Posted in Wrestling

Mick Foley Returns to Promoland? Plus, Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Before we get into Raw, there’s a nasty rumor circulating that WWE threatened to fire Paige if she didn’t break off her relationship with Alberto Del Rio. There’s obviously some truth to it, as the two of them were drafted to separate shows. Now Del Rio seems to be done with the company, and we have no idea what the future holds for Paige after her recent violation of the wellness policy. Coincidentally, her violation was announced just a day before Del Rio got popped as well.

Here’s the bottom line: Don’t mess with people’s relationships. It’s bad karma. It also seems to be bad for business. Live and let live.

WWE Raw, September 5, 2016, Mick Foley, Stephanie McMahonPonderings From WWE Raw:

Mick Foley goes back to “Promoland” for Raw‘s opening segment In one of his books, Mic referred to the headspace he got into for big wrestling interviews as Promoland. Though it may have been written for him, I’d like to think this segment represents a return to Promoland for everyone’s favorite Hardcore Legend.

I loved this. Stephanie played the alpha female role, as she always does. But Mick didn’t cower. He humanized her with a sweet story, prompting Stephanie to melt a little. Some of that harsh exterior melted. And that last line about Steph possibly being a “really good liar and a really bad person,” was awesome. There was no screaming, no threatening of violence, no menacing stare, or any of the stuff we saw in some of his classic promos. But this was truly some of the best Mick Foley verbiage we’ve seen in quite some time.

Seth Rollins interrupts Kevin Owens’ victory celebration. Rollins really shouldn’t have said “bull crap.” It made him sound like a grade schooler. Just saying “bull” might have actually been better.

Still, Rollins brought a nice intensity to this segment. He actually got up in Steph’s face and got pissed off for a change. And once again, Steph wasn’t exactly fighting back. She certainly wasn’t emasculating the male stars as she’s done in the past. It was a refreshing change of pace to say the least.

WWE Raw, September 5, 2016, Chris Jericho, Kevin Owens, Stephanie McMahon, Mick FoleyAlso, why is it called Clash of Champions and not Clash of the Champions?

They followed this up with a backstage segment in which Chris Jericho called Owens the “longest reigning WWE Universal Champion in history.” That was a great line.

Bayley def. Charlotte in a non-title match. If you listen to The Steve Austin Show or The Ross Report, you hear a lot about the importance of selling. With that in mind, I paid extra attention when Bayley sold her left knee after the half Boston crab. Really nice work.

So what happens after Charlotte and Dana Brooke break up? That’s obviously where they’re going here. Do they turn her babyface? I don’t know if I buy her in the hero role quite yet. She’d likely be better off going back to NXT at this point.

Bo Dallas returns to Raw, winning a squash match. Apparently a recent arrest for intoxication hasn’t adversely effected Bo’s career. Hell, it seems to be helping! He might want to ditch the singlet that says “outcast,” though.

Seth Rollins def. Chris Jericho. Now that Rollins is transitioning into a babyface, it’s time for a new theme. CFO$ and Downstait seem to be on the case.

Seth Rollins, WWE Raw, September 5, 2016Rollins’ athleticism should never be taken for granted. That diving somersault off the top rope into a neck breaker? Awesome. That frog splash? Excellent. The sad thing is, those moves would likely all mean more if they’d just made him a babyface when he came back. The transition is indeed underway, but he’s in that awkward middle ground right now. It could have been so easily avoided.

Sheamus goes up 3-0 in the Best of Seven Series against Cesaro. As was the case in the Charlotte/Bayley match, I kept an eye on the selling of the injury. In this case, the focus was obviously Cesaro’s match. We had some really nice storytelling here, with Sheamus focusing much of his offense on the back. The five backbreakers in a row were a great sequence. I’d have been perfectly fine with the match ending there. The Brogue Kick was almost redundant at that point.

The announcers talked about the winner getting a championship opportunity. But which championship? Does it go without saying it’s the Universal Title? I wouldn’t mind seeing Cesaro challenge Owens.

The Shining Stars def. Enzo & Cass. Big Cass got a real nice shine from last week’s main event. He and Enzo are still an amazing package deal, and he’s still nowhere near ready for a singles push. But he’s little more ready than he was last week…

The Shining Stars, WWE Raw, September 5, 2016Of course, a loss to Primo & Epico doesn’t exactly help his case. These two have absolutely nothing to talk about other than their Puerto Rico shtick, which is long since stale. Can’t we give them anything else to say?

Nia Jax won a squash match. They established here that the jobber was a friend of Alicia Fox, and it looks like they’re finally giving Nia a mini-program. One I suggested last week, no less. They had a little backstage segment later in the show where Nia jabbed Fox about Total Divas and reality TV. Fox actually said the line: “This isn’t reality.” Hm…how about Summer Rae? Didn’t I suggest her too?

Gallows & Anderson spoof The New Day. I actually enjoyed Gallows & Anderson’s “Ringpostitis” gag, as stupid as it was. But I’m ready for them to get down to business. These guys should be the ultimate killjoys, not stealing from Edge & Christian’s playbook. Actually, this whole thing felt like they were struggling to kill time.

Darren Young def. Jinder Mahal. So Jinder Mahal has had three matches since he’s come back, and he’s lost three times. Good on ya, man…

Titus O’Neil was on commentary for this match. Any time that happens, I can’t help but remember him cracking up Cole and Lawler a few years ago. Great stuff. But if they really wanted entertainment, they’d let Bob Backlund do commentary.

WWE Raw, September 5, 2016, Braun Strowman, Sin CaraAlso, can we not act like Bob Backlund is this frail oxygenation? He’s probably stronger than a lot of the active wrestlers.

Braun Strowman def. Sin Cara via count-out. Whaddaya know? Like Nia Jax, Braun Strowman gets a break from squash matches! Strowman also got a nice little story here about ripping off the jobber’s mask last week. I was wondering if Sin Cara would lose his mask as well. Perhaps that’s still in the cards.

Sasha Banks returns, teases retirement, will face Charlotte for Raw Women’s Title at Clash of ChampionsSasha wearing less make up was a nice, subtle change. She wasn’t dressed as the Boss. She was just herself. As she talked about the progression “Women’s Revolution” in WWE, I absolutely adored her for the line: “No more stupid butterfly title.”

I’d love to think this wasn’t scripted for Sasha. She really opened up and let that passion come out. She really got us too, didn’t she? We’ve seen a few retirement speeches on Raw in the last several years, and this felt like one of them. But let’s be honest, they wouldn’t have had her tweet about “bad news” if she was really retiring. I, for one, am very pleased her final chapter hasn’t been written yet.

