Enzo and Cass: One Year Later, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Last night, the WWE Network aired a special on the post-Wrestlemania XXXII edition of Raw. Naturally, we saw footage of Enzo and Cass, as they made their TV debut that night. They got a hell of a pop too. It’s tough to make a better first impression than that. A year later, its looking like they’ll be winning the Raw Tag Team Titles at Wrestlemania XXXIII.

But has their act gotten stale with age?

So many of the same “smart” fans that were marking out for Enzo and Cass on their first night are now booing them. Mind you, being on TV almost every week for a year has brought to light the repetition and flaws in their act. The constant repetition of catchphrases. The deer-in-the-headlights look on the face of Big Cass. What’s more, while Enzo has been praised as a Jedi Master on the mic, some argue he’s becoming as grating as Jar Jar Binks.

It’s a delicate balance WWE walks in the 21st century. The fans want to feel like they chose the top stars. But then when the company actually starts to go with those stars, the fans will sometimes turn on them. They’re almost screwed either way. So how do you fix Enzo and Cass? Or do they even need fixing at all?

Thankfully, this duo has a tremendous advantage: Enzo’s mic work. One of the things wrestling really misses right now is a certain cool factor. When Enzo gets on the mic and starts cutting opponents down, fans can live vicariously through him. When he talks, he sounds genuine. Almost everyone on Raw and Smackdown sounds the same, because they all recite dialogue written by the same writers. I don’t know how much input Enzo has into what he’s saying, but his delivery is truly distinct. It’s the arguably centerpiece to this team’s appeal. If they re-emphasize it, it might curb some of the boos.

These two characters also have an understated bond that serves them well. That’s something people can easily relate to. We don’t need to have another Festival of Friendship, but that’s a well WWE can go to if they don’t beat us over the head with it.

Enzo and Cass are lucky to have found each other in developmental. They accentuate one another’s positives, and camouflage the negatives. At the same time, they make a hell of a package deal. WWE seems to know that. Now if only they could write these guys a better KFC commercial. Yeesh. That might be where half the heat came from…

Ponderings From Raw:

Bayley opens the show. Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, and Nia Jax come out for a confrontation. Bayley and Sasha beat Charlotte and Nia in a tag match. Almost no interest in this from me, because it was pretty obvious where they were going. Talking segment leads to a match. They could have won me over if they skipped the tag match and just left it with a beat-down. But they obviously needed it to fill time.

Tony Schiavone said something on his podcast with Conrad Thompson yesterday that really applied to these three segments: “Showing too much sh*t hurts your product.” That’s what WWE does with everything these days. Almost everyone is overexposed. That’s one of the reasons our main event for this year’s Wrestlemania is between two guys who only show up every few weeks.

Pitbull, Flo Rida, Lunchmoney Lewis and Stephen Marley to perform at WrestlemaniaThe die-hards never like musical performances at these big shows. In this case, I’m with them. I’m one of the few that actually likes that “Green Light” song at a Wrestlemania theme. But I have no desire to see it performed on my wrestling show. This will be the bathroom break segment for yours truly.

Austin Aries def. Noam Dar. Neville joins the announce position. Fine match. In a perfect world, Neville and Aries would go to Wrestlemania and remind us what the Cruiserweight Division should be about. But we don’t live in a perfect world, do we?  Case in point: They’re on the pre-show. Hey, at least it’ll be a good pre-show, right?

Seth Rollins signs a hold-harmless agreement to face Triple H in a Non-Sanctioned Match at Wrestlemania“I liked who I was before I met you.” That was a really good line.  I wish he’d said it weeks ago. It makes things that much more personal. Hunter’s delivery was spot-on. Seth’s was missing something. I wanted a little more bite from him.

The key word for me on this one is curiosity. I’m very curious to see what these two are able to turn in on Sunday. One would think they’d be relying less on stunts and more on storytelling and psychology.

The Big Show wreaks havoc in an Over-the-Top-Rope Challenge. Braun Strowman threatens the giant going into WrestlemaniaNot much of a match here. But it got it’s point across. On the upside, Strowman finally has a match for Wrestlemania. It’s going to be the pre-show. But at least he’s on the damn card.

