A Shield Reunion Looms, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The Twitterverse hasn’t been kind to Sunday’s Battleground pay per view. There are a variety of reasons why. But one of the prominent ones has to do with the big guy on the right. The Great Khali is back.

Oh…great.

The seven-foot giant helped Jinder Mahal retain the WWE Championship in a Punjabi Prison Match. This actually makes sense from a story perspective. The Punjabi Prison Match was indeed created for Khali. Plus, in the build-up to Battleground, Jinder called Khali his hero. Admittedly, it was a surprise to see the big guy lumber out there. But it’s difficult to even articulate in English how little I want to see Khali wrestle again. Even WWE themselves have joked about how limited his in-ring skills are. Beyond chopping and bear-hugging, that is.

WWE apparently brought Khali in because of his popularity with the Indian market. They want Jinder to “get the rub” off him, so that WWE Network subscriptions go up in India. Fair enough, I guess. I do like the idea of an Indian faction. Khali could ideally serve the role of a bodyguard for Mahal, with the Singh Brothers finally becoming part of the Smackdown Tag Team Division.

Still, I can’t say Khali’s return gets me any more excited to watch Smackdown. Actually, it’s the opposite. If anything, I might be more inclined to fast-forward through the Jinder Mahal segments. Khalil’s segments were tough to get through before. So putting him with your new heel champion? Not the move I would have made…

Ponderings From Raw:

Kurt Angle announces Brock Lesnar will defend the Universal Championship against Roman Reigns, Samoa Joe, and Braun Strowman in a Fatal Four-Way Match at Summerslam. A brawl ensues between the challengers. This was the right move. Amidst all the buzz out there right now about Brock possibly going back to the UFC next year, having these three in there just ups the speculation about him dropping the belt. As was the case with Wrestlemania XXXI, they can have Brock lose the title without being pinned. Perhaps more importantly, this match has a great “Who’s the man?” vibe to it. Any of the four of them could walk away with the title.

Everybody had great intensity here. Loved Joe interrupting Angle’s exit. Roman has such a great smugness to him. He’d make such a great heel. But admittedly, part of me respects that kind of attitude from a babyface perspective…

Somebody posted a gif on Twitter of Strowman chucking one of those “security guards” out of the ring. Holy crap. The dude flew over the ropes and landed flat on his back. Spot of the night, right there.

Elias Samson def. Finn Balor in a No-Disqualification Match. Bray Wyatt gives the assist, hitting Balor with Sister Abigail. It’s amazing what a little bit of blood can do. I haven’t been to into these Balor/Samson matches. But after the nasty gash that guitar shot left in Balor’s head last week, I was looking forward to this one. It looked like they were really laying it in out there, too.

You know, now that Reigns vs. Lesnar may not be happening at Wrestlemania, I can think of one guy who never lost that Universal Title.

Big Cass def. Enzo Amore. So after the match, Big Show comes out. As he’s about to get in the ring, Cass has Enzo by the head, and is threatening to snap his neck. Well, death threats are one way to get over as a heel…

Nia Jax def. Emma. Emma has essentially been a jobber since she’d come back. I’d love to know how much of that has to do with the Emmalina persona not working out.

Nia Jax gets a lot of crap from “smart fans.” But that rolling Senton was awesome.

Akira Tozawa calls out Ariya Daivari, but gets Neville instead. Daivari lays out both. I was shocked as hell to see Daivari not only beat up Tozawa, but Neville as well. When Daivari first started showing up on Raw, it didn’t seem like he could get a win to save his life. Now this is happening. Pretty cool. But as long as Neville is in the Cruiserweight Division, he’s the top heel. Bar none. I shudder to think what it would look like without him.

Bayley def. Sasha Banks to earn a title match against Alexa Bliss at Summerslam.  In a backstage interview earlier in the night, Alexa called Sasha and Bayley “Team Gag Reflex.” That’s a good line. And when it comes to some of their promos, an accurate one.

But Sasha and Bayley got to the dance because of what they bring between the ropes, often against one another. This was the most prominent Sasha/Bayley match we’ve seen since they came to the main roster, and we got to see some of that magic. Portions of this were really smooth. Great to hear the crowd get into things as they cranked up the intensity in the second half. Really good match.

So now we’ve got another Bayley vs. Alexa Bliss match for Summerslam. Hopefully they resist the temptation to add Sasha to the match, and give us yet another multi-woman match on a pay per view. If Sasha does show up at Summerslam, she needs to accidentally cost Bayley the match. Or perhaps not accidentally?

Jason Jordan def. Curt Hawkins. Very explosive performance from Jordan. Crowd wasn’t buying much of this. But they’re still establishing Jordan as a single. Let’s see what happens when he gets something with some meat to it.

The Revival def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. The Hardys attack Dash and Dawson afterward. Anderson and Gallows cut what seemed to be a babyface promo before this match. I’m game for a face turn. If you’re into wrestling podcasts, you know Luke Gallows is extremely likable. They’ve also got a natural cool factor. Let’s see if they’re still going for cheers next week.

Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose def. The Miz, Curtis Axel, and Bo Dallas. Rollins attempts a show of solidarity with Ambrose after the match. Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas in a Raw main event in 2017. Do you believe in miracles?

They made a point to show Sheamus and Cesaro watching this match backstage. Are we about to see Rollins and Ambrose going for the tag straps?

Great image at the end. Rollins goes for the signature Shield fist bump, but Ambrose leaves him hanging. I’m still digging this. This is the first time I’ve really been into babyface Seth Rollins. While the Shield reunion is clearly being done to benefit Roman, Seth may be the one who benefits the most in the end.

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John Cena’s New Frontiers, Plus WWE Great Balls of Fire Predictions

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Ugh. Rusev, no. You do not come out and challenge John Cena on the Fourth of July. There’s no way that ends well.

Nevertheless, “Big Match John” is back. And apparently he’s not allowed to wrestle on both Raw and Smackdown because…well, just because. So as far as opponents go, he’s got the pick of the litter. He dropped a bunch of names on Smackdown this week, planting a numerous seeds for potential matches.

