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Bobby Heenan RIP, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This week, the wrestling world mourns the passing of one of its greatest and most hilarious performers. Raymond Heenan, a.k.a. Bobby “The Brain” Heenan passed away Sunday at the age of 72.

I became a wrestling fan, specifically a WWF fan, in 1996. By that time Heenan was already an announcer for WCW. But my brother and I would always rent VHS tapes of the old pay per views. That was my first exposure to Heenan, both as a manager and an announcer. As the internet age began, I became more and more familiar with his range as a performer and the scope of his career. As virtually anyone who has watched his work from that era will tell you, his verbal skills, his wit, and his comedic timing were unparalleled. All these years later, Bobby may still be in a class by himself. And yet, he made such a natural slimy and underhanded villain. It’s no accident that he was put with top stars like Andre the Giant, Ric Flair, “Ravishing” Rick Rude, and so many others.

Heenan’s voice is synonymous with what many consider to be the golden age of WWE. In terms of the company’s global expansion, he was as integral as almost anyone. Like Jim Ross, Jesse Ventura, and other great announcers, his voice is plastered on to moments that are indelibly etched in our minds and hearts. The 1992 Royal Rumble comes to mind (Shout out to Solomonster.), as does the famous Barbershop segment between Shawn Michaels and Marty Janetty.

And then of course, you’ve got all his work with Gorilla Monsoon. Whenever I need cheering up, there’s a clip of Heenan cracking Monsoon up that gets me every time.

Much has been said about Heenan in the past two days. But it was @WWECreative_ish on Twitter that truly hit it out of the park, in my opinion…

The key word there? “Elevated.” Bobby Heenan was one of those performers that truly made pro wrestling into an art form, and not just two guys pretending to fight. In his case, it became a comedic showcase on par with just about anything. The fact that so much of it still holds up today is a testament to that.

Thanks for the memories, Brain. We love you.

Ponderings From Raw:

After the Miz interrupts Kurt Angle at the top of the show, a scuffle breaks out between Jason Jordan and the Miztourage. Later in the show, a Six Pack Challenge will determine the top contender for the Intercontinental Title at No Mercy. This segment was really flat. Miz said all those inflammatory things about Kurt being a deadbeat dad, and he just stood there and took it. Why? Because he was waiting for Jordan to come out. I get the whole “it takes more strength not to fight back” thing. But Angle just stood there, barely selling it at all.

Nia Jax def. Alexa Bliss. Bliss, Sasha Banks, and the returning Bayley take Jax down after the match. Banks and Bayley then lay out Bliss. Bayley is later added to the title match at No MercyAn abrupt return for Bayley. Not sure I wouldn’t have kept her off TV until after No Mercy. Let’s hope they can keep her from getting booed.

Cesaro and Sheamus win a Triple-Threat Tag Team Match against Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, as well as Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. Whoever walks out of No Mercy with the belts (I assume it’s going to be Rollins and Ambrose) desperately needs to find new dance partners. It’s been these three teams week after week. How about the Miztourage?

I can’t help but think about Sting whenever Rollins does the Buckle Bomb…

Apollo Crews def. Curt Hawkins. So they’re doing a kind of reverse undefeated streak thing with Curt Hawkins. That’s kind of fun. A the very least it’s something for Hawkins to do every week. 115-0? Damn.

A split-screen interview airs with Braun Strowman, Brock Lesnar, and Paul Heyman. Watch Brock during this segment. He’s by no means a great promo or a great actor. But he can be very effective by doing very little. Until the end of the interview, Brock looked about as uncertain as he’s ever been. But then he pulled it out at the end with that line about being backed into a corner.

Roman Reigns cuts a promo on John Cena, name-drops Alex Riley. There was a good amount of buzz from Reigns mentioning Alex Riley here. The story has always been that something happened between Cena and Riley that kept the latter from really going anywhere in WWE. The real-life Kevin Kiley Jr. has never spoken about it publicly. But former WWE talents like Ryback and JTG have alluded to it. It’s very curious that WWE would have Reigns allude to it like this.