Neville def. Jack Gallagher. Austin Aries taunts Neville with the New Day. I’m not a fan of head-butts in general. They don’t make a lot of sense to me, and I associate them with Chris Benoit’s brain damage and Daniel Bryan’s early retirement. But for what it’s worth, that head-butt spot Neville and Gallagher did worked. I just wish Gallagher wouldn’t make a habit of it.

Putting Aries next to the New Day is…kind of a good sign, right? They trusted Aries to work with a hot act, however briefly.

Roman Reigns promises to “put the Dead Man down.” We see footage of the Undertaker digging a grave for Reigns. Obviously this graveyard stuff was classic Undertaker. “Vintage Undertaker,” as Michael Cole would say. It might not be a popular thing to say, but there’s something special about seeing these two in the ring together. This Wrestlemania match could be very special, depending on what they want to do. If it’s as simple as a clean victory for Roman, that crowd isn’t going to be happy.

Ah yes, Roman Reigns in Philadelphia. Always a fun time. Leave the memories alone…

Cesaro and Sheamus lay Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, Enzo, and Cass out with a ladder after a backstage assault by the Club. Gallows and Anderson regain the advantage, laying out the challengers. What was up with the cameras here? They seemed uncharacteristically out of position.

See, this is what the women should have done early in the show. Rather than just giving us another match, they shook things up a little bit. I actually wondered if they were going to turn the Wrestlemania bout into a Ladder Match.

Sami Zayn def. Kevin Owens, retaining his job on Raw. Samoa Joe tries to interfere, but Chris Jericho cuts him off. Jericho to Owens: “You just made the list!” Don’t have any ideas for Raw? Just book Kevin Owens against Sami Zayn. That’s not to say they don’t have good matches. Heck, they have great matches. But the law of diminishing returns has indeed come into effect. How many times have Owens and Zayn wrestled on Raw alone? At least in this one they got to brawl around the arena.

I cringed when Zayn did that somersault off the stage. Obviously it’s not nearly as high as it used to be. But when you’re flipping and falling like that, a bad landing always in the cards somewhere.

It’s been a good year thus far for the character of Sami Zayn. The stuff with Braun Strowman and Mick Foley was strong, and now he’s standing up to Stephanie. Hell, Steph put his job on the line in this match. He may not have a Wrestlemania match. But they’re building him, slowly but surely.

I’ve been waiting for Jericho to use that list line on Owens. Not sure I would have waited this long. But at least it got done.

Brock Lesnar and Bill Goldberg cross paths before Wrestlemania. Goldberg spears Lesnar again. A Paul Heyman promo is as good as almost any Raw main event you’re ever going to get. Notice that Heyman took the time to play up the importance of the Universal Title, calling it the “Holy Grail” of WWE.

I always get a kick out of Brock chuckling at Heyman’s remarks. People always say Brock doesn’t love wrestling, and maybe he doesn’t. But at least he’s having a little bit of fun.

Goldberg’s spear to Lesnar at ringside was extremely anticlimactic. It felt like somebody mistimed something. Still a better moment on the go-home Raw for Wrestlemania than Lesnar had with Roman Reigns. Remember that weird belt tug-o-war they had before Wrestlemania XXXI?

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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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The Undertaker Returns, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

Bayley, WWE Fastlane 2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

WWE Fastlane wasn’t a great show. But it gave us a couple of surprises, both positive and negative.

The biggest one, for my money, was Bayley retaining the Raw Women’s Title and ending Charlotte’s pay per view undefeated streak. I’ve said before that I wouldn’t have given the belt to Bayley when they did. But as that die had already been cast, I think they made the right move here.  After all he back and forth switches they did with Charlotte and Sasha, it seemed pretty obvious history was going to repeat itself. But they defied expectations, and added even more fuel for what seems like the inevitable Sasha Banks heel turn. Now you can once again call one of Bayley’s wins over Charlotte into question because of Sasha. What’s more, Bayley has done what Sasha could never do: Beat Charlotte on pay per view. This has turned out to be some really good storytelling. Bravo, WWE.

