Best of WWE Extreme Rules: A Playlist Before This Year’s “Horror Show”

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

“It’s the one night of the year where WWE goes extreme!!!!”

What does that mean? Eh, nothing really. It’s a line they used to tack on to this Extreme Rules pay per view. In reality, it’s a show where they throw in some gimmick matches for the sake of the title. Extreme Rules is the descendant of ECW One Night Stand. So if they really wanted to make this show special, they’d stick it in a smaller venue like the Hammerstein Ballroom (shown above) to make it look like an old ECW show. Or maybe even someplace like Full Sail University, and up the ticket price accordingly to compensate for the smaller capacity.

Of course, you can’t do that now. Damn Coronavirus.

But where there is creativity and performance, there is inevitably some greatness to be found. As we build to this year’s Extreme Rules: The Horror Show show on July 19, here’s a playlist representing the best of this event over the last 11 years. Despite being WWE’s sanitized version of “extreme,” you might be surprised at the quality of what you find…

NO HOLDS BARRED MATCH:
Rey Mysterio vs. Chris Jericho
June 7, 2009
New Orleans, LA

It was on this night that Jericho won his ninth and (thus far) final Intercontinental Championship. That’s a record that stands to this day, and may in fact stand as long as the title exists.

But perhaps more importantly, this is one of the better IC Title matches of the so-called “PG Era.” We had a compelling yet simple story coming in about Jericho wanting to unmask Rey Mysterio Jr. Jim Ross and Todd Grisham were on commentary for this one, and the former did an excellent job playing up the importance of the mask to Rey. Not to mention its cultural significance. So in the end, when Jericho snatches Rey’s mask off during a 619 attempt and then rolls him up for the pin, it actually means something.

These two managed to cut a hell of a pace too. At certain points, you’d think they were still part of WCW’s renowned Cruiserweight Division. Moments before the finish, we get something we’d never see today: A chairshot to the head. Mind you, Rey “works” the shot to Jericho’s head fairly well. But a shot to the head is a shot to the head.

If this match proves anything, it’s that Jericho was and still is one of the true artists in the world of pro wrestling. Whoever elevates whomever he works with. Even if that person is already a legend like Ricky Steamboat, Shawn Michaels, or in this case, Rey Mysterio Jr.

LADDER MATCH:
Edge vs. Jeff Hardy
June 7, 2009
New Orleans, LA

I probably shouldn’t have, but I felt sorry for Edge, Jeff, and all those TLC guys for a long time.

Yes, I know those ladder matches and TLC Matches made stars out of the Hardys, the Dudleys, and Edge & Christian. But those matches would also follow all those guys around for the rest of their careers. They became synonymous with the Ladder Match to the point that so many of their big bouts had to be Ladder Matches. So when they started this program with one another, it was inevitable there’d be a Ladder Match at some point.

And this is how jaded we’d all become at that point: This match isn’t even that exciting. Yes, there are some brutal bumps. Edge takes a nasty bump between the rungs of a ladder. Later, he tries to recreate the famous mid-air spear spot from Wrestlemania. The results are mixed at best. The match is highlighted by that last visual of Edge being trapped between the ladder rungs, “crucified” as Todd Grisham puts it, as Hardy climbs up and takes the title.

This match earns its spot here because of the effort put forth by its participants. Hardly the most thrilling Ladder Match you’ll ever see. But you’ve got to take your hat off for what both these guys were willing to do to their bodies.

LADDER MATCH FOR VACANT WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
Alberto Del Rio vs. Christian
May 1, 2011
Tampa, FL

I don’t make a habit of going back and watching a lot of Alberto Del Rio matches. But in hindsight, he had a pretty good shtick with his personal ring announcer, the limo, the music, the big smile. If he weren’t such a sleaze bag in real life, I’d be inclined to say I miss him.

But of course, this match isn’t really about Del Rio. It’s all about Christian finally winning the big one. Would he lose it two days later at a Smackdown taping? Yes. But this is still a great moment that’s all the more relevant given how they just used him in the Edge/Randy Orton storyline.

CHICAGO STREET FIGHT:
CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho
April 29, 2012
Chicago, IL

We didn’t need the benefit of hindsight to see these two got overshadowed by the Rock and John Cena at Wrestlemania. We knew going in that it would happen. In the end, they’d once again be overshadowed at Extreme Rules by Cena and Brock Lesnar. But that doesn’t take away from the quality of the work they did. And this whole program, with a heel Chris Jericho getting personal with CM Punk about his father’s alcohol issues, was quality.

The fact that they were in Chicago did nothing but help them. This was less than a year after the famous Punk/Cena match at Money in the Bank. This crowd was every bit as pro-Punk as that one was. All these years later, I’d forgotten that Punk’s family was in the front row too. So when Jericho douses Punk in beer and beats the hell out of him with a kendo stick, it resonates that much more. The same can be said for when Punk finally pulls it out and retains the WWE Championship.

EXTREME RULES MATCH:
Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena
April 29, 2012
Chicago, IL

Mere moments into this match, Lesnar had Cena’s blood on him.

This match wasn’t necessarily as exciting as I remembered it. But as Brock Lesnar’s first match in eight years, it was still bigger and more important than almost anything that happened at Wrestlemania the previous month. This match was “big fight feel” defined.

In hindsight, this was structured not unlike the classic Cena and Lesnar would have at Summerslam two years later. Which is to say it was all about Cena being brutalized  by this WWE Champion turned MMA fighter, and the question of whether he could survive. Particularly under the Extreme Rules stipulation.

This match may also have one of the most hotly debated finishes in company history. Certainly in the last decade. Common sense would indicate that Brock would prevail here. Thus, they’d tell the story of Cena suffering yet another devastating loss just a month after losing to the Rock, and setting Brock up as a near invincible and monster.

Of course, they didn’t do that. They had Cena win after punching Lesnar with his old Thuganomics lock and chain, followed by an A.A. on to the steel ring steps. They didn’t even do a contested finish, i.e. “You can’t pin somebody on the steps!” It was just, “Cena wins. LOL.”

Still, it’s definitely a match worth looking back on. Arguably the best WWE match of 2012 overall.

EXTREME RULES MATCH:
Roman Reigns vs. AJ Styles
May 22, 2016
Newark, New Jersey

I’m not sure how politically correct this is to say, but AJ Styles became a made man in WWE by working with Roman Reigns.

Yes, he came in and worked with Chris Jericho. Yes, he’d go on to have some amazing matches with John Cena. But by putting Reigns over in back-to-back title matches at Payback and Extreme Rules in two great matches, Styles proved that not only was he an all-time great performer, but one that could succeed within the WWE system. These matches proved he was here to stay.

