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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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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Kurt Angle’s Big Reveal, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Dixie Carter made her WWE TV debut last week…sort of.

Carter was briefly shown on last week’s WWE 24 special about Kurt Angle’s return to the company. She didn’t get tons of screen time. But there she was. They even listed her as “former president, tna wrestling.” This wasn’t exactly Eric Bischoff showing up on Raw. But it was a moment, and about as surreal as it gets in the modern era.

People love to dump on Carter for being naive about the wrestling business. Some would even say downright stupid. But give her credit: She kept TNA afloat for all those years. As such, guys like AJ Styles and Samoa Joe became stars on the national level.

This olive branch extended to Carter by WWE opens a few doors. TNA has undergone two name-changes since her departure in January, and the company is obviously under new management. The Dixie Carter/TNA era is effectively over. If that means WWE is now willing to acknowledge that promotion’s existence, Carter could be a valuable asset to the WWE Network. They obviously don’t have the rights to any footage. But in future documentaries or specials, they can bring her in to add her perspective on the careers of former TNA athletes that have since become WWE stars. Styles and Joe obviously come to mind. But you’ve also got guys like Bobby Roode, Eric Young, and Drew McIntyre. You can even throw the Hardys in there. Especially if they wind up getting the “Broken” IP.

There’s also been speculation about Carter possibly being an on-air character for WWE. That’s more far-fetched, if you ask me. I’ll say it again: Dixie Carter is not Eric Bischoff. When Bischoff showed up on Raw, most of the audience knew who he was. He’d been one of the faces of a nationally televised war for ratings supremacy. Hell, WWE had referenced him on television multiple times. He was ruthless. He was cunning. He was the enemy. That’s why it was so shocking to see him walk out on Raw.

Dixie Carter doesn’t have much of that intrigue. Was she the enemy? Maybe. But was she ever a threat? Not really. Could she get heat? Sure. But probably not enough to justify bringing her in for a recurring role. What’s more, WWE would have to do a lot more explaining to the uninitiated about who this woman is, what TNA was, etc.

Maybe I’m wrong. But I wouldn’t bet on it. I respect Dixie Carter more than a lot of “smart” fans do. But lets not classify her as this major get for WWE. She could do some cool things with them. But most of them involve being interviewed for WWE Network specials. Let’s keep this in perspective, people.

Ponderings From Raw:

Dean Ambrose calls out the Miz and the Miztourage. Seth Rollins apologizes for betraying the Shield. Miz and his henchmen destroy Ambrose and Rollins. I liked this. Rollins apologizes to Ambrose for stabbing him in the back and breaking up the Shield, and then offers him a free shot with the steel chair. It’s probably the most babyface thing Rollins has done since they shoehorned him into that role almost a year ago.

But did you see what they did here? They’re starting already. I talked about this a few months ago. At it’s core, this Shield thing is going to be about getting Roman Reigns cheered. That’s what they were looking for when they brought out Miz, Curtis Axel, and Bo Dallas. They wanted you to chant for Roman to come out and make the save. I’ll give them this, there were “Roman!” chants. They weren’t loud, but they were there.

Bayley def. Alexa Bliss. Seeing these two in the ring brought back bad memories. As such, I pretty much tuned this one out. It doesn’t help that we’ve seen so many combinations of Bayley/Alexa Bliss/Sasha Banks/Nia Jax in the last several months. This division desperately needs some new blood.

Jack Gallagher and Mustafa Ali def. Brian Kendrick and Drew Gulak. I didn’t recognize Drew Gulak. He’s really changed up his look since the last time I saw him. But as I don’t watch 205 Live, that was probably awhile ago…

Enzo Amore cuts a promo on Big Cass. Cass comes out, winds up in a fight with the Big Show. There’s been a lot of buzz lately about Enzo having heat backstage. But the fans are still reacting to him. In the end, that’s what matters.

Wasn’t a fan of Enzo opening this promo with the line about Newton’s third law. Pretty far out of character. A lot of thus stuff sounded out of character, actually. Not what he was saying, but how he was saying it. As opposed to his emotional promo two weeks ago, this sounded much more scripted.

Based on what we saw Show do with Braun Strowman several weeks ago, I’d say Cass is in good hands here. Cass may not have the acting chops quite yet, but they may end up overachieving in the ring.

