Summerslam on the Horizon, and Other Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Doing something different this week. Let’s rapid fire a few news stories…

Rey Mysterio Jr. reportedly not returning to WWE. The company reportedly passed on Rey because they weren’t interested in working with Konan, who is part of Rey’s representation. It’s no big loss or gain either way, as far as I’m concerned. No disrespect to Rey. But at the end of his WWE run he simply wasn’t the same caliber a performer. That’s what age and injury will do to you.

I understand the impulse to use a big name like Rey to appeal to the Latin market. But they don’t need him to do that, do they? I’ve always wondered why they didn’t plug Kalisto into that spot. Granted, Kalisto’s not much of a talker. But Rey never was either.

Becky Lynch and Cris Cyborg create Summerslam buzz. UFC Women’s Featherweight Champion Cris Cyborg has been sparring with Becky Lynch on Twitter, supposedly to create buzz for a Summerslam match.

Uh huh. Sure. They’re going to book a match with a big name UFC star this close to the event. And that’s assuming she’d even get clearance from UFC to do anything physical.

Would I like to see it? Sure. But I’ll believe it when I see it.

Global Force Wrestling Women’s Champion Sienna calls Charlotte Flair out on Twitter for copying her look and pinky finger mannerism. Again with the Twitter drama. I had never heard of this woman until I caught wind of this. I’m sure she’s talented and everything. But…is she for real with this?

Sienna incorporates the Peacock into her look, as does Charlotte. But what apparently prompted the jab from her was the pinky gesture Charlotte uses with Becky Lynch. It’s a jokey thing they do that means “tea time.”

I’m sure Sienna is an awesome wrestler. I wouldn’t know, as I’ve never seen her. And with all due respect, I’m pretty sure Charlotte hasn’t either. So let’s cool our jets and not go to war over coincidences.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

John Cena opens the show. Baron Corbin interrupts. Daniel Bryan makes a match between the two at SummerslamTom Phillips gave this match a nice little tagline: “The Future vs The Franchise.”

In an era where so much of what we see is scripted, Cena’s ad-libbing is usually really refreshing. Now fans get the pleasure of chanting “Dumpster Fire” at Baron Corbin. (They should have chanted it at that Punjabi Prison Match.) Imagine how many cool moments like that we’ve missed over the years because of over-scripting.

The Usos def. Sami Zayn and Tye Dillinger. The New Day return to beat down their Summerslam challengers. Fun to see the New Day show a little more of an edge as they attacked the Usos. Now if only the rubber match at Summerslam was a Street Fight or something, and not just another match.

Charlotte Flair def. Lana. The story of this match was supposed to be about Charlotte outdoing Lana at every turn. And yes, hey gave us that. But it ultimately became about Charlotte’s wardrobe malfunction. Yep. Her tights got pulled down a bit. That happened.

It’s funny what catches on. All these years after the Janet Jackson/Super Bowl scandal, we’re still using the term “wardrobe malfunction.” The world is so random…

Shane McMahon brings AJ Styles and Kevin Owens to the ring to set the record straight regarding Summerslam. Shane accidentally takes a Pele Kick from Styles. I’d love to know what percentage of my brain is made up of useless pro wrestling trivia. When Kevin Owens referenced Shane having refereed before, my mind immediately jumped to the moment from Survivor Series ’98 that they ended up showing. I can’t decide whether that’s quirky or sad.

Carmella def. Naomi in a non-title match with help from James Ellsworth. Natalya is the one challenging for the belt at Summerslam. But between Carmella having the Money in the Bank briefcase, the alliance between Lana and Tamina, and the ever-present Charlotte and Becky Lynch, Nattie is almost an afterthought. I’m a Natalya fan, but this almost feels like a pre-show match.

Also, can we get Ellsworth an acting coach or something? He was awful in that backstage segment with Nattie and Carmella.

Shinsuke Nakamura talks to Renee Young about his WWE Title Match at Summerslam. Not to overstate my point on the whole scripting thing, but one of the biggest drawbacks of not letting the wrestlers speak for themselves is that they all end up saying the same things. That stuff Nakamura said about Cena being the measuring stick of WWE and being a 16-time champion was all fine in theory. But the actual structuring of his verbiage made it come off phony. Something about him using that measuring stick expression just didn’t feel right.

