Bray Wyatt’s House of Horrors, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Aw c’mon. You guys can do better than that.

That was the one thing that went through my mind as I watched WWE’s first ever House of Horrors Match at Payback. As many expected, it was literally inside a house. They put a bunch of horror-type gimmicks inside, played with the lighting, and gave us some spooky music and sound effects. Later, they ended up back in the ring, a la the Boiler Room Brawl that Undertaker and Mankind had all those years ago.

This was fine. Worthy of a second one, if they decide to go that route. But they could have done so much more. The most twisted thing they did in this match was hanging a bunch of deformed baby dolls from the ceiling. Considering the presentation was so cinematic, it feels like they wasted an opportunity by playing it fairly safe.

For instance, WWE.com has played up the fact that this month marks Orton’s 15-year anniversary with the company. Why not have a little fun with that? Have Bray put some old photos of Orton on the wall and deface them to his liking. You can even play with old footage. If the story was that Bray has prepared this house to fight Orton in, they could have made this House of Horrors Match every bit as psychological as it is physical.

One person who should be very happy about how this match was presented? Matt Hardy. The House of Horrors Match was clearly influenced by the “Final Deletion,” “Delete or Decay,” and a lot of the Broken stuff they did in Impact Wrestling. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, I suppose. And this isn’t the first time WWE has used Bray Wyatt to imitate what Matt and Jeff Hardy did in Impact. Broken Matt’s arrival in WWE seems inevitable at this point. So a match like this between Matt and Bray would undoubtedly make for interesting television.

They also went with the right finish, which saw Jinder Mahal and the Singh Brothers (formerly the Bollywood Boyz) come in and cost Orton the match. Hey Jinder? Next time be a little more convincing with that belt shot to the back of the head. Looked more like a shot to the shoulder…

Ponderings From Raw

Alexa Bliss holds a coronation ceremony for herself. In a subsequent match, Bliss, Nia Jax, Emma, and Alicia Fox defeat Bayley, Sasha Banks Mickie James, and Dana Brooke. “The Queen is dead.” That was an interesting little line, obviously directed at Charlotte Flair. Last night at Payback, Alexa Bliss became the first woman to have held both the Raw and Smackdown Women’s Titles. That’s a distinction that many, myself included, thought Charlotte Flair would achieve first. For all intents and purposes, she’s been the face of the so-called women’s revolution. So it’s nice to see someone else get a landmark win.

The match didn’t do much for me. But I did love Bayley’s facial expressions during the coronation segment. Don’t be fooled, folks. The long term story here is still about Bayley and Sasha.

Luke Gallows def. Enzo Amore. We were at about the 40 minute mark here, and it became obvious that this show was missing something. Normally by this point we’ve seen Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, or somebody involved in the top storyline on the show. This week, that would have been either Reigns or Braun Strowman. As we hadn’t seen them yet, things felt oddly cold.

In all fairness, Enzo and Gallows had a decent match. Has Gallows lost some weight?

Seth Rollins and Finn Balor vie for a Universal Title shot. Dean Ambrose says the Intercontinental Title is now the hottest title on Raw. Rollins vs. Balor vs. the Miz made to decide top contender for the IC Title. Rollins was really lame at the top of this segment. Trying to rile up the crowd, and then all that stuff about sticking it out when times are tough. He came off like a white meat babyface. Balor was a little bit better. He seems to have improved on the mic a little bit since he’s been gone.

I have no problem with the Intercontinental Title being elevated. I just wish they’d had Ambrose and Miz sell us on it a little more. Maybe have Ambrose stick it to Brock a little more. Drive home the point that he’s the top guy on Raw, because he’s the Intercontinental Champion. He defends it all the time, Brock rarely shows up, etc. We got that here, but it wasn’t emphasized enough.

Jack Gallagher, Rich Swann, and Akira Tozawa def. Brian Kendrick, Tony Nese, and Noam Dar. Cold match. Came off just like any other six-man you’d see on Raw. Tozawa could be something, but he’s stuck in purgatory on 205 Live.

Cesaro and Sheamus address the fans after ambushing the Hardys at PaybackI didn’t expect a heel turn for these two. But in retrospect it seems rather obvious. I expected them to up the aggression, but still stay in babyface territory. I actually found their little bromance endearing.

But it’s something new for them to do. They were always going to be the number two babyface team now that the Hardys are back. Maybe number three, factoring in Enzo and Cass. So now they have a chance to be the top heel team. It’s not like it’s tough to dislike Sheamus.

Apollo Crews def. Heath Slater. The fans were chanting “He’s got kids!” for Slater at one point. I’m not sure where the ceiling is for him, but it’s higher than where he’s at now.

Kurt Angle announces Braun Strowman has a torn rotator cuff. Bray Wyatt introduces himself to the Raw General Manager. I panicked when Angle said the line about Strowman’s torn rotator cuff. Him going down now would be every bit as bad as when Finn Balor got hurt at Summerslam. But it’s reportedly just part of the storyline. Thank god.

Austin Aries def. TJP. Apparently TJ Perkins is just TJP now. Um…why?

The crowd was dying off at this point. Granted, it doesn’t help that some nights it feels like the Cruiserweight Division is dying off. This was definitely one such night.

Almost everything felt a little bit too long on this show. Almost as if they re-wrote or cut something, and had to compensate for it.

The Miz def. Seth Rollins and Finn Balor to become top contender for the Intercontinental Title. Bray Wyatt and Samoa Joe interfere. Good match. Loved Miz bowing out and after the bell and trying to avoid a beating. Great heel move. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him get the IC belt again.

I held out a little bit of hope that Balor was going to do something with Gallows and Anderson. Obviously he is indeed going with Bray. No doubt we’ll be hearing a lot of talk about demons in the coming weeks.

I’m actually starting to worry about Balor during his matches. He and Rollins had that scary cross body block landing. The last thing this guy needs is another bad head shot. The people are into him. But he obviously needs to stay healthy to maintain his momentum.

