Posted in Wrestling

Top 10 Raw Moments of 2018: Stone Cold, John Cena, Becky Lynch, and more!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how Raw sucks. Not just from the fans, either. Last week, the McMahons themselves had to come out and, in so many words, admit their creative failures of late. For all this talk about “shaking up” the show, it seems like very little is actually going to change. Which is a damn shame, as the show desperately needs a revamp. Like, this sucker needs major renovations from the top down.

But as we’re taking time to look back on 2018, it’s only fair that we pay tribute to the things Raw got right. One of their buzzwords is “Raw moments,” i.e. moments or matches on the show that fans continue to look back on with fondness, awe, sadness, or whatever emotion it happened to evoke. Stone Cold and the beer truck, Eric Bischoff’s debut, that game-changing CM Punk promo, etc. The moments that made us love Raw in the first place, and are the reason we stick with it, despite all the frustrations and disappointments.

And so, with the disclaimer that these are all based on my personal opinion and viewing experiences, these are my top 10 Raw moments of 2018, in chronological order.

A few honorable mentions..
– January 29: Asuka vs. Sasha Banks.
– July 30: Brock Lesnar puts his hands on Paul Heyman.
– August 6: Ronda Rousey’s first match on Raw.

1. January 22: Austin’s got McMahon!
Raw 25 kicked off old school. Shane and Stephanie McMahon came to the ring to present a plaque to their father. What followed was classic Vince, as he proceeded to heel on the Brooklyn crowd, and then take all the credit for Raw‘s success. The crowd even broke out in an “Asshole!” chant, just like old times.

Then the glass shattered, and the crowd erupted as Stone Cold Steve Austin emerged. In a skit that included Vince throwing Shane to the wolves, Stone Cold Stunners to both McMahon men, and the throwing back of a few Steveweisers, suddenly Raw was great again. Just listen to that crowd. While I wish Austin would have gotten on the mic, in the end this segment was exactly what it needed to be: A quick nostalgia trip. It was also a reminder that even in his 70s, Vince can still deliver gold on the mic.

2. February 19: Seth Rollins steals the show in a Gauntlet Match.
This match featured all seven of the men who’d be involved in the Elimination Chamber Match to decide Brock Lesnar’s Wrestlemania opponent. We had John Cena, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, The Miz, Finn Balor, Braun Strowman, and Elias. Strowman would be the eventual winner. But the man everyone was talking about after this match was Seth Rollins.

Entering at the number two spot, Rollins wrestled for over an hour and five minutes, pinning both Roman Reigns and John Cena in the process. That’s a stellar accomplishment in and of itself, on par with Chris Jericho pinning Steve Austin and The Rock in one night back in 2001. By this point, Rollins had noticeably cooled off as a babyface. But this match was the catalyst for his reemergence as a contender for the top spot on Raw, if not the entire company.

Rollins didn’t get his shot at Lesnar in 2018, but this year might be a different story…

3. February 26: “Ladies and gentlemen, Braun Strowman!”
WWE loves to try their hand at comedy. Emphasis on the word “try.” While certain performers have natural comedic timing and abilities, most of WWE’s attempts at humor feel lame, forced and awkward.

But once in awhile, you get one out of left field that inexplicably works. The Vince McMahon “Are you ready for some wrestling?” skit, that first Daniel Bryan/Kane anger management skit, and now this. Braun Strowman coming out and strumming a bass on stage to make fun of Elias. And to make matters worse/better, mere seconds in, the instrument breaks. So Braun has to go on without it. For what it’s worth, the big guy’s voice isn’t so bad.

To cap it all off, the ensuing beatdown ended with Strowman lifting the bass up by the neck, and smashing it over Elias’ back. For yours truly, this segment embodied almost everything there is to love about Braun Strowman. It gave us his charisma, along with the brute strength and violence that he allows us to live vicariously through. This is the guy who could have headlined Wrestlemania.

4. March 19: The Ultimate Deletion.
This was the moment we’d been waiting for since the Hardys returned to WWE. A lawsuit with Anthem, the parent company of Impact Wrestling, had prevented Matt Hardy from using his “Broken” persona for most of 2017. But late in the year, we were introduced to “Woken” Matt Hardy, i.e. Broken Matt with one letter swapped out. He feuded with Bray Wyatt, culminating in this match, the “Ultimate Deletion.”

Akin to the other “Deletion” matches we saw on Impact, the match had a more cinematic, campy presentation. Most of the trademarks of the Broken universe were there. It took place at the Hardy compound. Matt’s wife and son made appearances, as did his real-life father-in-law, “Senor Benjamin.” Jeff Hardy also made a cameo. Hardy would win by sending Wyatt into the “lake of reincarnation.” Wyatt would not emerge again until the Wrestlemania pre-show, where he helped Hardy win the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal.