On the upside, his English was fine as a whole. I didn’t have any trouble understanding him. Doing this in a pre-tape was smart. Nakamura might be like Brock Lesnar, in that when he has to talk, it’s better not to put him out in front of the crowd.

Randy Orton def. Jinder Mahal in a non-title match. Rusev jumps Orton afterward. I’d forgotten Jinder is Canadian. That Toronto crowd reminded me real quick. What else would you expect from the city that booed Bayley?

Very surprised to see Jinder lose clean here. I assume this was done to make him look beatable for Nakamura at Summerslam. I just hope they don’t use this match as an excuse to give us more Orton/Mahal matches. The fairly quality of their pay per view encounters notwithstanding,  Orton did what he was supposed to do and put the new star over strong. Now onward.

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Punjabi Prison Match Returning, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I turned Raw off this week at about the 90-minute mark. It was the first time I’d given up on a show since November. Apparently I missed some good stuff afterward, including a follow-up on the split between Enzo and Cass, Samoa Joe choking out Brock Lesnar, and a Gauntlet Match with the women.

What a shame I missed it. But I just couldn’t take it anymore. The show was actively irritating me.

It started when they brought Josh Duhamel out to do commentary during a six-man tag. He was there to promote Transformers: The Last Knight, and an upcoming film he’s working on with WWE Studios. They spent a large portion of the match asking Duhamel questions about the movies before actually bothering to talk about what was happening in the ring. I’ve been watching this stuff for over 20 years, and this kind of thing  is nothing new. But it’s seldom been as grating to me as it was here. It’s like they were trying to mimic a talk show interview.

Later in the show, they did a Miz TV segment with someone named Lamelo Ball and his son LaVar Ball, and then his other son Lonzo Ball. I had no idea who any of these people were. Apparently Lonzo just got drafted by the LA Lakers, so it was partially meant to appeal to the crowd in Los Angeles. But this was just not good. It was an obvious attempt by WWE to get coverage from the major sports outlets so they’d look “legitimate.” Whatever that means…

It was then made worse when 15-year-old Lamelo used the N-word twice. It happened during Dean Ambrose’s entrance, so the music pulled a little bit of focus from it. But it happened. Some of the blame goes on Lamelo for that. But he’s just a kid. What the hell was he doing with a live mic?

And frankly, as a wrestling fan, there’s a larger issue at play for me here. The Ball family shouldn’t have had a featured role on Raw to begin with. I understand WWE wanting to get “the rub” from celebrities. It makes good business sense, and it’s certainly worked in the past. Think of names like Mr. T, Cindi Lauper, Mike Tyson, and Floyd Mayweather.

But WWE has bigger problems right now that can’t be masked by celebrity involvement. They’re the same problems that have been there for years now. Everything is overly sanitized. The wrestlers are too scripted. Certain characters feel hollow. Nothing feels real. The show is too long. The list goes on.

The ratings reflect it, too. Viewership fell below three million people again this week. Pundits talk a lot about WWE’s “base” audience. As in, the people that are going to watch the shows no matter what. Usually, I’m part of that base. But this past week, they chased me off before I could see most of their big angles. If it’s gotten to the point that they’re chasing hardcore loyalists like myself off, how do they expect to bring casual viewers back to the product?

Over seven million people have watched the YouTube video of the first Brock Lesnar/Samoa Joe’s confrontation on Raw. So it’s not like there’s no interest in the WWE brand. I think a lot of the more casual fans are simply waiting for Raw to be good again. Why should they waste their time otherwise?

So what do they have to lose by changing up the presentation and the creative? More importantly, how much do they stand to gain by taking some risks? It’s not like what they’re doing now is setting the world on fire. Anything so we don’t see crap like that Miz TV segment anymore. That thing stunk like balls…

Sorry. I couldn’t resist. Let’s move on to Smackdown.  

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Daniel Bryan opens the show, Carmella vies to get her Money in the Bank briefcase back. James Ellsworth is ejected from the building. I chuckled at Ellsworth’s crack about Bryan not being able to cut it in the ring anymore. Bryan has made no secret about wanting to get back in there. He just can’t get cleared by WWE doctors. The smart bet his inevitable return take place in Ring of Honor or New Japan Pro Wrestling. That’s sad news for WWE buffs. But as much as anyone, Bryan deserves to live life on his own terms.

The Usos def. The Hype Bros. The New Day to challenge for the Smackdown Tag Titles at BattlegroundSurprised the Hype Bros lost this match clean. Maybe that Zack Ryder heel turn is coming sooner than I expected.

