Mia Khalifa vs. the Wrestling Industry, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Wrestling fans can be an easily triggered group. Retired porn star Mia Khalifa found that out the hard way last week.

Khalifa was on a YouTube show last week discussing Ronda Rousey’s probable move to WWE, and said: “This is where her career will go to die. I have no respect for the WWE. I don’t think it’s a real sport. …You go from real fights to wearing a sequin unitard and pretending to fight?”

Her words obviously struck a raw nerve with wrestling fans, and eventually numerous wrestlers. The most notable response came from Shane Helms, who tweeted: “I’m not gonna get upset that a Porn Star doesn’t respect Pro Wrestling. She’s entitled to her opinion. Our bodies take a pounding. and well … so does hers.”

Numerous news and entertainment websites have picked up on the Khalifa/Helms story, with Helms catching a little bit of backlash for supposedly slut-shaming her. Khalifa has subsequently accepted an invitation to an indy wrestling show, and says she isn’t opposed to having her opinion challenged. She also says she doesn’t hate wrestlers, and just loves talking trash. I dunno. I think I hear backpedaling…

I can’t say I was bothered by what she said. One of the things wrestling fans collectively need to work on is being less insecure about what the world thinks of the sport we love. Who cares what other people think of it? We love it. That’s what matters.

The truly ironic thing about this is that both the porn industry and the wrestling industry come with an obvious social stigma. Even in 2017, with political correctness at a fever pitch, we still can’t get past “Ew, she did porn!” and “Ew, wrestling is so fake!” I’d like to think that someday we as a society will understand that everybody has to make a living somehow. If you’re doing something by choice and not hurting anybody, where’s the shame in that? Especially if it’s something you love, and that other people enjoy. Most of the wrestlers we see on a week-to-week basis are obviously passionate about what they do. As I understand it, you pretty much have to be in order to endure the hardships that come with the business.

As for Mia Khalifa, I don’t know if she enjoyed her adult film career. But she’s obviously made a living off it, and has been afforded opportunities she wouldn’t have had otherwise. So live and let live.

I will say this, though: It might not be wise to throw shade at Ronda Rousey, of all people. Yes, she lost her last two fights. But she can still murder most of us with her bare hands. Just saying…

Ponderings From Raw

Samoa Joe opens the show, calls out Roman Reigns. Sheamus and Cesaro emerge, springing a trap. Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins get beat down as well. Joe’s promo came off really scripted, especially once he tried to up the intensity. When he started talking about Roman’s “compatriots Seth and Dean,” and the Shield being “a grand stable of imperial champions,” the promo was dead.

The one line that did stick out? Joe referring to Ambrose and Rollins as Roman’s lap dogs. If they wanted it to, that line could be the spark for somebody’s heel turn down the line.

Paige and Mandy Rose def. Mickie James and Bayley. Nothing special here from a wrestling standpoint. Oddly enough, the only person that stood out to me here was Sonya Deville. She only had a couple of lines in the pre-match promo. But she was the most believable of the group. More believable than Mandy Rose, that’s for damn sure.

Another back and forth pre-taped promo airs between Bray Wyatt and Woken Matt Hardy. I ended up watching last week’s segment with Matt and Bray several times during the week. Unlike most of what we see on this show, it holds up to repeat viewings. This one didn’t fare nearly as well. They essentially did the same stuff as last week, with Matt hamming it up more. They’d best bust out a new trick or two next time.

Finn Balor def. Curtis Axel. Balor’s not exactly in there with main event talent (no offense to the Miztourage). But at least he’s not getting mauled by Kane. That’s a plus.

Seth Rollins def. Sheamus. I’ve reached the point where I automatically tune out whenever a combination of Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Sheamus, and Cesaro are in the ring together. They’ve been wrestling each other on TV for months, and it’s this kind of repetition that strangles the life out of Raw. But word has surfaced that Sheamus is dealing with spinal stenosis, the same condition that ultimately ended the careers of Steve Austin, Edge, and Sting.

Though you certainly wouldn’t know Sheamus is having neck and back issues. The Blockbuster he took off the top rope, his use of the Stretch Muffler, the Superplex followed by the Falcon Arrow, etc. Pro wrestlers are damn near superhuman. But if history is an indicator, Sheamus is wrestling on borrowed time. Here’s hoping he gets to make the most of it.

Cedric Alexander def. Mustafa Ali, Tony Nese, and Ariya Daivari to advance closer to a Cruiserweight Title Match. The elephant in the room during this match was obviously Rich Swann’s arrest for domestic battery and false imprisonment. As one would imagine, he’s been indefinitely suspended. Really ugly situation.

Drew Gulak was on commentary for this match, and they were doing a bit where he played a politician pivoting and avoiding questions. It was entertaining enough.

Alexander and Ali did that hockey fight spot that we used to see Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn do all the time. I hate that spot. Hate it, hate it, hate it.

Roman Reigns def. Cesaro in an Intercontinental Championship open challenge match. Excellent match. Compelling story with Cesaro targeting Roman’s arm, which lead into a series of exciting false finishes. Something of an abrupt ending with the Spear. But quality work nonetheless.

We’ve long since passed the point where we can deny what Roman brings to the table every week. As for Cesaro, every time he gets in there with a big name he delivers awesome matches. Every. Time. It’s a damn shame he may never get a chance to be a big name himself.

When Absolution gangs up on Asuka, the women’s locker room empties to fend them off. Yeah, these Paige promos are officially bad. When it comes to Absolution’s dialogue, less is more.

Samoa Joe def. Dean Ambrose. Surprisingly, this one didn’t do it for me. Maybe a little too slow in the early going to grab my attention. Happy to see they protected Ambrose a little bit, though.