Less pleasant a surprise was the decision to have Roman Reigns beat Braun Strowman clean. Granted, it was the “chosen one” who beat him, and they did put on a really good match. But this all felt very anticlimactic. The establishment of Strowman as this unstoppable monster has become one of the better parts of Raw. I understand keeping Roman strong for Wrestlemania. But at the expense of Strowman? It seems like a waste. Mind you, Strowman won’t be killed by one loss. But this was needless. The big man could have gone undefeated for several more months.

Goldberg, WWE Fastlane 2017Then there’s Goldberg. The 50-year-old former WCW star won his first Heavyweight Title in over a decade, beating Kevin Owens in about two minutes. It was fine for what it was. We knew these two weren’t having a long match. Loved Owens “taking a powder” before the bell even rang. He milked it wonderfully. And how ironic is it that Goldberg’s old rival Chris Jericho is the one to come out, cause the distraction, and allow him to score the pin.

I saw many a fan on Twitter whining about Kevin Owens having to drop the belt. To that I say boo hoo. He lost the belt to one of the biggest stars the business has ever seen. If a squash like that is good enough for Brock Lesnar, it’s good enough for Kevin Owens. The guy will be fine, kids. Calm down.

Ponderings From Raw:

Chris Jericho calls out Kevin Owens. US Title Match between the two announced for Wrestlemania. Owens and Samoa Joe attack Jericho. Sami Zayn makes the save. Owens beat Zayn in an impromptu match. This Owens/Jericho match fell nicely into place, didn’t it? No wasted time here.

This seems to be the start of an alliance between Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe, with Triple H being the common factor. They’d make an interesting tag team for sure.

Also, remember what Owens said about getting a rematch whenever he wants one. That’s a good continuity note for the future…

Neville def. Rich Swann to retain the WWE Cruiserweight Title. Austin Aries decks Neville after the champion disrespects him. Gorgeous attempt at a Phoenix Splash by Rich Swann. One of the best athletes on the entire roster.

Neville vs. Austin Aries. Now there’s a Wrestlemania match. I wouldn’t rule out a multi-man title match though. We all know how they love to shove everybody on the Wrestlemania card.

Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman interrupt Goldberg’s return to Raw as champion. Lesnar hits an F5 on Goldberg. I don’t have as much of an issue with those CM Punk chants as some people do. Especially in Chicago. But at certain points it’s cringeworthy. As much as I love Punk, had I been at this show I would not have been chanting his name at Goldberg. Not the time for that.

It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but Lesnar vs. Goldberg feels like a solid Wrestlemania main event to me. They’ve told a good story. Now it’s just a matter of how Goldberg will do in a match that’s longer than a minute…

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson def. Enzo and Cass via disqualification in a WWE Raw Tag Team Title Match when Sheamus and Cesaro interfere. Looks like we’ve got a Triple-Threat Tag Team Match coming our way. Not necessarily the recipe for a classic. But we got a pretty good one between Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit, Edge and Rey Mysterio, and Los Guerreros all those years ago.

Ravishing Rick Rude announced for WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2017. Ricky Steamboat to induct. This one is long overdue. The real-life Richard Rood was a big star in both the WWF and WCW. Rude is probably most widely remembered for the program he worked with Jake Roberts in the late ’80s, making public advances toward Jake’s then-wife. But he also got some great matches out of the Ultimate Warrior, and was the centerpiece of Paul Heyman’s Dangerous Alliance in WCW. Fans have been calling for this for years, and I don’t doubt it’ll make for a wonderful moment in Orlando.

Akira Tozawa def. Ariya Daivari. After what happened with Neville, they wisely kept Austin Aries off commentary for this match. But they also left Byron Saxton off. So for one segment we just had Cole and Graves. A pleasant return to the two-man announce booth, of only for a short time.

The New Day def. the Shining Stars. The New Day are still doing the ice cream thing. That was enough to get me to hit the fast-forward button. Thank God, otherwise I’d have seen the Shining Stars. *shudders*

Sasha Banks def. Bayley to make it a Triple-Threat Match for the Raw Women’s Title at Wrestlemania, also involving Charlotte. Slightly disappointed that we may be getting another three-way this year. It feels like they’ve simply tagged Bayley in for Becky Lynch. What’s more, Bayley and Sasha have such great chemistry in the ring, as we saw here. But it is what it is. What’s more, it’s certainly not too late for Nia Jax to be added, making it a four-way.