Finn Balor def. Elias Samson via disqualification. Bray Wyatt appears on the tron, announces he’s coming for Balor. YES! A guitar shot from Samson! A shot which apparently left a nasty gash in Balor’s head. Ouch. I’ve seen a lot of those guitar shots over the years, and it seems like the idea is to hit the top of the head. Samson hit Balor like he was swinging a baseball bat.

It looks like we’re finally getting Bray Wyatt vs. Finn Balor at Summerslam. Bray has a little bit of momentum after beating Seth Rollins at Great Balls of Fire. But I suspect they built him up to have Finn Balor, as the Demon, slay him. Fair enough, I suppose. At least they waited awhile before bringing the Demon back.

Ariya Daivari def. Akira Tozawa when Titus O’Neil stops the match. Tozawa might not have enjoyed having Titus out there with him. But I sure as hell did. He’s no Bobby Heenan. But he’s a lot of fun.

Kurt Angle announces he fathered an illegitimate child: Jason Jordan. Huh. Vince McMahon’s “illegitimate child” was a pre-established WWE star, and now it turns out Kurt Angle’s is too. What an amazing coincidence that is.

There’ve been rumors abound these last few weeks about this big Kurt Angle revelation being an illegitimate child storyline. One of the obvious candidates for such a role was Chad Gable of American Alpha. Well, they were close…

With Jordan now on Raw and Gable still on Smackdown, this is obviously the end of American Alpha for the time being. That’s a bit sad, as that team never became quite what they could have been on the main roster. But both guys have a lot of potential as singles wrestlers. Jordan isn’t necessarily great from a charisma standpoint. But this is obviously a great opportunity for him. If he can put the pieces together, he could wind up being truly amazing.

The Revival def. The Hardy Boyz. How long do you think it’ll be before they have to turn the Revival babyface? What’s not to like about them? Especially if you’re an older fan.

Matt and Jeff Hardy have now lost to Sheamus and Cesaro, Gallows and Anderson, and the Revival. This losing streak seems tailor made for a descent into that “Broken” madness. The Hardys and Anthem have different stories as far as a deal being reached. So whether it actually happens is still a guessing game. But one can always hope.

Braun Strowman decimates Roman Reigns and Samoa Joe, breaking up their match to determine the top contender for SummerslamNot the best match these two have had. But they got the finish right. I imagine we’re now headed for a Fatal Four-Way Match for the Universal Title at Summerslam. I’m just grateful it’s not another damn Fatal Five-Way…

Samoa Joe is almost 300 lbs. So seeing Strowman pick him up for a Powerslam was damn impressive. Seeing anyone pick this guy up is damn impressive.

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Bray Wyatt’s House of Horrors, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Aw c’mon. You guys can do better than that.

That was the one thing that went through my mind as I watched WWE’s first ever House of Horrors Match at Payback. As many expected, it was literally inside a house. They put a bunch of horror-type gimmicks inside, played with the lighting, and gave us some spooky music and sound effects. Later, they ended up back in the ring, a la the Boiler Room Brawl that Undertaker and Mankind had all those years ago.

This was fine. Worthy of a second one, if they decide to go that route. But they could have done so much more. The most twisted thing they did in this match was hanging a bunch of deformed baby dolls from the ceiling. Considering the presentation was so cinematic, it feels like they wasted an opportunity by playing it fairly safe.

For instance, WWE.com has played up the fact that this month marks Orton’s 15-year anniversary with the company. Why not have a little fun with that? Have Bray put some old photos of Orton on the wall and deface them to his liking. You can even play with old footage. If the story was that Bray has prepared this house to fight Orton in, they could have made this House of Horrors Match every bit as psychological as it is physical.

One person who should be very happy about how this match was presented? Matt Hardy. The House of Horrors Match was clearly influenced by the “Final Deletion,” “Delete or Decay,” and a lot of the Broken stuff they did in Impact Wrestling. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, I suppose. And this isn’t the first time WWE has used Bray Wyatt to imitate what Matt and Jeff Hardy did in Impact. Broken Matt’s arrival in WWE seems inevitable at this point. So a match like this between Matt and Bray would undoubtedly make for interesting television.

