The Silent Wrestlemania Recap – Undertaker and AJ Steal the Show!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Well, alright then. Wrestlemania XXXVI (or as I call it, “The Silent Wrestlemania” happened.

Was it weird? Definitely. Awkward at times? Oh  yeah. But was it bad? No. Not even remotely.

I tweeted this yesterday, and I’ll reiterate it here: I think the world needs Wrestlemania now more than ever. So as long as it was done on a volunteer basis, Vince McMahon was right to carry on with the show in whatever form it took.

So thank you to all the wrestlers, producers, crew members, and everyone that made these shows possible.

Night One

Cesaro def. Drew Gulak.
Admittedly, I didn’t see this one. Was busy during the pre-show. But hey, technically Cesaro got a singles match at Wrestlemania. A win at that.

Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross def. The Kabuki Warriors to win the WWE Women’s Tag Team Titles.
Was surprised they kicked off the main card with this one. Not sure if they’d have gone that route if there was a crowd. But they put on a good match.

As far as I know, Asuka and Kairi Sane were the first wrestlers of the evening to play to a crowd that wasn’t there. Since Asuka did commentary on Raw that night, it seems like these two have been asked to be louder and more obnoxious. If that’s the case, they were successful.

Elias def. King Corbin.
True story: I fell asleep during this match. No disrespect to either man. It had been a long day. I went back and watched it though. Went a little long. At least Elias actually had a match at Wrestlemania, as opposed to in-ring skits. Then again, both those skits were with John Cena. Maybe he was better off before…

Becky Lynch def. Shayna Baszler to retain the WWE Raw Women’s Title.
Good match. Wrong finish.

The psychology was right in this one. It felt like a fight. Loved the spot where Shayna whipped her head-first into the announce table. But ultimately, Shayna lost to a version of the Bret Hart “pin yourself by not releasing the hold” spot. It’s a good spot. It’s just a shame Baszler has already lost a big match to that same pinning combo. Yup, Kairi Sane beat Shayna for the NXT Women’s Title almost the exact same way at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn IV.

Between this loss, the way she lost (though that’s minor in the grand scheme of things), and the fact that an alleged killer like her couldn’t win the Women’s Royal Rumble at the number 30 spot, Shayna does not look good coming out of this.

The upside? Becky continues to dominate. Plus, my guess is these two aren’t done. And there’s plenty of room for Shayna to get even more vicious.

Sami Zayn def. Daniel Bryan to retain the WWE Intercontinental Title.
These two were the first to really take advantage of the fact that we could actually hear the wrestlers talking to one another. That played to Sami’s strengths as an annoying heel. In the end, the right guy won. There’s still a lot Sami can do as the Intercontinental Champion.

You’ve got to wonder what Shinsuke Nakamura was thinking. It wasn’t long ago that he was challenging for the WWE Heavyweight Championship at this show…

John Morrison def. Kofi Kingston and Jimmy Uso to retain the WWE Smackdown Tag Team Titles.
I give these three a hell of a lot of credit for doing a spot-fest like this without any fans in the arena. It just wasn’t the same without the crowd reactions. Although those ladder shots did sound that much more painful.

Creative finish with John Morrison plummeting to his doom, albeit with the titles in hand. Fitting for the weirdest tag team title match in Wrestlemania history.

Kevin Owens def. Seth Rollins in a No Disqualification Match.
You can argue this was the best match of night one. (More on that in a moment.) It made Owens look like a million bucks. As Raw continues to be in need of top babyfaces, that’s the best outcome they could have hoped for.

Braun Strowman def. Bill Goldberg to win the WWE Universal Title.
Yeah, this sucked.

I’m pretty sure we saw a total of two moves in this entire match. The Spear from Goldberg, and the Powerslam from Strowman. I understand Goldberg is somewhat limited in what he can do, and that this match came together on short notice. But c’mon. This was the best they could put together?

In hindsight, it was silly for me to predict a Goldberg victory no matter who he was wrestling. He does short term deals. That’s his thing.

Alright. So here we have it. Braun Strowman is the Universal Champion. I’d argue it’s about two years too late. But it happened. Now it’s all about the follow up.

The Undertaker def. AJ Styles in a Boneyard Match.
Damn. He did it again. The son of a bitch did it again. The Undertaker stole the show at Wrestlemania.

He didn’t do it alone, of course. I’ve said that we’ve reached the point where they need to use smoke and mirrors to give us a quality Undertaker match. In this case, he not only had one of the best workers in the world in AJ Styles, but the entire WWE production juggernaut backing him up.

But even so, he did it again.

Before I go any further, WWE really needs to send Matt Hardy a thank you note for this one. They deny him his ability to work creatively, prompting his departure from the company. But then Undertaker and AJ Styles have a Wrestlemania match that captures the world’s imagination using the cinematic style he essentially pioneered.

I suppose whether you call this the show-stealer depends on your definition of what a wrestling match is. Jim Cornette, for instance, would not call this a wrestling match. The cinematic presentation, the music, the special effects. It was more like a short film. I saw someone on Twitter last night ponder if this is the future of the wrestling business. I hope not. I say you can only get away with something like this once a year, if that. But if you can do it, and it works…

Not only did this give us back the dominant, tough-as-nails Undertaker that we’ve missed, it told a great story. My favorite part isn’t a particular spot or stunt. Rather, it’s when Undertaker has Styles, and he’s taunting him with things like, “What’s my wife’s name?” and “You wanna talk about how old I am?”

I don’t think you could have done this in an arena. In that sense, the current circumstances worked in their favor. But one way or another the Undertaker, along with AJ Styles, has stolen the show at Wrestlemania. In 2020. Who’da thunk it?

