Peyton Royce: “My Potential Haunts Me.”

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Peyton Royce cut one of those promos Monday night on Raw Talk. You know those promos, right?  The ones where a wrestler blurs the lines between fantasy and reality, talks about how they aren’t used to their full potential, etc. CM Punk really popularized this kind of thing 10 years ago with his famous “pipe bomb” promo on Raw.

While this kind of promo has almost become routine over the last decade, I can’t hate on somebody for putting a voice to their passion. That’s what was really on display here from Peyton Royce. It wasn’t the best promo from an execution standpoint. But I’d still rather see this on Raw than some of the scripted garbage we’re fed on a weekly basis.

A couple things that stood out to me…

“Why not just let me go? Let me go and see what happens?” In hindsight, she should have been careful about her wording. It sounds like she’s asking to be fired. That’s a route you could take, I suppose. But it wasn’t what she was trying to say.

“Why not me? Why does it always have to be the same old, same old?” This is me projecting on to Peyton, but when she said that the person I thought of was Charlotte Flair. Is that fair to Charlotte? No. She’s extremely talented and has earned her spot in that company. But fair or unfair, they push her to the moon. And inevitably, that sometimes comes at the expense of other talents.

“My potential haunts me.” That should have been the thesis for the whole promo. The whole tirade could have revolved around Peyton Royce needing an opportunity at Asuka and the Raw Women’s Championship so she could finally quiet her mind.

I had no idea Asuka was injured. If she really is hurt, why not do a Fatal Four-Way to crown a new champion? Maybe…Charlotte vs. Peyton vs. Rhea Ripley vs. Alexa Bliss? And who knows? Maybe Peyton Royce wins.

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

Raw Needs Austin: How Stone Cold Can Help Salvage the Show

By Rob Siebert
Has never stomped a mudhole.
Nor walked it dry.

Let’s get one thing straight: WWE itself does not need salvaging. Quite the opposite in fact. It’s ludicrously been deemed an “essential business” in the state of Florida. During this Coronavirus pandemic, they have continued to run three weekly shows, albeit with no fans in attendance, and a bare bones cast and crew.

Granted, these shows have been great for the likes of Aleister Black, Zelina Vega and her new faction, and even Apollo Crews. Promos in general have been awesome too. But on this week’s show, we also got such stellar matches as:

– NXT Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair defeating Kayden Carter (an NXT star who is a bigger deal on that show, but has done nothing but lose on Raw.)
– Shayna Baszler squashing Indi Hartwell (an NXT wrestler who’s not even listed on their “Superstars” page.
– Bianca Belair beating Santana Garrett. (Ditto).

Mind you, I have nothing against enhancement matches, or any of the women who played the “enhancement” role on Monday. But c’mon. This is supposed to be the flagship show! Yes, these are obviously very unique circumstances. And to their credit, WWE has been thinking outside the box to compensate for that. But there has to be something they can do to spice up Raw a little more…

*cue the glass shattering*

I’ve very much enjoyed The Broken Skull Sessions on the WWE Network. Largely because Steve Austin has become an amazing interviewer. Seriously. He’s got a no B.S. style that’s better than a lot of the so-called journalists we see on television today.

My only real issue is that so far it’s mostly been “usual suspects,” i.e. guys Austin has interviews a bunch of times already. Legends like the Big Show, Ric Flair, and Bret Hart. I imagine Shawn Michaels is coming up soon. Mick Foley too. Maybe Kurt Angle.

But what if The Broken Skull Sessions wasn’t just another interview show with the legends? What if it was more timely? What if it featured the stars of today, in addition to the stars of yesterday? What if they talked about current events? Like say, the friggin’ global pandemic we’re in the middle of, and how it’s devastated WWE? How about WWE being named an “essential business” by the state of Florida? What about the current product? Not just how everyone’s been effected by the pandemic, but how it works when things are running on all cylinders.

Most importantly: What if they put it on Raw?

Honestly, why the hell not? COVID-19 has forced them to come up with new ways of doing things. Who says they can’t fill at least one hour, maybe 90 minutes of Raw with Steve Austin, one of the biggest stars the industry has ever seen and a proven ratings commodity, and The Broken Skull Sessions? Let him talk to not only the legends, but today’s top stars. Let him help get some of these people over in the process!

Supposedly these interviews are shot in Los Angeles. So have WWE send a production crew, and then every week a new talent can travel down there to be interviewed. If the talent doesn’t want to travel? Have them Skype in. There’s no harm in that. Austin could talk to his damn walls and make it entertaining!

Who would he talk to? I’m glad you asked…

1. Vince McMahon
Vince has to be first. Because of the risks involved with traveling, it’s got to be the “Vince doesn’t ask people to do things he wouldn’t do” principle.

You could very well fill all three hours of Raw with this one, given the topics at hand. What Vince thought as he realized how serious COVID-19 was getting, his decision to go ahead with Wrestlemania, the choice to keep shooting new TV, Florida deeming WWE an “essential business.” And of course, they can talk about the current product.

If Austin is allowed to be himself and ask whatever he wants, this could be the most compelling episode of Raw in years.

2. The Rock
As far as I know, Austin has never interviewed the Rock. What better time than now? Based on his social media, he seems to be at home with his young daughter (as he should be). But he’s been active, and taking fan questions. He even had a chat with California Governor Gavin Newsom.

So if some jabroni named Gavin can get the Great One’s time, you’d better believe Stone Cold should be able to.

