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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John Cena, Roman Reigns, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Wow. It’s really happening. John Cena against Roman Reigns. At friggin’ No Mercy. Damn. So should we just change the name to Wrestlemania in October?

It’s not that I don’t want to see it. It’s just that the timing is really, really weird. This probably the biggest match WWE can do right now. It’s a match that should be headlining Wrestlemania. WWE even called it a “Wrestlemania-worthy main event.” I’ve said it before, and I’m sure this comparison has been made quite a bit: This is the modern day equivalent to Hogan vs. Warrior from Wrestlemania VI. So why not have it at Wrestlemania? Why put it at the end of the year?

It makes even less sense when you see it’s being placed on the same card with Brock Lesnar vs. Braun Strowman, which is the other biggest match WWE can do right now.

I’d like to think this means they have something even bigger planned once we get into 2018. But what? And please don’t say Brock vs. Roman for the Universal Title…

That’s what it is, isn’t it? It’s Brock and Roman again. Ugh. This stupid company.

Ponderings From Raw

Jeff Hardy wins a Battle Royal to earn a shot at the Intercontinental Championship next week. This is a good move. The Hardys have nothing left to do in the Tag Team Division. Miz and Jeff are a fresh match, and it’s got plenty of intrigue going for it. But if Jeff becomes a single again, what happens with Matt? Aside from the obligatory Hardy Boyz vs. Miztourage match we’re bound to get on TV soon.

Big Show’s little “bring it on” moment was cool. Not being on TV every week has done him plenty of good.

Elias did the HBK/’95 Royal Rumble spot, with the dangling legs close to the floor. That’s pretty much mandatory in any televised WWE battle royal, isn’t it?

Enzo Amore def. Noam Dar. Now that he’s a single, Enzo has a chance to silence some of his critics who say he can’t wrestle. He didn’t exactly blow me away here. But being in there with guys like Noam Dar will help. Enzo is an asset to the Cruiserweight Division whether people want to admit it or not. He brings some valuable star power to that show. Will it up the audience for 205 Live? Probably not. But It might make the Cruiserweight matches on Raw more interesting.

As Booker T remains with his family in Houston, Jerry Lawler fills in on commentary. It was good to hear Lawler’s voice again. His act had gotten old after so many years of being on Raw. But having him back gave me a warm, nostalgic feeling. Like Big Show, going away did him a lot of good.

Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman address Braun Strowman. This wasn’t exactly one for the record books. It’s always intriguing whenever Brock takes the mic. But I wish he’d have said something a little less predictable. Heyman has said the “Suplex City, bitch” line before. He could just as easily have done it here. I’d rather they give Brock something more distinct and memorable when they have him talk.

Cesaro def. Seth Rollins. Cesaro hits an uppercut off the distraction to score a flash pin. A variation on the distraction roll-up, which of course is a WWE specialty.

Dean Ambrose def. Sheamus in an impromptu match. Cesaro beats Rollins, then Ambrose beats Sheamus. You know what that means! We need to have a tag team match to settle the score!

Wait…

Sadly, by the time Ambrose and Sheamus got in there the law of diminishing returns had taken effect. We’ve seen these guys wrestle time after time, week after week. They put on good matches. But I’ve seen them enough for now. But chances are we’re getting another title match at No Mercy. So we’ll be seeing them wrestle for another month.

Emma def. Mickie James. Emma getting new music is a good sign, as is her finally getting a win. I don’t know if she’ll be wrestling for the title any time soon. But at least she’s doing something besides losing.

John Cena and Roman Reigns get heated during the contract signing before No Mercy. Cena and Reigns beat Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson in an impromptu tag team match. They’re very strategically blurring the lines between storyline and reality. I don’t believe for a second that either of these guys meant what they said out there. But their delivery was good enough that there’s reasonable doubt. That’s a common thread that a lot of classic storylines have. Well done, gentlemen.

The line of the night goes to Cena, for: “I’m still here because you can’t do your job!”

Then, of course  they killed the vibe by having the two of them work a tag match. Because of course they did.

Elias bashes Memphis in his newest song. Jerry Lawler brings out “Pelvis Wesley” of Southpaw Regional Wrestling (played by Heath Slater), who promptly gets destroyed. This was a popcorn fart if I ever saw one. This is why certain things are better left on the internet. Like Grumpy Cat! Remember when they had that damn cat on this show? Same principle.

