Emma’s Release, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

At the end of the day, this is for the best. Honestly, what were they doing with Emma anyway? She can do better, and now she has the chance to prove it.

WWE announced Sunday that it had come to terms on the releases of Tenille Dashwood (Emma), Frederick Rosser III (Darren Young), and Danielle Moinet (Summer Rae). Mosser and Moinet had both been off television for quite awhile. More than a year in Moinet’s case. As a fan, when someone has been off TV that long, you know this is a possibility.

But I’m never happy to see someone lose their job. Especially when it’s likely their dream job. In Moinet’s case, I don’t doubt there will be plenty of opportunities for her outside of wrestling. She actually just wrote a piece for In Style. Rosser has plenty of options too. He can obviously stay in wrestling, but he might make some decent money as a motivational speaker. He’s got a great story.

The timing of Dashwood’s release is very strange. They just put her with Asuka in the character’s much hyped debut matches on the main roster, the first of which was on pay per view. They even gave her the lion’s share of the offense at TLC. She was hardly a major player. But she had a character and was appearing on Raw more often than not. That’s certainly a far cry from the days of Emmalina.

It’s currently unclear whether Dashwood wanted out, or if they let her go for some reason. This is the only thing she’s said online since the news broke…

I’m not sure why WWE would want to let Emma go. I just got done talking about how they need more women on the main roster. Here’s someone who’s good at what she does, and has come into her own in terms of her charisma. What’s more, she has a vocal fan following. More than a few fans were tweeting #HireEmma in the wake of her release.

And what’s why this may be the best thing that could have happened to Dashwood. Wrestling fans know how good she is, which means she’ll be in demand. She’s more than qualified to have a Drew Galloway/Cody Rhodes style career renaissance. And I’m looking forward to seeing it.

Ponderings From Raw:

Raw Commissioner Stephanie McMahon returns, announces General Manager Kurt Angle will captain Team Raw at Survivor Series. What I expected when Stephanie’s music hit was more or less what we got. The verbal castration of Kurt Angle. I think that’s in the job Raw GM job description. You’ve got to let Stephanie yell at you on national television without rebuttal.

Hopefully this isn’t a sign that Stephanie is returning to TV on a more regular basis. I’m actually shocked they kept her off TV as long as they did. Outside of a brief appearance on Smackdown during the Vince McMahon/Kevin Owens headbutt angle, we haven’t seen her since Wrestlemania. (She really should have given Rollins a look or something on the way to the ring.) When it comes to the loud, domineering Stephanie appearances, less is definitely more.

But I will admit, it was cool to see Steph and Kurt in the ring together after so many years.

Apparently now that TLC has come and gone, they’re not going to be shy about having Kurt wrestle. At least in big tag team matches. Considering there’ll be 10 men in this match, Kurt may have even less to do here than he did at TLC. Or maybe they’ll push him a little more and make him the Raw guy in the match.

Nia Jax def. Bayley. Alicia Fox picks Jax for Team RawAt one point there were rumors Nia Jax walked out a few weeks ago. Now the buzz is she was dealing with a back injury. Either way, I’m glad to see her back. As she continues to grow and mature in her role, she becomes more and more valuable. She’s different. Different is usually good.

Samoa Joe returns, defeats Apollo Crews. Have we really not seen Joe since Summerslam? I knew it had been awhile. But that long?

Crews is essentially a jobber these days. I feel like I’ve said it a million times: He’s an amazing athlete, but he’s severely lacking in the personality department.

The Miz def. Matt Hardy to retain the Intercontinental Championship. Matt Hardy is another guy who’s cooled down quite a bit. That’s a damn travesty, as he was arguably the hottest thing in wrestling when he and Jeff came back.

That being said, that moonsault was awesome. That man is 43, ladies and gentlemen.

Asuka won an enhancement match. This is more like it. Not the smoothest match I’ve ever seen. But Asuka was dominant and hard-hitting. Build her up for the Bayleys and the Sashas. That’s where the drama comes from.