Night Two

Liv Morgan def. Natalya.
Nice moment for Liv, I suppose. Though I doubt anything comes of it.

Charlotte Flair def. Rhea Ripley to win the NXT Women’s Title.
If you don’t count Undertaker vs. AJ Styles as an actual wrestling match, then this was the best match of the weekend. It should come as a surprise to no one that Charlotte Flair is involved. For my money, her matches 2016 and 2018 were both show stealers.

What made this match stand out to me was the tension in the air. This Charlotte/Rhea thing hasn’t been going on that long. But if you came into this cold, you’d think they’d hated each other’s guts for years. There was just this nasty, hateful, vicious vibe in the ring. I loved it.

Does it suck that Rhea Ripley lost? Of course it does. But if you’ve been paying attention, you knew it was coming. Charlotte Flair is the poster girl for their “Women’s Revolution.” She was the inaugural Women’s Champion at Wrestlemania 32. She broke Asuka’s undefeated streak at Wrestlemania 34. She was shoehorned into the main event of Wrestlemania 35. Notice a pattern?

However, as I speculated, these two were able to have an amazing match. And that benefits Rhea much more than winning a standard one does. Her star is still on the rise. So have no fear.

Aleister Black def. Bobby Lashley.
What does it say about this match that the only thing I could focus on for awhile was the fact that Lashley was wearing pants instead of trunks.

Loved the closing spot here, the attempted Spear from Lashley into the Black Mass Kick for the win. As Lana was the one who called for the Spear, does that mean we’re headed for a Lashley/Lana split?

Otis def. Dolph Ziggler.
This match pulled off a rarity. It had the right ending but the wrong winner. Otis needed to get the girl in the end, and he did. I can only imagine the pop that kiss would have gotten in front of a crowd.

The problem I had with this one is that Dolph is one of the most decorated wrestlers WWE has had in the last two decades. Otis on the other hand, is a tag team wrestler who’s only recently made it to the main roster. Ziggler should have won. Perhaps by cheating. So Dolph wins the battle, but not the war.

Incidentally, why was Mandy dressed to wrestle? Was it just one of those “always bring your gear” kind of things?

Edge def. Randy Orton in a Last Man Standing Match.
I give both these guys a lot of credit for this one. They beat the absolute piss out of each other in front of ZERO fans. Lots of creativity on display here. In terms of fighting all over the performance center, this was exactly what you wanted it to be. I can’t say I disliked much of what I saw.

Having said that, I couldn’t believe they let Orton choke Edge with the gym equipment. It’s been a long time, but that absolutely screams Benoit. Especially because those Dark Side of the Ring episodes aired so recently.

That being said, we need to talk about something I’ll call the Lesnar/Goldberg principle. They might have had the best built match going into Wrestlemania 33. And it lived up to the hype. But they only needed about five minutes to deliver on that. It was quick, high impact, and about as concise as you could ask for. They stole the show that year.

My point is, just because a match has such an amazing build doesn’t mean it needs to go 30 to 45 minutes. Whether a match is good or not usually has nothing to do with it’s length. Triple H’s big matches tend to have a problem with this.

The Lesnar/Goldberg principle. One to live by.

The Street Profits def. Angel Garza & Austin Theory to retain the WWE Raw Tag Team Titles.

The story here ended up being Bianca Belair, who saved Ford and Dawkins from a post-match beatdown. I assume will be with the Street Profits on Raw from here on out. Works for me. She’s earned her main roster spot. Becky Lynch is also going to need new challengers in the near future.

Bayley def. Sasha Banks, Naomi, Tamina, and Lacey Evans to retain the WWE Smackdown Women’s Title.
This is another one where hindsight is 20/20. I predicted it would come down to Bayley and Sasha. But for whatever reason, WWE avoids that match like the plague. Or in this case, Coronavirus.

I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of time they gave this match. The Smackdown Women’s Division may be cold right now. But they gave these ladies a decent-sized canvas to create on.

Also…no, Michael Cole. Team B.A.D. was not a huge part of the Women’s Revolution. Just like Team P.C.B. wasn’t. And Team Bella damn sure wasn’t.

“The Fiend” Bray Wyatt def. John Cena in a Firefly Funhouse Match.
Coming into this match, I was expecting something akin to the Boneyard Match, only it would take place in some sort of demented funhouse setting.

That’s not what we got. In fact, in over two decades watching this stuff, I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything quite like what we got. It was more like a Saturday Night Live sketch than a wrestling match. It’s like they got together and said, “Bray Wyatt is crazy. So let’s just go nuts. Let’s throw shit against the wall.”

I’ll give you this much, I enjoyed its devotion to continuity. They really dove into history for this one, picking apart both characters.

I can’t say I enjoyed the Boneyard Match then turn around and say I didn’t like this one. For all intents and purposes they played by the same rules. But whereas I’d be game for seeing something like the Boneyard Match once a year, this is the kind of thing you can only do once maybe every five to 10 years.

Drew McIntyre def. Brock Lesnar to win the WWE World Heavyweight Title.
To my dismay, this match basically followed the same formula as the Goldberg/Strowman one. Hit the finishers a bunch, then have the challenger go over. In both matches it’s like they just wanted to get it over with.

Still, this one had the right outcome. Drew got his moment, unconventional though it was. One of the highlights of night two was him reaching out to the camera and saying, “Thank you.”

Congratulations, good sir. Your moment doesn’t look like anyone else’s, but it’s yours. So be proud. You earned it. You deserve it.