Alexa Bliss def. Sasha Banks to win the Raw Women’s Championship. Nia Jax turns on her after the match. Did you know that despite winning that Women’s Championship multiple times, Sasha Banks has never successfully defended it? She wins the belt on pay per view, then loses it on Raw. She talked about the “Brooklyn Curse” last week. But clearly there’s a bigger curse that she needs to worry about. However, considering how annoying I’ve found her lately, I can’t exactly complain.

Pretty good match, though the dead crowd didn’t help at all during the first half. But after going from the high of that Cena/Reigns contract signing to the low of the Pelvis Wesley segment, you can’t exactly blame them for being a little indifferent.

So Alexa beats Sasha cleanly, then gets turned on by Nia Jax. So is this Alexa’s transition into a sympathetic babyface character that has to overcome the larger Nia Jax? Or do we go to a Triple Threat Match at No Mercy, given that Sasha is owed a rematch?

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Samoa Joe’s Boiling Point, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Two guys looking for a fight. One guy that’s the best, one guy that wants to be the best. It’s always been as simple as that. So why do they try to make it more complicated? Probably because they have all those damn writers on staff…

Monday’s segment with Brock Lesnar, Samoa Joe, and Paul Heyman was awesome for multiple reasons. First and foremost, it felt real. More so than anything they’ve given us in a long time. Instead of each person taking turns speaking, waiting to say their lines, Brock and Joe were fighting to be heard. Like it was an actual argument. WWE needs to look long and hard at this segment, and then at the heavily scripted in-ring scenes they’ve been  pushing out for so many years. This is what it should be like.

Secondly, it was so damn simple. Brock is the man. Joe wants so badly to be the man that he wants to fight Brock now. There are no tyrannical authority figures involved. No convoluted storylines. Just a raw competitiveness between two alpha males that can only be settled in the ring. I’ll say it again: This is what it should be like.

Thirdly, Joe came off like a ruthless killer here. He may as well be a babyface at this point. He’s brave, confident, and strong enough to take the fight to the company’s biggest and baddest monster. Are his tactics heelish? Absolutely. But his bad ass demeanor and bloodlust are something that coveted male 18-34 demographic can live vicariously through. It’s the same reason so many fans cheer for Braun Strowman. They’re fearless wrecking machines who will stand up to anyone.

WWE loves to talk about putting smiles on peoples faces. This segment damn sure put a smile on mine. For a few precious minutes, WWE wasn’t so sanitized, structured, and rehearsed anymore. A few years ago, Triple H called this the “reality era” of WWE. For once, the product lived up to that moniker.

And I want more. A lot more.

Ponderings From Raw:

Enzo Amore opens the show, cuts a promo on Big Cass. Enzo then jumps Cass backstage. Most of this was really, really good. Enzo looked right into the hard camera, spoke with passion and truth, and the crowd was behind him. I really dug the line about Cass being “nothing more than a seven foot catch phrase. That I wrote.”

They did, however, let him go a little long. Then he apparently forgot something. He dropped the mic, they hit his music, he started to leave…and then he picked the mic back up and started talking again. That was pretty cringeworthy. But to his credit, Enzo didn’t let it phase him. There’s that confidence he talked about. Not sure how much of this was scripted. But if they could produce promos like this more often, Raw would be a much better show week to week.

Enzo seemingly flew into the frame when he jumped Cass. Awesome intensity. It feels like we’ve got a lot of real emotions twisted up in this. As for Cass’ mic work? Pretty wooden. But in his defense, Enzo is a damn tough act to follow. For him, the real test will come after he’s done with Enzo.

Sasha Banks and Bayley def. Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax. WWE is wise to shift focus away from Bayley right now, given how shoddy they’ve booked her lately. It’s damage control. Case in point, Bayley being taken out of this match early. Thus, they’ve upped the emphasis on Sasha. I’ve soured on Sasha’s mic skills quite a bit. But her ring work looks as good as ever. I’m very curious to see what she and Alexa turn in at Great Balls of Fire.