So Kofi Kingston insults the Usos, and they just stand there and take it? Yes, they’re heels. But do they have to be wusses too? At least tease some physicality.

Breezango interrogates the Ascension about attacking them at Money in the Bank. Konnor: “The only reason we were at Money in the Bank is because we wanted a match on the card.” Hey, at least he’s honest.

Naomi def. Lana to retain the Smackdown Women’s Title. I was actually rooting for Lana here. How much heat would she get if Rusev came down and cost Naomi the match? Is Lana as good wrestler yet? No. But neither was Stephanie McMahon when she was Women’s Champion. Just do it!

Randy Orton interrupts Aiden English to challenge Jinder Mahal to another WWE Title Match. Shane McMahon grants his request, allowing Mahal to choose the stipulation Mahal chooses a Punjabi Prison Match. How nice that they just happened to have that stock footage of the Punjabi Prison structure standing by. That’s the kind of thing that just shatters your suspension of disbelief.

Jinder name-dropped the Great Khali in this segment. Not sure how good an idea that was. Considering the quality of previous Punjabi Prison Matches, do they really want people Googling them with the Great Khali’s name attached? Not exactly a recipe for quality content.

Baron Corbin def. Sami Zayn. They had Sami Zayn interrupt Maria and Mike Kanellis on his way to the ring. Not a bad first opponent for Mike Kanellis. Not a bad first opponent for anybody, really.

Carmella def. Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Natalya, and Tamina Snuka in a Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match to regain the briefcase. Great effort from all the ladies involved here. It seemed like they were trying to slam each other hard to make up for a lack of hitting one another with the ladder.

They did a weird sequence where Charlotte and Tamina (with her Joan Jett look) were holding a closed ladder straight up, and Becky Lynch tried to leap up and climb it. They held it there for several seconds, then let it drop across the ropes as Becky remained perched. A few seconds later, they then attacked her. Very tentative. Again, it hurts your suspension of disbelief. But then again, I’m not the one out there on the ladder…

That chair shot Carmella gave to Becky at the end of the match looked weak as hell. If you’re going to use the damn chair, make it look good! That being said, this was the right finish. Carmella gets heat with how she won at the pay per view, and she keeps it here. Smackdown has its new top heel in the Women’s Division. But lay that damn chair in! Also, don’t let the cameras catch you peeking at the ring when you’re supposed to be down on the outside!

You live and you learn…

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Carmella’s Controversy, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Sometimes I think the so-called “smart” fans forget what real heat is. Wrestling is designed to make us angry, and play on some of our most basic human instincts. WWE did that with the finish to the first ever Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match on Sunday, and people were mad. The problem is they were mad for the wrong reason.

The finish of the match came when James Ellsworth climbed up the ladder, grabbed the briefcase, and dropped it down to Carmella. So the inaugural Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match was essentially won by a man. I got a little miffed about this initially. I even retweeted a comment or two from fans that were upset. But the more I think about this finish, the more I absolutely love it.

I’m about a pretty progressive guy. I understand what’s gets people upset about a woman needing a man’s help to do something. But let’s lighten up and realize what this is. It’s a story that’s designed to get under people’s skin, and make them want to see Carmella and Ellsworth get their comeuppance. It did what pro wrestling is supposed to do.

Hey, I’m a smart fan too. But let’s not outsmart ourselves by analyzing this stuff to the point that we can’t enjoy it anymore.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Carmella and James Ellsworth discuss the controversial ending to the Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match. Carmella sounded pretty scripted here. But that’s not exactly uncommon on WWE TV these days. And she had some nice fire. So I was good with this. I’d also forgotten she was picked last in the draft last year. That was a nice touch.

Big E. def. Jimmy Usos. Nice win. Nobody ever talks about Big E. being a former Intercontinental Champion. Probably because it didn’t end up being that memorable. But it merits mentioning when he’s spotlighted by himself like this.

Shinsuke Nakamura def. Dolph Ziggler.  This was fun. A little slow at first, but one of those matches where you find yourself watching for the little details. Nakamura doesn’t necessarily look like somebody who can work the mat, but he and Dolph looked good jockeying for position out there. They gave these guys a lot of time too, which a match like this deserves.