It’s unclear just how much time we’ll have with Cena going forward. I mean that both in the short term and the long term. He’s got a TV show, and he’ll likely have various film projects that take him away from the ring. Ergo, the matches he does have will become a bigger deal as time goes on. It’s the Brock Lesnar effect.

So with the roster now wide open, and his matches more important than they’ve ever been, who do they put with John Cena in the months to come? We’ve already seen him go up against so many current stars. AJ Styles, Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, etc. So who’s a fresh name they can put him with on pay per view?

I’ll give you five of them.

1. Shinsuke Nakamura

We haven’t necessarily seen that first amazing Nakamura match on the main roster yet. But considering the success Cena had with AJ Styles, Cena vs. Nakamura might be it. In establishing Nakamura as a top babyface on Smackdown, pairing him with Cena could go a long way. They made a point to have Cena say his name this week when throwing out potential opponents. So it seems like this one might be in the pipeline. Hell, they could do it as soon as Summerslam if they wanted to.

2. Bobby Roode

They said Cena was a free agent, right? Which means he could potentially go anywhere, right? So why not NXT?

John Cena and Bobby Roode would have a great traditional babyface/heel dynamic that could be really entertaining if done right. It doesn’t have to be for the championship. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be in NXT! They could have Roode’s first exposure to the national audience be in a program with Cena! It worked wonders for Kevin Owens, after all.

3. Samoa Joe

This is something fans have talked about for years. But now that Joe is such a hot commodity, it really needs to happen. Think about it: The Samoan Submission Machine against the man who never gives up. The promos alone could be worth it.

And if you like seeing Cena get hit really hard, chances are you’ll love this one!

4. Finn Balor

When Balor was called up to Raw, they pushed him to the moon. He got a clean win over Roman Reigns on his first night in. That’s a hell of an endorsement, no matter who you are. But since he’s come back from his injury, they’ve taken their time with him. Most likely to see how his body holds up. A great performance against John Cena, and hopefully a win, would propel him right back into the upper echelon on Raw. Plus, they’d have a kick ass match.

5. Roman Reigns

John Cena vs. Roman Reigns could main event a Wrestlemania, and probably will. Sooner rather than later.

Many, myself included, have likened this to a modern day equivalent to Hulk Hogan vs. the Ultimate Warrior. The two men who’ve been positioned as the top stars in the company, going head to head to find out who the top dog is. To a generation of fans, this would be as epic as Hogan vs. Warrior was all those years ago. Though I don’t doubt for a second that a big section of the audience would try to boo this match out of the building. But both Cena and Reigns have a proven track record of delivering in big match situations. And this could very well be the biggest match WWE is capable of putting together right now. It’s practically inevitable.

Now let’s get to Great Balls of Fire

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Neville (c) vs. Akira Tozawa

I’ve been waiting on this one for quite awhile. Tozawa was spinning his wheels with Brian Kendrick for way too long. Of course, it’s on the pre-show. Because why wouldn’t it be?

While I’m sure the match will be good, I don’t see Tozawa taking the belt. It occurred to me on Monday that the person who ultimately takes down Neville probably won’t be Tozawa, or Cedric Alexander, or Rich Swann, or anyone like that. It’s going to be Enzo Amore. They won’t put on a mat classic. But it’s a good match personality-wise. We’ve still got at least a few months before we get there, though. So until then, hail to the king!

PREDICTION: Neville

WWE INERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
The Miz (c) vs. Dean Ambrose

As hot as the Miz is right now, he desperately needs a new rival. Ambrose does too. This is like the feud that never ends. So let’s put the final nail in this thing. Let Miz keep the belt, then move him into a program with Finn Balor. As for Ambrose…Elias Samson maybe? Seems like the logical choice. Either way, I’ve seen this episode a million times. Let’s just get it overwith.

PREDICTION: The Miz

Seth Rollins vs. Bray Wyatt

If a hero is only as good as the villain he fights, then Seth Rollins is in big trouble. It seems like a long time ago that Bray Wyatt was WWE Champion. Somehow it feels like he has absolutely no credibility left. He’s calling himself a god lately. But as I said earlier in the week, a god would theoretically win a match once in awhile, right?

Meanwhile, Seth Rollins is still doing in babyface purgatory. People like him, and the company is obviously behind him. But his on-screen persona is still missing something. They’ve been trying to make him more relatable by talking about his past transgressions and mistakes. But that’s not cutting it. He’s desperately missing a certain cool factor. A factor that, ironically, 2K Games gave him in their recent commercial for WWE 2K18.

So in effect, this match gives us both a babyface and a heel that aren’t where they should be in the pecking order. So does it really matter who wins if we’re not adequately invested in either guy? In any event, expect Rollins to take it. Because why should Bray gain any real momentum now?

PREDICTION: Seth Rollins

WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Sasha Banks

Not quite sure what to expect from this one. Obviously there’s great potential here, both in terms of the in-ring product and the personalities clashing. If WWE would loosen the creative reigns with these two, as they did with Brock and Joe on Monday, the promos could be explosive. I doubt we’ll get that lucky.

I see Alexa cheating to win, leading to a rematch around Summerslam. In theory, they could throw Bayley into the mix. But for the time being, the best option for her may be to remain on the sidelines.

PREDICTION: Alexa Bliss

30-MINUTE IRON MAN MATCH FOR WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLES:
Sheamus and Cesaro (c) vs. The Hardy Boyz 

You know, if you watch all the different combinations of matches these four men have had since Wrestlemania, you’d probably have a 120-Minute Iron Man Match…

I don’t envy the Hardys, having to get thrown around and beat up by Cesaro and Sheamus for half an hour. Hopefully this is the last we’ll see of this match for awhile. My gut says to go with the champs on this one. The Hardys have done wonders for them. In a perfect world, Matt would snap after losing this match, and revert back to his “Broken” persona. Supposedly, the Hardys are close to getting the rights to that IP. I’ll believe it when I see it.