Again, they could fill all three hours with this if they wanted to. They can’t get a bigger name than Dwayne Johnson. They can talk about their matches, Rock’s transition into movies, his comeback against John Cena and what he thinks about the current stars, that cute little hand-washing video he made with his daughter. They could even talk about….*gasp*…AEW.

3. Seth Rollins
When I originally thought of this idea, Seth Rollins was the first name that came to mind. Because while he’s no Shawn Michaels, the man’s become fairly controversial over the last year. From how he was booked as Universal Champion, to his new Monday Night Messiah character, to competing in an empty arena at Wrestlemania. Rollins has also been one of WWE’s biggest flag-wavers lately. And one can argue he’s paid the price for that. This is all great fodder for an interview.

Notable Omission: Braun Strowman
Strowman won the Universal Title in a match that stunk up the PC at Wrestlemania. He also made some really tone-deaf comments recently about indie wrestlers making a living during the pandemic. He doesn’t need another chance to put that giant foot in his mouth right now.

4. Becky Lynch
From the “Man’s Man” to the Man herself. Becky’s been the Raw Women’s Champion for over a year now. As she once told Bayley, she’s THE Women’s Champion in WWE right now. What’s more, she’s risen to become one of the faces of the company.

Lynch was one of the guests on Austin’s USA Network show Straight Up Steve Austin. But I’d like to see the Rattlesnake get down to brass taxes. From her early life including her training as a circus performer, to her unlikely rise to the top, to Ronda Rousey’s recent inflammatory comments (that were obviously worked).

5. Triple H
Like anyone in the McMahon family, Triple H is almost always going to be topical in terms of an interview. Many of the same questions posed to Vince can be posed to Hunter. Particularly about the Coronavirus stuff.

But as WWE has been more than happy to point out lately, this month marks Triple H’s 25-year anniversary with WWE. He spent a sizable portion of those two and a half decades working with Stone Cold. So they can run down their history together. And of course, there’s always NXT.

6. Charlotte Flair
Whether people believe it or not, one day WWE is going to call Charlotte Flair “the greatest of all time.”  She’ll be to the women what John Cena is to the men. As least in terms of PR speak.

Except in Charlotte’s case, they might actually be right. If you don’t count what the Undertaker and AJ Styles did as pro wrestling, then Charlotte and Rhea Ripley had the best match at this year’s Wrestlemania. And for my money, she’d already done it twice before. As Dr. Venkman might say, she’s a legitimate phenomenon in that ring. She displays knowledge and ring prowess well beyond her years.

Between her Wrestlemania matches, being one of the first women to main event Wrestlemania, Rousey’s comments, her 12 championship reigns (if you count the NXT and Diva’s Titles), and the mounting pressure of not only living up to her father’s legacy, but the one she’s made for herself, there’s plenty of ground for Austin to cover.

Notable Omission: Drew McIntyre
He’s the WWE Champion, and essentially the star of Raw right now. Best not to overexpose him and have the fans turn on him even quicker than they did Rollins.

7. Edge
Obviously Edge’s comeback would take up the lion’s share of this interview. But he and Austin are both Attitude Era guys, so I’m sure there’ll be more than one trip down memory lane.

Edge also didn’t seem to take too kindly to fans who didn’t like his Last Man Standing Match at Wrestlemania. So I’d definitely like to see Austin press him on that. Furthermore, what’s next for him? Does he come back at Summerslam? Or does he wait until the Coronavirus craziness goes away?

8. Paul Heyman
Heyman is an awesome interview no matter who he’s with. He’s great with Austin in particular. We’ve heard them talk about ECW. We’ve heard them talk about Brock Lesnar. They can do that again, of course.

But what I really want to hear about is Heyman being Executive Director of Raw.

I suppose the actual content of the interview depends on how shoot-oriented they’d want to do this on TV, as opposed to the network. But Paul Heyman and Vince McMahon have famously butted heads in the past. But what’s their working relationship now? What’s it like running Raw on a week-to-week basis? What’s his schedule like these days? How difficult is it to be creative under Vince? The questions practically ask themselves.

9. John Cena
Other than the Rock, and maybe Vince, this is the biggest get they could…well, get. Austin and Cena. Two generations. Two icons.

There’s been a lot of talk about the Ruthless Aggression era lately. I don’t see why that wouldn’t continue in a setting like this. Cena made his now famous debut on Smackdown mere weeks after Austin walked out on the company. They just missed each other. That’s a hell of a place to start. From there, they can segue into Hollywood, Cena’s thoughts on the future of WWE, and all that jazz.

But above all else, Austin needs to ask what the hell was up with the Firefly Funhouse Match.

Notable Omission: Bray Wyatt
Again, it depends on how shoot-oriented they’d want these to be. But I have no desire to see Bray Wyatt out of character right now. And if it’s going to be in character, then it’s got to break down and end with Austin in the Mandible Claw.

10. The Street Profits and Bianca Belair
Wait, what? The Street Profits and Bianca Belair? Yup. Austin should talk to talk to all three.

Angelo Dawkins, and especially Montez Ford, have charisma coming out their pores. But when they were called up to the main roster, they were inexplicably put in weird hype segments for other segments on the show. This was before they’d made their in-ring debut mind you. Afterward, the hokey dialogue would continue. Yes, they eventually became the Raw Tag Team Champions. And in recent weeks, they’ve been joined by NXT call-up Bianca Belair.