You can tell both these guys are really going for it here. Reigns had just won the WWE Championship from Triple H at Wrestlemania, and had a lot to prove to his critics. Meanwhile, I suspect Styles knew what a big opportunity this was for him, and set out to over-deliver. He succeeded, taking some downright scary bumps in the process. These included a very high backdrop off one announce table through another. Styles actually over-rotated, taking what looked like a painful landing on his butt. That’s how you crack your tailbone, right there.

In the end, what they turned in here was very much a WWE style brawl, complete with a fight through the crowd and outside antics from the Usos and Gallows & Anderson. In the end, Reigns countered a Phenomenal Forearm into a spear for the victory.

30-MINUTE IRON MAN MATCH:
Dolph Ziggler vs. Seth Rollins
July 15, 2018
Pittsburgh, PA

This match was better than the Pittsburgh crowd gave it credit for. They spent a good portion of this match counting along with the clock, Royal Rumble Match style. Meanwhile, Rollins and Ziggler were putting on a clinic in there.

They gave us a little bit of everything in this one. We had the babyface Rollins gain an early lead. We had Ziggler’s heavy Drew McIntyre come in to interfere. Then we had the heel Ziggler even it out. Then we had the heel go up, forcing the babyface to fight from underneath. We go into sudden death, a la Wrestlemania XII. Then it was McIntyre once again playing a role to give Ziggler the win. So McIntyre gets over as a force to be reckoned with, and Rollins and Ziggler get over as two workhorses, with Ziggler getting the added rub of main-eventing his first pay per view.

Let’s also not lose sight of the fact that this was the first time the Intercontinental Title was defended in the main event of a pay per view since Bret and Bulldog at Summerslam in ’92. So we’re not only elevating our two wrestlers, but we’re once again elevating the Intercontinental Title.

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

The Silent Wrestlemania Recap – Undertaker and AJ Steal the Show!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Well, alright then. Wrestlemania XXXVI (or as I call it, “The Silent Wrestlemania” happened.

Was it weird? Definitely. Awkward at times? Oh  yeah. But was it bad? No. Not even remotely.

I tweeted this yesterday, and I’ll reiterate it here: I think the world needs Wrestlemania now more than ever. So as long as it was done on a volunteer basis, Vince McMahon was right to carry on with the show in whatever form it took.

So thank you to all the wrestlers, producers, crew members, and everyone that made these shows possible.

Night One

Cesaro def. Drew Gulak.
Admittedly, I didn’t see this one. Was busy during the pre-show. But hey, technically Cesaro got a singles match at Wrestlemania. A win at that.

Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross def. The Kabuki Warriors to win the WWE Women’s Tag Team Titles.
Was surprised they kicked off the main card with this one. Not sure if they’d have gone that route if there was a crowd. But they put on a good match.

As far as I know, Asuka and Kairi Sane were the first wrestlers of the evening to play to a crowd that wasn’t there. Since Asuka did commentary on Raw that night, it seems like these two have been asked to be louder and more obnoxious. If that’s the case, they were successful.

Elias def. King Corbin.
True story: I fell asleep during this match. No disrespect to either man. It had been a long day. I went back and watched it though. Went a little long. At least Elias actually had a match at Wrestlemania, as opposed to in-ring skits. Then again, both those skits were with John Cena. Maybe he was better off before…

Becky Lynch def. Shayna Baszler to retain the WWE Raw Women’s Title.
Good match. Wrong finish.

The psychology was right in this one. It felt like a fight. Loved the spot where Shayna whipped her head-first into the announce table. But ultimately, Shayna lost to a version of the Bret Hart “pin yourself by not releasing the hold” spot. It’s a good spot. It’s just a shame Baszler has already lost a big match to that same pinning combo. Yup, Kairi Sane beat Shayna for the NXT Women’s Title almost the exact same way at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn IV.

Between this loss, the way she lost (though that’s minor in the grand scheme of things), and the fact that an alleged killer like her couldn’t win the Women’s Royal Rumble at the number 30 spot, Shayna does not look good coming out of this.

The upside? Becky continues to dominate. Plus, my guess is these two aren’t done. And there’s plenty of room for Shayna to get even more vicious.

Sami Zayn def. Daniel Bryan to retain the WWE Intercontinental Title.
These two were the first to really take advantage of the fact that we could actually hear the wrestlers talking to one another. That played to Sami’s strengths as an annoying heel. In the end, the right guy won. There’s still a lot Sami can do as the Intercontinental Champion.

You’ve got to wonder what Shinsuke Nakamura was thinking. It wasn’t long ago that he was challenging for the WWE Heavyweight Championship at this show…

John Morrison def. Kofi Kingston and Jimmy Uso to retain the WWE Smackdown Tag Team Titles.
I give these three a hell of a lot of credit for doing a spot-fest like this without any fans in the arena. It just wasn’t the same without the crowd reactions. Although those ladder shots did sound that much more painful.

Creative finish with John Morrison plummeting to his doom, albeit with the titles in hand. Fitting for the weirdest tag team title match in Wrestlemania history.

Kevin Owens def. Seth Rollins in a No Disqualification Match.
You can argue this was the best match of night one. (More on that in a moment.) It made Owens look like a million bucks. As Raw continues to be in need of top babyfaces, that’s the best outcome they could have hoped for.

Braun Strowman def. Bill Goldberg to win the WWE Universal Title.
Yeah, this sucked.

I’m pretty sure we saw a total of two moves in this entire match. The Spear from Goldberg, and the Powerslam from Strowman. I understand Goldberg is somewhat limited in what he can do, and that this match came together on short notice. But c’mon. This was the best they could put together?

In hindsight, it was silly for me to predict a Goldberg victory no matter who he was wrestling. He does short term deals. That’s his thing.

Alright. So here we have it. Braun Strowman is the Universal Champion. I’d argue it’s about two years too late. But it happened. Now it’s all about the follow up.

The Undertaker def. AJ Styles in a Boneyard Match.
Damn. He did it again. The son of a bitch did it again. The Undertaker stole the show at Wrestlemania.

He didn’t do it alone, of course. I’ve said that we’ve reached the point where they need to use smoke and mirrors to give us a quality Undertaker match. In this case, he not only had one of the best workers in the world in AJ Styles, but the entire WWE production juggernaut backing him up.

But even so, he did it again.

Before I go any further, WWE really needs to send Matt Hardy a thank you note for this one. They deny him his ability to work creatively, prompting his departure from the company. But then Undertaker and AJ Styles have a Wrestlemania match that captures the world’s imagination using the cinematic style he essentially pioneered.