PREDICTION: Sheamus and Cesaro

Enzo Amore vs. Big Cass

Give Enzo, Cass, and all parties involved credit for making this feel like a big grudge match. I have no idea what kind of match they’ll turn in. But for me, the wrestling aspect is almost irrelevant here. It’s more about the internalization of the characters. Just how ruthless is Cass going to be? What will be going through Enzo’s mind as he tries to fight his former best friend? And from an acting standpoint, can Cass keep up with Enzo? His mic work on Monday left something to be desired…

Whether Cass has got acting chops or not, the outcome of this match has never really been a question. Cass goes over. They’ve got their eye on him for a higher profile role. As for Enzo, he proved on Monday that he deserves a prominent role as well. As I mentioned above, he might want to consider taking a run at the Cruiserweight Title. Though if all else fails, it seems he has a tag team partner in the Big Show.

PREDICTION: Big Cass 

AMBULANCE MATCH:
Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman

Like the Dumpster Match he had with Kalisto, Braun Strowman can lose an Ambulance Match without having to be pinned. That’s definitely advantageous in terms of keeping up his monster vibe. Then again, he’s in the ring with the one guy who’s pinned him before. So maybe it doesn’t matter.

The story they’ve told is that Roman Reigns already has his ticket punched for Summerslam. Win or lose, he’s wrestling for the Universal Title. So it would make sense for Reigns to win here. But they can still play around with things if they’re so inclined. A victory for Strowman could propel him into that spot, giving us the much anticipated Brock Lensar vs. Braun Strowman match. Such a victory could also lead to a multi-man main event with Brock, Roman, and Strowman. Hell, they could even throw Joe in there if they wanted to.

In the end, I imagine WWE will stick to what’s been their prime directive in recent years: Make Roman look strong.

PREDICTION: Roman Reigns

WWE UNIVERSAL TITLE MATCH:
Brock Lesnar vs. Samoa Joe

I’m trying to think of the last time we had a WWE Championship Match that was this highly anticipated or well built. The only one that comes to mind is John Cena vs. CM Punk from Money in the Bank in 2011. I don’t know if this is quite that good. But it’s in that same orbit.

It would be a crying shame to see this match turn into just another visit to Suplex City, i.e. Brock just throwing the guy around a bunch. I want to see a fight. I don’t care if they translate that into a bunch of stiff punches, a submission wrestling clinic, a big brawl, or something else. Give me a competition. Make me believe. Leave me wanting more. That’s what I’m looking for from this match.

The one sad thing about this is that it’s virtually guaranteed that Joe is going to lose. That doesn’t mean he has to come out of it looking like a loser. But it does take a little bit of the edge off. In the end, what’s most important is that WWE takes note of how well Joe has performed in this role. Whether he stays heel, or this program turns him babyface, these past few weeks have essentially been a big coming-out party for Joe. After all these years, he’s finally a bona fide WWE superstar.

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

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Samoa Joe’s Boiling Point, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Two guys looking for a fight. One guy that’s the best, one guy that wants to be the best. It’s always been as simple as that. So why do they try to make it more complicated? Probably because they have all those damn writers on staff…

Monday’s segment with Brock Lesnar, Samoa Joe, and Paul Heyman was awesome for multiple reasons. First and foremost, it felt real. More so than anything they’ve given us in a long time. Instead of each person taking turns speaking, waiting to say their lines, Brock and Joe were fighting to be heard. Like it was an actual argument. WWE needs to look long and hard at this segment, and then at the heavily scripted in-ring scenes they’ve been  pushing out for so many years. This is what it should be like.

Secondly, it was so damn simple. Brock is the man. Joe wants so badly to be the man that he wants to fight Brock now. There are no tyrannical authority figures involved. No convoluted storylines. Just a raw competitiveness between two alpha males that can only be settled in the ring. I’ll say it again: This is what it should be like.

Thirdly, Joe came off like a ruthless killer here. He may as well be a babyface at this point. He’s brave, confident, and strong enough to take the fight to the company’s biggest and baddest monster. Are his tactics heelish? Absolutely. But his bad ass demeanor and bloodlust are something that coveted male 18-34 demographic can live vicariously through. It’s the same reason so many fans cheer for Braun Strowman. They’re fearless wrecking machines who will stand up to anyone.

WWE loves to talk about putting smiles on peoples faces. This segment damn sure put a smile on mine. For a few precious minutes, WWE wasn’t so sanitized, structured, and rehearsed anymore. A few years ago, Triple H called this the “reality era” of WWE. For once, the product lived up to that moniker.

And I want more. A lot more.

Ponderings From Raw:

Enzo Amore opens the show, cuts a promo on Big Cass. Enzo then jumps Cass backstage. Most of this was really, really good. Enzo looked right into the hard camera, spoke with passion and truth, and the crowd was behind him. I really dug the line about Cass being “nothing more than a seven foot catch phrase. That I wrote.”

They did, however, let him go a little long. Then he apparently forgot something. He dropped the mic, they hit his music, he started to leave…and then he picked the mic back up and started talking again. That was pretty cringeworthy. But to his credit, Enzo didn’t let it phase him. There’s that confidence he talked about. Not sure how much of this was scripted. But if they could produce promos like this more often, Raw would be a much better show week to week.

Enzo seemingly flew into the frame when he jumped Cass. Awesome intensity. It feels like we’ve got a lot of real emotions twisted up in this. As for Cass’ mic work? Pretty wooden. But in his defense, Enzo is a damn tough act to follow. For him, the real test will come after he’s done with Enzo.

Sasha Banks and Bayley def. Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax. WWE is wise to shift focus away from Bayley right now, given how shoddy they’ve booked her lately. It’s damage control. Case in point, Bayley being taken out of this match early. Thus, they’ve upped the emphasis on Sasha. I’ve soured on Sasha’s mic skills quite a bit. But her ring work looks as good as ever. I’m very curious to see what she and Alexa turn in at Great Balls of Fire.

Cedric Alexander def. Noam Dar. Nice win for Cedric. But how long has this story been going? I’m fine with keeping Noam Dar and Alicia Fox together for the time being. But let’s give them somebody else to work against, shall we?

Miz TV addresses last week’s show, tears down Dean Ambrose. Heath Slater demands an Intercontinental Title Match. Before this segment, they hyped up how much “great coverage” they got from that atrocious Ball family segment last week. Mind you, they left out the 15-year-old kid using a racial slur. Hear that? That’s the WWE spin cycle in full effect.