Email Rob at at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

WWE’s Superstar Shake-Up: 10 Potential Roster Switches

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It’s the draft. They’re calling it the “Superstar Shake-Up.” But for all intents and purposes, it’s the draft. This is a good time a year for it, too. It’s the unofficial start to WWE’s new season. You can shift people around and start building new programs for Summerslam, or even Wrestlemania XXXIV. More importantly, it freshens everything up with new programs, and gives certain talents a clean slate.

There’s been plenty of buzz about who’s going and who’s staying. I’ll address some of that here. But by and large, these would be my draft picks for Raw and Smackdown, with five picks for each show.

Let the mock draft begin!

1. AJ Styles to Raw
Moving AJ to Raw is a risky move. He’s arguably Smackdown‘s most valuable asset right now, and they’ve largely built that show around him since the roster split.

By on the flip side, there’d be a lot for him to do on Raw. His former Bullet Club co-horts Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson are over there. As is the man he ousted from that group, Finn Balor. You can build to programs with Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins. While I don’t expect him to go babyface, if that happens, Kevin Owens would be there. I’d be curious to see what AJ could do with Braun Strowman. There’s also the man I’ve listed at number nine. Either way, Styles presents you with a lot of options.

Considering how valuable he’s been to the company at large since his debut, it’s not surprising they’d want him on the so-called flagship show. With any luck, he can breathe a little more life into those three hour broadcasts.

2. Charlotte Flair to Smackdown.
From a creative perspective, Charlotte has simply run out of opponents on Raw. They’ve put her with Bayley since January, and we all know how long she was with Sasha Banks. On paper, a move to Smackdown immediately presents her with three intriguing opponents: Naomi, Nikki Bella, and Mickie James. Of course, we’ve seen her work with Becky Lynch before. But it’s been awhile, and they always had a nice hero/villain dynamic.

Bottom line: The “Queen” needs a new kingdom to rule over. So let’s give her one.

3. Alexa Bliss to Raw.
Alexa is essentially in the same situation Charlotte is in. But while she was one of the breakout stars of the draft, her abilities aren’t quite as refined as Charlotte’s. Her mic work is also very different. She’s got a great high school cheerleader vibe going on, but her vocal delivery is softer than we’re used to. It will do her some good to mix it up with Bayley on television. I’m not sure how much longer Sasha Banks will be a babyface. But in the meantime, that would work too.

4. The New Day to Smackdown.
The Smackdown Tag Team Division has The Usos, American Alpha…and that’s it, really. None of the other teams have any steam right now. So putting the New Day on Smackdown makes sense in that respect.

I imagine Kofi, Big E., and Woods will jump right into the title hunt, and quit talking about ice cream. Frankly, that may be the biggest benefit to the move.

5. Kalisto to Raw.
I’m wondering if they put Kaliso on Smackdown in the hopes that he’d become the next break-out Hispanic star. So far they’ve had no such luck. But that’s what getting demolished by Dolph Ziggler week after week will do to you.

Billed at 170 lbs, Kalisto is a natural fit for the Cruiserweight Division. He always has been. As we’ve seen with Neville, there’s tremendous value to adding pre-established names to that fold. They also have the option of putting him back with Sin Cara if they need to. This switch can get Kalisto back on track.

6. Sami Zayn to Smackdown.
When Sami was called up, the biggest issue I had with him was that he had no identity to the casual viewer. He was Kevin Owens’ best friend turned worst enemy. That’s all we knew. That’s been rectified in these last few months. He’s now our new resident underdog.

But Raw is also pretty crowded. Sami has had to compete for airtime with the likes of Goldberg, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Chris Jericho. Goldberg is gone now, but Finn Balor is also back.

Moving Sami to Smackdown does two things. Firstly, it gets him away from Kevin Owens. On a given week when they can’t come up with anything for them, they simply put Owens and Zayn against each other. Their rivalry desperately needs some space. More importantly, putting him in a slightly smaller pond gives him a chance to up his value and prove his worth as an upper-card babyface. Sami Zayn has a legit shot at being a star in the same vein as Daniel Bryan. This can be his next step on that path.

7. Mickie James to Raw.
Since arriving on Smackdown, Mickie’s had some good matches with Becky Lynch. She also cut a pretty good return promo. But that’s about it. While I understand she’s there to put the new girls over, she became a background player far too quickly for my taste.

Mickie is more or less a babyface right now. I say you keep her that way, and get her over to Nia Jax. I’m not as hard on Nia as some people are. But working with Mickie could be a valuable learning experience for her. Later, Mickie can work with Sasha Banks and Bayley. And if Alexa is indeed moved to Raw, there’s always the potential for more there.

8. Cesaro to Smackdown.
I’ll begrudgingly admit that teaming with Sheamus has been good for Cesaro. It’s brought out another side of his personality, and let him get in touch with the entertainment aspect of WWE a bit more. But we’ve all been saying it for years: There’s so much potential in a Cesaro singles run. So let the man go to Smackdown and do his thing. Put the Intercontinental Title on him and let him have a good, sustained run. Let him establish himself as a credible champion. Plus, Sheamus and Cesaro will inevitably break up at some point. With all due respect, is the world really clamoring for matches between those two after what we saw last year?

9. Luke Harper to Raw.
Harper is in a awkward spot on Smackdown. He had a damn good match with Randy Orton at Fastlane, but he lost. Then he almost became the top contender for Bray Wyatt’s WWE Title, but he lost. Then he wrestled Bray on television, and he lost. A feud between Bray and Luke could have ben interesting. But the timing seems to be off. Moving him to Raw is risky, considering what happened the last time they broke him away from the Wyatt Family. But he’s got a little more developed this time around. They’ve been giving him some mic time, and that would need to continue if he moves to Raw. But perhaps it’s time to re-brand all together. Up to this point, he’s been completely defined by his relationship to Bray Wyatt. It may be time to put a fresh coat of paint on Harper.