They also went with the right finish, which saw Jinder Mahal and the Singh Brothers (formerly the Bollywood Boyz) come in and cost Orton the match. Hey Jinder? Next time be a little more convincing with that belt shot to the back of the head. Looked more like a shot to the shoulder…

Ponderings From Raw

Alexa Bliss holds a coronation ceremony for herself. In a subsequent match, Bliss, Nia Jax, Emma, and Alicia Fox defeat Bayley, Sasha Banks Mickie James, and Dana Brooke. “The Queen is dead.” That was an interesting little line, obviously directed at Charlotte Flair. Last night at Payback, Alexa Bliss became the first woman to have held both the Raw and Smackdown Women’s Titles. That’s a distinction that many, myself included, thought Charlotte Flair would achieve first. For all intents and purposes, she’s been the face of the so-called women’s revolution. So it’s nice to see someone else get a landmark win.

The match didn’t do much for me. But I did love Bayley’s facial expressions during the coronation segment. Don’t be fooled, folks. The long term story here is still about Bayley and Sasha.

Luke Gallows def. Enzo Amore. We were at about the 40 minute mark here, and it became obvious that this show was missing something. Normally by this point we’ve seen Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, or somebody involved in the top storyline on the show. This week, that would have been either Reigns or Braun Strowman. As we hadn’t seen them yet, things felt oddly cold.

In all fairness, Enzo and Gallows had a decent match. Has Gallows lost some weight?

Seth Rollins and Finn Balor vie for a Universal Title shot. Dean Ambrose says the Intercontinental Title is now the hottest title on Raw. Rollins vs. Balor vs. the Miz made to decide top contender for the IC Title. Rollins was really lame at the top of this segment. Trying to rile up the crowd, and then all that stuff about sticking it out when times are tough. He came off like a white meat babyface. Balor was a little bit better. He seems to have improved on the mic a little bit since he’s been gone.

I have no problem with the Intercontinental Title being elevated. I just wish they’d had Ambrose and Miz sell us on it a little more. Maybe have Ambrose stick it to Brock a little more. Drive home the point that he’s the top guy on Raw, because he’s the Intercontinental Champion. He defends it all the time, Brock rarely shows up, etc. We got that here, but it wasn’t emphasized enough.

Jack Gallagher, Rich Swann, and Akira Tozawa def. Brian Kendrick, Tony Nese, and Noam Dar. Cold match. Came off just like any other six-man you’d see on Raw. Tozawa could be something, but he’s stuck in purgatory on 205 Live.

Cesaro and Sheamus address the fans after ambushing the Hardys at PaybackI didn’t expect a heel turn for these two. But in retrospect it seems rather obvious. I expected them to up the aggression, but still stay in babyface territory. I actually found their little bromance endearing.

But it’s something new for them to do. They were always going to be the number two babyface team now that the Hardys are back. Maybe number three, factoring in Enzo and Cass. So now they have a chance to be the top heel team. It’s not like it’s tough to dislike Sheamus.

Apollo Crews def. Heath Slater. The fans were chanting “He’s got kids!” for Slater at one point. I’m not sure where the ceiling is for him, but it’s higher than where he’s at now.

Kurt Angle announces Braun Strowman has a torn rotator cuff. Bray Wyatt introduces himself to the Raw General Manager. I panicked when Angle said the line about Strowman’s torn rotator cuff. Him going down now would be every bit as bad as when Finn Balor got hurt at Summerslam. But it’s reportedly just part of the storyline. Thank god.

Austin Aries def. TJP. Apparently TJ Perkins is just TJP now. Um…why?

The crowd was dying off at this point. Granted, it doesn’t help that some nights it feels like the Cruiserweight Division is dying off. This was definitely one such night.

Almost everything felt a little bit too long on this show. Almost as if they re-wrote or cut something, and had to compensate for it.

The Miz def. Seth Rollins and Finn Balor to become top contender for the Intercontinental Title. Bray Wyatt and Samoa Joe interfere. Good match. Loved Miz bowing out and after the bell and trying to avoid a beating. Great heel move. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him get the IC belt again.

I held out a little bit of hope that Balor was going to do something with Gallows and Anderson. Obviously he is indeed going with Bray. No doubt we’ll be hearing a lot of talk about demons in the coming weeks.

I’m actually starting to worry about Balor during his matches. He and Rollins had that scary cross body block landing. The last thing this guy needs is another bad head shot. The people are into him. But he obviously needs to stay healthy to maintain his momentum.

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The Paige Situation, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Human beings are so weird.