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Will Bray Wyatt Challenge Brock Lesnar? Plus, Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This Sunday at Payback, Bray Wyatt has a House of Horrors Match with Randy Orton. We still have no idea what a House of Horrors Match is. But regardless, this Sunday is their last hurrah. Orton will stay on Smackdown and do business with, of all people, Jinder Mahal. That obviously leaves Bray Wyatt on Raw. But what exactly do you do after a House of Horrors Match?

How about challenging Brock Lesnar for the Universal Title?

Yes, early signs pointed to a program between Bray and Finn Balor. But it has yet to really get going. And they could always come back to it later. Let’s remember, we have a really interesting opportunity with this House of Horrors Match. Randy Orton is the WWE Champion. A victory over Orton would naturally propel Wyatt back into Heavyweight Title contention. Naturally, that would lead him to Raw‘s top champion, Brock Lesnar.

WWE has wanted to do Brock vs. Bray for quite some time. They seemingly had it pencilled in for Wrestlemania XXXII last year, before plans changed. As this could potentially be Lesnar’s last year with the company (his contract expires next spring), why not pull the trigger just in case? Plus, it has the added appeal of being a match we haven’t seen before.

Should Bray win the Universal Title? Probably not. But there’s no shame in losing to Brock, is there? Almost everyone has done it for the past few years. More importantly, it would be a big match for Bray. There’s also the potential for really good storytelling there. It might be worth it just to heat Bray joust with Paul Heyman on the mic..

Ponderings From Raw:

Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel opens the show. The Miz and Maryse hijack the segment, turning it into Miz TV. Dean Ambrose then switches it to the Ambrose Asylum. Ambrose hits Miz with Dirty Deeds, Maryse gets added to the List of Jericho. This came off like filler. That sucks, considering this is probably Jericho’s last Raw for awhile. Still, at least the crowd was hot for Jericho, the List, and all that stuff.

Matt Hardy def. Sheamus. Reportedly, WWE is working on settling with Anthem and Impact Wrestling and obtaining the rights to the Broken characters. The sooner they can do that, the better.

I expected this match to happen, but didn’t expect this finish. After Jeff beat Cesaro last week, I imagined Sheamus would get the win, and the Tag Title Match at Payback would be the rubber match. Looks like that’s not the story. I’m guessing the sportsmanship will come to an end on Sunday…

Austin Aries and Jack Gallagher def. Neville and TJ Perkins. This match wasn’t a classic. But it was quick enough that they were able to inject it with a certain energy that the Cruiserweight Division has desperately needed since it’s come to Raw. If keeping these matches shorter has that effect, I say we make ’em shorter. Anything to distinguish the cruiserweights from everyone else on this show.

Kalisto def. Braun Strowman in a Dumpster Match. Strowman responds by putting Kalisto in the dumpster and pushing it off the Raw stage. So Strowman is standing on the apron, Kalisto dropkicks his knees, and Strowman goes feet-first into the dumpster. As such, Kalisto wins. Somehow, I thought you had to shut the dumpster lid win the match. I guess I got it confused with a Casket Match.

To their credit, they promoted this going into the show. It ended up being pretty good. It’s probably the most notable thing Kalisto has done in his WWE career thus far. He got to beat Strowman, but the giant leaves the proceedings unharmed. Incidentally, did Kalisto get new entrance music?

The moment Strowman got him in that dumpster, I flashed back to that segment from 1998 when the New Age Outlaws put Cactus Jack and Terry Funk in a dumpster and pushed it off the stage. Mind you, the stage was much higher then. Kalisto took a relatively short drop by comparison. But it was a fine moment to recreate as they continue to build Braun Strowman.

Those “We want Roman!/Roman Sucks!” chants were probably exactly what WWE wanted to hear during this match.

The real loser in all of this? Kurt Angle. He was psyching up Kalisto before the match (the masked man’s mic work hasn’t improved much). But when the match was over, and he was getting shoved off the stage, Angle was nowhere to be found. Jamie Knoble, Finlay, and a bunch of refs were out there. Why not Angle? Were they afraid he’d pull focus?

Dana Brooke def. Alicia Fox. I’m not rooting against Dana Brooke. I’m really not. But her take on the Michinoku Driver was pretty ugly. She’s trying, bless her heart…

Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, and Big Cass def. Samoa Joe, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson. If I”m not mistaken, this is the first time since Summerslam that they’ve referenced Balor’s previous association with Gallows and Anderson. That’s been a long time coming. Let’s finally dive into this Bullet Club stuff…

They’re obviously still trying to be cautious with Rollins’ knee and Balor’s concussion. But they both looked good out there this week.

After an in-ring confrontation with Bayley, Alexa Bliss retreats from a match with Sasha Banks. Alexa Bliss might be the one person that actually benefits from these Raw promo segments going a little bit longer. I wouldn’t exactly call her soft-spoken. But her promo style is a little bit different. For the time being, the added time for her message to sink in is helpful.

There continues to be some heat on this Sasha Banks/Alexa Bliss pairing. People want to see them wrestle. And as we saw here, they’re pretty good together.

Apollo Crews def. Curt  Hawkins. Titus O’Neil comes out to “celebrate” with Crews after the win. I’m not sure how beneficial this association with Titus will be for Apollo. But at least it’s something. They did all of nothing with him on Smackdown.

Bray Wyatt comes to the Miz’s aid against Chris Jericho and Dean Ambrose. Bray’s initial target in this match was Ambrose. We saw those two work together pretty extensively in 2014. I can’t say I’m itching for them to work together again. But as a TV program, it might work. As I said above, I’m more interested in Bray setting his sights a little higher…

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Undertaker’s Last Ride, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

We all thought this might be it. That didn’t make it any less emotional, though.