Triple H once again threatens to end Seth Rollins’ WWE career if he shows up at Wrestlemaniastill can’t get over how awesome Hunter’s return promo was a few weeks ago. It’s was the best he’s done in years. I think we took his mic work for granted when he was out there with guys like the Rock and Steve Austin, because they had such big personalities. But he was great then, and he’s great now.

A vignette airs for he return of Emma. See you in 17 weeks!

Samoa Joe def. Chris Jericho via count-out. How many years has this one been in the making? Hardly the ending I imagined, but I doubt this is the last time we’ll see these two in the ring together.

Braun Strowman calls out Roman Reigns, gets the Undertaker instead. Reigns comes out to face the Dead Man and gets a Chokeslam. Not a good couple of days for Strowman. First he loses his first match to Reigns. Then he flat out backs down from the Undertaker. Yuck.

As the Chicago crowd reminded us, putting Roman in there with the Undertaker is no way to get him cheered. But let’s not kid ourselves: It’s a good story. The old guard vs. the new guard. It also doesn’t hurt that Reigns has superficial similarities to a young Undertaker. The long hair, the goatee, the tattoos, etc. I have no idea what we’ll get once the bell rings. But the build-up should be really, really good.

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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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Samoa Joe Finally Arrives, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

Samoa Joe, WWE Raw, January 30, 2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Not much use in leading with anything but Samoa Joe, is there?

What we saw on Raw was over a decade in the making. After so many years of speculation as to whether he’d even be considered by WWE, Samoa Joe finally arrives on the main roster. What’s more, he’s going into a program with one of their top stars in Seth Rollins. I can’t even tell you how surreal it was just to hear Michael Cole say Joe’s name.

Many were disappointed that we didn’t see Joe in the Royal Rumble Match on Sunday. Would I have put him in there? Sure. That way the mainstream audience has a better idea of who he is before he shows up here. But then again, does that chip away at the surprise element? If Joe is in the Rumble, maybe this moment isn’t quite as special.

Either way, this was about as good a debut as we could have wanted for Samoa Joe. After years of stealing the show elsewhere, he finally gets to do it on wrestling’s biggest stage. Congratulations, good sir. You deserve it.

Ponderings From Raw:

Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho open the show. Braun Strowman demands a title shot. Mick Foley announces Owens will defend against Strowman later in the show. Decent opener. The best part of this segment was Strowman demanding his shot, “or I’ll break you in half.” You know what? I believe him.

Sami Zayn, Chris Jericho, WWE Raw, January 20, 2017Interesting that Mick Foley came to Raw dressed as the Riddler. Where exactly does one get a suit like that?

Sami Zayn def. Chris Jericho. Supposedly Jericho’s current run will wrap up in May so he can go back on tour with Fozzy. Some have said this has been the best run of Jericho’s career. I wouldn’t go that far. But it’s definitely up there. He’s consistently been one of the best parts of Raw, and the show will miss him when he’s gone. The guy is 46 and he can still hit Sami Zayn with a Frankensteiner (shown right). Amazing.

This was good stuff. For the second consecutive week, Zayn is in the best match on the show. Really dug the exploder duplex into the corner. I still wish he’d start beating people with the Blue Thunder Bomb. It’s his best move.

Mustafa Ali def. Tony Nese. Raw needs more of both these guys. I adore Ali’s reverse 450 splash. It’s a damn shame we didn’t get to see it this week. It’s also a damn shame that the fans still don’t give a damn about the Cruiserweight Division. Maybe one of the reasons Neville’s run in the division has worked so well is that we’ve known him the longest. Most of these other guys are still working to establish themselves in front of the national audience. Rich Swann and Jack Gallagher have started to do it. But that’s it.