Kevin Owens def. Chad Gable in a US Open Challenge Match. Both Chad Gable and Jason Jordan have been ghosts these last several weeks. So to see Gable get a singles spotlight like this was really cool. Absolutely gorgeous moonsault, and the crowd was into that roll-through German Suplex. I’ve talked before about how Gable could conceivably do well as a cruiserweight on Raw. But I’m scared of what would happen to him, given how stale 205 Live has become.

Daniel Bryan takes the Money in the Bank briefcase from Carmella, announces a rematch for next week. Ahhhhh, so that’s what it was. Do a contested finish, then direct people to a big episode of Smackdown. It’s a smart move. Not just because ratings are down, but because it’s never been done on WWE TV before.

I’m hoping Carmella wins again. Put even more heat on her. On Talking Smack we found out Ellsworth is banned from ringside. But she can still find a way to win. Why not?

I haven’t heard anything about injuries sustained in the Ladder Match, other than Bryan having a throwaway line about Charlotte’s neck. That’s a hell of a bruise Tamina has on her arm. I did, however, notice Tamina’s got a hell of a bruise on her arm. I imagine that was pretty painful. Though not quite as painful as her attempt to diss Charlotte here.

So we’ve got all these women competing in yet another Ladder Match for an on-demand shot at the Women’s Title. Meanwhile, Naomi grants Lana yet another title match for doing nothing other than running her mouth. I’d be more angry at her than Carmella.

WWE Champion Jinder Mahal def. Luke Harper. Baron Corbin teases a Money in the Bank cash-in. Randy Orton brutalizes Mahal the match. Tonight was the first night I really took note of Jinder’s new entrance. It gives him a great superstar vibe. When you see that entrance, it feels like somebody special is walking out. Is Jinder backing that up in the ring? Not necessarily. But his presentation is coming together nicely.

Why aren’t the Singh Brothers wrestling on TV? They’re sort of in the same role that J&J Security was a few years ago. But they’re obviously capable of more. More importantly, Smackdown needs heel tag teams.

So we’re not done with Jinder Mahal and Randy Orton, huh? Damn. I was hoping both these guys were moving on. This likely means Jinder is going to beat Randy Orton at three consecutive pay per views: BacklashMoney in the Bank, and Battleground next month. Not a bad way to get your new champion over. And now that it’s apparent John Cena vs. Roman Reigns isn’t happening at Summerslam, my guess is Jinder’s opponent in August will be “Big Match John” himself.

Maria Kanellis returns to WWE at Money in the Bank, alongside her husband Mike Kanellis. The two appear again in a WWE.com exclusive. I’ve been a Maria Kanellis fan for a long time. So it’s great to see her back. I don’t know much about Mike Bennett, but having him take his wife’s maiden name is a stroke of genius. Again, you appeal to people’s most basic instincts. A lot of men roll their eyes at the notion of a man doing that. Then on top of that you see all of the PDA, and that talk about love. It’s positively nauseating. And that’s why these two could make for a great heel act on Smackdown.

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A WWE Royal Rumble 2017 Review – Roman Trolls the Alamo Dome

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Well. To be fair, they never said Roman Reigns wasn’t going to be in the Rumble Match.

So let’s take it from the top. Well, almost the top. Full disclosure: I didn’t watch the entire pre-show. I’m still having bad flashbacks from Wrestlemania XXXII, when I sat in front of my computer for seven hours. No thank you. I turned the network on just as the Sasha Banks/Nia Jax match was starting. It was exactly what it should have been, with Sasha fighting from underneath and Nia shutting her down at the end. Gallows and Anderson are also our new Raw Tag Champs, which is a nice surprise. It’s long overdue.

As for the show itself…

Charlotte Flair, Bayley, WWE Royal Rumble 2017Charlotte Flair def. Bayley to retain the WWE Raw Women’s Title. Again, this match was what it needed to be. Charlotte retains after hitting an awesome Natural Selection on the ring apron. It’s not Bayley’s time yet. Considering how great Charlotte has become, it may not be anybody else’s time for quite awhile. Simply put, she’s one of the premiere performers in that company, male or female. What I remember about this match above all is when Charlotte had Bayley where she wanted her, and then looked into the crowd. Her expression and delivery were priceless when she pointed at Bayley and yelled: “This is you!” Rumor has it they want to do a four-way at Wrestlemania with these two, Sasha, and Nia. That’s fine, I guess. But if they wanted, they could rematch these two. I felt like things were just starting to pick up.