That was the first thing that came to mind when I read that Saraya-Jade Bevis, known to WWE fans as Paige, was one of the victims of yet another mass celebrity photo/video hacking. Sadly, Austin Watson (Xavier Woods) and Tyler Kluttz (formerly Brad Maddox) can also be seen in the…content. I haven’t seen it. But there’s reportedly quite a bit. We see this kind of thing so often nowadays. I don’t even want to imagine what it must be like. My heart goes out to all three. Particularly Bevis, who was clearly the target.

Something like this tends to bring out the worst in people. Certain wrestling fans can already be a crass, immature group at times. I’ve lost count of all the “Up Up Down Down” jokes I’ve seen on Twitter. I think back to what happened with Lita, Edge, and Matt Hardy all those years ago, and how tough things ended up being for Lita in particular. And this time there’s friggin’ video footage…

People are so quick to judge. But the fact is, Bevis, Watson, and Kluttz are three consenting adults who did nothing wrong. Though you can argue it was foolish of them to tape this. This looks like it’s a few years old. But sex tape leaks and cloud hacks are nothing new. You’d think that as public figures, they’d have been a little more conscious of that. Along those lines, there’s allegedly some footage of the NXT Women’s Title being, shall we say, defaced. They put that on film, for crying out loud. But in the…*ehem*…heat of the moment, your judgment can undoubtedly be impaired.

The reality of it is, Bevis already had one foot out of WWE. She’s already been popped twice for Wellness Policy violations, and she’s engaged to Alberto El Patron (formerly Alberto Del Rio), who happens to be the World Champion over at Impact Wrestling right now. This obviously complicates things further. While neither she nor Watson deserve to be fired over this, if she still has any desire to wrestle for WWE, she might be better off going her own way for awhile. To say the least, being a full-time wrestler for WWE is a demanding job. Until this blows over it’s just going to make it more difficult. If her heart’s not in it, she shouldn’t be doing it.

Again, my own heart goes out to all three of the victims here. I hope whoever leaked this stuff gets what they deserved.

Ponderings From Raw

After a public “apology,” Mick Foley gets fired by Stephanie McMahon. Sami Zayn comes out to defend him, gets put in a match with Samoa Joe. This was a nice spot for Zayn to be in. Definitely a big character moment for him. Hopefully he continues to establish himself as an anti-establishment underdog after Wrestlemania comes and goes. At this rate, I imagine he’ll just be in the Andre Battle Royal.

And so it seems Mick Foley’s time as the general manager of Raw has come to an end. This run from Foley obviously had it’s share of problems, the biggest of which was him having to recite WWE’s heavily scripted dialogue. Foley was, and is, a performer that can incite a heavily emotional response from audiences. Doing that using someone else’s words is difficult. Most of the time, that stuff comes from your gut and from your heart. Nobody wrote those ECW promos for Cactus Jack all those years ago. That’s not to say he can’t shoulder some of the blame. But in many ways, Mick was out of his element here.

I think Foley is often put in these authority figure roles in the hopes of re-creating the magic of his time as WWF Commissioner in 2000. Foley has often said he wishes he’d stayed in that position longer. But frankly, I think it ended at just the right time. He left us wanting more, and clearly it’s left a lasting impact.

Regardless of what anyone thought of Foley’s time as general manager, he remains one of my favorite pro wrestlers of all time. To me, he has always been passion personified.

Samoa Joe def. Sami Zayn via submission. Joe with that damn dive through the ropes to the outside. Not sure why they felt the need to have him do that. We so many of those dives, at this rate the Big Show will be doing one next.

Charlotte Flair def. Dana Brooke. They could easily have put Dana Brooke into the Women’s Title Match at Wrestlemania by having her beat Charlotte here. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Wrong place, wrong time for Dana. I’m interested to see how she does on her own from here on out. But I don’t have high hopes.

Chris Jericho exposes the “real” Kevin Owens on the Highlight Reel. Owens ambushes him, rips up the List of Jericho. Damn. He ripped up the list. That clipboard is more over than most of their roster…

As was the case when Owens slammed Jericho’s head into that sign a few weeks ago, there were shades of Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels here. Only this time, we have to go all the way back to Wrestlemania XIX, when they did that story about Jericho idolizing Michaels as a youngster. This struck a similar chord.

Incidentally, notice that Darren Drozdov figure in the photo of 16-year-old KO? I still have that. Why I have that one as opposed to certain others, I have no idea. But it’s somewhere in my home right now.