On Sunday at Wrestlemania XXXIII, the Undertaker apparently had his last match. After losing to Roman Reigns, the Dead Man left his trademark hat, coat, and gloves in the ring, symbolizing the end had finally come. Then, like Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels at previous Wrestlemania events, he took that long walk up the aisle.

I became a wrestling fan in 1996. The Monday Night Wars were still in full effect, and at the time the Undertaker was building to a Buried Alive Match with Mankind. On Raw, we’d see video packages of him standing in a graveyard, talking about what was coming. It wasn’t unlike the packages that aired last week, as he dug a grave for Roman Reigns.

I was 11 at the time. I’m 32 now. I have a wife, a career, and plans to have a kid of my own. As someone who’s learned the value of a day’s work, and how far a dollar goes in this world, I have so much respect for all this extraordinary person has given us for so many years. All the sacrifices he’s made, all the pain he’s endured, and all the moments he’s given us. He’s been with us for so long. It’s going to be incredibly odd not having him here anymore. But if anyone’s earned the right to go out on his own terms, it’s Mark Calaway. He was a class act at Wrestlemania XXXIII, putting over the company’s top guy (for better or worse) on his way out.

In an industry where so many performers want to transcend and connect with the “mainstream,” the Undertaker was one of wrestling’s most recognizable figures for over two decades.

Cast in point, when I was in seventh grade, the Attitude Era was in full swing. Somebody in one of my classes had just gone to a WWF show, and my teacher happened to be talking to him about it. She seemed half-interested. He mentioned Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Rock. Mankind, and a few others. No reaction.

Then he said the name, “Undertaker.”

“Oh, I know him!”

Even if you weren’t a wrestling fan, you knew the Undertaker. If you were, you knew just how important and how special he was.

And he still is.

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns: “This is my yard now.” Probably the most impactful five-word promo you’ll ever see. Just minute after minute of boos and more boos. It doesn’t have to be this way. But whether it’s John Cena or Roman Reigns, apparently this is just what it means to be the top guy in WWE these days.

I’m going to sprinkle in a few Wrestlemania thoughts between my usual Raw and Smackdown reviews. Truth be told, I haven’t seen the entire show yet. I refused to let the sheer length of the show piss my off like it did last year. And I had a prior commitment on Sunday anyway. One thing I did make sure to see, however, was the tag team Ladder Match…

The Hardy Boyz def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson to retain the Raw Tag Team Titles. As some speculated, the Hardys did indeed return to a massive pop. Are they the first team to hold tag team gold in Impact Wrestling, Ring of Honor, and WWE in the same calendar year?

It looks like Matt and Jeff are more or less back in their old WWE characters, with Matt throwing in bits and pieces of the Broken stuff from Impact. Until the law suit with Anthem Sports is settled, I imagine that’ll be the extent of it.

Speaking of Anthem, “F*ck that owl” wins chant of the night.

Neville def. Mustafa Ali. The beach ball was back this year. It pretty much had to be after the company put it over on that WWE 24 special last week. That’s almost a shame. These guys were pretty good about that. The Spanish Fly off the top was amazing. If only more wrestlers were as over as that damn beach ball…

Vince McMahon names Kurt Angle the new General Manager of RawMany of us have seen this coming for months now. That doesn’t make it any less cool, though. And based on the backstage stuff we saw with Enzo, Cass, and Sami Zayn, we’ll be seeing stuff reminiscent of early 2000s Kurt Angle. That could be a real breath of nostalgic fresh air. Especially considering Stephanie isn’t there to lord over him.

The Revival make their main roster debut, defeating the New Day. Considering how these post-Raw crowds can be, I’m surprised they didn’t get a “Big E’s dick” chant when he talked about the blood flowing from his head down to his…

Wasn’t expecting to see the Revival on Raw. They always struck me as a Smackdown team. But considering we’ve got this “shake-up” coming next week, the respective vibes for the shows may end up shifting. Still, here’s hoping these guys are as successful on the main roster as they were in NXT.

Bayley, Sasha Banks, and Dana Brooke def. Charlotte Flair, Nia Jax, and Emma. Nia and Charlotte turn on each other after the match. Not expecting a lot of emphasis on Emma going forward. It’s not like they’ve made her a priority for the last several months. Why would things change now?

Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman address the crowd. Braun Strowman confronts him. They went ahead and planted the seed for Reigns vs. Lesnar in this segment, as the battle of the two men who beat the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. “The two in 23-2.” Loved the line: “If Roman Reigns is the big dog, then Brock Lesnar is animal cruelty.”

Rumor has it they want to do Reigns and Lesnar again at Wrestlemania next year. From a story perspective, I can’t say that thrills me. But those two had a damn good match a few years ago. Perhaps this could be another situation where the match surpasses the hype.

Sheamus and Cesaro def. Enzo and Cass to become top contenders for the Raw Tag Team Titles. The Hardys essentially came in and stole Cass and Enzo’s big moment at Wrestlemania. But Matt and Jeff may have done them a favor. Now they can challenge for the belts in their home state at Summerslam.

Finn Balor returns to Raw, teams with Seth Rollins to defeat US Champion Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe. Tremendous way to close the show, with Balor finally returning. Plus, as the announcers pointed out, these four all have a bit of a shared history. For my money, Balor could be the man in WWE if given the right opportunities. He caught a really awful break last year. If he can say healthy, there could be truly amazing things in his future.

On the subject of staying healthy, I couldn’t believe Rollins did that somersault to the outside. His knee must be in better shape than they’re letting on. At least I’d hope that’s the case…

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The Paige Situation, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Human beings are so weird.

That was the first thing that came to mind when I read that Saraya-Jade Bevis, known to WWE fans as Paige, was one of the victims of yet another mass celebrity photo/video hacking. Sadly, Austin Watson (Xavier Woods) and Tyler Kluttz (formerly Brad Maddox) can also be seen in the…content. I haven’t seen it. But there’s reportedly quite a bit. We see this kind of thing so often nowadays. I don’t even want to imagine what it must be like. My heart goes out to all three. Particularly Bevis, who was clearly the target.