Seth Rollins calls out Stephanie McMahon, who announces Triple H is on his way to RawThis seemed very choreographed and scripted, as these talking segments often do. Still, I love how irreverent Rollins is toward Stephanie. While much of his dialogue still comes off contrived, it’s refreshing. No one has talked to her this way in so long.

Stephanie McMahon, Seth Rollins, WWE Raw, January 30, 2017Having him mention coming to her front door and having one of their kids answer was a little edgy. I get why they did it. It makes the whole thing more personal. But I’d avoid approaching that topic again. Even Stone Cold never talked about going after little kids…

Bayley, Cesaro, and Sheamus def. Charlotte Flair, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson. This one didn’t do anything for me. Once again, Bayley pins Charlotte. She’s somehow unbeatable on pay per view, but extremely beatable on television.

The new Cruiserweight Champion Neville addresses the crowd. Rich Swann interrupts. Scripted promos can work if you present them believably. You forget they’re saying lines. Neville did that here. Where the hell has this guy been? Pissed off Neville is the best Neville.

In contrast, any time somebody says “WWE Universe,” any integrity the scene has is lost because no one would actually say that in the heat of the moment. Sorry Rich.

Last night at the Rumble, they showed some pictures of Neville and Swann earlier in their careers. I guess they came up together? Why not go that route for this promo and make things a little more relatable?

Kevin Owens, WWE Raw, January 30, 2017Braun Strowman def. Kevin Owens via disqualification after Roman Reigns interferes. After Strowman’s interference in last night’s Universal Title Match, the finish to this one was obvious. I’m happy Owens was able to be a little competitive here, while Strowman was still kept strong against both of them.

Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman challenge Goldberg to a match at WrestlemaniaA very predictable outcome. But yet another masterful promo by Paul Heyman. The “Yeah, but…” lines worked well.

The mentioning of Hulk Hogan beating Andre the Giant is yet another indicator that Hogan is likely on his way back. They’re planting the seeds.

Nia Jax def. Sasha Banks via referee stoppage. Byron Saxton: “How scary a sight is that? To have Nia Jax smiling, knowing that she’s gonna have her way with you.” That’s not the verbiage I would have used, Saxton…

What happened with the bell here? It rang, but the ref clearly didn’t call for it. Still, Sasha did a fine job putting Nia over, both tonight and on the Rumble pre-show. The full nelson swings into the ring post looked good.

Triple H, WWE Raw, January 30, 2017Enzo and Cass def. Rusev and Jinder Mahal in a Tornado Tag Team Match. I’ve got no use for this program anymore. Now that Enzo and Cass won this match, can we please move on?

Triple H: “Seth Rollins was a failure.” Samoa Joe ambushes Rollins. Awesome promo. I actually preferred this one to the Heyman stuff. The spinning of the narrative to where Seth owes him an apology. Hunter calling Seth an abject failure. The stuff about not being “that guy” anymore, and wearing the suit. Awesome. When Hunter is on, he’s on. I just wish we’d gotten this promo months ago, so the whole story didn’t cool off so much.

By and large, this was a strong show. Literally the best they’ve put on in months. Now we have a new face on Raw, and we’ll be seeing some of the bigger stars more regularly. Raw has been tough to watch lately. They didn’t so much fall into an autumn slump this year as a winter slump. But as always, things are picking up as we get closer to Wrestlemania.

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WWE Royal Rumble 2017 Predictions, Plus Ponderings From Raw

seth-rollins-wwe-raw-january-23-2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

As Raw has been…less than thrilling lately, I’ve opted to emphasize on Royal Rumble predictions this week, and scale back on Raw coverage. Looking at the results, I didn’t miss much anyway.

Our most notable news item is that Seth Rollins is no longer in the Royal Rumble Match, having lost it to Sami Zayn. Triple H’s music played, and he got beat off the distraction. I assume he’ll find his way back into the Rumble somehow, most likely by beating somebody up and taking their spot. Other than some small updates to the Royal Rumble card, that’s about it.

It looks like they’re doing an extra-long pre-show, with Raw putting in two matches. I imagine Smackdown will put in at least one. For my purposes, I’m sticking to the stuff that’s been announced for the main show.

So let’s dive in!

