Braun Strowman Breaks the Ring! Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Wrestling’s newest dominant monster, Braun Strowman, was all over Raw on Monday. After last week, it’s not hard to see why. His big attack on Roman Reigns was one of the best angles they’ve done in a long time. For certain Reigns fans it was downright horrifying. But for some of us it seemed downright cathartic. WWE seems to know that, and are actually playing into it. They seem to be using the fans’ hatred of Reigns, the so-called babyface, to get them to cheer Strowman, the supposed heel. By traditional wrestling logic, it’s about as backwards as you can get. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t fun to watch Strowman beat on people.

In the broad sense, there isn’t much about Strowman that makes him villainous. He’s a big, tough bastard who wants to fight everyone. In the context of a wrestling show that’s a pretty admirable quality. Yes, he absolutely destroyed Roman Reigns. But think about the stuff we used to see Steve Austin do to Vince McMahon and a lot of the other heels. One of the more famous moments in Raw history involves Austin abducting McMahon and holding him hostage with what we think is a gun (later revealed to be a toy). He only let him go after McMahon wet his pants in the middle of the ring.

It’s amazing what you can get away with doing to someone the fans hate. We’re being reminded of that with now with Strowman.

Ponderings From Raw:

After Kurt Angle tells Strowman he has a match with Roman Reigns at Payback, Strowman attacks numerous wrestlers in the locker room. The best of these backstage segments involved Strowman beating up Kalisto and then dropping him a dumpster. This poor guy has become WWE’s resident whipping boy. On Smackdown it was basically his job to get beat up by Dolph Ziggler. Now in his first week on Raw, he’s getting thrown in the trash by Strowman. He desperately needs to hide on 205 Live for awhile.

Booker T steps in for David Otunga at the announce table. Otunga’s start on Raw has been delayed, as he’s off shooting a movie. Can’t we just make Booker the full-time announcer? He’s got more personality than Otunga ever will, and he’s got decades of experience to draw from. He’s already doing the pre-shows, isn’t he? Why not just shift him on to the main broadcast?

Samoa Joe vs. Chris Jericho via submission. Rollins was on commentary for this match. So often, the babyfaces are so vanilla when they sit at the announce desk. I usually find myself wishing they’d be a little more charismatic, and make us actually like hearing them. Instead, this felt like the usual fluff. Nice post-match promo by Joe, though.

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson def. Enzo and Cass. No interest in this one from me. We’ve seen these teams wrestle a thousand times. I zipped right through it.

Dean Ambrose appears on Miz TV. It feels like we’re beating a dead horse here. Miz and Ambrose just feuded on Smackdown a few months ago. They did fine, but it’s not like we’re dying to see them go again.

They made a point to have Miz call Ambrose lazy and complacent in this segment. This is at least the second time they’ve done that since Steve Austin called him out last year for allegedly resting on his laurels. Why go there again? Can’t they come up with anything better for Miz to say? Hell, I’d have brought up his marriage to Renee Young before I went this route. They talked about it on their web site. Why not here?

TJ Perkins def. Jack Gallagher. Now that he’s a heel, Perkins needs a new entrance. That video game stuff is strictly babyface material. He seems to be having fun being a bad guy, though. It’s funny how much heat he got just from dabbing.

Alexa Bliss def. Sasha Banks, Mickie James, and Nia Jax to become the top contender for the Raw Women’s Title at Payback. Sasha did another one of her dives through the ropes during this match. I always hold my breath when she does that. It looked like she caught her leg on the rope, and went back-first into Mickie and Nia.

Saw a decent amount of buzz about Sasha vs. Alexa during this match. Not sure what would be so awesome about that program in particular. But I’m down for it.

Last week, Nia Jax caught heat online for dropping Charlotte Flair on her head during their match. Thus, she’s going to be scrutinized even more. To an extent it’s unfair to her, as she was thrust into the spotlight despite her inexperience. What’s she supposed to do? Turn down a prominent spot on Raw? But on the other hand, she’s in a spot that so many more seasoned wrestlers would kill for. So she’s got to take her lumps when she makes a mistake like that.

Finn Balor accepts an open challenge from Curt Hawkins, wins a quick match. Happy to see Balor in the ring this week. Rumors said he was concussed during his match with Jinder Mahal last week. Apparently he was healthy enough to do a short match this week, which is good news. The last thing he needed was another serious injury.

Dash Wilder sustains a broken jaw at NXT live event, will be out of action until summer. Terrible break for the Revival. Between Wilder, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, and Kofi Kingston’s ankle surgery, the injury bug is definitely going around.

A promo package airs featuring Bray Wyatt talking about the House of Horrors Match at Payback. This was the best parts of the entire show. Great horror imagery, combined with a promo without much of Bray’s trademark laughter. That’s a winning formula. Now if only they’d tell us what a House of  Horrors Match is.

Incidentally, Michael Cole called Payback a “Raw exclusive pay per view.” But it’s got matches for the WWE Title and the United States Title, both of which are on Smackdown. It’s an odd line-up, isn’t it?

