A Roman Reigns Heel Turn? Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

If Roman is turning heel, however…

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

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

Ponderings From Smackdown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Randy Orton’s Refusal, and Other Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

Emmalina, WWE Raw, February 13, 2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

After Raw’s confusing Emmalina debut, details have started to emerge as to why we saw what we saw.

Pro Wrestling Sheet reports that the Emmalina character was supposed to be “throwback to characters like Sable and The Kat.” But the real-life Tenille Dashwood allegedly wasn’t impressing in rehearsals. She “wasn’t committing enough to the role.”

That’s…fair enough. If she couldn’t pull it off, then they did what they felt they had to do. But this whole thing seemed ill-conceived from the start. First and foremost, Dashwood was miscast in a character like this. The verbal aspect of pro wrestling has never been her strong suit. She should have been given more time to develop her mic skills before they went this way with her.

To that one might say that the verbal skills of someone like Sable were nothing to write home about. This is true. But Sable was also able to be sexual in a way that Emmalina would never get to be. Let’s be honest, Sable and the Kat were stars because they were hot and they showed a lot of skin. When you look at it that way, I’m not sure how you’d create a throwback to that era anyway. Lots of sexy photoshoots? I don’t get it.

Emma, WWEAs a performer, you are responsible for making your character work. The example I always think of when that comes up is Goldust. Dustin Runnels embodied that character and made it work in a way no one else could. But did a character like Bastion Booger ever have a chance? How about Mantaur? Or Beaver Cleavage?

Bottom line: Sometimes you’re the victim of a bad idea. I just hope Emma gets another shot. She’s talented enough, and she deserves it.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

WWE Champion Bray Wyatt opens the show. John Cena and AJ Styles interrupt. Daniel Bryan makes the main event a triple-threat for the WWE Championship. Somebody needed to remind these folks that Bray is supposed to be a heel. Those “You deserve it!” chants were pretty damn loud. I’m tellin’ ya, there’s a huge upside to Bray Wyatt becoming a babyface in the near future. Especially now that he’s the champion.

American Alpha def. The Ascension. The Usos challenge the champions. I wondered if they’d actually give the win to the Ascension here. They’ve been slightly re-emphasized these last few weeks. But of course, the Usos will make for a better match.

dean-ambrose-baron-corbin-wwe-smackdown-february-14-2017Baron Corbin brawls with Dean Ambrose before his match with James Ellsworth. Ambrose gets layed out on production equipment. It occurred to me during this segment that a decade ago, the fans might have been chanting “Slut!” at Carmella. I’m split on whether that’s something I miss.

What we saw here, combined with what we got at Elimination Chamber, gives me high hopes for this Ambrose/Corbin program. Ambrose can do a lot to help build Corbin. But here’s my question: Does Corbin need the Intercontinental Title? Questionable mic skills notwithstanding, he seems like he’s on track to main event status without it.

Nikki Bella to face Natalya in a Falls Count Anywhere Match next week. While the match these two had at Elimination Chamber was largely a bore, it had its moments. I’ve enjoyed this program the most when they’ve had those knock-down, drag-out fights. So this should be good.

Mickie James def. Becky Lynch. Some nice mat work early on here. I’d go as far as to say that while Charlotte and Sasha Banks may be better all around performers, Becky Lynch is the best pure grappler of the “Four Horsewomen.” I imagine that comes with being the most experienced. She made her in-ring debut in 2002.

becky-lynch-wwe-smackdown-february-14-2017I wasn’t a fan of James losing at Elimination Chamber. But I assume this win will lead to a rubber match with Becky in the near future. Perhaps they didn’t want her losing two straight matches? Maybe I’m overthinking it…

Renee Young interviews the new Smackdown Women’s Champion Naomi. Alexa Bliss interrupts, announces she’ll invoke her rematch clause next week. Naomi mentioned it’s taken her eight years to get to where she is now. It’s hard to believe she’s been around that long. But she signed her development deal in 2009. She didn’t make it to Raw and Smackdown until 2012.

I wanted Alexa to be angrier here. She did just lose her title, after all. Next week’s match is a toss-up as far as I’m concerned. These Women’s Championships have been changing hands so frequently, it’s seemingly anybody’s ball game.