Kevin Owens def. Roman Reigns to retain the WWE Universal Title after interference from Braun Strowman. This was a fun fight, highlighted by that bump Owens took into the stack of chairs. I can’t imagine how that must feel. I had wondered about Jericho possibly dropping something down to Owens from the cage. But I wrote it off, thinking it would somehow be more complicated than it was. Ah, the charming simplicity of gravity. I just wish Roman would have sold that brass knocks shot more. Like, a lot more. I understand he’s supposed to be Superman. But even Superman can take a rough one on the chin. Still, both these guys put on a good show. Let it never be said that Roman isn’t a tremendous athlete.

Kevin Owens, Roman Reigns, WWE Royal Rumble 2017It looks like they’re going with Roman and Strowman for the next few weeks, which could be intriguing. The unstoppable babyface (in theory) against the dominant monster. As they’re leaving the belt on Owens, there’s a very real possibility he’ll find himself across the ring from Goldberg at Fastlane.

Neville def. Rich Swann to win the WWE Cruiserweight Title. This was the move to make. I always got on Neville’s case about not having any personality. But he’s done a complete 180 as far as I’m concerned. He’s the perfect centerpiece to the Cruiserweight Division right now.

John Cena def. AJ Styles to win the WWE Heavyweight Championship. This was clearly the match of the night. Not better than their Summerslam match, in my opinion. But still quality stuff. I’m always amazed by how damn smooth Styles is. From that standpoint, you can see where a lot of the Shawn Michaels comparisons come from.

If I could have changed one thing about this match, I’d have ended it with the AA. It seemed overindulgent to have Styles take that big fall, only to hit him with the move two more times. To me, that’s the equivalent of having someone survive a powerbomb spot through a table, and then pinning them with a regular powerbomb. Why not just beat them on the big one?

John Cena, WWE Royal Rumble 2017Cena tying Ric Flair’s record of 16 Heavyweight Titles was inevitable. One would think there’d be more uproar about him beating Styles. But a lot of people seem to have really turned the corner on him. He’s always going to have his haters. But he’s endured for so long that I think the respect element has taken effect. And after everything he’s done for WWE and the wrestling business in general, he deserves it.

Randy Orton won the 2017 Royal Rumble. This match wasn’t what a lot of us wanted it to be. Once it got in the ring I think we remembered that Undertaker’s been having hip issues, and Goldberg hasn’t wrestled in about a decade. Still, they did their best with what they had. The stuff with Lesnar/Goldberg bit was fun. I’ve come to enjoy this story about Goldberg being the one person who can not only beat Lesnar, but embarrass him. And the crowed dug it. They were chanting for Goldberg before he even got out there.

There was some buzz about NXT star Tye Dillinger being entrant number 10, what with his “Perfect 10” gimmick. So I was happy to see him. But other than that, they didn’t pull any rabbits out of their hats in terms of surprises. No Samoa Joe. No former stars coming in for a big pop. I had my hopes up that they’d bring Sid in, given his role in the 1997 Rumble. He’d have gotten a big reaction, a la Kevin Nash a few years ago. No such luck.

Randy Orton, WWE Royal Rumble 2017James Ellsworth took a brutal looking fall when Braun Strowman threw him out. I was actually amused by the stuff between those two. Strowman was my pick to win, but he looked good out there. Corbin eliminating him was a surprise, though it made Corbin look like a million bucks.

Once Undertaker came out at 29, and we had all the key players in the ring, I started thinking about Finn Balor. I don’t know if he’s ready to go yet. But if he was, that would have been the perfect spot for him. Instead we got Roman Reigns, and many of us let out a collective wretch. You talk about trolling your audience. They had to know Roman would get that reaction. They had to. Then on top of that, he eliminates the Undertaker. The whole thing went over like a wet fart.

I may be giving them too much credit here, but they may have used Roman in that spot to benefit Randy Orton. Orton has never had the kind of smart backlash that Cena or Roman has had, and I think the fans like him well enough. But Randy has been a made man in WWE for years now, and he’s not exactly a new face. So having him win the Rumble Match might have been an eye roller. But compared to Reigns, Orton doesn’t look so bad, does he?