Jeff Hardy def. Cesaro. Definitely the wrestling highlight of the show. Any time they put Cesaro in a prominent TV match, he delivers. Now if only Vince McMahon saw the same kind of star power in him that we all do.

Prior to the match, the Hardys did a backstage interview where Matt slipped a bit of his “Broken” accent in there. He’s clearly chomping at the bit to do that character on WWE TV. I can’t say I blame him.

Braun Strowman and the Big Show go to a No-Contest after they break the ring with a Superplex. Cole, Booker, and Corey Graves didn’t sell the ring break nearly enough. I understand we’ve seen this spot with Big Show before. But c’mon, guys! The damn ring imploded!

I continue to have mixed feelings about Braun Strowman leaving his feet during matches. In this match we saw him do dropkicks, kip-ups, and even Arm Drags. But if he’s going to do it, better he do it in a match with another giant. It obviously sets him apart quite a bit.

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#FireJBL? Plus, Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m going to tread lightly as I discuss the alleged situation between JBL and Mauro Ranallo. We’ve heard so little about this matter from either of them that it’s almost entirely rumor and speculation. But where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.

For the unaware, Mauro Ranallo has been off Smackdown for several weeks. He’s reportedly been battling symptoms of bipolar disorder, which he’s been very open about in the past. The belief is that this episode came about due to bullying by his broadcast partner John Layfield, a.k.a. JBL. What they’ve said to each other in private is anyone’s guess. But on a recent edition of Bring it to the Table on the WWE Network, Layfield chastised Ranallo for tweeting about wining the Wrestling Observer Newsletter‘s Announcer of the Year Award two years in a row. Ranallo would later cryptically tweet, “Jealousy is a hell of a drug.”

Then Ranallo missed that first Smackdown a few weeks ago, allegedly due to bad weather. Layfield would tweet: “I made the show, everyone made the show, everyone. Maybe he shouldn’t have bashed me if he wasn’t going to show up.” He’d later delete the tweet. But Ranallo hasn’t been seen on WWE TV since, and he may not be back. While WWE released a statement confirming Ranallo is under contract until August of this year, he’s since removed mentions of WWE from his social media profiles. Ironically, this story would later be extensively reported on in the Observer. 

Adding to the noise is former WWE ring announcer Justin Roberts, whose book came out this week. He writes about JBL bullying people backstage, and possibly stealing his passport. Such stories are nothing new. Numerous wrestlers have talked about Layfield’s backstage antics over the years. The Miz even mentioned such things in a promo on Raw several years ago. And hell, we all saw him beat the Blue Meanie to a pulp on live television at ECW One Night Stand in 2005.

The online backlash against Layfield has been extensive. There’s been talk about the culture backstage in WWE, and the inherent hypocrisy of the company’s association with the Be A S.T.A.R. campaign. The operative hashtag has been #FireJBL.

But firing JBL doesn’t fix the problem, does it?

Clearly this sort of behavior is an issue with this guy, and it’s all happened under the WWE umbrella. Ergo, WWE is culpable. So if what we’re hearing about this Mauro Ranallo situation is true, WWE needs to send JBL to sensitivity training of some kind. If he opts not to go, then he should be fired.

The ironic thing about all of this is that JBL’s apparent bullying tendencies are part of what made him such a great villain on screen. Frankly, this is the kind of heat WWE should be going for with their storylines. But let’s leave that to the world of fiction. In real life, bullies need to be put in their place.

Ponderings From Raw:

The Miz and Maryse arrive on Raw, along with Dean Ambrose. I’ll give ’em credit. I didn’t expect this. Ambrose coming to Raw is significant in that it puts him on the same show with Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins, potentially reuniting the Shield. But for now, it gives Raw one of the company’s top good guys. Though granted, would a real top good guy be relegated to the Wrestlemania pre-show?

I don’t think this is a good move for Miz and Maryse. On Smackdown, Miz was starting to sniff WWE Title contention again. But he’s in a larger pond now. What would you say the odds are of him winning the Universal Title now that Brock Lesnar is champion?

With all this talk about engagement rings, did anyone else notice the ring on Ambrose’s left hand? He was wearing it when he wrestled, too.

The Revival def. The New Day. Seeing this victory gives me the impression that not only are the New Day going to Raw, but Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson are likely headed to Smackdown. The Revival and the Club have a similar vibe. You don’t need both teams on the same show.

The Big Show punches out new Raw arrival Curt Hawkins. I didn’t like this format at all. The drafts from Smackdown just come out? Where’s the drama? Where’s the anticipation? Big missed opportunity.

Neville tears down TJ Perkins backstage. Later, after a distraction from Neville, Perkins pins Austin Aries. Perkins attacks Aries after the match. Thank God. Perkins is extremely talented, but few wrestlers have needed a heel turn as much as him in recent months. This will be great for him,

Kurt Angle tells Seth Rollins he’s staying on Raw, despite what happened to Commissioner Stephanie McMahon at WrestlemaniaSamoa Joe attacks Rollins. How bad did you want to see Angle suplex Joe off of Rollins?

Great to see the crowd chanting for Seth here, as opposed to CM Punk. I guess that’s what getting Steph put through a table will do for you.