10. Samoa Joe to Smackdown.
At the moment, Joe is Triple H’s hired gun. But apparently Hunter and Stephanie won’t be around for a little while. That gives Joe some valuable time to establish himself away from them. The best place to do that might be in the void left by AJ Styles on Smackdown. While I can’t say I’m looking forward to hearing David Otunga call his matches, a lone Joe could easily find himself in the WWE Title picture on Smackdown. It’s tough to be the resident monster when you’re sharing a broadcast with Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman. But he’d have lots of room on Smackdown. What’s more, as an ally of Stephanie’s he’d have a built-in opponent in Shane McMahon. Summerslam, perhaps?

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The Roman Reigns Era Begins, and Other Ponderings From Wrestlemania Week

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Now that we’re back from our little angry time out, we’ve got a lot to cover. So let’s not waste any time…

Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, Charlotte, Wrestlemania XXXIIPonderings From Wrestlemania Week:

Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch steal the show at Wrestlemania. Charlotte begins a program with Natalya on RawA Women’s Title Match stole the show at Wrestlemania. A Wrestlemania that featured a Hell in a Cell Match, a multi-man ladder match, Brock Lesnar, and AJ Styles, was topped by a Women’s Title Match. How amazing is that?

Mind you, this is subjective. But in terms of suspense and engagement, this match beat everything else at Wrestlemania. I couldn’t be more proud of Charlotte, Sasha, and Becky. Today’s WWE announcers aren’t very credible. But what JBL is saying about this being a great era for women’s wrestling is definitely valid. What’s more, Natalya is being added to the mix. I’m absolutely thrilled.

And let us continue to rejoice that the Women’s Title is back, and the Divas Title is dead. That butterfly belt was one of the gaudiest looking titles I’ve ever seen. Thank God we never have to see Sasha, Becky, Bayley, or Asuka wear that awful thing. Seeing Lita unveil that new belt on the Wrestlemania pre-show was a really cool moment. Having her their was very fitting.

Wrestlemania XXXII, Triple H, Roman ReignsRoman Reigns received with thunderous boos as he wins the WWE Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania, and appears on RawI’m not sure what else can be said at this point about Reigns’ popularity, or lack thereof, with the fans. He and Triple H got booed mercilessly at Wrestlemania, and he was booed mercilessly on Raw. Our top babyface, ladies and gentlemen.

I adored that sign somebody had at Raw, in response to WWE allegedly turning down the microphones at Wrestlemania to hide the boos: “Don’t mute our voices! We pay 4 this!”

Given who earned the right to challenge for the title on Raw (more on that later), it’s been rumored we may get a Roman Reigns heel turn at Payback next month. I’ll believe that when I see it…

AJ Styles wins the right to challenge Roman Reigns for the WWE Championship by defeating Chris Jericho, Kevin Owens, and the returning Cesaro. First and foremost, AJ Styles and Chris Jericho were awesome at Wrestlemania. Not quite as good as the Women’s Title Match in my view. But still great. Styles’ loss caught a lot of fans by surprise, but obviously he made up for it here.

AJ Styles, Chris Jericho, WWE Raw, April 4, 2016Cesaro has to make up for lost time, but he looks like he hasn’t lost a step. I’m curious if that suit is now a part of his entrance. That Jason Statham look definitely suits him.

While it remains to be seen when Styles will challenge for the title. But the theory is because this is a babyface vs. babyface match, Reigns could turn heel and enlist the help of the Bullet Club, a.k.a. Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows. Again, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Kevin Owens attacks Sami Zayn, keeping him out of fatal fourway main event. Now that there’s no Intercontinental Title at stake, it’s now WWE’s responsibility to tell us why these two men don’t like each other.

The Undertaker def. Shane McMahon at Wrestlemania, in a Hell in a Cell Match that saw Shane jump from the top of the cage. I take no joy in saying this, but this match was a snooze fest. From an execution standpoint, it had a lot working against it, not the least of which was that Shane hadn’t wrestled in so long. Plus, you had two big babyfaces in there, which seemed to leave the crowd unclear on who to cheer for. People definitely loved Shane. But who wants to root against The Undertaker?

The Undertaker, Shane McMahon, Wrestlemania XXXIIThen you have that dive Shane took off the cell. I love Shane for being willing to take that risk. But in truth, this match didn’t deserve a huge bump like that. It was almost a waste.

I’m not convinced we’ve seen the last of Shane. In a company that desperately needs marquee talent, Shane is truly over, and truly beloved. There’s as much a place for him there as there’s ever been.

The Rock and John Cena beat down The Wyatt Family at Wrestlemania. The Rock pins Erick Rowan in a six second match. This stuff with The Rock needlessly ate up so much time. I’m not sure why they felt the need to have Rock pin Rowan in all of six seconds, when they could gone right to the beat-down we all knew was coming anyway. Still, it was cool to see Rock spar with Bray on the mic a bit. And yes, it was nice to see John Cena. Given some of the reactions Roman Reigns has been getting, Cena’s reactions look like Hogan’s in the ’80s.

Zack Ryder wins Intercontinental Championship at Wrestlemania, loses title to The Miz (with his wife Maryse) on RawTo say the least, Ryder’s Wrestlemania win was a shock. But he deserved it. The poor guy has been messed around with by WWE so much over the years, and we know how much WWE loves a good underdog story.