I suppose whether you call this the show-stealer depends on your definition of what a wrestling match is. Jim Cornette, for instance, would not call this a wrestling match. The cinematic presentation, the music, the special effects. It was more like a short film. I saw someone on Twitter last night ponder if this is the future of the wrestling business. I hope not. I say you can only get away with something like this once a year, if that. But if you can do it, and it works…

Not only did this give us back the dominant, tough-as-nails Undertaker that we’ve missed, it told a great story. My favorite part isn’t a particular spot or stunt. Rather, it’s when Undertaker has Styles, and he’s taunting him with things like, “What’s my wife’s name?” and “You wanna talk about how old I am?”

I don’t think you could have done this in an arena. In that sense, the current circumstances worked in their favor. But one way or another the Undertaker, along with AJ Styles, has stolen the show at Wrestlemania. In 2020. Who’da thunk it?

Night Two

Liv Morgan def. Natalya.
Nice moment for Liv, I suppose. Though I doubt anything comes of it.

Charlotte Flair def. Rhea Ripley to win the NXT Women’s Title.
If you don’t count Undertaker vs. AJ Styles as an actual wrestling match, then this was the best match of the weekend. It should come as a surprise to no one that Charlotte Flair is involved. For my money, her matches 2016 and 2018 were both show stealers.

What made this match stand out to me was the tension in the air. This Charlotte/Rhea thing hasn’t been going on that long. But if you came into this cold, you’d think they’d hated each other’s guts for years. There was just this nasty, hateful, vicious vibe in the ring. I loved it.

Does it suck that Rhea Ripley lost? Of course it does. But if you’ve been paying attention, you knew it was coming. Charlotte Flair is the poster girl for their “Women’s Revolution.” She was the inaugural Women’s Champion at Wrestlemania 32. She broke Asuka’s undefeated streak at Wrestlemania 34. She was shoehorned into the main event of Wrestlemania 35. Notice a pattern?

However, as I speculated, these two were able to have an amazing match. And that benefits Rhea much more than winning a standard one does. Her star is still on the rise. So have no fear.

Aleister Black def. Bobby Lashley.
What does it say about this match that the only thing I could focus on for awhile was the fact that Lashley was wearing pants instead of trunks.

Loved the closing spot here, the attempted Spear from Lashley into the Black Mass Kick for the win. As Lana was the one who called for the Spear, does that mean we’re headed for a Lashley/Lana split?

Otis def. Dolph Ziggler.
This match pulled off a rarity. It had the right ending but the wrong winner. Otis needed to get the girl in the end, and he did. I can only imagine the pop that kiss would have gotten in front of a crowd.

The problem I had with this one is that Dolph is one of the most decorated wrestlers WWE has had in the last two decades. Otis on the other hand, is a tag team wrestler who’s only recently made it to the main roster. Ziggler should have won. Perhaps by cheating. So Dolph wins the battle, but not the war.

Incidentally, why was Mandy dressed to wrestle? Was it just one of those “always bring your gear” kind of things?

Edge def. Randy Orton in a Last Man Standing Match.
I give both these guys a lot of credit for this one. They beat the absolute piss out of each other in front of ZERO fans. Lots of creativity on display here. In terms of fighting all over the performance center, this was exactly what you wanted it to be. I can’t say I disliked much of what I saw.

Having said that, I couldn’t believe they let Orton choke Edge with the gym equipment. It’s been a long time, but that absolutely screams Benoit. Especially because those Dark Side of the Ring episodes aired so recently.

That being said, we need to talk about something I’ll call the Lesnar/Goldberg principle. They might have had the best built match going into Wrestlemania 33. And it lived up to the hype. But they only needed about five minutes to deliver on that. It was quick, high impact, and about as concise as you could ask for. They stole the show that year.

My point is, just because a match has such an amazing build doesn’t mean it needs to go 30 to 45 minutes. Whether a match is good or not usually has nothing to do with it’s length. Triple H’s big matches tend to have a problem with this.

The Lesnar/Goldberg principle. One to live by.

The Street Profits def. Angel Garza & Austin Theory to retain the WWE Raw Tag Team Titles.

The story here ended up being Bianca Belair, who saved Ford and Dawkins from a post-match beatdown. I assume will be with the Street Profits on Raw from here on out. Works for me. She’s earned her main roster spot. Becky Lynch is also going to need new challengers in the near future.

Bayley def. Sasha Banks, Naomi, Tamina, and Lacey Evans to retain the WWE Smackdown Women’s Title.
This is another one where hindsight is 20/20. I predicted it would come down to Bayley and Sasha. But for whatever reason, WWE avoids that match like the plague. Or in this case, Coronavirus.

I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of time they gave this match. The Smackdown Women’s Division may be cold right now. But they gave these ladies a decent-sized canvas to create on.

Also…no, Michael Cole. Team B.A.D. was not a huge part of the Women’s Revolution. Just like Team P.C.B. wasn’t. And Team Bella damn sure wasn’t.

“The Fiend” Bray Wyatt def. John Cena in a Firefly Funhouse Match.
Coming into this match, I was expecting something akin to the Boneyard Match, only it would take place in some sort of demented funhouse setting.

That’s not what we got. In fact, in over two decades watching this stuff, I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything quite like what we got. It was more like a Saturday Night Live sketch than a wrestling match. It’s like they got together and said, “Bray Wyatt is crazy. So let’s just go nuts. Let’s throw shit against the wall.”

I’ll give you this much, I enjoyed its devotion to continuity. They really dove into history for this one, picking apart both characters.

I can’t say I enjoyed the Boneyard Match then turn around and say I didn’t like this one. For all intents and purposes they played by the same rules. But whereas I’d be game for seeing something like the Boneyard Match once a year, this is the kind of thing you can only do once maybe every five to 10 years.

Drew McIntyre def. Brock Lesnar to win the WWE World Heavyweight Title.
To my dismay, this match basically followed the same formula as the Goldberg/Strowman one. Hit the finishers a bunch, then have the challenger go over. In both matches it’s like they just wanted to get it over with.

Still, this one had the right outcome. Drew got his moment, unconventional though it was. One of the highlights of night two was him reaching out to the camera and saying, “Thank you.”

Congratulations, good sir. Your moment doesn’t look like anyone else’s, but it’s yours. So be proud. You earned it. You deserve it.

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

WWE’s 10 Most Fascinating People of 2018

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shawn Michaels’ Return: 6 Dream Matches for HBK

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

*sigh* He’s doing it. He’s actually doing it.

Shawn Michaels, who has stayed in retirement for more than eight years since losing to the Undertaker at Wrestlemania XXVI, is getting back in the ring. And of all things, it’s for a tag match with Triple H against Undertaker and Kane in Saudi Arabia. If it wasn’t official before, it damn sure is now. Retirement matches are a joke.