Brian Kendrick def. TJ Perkins. Afterward, Kendrick reveals he’s stolen Akira Tozawa’s passport. Not much of a match here. Though he focal point was obviously the furthering of the Kendrick/Tozawa story.

They did another episode of Bring It to the Table after Raw last week, on which JBL and Corey Graves both expressed that 205 Live isn’t the show if should be right now. The emphasis, they said, should be more on action and less on the gaga and entertainment aspects. I can’t say I disagree. I was just surprise to hear them say it.

Nia Jax def. Bayley in a No Disqualification Match to earn a spot on the Raw Women’s Title Match at WrestlemaniaNo surprise here. A Fatal Four-Way between Bayley, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Nia Jax has been rumored for weeks now. All I can say is I hope Nia doesn’t win it. If I had to pick now, I’d say Bayley retains. But it seems like it’s up in the air.

Triple H: Seth Rollins can compete at Wrestlemania  if he signs on for a Non-Sanctioned Match. So there it is. Seth Rollins is going to get physical at Wrestlemania. It’s been somewhat evident for awhile now, especially after last week. But it’s nice to see this officially put on the table. As unfortunate as Seth’s injury was, it gave them a cool story to tell. It put him in a hell of a babyface spot.

The CM Punk chants were out in full force again this week, during both Hunter and Stephanie’s segments. @ProWrestlingMag on Twitter, who I tend to disagree with half the time, made a valid point during the Stephanie/Zayn stuff: “Maybe chant for SAMI instead of CM PUNK. Idiots.” Fair point…

Cesaro and Sheamus def. Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, Enzo and Cass in a handicap match to retain their spot in the Raw Tag Team Title Match at WrestlemaniaHappy to hear the announcers point out how seemingly illogical it was that Gallows and Anderson attacked their partners at the top of the match. The idea was if Sheamus and Cesaro lost, they’d lose their spot at Wrestlemania. I understand “emotions running high,” or whatever. But the champs looked downright stupid here.

Austin Aries def. Tony Nese. Neville confronts Aries after the match. In a very short time, Aries has established himself as Neville’s most credible challenger yet. If they give these two enough time, they could be a dark horse candidate to steal the whole show.

The Undertaker interrupts the main event between Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman. The Dead Man chokeslams Strowman, but eats a spear from Reigns. Undertaker took some flack for looking old after hitting Strowman with the chokeslam. Hey assholes, Strowman’s got to weigh over 350 lbs. Undertaker had hip surgery less than a year ago. Do the math. I’m actually surprised they did that spot.

They didn’t follow up on Reigns’ retirement comment from last week. I half expected the Wrestlemania bout to become a Retirement Match. You’d think if ‘Taker’s career were truly about to end, they’d promote the hell out of it. This week was the absolute latest you’d want to pull the trigger on that…right? Let the speculation continue, I suppose.

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Triple H Annihilates Seth Rollins, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

WWE announced Monday that Jack Swagger has been granted his release. The real-life Jake Hager had apparently been looking to get out for awhile, even bringing it up on Chael Sonnen’s podcast earlier this month.

Hager was signed to a WWE development deal in 2006. So he spent about a decade with WWE. He had a run that a lot of guys would be jealous of. The company clearly saw a lot of potential in him, perhaps as someone in the Kurt Angle mold. They did their best over the years to establish him as a top guy. Had the dice fallen differently, it might have worked. But fate just didn’t seem to be on Hager’s side in that respect.

Hager is a very good wrestler. But when it was time to talk, he was in trouble. He has a little bit of a lisp, and it was noticeable whenever he got on the mic. It undercut the wrestling stud vibe they were going for with him, and it became tough to take him seriously. They had him win Money in the Bank, and later made him World Heavyweight Champion on Smackdown. But it just didn’t click.

They seemingly found an answer in 2013, when Dutch Mantel came in to manage Swagger. As the character Zeb Colter, he essentially became what Paul Heyman is to Brock Lesnar. Dutch cut tremendous promos, weaving in contemporary political elements, most notably immigration. They even got a touch of mainstream buzz over the character. Swagger was put against Alberto Del Rio for the World Heavyweight Title at Wrestlemania XXIX, and seemed primed to win it…

And then he got arrested for DUI and drug possession (marijuana). He and Mantel remained together, but it was essentially over as far as Hager being a top guy.

But Hager’s career doesn’t have to end here. Like Drew Galloway, Cody Rhodes, and so many others who’ve left the WWE umbrella, he can thrive on the independent scene. I also wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see him show up in TNA in a few months, as his old pal Dutch is now back on the creative team there.