Something like this tends to bring out the worst in people. Certain wrestling fans can already be a crass, immature group at times. I’ve lost count of all the “Up Up Down Down” jokes I’ve seen on Twitter. I think back to what happened with Lita, Edge, and Matt Hardy all those years ago, and how tough things ended up being for Lita in particular. And this time there’s friggin’ video footage…

People are so quick to judge. But the fact is, Bevis, Watson, and Kluttz are three consenting adults who did nothing wrong. Though you can argue it was foolish of them to tape this. This looks like it’s a few years old. But sex tape leaks and cloud hacks are nothing new. You’d think that as public figures, they’d have been a little more conscious of that. Along those lines, there’s allegedly some footage of the NXT Women’s Title being, shall we say, defaced. They put that on film, for crying out loud. But in the…*ehem*…heat of the moment, your judgment can undoubtedly be impaired.

The reality of it is, Bevis already had one foot out of WWE. She’s already been popped twice for Wellness Policy violations, and she’s engaged to Alberto El Patron (formerly Alberto Del Rio), who happens to be the World Champion over at Impact Wrestling right now. This obviously complicates things further. While neither she nor Watson deserve to be fired over this, if she still has any desire to wrestle for WWE, she might be better off going her own way for awhile. To say the least, being a full-time wrestler for WWE is a demanding job. Until this blows over it’s just going to make it more difficult. If her heart’s not in it, she shouldn’t be doing it.

Again, my own heart goes out to all three of the victims here. I hope whoever leaked this stuff gets what they deserved.

Ponderings From Raw

After a public “apology,” Mick Foley gets fired by Stephanie McMahon. Sami Zayn comes out to defend him, gets put in a match with Samoa Joe. This was a nice spot for Zayn to be in. Definitely a big character moment for him. Hopefully he continues to establish himself as an anti-establishment underdog after Wrestlemania comes and goes. At this rate, I imagine he’ll just be in the Andre Battle Royal.

And so it seems Mick Foley’s time as the general manager of Raw has come to an end. This run from Foley obviously had it’s share of problems, the biggest of which was him having to recite WWE’s heavily scripted dialogue. Foley was, and is, a performer that can incite a heavily emotional response from audiences. Doing that using someone else’s words is difficult. Most of the time, that stuff comes from your gut and from your heart. Nobody wrote those ECW promos for Cactus Jack all those years ago. That’s not to say he can’t shoulder some of the blame. But in many ways, Mick was out of his element here.

I think Foley is often put in these authority figure roles in the hopes of re-creating the magic of his time as WWF Commissioner in 2000. Foley has often said he wishes he’d stayed in that position longer. But frankly, I think it ended at just the right time. He left us wanting more, and clearly it’s left a lasting impact.

Regardless of what anyone thought of Foley’s time as general manager, he remains one of my favorite pro wrestlers of all time. To me, he has always been passion personified.

Samoa Joe def. Sami Zayn via submission. Joe with that damn dive through the ropes to the outside. Not sure why they felt the need to have him do that. We so many of those dives, at this rate the Big Show will be doing one next.

Charlotte Flair def. Dana Brooke. They could easily have put Dana Brooke into the Women’s Title Match at Wrestlemania by having her beat Charlotte here. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Wrong place, wrong time for Dana. I’m interested to see how she does on her own from here on out. But I don’t have high hopes.

Chris Jericho exposes the “real” Kevin Owens on the Highlight Reel. Owens ambushes him, rips up the List of Jericho. Damn. He ripped up the list. That clipboard is more over than most of their roster…

As was the case when Owens slammed Jericho’s head into that sign a few weeks ago, there were shades of Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels here. Only this time, we have to go all the way back to Wrestlemania XIX, when they did that story about Jericho idolizing Michaels as a youngster. This struck a similar chord.

Incidentally, notice that Darren Drozdov figure in the photo of 16-year-old KO? I still have that. Why I have that one as opposed to certain others, I have no idea. But it’s somewhere in my home right now.

Brian Kendrick def. TJ Perkins. Afterward, Kendrick reveals he’s stolen Akira Tozawa’s passport. Not much of a match here. Though he focal point was obviously the furthering of the Kendrick/Tozawa story.

They did another episode of Bring It to the Table after Raw last week, on which JBL and Corey Graves both expressed that 205 Live isn’t the show if should be right now. The emphasis, they said, should be more on action and less on the gaga and entertainment aspects. I can’t say I disagree. I was just surprise to hear them say it.

Nia Jax def. Bayley in a No Disqualification Match to earn a spot on the Raw Women’s Title Match at WrestlemaniaNo surprise here. A Fatal Four-Way between Bayley, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Nia Jax has been rumored for weeks now. All I can say is I hope Nia doesn’t win it. If I had to pick now, I’d say Bayley retains. But it seems like it’s up in the air.

Triple H: Seth Rollins can compete at Wrestlemania  if he signs on for a Non-Sanctioned Match. So there it is. Seth Rollins is going to get physical at Wrestlemania. It’s been somewhat evident for awhile now, especially after last week. But it’s nice to see this officially put on the table. As unfortunate as Seth’s injury was, it gave them a cool story to tell. It put him in a hell of a babyface spot.

The CM Punk chants were out in full force again this week, during both Hunter and Stephanie’s segments. @ProWrestlingMag on Twitter, who I tend to disagree with half the time, made a valid point during the Stephanie/Zayn stuff: “Maybe chant for SAMI instead of CM PUNK. Idiots.” Fair point…

Cesaro and Sheamus def. Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, Enzo and Cass in a handicap match to retain their spot in the Raw Tag Team Title Match at WrestlemaniaHappy to hear the announcers point out how seemingly illogical it was that Gallows and Anderson attacked their partners at the top of the match. The idea was if Sheamus and Cesaro lost, they’d lose their spot at Wrestlemania. I understand “emotions running high,” or whatever. But the champs looked downright stupid here.