Nia Jax def. Charlotte Flair. Charlotte was seemingly positioned as the underdog babyface here. As was the case with the New Day, this loss seemingly confirms she’s on her way to Smackdown.

This was a big win for Nia. But at the same time, it didn’t necessarily do her any good to be in the ring with someone as good as Charlotte. The difference in their skill set became very apparent.

Finn Balor def. Jinder Mahal. Bray Wyatt announces he’s coming to RawThis will be a good move for Bray, if for no other reason than it’ll get him away from Randy Orton. Now the question is, will Balor end up jumping to Smackdown? If he stays where he is, these two would seemingly compliment each other well.

Apollo Crews, Kalisto, Heath Slater, Rhyno, and David Otunga coming to Raw. Byron Saxton moving to SmackdownI guess these guys all fall into the miscellaneous column. Most notable here is the drafting of Kalisto, who will obviously be a great get for the Cruiserweight Division.

Not a fan of the announcer switch at all. That news actually broke after Raw. People have been pretty tough on Saxton. But I very much prefer him to Otunga, who adds absolutely nothing to Smackdown. This seems like it was done just for the sake of moving people.

Sami Zayn def. The Miz. Nice win for Sami. They’ve been teasing him going to Smackdown for months. I expect this will be his last time on Raw for quite awhile.

Now that Miz and Daniel Bryan aren’t on the same show anymore, should Miz still be using his kicks? That doesn’t really make sense.

Braun Strowman destroys Roman Reigns backstage, tipping over an ambulance with his bare hands in the process. This was a great angle. It may as well have turned Strowman babyface. How do they expect him to hear anything but cheers now? He decimated the man who retired the Undertaker. Very well done, and an excellent way to re-emphasis Strowman.

“The Drifter” Elias Samson appears on stage during an eight-man tag. I’m not at all familiar with Samson’s work in NXT, though the buzz I’ve heard about the character hasn’t been stellar. Curious to see what he’s about.

Alexa Bliss and Mickie James arrive from Smackdown. Nia Jax lays out the babyfaces. Well, here we go. Your new layout for the Raw Women’s Division. Looks like we’ve got an alliance between Alexa and Nia Jax. I can dig that. It’s a much better role for Nia.

Our long form story here continues to be about Bayley and Sasha. It’s looking like they may go the babyface route with Sasha before she eventually turns. Again, I can dig that.

Dean Ambrose def. Kevin Owens. Chris Jericho hits Owens with a Codebreaker after the match. Historically speaking, when they move a champion from one show to the other, the counterpart championship also has to move. This would seemingly indicate that Kevin Owens is on his way to Smackdown. That’s a surprise, if for no other reason than Sami Zayn seems to be on his way over there. One of the biggest upsides to moving Zayn to Smackdown was to get him away from Owens. Now it looks like they may be drafted together yet again. That’s lame.

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Undertaker’s Last Ride, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then he said the name, “Undertaker.”

“Oh, I know him!”

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

And he still is.

Ponderings From Raw:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mauro Ranallo: M.I.A. Plus, Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

You wouldn’t know it by watching WWE TV lately, but Finn Balor is back in action. He made his official in-ring return at a house show on March 10.

There’s been speculation about Balor being back for Wrestlemania since he was forced to relinquish the Universal Title back in August. Now, less than two weeks out, it appears that’s not the case.

It’s bittersweet, but for the best as far as I’m concerned. Wrestlemania is always so damn crowded. If you count the yet-to-be-made-official Triple H vs. Seth Rollins, the card already has 13 matches. And there’s always the potential for more. Guys like Samoa Joe and Sami Zayn are already lost in the shuffle. There’s no need to throw Balor in there, only for him to have nothing of consequence to contribute.

Balor seems almost a certainty for the night after Wrestlemania. The slate will be relatively clean, and his return will get the emphasis it deserves. I’m sure they’ll want to bring him back as a babyface. But if they decide to go the heel route, Balor vs. Rollins would be pretty natural. There’s been all this talk about Rollins missing Wrestlemania. But from a story perspective, he cost Balor his very first Wrestlemania. Something to think about…

Ponderings From Smackdown:

AJ Styles accepts Shane McMahon’s challenge, promises to face him in the parking lot later in the show. “Without AJ Styles, Smackdown Live plummets.” He’s not entirely right, but he’s not entirely wrong either. Something to keep in mind with all this buzz about Styles possibly going to Raw after Wrestlemania.

Mauro Ranallo absent from Smackdown for the second week in a row. Something’s not right here. A one-week absence? Sure. But two is suspicious. Tom Phillips said Ranallo was “out sick.” I don’t buy it. Your lead play-by-play guy doesn’t just vanish two weeks before the biggest show of the year. Either WWE has made a change, or something’s up with Mauro. Here’s hoping everything’s alright.

The Usos def. American Alpha to win the WWE Smackdown Tag Team Titles. Wasn’t expecting this. But no complaints on my end. The Usos have found a lot of new life since turning heel. They deserve this.