Miz gave us yet another good promo, once again talking about Ambrose’s wasted potential. The “Dean Ambrose can’t handle success” line was interesting. They should follow up on that…

The Miz def. Heath Slater to retain the Intercontinental Championship.  Dean Ambrose was on commentary for this match, and he did the unthinkable. He pointed to the giant pink elephant in the room. While talking about Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel, the “Miztourage,” he says to Michael Cole: “What do they call themselves? The Miztourage? That’s really bad. Miztourage is bad. That’s about as bad as Great Balls of Fire. Who came up with that name?”

I could practically hear Vince McMahon screaming through the headsets.

Emotionally, this was a really good match. As we’ve seen before, Slater makes an amazing sympathetic underdog. I’d love to see him win the Intercontinental Title.  Will it ever happen? Who knows. But this just gives more credence to the fact that Slater can be a singles star.

Did not expect that big Powerslam from the top rope. Slater is never going to be John Cena or Roman Reigns. But he can have that suspenseful, barn burner of a match if they just give him a chance.

Goldust premieres “The Shattered Truth.” R-Truth attacks his former partner. I liked how this was set up. Goldust center stage in the director’s chair. He’s another guy that can go the distance if they keep giving him opportunities like this. I’ve talked at length about that before, but it bears repeating.

Seth Rollins def. Curt Hawkins. Rollins cut a promo after making quick work of Hawkins, and went the after-school special route again. He talked about embracing your transgressions, how they make you who you are, blah blah blah. It’s such a far cry from the cool vibe we got in that WWE 2K commercial. Where the hell is that guy?

Neville def. Mustafa Ali. Awesome Spike DDT by Mustafa Ali in this match. He and Neville told an awesome story out there, showcasing the champion’s mean streak. I feel like I don’t see enough of Ali. If he was featured more prominently, I might actually give a crap about 205 Live.

Bray Wyatt speaks to Seth Rollins from the Arizona desert. Nice to see them step outside the box a little bit. Bray looked good out there. Now if only he had his credibility back. The guy calls himself a god. But hypothetically, don’t gods have to win matches once in awhile?

Finn Balor def. Cesaro. It occurred to me during this match that Balor doesn’t have a match at Great Balls of Fire. He and Elias Samson didn’t even make the pre-show. That’s kind of weird. As much as I enjoy both Miz and Dean Ambrose, I’d rather see Balor wrestle just about anyone than see those two have yet another IC Title Match.

More matches between these two please. Balor’s agility and grace compliment Cesaro’s strength tremendously.

Braun Strowman def. Apollo Crews. Roman Reigns surprises Strowman with a post-match attack, spearing him off the stage. Well how about that. Apollo Crews and Titus O’Neil got to be in a Raw main event. Crews paid a price for it, though. That bump he took on his head was nasty. Makes for a hell of a Twitter gif. But damn.

So…why did Strowman lick Apollo’s head? Crews was decimated by that point, and I get the idea of Strowman being dominant. But why lick his head? Is that going to be a thing?

Apparently Titus isn’t a heel anymore. He stood up to Strowman, and genuinely cared about Apollo’s wellbeing. Makes sense to me. Titus is a hard man to dislike.

Despite what some would have you believe, Roman Reigns delivers in big pay per view matches. Given what he and Braun turned in last time, and the chaotic nature of an Ambulance Match, they could give us something really cool at Great Balls of Fire.

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Big Cass Goes Bad, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Let’s jump right to the main event this week, shall we? They went and did it. They turned Cass heel, revealing that not only has he been the one attacking Enzo, but that he’s been staging the attacks on himself. And why? Because Enzo’s supposedly been holding him back, and running his mouth too much.

I liked most of what they did here, especially how they looped Corey Graves in. I’m not sure what they’re trying to do with he and Kurt Angle. But between that and what we saw here, they’re turning him into an investigator of sorts.

Realistically, they could have turned Enzo. The fans have caught on to the fact that he can be damn annoying at times. But he’s also one of the best talkers in all of wrestling. The fans are still behind him because he’s got the God-given gift of gab. So if they had to turn one of them, they made the right choice with Cass. They even played the sympathetic card, with Cass essentially saying: “Nobody likes you because you’re annoying. And now I don’t like you either.”

Before the turn, they positioned Big Show as still having heat with Cass. So I imagine we’ll see Show vs. Cass at Great Balls of Fire, followed by a showdown between Cass and Enzo at Summerslam.

WWE is taking a risk here, which I commend them for. Ratings have been way down lately. Despite what they’d like you to believe sometimes, that matters. So a shake-up is merited. I just hope this is a shake-up that pays off. It seems like WWE has seen money in Cass since he came up from NXT. But he’s always been so tightly intertwined with Enzo. He’s achieved all this success in both NXT and WWE because he was with Enzo. Is he polished enough to go out there and deliver on his own? Sure, he’ll have some decent heat for the next few months. But what about after he’s done with Enzo? Who is Cass without his other half?

I’m hoping we like the answer we get…

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns announces he will challenge for the Universal Title at SummerslamSamoa Joe confronts Reigns, a brawl breaks out. Reigns was cocky here, which I actually liked. Better to have him show a little attitude than to just be reciting sanitized dialogue with no feeling behind it. And I loved the line: “You’ll never be Samoa Joe to me. You’ll always be just Joe.” Them is fightin’ words.

So…does this mean we’re getting Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns at Summerslam? I can dig that. The rumor was that we’d get it at Wrestlemania. But I’m good with this, especially since we’ve already seen Lesnar and Reigns at a Wrestlemania.

However, I was also game for Reigns against John Cena. Another day, then…

The Hardy Boyz def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. Not much interest in this one from me. They had me when Gallows and Anderson hit the Boot of Doom, and were seemingly about to get the pin. But other than that this just felt like filler. And let’s be honest: That’s what it was.

Goldust invites R-Truth to the premiere of “The Shattered Truth” next week. I lap up these Goldust promos, I really do. Hoping they hit this out of the park next week.

Finn Balor cuts Elias Samson off before he can sing. There’s something here with this “Drifter” gimmick. They’re getting there. The wrestling fan in me is dying for Samson to hit somebody with that guitar. Might not happen for awhile. But when it does, it’ll be great.