WWE Royal Rumble 2017, Undertaker, Roman ReignsOn the subject of wretch-worthy scenarios, we now have Randy Orton as the Rumble winner, and John Cena as the WWE Champion. If there’s one match we never need to see again, it’s that one. Thankfully, we have an Elimination Chamber Match for the title in just two weeks. Given the direction things have been going with the Wyatt Family, there’s now a very real chance that Bray Wyatt will go in to Wrestlemania XXXIII with the title and face Orton. It would be nice to finally see Bray in that upper echelon. They’ve made so many missteps with that character, and I expect it’ll be nice to see him reach that upper echelon.

As for Roman, it’s looking like he’s got a date with Undertaker at Wrestlemania. From a performance standpoint, I can’t say that thrills me. And if they’re still trying to get people to cheer Reigns, that seems downright stupid. But at least the crowd will be hot for it. If they thought Roman got booed tonight, wait till he’s in there with ‘Taker at Wrestlemania

All in all, a good show. Not quite as good as we were hoping for. Had they delivered more with the Rumble Match, this might have been one for the ages. But it was still solid.

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The John Cena Brand, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

john_cena_nickelodeonBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

First the Today show, then the ESPYs, then the Teen Choice Awards, then Saturday Night Live, now the Kids Choice Awards. Instead of being “the face that runs the place,” John Cena should be the “host that does the most.”

Indeed, Cena will host Nickelodeon’s annual Kid’s Choice Awards on March 11, just a few weeks before Wrestlemania. But it’s seemingly becoming less and less about wrestling for Cena. We’ve always known he had major crossover appeal. Every bit as much as Hulk Hogan or Steve Austin. Perhaps even the Rock. That’s one of the things WWE looks for in their top guys. But in 2016, the demand for Cena outside the squared circle was higher than ever.

Things don’t seem to be slowing down, either. In the last several months, he’s had critical opportunities to define the John Cena “brand” for mainstream America. Consider all the different demographics he’s reached via ESPN, the Today show and Saturday Night Live on NBC, Trainwreck with Amy Schumer, American Grit on Fox, and now Nickelodeon. Simply put, he’s everywhere.

John Cena, NBCFor WWE, this is good news. Yes, we’re bound to see far less of Cena on their TV shows. But he’s also one of the best ambassadors they’ve ever had. He’s handsome, charismatic, and legitimately entertaining when given the right material. He’s a guy you would want synonymous with your company.

Eventually, the Rock outgrew WWE. The Dwayne Johnson brand became as big, if not bigger, than the company he wrestled for. At this point, WWE is still very much woven into the fabric of the John Cena brand. So until he leaves the nest on a more permanent basis, what’s good for Cena is good for WWE.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Randy Orton def. Luke Harper. Bray Wyatt hits Sister Abigail on Harper after the match. Nice match. We may now have one less Wyatt Family member.

WWE has tried to break Harper out on his own before. He even got a brief Intercontinental Title reign out of it. But he wasn’t able to carve out a distinct identity for himself. He was essentially a drifting Wyatt Family member. That’s why it felt so right when they eventually put the group back together. If this is another go at a singles run for him, they can’t repeat the same mistakes.

Mickie James, WWE Smackdown, January 24, 2017Mickie James explains her actions as La Luchadora. She and Alexa Bliss lay out Becky Lynch. I love Mickie. I really do. But when she started rattling off her resume, it screamed “scripted promo.” Most of this stuff is scripted, obviously. But that just made it painfully obvious.

I do appreciate her spicing up the delivery, though. Her character motivation makes sense. With all this talk of a women’s revolution, she feels forgotten. And I’ll admit, I got a little chill when Becky’s music hit, and she talked right over it. “Don’t cry about last week, honey! Get in this ring and I’ll give you something to cry about!” Damn!

One minor complaint: When Becky was down in the ring, Alexa gave her a little kick in the side. She didn’t even register it. Maybe lay that in a little more next time. But overall, some pretty good stuff here.

Carmella takes James Ellsworth shopping for a new wardrobe. These talking segments still aren’t Ellsworth’s strong point. But Carmella’s got a lot of charisma, and I appreciate the idea. It’s always good to break up the monotony. I’ll admit, I chuckled at Ellsworth wearing a turtleneck.

Mojo Rawley, January 24, 2017Mojo Rawley wins a 10-man Over the Top Rope Challenge to earn a spot in the Royal Rumble Match. Mojo Rawley caught a bad break when Zack Ryder got hurt. It’s cool that they’re testing the waters with him. But who is this guy? All I really know is he was Zack Ryder’s tag partner in NXT.