Familiar format here, with Gable selling, Jordan getting the hot tag, and then going into false finishes. But again, no complaints. Really good match. Tons of explosiveness. These guys supplied the hell out of each other.

Randy Orton def. Baron Corbin. Dean Ambrose distracts Corbin during the match, accepts challenge for WrestlemaniaThese two weren’t bad together. They’ve got similar attitudes. There could easily be a program here someday. Thankful Corbin didn’t get beat clean, as he did by Cena several weeks ago. There was no need for that then, and there was no need for it here.

That little salute Orton gave to Ambrose before pinning Corbin was a nice touch.

Bray Wyatt, along with several henchmen in sheep masks, ambush Randy Orton backstage. Wyatt thanks Orton for “purging” him of his one flaw. The sheep mask thing is usually going to work, because it’s spooky and weird. Bray’s laughing was back this week, though. A bit more appropriate this time, but I still wish he’d have more of a deadly serious attitude about Orton. The guy did burn down his house, after all.

John Cena def. Fandango. Tyler Breeze is at ringside dressed as Nikki Bella. Xena and Nikki make quick work of Breezango. We saw Cena and Fandango together on Southpaw Regional Wrestling, the WWE Network’s parody of an old school southern wrestling show. Surprisingly funny stuff. Definitely worth a look.

Tyler Breeze had to sell a spear and a Rack Attack from Nikki here. As if the guy’s career on the main roster wasn’t dead enough already.

Becky Lynch vs. Carmella breaks down into a no-contest. Natalya, Mickie James, and Alexa Bliss brawl in the ring. Remember all that talk about WWE bringing back former female for Wrestlemania? I’m inclined to think this may have been the match they had in mind. It could still be in the cards, considering we still don’t even know what kind of match these ladies are having.

Eric Bischoff to induct Diamond Dallas Page into the WWE Hall of Fame, Jim Cornette to induct the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express. These should both be really interesting. Bischoff hasn’t been in front of a WWE crowd in quite some time. I imagine he’ll hear no fewer boos than he did years ago. As for Cornette, I doubt he’ll cause much trouble. I doubt he wants to, considering this is for Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson. But type his name into YouTube, and you’ll realize how crazy it is that he’s on WWE TV again.

The Miz and Maryse spoof Total BellasShockingly, these weren’t as bad as I thought they’d be. Though admittedly, I may be biased. I can’t stand to hear the Bellas talk. They come off way too much like Kardashian clones. It seemed like they were plucking lines straight from smark message boards here.

Shane McMahon calls out AJ Styles. A fight erupts, culminating in Shane hitting a top-rope elbow drop through the announce table. That duplex Styles gave Shane into the guard rail was sick. Hell of an appetizer, here. Is this the Wrestlemania match we never knew we wanted?

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WWE Royal Rumble 2017 Predictions, Plus Ponderings From Raw

seth-rollins-wwe-raw-january-23-2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

As Raw has been…less than thrilling lately, I’ve opted to emphasize on Royal Rumble predictions this week, and scale back on Raw coverage. Looking at the results, I didn’t miss much anyway.

Our most notable news item is that Seth Rollins is no longer in the Royal Rumble Match, having lost it to Sami Zayn. Triple H’s music played, and he got beat off the distraction. I assume he’ll find his way back into the Rumble somehow, most likely by beating somebody up and taking their spot. Other than some small updates to the Royal Rumble card, that’s about it.

It looks like they’re doing an extra-long pre-show, with Raw putting in two matches. I imagine Smackdown will put in at least one. For my purposes, I’m sticking to the stuff that’s been announced for the main show.

So let’s dive in!

Rich Swann vs. Neville, WWE Royal Rumble 2017WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Rich Swann (c) vs. Neville

On paper, this is the strongest pay per view match we’ve seen from the Cruiserweights, as it features the two strongest personalities in the division. Neville’s heel turn has been a very pleasant surprise. So pleasant in fact, that I think he needs to take the belt here. Outside of Neville, the Cruiserweight Division doesn’t have any really strong heels. So if you make him the centerpiece to the division, you can put him with the various babyfaces like Swann, Cedric Alexander, TJ Perkins, and Jack Gallagher. All the while, they can keep building their other heels. To me, it makes all the sense in the world.

PREDICTION: Neville

WWE Royal Rumble 2017, Charlotte Flair, BayleyWWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Charlotte Flair (c) vs. Bayley

As much as I liked the Raw segment with all of Bayley’s poems, this program is sort of…meh. When Bayley wins her first championship on the main roster, it needs to be a big moment. We’re not primed for a big moment yet. So Charlotte needs to win here.

If they want to keep this going until Wrestlemania, which they very well could, I want to hear more about the differences between these two. The genetically superior athlete vs the die-hard fan from San Jose. I liked Charlotte’s line last week about when Bayley was being a fangirl, she was winning state volleyball championships, or something like that. More of that, please. As Bayley has already pinned Charlotte a few times, we can’t make this that much of an underdog story. But we can make it a good childhood dream story. I’d certainly rather see this match in Orlando than a multi-woman match of some sort.