Finn Balor def. Bo Dallas. Balor later gets attacked by Samson. The early part of this match felt reminiscent of the last time they tried to push Bo a little bit, for all the good that did him. What exactly do they have to lose by putting him with Bray Wyatt? The two are legitimately siblings. Just go for it.

So I guess Balor has a new dance partner in Elias Samson. Wouldn’t have been my first choice. I’d have had him go with Ambrose, then put Balor with Miz.

Seth Rollins to be on the cover of WWE 2K18. Rollins cuts off Bray Wyatt before an attack. Yet another amazing commercial from the 2K folks. These things are more memorable than most Raw episodes.

Wasn’t a fan of Seth’s promo in front of the live crowd. Too white meat for my taste. “We can all get second chances,” and all that. Too syrupy for me.

So after a back and forth promo, Bray Wyatt comes to the ring, blows out his lantern, and immediately eats a cross body from Rollins. It’s amazing just how far this character has fallen. Again. Whenever he takes a step forward, it’s like he takes two steps back.

Akira Tozawa def. TJP, both Titus O’Neil and Neville watch from ringside. I’ll call it now: O’Neil accidentally costs Tozawa his inevitable title match with Neville. You can say what you want about how stale 205 Live is, but when Neville drops that belt it’s going to be a big deal.

Samoa Joe def. Roman Reigns after a distraction from the returning Braun Strowman. Strowman challenges Reigns to an Ambulance Match at Great Balls of FireReigns and Joe work well together. A real nice alpha male against alpha male dynamic. And it’s always very physical.

The announcers acted like it was a big thing when Joe kicked out of the Superman Punch. But when was the last time Reigns beat somebody with that move? It feels like he hits three or four of them each time he wrestles on pay per view.

Strowman had great entrance. A nice callback to the ambulance stuff he and Roman have done. Then he had to go and say, “I’ll see you at Great Balls of Fire pay per view.” Still, Strowman’s return is something to be happy about. WWE has done such a good job building him up that not having him on Raw has hurt the show.

Dean Ambrose ruins the Miz’s attempt at an apology to Maryse. Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel attack Ambrose. So does this mean Dallas and Axel are with Miz now? Hey, it did wonders for Damien Sandow. And it adds a little something extra to Miz’s presentation. Works for me.

Cesaro and Sheamus def. Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews. Crews is so damn explosive out there. If they can find a way to get this guy over, they could have a real commodity on their hands. Make it happen, WWE.

A video package airs for Brock Lesnar vs. Samoa Joe at Great Balls of FireThese are always so damn great. Brock had the best line in this one: “I’m gonna go through Samoa Joe like a freight train. On fire.”

Emma comes after Alexa Bliss while she’s on commentary for Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax. The match breaks down. Mickie James and Dana Brooke join the fight before Bayley cleans house. This seemed very rushed. Like they wanted to squeeze this in before the main event segment. At least Bayley looked fairly strong. She’s needed all the help she can get lately.

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Brock Lesnar Returns, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Brock Lesnar was back on television this week for the first time since Wrestlemania week, with the Universal Championship across his shoulder. Anytime Brock is on television it’s a big deal. Now that he’s got a Heavyweight Title again, that’s the case even moreso.

Nowadays we’re hearing a lot of the same talk we heard during Brock’s last run with the WWE Championship. He needs to be on TV more, not having him there takes away from the show, things like that. And yes, not having your champion there is a big adjustment. That title is usually what everyone is fighting for. It’s the motivation for most of the main characters on this TV show.

But they’re doing the right thing with Brock Lesnar, champion or not.

Brock is special. That was the case even before he became UFC Champion and all that. Now he’s one of the precious few difference-making attractions WWE has. So when Brock is on Raw, sparse as it may be at times, it’s special. It’s must-see TV. That shouldn’t change because he has the title.

The impetus, therefore, needs to be on WWE to provide us with compelling television despite the lack of a Heavyweight Champion. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, they haven’t consistently done that. But there are bright spots to be found. They’ve reintroduced certain mystery and soap opera elements that have been absent for awhile. The mystery of who’s attacking Enzo and Cass, the question of what’s going on with Kurt Angle, etc. They’ve got so many talented people on that Raw roster. The absence of your champion is a circumstance, not an excuse.

There’s also something to be said for restraint. Before the so-called Monday Night Wars, you didn’t see all your marquee stars in the ring every week. The announcers would talk about them, and you might see an interview. But they wouldn’t necessarily wrestle every week. Once WWE started fighting for ratings, that all changed. WWE would benefit greatly from not throwing everything and everyone at us each week. Yes, they have three hours to fill. But again, that’s not an excuse. It’s a call for them to be more creative.

What’s more, they’ve shown they can do it. Not just with Brock, either. Finn Balor hasn’t wrestled on Raw in two weeks. We saw a video package about him. But they kept him off the live show. Roman Reigns got the same treatment this week. Ergo, they’re a little bit fresher the next time we see them.

Ergo, despite what you might hear, Brock Lesnar’s less frequent appearances are an example of what WWE is doing right these days. Frankly, the anticipation and freshness they help create is something they should strive for with more of their main event talent.

Ponderings From Raw:

A brawl erupts between Brock Lesnar and Samoa Joe. There was a definite tension in the air when Brock and Paul Heyman came out. A tension which grew thicker with Heyman’s promo, and then even thicker when Joe finally came out.

What followed was a pull-apart brawl very reminiscent of the one we got between Brock and the Undertaker a few years ago. I’m disappointed they couldn’t come up with something different. But the two things I came away from this thinking about were Joe’s opening shot to Lesnar, and the kick he snuck in. They came off pretty evenly matched, but Joe was the one who got put over. In the end, this accomplished what it needed to.

Elias Samson def. Dean Ambrose after a distraction from Miz and Maryse. Wonder how many of the kids at home got Corey Graves’ Bobby Boucher reference…

Decent match. Nice to hear the crowd get into it. That’s not always what we get with some of these Raw crowds. This Ambrose/Miz thing needs to be over already. Between Raw and Smackdown, we’ve been seeing it for months now. Give us a fresh IC Title challenger, and let Ambrose work with Samson long form.