This is the first time we’ve seen Heath Slater in awhile. They need to find something for him to do. The team with Rhyno has run its course. But he can still contribute as a single.

They had Baron Corbin out there on commentary. He’s improving, but the Earth didn’t move for me on this one.

AJ Styles calls out John Cena. It found it hilarious that AJ talked about his placement on the Royal Rumble poster. I actually saw a few Twitter trolls complaining about that. It’s not entirely unjustified. But it’s a multi-man Royal Rumble poster that has the four biggest stars (Undertaker, Goldberg, Brock Lesnar, and Cena) in the front. Even the mighty Roman Reigns didn’t make the front row. Get over it.

Oddly enough, I was actually watching that Today show episode as it aired. I rarely get to see it. But Cena happened to be on, and I caught that AJ Styles mention. I even tweeted about it. Because, you know, I tweet about things…

What can I say? I was tickled. Other than that, this was pretty much your standard Cena vs. Indy Guy promo. Not thrilled to see AJ stunned speechless at the end. Especially since there’s a good chance Cena’s walking out with the belt on Sunday.

Dolph Ziggler def. Kalisto. Apollo Crews saves Kalisto from another chair attack by Ziggler. Loved Kalisto dodging the clothesline with a backflip. That’s pretty much all I can say about this one, as it ended so quickly. I imagine we’ll see Ziggler vs. Crews sooner than later. Unless they want to do it at Elimination Chamber. But that seems unlikely. They’ll probably need Dolph for the chamber.

Naomi reemerges, places herself in the hunt for the Smackdown Women’s Title. Happy to see Naomi back on television. She’s clearly been hungry for awhile now, and she’s got so many athletic gifts. She deserves her shot.

Dean Ambrose, WWE Smackdown, January 24, 2017Dean Ambrose def. the Miz in a Lumberjack Match to retain the Intercontinental Championship. On the infographic they showed when Ambrose came out, he had two accomplishments listed: “Founding member of the Shield” and “Defeated the Miz for the Intercontinental Championship.” We’ve been getting Shield mentions every week on Raw, and Smackdown hasn’t been shy about bringing them up either. WWE really wants the Shield near the front of everyone’s mind. I imagine that’s because they want some of those fond memories to rub off on Roman Reigns. But it also doesn’t hurt to plant seeds for their inevitable reunion.

I was pleased to hear “Let’s go Ambrose!” chants during this match. Ambrose was starting to hear boos when he was programmed with AJ Styles. I’d like to think that had more to do with the love fans have for Styles than any disdain they developed for Ambrose. He’s such an eccentric talent, and one of my favorite guys to watch.

Just like they keep talking about Cena going for Heavyweight Title number 16, Mauro Ranallo kept hyping the idea of Miz being a seven-time Intercontinental Champion. Do they want him to break Jericho’s record of nine? Or is that just Mauro being an informed announcer? We’re not necessarily used to those…

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

Roman Reigns and the US Title, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

Roman Reigns, United State ChampionBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There’s going to be some talk about the Miz and the Intercontinental Title this week. So as long as we’re on the subject of secondary titles, let’s talk about the US Championship. And with it, everyone’s favorite person: Roman Reigns.

I’m not sure exactly why the decision was made to put the US Title on Reigns. I can only assume it had something to do with keeping him out of the main event scene following his suspension. You also had the added bonus of elevating the title by putting it on a top guy. They did the exact same thing with John Cena and the US Championship in 2015. Cena, of course had great matches as part of his “US Open” challenge segments.

I’m not a big Roman Reigns fan. And at this point, I could take or leave him as US Champion. I was all for putting the belt on Chris Jericho this week. But I also think it’s unfair to compare the attempt to elevate the title with Reigns to what was done with Cena. The stuff with Reigns started as an attempt to turn a pretty big lemon into lemonade. They were making the best of a bad situation. With Cena it seemed like a more concentrated attempt to not just elevate the title, but give him something new to do each week. With Cena, the belt was a priority. With Reigns, it’s a byproduct.

I do, however, think Reigns has run his course as US Champ. The question is, who do you put the belt on now? Putting it on Jericho would be fine, but that’s almost a lateral move. He doesn’t need the belt any more than Reigns does. They could always give it back to Rusev, I suppose.