The Ultimate Deletion belongs on this list because, like the Broken/Woken universe itself, it dared to be different. It was also great validation for Matt. Not just because of the Anthem lawsuit, but because WWE once tried to do their own version of this match. You’ll recall the time the New Day visited the “Wyatt Family compound.” The results looked a lot like what the Hardys were doing on Impact at the time. We haven’t seen a match like this on Raw since, and we may never see one again. But it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility.

5. John Cena’s scathing promos on the Undertaker.
Undertaker no-showing the build-up to Wrestlemania 34 was extremely frustrating at the time. But in hindsight, it was the right way to go. Cena’s desperate, angry attempts to bring the Dead Man back made for great drama. The highlights of which included…

– “…stop hiding behind your lame excuses. You are not too old. You are not washed up. You are not broken down, ’cause if you was broken down, you wouldn’t be posting workout videos on your wife’s Instagram.”
– “You are not the god that [the fans] made you. You are the man you’ve allowed yourself to become. And that man, Undertaker, is a coward. The Undertaker is a coward.”
– “Hey Undertaker. It’s obvious that you left your hat in the ring. But it’s clear to everybody here that you left your balls at home.”

Then the match went two minutes, with Undertaker going over. I interpreted that as being because, in storyline, Undertaker surprised Cena. That’s why I think these two have unfinished business, and should go another round at Wrestlemania this year.

6. April 9: Paige announces her retirement.
Calling this one of Raw’s best moments feels a little weird. Obviously, if I had my way Paige would still be wrestling. But I have to tip my hat to the pure honesty, emotion, and bravery exhibited by Paige here.

Many of us were expecting this. The previous November, Paige had returned after a lengthy absence that included neck surgery. But just over a month after her return, Paige suffered another neck injury, forcing her to stay out of the ring. So the word “retirement” was being thrown around by fans online.

Still, it’s never easy to hear confirmation like this. Paige spoke very eloquently, and the crowd showered her with “Thank you Paige!” chants. But while retired, Paige wasn’t gone long at all. She showed up the very next night as the new general manager of Smackdown.

7. April 30: Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor
Seth Rollins was Raw‘s resident artist this year. If you look at the best matches in this show in 2018, he’s the one constant in most of them. He turned in epic performances with Dolph Ziggler, Kevin Owens, Drew McIntyre, among others.

But in many ways, this was the best TV match Rollins turned in all year. It earned 4.25 stars from Dave Meltzer, was for the Intercontinental Title, and the two men had a loaded history together. They were, of course, wrestling to become the first Universal Champion when Rollins injured Balor, forcing him to give up his newly won title.

Champion and challenger gave us a combination endurance/chess match. It was a collection of counters, dodges, kicks, and kick-outs from big moves in a prolonged game of “Can you top this?” Rollins would ultimately pin Balor using the Curb Stomp. Both these men can easily slip back into the Universal Title picture in 2019, and this match is one of the many pieces of evidence we have.

8. October 22: Roman Reigns announces he has leukemia, Dean Ambrose turns on Seth Rollins.
We got two shockers on this show. One was a storyline. The other was very, very real.

I had no idea Roman Reigns had ever battled leukemia, or any kind of cancer. So when he walked out at the top of the show and announced he was relinquishing the Universal Title because his leukemia had returned, I was floored. I think we all were. To their credit, the fans in Providence, many of whom had been booing Reigns when he came out, immediately switched gears. On his way out, Roman got the support that some would say he’s deserved all along.

Naturally, emotions were running high when Roman’s Shield brothers, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, challenged for the Raw Tag Team Titles in the main event that night. Which made what happened next all the more explosive…

After winning the titles, Dean Ambrose made his long-awaited heel turn, nailing Rollins with the DDT. The fans watched in stunned silence as he continued to destroy his partner. Ambrose had unraveled, and the Shield was no more.

9. November 5: Drew McIntyre destroys Kurt Angle.
This was Angle’s first match on Raw in over a decade. To his credit, it was memorable. Just not for the reason we thought it would be.

In a battle to decide whether Angle would captain the Raw Men’s team at Survivor Series, the Olympic Gold Medalist and WWE Hall of Famer put up a fight, even catching McIntyre with the Angle Slam. But in the end, McIntyre was simply too much. The “Scottish Psychopath” would hit an Angle Slam of his own, and later end the match by tapping Angle out with his trademark Ankle Lock. The match will no doubt go down as one of the definitive performances of McIntyre’s current WWE run.