Afterward, we saw Kurt Angle get angry at Miz backstage. So…the GM was mad that a wrestler interfered in another wrestler’s match? He does know what show he’s in charge of, right?

Cedric Alexander def. Noam Dar. The tried a new story device here by putting Alicia Fox on the tron, framed inside an image of a phone (shown right). The idea was she was using FaceTime or something. They really should have set this up beforehand. Like, in the backstage segment we saw prior, have Dar tell Fox he’s going to put her up on the tron so people can still be treated to her beauty. Something like that. The transition was jarring. At least the match was short.

Roman Reigns to make an announcement regarding Summerslam next week. I like this. It seems pretty open-ended as far as who Reigns will be working with. So it could be just about anybody. It’d be nice if we could just do Reigns vs. Lesnar, and get it out of the way now. I expect we won’t be that lucky. Braun Strowman, maybe? I know he’s a Smackdown guy, but could it be John Cena? If so, it would make sense for them to start promoting it now.

Bray Wyatt and Seth Rollins come face-to-face in the ring. They must have used an old bumper for the backstage portion of Bray’s promo. There were some images of Randy Orton in there.

News broke yesterday about Bray’s wife filing for divorce, citing an alleged affair with ring announcer Jojo Offerman. I’m not defending what the real-life Wyndham Rotunda supposedly did. But it sucks whenever one’s dirty laundry gets aired like that. My heart goes out to the family.

Bray said, “You don’t want this fight, Seth. My power is more than you can possibly imagine.” Oh really? You lost clean to Roman Reigns last week. Also, you and Rollins have wrestled before, including in the main event of Raw not long ago. So yeah, I’m pretty sure he can imagine just fine.

Bray’s little disappearing act during this segment was very Undertaker-ish. He then said another line that made no sense: “Face your fear, man….and run.” Face your fear and run? What the hell does that mean?

Apollo Crews def. Kalisto. Titus O’Neil continues to try and recruit Akira Tozawa to the Titus Brand. Nice powerbomb finish to an okay match. I’d expect to see Titus, Apollo, and Kalisto start showing up on 205 Live to further this story. If they haven’t already, that is. Like most people, 205 Live isn’t much of a priority for me.

Sasha Banks, Mickie James, and Dana Brooke def. Alexa Bliss, Nia Jax, and Emma. Emma caught a really bad break with an injury shortly after she finally got back in the ring. So it was cool to see her return. Then of course, she tapped out. Some people just can’t catch a break.

Corey Graves does a sit-down interview with Bayley. After not being able to use the kendo stick on Alexa Bliss at Extreme Rules, Bayley says she’s going to do things “her way” regardless of what people think. That’s a nice sentiment, and it’s very in-character. I just hope that after the bad booking Bayley has had to endure, the older fans don’t turn on her for being a white-meat babyface. I’m interested to see what kind of reaction she gets the next time she’s in front of a TV crowd.

Heath Slater and Rhyno def. The Miz and “Bear.” Well great. The crowd was chanting for the bear. Now we’ll be seeing the Miz in segments with it for weeks to come.

So Miz unmasks the bear, and it’s not Ambrose. Then a second bear comes in, and it is Ambrose. They seemed to lose the crowd at that point. Apparently Miz’s tag team partner being in a teddy bear costume was okay. A sudden costume switch? Not okay.

If they’re looking for someone for Miz to feud with, I wouldn’t mind seeing Slater get that spot. He’d make a great underdog challenger.

Neville lays out Rich Swann before their match can begin, advices Akira Tozawa to “tread carefully.” I’ve been waiting to see Tozawa and Neville mix it up since the former first appeared on Raw. I’m ready for this!

Big Cass is once again attacked backstage. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson defeat Enzo and Cass moments later. The Big Show comes to Enzo’s aid afterward. I’ll give them credit. I’m more interested in this story than I ever thought I would be. The big question seems to be about who’s going heel? Is it Enzo or Cass? I still don’t think they should be broken up. But it seems like that’d be the only worthwhile payoff…

 Sheamus and Cesaro vs The Hardy Boyz go to a double count-out in a 2 out of 3 Falls Match for the Raw Tag Team Titles. Love the positioning of this match. Really made the titles feel important. It’s also a break from the usual suspects being in the main event. Reigns, Rollins, etc.

Sheamus and Cesaro have been put over like a million bucks these past few weeks. First they pin everyone in a Tag Team Turmoil Match. Then they win the belts at Extreme Rules. Now the Hardys fail to beat them for the belts in a 2 out of 3 Falls Match. They may not have won here, but they are believably and definitively positioned as the top team on Raw right now. Maybe the top team in all of WWE. Good on you, gentlemen. Looking forward to seeing where it goes next.

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Samoa Joe vs. Brock Lesnar, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Since he turned heel a few weeks back, a question has nagged me: Can Goldust be a main eventer for WWE in 2017? It’s not as much of a long shot as you might think.

The operative word in that question is 2017. The real-life Dustin Runnels is unquestionably a main event caliber talent, and has been in that role before. He wasn’t headlining pay per views, mind you. But in 1995 and 1996, he was main-eventing Raw broadcasts and house shows with the likes of Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker. Early on, his…ehem…”androgynous” character was one of the industry’s hottest topics. He’s had his share of big-money ball games. But can he do it again today?

For my money, the answer is an absolute, unequivocal yes.

I’m not sure how often you want to have him wrestle, given he’s 48 years old. But watch how he moves out there. He damn sure doesn’t look 48. And as we’ve seen with his recent pre-taped promos, his mic work is as strong as ever.

After the mostly abysmal show we got last week, it’s clear Raw is in need of something fresh. They seem to have found something with the reintroduction of Goldust, a character that many a lapsed wrestling fan will remember, and possibly tune back in to see in a prominent role. They obviously can’t go the sexual route they did in the ’90s. But this character can work as as a bizarre, movie-fanatical, almost comic-bookish villain.

Do I think Goldust should be challenging Brock Lesnar for the Universal Title? No. Not in the near future, at least. But a heel Goldust against Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, or Dean Ambrose? Why the hell not? Raw could use another strong heel. Goldust can fill that role as well, if not better than anyone we see on TV these days.