Bray Wyatt def. John Cena and AJ Styles in a No-Disqualificaiton Match to retain the WWE Championship. Luke Harper attacks Wyatt before the match. I’ll admit, I got a little nervous when Harper attacked. They might have used that attack to justify a title change.

You’ll notice they’ve already started talking about Cena breaking Ric Flair’s record. To their credit, Mauro Ranallo and JBL did a nice job of playing that up, and making this seem that much bigger. It’s going to happen, folks. Maybe not this year. But it’ll happen.

randy-orton-bray-wyatt-wwe-smackdown-february-14-2017With all the near falls and false finishes, this felt like a mini-pay-per-view match. Happy to see Bray win clean here, just as he did in the Chamber Match on Sunday. It further cements him as the top guy on Smackdown right now.

Randy Orton refuses to challenge Bray Wyatt for the title at Wrestlemania. On Talking Smack, Daniel Bryan makes a battle royal for next week to determine the top contender for WrestlemaniaThis is a nice little twist in the road. I still fully expect Randy Orton to be in the WWE Title Match at Wrestlemania. But now we may end up with a three-way on our hands. At the very least, I imagine the winner of this battle royal will challenge for the title on an episode of Smackdown some time next month.

While AJ Styles still has no dance partner for Wrestlemania, and this spot could easily go to him, I think this is Luke Harper’s spot. He turned a lot of heads at Elimination Chamber, and they could bill this match as “The Wyatt Family Implodes,” or something like that.

Between this battle royal, the Women’s Title Match, and what I assume will be the Nikki vs. Natalya blow-off, they’ve stacked the card for next week’s show. I’ve got high hopes.

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Cena vs. Orton at Wrestlemania? Plus Ponderings From Smackdown

Randy Orton vs. John CenaBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

John Cena defending the WWE Championship against Randy Orton at Wrestlemania? After so many years, and so many matches, it almost seems unthinkable they’d go to that well again.

Chances are they won’t. We’ve got Elimination Chamber in two weeks, and Wrestlemania is still two months away. So there’s lots of time to change things up. The smart bet is Orton challenging Bray Wyatt, who many are speculating will win the Chamber Match. While putting the title on Bray seems sudden, that match is undeniably more attractive.

But there is the 15th anniversary element to think of. As WWE highlighted in a post Royal Rumble press release this week, 2017 marks Orton and Cena’s 15th anniversary in the company. They could market the match around that. To be fair, these two have put on some great performances together. It’s entirely possible they’d have another.

But that Wrestlemania crowd would boo them out of the building, just like they did Roman Reigns and Triple H last year. Putting Orton and Wyatt together is the right move.

But who does that leave for Cena…?

WWE Elimination Chamber 2017, John CenaPonderings From Smackdown:

John Cena to defend the WWE Championship in an Elimination Chamber Match against AJ Styles, Bray Wyatt, Baron Corbin, The Miz, and Dean Ambrose. This was more or less what I thought the match would be. I originally thought Bray would be doing something with Orton and Luke Harper. But obviously Orton’s Rumble Match win changed all that.

Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton interrupt John Cena at the top of the show. Luke Harper comes to Cena’s aid. The Wyatt Family wins the subsequent tag match. Lots of interesting stuff here. Not the least of which is Cena getting pinned after an RKO. They’re keeping Orton strong, and getting people thinking about Orton and Cena. Again, I doubt that’s the direction they’ll go. But I put nothing past these people.

After what happened at the Royal Rumble, it looks like Harper has indeed separated himself from Bray. I like the idea of him fighting Bray’s influence despite his defection. The impetus is now on WWE, and obviously Harper himself, to distinguish himself a little more. When they broke up the Wyatts before, Harper essentially stayed the same. He can’t do that this time. We need to break some new ground.

Carmella def. Delilah Doom. Yes, I know she was called Delilah Dawson on the show. But she wrestles on the indies as Delilah Doom. I adore this girl’s look. WWE doesn’t have anybody like her. She’s welcome back any time as far as I’m concerned.

Kalisto, Dolph Ziggler, WWE Smackdown, January 31, 2017Dolph Ziggler def. Kalisto. Apollo Crews comes to Kalisto’s rescue again after the match. I assume the Ziggler/Crews match will finally happen at Elimination Chamber. I’ve actually got a bad taste in my mouth when it comes to Crews. I rolled my eyes when he came out at number 22 in the Royal Rumble Match. At that point, we were waiting for guys like Undertaker and Goldberg. Apollo Crews, who’s been cold as ice for months now, was not the guy to send out that late in the match. It almost reminded me of when Rey Mysterio Jr. came out last in the 2015 Rumble, when everyone was desperately hoping for Daniel Bryan.