What makes this a little bit more special is that supposedly this was Kurt Angle’s idea, at least partially. The two had worked together in Impact, and Angle wanted to put McIntyre over for the WWE audience. It’d call the attempt successful, wouldn’t you?

10. November 12: Becky Lynch invades.
Yes, technically it was the entire Smackdown women’s roster that invaded. But the part everyone remembers is Becky, blood on her face, standing victorious in the crowd.

This is an angle that’s been done time and time again. Wrestlers from Smackdown invading Raw, or Raw invading Smackdown, or whatever it is. But a wild punch changed everything.

It started out strong, with the camera rushing into the locker room to find Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey in Becky Lynch’s Disarm-Her. Lynch would then go to the ring to confront the Raw Women’s Survivor Series team. Lynch’s Smackdown cohorts would then ambush from the crowd. In the ensuing battle, Nia Jax would punch Becky in the face, breaking her nose and concussing her. WWE would later simply call it a “broken face.”

But the then-Smackdown Women’s Champion would find victory even in injury. The ensuing footage of Becky fighting with blood on her face only rallied fans to her cause. She had to bow out of a match against Rousey at Survivor Series. But this angle may very well have opened the door for her to be one of the first women to headline Wrestlemania. So all in all, I’d say things worked out for her…

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

Posted in Wrestling

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…

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

Posted in Wrestling

Brock Lesnar’s Victory, The Final Deletion, and Ponderings From WWE Raw

Brock Lesnar, UFC 200By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Very happy to see Brock Lesnar get the win over Mark Hunt. The doubters weren’t totally justified in questioning Lesnar’s chances. The guy hadn’t had a fight in years. But he was obviously ready. I don’t know if he regrets re-signing with WWE, but it’s clear his heart is still in MMA. I expect we’ll see him back in the octagon soon.

Lesnar will now carry the momentum from this fight into Summerslam, where we now know he’ll wrestle the returning Randy Orton. The announcement of Lesnar’s opponent happened on Smackdown, actually prompting me to watch the show for once. We heard Corey Graves bring up the fact that these two came up together in the WWE developmental system. I expect that will be a large part of the story they tell as we move toward August. I’m a bit concerned about Orton staying healthy in there with Brock. He’s just come off shoulder surgery, after all. But then again, I had those same concerns about The Undertaker, and as far as I know he came out of it fine.

WWE is going to need as many stars as they can fine once this brand split starts. Make no mistake about it, Randy Orton is one of their biggest commodities.

I also loved how they finally acknowledged the damn fight on television this week. Only after Brock had won, of course…

Bob Backlund, Darren Young, WWE Raw, July 11, 2016Ponderings From Raw:

Darren Young wins a battle royal to earn an Intercontinental Title Match at BattlegroundThe obvious choice to win this match seemed to be Apollo Crews, for no other reason than he was the only participant to get a TV entrance, and they played his music through Miz’s pre-match promo. But Darren Young was a pleasant surprise. And they were chanting his name! Imagine that.

However, I’m curious about the way he won. Crews and Baron Corbin eliminated themselves. Young won by accident. So what does that say about him going into Battleground? Either way, any excuse to get Bob Backlund on live TV works for me.

I’ve come to enjoy Miz’s commentary. He does a nice job putting other talents over. He seemed to be getting instructions to put Corbin over. That’s fair enough. I suspect Corbin will receive much more attention once the brand split takes effect. He still comes off really green. But the best solution for that is experience.

Sheamus def. Zack Ryder. I was blown away when I saw Ryder get a clean win over Sheamus on Smackdown. That, combined with his win last week on Raw, leads one to a stunning conclusion: Zack Ryder is getting a push. Four years after he took the wrestling world by storm with his YouTube show, WWE finally seems to be taking him seriously. I’m really proud that he’s persevered after all this time. The only wrestling t-shirt I’ve purchased in the last decade was Ryder’s Broski v-neck. That’s how much of a fan I was, and still am. A United States Title Match with Rusev seems imminent. Will he win? Probably not. But at least he’s in the conversation.

Kalisto, WWE Raw, July 11, 2016Tyler Breeze & Fandango def. The Lucha Dragons. During this match the announcers brought up the idea that tag teams could be split up during the draft. I’m hoping that doesn’t happen very much. Remember when they split the Dudleys up in 2002 for no real reason? And then they put them back together a matter of months later? Yeah, let’s not do that again.

Seth Rollins airs mock interview with Roman Reigns using old interview footage. Dean Ambrose comes out to confront him. A WWE Title Match is made for next week’s RawKurt Angle did something like this to The Rock at the tail end of the Attitude Era. It’s an okay little gag. No harm done, even though they are talking about a legitimate drug test violation.