Do they really have anything to lose?

Ponderings From Raw:

Samoa Joe to face Brock Lesnar for the Universal Title on July 9 at Great Balls of FireThis one came out of left field. I can’t bring myself to complain about it, though. This is a match that’s been talked about since Joe signed.

The choice to put Joe with Brock is interesting, given how little time he’s spent on the main roster. It hasn’t even been six months yet. It says a lot about WWE’s faith in him. In terms of credible and believable opponents for Brock, he’s one of the best choices they could have made. Joe isn’t an MMA fighter, strictly speaking. But his style is certainly MMA-inspired. This could be really compelling if they play that up.

I’m curious why they opted not to go with Finn Balor. They had a ready-made story with him, as he never lost the Universal Title. They even did the segment with Balor and Heyman a couple of weeks back…

Roman Reigns def. Bray Wyatt. As if there was any doubt Roman Reigns was the successor to John Cena, we got dueling “Let’s go Roman!”/”Roman Sucks!” chants.

They promoted this match as the show opener. I usually like when they do that, but this one didn’t do much for me. We’ve seen these two wrestle so many times, and they didn’t do much to make this one seem special at all.

Yet another loss for Bray Wyatt…

Dean Ambrose interrupts a song from Elias Samson, challenges Miz. Miz says there will be a championship celebration for him later in the evening. It sounded like Michael Cole was laughing during the Drifter’s little ditty. Can’t say I blame him. The guy could use a little more rehearsal time.

Samoa Joe chokes Paul Heyman out with the Coquina Clutch. It was during this segment that I realized they’re just simply calling it Great Balls of Fire. It has to be “the Great Balls of Fire pay per view event,” or whatever. Oh joy…

Can we even call Brock a heel or a babyface anymore? He seems to morph based on who he’s in there with. Or maybe he’s just beyond that at this point. he simply is what he is.

This was pretty good. I liked Joe’s jealousy of Brock, wanting everything he has, and what not. Heyman’s “worst case scenario” stuff was cool. Then they have Joe get so close to Heyman it’s borderline homoerotic, and tell him what’s about to happen to him in the Coquina Clutch. Really grim stuff. Joe is a really underrated promo. If they keep playing it this way, this match could have a great big-fight feel to it.

The follow-up backstage with Joe and Kurt Angle made for a nice moment too. The crowd seemed into it. Assuming Kurt gets cleared to wrestle, that match is just sitting there waiting to happen.

Sheamus and Cesaro def. Heath Slater and Rhyno. Remember when Slater and Rhyno had credibility? Seems like a really long time ago, doesn’t it?

I didn’t expect to see Sheamus and Cesaro walk away with the belts at Extreme Rules. But like Samoa Joe’s win, this was a pleasant surprise. They deserve to be in this spot. These two have turned out to be damn good for each other. Sheamus in particular has a whole new life to him.

TJP def. Mustafa Ali. Neville attacks TJP afterward. A title match is made between the two for 205 LivePerkins is looking to cash in on that title shot that Neville promised him, but Neville turns on him. Perkins looks stupid for not seeing that coming, but oh well. Does this mean he’s a babyface again? I was enjoying cocky, smarmy TJP. It did him a lot of good to show a little more personality out there.

Kalisto def. Titus O’Neil. Notice they gave Sin Cara’s entrance with the big jump over the ropes to Kalisto. They gave him some cool new music too. I’ll give them credit. They’re trying to make him into something.

The Miz holds a celebration to kick off his “Intercontinental Championship Comeback Tour.” Miz expects an attack from Ambrose, and gets one when he least expects it. On this very show, they had Kurt Angle call last week’s “This is Your Life” segment with Alexa Bliss and Bayley one of the worst in Raw history. So if I’m the Miz, I’m pretty damn unnerved to see something like this in the script this week. But he came off pretty well, despite having to attack a giant cardboard box with a chair.

I liked that they toyed with our expectations as far as an Ambrose attack was concerned. We all knew it was coming. It was just a question of when. Hell, I was expecting him to be in the bear suit. So well done.

Big Cass is found backstage, having been attacked by a mystery assailant. Later, Enzo Amore and the Big Show def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. So Enzo gets attacked two weeks in a row, now Cass gets it. I like that they’re starting to incorporate some mystery elements intp the show again. We’ve got this, plus the whole Kurt Angle/Corey Graves thing. Now it’s just the question of the pay-offs.

They’re really teasing an Enzo and Cass break-up. Having Show go out there and do Cass’ bit struck some of the same chords they just played on NXT with Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa. Cass being “replaced” and all that. I’m tellin’ ya, don’t break ’em up. Not a good plan…

Alexa Bliss def. Nia Jax via disqualification to retain the Raw Women’s Title. Mickie James and Dana Brooke both looked like idiots here. They come out to watch the bully Alexa Bliss get her comeuppance, and in the process come off like bullies themselves. What’s more, when Bliss attacks them they hit her back, resulting in the DQ finish. They cost themselves the chance to see Alexa lose the title! Really, really dumb.

They were wise to give the Bayley character a rest this week. Creative hasn’t exactly done her any favors lately. First she loses the title in her home town at Payback. Then she’s part of “This is Your Life” last week. And at Extreme Rules she not only fails to get the belt back, but the script it so she’s too kind to use the kendo stick on Alexa and “get extreme.” Fans are starting to turn on her. She and Alexa likely aren’t done. But for now, give her some room to breathe.

Samoa Joe def. Seth Rollins. Good match. Served as a nice showcase for Joe as he prepares for Brock. They did the Bray Wyatt effect on screen, which distracted Rollins and allowed Joe to lock in the Coquina Clutch for the win. So it looks like they’re now going with Bray Wyatt against Seth Rollins, as opposed to Bray Wyatt against Finn Balor. The latter has been teased for quite some time. I’m not exactly chomping at the bit to see it, though. So this direction is fine by me.

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Jinder Mahal: WWE Champion, Plus Ponderings From Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

See, this is why you always go with your gut.