Kevin Owens, WWE Raw, September 5, 2016Kevin Owens def. Sami Zayn. I’m very encouraged that they haven’t forgotten about Zayn beating Owens at Battleground. That puts Zayn in the title picture. He’s by no means in the center of that picture. But at least he’s there. This one didn’t top the Battleground match, but it was a worthy main event. The right guy won, with the champ going over. Though Owens may not be so lucky next week…

Mick Foley announces Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens for next week, giving Reigns a chance  to enter the main event at Clash of Champions. Charlotte got pinned this week, and now next week Owens is in a position to be beaten by Reigns. I don’t like that they’re starting to pin champions on TV again. Those belts need to mean something. It’s bad enough we’ve got so many of them again. But if the champions and the titles aren’t protected, what’s the point of any of it? Here’s hoping we see the reappearance of Rusev next week, costing Roman the match.

Then again, that means the US Title is once again in danger of leaving Rusev’s waist, which I’m not a fan of. But let’s take it one week at a time, folks.

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

Posted in Wrestling

Seth Rollins Strikes Gold? Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

Seth Rollins, WWE Raw, July 18, 2016By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Let’s do things a little different this week, and jump right to the main event. We had our WWE Championship Match between Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, which ended in a double pin. Stephanie McMahon, the Commissioner of Raw, announced Rollins as the winner. But Shane, the Commissioner of Smackdown, was clearly on Ambrose’s side.

After Raw went off the air, Ambrose was confirmed to still be the WWE Champion. Frankly, that’s a surprise, considering they continued to play up Rollins’ comeback story. They even made a point to mention a web site (Bleacher Report?) making him the number one pick in a fantasy draft. Signs seemed to point to him. Either way, I expect him to win the match at Battleground.

So here we go. This opens the door for both become the champions of their respective brands. Tomorrow night in the draft, Stephanie picks Rollins as her top draft choice, and Shane picks Ambrose for Smackdown.

Like a lot of purists, I’m not a fan of there being two world champions. In the end, every other singles title ends up watered down. Plus, the Raw title inevitably ends up being the important one anyway. And isn’t it convenient that this disputed finish just happens to occur on the show before the draft?

Still, dumb ending aside this turned out to be a pretty good show, with two returns to punctuate things…

WWE Raw, July 18, 2016, Daniel BryanPonderings From WWE Raw:

Mick Foley named General Manager of Raw. Daniel Bryan named General Manager of SmackdownFoley is a surprise pick. I can only assume this choice has to do with the soon to be released Holy Foley reality show on the WWE Network. Either way, Mick is one of the best mic guys that company has ever had, and hopefully he’ll create some magic on Monday nights.

The love that the fans still have for Daniel Bryan blows me away sometimes. And it all happened so organically. He’s like the anti-Roman Reigns in that sense. Bryan’s enthusiasm is infectious.

Cruiserweight Division to launch on RawHere you go. This is where a lot of those guys from the Cruiserweight Classic will go. Here’s hoping they don’t lose interest in it after a few years. The WWE’s incarnation of the cruiserweight division was a joke for the last few years of its existence. It was a mercy killing when it finally ended.

Sami Zayn & Cesaro def. Chris Jericho & Kevin Owens. On the subject of mercy killings, one of the upsides to this Sami Zayn/Kevin Owens rivalry likely ending is we won’t have to see that awful punching spot they do. I really enjoy them both, but they do it every week and it looks just as awful now as it did the first time.

WWE Raw, July 18, 2016, Darren Young, Bob BacklundDarren Young def. Alberto Del Rio. So the story with Young is that he wins by accident. I can see Young possibly getting a similar win, and the title, at Battleground. Miz can contest to extend the program, with Young ultimately getting a legit win in the end. Of course, they could just be playing this up for comedy.

Sometimes I wonder how Del Rio feels about the way things have gone for him since he came back. He’s a multiple time champion, and was one of the hottest free agents in the business when they re-signed him. Now he’s just another guy on the roster. Though I suppose having Paige on your arm must help matters.

The Club & The Wyatt Family def. John Cena, Enzo, Big Cass, & The New Day. The in-ring segment before this match was a lot of fun. Lots of different energies and personalities in there, and the crowd ate it up. For the most part, Enzo was on fire. The fun they had in the skit definitely carried into the match.

Somehow I hadn’t connected the dots about there being two six-man tags at Battleground. Does that hurt the show? Maybe. One way they could differentiate them a bit is to have The New Day put the tag belts on the line. I don’t expect them to break Big E, Kofi, and Xavier up. They’ve got a really good thing going with those three, and there’s gas left in the tank. I don’t mean to compare the two groups, but they broke The Shield up too soon, and they don’t want to make the same mistake with The New Day. The Wyatts, on the other hand…

Seth Rollins, WWE Monday Night Raw, July 18, 2016Seth Rollins cuts a promo in the empty arena before the show. Dean Ambrose does a Shield-style promo with a handheld camera. Any time they do something different like this, it’s a good thing. They could easily have put Rollins backstage with Renee Young and had him looking off-camera, reciting his lines. Ditto for Ambrose. But they opted to do something unique. Well done, WWE.

Baron Corbin def. Sin Cara. Apparently The Lucha Dragons aren’t a tag team anymore. Why they opted not to break them up via the draft doesn’t make sense to me. They always play up how teams could be broken up by being drafted to different shows. So why not break them up that way? You also had Kalisto come out to save Sin Cara from a post-match beatdown.

With the cruiserweight division announced for Raw, I imagine we’ll see Kalisto on that show. Corbin will likely be there as well. As he’s no longer teaming with Kalisto, this likely means Sin Cara is Smackdown bound.

Sasha Banks & Becky Lynch def Charlotte & Dana Brooke via disqualification after an attack by Natalya. My guess is they’re setting up this Natalya/Becky Lynch program for one show, and the Charlotte/Sasha one for the other. I was hoping they’d have one Women’s Champion to appear on both Raw and Smackdown. But in light of this situation with the WWE Title, that seems unlikely. The whole division is likely to suffer as a result. Damn…

WWE Battleground 2016, Charlotte, Dana Brooke, Sasha BanksSasha has a mystery partner against Charlotte and Dana at Battleground. Assuming they don’t opt to have Sasha go it alone, this seems like the perfect opportunity to bring Bayley up. She’s likely being drafted anyway, and this is her opening. We’d better get ready for some wacky arm flailing inflatable tube men!

Rusev & Sheamus def. Dolph Ziggler & Zack Ryder. I still can’t get over this push Zack Ryder is getting. In a match that included two former world champions and a monster heel, Ryder came out last. I don’t expect him to win the belt at Battleground, but you never know.

In Other News:

Brock Lesnar flagged for potential anti-doping policy violation prior to UFC 200I’m betting this turns out to be a false alarm. Lesnar reportedly passed multiple drug tests before the fight. Guilty or not, in the wake of Roman Reigns’ Wellness Policy violation, this is a headache WWE doesn’t need. Here’s hoping this is resolved quickly, and we can focus on Lesnar vs. Randy Orton at Summerslam.

