WWE Crown Jewel Predictions – A Giant Friggin’ Headache

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

This thing has been a giant friggin’ headache, hasn’t it?

Despite intense pressure to cancel or perhaps move Crown Jewel out of Saudi Arabia following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, WWE has stayed the course. The show will proceed as planned, even as two of the company’s biggest stars, John Cena and Daniel Bryan, have opted not to go.

This is not a good look, ladies and gentlemen. Obviously they couldn’t have known something like this would happen back when they signed the 10-year deal with the Saudis, which is expected to make them up to $40 million this year. But now that it has happened, pushing forth with the show makes WWE look like your stereotypical greedy, soulless American corporation. Maybe that’s what they are at the end of the day…

While I myself won’t be watching Crown Jewel on Friday, the event will obviously impact what we see on WWE television in the near future. So even though writing about this show makes me want to take a shower, let’s take a look at the wrestling element of Crown Jewel.

WWE WORLD CUP TOURNAMENT:

They really made a mistake naming this thing. It should be the King of the Ring tournament, as opposed to the World Cup. Because the name World Cup comes has certain global implications to it. And it’s no secret that all these guys are born and bred Americans. So why give yourself that marketing headache?

Still, this could be a career moment for somebody. Even big established names like these eight men have. So who do you give it to?

I think we go to Kurt Angle vs. Rey Mysterio in the finals. That’s a match we haven’t seen in WWE for a long time. How long it’ll go, or what it’ll look like is anybody’s guess. But it could be really interesting to see what those two do in a ring in 2018.

In the end, I think this tournament belongs to Kurt Angle. To me, this World Cup idea seems like a way to give him something in the same ball park as his Olympic Gold Medal win. In theory, at least. If he really is gearing up for another in-ring run, what better way to establish that he can still hang than giving him a bunch of victories over two modern day stars and a fellow legend? Of course, this can organically lead to a match at Survivor Series to conclusively decide who the General Manager of Raw is.

Although, speaking of Baron Corbin, he could easily do a run-in and cost Kurt the final match. That would definitely amp up the bad blood. Either way, there are a lot of directions they can go with this…

PREDICTION: Kurt Angle

WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The Bar (c) vs. The New Day

I really didn’t think they would take the belts off the New Day so soon. But here we are.

In all honesty, I don’t have a strong opinion about the outcome of this match. This one could really go either way. I’m just hoping the match itself is good. It feels like WWE put the titles on Sheamus and Cesaro just so they could have a title change on Smackdown 1000. But since they’ve taken the trouble of switching the belts, I say we go ahead and keep them on the Bar.

PREDICTION: The Bar

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Samoa Joe

I can’t decide if we should be happy about the change from AJ Styles vs. Daniel Bryan to another match with Samoa Joe. On one hand, Joe gets another title shot. But on the other, the smart bet is he’s going to lose again.

Supposedly Joe is dealing with yet another injury, which doesn’t bode well for his main roster championship aspirations. I’m actually a little surprised they didn’t stick the recently returned Big Show in this spot. But here we are with Joe again.

In terms of its outcome, I don’t see why this match should be any different than the other three. I suspect that after Crown Jewel, AJ will go right back to feuding with Bryan. Joe could still be involved, of course. They could build to a Triple-Threat Match at Survivor Series. But I’m not holding my breath.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

MATCH FOR VACANT WWE UNIVERSAL HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP:
Brock Lesnar vs. Braun Strowman

For a lot of fans, this match is just a formality. An obligation we have to meet just so we can get the belt on Braun Strowman. After all, Lesnar’s going back to the UFC, right?

Everybody likes to think they know where Brock stands with WWE. But we really don’t know much, do we? We were positive Wrestlemania was the end for him. Then he came back for the Greatest Royal Rumble. Then he came back for Summerslam. Now he’s back for Crown Jewel. So what are the odds that this isn’t the end either?

One of Paul Heyman’s big talking points this year has been about Brock Lesnar becoming a two-sport champion, holding the UFC Championship and the Universal Championship at the same time. As Lesnar is still making shots for WWE all these months after his deal was supposedly up, I wouldn’t take that notion lightly anymore. Remember, WWE has a lot of money invested in Brock Lesnar. And if Crown Jewel has taught us anything, it’s that this company isn’t about to leave money on the table.

Throw in the current feud between Braun Strowman and Drew McIntyre, and you’ve got the perfect out for Brock to win the belt after interference from McIntyre.

Yes, friends. It might not have been the plan before. But I suspect it’s the plan now. Brock Lesnar’s second reign of terror is about to begin.

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

Degeneration X vs. The Brothers of Destruction

*sigh* Oh, Shawn.

Yeah, these guys are probably going to headline the show. Why wouldn’t they? They headlined Super Show-Down. And it’s Shawn’s big return match, after all.

The persistent rumor has been that this is a three-match series. We had Triple H and Undertaker at Super Show-Down. We’ve got this match for Crown Jewel. Then supposedly it all culminates with another Shawn Michaels/Undertaker match at Survivor Series. I didn’t want to believe HBK was coming back. But now that he is, I’ve got no reason to believe he’s not wrestling Undertaker in a few weeks.

I’m thinking Undertaker and Kane take this one home, leading a pissed off Shawn Michaels to challenge the Dead Man to a one-on-one match. Those two have a hell of a legacy to live up to. More than eight years after their last match, I’m extremely skeptical they can give us something worth the return.

But then again, if anyone can do it, it’s these two…

PREDICTION: The Brothers of Destruction

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com!

 

WWE Super Show-Down Predictions – A Throw-Away Show?

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

I’ve been debating over whether to call Super Show-Down a throw-away pay per view. It’s tempting. But I think a better term for it would be “special attraction pay per view.” If not for the special attraction WWE has thrown in for the overseas fans, this would be a pretty sub-standard pay per view.

The Greatest Royal Rumble was the same kind of show. Yes, we had the cage match between Roman and Brock. But in the end, we got a non-finish. What held that show up was the big Royal Rumble Match that Braun Strowman won. It’s the same thing with Super Show-Down and the Undertaker/Triple H match.

Still, they’ve definitely packed it full of talent. So let’s take a look.

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH
Cedric Alexander (c) vs. Buddy Murphy

I’m blown away that this hasn’t been bumped to some kind of pre-show yet. Because 205 Live doesn’t build to pay per view matches. It builds to pay per view pre-show matches held in front of half-empty buildings. Don’t believe me? Ask Cedric Alexander and Drew Gulak how their Summerslam match went.

Yes, Buddy Murphy will be in his home country at Super Show-Down. But I still don’t see them taking the title off Cedric. My opinion hasn’t changed about Mustafa Ali being the man to take it from him, possibly at Wrestlemania next year. Or more accurately, the Wrestlemania pre-show.

PREDICTION: Cedric Alexander

Naomi & Asuka vs. The IIconics

You know what the problem is with the Smackdown Women’s Division these days? Actually, there are a a few. But do you know what the biggest problem is with the Smackdown Women’s Division these days? They turned the wrong woman heel. Instead of Becky Lynch (which was utterly stupid in the first place), it should have been Asuka.

It’s been painful, physically painful, to see Asuka’s fall from prominence since Wrestlemania. Charlotte beat her, and she’s become utterly and unbearably average. Just another name on the roster. This is unacceptable.

Billie Kay and Peyton Royce should take this one home. As they’re Australian, this match is tailor-made to give them a big win. But after the match, Asuka needs to turn on Naomi. This is the biggest stage she’s performed on in months, and the heel turn opportunity is practically gift-wrapped for them. For the love of God, give this woman something.

PREDICTION: The IIconics

WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The New Day (c) vs. The Bar

This should be good, as these guys rarely disappoint. And while I’d be just fine with the Bar taking the titles, I wouldn’t look for it here. I’ve got to believe that when the time comes, they want them to drop the belts to a team that hasn’t had them before. I’d love for SAnitY to be that team. But maybe not. Either way, this will be another feel-good moment for the New Day down under.

PREDICTION: The New Day

John Cena & Bobby Lashley vs. Kevin Owens & Elias

I’ve actually been very surprised at how little we’ve seen John Cena since Wrestlemania. As far as I can remember, this is his first televised match, if not his first match altogether, since losing to the Undertaker. I’d be surprised if the good guys didn’t win here, specifically after an AA by Cena.

Oddly enough, the person I’m thinking about going into this match is Lio Rush. His on-screen partnership with Bobby Lashley is very much in its infancy. But it’s packed with intrigue. Lio Rush could, and I’ll emphasis could, be for Bobby Lashley what Paul Heyman was for Brock Lesnar. Those are huge shoes to fill. But give it time Even if Lio can’t fill them, he might surprise you by coming close.