Cedric Alexander def. Noam Dar. Nice win for Cedric. But how long has this story been going? I’m fine with keeping Noam Dar and Alicia Fox together for the time being. But let’s give them somebody else to work against, shall we?

Miz TV addresses last week’s show, tears down Dean Ambrose. Heath Slater demands an Intercontinental Title Match. Before this segment, they hyped up how much “great coverage” they got from that atrocious Ball family segment last week. Mind you, they left out the 15-year-old kid using a racial slur. Hear that? That’s the WWE spin cycle in full effect.

Miz gave us yet another good promo, once again talking about Ambrose’s wasted potential. The “Dean Ambrose can’t handle success” line was interesting. They should follow up on that…

The Miz def. Heath Slater to retain the Intercontinental Championship.  Dean Ambrose was on commentary for this match, and he did the unthinkable. He pointed to the giant pink elephant in the room. While talking about Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel, the “Miztourage,” he says to Michael Cole: “What do they call themselves? The Miztourage? That’s really bad. Miztourage is bad. That’s about as bad as Great Balls of Fire. Who came up with that name?”

I could practically hear Vince McMahon screaming through the headsets.

Emotionally, this was a really good match. As we’ve seen before, Slater makes an amazing sympathetic underdog. I’d love to see him win the Intercontinental Title.  Will it ever happen? Who knows. But this just gives more credence to the fact that Slater can be a singles star.

Did not expect that big Powerslam from the top rope. Slater is never going to be John Cena or Roman Reigns. But he can have that suspenseful, barn burner of a match if they just give him a chance.

Goldust premieres “The Shattered Truth.” R-Truth attacks his former partner. I liked how this was set up. Goldust center stage in the director’s chair. He’s another guy that can go the distance if they keep giving him opportunities like this. I’ve talked at length about that before, but it bears repeating.

Seth Rollins def. Curt Hawkins. Rollins cut a promo after making quick work of Hawkins, and went the after-school special route again. He talked about embracing your transgressions, how they make you who you are, blah blah blah. It’s such a far cry from the cool vibe we got in that WWE 2K commercial. Where the hell is that guy?

Neville def. Mustafa Ali. Awesome Spike DDT by Mustafa Ali in this match. He and Neville told an awesome story out there, showcasing the champion’s mean streak. I feel like I don’t see enough of Ali. If he was featured more prominently, I might actually give a crap about 205 Live.

Bray Wyatt speaks to Seth Rollins from the Arizona desert. Nice to see them step outside the box a little bit. Bray looked good out there. Now if only he had his credibility back. The guy calls himself a god. But hypothetically, don’t gods have to win matches once in awhile?

Finn Balor def. Cesaro. It occurred to me during this match that Balor doesn’t have a match at Great Balls of Fire. He and Elias Samson didn’t even make the pre-show. That’s kind of weird. As much as I enjoy both Miz and Dean Ambrose, I’d rather see Balor wrestle just about anyone than see those two have yet another IC Title Match.

More matches between these two please. Balor’s agility and grace compliment Cesaro’s strength tremendously.

Braun Strowman def. Apollo Crews. Roman Reigns surprises Strowman with a post-match attack, spearing him off the stage. Well how about that. Apollo Crews and Titus O’Neil got to be in a Raw main event. Crews paid a price for it, though. That bump he took on his head was nasty. Makes for a hell of a Twitter gif. But damn.

So…why did Strowman lick Apollo’s head? Crews was decimated by that point, and I get the idea of Strowman being dominant. But why lick his head? Is that going to be a thing?

Apparently Titus isn’t a heel anymore. He stood up to Strowman, and genuinely cared about Apollo’s wellbeing. Makes sense to me. Titus is a hard man to dislike.

Despite what some would have you believe, Roman Reigns delivers in big pay per view matches. Given what he and Braun turned in last time, and the chaotic nature of an Ambulance Match, they could give us something really cool at Great Balls of Fire.

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Brock Lesnar Returns, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Brock Lesnar was back on television this week for the first time since Wrestlemania week, with the Universal Championship across his shoulder. Anytime Brock is on television it’s a big deal. Now that he’s got a Heavyweight Title again, that’s the case even moreso.