Austin Aries def. Tony Nese. Neville confronts Aries after the match. In a very short time, Aries has established himself as Neville’s most credible challenger yet. If they give these two enough time, they could be a dark horse candidate to steal the whole show.

The Undertaker interrupts the main event between Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman. The Dead Man chokeslams Strowman, but eats a spear from Reigns. Undertaker took some flack for looking old after hitting Strowman with the chokeslam. Hey assholes, Strowman’s got to weigh over 350 lbs. Undertaker had hip surgery less than a year ago. Do the math. I’m actually surprised they did that spot.

They didn’t follow up on Reigns’ retirement comment from last week. I half expected the Wrestlemania bout to become a Retirement Match. You’d think if ‘Taker’s career were truly about to end, they’d promote the hell out of it. This week was the absolute latest you’d want to pull the trigger on that…right? Let the speculation continue, I suppose.

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Triple H Annihilates Seth Rollins, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

WWE announced Monday that Jack Swagger has been granted his release. The real-life Jake Hager had apparently been looking to get out for awhile, even bringing it up on Chael Sonnen’s podcast earlier this month.

Hager was signed to a WWE development deal in 2006. So he spent about a decade with WWE. He had a run that a lot of guys would be jealous of. The company clearly saw a lot of potential in him, perhaps as someone in the Kurt Angle mold. They did their best over the years to establish him as a top guy. Had the dice fallen differently, it might have worked. But fate just didn’t seem to be on Hager’s side in that respect.

Hager is a very good wrestler. But when it was time to talk, he was in trouble. He has a little bit of a lisp, and it was noticeable whenever he got on the mic. It undercut the wrestling stud vibe they were going for with him, and it became tough to take him seriously. They had him win Money in the Bank, and later made him World Heavyweight Champion on Smackdown. But it just didn’t click.

They seemingly found an answer in 2013, when Dutch Mantel came in to manage Swagger. As the character Zeb Colter, he essentially became what Paul Heyman is to Brock Lesnar. Dutch cut tremendous promos, weaving in contemporary political elements, most notably immigration. They even got a touch of mainstream buzz over the character. Swagger was put against Alberto Del Rio for the World Heavyweight Title at Wrestlemania XXIX, and seemed primed to win it…

And then he got arrested for DUI and drug possession (marijuana). He and Mantel remained together, but it was essentially over as far as Hager being a top guy.

But Hager’s career doesn’t have to end here. Like Drew Galloway, Cody Rhodes, and so many others who’ve left the WWE umbrella, he can thrive on the independent scene. I also wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see him show up in TNA in a few months, as his old pal Dutch is now back on the creative team there.

Brighter days are ahead for Jake Hager, and I commend him for having the guts to step outside the safety of the WWE bubble.

Ponderings From Raw:

Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar address Bill Goldberg. Herman’s prediction: “Down goes Goldberg!” That “down goes Goldberg” line is something they’ll be returning to in the weeks to come. It’s something Corey Graves, as the heel announcer, can come back to at the event itself. It’s a great line.

Note that Heyman also put Goldberg over, referring to his latest run as “the greatest championship comeback in sports entertainment history.”

Sasha Banks def. Dana Brooke. After taking abuse from Charlotte post-match, Dana attacks her. Dana has gotten a lot of bad press these past few weeks for her in-ring skills. Looking at this match, I can’t say it’s unfounded. But the real-life Ashley Sebera has only been wrestling since 2014. She’s still trying to learn. But she’s doing it on national television. It takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there like that. Having said that, she could really use another run on NXT. She can re-establish herself there, and come back later for a fresh start. Perhaps that’s where this turn is headed. I doubt it, but one can always hope.

Brian Kendrick and Tony Nese def. Akira Tozawa and TJ Perkins. TJ Perkins had a good match with Shinsuke Nakamura on NXT last week, and he was tremendous in this match. But this guy needs a heel turn. He’s looked like a loser for months, and he’s officially grating. I wouldn’t mind seeing he and Tozawa in a program.

Kevin Owens vows to take Chris Jericho’s US Title at Wrestlemania, and leave nothing left but the “Tears of Jericho.” Owens and Samoa Joe get themselves disqualified in a match with Jericho and Sami Zayn. Another really good promo from Owens. In classic heel fashion he justified his actions, believing himself to be right. He accused Jericho of wanting to get close to him just to get close to the Universal Championship. I love when bad guys do that. No one really believes they’re evil. We all usually believe we’re doing what’s right.

This Owens/Joe team-up did nothing to dispel the rumors of them forming a faction alongside Triple H. I’m not sure you need Triple H on TV every week in a group. But the prospect of Owens and Joe together consistently remains ntriguing.

I wouldn’t have had Owens and Jericho touch here. At the very least, I’d have limited their contact to that super kick Owens gave him. But then again, Owens obviously beat the hell out of him at the now infamous Festival of Friendship. So I guess we’ve been there and done that.

Big Show to compete in Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. They did a “New Day Talks” segment, which was supposed to be their take on a talk show segment. It ended up with Titus O’Neil being mad at Big Show because he wasn’t in the WWE/Jetsons movie that comes out this week. Wow. What compelling TV…

But what I got out of this segment was the line about Show getting the opportunity to be a two-time winner of the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Ouch. I guess that makes it official: Shaq is out of Wrestlemania. That’s a rotten break for Show. He supposedly spent months preparing for that match, getting himself in the best shape of his career, only to be stuck in the Battle Royal again this year.

Cass had some really nice fire in that pre-match promo. He still had some that deer-in-the-headlights look going on. But he made me believe.

Sheamus and Cesaro vs. Enzo and Cass goes to a no-contest after Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson interfere. Not much suspense to this match. Earlier in the show, Anderson and Gallows cut that promo about taking the spotlight for themselves. The finish to this one was pretty obvious at that point.