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

Posted in Wrestling

Brock Lesnar’s Victory, The Final Deletion, and Ponderings From WWE Raw

Brock Lesnar, UFC 200By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Very happy to see Brock Lesnar get the win over Mark Hunt. The doubters weren’t totally justified in questioning Lesnar’s chances. The guy hadn’t had a fight in years. But he was obviously ready. I don’t know if he regrets re-signing with WWE, but it’s clear his heart is still in MMA. I expect we’ll see him back in the octagon soon.

Lesnar will now carry the momentum from this fight into Summerslam, where we now know he’ll wrestle the returning Randy Orton. The announcement of Lesnar’s opponent happened on Smackdown, actually prompting me to watch the show for once. We heard Corey Graves bring up the fact that these two came up together in the WWE developmental system. I expect that will be a large part of the story they tell as we move toward August. I’m a bit concerned about Orton staying healthy in there with Brock. He’s just come off shoulder surgery, after all. But then again, I had those same concerns about The Undertaker, and as far as I know he came out of it fine.

WWE is going to need as many stars as they can fine once this brand split starts. Make no mistake about it, Randy Orton is one of their biggest commodities.

I also loved how they finally acknowledged the damn fight on television this week. Only after Brock had won, of course…

Bob Backlund, Darren Young, WWE Raw, July 11, 2016Ponderings From Raw:

Darren Young wins a battle royal to earn an Intercontinental Title Match at BattlegroundThe obvious choice to win this match seemed to be Apollo Crews, for no other reason than he was the only participant to get a TV entrance, and they played his music through Miz’s pre-match promo. But Darren Young was a pleasant surprise. And they were chanting his name! Imagine that.

However, I’m curious about the way he won. Crews and Baron Corbin eliminated themselves. Young won by accident. So what does that say about him going into Battleground? Either way, any excuse to get Bob Backlund on live TV works for me.

I’ve come to enjoy Miz’s commentary. He does a nice job putting other talents over. He seemed to be getting instructions to put Corbin over. That’s fair enough. I suspect Corbin will receive much more attention once the brand split takes effect. He still comes off really green. But the best solution for that is experience.

Sheamus def. Zack Ryder. I was blown away when I saw Ryder get a clean win over Sheamus on Smackdown. That, combined with his win last week on Raw, leads one to a stunning conclusion: Zack Ryder is getting a push. Four years after he took the wrestling world by storm with his YouTube show, WWE finally seems to be taking him seriously. I’m really proud that he’s persevered after all this time. The only wrestling t-shirt I’ve purchased in the last decade was Ryder’s Broski v-neck. That’s how much of a fan I was, and still am. A United States Title Match with Rusev seems imminent. Will he win? Probably not. But at least he’s in the conversation.

Kalisto, WWE Raw, July 11, 2016Tyler Breeze & Fandango def. The Lucha Dragons. During this match the announcers brought up the idea that tag teams could be split up during the draft. I’m hoping that doesn’t happen very much. Remember when they split the Dudleys up in 2002 for no real reason? And then they put them back together a matter of months later? Yeah, let’s not do that again.

Seth Rollins airs mock interview with Roman Reigns using old interview footage. Dean Ambrose comes out to confront him. A WWE Title Match is made for next week’s RawKurt Angle did something like this to The Rock at the tail end of the Attitude Era. It’s an okay little gag. No harm done, even though they are talking about a legitimate drug test violation.

Seth Rollins came off like a million bucks in this segment. He said that Reigns should be taken out of the title match at Battleground, and the fans cheered. He talked about Ambrose sneaking up on him and taking the belt, which did happen. He was also right that Ambrose couldn’t beat him for the belt last year. Rollins has a legitimate argument to being the uncrowned WWE Champion, and being better than both Ambrose and Reigns.

In Ambrose’s response, however, he came off more threatening than he has in weeks. Jokey Dean Ambrose is fine sometimes. But as the champion, we need to see more of the crazy and dangerous Dean Ambrose. When he’s on, Ambrose is as good as anybody in the company. Rollins, to his credit, played off of that intensity very well. He looked intimidated, as his character should be. As for next week’s title match, I don’t expect the belt to change hands. Battleground, however, is a different story.

WWE Raw, July 11, 2016Kevin Owen gets Sami Zayn ejected from the commentary table before his victory over Cesaro. Zayn attacks Owens afterward. I wish they’d just make this some kind of stipulation match that allows Zayn and Owens to fight all over the arena. I just wish they’d stop doing that lock-up/punches thing they do. It takes me right out of whatever scene they’re in.

The New Day journey to the Wyatt Family “compound.” So…was this WWE’s attempt to outdo the “Final Deletion” that TNA did on Impact last week? If so, they failed.

Let’s go ahead and talk about the Final Deletion. It was a match Matt and Jeff Hardy shot on location, which served as the blow-off for the bizarre program they’ve had in TNA this year. Produced by Jeremy Borash, it was a truly ridiculous spectacle. There was a weird vignette with drones and a hologram, spots with fireworks, and the lunacy fans have come to expect from Matt’s crazy character. It was far from your traditional main event, but that was the point. A lot of fans enjoyed it, and it got TNA some much-needed positive buzz.

All I can say about this, is that it’s good to see people talking about TNA again. What that brand desperately needs is some buzz, and they got it.

Fast-forward six days, and we get this. It looked like WWE’s take on a found footage flick, a la The Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield. But the shaky camera was just awful. There were traces of the Final Deletion. We had the music, the stuff in the water, Bray using an axe, the car crash, etc. The ironic thing is, had they shot this in a more traditional manner, it would have been a lot more interesting. We’d have been able to follow the action more closely. Also, that didn’t look much like a compound to me. More like an open field.

TNA, The Final Deletion, Matt and Jeff HardyOn the plus side, the image of Braun Strowman rising from the water and roaring was awesome. Literally the best thing he’s ever done. And that final image of the lanterns in the forest was cool. But all in all, this was very derivative. WWE drawing inspiration from something TNA did? In 2016? Who’d have thought?

Enzo & Cass def. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson via disqualification. John Cena makes the save afterward. Of course Cena was there. C’mon, now.

Decent match. I’ve got high hopes the match at Battleground will be one of the better six-man bouts we’ve seen on pay per view in recent years. I doubt it’ll top The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family. But you never know. This all obviously leads to another match between AJ Styles and John Cena at Summerslam, and possibly a tag title shot for Enzo & Cass.

Sasha Banks def. Dana Brooke. I was really curious to see how Banks and Brooke would match up. All things considered, they did pretty well. Absolutely the best match I’ve seen from Dana Brooke since she got called up. They also gave this match a good amount of time, which I credit them for. We wanted Sasha, and they gave us Sasha. They took their damn time, but better late than never.