Alright. I’m done. That’s all I’m going to say about the tarnishing of one of the great stories in Wrestlemania history. I’m going to try and look at the silver lining here. This announcement obviously opens the door for more Shawn Michaels matches.

Am I being presumptuous? Possibly. I don’t think we’ll be seeing Shawn on a week-to-week basis. Or even month-to-month basis. Nor should we. But if things go well at Crown Jewel, I think there’s a damn good possibility HBK starts working an Undertaker-like schedule. We’ll see him a few times a year for big shows, most notably Wrestlemania. And if Shawn still has even half the gifts he had when we last saw him wrestle, there’s no shortage of potential new age mat classics he can help create.

I’ve listed six potential HBK opponents below. Some of them are obvious. Some of them might not be. Let the speculation begin!

1. AJ Styles
It doesn’t get more obvious than this, does it?

Both these men are considered to be among the best, if not the best, of their generations. People have been comparing Styles to HBK since his TNA days. Naturally, that talk has only accelerated since he started his WWE run. The run he’s having with the WWE Championship right now isn’t unlike the one Shawn had in 1996. There was even some online buzz about Shawn coming out of retirement last year to wrestle AJ at the Royal Rumble.

Clearly, if you want to talk about dream matches for HBK, this one is as big as almost any other. The problem is that expectations will be sky high. We saw how that worked for AJ and Shinsuke Nakamura at Wrestlemania. Could the same fate befall Styles and Michaels? There’s only one way to find out, I suppose…

2. Daniel Bryan
The battle of the comeback stories. It’s tough to believe these two came back in the same year. What are the odds?

This is another pretty obvious one. Not just because Shawn had a hand in training Bryan, but because fans remember Bryan putting Shawn in the Yes Lock a few years ago (shown above). That’s certainly something they can reference, though they don’t need to. (Let’s be honest, they won’t.)

It would be interesting to see how Bryan’s style would match up with Shawn’s, as they were both often the babyfaces fighting from underneath. What happens when you put two of those guys in the ring together? Hopefully, something damn good.

3. Dolph Ziggler
Let’s make one thing clear: Dolph has never needed to imitate Shawn Michaels. He’s got the kind of natural athleticism and charisma that most wrestlers would fall off Hell in a Cell to have. And yet, Ziggler has clearly made an effort to pay homage to HBK in various ways. His use of the super kick is an obvious example. But at different points he’s worn ring gear that’s obviously based off what Shawn worn in the ’90s.

There’s an interesting story to be told here about all the modern wrestlers that clearly want to be “the next Shawn Michaels.” Shawn has talked about how he never set out to be the “next” anyone. But he’s clearly one of the most imitated wrestlers of the last 15 to 20 years. That’s a good jumping off point for a story about how Ziggler, despite imitating Shawn, has never quite reached the same heights he did. They don’t just have to repeat the Chris Jericho story from Wrestlemania XIX. They can come at it from another angle. Perhaps an even better one.

4. Seth Rollins
Rollins is another guy that falls into that “next Shawn Michaels” category. At face value, there’s not much of a story to tell here outside of the standard “generations collide” tale. But Shawn Michaels vs. Seth Rollins is a match that could address a pretty big elephant in the room: Why the newer, younger stars aren’t as over as the ’90s guys.

Mind you, they don’t have to phrase it that way. But there’s all this talk about “the era” that these guys are from. They’re talking about the Attitude Era, of course. So let’s dive into that. Have Shawn go on television and talk about how Seth can’t ever be like him, because Shawn was able to do things on TV that he could never do. In return, Seth can talk about how the current crop of guys are better conditioned, more athletic, and can do things the Attitude Era guys couldn’t.

The catch? Seth has to win. Regardless of how you feel about the Attitude Era vs. the current product, you just can’t bury the current crop of guys by having their representative lose in a story like that.

5. Roman Reigns
Yeah, I know. We’ve already had to watch Roman Reigns beat Triple H and the Undertaker in Wrestlemania main events. Now he has to beat Shawn too?

Not necessarily. But Roman has as much claim to a match with Shawn Michaels as anyone. He’s the top guy. Shawn used to be the top guy. That’s all the premise you need, really. And don’t think emotions wouldn’t be running high for this one. It would be every bit as volatile as when Reigns was out there with the Undertaker. For the most part, he wouldn’t be able to buy cheers.

Let’s not sell Roman’s in-ring abilities short either. He’s proven he can go out and have that epic, awesome match when the they need him to. Who the hell are we to say he couldn’t do it with, of all people, Shawn Michaels?

6. Tommaso Ciampa
Sam Roberts has pitched this match several times on his podcast. I like it a lot. From a story perspective, this could wind up being the best match out of all these.

What do you notice about the other names on this list? Most of them are babyfaces. AJ Styles. Daniel Bryan. Seth Rollins. Roman Reigns (in theory, at least). While they could all be fantastic in the ring with Shawn, there’s nothing quite like a classic good vs. evil program. And if Tommaso Ciampa has proven anything in the last year, it’s that heroes and villains still have a place in wrestling.

These days, Shawn coaches young talent at the Performance Center in Orlando. So I can only assume he’s more than familiar with the NXT roster. Imagine Shawn Michaels coming out during an NXT show, perhaps to help an injured talent, only to come face to face with Ciampa, and in the process become his next target. Like Johnny Gargano, HBK would make the perfect babyface to feud with the black-hearted Ciampa.

Is there a place for Shawn Michaels in an NXT ring? If, and only if, the story is right, my answer is an emphatic yes.

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

Undertaker’s Next Opponent: Who Ya Got?

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Like it or not, the Undertaker’s wrestling career is not over. I was sore about that for awhile, given how emotional everything was at Wrestlemania 33. But what’s done is done.

From a wrestling standpoint, we’ve actually seen more of ‘Taker this year than we have in some years past. He worked John Cena at Wrestlemania, Rusev at the Greatest Royal Rumble, and was part of a six-man tag at a house show at Madison Square Garden. We’ll see him at least once more in October when he wrestles Triple H at WWE’s “largest live event ever” in Australia. There’s also been some buzz about him wrestling at Summerslam

But who do you put in the ring with an icon who has virtually nothing left to prove?

The answer is: Whoever can tell the best story with him. Not to mention who can have the bring out the best in him between the ropes.

There are some obvious names that come to mind. Some are a little more obscure than others. Either way, I’ve got five. Ring the bell, ya’ll…

1. John Cena

This, of course, is the most obvious one. After the Dean Man surprised Cena in April, these two have unfinished business. Business which may be on the table as soon as Summerslam. If not, then next year’s Wrestlemania. John Cena vs. The Undertaker isn’t exactly a match you can do at Backlash.