Zack Ryder, Wrestlemania XXXIIThat being said, it wasn’t surprising to see them take the belt off him the very next night. Ryder was only put in that match as a replacement for the injured Neville. He hadn’t even been on Raw regularly. I’m a Zack Ryder fan. I even bought on of his Broski t-shirts when he was hot a few years ago. But the writing was on the wall.

I’m intrigued by Maryse’s return alongside her real-life husband, The Miz. He’s called himself a chick magnet in the past. But actually seeing him with someone as gorgeous as Maryse is bound to draw some heat. I’m down for that.

The League of Nations def. The New Day at Wrestlemania, but after failing to win the tag titles on Raw, Wade Barrett is ousted from the group. The remaining members are then attacked by The Wyatt Family. As it’s been all but confirmed that Barrett is leaving the company when his contract expires in June, this may have been his last appearance on Raw. It’s truly sad that he was never truly able to live up to the potential he had when he made the main roster in 2010. Yes, he was injury prone. But it wasn’t strictly his fault. He was also the victim of some bad booking decisions in 2010, most notably The Nexus’ loss at Summerslam that year. Still, he had a run with the biggest wrestling company in the world, and was able to main event some pay per views with John Cena. That’s something nobody can take away from him.

The Wyatt Family, WWE Raw, April 4, 2016I can only assume this attack by The Wyatt Family means they’re finally turning babyface. Bray is ready, and has been ready for quite some time. However, one thing that was painfully apparent at both Wrestlemania and Raw was how sorely the group misses Luke Harper. Neither Erick Rowan or Braun Strowman have that much credibility on their own, especially after Rowan lost to The Rock in six seconds at Wrestlemania. It’ll be interesting how the dynamic of this group shifts if this is a turn.

Baron Corbin loses to Austin Aries at NXT Takeover: Dallas, wins the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at Wrestlemania, beats down Dolph Ziggler on Raw. Definitely a big week for Baron Corbin. His victory at Wrestlemania was a welcome surprise. From a match perspective, I can’t say I was enamored with what I saw from him. He also looked like he had some butterflies during his promo on Raw. I can’t say I blame him. But he’ll be in good hands going forward, as it looks like he’ll be spending time with Dolph Ziggler.

The Dudley Boyz and The Usos trade wins at Wrestlemania and Raw. Enzo Amore and Colin Cassaday debut after the Raw match. It looks like the Dudleys are getting new dance partners in Enzo & Cass. That’s an awesome pairing in my book. But I’d be open to one more match between the Dudleys and the Usos on Raw. It’d be the perfect chance for our newcomers to interfere and cost them a win.

Enzo & Cass, WWE Raw, April 4, 2016This was a hell of a start for Enzo & Cass, and overdue in the eyes of many. These guys certainly have no shortage of catchphrases. I’m curious to see how well the crowd knows them next week, as we lose a lot of that post-Wrestlemania glow.

Apollo Crews def. Tyler Breeze in his Raw debut. I haven’t seen as much of Apollo Crews as I have other NXT wrestlers. But I was very impressed with what I saw in this short match. He gave a lot of credence to what the announcers were saying about his versatility. It’s not often you see someone who has both that strength, agility, and explosive leaping ability. I only wish he hadn’t knocked of Tyler Breeze. He’s been there such a short time, and already he’s being used as enhancement talent. Not that there’s anything wrong with that,  but damn.

Images courtesy of WWE.com.

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WWE’s Most Fascinating People of 2015

Barbara Walters, Caitlyn JennerBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It’s time once again for us to rip off Barbara Walters.

Each year, the iconic journalist does her list of the “Most Fascinating People” of the year. This year, this list was topped by none other than Olympian turned reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner. She was joined by the likes of Bradley Cooper, Amy Schumer, Ronda Rousey, as well as American presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

Those are all great choices…they’re just not in my wheelhouse, per se.

At the risk of going with a cliche, WWE has had more than its share of ups and downs this year. WWE’s chosen one, Roman Reigns, spent most of the year being rejected by the fans. But even so, Wrestlemania XXXI was the best one the company has put on in several years, and we got a brand new main event star out of the deal: Seth Rollins. With The Authority watching his back, Rollins defended the title most of the year against the likes of Reigns, Brock Lesnar, Dean Ambrose, Sting, among others. But when Rollins went down with an injury in the fall, Reigns would finally rebound and take the title…only to have it stolen from him by Sheamus. But as we saw last week, Reigns won out in the end.

That’s a highly abbreviated version of the year though. For a more in-depth analysis, let’s once again check out WWE’s Most Fascinating People of 2015.

WWE Extreme Rules 2015, Roman Reigns1. Roman Reigns

There’s no denying “the Big Dog” had a tough year. For quite some time, he’s been groomed to be WWE’s next top star. But in the modern era, when WWE fans feel someone or something is being force-fed to them, it goes straight into the “reject” pile. For the second year in a row, fans hijacked the Royal Rumble match because Daniel Bryan wasn’t the focal point, and Reigns took the brunt of the abuse. Still, the company stayed the course. Reigns told a hell of a story with Brock Lesnar in the main event of Wrestlemania before Seth Rollins cashed in and swiped the title. Reigns spent much of the year having his every mood scrutinized by the fans. To be fair, much of it was justified. Instead of being allowed to be himself and develop organically, Reigns was heavily produced, and often forced to deliver cringeworthy dialogue. Perhaps that’s why, when he finally won the title, Reigns was cheered by the same Philadelphia fans that booed him out of the building at the Royal Rumble. Vince McMahon and WWE had tried to force a square peg into a round hole all year. And while the struggle isn’t over by any means, seeing Reigns finally get a career win after all he’d been through made for a feel-good moment.