As if it wasn’t already pretty clear what the match is going to be at Wrestlemania. And of course a short time later it was made official: a Triple-Threat Tag Team Match for the Raw Tag Team Titles.

The Undertaker’s trademark gong goes off during Roman Reigns’ match with Jinder Mahal. Reigns calls the Undertaker out. Shawn Michaels surprises him. Reigns: The Undertaker retired you, and I’m the guy that’s gonna retire him.” Well, they went there. Let the speculation about the Undertaker’s retirement continue. This is already so damn emotional. Damn…this could really be it…

If this does turn out to be Undertaker’s retirement match, how fitting is it that it’s Shawn Michaels who planted that seed in Roman’s mind. Nice continuity there.

Austin Aries def. Ariya Daivari. Austin Aries wrestling on Raw. By God, what a time to be alive.

Bayley def. Nia Jax via DQ. Couldn’t muster up much enthusiasm for this one. We’ve seen this one so much. I dig the larger story they’re telling here, though. The idea is that Bayley can’t win big matches without Sasha’s help, so all these women are worthy of title shots. I expect Nia to be added to Wrestlemania in short order.

Mick Foley refuses to fire someone by order of Stephanie McMahon. Triple H comes out to belittle him. Seth Rollins makes the save, but the Game destroys the would-be “King Slayer.” I loved this segment. I really did. Everybody was perfectly in character, and it made perfect sense. This was great drama.

Seeing Mick and Triple H in the ring together was a nice nostalgia trip. They’ve always had a great lovable hero meets cunning villain chemistry. Foley was good on the mic here, too. He stumbled a bit, but he was in the zone. He hasn’t had an easy time in this role. But I was proud of him tonight.

Didn’t expect Rollins to be on the losing end of that confrontation with Hunter. But it makes sense when you stop to think about it. Seth’s knee has a big question mark over it. So now we’re left guessing.

Those CM Punk chants aren’t going away, are they? They’re following Steph, in particular. Considering the adverse effect that character has had on this show in recent years, I’m not complaining. I’m a Punk fan, after all.

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

A WWE Hell in a Cell 2016 Preview – 30 Years in the Making?

Brock Lesnar, Undertaker, WWE Hell in a Cell 2015By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I feel like I gripe about this every year.

More than one Hell in a Cell match on a show is too much. Hell in a Cell was a perfectly viable brand before it was a yearly pay per view. And up to that point, it was unheard of to have more than one of these on a show. It used to be something they’d break out when a story warranted it. Now it’s a yearly obligation. Every October they bust out the cell for no real reason.

This year, we’ve got a whopping three cell matches. That’s something they haven’t done since 2009. They opened with The Undertaker and CM Punk, put John Cena and Randy Orton on in the middle of the show, and closed with DX against Legacy. I suspect they’ll do something similar here. It certainly doesn’t behoove them to put three consecutive cell matches on. Though at this rate, that may be where we’re headed someday.

I say you open with Roman and Rusev, put Owens and Rollins in the middle, and close with Sasha and Charlotte. The women are the only ones with a feud that actually feels worthy of the cell. So in a perfect world, they’d have the only cell match on this show. It should be an honor to be put in that one cage match.

But more on that later…

WWE Hell in a Cell 2016, Cedric Alexander, Sin Cara, Tony Nese, PRE-SHOW MATCH:
Cedric Alexander, Lince Dorado, & Sin Cara vs. Tony Nese, Drew Gulak, & Ariya Daivari

Really good way to kick things off. Expecting lots of flips and flying here, as it’s not like most of these guys have much of an identity to the mainstream WWE audience yet. I’ll be watching Alexander and Nese during this match, as they’re the division’s stand outs as far as I’m concerned. I’m including TJ Perkins and Brian Kendrick in that statement.

It doesn’t really matter who wins this one, but my gut says it’s the babyfaces. More on this when we get to the Cruiserweight Title Match.

PREDICTION: Cedric Alexander, Lince Dorado & Sin Cara

WWE Hell in a Cell 2016, Gallows & Anderson, Enzo & CassLuke Gallows & Karl Anderson vs. Enzo Amore & Big Cass

This is another one where the outcome could go either way. I’m going to go against my better judgment and say Gallows and Anderson take this one. They’re supposed to be the buzzkills of the Raw tag team division. But it seems like the only team they can beat is Golden Truth. They’ve spent the last few months losing to the New Day. Let’s let them have a win and get a touch of credibility back. Enzo and Cass have big things ahead of them, so it’s not like they won’t get their win back. Let’s just let Gallows and Anderson take this one.

PREDICTION: Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson

Bayley, Dana Brooke, WWE Hell in a Cell 2016Bayley vs. Dana Brooke

My big hope for this match is that we don’t have another botch like we had awhile back.

I’d be very surprised if Bayley wasn’t involved in the Women’s Title match at Wrestlemania. So they need to keep building her up now. A pay per view win over Dana Brooke is a nice step. But what will really be a notch on her belt is a victory over whoever doesn’t walk out of Hell in a Cell with the Women’s Title. I suspect we’ll see that in either December or January. Dana Brooke will be fine. She still has a lot of learning to do. But she’s got a lot of charisma, and they need her in the spot she’s in right now. If she keeps improving, her day will come.

PREDICTION: Bayley

The New Day, Sheamus, Cesaro, WWE Hell in a Cell 2016WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The New Day (c) vs. Cesaro & Sheamus

As I’ve said multiple times, they’re not taking the titles off of New Day for at least another couple of months. They may as well hold them until Wrestlemania at this point. So I’m not sure what Sheamus and Cesaro will do after their loss here. Something with Gallows and Anderson, maybe? God forbid they put them with the Shining Stars. Either way, the power of positivity prevails again.

