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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Braun Strowman Breaks the Ring! Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Wrestling’s newest dominant monster, Braun Strowman, was all over Raw on Monday. After last week, it’s not hard to see why. His big attack on Roman Reigns was one of the best angles they’ve done in a long time. For certain Reigns fans it was downright horrifying. But for some of us it seemed downright cathartic. WWE seems to know that, and are actually playing into it. They seem to be using the fans’ hatred of Reigns, the so-called babyface, to get them to cheer Strowman, the supposed heel. By traditional wrestling logic, it’s about as backwards as you can get. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t fun to watch Strowman beat on people.

In the broad sense, there isn’t much about Strowman that makes him villainous. He’s a big, tough bastard who wants to fight everyone. In the context of a wrestling show that’s a pretty admirable quality. Yes, he absolutely destroyed Roman Reigns. But think about the stuff we used to see Steve Austin do to Vince McMahon and a lot of the other heels. One of the more famous moments in Raw history involves Austin abducting McMahon and holding him hostage with what we think is a gun (later revealed to be a toy). He only let him go after McMahon wet his pants in the middle of the ring.

It’s amazing what you can get away with doing to someone the fans hate. We’re being reminded of that with now with Strowman.

Ponderings From Raw:

After Kurt Angle tells Strowman he has a match with Roman Reigns at Payback, Strowman attacks numerous wrestlers in the locker room. The best of these backstage segments involved Strowman beating up Kalisto and then dropping him a dumpster. This poor guy has become WWE’s resident whipping boy. On Smackdown it was basically his job to get beat up by Dolph Ziggler. Now in his first week on Raw, he’s getting thrown in the trash by Strowman. He desperately needs to hide on 205 Live for awhile.

Booker T steps in for David Otunga at the announce table. Otunga’s start on Raw has been delayed, as he’s off shooting a movie. Can’t we just make Booker the full-time announcer? He’s got more personality than Otunga ever will, and he’s got decades of experience to draw from. He’s already doing the pre-shows, isn’t he? Why not just shift him on to the main broadcast?

Samoa Joe vs. Chris Jericho via submission. Rollins was on commentary for this match. So often, the babyfaces are so vanilla when they sit at the announce desk. I usually find myself wishing they’d be a little more charismatic, and make us actually like hearing them. Instead, this felt like the usual fluff. Nice post-match promo by Joe, though.

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson def. Enzo and Cass. No interest in this one from me. We’ve seen these teams wrestle a thousand times. I zipped right through it.

Dean Ambrose appears on Miz TV. It feels like we’re beating a dead horse here. Miz and Ambrose just feuded on Smackdown a few months ago. They did fine, but it’s not like we’re dying to see them go again.

They made a point to have Miz call Ambrose lazy and complacent in this segment. This is at least the second time they’ve done that since Steve Austin called him out last year for allegedly resting on his laurels. Why go there again? Can’t they come up with anything better for Miz to say? Hell, I’d have brought up his marriage to Renee Young before I went this route. They talked about it on their web site. Why not here?

TJ Perkins def. Jack Gallagher. Now that he’s a heel, Perkins needs a new entrance. That video game stuff is strictly babyface material. He seems to be having fun being a bad guy, though. It’s funny how much heat he got just from dabbing.

Alexa Bliss def. Sasha Banks, Mickie James, and Nia Jax to become the top contender for the Raw Women’s Title at Payback. Sasha did another one of her dives through the ropes during this match. I always hold my breath when she does that. It looked like she caught her leg on the rope, and went back-first into Mickie and Nia.

Saw a decent amount of buzz about Sasha vs. Alexa during this match. Not sure what would be so awesome about that program in particular. But I’m down for it.

Last week, Nia Jax caught heat online for dropping Charlotte Flair on her head during their match. Thus, she’s going to be scrutinized even more. To an extent it’s unfair to her, as she was thrust into the spotlight despite her inexperience. What’s she supposed to do? Turn down a prominent spot on Raw? But on the other hand, she’s in a spot that so many more seasoned wrestlers would kill for. So she’s got to take her lumps when she makes a mistake like that.

Finn Balor accepts an open challenge from Curt Hawkins, wins a quick match. Happy to see Balor in the ring this week. Rumors said he was concussed during his match with Jinder Mahal last week. Apparently he was healthy enough to do a short match this week, which is good news. The last thing he needed was another serious injury.