Going into Backlash, my gut told me Jinder was winning the belt. But I took the common sense approach and predicted Randy Orton would retain. I figured Jinder hadn’t been built up enough yet, and needed another month or so before getting the title.

But I’d forgotten one very important thing. This is pro wrestling. Common sense has little to no place. Ergo Jinder Mahal, mere months after being a jobber, defeats Randy Orton in the main event of a pay per view to win the WWE Championship.

Jinder was on Talk is Jericho last week, and talked about how Vince McMahon has taken tremendous interest in his character, even personally working on his verbiage. That should have been the giveaway. Between Jinder’s physical transformation, the idea of appealing to the Indian market, and him becoming Vince’s new project, the writing was on the wall.

I maintain that Jinder Mahal’s character isn’t at a level that merits being champion. But that’s not to say he can’t get there. I’ve been continually intrigued by this group he’s formed with the Singh Brothers. It’s something different, and I’m very interested in what it could become, if not necessarily what it is now.

That’s really the bottom line as far as Jinder is concerned. He’s not there yet, but he could be. He can grow into the role. The evil foreign menace is Pro Wrestling 101. If McMahon’s interest in Jinder maintains, and he gets a little more comfortable, he and the Singh Brothers could have something special here.

On the other hand, this could all be a flash in the pan. But the question of whether or not that’ll be the case has renewed some of my waned interest in Smackdown. At the very least, they’ve accomplished that.

Ponderings From Raw:

Bray Wyatt opens the show, but is interrupted by Roman Reigns. Kurt Angle makes a match between the two. Bray’s big monologue was frustrating.  I’d have stuck with the whole “I alone can slay the beast” narrative, and had less of the “I can save you all” stuff. Sometimes he just goes too far into the metaphorical. Also: Stop laughing, idiot.

The “It’s my yard” stuff is cool. But every time Roman says that, he grates on the people who grew up with and loved the Undertaker. And there are a lot of us.

Roman Reigns def. Bray Wyatt via disqualification when Samoa Joe interferes. Seth Rollins attacks Joe. Kind of a blah match. Though I admit, seeing the four of them in the ring together piqued my interest a bit for Extreme Rules. If they’re allowed to really play up the no holds barred elements, this match could end up being really good.

Akira Tozawa def. Ariya Daivari. Brian Kendrick watches and comments from backstage. We don’t see nearly enough of Tozawa on Raw. He’s one of the few guys in that Cruiserweight Division that doesn’t feel played out or overexposed. Even Austin Aries has suffered. After failing to capture the magic of the Cruiserweight Classic for so many months, it’s like the whole division has a stink on it.

While Tozawa himself seems to be fine, I’m amazed this story with Kendrick is still going on. No wonder 205 Live is so dead right now.

“The Drifter” Elias Samson makes his Raw wrestling debut, defeats Dean Ambrose via disqualification when Miz interferes. Not a bad start for Samson. Hell of a leaping knee strike to Ambrose. The character is still a little iffy for me. But they’re easing him in. We’ll see how things look in a couple of weeks.

Enzo Amore is attacked by a mystery assailant. Somebody get Enzo some damn pepper spray or something. He’s always getting attacked before he gets the chance to wrestle. Or at least tell Cass not to let the little bastard of his sight for awhile.

Paul Heyman interrupts Finn Balor’s pre-match promo, wishes him luck at Extreme RulesBalor vows to beat Brock Lesnar. We were overdue for a Heyman promo. They shouldn’t use him every week. But while Brock is gone, we need him every so often to represent the champion’s interests.

This segment is essentially an assurance that, at least for now, WWE plans to put Balor over at Extreme Rules. That’s good news as far as I’m concerned. Some dismiss the idea of a Finn Balor/Brock Lesnar match as not being believable. But this is the same company that just made Jinder Mahal one of their top champions. The key is not to stretch the audience’s suspension of disbelief too far. I don’t see that being an issue here. How good did Brock vs. CM Punk ended up being?

Finn Balor def. Karl Anderson. From bell to bell, Balor always looks like a star. But Karl Anderson is so underrated. He’s spent so much time as the fall guy for his tag team that people don’t realize just how talented he is. It’s always nice to see his singles game.

They’ve been dancing around this Bullet Club stuff for a few weeks. I’d love to see a program between Balor, Gallows, and Anderson. But considering Gallows and Anderson’s status as a tag team, and how big a singles star Finn Balor is, would that work?

Sasha Banks def. Alicia Fox. There’s been some buzz about Sasha losing to Alicia last week because Vince McMahon isn’t high on her, and thinks she’s injury prone. I don’t know that I buy that. I wasn’t happy seeing Alicia beat Sasha either. But this just comes off as them needing to find something for Sasha to do while she’s not in the title picture.

In a pre-taped promo, Goldust declares: “The Golden age is back.” As a longtime fan, I loved this. This is exactly how they should be using Goldust. Let people see just how unique this character can be. He’s so more than just a dude in makeup.

Kalisto def. Apollo Crews. A little surprised to see Kalisto get another win here. He might actually want to take Titus O’Neil up on becoming part of the Titus Brand. He could try and leach some of Titus’ charisma.

Matt Hardy def. Sheamus to decide the stipulation for the title match at Extreme Rules. The Tag Champions will defend in a Steel Cage Match. Corey Graves called Cesaro the “Swiss Cyborg” during this match. I actually like that name bettie than Swiss Superman. They should use that.

I thought we’d get another Ladder Match with these two at the pay per view. But a Cage Match changes things up, and hopefully it’ll leave these guys with less wear and tear.

Austin Aries def. Tony Nese. Neville to defend against Aries in a Submission Match at Extreme Rules. Look for Aries’ knee to be part of the story at Extreme Rules. I’d love to see him get the belt. But if he doesn’t, I say we go to Akira Tozawa as the next challenger for Neville.

Alexa Bliss def. Mickie James, wallops her with a kendo stick. Great facial expressions from Alexa here. I like that they’re playing up the damage a kendo stick can do. I’m still not a fan of the Kendo Stick on a Pole stipulation, but at least they’re making the stick mean something.

Bray Wyatt and Samoa Joe def. Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins. Can we get another Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe match? Those guys are both dynamic, explosive, and they hit hard. Something about those Samoans…

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