Brock Lesnar vs. Jinder Mahal, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

We learned last week that Luke Harper and Erick Rowan are coming back to Smackdown, a tag team once again. This time they’ll be called the Bludgeon Brothers.

On one hand this is a shame, especially for Harper. This guy can go. His match with Randy Orton at Elimination Chamber was awesome. But any time he gets some momentum as a single, it fizzles out. So they put him back with Rowan, as that’s worked in the past. Plus, it’s not like Rowan was doing much anyway.

No matter what these guys do, they’ve been painfully stuck in the shadow of the Wyatt Family. This is no different. Their vignettes are shot in a wooded area, which is synonymous with the old Wyatt Family vignettes. Rowan still has the sheep mask. And what their saying is in very much the same tone as their promos with Bray. They’ve shifted the focus, but essentially they’re the same characters.

So at this point, is there any harm in just putting them back with Bray? The poor guy is dying a miserable death on Raw right now. I’ve talked about how he needs a new coat of paint or something. While the Wyatt Family is hardly new, at least it worked. Why not trade Harper and Rowan to Raw, and bring two guys of equal value over to Smackdown. Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews come to mind.

Or better yet, why not just move Bray back to Smackdown? On Team Red, he’s become a punch line. On Team Blue, he was WWE Champion. Can somebody throw this poor guy a lifeline? Throw all three of them a lifeline!

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Daniel Bryan opens the show in his home state of Washington. A confrontation with Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens ensues. This opening segment made me realize how much I miss Bryan as a wrestler. Clearly I’m not the only one. He’s more over than any of today’s full-time guys.

It’s almost a waste for heels to prod Bryan about not being able to wrestle anymore. It’s not going anywhere, but it makes people want to see it that much more.

Heel Sami Zayn is a lot of fun. Or at least he was this week. He needs new music, though.

Michael Cole fills in for Tom Phillips, who is “on assignment.” First we get Corey Graves on both shows, now we’ve got a few weeks of Cole on both shows. Do we just want to have Saxton pull double duty and get it over with?

Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and Naomi def. Natalya, Tamina, and Lana. Carmella was on commentary for this match. At one point, Graves asks her who she’d like to be champion when she cashes in her Money in the Bank contract. She said something about it not mattering. What she meant was, “Lana. She can’t wrestle. She also doesn’t know how to sell the Figure 8.”

Sin Cara def. Baron Corbin via count-out. Sin Cara isn’t becoming the United States Champion. Not now, anyway. He’s good enough for a larger role, though. He’s damn sure got the talent for it.

Jinder Mahal challenges Brock Lesnar to a match at Survivor Series. AJ Styles interrupts and attacks the WWE Champion. Well, they went and did it. It’s Brock Lesnar vs. Jinder Mahal at Survivor Series. The silver lining in all this?  I’m very curious to see how Paul Heyman puts Jinder over as a credible opponent.

Styles took exception to Mahal saying he’d beaten everyone worth beating on Smackdown, since “you haven’t beaten AJ Styles.” For the record, Jinder beat AJ in May, during the build-up to the Backlash match where he won the title. In their defense, I wouldn’t want to highlight that in building to a match between them.

Dolph Ziggler def. Bobby Roode. 50/50 booking rears its ugly head again. Not exactly a stellar match, either. On the upside, they didn’t have Roode lose on pay per view.

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn def. Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura. Really good match. Particularly for Nakamura, who’s had a rough couple of months. He and Jinder had ZERO chemistry, and their matches suffered for it. So for Nakamura to be in there with Sami Zayn, who he had an amazing match with in his NXT debut, was a huge breath of fresh air.

Also, Corey Graves called Nakamura a “combat artist.” Has he done that before? I like that. It works a lot better than simply calling him, “the Artist.”

Zayn and Randy Orton were awesome together. How about a program with them, and then one between Nakamura and Owens as a palette cleanser from Summerslam and Hell in a Cell?

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The Shield Returns at Last, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

A few quick thoughts from Hell in a Cell before we get into Raw

It’s amazing how the Usos and the New Day have continued to top themselves over the last several months. They did it again here, turning in a performance with every bit as much drama and bad blood as the Kevin Owens/Shane McMahon match. One can even argue it was better artistically. In a match where everyone expects some kind of 20 foot dive off the cage, it takes real creativity to deliver on the Hell in a Cell concept while actually staying inside the cell. Both teams were elevated here. All these guys should be very proud.