Rich Swann vs. Neville, WWE Royal Rumble 2017WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Rich Swann (c) vs. Neville

On paper, this is the strongest pay per view match we’ve seen from the Cruiserweights, as it features the two strongest personalities in the division. Neville’s heel turn has been a very pleasant surprise. So pleasant in fact, that I think he needs to take the belt here. Outside of Neville, the Cruiserweight Division doesn’t have any really strong heels. So if you make him the centerpiece to the division, you can put him with the various babyfaces like Swann, Cedric Alexander, TJ Perkins, and Jack Gallagher. All the while, they can keep building their other heels. To me, it makes all the sense in the world.

PREDICTION: Neville

WWE Royal Rumble 2017, Charlotte Flair, BayleyWWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Charlotte Flair (c) vs. Bayley

As much as I liked the Raw segment with all of Bayley’s poems, this program is sort of…meh. When Bayley wins her first championship on the main roster, it needs to be a big moment. We’re not primed for a big moment yet. So Charlotte needs to win here.

If they want to keep this going until Wrestlemania, which they very well could, I want to hear more about the differences between these two. The genetically superior athlete vs the die-hard fan from San Jose. I liked Charlotte’s line last week about when Bayley was being a fangirl, she was winning state volleyball championships, or something like that. More of that, please. As Bayley has already pinned Charlotte a few times, we can’t make this that much of an underdog story. But we can make it a good childhood dream story. I’d certainly rather see this match in Orlando than a multi-woman match of some sort.

PREDICTION: Charlotte Flair

Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns, WWE Royal Rumble 2017NO DISQUALIFICATION MATCH FOR WWE UNIVERSAL TITLE:
Kevin Owens (c) vs. Roman Reigns
Chris Jericho will be above the ring in a shark cage.

People got pretty excited when Owens won the Universal Title in August. Rightfully so, as he’s a hell of a talent. But the five months Owens has spent with the title haven’t exactly represented a creative high for Raw. The opposite, actually.

It’s not his fault, of course. He’s made the best of his situation, turning his partnership with Chris Jericho into a highlight of Raw each week. But his programs with Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns have been tepid at best, because neither of them are particularly hot as babyfaces. Reigns is loathed by much of the audience, and Rollins was awkwardly turned face after Finn Balor went down with his injury. That damn injury threw a serious monkey wrench into Raw‘s main event scene.

I say we give the belt to Reigns. Like him or not, he’s the man in that company right now. So he may as well have it, especially as we get closer to Wrestlemania. Taking the spotlight off Owens will give him something fresh to do creatively, and it’ll likely give us our long awaited Owens/Jericho feud. Despite losing the belt, this is a good move for Owens.

PREDICTION: Roman Reigns

AJ Styles vs. John Cena, WWE Royal Rumble 2017WWE HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
AJ Styles (c) vs. John Cena

This one can go either way, as you’ve got the Elimination Chamber Match next month. If they want to put the belt on Cena, they can do it here or they can wait a month.

I think they’ll probably give it to him here, so he can avenge his loss to Styles at Summerslam. As is the case with Reigns, a lot of people aren’t going to like that. Especially because this win allows Cena to tie Ric Flair’s record of 16 Heavyweight Titles. But let’s be honest: We know he’s going to do it eventually. At least this way he’ll get a hell of a match out of it. And it will be a hell of a match, folks.

Allegedly, the John Cena vs. Undertaker match is now off the books for Wrestlemania. So the direction for both these men heading into that show is largely unknown. But I can’t bring myself to complain much about that. The element of surprise is something the wrestling industry misses badly. All I can say is, they’d better have something good cooked up for these two.

PREDICTION: John Cena

Royal Rumble Match 20172017 ROYAL RUMBLE MATCH:

This match is always best when you don’t have an obvious winner. Not only do we not have one this year, but this is the most stacked Rumble Match we’ve had in quite some time. The Undertaker, Goldberg, and Brock Lesnar by themselves make this a hell of an attraction. Throw in the full-timers like Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Bray Wyatt, and Randy Orton, and this could be really good.

Want some statistics? As of this writing, the 2017 Royal Rumble Match features four previous Rumble winners. We also have 10 former Heavyweight Champions. Those 10 men have held a combined 45 Heavyweight Championships in WWE and WCW.