PREDICTION: Charlotte Flair

Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns, WWE Royal Rumble 2017NO DISQUALIFICATION MATCH FOR WWE UNIVERSAL TITLE:
Kevin Owens (c) vs. Roman Reigns
Chris Jericho will be above the ring in a shark cage.

People got pretty excited when Owens won the Universal Title in August. Rightfully so, as he’s a hell of a talent. But the five months Owens has spent with the title haven’t exactly represented a creative high for Raw. The opposite, actually.

It’s not his fault, of course. He’s made the best of his situation, turning his partnership with Chris Jericho into a highlight of Raw each week. But his programs with Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns have been tepid at best, because neither of them are particularly hot as babyfaces. Reigns is loathed by much of the audience, and Rollins was awkwardly turned face after Finn Balor went down with his injury. That damn injury threw a serious monkey wrench into Raw‘s main event scene.

I say we give the belt to Reigns. Like him or not, he’s the man in that company right now. So he may as well have it, especially as we get closer to Wrestlemania. Taking the spotlight off Owens will give him something fresh to do creatively, and it’ll likely give us our long awaited Owens/Jericho feud. Despite losing the belt, this is a good move for Owens.

PREDICTION: Roman Reigns

AJ Styles vs. John Cena, WWE Royal Rumble 2017WWE HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
AJ Styles (c) vs. John Cena

This one can go either way, as you’ve got the Elimination Chamber Match next month. If they want to put the belt on Cena, they can do it here or they can wait a month.

I think they’ll probably give it to him here, so he can avenge his loss to Styles at Summerslam. As is the case with Reigns, a lot of people aren’t going to like that. Especially because this win allows Cena to tie Ric Flair’s record of 16 Heavyweight Titles. But let’s be honest: We know he’s going to do it eventually. At least this way he’ll get a hell of a match out of it. And it will be a hell of a match, folks.

Allegedly, the John Cena vs. Undertaker match is now off the books for Wrestlemania. So the direction for both these men heading into that show is largely unknown. But I can’t bring myself to complain much about that. The element of surprise is something the wrestling industry misses badly. All I can say is, they’d better have something good cooked up for these two.

PREDICTION: John Cena

Royal Rumble Match 20172017 ROYAL RUMBLE MATCH:

This match is always best when you don’t have an obvious winner. Not only do we not have one this year, but this is the most stacked Rumble Match we’ve had in quite some time. The Undertaker, Goldberg, and Brock Lesnar by themselves make this a hell of an attraction. Throw in the full-timers like Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Bray Wyatt, and Randy Orton, and this could be really good.

Want some statistics? As of this writing, the 2017 Royal Rumble Match features four previous Rumble winners. We also have 10 former Heavyweight Champions. Those 10 men have held a combined 45 Heavyweight Championships in WWE and WCW.

So who’s probably not winning? Goldberg and Lesnar jump out immediately, as they’re working each other at Wrestlemania. Chris Jericho is in that same category, as he’ll likely work with Kevin Owens. Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton are likely out of the running as well, as they’re almost certainly working together. Granted, you can put a title in any of those programs. But you don’t need to.

They could easily give this to the Undertaker. But again, does Undertaker need a Royal Rumble win? Not really. He’s the Undertaker. He’s one of the few who could credibly and believably get a title shot simply because of who he is. Though they could go for a feel-good moment anyway.

So who does that leave? Baron Corbin is a dark horse candidate, but I don’t think he’s ready. Ambrose? Probably not. Miz? No. Finn Balor’s name is out there. But I’m not ready to get my hopes up for him. Ditto for Samoa Joe. So who does that leave?

Braun Strowmann, WWE RawHere’s an answer that may divide the fanbase: Braun Strowman.

WWE likes Braun Strowman. They always have. I can see why. He’s big,  he’s credible, and he’s got a very distinct look. He’s like giant monster with a face like a small child. He’s a monster-baby. More importantly, they’ve done a great job with him since the brand split. He’s been destroying everyone. He has yet to be pinned. It took a combined spear from Roman Reigns and Bill Goldberg to take him down.

The downside? He’s green. He made his wrestling debut in late 2014. While he’s been improving as of late, he’s still very much in the learning phase of his career.

But there was once another man who came in with relatively little experience, destroyed everyone, and shot to the top. That man’s name is Bill Goldberg, and he became a bonafide superstar.

Look at the three biggest stars in this match: Goldberg, Lesnar, and Undertaker. They’re all part-timers who will never again be on TV regularly. Strowman, on the other hand, is one of the only full-time Raw guys that isn’t in that tepid category. If they get behind him and protect him, he can really be somebody.

If I knew for sure Finn Balor was going to be in this match, I’d go with him. But without confirmation, I’ve got to go with Strowman. He’s an investment their future. And keep in mind, just because they go with him here, doesn’t mean he has to win the title. There are ways they can get around that…

PREDICTION: Braun Strowman

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WWE’s Most Fascinating People of 2016: AJ Styles, Charlotte, and More!