Cena has an easy in for a rematch. Let’s be honest: Undertaker surprised him after being silent for weeks. Cena called ‘Taker a coward before Wrestlemania, and in theory, he can still go out there and say that’s true. “Prove you’re not a coward, Undertaker. Fight me on an even playing field.” Give us the build-up we all thought we’d get for Wrestlemania this year.

2. The Miz

When you read as many comic books as I do, you tend to hear the saying, “A hero is only as good as the villain he fights.” In other words, a better bad guy means a better good guy. And you won’t find a better bad guy in WWE these days (on main roster at least…) than the Miz. He’s as deserving as anyone of a match against the Undertaker.

When Miz actually has something of substance to talk about, he cuts a great scathing bad guy promo. That’s why I see him running Undertaker down for being “old,” “irrelevant,” and “a relic from the ’90s.” I can’t imagine the match would be much to write home about. But it would make for a feel-good moment for ‘Taker, and a hell of a career moment for the Miz.

3. Roman Reigns

The other really obvious name. Undertaker and Roman Reigns have unfinished business.

At Wrestlemania 33, fans still had a bad taste in our mouths from Brock Lesnar breaking the Dean Man’s fabled undefeated streak. So seeing ‘Taker lose at Wrestlemania again was the last thing they wanted to see. Much less to Roman Reigns. It was yet another attempt to pass the torch to Roman, and give him his big crowning moment as the company’s top guy. The next night on Raw, he got one of the loudest negative reactions in company history.

You know what would get an equally strong positive reaction? Having ‘Taker pin Roman after a Tombstone. And at some point, having him tell “the Big Dog” that this will always be his yard.

Dolph Ziggler

When he came back to Raw, Dolph Ziggler talked a lot about how the locker room had become lazy and complacent. In his mind, who could be more lazy and complacent than the Undertaker? A 53-year-old man who wrestles sporadically, while still cashing major paychecks? And did we mention he gets treated like a god? Meanwhile, Ziggler works his ass off on a full-time schedule and gets a fraction of the respect ‘Taker does. For that character, that’s more than enough motivation to spark a conflict.

Why Dolph and not his run-in buddy, Drew McIntyre? No disrespect to Drew, who had to fight and claw his way back to WWE stardom. But I see Ziggler getting the better match out of Undertaker, bumping around and what not. And like the Miz, Ziggler cuts a hell of a scathing promo. This one is a long shot, but it’d be worth it.

AJ Styles

The Phenom vs. The Phenomenal One. I’ve been calling for this one since Wrestlemania 32. I was pitching for AJ to come out, say he came to WWE to face the very best, and then challenge the Undertaker. He can do the exact same thing now. Only he can do it more credibly, given all he’s done in the company.

To be clear, I’m not advocating for Undertaker to win the WWE Championship again. But this match doesn’t need the title anyway. This match has all the natural intrigue in the world. And is there any doubt that if anyone in the entire industry is capable of getting one more great match out of the Undertaker, it’s AJ Styles? I sure as hell don’t.

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition on Twitter.

 

The Roman Reigns Era Begins, and Other Ponderings From Wrestlemania Week

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Now that we’re back from our little angry time out, we’ve got a lot to cover. So let’s not waste any time…

Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, Charlotte, Wrestlemania XXXIIPonderings From Wrestlemania Week:

Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch steal the show at Wrestlemania. Charlotte begins a program with Natalya on RawA Women’s Title Match stole the show at Wrestlemania. A Wrestlemania that featured a Hell in a Cell Match, a multi-man ladder match, Brock Lesnar, and AJ Styles, was topped by a Women’s Title Match. How amazing is that?

Mind you, this is subjective. But in terms of suspense and engagement, this match beat everything else at Wrestlemania. I couldn’t be more proud of Charlotte, Sasha, and Becky. Today’s WWE announcers aren’t very credible. But what JBL is saying about this being a great era for women’s wrestling is definitely valid. What’s more, Natalya is being added to the mix. I’m absolutely thrilled.

And let us continue to rejoice that the Women’s Title is back, and the Divas Title is dead. That butterfly belt was one of the gaudiest looking titles I’ve ever seen. Thank God we never have to see Sasha, Becky, Bayley, or Asuka wear that awful thing. Seeing Lita unveil that new belt on the Wrestlemania pre-show was a really cool moment. Having her their was very fitting.

Wrestlemania XXXII, Triple H, Roman ReignsRoman Reigns received with thunderous boos as he wins the WWE Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania, and appears on RawI’m not sure what else can be said at this point about Reigns’ popularity, or lack thereof, with the fans. He and Triple H got booed mercilessly at Wrestlemania, and he was booed mercilessly on Raw. Our top babyface, ladies and gentlemen.

I adored that sign somebody had at Raw, in response to WWE allegedly turning down the microphones at Wrestlemania to hide the boos: “Don’t mute our voices! We pay 4 this!”

Given who earned the right to challenge for the title on Raw (more on that later), it’s been rumored we may get a Roman Reigns heel turn at Payback next month. I’ll believe that when I see it…

AJ Styles wins the right to challenge Roman Reigns for the WWE Championship by defeating Chris Jericho, Kevin Owens, and the returning Cesaro. First and foremost, AJ Styles and Chris Jericho were awesome at Wrestlemania. Not quite as good as the Women’s Title Match in my view. But still great. Styles’ loss caught a lot of fans by surprise, but obviously he made up for it here.

AJ Styles, Chris Jericho, WWE Raw, April 4, 2016Cesaro has to make up for lost time, but he looks like he hasn’t lost a step. I’m curious if that suit is now a part of his entrance. That Jason Statham look definitely suits him.

While it remains to be seen when Styles will challenge for the title. But the theory is because this is a babyface vs. babyface match, Reigns could turn heel and enlist the help of the Bullet Club, a.k.a. Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows. Again, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Kevin Owens attacks Sami Zayn, keeping him out of fatal fourway main event. Now that there’s no Intercontinental Title at stake, it’s now WWE’s responsibility to tell us why these two men don’t like each other.

The Undertaker def. Shane McMahon at Wrestlemania, in a Hell in a Cell Match that saw Shane jump from the top of the cage. I take no joy in saying this, but this match was a snooze fest. From an execution standpoint, it had a lot working against it, not the least of which was that Shane hadn’t wrestled in so long. Plus, you had two big babyfaces in there, which seemed to leave the crowd unclear on who to cheer for. People definitely loved Shane. But who wants to root against The Undertaker?

The Undertaker, Shane McMahon, Wrestlemania XXXIIThen you have that dive Shane took off the cell. I love Shane for being willing to take that risk. But in truth, this match didn’t deserve a huge bump like that. It was almost a waste.

I’m not convinced we’ve seen the last of Shane. In a company that desperately needs marquee talent, Shane is truly over, and truly beloved. There’s as much a place for him there as there’s ever been.