Nowadays we’re hearing a lot of the same talk we heard during Brock’s last run with the WWE Championship. He needs to be on TV more, not having him there takes away from the show, things like that. And yes, not having your champion there is a big adjustment. That title is usually what everyone is fighting for. It’s the motivation for most of the main characters on this TV show.

But they’re doing the right thing with Brock Lesnar, champion or not.

Brock is special. That was the case even before he became UFC Champion and all that. Now he’s one of the precious few difference-making attractions WWE has. So when Brock is on Raw, sparse as it may be at times, it’s special. It’s must-see TV. That shouldn’t change because he has the title.

The impetus, therefore, needs to be on WWE to provide us with compelling television despite the lack of a Heavyweight Champion. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, they haven’t consistently done that. But there are bright spots to be found. They’ve reintroduced certain mystery and soap opera elements that have been absent for awhile. The mystery of who’s attacking Enzo and Cass, the question of what’s going on with Kurt Angle, etc. They’ve got so many talented people on that Raw roster. The absence of your champion is a circumstance, not an excuse.

There’s also something to be said for restraint. Before the so-called Monday Night Wars, you didn’t see all your marquee stars in the ring every week. The announcers would talk about them, and you might see an interview. But they wouldn’t necessarily wrestle every week. Once WWE started fighting for ratings, that all changed. WWE would benefit greatly from not throwing everything and everyone at us each week. Yes, they have three hours to fill. But again, that’s not an excuse. It’s a call for them to be more creative.

What’s more, they’ve shown they can do it. Not just with Brock, either. Finn Balor hasn’t wrestled on Raw in two weeks. We saw a video package about him. But they kept him off the live show. Roman Reigns got the same treatment this week. Ergo, they’re a little bit fresher the next time we see them.

Ergo, despite what you might hear, Brock Lesnar’s less frequent appearances are an example of what WWE is doing right these days. Frankly, the anticipation and freshness they help create is something they should strive for with more of their main event talent.

Ponderings From Raw:

A brawl erupts between Brock Lesnar and Samoa Joe. There was a definite tension in the air when Brock and Paul Heyman came out. A tension which grew thicker with Heyman’s promo, and then even thicker when Joe finally came out.

What followed was a pull-apart brawl very reminiscent of the one we got between Brock and the Undertaker a few years ago. I’m disappointed they couldn’t come up with something different. But the two things I came away from this thinking about were Joe’s opening shot to Lesnar, and the kick he snuck in. They came off pretty evenly matched, but Joe was the one who got put over. In the end, this accomplished what it needed to.

Elias Samson def. Dean Ambrose after a distraction from Miz and Maryse. Wonder how many of the kids at home got Corey Graves’ Bobby Boucher reference…

Decent match. Nice to hear the crowd get into it. That’s not always what we get with some of these Raw crowds. This Ambrose/Miz thing needs to be over already. Between Raw and Smackdown, we’ve been seeing it for months now. Give us a fresh IC Title challenger, and let Ambrose work with Samson long form.

Afterward, we saw Kurt Angle get angry at Miz backstage. So…the GM was mad that a wrestler interfered in another wrestler’s match? He does know what show he’s in charge of, right?

Cedric Alexander def. Noam Dar. The tried a new story device here by putting Alicia Fox on the tron, framed inside an image of a phone (shown right). The idea was she was using FaceTime or something. They really should have set this up beforehand. Like, in the backstage segment we saw prior, have Dar tell Fox he’s going to put her up on the tron so people can still be treated to her beauty. Something like that. The transition was jarring. At least the match was short.

Roman Reigns to make an announcement regarding Summerslam next week. I like this. It seems pretty open-ended as far as who Reigns will be working with. So it could be just about anybody. It’d be nice if we could just do Reigns vs. Lesnar, and get it out of the way now. I expect we won’t be that lucky. Braun Strowman, maybe? I know he’s a Smackdown guy, but could it be John Cena? If so, it would make sense for them to start promoting it now.

Bray Wyatt and Seth Rollins come face-to-face in the ring. They must have used an old bumper for the backstage portion of Bray’s promo. There were some images of Randy Orton in there.

News broke yesterday about Bray’s wife filing for divorce, citing an alleged affair with ring announcer Jojo Offerman. I’m not defending what the real-life Wyndham Rotunda supposedly did. But it sucks whenever one’s dirty laundry gets aired like that. My heart goes out to the family.