But in NXT Dawkins and Ford had a certain charm about them that they’ve largely been missing since their move to Raw. They’ve had plenty of mic time, but it feels like they’ve been stuck behind a script. And who knows the power of being unhindered on the mic than Stone Cold Steve Austin. When he would be on headset during the formative days of his character, he reportedly asked Vince McMahon to not overly edit his work, as it was (and still is) largely what sets him apart from everyone else.

So lets have Austin sit down with Dawkins, Ford, and Belair. They can dive into Ford and Belair’s real-life marriage if they want to. But that’s by no means a must. They talk about coming up in a very different type of wrestling business than Steve did. They can dish on NXT, coming over to Raw, their characters, their favorite matches, etc.

Plus, seeing Austin drink beer out of a red solo cup would be kinda neat.

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

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 10 Most Fascinating People of 2018

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

What we have here is a bit of a tradition here at PI.

It started as a take-off of something Barbara Walters used to do. She’d choose and profile the 10 “most fascinating people” of the year. I’ve borrowed that concept several times over the years, and the lists can be found in our archives.

(For your convenience: 2012. 2013. 2015. 2016. 2017.)

So once again, we’re back. On this year’s list, we’ve got a UFC Hall of Famer turned WWE Champion, a heroic underdog turned monster heel, a new hot babyface taking the company by storm, among several others…

1. Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey was always going to be a marquee player for WWE. That was blatantly obvious from the get-go. And why wouldn’t she be? But realistically, Ronda could have put in half the effort she does, and made less than half the appearances, and still gotten by. She could have coasted on her name, a few suplexes, and some armbars. She could have taken many would consider to be the Brock Lesnar path.

Instead, Rousey has consistently over-delivered. Whether it was her debut match at Wrestlemania, her match with Charlotte Flair at Survivor Series, or even her title bout with Nia Jax at TLC, this has unquestionably been the best-case scenario.

Rousey has her critics, who would have you believe she doesn’t deserve the spot she has. While so much of wrestling is relative based on one’s personal taste, many of those critics need to be reminded that much of the so-called “Women’s Evolution” can be attributed to Rousey’s success in the UFC. If she doesn’t become the box office draw that she does, WWE has no reason to revamp its own women’s division. Without Rousey, women like Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and Asuka wouldn’t have the chance to headline pay per views or steal the show at Wrestlemania.

What’s more, Rousey may be about to knock down yet another door. It’s looking more and more like she’ll be part of the first women’s match to headline the show of shows…

2. Daniel Bryan
This is Bryan’s third time on the list, and it’s not hard to see why. His performances spark a ton of emotion, and fans definitely ran the emotional gambit with him this year. In March, we were thrilled to hear he was cleared to return to the ring after more than two years in a WWE-imposed retirement. The move raises a number of questions regarding other wrestlers thought to be permanently retired due to injury. Among those names is Paige, who thanked Bryan in her retirement speech, adding “…you give me hope.”

Bryan made his emotional and genuinely inspirational return to the ring at Wrestlemania. For several months, Bryan was once again one of the company’s most popular acts. Then, less than a week before Survivor Series, Bryan shocked the world by winning back the WWE Championship, turning heel on AJ Styles in the process.

Since then, Bryan has condemned fans for their consumerism, and lack of regard for the environment. In one of the year’s most talked about promos, he promised to replace the leather strap on the WWE Title belt. He’s literally gone from one of the company’s top babyfaces, to perhaps its top heel. At this rate, it’s likely he’ll once again find himself back in the WWE Title Match at Wrestlemania this year.

3. Asuka
Asuka is also returning to this list, having made it last year. The “Empress of Tomorrow” started her 2018 at the highest of highs. Since arriving on Raw in October 2017, she’d kept her fabled undefeated streak alive. She would go on to win the inaugural Women’s Royal Rumble Match, earning a title match at Wrestlemania. She would face Smackdown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair in a match that, for my money, stole the damn show.

But that’s where her luck began to change. Flair shocked the world when she ended Asuka’s undefeated streak. A strange move in hindsight, as she’d simply drop the title to Carmella. The same Carmella that would later defeat Asuka in back-to-back pay per views. Mere months beforehand, it had been unthinkable that Asuka could lose to anyone. She’d beaten the likes of Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Mickie James. But suddenly, here she was losing title matches to Carmella, and subsequently being mired in mediocrity, forming an alliance with Naomi. The two would lose to Peyton Royce and Billie Kay at Super Show-Down.

And yet, Asuka’s popularity has endured. Apparently, that’s what prompted Vince McMahon to add her to the Smackdown Women’s Title Match at TLC. Now, Asuka can add Smackdown Women’s Champion, and winner of the first Women’s TLC Match to her resume. It’s like the last 10 months never even happened…

So at last, Asuka has made it to the top. It didn’t happen the way any of us thought it would. But she is there. Now it’s just a question of whether she can stay at the top, or she’ll be lost in the shuffle again. One way or another, we’ll get our answer in 2019.

4. Shawn Michaels
It’s tough to remember HBK coming out of retirement, isn’t it? As big a deal as it is, it was drowned out by all the controversy surrounding WWE Crown Jewel. Not to mention the announcement that Roman Reigns would be stepping away to fight leukemia.