Daniel Bryan tries to mend fences with Raw, gets ambushed by Kane. Bryan’s acting in this segment was cringeworthy at times. And on top of everything, after the attack from Kane, Booker T ruins the dramatic tension on commentary by immediately saying Bryan got what he deserved.

Finn Balor def. Cesaro. Kane and Balor get into a scuffle, Kane hits a Tombstone Piledriver on the stage. Before Kane came out, I was thinking “Where was this match last week?” A victory over Cesaro is a damn good way to follow up a pay per view win over AJ Styles. But then they went and did this.

I can only hope Balor isn’t simply Kane’s whipping boy, and that we’ll eventually see the Demon send Kane back into politics. Assuming Braun Strowman doesn’t get do it first…

Kane def. Seth Rollins. Dull match. Kane’s got that dominant, vicious monster vibe going for him once again. But snooze-fests like this don’t help. Even when the post-match stuff happened with Ambrose, Sheamus, and Cesaro, the crowd was dead.

Heath Slater and Rhyno def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson in a Trick-or-Street-Fight. Obligatory Halloween gimmick match. I’m sure this is what Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson where imagining when they came back. Going from the Bullet Club to the pumpkin patch. Even the announcers didn’t know what to say during this one. If the Kane stuff killed the crowd, this buried it six feet under.

Who are these hokey holiday matches supposed to be for, anyway? The kids? I guarantee they were as bored during this as the rest of us were.

Jason Jordan interrupts an Elias performance. The Drifter’s new guitar winds up smashed. Poor Elias had to follow that awful gimmick tag match. Usually the crowd is with him. Not so much for this one.

Kalisto def. Drew Gulak. Enzo Amore jumps Kalisto after the match. I’m becoming a Drew Gulak fan. The corny, straight-laced, milquetoast thing works for him. He might actually be a reason to pay a little more attention to 205 Live. You can’t say that often, so consider it a compliment.

Alexa Bliss def. Mickie James to retain the Raw Women’s Title. I legit thought they might switch the title here to give the match with Natalya at Survivor Series a new dynamic. They’ve already got another heel vs. heel match with Miz against Baron Corbin. It would make sense to shift one of those to a traditional babyface vs. heel bout. But let’s be honest: If they have to take a title off of either Alexa Bliss or Natalya, Alexa isn’t the one you pick. Not right now, anyway.

Alexa and Mickie had built nice momentum with some good wrestling in the closing minutes of this match. Then it ended with a simple punch to the face. Lame.

Braun Strowman attacks Miz and the Miztourage in the closing moments of Raw. Curtis Axel takes six Powerslams, the last of which is through the announce table. There was an obvious horror movie vibe to what they did here. The victims trying to get out of the car, the slow reveal of the monster, Corey Graves even got a line in about Miz starring in a monster movie.

You know what would have been a nice touch? Having Axel or Bo Dallas take a Tombstone Piledriver. That is, assuming Strowman can do it safely. We saw it earlier in the evening. Plus, it sends a really cool message to Kane, who is obviously Strowman’s real adversary in all of this.

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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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Kane Shocks Roman Reigns, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Rumor has it the planned main event for Survivor Series next month is Universal Champion Brock Lesnar against WWE World Heavyweight Champion Jinder Mahal.

Oh dear. Dear oh dear. That’s…that’s quite a choice, isn’t it?

In theory, this should be one of the biggest matches WWE can put on. The champion of Raw against the champion of Smackdown, on one of the biggest shows the company puts on all year. It beats the hell out ofwhen they’d putting the big champion vs. champion match on Raw with little to no build-up. And not even in the main event!

But Brock Lesnar vs. Jinder Mahal isn’t exactly Clash of the Titans. Yes, they’ve strapped the rocket to Jinder. But his big matches against Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura haven’t delivered, and his racially charged promos haven’t exactly inspired confidence.