Naomi and Becky Lynch def. Alexa Bliss and Mickie James. I’d have made Mickie’s first match back more of a big deal than this. She’s was on the losing end of two tag matches this week, the first of which took place on the Royal Rumble pre-show. Granted, she didn’t lose either fall. But what the hell? Why not have Mickie make her return against Becky at Elimination Chamber?

Naomi is obviously Alexa’s next challenger, having pinned her twice in the same week. This spotlight has been a long time coming for her. If you follow her Twitter, you know she’s felt underutilized for quite awhile. I don’t see her winning the title. But then again, I didn’t see Alexa taking it from Becky. Stranger things have happened.

WWE Smackdown, January 31, 2017, American Alpha, The UsosNumerous teams attempt to accept an open challenge from American Alpha. We now have a Tag Team Turmoil Match featuring the Vaudevillians, Breezango, the Ascension, Heath Slater and Rhyno, and the Usos at Elimination Chamber. That’s fine by me. It feels like it’s been awhile since we’ve seen the Usos. I don’t think they’ve quite gotten the hang of their new heel personas yet. They seem underdeveloped.

AJ Styles def. Dean Ambrose. At one point during this match we had Mauro Ranallo, JBL, David Otunga, the Miz, and Baron Corbin all on commentary. Of course, nowadays they usually have Tom Phillips on headset to chime in whenever they’re transitioning to something new. So he was just awkwardly sitting there the whole time. It’s so crowded at that table that JBL tripped over all the equipment on live TV last week. Once Corbin got there, I just hit the mute button. It was all too much.

The problem I had with the Styles/Ambrose pairing a few months ago was that we were seeing them wrestle too often. But they’ve always had good chemistry, and usually they deliver. This was no exception. After his stellar performance with Cena at the Royal Rumble, AJ Styles is more valuable to WWE than ever. Now that he’s lost the title, I’m hoping he doesn’t get lost in the shuffle as we move toward Wrestlemania. As much as anyone, he’s earned a chance to shine on the company’s biggest stage.

Neither Raw nor Smackdown were kind to their champions this week. Our WWE Heavyweight, United States, and Intercontinental Champions were all pinned, as were both Womens Champions. That’s astounding, the more I think about it.

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The John Cena Brand, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

john_cena_nickelodeonBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

First the Today show, then the ESPYs, then the Teen Choice Awards, then Saturday Night Live, now the Kids Choice Awards. Instead of being “the face that runs the place,” John Cena should be the “host that does the most.”

Indeed, Cena will host Nickelodeon’s annual Kid’s Choice Awards on March 11, just a few weeks before Wrestlemania. But it’s seemingly becoming less and less about wrestling for Cena. We’ve always known he had major crossover appeal. Every bit as much as Hulk Hogan or Steve Austin. Perhaps even the Rock. That’s one of the things WWE looks for in their top guys. But in 2016, the demand for Cena outside the squared circle was higher than ever.

Things don’t seem to be slowing down, either. In the last several months, he’s had critical opportunities to define the John Cena “brand” for mainstream America. Consider all the different demographics he’s reached via ESPN, the Today show and Saturday Night Live on NBC, Trainwreck with Amy Schumer, American Grit on Fox, and now Nickelodeon. Simply put, he’s everywhere.

John Cena, NBCFor WWE, this is good news. Yes, we’re bound to see far less of Cena on their TV shows. But he’s also one of the best ambassadors they’ve ever had. He’s handsome, charismatic, and legitimately entertaining when given the right material. He’s a guy you would want synonymous with your company.

Eventually, the Rock outgrew WWE. The Dwayne Johnson brand became as big, if not bigger, than the company he wrestled for. At this point, WWE is still very much woven into the fabric of the John Cena brand. So until he leaves the nest on a more permanent basis, what’s good for Cena is good for WWE.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Randy Orton def. Luke Harper. Bray Wyatt hits Sister Abigail on Harper after the match. Nice match. We may now have one less Wyatt Family member.

