Big Cass Goes Bad, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Let’s jump right to the main event this week, shall we? They went and did it. They turned Cass heel, revealing that not only has he been the one attacking Enzo, but that he’s been staging the attacks on himself. And why? Because Enzo’s supposedly been holding him back, and running his mouth too much.

I liked most of what they did here, especially how they looped Corey Graves in. I’m not sure what they’re trying to do with he and Kurt Angle. But between that and what we saw here, they’re turning him into an investigator of sorts.

Realistically, they could have turned Enzo. The fans have caught on to the fact that he can be damn annoying at times. But he’s also one of the best talkers in all of wrestling. The fans are still behind him because he’s got the God-given gift of gab. So if they had to turn one of them, they made the right choice with Cass. They even played the sympathetic card, with Cass essentially saying: “Nobody likes you because you’re annoying. And now I don’t like you either.”

Before the turn, they positioned Big Show as still having heat with Cass. So I imagine we’ll see Show vs. Cass at Great Balls of Fire, followed by a showdown between Cass and Enzo at Summerslam.

WWE is taking a risk here, which I commend them for. Ratings have been way down lately. Despite what they’d like you to believe sometimes, that matters. So a shake-up is merited. I just hope this is a shake-up that pays off. It seems like WWE has seen money in Cass since he came up from NXT. But he’s always been so tightly intertwined with Enzo. He’s achieved all this success in both NXT and WWE because he was with Enzo. Is he polished enough to go out there and deliver on his own? Sure, he’ll have some decent heat for the next few months. But what about after he’s done with Enzo? Who is Cass without his other half?

I’m hoping we like the answer we get…

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns announces he will challenge for the Universal Title at SummerslamSamoa Joe confronts Reigns, a brawl breaks out. Reigns was cocky here, which I actually liked. Better to have him show a little attitude than to just be reciting sanitized dialogue with no feeling behind it. And I loved the line: “You’ll never be Samoa Joe to me. You’ll always be just Joe.” Them is fightin’ words.

So…does this mean we’re getting Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns at Summerslam? I can dig that. The rumor was that we’d get it at Wrestlemania. But I’m good with this, especially since we’ve already seen Lesnar and Reigns at a Wrestlemania.

However, I was also game for Reigns against John Cena. Another day, then…

The Hardy Boyz def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. Not much interest in this one from me. They had me when Gallows and Anderson hit the Boot of Doom, and were seemingly about to get the pin. But other than that this just felt like filler. And let’s be honest: That’s what it was.

Goldust invites R-Truth to the premiere of “The Shattered Truth” next week. I lap up these Goldust promos, I really do. Hoping they hit this out of the park next week.

Finn Balor cuts Elias Samson off before he can sing. There’s something here with this “Drifter” gimmick. They’re getting there. The wrestling fan in me is dying for Samson to hit somebody with that guitar. Might not happen for awhile. But when it does, it’ll be great.

Finn Balor def. Bo Dallas. Balor later gets attacked by Samson. The early part of this match felt reminiscent of the last time they tried to push Bo a little bit, for all the good that did him. What exactly do they have to lose by putting him with Bray Wyatt? The two are legitimately siblings. Just go for it.

So I guess Balor has a new dance partner in Elias Samson. Wouldn’t have been my first choice. I’d have had him go with Ambrose, then put Balor with Miz.

Seth Rollins to be on the cover of WWE 2K18. Rollins cuts off Bray Wyatt before an attack. Yet another amazing commercial from the 2K folks. These things are more memorable than most Raw episodes.

Wasn’t a fan of Seth’s promo in front of the live crowd. Too white meat for my taste. “We can all get second chances,” and all that. Too syrupy for me.

So after a back and forth promo, Bray Wyatt comes to the ring, blows out his lantern, and immediately eats a cross body from Rollins. It’s amazing just how far this character has fallen. Again. Whenever he takes a step forward, it’s like he takes two steps back.

Akira Tozawa def. TJP, both Titus O’Neil and Neville watch from ringside. I’ll call it now: O’Neil accidentally costs Tozawa his inevitable title match with Neville. You can say what you want about how stale 205 Live is, but when Neville drops that belt it’s going to be a big deal.