PREDICTION: The New Day

TJ Perkins, Brian Kendrick, WWE Hell in a Cell 2016WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
TJ Perkins (c) vs. Brian Kendrick

That backstage segment from Raw where Kendrick asked Perkins to let him win was a clue as to how this match will end. The story here is that these guys used to be friends. So in classic heel fashion, Kendrick will take advantage of a moment of compassion on Perkins’ part, and surprise him for the victory. This doesn’t hurt Perkins, and it makes Kendrick look like a slimy heel. It’s a great finish, and the one they should go for.

PREDICTION: Brian Kendrick

WWE Hell in a Cell 2016, Roman Reigns, RusevHELL IN A CELL MATCH FOR WWE UNITED STATES TITLE:
Roman Reigns (c) vs. Rusev

I’m happy for Rusev. It wasn’t long ago he’d become just another guy on the roster. Now he’s in pay per view matches with WWE’s next poster boy. Win or lose, that’s a good thing.

In this case, however, it’s going to be lose. Now that we’re coming out of the shadow of Roman’s wellness policy violation, the marching orders now seem to be back to making Roman look strong at all costs. So unless there’s some sort of shenanigans that let someone else into the cage (more on that in a moment), I don’t see Roman losing. Rusev may very well get the title back at a later date. But it won’t be here.

PREDITION: Roman Reigns

WWE Hell in a Cell 2016, Seth Rollins, Kevin OwensHELL IN A CELL MATCH FOR WWE UNIVERSAL TITLE:
Kevin Owens (c) vs. Seth Rollins

I originally thought this match would see Triple H break into the cell to cost Rollins the title again. But now that all this Goldberg stuff has happened, I imagine the X factor for this match will be Chris Jericho. Whether he breaks into the cell with bolt cutters, hides under the ring, or Stephanie lets him in somehow, Jericho is giving this match to Kevin Owens.

I wouldn’t be at all shocked if this Owens/Jericho tension comes to a head at Survivor Series, costing Team Raw their match. From there, they’ll probably blow it off in December.

This match, as well as the Reigns/Rusev match, will likely have no shortage of stunts, brutality, and what not. As we’ve seen in recent years, they’ve gone back to letting some of these matches be more edgy. Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins had a memorable one in 2014. Undertaker and Brock Lesnar got to rip up the ring last year, and even got a little color. Then they let Shane McMahon jump off the damn thing at Wrestlemania. So I’ll be interested to see how much creative freedom they let these guys have.

PREDICTION: Kevin Owens

Sasha Banks, Charlotte, WWE Hell in a Cell 2016HELL IN A CELL MATCH FOR WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE:
Sasha Banks (c) vs. Charlotte Flair

Whether they put it on last or not, this is the main event. For a variety of reasons.

Part of it is the intrigue of seeing the women inside the cell. I can only recall seeing one traditional cage match between women (Trish and Victoria on an episode of Raw), much less a Hell in a Cell match. So there’s a lot of curiosity about what they’ll let these girls do in there.

There’s also the fact that in the 30 years WWE has been doing these big pay per view shows, they’ve never put a women’s match in the main event. Ever. This isn’t just a big deal for Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair, but for the real-life Mercedes Kaestner-Varnado and Ashley Flier. They could potentially break some real ground here, and lend some true credence to the whole “Women’s Revolution” thing.

But it’s not just the fact that they’re women. Sasha and Charlotte are performers who, both together and separately, have put on matches that have changed the perception of women’s wrestling. We know they’ll put on a hell of a show, even it if involves taking risks that are a little too dangerous for comfort. They’re a great sell for the show.

Sasha Banks, Mick Foley, Charlotte, WWE Raw, October 24, 2016As for the match itself, it’s Sasha’s time. It’a also in her home town. And letting her break Charlotte’s 12 consecutive pay per view win streak is something she can brag about for awhile. If these two are going to pull out a big stunt for this match, I suspect it might be one similar to what Ambrose and Rollins did in 2014. They’ll be climbing the cell, and then take the big fall through a table. I just hope they come out of this in one piece. Sasha in particular.

Go get ’em, ladies. Make some history.

PREDICTION: Sasha Banks

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Mick Foley and Charlotte Sell the Cell, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

Mick Foley, WWE Raw, October 24, 2016By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Lets talk about that segment with Mick Foley, Charlotte, and Sasha Banks, shall we?

Having Foley in this general manager role has been a double-edged sword. There are weeks he seemingly struggles to recite written dialogue. We saw a little bit of that early in this segment, as he seemed to skip a line, and jump to “Right here in Minneapolis.” We had an awkward silence, much like we had a few weeks ago. When Sasha and Charlotte realized what had happened, they jumped in and said their lines.

Then Mick went into Cactus Jack mode, admonishing the ladies about the dangers of the cell. Nobody knows it better than him, after all. The intense stuff was split into portions. The first half lacked a certain personal touch, that unique perspective that only Foley can bring when talking about this match. Instead, it felt like Hell in a Cell dialogue they’d write for just about anybody.

But when the second half came, and he talked about not having a hip socket, bone grinding on bone, and his personal connection to both ladies, that was the good stuff. He fumbled over his words, and you could tell he was struggling to elevate the segment. But he got it there. The fans bought into it. They always buy into him, because he makes it so believable. I swear to God, if they’d just take the shackles off of guys like Mick, they’d get where they wanted to go, and then some.

Sasha Banks, Mick Foley, Charlotte, WWE Raw, October 24, 2016Meanwhile, Charlotte sold her stuff like a million bucks. I believed her. She had that great line about the belt only meaning anything because of her. And then she brought up Sasha’s injuries, which added a nice layer of truth to things. She was, bar none, the best part of this segment.

As good as she is in the ring, Sasha isn’t on Charlotte’s level in terms of mic skills. And she’s certainly not on Foley’s level. She did her part, but she was outshined here.

On another note, last week they were referring to Charlotte as “Charlotte Flair.” Then tonight, Mick Foley announced her as such. Apparently she now has a last name. Works for me. I’m rarely a fan of wrestlers, particularly female wrestlers, going by first names only. It almost devalues them. Jacqueline, Tori, Melina, even Bayley. Can we at least mention their last names occasionally?