Seth Rollins came off like a million bucks in this segment. He said that Reigns should be taken out of the title match at Battleground, and the fans cheered. He talked about Ambrose sneaking up on him and taking the belt, which did happen. He was also right that Ambrose couldn’t beat him for the belt last year. Rollins has a legitimate argument to being the uncrowned WWE Champion, and being better than both Ambrose and Reigns.

In Ambrose’s response, however, he came off more threatening than he has in weeks. Jokey Dean Ambrose is fine sometimes. But as the champion, we need to see more of the crazy and dangerous Dean Ambrose. When he’s on, Ambrose is as good as anybody in the company. Rollins, to his credit, played off of that intensity very well. He looked intimidated, as his character should be. As for next week’s title match, I don’t expect the belt to change hands. Battleground, however, is a different story.

WWE Raw, July 11, 2016Kevin Owen gets Sami Zayn ejected from the commentary table before his victory over Cesaro. Zayn attacks Owens afterward. I wish they’d just make this some kind of stipulation match that allows Zayn and Owens to fight all over the arena. I just wish they’d stop doing that lock-up/punches thing they do. It takes me right out of whatever scene they’re in.

The New Day journey to the Wyatt Family “compound.” So…was this WWE’s attempt to outdo the “Final Deletion” that TNA did on Impact last week? If so, they failed.

Let’s go ahead and talk about the Final Deletion. It was a match Matt and Jeff Hardy shot on location, which served as the blow-off for the bizarre program they’ve had in TNA this year. Produced by Jeremy Borash, it was a truly ridiculous spectacle. There was a weird vignette with drones and a hologram, spots with fireworks, and the lunacy fans have come to expect from Matt’s crazy character. It was far from your traditional main event, but that was the point. A lot of fans enjoyed it, and it got TNA some much-needed positive buzz.

All I can say about this, is that it’s good to see people talking about TNA again. What that brand desperately needs is some buzz, and they got it.

Fast-forward six days, and we get this. It looked like WWE’s take on a found footage flick, a la The Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield. But the shaky camera was just awful. There were traces of the Final Deletion. We had the music, the stuff in the water, Bray using an axe, the car crash, etc. The ironic thing is, had they shot this in a more traditional manner, it would have been a lot more interesting. We’d have been able to follow the action more closely. Also, that didn’t look much like a compound to me. More like an open field.

TNA, The Final Deletion, Matt and Jeff HardyOn the plus side, the image of Braun Strowman rising from the water and roaring was awesome. Literally the best thing he’s ever done. And that final image of the lanterns in the forest was cool. But all in all, this was very derivative. WWE drawing inspiration from something TNA did? In 2016? Who’d have thought?

Enzo & Cass def. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson via disqualification. John Cena makes the save afterward. Of course Cena was there. C’mon, now.

Decent match. I’ve got high hopes the match at Battleground will be one of the better six-man bouts we’ve seen on pay per view in recent years. I doubt it’ll top The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family. But you never know. This all obviously leads to another match between AJ Styles and John Cena at Summerslam, and possibly a tag title shot for Enzo & Cass.

Sasha Banks def. Dana Brooke. I was really curious to see how Banks and Brooke would match up. All things considered, they did pretty well. Absolutely the best match I’ve seen from Dana Brooke since she got called up. They also gave this match a good amount of time, which I credit them for. We wanted Sasha, and they gave us Sasha. They took their damn time, but better late than never.

Vince McMahon names Shane McMahon Commissioner of Smackdown, Stephanie McMahon named Commissioner of Raw. General Managers to be named next week. First off, Vince’s impression of “sweet” Stephanie was awesome. The funniest thing on this show in weeks.

McMahon Family, WWE Raw, July 11, 2016What happened here isn’t surprising. This looked like where they were going. The heel Stephanie on one show, the babyface Shane on the other. The General Manager thing is a bit odd. Traditionally, you have one authority figure that makes matches, stipulations, etc. So does the GM now fill that role, with Shane or Steph coming in as necessary? It all seems redundant. But maybe it’ll make sense when we see it in action. By the way, isn’t Kurt Angle available these days?

I do, however, think Vince gave us a clue about how things are really going to go once this split takes effect. He made a point to call Raw the “three-hour flagship” of WWE. In the end, Raw is like Vince’s favorite child. Even with the added emphasis on Smackdown, eventually it all comes back to Raw.

 Image 1 from rt.com. Image 5 from denofgeek.com. Remaining images courtesy of WWE.

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