotten The Usos away from The New Day. That’s definitely a good thing.

Kalisto def. Rusev via count-out, will defend US Title against Alberto Del Rio at FastlaneUgh. I was hoping they’d get the Del Rio rematch out of the way on television so Kalisto could move on to someone else. This gives WWE the opportunity to change their minds about Kalisto, and switch the belt back to Del Rio. Make no mistake about it, Del Rio does not need the US Title. But it can help build Kalisto into something they desperately need: A new star.

Images courtesy of WWE.com.

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Sami Zayn’s Big Break? Plus, Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Sami Zayn, John Cena, Raw, April 4, 2015Ponderings From WWE Raw:

Sami Zayn answers John Cena’s US Title open challenge after being introduced by Bret Hart. Firstly, I have to give John Cena credit for his ability to ad-lib. That crowd was all over him, but he went with the flow. Like him or not, he’s great at it.

What a career moment for Sami Zayn. He pops up on Raw, in his home town no less, introduced by Bret Hart no less, facing John Cena no less! I was actually a little irritated they started this match during the commercial break. I didn’t want to miss any of this one.

So was Zayn’s shoulder injury a work? Were they setting up a weakness for his title match against Kevin Owens? I’ve got to believe that’s the case, considering how obvious they made everything from the trainer looking at him to the referee throwing up the X sign. Either that, or it wasn’t that serious an injury. In any event, Zayn gave the casual fans more than enough to want to see him on the main roster. It’s simply a question of when. Needless to say, this segment stole the show.

John Cena, Sami Zayn, Raw, April 4, 2015Cena was obviously great here too. But after seeing him do it a few times, I’m not a fan of the “springboard stunner.” The obvious Steve Austin factor aside, the move doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, especially for a guy like John Cena.

Kane: “I don’t believe I can allow the WWE World Heavyweight Champion to do nothing while his opponents are in action.” Um, that’s exactly what WWE did when Brock Lesnar was the champion. I’m just sayin’.

Seth Rollins has been the champion for a little while now, and back in the rhythm of having a WWE Champion who defends the title every month. I can’t say I particularly miss having a no-show champion for months at a time. But I do miss that special big fight feel that surrounded Brock’s title defenses, and part of that did indeed have to do with the title not being defended every month. With the WWE Network being free for new subscribers in May, just as it was in April, and we’re basically giving another big show away for free, maybe now is the time to experiment with these pay per views. For instance, the King of the Ring concept could have been a great way to save Rollins’ next title defense until June. But that opportunity is gone. Maybe find some sort of special attraction?

Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, WWE Raw, 05/04/2015Incidentally, is it time to find something else to call these pay per views? After all, they’re obviously trying as hard as they can to ween us off pay per view, and on to the network.

Dean Ambrose added to Payback main event after defeating Seth Rollins. Love it. Ambrose deserves to be in the main event scene as much as anybody. Rollins is obviously going to retain at Payback anyway, so there’s really no harm in adding Ambrose to the mix. Especially if he isn’t pinned. Hell, a Rollins vs. Ambrose PPV main event would be much more intriguing than seeing him against Orton or Reigns at this point. They consistently have great matches, case in point, the match we saw on Raw.

Cesaro shines in tag match against The Ascension. In case you weren’t counting, that was 10 consecutive uppercuts to Konner, and the crowd was obviously loving it. And of course, the giant swing is always over. If you’re wondering why Tyson Kidd and Cesaro are babyfaces now, look no further than what we saw in this match.

King Barrett, Raw, 05/04/2015Bad News Barrett returns to Raw as King of the Ring. Yup. Called that one. So here we go. Barrett has some new life breathed into him, and I like the pairing with Neville. That makes it easy for Barrett to play the bully. Now the question becomes: Can Barrett stay healthy, and remain hot as a heel long enough to break through to the next level?

Tamina Snuka returns to Raw, attacks the Bella Twins alongside Naomi. The sad thing is Tamina and Naomi were supposed to be the heels here. But if you’re a couple of dominant chicks who beat the crap out of the Bellas, you’re babyfaces as far as I’m concerned. The “family” aspect of Naomi and Tamina’s connection is interesting, and makes me wonder what will happen to the Usos when they make it back to TV. Could we see a heel Samoan faction? That’d be something to watch…

Tensions continue to mount between Rusev and Lana. I’m really hoping they don’t break these two up. They’re such a great act, and while Rusev has improved tremendously from a personality standpoint, taking Lana away from him would be a big negative. I’m hoping this all turns out to be a ruse, and she ends up staying with Rusev at Payback.

Ryback, Raw, 05042015Fans chant “Goldberg!” at Ryback during his in-ring promo. I respect Ryback for calling the Montreal fans out on this, as it’s long since gotten old. I’m sure Bray Wyatt will end up beating Ryback whenever they end up clashing. But still, a program with Bray looks good for Ryback, who’s obviously looking to get that next tier. Whether the fans will ever take him serious enough for that to happen is another story.

Other Assorted Ponderings:

Floyd Mayweather defeats Manny Pacquiao in massive boxing main event. For the first time in a long time, boxing was culturally relevant again this past Sunday. The sheer amount of buzz for this fight was astounding, even if the fight itself wasn’t the greatest. It drew so many people who would otherwise have been entirely indifferent to boxing, myself included. It actually made me jealous that pro wrestling hasn’t had a moment like that in so long. The last one I can think of was probably when Mike Tyson (another boxer, obviously) was involved with Wrestlemania XIV, and that was more than 15 years ago. I can’t even imagine what it would take to carry wrestling to that point…

Global Force Wrestling to begin revealing their roster at press conference Wednesday. I’m very interested to see who Jeff Jarrett has been able to attract to GFW. There have to be some notable names on there for drawing power. It’ll definitely be worth checking out.

Images courtesy of WWE.com.

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