Also ladies, stop calling each other “sweetheart.” They used it at least three times in this segment. Pick another word.

Ponderings From Raw:

Chris Jericho opens the show, searching for the person who stole the List of Jericho. @WWECreative_ish on Twitter joked that the List of Jericho “may be more prestigious than the Universal Title at this point.” The sad thing is, that’s kind of true. This entire segment revolved around the theft of a running gag. But you know what? It’s a great running gag. So it actually works. The crowd actually chanted “Where’s the list?” These live Raw crowds have been better these last few weeks.

Chris Jericho, WWE Raw, October 24, 2016

By the way, Stephanie said more than once during this show that it was her job to run Raw. Um…isn’t that technically Mick Foley’s job? I’m confused.

After Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson cut their mics off, Enzo and Cass turn to the crowd to recite their catchphrases. Enzo beats Anderson in a match. Hearing the crowd recite the usual Enzo and Cass dialogue was pretty cool. As for the match, once they said Karl Anderson’s name the outcome was never in doubt. They simply will not let him win a singles match. Come to think of it, they barely let these guys win in tags. Why should tonight have been any different?

Rusev and Roman Reigns cut pre-taped promos on each other. “Roman has done despicable things to me. He has done despicable things to my wife.” That line might have needed another round of editing. Still, I liked the execution on both of these.

Cesaro & Sheamus def. The New Day. Yet another instance of WWE giving us the pay per view match a week before the actual pay per view. Oh. Yay.

This whole program is a jerk off anyway. Cole said it on commentary: The New Day is  50 days away from tying Demolition’s tag title record. They’re not losing the belts at Hell in a Cell. Talk to me around the Royal Rumble. Or more likely, Wrestlemania.

Cesaro, WWE Raw, October 24, 2016Kofi and Cesaro looked good out there. We had the guillotine reversal into a suplex, and then the uppercut into an S.O.S. And then you had that dive over the top straight into an uppercut. Good stuff.

Am I the only one who remembers Big E. pinning Sheamus, a multi-time Heavyweight Champion? Just wondering…

Dana Brooke def. Bayley in an arm wrestling match. I checked out the moment I heard “arm wrestling match.” I like Bayley, and unlike a lot of people I actually like Dana Brooke. But no thanks.

Bo Dallas def. Curtis Axel. Some really nice passion from Curtis Axel before the match, even though it was basically cheap pops. This match had a nice start too, with Axel attacking Bo as if it were an actual fight. And then Bo had to kick out of the Perfectplex, and of course he beat Axel. But this was probably the most memorable match either man has had in a long time.

Golden Truth w/Mark Henry def. The Shining Stars w/Titus O’Neil. So the finish here involved Mark Henry pushing Titus on to the ring apron, thus knocking Primo off the top turnbuckle and costing the Shining Stars the match. Or at least that’s what it seemed like it was supposed to be. Henry basically tapped Titus on the chest, and he jumped backward on to the apron. I never thought I’d have to say this about Mark Henry, but he needed to put a little more muscle into it. An ugly end to a match with no intrigue.

Sasha Banks, Charlotte, WWE Hell in a Cell 2016WWE begins promoting Hell in a Cell as having a triple main event. This was the spot in the show where they put the Foley/Charlotte/Sasha segment. And with that in mind, I’ll address this triple main event thing: Nope. Sorry.

It’s like CM Punk said on the now famous Colt Cabana podcast: “I’m not f&$*ing stupid. The main event is the last match. … There’s one main event. There’s always been one main event.”

It’s pretty easy as far as I’m concerned. Just give the main event to Sasha Banks and Charlotte. This is the one time this Hell in a Cell show has something we’ve never seen before. How can you not go with that as your main event?

In the end, WWE can keep their sleazy marketing gimmicks. But what’s right is right. Give these ladies what they deserve.

Rich Swann def. Brian Kendrick. As much as I dislike Rich Swann’s dancing gimmick, having him win was cool from a story perspective. Kendrick now has even more doubt in his mind. They also made great use of archive footage of Kendrick. They really should have done it weeks ago. But better late than never.

Brian Kendrick, TJ Perkins, WWE Raw, October 24, 2016As we saw last week, none of these Cruiserweight guys are winning Emmys any time soon. But I liked Kendrick’s acting in that backstage segment with Perkins. Asking Perkins to let him win on Sunday was a big character moment for him.

Braun Strowman and Sami Zayn went to a no contest. I cringe whenever someone gets flung into the barricade like Sami was. It’s a convincing spot. I’m assuming this leads to another match at the pay per view.

Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman appear before an opinionated Minneapolis crowd. Is it fair to call this segment a flop? The Minneapolis crowd eventually became the story. It certainly raises questions about how the Toronto crowd will react to Goldberg at Survivor Series. Those “Goldberg sucks” brought back some memories…

Question: Is it too much to ask Brock to look like he cares? Just a little? When Heyman said that Brock was getting pissed off at the chants, he looked like he was thinking about getting back to catering. Just look mean, Brock. That’s all we ask in these segments.

Seth Rollins def. Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho in a triple threat match, pinning them both simultaneously. Quote of the match, from Owens: “You don’t pedigree him! Get this idiot!”

Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, WWE Raw, October 24, 2016This match felt like a real main event. Wasn’t this supposed to be on Hell in a Cell at some point? Heck, it should be on the pay per view. It would beat having three cage matches, that’s for sure. Loved the shot on the left of Owens and Jericho looking shocked, and we got a strong ending with the powerbomb on the apron.

When you look at the show as a whole, they did something they haven’t done for awhile, if ever: They built to the third hour. They put the big stuff, Brock and the triple threat, in the third hour. As such, the show struggled early on, but it made it more watchable as a whole. Just sayin’, something to keep in mind for the future…

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