Brighter days are ahead for Jake Hager, and I commend him for having the guts to step outside the safety of the WWE bubble.

Ponderings From Raw:

Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar address Bill Goldberg. Herman’s prediction: “Down goes Goldberg!” That “down goes Goldberg” line is something they’ll be returning to in the weeks to come. It’s something Corey Graves, as the heel announcer, can come back to at the event itself. It’s a great line.

Note that Heyman also put Goldberg over, referring to his latest run as “the greatest championship comeback in sports entertainment history.”

Sasha Banks def. Dana Brooke. After taking abuse from Charlotte post-match, Dana attacks her. Dana has gotten a lot of bad press these past few weeks for her in-ring skills. Looking at this match, I can’t say it’s unfounded. But the real-life Ashley Sebera has only been wrestling since 2014. She’s still trying to learn. But she’s doing it on national television. It takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there like that. Having said that, she could really use another run on NXT. She can re-establish herself there, and come back later for a fresh start. Perhaps that’s where this turn is headed. I doubt it, but one can always hope.

Brian Kendrick and Tony Nese def. Akira Tozawa and TJ Perkins. TJ Perkins had a good match with Shinsuke Nakamura on NXT last week, and he was tremendous in this match. But this guy needs a heel turn. He’s looked like a loser for months, and he’s officially grating. I wouldn’t mind seeing he and Tozawa in a program.

Kevin Owens vows to take Chris Jericho’s US Title at Wrestlemania, and leave nothing left but the “Tears of Jericho.” Owens and Samoa Joe get themselves disqualified in a match with Jericho and Sami Zayn. Another really good promo from Owens. In classic heel fashion he justified his actions, believing himself to be right. He accused Jericho of wanting to get close to him just to get close to the Universal Championship. I love when bad guys do that. No one really believes they’re evil. We all usually believe we’re doing what’s right.

This Owens/Joe team-up did nothing to dispel the rumors of them forming a faction alongside Triple H. I’m not sure you need Triple H on TV every week in a group. But the prospect of Owens and Joe together consistently remains ntriguing.

I wouldn’t have had Owens and Jericho touch here. At the very least, I’d have limited their contact to that super kick Owens gave him. But then again, Owens obviously beat the hell out of him at the now infamous Festival of Friendship. So I guess we’ve been there and done that.

Big Show to compete in Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. They did a “New Day Talks” segment, which was supposed to be their take on a talk show segment. It ended up with Titus O’Neil being mad at Big Show because he wasn’t in the WWE/Jetsons movie that comes out this week. Wow. What compelling TV…

But what I got out of this segment was the line about Show getting the opportunity to be a two-time winner of the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Ouch. I guess that makes it official: Shaq is out of Wrestlemania. That’s a rotten break for Show. He supposedly spent months preparing for that match, getting himself in the best shape of his career, only to be stuck in the Battle Royal again this year.

Cass had some really nice fire in that pre-match promo. He still had some that deer-in-the-headlights look going on. But he made me believe.

Sheamus and Cesaro vs. Enzo and Cass goes to a no-contest after Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson interfere. Not much suspense to this match. Earlier in the show, Anderson and Gallows cut that promo about taking the spotlight for themselves. The finish to this one was pretty obvious at that point.

As if it wasn’t already pretty clear what the match is going to be at Wrestlemania. And of course a short time later it was made official: a Triple-Threat Tag Team Match for the Raw Tag Team Titles.

The Undertaker’s trademark gong goes off during Roman Reigns’ match with Jinder Mahal. Reigns calls the Undertaker out. Shawn Michaels surprises him. Reigns: The Undertaker retired you, and I’m the guy that’s gonna retire him.” Well, they went there. Let the speculation about the Undertaker’s retirement continue. This is already so damn emotional. Damn…this could really be it…

If this does turn out to be Undertaker’s retirement match, how fitting is it that it’s Shawn Michaels who planted that seed in Roman’s mind. Nice continuity there.

Austin Aries def. Ariya Daivari. Austin Aries wrestling on Raw. By God, what a time to be alive.

Bayley def. Nia Jax via DQ. Couldn’t muster up much enthusiasm for this one. We’ve seen this one so much. I dig the larger story they’re telling here, though. The idea is that Bayley can’t win big matches without Sasha’s help, so all these women are worthy of title shots. I expect Nia to be added to Wrestlemania in short order.