The Rock and John Cena beat down The Wyatt Family at Wrestlemania. The Rock pins Erick Rowan in a six second match. This stuff with The Rock needlessly ate up so much time. I’m not sure why they felt the need to have Rock pin Rowan in all of six seconds, when they could gone right to the beat-down we all knew was coming anyway. Still, it was cool to see Rock spar with Bray on the mic a bit. And yes, it was nice to see John Cena. Given some of the reactions Roman Reigns has been getting, Cena’s reactions look like Hogan’s in the ’80s.

Zack Ryder wins Intercontinental Championship at Wrestlemania, loses title to The Miz (with his wife Maryse) on RawTo say the least, Ryder’s Wrestlemania win was a shock. But he deserved it. The poor guy has been messed around with by WWE so much over the years, and we know how much WWE loves a good underdog story.

Zack Ryder, Wrestlemania XXXIIThat being said, it wasn’t surprising to see them take the belt off him the very next night. Ryder was only put in that match as a replacement for the injured Neville. He hadn’t even been on Raw regularly. I’m a Zack Ryder fan. I even bought on of his Broski t-shirts when he was hot a few years ago. But the writing was on the wall.

I’m intrigued by Maryse’s return alongside her real-life husband, The Miz. He’s called himself a chick magnet in the past. But actually seeing him with someone as gorgeous as Maryse is bound to draw some heat. I’m down for that.

The League of Nations def. The New Day at Wrestlemania, but after failing to win the tag titles on Raw, Wade Barrett is ousted from the group. The remaining members are then attacked by The Wyatt Family. As it’s been all but confirmed that Barrett is leaving the company when his contract expires in June, this may have been his last appearance on Raw. It’s truly sad that he was never truly able to live up to the potential he had when he made the main roster in 2010. Yes, he was injury prone. But it wasn’t strictly his fault. He was also the victim of some bad booking decisions in 2010, most notably The Nexus’ loss at Summerslam that year. Still, he had a run with the biggest wrestling company in the world, and was able to main event some pay per views with John Cena. That’s something nobody can take away from him.

The Wyatt Family, WWE Raw, April 4, 2016I can only assume this attack by The Wyatt Family means they’re finally turning babyface. Bray is ready, and has been ready for quite some time. However, one thing that was painfully apparent at both Wrestlemania and Raw was how sorely the group misses Luke Harper. Neither Erick Rowan or Braun Strowman have that much credibility on their own, especially after Rowan lost to The Rock in six seconds at Wrestlemania. It’ll be interesting how the dynamic of this group shifts if this is a turn.

Baron Corbin loses to Austin Aries at NXT Takeover: Dallas, wins the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at Wrestlemania, beats down Dolph Ziggler on Raw. Definitely a big week for Baron Corbin. His victory at Wrestlemania was a welcome surprise. From a match perspective, I can’t say I was enamored with what I saw from him. He also looked like he had some butterflies during his promo on Raw. I can’t say I blame him. But he’ll be in good hands going forward, as it looks like he’ll be spending time with Dolph Ziggler.

The Dudley Boyz and The Usos trade wins at Wrestlemania and Raw. Enzo Amore and Colin Cassaday debut after the Raw match. It looks like the Dudleys are getting new dance partners in Enzo & Cass. That’s an awesome pairing in my book. But I’d be open to one more match between the Dudleys and the Usos on Raw. It’d be the perfect chance for our newcomers to interfere and cost them a win.

Enzo & Cass, WWE Raw, April 4, 2016This was a hell of a start for Enzo & Cass, and overdue in the eyes of many. These guys certainly have no shortage of catchphrases. I’m curious to see how well the crowd knows them next week, as we lose a lot of that post-Wrestlemania glow.

Apollo Crews def. Tyler Breeze in his Raw debut. I haven’t seen as much of Apollo Crews as I have other NXT wrestlers. But I was very impressed with what I saw in this short match. He gave a lot of credence to what the announcers were saying about his versatility. It’s not often you see someone who has both that strength, agility, and explosive leaping ability. I only wish he hadn’t knocked of Tyler Breeze. He’s been there such a short time, and already he’s being used as enhancement talent. Not that there’s anything wrong with that,  but damn.

Images courtesy of WWE.com.

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The New WWE Champion, and Other Ponderings From Wrestlemania XXXI and WWE Raw

Wrestlemania XXXI, Seth Rollins, ChampionSeth Rollins cashes in Money in the Bank during the main event of Wrestlemania, pins Roman Reigns to become champion. Brock Lesnar assaults Rollins on Raw, gives an F5 to Michael Cole. Stephane McMahon suspends Lesnar indefinitely.

Well, that’s one way to book yourself out of a corner.

Actually, it must be said that the Brock Lesnar/Roman Reigns match was not bad at all. It was the match of the night, in my opinion. They built up a lot of sympathy for Reigns (at least in my mind), and established that he is indeed a Samoan Bad Ass. But at the end of the day, Brock Lesnar was the crowd favorite. WWE clearly knew that going in, and booked accordingly. They told a similar story to the one they did with Lesnar and John Cena at Summerslam, but then threw the twist with Rollins in.

Seth Rollins, Brock Lesnar, Wrestlemania XXXITruth be told, if there’s one guy on the roster that deserved that crowning moment, it was Seth Rollins. He’s turned in consistently good, often great work since his heel turn last year. And whether you’re a Roman Reigns fan or not, this loss at Wrestlemania does two very important things for him. First, it gives him more big match experience. Second, it gives him a little more time to cook before they put the title on him.

There was no way they were going to have Brock wrestle on Raw. I knew that thing was a sham from the get-go. What I didn’t see coming was what happened to Michael Cole. If Brock wasn’t a babyface before, he certainly is now. And let’s give credit where credit is due: Cole took that F5 like a man. I’ve got to wonder who pitched THAT to him…

One thing I will say in critique of that Raw segment…JBL and Booker T. couldn’t have been that hurt by an overturned table, could they?

Triple H vs. Sting, Wrestlemania XXXITriple H def. Sting. This one shocked me. After 14 years, Sting finally makes his WWE debut…just to lose to Triple H? That’s pretty lame if you ask me. Still, one would hope that’s not the last time we’ll see Sting in a WWE ring.

The general direction this match took also surprised me. Instead of it boiling down to Sting and Hunter they turned it into an nWo vs. DX thing. It all became a giant Attitude Era throwback. It was fun, I guess. But I thought this was supposed to be about Sting coming to WWE to face the tyrannical leader of The Authority? It seemed like an odd choice to me. But it was Wrestlemania-worthy, to be sure.

By the way, that Triple H/Terminator entrance? Really stupid.