Vince McMahon names Shane McMahon Commissioner of Smackdown, Stephanie McMahon named Commissioner of Raw. General Managers to be named next week. First off, Vince’s impression of “sweet” Stephanie was awesome. The funniest thing on this show in weeks.

McMahon Family, WWE Raw, July 11, 2016What happened here isn’t surprising. This looked like where they were going. The heel Stephanie on one show, the babyface Shane on the other. The General Manager thing is a bit odd. Traditionally, you have one authority figure that makes matches, stipulations, etc. So does the GM now fill that role, with Shane or Steph coming in as necessary? It all seems redundant. But maybe it’ll make sense when we see it in action. By the way, isn’t Kurt Angle available these days?

I do, however, think Vince gave us a clue about how things are really going to go once this split takes effect. He made a point to call Raw the “three-hour flagship” of WWE. In the end, Raw is like Vince’s favorite child. Even with the added emphasis on Smackdown, eventually it all comes back to Raw.

 Image 1 from rt.com. Image 5 from denofgeek.com. Remaining images courtesy of WWE.

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

Posted in Wrestling

Roman Reigns, “What an Ovation!”, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This wasn’t the show I was hoping to end the road to Extreme Rules with. Even with all the intrigue that comes with this Roman Reigns/AJ Styles program, it seems like they’ve run out of plays to call for these guys. So they slapped The Usos together with Gallows and Anderson, and we limp into a pay per view that will hopefully leave all parties better than when they walked in.

*sigh* They just won’t turn Roman. No matter how much he’s booed, they just won’t let him go heel. Speaking of those boos…

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns, AJ Styles, WWE Raw, May 16, 2016AJ Styles and Roman Reigns face off at the top of the show. JBL is hardly the world’s most credibly announcer, is he? Roman’s music hit, he was showered in boos, and JBL goes: “What an ovation!” Gimme a damn break.

Still, this program is hot. Not super hot, but hot nonetheless. I’ll take this over a 20-minute Authority promo any day. AJ Styles isn’t an amazing talker, but he’s definitely serviceable. He more than held his own here. The same can be said for Reigns. He definitely didn’t endear himself to the Greensboro crowd, who apparently were chanting for Seth Rollins. They must have muted them, which always sucks.

Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn def. The Miz & Cesaro. I was sad to see the Zayn vs. Cesaro match broken up. Those two had a classic in NXT awhile back, and a rematch would have been cool. And Owens on commentary? Even better. But it was cool to see Cesaro hit Miz with his own finish.

What I paid attention to during this match were the interactions between Owens and Zayn. I really want this rivalry to live up to the enormous potential it has. What can I say? I’m short on patience. They definitely make for good television. For now, that’s enough.

Primo & Epico, WWE Raw, May 16, 2016Primo & Epico return as The Shining Stars. I’ve never had a problem with Primo & Epico in the ring. But I haven’t been enamored with their latest repackaging. Neither was the crowd, apparently. The Shining Stars? That’s pretty damn generic. Oh, and their finisher? The Shining Star, of course. But they are getting a chance to talk, which could work to their advantage. The problem is they’re not saying much of substance. “Come to Puerto Rico!” It’s a little grating, but not enough to base an act on. They need to add another dimension to this, and fast.

Dean Ambrose calls out Chris Jericho. The first ever Asylum Match is made for Extreme Rules. You know who could really use the rub from Chris Jericho? Roman Reigns. They’re not going to get the crowd to cheer Reigns simply by putting him with Jericho. But Jericho might be able to bring something out in Reigns that either we haven’t seen before, or could endear him to fans a bit more. That said, this Asylum Match is likely going to end with an Ambrose victory. Which would mean that next week on Raw our old friend 50/50 booking would have to rear it’s ugly head, with Jericho somehow becoming the new top contender.

Dana Brooke def. Becky Lynch. Dana caught a really bad break this week, as her partner Emma is now sidelined with a ruptured disc in her back. As such, Brooke is obviously on her own. But I thought she did well enough out there with Becky. She’s by no means sunk.

Dana Brooke, BEcky Lynch, WWE Raw, May 16, 2016We got a “We want Sasha!” chant during this match. That’s a little discouraging, especially considering how great Becky is as a babyface. I’m not sure why they’re keeping Sasha off TV, as apparently she’s still working a full time schedule. I can only assume she’s in line to challenge Charlotte down the road.

A “Life Lessons from Coach Backlund” vignette airs. Not bad. But I’ve got one note: Backlund needs to crank up the intensity at certain points. We know he’s got it in him. Now we need to see it in his new role with Darren Young.

Tyler Breeze & Fandango def. Golden Truth. I get what they were going for with that video package, and we did need to know why Goldust and R-Truth are suddenly a tag team. But that pre-match video package was way too long. In a way it’s fitting, as this damn bromance story feels like it’s gone on forever. But they do have comedic chemistry, so it’s nice to see them finally together. And it looks like Tyler Breeze and Fandango have gotten something out of this. I’m not sure how seriously they’ll be taken. But if they stay together, they could be a really good team. But that “Breeze-ango” name has to go.

The New Day return to “a bygone era.” This was the kind of thing I had in mind when it became apparent The New Day and The Vaudevillians would cross paths. I can’t say it was as good as I hoped it would be. But Kofi had a nice little moment when he went back to 2007 for a moment. As for Simon Gotcha and Aiden English, as long as they’re allowed to be mean, they’re still in the game. If they lose that edge, they’re dead in the water.

WWE Raw, May 16, 2016, AJ Styles, Roman ReignsThe Usos def. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson. AJ Styles finally gets to use a steel chair on Roman Reigns. I’ve given up hope that WWE is actually going to turn Reigns heel. But given how WWE has set up the teams here, with Reigns going with The Usos and Styles going with “The Club,” how cool would it be to see Reigns go heel and recruit Gallows and Anderson? That would shake up the whole dynamic. What if this attack from Styles shook his confidence, and he found a cheap way to win? It’s not going to happen. But it’d be damn cool.

Extreme Rules would be as good a time as any for Finn Balor to show up and cost Styles the match. He’s got an NXT Championship Match with Samoa Joe at the NXT Takeover special in June. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be on the main roster by then.

Alberto Del Rio def. Kalisto. Rusev brutalizes both Lucha Dragons. Ugh. Just take the belt off Kalisto already. I like the guy. But between all the pre-show title matches, the back and forth wins with Del Rio, not to mention the awful commentary, I’m over him as US Champion. They could certainly choose somebody worse for him to drop it to than Rusev. Hell, he could end up dropping it to Del Rio again.