Bray said, “You don’t want this fight, Seth. My power is more than you can possibly imagine.” Oh really? You lost clean to Roman Reigns last week. Also, you and Rollins have wrestled before, including in the main event of Raw not long ago. So yeah, I’m pretty sure he can imagine just fine.

Bray’s little disappearing act during this segment was very Undertaker-ish. He then said another line that made no sense: “Face your fear, man….and run.” Face your fear and run? What the hell does that mean?

Apollo Crews def. Kalisto. Titus O’Neil continues to try and recruit Akira Tozawa to the Titus Brand. Nice powerbomb finish to an okay match. I’d expect to see Titus, Apollo, and Kalisto start showing up on 205 Live to further this story. If they haven’t already, that is. Like most people, 205 Live isn’t much of a priority for me.

Sasha Banks, Mickie James, and Dana Brooke def. Alexa Bliss, Nia Jax, and Emma. Emma caught a really bad break with an injury shortly after she finally got back in the ring. So it was cool to see her return. Then of course, she tapped out. Some people just can’t catch a break.

Corey Graves does a sit-down interview with Bayley. After not being able to use the kendo stick on Alexa Bliss at Extreme Rules, Bayley says she’s going to do things “her way” regardless of what people think. That’s a nice sentiment, and it’s very in-character. I just hope that after the bad booking Bayley has had to endure, the older fans don’t turn on her for being a white-meat babyface. I’m interested to see what kind of reaction she gets the next time she’s in front of a TV crowd.

Heath Slater and Rhyno def. The Miz and “Bear.” Well great. The crowd was chanting for the bear. Now we’ll be seeing the Miz in segments with it for weeks to come.

So Miz unmasks the bear, and it’s not Ambrose. Then a second bear comes in, and it is Ambrose. They seemed to lose the crowd at that point. Apparently Miz’s tag team partner being in a teddy bear costume was okay. A sudden costume switch? Not okay.

If they’re looking for someone for Miz to feud with, I wouldn’t mind seeing Slater get that spot. He’d make a great underdog challenger.

Neville lays out Rich Swann before their match can begin, advices Akira Tozawa to “tread carefully.” I’ve been waiting to see Tozawa and Neville mix it up since the former first appeared on Raw. I’m ready for this!

Big Cass is once again attacked backstage. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson defeat Enzo and Cass moments later. The Big Show comes to Enzo’s aid afterward. I’ll give them credit. I’m more interested in this story than I ever thought I would be. The big question seems to be about who’s going heel? Is it Enzo or Cass? I still don’t think they should be broken up. But it seems like that’d be the only worthwhile payoff…

 Sheamus and Cesaro vs The Hardy Boyz go to a double count-out in a 2 out of 3 Falls Match for the Raw Tag Team Titles. Love the positioning of this match. Really made the titles feel important. It’s also a break from the usual suspects being in the main event. Reigns, Rollins, etc.

Sheamus and Cesaro have been put over like a million bucks these past few weeks. First they pin everyone in a Tag Team Turmoil Match. Then they win the belts at Extreme Rules. Now the Hardys fail to beat them for the belts in a 2 out of 3 Falls Match. They may not have won here, but they are believably and definitively positioned as the top team on Raw right now. Maybe the top team in all of WWE. Good on you, gentlemen. Looking forward to seeing where it goes next.

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Samoa Joe vs. Brock Lesnar, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Since he turned heel a few weeks back, a question has nagged me: Can Goldust be a main eventer for WWE in 2017? It’s not as much of a long shot as you might think.

The operative word in that question is 2017. The real-life Dustin Runnels is unquestionably a main event caliber talent, and has been in that role before. He wasn’t headlining pay per views, mind you. But in 1995 and 1996, he was main-eventing Raw broadcasts and house shows with the likes of Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker. Early on, his…ehem…”androgynous” character was one of the industry’s hottest topics. He’s had his share of big-money ball games. But can he do it again today?

For my money, the answer is an absolute, unequivocal yes.

I’m not sure how often you want to have him wrestle, given he’s 48 years old. But watch how he moves out there. He damn sure doesn’t look 48. And as we’ve seen with his recent pre-taped promos, his mic work is as strong as ever.