WWE has tried to break Harper out on his own before. He even got a brief Intercontinental Title reign out of it. But he wasn’t able to carve out a distinct identity for himself. He was essentially a drifting Wyatt Family member. That’s why it felt so right when they eventually put the group back together. If this is another go at a singles run for him, they can’t repeat the same mistakes.

Mickie James, WWE Smackdown, January 24, 2017Mickie James explains her actions as La Luchadora. She and Alexa Bliss lay out Becky Lynch. I love Mickie. I really do. But when she started rattling off her resume, it screamed “scripted promo.” Most of this stuff is scripted, obviously. But that just made it painfully obvious.

I do appreciate her spicing up the delivery, though. Her character motivation makes sense. With all this talk of a women’s revolution, she feels forgotten. And I’ll admit, I got a little chill when Becky’s music hit, and she talked right over it. “Don’t cry about last week, honey! Get in this ring and I’ll give you something to cry about!” Damn!

One minor complaint: When Becky was down in the ring, Alexa gave her a little kick in the side. She didn’t even register it. Maybe lay that in a little more next time. But overall, some pretty good stuff here.

Carmella takes James Ellsworth shopping for a new wardrobe. These talking segments still aren’t Ellsworth’s strong point. But Carmella’s got a lot of charisma, and I appreciate the idea. It’s always good to break up the monotony. I’ll admit, I chuckled at Ellsworth wearing a turtleneck.

Mojo Rawley, January 24, 2017Mojo Rawley wins a 10-man Over the Top Rope Challenge to earn a spot in the Royal Rumble Match. Mojo Rawley caught a bad break when Zack Ryder got hurt. It’s cool that they’re testing the waters with him. But who is this guy? All I really know is he was Zack Ryder’s tag partner in NXT.

This is the first time we’ve seen Heath Slater in awhile. They need to find something for him to do. The team with Rhyno has run its course. But he can still contribute as a single.

They had Baron Corbin out there on commentary. He’s improving, but the Earth didn’t move for me on this one.

AJ Styles calls out John Cena. It found it hilarious that AJ talked about his placement on the Royal Rumble poster. I actually saw a few Twitter trolls complaining about that. It’s not entirely unjustified. But it’s a multi-man Royal Rumble poster that has the four biggest stars (Undertaker, Goldberg, Brock Lesnar, and Cena) in the front. Even the mighty Roman Reigns didn’t make the front row. Get over it.

Oddly enough, I was actually watching that Today show episode as it aired. I rarely get to see it. But Cena happened to be on, and I caught that AJ Styles mention. I even tweeted about it. Because, you know, I tweet about things…

What can I say? I was tickled. Other than that, this was pretty much your standard Cena vs. Indy Guy promo. Not thrilled to see AJ stunned speechless at the end. Especially since there’s a good chance Cena’s walking out with the belt on Sunday.

Dolph Ziggler def. Kalisto. Apollo Crews saves Kalisto from another chair attack by Ziggler. Loved Kalisto dodging the clothesline with a backflip. That’s pretty much all I can say about this one, as it ended so quickly. I imagine we’ll see Ziggler vs. Crews sooner than later. Unless they want to do it at Elimination Chamber. But that seems unlikely. They’ll probably need Dolph for the chamber.

Naomi reemerges, places herself in the hunt for the Smackdown Women’s Title. Happy to see Naomi back on television. She’s clearly been hungry for awhile now, and she’s got so many athletic gifts. She deserves her shot.

Dean Ambrose, WWE Smackdown, January 24, 2017Dean Ambrose def. the Miz in a Lumberjack Match to retain the Intercontinental Championship. On the infographic they showed when Ambrose came out, he had two accomplishments listed: “Founding member of the Shield” and “Defeated the Miz for the Intercontinental Championship.” We’ve been getting Shield mentions every week on Raw, and Smackdown hasn’t been shy about bringing them up either. WWE really wants the Shield near the front of everyone’s mind. I imagine that’s because they want some of those fond memories to rub off on Roman Reigns. But it also doesn’t hurt to plant seeds for their inevitable reunion.

I was pleased to hear “Let’s go Ambrose!” chants during this match. Ambrose was starting to hear boos when he was programmed with AJ Styles. I’d like to think that had more to do with the love fans have for Styles than any disdain they developed for Ambrose. He’s such an eccentric talent, and one of my favorite guys to watch.