But now the question is: Now that he’s accomplished his goal, where does Roman Reigns go from here? Back to the main event of Wrestlemania, perhaps?

Seth Rollins, Raw, August 31, 20152. Seth Rollins

From an in-story perspective, Seth Rollins was the man in 2015. He left Wrestlemania XXXII as the company’s top heel, and since he went down with a knee injury, no one has been able to fill his shoes. Despite being forced to cut long, drawn out promos to fill time on all those three-hour Raw episodes, his smarmy, whiney persona was ideal for a lead villain role. In addition, Rollins was more than capable of delivering great matches against big names like John Cena, Brock Lesnar, and Randy Orton. Those two factors combined drew many a comparison between Rollins and the Shawn Michaels of late ’97 and early ’98. The continuation of Rollins’ on-screen rivalry with Jon Stewart was also one of the company’s biggest publicity grabs of the year.

Like him or not, Seth Rollins became a big money ball player in 2015. The smart bet is that when he returns, he’ll be hearing cheers.

Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, WWE Beast in the East, July 4, 20153. Kevin Owens

The Slammy Award for “Break Out Star of the Year” may have gone to Neville, Kevin Owens was unquestionably the best NXT call up of the year.

Less than a year after the real-life Kevin Steen signed with WWE, he made his main roster debut (as the NXT Champion no less), and immediately began a program with John Cena. Owens went on to beat Cena in his first WWE pay per view match. While he would lose the two rematches to follow, his dry and condescending demeanor combined with his obvious in-ring prowess proved he was more than worthy of a main roster spot. In September, Owens defeated Ryback to win the Intercontinental Championship. While Owens has had his share of critics, primarily due to his body type, his success has been undeniable. Roughly a year and a half after signing with WWE, he rose to the top of NXT, won the NXT Championship, was promoted to the main roster for a program with the company’s flag bearer, won the Intercontinental Championship, and has spent the last few months working with the likes of Dolph Ziggler and Dean Ambrose. Barring some unforeseen and unfortunate turn of events, it’s looking like Kevin Owens is here to stay. And WWE fans are better off for that.

Charlotte, Raw, November 23, 20154. Charlotte

Long before the “Divas Revolution” on Raw, there was a women’s wrestling revolution on NXT. One of the names at the heart of that revolution was Charlotte, daughter of Ric Flair. The real-life Ashley Fliehr wowed audience with her natural athleticism, and knack for wrestling. Both fans and insiders knew it was only a matter of time before she made it to the main roster.

On July 13, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch all showed up on Raw to begin what became known as the Divas Revolution. While fans could come to debate just how revolutionary the whole thing was, Charlotte’s talent was undeniable. To a large extent, she became the face of the Divas Revolution. She became the first of the new female talents to strike gold at Night of Champions, besting Nikki Bella to win the Divas Title. Now, fans are starting to see a new side of Charlotte. It seems the Nature Boy’s daughter may be taking after him in terms of cheating to win. This will undoubtedly put her at odds with her cohort Becky Lynch, and lead to more than a few intriguing match ups in the near future. Charlotte is right where WWE wants her to be right now. At this point, it’s simply a matter of growth and maturation.

And while we’re on the subject of women’s wrestling in WWE…

Sasha Banks, WWE TLC 20155. Sasha Banks

Sadly, Sasha Banks comes into this list under that Dolph Ziggler-type banner of talents who should be doing awesome, but aren’t.

There’s an argument to be made that Sasha Banks is the best female wrestler in North America right now, if not the world. As she was winding down in NXT, she had two amazing matches with Bayley for the Women’s Championship, the latter being a classic 30-minute Iron Man Match. Thus, when she arrived on Raw with Charlotte and Becky Lynch on July 15, Sasha had perhaps more buzz surrounding her than any of her peers. And yet she was lumped in with Tamina and Naomi as part of Team BAD, and has stayed there ever since. To be fair, she’s very much the star of the group. But fans have been anxiously anticipating the moment when she breaks away as a singles star. There’s been some buzz lately that Sasha may end up wrestling Charlotte for the title at Wrestlemania, which might just make the wait worthwhile. But until then, we’re left to simply wait and hope…

Sting, Raw, September 14 ,20156. Sting

This was the year wresting fans had waited so long for. At long last, Sting was wrestling for WWE. His first, and perhaps only match for WWE would be at Wrestlemania XXXI against Triple H. It wasn’t necessarily the dream match people were hoping for, but it was epic enough to satisfy their appetite for Sting to have at least one big moment under the WWE umbrella…and then he lost.

On his DVD, Sting said he was fine with losing, as he wanted to go out on his back, per that “time honored tradition” we’ve heard about before. But the fans weren’t looking for that here. The hope was that Sting would win and get his moment in the sun. But alas, it wasn’t to be. He didn’t get his win when he challenged Seth Rollins for the WWE Title at Night of Champions either. Instead, he not only lost, but he injured his neck after taking two buckle bombs. So now, not only has Sting not gotten his moment in the sun, but he may never wrestle again.

At this point, the pertinent question seems to be: Was it even worth it?

WWE Raw, October 12, 2015, The New Day7. The New Day

The Philadelphia fans turning around on Roman Reigns was a big deal. But for my money, it doesn’t hold a candle to the turnaround The New Day has experienced.