Stephanie McMahon, Ric Flair, WWE Raw, May 16, 2016A contract signing between Charlotte and Natalya main events the show. Charlotte winds up in the Sharpshooter again. It’s always cool to see the women get a main event spot like this. As I recall, the last time we had a contract signing with the ladies in the main event spot, we got the whole Reid Fleihr controversy. This obviously doesn’t erase that. But it’s nice to see they’re still willing to give the girls this spot. Granted, this had more to do with them being in North Carolina, and Ric Flair being there. But hey, who would have thought Natalya would be main eventing Raw? And of course, Stephanie slapped Flair. Because she slaps everybody…

This is the second week in a row they’ve opted not to give the main event spot to Roman Reigns and AJ Styles, despite them having far and away the most interesting storyline in the company. I wonder why that is. Do they not want him getting booed at the end of the show for some reason? It sure as hell didn’t stop them at Wrestlemania

In Other News:

Regan Arts to publish Stephanie McMahon memoir. I groaned when I read this. Not because I don’t think Stephanie has an interesting story, but because everything she does from a professional standpoint is about growing the WWE brand. As it should be. But the only time I ever see her is when she’s on TV, reciting overly scripted dialogue. As such, my impression of her is that everything she says goes through about five different strictly PG public relations filters. As such, I get the feeling this will be the equivalent of reading a book about a sanitary napkin growing up in WWE.

You know, I’m curious. Stephanie must have signed a contract for this book, right? Well, after the documents were signed…did she slap somebody at Regan? She must have. That’s just how she rolls.

Images courtesy of WWE.com. 

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

Posted in Wrestling

Big Cass Hits the Big Time, Champions Fall, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m going to get into Raw, as afterward we’ll get into Ryback’s current situation with WWE, and the numerous releases we saw last week.

Ponderings From WWE Raw:

WWE Raw, May 9, 2016, Chris Jericho, Big CassColin Cassaday interrupts Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel, and challenges him to a match. I was really annoyed when a light chant of “Where is Enzo?” broke out. WWE and Colin Cassady are trying to make the best of a bad situation. To his credit, he’s not doing a bad job. In terms of the Raw audience, I’d argue Enzo was over with the fans the night after Wrestlemania because of how great he was on the mic. Cass, while part of the act, didn’t have that advantage. So this is a great chance for him to flesh out his character. Thus, when Enzo returns, the team will be even stronger.

Baron Corbin def. Dolph Ziggler. “Even Steven” booking strikes again. I’m wondering if these two will rematch yet again at Extreme Rules. I don’t really see why they’d need to, as I don’t think there’s enough interest to merit it. But it’s a possibility. Pleased to see Corbin win with his finish, though he could have easily won with the Deep Six.

R-Truth def. Fandango. Michael Cole shoved a bunch of contrived pop cultural references into this match. He talked about the Goldust & Fandango vs. R-Truth & Tyler Breeze match on this week’s Smackdown being bigger than Captain America: Civil War. He also mentioned James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke,” and Ozzy Osbourne’s disappearance. It’s like someone picked the least important match on the show to shove all of that into. Last week I talked about this program not making any sense, but at least these four guys have something to do on Raw.

WWE Raw, May 9, 2016, Charlotte, Paige, NatalyaPaige def. Charlotte with a distraction roll-up. I get why they did this. They want the fans to question Charlotte’s ability to stand on her own as we head into a match where Ric Flair is banned. For continuity’s sake, Paige should get the next title shot at Money in the Bank next month.

I tend to mute the commentary when wrestlers put on a headset, especially when there are two of them bickering with one another. But Natalya was fine. She seemed to run out of things to say when Cole and JBL kept questioning her, but she came off well. I do, however, think she jumped up on the apron a bit too early. Logically, she should have jumped up there after Charlotte tried to win with her feet on the ropes.

Sami Zayn def. The Miz. Not a good night for champions, as both the Women’s Champ and the IC Champ lost clean. But in Zayn’s case, at least we know he’s getting a title opportunity. We now officially have the fatal fairway match I mentioned last week. My guess is Miz retains when Kevin Owens accidentally causes Zayn to get pinned. This Zayn/Owens stuff could go to Summerslam if they book it right.

Dana Brooke makes her Raw debut in a backstage segment with Emma and Becky Lynch. From a wrestling standpoint, I can’t say I’m that familiar with Dana Brooke. I’ve seen her in backstage segments Emma, as the two are obviously run-in buddies. But she’s largely unknown to me. Either way, her debut adds a bit more depth to the women’s roster, which is a good thing.

Darren Young, Bob Backlund vignetteDarren Young finds a life coach in Bob Backlund. This segment first aired on Smackdown. I’m really intrigued by this pairing. As I understand it, it was Darren Young’s idea, and WWE are letting him run with it. The “Make Darren Young Great Again” slogan is obviously timely. What’s more, this will give us a chance to get to know Young a bit more. We don’t know much about him, aside from the fact that he’s the first openly gay WWE star. And obviously, Backlund is very entertaining.

But the most surprising thing about this vignette? They let Young and Backlund say “wrestling.” Holy crap. I thought that word was banned! Then Byron Saxton said it!

Sin Cara def. Rusev with a distraction roll-up. The second distraction roll-up of the night. Ugh. Rusev really shouldn’t have lost this match. From where I sit, WWE is still in the process of rehabbing him. He won a big battle royal last week, and now he loses to Sin Cara? Lame. On the plus side, they learned their lesson and kept Kalisto off commentary.

Roman Reigns & The Usos def. AJ Styles, Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson via disqualification in a six-man elimination tag team match. Anderson and Gallows had a few heel moments here. You had Gallows cheap shooting Jey Uso, then Gallows abruptly tagging AJ out of the match, and of course attacking Reigns to cause a DQ.

WWE Raw, May 9, 2016, Roman Reigns, Karl AndersonI like the bad blood that exists between these two teams. And people can say what they want about Roman Reigns (I certainly have), but that moment when he looked at the chair, said “I don’t need it” and gave it to Styles? That was bad ass. On the other hand, Styles proves that babyfaces can be cheered in the modern era, so long as they have talent and a good amount of fire.

Kevin Owens def. Zack Ryder. We certainly can’t say Zack Ryder hasn’t gotten some decent TV time since Wrestlemania season. WWE seems to appreciate him as a guy who the fans like, and can give anyone a run for their money, but keeps coming up short. He’s an underdog. That’s not a necessarily a great position to be in. But it’s better than not being on TV at all. And as I recall, underdogs have done some great things in WWE…

Last week I mentioned how no one could have imagined AJ Styles on Sportscenter. But how about Kevin Steen showing up on Sportscenter? What a world we live in…

The Dudley Boyz def. The New Day. What the hell? The Women’s Champ, the IC Champ, and the Tag Champs all lose non-title matches in the same night. Between that and the distraction roll-ups, this is really weird. Just like Paige hopefully getting a title shot at Money in the Bank, one would hope the Dudleys will now be in the tag title picture next month as well. Also, hat big clothesline Kofi took from D-Von looked awesome.