Having grown up a wrestling fan in the ’90s, I present you with this analogy. Imagine if they put the WWE Championship on Bob Holly in 1997, and then tried to market a major pay per view match pitting him against the Undertaker.

The buzz is that it’s going to be a non-title match. So without the hook of a title possibly changing hands, what’s the draw here? I imagine it’s seeing Brock Lesnar beat the crap out of Jinder and the Singh Brothers. There’s also Paul Heyman’s promos in the build-up. If anyone can put Jinder over as a legitimate threat to Brock Lesnar, it’s Heyman.

Whenever they do these Raw vs. Smackdown matches, people always talk about how it could reflect badly on the loser’s brand. In this case, if Brock kills Jinder, how does that make Smackdown look compared to Raw? This kind of stuff gets overthought quite a bit. But given the perception of Smackdown as the B-show (even inside the walls of WWE, reportedly), some concern is merited.

Could they have Brock take Jinder to Suplex City and beat him? Yes. But I don’t see that happening. Remember, Jinder is a Vince McMahon project. They’ve spent most of the year trying to get this guy over as their big Indian star. They’re making a big fuss out of him being the champion when they go to India in December. So it’s in their best interest to keep him looking relatively strong through the end of the year. Frankly, I don’t see why you’d book this match if not to benefit Jinder in some way.

This match has “outside interference” and “screwjob finish” written all over it. You’ll have the Singh Brothers out there, you’ll have Heyman doing something. And Jinder’s next opponent (AJ Styles?) or Brock’s next opponent (Finn Balor?) could easily play a role in the finish somehow. It almost has to. That’s how you get out of this thing without Brock throwing Jinder around and making Smackdown look like the bush leagues.

So who wins? Give it to Jinder by disqualification or count-out. That way Brock gets away without being pinned, and Jinder can technically say he beat the mighty Brock Lesnar.

Then again, don’t put anything past this company. Remember, at this same show last year Brock lost to Bill Goldberg in less than two minutes…

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, and Seth Rollins call out their opponents at TLCGood to see the guys back in their black gear, doing the old Shield entrance. Not sure why we couldn’t have done that for the big reunion last week…

Jason Jordan, Apollo Crews, and Titus O’Neil def. Elias, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson. For some reason, that opening shot of Elias sitting with Gallows and Anderson was really funny. And a tribute to the Honky Tonk Man, of all people. Does that make Honky a good brother?

Cedric Alexander def. Jack Gallagher. Solid match. I’m still getting used to heel Jack Gallagher. He definitely needs new music.

There was a faint “We want Neville!” chant during this match…

I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing Alexander hit the Lumbar Check. I can’t imagine what it’s like to take that.

Braun Strowman appears on Miz TV. A stipulation is added to the Reigns/Stroman Steel Cage Match later in the night. So if Strowman wins, his team gets another partner at TLC. If Reigns wins, it goes back to three-on-three. A nice added hook for an already big match.

All this team stuff has me in the mood for Survivor Series. So do you put the Shield on a traditional five-person team? Or do you give them their own match? Maybe a six-man elimination match?

Sasha Banks def. Alicia Fox. Fox ambushes Banks afterward. Crazy Alicia Fox is entertaining. Campy, but entertaining nonetheless.

A brawl breaks out after Kalisto interrupts an Enzo Amore promo. Noam Dar, Ariya Daivari, Tony Nese, and Drew Gulak lay out Kalisto and Mustafa Ali. I cringed when Kalisto’s music hit. Any time this guy takes a mic, it’s bad. And he didn’t disappoint in that respect. He told Enzo he’d walk out of TLC the “new Cruiserweight Champion.”

I don’t know that it’s coincidence that WWE keeps bringing up Rey Mysterio Jr. They’ve mentioned him as one of Kalisto’s influences, they posted a brief video on Rey’s response to last week’s title win, and then they name dropped him again this week. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to hear they’re trying to court him for a return. Perhaps not a full time return. But they’d be foolish not to at least try for him.

Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins def. Cesaro and Sheamus to retain the Raw Tag Team Titles. With Ambrose and Rollins back in the Shield gear, there was a little extra sizzle on this one.  But as gifted as these guys are, it’s still the same match we’ve seen a hundred times. It’s a good match. But the law of diminishing returns was in full effect here.

Not a surprising finish here. Having the Shield take a big loss right before their big pay per view comeback wouldn’t make sense right now.

Finn Balor announces the Demon is coming to meet Sister Abigail at TLCAnother week, another promo from Finn Balor. Worse yet, that awful Sister Abigail promo from last week apparently rubbed off on him, as they reached into their special effects bag again. Though at least the Demon character is somewhat cool. That Sister Abigail thing is another story entirely.

Bayley and Mickie James def. Alexa Bliss and Emma. Mickie has been nicely rejuvenated. Of course, the big story is Asuka’s debut this Sunday. To their credit, WWE has playied her up as the big deal that she should be. Now all we can do is wait and see how it goes…

Braun Strowman def. Roman Reigns in a Steel Cage Match, with help from the returning Kane. Kane will now join Miz’s team against the Shield at TLCThis was a legit surprise. I didn’t think we’d see Kane back until his real-life run for mayor of Knox County, Tennessee was over. But his inclusion makes a certain amount of sense, as Reigns did supposedly retire his brother at Wrestlemania. Now watch them completely ignore that…

They were teasing Curtis Axel as the fifth man for most of the show. So to prove himself, Axel gets goaded into picking a fight with Roman before the Cage Match. So instead of finding him alone, or maybe jumping him as he’s going to the ring, we see him walk up to all three members of the Shield backstage. Axel’s a good wrestler, but he might just be the dumbest henchman in television history.

Then again, when Miz found him hanging upside down, one of the first things he asked was: “Who did this???” So is one of them rubbing off on the other?

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The Shield Returns at Last, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

Ponderings From Raw:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By the way, where was Neville during all this?

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Sister Abigail Lives? Plus, Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Enzo Amore and the Cruiserweight Division main eventing Raw? For the second week in a row? It’s so far-fetched that even Enzo had to mention it on TV!

Except the last segment on Raw isn’t really the main event anymore. Traditionally, that’s how you construct a wrestling show. You build everything up to the end, where you put your hottest draws. But that slowly changed when Raw expanded to three hours. Ratings are always down for the last hour. You can chalk that up to a lot of things, perhaps most notably audience fatigue. So now, WWE has had to adjust their formatting to ensure viewers see the main angles. We’ve seen them do this before. But it’s been fairly consistent these past few weeks,

Coming into this week’s Raw we’d had two big matches advertised: Seth Rollins vs. Braun Strowman, and Roman Reigns vs. The Miz for the Intercontinental Title. They started strong with Rollins vs. Strowman, which traditionally would have been your semi-main event. Then at the top of the third hour, they gave us our main event title match. Strategically, this entices viewers to stick around during that third hour, in the hopes that they’ll keep watching after the match is over. They closed the show with Enzo, who has historically been a pretty solid ratings draw.

Thus, Raw is essentially being formatted like a “main event sandwich.” It’s bookended by two semi mains, with the biggest match near the middle. The show has changed. It really had no choice but to change.

So let’s not make two much of this “Cruiserweights in the main event” stuff. That’s not to say this will always be the way the show operates. But I’d be surprised if this weren’t this status quo going forward.

Ponderings From Raw:

Braun Strowman def. Seth Rollins. Dean Ambrose comes out to make the save, but gets put down as well. Cesaro and Sheamus pick the bones afterward. Is Strowman still supposed to be a heel? Or is he a “tweener” the way Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns are? He worked both this match and the one last week against Ambrose like a monster heel. But watch the fans toward the end of this match as he’s Powerslamming Rollins. The crowd is cheering! That seems to be what Strowman predominantly hears out there.