When 2015 kicked off, Kofi Kingston, Big E., and Xavier Woods were a lame white-meat babyface group, which the fans were crapping on every week. And justifiably so. The New Day concept had little substance to it. It was essentially just three enthusiastic, smiley guys. It’s still unclear to me whether the eventual heel turn was planned or not. But when that turn came, a whole new life was breathed into this group. As heels, nothing was off the table. They were allowed to be as goofy and flamboyant as they wanted, and that resulted in them becoming a genuinely entertaining team. Ironically, they’ve hearing been hearung cheers for months now. One can argue they’re not even heels anymore. I can only imagine an official babyface turn is forthcoming. The cool thing about that is they don’t even have to change their act. As long as they keep having fun, they should have a place on TV for the foreseeable future.

WWE Raw, June 15, 2015, Sheamus8. Sheamus

Sheamus did not have the year that any of us were hoping he’d have. The sad thing is, it’s really not his fault. It has more to do with creative.

Wrestling fans let out a collective groan when Sheamus won this year’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match. I think the consensus as far as Sheamus being WWE Champion was, “Been there, done that.” I’m not sure there was an ideal choice in that ladder match, but Sheamus wasn’t the guy to build that kind of intrigue around. Especially when after Money in the Bank, he went on to have a dull-as-dirt feud with Randy Orton. It seems like fans spent most of the year wondering how WWE was going to get themselves out of the Sheamus situation, as opposed to whether he was going to win the belt.

Still, they went ahead and pulled the trigger on Sheamus at Survivor Series, only to take the belt off of him about a month later. I suppose we can give them credit for trying. But hindsight being 20/20, Sheamus wasn’t the guy to go with heading into Wrestlemania XXXII. That’s not to say he can’t ever be that caliber a star. But he wasn’t particularly hot when he with the briefcase, and he was even less so when he won the title. So I’m not sure what they expected was going to happen…

WWE Raw, November 9, 2015, Cesaro, Sheamus9. Cesaro

An optimist might say Cesaro was on the verge of finally starting to break out as a big singles star when he got hurt in November. A realist, on the other hand, would say it was simply another start-and-stop push. As far as Cesaro is concerned, I’m a realist.

The fans were ready for Cesaro to break out last year at Wrestlemania XXX. But a series of bad decisions put the kibosh on that. This year, he gained some traction after Vince McMahon said on a Stone Cold Podcast that Cesaro wasn’t connecting with the fans, and a backlash ensued. “The Swiss Superman” won the tag team titles with Tyson Kidd, but the team abruptly ended when Kidd was injured. Cesar segued into another singles run, where he gained and lost momentum depending on what week it was. Cesar would be a different kind of attraction, that’s for certain. But if and when WWE decides to pull the trigger on this guy, they’ll have something. Though frankly, the more time goes by, the less likely a Cesaro push becomes.

The Undertaker, 201510. The Undertaker

The Undertaker making this list in 2015? Yup. That’s a thing. But to his credit, he earned it.

Coming into 2015, we weren’t quite sure what was going on with The Undertaker. He hadn’t been seen since Brock Lesnar broke his undefeated streak at Wrestlemania XXX. One theory was that he was done. Given the injuries he sustained in that match with Lesnar, the safer option might have been to hang it up. But ‘Taker did deserve a swan song…

But that’s not what we got in 2015. The Dead Man came back at Wrestemania XXXI to vanquish Bray Wyatt, and then reappeared at Breaking Ground to cost Brock Lesnar the WWE Championship. They followed that up by main eventing Summerslam, and then stepping back inside Hell in a Cell. While ‘Taker ultimately lost his war with Lesnar, he did have a nice night at Survivor Series, celebrating his 25th anniversary with WWE by teaming with Kane to defeat Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper.

There’s been a lot of speculation about whether Wrestlemania XXXII will feature The Undertaker’s last match. With the event being in ‘Taker’s home state of Texas, it certainly wouldn’t be a bad time. But if this year showed us anything, it’s that at 50 plus years of age, The Undertaker can still go. So if he’s still got as much passion for the business and a desire to perform, who are we to tell him to go? As far as I’m concerned, The Undertaker can stick around as long as he wants. I certainly won’t complain.

Image 1 from theinsidekorea.com. Remaining images courtesy of WWE.com. 

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The New WWE Champion, and Other Ponderings From Wrestlemania XXXI and WWE Raw

Wrestlemania XXXI, Seth Rollins, ChampionSeth Rollins cashes in Money in the Bank during the main event of Wrestlemania, pins Roman Reigns to become champion. Brock Lesnar assaults Rollins on Raw, gives an F5 to Michael Cole. Stephane McMahon suspends Lesnar indefinitely.

Well, that’s one way to book yourself out of a corner.

Actually, it must be said that the Brock Lesnar/Roman Reigns match was not bad at all. It was the match of the night, in my opinion. They built up a lot of sympathy for Reigns (at least in my mind), and established that he is indeed a Samoan Bad Ass. But at the end of the day, Brock Lesnar was the crowd favorite. WWE clearly knew that going in, and booked accordingly. They told a similar story to the one they did with Lesnar and John Cena at Summerslam, but then threw the twist with Rollins in.

Seth Rollins, Brock Lesnar, Wrestlemania XXXITruth be told, if there’s one guy on the roster that deserved that crowning moment, it was Seth Rollins. He’s turned in consistently good, often great work since his heel turn last year. And whether you’re a Roman Reigns fan or not, this loss at Wrestlemania does two very important things for him. First, it gives him more big match experience. Second, it gives him a little more time to cook before they put the title on him.