Samoa Joe def. Roman Reigns after a distraction from the returning Braun Strowman. Strowman challenges Reigns to an Ambulance Match at Great Balls of FireReigns and Joe work well together. A real nice alpha male against alpha male dynamic. And it’s always very physical.

The announcers acted like it was a big thing when Joe kicked out of the Superman Punch. But when was the last time Reigns beat somebody with that move? It feels like he hits three or four of them each time he wrestles on pay per view.

Strowman had great entrance. A nice callback to the ambulance stuff he and Roman have done. Then he had to go and say, “I’ll see you at Great Balls of Fire pay per view.” Still, Strowman’s return is something to be happy about. WWE has done such a good job building him up that not having him on Raw has hurt the show.

Dean Ambrose ruins the Miz’s attempt at an apology to Maryse. Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel attack Ambrose. So does this mean Dallas and Axel are with Miz now? Hey, it did wonders for Damien Sandow. And it adds a little something extra to Miz’s presentation. Works for me.

Cesaro and Sheamus def. Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews. Crews is so damn explosive out there. If they can find a way to get this guy over, they could have a real commodity on their hands. Make it happen, WWE.

A video package airs for Brock Lesnar vs. Samoa Joe at Great Balls of FireThese are always so damn great. Brock had the best line in this one: “I’m gonna go through Samoa Joe like a freight train. On fire.”

Emma comes after Alexa Bliss while she’s on commentary for Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax. The match breaks down. Mickie James and Dana Brooke join the fight before Bayley cleans house. This seemed very rushed. Like they wanted to squeeze this in before the main event segment. At least Bayley looked fairly strong. She’s needed all the help she can get lately.

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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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WWE Extreme Rules 2017 Preview, Plus: Enzo and Cass Splitting?

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The end could very well be near for the team of Enzo and Cass.

They’ve been telling a mystery assailant story for a couple of weeks now with Enzo. The Revival are the obvious suspects. But even with WWE’s fairly lazy standard of storytelling in the modern era, the obvious suspects rarely commit the crime. Considering how often tag partners turn on each other (Golden Truth, anyone?), Big Cass could very well end up being Enzo’s attacker. That prospect is…unsettling.

I’ve talked before about how Enzo and Cass were lucky to have found each other in developmental. They compliment each other so well. More importantly, they camouflage each other’s weaknesses. What Enzo lacks in stature, Cass makes up for. What Cass lacks in charisma and mic skills, Enzo makes up for in spades. As a team, they’re a complete package. As individuals? Not so much.

All the more worrisome is the idea of making Cass the heel in the equation. In WWE, the importance of personality always outweighs in-ring talent. Is that the way it should be? Probably not. But that’s how it’s always been. And from a personality standpoint, Cass has always ridden Enzo’s coattails. Putting him in a position where he has to talk people into disliking him is a recipe for disaster. If anything, it should be the other way around, with Enzo as the villain.

But this whole idea is silly to begin with. Enzo and Cass have a lot of mileage left as a tag team. Odds are they’d have won the Raw Tag Titles by now if the Hardys hadn’t come back and upstaged them. These two have earned their moment at the top of the mountain. Let’s at least let them have it before we break them up.

And now, on to Extreme Rules

MIXED TAG TEAM MATCH:
Sasha Banks and Rich Swann vs. Alicia Fox and Noam Dar

Eh, no thanks.

There’s just not a lot of heat to this one. One thing I will say: It’s nice to see Rich Swann not confined to 205 Live anymore. But this is definitely the “popcorn match.” It doesn’t really matter who wins. But let’s just say Fox and Dar. Why not?

PREDICTION: Alicia Fox and Noam Dar

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Neville (c) vs. Austin Aries

While it doesn’t matter who wins that Mixed Tag, it matters who wins this one. For Aries in particular. He was really hot when he got back in the ring around Wrestlemania season. But the consecutive pay per view losses to Neville have cut his knees out from under him. So I’m thinking it’s time. Neville has had the title since January, and he’s definitively established himself as the top dog in the Cruiserweight Division. So let’s let Aries beat him with the Last Chancery and let him have a turn with it as the cool babyface champion. With the viewership for 205 Live at such a low, do they really have anything to lose?

PREDICTION: Austin Aries

STEEL CAGE MATCH FOR WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLES:
The Hardy Boyz (c) vs. Sheamus and Cesaro 

The nostalgia novelty of having the Hardys back with in original “Team Xtreme” packaging has mostly worn off, as far as I’m concerned. It seems like we’re all just waiting for Matt to be Broken again.