Not that I can complain much about how Strowman has been booked. They’ve kept him strong despite his loss to Brock. I consistently look forward to seeing him week after week. I haven’t had that relationship with a wrestler in a long time.

Elias def. Titus O’Neil. In talking about Titus not being in the ring as much these days, Booker said in relation to his physique: “Look at the love handles!”

For the record, Titus looks as good as he ever has. Go ahead and take your shirt off on television, Book. Let’s see what you’ve got.

Mickie James def. Nia Jax via disqualification after an attack from Alexa Bliss. James to get her Raw Women’s Title Match at TLCMickie James needs some new music. Most of us know she’s a very talented singer with two country music albums under her belt. Why not exploit that talent? She’s been struggling to stand out since she came back. Bringing out her country side couldn’t hurt in that respect.

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson def. Matt Hardy and Jason Jordan. This was disappointing. There are better things for Matt Hardy to be doing than being put in a thrown-together team with Jason Jordan. Here’s hoping this is just a one-week detour on Matt’s trip back to singles competition.

Roman Reigns is attacked by Sheamus and Cesaro during his Intercontinental Title Match with the Miz. The heels hit Reigns with a Shield-style Triple Powerbomb. Pretty good match, which the crowd was very much into. Reigns wailing away on Dallas and Axel before the match was fun. And that staredown between Roman and Miz afterward was great, particularly on Miz’s part.

Last week it seemed like they were building to a Shield vs. Miztourage match for TLC. This is a better course, and will probably give us a better match. Assuming this will be a TLC Match, I would highly encourage Cesaro to wear a mouthguard…

Bray Wyatt to Finn Balor: “Abigail is alive, and she is dying to meet you.” Huh. Well this is interesting. Based on Bray’s wording here, it looks like we’re finally going to meet the mysterious Sister Abigail we’ve heard about for all these years. I’m still not sure I want another Bray vs. Finn match. But if this Sister Abigail thing doesn’t flop, it might just be worth it.

Sasha Banks and Bayley def. Emma and Alicia Fox. This had ZERO interest from me. I’m as over Sasha as I’ve ever been, and my hopes of WWE creative getting a better handle on Bayley have been squashed. Something desperately needs to be shaken up.

After a lengthy Enzo Amore promo, Kurt Angle introduces Kalisto as the next challenger for the Cruiserweight Title. Enzo has now knocked it out of the park two weeks in a row with these promo segments. It didn’t exactly make sense for all the Cruiserweights to come down just to get insulted one by one. But it almost didn’t matter, as Enzo rattled off all those great one-liners.

Why it’s taken this long for Kalisto to be inserted into the Cruiserweight Division is beyond me. You’d think that would have been the sole motivation for moving him to Raw earlier this year. Better late than never, I guess.

Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Dean Ambrose come to a silent understanding as Raw goes off the air. This was a cool moment. But the real entertainment value came from someone online inserting “Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore” into the footage. Honest to God, it fits.

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WWE No Mercy Predictions, Plus: Did Jinder Go Too Far?

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

How far is too far? That’s the question many of us were asking Tuesday night after Jinder Mahal ruffled some feathers with a mildly controversial promo on Shinsuke Nakamura. They played the race card, with the WWE Champion making a handful of Asian jokes. The heaviest was probably Jinder saying, “you always rook the same.” Mahal got what may have been the first, “That’s too far!” chant.

Race is always a tricky subject. They obviously knew that going in. So much of what does and doesn’t offend people is subjective. While I’m not the most qualified person to dive into the subject of race relations, I don’t think Jinder said anything truly reprehensible. In bad taste? Sure. But it’s not worth lining up in the streets to protest.

If this segment was guilty of anything, it’s going for cheap heat. Mahal and Nakamura don’t have a hell of a lot of chemistry together. So they played the race card to add some personal stakes to the match. In a storytelling sense, it’s sad they had to go there.