After the mostly abysmal show we got last week, it’s clear Raw is in need of something fresh. They seem to have found something with the reintroduction of Goldust, a character that many a lapsed wrestling fan will remember, and possibly tune back in to see in a prominent role. They obviously can’t go the sexual route they did in the ’90s. But this character can work as as a bizarre, movie-fanatical, almost comic-bookish villain.

Do I think Goldust should be challenging Brock Lesnar for the Universal Title? No. Not in the near future, at least. But a heel Goldust against Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, or Dean Ambrose? Why the hell not? Raw could use another strong heel. Goldust can fill that role as well, if not better than anyone we see on TV these days.

Do they really have anything to lose?

Ponderings From Raw:

Samoa Joe to face Brock Lesnar for the Universal Title on July 9 at Great Balls of FireThis one came out of left field. I can’t bring myself to complain about it, though. This is a match that’s been talked about since Joe signed.

The choice to put Joe with Brock is interesting, given how little time he’s spent on the main roster. It hasn’t even been six months yet. It says a lot about WWE’s faith in him. In terms of credible and believable opponents for Brock, he’s one of the best choices they could have made. Joe isn’t an MMA fighter, strictly speaking. But his style is certainly MMA-inspired. This could be really compelling if they play that up.

I’m curious why they opted not to go with Finn Balor. They had a ready-made story with him, as he never lost the Universal Title. They even did the segment with Balor and Heyman a couple of weeks back…

Roman Reigns def. Bray Wyatt. As if there was any doubt Roman Reigns was the successor to John Cena, we got dueling “Let’s go Roman!”/”Roman Sucks!” chants.

They promoted this match as the show opener. I usually like when they do that, but this one didn’t do much for me. We’ve seen these two wrestle so many times, and they didn’t do much to make this one seem special at all.

Yet another loss for Bray Wyatt…

Dean Ambrose interrupts a song from Elias Samson, challenges Miz. Miz says there will be a championship celebration for him later in the evening. It sounded like Michael Cole was laughing during the Drifter’s little ditty. Can’t say I blame him. The guy could use a little more rehearsal time.

Samoa Joe chokes Paul Heyman out with the Coquina Clutch. It was during this segment that I realized they’re just simply calling it Great Balls of Fire. It has to be “the Great Balls of Fire pay per view event,” or whatever. Oh joy…

Can we even call Brock a heel or a babyface anymore? He seems to morph based on who he’s in there with. Or maybe he’s just beyond that at this point. he simply is what he is.

This was pretty good. I liked Joe’s jealousy of Brock, wanting everything he has, and what not. Heyman’s “worst case scenario” stuff was cool. Then they have Joe get so close to Heyman it’s borderline homoerotic, and tell him what’s about to happen to him in the Coquina Clutch. Really grim stuff. Joe is a really underrated promo. If they keep playing it this way, this match could have a great big-fight feel to it.

The follow-up backstage with Joe and Kurt Angle made for a nice moment too. The crowd seemed into it. Assuming Kurt gets cleared to wrestle, that match is just sitting there waiting to happen.

Sheamus and Cesaro def. Heath Slater and Rhyno. Remember when Slater and Rhyno had credibility? Seems like a really long time ago, doesn’t it?

I didn’t expect to see Sheamus and Cesaro walk away with the belts at Extreme Rules. But like Samoa Joe’s win, this was a pleasant surprise. They deserve to be in this spot. These two have turned out to be damn good for each other. Sheamus in particular has a whole new life to him.

TJP def. Mustafa Ali. Neville attacks TJP afterward. A title match is made between the two for 205 LivePerkins is looking to cash in on that title shot that Neville promised him, but Neville turns on him. Perkins looks stupid for not seeing that coming, but oh well. Does this mean he’s a babyface again? I was enjoying cocky, smarmy TJP. It did him a lot of good to show a little more personality out there.

Kalisto def. Titus O’Neil. Notice they gave Sin Cara’s entrance with the big jump over the ropes to Kalisto. They gave him some cool new music too. I’ll give them credit. They’re trying to make him into something.