There was no way they were going to have Brock wrestle on Raw. I knew that thing was a sham from the get-go. What I didn’t see coming was what happened to Michael Cole. If Brock wasn’t a babyface before, he certainly is now. And let’s give credit where credit is due: Cole took that F5 like a man. I’ve got to wonder who pitched THAT to him…

One thing I will say in critique of that Raw segment…JBL and Booker T. couldn’t have been that hurt by an overturned table, could they?

Triple H vs. Sting, Wrestlemania XXXITriple H def. Sting. This one shocked me. After 14 years, Sting finally makes his WWE debut…just to lose to Triple H? That’s pretty lame if you ask me. Still, one would hope that’s not the last time we’ll see Sting in a WWE ring.

The general direction this match took also surprised me. Instead of it boiling down to Sting and Hunter they turned it into an nWo vs. DX thing. It all became a giant Attitude Era throwback. It was fun, I guess. But I thought this was supposed to be about Sting coming to WWE to face the tyrannical leader of The Authority? It seemed like an odd choice to me. But it was Wrestlemania-worthy, to be sure.

By the way, that Triple H/Terminator entrance? Really stupid.

The Undertaker def. Bray Wyatt. The Undertaker looked as good as he ever has at Wrestlemania. But it seemed like he was definitely feeling it physically. Then again, maybe he was just selling really well. But after the match, he did indeed look up to the rafters and mouth “Thank you.” My instincts tell me he’s got maybe one or two left in him. But then again, people have been saying that for years. Only The Undertaker can tell us for sure. One thing’s for sure, seeing him for the first time in a year was a hell of a Wrestlemania moment.

The Undertaker, Wrestlemania XXXIThe Rock and Ronda Rousey wind up in an in-ring confrontation with Triple H and Stephanie McMahon at Wrestlemania. This seemed like a set up for one hell of a mixed tag match. Summerslam, maybe?

John Cena def. Rusev at Wrestlemania for the United States Championship, defeats Dean Ambrose in title defense on Raw. Not exactly a surprise that Rusev lost to John Cena. Though as I’d said previously, I’d have loved to have seen Rusev’s streak continue.

Dean Ambrose deserves a hell of a lot of credit for the 48 hours he had between Wrestlemania and Raw. Between the bumps he took in the ladder match, and the match he had with Cena on Raw, he deserves as much respect as anybody on that roster. There’s so much money on this guy, and he’s so unique. I just hope WWE knows what they’ve got with him…

Daniel Bryan, Wrestlemania XXXIDaniel Bryan wins Intercontinental Championship in multi-man Wrestlemania Ladder Match. Bryan wins a title match against Dolph Ziggler on Raw. After all the complaining the internet wrestling community did (myself included) about Daniel Bryan’s demotion on the Wrestlemania card, it’s tough to deny they put him over pretty well. It would have been easy for him to simply get lost in the shuffle in terms of that ladder match. But he came out on top, and had another great Wrestlemania moment. Let’s not kid ourselves, it wasn’t as good as the one he got last year. But it was still pretty good.

In terms of the ladder match itself…meh. I hate to seem so jaded, especially considering some of the bumps those guys took. But we’ve just seen this match so many times over the last decade. At the end of the day, there are only so many things you can do with a ladder. So I left this match feeling a bit less satisfied than perhaps I should have been. The ending with Bryan and Dolph Ziggler butting heads over and over again was pretty ridiculous too.

As for the match Bryan and Ziggler had on Raw, it’s tough to not enjoy these guys going one-on-one. They make a point to show you things you don’t see in other matches, and it’s a real treat.

Sheamus, Raw, March 31, 2015Sheamus returns after Bryan/Ziggler match to fend off Bad News Barrett, ends up heeling on Bryan. I like Sheamus’ tweaked image, although apparently the crowd didn’t agree (“You look stupid!”). I most certainly like his new direction. A Sheamus heel turn has is long overdue. If I had my way, we’d see Bryan vs. Barrett for the title at Extreme Rules, and Sheamus vs. Ziggler, with the winner getting a title shot.

Adrian Neville (as billed as just “Neville”) and The Lucha Dragons (Sin Cara & Kalisto) make their Raw debut. So the rumor flying around was that WWE was going to give NXT star Adrian Neville a Mighty Mouse-type persona. It looks like they kinda/sorta went that direction, but thankfully left out the inherent cheeseball elements. We’ve definitely seen wrestlers wear worse things out there than a cape. Great exhibition from Neville. Let’s see where he goes from here.

In that same vein, we saw a hell of a showing from Sin Cara, and especially Kalisto. He had that crowd in the palm of his hand. I want to see more, that’s for damn sure. And hey! Who knew you could have a colorful, marketable Hispanic tag team without turning them into a couple of damn cartoon characters! Does this mean we can finally drop the Los Matadores gimmick?

The Big Show, Wrestlemania XXXIThe Big Show wins the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal on the Wrestlemania pre-show. I’m guessing this match got bumped to the pre-show so we could have the Rock/Ronda Rousey segment. I’m wondering, had it been on the actual show, if Big Show would have won. This match seemed like the perfect opportunity for Damien Sandow to have his big moment. And indeed, he did have a big moment when he eliminated Miz. But for that to be followed by his elimination by Big Show almost waters the whole thing down. Once it was decided the match would be on the pre-show, I wonder if they just said: “Meh. If Sandow can’t win it at Wrestlemania, let’s just give it to Show.”

And what does The Big Show actually gain from winning the Andre battle royal? Nothing really. At least Cesaro got a push (albeit a failed one) out of the deal. Show’s already a top guy, and he’s aligned with the new WWE Heavyweight Champion. So they basically spun their wheels with this one.

Images from WWE.com.

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