In the meantime, I’d enjoy seeing Matt and Jeff drop the belts to Sheamus and Cesaro. They can then chase them to prove they’re more than just a nostalgia act that had the element of surprise on their side at Wrestlemania. Do I think that’ll happen? No. Especially since the Hardys picked the stipulation here. The Hardys are going home with the gold.

PREDICTION: The Hardy Boyz

KENDO STICK ON A POLE MATCH FOR WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE: 

I can never get a good feel for when Alexa Bliss is going to win or lose championships. I’ve been wrong almost every time, going back to when she won her first one on Smackdown. That being said, I feel like she’ll sneak out of this one with the title. What’s more important is that we see some fire from Bayley. The question they’ve been asking in recent weeks is whether she can “get extreme.” For my money, whether this match succeeds or fails depends on them delivering that. Bayley needs to get angry. So let’s make it happen.

PREDICTION: Alexa Bliss

STIPULATION MATCH FOR WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE:
Dean Ambrose (c) vs. The Miz
Title can change hands via disqualification. 

Miz is overdue to get the belt back. That stuff about him rejuvenating the Intercontinental Title? It’s not just hype. They’ve really got something with him right now. Considering how tepid Raw is these days, they need to go anything they can to heat things up. So putting the belt back on Miz seems like a no-brainer.

The question is, what happens to Dean Ambrose now? They’ve kept him out of the Universal Title picture since bringing him to Raw. Does he move back up once he no longer has the IC belt?? Or are they intentionally keeping him away from Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins to increase the impact of the inevitable Shield reunion?

PREDICTION: The Miz

FATAL FIVE-WAY EXTREME RULES MATCH:
Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins vs. Bray Wyatt vs. Finn Balor vs. Samoa Joe
Winner becomes top contender for Universal Title. 

Last week’s segment between Finn Balor and Paul Heyman was a pretty strong indicator that it’s going to be Finn going over here. Unless they want to save that for Summerslam or something. But more likely it ends up being Balor vs. Lesnar for the title. That says a lot about WWE’s faith in Balor. With so little time on the main roster, they’re already gearing him up for a match against one of their biggest cash cows.

WWE has had a weird fixation on five-person matches lately. As groan-inducing as that is, this match could be really good if they take full advantage of the Extreme Rules gimmick. These are five bona fide main-eventers. There’s no reason this match shouldn’t steal the whole damn show.

PREDICTION: Finn Balor

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Money in the Bank Takes Shape, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There was a little bit of buzz Monday night about WWE changing a match graphic midway through Raw. I’m amazed people notice this stuff, honestly.

In advertising the Matt Hardy/Sheamus match, WWE initially showed the above image. Later in the show it was changed to show us a more even tempered Matt. Rumor has it this was done to avoid drama over the “Broken” intellectual property, which is owned by Anthem Sports and Impact Wrestling. That’s obviously much to the chagrin of wrestling fans who want to see Broken Matt and Brother Nero in WWE. ProWrestlingSheet.com has the full story, for those interested.

I don’t know that I agree with what Anthem has done here. As an artistic type, I’m usually inclined to favor creator ownership, and the Broken stuff always seemed like it was coming straight from Matt and Jeff. But I can appreciate the situation Anthem finds themselves in. The Broken characters generated interest the likes of which they haven’t seen in years, and certainly haven’t seen since. They want that stuff associated with the Impact brand. It’s good business.

But what’s not good business? Damaging your rep with wrestling fans even further. Now as much as ever, people love the Hardys. Fans are going to be on their side, especially when it comes to these Broken characters. In keeping that IP locked up, Anthem is denying us one of the hottest acts in all of wrestling. That has already created a backlash resulting in a lot of bad press. And if there’s one thing Impact doesn’t need more of, it’s bad press.

So yes, Anthem’s retention of the Broken Hardys IP is good business…for now. But how much money are they shooing away in the long run by leaving a bad taste in the mouths of potential viewers? I shudder to think.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Shane McMahon announces the participants for the 2017 Money in the Bank Ladder Match: AJ Styles, Baron Corbin, Sami Zayn, Dolph Ziggler, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Kevin Owens. Pretty good line up. Nakamura and Styles in the same Ladder Match? That may be worth the price of admission alone.