But indeed, Degeneration X reunited in Saudi Arabia to face the Brothers of Destruction. While many cried that Triple H, the Undertaker, and Kane showed their age out there, even after eight years away Shawn still managed to look pretty damn good. And while Shawn himself indicated he’d be going right back into retirement, there’s been plenty of speculation about “Mr. Wrestlemania” making yet another appearance at the show of shows. Another Undertaker match seems like the obvious route. But Shawn has no shortage of other options. I myself floated six of them.

In hindsight, I still wish Shawn hadn’t done this match. I really wanted him to be the one guy that stayed true to his word. But what’s done is done.

5. Tegan Nox
This one hurt. Like, it really hurt. You just wanted to reach through the screen and comfort this poor woman. She’d already been through hell, and now she was going to have to do it all over again.

Tegan Nox, whose real name is Steffanie Newell, was supposed to be in the first Mae Young Classic. But a torn ACL kept her out of the ring. For this year’s tournament, they were telling that story with her. In fact, she was one of the favorites to win the whole thing.

Then, mere seconds into her second-round match against Rhea Ripley, her other knee goes out. We later learned she’d torn that ACL as well. It was a legitimately heartbreaking moment for not only Newell, but everyone watching.

The only upside in all of this? We seem to be on the road to yet another redemption story for this character. In the aftermath of all this, Rhea Ripley, who has gone on to become the NXT UK Women’s Champion, started a war of words with Nox on Twitter. So assuming Nox will indeed be back in the ring, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see her wearing that title in 2019.

So get well soon, Miss Newell. Great things are waiting for you.

6. Johnny Gargano
As cliche as it is, I’ve got to go with the classic Harvey Dent quote from The Dark Knight on this one: “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Former tag team partners Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa have put on some of the best matches in all of wrestling this year. But the feud has transformed Gargano, arguably one of the last old school babyfaces in the business, into a man consumed with destroying Ciampa. So when Ciampa wrestled Aleister Black for the NXT Championship in July, Gargano attempted to interfere and cost him the match. It ended up backfiring, as Gargano hit Black with the belt, and essentially handed the title to Ciampa.

A Triple-Threat Match was made for the championship at NXT Takeover Brooklyn IV, but a mysterious attack took Black out of the match. Gargano failed to win the title, at it was later revealed the he was the one who attacked the former champion. Naturally, a feud ignited between the two, culminating in a steel cage match this past week on NXT, which Ciampa would help Gargano win. This has lead to rampant speculation that this blood feud between Gargano and Ciampa has ultimately led them to team up all over again.

This slow journey of Johnny Gargano’s, from victim, to heroic avenger, to fallen hero consumed by revenge, to villain, is a textbook example of pro wrestling done right. Deep, emotional stories, told through amazing in-ring action.

7. Dean Ambrose
Ambrose was absent for much of 2018, healing from a torn triceps. But when he returned in August, he was once again part of the Shield. But seeds of dissension were quickly planted by rivals Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler. We all sensed a turn was coming. But there was no way we could have predicted what actually happened…

Mere hours after Roman Reigns announced he was stepping away from the ring to fight leukemia, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins successfully challenged McIntyre and Ziggler for the Raw Tag Team Titles. With emotions still running high after the Reigns announcement, Ambrose shocked Rollins with a DDT, and then a brutal beatdown. While many would cry foul over the timing, for my money it was ultimately one of the best things WWE did all year. It did what pro wrestling is supposed to do: It sucked us in. Got us invested in the characters and their stories. It sparked raw emotion in the audience.

However, WWE’s handling of Ambrose since the turn has been hit-or-miss. While I actually like the new Bane-inspired gas mask look, Vince McMahon’s influence on some of his promos has been quite evident. He’s talked about how the fans smell, how they’re all lazy and unmotivated, etc. Very little with any emotional weight to it.

Still, Ambrose is an awesome performer. Given the right material and the right opportunities, he’s as capable of delivering the goods as anyone. And they have a potentially hot storyline practically gift-wrapped for them, as Ambrose’s real-life wife Renee Young is sitting there on commentary every week. She might just be the ticket to him becoming the vile, despicable heel we all know he can be.

8. Drew McIntyre
Daniel Bryan may have had the comeback of the year, but Drew McIntyre had an epic comeback story of his own. McIntyre reinvented himself after being released by WWE in 2014. He found success in Impact Wrestling, Evolve, and PWG. When he returned to WWE via NXT in 2017, he was almost unrecognizable.

When McIntyre finally returned to the main roster this past April, he formed an unlikely alliance on Raw with Dolph Ziggler. The pair would ultimately up each other’s game, and be a dominant force on the show for most of the year. McIntyre would prove to be one of the show’s most consistent performers, both in the ring and on the mic.

Now a solo act again, the “Scottish Psychopath” will almost certainly challenge for the Universal Championship in 2019. McIntyre’s near five-year journey from the bottom of the wrestling may culminate with him standing at the very top. Frankly, it would be foolish to bet against him at this point.

9. Shinsuke Nakamura
Nakamura is back on this list this year, but unfortunately it’s for the wrong reasons. He and Asuka were very much on parallel journeys this year. They each won their respective Royal Rumble Matches, but failed to win gold at Wrestlemania. While Asuka failed to win the Smackdown Women’s Title from Carmella on two different occasions, Nakamura was unable to take the WWE Title from AJ Styles several times before finally dropping out of contention. He found a little bit of new life as a heel, and won the US Title from Jeff Hardy as a consolation prize. But his run has been fairly unremarkable, highlighted by a losing effort against Seth Rollins at Survivor Series. And while I won’t spoil this week’s Smackdown, the odds of Nakamura walking into 2019 with the belt are slim to none…

It would be easy to blame Nakamura’s failure as a main-eventer on WWE creative. The guy didn’t book himself to lose, after all. WWE also didn’t seem to know how to convey his unique persona, other than simply calling him “the Artist.” Losing multiple title matches to Jinder Mahal in 2017 didn’t help either.