The Undertaker def. Bray Wyatt. The Undertaker looked as good as he ever has at Wrestlemania. But it seemed like he was definitely feeling it physically. Then again, maybe he was just selling really well. But after the match, he did indeed look up to the rafters and mouth “Thank you.” My instincts tell me he’s got maybe one or two left in him. But then again, people have been saying that for years. Only The Undertaker can tell us for sure. One thing’s for sure, seeing him for the first time in a year was a hell of a Wrestlemania moment.

The Undertaker, Wrestlemania XXXIThe Rock and Ronda Rousey wind up in an in-ring confrontation with Triple H and Stephanie McMahon at Wrestlemania. This seemed like a set up for one hell of a mixed tag match. Summerslam, maybe?

John Cena def. Rusev at Wrestlemania for the United States Championship, defeats Dean Ambrose in title defense on Raw. Not exactly a surprise that Rusev lost to John Cena. Though as I’d said previously, I’d have loved to have seen Rusev’s streak continue.

Dean Ambrose deserves a hell of a lot of credit for the 48 hours he had between Wrestlemania and Raw. Between the bumps he took in the ladder match, and the match he had with Cena on Raw, he deserves as much respect as anybody on that roster. There’s so much money on this guy, and he’s so unique. I just hope WWE knows what they’ve got with him…

Daniel Bryan, Wrestlemania XXXIDaniel Bryan wins Intercontinental Championship in multi-man Wrestlemania Ladder Match. Bryan wins a title match against Dolph Ziggler on Raw. After all the complaining the internet wrestling community did (myself included) about Daniel Bryan’s demotion on the Wrestlemania card, it’s tough to deny they put him over pretty well. It would have been easy for him to simply get lost in the shuffle in terms of that ladder match. But he came out on top, and had another great Wrestlemania moment. Let’s not kid ourselves, it wasn’t as good as the one he got last year. But it was still pretty good.

In terms of the ladder match itself…meh. I hate to seem so jaded, especially considering some of the bumps those guys took. But we’ve just seen this match so many times over the last decade. At the end of the day, there are only so many things you can do with a ladder. So I left this match feeling a bit less satisfied than perhaps I should have been. The ending with Bryan and Dolph Ziggler butting heads over and over again was pretty ridiculous too.

As for the match Bryan and Ziggler had on Raw, it’s tough to not enjoy these guys going one-on-one. They make a point to show you things you don’t see in other matches, and it’s a real treat.

Sheamus, Raw, March 31, 2015Sheamus returns after Bryan/Ziggler match to fend off Bad News Barrett, ends up heeling on Bryan. I like Sheamus’ tweaked image, although apparently the crowd didn’t agree (“You look stupid!”). I most certainly like his new direction. A Sheamus heel turn has is long overdue. If I had my way, we’d see Bryan vs. Barrett for the title at Extreme Rules, and Sheamus vs. Ziggler, with the winner getting a title shot.

Adrian Neville (as billed as just “Neville”) and The Lucha Dragons (Sin Cara & Kalisto) make their Raw debut. So the rumor flying around was that WWE was going to give NXT star Adrian Neville a Mighty Mouse-type persona. It looks like they kinda/sorta went that direction, but thankfully left out the inherent cheeseball elements. We’ve definitely seen wrestlers wear worse things out there than a cape. Great exhibition from Neville. Let’s see where he goes from here.

In that same vein, we saw a hell of a showing from Sin Cara, and especially Kalisto. He had that crowd in the palm of his hand. I want to see more, that’s for damn sure. And hey! Who knew you could have a colorful, marketable Hispanic tag team without turning them into a couple of damn cartoon characters! Does this mean we can finally drop the Los Matadores gimmick?

The Big Show, Wrestlemania XXXIThe Big Show wins the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal on the Wrestlemania pre-show. I’m guessing this match got bumped to the pre-show so we could have the Rock/Ronda Rousey segment. I’m wondering, had it been on the actual show, if Big Show would have won. This match seemed like the perfect opportunity for Damien Sandow to have his big moment. And indeed, he did have a big moment when he eliminated Miz. But for that to be followed by his elimination by Big Show almost waters the whole thing down. Once it was decided the match would be on the pre-show, I wonder if they just said: “Meh. If Sandow can’t win it at Wrestlemania, let’s just give it to Show.”

And what does The Big Show actually gain from winning the Andre battle royal? Nothing really. At least Cesaro got a push (albeit a failed one) out of the deal. Show’s already a top guy, and he’s aligned with the new WWE Heavyweight Champion. So they basically spun their wheels with this one.

Images from WWE.com.

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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. 

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

WWE’s Most Fascinating People of 2012

By Rob Siebert

Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Every year, Barbara Walters gives the public her picks for the 10 most fascinating people of the year. She had a few good names on the list this year: General David Petraus, Ben Affleck and Hilary Clinton. But we also had One Direction, the chick who wrote 50 Shades of Grey, and friggin’ Honey Boo Boo. What the hell is that about?

I can give you 10 people off the top of my head who are all more fascinating than most of the names on that list. And they’re pretty easy to find. You can see them every week on Monday Night Raw. We now present WWE’s most fascinating people of 2012!

CM Punk, 20121. CM Punk

We kick things off with a no brainer. While John Cena is still WWE’s poster boy, for the better part of 2012 the star of Monday Night Raw has been CM Punk. Turning him heel turned out to be the best decision they could have made. From a creative standpoint, he’s been the lifeblood of every broadcast he’s appeared on. His promos are consistently stellar, his in-ring skills speak for themselves, and his infamous temper always has us waiting for the next “pipe bomb.” What’s more, by keeping the WWE Championship on him for over a year, the title now means something again. As so many challengers have tried and failed to take it, it’s now the prized possession it should be, as opposed to a prop that the wrestlers hand back and forth to one another. When he cut his unforgettable promo in Las Vegas in June of last year, Punk was looking for change in the WWE. One way or another, he’s found it.

Paul Heyman, 20122. Paul Heyman

Several months ago, you’d have thought Brock Lesnar would be a shoe-in for this list. But Lesnar’s dates are so limited that it’s been hard not to be disappointed by his comeback, at least on some level. How ironic that the man chosen to represent Lesnar on the mic, Paul Heyman, would turn out to be the more interesting of the two. Heyman’s return to the wrestling industry overjoyed many a longtime fan, as he continues to be one of the best talkers and the most creative minds the business has ever seen. He has a love for the industry that Brock Lesnar is obviously lacking, and as such his partnership with CM Punk is by far the more enjoyable of the two. Heyman obviously doesn’t have to carry Punk on the mic, so it’s been interesting to see just how well he maintains that supporting role without overstepping his bounds. Heyman and Punk are fun to watch together, because it’s obvious they’re enjoying their jobs.