I got curious when Ziggler came out, so I looked it up: This will be his seventh Money in the Bank Ladder Match. One more and he’ll have appeared in more of these than anyone else. Of course, they put him in these things because they know how good he is at them. Can’t be easy on his body, though.

Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch def. Natalya and Carmella. And so the Charlotte babyface turn continues. I was waiting for the other shoe to fall.

Later on, they made a Fatal Five-Way for next week to decide the top contender for the Women’s Title. What is their obsession with Fatal Five-Way Matches lately? It’s like a shiny new toy they just can’t put down. Rumor has it Carmella is in line to hold the belt next, so there’s a decent chance she’ll walk away with it.

Sami Zayn def. Baron Corbin with a quick roll-up. Corbin destroys Zayn after the match. Damn. Corbin can’t seem to buy a win these days. That’s…okay, the more I think about it. Not everybody should be an unstoppable giant. It’s also pretty obvious that Corbin lacks the experience that guys like Zayn and Orton do. Plus, win or lose, he beat the hell out of Zayn in the end.

Jinder Mahal holds a Punjabi celebration after winning the WWE Title at Backlash. Randy Orton to invoke his rematch clause at Money in the BankSurprised as hell that Orton didn’t come out and trash this thing. That’s usually what the babyface does. I’m assuming they wanted to hammer home this Jinder Mahal thing that much harder.

From a character perspective, Randy Orton should be embarrassed and mad as hell. The guy that comes back from this shouldn’t be the calm and reserved dude. We need to see Randy our for revenge. Hell, maybe he’ll burn Jinder’s house down too

Tyler Breeze def. Jey Uso with a distraction roll-up in a quick match. Fandango then does the same to Jimmy Uso. Factoring in the Corbin/Zayn match, that’s three roll-up finishes in the same broadcast. I get that they were going for comedy, and I like Breezango more and more as the weeks go by. But that’s too much.

The Usos def. Breezango to retain the Smackdown Tag Team Titles. At least it didn’t end with a roll-up. I imagine they’re gearing the Usos up to face the New Day soon. But WWE would do well to keep Breezango on television. They’ve become a really fun act.

Side note: Where is American Alpha? Are they just giving them a little break?

AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura def. Kevin Owens and Dolph Ziggler. Both the announcers and the fans made a big deal out of Styles and Nakamura teaming together for the first time. Rightfully so, given their history in New Japan.

I enjoyed seeing Styles work with Ziggler here. Typically when they’re building to a multi-man match like this, they have everybody wrestle each other in singles matches during the build-up. So we could see our first Styles/Ziggler match as early as next week.

They kept calling Nakamura a rock star, as if that’s his new nickname. Meh. There’s worse things to be called, I suppose.

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Jinder Mahal: WWE Champion, Plus Ponderings From Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

See, this is why you always go with your gut.

Going into Backlash, my gut told me Jinder was winning the belt. But I took the common sense approach and predicted Randy Orton would retain. I figured Jinder hadn’t been built up enough yet, and needed another month or so before getting the title.

But I’d forgotten one very important thing. This is pro wrestling. Common sense has little to no place. Ergo Jinder Mahal, mere months after being a jobber, defeats Randy Orton in the main event of a pay per view to win the WWE Championship.

Jinder was on Talk is Jericho last week, and talked about how Vince McMahon has taken tremendous interest in his character, even personally working on his verbiage. That should have been the giveaway. Between Jinder’s physical transformation, the idea of appealing to the Indian market, and him becoming Vince’s new project, the writing was on the wall.

I maintain that Jinder Mahal’s character isn’t at a level that merits being champion. But that’s not to say he can’t get there. I’ve been continually intrigued by this group he’s formed with the Singh Brothers. It’s something different, and I’m very interested in what it could become, if not necessarily what it is now.

That’s really the bottom line as far as Jinder is concerned. He’s not there yet, but he could be. He can grow into the role. The evil foreign menace is Pro Wrestling 101. If McMahon’s interest in Jinder maintains, and he gets a little more comfortable, he and the Singh Brothers could have something special here.

On the other hand, this could all be a flash in the pan. But the question of whether or not that’ll be the case has renewed some of my waned interest in Smackdown. At the very least, they’ve accomplished that.