PREDICTION: John Cena & Bobby Lashley

STIPULATION MATCH:
The Miz vs. Daniel Bryan
Winner gets a WWE Championship Match.

I was surprised to see Daniel Bryan and Brie Bella lose at Hell in a Cell. If they’d won, this would have been the rubber match between Bryan and Miz. But since they lost, I’m thinking Bryan picks up a clean win over Miz here. Bryan can go on to challenge whoever the WWE Champion is, and Miz can go on TV and complain that he’s beaten Bryan twice and deserves a shot himself.

But what’s fun about the WWE Title picture on Smackdown right now, is that the immediate future isn’t so obvious. There are a few ways this could go, most of which are intriguing. Coming out of Super Show-Down, we could be looking at AJ Styles vs. Daniel Bryan, or Samoa Joe vs. Daniel Bryan. Or perhaps AJ Styles vs. The Miz. Smackdown may very well avoid the annual “autumn slump.”

PREDICTION: Daniel Bryan

Ronda Rousey & The Bella Twins vs. The Riott Squad

I’m not a big fan of six-person tag matches on pay per views. I’ve been conditioned to see them as TV filler over the years. That, combined with the fact that the Bellas (Brie in particular) haven’t exactly turned in quality in-ring work lately, make me wonder if this is the bathroom-break match. Nothing personal, ladies.

There’s been plenty of buzz about Ronda defending the title against Nikki Bella at Evolution. As revolting as that sounds, it’s looking like that is indeed where we’re going. And if they’re going to do a heel turn with Nikki, this would be the place to do it. I’d still expect Ronda and the Bellas to win, though. Most likely with an armbar by the champ.

Incidentally, I really enjoyed that Ronda vs. Ruby match we got on Raw this past week. How about we make that the match for Evolution, instead of Ronda vs. Nikki?

PREDICTION: Ronda Rousey & The Bella Twins

The Shield vs. Braun Strowman, Dolph Ziggler, & Drew McIntyre

Again, six-person tags and TV filler. But this one at least has a decent story going for it. I’ve actually been digging the stuff they’ve done with Dean Ambrose lately. Honestly, now is as good a time as ever for them to shoot for a Reigns vs. Rollins vs. Ambrose match for Wrestlemania. I’d go with that over Reigns vs. Rock.

I originally picked the Shield to go over here. But now that we’ve got a Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman vs. Brock Lesnar match on the horizon, I think it’s gotta be the heels. Have Braun pin Roman, perhaps due to a blunder with Ambrose. Thus, Braun has a little added credibility going into Crown Jewel.

PREDICTION: Braun Strowman, Dolph Ziggler & Drew McIntyre

WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Becky Lynch (c) vs. Charlotte Flair

Becky finally got her big win at Hell in a Cell. Now the question becomes, what do you do with this match? This is Flair’s championship rematch, of course. So if Becky can win this one, she should theoretically be done with Charlotte for awhile. Assuming they want Charlotte to remain a babyface, that’s probably the best course of action here. Right now, anyone they put against Becky is going to get booed.

In a perfect world, this is where Asuka would come in. A newly heel Asuka could make the perfect challenger for Becky, who for all intends and purposes is a babyface right now anyway. Considering how dominant Asuka used to be, if she can recapture some of that magic it might help Becky keep that underdog quality that fans love about her.

Mind you, that doesn’t leave much for Charlotte to sink her teeth into. I suppose you have the IIconics, Mandy Rose, and Sonya Deville. Maybe even Zelina Vega. But that’s all small potatoes by comparison. Hm. Perplexing…

PREDICTION: Becky Lynch

NO-DQ MATCH FOR WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Samoa Joe

They protected Samoa Joe in his loss to AJ Styles at Hell in a Cell. But nevertheless, he walked out empty-handed. The operative question here is, have they missed their chance to put the title on Joe?

I think the answer, at least for now, is yes.

If Joe takes the belt here, I think this program continues for at least another month. Styles will be owed a rematch, which he’ll probably get at Crown Jewel in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, they will have already established a new top contender in the Miz/Bryan match. So they’d have to do a little more clean-up in that scenario. Plus, at this point they’ve kept the title on AJ for so long. They may as well let him carry it past the one-year mark. That’s a hell of a notch on his belt.

The time to give Joe the belt was Hell in a Cell. Granted, I’d love to be wrong. But for now, I think the best we can hope is that he gets an another opportunity somewhere down the road.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

The Undertaker w/Kane vs. Triple H w/Shawn Michaels

There’s been some speculation about whether this match is the first in a series that will lead to Shawn Michaels coming out of retirement. First in a tag match with Hunter against Undertaker and Kane. Then another big one-on-one match with Undertaker.

I have no desire to see Shawn Michaels come out of retirement. I say that as a tried and true Shawn Michaels fan. His career had a perfect storybook ending that shouldn’t be tarnished. If he wants a little physicality, that’s fine. Throw a superkick, take a chokeslam, whatever. But no more matches. I want Shawn to be the one guy who keeps his word.

At this point in his career, I really don’t think the Undertaker should lose unless they’re trying to get a new star over, i.e. what they did with Roman at Wrestlemania 33. Obviously, that match sucked and was ill-conceived. But their intentions were good, and the right guy won.

But after all the “Is he retired?” drama that took place after that match, people want to see the Undertaker win. They want a Tombstone Piledriver and a pinfall. So I say we give that to them. Hopefully we get a good match in the process.

PREDICTION: The Undertaker

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com!

A Greatest Royal Rumble Preview – Expectations Defied

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

So uh…yeah. This is happening.

I think we all initially thought this Greatest Royal Rumble show Saudia Arabia was essentially going to be like the show in India last December. Newsworthy, but nothing too wild. Just some nice international PR for WWE.

Low and behold, we’ve got the biggest Royal Rumble Match ever, matches to decide the placement of secondary titles, an AJ Styles/Shinsuke Nakamura rematch, and what could very well be Brock Lesnar’s last WWE outing for a very long time. Consider my expectations defied.

So let’s dive in, here. There’s no shortage of meat to this thing.

WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The Bludgeon Brothers (c) vs. The Usos

Harper and Rowan just reached the top of the mountain at Wrestlemania. It seems unlikely that they’d lose the belts so soon after winning them. So I’m going with the Bludgeon Brothers here.

Kind of interesting the way Naomi got factored into the angle with these four on Smackdown. Makes me wonder if the Bludgeon Brothers might get an honorary Bludgeon Sister at some point.

PREDICTION: The Bludgeon Brothers

MATCH FOR VACANT WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLES:
The Bar vs. Deleter of Worlds

“Deleter of Worlds.” That’s going to take some time to get used to.

Word surfaced this week that WWE is regrets moving Sheamus and Cesaro to Smackdown, and having them win the belts here could serve as an excuse to get them back on Raw. I don’t know that I buy that. I think that’s something somebody leaked to cast some doubt over what seems like an obvious finish: Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt getting the belts. But I think you go with that finish regardless of where Sheamus and Cesaro are. Bray has needed to be freshened up for quite awhile now. This Woken stuff hasn’t necessarily revitalized him. But it’s a nice change of pace. So why not further the story? If Bray is indeed going to turn on Matt later, throwing the belts in adds another dimension to things.

PREDICTION: Deleter of Worlds

WWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
Jeff Hardy (c) vs. Jinder Mahal

They supposedly changed the ending to Wrestlemania to accommodate this big Saudi Arabia show. Based on the card in front of us, I’m thinking they changed the US and Intercontinental Title pictures for the same reason.

Jeff Hardy doesn’t need the United States Title. But I’m thinking they gave it to him on the way to Smackdown to raise the stakes for this match. Now you’ve got both Raw and Smackdown guys wrestling for secondary championships on this show, so there’s reasonable doubt over who’s walking out with gold.

Based on how Jinder has been booked since moving to Raw, I’m thinking he gets the belt back. Then they can have he and Kurt Angle do the heel champion vs. babyface general manager story. It seems like Vince is still pretty high on Jinder. So I don’t imagine he’ll fall from prominence any time soon.

PREDICTION: Jinder Mahal

LADDER MATCH FOR WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE:
Seth Rollins (c) vs. The Miz vs. Finn Balor vs. Samoa Joe

So if the US Title is going back to Raw, then the Intercontinental Title has to go to Smackdown. That means either Miz or Samoa Joe have to come out on top here.