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Is Barbara Walters still doing her most fascinating people of the year list? I haven’t heard anything about it this year…

In any event, our list of WWE’s Most Fascinating People continues! While the current product may be marred by scripted promos, pro wrestling never has a shortage of interesting characters. For my money, these were the 10 most interesting of 2016.

Honorable mentions go to Goldberg, Dean Ambrose, and Shinsuke Nakamura.

AJ Styles, WWE Champion1. AJ Styles   

AJ Styles is the WWE Champion.

I’d like to say that again. Because even now, the novelty hasn’t worn off: AJ Styles is the WWE Champion. Imagine saying that a year ago at this time, before Styles made his debut in the Royal Rumble Match. We were asking ourselves questions about whether the former TNA mainstay would even be able to sniff the main event picture, let alone be WWE Champion. But to their credit, WWE conveyed Styles as a big deal from day one. He moved right into a program with Chris Jericho, which culminated in a Wrestlemania match. From there, he challenged Roman Reigns for the WWE Championship in two consecutive pay per view main events, stealing the show each time. And then? He went against the man himself, John Cena. Styles shocked the world by beating Cena in yet another show-stealer at Summerslam, At that point, it was practically inevitable. Styles took the belt off Dean Ambrose at Backlash in September, and has been the face of Smackdown ever since.

The 39-year-old Styles has been wrestling for almost 20 years, and has four kids at home. So it’s tough to hazard a guess as to how long he’ll remain on the active roster. But we can at least take comfort in the fact that against the odds, he made himself into a bonafide WWE superstar in 2016.

Shane McMahon, WWE Raw, March 7, 20162. Shane McMahon

When Shane made his surprise return to Raw in February, the way the crowd reacted you’d think Hulk Hogan or Steve Austin had walked out there. In an era where genuine human emotion can sometimes be hard to find on WWE programming, this was a hell of a moment for fans who’ve stuck with the show for a long time. Shane had been gone for nearly seven years. As silly as it seems now, we weren’t sure if/when we’d ever see him again. But here he was. And by the end of the segment he was in a Wrestlemania match with the Undertaker, inside Hell in a Cell.

The story they concocted for Shane’s return was initially very compelling, but eventually fell apart. He came in saying what a lot of people thought was reality-based stuff about wanting to take his rightful place in the company. Vince McMahon essentially used the Undertaker as a hired gun to take Shane out, with the caveat that if Shane could beat him, he’d be put in charge of Raw. But Undertaker’s role in the story was severely underdeveloped. And while he lost the match, Shane was essentially put in charge of Raw anyway. Also, while Shane took one of his trademark crazy bumps, the match was mostly underwhelming.

Shane currently serves as the Commissioner of Smackdown. Despite the rocky way he came back, he has something going for him that very few WWE personalities do. When he walks out there, it’s instant intrigue. There’s a constant question about how blurred the lines are between reality and fantasy. Plus, as we saw at Survivor Series, he’s still not afraid to take big risks for the fans. He earned the massive pops he gets out there.

Sasha Banks, WWE Women's Champion3. Sasha Banks

It’s been an up and down year for Sasha. Her match with Charlotte and Becky Lynch stole the show at Wrestlemania. Then she flat out disappeared from television for several weeks. When she finally returned, she was put with Charlotte for most of the remainder of the year. She’d win her first Women’s Championship on the main roster in July, and would hot potato it with Charlotte multiple times.

While I’ve come to find her babyface promos very white-meat and and annoying, her passion for what she does in the ring can’t be denied. It may have gone on a little too long, but she and Charlotte made history together. After main eventing Raw together, at Hell in a Cell they were the first two women in WWE history to headline a pay per view. They’ve brought women’s wrestling to perhaps an unprecedented level of prominence and importance. In many ways, 2016 saw Sasha Banks become the game-changing performer many of us knew she was destined to be. Hopefully she’s just getting started.

Samoa Joe, NXT Champion4. Samoa Joe

Joe is another TNA mainstay that should have been in WWE a long time ago. He was making waves in Ring of Honor alongside the likes of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan as far back as the early 2000s. He would then elevate his game with guys like AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, and Kurt Angle in TNA. But WWE had always eluded him until last year, when he finally broke into NXT.

As a monster heel, Joe ascended to the top of NXT this year, winning the NXT Championship from Finn Balor in April. From there, he and Shinsuke Nakamura would trade the belt back and forth at Takeover: Brooklyn and Takeover: Toronto. Earlier this month, he dropped the belt back to Nakamura in Osaka, Japan. Rumors are now buzzing about a potential debut in the Royal Rumble Match, similar to what AJ Styles did last year.

In today’s WWE, wrestlers that come off legitimately angry and tough are a surprising anomaly. Brock Lesnar is one. I’d argue Braun Strowman is another. You can make a case for Rusev, too. But one man who’s definitely in that category is Joe. He can come to the main roster and be an easy sell as a threat to a top babyface or champion. It’s just a matter of figuring out where to put him.

In the end, his long road to the WWE roster may have been a blessing in disguise. Had he come in during a previous era, he might not have been allowed to be himself. Pissed off bad ass Samoa Joe is the guy we want. Thankfully, he’s the guy we got.