While the signs were there in retrospect, Sami Zayn’s heel turn seemed to come out of nowhere. It’s a hell of an intriguing twist that could potentially breathe some valuable new life into Sami’s run on Smackdown.

So that’s twice Shane has tried the elbow drop off the top of the cell, and twice he’s crashed and burned. Maybe it’s time to pluck that one from the playbook, eh? Really good match, though. Now if only they hadn’t gotten that shot of one of Shane’s kids grinning as Owens was beating up his dad and taunting him.

Ponderings From Raw:

The Shield finally reunites against the Miz, Cesaro and Sheamus. This was obviously something they’ve built to for months. So to see Reigns, Rollins, and Ambrose back together is cool. I imagine we’ll get them back in their trademark black outfits at TLC.

I’m trying to enjoy this for what it is. But one thing that does put a damper on it is that it’s obviously all just another attempt to get Roman Reigns cheered. Just look at the blocking in the segment. Rollins on the left, Ambrose, on the right, Reigns in the middle. And of course, Reigns kept using the Shield music after they broke up. So their entrance is going to be synonymous with him in particular.

Yes, I’m nitpicking. But this is also very transparent. What’s more, it’s not even going to work. For better or worse, most fans have made up their mind about Roman. As soon as this is over, the haters will start booing again.

Jason Jordan def. Karl Anderson. I’m not sure Booker T is the guy to be playing up the notion of Kurt Angle giving his son special treatment. His amazing career notwithstanding, he has virtually no credibility. As the weeks go by he just becomes more a verbal whipping boy for Michael Cole and Corey Graves. Granted, better to have him out there than David Otunga. But that dynamic between Angle and Jordan is important. Better to have Graves play it up.

Elias def. Apollo Crews. When Titus is on, he’s really on. Hokey as it was, I got a kick out of the banjo stuff before the match. This manager gig really suits him.

On the flip side, I’m not at all amused that Elias broke out the Undertaker’s “Old School” spot and walked the top rope. The announcers didn’t even acknowledge it. Though to be fair, Graves alluded to it, calling it a “disrespectful version of a cover song.”

Kurt Angle puts Enzo Amore in a Cruiserweight Title Match against Kalisto for later in the evening. Enzo called it the “Loserweight Division.” That one might stick.

Braun Strowman def. Matt Hardy. The Shield emerges, Powerbombs Strowman through the announce table. This was really good. To his credit, Roman nailed his line about them being “the three workhorses that run this business now.” He even got to look into the camera.

Mickie James and Alexa Bliss exchange words leading up to TLC. Last week I talked about how WWE should exploit Mickie’s talent for country music and have her record her own entrance theme. We didn’t get that here, but it was definitely a step in the right direction. Mickie was in country gear here, and even put a little twang in her voice. This is good. For WWE audiences, this is fresh. And apparently, they like the term “biscuit butt.”. More of this, please.

Brian Kendrick and Jack Gallagher def. Cedric Alexander and Mustafa Ali. Why is Jack Gallagher is wrestling in that get up? Yes, he’s a heel now. But why does that mean he can’t wear wrestling trunks?

Both Alexander and Ali are so damn good. It’s such a shame they haven’t been able to get over to any real extent

The Shield to headline TLC against the Miz, Sheamus, Cesaro, and Braun Strowman in a Handicap TLC Match. Four on three? That’s a little weird. Strowman could do some amazing things in that environment, though. Especially with support from the veterans in this match.

Bray Wyatt reveals his “Sister Abigail” persona to Finn Balor. So Sister Abigail is Bray Wyatt with some kind of shroud over his head and a weird voice filter. Wow. What a great pay off to years of build-up.

And this was in the new “main event” spot. They wanted people to stay tuned in for that third hour after this. Balor can’t move on soon enough.

Emma def. Sasha Banks, Bayley, Alicia Fox, and Dana Brooke to earn a match with Asuka at TLCGraves: “I don’t really know what to say about Emma anymore. I’m so baffled by the fact that she still exists.” Wow. What an awesome endorsement for Asuka’s first challenger.

To be fair no one actually expects Emma to beat her. That’s half the reason they chose Emma for this spot. She’s someone they can feed to Asuka, but also give her good match. Somehow I don’t think the same can be said for Alicia Fox or Dana Brooke.