Mick Foley refuses to fire someone by order of Stephanie McMahon. Triple H comes out to belittle him. Seth Rollins makes the save, but the Game destroys the would-be “King Slayer.” I loved this segment. I really did. Everybody was perfectly in character, and it made perfect sense. This was great drama.

Seeing Mick and Triple H in the ring together was a nice nostalgia trip. They’ve always had a great lovable hero meets cunning villain chemistry. Foley was good on the mic here, too. He stumbled a bit, but he was in the zone. He hasn’t had an easy time in this role. But I was proud of him tonight.

Didn’t expect Rollins to be on the losing end of that confrontation with Hunter. But it makes sense when you stop to think about it. Seth’s knee has a big question mark over it. So now we’re left guessing.

Those CM Punk chants aren’t going away, are they? They’re following Steph, in particular. Considering the adverse effect that character has had on this show in recent years, I’m not complaining. I’m a Punk fan, after all.

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Kevin Owens, Eye Contact, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

kelly-kelly-wwe-raw-february-13-2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There’s some buzz right now about WWE bringing back some female talents. Why? The timing suggests something to do with Wrestlemania. It also wouldn’t surprise me if they were trying to pad the Raw Women’s roster. As great as Charlotte, Sasha, and Bayley are, you can only do so much with the three of them for so long. And NXT is pretty skim at the moment.

Lisa Marie Varon, a.k.a. Victoria, is someone who’s been rumored for a comeback. I’d also love to see Melina Perez get another shot. But the woman at the top of my list is Madusa/Alundra Blayze. I doubt she’d be capable of working a full-time schedule again. But seeing her in the ring one more time against someone like Charlotte would be almost irresistible.

But the name that seems most likely to return is, of all people, Kelly Kelly. WWE posted a video last week about the real-life Barbie Blank being backstage at Raw. This is…discouraging.

Rosa MendesOn a loosely related note, Rosa Mendes became the subject of ridicule last week when she announced her retirement from WWE to focus on being a mother. Personally, I liked Rosa Mendes. What can I say? She was hot, in a very plastic and fake sort of way. But her work in the ring was, to put it mildly, forgettable.

While it’s unfair to compare the two, Kelly Kelly and Rosa Mendes were part of the same era in WWE women’s wrestling. What I’ll call the “Diva Search era,” when John Laurinaitis and other WWE talent scouts would attempt to train pretty faces to wrestle.  While there were bright spots like Candice Michelle, this era also gave us the likes of the Bella Twins, Christy Hemme, and Ashley Massaro. Some where good personalities, but they personify what we wanted to get away from with the so-called “women’s revolution.”

Could someone like Kelly Kelly have her place in WWE circa 2017? Sure. I’m just not sure that place is the ring. Let’s leave the wrestling to the ladies who can actually wrestle, and not risk tarnishing what they’ve created with this newly revitalized women’s division.

Kevin Owens, WWE Raw, February 20, 2017Ponderings From Raw:

Kevin Owens to Goldberg: “Superheroes don’t exist.” I wish Owens would wear a suit more often. He looks good.

Lots of good stuff here. He got to look right into the hard camera, which was terrific. The line about knowing how to “play the game” better than anyone else is an obvious allusion to Triple H. And all that stuff about the outlasting Goldberg, watching Goldberg as a kid, not being a part of a superhero fantasy. Great way to kick off the show, Why we can’t do this more often is anybody’s guess. It doesn’t have to be a spotlight promo like this one. Just a monologue where someone looks into the camera.

Enzo and Cass def. Sheamus and Cesaro to become top contenders for the Raw Tag Team Titles at FastlaneNot really a surprise. I expect the big win to come for Enzo and Cass at Wrestlemania, though.

Cesaro once again looked like a star in this match. I was sour on his pairing with Sheamus in the beginning. But they’ve been good together. It’s helped us see a different side of Cesaro. But do I think this will be enough to result in a significant singles push for him? No. Not on Raw, at least…

Brian Kendrick, Akira Tozawa, WWE Raw, February 20, 2017Brian Kendrick beats down Akira Tozawa. Their match never happens. Kendrick clearly has his role here, and that’s to shine a spotlight on Tozawa, and eventually put him over. Hopefully that happens at Fastlane.