Just like they keep talking about Cena going for Heavyweight Title number 16, Mauro Ranallo kept hyping the idea of Miz being a seven-time Intercontinental Champion. Do they want him to break Jericho’s record of nine? Or is that just Mauro being an informed announcer? We’re not necessarily used to those…

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Roman Reigns and the US Title, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

Roman Reigns, United State ChampionBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There’s going to be some talk about the Miz and the Intercontinental Title this week. So as long as we’re on the subject of secondary titles, let’s talk about the US Championship. And with it, everyone’s favorite person: Roman Reigns.

I’m not sure exactly why the decision was made to put the US Title on Reigns. I can only assume it had something to do with keeping him out of the main event scene following his suspension. You also had the added bonus of elevating the title by putting it on a top guy. They did the exact same thing with John Cena and the US Championship in 2015. Cena, of course had great matches as part of his “US Open” challenge segments.

I’m not a big Roman Reigns fan. And at this point, I could take or leave him as US Champion. I was all for putting the belt on Chris Jericho this week. But I also think it’s unfair to compare the attempt to elevate the title with Reigns to what was done with Cena. The stuff with Reigns started as an attempt to turn a pretty big lemon into lemonade. They were making the best of a bad situation. With Cena it seemed like a more concentrated attempt to not just elevate the title, but give him something new to do each week. With Cena, the belt was a priority. With Reigns, it’s a byproduct.

I do, however, think Reigns has run his course as US Champ. The question is, who do you put the belt on now? Putting it on Jericho would be fine, but that’s almost a lateral move. He doesn’t need the belt any more than Reigns does. They could always give it back to Rusev, I suppose.

Hey, is Sami Zayn done with Braun Strowman now? It seems like he might need something to do…

The Miz, Maryse, WWE Smackdown, January 3, 2016Ponderings From Smackdown:

The Miz demands an apology from Renee Young, gets Dean Ambrose instead. Maryse slaps Ambrose. I haven’t had a chance to talk about this Miz/Renee Young stuff yet. Simply put: I love it. They’re blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, as the best wrestling angles often do. Plus, Young is so easy to like, and Miz is so easy to hate. It’s made for some really interesting television. I loved the line about how she “sacrificed her journalistic integrity for dirty deeds with Dean Ambrose.”

Baron Corbin def. Dolph Ziggler. Kalisto saves Ziggler from further punishment, but Ziggler surprises him with a superkick. While he may still lack sufficient mic skills, this is the second consecutive week Corbin has been in a really good match. You obviously can’t discount the skills of Dolph Ziggler, who was in there with him both times. But credit where credit is due.

It looks like Dolph is finally turning heel. Long overdue. I’m excited for what we’ll see from him in the next few weeks.

Becky Lynch def. La Luchadora. During the match, Alexa Bliss pulls a switcheroo, entering the ring in a La Luchadora costume. Rumor has it Mickie James will be the one under the La Luchadora mask. Reportedly it’s NXT talent Deonna Purrazzo that’s actually been under the mask these past few weeks. I’m not sure they need to go that route to bring Mickie back. Clearly a lot of fans remember her. But it’s a fine pay off.

WWE Smackdown, January 3, 2017, AJ Styles, John CenaAJ Styles and John Cena sign the contract for their WWE Title Match at the Royal Rumble. Baron Corbin comes out to announce he’s in the Royal Rumble Match. This was another one of those segments where somebody comes at Cena hard, blurring a bit of truth into what they say, and then Cena comes back with a big rah-rah speech. It’s always a fine segment. But it’s nothing too special. As we’ve seen, Cena and Styles do their best talking from bell to bell.

 Carmella def. Aliyah. So the story with Carmella and James Ellsworth will obviously end with her turning on him and breaking his heart. From a character standpoint, that’s fine. But Ellsworth is not good at the acting side of things. Nothing with depth to it, at least. Best case scenario is this gives him a chance to sharpen up.

American Alpha def. Breezango. A tag title rematch with the Wyatt Family is announced for next week.  I was blown away to see Jason Jordan and Chad Gable win the Smackdown tag belts last week. These guys were always going to be tag champs. I just expected they’d wait a little longer. Zack Ryder’s knee injury obviously sped things up. They even got to pin Randy Orton with their finish! I don’t expect the Wyatts to regain the belts next week either.