WWE Raw, May 9, 2016, Dean AmbroseDean Ambrose attacked Chris Jericho before his match with Big Cass. This was disappointing. They hyped Big Cass against Jericho for the entire show. Ambrose’s appearance was obvious, but they could have at least let them wrestle a bit. Cass didn’t have to beat Jericho. Ambrose could have attacked him and ended the match.

The visual of Ambrose wearing Jericho’s jacket, and then destroying it was pretty cool. But the idea that “Mitch the potted plant” meant the world to Ambrose is just stupid. It was a running joke. Now suddenly it’s a factor in a program between two of WWE’s biggest stars? What the hell…?

In Other News:

Ryback off TV over contract dispute, posts lengthy blog on the issue. Much of the blog Ryback posted on his Tumblr page had to do with how wrestlers are paid, and how talents who win matches should get paid as much as the ones who lose. He seems to be implying that all WWE wrestlers should be paid equally. Allegedly, he also wants WWE to pay for his travel and hotel expenses.

(Incidentally, I hadn’t caught the “pre-show stopper” weight belt Ryback wore out for his pre-show match at Payback. Funny stuff.)

Ryback, pre-show stopperI doubt WWE will give at all. If they don’t feel Ryback should be paid more, chances are they’re not going to shill out more for him. Especially now that he’s talked about the issue publicly. As for the travel stuff, if WWE doesn’t pay for John Cena or Roman Reigns to travel across the globe, they’re not going to do it for Ryback.

Still, I give “The Big Guy” credit for trying to take on the system. As far as the travel stuff, he’s right in principle. If there’s another industry that doesn’t pay for its employees to travel, I’m not aware of it. Perhaps that falls back under WWE classifying its employees as “independent contractors.” Which, of course, is a big sham.

WWE releases the following talents: Wade Barrett, Damien Sandow, Santino Marella, Hornswoggle, Alex Riley, Cameron, Zeb Colter, El Torito. WWE did what many refer to as its annual “spring cleaning” last week. Most of these aren’t surprises, as the talents haven’t been on TV in a number of months. We had a pretty good idea that Wade Barrett was leaving, which is a shame considering all he could have offered. Cameron, a.k.a. the real life Ariane Andrew, had posted a lengthy rant regarding fans cyber-bullying her less than a day before this announcement. Frankly, I’m sad to see her go. She many not have been a great wrestler, but her on-screen personality was very easy to dislike. At the very least, she might have been a good valet for someone.

But the one that really hurts is Damien Sandow. At one point, this guy was one of the most over guys on the roster. Why you wouldn’t make at least some use of a guy like that is beyond me. Hopefully WWE’s loss will be somebody else’s gain.

Image 3 from wrestlenewz.com. Image 6 from cagesideseats.com. Remaining images courtesy of WWE. 

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Posted in Wrestling

Sting, Seth, the Statue, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Ponderings From WWE Raw:

Sting, Seth Rollins statue, WWE Raw, September 7, 2015Sting holds Seth Rollins’ statue hostage, eventually crushes it in a garbage truck. So Sting and Seth Rollins are feuding over a statue? That’s pretty lame, especially for a character like Sting. This could be so much more personal for him, even if they don’t want to get into the dark, scary, “vigilante” stuff. Sting is 56 years old.  He’s trying to win the WWE Championship for the first time, during his first run with the company, coming off a big loss at Wrestlemania. They could easily do something akin to what ECW did with Terry Funk in 1997. Funk was in his early fifties when he won the ECW Title from Raven at Barely Legal. It was one of the most emotional moments in the ECW’s history. It’s a classic tale. The older guy comes back to teach the young punk a lesson in respect. WWE could easily go that route with this story, and it would be even more emotional and effective considering the national scale, how long it took Sting to get to WWE, etc. But apparently this story is about a statue…

Also, does Sting have to wear a t-shirt all the time? How about one of his long coats? The t-shirt makes it seem like he’s trying to cover up his body or something. Even if that is the case, can’t he wear the coat anyway? Needless to say, he’d look a lot cooler.

Charlotte, Nikki Bella, September 7, 2015Charlotte to face Nikki Bella for the Divas Championship next week. Good move. There’s no drama in having Charlotte challenge for the title a week after Nikki breaks the record. But a matter of hours before the record breaks? Now that’s good TV. If WWE wants to be ballsy about this, they’ll put the Nikki vs. Charlotte match in a prominent place on the show. I can’t say I’ve ever wanted to see Nikki in a main event spot. But if they really want to try and make this a “revolution,” it’s worth a shot.

John Cena & The Prime Time Players def. Seth Rollins & The New Day. I was happy with this match, mostly because Titus O’Neil, Darren Young, Kofi Kingston, Big E., and Xavier Woods all got to be in a Raw main event. It’s good to see the Dudleys haven’t completely eclipsed the Prime Time Players since their return. And of course, The New Day can turn babyface any day now. Very happy for both teams.

Roman Reigns & Dean Ambrose def. The Ascension. So apparently The Ascension and Stardust are a group now. Cosmic Wasteland. Makes you wonder why Stardust wasn’t out there with them this week. It’s not like he couldn’t have taken a spear from Reigns or something. Granted, even without Stardust, a squash like this isn’t necessarily a great start for a group.

Randy Orton, September 7, 2015So it’s looking like Randy Orton is going to team with Reigns and Ambrose to face the Wyatts at Night of Champions. I’m absolutely, 100 percent fine with that. Why? Because it keeps Randy Orton away from a certain someone…

Randy Orton def. Sheamus. Dear God…why? Seriously, we need a restraining order for this one. Randy Orton and Sheamus must be kept out of the same ring for at least three years, minimum. And while we’re at it, let’s get a similar arrangement in place for Orton and John Cena. This program was an awful idea from the start. Why would we want to see any kind of rubber match?

The Big Show chases The Miz out of the arena, then knocks Cesaro out. Wait…I thought Show was supposed to be wrestling Ryback for the IC Title at Night of Champions? Are we making it a fatal fourway with Cesaro? I’d be okay with that, so long as it ends with Cesaro leaving with the belt.

The Dudley Boyz, Raw, September 7, 2015The Dudley Boyz def. Los Matadores. There’ve been rumors of Los Matadores being repackaged. I can only assume this is part of that. I’ve hated the Los Matadores gimmick from the beginning, not because it was supposed to be kid-friendly, but because it seemed like such low-hanging fruit. Hey, we’ve got two Hispanic guys? Let’s make them bullfighters! I only wish they’d put the damn bull through the table too. Speaking of which, what happens to him now? Does he become a new Dudley brother?