The Disaster Artist just came out. So more eyes are now on The Room and its star Tommy Wiseau than ever before. At some point, can somebody give Tommy a Kane mask just so we can see how close the resemblance is? For whatever reason, I’m interested.

Kane vs. Braun Strowman went to a double count-out. A post-match brawl ends with Strowman Powerslamming Kane through a table. The stipulation here was that the winner would get to face Brock Lesnar at the Royal Rumble. My guess is it winds up bring a three-way. I can’t say I have high expectations for that one.

But I didn’t have high expectations for this one either, and it wound up being pretty harmless. I expected this one to be pretty slow and sluggish, not because of Braun, but because of Kane. As great as he can be, his slower pace can work to his own detriment. When they were putting this match together, they countered that by keeping the wrestling portion of it short and to the point. They then threw in the weapons to up the stakes. They’ve consistently been smart with how they’ve protected Strowman in these main event matches, and that needs to continue into the new year.

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Woken Matt Hardy, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

News leaked last week that longtime WWE composer Jim Johnston had been released after more than three decades with the company. That’s a hell of a downer.

Not surprising, mind you. If you look at Most the music WWE has produced in the last several years has been with CFO$, who have essentially become their in-house band. But Johnston was still working for WWE in some capacity. His most recent, and apparently final, theme song for the company was “I Bring the Darkness,” which Baron Corbin uses.

Consider how vital music is to the overall WWE experience. We literally can’t have matches without it, as wrestlers all have their own distinct entrance themes. This isn’t just the case in 2017. What would the Ultimate Warrior have been without the adrenaline-pumping guitar riffs as he sprinted to the ring? What is the Undertaker without the awe-inspiring orchestra that backs his entrance? How much did “Voices” change the tone of Randy Orton’s entire act?

The list goes on and on. Stone Cold Steve Austin, Dusty Rhodes, Degeneration X, Ted DiBiase, the Rock, the Big Bossman, Triple H, Goldust…

Johnston didn’t do it all himself, obviously. But he was the backbone of all things music-related in WWE for so long. He helped shape not only the product itself, but the careers of generations of wrestlers.

Johnston produced much of the soundtrack our childhoods. So thank you, sir. For so many years, and so many great songs.

Ponderings From Raw:

Both Jason Jordan and Samoa Joe attempt to answer Roman Reigns’ open challenge for the Intercontinental Championship. Jason Jordan gets the match, which Reigns wins. Joe attempts to attack Reigns after the match, but Jordan stops him with a suplex. Reigns repays him with a Superman Punch. Jason Jordan may have won me over in this segment. He was whiny and annoying as he clearly played the father/son card. But at the same time, they’ve tried to make this heel turn organic by giving a certain amount of legitimacy to his gripes. He’s a legit bad ass who can hang. When Jordan’s turn becomes official, they may actually have something with him.

Paige def. Sasha Banks. Absolution once again destroys Banks, Bayley, and Mickie James. The announcers have consistently remembered to bring up the fact that Sasha Banks has never successfully defended the Raw Women’s Title. They’re saving that little factoid for down the road. Hopefully it’s the Sasha heel turn we’ve been waiting on for months.

As annoying as I’ve come to find Sasha, when it comes to big bumps she goes all in. That Sunset Flip she took off the top rope was nasty.

Both this one and the opener went pretty long. In the first hour and a half of Raw, we only got two matches. Commercials notwithstanding, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Nia Jax flirts with Enzo backstage. Alright, sure. This could be decent. Just don’t let her wrestle him for the title…

Drew Gulak def. Cedric Alexander, Mustafa Ali, and Tony Nese. WWE announced this week that 205 Live is going to start running live events, starting with three on January 19, 20, and 21. This happens to be the weekend before the Royal Rumble. Supposedly, they’re looking for smaller venues for future events.

Considering a lot of the crowds for Smackdown have been half-empty lately, this seems like a disaster waiting to happen. Mind you, this comes on the heels of WWE sending out a fan survey asking why people aren’t watching the show. But I do like the idea of the cruiserweights performing in smaller venues. I’d be in favor of WWE moving 205 Live to a different night (Thursday?), so they could move it somewhere about the size of the facility NXT takes place in. Moving it out from the shadow of Smackdown could be a good thing. And smaller crowds could help recreate the intimate setting of the Cruiserweight Classic. Whether Enzo and that crew can sell tickets? That could be another story entirely. 

Damn, I wish Cedric Alexander could talk. His big dive over the rope, the standing Spanish Fly with Ali, and of course the Lumbar Check. He’s so damn good. But verbiage is the missing element for him.

The crowd was actually awake for this one. That’s a nice change of pace.

Braun Strowman dominates Elias before Kane interrupts via the tron to announce a match with Strowman next week. So does Kane go away after next week? Or does he stick around a little longer? Finn Balor could certainly use some retribution.

Strowman has been part of some really good Raw main events this year. He and Kane have a high bar to rise to. I’m not exactly optimistic, but I’m not dreading it either.

Asuka def. Alicia Fox. Absolution has another staredown with Asuka before annihilating Fox. I said this last week: I’m not a fan of Asuka backing out of the ring Paige, Deville, and Rose surround her. They’re having her smile, so you know she’s not cowering away. But it’s awkward, and doesn’t make a lot of sense. She clearly wants a fight, and could very well kick the hell out of them. Whether it’s ill-advised or not, why not just stand there and wait for them to make a move?

Finn Balor def. Bo Dallas. So Balor isn’t getting a match with Brock Lesnar at the Royal Rumble, and he just can’t seem to solve the Kane conundrum. But he can beat Bo Dallas! So that’s something…right?