Ponderings From Raw:

Bray Wyatt opens the show, but is interrupted by Roman Reigns. Kurt Angle makes a match between the two. Bray’s big monologue was frustrating.  I’d have stuck with the whole “I alone can slay the beast” narrative, and had less of the “I can save you all” stuff. Sometimes he just goes too far into the metaphorical. Also: Stop laughing, idiot.

The “It’s my yard” stuff is cool. But every time Roman says that, he grates on the people who grew up with and loved the Undertaker. And there are a lot of us.

Roman Reigns def. Bray Wyatt via disqualification when Samoa Joe interferes. Seth Rollins attacks Joe. Kind of a blah match. Though I admit, seeing the four of them in the ring together piqued my interest a bit for Extreme Rules. If they’re allowed to really play up the no holds barred elements, this match could end up being really good.

Akira Tozawa def. Ariya Daivari. Brian Kendrick watches and comments from backstage. We don’t see nearly enough of Tozawa on Raw. He’s one of the few guys in that Cruiserweight Division that doesn’t feel played out or overexposed. Even Austin Aries has suffered. After failing to capture the magic of the Cruiserweight Classic for so many months, it’s like the whole division has a stink on it.

While Tozawa himself seems to be fine, I’m amazed this story with Kendrick is still going on. No wonder 205 Live is so dead right now.

“The Drifter” Elias Samson makes his Raw wrestling debut, defeats Dean Ambrose via disqualification when Miz interferes. Not a bad start for Samson. Hell of a leaping knee strike to Ambrose. The character is still a little iffy for me. But they’re easing him in. We’ll see how things look in a couple of weeks.

Enzo Amore is attacked by a mystery assailant. Somebody get Enzo some damn pepper spray or something. He’s always getting attacked before he gets the chance to wrestle. Or at least tell Cass not to let the little bastard of his sight for awhile.

Paul Heyman interrupts Finn Balor’s pre-match promo, wishes him luck at Extreme RulesBalor vows to beat Brock Lesnar. We were overdue for a Heyman promo. They shouldn’t use him every week. But while Brock is gone, we need him every so often to represent the champion’s interests.

This segment is essentially an assurance that, at least for now, WWE plans to put Balor over at Extreme Rules. That’s good news as far as I’m concerned. Some dismiss the idea of a Finn Balor/Brock Lesnar match as not being believable. But this is the same company that just made Jinder Mahal one of their top champions. The key is not to stretch the audience’s suspension of disbelief too far. I don’t see that being an issue here. How good did Brock vs. CM Punk ended up being?

Finn Balor def. Karl Anderson. From bell to bell, Balor always looks like a star. But Karl Anderson is so underrated. He’s spent so much time as the fall guy for his tag team that people don’t realize just how talented he is. It’s always nice to see his singles game.

They’ve been dancing around this Bullet Club stuff for a few weeks. I’d love to see a program between Balor, Gallows, and Anderson. But considering Gallows and Anderson’s status as a tag team, and how big a singles star Finn Balor is, would that work?

Sasha Banks def. Alicia Fox. There’s been some buzz about Sasha losing to Alicia last week because Vince McMahon isn’t high on her, and thinks she’s injury prone. I don’t know that I buy that. I wasn’t happy seeing Alicia beat Sasha either. But this just comes off as them needing to find something for Sasha to do while she’s not in the title picture.

In a pre-taped promo, Goldust declares: “The Golden age is back.” As a longtime fan, I loved this. This is exactly how they should be using Goldust. Let people see just how unique this character can be. He’s so more than just a dude in makeup.

Kalisto def. Apollo Crews. A little surprised to see Kalisto get another win here. He might actually want to take Titus O’Neil up on becoming part of the Titus Brand. He could try and leach some of Titus’ charisma.

Matt Hardy def. Sheamus to decide the stipulation for the title match at Extreme Rules. The Tag Champions will defend in a Steel Cage Match. Corey Graves called Cesaro the “Swiss Cyborg” during this match. I actually like that name bettie than Swiss Superman. They should use that.

I thought we’d get another Ladder Match with these two at the pay per view. But a Cage Match changes things up, and hopefully it’ll leave these guys with less wear and tear.