And if those are your choices, then you may as well have it be Miz. I had originally wanted him to go to Smackdown to get away from the IC Title. But given the situation they’re in, and the fact that he’s so closely associated with it anyway, it makes sense to give it back to him. It gives him something to gloat about.

PREDICTION: The Miz

Triple H vs. John Cena

While this is a cool attraction for the fans in Saudi Arabia, it doesn’t really matter who wins this one. It could easily go either way. I’ll call it for Cena, as it’s likely we’ll see him in the ring again before Triple H.

PREDICTION: John Cena

CASKET MATCH:
The Undertaker vs. Rusev

There was a decent amount of hoopla over Rusev getting pulled from this match, only to be put back in later. While he’ll end up losing regardless, I can understand it. We don’t know how many matches the Undertaker has left in him. So getting this spot means something.

Undertaker didn’t have to do much against John Cena at Wrestlemania, and I can’t imagine they’d ask him to do much more here. I’m hoping he goes a little longer this time, though. I’d be happy with five minutes.

PREDICTION: The Undertaker

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

In hindsight, we should be grateful they didn’t go with Styles and Nakamura in the main event of Wrestlemania. I won’t discount the performance they put in, but the crowd just wasn’t invested. And given the length of the show, and everything they’d already seen at that point, it’s tough to blame them. On the upside, Nakamura’s heel turn was a pleasant surprise. He’s looking good as a villain so far.

I don’t see them putting the title on him yet, though. Too early in his heel run. My big hope here is that they improve on their Wrestlemania performance.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

STEEL CAGE MATCH FOR WWE UNIVERSAL HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Roman Reigns

The general belief is the change to the Lesnar/Reigns Wrestlemania match was made that day. They swerved us then. They could very well swerve us again here. I don’t see it, though. I think Roman walks out of this one with the belt. The fans in Saudi Arabia are indeed more likely to give him a positive reaction when he wins. Plus, it’s a cage match. Lesnar doesn’t necessarily have to be pinned to lose the title. Thus, if they end up using Brock again in the near future, that can be a gripe.

A decent number of fans are anxious to see the belt come off Brock Lesnar because of his limited schedule. I’m not one of them. I think they’ve got a great thing with him. While I don’t doubt he’ll be back someday, I’ll be sad if this is his last match for awhile.

PREDICTION: Roman Reigns

50-MAN ROYAL RUMBLE MATCH:

I’m curious to see how this match turns out. They had 40 guys in the 2011 Royal Rumble Match, and that didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Now we’ve got even more, and there’s really nothing on the line. Just a trophy and some bragging rights.

Still, you’ve got to believe the person who wins this match will get something. A title match at Backlash, perhaps?

They made sure to stack the deck for this sucker. Rey Mysterio Jr is back again, as is Chris Jericho. Kurt Angle is also putting the boots back on. If I’m not mistaken, this will be the Big Show’s first in-ring outing since the cage match with Braun Strowman. Shane McMahon got pulled into this too. Plus, I’m sure they’ve got a few surprises up for us. Kofi Kingston will inevitably have to come up with yet another Rumble Match spot.

I see a babyface taking this one home and ending the show on a positive note. So who has the most to gain from winning this thing? I almost feel like they should just give it to Daniel Bryan to make up for Rumbles past. It’s not like he’s gotten less popular in the years since. But I’m guessing he gets tossed out by Big Cass. If Mysterio is indeed coming back, a win for him would make sense. But would his ownership stake in this new Aro Lucha promotion dissuade them from doing that?

To me, the name that makes the most sense is Braun Strowman. The guy is about as hot as anybody they have right now, and this would only help him in that respect. I can picture him coming in late and just tossing bodies over the top rope, and eliminating a big heel to finally win it. Or maybe have him dump Big Show. That ending has been done to death, but it would get a reaction.

Either way, somebody in Saudi Arabia is gonna to get those hands…

PREDICTION: Braun Strowman

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition on Twitter.

WWE Superstar Shake-Up, Night Two: From Raw to Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Historically, Smackdown doesn’t always fare well in these drafts. It’s no secret that Raw is Vince McMahon’s baby, and he’s willing to keep it healthy at the expense of its sister show. Last year was a textbook example. While Kevin Owens, Charlotte Flair, and Sami Zayn were stellar additions to the show, Smackdown also lost Dean Ambrose, the Miz, Alexa Bliss, and Bray Wyatt.

Plus, like him or not, Jinder Mahal winning the WWE Championship only served to make Smackdown look like the B-show people already perceive it as.At first glance, it looks like the blue team did pretty well this year. Once upon a time, Smackdown had a reputation as “the wrestling show,” as opposed to the more entertainment and story-oriented Raw. As you’ll see, it may now be in a position to earn that title all over again.

The following wrestlers were drafted to Smackdown in the second night of the Superstar Shake-Up…

Jeff Hardy

I had a feeling this might happen. Especially after Jeff won the US Title on Raw. This is good news, though. If Jeff can stay clean, the smart bet is he’ll make magic on Smackdown once again.

Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville

I had pitched sending Deville to Smackdown by herself. But in truth, she’s probably not ready to be on her own yet. Ditto for Mandy Rose. I’d like to see them work heel against Paige, the babyface general manager. That way they’d get to develop a bit more.

Either way, what happened with Deville and Ronda Rousey on Raw proved my point about her ten-fold. She needed to get the hell out of there.

Samoa Joe

Now THIS is a move. One that could very well change the direction of Joe’s career.

Here’s the thing about Raw in the last year or so: If you’re a babyface, you’re living in the shadow of Roman Reigns. If you’re a heel, it’s Brock Lesnar’s shadow. Those are Vince’s two main guys right now. But Smackdown? Smackdown is seemingly anybody’s ball game. That whole “Land of Opportunity” line has some truth to it. And on this show, with this group of guys, all Joe needs is an opportunity. He’s got plenty of experience stealing the show with the likes of AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Daniel Bryan. There’s no reason to think he won’t do the same here. What’s more, he’s become one of the best and most consistent promos they have. If the cards fall the right way, 2018 could be the year Samoa Joe becomes a top guy in WWE.

SAnitY (Eric Young, Alexander Wolfe, and Killian Dane)

Full disclosure: I’m not as familiar with SAnitY as I probably should be. Eric Young has been around forever, of course. I’ve seen some awesome stuff from Kililan Dane. But I know next to nothing about Alexander Wolfe. Still, I’m very curious to see what these guys bring to the Smackdown Tag Team Division. There’s a lot of intrigue in putting them against the New Day, and I’m very curious to see how they match up against the Bludgeon Brothers.

Conspicuous by her absence is Nikki Cross, the female component of SAnitY. I’m not sure why they’d leave her out, unless they have something specific in mind for her down in NXT. A disappointment for sure. But let’s see what she does next…

Big Cass

This is it. As a solo, this is sink or swim time for Big Cass. He and Enzo obviously weren’t a team anymore when he was injured. But they were still working together. Now he’s completely on his own. Still, he couldn’t have asked for a better babyface to work against than Daniel Bryan. That’s not a feud anybody really wanted to see, but it’s the one we’re getting. So let the Big Cass experiment officially continue.

Asuka

In hindsight, this one is obvious. Asuka and Charlotte Flair stole the show at Wrestlemania. So there’s tremendous appeal in seeing them lock up again. Especially if the winner gets a shot at Carmella’s newly won Women’s Championship. Asuka has a broken streak to avenge. Now we can see her do it.

I also think an Asuka/Carmella match would be hilarious, just because of Carmella’s fearful screaming during the match. Those two characters could be a lot of fun together.

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

The story here isn’t Gallows and Anderson coming to Smackdown. It’s that Finn Balor didn’t come with them. Balor would have benefited from a fresh start every bit as much as Samoa Joe. Even worse, taking the Club away from him kills a huge portion of his invaluable cool factor.

Balor’s loss is AJ Styles’ gain, I suppose.

Sheamus and Cesaro

This one surprised me. I had these guys pegged as staying on Raw. I certainly won’t complain, though. While I’d never want to dismiss Sheamus, we now have Cesaro on a roster that also includes AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Daniel Bryan, Samoa Joe, and Jeff Hardy. Think of the possibilities.

Also, I imagine this means Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt are walking out of The Greatest Royal Rumble with the Raw Tag Team Titles. Can’t say I expected that. I thought they’d simply put them back on the Bar. But now, Sheamus and Cesaro can expand their resume to include the Smackdown Tag Team Titles.