I’m worried Dana Brooke is going to hurt somebody someday. That sequence she had in there with Bayley was….yeesh. But Alicia, and even Emma looked like they had two left feet out there too. This one just didn’t click.

Roman Reigns to face Braun Strowman in a Steel Cage Match next week. They’re going back to the well with these two, which is fine by me. Like the Usos and the New Day, they always deliver.

Kalisto def. Enzo Amore in a Lumberjack Match to win the WWE Cruiserweight Title. I hate to go back to Graves again, but he was really tearing Enzo down during his entrance here. I can’t tell if there’s legit heat between those two. Either way, it doesn’t pay to piss off one of the guys that calls your matches every week.

So Enzo puts his hand on Mustafa Ali during the match. Ali later gets his receipt, which more or less costs Enzo the match. If this means Ali gets to be in a (relatively) high profile feud with Enzo, I’m game. He deserves a shot.

I’d be surprised if Enzo didn’t get the belt back soon. This seems like something they concocted to get out of the no-contact clause thing. He could very well get it back at TLC.

By the way, where was Neville during all this?

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Big Show’s Big Night, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

In the wake of JBL announcing his departure from the Smackdown Live announce team, WWE has quickly chosen a replacement for him. And it’s none other than Corey Graves. Indeed, Graves will now serve as a color analyst on both Raw and Smackdown. Nigel McGuinness will take his place on Main Event and 205 Live.

I’ve come to love the work Graves does. In a relatively short amount of time, he’s become the most credible announcer WWE has at their disposal. Fans may not know just how valuable he is until the day we have to live without him. That being said, having Graves on both Raw and Smackdown is not a good idea.

Setting aside the “too much of a good thing” lesson we’ve learned from all these years of three-hour Raw broadcasts, having Graves on both shows dilutes the integrity of the roster split. In theory, Raw and Smackdown are supposed to be two separate brands. It’s not simply a matter of different wrestlers and championships. The shows are supposed to have different looks and feels to them. The announcers are a critical component in that respect, as they literally give the shows their respective voices. Having Graves call both Raw and Smackdown blurs that line of distinction. What’s worse, it opens the door for the further blurring of that line. We’ve already got Corey Graves on both shows, and John Cena has been a “free agent.” Since they’ve gone this far, who’s to say certain wrestlers can’t show up on both shows?

It’s this kind of thing that led to the discontinuation of the original roster split. The integrity had been eroded to the point that there was no point in continuing the charade any longer. It got so bad toward the end that our two Heavyweight Champions wrestling in throwaway matches in the middle of Raw

Graves is an amazing announcer. But there are plenty of other qualified people WWE can call on to fill JBL’s seat. We just had Jerry Lawler back on last week’s Raw. Give him a buzz. Have Lita or Renee Young tag in to bring a female perspective to things. Mick Foley was an announcer on Smackdown several years ago. Could they talk him into coming back? Hell, what about Daniel Bryan? He was awesome on the Cruiserweight Classic. Yes, he’s an on-screen authority figure. But that’s a dynamic we’ve rarely if ever seen. Why not try it?

I’m hopeful this winds up being a band-aid until WWE can find a new permanent announcer. On the plus side, this is obviously a hell of an endorsement for Graves. A well-deserved endorsement at that, and one that seems to indicate WWE knows just how good he is. But let’s not ruin him by oversaturating the airwaves with his voice.

Ponderings From Raw:

John Cena def. Jason Jordan. Roman Reigns come out, and another verbal sparring session occurs. Really strong opener with a nice story. Very wise of them to incorporate that old Smackdown footage of Cena and Kurt Angle. Cena’s facials were strong early on. He looked caught off guard by Jordan’s amateur style.

This was the finish I expected. But Jordan got what he needed. It was his first really strong performance as a single, and perhaps the first time he really lived up to the new role WWE has cast him in.

The word coming out of last week’s segment with Cena and Reigns was that most of it was indeed scripted. Reigns did forget his lines at one point, which prompted Cena’s “It’s called a promo” jab. They played off that a little bit here. But this was clearly designed to have Roman get one up on Cena, just as Cena got one up on him last week. Reigns called Cena out for a fight, and “Big Match John” stepped back. Advantage Reigns.

Both these guys said “I don’t respect you.” Expect that to be a focal point moving forward. WWE has been big on “respect” storylines for a long time.