Reigns’ line was about how someone that looks like Cena wouldn’t have a chance of making it in WWE because of Cena’s influence. It makes sense if you think about it. Cena would theoretically be insecure about someone coming along and outshining him. Would that have happened? Probably not. But you never know

They’ve been playing to the smart mark crowd quite heavily with this program, which isn’t the approach anyone expected. The stuff about Reigns’ drug test, this Alex Riley thing, the talk about Reigns not being able to do his job, it’s all insider type stuff. I imagine the strategy here is to get the die-hards riled up, so the casuals look in to see what all the fuss is about. It’s an interesting idea. No Mercy will ultimately determine whether it pays off.

Bray Wyatt def. Dustin Rhodes. Finn Balor cuts a promo for No MercyI loved this. A logical way to play off of what happened with these two last week. And it didn’t hurt Dustin that much, as Bray caught him by surprise with the Sister Abigail.

Nice promo from Balor. More menacing than anything Bray has done in recent weeks.

On a related note, WWE has announced the return of Starrcade, which was a big annual event held by the NWA that later became WCW’s equivalent to Wrestlemania. It’ll be a non-televised event in Greensboro on Thanksgiving weekend. You know who competed at a bunch of Starrcade shows? Dustin Rhodes. Hmm…

WWE airs a tribute to Bobby Heenan. I was initially miffed that WWE didn’t do a 10-bell salute for Bobby. But this wound up being better. Cole hit the nail on the head when he said Bobby would never, ever be replaced.

Never.

Braun Strowman destroys Enzo Amore. Neville hits a Red Arrow on a defenseless Enzo. A good portion of the audience ate this up. Did you hear those “Thank you Strowman!” chants?

Neville def. Gran Metalik, nearly unmasking him in the process. Um…were we meant to see that much of Gran Metalik’s face? For all intents and purposes, the guy got unmasked here. Fodder for a future story, perhaps?

Jason Jordan def. Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy, Elias, Bo Dallas, and Curtis Axel to earn a title shot against the Miz at No Mercy. Please don’t let Jordan get the belt. As I said last week, the fans will chew him up and spit him out. Let Miz beat him, so the frustration mounts even more. That’s a much better story.

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Big Show’s Big Night, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

In the wake of JBL announcing his departure from the Smackdown Live announce team, WWE has quickly chosen a replacement for him. And it’s none other than Corey Graves. Indeed, Graves will now serve as a color analyst on both Raw and Smackdown. Nigel McGuinness will take his place on Main Event and 205 Live.

I’ve come to love the work Graves does. In a relatively short amount of time, he’s become the most credible announcer WWE has at their disposal. Fans may not know just how valuable he is until the day we have to live without him. That being said, having Graves on both Raw and Smackdown is not a good idea.

Setting aside the “too much of a good thing” lesson we’ve learned from all these years of three-hour Raw broadcasts, having Graves on both shows dilutes the integrity of the roster split. In theory, Raw and Smackdown are supposed to be two separate brands. It’s not simply a matter of different wrestlers and championships. The shows are supposed to have different looks and feels to them. The announcers are a critical component in that respect, as they literally give the shows their respective voices. Having Graves call both Raw and Smackdown blurs that line of distinction. What’s worse, it opens the door for the further blurring of that line. We’ve already got Corey Graves on both shows, and John Cena has been a “free agent.” Since they’ve gone this far, who’s to say certain wrestlers can’t show up on both shows?