“Woken” Matt Hardy makes his WWE television debut via pre-taped promo intercut with one of Bray Wyatt’s usual tron promos. Hardy sentences Wyatt to deletion. This little segment has been a long time coming. Some of us have been waiting on this since the Hardys came back at Wrestlemania. It’s been almost a year. But Broken Matt is finally here, albeit under a different name.

I was fine with this character’s first exposure to WWE audiences coming via pre-tape. As cool as it can be, it’s undeniably goofy. This lets the fans in on the joke before we inevitably get the bells and whistles the die-hards want to see.

Sheamus and Cesaro def. Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose to retain the Raw Tag Team Titles. Samoa Joe interferes in the match, costing the Shield the titles. It’s the feud that just won’t die. I’ve seen these four wrestle so much I nearly snoozed right through this one. Considering how good all these guys are, that tells you something. Can this please be the end? Please?

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Paige’s Comeback, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

How’s this for a feel-good story? After more than a year, Paige is back in a WWE ring. Why is this such a feel-good story? Because for awhile, things weren’t looking so good for the real-life Saraya-Jade Bevis.

Look at everything Bevis has been through since we last saw her. Tensions were high between she and WWE over two failed wellness tests, and a neck surgery that WWE reportedly didn’t want her to have. All the while, she was in what appeared to be a volatile relationship with the controversial Jose Rodriguez, also known as Alberto Del Rio. At one point Jose Rodriguez was under investigation for domestic violence, and there was talk of alcohol abuse and the use of cocaine. The relationship has apparently ended as of a few months ago.

Then there was the X-rated footage leak, which included footage of Bevis with the NXT Women’s Title. Make no mistake about it, she was the victim of a sex crime. But considering all the bad press, it would have been very easy for WWE to simply cut bait. It would have been even easier for her to become another wrestling tragedy.

I think a lot of us forget how young Bevis is. She’s been wrestling since she was 13. She wasn’t even 20 when she was signed by WWE, and she started appearing on national television at 21. Most of us are fortunate enough not to have their dirty laundry aired all over the internet. I don’t doubt that some of that will follow Bevis for a long time.

The silver lining? She’s back, seemingly better than ever, and I would guess stronger and wiser for what she’s gone through. I wouldn’t want to get on this woman’s bad side, or stand in her way going forward. Because the question isn’t what she’ll do next. But after everything she’s seen in her young life, what can’t she do?

Welcome back, Paige. We’ve missed you.

Ponderings From Raw:

Triple H gets confronted by Kurt Angle, Jason Jordan, and Braun Strowman. Stephanie McMahon makes Strowman vs. Jordan for later in the evening. This was one of the few times since his return that Kurt Angle actually looked like the bad ass wrestling machine we know he can be. After last night, it looks like that’s the direction we’re headed in for Wrestlemania. My interest is piqued…

Adding Triple H to anything involving a younger star can be risky. He can easily outshine or outperform his opponent, making them look weak by comparison. In hindsight, his program with Seth Rollins didn’t exactly work wonders for the so-called “Kingslayer.”

But to his credit, Hunter looked genuinely afraid of Strowman at Survivor Series. Less so in this segment. But we still got “You’re a coward!” chants, which were cool. As Triple H has been wrestling more frequently as of late, a match between he and Strowman is hardly far-fetched. But the right move in that scenario would be a Strowman victory, most likely after interference from Angle. Do they have the guts to pull the trigger on that?

So Strowman storms out there looking like he’s going to kill somebody, marches up to Hunter, and then…stands there. What? Triple H couldn’t have bailed? If a freight train is barreling toward you, you move. So move, damn it! Move!

Samoa Joe def. Finn Balor. These two always look like they’re beating the crap out of each other. Probably because they are, to an extent. I can’t imagine what it’s like to see a guy the size of Joe coming at you with a suicide dive…

Asuka def. Dana Brooke. I was legitimately afraid for Dana Brooke during this match. Asuka hits hard, and Brooke isn’t exactly smooth in there. But Brooke sold well for her.

What do they call that butt thump move Asuka does? The announcers never seem to call it. Does it have a name?

The Shield appears on Miz TV. Roman Reigns challenges the Miz to an Intercontinental Title Match. The crowd was having fun during this one. That’s more than you can say for a lot of Raw crowds these days.

Dean Ambrose def. Sheamus. Sheamus is damn good. When he gets a chance to be a single again, I really hope they get put the pieces together with him. He’s more valuable than a lot of people realize.

On that topic, hell of a performance by Sheamus, Cesaro, and the Usos at Survivor Series. Had Brock and AJ not been wrestling, they might have stolen the show altogether.

Paige returns, interrupting a top contender’s match between Sasha Banks, Mickie James, Bayley, and Alicia Fox. Paige, Mandy Rose, and Sonya Deville clear the ring. Afterward, the trio beat up Alexa Bliss backstage. Outside of being Tough Enough alums, I know next to nothing about Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville. But I’ve said more than once that this Raw Women’s Division needs more bodies. We can’t just have Sasha, Bayley, Alexa Bliss, and Nia Jax out there every week. So I’m glad they’re here.

Kane interrupts Braun Strowman’s match with Jason Jordan. Kane devastates Strowman’s throat with a chair. December’s pay per view, Clash of Champions, is a Smackdown show. I’m guessing they’re not going to keep this going until the Royal Rumble. So it looks like Kane is Strowman’s TV program until Wrestlemania season.

Cedric Alexander, Rich Swann, Mustafa Ali, and Akira Tozawa def. Drew Gulak, Tony Nese, Ariya Daivari, and Noam Dar. You know what doesn’t help the 205 Live crew? The fact that the babyfaces travel in packs. The “Zo Train” is one thing. They’re a heel group. But Cedric, Rich and the others? Nobody stands out when they all come out at once. It’s just Cruiserweight oatmeal.