But remember, the purpose behind segments like these is to get you to hate Jinder. He accuses the WWE fans of being xenophobic toward him, but then he turns around and makes about of racial jokes about Nakamura. He’s a hypocrite, and you’re supposed to want to see Nakamura kick his head off at Hell in a Cell. One way or another, I guess this segment accomplished that. People are mad at Jinder Mahal. It’s just a question of whether they’re mad for the right reasons.

Remember folks, it’s pro wrestling. It’s designed to drudge up emotions. Maybe Jinder was just doing his job…

WWE No Mercy Predictions:

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

There’s been a lot of talk these past few weeks about how “polarizing” John Cena and Roman Reigns are. Another name that should be on that list? Enzo. It’s more than just lip service when we heard all that stuff we’ve heard about how reviled this guy is by so many people. He genuinely gets under people’s skin. Me? I like him. Love him or hate him, he’s different. Say what you want about his in-ring skills, but Enzo has made more of an impression than guys like TJP, Rich Swann, or Akira Tozawa. He elevates that Cruiserweight Division.

But does that mean he’s walking away with the title? No. Not yet, at least. They’re telling an underdog story here. For him to take the title on his first try would needlessly cut it short. I do think he’s winning it at some point, though. So get ready, haters.

PREDICTION: Neville

WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
The Miz (c) vs. Jason Jordan

Really? This is the match we’re getting? I mean, really? They couldn’t have given us, say, Miz against Matt Hardy? It’s not like Matt wouldn’t get a reaction…

As I’ve said, I don’t think Jordan is the guy to take the belt from Miz. I’m fine if they want to make a failed quest for the IC Title part of a a larger story. But Jordan isn’t ready to carry the belt yet. So it’s with tremendous hope that I pick Miz. This probably isn’t over. But at least he’ll keep the belt for now.

PREDICTION: The Miz

FATAL FIVE-WAY MATCH FOR WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE:
Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax vs. Emma vs. Bayley

Had Bayley not gone down with that injury, I think she would have walked out of Summerslam with that Raw Women’s Championship. I think they put Bayley in this match to make up for lost time. Why else would they bring her back one week before the show? Because they want to put the belt on her and get back on their original course. I assume that course leads to a big match against a heel Sasha Banks. In the short term, I see her resuming her feud with Alexa Bliss, who will have a legit gripe over not taking the losing fall in this match. The one who takes that fall? Emma, of course.

PREDICTION: Bayley

Finn Balor vs. Bray Wyatt

We should really be getting the Demon this month, as opposed to last month. But we needed to have the Demon at Summerslam. So here we are. Though in all fairness, Finn’s line on Monday about the man being more dangerous than the demon was pretty good.

You know what they should do here? Insert a stipulation where the winner gets a Universal Title shot. As it is, it doesn’t feel like there’s much on the line here. I’m assuming Bray wins, and then we’ll get some sort of rubber match down the line.

PREDICTION: Bray Wyatt

WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Cesaro and Sheamus

This match would be a hell of a lot more interesting if these four hadn’t worked almost exclusively with each other for the past two months. This is essentially just another match.

I don’t see why Rollins and Ambrose wouldn’t retain here. The bigger question is, who you put them with after Cesaro and Sheamus? Gallows and Anderson have been in the mix lately. But for my money the Miztourage are a better option, simply because we haven’t already seen them work Rollins and Ambrose a bunch of times. The inevitable singles matches would also be a nice showcase for them. In the end, what both these teams need going forward is something fresh.

PREDICTION: Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose

WWE UNIVERSAL TITLE MATCH:
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Braun Strowman

This could be good. Really, really good. And they don’t have to move mountains to make it that way. It all boils down to psychology.

We’ve established that Strowman can overpower Lesnar, and that he can pop right back up from one of Lesnar’s trademark German Suplexes. If they continue to portray Strowman as invincible, and have him throw Brock around a little bit the way he did at Summerslam, that’s a recipe for great drama.