The Miz holds a celebration to kick off his “Intercontinental Championship Comeback Tour.” Miz expects an attack from Ambrose, and gets one when he least expects it. On this very show, they had Kurt Angle call last week’s “This is Your Life” segment with Alexa Bliss and Bayley one of the worst in Raw history. So if I’m the Miz, I’m pretty damn unnerved to see something like this in the script this week. But he came off pretty well, despite having to attack a giant cardboard box with a chair.

I liked that they toyed with our expectations as far as an Ambrose attack was concerned. We all knew it was coming. It was just a question of when. Hell, I was expecting him to be in the bear suit. So well done.

Big Cass is found backstage, having been attacked by a mystery assailant. Later, Enzo Amore and the Big Show def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. So Enzo gets attacked two weeks in a row, now Cass gets it. I like that they’re starting to incorporate some mystery elements intp the show again. We’ve got this, plus the whole Kurt Angle/Corey Graves thing. Now it’s just the question of the pay-offs.

They’re really teasing an Enzo and Cass break-up. Having Show go out there and do Cass’ bit struck some of the same chords they just played on NXT with Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa. Cass being “replaced” and all that. I’m tellin’ ya, don’t break ’em up. Not a good plan…

Alexa Bliss def. Nia Jax via disqualification to retain the Raw Women’s Title. Mickie James and Dana Brooke both looked like idiots here. They come out to watch the bully Alexa Bliss get her comeuppance, and in the process come off like bullies themselves. What’s more, when Bliss attacks them they hit her back, resulting in the DQ finish. They cost themselves the chance to see Alexa lose the title! Really, really dumb.

They were wise to give the Bayley character a rest this week. Creative hasn’t exactly done her any favors lately. First she loses the title in her home town at Payback. Then she’s part of “This is Your Life” last week. And at Extreme Rules she not only fails to get the belt back, but the script it so she’s too kind to use the kendo stick on Alexa and “get extreme.” Fans are starting to turn on her. She and Alexa likely aren’t done. But for now, give her some room to breathe.

Samoa Joe def. Seth Rollins. Good match. Served as a nice showcase for Joe as he prepares for Brock. They did the Bray Wyatt effect on screen, which distracted Rollins and allowed Joe to lock in the Coquina Clutch for the win. So it looks like they’re now going with Bray Wyatt against Seth Rollins, as opposed to Bray Wyatt against Finn Balor. The latter has been teased for quite some time. I’m not exactly chomping at the bit to see it, though. So this direction is fine by me.

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Bray Wyatt’s House of Horrors, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Aw c’mon. You guys can do better than that.

That was the one thing that went through my mind as I watched WWE’s first ever House of Horrors Match at Payback. As many expected, it was literally inside a house. They put a bunch of horror-type gimmicks inside, played with the lighting, and gave us some spooky music and sound effects. Later, they ended up back in the ring, a la the Boiler Room Brawl that Undertaker and Mankind had all those years ago.

This was fine. Worthy of a second one, if they decide to go that route. But they could have done so much more. The most twisted thing they did in this match was hanging a bunch of deformed baby dolls from the ceiling. Considering the presentation was so cinematic, it feels like they wasted an opportunity by playing it fairly safe.

For instance, WWE.com has played up the fact that this month marks Orton’s 15-year anniversary with the company. Why not have a little fun with that? Have Bray put some old photos of Orton on the wall and deface them to his liking. You can even play with old footage. If the story was that Bray has prepared this house to fight Orton in, they could have made this House of Horrors Match every bit as psychological as it is physical.

One person who should be very happy about how this match was presented? Matt Hardy. The House of Horrors Match was clearly influenced by the “Final Deletion,” “Delete or Decay,” and a lot of the Broken stuff they did in Impact Wrestling. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, I suppose. And this isn’t the first time WWE has used Bray Wyatt to imitate what Matt and Jeff Hardy did in Impact. Broken Matt’s arrival in WWE seems inevitable at this point. So a match like this between Matt and Bray would undoubtedly make for interesting television.