It’s this kind of thing that led to the discontinuation of the original roster split. The integrity had been eroded to the point that there was no point in continuing the charade any longer. It got so bad toward the end that our two Heavyweight Champions wrestling in throwaway matches in the middle of Raw

Graves is an amazing announcer. But there are plenty of other qualified people WWE can call on to fill JBL’s seat. We just had Jerry Lawler back on last week’s Raw. Give him a buzz. Have Lita or Renee Young tag in to bring a female perspective to things. Mick Foley was an announcer on Smackdown several years ago. Could they talk him into coming back? Hell, what about Daniel Bryan? He was awesome on the Cruiserweight Classic. Yes, he’s an on-screen authority figure. But that’s a dynamic we’ve rarely if ever seen. Why not try it?

I’m hopeful this winds up being a band-aid until WWE can find a new permanent announcer. On the plus side, this is obviously a hell of an endorsement for Graves. A well-deserved endorsement at that, and one that seems to indicate WWE knows just how good he is. But let’s not ruin him by oversaturating the airwaves with his voice.

Ponderings From Raw:

John Cena def. Jason Jordan. Roman Reigns come out, and another verbal sparring session occurs. Really strong opener with a nice story. Very wise of them to incorporate that old Smackdown footage of Cena and Kurt Angle. Cena’s facials were strong early on. He looked caught off guard by Jordan’s amateur style.

This was the finish I expected. But Jordan got what he needed. It was his first really strong performance as a single, and perhaps the first time he really lived up to the new role WWE has cast him in.

The word coming out of last week’s segment with Cena and Reigns was that most of it was indeed scripted. Reigns did forget his lines at one point, which prompted Cena’s “It’s called a promo” jab. They played off that a little bit here. But this was clearly designed to have Roman get one up on Cena, just as Cena got one up on him last week. Reigns called Cena out for a fight, and “Big Match John” stepped back. Advantage Reigns.

Both these guys said “I don’t respect you.” Expect that to be a focal point moving forward. WWE has been big on “respect” storylines for a long time.

Sheamus and Cesaro def. Heath Slater and Rhyno. Pretty straightforward stuff here. I’m just happy to see Cesaro and Sheamus wrestling guys other than Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose.

The Miz def. Jeff Hardy to retain the Intercontinental Championship. Really good match, with Miz getting a (mostly) clean win. I wasn’t expecting them to change the title, but Miz and Jeff planted that seed of doubt in my mind. That’s how you know you’re seeing two greats. When just for a few minutes, they make you feel like a kid again. When they make you believe.

Enzo Amore, Cedric Alexander, and Gran Metallic def. Noam Dar, Tony Nese, and Drew Gulak. Enzo’s promo went too long for me. But the crowd was with him, so I can’t call it a flop.

They need to find something more substantial for Tony Nese to do. I’ve been saying it for months, this guy’s got something.

Bray Wyatt challenges Finn Balor to face him without using his Demon persona. This booking defies traditional logic. Usually they’d start with Bray against Finn, and then move to Bray against the Demon. It reminds me of John Cena facing Randy Orton in a straight up singles match at the Royal Rumble several years ago, after we’d already seen them in virtually every other match under the sun.

Still, this was one of Bray’s stronger promos in recent memory. It probably helps that it’s been a few weeks since we’ve heard him ramble and laugh nonsensically.

Nia Jax and Emma def. Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks. The Raw Women’s Championship Match at No Mercy will now be a Fatal Four-Way between these women. I’m hoping we’re headed for an Alexa Bliss/Sasha Banks double turn. As talented as she is, and as hard as she works, Sasha seems to become more and more of a brat as the weeks ago by. I’m sure much of that is my own evolving perception of her. Though a lot of fans are angry at Sasha right now for calling out fans who stalk her in airports. I won’t fault her for that. Boundaries, people. Boundaries.

Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. Sheamus and Cesaro were at ringside to watch Rollins and Ambrose, but they wound up scrapping with Gallows and Anderson. I imagine we’ll see those two teams face off next week. As long as they’re staying clear of Rollins and Ambrose until the pay per view, I’m good. I doubt that’ll end up happening. But I’ll enjoy it for now.