But at the end of the day, Nakamura simply didn’t connect with mainstream American audiences well enough to justify the push he got. Yes, he’s a bona fide legend in Japan. Yes, he did very well in NXT. But on Raw and Smackdown you’re catering to the casuals and the average joes. And while we saw flashes of Nakamura’s greatness, over the long haul we never really got a good reason to invest in him emotionally, be it as a heel or a babyface. You can’t chalk all of that up to creative. Much of it, in fact, a majority of it, is about what happens in when the cameras are rolling.

Supposedly, Nakamura’s contract is up next month. If I’m in his shoes, I’m headed back to Japan. Because I’m at something of a loss as to how you build him back up at this point.

10. Becky Lynch
Up until recently, Becky Lynch was “always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” While her talent, charisma, and likability have been apparent almost from the start, WWE always seemed reluctant to fully get behind her. She was the only one of the “Four Horsewomen” of NXT to never win the NXT Women’s Title. While she did indeed become the inaugural Smackdown Women’s Champion, she only held the belt for two months. She more or less became a second-tier babyface afterward. This, despite fans clamoring to see her in a more prominent role.

We got our wish. Now, Becky Lynch may very well be the most popular wrestler in all of WWE.

Many of us, myself included, balked when Becky turned heel at Summerslam. But in hindsight, it gave her the creative freedom to become the defiant badass she is now. She’s often compared to Stone Cold Steve Austin, and that’s not entirely unjustified. Fans feel she’s been overlooked, and now they’re rooting for her to conquer the system that’s held her back for so long. Even when she was injured by Nia Jax and pulled out of a match against Ronda Rousey at Survivor Series, the fans stood behind her, every bit as outraged as she was. Now, she may be in a position to make history by headlining Wrestlemania with Rousey.

For more than a decade now, we’ve been in the era of forced babyfaces. Wrestlers we’re told we should cheer for, rather than heroes who earn those cheers organically. John Cena and Roman Reigns are both extremely talented, and great at what they do. But for most of their careers they’ve been going against the grain in terms of fan reception.

Becky Lynch is the exact opposite. No one told us to cheer for her. If anything, it’s been the exact opposite. But like Daniel Bryan before her, she’s started an uprising from the audience. And such uprisings should never be ignored, lest the main event of Wrestlemania be drowned out by chants of “Becky! Becky! Becky!”

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

WWE’s All-Women Event: Let’s Book the Show!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Rumor has it WWE is planning an event this fall that will be strictly for female talent. A sort of make-good for the ladies being left off the Greatest Royal Rumble show in Saudi Arabia.

I’m inclined to believe it will happen, and that they’ll  make a pay per view out of it. Why not? WWE wants to be seen as progressive. We’ve had the women main event TV shows and pay per views. They’ve had a Royal Rumble Match, an Elimination Chamber Match, Money in the Bank Ladder Matches, etc. This seems to be the next logical step.

But who or what do you put on an all-female pay per view? Supposedly, this would be like the Women’s Royal Rumble Match in that it would include names from the past. Though in truth, I’m not sure they need to do that too extensively. If they focus on telling good stories, they’ve got more than enough ladies to put on a good show. Maybe even a great one.

My usual speculation is going to look a little bit different this time. Whereas with predictions I start from the bottom of the card and work up, with this one I’ll be starting with the main event and working down. I’m also jumping to conclusions about who the champions will be once we get to this show. But with or without championships, the matches should work just fine.

And if WWE is going to promote an all-female pay per view, you know who they’ll have pegged for a main event position…

WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Ronda Rousey (c) vs. Natalya

The seeds for this one have obviously been planted for awhile now. It’s just a question of how long they want to wait.

I wouldn’t try and make a big Wrestlemania match out of Ronda and Nattie. But for something like this it would work just fine. There’s also a great story there if Ronda is the champion. Natalya comes from a wrestling family, and has seen the hardships it can wreak. Her husband suffered a career-ending injury in the ring. She herself spent years working her way to the top of WWE. And yet, here Ronda is with one of the top titles in the industry after less than a year.

Here’s a sad truth: Natalie Neidhart-Wilson’s contributions to the “Women’s Evolution” are largely overlooked. But in many ways she was ahead of her time. Before we had Sasha Banks, Bayley, Becky Lynch, or even someone like Paige, we had Natalya working a more sophisticated, technically sound style. The first Charlotte Flair match that really got people buzzing was with Nattie at the inaugural NXT Takeover show.

Here’s where I’m going with this: Nattie deserves to main event a show like this. Future generations will look back on her the way we now look back at names like Molly Holly.

LADDER MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE:
Asuka (c) vs. Charlotte Flair

If the die-hards aren’t hooked by Ronda vs. Nattie, this should do the trick.

I’ve touched on this a little bit already, but WWE needs to work on rebuilding Asuka a bit. She lost her undefeated streak at Wrestlemania, then she lost to Carmella at Money in the Bank, failing to win the Smackdown Women’s Championship on both occasions. It was once unthinkable that someone could beat Asuka. Now she’s dangerously close to becoming just another woman on the roster.