They also went with the right finish, which saw Jinder Mahal and the Singh Brothers (formerly the Bollywood Boyz) come in and cost Orton the match. Hey Jinder? Next time be a little more convincing with that belt shot to the back of the head. Looked more like a shot to the shoulder…

Ponderings From Raw

Alexa Bliss holds a coronation ceremony for herself. In a subsequent match, Bliss, Nia Jax, Emma, and Alicia Fox defeat Bayley, Sasha Banks Mickie James, and Dana Brooke. “The Queen is dead.” That was an interesting little line, obviously directed at Charlotte Flair. Last night at Payback, Alexa Bliss became the first woman to have held both the Raw and Smackdown Women’s Titles. That’s a distinction that many, myself included, thought Charlotte Flair would achieve first. For all intents and purposes, she’s been the face of the so-called women’s revolution. So it’s nice to see someone else get a landmark win.

The match didn’t do much for me. But I did love Bayley’s facial expressions during the coronation segment. Don’t be fooled, folks. The long term story here is still about Bayley and Sasha.

Luke Gallows def. Enzo Amore. We were at about the 40 minute mark here, and it became obvious that this show was missing something. Normally by this point we’ve seen Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, or somebody involved in the top storyline on the show. This week, that would have been either Reigns or Braun Strowman. As we hadn’t seen them yet, things felt oddly cold.

In all fairness, Enzo and Gallows had a decent match. Has Gallows lost some weight?

Seth Rollins and Finn Balor vie for a Universal Title shot. Dean Ambrose says the Intercontinental Title is now the hottest title on Raw. Rollins vs. Balor vs. the Miz made to decide top contender for the IC Title. Rollins was really lame at the top of this segment. Trying to rile up the crowd, and then all that stuff about sticking it out when times are tough. He came off like a white meat babyface. Balor was a little bit better. He seems to have improved on the mic a little bit since he’s been gone.

I have no problem with the Intercontinental Title being elevated. I just wish they’d had Ambrose and Miz sell us on it a little more. Maybe have Ambrose stick it to Brock a little more. Drive home the point that he’s the top guy on Raw, because he’s the Intercontinental Champion. He defends it all the time, Brock rarely shows up, etc. We got that here, but it wasn’t emphasized enough.

Jack Gallagher, Rich Swann, and Akira Tozawa def. Brian Kendrick, Tony Nese, and Noam Dar. Cold match. Came off just like any other six-man you’d see on Raw. Tozawa could be something, but he’s stuck in purgatory on 205 Live.

Cesaro and Sheamus address the fans after ambushing the Hardys at PaybackI didn’t expect a heel turn for these two. But in retrospect it seems rather obvious. I expected them to up the aggression, but still stay in babyface territory. I actually found their little bromance endearing.

But it’s something new for them to do. They were always going to be the number two babyface team now that the Hardys are back. Maybe number three, factoring in Enzo and Cass. So now they have a chance to be the top heel team. It’s not like it’s tough to dislike Sheamus.

Apollo Crews def. Heath Slater. The fans were chanting “He’s got kids!” for Slater at one point. I’m not sure where the ceiling is for him, but it’s higher than where he’s at now.

Kurt Angle announces Braun Strowman has a torn rotator cuff. Bray Wyatt introduces himself to the Raw General Manager. I panicked when Angle said the line about Strowman’s torn rotator cuff. Him going down now would be every bit as bad as when Finn Balor got hurt at Summerslam. But it’s reportedly just part of the storyline. Thank god.

Austin Aries def. TJP. Apparently TJ Perkins is just TJP now. Um…why?

The crowd was dying off at this point. Granted, it doesn’t help that some nights it feels like the Cruiserweight Division is dying off. This was definitely one such night.

Almost everything felt a little bit too long on this show. Almost as if they re-wrote or cut something, and had to compensate for it.

The Miz def. Seth Rollins and Finn Balor to become top contender for the Intercontinental Title. Bray Wyatt and Samoa Joe interfere. Good match. Loved Miz bowing out and after the bell and trying to avoid a beating. Great heel move. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him get the IC belt again.

I held out a little bit of hope that Balor was going to do something with Gallows and Anderson. Obviously he is indeed going with Bray. No doubt we’ll be hearing a lot of talk about demons in the coming weeks.

I’m actually starting to worry about Balor during his matches. He and Rollins had that scary cross body block landing. The last thing this guy needs is another bad head shot. The people are into him. But he obviously needs to stay healthy to maintain his momentum.

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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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