Matt Hardy attacks Elias. Is Elias spinning his wheels? These feuds with Jason Jordan and Matt Hardy don’t seem to be doing anything for him. But the crowds are usually into his schtick. It’s time for a step up.

Meanwhile, Matt cut a promo on WWE.com about his “breaking point.”

Get it? Broken Matt? Breaking point? Yeah, right…

Roman Reigns def. The Miz to win the Intercontinental Championship. Roman doesn’t need the Intercontinental Title any more than he needed the United States Title. This is a confusing move. Why not give it to Balor or Joe? Hell, they could even have given it to Elias. Maybe they want to put the tag belts back on Rollins and Ambrose, so all three of them have belts? But again, needless…

Awesome counter to the Superman Punch by Miz. Has that been done before?

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WWE Survivor Series Predictions, Plus: The Jinder Mahal Experiment

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It’s been a week now since the Jinder Mahal experiment ended. For now, at least. So let’s pose the question: Did it work? All these months later, can we call Jinder Mahal’s reign as WWE Champion a success?

It depends on what your definition of success is. If the idea was to make Jinder a red hot WWE Champion, then this bet didn’t pay off. But if they were simply trying to elevate this guy and make him a commodity, then they got what they wanted…sort of. Either way, the results aren’t exactly stellar.

Jinder Mahal has been compared to JBL quite a bit. Jinder was abruptly shoved into the main event scene due to a lack of upper card heel talent, much like Layfield was in 2004. In hindsight, that’s a fair comparison. But only to a point. By 2004, JBL was a name. Not a huge one, but he’d achieved a measure of stardom with Ron Simmons in the APA. He was hardly the best worker in the world, but the Clothesline from Hell was a great finisher. He’s also a natural heel who could cut stellar promos. To this day some people still can’t stand the guy. (#FireJBL anyone?)

By comparison, Jinder has almost none of that going for him. That’s not to say he wasn’t talented in his own right. He’s a decent talker and has an amazing physique. But before the big push, he was just another guy on the roster. Most fans knew him from his days with 3MB, a comedy act whose job it was to put the real stars over. Mahal was actually cut, then brought back last year to fill space when they split the rosters again. He was a glorified enhancement guy. So giving him any kind of believability was an uphill battle from the start.

That’s not to say it couldn’t have worked. But instead of glossing over Mahal’s abysmal win/loss record, they should have leaned into it. Play Jinder up as a bottom-of-the-card guy who stole the WWE Title with help from the Singh Brothers. Every day he holds that championship is a travesty of justice. This is where having good announcers can come in handy. You have them say Jinder’s name with disdain, and remind us he’s an unworthy champion week after week.

Instead, we got things like the Punjabi Prison Match with Randy Orton and a feud with Shinsukt Nakamura that did nothing for either man. In the end, WWE had to abandon their newest pet project because no one bought him as an opponent for Brock Lesnar. For now at least, the experiment with Jinder Mahal and the WWE Championship is over.

Thankfully for Jinder, all is not lost. Now that he’s no longer under the pressure of being WWE Champion, he has a chance to actually prove himself as a commodity on Smackdown. They can develop his character and show us who he is when he doesn’t have to live up to the likes of Bruno Sammartino, Randy Savage, John Cena, etc. Heck, I’d take Jinder as the US Champion over Baron Corbin. Then he can play up the whole “Americans are prejudiced!” approach.

Did Jinder Mahal have any business being WWE Champion? Probably not. Either way, he’s now a player on WWE television. The question now is whether he can prove he deserves it.

Let’s jump into predictions for Survivor Series 2017…

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Enzo Amore (c) vs. Kalisto

Kalisto desperately needs to go to promo class. Either that, or WWE needs to tweak the way they present him. He’s capable of some truly amazing aerial stunts. I still vividly remember him hitting the Salida del Sol off a ladder a couple of years ago. If they emphasize that stuff, instead of making him another white meat babyface in the Cruiserweight Division, he might have a shot at being champion again. But for now, they’d be foolish to take it off Enzo.

PREDICTION: Enzo Amore

CHAMPION VS. CHAMPION:
The Miz vs. Baron Corbin

My expectations for this one are very low. It’s a heel vs. heel match with two guys who’ve never worked together, in a feud that will likely stop dead in its tracks after Survivor Series. Why should I care?

I’m always hopeful these kind of matches will prove me wrong. But considering Miz calls Corbin the “bathroom break of Smackdown,” it wouldn’t shock me if this became the bathroom break of Survivor Series.

I don’t see why you’d have Corbin beat Miz. The latter is easily the hotter commodity. Corbin is still a work in progress. There’s something there. But putting him next to Miz doesn’t make him look good at all.

PREDICTION: The Miz

CHAMPIONS VS CHAMPIONS:
Sheamus and Cesaro vs. The Usos

Another heel vs. heel match. But at least in this one we’re likely to get come good wrestling. Between their stellar promos and an outstanding run with the New Day, the Usos have been on fire this year. What’s more, Sheamus and Cesaro have more than proven their worth as a team on Raw. Given enough time and freedom, these four could turn in something great.

I think you give this one to the Usos. They’ve got a really hot act right now. As this is a one-off, why cool it down? Give them one more thing to get on the mic and brag about. Now it’s just a matter of finding them more teams to feud with…

PREDICTION: The Usos

CHAMPION VS CHAMPION:
Alexa Bliss vs. Charlotte Flair

I wish they’d had more time to build this, as it’s legitimately a pretty big match. It’s Alexa’s giant personality against the uncanny athleticism of Charlotte. I don’t know what to expect, but I’m intrigued.