Nikki Bella and Natalya trade insults in the ring. I keep coming back to the notion of blurred lines between fantasy and reality. In this segment Nattie said things that a lot of fans have said for years about Nikki getting opportunities because of her looks. Nikki fired back with some intriguing stuff about Nattie using her family’s legacy to get ahead. They ended it with a corny line about dying alone. But this was good stuff.

Natalya, Nikki Bella, WWE Smackdown, January 3, 2017I’ve harped on quite a bit about scripted promos lately. I’m not sure how scripted this was. But there’s always something to be said for good writing, and the writing on this show has stepped up significantly.

Dean Ambrose def. the Miz to win the Intercontinental Title. Miz snaps on Talking SmackThere are two schools of thought here. I’ll give you both…

Initially, I felt the same way about this that I felt about Dolph Ziggler beating Miz for the belt at No Mercy. Miz and Marise’s presentation is better with that Intercontinental Title, and chances are they’ll give it right back to Miz anyway. So why bother beating him for it?

On the other hand, look at what they did on Talking Smack, with Miz talking about Ambrose getting the title match because of Daniel Bryan’s friendship with Renee Young. Miz got a little bit silly at the end. But you can see how that character believes he’s right. He’s not the best wrestler, but in so many ways Miz is the most interesting character on Smackdown right now. Maybe in WWE altogether.

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John Cena’s SNL Gig, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

John Cena, NBCBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Don’t kid yourselves, folks. John Cena hosting Saturday Night Live this week is a huge deal. He’s only the third WWE wrestler to do it. The first was Hulk Hogan in 1984. The second was the Rock in 2000. Now we have Cena in 2016. So this only happens about once in a generation. It’s one of the few accolades Cena hasn’t achieved yet, and now he’s got it. It’s almost like a rite of passage from WWE into Hollywood.

We seem to have officially reached the point with John Cena that the Rock was at in the early-2000s. He always had tremendous crossover appeal. That’s part of what made him the megastar that he is. But now he’s officially splitting his time between WWE and outside ventures. Ironically, this was part of the basis for the Rock/Cena feud a few years ago. WWE could very well do the same kind of thing in a few years with Cena, and whoever they want to take his spot. Roman Reigns seems like the likely candidate.

But while fans turned on the Rock for his Hollywood ambitions, it seems like it’s having the opposite effect on Cena. The last few times he’s appeared on Smackdown, the fans have been a little warmer toward him. He’s been shoved down our throats so much in the last decade. It’s almost comical that absence seems to be making the collective fandom’s heart grow fonder. I won’t lie, I’m looking forward to Cena coming back to Smackdown.

Man oh man…I’ve become such a jaded internet fan that I’m actually cheering for John Cena. What have I become?

WWE Smackdown, December 6, 2016Ponderings From Smackdown:

AJ Styles announces he will not defend his title against James Ellsworth in the main event. Dean Ambrose lays out Ellsworth. Are they gradually shifting to an AJ Styles babyface turn? I’d like to think so. Outside of calling the fans “gullible geeks,” he was more or less neutral here. They’d need to reshuffle the deck a bit in terms of babyfaces and heels. But Styles is a natural babyface, in my opinion. It won’t be hard to get the fans to cheer him again.

Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt def. Heath Slater and Rhyno to retain the Smackdown Tag Team Titles. Jim Ross tweeted this week that Orton, Wyatt, and Luke Harper “can all become character babyfaces akin to the Attitude Era. Easily.” I can’t disagree. Loved the setup for Sister Abigail into the RKO. They may have really stumbled on to something with these two.

Natalya vs. Carmella erupted into a brawl. I had originally pegged Natalya to be behind Nikki’s attack at Survivor Series. But one name I hadn’t considered is Eva Marie, who may be returning soon. The prospect of a Nikki Bella/Eva Marie match doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. But that’s what DVRs are for.

The Hype Bros def. The Ascension. More or less a filler match. I can’t see either of these teams as suitable challengers to the Wyatt Family. On the other hand, American Alpha doesn’t seem to be in the title hunt right now. So maybe the Hype Bros kill some time with the Wyatts in the next few weeks.