Braun Strowman def. The Big Show in a Steel Cage Match. There was a lot of talk here about Big Show being in the business for 23 years. I’ve been watching this guy for about 20 of those years. So believe me when I tell you: This was the best he’s ever been. Remember, he’s 45 years old.

Let’s start with that pre-match promo. Epic. Positively epic. He had fire. He was articulate, He was passionate. You got riled up because he was riled up. Show has been a good promo for most of his career. But this might have been his best.

Then you’ve got the bumps he took for Strowman. He dusted off the top rope elbow (shown above), which wound up being the highlight of the match. Then he took yet another Superplex from the top. And after the finish, they did the spot where Strowman slammed him through the cage wall. That last one came off a little choreographed. But who cares? Remember, this man is seven feet tall  and weighs over 300 pounds. Any time he takes a bump like that it’s a huge deal. But three in one match? Unbelievable.

You’ve also got to take your hat off to WWE for making this feel like an epic main event. They did a tremendous job playing up the Superplex spot from April, particularly when they interviewed the referee who took that great bump. This really came off like a Godzilla vs. King Kong level confrontation between monsters. And you know it’ll be that much bigger when they inevitably face off again.

Awesome. There’s no other way to put it. Simply awesome. A career night for this 20-plus year veteran.

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Braun Strowman as “the Guy,” Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Summerslam erased any lingering doubts: Braun Strowman needs to be WWE’s next “Guy.’ In other words, the top dog. The big cahuna. The man everyone vies to face. The spot currently occupied by John Cena, and the spot WWE has been trying to shoehorn Roman Reigns into for years.

While Brock Lesnar may have walked out of Summerslam‘s Fatal Four-Way with the Universal Title, make no mistake about it, Braun Strowman was the star of the match. To his credit, Brock Lesnar put him over like 10 million bucks. Has anybody ever given Lesnar a beating like that? Certainly not since he came back in 2012. But I can’t think of anything comparable in Brock’s entire WWE career. The result? Magic.

Michael Cole also deserves a pat on the back for his role in the Lesnar/Strowman stuff. He made a point to not only sell Strowman’s unprecedented dominance over “the Beast,” but to point out how it’s different from what Bill Goldberg did last year. Goldberg surprised Lesnar. Strowman conquered him.

They’ve really got something with this guy. He’s a giant that wants to dominate and destroy all challengers. Simple and to the point. More importantly, the fans are into him. And it happened organically. After what we saw at Summerslam, Lesnar vs. Strowman could easily main event Wrestlemania XXXIV.

Which is why it absolutely sucks that they’re blowing it off at No Mercy

Ponderings From Raw:

After a promo from Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar, Braun Strowman interrupts and destroys the Universal Champion. A title match between the two is later made for No MercyObviously, I understand the appeal of doing what these two did at Summerslam, and then putting them together the following month. But imagine if they just waited. If they let it stew until April. Have Braun win the Royal Rumble Match, and then make it your Wrestlemania main event.

Instead we’re probably getting Brock against Roman. Go figure.

Enzo Amore def. Big Cass in a Brooklyn Street Fight due to match stoppage when Cass suffers a knee injury. This doesn’t do much to cool Enzo’s backstage heat, does it? It didn’t look like it was Enzo’s fault, though. Just a bad fall by Cass.

Cass was obviously frustrated, his cussing apparently needing to be censored. We don’t have any sense of what the injury is. But the timing is terrible. Sending good vibes his way.

Nia Jax def. Emma. I guess there’s something to be said for getting TV time and having a storyline. But Emma has, for the time being, been cast as a loser.

Elias def. R-Truth. The Drifter has had his critics. But the crowds have been into him. You can’t deny that.

John Cena appears on Raw to confront Roman Reigns after Twitter smack talk. The Miz interrupts. A tag match is made for the main event. Lots of talk about Cena’s “bald spot” on Twitter. Hey, when you’ve got as much money as this guy, you can wear your hair however you want. Don’t believe me? Ask Trump.