This feels like a Charlotte victory to me. They just put the belt on her this week. Plus, despite Alexa’s rise to the top these past two years, Charlotte remains the bigger star. So at least for now, the Queen of Smackdown trumps the Goddess of Raw.

PREDICTION: Charlotte Flair

SURVIVOR SERIES ELIMINATION MATCH:
Alicia Fox, Asuka, Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Nia Jax vs. Becky Lynch, Carmella, Naomi, Tamina, and ?

It’s Paige. Paige is going to Smackdown, and she’s the final member of their team.

She was at Raw this past Monday, after all. But they opted not to use her. Why? Because they wanted to save her for the pay per view. Why not? It gives her return, and the match as a whole, a lot more kick.

The x-factor in all of this should be Asuka. They’re still trying to establish her as a dominant force on Raw, and it’s proven more challenging than I think anyone expected. She should take out two or three members of Team Smackdown, before ultimately getting into a brawl with someone on her own team that leads to a count-out. Thus, we get her out of the match without pinning her.

If Paige is indeed coming back on Smackdown, then Team Smackdown needs to win. She can be the sole survivor. But I’d also like to see her and Becky Lynch standing tall at the end. Either way works for me.

PREDICTION: Team Smackdown

The New Day vs. The Usos

Expect big things from this one, folks. It could easily steal the show.

Let’s not lose sight of what a big deal this is for the New Day. Putting them next to the Shield is a big deal. Reigns, Rollins, and Ambrose all went on to become legit singles stars after they broke up. They’ve headlined pay per views, won world titles, etc. While Kofi Kingston had a good amount of success on his own, he was never a main eventer like his opponents here. So indicating that the New Day are competition for the Shield is a great endorsement for Kofi, Big E, and Xavier. I’d love to think it’s a good indicator for life after the New Day.

All that being said, you can’t beat the Shield. Not now. They just got back together. You can’t rain on the parade mere moments after it begins. These guys have a least a couple of months left in them before they start losing and Sports Betting Dime is giving them favorited odds of 3/17 – Believe that.

PREDICTION: The Shield

CHAMPION VS CHAMPION:
Brock Lesnar vs. AJ Styles

Imagine the heat they could have built for this with more than two weeks notice. Imagine what they could have done if they hadn’t spent that time hyping Brock vs. Jinder…

I don’t know what to expect from a Brock Lesnar match anymore. I’d have thought the one with Braun Strowman would have been amazing. Not so much. On the other hand, he turned in good stuff at Great Balls of Fire and Summerslam. And if there’s one person on the planet that’s qualified to give Brock a great match, it’s AJ Styles. He’ll bump around like a maniac for all Brock’s big moves. It could very well be a sight to behold.

But good match or bad, Brock wins. That’s usually the scenario, isn’t it? Brock’s got a date with Roman Reigns at Wrestlemania, and he’s walking in with a (mostly) clean record.

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

SURVIVOR SERIES ELIMINATION MATCH:
Kurt Angle, Triple H, Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, and Braun Strowman vs. Shane McMahon, John Cena, Randy Orton, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Bobby Roode

As good as Brock vs. AJ or the Shield vs. the New Day could be, this is the match that needs to main event the show. For no other reason than all the different combinations we might see. Shane vs. Triple H. Cena vs. Balor. Cena vs. Joe. Triple H vs. Nakamura. Angle vs. Nakamura. The list goes on…

So we’re obviously getting Kurt Angle vs. Triple H at Wrestlemania. Possibly even the Royal Rumble. They had him lay out Jason Jordan on Raw. Despite how stupid Angle looked just standing there watching, they can’t let that go. It’s got to lead to a fight. I suspect Hunter lays out Angle at some point during this match to further things.

Two men who aren’t in this match? Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. Two men who need to interfere in this match? Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. We saw them bail during the big Raw vs. Smackdown fight on Tuesday. That set a natural precedent for them coming in and costing Shane his triumph over Raw. More importantly, it sets them up as the top heels on Smackdown.

Grab some popcorn, kids. I imagine this one will go the distance.

PREDICTION: Team Raw

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Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Well I’ll be damned…

Kenny Omega vs. Chris Jericho at Wrestle Kingdom 12.

If you’re a pro wrestling geek, this is a huge match in just about every way possible. Granted, Jericho may only work one date for New Japan. A handful at most. But let’s pause for a moment and consider not just what this means artistically, but for NJPW’s presence in America.

Chris Jericho is obviously not under contract to WWE right now. But he’s a WWE superstar in every sense of the word. When he’s around, it’s a big deal. He’s been able to reinvent himself time and time again, making comeback after comeback and being consistently athletic and entertaining each time. This year, at age 46, he and Kevin Owens had one of the key storylines heading into Wrestlemania.

Perhaps most importantly, Jericho has wrestled exclusively for WWE since 1999. He’s a multi-faceted performer, and has a lot of irons in the fire. But when it comes to wrestling, for almost 20 years there’s only been one place to find Chris Jericho. He’s always said he only wanted to work for the top promotion in the world, and anywhere else would be a step down. Chris Jericho has been a WWE guy through and through. Until now.

Think about that. Think about what that says about Kenny Omega as a performer. Think about what that says about New Japan’s growing prominence in America. Think about what that says about NJPW’s potential as an alternative to WWE.

And if they can get Chris Jericho, who else can they get on more of a full-time basis?

Ponderings From Raw:

Kurt Angle appears on Miz TV at the top of the show, announces Miz vs. Braun Strowman in the main event. Miz had a great line here about Baron Corbin being “the bathroom break of Smackdown.” There’s a reason these guys haven’t been cutting promos on each other directly. In a war of words, Miz destroys Corbin every time. It’s not even close.