R-Truth

How fitting that Truth was in a segment with Tye Dillinger. Because like Dillinger, he’s on Smackdown to be a background player.

I will say this, though: The man looks damn good for 46.

Andrade “Cien” Almas and Zelina Vega

As with SAnitY, I know very little about Andrade “Cien” Almas, outside of the fact that he just lost the NXT Championship to Aleister Black. But from what I understand, this pairing with Zelina Vega really turned his career around. So I’m anxious to see what these two are about. If they catch on, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Almas gunning for the US Title before long.

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition on Twitter.

Wrestlemania Predictions: IC, US, and Tag Titles

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

We’re back, this time with some title matches. Before you dive in here, I invite you to check out the Kick-Off Show predictions. You’ll notice WWE’s love affair with muti-man matches is still very much a thing. Though that’s been the case at Wrestlemania for almost two decades now. Multiple teams competing for a set of tag belts, multi-man matches for the Intercontinental Title, and that’s not even getting into all the Money in the Bank Ladder Matches.

Though oddly enough, they may buck that tradition this year by having one man compete for the Raw Tag Team Titles by himself…

TRIPLE-THREAT MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
The Usos (c) vs. The New Day vs. The Bludgeon Brothers

Much is made about what match opens Wrestlemania. You can make a strong case for this one being the opener this year. That New Day entrance alone would be a great way to start the show. But then you take into account how the Usos and the New Day have consistently torn the house down in the last several months. I don’t see how you can lose with this one.

Despite having been in WWE for about a decade now, this will be Jimmy and Jey Uso’s first match on the main Wrestlemania card. So what the hell, give ’em a win. They deserve it after the year they’ve had. So let one of the Usos pin one of the New Day guys, and give the Bludgeon Brothers a gripe about never being beaten.

PREDICTION: The Usos

FATAL FOUR-WAY MATCH FOR WWE UNITED STATES TITLE:
Randy Orton (c) vs. Jinder Mahal vs. Bobby Roode vs. Rusev

Rusev reportedly asked for his release not long ago, and WWE placated him by adding him to this match. I’ve got mixed feelings on that. If they’re not treating him properly, or not trying to maximize the potential of this “Rusev Day” stuff, then they’ve got no one to blame but themselves. On the other hand, Rusev has hit on something great here. It might be foolish for him to step away. In any event, they obviously want to keep him around. As they clearly should.

I’m thinking this is Jinder’s match to win. Randy Orton only has the title because they need something for him to do on this show, and Bobby Roode desperately needs a heel turn. In theory, they could give it to Rusev. But I see them finding a screwy way to put it on Jinder (Maybe the other Singh Brother comes back?), leading to a program with Rusev.

Incidentally, can we give him his wife back, already? Lana isn’t doing much on her own, and everybody knows they’re married anyway…

PREDICTION: Jinder Mahal

TRIPLE-THREAT MATCH FOR WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE:
The Miz (c) vs. Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor

Given the skills these three guys have, this match has high expectations from a quality standpoint. That’s fair, assuming they have enough time to really deliver. I don’t think it needs to be reiterated just how big this card is.

You really can’t go wrong in this one. Miz has obviously been an amazing IC Champ, and both Rollins and Balor would be worthy titleholders.

But in the end, Miz should take this one home. Emphasis on should. The guy is on the roll of his career. If they needed him to, he could be a Heavyweight Champion right now. I’m very much in favor of keeping that momentum going. After all, we’re probably going to need heel challengers for the Universal Title in the near future. Just saying…

PREDICTION: The Miz

WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The Bar (c) vs. Braun Strowman and ?

This isn’t the spot on the card that a lot of us wanted for Braun. He could easily have been the one facing Brock for the title. But this is still pretty good. And to their credit, they’ve managed to get some decent television out of it. The “Brains” Strowman bit on Monday was hokey, but it got a chuckle out of me.

They can get away with having Strowman win the belts by himself. It doesn’t do much for Sheamus and Cesaro. But Braun has the whole superhuman monster thing going for him. It makes sense.

But let’s say you have to put somebody with him? Who do you go with? Elias would work. There’s been some buzz about the Big Show, now that he’s signed a new contract. Rey Mysterio’s name has been mentioned. Oddly enough, it would also be a good spot for the recently released James Ellsworth.

Regardless, after Wrestlemania we’ll either have some sort of oddball tag team, or Braun defending the tag titles on his own. Both ways work.

PREDICTION: Braun Strowman

More predictions to come!!!

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition on Twitter.

Kurt Angle’s Acting Woes, Plus Ponderings From Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

You know who we really could use right about now? The Big Show.

Or at least someone like Big Show. People can say what they want about the pace he cuts in the ring. But that guy can take WWE’s scripted material and act the hell out of it. We’ve seen him break down and cry on live television. He can garner an amazing amount of sympathy for someone so big and powerful. Case in point, those segments from a few years ago when Stephanie McMahon would blackmail him into doing the Authority’s bidding.

Kurt Angle really needs some acting tips from the giant. Because they’re trying to cast him in a similar role heading into Wrestlemania. Coming off the contract signing at Elimination Chamber, it’s obvious Ronda Rousey’s first WWE match will see her team with Angle against Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. Rousey has taken to sticking up for the Raw General Manager as he’s been condescended to, belittled, and as we saw on Raw this week, outright attacked by WWE’s power couple.

The trouble is that in trying to recite WWE’s scripted dialogue, Angle often comes off like a bumbling fool. A likable fool, perhaps. But still a fool. That undercuts the story they’re trying to tell. And one with pretty high stakes, considering all they’ve invested in Rousey. On paper, Angle is a fantastic choice to team with Rousey. But depending how they script this, he could wind up dragging her down.

There could be one saving grace, however. Remember when Triple H surprised Angle with a Pedigree at Survivor Series? The next night on Raw, Angle marched up to him and said if he ever did it again, “…you can take this job and shove it, because I’m comin’ for you!” We’re inevitably going to see that Kurt Angle again in the next few weeks. The Raw General Manager will go away, and the Olympic champion will return. That’s got the potential to be a hell of a moment, and Rousey’s presence will only accentuate it.

If they can’t make this thing work from a story perspective, then maybe they can pump in a little more of that big fight feel….

Other Ponderings From Raw:

Alexa Bliss and Mickie James open the show. Asuka emerges, but walks into a trap set by Bliss, James, and Nia Jax. Sasha Banks and Bayley join the fight, and a six-woman tag match is made. The babyfaces prevail, despite Bayley refusing to tag Banks out of a predicament. God damn. Alexa Bliss cuts a career promo for the second night in a row. This woman is money on the mic. I don’t know if it’s right to call her an overachiever or not. But she’s damn sure maximized her minutes.

Supposedly, Sasha Banks and Alexa Bliss had legit heat at one point. Supposedly Banks didn’t think she had legit passion for the business. Seeing how well they work together, I wonder if that’s still a thing…

Banks isn’t a full fledged heel yet. But she’s damn close, and she’s that much better for it.

Question: Why exactly did Mickie James turn heel? I missed that memo.

John Cena talks about his failure at Elimination Chamber, challenging the Undertaker, and earning a match at Wrestlemania by moving to Smackdown. The big news item coming out of this segment was Cena announcing he will not be wrestling the Undertaker in New Orleans. Mind you, that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. It just means he said it’s not happening. Time will tell.

Personally, I think ‘Taker shows up at Wrestlemania. The fan interest is obviously there, as illustrated by how the crowd popped when Cena said his name. But after what we saw from him last year, I wouldn’t be heartbroken if he is fact done. If anyone has earned the right to stay retired, it’s him.

Bray Wyatt destroys Heath Slater and Rhyno, says the “great war” with Matt Hardy is far from over. STOP LAUGHING, you idiot. You lost a big match. On pay per view. Again. You’re on the road to becoming as much of a jobber as…well, Heath Slater and Rhyno.

After an impassioned promo from the Miz, the Intercontinental Champion loses a non-title match to Seth Rollins. Finn Balor comes out to upstage Rollins’ win. Miz is in a really special place right now. He was always a good mic guy. He became a great mic guy. But when he cuts promos like the one he did on this show, he proves he’s becoming one of the greatest promos of his generation. Not just the passion he spoke with, but some of the little entitled character bits he threw in there. And of course, he got to look in to the camera, which never hurts a damn bit. Homie was in the zone out there.