WWE Smackdown, December 6, 2016, Dean Ambrose, Miz, MaryseDean Ambrose appears on Miz TV. Daniel Bryan makes an Intercontinental Title Match between the two for the main event. By God, they gave Ambrose the “You deserve it“ chant for the Miz’s little participation award. Say what you will about Miiz, but he’s one of the best heels they have right now. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I don’t know why they gave the IC belt to Ziggler in the first place. He’s as valuable now as he’s ever been, maybe more.

Baron Corbin def. Kalisto. Nice little sequence into the End of Days. Thankful this match didn’t overstay it’s welcome. These two have developed some nice chemistry, though. It was fun.

Baron Corbin on Sportscenter? I might actually watch that. I’d like to see how he talks when he’s not trying to memorize dialogue.

Chad Gable def. Tyler Breeze. Would like to have seen these two get a little more time. Both Breeze and Fandango are great talents. But Breezango is a bottom-of-the-card act. They’re not toiling at the Ascension’s level. But close.

Becky Lynch interrupts Alexa Bliss’ championship celebration. Isn’t there an implied ugliness with the name “Wicked Witch?” Alexa Bliss is many things, but ugly isn’t one.

Alexa Bliss, WWE Smackdown, December 6, 2016Both ladies seemed to be struggling with their dialogue a little bit. They rolled through it, though. At least they didn’t have to talk about wrestling at Roadblock: End of the Line.

The Miz def. Dean Ambrose to retain his Intercontinental Title after an accidental distraction from James Ellsworth. We’ve seen these two wrestle a bunch of times. So there wasn’t a lot of novelty in seeing these two in the main event, even with the title on the line. Ambrose is always quality in the ring, though.

So what happens with Ambrose and Ellsworth now? They’re apparently trying to have Ellsworth keep on foot in bumbling babyface territory. So do you have them wrestle on TV in the next couple of weeks? I don’t see Ellsworth magically becoming competitive. So is this a ticket to a Dean Ambrose heel turn? Does he go too far and beat the holy hell out of Ellsworth? What happens next?

That’s a good question, isn’t it? That’s what you want to be asking. What happens next?

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A WWE TLC 2016 Preview, Plus Ponderings From the 205 Live Premiere

Rich Swann, WWE 205 Live, November 29, 2016By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I can’t say I expected Rich Swann to win the Cruiserweight Title from Brian Kendrick on this week’s premiere of 205 Live. But it makes sense. You draw attention to your new show with a new champion. It’s obviously good that they’re fleshing Swann out a little bit. They obviously see him as a solid commodity. Still, there’s a decent chance Kendrick wins it back. There’s still value in having an experienced hand like him work with younger talent.

This was the first time I’d see the Bollywood Boyz work. They’ve got a unique presentation, and hopefully they’ll have some staying power. Another unique dude I’m seeing for the first time is Jack Gallagher. I can’t say I’ve seen anyone with quite the suave sort of swagger he has. He’d be a welcome sight on Raw for sure. The national audience needs to see this guy.

Seeing Austin Aries at the announce table was a pleasant surprise, though it saddens me that we’ve got yet another three-man announce team. I’ve seen a decent amount of his work, but I hadn’t made the connection that he’d be eligible for the cruiserweight division. Very interesting. This might be his window to the main roster.

Jack Gallagher, WWE 205 Live, November 29, 2016On the down side, we didn’t see a lot of the high flying stuff the Cruiserweights are associated with. We haven’t seen much of it on Raw, either. Obviously these guys are all great athletes. They’ve been able to carve out a little bit of a niche on the main roster. But it almost seems like they’re being directed to slow down. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it’s to their advantage to be able to distinguish themselves from everyone else, and carve out their own distinct brand. That’s something we haven’t see on Raw yet, and we didn’t see it here.

Moving on to TLC, let’s go to predictions…

WWE TLC 2016, Baron Corbin, KalistoCHAIRS MATCH:
Baron Corbin vs. Kalisto

Ah yes, the fabled Chairs Match. Made famous by the likes of…um…? Yeah, I don’t know why they still do these. On the upside, maybe Kalisto will pull out an awesome chair spot.

They’re still trying to make Corbin into a big deal, so he’ll probably take this one. I’m still not buying what I see from this guy. But bless their hearts, they’re trying.