Hey, is Sami Zayn done with Braun Strowman now? It seems like he might need something to do…

The Miz, Maryse, WWE Smackdown, January 3, 2016Ponderings From Smackdown:

The Miz demands an apology from Renee Young, gets Dean Ambrose instead. Maryse slaps Ambrose. I haven’t had a chance to talk about this Miz/Renee Young stuff yet. Simply put: I love it. They’re blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, as the best wrestling angles often do. Plus, Young is so easy to like, and Miz is so easy to hate. It’s made for some really interesting television. I loved the line about how she “sacrificed her journalistic integrity for dirty deeds with Dean Ambrose.”

Baron Corbin def. Dolph Ziggler. Kalisto saves Ziggler from further punishment, but Ziggler surprises him with a superkick. While he may still lack sufficient mic skills, this is the second consecutive week Corbin has been in a really good match. You obviously can’t discount the skills of Dolph Ziggler, who was in there with him both times. But credit where credit is due.

It looks like Dolph is finally turning heel. Long overdue. I’m excited for what we’ll see from him in the next few weeks.

Becky Lynch def. La Luchadora. During the match, Alexa Bliss pulls a switcheroo, entering the ring in a La Luchadora costume. Rumor has it Mickie James will be the one under the La Luchadora mask. Reportedly it’s NXT talent Deonna Purrazzo that’s actually been under the mask these past few weeks. I’m not sure they need to go that route to bring Mickie back. Clearly a lot of fans remember her. But it’s a fine pay off.

WWE Smackdown, January 3, 2017, AJ Styles, John CenaAJ Styles and John Cena sign the contract for their WWE Title Match at the Royal Rumble. Baron Corbin comes out to announce he’s in the Royal Rumble Match. This was another one of those segments where somebody comes at Cena hard, blurring a bit of truth into what they say, and then Cena comes back with a big rah-rah speech. It’s always a fine segment. But it’s nothing too special. As we’ve seen, Cena and Styles do their best talking from bell to bell.

 Carmella def. Aliyah. So the story with Carmella and James Ellsworth will obviously end with her turning on him and breaking his heart. From a character standpoint, that’s fine. But Ellsworth is not good at the acting side of things. Nothing with depth to it, at least. Best case scenario is this gives him a chance to sharpen up.

American Alpha def. Breezango. A tag title rematch with the Wyatt Family is announced for next week.  I was blown away to see Jason Jordan and Chad Gable win the Smackdown tag belts last week. These guys were always going to be tag champs. I just expected they’d wait a little longer. Zack Ryder’s knee injury obviously sped things up. They even got to pin Randy Orton with their finish! I don’t expect the Wyatts to regain the belts next week either.

Nikki Bella and Natalya trade insults in the ring. I keep coming back to the notion of blurred lines between fantasy and reality. In this segment Nattie said things that a lot of fans have said for years about Nikki getting opportunities because of her looks. Nikki fired back with some intriguing stuff about Nattie using her family’s legacy to get ahead. They ended it with a corny line about dying alone. But this was good stuff.

Natalya, Nikki Bella, WWE Smackdown, January 3, 2017I’ve harped on quite a bit about scripted promos lately. I’m not sure how scripted this was. But there’s always something to be said for good writing, and the writing on this show has stepped up significantly.

Dean Ambrose def. the Miz to win the Intercontinental Title. Miz snaps on Talking SmackThere are two schools of thought here. I’ll give you both…

Initially, I felt the same way about this that I felt about Dolph Ziggler beating Miz for the belt at No Mercy. Miz and Marise’s presentation is better with that Intercontinental Title, and chances are they’ll give it right back to Miz anyway. So why bother beating him for it?

On the other hand, look at what they did on Talking Smack, with Miz talking about Ambrose getting the title match because of Daniel Bryan’s friendship with Renee Young. Miz got a little bit silly at the end. But you can see how that character believes he’s right. He’s not the best wrestler, but in so many ways Miz is the most interesting character on Smackdown right now. Maybe in WWE altogether.

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

AJ Styles, WWE Champion1. AJ Styles   

AJ Styles is the WWE Champion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sasha Banks, WWE Women's Champion3. Sasha Banks

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

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

Samoa Joe, NXT Champion4. Samoa Joe

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

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

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

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

James Ellsworth5. James Ellsworth

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

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

Braun Strowmann, WWE Raw6. Braun Strowman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Miz, Maryse9. The Miz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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