Sheamus and Cesaro def. Heath Slater and Rhyno. Pretty straightforward stuff here. I’m just happy to see Cesaro and Sheamus wrestling guys other than Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose.

The Miz def. Jeff Hardy to retain the Intercontinental Championship. Really good match, with Miz getting a (mostly) clean win. I wasn’t expecting them to change the title, but Miz and Jeff planted that seed of doubt in my mind. That’s how you know you’re seeing two greats. When just for a few minutes, they make you feel like a kid again. When they make you believe.

Enzo Amore, Cedric Alexander, and Gran Metallic def. Noam Dar, Tony Nese, and Drew Gulak. Enzo’s promo went too long for me. But the crowd was with him, so I can’t call it a flop.

They need to find something more substantial for Tony Nese to do. I’ve been saying it for months, this guy’s got something.

Bray Wyatt challenges Finn Balor to face him without using his Demon persona. This booking defies traditional logic. Usually they’d start with Bray against Finn, and then move to Bray against the Demon. It reminds me of John Cena facing Randy Orton in a straight up singles match at the Royal Rumble several years ago, after we’d already seen them in virtually every other match under the sun.

Still, this was one of Bray’s stronger promos in recent memory. It probably helps that it’s been a few weeks since we’ve heard him ramble and laugh nonsensically.

Nia Jax and Emma def. Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks. The Raw Women’s Championship Match at No Mercy will now be a Fatal Four-Way between these women. I’m hoping we’re headed for an Alexa Bliss/Sasha Banks double turn. As talented as she is, and as hard as she works, Sasha seems to become more and more of a brat as the weeks ago by. I’m sure much of that is my own evolving perception of her. Though a lot of fans are angry at Sasha right now for calling out fans who stalk her in airports. I won’t fault her for that. Boundaries, people. Boundaries.

Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. Sheamus and Cesaro were at ringside to watch Rollins and Ambrose, but they wound up scrapping with Gallows and Anderson. I imagine we’ll see those two teams face off next week. As long as they’re staying clear of Rollins and Ambrose until the pay per view, I’m good. I doubt that’ll end up happening. But I’ll enjoy it for now.

Braun Strowman def. The Big Show in a Steel Cage Match. There was a lot of talk here about Big Show being in the business for 23 years. I’ve been watching this guy for about 20 of those years. So believe me when I tell you: This was the best he’s ever been. Remember, he’s 45 years old.

Let’s start with that pre-match promo. Epic. Positively epic. He had fire. He was articulate, He was passionate. You got riled up because he was riled up. Show has been a good promo for most of his career. But this might have been his best.

Then you’ve got the bumps he took for Strowman. He dusted off the top rope elbow (shown above), which wound up being the highlight of the match. Then he took yet another Superplex from the top. And after the finish, they did the spot where Strowman slammed him through the cage wall. That last one came off a little choreographed. But who cares? Remember, this man is seven feet tall  and weighs over 300 pounds. Any time he takes a bump like that it’s a huge deal. But three in one match? Unbelievable.

You’ve also got to take your hat off to WWE for making this feel like an epic main event. They did a tremendous job playing up the Superplex spot from April, particularly when they interviewed the referee who took that great bump. This really came off like a Godzilla vs. King Kong level confrontation between monsters. And you know it’ll be that much bigger when they inevitably face off again.

Awesome. There’s no other way to put it. Simply awesome. A career night for this 20-plus year veteran.

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WWE Raw Ponderings: Brock Lesnar’s Big Announcement

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

And so the plot thickens…

Roughly 48 hours after Brock Lesnar was challenged by new UFC Champion Jon Jones, Paul Heyman announces on Raw that Brock will leave WWE if he doesn’t retain the Universal Title at Summerslam. They didn’t mention Jones or UFC. But a good portion of the audience undoubtedly knew about it.

Obviously this is meant to plant yet another seed of doubt as to who’s walking out of Summerslam with the belt. While there’s been plenty of talk lately about Brock potentially making another return to the octagon, I don’t think this confirms anything. Even if he loses the title, who’s to say he leaves WWE altogether? He could bow out for awhile and then come back around the Royal Rumble or Wrestlemania. We saw something similar when he fought Mark Hunt.

Either way, a Jon Jones vs. Brock Lesnar fight seems likely. It’s just a question of when. And if/when it does happen, that means Brock remains a hot commodity. All the more reason for WWE to continue pursuing him in the years to come.