PREDICTION: Baron Corbin

WWE TLC 2016, Nikki Bella, CarmellaNO DISQUALIFICATION MATCH:
Nikki Bella vs. Carmella

I’m curious to see what these girls turn in. They’ve got a hell of an act to follow after Charlotte and Sasha on Raw. The story coming out of Survivor Series was that somebody attacked Nikki before the big women’s match. I’m assuming that person was Natalya, and that she interferes here to cost Nikki the match. From there, we transition into a Becky Lynch vs. Carmella program, and Nikki and Natalya can work. I can only assume the plan going forward is to do Becky vs. Nikki around Wrestlemania. It may not make the actual Wrestlemania card. But then again, given how long Wrestlemania was last year, you never know.

PREDICTION: Carmella

WWE TLC 2016, Bray Wyatt, Randy Orton, Heath Slater, RhynoWWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
Heath Slater & Rhyno (c) vs. Bray Wyatt & Randy Orton

They could put the belts on Bray and Randy, I suppose. But more likely this is the night Randy pulls the trigger and turns on the Wyatt Family. I don’t think we need to see more creepy segments between these two. But chances are that’s what we’re getting.

I’ve got to say, I did not expect Slater and Rhyno to still be champions at this point. Actually, I didn’t think they’d be champions in the first place. They’re this weird little misfit team that’s managed to stay on top for months now. Good for them, though I’m curious to see if Slater ever gets to challenge for the Intercontinental Title. He and Miz might do some fun stuff.

PREDICTION: Heath Slater & Rhyno

WWE TLC 2016, Alexa Bliss, Becky LynchTABLES MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE:
Becky Lynch (c) vs. Alexa Bliss

Out of the three ladies that came up from NXT during the draft (the others being Carmella and Nia Jax), I would argue Alexa has progressed the most. The’s not as polished as a Becky, Charlotte, or Sasha Banks. But she can go. Her charisma has also made her a real player.

That being said, it’s not her time yet. If Becky had needed to go away for a little bit in October, Alexa could have been a transitional champion. But she’s not ready for a run yet. She will be, though. Just give her time.

PREDICTION: Becky Lynch

WWE TLC 2016, The Miz, Dolph ZigglerLADDER MATCH FOR WWE INTERCONINENTAL TITLE:
The Miz (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler

After Monday’s Raw, I wrote about the Charlotte/Sasha program potentially wearing out its welcome. The only reason it hasn’t is because of the quality of the matches they’ve put together, and the ground-breaking nature of what they’re doing. Miz and Ziggler, however, have worn out their welcome. This thing should have been over at No Mercy. Ziggler could have gone away for a little bit, and come back refreshed. Instead they put the title on him, only to give it right back to Miz. Now, both these guys are more or less back where they started.

Ironically, these two have the same problem that Charlotte and Sasha do: A lack of roster depth. Who do these two wrestle if not each other? The only person that comes to mind is Luke Harper. But he’s busy with Orton and Wyatt at the moment.

So here we are again. Miz and Ziggler on a pay per view. At this point, I say let Miz keep it. He was doing fine before.

PREDICTION: The Miz

AJ Styles, Dean Ambrose, WWE TLC 2016TLC MATCH FOR WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Dean Ambrose

Despite having lost to James Ellsworth multiple times, AJ Styles is the closest thing WWE has to a dominant heavyweight champion right now. Considering he wasn’t even on the roster a year ago, that really says something. He’s beaten John Cena, he’s beaten Dean Ambrose, and he’s going to beat Ambrose yet again here.

Like Miz and Ziggler, Styles and Ambrose have struggled from a lack of roster depth. Week after week it’s like they have nothing to do but either wrestle each other, or Ellsworth. I assume Ellsworth will have some kind of role here. My hope is that he somehow fouls up and costs Ambrose the title, prompting a slightly overdue heel turn by Ambrose. But does that leave Smackdown without a top babyface? Not necessarily…

Rumors have been swirling about a possible AJ Styles vs. Undertaker match at the Royal Rumble. If there was ever a time for ‘Taker to make his latest comeback, it’s now. They need him for the Alamo Dome, and they need something new on Smackdown. It’s obviously a short term solution. But AJ Styles/Undertaker is a rare dream match scenario. More than Goldberg/Lesnar was, in my opinion. And another stellar performance from Styles, with an icon like Undertaker, would be decent fodder for a babyface turn. Ironically, the best candidate to be Smackdown‘s top babyface is currently in the top heel position.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

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