I wasn’t around last week to talk about it. But Seth Rollins’ stock is pretty damn high after last week. Probably as high as it’s been since he turned face. I’m well aware I’m not the first to say this, but I’ll say it anyway: Last week Rollins put on one of the best performances in Raw history. That being said, a lot of fans got swept up in the afterglow of the match, declaring Rollins could now feasibly be put against Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania. Assuming Roman Reigns went down with an injury, of course.

No. Just, no.

I’ve never taken anything away from this guy’s talent or his drive. He’s one of the best in the world right now. But the Seth Rollins character isn’t ready for a big match like that. He took a big step in that direction week. But he still needs to give us a little more to latch on to. Calling him the “Kingslayer,” or worse “the Architect” does nothing for his identity.

It’s a shame, especially when you look at some of the stuff this guy does out there, i.e. that freakish Frog Splash across the ring.

Finn Balor def. The Miz. So are we looking at a Fatal Four-Way for Wrestlemania? Miz vs. Rollins vs. Balor vs. Strowman? Or is Strowman even in the IC Title hunt anymore? You’d think he would be after what we saw in the Chamber Match.

Roman Reigns: “Brock Lesnar is an entitled piece of crap who hides behind his contract.” They were smart to play this card. It’s similar to the one Cena played against the Rock several years ago. The loyalty card. The full-timer/part-timer card. The “I care and he doesn’t” card. It’s simple, but effective. Because it’s rooted in truth. Roman is there almost every week, Brock isn’t.

Between Alexa Bliss and the Miz, I’ve talked a lot about mic work this week. While I wouldn’t call Roman a great talker, he can deliver big when he’s got something to sink his teeth into. He showed us that here tonight.

I highly doubt it’ll get Roman cheered any more than he would have been otherwise. But it’s about as good a shot as they can take.

The Bar def. Titus O’Neil and Apollo in a 2/3 Falls Match to retain the WWE Raw Tag Team Titles. The champs gloat on the mic. Sheamus and Cesaro have a point. Who have they got left to beat? Is it time to call up a team from NXT? This close to Wrestlemania, that seems doubtful.

Braun Strowman def. Elias via disqualification. This one really dragged. But both these guys are hot right now. I’ve actually been on quite the Elias kick lately. To the point that I actually looked forward to his song routine this week.

So are these two headed to Wrestlemania? Seems like that might be the case…

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Booker T/Corey Graves Heat? Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Booker T isn’t happy. But we all should be.

Last week on his Houston-based radio show, the former WCW Heavyweight Champion made some bold statements about being replaced by Jonathan Coachman on the Raw announce team. Comments specifically directed at Corey Graves.

According to Booker, Graves is “the reason that I’m not on Monday Night Raw right now.” Booker claims he was removed because people in the company were worried about a physical confrontation between the two, based on how they were interacting on television.

He continued: “Me personally, everybody knows my reputation… I get mean, when you mess with my green. And right now, my green is being messed with, you know what I mean? So, me and Corey Graves… Wrestlemania coming up, right? There’s room for one more match. … I’m calling Corey Graves out to a fight. Not a match. Not a pre-show posedown or anything like that. I’m calling Corey Graves out to a fight.”

Graves’ only response was the following tweet…

Then on Raw, Graves randomly threw out the line: “You better be careful, Coach. You’ll be doing ESPN radio locally.” Yeesh…

This feels like a work, especially given what Booker said about Wrestlemania. But for a moment, let’s go with the notion that he was shooting. Let’s say Graves somehow got Booker moved back to pre-show duty.

He did us a favor, folks.

When Booker subbed in for David Otunga on the Raw announce team, I think most of us were relieved. Almost anyone is a better choice than Otunga. And for awhile, Booker was a breath of fresh air. But as the months went on, his work went off the deep end. It became a ongoing gag for Cole and Graves to make fun of him for saying nonsensical things. As a wrestler, Booker was a bona fide star. But as an announcer he was drowning. Given the choice between Booker T and Jonathan Coachman, they’d have been foolish not to go with Coach.

Booker T is a bona fide Hall of Famer, and he deserves our respect. But the time had come to bump him off Raw. At least for the time being.

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns def. Bray Wyatt to qualify for the Elimination Chamber. Woken Matt Hardy attacks Wyatt after the match. It doesn’t get much easier to call than this. Crowd was into it, though. Has it only been a year since Bray won the WWE Championship in a Chamber Match? Seems like a lot longer…

Loved those opening pre-tapes. What’s more, they were looking into the camera!

Finn Balor and Karl Anderson def the Revival. My ears perked up when Scott Dawson used the phrase “tag team specialists.” On a recent episode of Something to Wrestle, Bruce Prichard explained that phrase used to be applied to teams made up of smaller guys, i.e. the Midnight Rockers. The idea was they were relatively easy to beat as individuals, but as a team they were nearly unstoppable.

Then Dash and Dawson lost to Balor and Anderson, who teamed up on a whim. Whoops. Hey, at least Balor beat somebody.

Cedric Alexander and Mustafa Ali def. Drew Gulak and Tony Nese. New 205 Live General Manager Drake Maverick (formerly Rockstar Spud) joins the announce team. I’m familiar with Rockstar Spud’s work from Impact Wrestling, though not extensively so. Here’s what I’ll will say: He did amazing out there on commentary. An absolute natural. That was his first time out there on Raw. I say we make this guy the new Austin Aries. Put him out there on commentary every week for the Cruiserweight matches to give them some unique flavor.

Alexander took a beating in this match. Not just the fall on the shoulder, but that landing after the somersault over the ropes. He looked like he landed on his tailbone.

I’m not a regular 205 Live viewer. But with Roderick Strong debuting against Hideo Itami, tonight’s show is appointment television.

Kurt Angle announces Bayley, Sasha Banks, Mickie James, Mandy Rose, and Sonya Deville will challenge Alexa Bliss in the first ever Women’s Elimination Chamber Match. Bliss calls Angle out for not having Brock Lesnar defend the Universal Title in a Chamber Match. I was actually surprised to hear Alexa call Kurt a sexist. You’d think with everything being so ultra PC these days, they wouldn’t even want to suggest such  thing. It got a nice reaction, though.

Angle also announced Asuka vs. Nia Jax for Elimination Chamber. If Jax wins, she gets in on Asuka’s championship match at Wrestlemania, whoever she picks. I don’t see Nia beating Asuka. But this could help pave the way for her challenging Alexa at Wrestlemania.

Asuka def. Bayley. This was pretty good. Loved the reverse roll-through counter to the Asuka lock. That was almost an old Bret Hart spot. Probably Bayley’s best Raw match since the night she won the title from Charlotte. Now if only Bayley had gotten any kind of reaction when her music hit. If she keeps having matches like this, she’ll be on the comeback trail. But she’s not there yet.

The Miz def. Apollo Crews to quality for the Elimination Chamber Match. Crews has had a good couple of weeks. Now if only he could find some personality.

The Bar def. Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns to retain the WWE Raw Tag Team Titles via DQ, with an accidental assist from Jason Jordan. Apparently Jordan has some neck and back issues, which is why we haven’t seen him wrestle in awhile. The timing couldn’t be worse, of course. But they’ve been creative in how they’ve kept him involved. Based on what we saw here tonight, the official heel turn should be coming sooner than later.

Nia Jax won an enhancement match. In her post-match promo, Nia announced to Asuka that she’s “the only one in that locker room you can’t beat.” Um, she did beat you. Less than a month ago. It was the best match you ever had…

Mickie James def. Sonya Deville. I’d love to know what Sonya Deville thinks about Ronda Rousey and Shayna Baszler both being under the WWE umbrella. I imagine it’s something to the effect of, “So much for my gimmick…”

Elias def. John Cena and Braun Strowman in a Triple-Threat Match to earn the right to enter last in the Elimination Chamber Match. There’s been a good amount of buzz about Strowman challenging Miz for the Intercontinental Title at Wrestlemania. But I think they’d do just as well to put Elias in that spot. The guy’s getting cheers.

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Ronda Rousey’s WWE Debut, Plus Ponderings From the Royal Rumble and Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

“The landscape has changed.” That’s one of their go-to lines, isn’t it? Whenever something supposedly big happens, somebody has to say: “The landscape has changed.” It doesn’t really make sense, does it?

But last night the landscape did change, didn’t it? At least as far as women’s wrestling is concerned. Ronda Rousey is apparently now a full-time performer with WWE. What exactly “full-time” means for her has yet to be determined. Somehow I doubt she’ll be making all the house shows. She may end up being the female equivalent to Brock Lesnar. But one way or another, this is happening. Ronda Rousey is a professional wrestler.