As such, Asuka needs to beat Carmella at Extreme Rules. Then she needs to retain over Charlotte Flair at Summerslam, with this being the rubber match. The ladder is some nice icing on the cake. Though I’ll admit, I’m nervous about Charlotte potentially doing one of her moonsaults off the damn thing.

Mickie James vs. Trish Stratus

One of the highlights of this year’s Women’s Royal Rumble was Mickie James and Trish Stratus being in the ring together for the first time in over a decade. The fans popped big. It was the first time Mickie hast generated that kind of buzz since she’s been back.

So if the people want to see it again, let’s give it to them!

As you’ll see, I’m reticent about giving alumni prominent spots on this show. Because, and I’m sorry to say this, most of them weren’t that good at the Rumble. But there were exceptions. (Michelle McCool, Beth Phoenix, Molly Holly hitting the Molly-Go-Round.) Trish was one of them. I wouldn’t ask her to go 30 minutes with Charlotte or Sasha. But a veteran like Mickie can carry a match with her as a special attraction.

2/3 FALLS MATCH:
Sasha Banks vs. Bayley

By the time we get here, I assume Sasha and Bayley will have had a couple of pay per view matches already. So this is my attempt at letting these two blow off this program once and for all by putting on a clinic. I don’t know if can top their famous NXT Takeover: Brooklyn match.  But they can certainly try. The winner of this match would theoretically be in line for a Raw Women’s Title Match. That’s a natural doorway to Ronda vs. Sasha, if you ask me.

#1 CONTENDER MATCH:
Becky Lynch vs. Naomi vs. Carmella

Admittedly, this is a throw-together match. I had originally put Becky with Charlotte, but figured Charlotte vs. Asuka would be the bigger match. I do think Charlotte vs. Becky would be money, though. It’s well documented that those two are good friends.

On the upside, I would have Becky win this one. While WWE loves their multi-person matches, I’d keep it at three here. No need to muddy the waters. If they want to put more Smackdown ladies out there for this one, they can put somebody on commentary. Peyton Royce and Billie Kay come to mind. But they could have Lana do it as well.

Lita & Ember Moon vs. Alexa Bliss & Victoria

A little more nostalgia in this one. I like Lita being with a spiritual successor in Ember Moon. As for Victoria, she was conspicuous by her absence at the Royal Rumble, and deserves a spotlight like this. She’s also a great heel. So she makes sense for this spot.

Inevitably, Lita has to do a moonsault in this match. But for crying out loud, lady, please be careful. That one at the Rumble scared me…

STIPULATION HANDICAP MATCH:
Nia Jax vs. The Riott Squad
If Nia loses, her head is shaved.
If the Riott Squad loses, Ruby’s head is shaved.

We see Handicap Matches on Raw all the time. But I like the idea of the larger Nia Jax against the three Riott Squad members. The hair stipulation makes for some nice garnish. Plus, I bet Ruby looks good bald!

The caveat here is that Ruby might be injured and unable to wrestle. If that’s the case, depending on how much she’s healed at this point, I say you keep her on TV as much as possible. Have her mentor Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan in backstage segments.

On the subject of backstage segments, it would be cute if after the match, Molly Holly came up to a freshly bald Ruby Riott and said something like, “Don’t worry kid, it’ll grow back.”

NXT WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Kairi Sane (c) vs. Shayna Baszler

Without spoiling anything, unless something unexpected happens, this match will very happen again in the very near future. I see Kairi Sane winning her first NXT Women’s Championship in that encounter. This would be Baszler’s rematch for the belt.

Normally I’d be reticent to put NXT matches on a main roster card. But given what NXT has done for women’s wrestling in the last few years, to not include this championship on a show like this almost seems improper.

Shayna Baszler and Kairi Sane also wrestled in the inaugural Mae Young Classic. So they can tell that story, and connect it to this year’s tournament. I assume it will be over by the time we get here. But if it isn’t, having the finals on this show would be tremendous.

James Ellsworth Open Challenge

“Aw c’mon! Ellsworth has no place wrestling on an all-female pay per view! It was bad enough when he helped Carmella win the first Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match! It’s disgusting! It’s a disgrace!”

Shut up. It’s pro wrestling, not the Olympics.

Part of Ellsworth’s character is that he wrestles women. And he loses. Every single time. So obviously he loses here too. They went to the trouble of bringing him back. So let’s use him! Have him go out there and throw out an open challenge to any woman in all of WWE.

There are a couple directions they can go in here. One is to bring an alumni out. Beth Phoenix would be a great choice for this spot. She’d hit a clothesline, a press slam, a Glam Slam, and then be done.

On the other hand, they could put Lana in there. She’s billed at 5’7, while Ellsworth is about 5’8. Weight wise, they can’t be too far from each other. So you can have that moment of tension, in which it actually looks like Ellsworth can beat Lana up. Then you maybe have her do a high-kick and knock him out. Either way, same kind of match.

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition 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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WWE’s Most Fascinating People of 2016: AJ Styles, Charlotte, and More!

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Is Barbara Walters still doing her most fascinating people of the year list? I haven’t heard anything about it this year…

In any event, our list of WWE’s Most Fascinating People continues! While the current product may be marred by scripted promos, pro wrestling never has a shortage of interesting characters. For my money, these were the 10 most interesting of 2016.

Honorable mentions go to Goldberg, Dean Ambrose, and Shinsuke Nakamura.