Images courtesy of WWE.com.

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Posted in Wrestling

WWE’s Most Fascinating People of 2013

By Rob Siebert

Editor, Fanboy Wonder

As many of us know, each year Barbara Walters publishes a list of her “most fascinating people” from the previous 12 months. This year, her list included Miley Cyrus, the Robertson family of Duck Dynasty fame, Pope Francis, and Hilary Clinton.

But you know what? None of those folks interest me at all. What can I say? Babs and I must have opposing tastes. I’m a man who loves his comic books, his movies, and of course, his pro wrestling. And for my money, the most fascinating pro wrestling fan be found on WWE television. And now, as I did last year, it’s time for me to put my own spin on Walters’ list.

Ladies, gentlemen, and “smarks,” Primary Ignition now presents: WWE’s Most Fascinating People of 2013!

Dolph Ziggler, Money in the Bank, cash in1. Dolph Ziggler
At this time last year, Dolph Ziggler seemed to be on the verge of true superstardom, and justifiably so. He’s ultra-athletic, has tremendous charisma, and at least half the time will give you the best match on the card. In many ways he’s comparable to Shawn Michaels, which I think is one of the highest compliments one can give to a wrestler. The night after Wrestlemania XXIX, Ziggler had the night of his career when he cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase and won the World Heavyweight Championship as the fans chanted his name. But unfortunately, things went steeply downhill from there. An injury threw a big wrench into Ziggler’s title run, and the belt quickly went back to Alberto Del Rio. From there, Ziggler spent the majority of 2013 jobbing to guys like Curtis Axel, Damien Sandow, and Fandango. His rapid descent down the card has been downright depressing and simply begs the question: Why? Why bury such an A+ talent? Rumors have surfaced Ziggler’s backstage attitude, and his perceived drawing power. Either way, Ziggler is in a much different place this year than he was last year. I’m hopeful, but also wary about where he’ll be at this time next year.

AJ Lee, 20132. AJ Lee

In 2013, AJ Lee finally rose to her rightful place at the head of WWE’s otherwise lackluster divas division, and while her caliber of opponents have left much to be desired, Lee herself continues to be interesting to watch. In addition to breaking WWE’s traditional Barbie doll/model mold for female wrestlers, she seems to have gotten much more confident on the mic this year. Case in point? Her “pipe bombshell” promo from August, in which she referred to the cast of Total Divas as “a bunch of ungrateful, stiff, plastic mannequins,” and alluded to how the Bella Twins sucked up to the right people. Moments like that, combined with her unique look, and apparently her sense of style, give AJ a special connection with both male and female fans. Plus, occasionally she’ll do something that will make me go: “Maybe she really does a little crazy in her.” Prior to this month, I had no idea who Michelle Beadle was. But apparently she and AJ had a heated moment when Beadle supposedly dissed CM Punk, Lee’s real-life boyfriend. Either way, AJ continues to be the most compelling female performer WWE, and perhaps mainstream wrestling itself, has seen in years.

Darren Young, WWE, 20133. Darren Young

This past August, Darren Young, whose real name is Fred Rosser, became the first active WWE wrestler to publicly come out of the closet. This seemingly happened on a whim when TMZ interviewed him at an airport. WWE handled this in what I deem to be a fairly tasteful manner. WWE.com reported on it, and the company made a point to circulate supportive quotes from other wrestlers. Young also took to the talk show circuit, appearing with the likes of Matt Lauer and Ellen DeGeneres. Thus, the company’s certainly milked Rosser’s revelation for positive publicity. But in terms of his role on-screen as Darren Young, very little has changed. He and Titus O’Neil have turned babyface as the Prime Time Players. But that’s essentially it, and one could argue that was in the cards anyway. To my knowledge, WWE never actually spoke about Rosser’s revelation on Raw, Smackdown, or any other in-character platform. What’s more, as far as I can see, Darren Young hasn’t gotten any kind of hateful backlash from fans who aren’t necessarily on board with homosexuals, the gay agenda, etc. As a fan, I was proud of WWE for not using this aspect of Rosser’s personal life as part of a tasteless storyline, proud of the fans for being mostly respectful of who this man is, and proud of Rosser for not being brave enough to put himself out there despite the risks that may have been present. Now if only the Prime Time Players could get a decent push…

Zeb Colter, 20134. Zeb Colter
The initial appearance of Wayne Keown (or as he’s more commonly known, Dutch Mantel) the February 11 edition of Raw as Jack Swagger’s new manager Zeb Colter came as a pleasant surprise to me. If there’s ever been a wrestler who needs a mouthpiece, it’s Jack Swagger. And Colter proved to be the perfect addition to his presentation, with his tirades about true patriotism, protecting America’s borders from illegal immigrants, and what this country has been “reduced to.” He turned Swagger’s program with Alberto Del Rio into one worthy of Wrestlemania XXIX. The passion and believability he delivered his promos with is something we don’t see nearly enough of from today’s crop of wrestlers. To the WWE publicity machine’s delight, the character even caught the attention of conservative pundit Glenn Beck. When Swagger was subsequently arrested for marijuana possession, his role was downgraded we didn’t see quite as much of Zeb. But when Swagger was teamed with Antonio Cesaro to form the Real Americans, Zeb’s promos became a more regular fixture on WWE TV, and we’ve reached the point where the “smarks” are even chanting “We the People!” along with him. His work (as well Paul Heyman’s) serves as proof that a manager/mouthpiece can still be a vital part of a wrestling program in the 21st century.

The Bella Twins, 20135. The Bella Twins
The Bellas are indeed fascinating, though not necessarily for good reasons. Nikki and Brie returned to WWE this past March, just in time to film Total Divas, a reality show on the E! network which follows a handful of female wrestlers. Nikki and Brie were front and center, as for the first time, it was acknowledged on WWE programming that Nikki was dating John Cena, and Brie was dating Daniel Bryan. As such, much of the show revolved around those two relationships. Nikki dealt with Cena’s reluctance to get married and start a family, while on the flip side, Brie and Bryan ended up engaged by the season finale. Surprisingly, the things that played out on Total Divas didn’t necessarily impact WWE’s ongoing storylines very much. However, during Bryan’s WWE Title program with Randy Orton in the fall, Brie was brought in to play the worried girlfriend, and we all cringed at the twins’ continued lack of acting talent. While Brie’s in-ring skills have indeed improved this year, the Bellas remain an instant cue for me to hit the fast-forward button on the DVR. And yet, it doesn’t seem like they’ll be gone any time soon, given their involvement with Cena and Bryan, not to mention the fact that WWE seems convinced we all want to see sexy twins wrestle every week. Sadly, the bloom was off that rose a long time ago. Clearly, the Bellas have a long way to go in terms of earning the respect of a lot of the “smart” wrestling fans. With luck, they’ll make more headway in 2014. If they don’t, there’s always that fast-forward button.