People can say what they want about how Rousey last few fights went. But this woman is a legit superstar, and a true trailblazer in the world of women’s sports. Would the so-called “women’s revolution” in WWE have even occurred if not for what Rousey did in the world of MMA? The answer is no. What’s more, she’s a legit wrestling fan. This is apparently a legit passion project for her. Look no further than what she was wearing when she showed up after the Women’s Royal Rumble Match last night. A clear homage to Rowdy Roddy Piper, whose nickname she adopted in the UFC as “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey. That leather jacket legitimately belonged to Piper.

I always hesitate to use words like “legitimacy” or “credibility” when it comes to pro wrestling. This stuff is worked. It’s not the same as what Rousey did in the UFC, and it never will be. But a superstar like Rousey choosing to devote the next chapter of her career to WWE lends the business an amazing level of credibility. It’s a message to the world at large about what wrestling is and what it means to our popular culture. It’s also a hell of a shot in the arm for women’s wrestling overall.

We may be in the midst of a women’s revolution. But Ronda Rousey is about to start a revolution of her own.

Ponderings From Raw (with some added from the Royal Rumble):

Shinsuke Nakamura wins the 2018 Royal Rumble Match, challenges AJ Styles for Wrestlemania. Simply put, this was the best Royal Rumble Match in years. And not just because the right guy won. The Philadelphia crowd was hot, and they milked the drama so perfectly during those last several minutes. It’s been a long time since a wrestling match has actually made me nervous. But when we were down to Nakamura, Reigns, Cena, and Balor, my heart was in my throat.

What’s more, they’re giving us a match truly worthy of Wrestlemania: Shinsuke Nakamura against AJ Styles for the WWE Championship. Depending on how much time they have, these two could make magic. This was the career moment Nakamura needed, and the smart bet is he’ll have yet another one at Wrestlemania.

Rey Mysterio Jr. returns to WWE as a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble Match.  As I type this, the YouTube clip of Ronda Rousey’s appearance has almost two million views. The clip of Rey’s return? Almost five million. That should tell WWE all they need to know about whether to bring him back. Supposedly they want him to work a full-time schedule and he’s not up for it. I can’t say I blame him. The last time we saw him in WWE he looked tired and beat up. He’s earned the right to some breathing room.

Stephanie McMahon brings out Women’s Royal Rumble winner Asuka at the top of the show. An Elimination Chamber Match for the Raw Women’s Title is made for the upcoming pay per view. Sasha Banks challenges Asuka to a match, which is made for later in the night. When Asuka started speaking in Japanese, I wondered if they needed to give her a translator. But I’d say she got her message across just fine…

The Women’s Royal Rumble Match itself worked out fairly well. The right woman won, obviously. And despite my general distaste for Sasha Banks, I give her a world of credit for being out there as long as she was. Ditto for Becky Lynch.

However, the match did suffer for featuring several women who were either relatively inexperienced, hadn’t wrestled in a long time, or weren’t necessarily qualified to be wrestlers in the first place. While former stars like Trish Stratus and Beth Phoenix looked outstanding, I could have easily done without Vickie Guerrero, Kelly Kelly, and Torrie Wilson (despite the pop she got). The biggest problem this match had was its need for bodies. They were filling space for the sake of filling space. It’s forgivable this year. But next year they need to do better.

Jonathan Coachman rejoins the Raw announce team full-time. Given Coach’s experience with ESPN, this was a nice get for WWE. I appreciate that he’s in an analyst role, as opposed a lead announcer. He’ll certainly do better than Booker T, whose commentary had long since gone off the deep end.

At least it’s not David Otunga.

Braun Strowman overturns part of the Raw stage on to Kane during a Last Man Standing Match to earn a spot in the upcoming Elimination Chamber Match. At this point, Braun is essentially WWE’s answer to the Hulk. Every week he performs some kind of superhuman feat of strength, leaving a trail of destruction behind him. That’s not a bad role to have. People love the Hulk, don’t they?

Gotta love Kurt Angle yelling at Braun about the whole thing. Um, Kurt? You booked it…

Elias def. Woken Matt Hardy, with an assist from Bray Wyatt, to advance to the Elimination Chamber. It’s been several weeks since we first saw Woken Matt on Raw, and my interest is tapering off. It doesn’t help that he’s been losing more than winning. The whole reason for Matt’s awakening in the first place was that he couldn’t win a match. So where does that leave him now?

The Miz def. Roman Reigns to retain the WWE Intercontinental Title. Why would Miz try to chop him? Roman Reigns wears a damn vest. Think, you idiot! Think!

Good match, though. These two have better chemistry than you would think, given how different their backgrounds are.

The Revival def. Heath Slater and Rhyno. You know what I wouldn’t mind seeing? The Revival against a babyface Sheamus and Cesaro for the Raw Tag Team Titles. Sounds like a Wrestlemania match to me.

The Dudley Boyz announced for WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2018. I still say it’s a shame Bubba and D-Von never got to hold the tag belts again after they came back. Even so, this is obviously well-deserved. They’d never tell you this on Raw, but the Dudleys are the only team to have won championships in WWE, ECW, TNA, and New Japan Pro Wrestling. They’re one of the most widely popular tag teams in wrestling history. This has long since been an inevitability. Congrats, gentlemen.

Asuka def. Sasha Banks. I expected to see Bayley during this match after Sasha tossed her out of the Rumble last night. That’s the kind of thing that’d make you think a Bayley heel turn is coming. Personally, I’d rather they do babyface Bayley right.

Loving all the talk about Asuka’s streak potentially ending. We need more of that. The streak is on the line every time Asuka steps in the ring, and with each victory it grows.

Between the Rumble and this match with Asuka, Sasha’s had a hell of a weekend. It looks like they’re finally working toward a heel turn for her. Works for me. I don’t think it’s a secret that I’m done with her as a babyface. As a heel, though…

Whether hero or villain, she needs to stop those damn dives. This wasn’t the first nasty fall she’s taken with one of those. She’s tough as hell for getting up and continuing the match, and it was obviously a hell of an effort from both ladies. But enough is enough.

The Miz, Finn Balor, and John Cena cut backstage promos using handheld devices. I ADORE this. Scripted or not, it comes off so much more naturally. And by God, they’re looking into the camera! Glory, glory, hallelujah!

The Bar def. Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews to retain the Raw Tag Team Titles. Corey Graves said something during this match about Dana Brooke being the missing ingredient for O’Neil and Crews. As unlikely as it is on paper, that seems to be the case.

Crews was a stud out there this week. Eve after taking that nasty Power Bomb from Sheamus. He’s so explosive. Like a damn human super ball.

John Cena def. Finn Balor to advance to the Elimination Chamber. There’s no shame in losing to John Cena. Cena certainly puts enough people over in his own right. I just wish they’d let Balor pick up some steam. He’s one of the coolest acts on the roster, and he puts on great matches consistently. But he just keeps losing. This guy can headline Wrestlemania this year if they wanted him to. But he just can’t seem to bust through the glass ceiling. What gives?

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WWE Royal Rumble 2018 Predictions. Plus: This is the XFL…again.

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

He’s really going to try this, isn’t he? I can’t believe it…

As most of you reading this already know, Vince McMahon announced this week that the XFL will be revived in 2020.

This revamped version of the league, which hosted one season in 2001, will attempt to come at the game from a different perspective. McMahon noted the league will emphasize safety, be non-political, and exclude players with criminal records.

Professional football has never been my thing. But even I can see that Vince is once again aiming for disenfranchised NFL fans. He still doesn’t wish to compete directly, as the XFL season will kick-off after the NFL season has wrapped up. The league will supposedly not effect McMahon’s role as chairman and CEO of WWE.

As facepalm worthy as this is, I do give Vince credit. The guy wants a football league, and he’s going to try again regardless of the inevitable criticism and ridicule. There’s a lot to be said for that. He’s also not using WWE money this time. He’s started a new company, Alpha Entertainment LLC, specifically to pursue outside entertainment endeavors. Did we mention he’s 72 years old. That old catchphrase rings true: Vince really does have balls the size of grapefruits.

That said I have virtually no interest. I’m a pro wrestling guy. Vince McMahon is also a pro wrestling guy. WWE has always been his bread and butter, and almost every time he’s tried something else it’s ended badly. The original XFL obviously comes to mind. But he also tried the World Bodybuilding Federation in the early ’90s. In 1998 he bought the Debbie Reynolds Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for $10 million, which nothing came of. WWE Studios hasn’t exactly set the movie industry on fire, though at least it’s still alive after more than 15 years. You might even lump Linda McMahon’s senate campaign in there. So despite what WWE would have you believe, Vince McMahon is not a genius.