AJ Styles, WWE Champion1. AJ Styles   

AJ Styles is the WWE Champion.

I’d like to say that again. Because even now, the novelty hasn’t worn off: AJ Styles is the WWE Champion. Imagine saying that a year ago at this time, before Styles made his debut in the Royal Rumble Match. We were asking ourselves questions about whether the former TNA mainstay would even be able to sniff the main event picture, let alone be WWE Champion. But to their credit, WWE conveyed Styles as a big deal from day one. He moved right into a program with Chris Jericho, which culminated in a Wrestlemania match. From there, he challenged Roman Reigns for the WWE Championship in two consecutive pay per view main events, stealing the show each time. And then? He went against the man himself, John Cena. Styles shocked the world by beating Cena in yet another show-stealer at Summerslam, At that point, it was practically inevitable. Styles took the belt off Dean Ambrose at Backlash in September, and has been the face of Smackdown ever since.

The 39-year-old Styles has been wrestling for almost 20 years, and has four kids at home. So it’s tough to hazard a guess as to how long he’ll remain on the active roster. But we can at least take comfort in the fact that against the odds, he made himself into a bonafide WWE superstar in 2016.

Shane McMahon, WWE Raw, March 7, 20162. Shane McMahon

When Shane made his surprise return to Raw in February, the way the crowd reacted you’d think Hulk Hogan or Steve Austin had walked out there. In an era where genuine human emotion can sometimes be hard to find on WWE programming, this was a hell of a moment for fans who’ve stuck with the show for a long time. Shane had been gone for nearly seven years. As silly as it seems now, we weren’t sure if/when we’d ever see him again. But here he was. And by the end of the segment he was in a Wrestlemania match with the Undertaker, inside Hell in a Cell.

The story they concocted for Shane’s return was initially very compelling, but eventually fell apart. He came in saying what a lot of people thought was reality-based stuff about wanting to take his rightful place in the company. Vince McMahon essentially used the Undertaker as a hired gun to take Shane out, with the caveat that if Shane could beat him, he’d be put in charge of Raw. But Undertaker’s role in the story was severely underdeveloped. And while he lost the match, Shane was essentially put in charge of Raw anyway. Also, while Shane took one of his trademark crazy bumps, the match was mostly underwhelming.

Shane currently serves as the Commissioner of Smackdown. Despite the rocky way he came back, he has something going for him that very few WWE personalities do. When he walks out there, it’s instant intrigue. There’s a constant question about how blurred the lines are between reality and fantasy. Plus, as we saw at Survivor Series, he’s still not afraid to take big risks for the fans. He earned the massive pops he gets out there.

Sasha Banks, WWE Women's Champion3. Sasha Banks

It’s been an up and down year for Sasha. Her match with Charlotte and Becky Lynch stole the show at Wrestlemania. Then she flat out disappeared from television for several weeks. When she finally returned, she was put with Charlotte for most of the remainder of the year. She’d win her first Women’s Championship on the main roster in July, and would hot potato it with Charlotte multiple times.

While I’ve come to find her babyface promos very white-meat and and annoying, her passion for what she does in the ring can’t be denied. It may have gone on a little too long, but she and Charlotte made history together. After main eventing Raw together, at Hell in a Cell they were the first two women in WWE history to headline a pay per view. They’ve brought women’s wrestling to perhaps an unprecedented level of prominence and importance. In many ways, 2016 saw Sasha Banks become the game-changing performer many of us knew she was destined to be. Hopefully she’s just getting started.

Samoa Joe, NXT Champion4. Samoa Joe

Joe is another TNA mainstay that should have been in WWE a long time ago. He was making waves in Ring of Honor alongside the likes of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan as far back as the early 2000s. He would then elevate his game with guys like AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, and Kurt Angle in TNA. But WWE had always eluded him until last year, when he finally broke into NXT.

As a monster heel, Joe ascended to the top of NXT this year, winning the NXT Championship from Finn Balor in April. From there, he and Shinsuke Nakamura would trade the belt back and forth at Takeover: Brooklyn and Takeover: Toronto. Earlier this month, he dropped the belt back to Nakamura in Osaka, Japan. Rumors are now buzzing about a potential debut in the Royal Rumble Match, similar to what AJ Styles did last year.

In today’s WWE, wrestlers that come off legitimately angry and tough are a surprising anomaly. Brock Lesnar is one. I’d argue Braun Strowman is another. You can make a case for Rusev, too. But one man who’s definitely in that category is Joe. He can come to the main roster and be an easy sell as a threat to a top babyface or champion. It’s just a matter of figuring out where to put him.

In the end, his long road to the WWE roster may have been a blessing in disguise. Had he come in during a previous era, he might not have been allowed to be himself. Pissed off bad ass Samoa Joe is the guy we want. Thankfully, he’s the guy we got.

James Ellsworth5. James Ellsworth

The July 25 edition of Raw was probably the best of the year for a variety of reasons. It was Finn Balor’s first night on the main roster, and he immediately became the top contender for the Universal Title. Sasha Banks won her first Women’s Title. We also saw the debut of WWE’s most unlikely signee in over a decade: James Ellsworth. Granted, he wasn’t signed at the time. He was there to be squashed by Braun Strowman. But fans were captivated by his odd look, and the seemingly impossible odds he faced against Strowman. In a quick pre-match interview spot, Ellsworth put the icing on the cake by saying: “Any man with two hands has a fighting chance.”