So who’s probably not winning? Goldberg and Lesnar jump out immediately, as they’re working each other at Wrestlemania. Chris Jericho is in that same category, as he’ll likely work with Kevin Owens. Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton are likely out of the running as well, as they’re almost certainly working together. Granted, you can put a title in any of those programs. But you don’t need to.

They could easily give this to the Undertaker. But again, does Undertaker need a Royal Rumble win? Not really. He’s the Undertaker. He’s one of the few who could credibly and believably get a title shot simply because of who he is. Though they could go for a feel-good moment anyway.

So who does that leave? Baron Corbin is a dark horse candidate, but I don’t think he’s ready. Ambrose? Probably not. Miz? No. Finn Balor’s name is out there. But I’m not ready to get my hopes up for him. Ditto for Samoa Joe. So who does that leave?

Braun Strowmann, WWE RawHere’s an answer that may divide the fanbase: Braun Strowman.

WWE likes Braun Strowman. They always have. I can see why. He’s big,  he’s credible, and he’s got a very distinct look. He’s like giant monster with a face like a small child. He’s a monster-baby. More importantly, they’ve done a great job with him since the brand split. He’s been destroying everyone. He has yet to be pinned. It took a combined spear from Roman Reigns and Bill Goldberg to take him down.

The downside? He’s green. He made his wrestling debut in late 2014. While he’s been improving as of late, he’s still very much in the learning phase of his career.

But there was once another man who came in with relatively little experience, destroyed everyone, and shot to the top. That man’s name is Bill Goldberg, and he became a bonafide superstar.

Look at the three biggest stars in this match: Goldberg, Lesnar, and Undertaker. They’re all part-timers who will never again be on TV regularly. Strowman, on the other hand, is one of the only full-time Raw guys that isn’t in that tepid category. If they get behind him and protect him, he can really be somebody.

If I knew for sure Finn Balor was going to be in this match, I’d go with him. But without confirmation, I’ve got to go with Strowman. He’s an investment their future. And keep in mind, just because they go with him here, doesn’t mean he has to win the title. There are ways they can get around that…

PREDICTION: Braun Strowman

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Sasha Banks Strikes Again, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

Sasha Banks, WWE Raw, November 28, 2016By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This is getting a little silly, isn’t it?

Sasha Banks beat Charlotte Flair for the Women’s Title Monday in a Falls Count Anywhere Match. It was the latest in a pattern that has emerged this year. Charlotte wins the Women’s Title on pay per view, Sasha Banks wins it from her on Raw. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat.

Understand this: These two have really good matches. Risky. But still good. Some of the hype WWE spews about the “women’s revolution” is actually true, and much of it can be attributed to these two. They were the first women to main event a WWE pay per view. Ever. That alone gives them a place in history. Then you factor in all their talents, and the body of work they’ve put together. It’s awesome.

That being said, duration does not an epic feud make.

In 2009, WWE did John Cena vs. Randy Orton at four consecutive pay per views. They did a straight one-on-one match, an “I Quit” Match, a Hell in a Cell Match, and an Iron Man Match, all for the WWE Championship. And this was after they’d wrestled sporadically over the years. They build it up as the epic, mother of all feuds. But it wasn’t. The matches were good, but by no means was it a bitter rivalry for the ages. They just wrestled over and over again. They would continue to wrestle on and off over the years. It’s gotten to the point where the idea of another Cena/Orton match makes me wretch.

WWE Raw, November 28, 2016I’m nervous we’re venturing into that kind of territory with Charlotte and Sasha. Yes, they’ve been great together. But they should have taken a break after Hell in a Cell. Like Cena and Orton in 2009, they’re being forced to continue because of a lack of depth on the roster. They desperately need a few more ladies on Raw. I’m looking at you, Mickie James. I saw that Takeover match…

Charlotte and Sasha are probably going to wrestle again at Roadblock. If they must, then they must. But let that be the end of it. Don’t make us tired of seeing these two work. They’re too damn good together for that.