Jason Jordan def. Elias in a Guitar on a Pole Match. Angle later names Jordan to Team Raw at Survivor SeriesI don’t know why I expected this match to end with a guitar shot to the head. Maybe it’s because I’ve been trained to expect it after so many years watching guys like Jeff Jarrett smash guitars over people’s craniums. Maybe it’s because Elias got to hit Finn Balor in the head with it awhile back. Either way, this match ended on a whimper when Jordan smashed the damn guitar over Elias’ back. Either gimmick the guitar really well and go for it, or don’t book the damn match.

So Kurt Angle puts his “son” Jason Jordan on Team Raw. I like this a lot if it’s headed where I think it is…

Asuka won an enhancement match. I obviously don’t know how things sounded live. But on television this Manchester crowd sounded dead as a doornail. No one suffered the ill effects worse than Asuka did in this match. WWE are still trying to get her over with mainstream audiences, and this did not help. At all.

Samoa Joe runs through Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews, and issues an open challenge. Finn Balor accepts. The match goes to a double count-out. Kurt Angle later names both men to Team Raw. I hadn’t quite realized how much I missed Joe until I saw his promo here, and the subsequent match with Balor. Neither were great. But Joe’s intensity and believability are off the charts.

I really wish the announcers hadn’t mentioned the Kane thing from two weeks back. When Balor is stepping up and accepting a tough guy’s open challenge, it doesn’t help his cause to harken back to when got his ass handed to him in another open challenge. Frankly, I think we’d all love to forget that match ever happened…

Sasha Banks and Bayley def. Alicia Fox and Nia Jax. Sasha is later picked for the Raw women’s team. It’s amazing how stupid WWE thinks we are sometimes. The announcers speculated about whether Sasha and Bayley could be the two women to fill the remaining spots on the Raw women’s team. Shut the hell up. We all know it’s going to be them. Dana Brooke is an afterthought, and they’re not going to pass either of them up for Mickie James.

The only person worthy of replacing either of them would be Paige. Come to think of it, this would have been a good opportunity to bring her back. It’s her home country, after all.

The crowd woke up a little for Bayley. It’s been awhile since she got a reaction like that. Far too long, actually.

Braun Strowman def. The Miz via disqualification after interference from Kane. Mrs. Primary Ignition happened to be sitting next to me during Miz’s entrance. She doesn’t know much about wrestling. But she watched him during his MTV days. She was confused by what he wore to the ring…

“His outfit looks like he’s wearing a dress. I have no problem with a man wearing a dress. It just seems so out of character for him.”

That’s Hollywood fashion for you.

Pete Dunne makes his Raw debut, gaining a win over Enzo Amore. UK Division wrestlers to appear on 205 Live. For months there’s been buzz about the WWE Network adding a show dedicated to the guys who wrestled in the UK Championship Tournament. For whatever reason, that hasn’t happened. But if you’ve got these guys signed to a deal, you may as well use them. I was happy to see Pete Dunne show up in the homegrown hero role, even though he’s obviously a natural heel. I’m not thrilled that these UK guys may end up associated with 205 Live, as that brand is so tainted. But you may as well do something on TV with them.

Until Dunne came out and the physicality started, almost everything about this segment seemed clumsy. Enzo’s promo went on so long the announcers were trolling him on-air. Then Dunne’s music hit. But instead of just having him come out, they had Angle show up and introduce him. So basic wrestling logic (If such a thing exists…) begs the question: Why not just hit Angle’s music, then do Dunne’s after his name is said? I’m assuming this was a mistake. If not, it’s very weird.

Cesaro and Sheamus def. Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose to win the WWE Raw Tag Team Titles after the New Day cause a surprise distraction. This was a surprise. Not so much that they switched the titles, but that they had the New Day play a role in it. The reason seems obvious: A six-man tag at Survivor Series. I imagine they weren’t sure if Roman would be back in time, so they held off this angle just in case. I obviously don’t know that for a fact, but it makes sense.

Either way, if it happens that match could easily steal the show. It’s got a big match vibe not unlike the Shield vs. Wyatt Family stuff from a few years ago.

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Smackdown Invades Raw, Plus Ponderings From This Week’s WWE

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

We’re doing things a little different this week, covering bits of both shows in one hit. But obviously the big story is the invasion angle from Monday, with the Smackdown wrestlers invading the Raw.

This had some nice drama to it. That’s impressive when you consider how many times they’ve done the Raw vs. Smackdown thing over the years, and how lax they are with the brand split much of the time. Kurt Angle played his part well, despite being awkwardly walked to the ring like an old man in a nursing home (shown above). AJ Styles even got a nice little spotlight in all of this, given his role at TLC.

My only big complaint was how they proceeded to undermine it the following night on Smackdown by having Raw announcers Michael Cole and Corey Graves at the announce desk. Yes, I know Tom Philips is out right now. And yes, we’ve established that Graves works on both shows. But It’s the one time of year where we want these two “brands” to be as distinct as possible. Yet we’re muddying the waters by having the two shows sound almost the same, and putting Cole and Graves in an awkward neutral position.

Meanwhile, Jerry Lawler remains off WWE television. The King has his critics, and I’ve joined them a time or two. But when the guy is on, he’s really on. Especially as a heel.

I don’t know how far in advance they knew they were going to do this angle. But they obviously had enough foresight to bring a bunch of the Smackdown crew in. So how about this: Leave Cole off the show. Bring Lawler in to do Smackdown for a couple of weeks. You have Corey Graves act as your “straight man” announcer between Lawler and Byron Saxton. Toward the end of the broadcast, you have Shane come out and tell Corey Graves he has to choose between Raw and Smackdown. When Graves isn’t sure what to do, Shane fires him. Tom Philips is back the next week, and we let him do the show with Lawler and Saxton. After Survivor Series, you can phase Graves back in if necessary.