Dash Wilder sustains a broken jaw at NXT live event, will be out of action until summer. Terrible break for the Revival. Between Wilder, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, and Kofi Kingston’s ankle surgery, the injury bug is definitely going around.

A promo package airs featuring Bray Wyatt talking about the House of Horrors Match at Payback. This was the best parts of the entire show. Great horror imagery, combined with a promo without much of Bray’s trademark laughter. That’s a winning formula. Now if only they’d tell us what a House of  Horrors Match is.

Incidentally, Michael Cole called Payback a “Raw exclusive pay per view.” But it’s got matches for the WWE Title and the United States Title, both of which are on Smackdown. It’s an odd line-up, isn’t it?

Jeff Hardy def. Cesaro. Definitely the wrestling highlight of the show. Any time they put Cesaro in a prominent TV match, he delivers. Now if only Vince McMahon saw the same kind of star power in him that we all do.

Prior to the match, the Hardys did a backstage interview where Matt slipped a bit of his “Broken” accent in there. He’s clearly chomping at the bit to do that character on WWE TV. I can’t say I blame him.

Braun Strowman and the Big Show go to a No-Contest after they break the ring with a Superplex. Cole, Booker, and Corey Graves didn’t sell the ring break nearly enough. I understand we’ve seen this spot with Big Show before. But c’mon, guys! The damn ring imploded!

I continue to have mixed feelings about Braun Strowman leaving his feet during matches. In this match we saw him do dropkicks, kip-ups, and even Arm Drags. But if he’s going to do it, better he do it in a match with another giant. It obviously sets him apart quite a bit.

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Undertaker’s Last Ride, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

We all thought this might be it. That didn’t make it any less emotional, though.

On Sunday at Wrestlemania XXXIII, the Undertaker apparently had his last match. After losing to Roman Reigns, the Dead Man left his trademark hat, coat, and gloves in the ring, symbolizing the end had finally come. Then, like Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels at previous Wrestlemania events, he took that long walk up the aisle.

I became a wrestling fan in 1996. The Monday Night Wars were still in full effect, and at the time the Undertaker was building to a Buried Alive Match with Mankind. On Raw, we’d see video packages of him standing in a graveyard, talking about what was coming. It wasn’t unlike the packages that aired last week, as he dug a grave for Roman Reigns.

I was 11 at the time. I’m 32 now. I have a wife, a career, and plans to have a kid of my own. As someone who’s learned the value of a day’s work, and how far a dollar goes in this world, I have so much respect for all this extraordinary person has given us for so many years. All the sacrifices he’s made, all the pain he’s endured, and all the moments he’s given us. He’s been with us for so long. It’s going to be incredibly odd not having him here anymore. But if anyone’s earned the right to go out on his own terms, it’s Mark Calaway. He was a class act at Wrestlemania XXXIII, putting over the company’s top guy (for better or worse) on his way out.

In an industry where so many performers want to transcend and connect with the “mainstream,” the Undertaker was one of wrestling’s most recognizable figures for over two decades.

Cast in point, when I was in seventh grade, the Attitude Era was in full swing. Somebody in one of my classes had just gone to a WWF show, and my teacher happened to be talking to him about it. She seemed half-interested. He mentioned Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Rock. Mankind, and a few others. No reaction.

Then he said the name, “Undertaker.”

“Oh, I know him!”

Even if you weren’t a wrestling fan, you knew the Undertaker. If you were, you knew just how important and how special he was.

And he still is.

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns: “This is my yard now.” Probably the most impactful five-word promo you’ll ever see. Just minute after minute of boos and more boos. It doesn’t have to be this way. But whether it’s John Cena or Roman Reigns, apparently this is just what it means to be the top guy in WWE these days.

I’m going to sprinkle in a few Wrestlemania thoughts between my usual Raw and Smackdown reviews. Truth be told, I haven’t seen the entire show yet. I refused to let the sheer length of the show piss my off like it did last year. And I had a prior commitment on Sunday anyway. One thing I did make sure to see, however, was the tag team Ladder Match…

The Hardy Boyz def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson to retain the Raw Tag Team Titles. As some speculated, the Hardys did indeed return to a massive pop. Are they the first team to hold tag team gold in Impact Wrestling, Ring of Honor, and WWE in the same calendar year?

It looks like Matt and Jeff are more or less back in their old WWE characters, with Matt throwing in bits and pieces of the Broken stuff from Impact. Until the law suit with Anthem Sports is settled, I imagine that’ll be the extent of it.