Austin Aries def. Tony Nese. Neville to defend against Aries in a Submission Match at Extreme Rules. Look for Aries’ knee to be part of the story at Extreme Rules. I’d love to see him get the belt. But if he doesn’t, I say we go to Akira Tozawa as the next challenger for Neville.

Alexa Bliss def. Mickie James, wallops her with a kendo stick. Great facial expressions from Alexa here. I like that they’re playing up the damage a kendo stick can do. I’m still not a fan of the Kendo Stick on a Pole stipulation, but at least they’re making the stick mean something.

Bray Wyatt and Samoa Joe def. Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins. Can we get another Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe match? Those guys are both dynamic, explosive, and they hit hard. Something about those Samoans…

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Randy Orton’s Twitter Drama, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Oh Twitter. Your petty wonders continue to amaze.

Randy Orton and Bully Ray/Bubba Ray Dudley made a couple of headlines this week after the former posted a photo (shown right) of him diving off the top rope at an ROH show. Seemed innocent enough.

Orton would subsequently tweet: “Lol there is a difference between a young hungry talent diving and an old outta shape ‘vet’ …….falling”

That tweet would catch ire from many a fan, and even Bully’s wife, who Impact Wrestling fans know as Velvet Sky. Orton later posted a little statement, talking about making five million dollars over the course of 11 shows overseas. He added, among other things: “I know to some that doesn’t equate to a standing room only crowd of 15 people paying $8 at an armory somewhere…but in the big boy world that’s called putting asses in seats. So enjoy your flips, dives, and 20 superkicks per match.”

I admit, I chuckled a little bit. The current wrestling landscape is littered with meaningless dives, way too many super kicks, among other stupid trends. And to be fair, Orton was sort of piggybacking on what one of his trainers, Rip Rogers, had tweeted previously.

Still, Orton’s point was overshadowed by the abrasive way he made it. It came off very disrespectful toward Bully Ray. Especially when you consider how many opportunities Orton has had compared to most of his peers. He hasn’t had to do all those dives and flips because, as Bob Orton Jr’s son, he’s never had to fight for attention the way most of those indy guys have. Randy Orton is wrestling royalty. But he came off like Prince William shaming a window washer because he missed a spot.

Of course, the good news for Orton is that he doesn’t give a damn what most of us think.

Ponderings From Raw:

Kurt Angle announces a Fatal Five-Way Match for Extreme Rules to decide the top contender for the Universal Title: Roman Reigns vs. Finn Balor vs. Bray Wyatt vs. Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe. The participants emerge, a brawl ensues. I can’t help but cringe every time someone says “Fatal Five-Way.” I’ve been saying Fatal Four-Way for so many years that it just sounds weird. Tell you what, how about Seth Rollins and Samoa Joe have a big match, and the winner gets a spot in a Fatal Four-Way Match at the pay per view? On the plus side, Joe is in his first WWE pay per view main event.

Angle mentioned Braun Strowman here, and how surgery revealed his elbow is shattered, and may require up to six months recovery time. That’s a heartbreaker. Strowman is one of the only things on this show that has real momentum as of late. They’ve done such a fantastic job building him. A Brock Lesnar/Braun Strowman match would have been money. It looked like they were setting it up for June or July. Now we may not even get it until 2018, if then. Damn…

Jeff Hardy def. Sheamus. Sheamus and Cesaro get another shot at the tag belts at Extreme Rules. The smart bet is they make this a Ladder Match or something.

I don’t know if this is what they’re going for, but I’m starting to get the itch for another Jeff Hardy singles run.

Alicia Fox def. Sasha Banks. Yup. You read that right. Yuck. I get it, as these two had a disputed finish last week. But damn. That hurts.

It almost feels like we’ve been in Bizarro World for the past month. Alicia gets a clean win over Sasha. Breezango is challenging for tag team gold. And the top contender for the WWE Championship? Jinder Mahal.

The Miz def. Dean Ambrose in an Intercontinental Title Match via disqualification. Ambrose keeps the title. Pretty good outing for Ambrose and Miz, which later set up a rematch for Extreme Rules. Ambrose almost seems conspicuous by his absence in the Universal Title picture. I understand why he’s not there, as he’s obviously the IC Champ. Plus, it’s not necessarily time to have the three Shield guys sharing a ring yet. But it feels like he should be there…

Bayley interrupts Alexa Bliss to announce she’s invoking her rematch clause at Extreme RulesA fight breaks out. Alexa attacks Bayley with a kendo stick. A Kendo Stick on a Pole Match is made for the pay per view. Alexa Bliss has gotten so good at ad-libbing. That “If you’re a failure, say what!” line was great.