CM Punk, 20136. CM Punk
When we kicked off 2013, CM Punk was still the longest-reigning WWE Champion of the modern era, and the hottest heel the company had seen in years. After feuding with The Rock in January and February, he moved into a controversial program with The Undertaker, which culminated in a Wrestlemania match. From there, Punk had arguably gone as far as he could go as a heel, and really had no choice but to turn babyface. It’s been really interesting to see Punk turn his self-entitled narcissistic villain persona into a rebellious loose cannon character. Thankfully, Punk spent half the year working with Paul Heyman, one of the all-time great heel managers in wrestling, and the man who helped him generate much of his heat during his WWE Title run. While their rivalry might have run out of steam toward the end, they had a fantastic hero/villain dynamic. He’s been able to maintain that hero persona through brief programs with The Wyatt Family and The Shield. At this point, the only wrestler as universally cheered as Punk is Daniel Bryan. Given that he appears to be moving into some sort of program with Triple H and the Authority, the smart bet may be him winning the Royal Rumble and going on to main event Wrestlemania XXX. Given the way he’s shattered WWE’s glass ceiling and essentially made himself a marquee star these past few years, I’d say nobody (with Daniel Bryan being the only possible argument) deserves a Wrestlemania main event spot in 2014 more than CM Punk.

Paul Heyman, 20137. Paul Heyman

Heyman had a hell of a 2012, but somehow his 2013 was even better. To an extent, he’s actually taken on the role of a modern-day Bobby Heenan. For Wrestlemania season, he played a part in both the Undertaker/CM Punk and Triple H/Brock Lesnar programs, and got to walk both Lesnar and Punk to the ring at the big event. He also got to verbally joust with the likes of Vince McMahon, The Rock, Triple H, and of course, he got plenty of mic time with CM Punk once the two started their lengthy feud. Heyman was also given the task of helping elevate Curtis Axel, and later Ryback. Sadly, as was often the case with Heenan, Heyman ultimately wound up overshadowing both those men, particularly Axel. But regardless, no matter who he was working with, Paul Heyman almost always made for compelling television in 2013. Whether he was singing the praises of “Barrrrrrrrrrrrrock Lesnar,” planting a painfully awkward kiss on the cheek of Ryback, or taking a beating from Punk atop Hell in a Cell, Heyman was one of WWE’s most entertaining and captivating performers this year. And we can undoubtedly look forward to more of the same upon his return.

Curtis Axel, Paul Heyman, 20138. Curtis Axel

Fans who’d been following the career of Joe Henning (or as WWE fans came to know him, Michael McGillicuty) always knew him to be a solid in-ring performer. As the grandson of Larry “the Axe” Henning, and the son of Curt Henning, a.k.a. Mr. Perfect, he certainly has the business in his blood. Heck, he’d even been voted the 2008 Rookie of the Year by the readers of Pro Wrestling Illustrated. But despite his talents, he’d yet to really be given an opportunity at singles stardom. His hokey ring name certainly didn’t help matters, nor did what many might consider to be a lack of charisma and mic skills. But regardless, in 2013 Henning was repackaged as Curtis Axel, with the incomparable Paul Heyman as his new manager and mouthpiece. Less than a month later, WWE put the Intercontinental Championship on him, and seemed confident they had a new star on their hands. But as was the case with Dolph Ziggler, Axel’s 2013 sadly ended on a downer. Even with the Intercontinental Title, he wound up being more of a henchman for Heyman than anything else. At Night of Champions, Axel was teamed with Heyman in a 2-on-1 handicap match against CM Punk. The angle was booked so that Punk getting his hands on Heyman was a virtual certainty, as Axel had no chance of defeating Punk. Eventually, he dropped the IC Title to Big E. Langston, and was thrown into a tag team with Ryback. Joe Henning may have tremendous in-ring talent, but whatever potential star power he had may have ultimately been eclipsed by his manager’s rivalry with Punk.

Big E Langston, Intercontinental Champion, 20139. Big E. Langston
Clearly, the WWE brass has faith in Big E. Langston, but I’m not sure I share that faith at this point. Langston started his year as a bodyguard for Dolph Ziggler and AJ Lee. It looked like an HBK/Diesel-type babyface turn was in the cards for him. But then Ziggler broke off from the trio, and the AJ/Langston pairing eventually fizzled out. From there, Langston abruptly turned babyface, and before long he found himself Intercontinental Champion. It all seems too much, too fast for my taste. I’d have liked to have seen Langston get more time to cook as a babyface before they put him in the spotlight the way he is now. His mic skills clearly need work, as is evidenced by his bland, white-meat performance on commentary in recent weeks. Still, Langston definitely has a great look, and he’s solid in the ring. He also seems to have a certain charisma bubbling underneath the surface that I’m very interested to see more of. As Triple H has said in the past, the wrestler makes the championship important, and not vice versa. I’ve got the impression that WWE put the title on Langston to give him a boost. But now it’s up to him to make the most of this opportunity, and elevate himself to that next level. I’m very curious to see whether he can do that in the early part of 2014.

Daniel Bryan, WWE Night of Champions 201310. Daniel Bryan

Following Wrestlemania XXVIII, fans were unrelenting with their “Yes!” chants, letting WWE know, in no uncertain terms, who they’d chosen as WWE’s next marquee star. In 2013, Daniel Bryan became that marquee star. Case in point? Earlier this month, WWE held a “championship ascension ceremony,” which centered around John Cena and Randy Orton’s match to unify the Heavyweight Championships at TLC. They were joined in the ring by the likes of Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, CM Punk, among numerous other Hall of Fame caliber stars. But who were the fans chanting for? Daniel Bryan. It got to the point where Triple H and John Cena actually had to shift their performances to acknowledge the chants, as they were drowning out the mic work. Granted, they were in Bryan’s home state of Washington. But I think it’s safe to say the Washington fans spoke for the WWE audience at large that night. Daniel Bryan, the 5’10 vegan indie darling with the scraggly beard, has surpassed our wildest expectations. Most “smart” fans knew he had the talent, but whether WWE would run with him was another story. But between the deafening chants from the fans, and the awesome performances he gave this year alongside the likes of John Cena, Randy Orton, and even midcard guys like Antonio Cesaro, Bryan cannot be denied. I maintain what I said earlier about CM Punk being the smart  bet to main event Wrestlemania XXX. But it’s practically a guarantee that Bryan will be in a marquee match. The only question is, who will stand across the ring from Bryan on the grandest stage of ‘em all? Triple H, I’m looking at you…

Image 3 from thegrio.com. Image 4 from 411mania.com. Image 5 from wrestlenewz.com. Remaining images courtesy of WWE.com. 

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