Of course, Lesnar needs to somehow squeak out a victory here. How it happens is anybody’s guess. Outside interference, maybe? Either way, I imagine it’ll take more than one F5 to get it done. I’ve got high expectations for this one.

PREDICTION: Braun Strowman

John Cena vs. Roman Reigns

I actually feel a little bad for Lesnar and Strowman. If this were any other match, they’d be far and away the main event of this show. But Cena and Reigns inevitably pull focus.

This is a Wrestlemania-worthy main event. I assume there are two main reasons it’s not happening at ‘Mania. The first deals with ratings as we head into football season. The second is that this is the first match in a series. And that’s why I think Cena is going to take it.

It’s fitting that they references Cena’s feud with the Rock on Monday. The Rock won their Wrestlemania XXVIII match, and it hung over Cena until the rematch the following year. I don’t see them drawing this out that long. But Cena is the resident legend here, and ultimately it’s up to Reigns to rise to his level. I see Cena getting the win in an evenly fought match, causing Reigns to obsess over beating him in the inevitable rematch. To an extent, history would be repeating itself, a la Rock and Cena.

Then again, Reigns cheating to win would be a hell of a finish too…

PREDICTION: John Cena

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Asuka Coming to Monday Nights, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

After quite a bit of speculation, we learned Monday night that Asuka will be coming to Raw this fall. I assume it will be some time next month, as she’s currently nursing an injured collarbone.

Of course, Asuka is famous to WWE fans as the woman who went undefeated as NXT Women’s Champion for 534 days. She’s never been beaten in a WWE ring, and comes to Raw with more momentum and notoriety than arguably any of her fellow female NXT alums. Her matches are almost always among the highlights of the NXT Takeover shows.

There are more talented women on the WWE roster right now than at any time in the company’s history. Though obviously a marketing term, there’s a lot of validity to the “women’s revolution” they’ve been touting for awhile now. The problem is because of the brand split, we only have a handful of women on Raw and Smackdown. As such, we get a lot of the same combinations week after week. This is especially problematic on Raw, where matches are often drawn out to fill time.

The mystique of Asuka revolves around her being dominant, turning back challenger after challenger. But that approach becomes problematic when she has to be on television every week, and she’s only got three or four women to work with. Granted, they’ll probably feed her enhancement talent at first, as they did with Nia Jax. But once they get past that phase of her run, what’s to stop Asuka from becoming just another face in the crowd? How do you maintain that mystique? And how do you maintain the importance of her undefeated streak with so few names to beat?

There’s not necessarily an easy solution here. But I think part of it involves bringing more women on to the Raw roster. There was a good amount of talk about Bayley getting booed on Raw a few weeks ago. The boos weren’t necessarily directed at her, but at the way she’s been handled creatively. Like everyone else on that roster, she’s been overexposed. What’s more, she was in there with the same handful of names every week. It was always Bayley and Alexa. Or Bayley and Nia. Or Nia against Sasha, who has Bayley in her corner. And of course, there’s Bayley and Sasha against Alexa and Nia.

Like anything else, if you get the same thing over and over again it becomes boring. It’s not exclusive to the Women’s Division by any means. I’ve been saying this Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Sheamus, and Cesaro for weeks now. And of course, all four guys were in the ring together again this week.

More bodies in the Women’s Division will give all the ladies more breathing room, so they’re not necessarily doing the same thing every week. In Asuka’s case, she’ll have more challengers to beat, and a bigger talent pool to conquer. Now, if only there was a convenient place WWE could find more women to add to their roster….

By the way, did you guys see the Mae Young Classic?

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns def. Jason Jordan. Reigns trades insults with John Cena again. This wasn’t what the Cena/Jordan match was. But this match still achieved its goal. Jordan’s not quite where he needs to be yet. But matches like these giant him valuable credibility.