James Ellsworth5. James Ellsworth

The July 25 edition of Raw was probably the best of the year for a variety of reasons. It was Finn Balor’s first night on the main roster, and he immediately became the top contender for the Universal Title. Sasha Banks won her first Women’s Title. We also saw the debut of WWE’s most unlikely signee in over a decade: James Ellsworth. Granted, he wasn’t signed at the time. He was there to be squashed by Braun Strowman. But fans were captivated by his odd look, and the seemingly impossible odds he faced against Strowman. In a quick pre-match interview spot, Ellsworth put the icing on the cake by saying: “Any man with two hands has a fighting chance.”

That little squash match was all it took. Fast forward to today, and Ellsworth is now Smackdown‘s resident underdog. While you can probably count the number of offensive moves Ellsworth has hit on less than two hands, through the magic of storytelling he’s now due a shot at AJ Styles and the WWE Championship. Some say his act is getting old. But there’s just something about him that’s undeniably captivating. Ellsworth is a real life Cinderella story, and WWE was smart enough to capitalize on that.

Braun Strowmann, WWE Raw6. Braun Strowman

When Strowman had that squash match with Ellsworth on July 25, I wrote: “Braun Strowman is on his own now, which I’m afraid means we have to endure yet another generic giant. I actually would have preferred another attempt to make Erick Rowan a single.”

It wasn’t an unfounded fear, given what WWE has done with certain big men in the past. But they’ve protected Strowman in ways they didn’t protect others. As such, he’s now a commodity despite his relative inexperience. In the past few weeks, his story with Sami Zayn and Mick Foley has been one of the more interesting parts of the show. His presentation is simple, but so effective.

It’s very much in WWE’s interest to continue protecting Strowman in 2017. I never thought I’d say it, but if what we’re seeing from him continues, he’s got main event potential.

Finn Balor, WWE Raw, August 8, 20167. Finn Balor

This was supposed to be Finn Balor’s year. One night in, he pinned Roman Reigns clean in the main event. That really can’t be understated. Roman was, and still is, pegged to be WWE’s new poster boy. So for this new guy to beat him and earn a Universal Title Match at Summerslam was an amazing surprise. And of course, he beat Seth Rollins to win the title. Combine that momentum with Balor’s unique presentation and in-ring style, and it looked like we had Raw‘s new top star on our hands.

Clearly fate had other ideas. In a case of absolute disastrous timing, Balor suffered a torn labrum in the Summerslam match. One night after becoming the inaugural WWE Universal Champion, he was forced to hand the belt back.

Balor was on the main roster for just under a month. But Raw dearly misses him. Since September, the Universal Title picture has been monopolized by Rollins, Reigns, and the man who stepped up in his absence, Kevin Owens. Balor was a fresh face to signify  a new era. And if there’s one thing the Raw main event scene is hurting for, it’s fresh faces.

The good news is that Balor should be back around Wrestlemania. As he obviously never lost the belt, he should be in line for a title shot.

Chris Jericho, WWE Raw, October 24, 20168. Chris Jericho

Chris Jericho got a clipboard over in 2016. If that’s not a testament to his talents, I don’t know what is.

Jericho spent most of 2016 helping to get newer talent over. He was a vital component in AJ Styles getting over as well as he did, and got a match with him at Wrestlemania. He would then move on to Dean Ambrose, which would culminate in the first (and hopefully last) Asylum Match. But Jericho’s best stuff this year was his character work with Kevin Owens. Their tumultuous “best friends” partnership has been the most consistently entertaining thing about Raw these past few months. The “List of Jericho” running gag is more popular than most of the active wrestlers. WWE obviously recognizes their chemistry, as they’ve held off on putting Owens and Jericho against each other in a Universal Title program. They could easily have pulled the trigger at Survivor SeriesRoadblock, or the Royal Rumble. At this point, Wrestlemania seems like the earliest we’ll see them go at it. But even that isn’t a guarantee. And frankly, that’s okay. Roughly 17 years after his WWE debut, Chris Jericho is a vital part of WWE’s flagship show. So few are on his level both in the ring and on the mic. Perhaps he truly is the best in the world at what he does…

The Miz, Maryse9. The Miz

Maryse turned out to be the missing ingredient to Miz’s Hollywood A-lister persona. He always had that smarmy confidence about him. But having this gorgeous French supermodel next to him almost validates that confidence. Maybe he really is as great as he says he is. And the fact that she’s actually his wife adds a great layer of realism.

This newly completed package did wonders for the Intercontinental Championship in 2016. He became a beatable champion that somehow no one could beat. He and Dolph Ziggler had one of WWE’s most compelling feuds this year. Miz constantly found underhanded ways to win despite Ziggler’s tireless efforts. It seemingly culminated in Ziggler dropping his status as a lovable loser, taking the title from Miz at No Mercy. But Miz would take it back from him a few weeks later. The apex of his douchebaggery came just last week, when he publicly “outed” Renee Young’s relationship with Dean Ambrose.

A year ago, the idea of him ever regaining the WWE Championship seemed unlikely at best. But now? Not so much. At this rate, Miz could very well stand at the top of the mountain again in 2017.