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson def. Roman Reigns via disqualification. Not much interest in this one from me. We just saw it last week, and I really have no interest in seeing Roman beat the tag champs. I’m scared that’s coming. That spear Reigns hit on Anderson was wicked, though. I’ll never deny his amazing athleticism.

The New Day to host Wrestlemania XXXIII. Kofi Kingston and Big E. def. Rusev and Jinder Mahal. Now that they aren’t the tag champs anymore, the New Day are now much more firmly planted in the entertainment end of this sports entertainment company. As such, while they have great chemistry, they’ve been harder to watch lately. They’ve been cutting promos on ice cream these past few weeks, and when Lana started talking about having the “plans” for their ice cream, I hit the fast-forward button on the DVR. Sorry guys, not interested.

Having them “host” Wrestlemania speaks volumes as to what WWE thinks of their act. They’ve put both the Rock and Hulk Hogan in the spot in years past. I imagine they’ll be a big part of the marketing end of things.

Neville, Jack Gallagher, WWE Raw, February 20, 2017Jack Gallagher and Neville sign the contract for their match at FastlaneGallagher got a “tea and biscuits” chant during this match. Wrestling fans are awesome sometimes.

LOVED Neville’s promo about Gallagher being a caricature of British people, and Gallagher getting to respond in kind. They both came off very genuine here. This, like everything else, was scripted. But it was well written. I don’t so much have a problem with scripting as I do bad scripting. Well done, gentlemen.

Bayley refuses to relinquish the Women’s Title to Stephanie McMahon. Charlotte announces she’s invoking her rematch clause at FastlaneI really hope Bayley and Stephanie have a match someday. They’re not rivals yet, but there’s so much potential there. Bayley comes off so pure, and Steph just comes off as pure evil. There’s money in that program.

The writing is on the wall for that Charlotte/Bayley rematch. They’ve built up Charlotte’s pay per view undefeated streak to the point that they can’t end it at a B-show like Fastlane. It would have to be a Wrestlemania or Summerslam.

Then again, we all thought Bayley would win her first Women’s Title on a Wrestlemania or a Summerslam. But here we are…

Charlotte, Sasha Banks, WWE Raw, Fabruary 20, 2017Sasha Banks def. Charlotte Flair. Another quality performance from these two. Though I had to roll my eyes when Sasha challenged Charlotte “for old time’s sake.” Old time’s sake? It wasn’t even two months ago…

Diamond Dallas Page added to WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2017. DDP had an amazing career. He didn’t become an active wrestler until he was 35. He went on to become one of the biggest home grown stars WCW ever had. But as great as he was in WCW, his work with former wrestlers like Jake Roberts and Scott Hall alone makes him worthy of a Hall of Fame induction. You used to hear horror stories about the substance abuse problems these guys had, and how they essentially had one foot in the grave. Page and his DDP Yoga program saved their lives. You also hear guys like Chris Jericho swear by DDP Yoga. So he’s as worthy as anyone has ever been, in my book. Congrats to DDP.

Kevin Owens def. Sami Zayn. Zayn is attacked by Owens before the match. Grateful for the interference from Joe. Owens and Zayn always have great matches. But between the handicap match, and the Sasha/Charlotte match, this was starting to feel like a rerun.

Given the look on Kevin Owens’ face as he watched Joe’s attack, it seems like some kind of NXT-related alliance has been formed here between Triple H, Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe. Very intriguing.

Brock Lesnar, WWE Raw, February 20, 2017Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman do a sit-down interview with Michael Cole. So they have Cole exit the segment, have Brock switch positions and…wait for it…LOOK INTO THE CAMERA, as Heyman does his promo. That’s two killer promos in one show, with both guys getting to make eye contact with the audience. Uh, more of this please? I doubt it’s more than a coincidence. But how cool would it be if we could make this sort of intimate connection with the performers more often?

Braun Strowman def. The Big Show. Strowman brutalizes Roman Reigns afterward. Not a bad match. Not a great one, but not bad. About as slow as one might imagine. But it did what it was designed to do. It put Strowman over like an invincible monster. They guy picked up the Big Show multiple times, and he pinned him clean. Not much more you could ask from this one.

It’s all but confirmed that Show is wrestling Shaquille O’Neal at Wrestlemania. Tonight would have been a great chance to have Shaq show up and do something. I assume the guy’s got a packed schedule. But when are they going to start building to this? Fastlane? The night after Fastlane?

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