One of these days Jordan is going to turn that double Northern Lights Suplex combo into a triple. Fans are going to lap that up. Myself included.

I credit WWE with trying to make this Cena/Reigns stuff as reality-based as possible, even going as far as to reference Roman’s failed drug test. Despite being obviously scripted, it’s created a lot of buzz. So again, it achieved its goal.

Sasha Banks def. Emma. So Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax were both out there on commentary, and they’ve got them sitting next to one another at the announce desk. I don’t understand why they’re still supposed to be friends. Nia turned on Alexa. So what motivation does Nia now have to keep up this alliance? On top of it all, they’ve got them awkwardly sitting next to each other like kids in detention. It just doesn’t make sense.

Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman call out Braun Strowman. Strowman lays out Lesnar yet again. The best part of this segment? The look on Lesnar’s face when he saw Strowman had gotten back up after the big German Suplex.

This is a good story, and one we haven’t seen before. Brock Lesnar is the underdog, and Strowman has all the momentum in the world.

Bray Wyatt def. Goldust. Wyatt wipes the paint off Goldust’s face to reveal, “He’s just a man!” Finn Balor comes out for the save. LOVED that somersault off the apron Goldust did. Remember, Goldust is 48 years old and has been wrestling for the better part of 30 years. As Corey Graves said, the man seems to age in reverse.

Sadly, they seem to have pulled the plug on his renewed push. The only reason he was even wrestling Bray was because he had face paint on. So they had Bray beat him. I stand by my statement that Goldust could be something big if pushed the right way. If they can strap the rocket to Jinder Mahal, they can do it with Goldust.

On the upside, Bray won a match. That’s more of a rarity than it should be.

A fight breaks out between Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Sheamus, Cesaro, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. This is a little more my style, in contrast to the Alexa/Nia stuff earlier. A bunch of pissed off guys unable to restrain themselves. I just wish it hadn’t led to yet another consequence-free eight-man tag.

A vignette airs for the arrival of Asuka. God damn. That was the best character introduction vignettes they’ve done in years. Loved the use of the different masks, the spooky lighting, the music, the little glimpse of her face at the end.

Good God, WWE. Pllease don’t screw this up…

Elias def. Kalisto. Obviously Elias is supposed to be a bad guy, insulting the crowd the way he is. But the people were with him. A babyface turn isn’t out of the question here…

John Cena def. Braun Strowman via disqualification. Pretty good match. They spent a good amount of time building to Cena slamming Strowman. So you knew it was going to happen at some point. That doesn’t make it any less impressive, of course.

Would have loved to see Brock come out and try to get some payback from earlier. I guess you can write that off strategic discretion.

So Strowman hitting Cena with the steps on the outside isn’t a DQ. but Strowman getting him in the ring and slamming him on top of the steps is? Just a ring of the bell. Is that so hard?

The Miz and Maryse announce their pregnancy on Miz TV. Enzo interrupts. Miz gets disqualified as he and the Miztourage beat down Enzo. First and foremost, congrats to Miz and Maryse. Mrs. Primary Ignition and I are actually working on headin’ down that road ourselves. So I appreciate it that much more.

“Don’t you dare ‘How you doin?’ my wife.” Good line.

Between the Cena/Reigns stuff and Miz talking about Enzo being hated backstage, they’ve been much more reality-based lately. It’s a marked improvement.

I assume all that stuff with the mic was supposed to be there. It seems like Miz and Enzo messed up a spot, then Enzo took the mic and made the “your wrestling is straight to DVD” comment. Either way, it felt spontaneous. That’s the important thing.

Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, and the Hardy Boyz def. Sheamus, Cesaro, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson. I fully expected Cena and Strowman to main event the show. So when it became clear they were going to close things out with this big tag match, I wondered if they were going to do a big angle. Nope. Business as usual. A hell of an anticlimactic ending to what ended up being a pretty damn good show.

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