WWE Raw, July 4, 2016, Charlotte10. Charlotte Flair

When 2016 began, we’d heard a lot of talk about a “Divas Revolution,” and how women’s wrestling was changing in WWE. Surprisingly, they were able to make good on those bold claims. Why? Because of Charlotte.

That’s not to say it couldn’t have happened without her. Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Bayley, Alexa Bliss, and numerous other talented ladies are on the WWE roster right now. But Charlotte has been the centerpiece to it all. She was the first to strike gold, winning the then-Divas Championship in September. She was victorious when the women stole the show at Wrestlemania for the first time. She and Sasha Banks were the first women of this era to main event Raw, and the first women of any era to main event a pay per view. All the while, she’s been arguably the best heel in the entire company.

Keep in mind, she accomplished all of that in about a year and a half. The smart bet is she’s just getting started. So what will she have

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Finn Balor and the Cursed Title, Plus Ponderings From WWE Summerslam Week

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Between NXT Takeover: Brooklyn IISummerslamRaw, and Smackdown, we’ve got a lot to cover. There’s too much to go match by match. But lets tackle some of the big stuff. We might jump around a bit in the process, so bear with me…

WWE Raw, August 22, 2016Finn Balor wins WWE Universal Championship at Summerslam, relinquishes title the following night due to injury. Damn. I mean, just…damn.

One night after becoming the first ever WWE Universal Champion, Finn Balor has to vacate the title due to injury. An injury suffered by Seth Rollins powerbombing him into the ringside barricade, much like the career-ending bucklebomb he gave to Sting almost a year ago.

This hurts. For a lot of reasons. Finn Balor relinquishes the Universal title less than 24 hours after he won it. It’s a title that, after being unveiled, received a collective groan and chants of “That belt sucks!” Mind you, they were already being mocked for the Universal Title name.

All this for a belt that waters things down by bringing us back to an era where there are two heavyweight champions.

Good lord…the belt is cursed! What other explanation could there be??

In all seriousness, I’m sorry Finn. Come back healthy. Be the star that we all know you are.

WWE Universal Title unveilingUniversal Title design booed by many in attendance at Summerslam. Chants of “That belt sucks!” are heard. Frankly, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Yes, it looks a little like an accessory for Eva Marie. But we just came out of an era that gave us the spinner belt and the butterfly belt. If you’d swapped either of those out with the Universal Title, I’d have jumped for joy.

Rollins also took to Twitter to gripe about how the Brooklyn crowd “really let me down” with the chants. His frustration is understandable. But those fans paid money to sit in those seats and cheer/boo/chant whatever they want. Look on the bright side. At least nobody jumped the barricade like an idiot…

Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Kevin Owens, and Big Cass advance to a fatal fourway match on next week’s Raw to crown a new Universal Champion. Without Balor, Raw will likely now revert back to Roman Reigns being the top babyface. So much for the “new era,” I guess.

Big Cass is an interesting addition to this match. It’s fairly obvious they’re eyeing him as a singles star down the road. But with due respect, he’s not even close to ready. As good as he and Enzo are together, Cass doesn’t exactly look good when you compare them. Yes, he’s a big boy. But as we’ve seen countless times, one can’t make a career on size alone.

AJ Styles, John Cena, WWE Summerslam 2016AJ Styles def. John Cena in a show-stealer at Summerslam, earns title shot against Dean Ambrose at Backlash next month. Truly, this was AJ’s week. You can make the argument that the match with Cena wasn’t much of a creative effort, as they spent much of it kicking out of finishes. But the crowd reaction spoke for itself. They lit that place on fire. And to WWE’s credit, they made the right move putting Styles over. I’m not sure what’s going on with Cena’s reduced schedule. Either way, AJ’s star has never burned brighter.

Putting Styles with Ambrose next month was really the only choice. Who else could they have gone with? Ziggler again? Not after his clean loss to Ambrose. I’m really hoping this is the start of a heel turn for him. Otherwise, his last chance to be taken seriously as a main venter has been dashed.

Charlotte def. Sasha Banks for the WWE Women’s Title. Banks to take a brief respite from the ring. There were a couple of really scary moments in this match. Sasha took that nasty fall on the ropes, and then you had that really risky crucifix powerbomb spot. It’s no wonder Sasha’s got back problems. The title change was a shock. But if Sasha needs to heal up, it’s obviously the right move.

WWE Raw, August 22, 2016, BayleyBayley makes her main roster debut on Raw after losing to Asuka at TakeoverPeople have been waiting for this for a long time. Truly, Bayley has the potential to be a one of the biggest stars in all of WWE. Bigger than most, if not all of the men. Bayley’s connection with her fans is truly special. It’s just a question of how they use her.

Shinsuke Nakamura def. Samoa Joe for NXT Championship. I don’t for a second doubt Nakamura’s talent or his star power. But I’m concerned that his English will be an obstacle once he makes it to the main roster. NXT is Triple H’s sandbox. But WWE at large is Vince McMahon’s. This is a huge week for him. But he’s got a great many trials ahead of him.

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