Ponderings From Raw:

Kevin Owens appears on Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel. Roman Reigns interrupts, and a match is made between Owens and Reigns. The energy in this segment was off. I hate to keep harping on this week after week, but it’s the scripted promos. These guys are trying to remember dialogue, and it drags these talking segments down so much. When Owens yelled at Jericho, it wasn’t nearly the moment it should have been because it didn’t feel natural.

Braun Strowman def. R-Truth. Strowman brutalizes Sami Zayn afterward. I’m becoming a Braun Strowman guy. He’s not the best wrestler you’ll see out there. But he’s a giant ass kicker, and he’s being booked like one. This thing with Sami Zayn has been good for both men thus far. It’s the classic David vs. Goliath story. But in the context of what we’ve seen on Raw these last few months, it feels fresh.

WWE Raw, November 28, 2016Mick Foley tells Sami Zayn he can’t beat Braun Strowman. Zayn calls Foley a hypocrite. Yikes. Foley’s bottom teeth came out in the middle of that promo. He glossed over it better than I thought he would, though. The live crowd didn’t seem to notice.

Again with the scripted promos. Nobody says “How dare you.” Sami Zayn certainly wouldn’t say it in the heat of the moment. Still, the segment helped establish Zayn’s underdog status, which enhances the program with Strowman. So it worked for me.

Tony Nese def. Cedric Alexander. Nice win for Tony Nese, though it sucked to see Cedric lose in his hometown. I’m mildly encouraged that they’re apparently starting a story with Cedric and Alicia Fox. He’s been on and off of Raw, and hopefully this gives him something consistent to do.

Seth Rollins ambushes Chris Jericho in the parking lot. I liked this. It feels like we haven’t had a nice backstage fight in awhile. The pedigree on the car was a cool stunt, and Rollins seemed legitimately pissed off.

Enzo Amore def. Rusev via disqualification after a low blow. Not much to say about this one. I assume they’re building to a match between Rusev and Big Cass at Roadblock.

WWE Raw, November 28, 2016, Rich Swann, Noam DarRich Swann def. Noam Dar. Hell of a sound on that kick that ended the match. Not a bad post-match promo, either. Still, I don’t see Swann walking out of 205 Live with the belt.

A bar fight angle airs with Sheamus and Cesaro.  From an acting standpoint, Sheamus and Cesaro were mostly okay here. But good lord, everybody else was awful. So I guess these guys are friends now? Cool. Like ’em or not, they’re your next tag champs.

Roman Reigns def. Kevin Owens to earn a Universal Title Match at RoadblockThis match had already been advertised locally, so some of us knew it was coming. Having Reigns in the main event of Roadblock is fine, I guess. But it makes it that much more evident how much this show misses Finn Balor.

Paul Heyman: Brock Lesnar will be in the 2017 Royal Rumble Match. Heyman dropped an F-bomb! “This guy’s a f*#$ing relic.” God damn. I love this guy so much. And were those tears in his eyes?

The simplicity of Cole’s first question to Heyman was a nice touch. Just, “What happened?” Nice.

New Day, WWE Raw, November 28, 2016The New Day def. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson  to retain the Raw Tag Team Titles. Oh c’mon. You knew it wasn’t going to be Gallows and Anderson. How many big matches have these guys lost to the New Day?

So the champs have had to cheat to win these last two weeks. Does that lead to somebody giving them their comeuppance before they break the record?

Sasha Banks def. Charlotte Flair in a Falls Count Anywhere Match to win the Raw Women’s Title. A few notes on this match. Or matches, if you count the first one that ended in a double count-out.

At about the 1:04:43 mark on the DVR, Sasha literally smacks Charlotte in the right boob. Ouch. I get what she was going for. The whole Ric Flair chop thing. But still, ouch. Sasha also heard some boos from the Charlotte crowd. Not used to that.

Not sure when the last time we saw a weapon used in a women’s match, especially since the PG era began.

That was a cool image of Sasha bending Charlotte back over the railing for the win. A nice finale. And the stuff with Ric Flair was a nice pay-off to her dumping him a few months back. A nice note to end the feud on. Now if only they’d actually end it, and let both ladies move on.

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