That little squash match was all it took. Fast forward to today, and Ellsworth is now Smackdown‘s resident underdog. While you can probably count the number of offensive moves Ellsworth has hit on less than two hands, through the magic of storytelling he’s now due a shot at AJ Styles and the WWE Championship. Some say his act is getting old. But there’s just something about him that’s undeniably captivating. Ellsworth is a real life Cinderella story, and WWE was smart enough to capitalize on that.

Braun Strowmann, WWE Raw6. Braun Strowman

When Strowman had that squash match with Ellsworth on July 25, I wrote: “Braun Strowman is on his own now, which I’m afraid means we have to endure yet another generic giant. I actually would have preferred another attempt to make Erick Rowan a single.”

It wasn’t an unfounded fear, given what WWE has done with certain big men in the past. But they’ve protected Strowman in ways they didn’t protect others. As such, he’s now a commodity despite his relative inexperience. In the past few weeks, his story with Sami Zayn and Mick Foley has been one of the more interesting parts of the show. His presentation is simple, but so effective.

It’s very much in WWE’s interest to continue protecting Strowman in 2017. I never thought I’d say it, but if what we’re seeing from him continues, he’s got main event potential.

Finn Balor, WWE Raw, August 8, 20167. Finn Balor

This was supposed to be Finn Balor’s year. One night in, he pinned Roman Reigns clean in the main event. That really can’t be understated. Roman was, and still is, pegged to be WWE’s new poster boy. So for this new guy to beat him and earn a Universal Title Match at Summerslam was an amazing surprise. And of course, he beat Seth Rollins to win the title. Combine that momentum with Balor’s unique presentation and in-ring style, and it looked like we had Raw‘s new top star on our hands.

Clearly fate had other ideas. In a case of absolute disastrous timing, Balor suffered a torn labrum in the Summerslam match. One night after becoming the inaugural WWE Universal Champion, he was forced to hand the belt back.

Balor was on the main roster for just under a month. But Raw dearly misses him. Since September, the Universal Title picture has been monopolized by Rollins, Reigns, and the man who stepped up in his absence, Kevin Owens. Balor was a fresh face to signify  a new era. And if there’s one thing the Raw main event scene is hurting for, it’s fresh faces.

The good news is that Balor should be back around Wrestlemania. As he obviously never lost the belt, he should be in line for a title shot.

Chris Jericho, WWE Raw, October 24, 20168. Chris Jericho

Chris Jericho got a clipboard over in 2016. If that’s not a testament to his talents, I don’t know what is.

Jericho spent most of 2016 helping to get newer talent over. He was a vital component in AJ Styles getting over as well as he did, and got a match with him at Wrestlemania. He would then move on to Dean Ambrose, which would culminate in the first (and hopefully last) Asylum Match. But Jericho’s best stuff this year was his character work with Kevin Owens. Their tumultuous “best friends” partnership has been the most consistently entertaining thing about Raw these past few months. The “List of Jericho” running gag is more popular than most of the active wrestlers. WWE obviously recognizes their chemistry, as they’ve held off on putting Owens and Jericho against each other in a Universal Title program. They could easily have pulled the trigger at Survivor SeriesRoadblock, or the Royal Rumble. At this point, Wrestlemania seems like the earliest we’ll see them go at it. But even that isn’t a guarantee. And frankly, that’s okay. Roughly 17 years after his WWE debut, Chris Jericho is a vital part of WWE’s flagship show. So few are on his level both in the ring and on the mic. Perhaps he truly is the best in the world at what he does…

The Miz, Maryse9. The Miz

Maryse turned out to be the missing ingredient to Miz’s Hollywood A-lister persona. He always had that smarmy confidence about him. But having this gorgeous French supermodel next to him almost validates that confidence. Maybe he really is as great as he says he is. And the fact that she’s actually his wife adds a great layer of realism.

This newly completed package did wonders for the Intercontinental Championship in 2016. He became a beatable champion that somehow no one could beat. He and Dolph Ziggler had one of WWE’s most compelling feuds this year. Miz constantly found underhanded ways to win despite Ziggler’s tireless efforts. It seemingly culminated in Ziggler dropping his status as a lovable loser, taking the title from Miz at No Mercy. But Miz would take it back from him a few weeks later. The apex of his douchebaggery came just last week, when he publicly “outed” Renee Young’s relationship with Dean Ambrose.

A year ago, the idea of him ever regaining the WWE Championship seemed unlikely at best. But now? Not so much. At this rate, Miz could very well stand at the top of the mountain again in 2017.

WWE Raw, July 4, 2016, Charlotte10. Charlotte Flair

When 2016 began, we’d heard a lot of talk about a “Divas Revolution,” and how women’s wrestling was changing in WWE. Surprisingly, they were able to make good on those bold claims. Why? Because of Charlotte.

That’s not to say it couldn’t have happened without her. Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Bayley, Alexa Bliss, and numerous other talented ladies are on the WWE roster right now. But Charlotte has been the centerpiece to it all. She was the first to strike gold, winning the then-Divas Championship in September. She was victorious when the women stole the show at Wrestlemania for the first time. She and Sasha Banks were the first women of this era to main event Raw, and the first women of any era to main event a pay per view. All the while, she’s been arguably the best heel in the entire company.

Keep in mind, she accomplished all of that in about a year and a half. The smart bet is she’s just getting started. So what will she have

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

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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