I’ve previously said that Graves may be the most credible announcer WWE has right now. But having him on both of the main shows is overkill. You’re telling me there’s not one qualified announcer you can plug into that third spot? You can’t call Lawler? Daniel Bryan can’t reprise his role from the Cruiserweight Classic? What about Nigel McGuinness? He’s around for 205 Live, after all.

Or, you know, you could just have two announcers. But let’s not get too crazy.

Alright, lets hit some of the highlights from this week…

Ponderings From Raw and Smackdown:

Paul Heyman verbally lays waste to Jinder Mahal on Raw. Mahal responds on SmackdownComing into this Lesnar/Mahal program, Heyman’s mic work was one of the only real points of intrigue. I was curious to see how he’d put Jinder over as someone worthy of challenging Brock. As it turns out, he did just the opposite. And it was pretty damn cool. This is how the announcers should be talking about Jinder. He’s someone who doesn’t deserve to be champion. He’s unworthy. He stole the championship, and now justice must be served.

Best line in the promo? Heyman calling Mahal “a consolation prize champion offered to Smackdown Live when Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan realized they got the shaft in the Superstar Shakeup.”

But ultimately, the fact that Heyman was allowed to go out an say this stuff probably means Jinder is winning at Survivor Series. You wouldn’t think so, given how weak his response promo was on Smackdown. Granted, almost no one can touch Heyman’s mic work. But they could have written something better for him. How about mentioning Lesnar’s quick loss to Goldberg at last year’s Survivor Series?

Interesting that Heyman mentioned the match stoppage from the Summerslam match with Randy Orton, without actually saying Orton’s name. I don’t expect them to follow up on that. But it would be nice if Orton got a little throwaway line or something.

Kane def. Finn Balor. One night after Balor beats AJ Styles, one of the hottest stars in the entire company, he gets dominated by Kane. Are you kidding me? There’s no one else they could have plugged into this spot? I understand Kane needs to be kept strong for a program with Braun Strowman, and that Balor is a credible opponent. But there are a bunch of other names they could have plugged in here. Why not Matt Hardy? Why not Rhyno? They’re both decorated veterans. Why throw dirt on a freshly shined Balor?

Asuka def. Emma on both TLC and Raw. Both these matches were surprisingly underwhelming. The crowds seemed into Asuka herself, but not so much the matches. I don’t think it’s Emma’s fault. But I imagine the crowd was expecting a slaughter. Something worthy of Asuka’s domination on NXT. We didn’t get that. While that’s good news for Emma, as she was allowed to be competitive, it didn’t exactly maximize on Asuka’s first main roster appearance.

This is why we need more female wrestlers on both Raw and Smackdown. We needed (and still need) cannon fodder for Asuka. They should consider employing the strategy they used with Braun Strowman and Nia Jax. Have her kill jobbers for several weeks to establish her dominance, then move her into singles programs.

I doubt that’s the route they go, though. My guess is we’ll see her on the Raw women’s team at Survivor Series. The good news there is she could very well be the sole survivor in that match.

Raw Tag Team Champions Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose to face Smackdown Tag Champs the Usos. I’m assuming this match is happening because Roman Reigns is out with that viral infection. This seems to indicate he’ll be out for a few more weeks. If he comes back sooner, however, his connection to his cousins the Usos could play an interesting role here.

Alicia Fox and Becky Lynch to captain the Raw and Smackdown women’s teams at Survivor Series. Both these picks are surprising. With Nia Jax on her mysterious leave of absence, Alicia Fox is obviously being reemphasized, if only for a short time. But the bigger surprise is Becky Lynch. She’s obviously a star. But since dropping the Smackdown Women’s Title to Alexa Bliss last year, she’s been agonizingly underplayed. She’s got the potential to play a much bigger role. In a perfect world, the would be the beginning of a reemergence for her.

Randy Orton def. Sami Zayn to earn a spot on Team Smackdown at Survivor Series. Thus far, I’ve got nothing bad to say about Sami’s heel turn. He’s quickly gone from an afterthought to a main event player. I had talked about him needing new music. But that little dancing shtick he does is actually working for me.

Zayn took some awesome bumps from Orton in this match. The bounce off the top rope and into the ring, the fall on the announce table, the Superplex. Gorgeous work.

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Kurt Angle Returning to the Ring, Plus WWE TLC Predictions

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve been a wrestling fan for more than 20 years, and I can’t ever remember a WWE pay per view being changed so significantly with so little notice. For the better, mind you.

Both Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt are reportedly suffering from viral infections, and have been pulled from this Sunday’s TLC show. As such, Smackdown‘s AJ Styles will replace Wyatt in the match with Finn Balor. But the bigger news is that Kurt Angle will wrestle his first WWE match in over a decade, as he replaces Reigns in the main event. The match will see Angle team with Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose in a Handicap Tables, Ladders, and Chairs Match against the Miz, Braun Strowman, Kane, Sheamus, and Cesaro.

To call this a wild move is an understatement. There’s obviously been buzz about Angle wrestling again since he came back. But you’ve got to believe he didn’t have much more notice about this than we did. Has he passed a physical? What’s he capable of doing? How far are they willing to push their luck? Remember, this is one of the most violent and dangerous matches WWE puts on all year. And having seen Angle wrestle for so many years, you know he’s not going to go half-assed.