Ponderings From Raw:

Kurt Angle opens the show in his hometown of Pittsburgh. Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman interrupt to make the aforementioned announcement. Remember when Kurt did that backstage segment with Enzo and Cass? The one that ended with, “That’s not how you spell soft…” I wish we could see more of that Kurt Angle. The cheesy all-American boy he played when he made his debut in 1999. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the guy we’re getting nowadays. But the “vintage” style Kurt Angle would be much more fun to watch. At least once in awhile.

The Hardy Boyz def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. A three-team brawl erupts with the Revival afterward. After the show, the Hardys dropped yet another tease for the “Broken” stuff on Twitter. We’ve been waiting on this for months. All I can say is I’ll believe it when I see it.

Akira Tozawa, Rich Swann, and Cedric Alexander def. Ariya Daivari, TJP, and Tony Nese. Hey! The ropes weren’t purple! Are they finally scrapping that?

I wouldn’t want to take that Senton from Tozawa. He gets some mad height on that.

Jason Jordan appears on Miz TV. This was about what I expected it to be. Miz baiting Jordan into a confrontation, doing most of the heavy lifting in terms of mic work. Right now, Jordan is where you’d imagine he’d be in terms of his mic skills. He hasn’t had much of a chance to talk on front of a national audience. He’s inexperienced. But that doesn’t mean he’s doomed. Let’s give him a little time. Scrap that new entrance theme, though.

Seth Rollins def. Sheamus. Dean Ambrose saves Rollins from a beatdown. Speaking of entrance music, they added that little “Burn it down!” lyric to the opening of Rollins’ theme. Seth has needed a song with more punch to it for a long time. This is hardly the solution. But it’s a start.

Bray Wyatt cuts a promo on Finn Balor. Balor attacks, sending Bray reeling. About three quarters of the way through Bray’s promo, I hit the fast-forward button. As usual, they let him go way too long. As with a lot of Bray’s programs these days, this one is about hope and heroism. The fans look to up to Balor and cheer for him, so Bray wants to put him down. I’ll say this much: It means a little more after Bray beat Seth Rollins at Great Balls of Fire. And yet it feels like he’s been playing this same tune for months. A lot of people weren’t happy with the Bray Wyatt/Randy Orton program. But at least there was some good storytelling there.

Roman Reigns def. Samoa Joe and Braun Strowman in a Triple-Threat Match. Give them credit. They made this feel like a big main event. Parts of it had a pier 6 brawl vibe that I’d love to see more of at Summerslam.

The match itself was decent. All three guys came off strong at different points. Wasn’t a fan of Joe being pinned by Reigns. But better him than Strowman. Also, Joe has beaten Reigns twice. So it’s not like it kills him.

They made a point to remind us a few different times on this show that Roman retired the Undertaker. I’ve talked before about how that does nothing to endear him to the die-hards that hate him. Then again, it’s not like he’s going to win those folks over anyway….

Elias def. Kalisto. Elias Samson lost his last name some time last week. Thus, he’s now simply Elias. For the past 20 years or so, WWE has too many guys without last names. But this sort of fits with the vibe of his character. So fair enough, I guess.

Hey, remember when Kalisto beat Braun Strowman in a Dumpster Match? Me either.

Bayley def. Nia Jax via count-out. Damn, this show needs more women. How many times have we seen Bayley against Nia Jax? How about Bayley against Emma? Would they dare actually let her be competitive out there?

Still, not a bad match. They protected Nia, and made Bayley look like the underdog challenger chopping down the big tree.

Big Cass def. The Big Show via disqualification. What the hell was Enzo saying about bananas? Oye…

Corey Graves said something about Enzo not being a great tipper. Considering the story that came out last week about Enzo at a strip club, that’s a fairly hot line.

Based on how much time they had left when the entrances started, it was clear we weren’t getting a lengthy one here. And that’s fine. This was obviously a Summerslam appetizer. After seeing what Show did with Braun Strowman, I was actually looking forward to this one. What we got didn’t exactly break the ring. But being in there with Show gives Cass some valuable credibility.

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Big Cass Goes Bad, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

I’m hoping we like the answer we get…

Ponderings From Raw:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Brock Lesnar Returns, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponderings From Raw:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jinder Mahal: WWE Champion, Plus Ponderings From Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponderings From Raw:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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