Titus O'Neil, 20123. Titus O’Neil

I’ve become a huge fan of the Prime Time Players, and much of that is because of what Titus O’Neil brings to the table. No disrespect to Darren Young, but O’Neil has a very natural charisma which commands the spotlight every time he and Young get a chance to talk. At no point has this been more obvious than when the Players joined Cole and King for commentary several weeks ago. He was so funny that Cole and Lawler were cracking up, and it actually started to draw attention away from the match. Obviously that’s not what you want per se, but it left me wanting more. Titus didn’t crack under pressure, he rolled with whatever the announcers threw at him, and he made it entertaining. It made me want to see the Prime Time Players again, so that we could hear Titus O’Neil again. I wouldn’t say Titus is ready for a singles run quite yet, but there’s definitely something there with him. And it’s something worth watching in 2013.

Kane, WWE, 20124. Kane
You wouldn’t think it’d be so easy for a guy like Kane to fade into the background, but it is. At various points in his career, Kane’s job has been that of a placeholder, using his name recognition to make him relevant as a third-string babyface or heel, depending on where he was needed at the time. Kane is one of the few wrestlers I’ve ever seen transition from bad to good, and vice versa, for no apparent reason. I imagine his character sometimes makes it difficult to come up with things for him that aren’t too corny or over the top. Heck, half the stuff they do with him is already corny and over the top. But this year, WWE used a tool they rarely use with Kane: Humor. In doing so, Kane has once again become a vital part of WWE programming. He’s not just a nostalgia act they bring out in the middle of the card. As part of Team Hell No (still a stupid name) with Daniel Bryan, Kane has played a vital role in reinvigorating the tag team division, and giving us some of the most genuinely funny stuff we’ve seen on Raw in years. As a fan, it was gratifying to watch this veteran’s career reignite, no pun intended. And speaking of Team Hell No…

Daniel Bryan, 20125. Daniel Bryan

This was the year that indy superstar Bryan Danielson officially became a sports entertainer. And what’s more? He’s a great one. Who’da thunk it? Bryan’s rise to the top of WWE likely wasn’t the one his fans from Ring of Honor were hoping for. But let’s look at the facts, shall we? The night after Wrestlemania, fans were chanting for Bryan. In 2012, Byran headlined several pay per views with CM Punk, wrestling for the WWE Championship. And now he’s evolved into one of the most entertaining performers the company has. Any doubt as to whether Bryan could be a success in WWE was erased this year, as he fully adapted to wrestling’s biggest stage, and took advantage of every opportunity. With any luck, we’re not even halfway through Bryan’s WWE run. Yes! Yes! Yes!

AJ Lee, WWE, 20126. AJ Lee

Last year at this time, WWE fans were just starting to get to know AJ. We knew her face, but she hadn’t really had an chance to shine as a performer yet. Fast forward a year, and everybody knows who she is. What’s more, this little 100 lb Puerto Rican girl is on the fast track to becoming WWE’s next marquee female talent. She’s not quite there yet, but she’s close. While the material she’s given is sometimes corny (remember when she proposed to CM Punk?), her delivery is always interesting to watch. Her character seems vulnerable, but there’s a madness lurking underneath the surface that she’s playing with very well. The right people are obviously noticing her, as she’s been in stories with names like CM Punk, John Cena, Kane and Daniel Bryan all year. Life is good for AJ right now. And she’s not exactly becoming less relevant, is she?

Chris Jericho, WWE, 20127. Chris Jericho

At this stage in his career, and with as many outside interests as he has, Chris Jericho is wise to come and go as he does. Fans are always excited to see him after he’s been gone for awhile, and what he brings to the table really can’t be duplicated. His “trolling” on WWE fans, i.e. not speaking, during the first few weeks of his comeback was interesting. But things didn’t really kick into high gear until he started his program with CM Punk, cutting a series of intense promos on Punk’s family life. To a extent, that angle was ill timed, as it had so much to compete with between the Rock/Cena story, and what The Undertaker and Triple H were doing. But the quality of Jericho’s work can’t be denied either way. What’s great about him is that he’s not content to do the same thing year after year. He’s constantly reinventing himself, and expanding his creative scope. This begs the question: What kind of Chris Jericho will we see next?

Heath Slater, WWE, 20128. Heath Slater

Slater’s inclusion here might be a surprise to some, especially when you consider how much time he spent looking up at the lights in 2012. But in terms of establishing a character for himself, and letting WWE fans get to know him a little bit better, Slater had a great year. He had a weekly spotlight placed on him when he worked with the various legends leading up to Raw 1000. That spotlight grew a bit brighter when he formed 3MB with Drew McIntyre and Jinder Mahal. The downside there is that, even with these three hour Raw broadcasts, the group has lately been relegated to the third string shows. But seeing Slater expand his annoying, southern rocker character has been entertaining. How 3MB will fare now that another three-man faction, the Shield, has entered the picture, remains to be seen. But Slater is doing a nice job running with the ball in the meantime.

Dolph Ziggler, WWE, 20129. Dolph Ziggler

At this point, is there doubt in anyone’s mind that Ziggler is ready? In truth, he’s probably been ready for about a year now. But patience proved to be a wise choice on WWE’s part. We’ve seen what happens when they pull the trigger on someone too early. WWE has done well continuing to put Ziggler in high profile situations that usually don’t involve either of the Heavyweight Titles. He’s been consistently awesome in matches with John Cena, Sheamus, Chris Jericho, and others. He could cash that Money in the Bank briefcase in anytime now, but we still needn’t be in a hurry. Considering everything that’s about to happen between now and Wrestlemania, it might even be best to hold off on making Ziggler a Heavyweight Champion until the spring. He’s still got plenty of time…

Ryback, 201210. Ryback

Well what do you know? It actually worked. Fans are chanting “Feed Me More!” Ryback is getting pops that are up there with the likes of Sheamus or Randy Orton. We still have to get past some of the “Goldberg” chants, but for my money, Ryback may be on his way to doing something many might have thought impossible: Taking John Cena’s spot. Is it going to happen tomorrow? No. But Cena can’t carry the company on his shoulders forever. Eventually, someone is going to have to step up and take the torch from him. For years, Randy Orton seemed to be the likely torchbearer, but his two wellness policy strikes have landed him the doghouse. Sheamus isn’t quite there, though he’s still chugging away. Punk was a hit with the older fans, but he makes a much better villain than a hero. But Ryback, with his Herculean physique and his giant feats of strength, may have a shot. WWE has struggled these past few months, however, as Ryback has had to lose on three consecutive pay per views. With any luck, Ryback can start racking up some major victories, and continue to take steps closer to becoming WWE’s new franchise player.

Images courtesy of WWE.com.

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