When he was in there with Cena and Roman, Brooklyn made Miz the babyface. Miz. That says a lot, doesn’t it? What’s more, they had Miz play into it. I actually wondered if he was ad-libbing until he said the lines about the fans “not knowing whether to cheer or boo” Cena and Reigns. Classic WWE whitewashing, right there.

Cena was more or less expected on Raw after Summerslam, based on the local advertisements. They’re obviously planting the seeds for Cena against Reigns at some point. Lots of talk about big moments in this segment. Well, there’s nothing quite like an arena chanting, “You both suck!”

Cedric Alexander, Rich Swann, Mustafa Ali, and Gran Metalik def. Ariya Daivari, Tony Nese, Noam Dar and Drew Gulak. Remember that Raw in 1997 when Kane came down and beat up a bunch of midget wrestlers? I really wanted that here. Nothing like a little old school Kane to stir up some cruiserweight oatmeal…

Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose def. The Hardy Boyz. This one didn’t do it for me. The match looked good on paper. But it seemed like they never quite got into a groove. I’d be open to another match, though.

Alexa Bliss interrupted Sasha Banks’ celebration. I couldn’t. Sorry, folks. I couldn’t bring myself to listen to a Sasha Banks promo. But obviously, things are continuing between she and Alexa Bliss. Works for me.

Finn Balor def. Jason Jordan. These two had better chemistry than I expected. The announcers mentioned the time they spent together in the Performance Center. I expect that has something to do with it.

So how about this: At some point, Jason Jordan cheats to win a big match, drawing disapproval from his father, Kurt Angle. Thus, the start of a Jason Jordan heel turn, and a father vs. son feud. Jordan is so milquetoast right now. He needs something to spice things up.

John Cena and Roman Reigns def. The Miz and Samoa Joe. Reigns accidentally hits Cena with a Superman Punch during the match. The Brooklyn crowd had started the beach ball stuff during the Balor/Jordan match. Then in this match they did a friggin’ wave. And of course, Cena fed right into it.

The purist in me wants to bury the fans in the Barclays Center. But that’s what happens when your show is too damn long.

Booker: “I don’t want to remember the last time I was in the ring with Joe, because he left me bruised, battered, torn, and all busted up. … It also happened in my home town. I’ll never forget that.”

It was also in TNA. So WWE probably wants you to forget.

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Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens in a Cage, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Rusev, Roman Reigns, Kevin Owens, WWE Raw, September 19, 2016It’s that time of year, folks. School is back in session. The leaves will soon be changing colors. The Halloween shops have started opening. Monday Night Football is back on the air. Autumn is here. Which for WWE fans means the “autumn slump.”

I’m not sure if I’m the first one to call it that, but I’m not the first talk about it. The autumn slump refers to the downturn in TV quality we tend to see between September and December. In the past few years, the autumn slump has brought us a Big Show/Randy Orton program for the WWE Championship, Sheamus winning the WWE Championship at a time when his career was lukewarm at best, and what may have been the 100th John Cena/Randy Orton feud.

And so once again, WWE must try to avoid the autumn slump, and persevere through competition from Monday Night Football.

They’re not off to a good start…

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns, Mick Foley, and Stephanie McMahon open the show. Coming off the finals of the Cruiserweight Classic tournament last week, I was hoping they’d open with the cruiserweights. Instead, we got yet another long-winded talking segment. A fairly cold start to things, which led to a cold match between Seth Rollins and Rusev. Even Kevin Owens, who’s usually very natural, came off highly scripted here.

Mick Foley, WWE Raw, September 19, 2016Meanwhile, we still have no idea why Triple H interfered in the Universal Title Match a few weeks ago. Even Reigns brought up Hunter’s absence. Steph did “guess” at his motivations later in the show. But we still don’t have any answers from Triple H. Perhaps those answers will come at Clash of Champions.

Seth Rollins vs. Rusev goes to a double count-out. As good as both these guys are, I’ll admit I had this match on mute most of the time. What was at stake? And in the end, they had a non-finish. Again, such a cold, cold start.