It’s rare that a match becomes must-see in such an abrupt way. As we get into TLC predictions, I just hope all parties know what they’re doing…

PRE-SHOW MATCH:
Sasha Banks vs. Alicia Fox

Supposedly, this was supposed to be Sasha Banks against Nia Jax. That changed when Nia took a leave of absence. I’m a Nia Jax fan, but I don’t think we’re missing much by swapping her out for Alicia. We’ve seen Sasha and Nia wrestle so many times, and we’ll undoubtedly see them wrestle again soon enough. As for who wins, I don’t see a reason why it wouldn’t be Sasha. This is a throwaway match, and I doubt they’re leveling Alicia up.

PREDICTION: Sasha Banks

Cedric Alexander and Rich Swann vs. Brian Kendrick and Jack Gallagher

As someone who doesn’t regularly watch 205 Live, I’ve got almost no investment in this match from a story perspective. I do, however, like Alexander and Swann as a tag team. My hope is that these four can overachieve in what is essentially a filler match. We’ll need new babyface challengers for the Cruiserweight Title soon (more on that later), so it makes sense for Alexander and Swann to go over. Let’s just hope they look good doing it.

PREDICTION: Cedric Alexander and Rich Swann

WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Mickie James

This program has been everything I hoped it would be. It rejuvenated Mickie James. She’s too good to be the bit player she’s been since coming to Raw. Since returning to WWE, really. She got to show a little more personality, and newer fans got to know her a little better. If they don’t cast her aside after TLC, she could remain a commodity. After all, if there’s one thing this Women’s Division needs right now, it’s more names.

That being said, I don’t see her getting the belt. I’m not sure how quickly they’re going to move Asuka into the title picture. But we’re clearly moving in that direction, and Alexa is the perfect heel opponent for her. Even if Mickie didn’t get the belt, it wouldn’t be for long. A better use for her would be a pay per view match against Asuka, attempting to recapture some of the magic from their NXT Takeover match.

PREDICTION: Alexa Bliss

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Kalisto (c) vs. Enzo Amore

Was Kalisto even supposed to be Cruiserweight Champion? We know now that the Lumberjack Match in which he won it was originally supposed to be Enzo against Neville. But Neville walked out, and here we are. Was Kalisto simply going to be another opponent for Enzo? Or was he supposed to win this pay per view match, effectively ending Enzo’s “no contact clause” with the Cruiserweight Division?

Either way, one thing is certain: Now that Neville is gone, Enzo is the only true star on 205 Live. The best case scenario here is that he’s able to give the rub to somebody new. This was a nice little boost for Kalisto. But the pendulum now has to swing back in Enzo’s direction. Expect him to leave TLC as the “realest champ in the room” once again.

PREDICTION: Enzo Amore

Asuka vs. Emma

You know what’s sad? This is the biggest match Emma has had since she came up to the main roster. She’s clearly capable of more, and she’s actually developed a certain charisma since coming back from the Emmalina fiasco.

But of course, this match isn’t about her. It’s all about Asuka, and for good reason. They’ve got something with her. Not just in terms of her persona, and her in-ring style, but her winning streak. She was never beaten in NXT, and toward the end of her run they were really starting to play that up. That needs to continue on Raw.

Thankfully, Asuka doesn’t work by the hour. I’d expect her to make quick work of Emma to show us who and what she is. Expect suplexes, expect kicks, and expect the Asuka Lock. Whatever you do, don’t take a pee break during this one.

PREDICTION: Asuka

Finn Balor vs. AJ Styles

This is a bigger match than most casual WWE fans realize. Not that they’ll tell you why…

In 2014, AJ Styles was the man who succeeded Finn Balor as leader of the Bullet Club over in New Japan Pro Wrestling. They weren’t rivals. In fact, they barely spent any time in the promotion together, as Styles came in right as Balor was leaving. But that’s an irresistibly intriguing commonality between them.

WWE won’t talk about the Bullet Club, especially after that little “invasion” stunt a few weeks ago. But in the preview for this match over on WWE.com, they do mention that Balor and Styles briefly crossed paths in Japan. That’s likely as far as they’ll take it. That’s a shane. Especially considering Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, also former Bullet Club members, will likely be in the building.

Balor was originally supposed to be in his Demon get-up for this match. That seems wholly unnecessary now. While he and AJ have a history of sorts, there’s not enough bad blood here to merit the Demon’s presence. Not yet, anyway.

They’re obviously gearing AJ up to challenge for the WWE Championship soon. So having him lose to Balor wouldn’t be great from a timing standpoint. Also, Balor has racked up two pay per view victories over Bray Wyatt. So he can afford to drop one here. But in the end, this one isn’t necessarily about who wins. It’s more about what they’ll deliver from an artistic standpoint. Given enough time and opportunity, these guys could turn in a classic.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

HANDICAP TLC MATCH:
Kurt Angle, Seth Rollins, and Dean Ambrose vs. The Miz, Braun Strowman, Kane, Sheamus, and Cesaro

This match was already a little messy. Now that Reigns has been swapped out for Angle, I barely know what to make of it.

The story here was about the Shield overcoming impossible odds. But taking Reigns out ruins that, and inserting Angle creates a whole new equation. Now, it’s all about what Kurt will do, and the question of what he’ll be like in the ring after all these years. It actually doesn’t make much sense for it to be a Handicap Match anymore.

How about this: Add Matt Hardy and Angle’s “son” Jason Jordan to the mix. Now you’ve got an even five-on-five. And how about we put something on the line? Maybe the winners get to represent Raw in a traditional Survivor Series Match against Smackdown? They can figure out a way to sub Miz or Strowman in there later. I’m just looking to add stakes to this match.

Either way, the outcome here was never in doubt. The good guys win. This match will likely go a long way in determining Angle’s in-ring future. They could easily use this to set up a future match with Miz, or even Strowman. All of that in due time. For now, I just want Kurt to get through this match safely. Needless to say, this wasn’t how any of us expected his in-ring return to go.

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