But let’s not miscast him as a fool, either. At his core, Vince McMahon is a gutsy and stubborn entrepreneur who takes calculated risks and is willing to endure failure. Most of his greatest successes are things he’s willed into existence. The global expansion of WWE. The creation of Wrestlemania. His ratings war with Turner Broadcasting. Now he’s trying to will the XFL into existence once again.

Part of what makes Vince so successful is his penchant for both spectacular success and spectacular failure. So in the end, win or lose, this XFL resurrection will be a sight to behold. It’s hard not to root for the guy sometimes. Even when it seems like he’s stubbornly beating a dead horse.

With that, let’s take a look at the Royal Rumble. I’m skipping the kick-off show matches this year, as we’ve already got a lot to cover on the main show…

2/3 FALLS MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
The Usos (c) vs. Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable

I’m going with Benjamin and Gable on this one. The Usos have had the belts for awhile now. As babyfaces, it might do them good to chase a heel team. Benjamin and Gable have also been growing on me as complaining heels. Gable in particular has done some really nice mic work, which is a good sign as far as a potential singles run is concerned. So let’s give ’em the belts and see what happens.

By the way, do Benjamin and Gable have a team name? I was never a fan of the “World’s Greatest Tag Team” name. Nothing like that, please.

PREDICTION: Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable

WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan (c) vs. The Bar

A win for Sheamus and Cesaro might help everybody here. I’d wager the Bar are on their way to a babyface turn. The respect factor is getting tougher to ignore as the weeks go by. On the flip side, Jason Jordan is starting to come into his own as an annoying heel. A loss to the Bar can easily transition into a feud with Rollins, who could sorely use a program with some heat to it. An audience clamoring for Rollins to curb stomp Jordan doesn’t sound so bad.

I can’t say I’m any less tired of seeing Rollins wrestle Sheamus and Cesaro. But even so, this one could be the dark horse to steal the show.

PREDICTION: The Bar

HANDICAP MATCH FOR WWE HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

If the Raw Tag Title Match doesn’t still the show, this one probably will. These three have all proven they can turn in epic pay per view matches. The 2-on-1 format also lends itself to good storytelling. So I’ve got high expectations.

I don’t see why Styles wouldn’t retain here. Though it doubt it’ll be without controversy. Expect to see Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan during this one, leading to a confrontation or a dispute that allows Styles to pick up a win. Something is obviously going to happen with Bryan and Shane at Wrestlemania. It’s just a question of what, and whether it involves Bryan lacing up his boots again…

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

TRIPLE-THREAT MATCH FOR WWE UNIVERSAL HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Braun Strowman vs. Kane

In terms of match quality, these three are fighting an uphill battle. Brock’s matches are hit or miss depending on who he’s in there with. His match with Strowman at No Mercy was a groaner. And despite his status as a WWE icon, Kane’s matches tend to be slow. It might be better if they got this one over with quickly.

On the other hand, Brock’s multi-man matches have historically been pretty great. The fatal four-way match at Summerslam, the triple-threat with John Cena and Seth Rollins a few years back. If Brock, Strowman, and Kane can pique the audience’s interest early, they could overachieve

Either way Brock wins, hopefully pinning Kane. He’d better pin Kane. So help me God, if he pins Strowman again…

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

2018 WOMEN’S ROYAL RUMBLE:

I was pretty excited for this until I read that Stephanie McMahon will be on commentary for it. From a publicity standpoint, I get it. They want her to be heavily associated with the “women’s revolution.” But I have no desire to hear that woman talk for an hour. Especially when there are multiple women they could plug in who’d be a better fit. Lita comes to mind, as she did commentary for the Mae Young Classic. But there’s also Renee Young. What about Charlotte Flair and Alexa Bliss? They’re the two champions and they’re not wrestling that night. So have them lend some insight to the match. Yes, a five person announce desk is overkill. But it beats having Stephanie out there.

You know who really deserves to win this match? Becky Lynch. Crowds love her, and she deserves a big match at a Wrestlemania. They’ve also played up her friendship with Charlotte for awhile now. That could set up a great reluctant opponents storyline. But I have very little faith they’ll do the right thing with her.

Nia Jax is a possibility. Notwithstanding the beatdown Asuka put on her, they’ve established her as a dominant force from the start. She and Alexa Bliss have been connected as far back to their NXT days. A match between them could be intriguing, but I don’t see it for Wrestlemania. More likely she gets ganged up on and eliminated, or someone surprises her.

The big favorite is Asuka. She’s finally starting to pick up speed on the main roster as an undefeated, unstoppable force. In that respect, winning the first Women’s Royal Rumble Match could be like tossing gasoline on a fire. But it seems so obvious. It feels like they want us to think it’s her just so they can swerve us.

There are 30 women in this match. As of this writing, only 18 have been announced. So I’m making this prediction with more than a third of the participants unknown. As I’ve said, I’m inclined to think some of the women we saw at Raw 25 will be here. Trish Stratus, Jacqueline, Nikki Bella. Maybe Torrie Wilson and/or Kelly Kelly. They need bodies in this thing. We almost have to see some NXT names. Ember Moon, Peyton Royce, Billie Kay, Nikki Cross, etc. Maybe Shayna Baszler.

It should be noted that Ronda Rousey has denied she’s in this match. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. It just means she’s denying it.

In the end, I’ve got to go with Asuka. Yes, it’s obvious. But they’ve gone the obvious route with Rumble Matches before. Asuka vs. Alexa Bliss is one of the more intriguing matches they can do on the main roster right now. For that matter, so is Asuka vs. Charlotte. They really can’t lose with her.

PREDICTION: Asuka

2018 MEN’S ROYAL RUMBLE:

Oddly enough, there are only 17 names announced for the Men’s Royal Rumble compared to 18 for the women. You wouldn’t think that’d be the case, as they’ve obviously got so many more male wrestlers.

Like the John Cenas and Randy Ortons of the world, Roman Reigns is always a top contender for the Rumble Match. The buzz since Wrestlemania 33 has been about him headlining this year’s show with Brock Lesnar. So in theory, he could take this one home….*shudders*

I doubt it, though. I can’t see them wanting the Rumble Match drowned out by boos again. So we’ve got to look elsewhere. So with Lesnar occupied on the Raw side, we’re looking for a challenger for the WWE Championship on Smackdown. Going into Wrestlemania, your champion is probably going to be AJ Styles. Who do you put with AJ?

Finn Balor’s name jumps out immediately. Yes, he’s on Raw. But we’ve seen guys win the Rumble and jump ship before. Balor is with Gallows and Anderson now, and we’ve established that they have a history with AJ in Japan. And of course, AJ was with Gallows and Anderson in WWE for awhile. I’m not sure how much they’d want to go into all the New Japan/Bullet Club stuff. But they can always touch on it and then branch off into their own story. Remember, Finn pinned AJ in that throw-together match at TLC. Balor can be a marquee player for WWE. He just needs the right story. This could be it.

They could do AJ Styles vs. Randy Orton. But the match Orton had with Bray Wyatt left a bad taste in people’s mouths. Plus, Orton just won it last year. So I’d steer clear of him.

The only other name that makes sense is Shinsuke Nakamura. That’s a bigger risk than some would admit. Nakamura is clearly special and obviously a star. I can’t complain about most of his matches. (The Jinder Mahal stuff notwithstanding.) But I don’t know that he’s connecting with the audience at a level that justifies a Rumble win. The language barrier is part of it. But I still don’t feel like I know anything about this guy. Yes, he’s a legend in Japan. But why? What makes him such a “Rock Star” or an “Artist” or whatever they want to call him?  I’d like to see Nakamura win the title. I’d like to see him work with AJ. But if they still don’t have a solid grasp on how to portray him, maybe now isn’t the time.

Then again, they put the title on Jinder Mahal. If they can take a risk with Jinder, they can take a risk with Nakamura. A win for him win would get a big reaction. It could also make for a feel-good story about the Japanese legend who comes to America and wins the title. I’m not overly confident with this pick. But Nakamura has a shot this weekend.

PREDICTION: Shinsuke Nakamura

MISCELLANEOUS RUMBLE MATCH PREDICTIONS: 

I expect Elias to eliminate Cena, and going on to face him at Elimination Chamber. He’s essentially getting the role Samoa Joe was supposed to have.