Speaking of Anthem, “F*ck that owl” wins chant of the night.

Neville def. Mustafa Ali. The beach ball was back this year. It pretty much had to be after the company put it over on that WWE 24 special last week. That’s almost a shame. These guys were pretty good about that. The Spanish Fly off the top was amazing. If only more wrestlers were as over as that damn beach ball…

Vince McMahon names Kurt Angle the new General Manager of RawMany of us have seen this coming for months now. That doesn’t make it any less cool, though. And based on the backstage stuff we saw with Enzo, Cass, and Sami Zayn, we’ll be seeing stuff reminiscent of early 2000s Kurt Angle. That could be a real breath of nostalgic fresh air. Especially considering Stephanie isn’t there to lord over him.

The Revival make their main roster debut, defeating the New Day. Considering how these post-Raw crowds can be, I’m surprised they didn’t get a “Big E’s dick” chant when he talked about the blood flowing from his head down to his…

Wasn’t expecting to see the Revival on Raw. They always struck me as a Smackdown team. But considering we’ve got this “shake-up” coming next week, the respective vibes for the shows may end up shifting. Still, here’s hoping these guys are as successful on the main roster as they were in NXT.

Bayley, Sasha Banks, and Dana Brooke def. Charlotte Flair, Nia Jax, and Emma. Nia and Charlotte turn on each other after the match. Not expecting a lot of emphasis on Emma going forward. It’s not like they’ve made her a priority for the last several months. Why would things change now?

Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman address the crowd. Braun Strowman confronts him. They went ahead and planted the seed for Reigns vs. Lesnar in this segment, as the battle of the two men who beat the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. “The two in 23-2.” Loved the line: “If Roman Reigns is the big dog, then Brock Lesnar is animal cruelty.”

Rumor has it they want to do Reigns and Lesnar again at Wrestlemania next year. From a story perspective, I can’t say that thrills me. But those two had a damn good match a few years ago. Perhaps this could be another situation where the match surpasses the hype.

Sheamus and Cesaro def. Enzo and Cass to become top contenders for the Raw Tag Team Titles. The Hardys essentially came in and stole Cass and Enzo’s big moment at Wrestlemania. But Matt and Jeff may have done them a favor. Now they can challenge for the belts in their home state at Summerslam.

Finn Balor returns to Raw, teams with Seth Rollins to defeat US Champion Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe. Tremendous way to close the show, with Balor finally returning. Plus, as the announcers pointed out, these four all have a bit of a shared history. For my money, Balor could be the man in WWE if given the right opportunities. He caught a really awful break last year. If he can say healthy, there could be truly amazing things in his future.

On the subject of staying healthy, I couldn’t believe Rollins did that somersault to the outside. His knee must be in better shape than they’re letting on. At least I’d hope that’s the case…

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Broken Matt Hardy in WWE? Plus Ponderings From Smackdown

Broken Matt Hardy, Jeff HardyBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

As he revealed on his Twitter this week, Matt Hardy is gone from TNA. Reports say Jeff is on his way out as well.

Long story short, their contracts were set to expire and TNA reportedly bungled negotiations. We’ve heard similar stories in the past about the company’s dealings with AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode, among others. Mind you, Matt announced his departure just one day after TNA Grand Champion Drew Galloway also announced his. Ouch.

Matt’s departure is undoubtedly a huge blow for TNA. The whole Broken Matt/Brother Nero thing was the only thing in that company with any life to it. But from a fan perspective, it conceivably opens a huge door: Broken Matt Hardy’s arrival in WWE.

There’s been talk of Matt doing this bizarre character in WWE almost since he started it. Could it ever happen? Would WWE have any interest in it? If so, how much creative control would he have? Would he be forced to recite the awful dialogue we hear so often on Raw and Smackdown?

Broken Matt Hardy, TNAWWE is in an interesting spot with the Hardys. Obviously, they’d be fools not to at least explore the possibility of bringing Matt and Jeff back. They were immensely popular, and could headline a Hall of Fame class someday. But if they simply try to bring them back in their old characters, a giant portion of the audience will inevitably clamor for Broken Matt and Brother Nero. I can practically hear the “Delete!” chants now.