Braun Strowman def. Sin Cara. Not the match they needed to go with at this stage of the show. Both guys were perfectly serviceable. But again, not much to latch on to between these two. I found myself utterly bored.

Sasha Banks & Bayley def. Charlotte & Dana Brooke. It took them almost an hour to give us a match that actually had something going on in it. Though were hardly perfect here. I can only assume they’re still trying to turn Dana Brooke into a babyface. To what end I’m not sure. Not only is she a natural heel, but she’s on a roster with two widely popular female wrestlers like Sasha and Bayley.

Dana Brooke, WWE Raw, September 19, 2016So…does Dana cost Charlotte the title at Clash of Champions? They made a point to put the title on Sasha several weeks ago. I assume the reason Charlotte won it back was because they didn’t know how long Sasha would be out with her back problems. Perhaps now they simply go back to their original plan with her.

Bo Dallas wins another squash match. Just when you thought the show was about to pick up… Ugh.

Cesaro def. Sheamus. Their Best of Seven series is now tied at 3-3. I must have rewound my DVR and watched that finish four or five times. Not because it was so spectacular, but because for a moment I thought Sheamus flung himself into an uppercut in the balls. Winning with your feet on the ropes is one thing. An uppercut to the balls? That’s something else.

The New Day, Enzo & Cass, & Sami Zayn def. Chris Jericho, Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, & the Shining Stars. The in-ring segment at the top of the hour wasn’t so bad until the Shining Stars came out. As talented as they are, Primo & Epico are about as appealing as a wet fart. After that, everything went downhill. Did Big E. actually say the New Day came out because they had nothing better to do? From the minds of creative geniuses, ladies and gentlemen…

WWE Raw, September 19, 2016, Cedric Alexander, Rich SwannLike most of what we saw tonight, they were just killing time with this stuff. Nothing of consequence at all.

Brian Kendrick def. Cedric Alexander, Gran Metallic  and Rich Swann to earn a Cruiserweight Title Match at Clash of Champions. Once these guys started working, it became painfully obvious they should have opened the show. While the majority of what we saw on this show still would have sucked, we wouldn’t have started with a bad taste in our mouths. The entire vibe of the show could have improved.

A few weeks ago we saw Titus O’Neil absolutely murder a pre-match scripted promo on live television. While Foley’s time out there wasn’t as bad, like Titus you could see him struggling to remember his lines. Yet another illustration of how over-scripting hinders what we see on Raw every week.

The obvious favorite to win the Cruiserweight Classic was Kota Ibushi. But Ibushi opted not to sign with WWE, so he was eliminated by TJ Perkins in the semifinals. Still, the announcers made a point to mention him more than once. So I imagine the door is still open for him.

Brian Kendrick, Cedric Alexander, WWE Raw, September 19, 2016The only part of this match I didn’t like was Rich Swann flipping around the ring for no reason. They tend to call that “showboating.” Neville does the same thing in his matches. It’s overkill.

Frankly, I’d have had Cedric Alexander go over in this one. But the story they’re telling with Kendrick is a good one. And for what it’s worth, Kendrick has experience in WWE pay per view matches. All in all, a very good start to the Cruiserweight element on Raw.

Roman Reigns def. Kevin Owens in a steel cage match. At least Reigns won by escape. He didn’t pin the champion. That’s not to say it won’t happen. The way things are going, it’ll probably happen next week…

Corey Graves named the Owens/Zayn simultaneous punching spot during this match. “Hockey fight.” Is that what it’s supposed to be? It still looks awful…

Kevin Owens had the quote of the night, telling Rusev to “Machka something!”

By wrestling standards, I suppose that dive by Rollins off the top of the cage wasn’t incredibly risky. He had both Owens and Rusev to catch him. But after all the injuries we’ve seen this year, and what just happened with Finn Balor, it’s especially unwise to tempt fate these days.

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