There’ve been rumors about EC3 making his debut in the Rumble Match, now that he’s left Impact Wrestling. More power to him. It did wonders for AJ a few years ago.  He went somewhere else and made a name for himself. He deserves another shot.

As they’re in Philadelphia again, a surprise ECW entrant seems likely. Tommy Dreamer, maybe? They could always throw Rhyno in there. But as an ECW fan, I’m still not over Rhyno dressing up like Mrs. Clause.

So does Tye Dillinger have to come in at number 10 every year now?

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Enzo Amore’s Release, Plus Ponderings From Raw and Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It was only a matter of time before the #MeToo movement touched pro wrestling. I can’t say I expected Enzo Amore to be the one effected. But here we are.

The real-life Eric Arndt was suspended and subsequently released by WWE this week after rape allegations against him emerged via Twitter. Supposedly Enzo was fired not because he was accused, but because he failed to alert WWE that he was being investigated.

Either way, it’s a rotten situation. If he did it, then he deserves everything that’s coming to him. If he didn’t, and simply failed to be transparent with WWE about it, then this whole thing was needless. Arndt certainly isn’t the best in the ring. But he’s still incredibly talented, and can go far. If he is innocent, then hopefully he’ll be back. Perhaps a little wiser for the experience.

Ponderings From Raw and Smackdown:

Vince McMahon is honored by his children, Shane and Stephanie. Stone Cold Steve Austin interrupts, hitting the Stone Cold Stunner on Shane twice, and once on the chairman himself. This Raw 25 show as a disappointment for a variety of reasons. But we can’t say they didn’t start strong. At 72, Vince is every bit the showman he’s always been. And of course, it doesn’t get any hotter than Steve Austin.

Remember the days when Austin could hit the Stunner on Stephanie? Ahhh, good times…

Asuka, Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Mickie James def. Nia Jax, Alicia Fox, Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville. Asuka throws her teammates over the top rope afterward, in a preview of the Women’s Royal Rumble Match. Asuka is obviously a heavy favorite in the Women’s Royal Rumble Match this Sunday. But she’s also a little obvious. Who’s the dark horse candidate? Nia Jax? Becky Lynch, maybe?

The Undertaker returns to the Manhattan Center, says it’s time for those who’ve fallen to “rest in peace.” Lots of fans holding up smartphones during the Undertaker’s entrance. I’ll never understand that. Be in the moment, folks. Put your damn phones away.

Filming at both the Barclays Center and the Manhattan Center was a complete waste. I feel for the fans at the Manhattan Center, who obviously felt cheated with what relatively little they got. Watching current stars on that throwback set is such a great visual. Why not just do the Manhattan Center? Just jack up the ticket prices. The die-hards will pay.

There was a ton of speculation about an angle being shot for Undertaker vs. John Cena at Wrestlemania. I’m not necessarily disappointed we didn’t get that. But we didn’t get much of anything from ‘Taker. He said some drawn out stuff about his old enemies, and then he left. Again, seeing him back in the Manhattan Center was cool. But in the end, this was a big disappointment.

The Miz def. Roman Reigns to win the Intercontinental Championship. Loved the finish to this one, with the exposed turnbuckle pad being a surprise. Miz cheats to win, and gets his belt back in a match that the crowd was pretty into. Take note future champions: For the Miz, that IC Title is every bit as important as the WWE Title. That’s how you lend prestige to a championship.

Christian hosts Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan on the Peep Show. Jason Jordan’s got heat. Bar babyface turn? Sheamus and Cesaro interrupt. A brawl ensues. and Rollins accidentally takes out Jordan. A babyface turn for Sheamus and Cesaro is probably inevitable. They’ve got that cool factor going for them. Especially when they’re up against someone like Jason Jordan, who’s definitely coming into his own as a heel. He’s gettin’ there. Slowly but surely…

Bray Wyatt def. Woken Matt Hardy. Another opportunity they missed with the Manhattan Center presentation? Howard Finkel. That had him announce Undertaker’s entrance, but they switched to Greg Hamilton for the remainder of the night. The never even showed Finkel on camera. Why? What’s their aversion to letting this guy be on TV?

On the plus side, it’s always great to hear Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler on headset. Lawler alluded to us one day finding out who/what Sister Abigail is. I’d like to think that means the whole Bray in drag thing is being forgotten. More likely, they’re not as familiar with the recent product.

Chris Jericho appears in a backstage segment with Elias. Again, a total waste not having Jericho appear in front of the live crowd. Though at least for this one they have an excuse, what with the whole New Japan thing. He was even wearing his “Alpha Club” t-shirt. Did they just miss that?

Elias is interrupted by John Cena. A fight breaks out. Elias low blows Cena, and smashes him in the back with a guitar. Very cool to see Jimmy Fallon in the front row. Like him or not, he’s the host of The Tonight Show. That means something.

One thing I love about Cena? His love for spontaneity. He’ll go with the crowd. Even if he’s just pointing out the stupid beach balls. That lends an energy to things that’s been sorely lacking for a long time.

Mark Henry finds out the Godfather is “grown up,” and now a married man. Of course the Godfather can’t have hoes anymore. That was an edgy gimmick back in the ’90s. I’m almost surprised they even let him be on TV nowadays.

The Dudley Boyz interrupt a tag team match. Heath Slater takes the 3D through a table. Why exactly couldn’t we get that Bubba Ray heel run last year? Hell, why couldn’t the Dudleys even get a token tag team title run? This seems to be a recurring theme, but what a waste…

Shawn Michaels, Triple H, the New Age Outlaws, X-Pac, and Scott Hall celebrate Raw’s 25th anniversary with the Balor Club. Gallows and Anderson defeat the Revival. The legends beat up Dash and Dawson. It tugged at my heartstrings to hear Hunter name-drop Chyna. It’s such a damn shame she never got to come back and take a bow. She absolutely deserved it.

Supposedly, this Revival stuff was supposed to have been done by Enzo. Dash and Dawson did just fine, of course. And somehow it wasn’t as bad as what the Ascension got from JBL and the gang a few years back.

The “Too Sweet” bit with the Balor Club felt like an unofficial passing of the torch moment. BNow if only Balor hadn’t lost to Seth Rollins last week.

A confrontation between Brock Lesnar, Kane, and Braun Strowman ends with Strowman Powerslamming Lesnar through an announce table. They did this table spot at Summerslam, right? Still a good spot. Now if only Strowman were winning the title this Sunday.

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn open Smackdown. AJ Styles agrees to face them in singles matches later in the show. They really want us to get behind the “Kami” nickname for Owens and Zayn. Coming from AJ, it almost feels like a dad joke. Good thing he’s the best in the damn world…

Chad Gable def. Jey Uso. Gable’s roll-through German Suplex somehow never gets old.  He’s so smooth in there. But at 5’8, his height could work against him in terms of a singles push. Granted, guys like Eddie Guerrero have been Heavyweight Champions at around that height. So it’s not unheard of.

Naomi def. Liv Morgan. The women’s locker room empties in anticipation of the Women’s Royal Rumble Match. Charlotte Flair wishes them good luck, “especially to the winner.” Saw someone on Twitter say that Liv Morgan looks like a Bratz doll. I’m not even sure what that means. But somehow I know it’s true.

We haven’t heard anything official about past stars coming in for the Women’s Rumble Match, which seems odd. I would imagine everyone they trotted out for that little hello on Raw is a candidate. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Nikki Bella show up. I’m sure Jacqueline would be happy to get in there. Trish Stratus seems like a must. I’ve also heard Molly Holly’s name mentioned. You’d think at least a few names would have been announced. Especially with them in attendance like that.

Randy Orton interrupts a match between Shinsuke Nakamura and Baron Corbin. Hits the RKO on both. Baron Corbin’s entrance music may be the best thing he’s got going for him right now. True story.

Hell of an entrance by Orton. He friggin’ flew into frame with that first RKO. His wife went on a little Instagram rant about how he was left off Raw 25. At least he didn’t miss much…

Bobby Roode, Kofi Kingston, and Xavier Woods def. Jinder Mahal, Rusev, and Aiden English. That “Keap of Faith” Kofi does over the top with his back turned is damn crazy. Talk about a trust fall…

AJ Styles def. Kevin Owens quickly after Owens seemingly injures his knee. After a pre-match beatdown, Sami Zayn pins the WWE Champion. The best part of all this? Zayn finally won a match with the Blue Thunder Bomb. It’s the best move he’s got, but he’s always used it as a set-up move.

The dead giveaway that Owens wasn’t really hurt? They kept showing him on camera during the match. Typically if somebody gets hurt, they don’t do that if they can help it.

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