While they’ve obviously toned down their attempts to “re-brand” talent from other promotions, all this Broken Matt stuff originated on TNA television. I can see Vince McMahon rejecting it simply because it’s not a WWE creation. It’s the same reason we’ve never gotten a War Games Match on WWE TV. And that’s to say nothing of the outright silliness of the whole thing. Imagine the 70-year-old McMahon’s reaction to things like Senior Benjamin, Vanguard 1, and King Maxel.

I think what this all really comes down to is Matt’s priorities. Jim Ross has talked about the two Cs, cash and creative, being the primary reasons a talent departs a promotion. Matt has a young son, and another child on the way. One more WWE run could put his kids through college someday, and get him back in the loop with the biggest wrestling promotion in the world. But money isn’t everything. Matt has a good thing going with this character. It doesn’t necessitate him jumping off ladders every month. He can do it for another year, he can do it for another 10 years. If he’s found something that makes he and his family happy, I say stick with it.

wwe-smackdown-february-28-2017-john-cena-the-mizPonderings From Smackdown:

John Cena and the Miz get personal on Miz TV. Nikki Bella comes to Cena’s aid, the two share a kiss in the ring for the first time. They tried to do way too much with Miz here. He seemed to be stumbling trying to cover all the bases. From a story perspective, this renewed animosity between Cena and Miz seemed to come about spontaneously in the Battle Royal last week. But in this promo they tried to justify a deep-seated hatred of Cena by the Miz. They threw so much out there about Cena’s wrestling skills, his alleged politicking, and his latest attempts to balance WWE and Hollywood. But they don’t need all of that. They just needed to pick one motivation for Miz and stick with it. What we got here was all over the place.

Cena’s stuff about the Undertaker was really interesting. I highly doubt that was ad-libbed. But I’d like to think it was…

Inevitably, the John Cena/Nikki Bella relationship has come to Smackdown. In a way, this reminds me of when Randy Orton hit Stephanie McMahon with the DDT on Raw several years ago, and an enraged Triple H emerged from the back. Everyone knew they were together, but now it was “TV official.” It’s the same case here.

becky-lynch-wwe-smackdown-february-28-2017Becky Lynch def. Mickie James in a 2-out-of-3 Falls Match. Alexa Bliss unintentionally costs James the third fall. Good match. These two are fun to watch in the ring, and they compliment one another very well. This program has been exactly what I imagined it would be, and that’s a good thing.

Was Becky screaming “Becky Balboa!” after she won?

Apparently Alexa Bliss’ nickname amongst the NXT crew was “Baby Trish,” as in Trish Stratus. Listening to her promos, I can absolutely see why. Intentional or not, I can see a lot of of heel Trish Stratus in her. Considering the great success Trish had, there’s no one better for Alexa to emulate.

AJ Styles def. Luke Harper to earn a WWE Championship Match at Wrestlemania. Shane McMahon takes an accidental kick from Harper. This one surprised me. I thought for sure we were getting a three-way between Wyatt, Orton, and Harper. Now it looks like we may get Wyatt, Orton, and Styles.

I wouldn’t count out the match between Styles and Shane, though. They a point to put those two out there together a few times, including what we saw on Talking Smack. This is a nice way to keep AJ in the title hunt in the months leading up to Wrestlemania, but I don’t know if I see him in wrestling for it this year.

dean-ambrose-february-28-2017Dean Ambrose calls out Baron Corbin. Not Corbin’s best mic work by a long shot. Often times he’s very hit or miss in that respect. I’m buying into this stuff with he and Ambrose, though.

Dolph Zigger def. Apollo Crews in a Chairs Match. It’s funny. I hate Chairs Matches on the TLC pay per view. But this one didn’t bother me. I guess they’re fine on free TV,  but not if you have to pay for them?

Are they building this up to Crews finally rising to the occasion and getting a singles win over Ziggler? Otherwise, he’s looked like a jobber. An athletic jobber, but a jobber nonetheless.

Randy Orton turns on Bray Wyatt, burning down the Wyatt Family compound. I wasn’t crazy about Randy’s dialogue in this segment. But that’s the only thing I can really nitpick here. This was a great piece of business, using a setting that’s long been a part of the Wyatt Family lore. They even explained why that place is so precious to Bray, what with Sister Abigail being buried there.

Have we ever seen a vengeful, enraged Bray Wyatt before? I don’t know that we have. Certainly not like this. Certainly not like he’s bound to be now. An angry Bray Wyatt against an angry Randy Orton? That could be some interesting television…

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