Despite how hokey this talk about Bayley “getting extreme” is, the hardcore stipulation at Extreme Rules could be good for her. She’s gotten by on charm, and obviously raw talent as well. But this could be a chance for her to show some fire. Now if only they hadn’t felt the need to revive the “on a pole” stipulation.

Neville and TJP def. Austin Aries and Jack Gallagher. Fairly cold match. The idea is for these matches to draw people to 205 Live, right? Viewership for that show is reportedly down. I wonder why…

Also, why is TJP a better name than TJ Perkins?

Roman Reigns def. Finn Balor. Good match. Despite the loss, Balor is regaining some valuable steam. Corey Graves mentioned during Balor’s entrance that his best friends are Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows. That’s not the first time Graves has connected the former cohorts…

The announcers always act so surprised when someone kicks out of the Superman Punch. Booker T even said it’s “normally the knock-out punch.” Um…no it’s not. How many of those does Reigns usually hit in a given match?

Goldust turns on R-Truth before their match. As I said last week, Goldust deserves to be in a higher profile role. How long has it been since he’s been a heel? Getting the fans to boo him might be an uphill battle. But the change could be good for him.

Big Cass def. Titus O’Neil. Titus mocking Enzo on the way to the ring was funny as hell. He even got a little personality out of Apollo Crews. It’s a little early, but this Titus/Apollo experiment may be working.

Seth Rollins def. Bray Wyatt via disqualification. Predictable Samoa Joe interference at the end. Reigns and Balor really should have had the main event. Both those guys are more over than Rollins is. Crowd was sitting on their hands. Granted, we were at the tail end of hour three. But by the time they got into the overrun, I was begging for this one to be over.

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WWE Payback 2017 Predicitons, Plus: Nakamura and the “It” Factor

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

What exactly is the “it” factor? We hear wrestling insiders and experts talk about it all the time. This guy didn’t become a star because they were missing “it.” That guy connected because he had “it.”

So what the hell are they talking about?

“It” is something intangible and undefinable. Something that makes you unique. “It” draws people’s eyes to you when you walk into a room. It prompts them to put their money down to see you.

Shinsuke Nakamura has “it.” He just made his main roster debut a few weeks ago, but you only need to see him once to know he’s something special. HIs tremendous in-ring work aside, he simply has a presence about him. He’s an original. How often can you really say that about someone in pro wrestling? And perhaps more importantly, there’s a certain coolness about him. So little about the business is cool nowadays.

But Nakamura has a disadvantage that virtually no other major WWE babyface has had: His English. Listening to him speak, it’s quite obvious that English isn’t his forte yet. To be fair, he’s only been in America for about a year. Learning any language takes time, even when you don’t have the pressure of national television. But for all their efforts internationally, WWE has always been an American product through and through. For all his talents, Nakamura’s English could be his achilles heel. If there’s one thing standing between him and true WWE stardom, it’s that.

That’s why I hold my breath whenever they’ve put a mic in Nakamura’s hand, as they did this week on Smackdown. They’ve wisely kept his speaking time limited. But thus far, Nakamura’s done alright out there. Not great, but alright. At this stage, alright might just be good enough. But it won’t be that way forever. Nakamura’s star is rising fast, and he’s not going to speak perfect English any time soon. So when he’s is ready to take that next step, will WWE be ready to get behind him?

While Nakamura is undoubtedly an original, one person you might compare him to is Rob Van Dam. Rob Van Dam was a star in WWE. But he never became the superstar he could have been. This is largely because WWE, perhaps Vince McMahon in particular, couldn’t fully embrace his character. RVD wasn’t an aggressive promo guy. He was laid back and cool. But when the bell rang, the fans chanted his name because he did things no one else could do. He was different. Just like Nakamura is different. Neither man expresses himself in the traditional WWE style. But the fans respond to them nonetheless.

The question now is whether WWE can accept something it’s audience has always known: Different is good.

And now, let’s get to Payback…

PRE-SHOW MATCH:
Enzo and Cass vs. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

I’m curious to know how Enzo and Cass really feel about the Hardys being back. Had Matt and Jeff stayed with Ring of Honor, or gone else where, odds are Enzo and Cass would be the Raw Tag Team Champions right now. Instead, they’re working Gallows and Anderson again. On the pre-show, no less. I don’t expect their luck to improve here.

It seems natural that whoever wins here would get a Raw Tag Team Title Match. Assuming Matt and Jeff will finish their business with Cesaro and Sheamus at Payback, as heels Gallows and Anderson seem like they’d be next in line. Though part of me really hopes some kind of program with Finn Balor is in the works for them.

PREDICTION: Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Neville (c) vs. Austin Aries

What the hell? Put the belt on Aries. The guy’s hot right now. Why not capitalize? They can always put it right back on Neville if they want.

Some thought these two got slighted when they were put on the pre-show at Wrestlemania. In hindsight, that may have actually helped. These two were never going to be put in a position to do anything truly substantial on the main show. But Payback could be a different story. Here’s hoping…

PREDICTION: Austin Aries

WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The Hardy Boyz (c) vs Cesaro and Sheamus

Look at Matt’s face in that picture. How bad does this guy want to be Broken again?

He won’t get his wish at Payback, but he and Jeff will walk out with the tag titles. They just won them at Wrestlemania. To take them away now would almost be a waste. Sheamus and Cesaro have become more fun to watch in recent months. But the Hardys are as hot as they’ve ever been.

PREDICTION: The Hardy Boyz

WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Bayley (c) vs. Alexa Bliss

The big picture here still needs to be about Bayley and Sasha. Hopefully for Summerslam. With that in mind, I don’t see Alexa winning here. I see Bayley taking it, then Alexa bringing in Nia Jax as back-up the night night on Raw. That could add a little extra garnish for a rematch at the next Raw pay per view.

That being said, I didn’t see Alexa winning the Smackdown Women’s Title last fall either. So anything’s possible.

PREDICTION: Bayley

Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe

Rollins just got one of the biggest wins of his career against Triple H. As the “Kingslayer,” it finally seems like he has a little bit of momentum as a babyface. It’d be a shame to have him walk right into a loss to Joe.

Joe has been handled almost perfectly since showing up on Raw. He’s been the dominant monster we all know, scoring big wins over Roman Reigns, Sami Zayn, and Chris Jericho. Rollins squeaking by with a victory won’t hurt him.

PREDICTION: Seth Rollins

WWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
Kevin Owens (c) vs. Chris Jericho

This is clearly a blow-off match. As such, I’m really hoping these two get the chance to give us an ending worthy of the whole “best friends” story they’ve told over the last several months. In a perfect world, they’d get to have a big brawl. But it seems like that’s what the House of Horrors Match is going to be.

This entire program has really been about building Kevin Owens. To the credit of all those involved, it’s worked tremendously. So it’s more than fitting that Owens go over here, and likely send Jericho packing for awhile. And so ends one of the best runs of Jericho’s entire career. I can’t help but wonder what our next “Gift of Jericho” will look like, and when we’ll get it…

PREDICTION: Kevin Owens

HOUSE OF HORRORS MATCH:
Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton

We still have very little indication of what a House of Horrors Match is, which is fine. Part of the draw is finding out about the match itself. Based on Bray’s promos, it seems like it’ll take place in some kind of actual house or structure.

They should really let Bray have this one. It’ll allow him to regain some of the momentum he lost at Wrestlemania. As I’ve mentioned, a victory over the WWE Champion could catapult him into contention for the Universal Title. Hell, have Jinder Mahal run interference if you don’t want to beat the champ cleanly. But for cryin’ out loud, let Bray win.

PREDICTION: Bray Wyatt

Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman

Just as Bray Wyatt needs to avenge his Wrestlemania loss to Randy Orton, Braun Strowman needs to avenge his Fastlane loss to Roman Reigns. Fastlane was seemingly about building Roman up for the Undertaker. This match should be about building Strowman up for Brock Lesnar. Not in the near future. But hopefully at a bigger show like Summerslam.

I don’t know that it matters whether Strowman beats Reigns cleanly or not. But if they want to give an excuse, the man was just beat to a pulp by Strowman two weeks ago. They said he had a separated shoulder and busted ribs, right? So they can play all that up, and have Roman fight through the pain only to fall short in the end. The important thing is Strowman wins.

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