Smackdown Invades Raw, Plus Ponderings From This Week’s WWE

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

We’re doing things a little different this week, covering bits of both shows in one hit. But obviously the big story is the invasion angle from Monday, with the Smackdown wrestlers invading the Raw.

This had some nice drama to it. That’s impressive when you consider how many times they’ve done the Raw vs. Smackdown thing over the years, and how lax they are with the brand split much of the time. Kurt Angle played his part well, despite being awkwardly walked to the ring like an old man in a nursing home (shown above). AJ Styles even got a nice little spotlight in all of this, given his role at TLC.

My only big complaint was how they proceeded to undermine it the following night on Smackdown by having Raw announcers Michael Cole and Corey Graves at the announce desk. Yes, I know Tom Philips is out right now. And yes, we’ve established that Graves works on both shows. But It’s the one time of year where we want these two “brands” to be as distinct as possible. Yet we’re muddying the waters by having the two shows sound almost the same, and putting Cole and Graves in an awkward neutral position.

Meanwhile, Jerry Lawler remains off WWE television. The King has his critics, and I’ve joined them a time or two. But when the guy is on, he’s really on. Especially as a heel.

I don’t know how far in advance they knew they were going to do this angle. But they obviously had enough foresight to bring a bunch of the Smackdown crew in. So how about this: Leave Cole off the show. Bring Lawler in to do Smackdown for a couple of weeks. You have Corey Graves act as your “straight man” announcer between Lawler and Byron Saxton. Toward the end of the broadcast, you have Shane come out and tell Corey Graves he has to choose between Raw and Smackdown. When Graves isn’t sure what to do, Shane fires him. Tom Philips is back the next week, and we let him do the show with Lawler and Saxton. After Survivor Series, you can phase Graves back in if necessary.

I’ve previously said that Graves may be the most credible announcer WWE has right now. But having him on both of the main shows is overkill. You’re telling me there’s not one qualified announcer you can plug into that third spot? You can’t call Lawler? Daniel Bryan can’t reprise his role from the Cruiserweight Classic? What about Nigel McGuinness? He’s around for 205 Live, after all.

Or, you know, you could just have two announcers. But let’s not get too crazy.

Alright, lets hit some of the highlights from this week…

Ponderings From Raw and Smackdown:

Paul Heyman verbally lays waste to Jinder Mahal on Raw. Mahal responds on SmackdownComing into this Lesnar/Mahal program, Heyman’s mic work was one of the only real points of intrigue. I was curious to see how he’d put Jinder over as someone worthy of challenging Brock. As it turns out, he did just the opposite. And it was pretty damn cool. This is how the announcers should be talking about Jinder. He’s someone who doesn’t deserve to be champion. He’s unworthy. He stole the championship, and now justice must be served.

Best line in the promo? Heyman calling Mahal “a consolation prize champion offered to Smackdown Live when Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan realized they got the shaft in the Superstar Shakeup.”

But ultimately, the fact that Heyman was allowed to go out an say this stuff probably means Jinder is winning at Survivor Series. You wouldn’t think so, given how weak his response promo was on Smackdown. Granted, almost no one can touch Heyman’s mic work. But they could have written something better for him. How about mentioning Lesnar’s quick loss to Goldberg at last year’s Survivor Series?

Interesting that Heyman mentioned the match stoppage from the Summerslam match with Randy Orton, without actually saying Orton’s name. I don’t expect them to follow up on that. But it would be nice if Orton got a little throwaway line or something.

Kane def. Finn Balor. One night after Balor beats AJ Styles, one of the hottest stars in the entire company, he gets dominated by Kane. Are you kidding me? There’s no one else they could have plugged into this spot? I understand Kane needs to be kept strong for a program with Braun Strowman, and that Balor is a credible opponent. But there are a bunch of other names they could have plugged in here. Why not Matt Hardy? Why not Rhyno? They’re both decorated veterans. Why throw dirt on a freshly shined Balor?

Asuka def. Emma on both TLC and Raw. Both these matches were surprisingly underwhelming. The crowds seemed into Asuka herself, but not so much the matches. I don’t think it’s Emma’s fault. But I imagine the crowd was expecting a slaughter. Something worthy of Asuka’s domination on NXT. We didn’t get that. While that’s good news for Emma, as she was allowed to be competitive, it didn’t exactly maximize on Asuka’s first main roster appearance.

This is why we need more female wrestlers on both Raw and Smackdown. We needed (and still need) cannon fodder for Asuka. They should consider employing the strategy they used with Braun Strowman and Nia Jax. Have her kill jobbers for several weeks to establish her dominance, then move her into singles programs.

I doubt that’s the route they go, though. My guess is we’ll see her on the Raw women’s team at Survivor Series. The good news there is she could very well be the sole survivor in that match.

Raw Tag Team Champions Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose to face Smackdown Tag Champs the Usos. I’m assuming this match is happening because Roman Reigns is out with that viral infection. This seems to indicate he’ll be out for a few more weeks. If he comes back sooner, however, his connection to his cousins the Usos could play an interesting role here.

Alicia Fox and Becky Lynch to captain the Raw and Smackdown women’s teams at Survivor Series. Both these picks are surprising. With Nia Jax on her mysterious leave of absence, Alicia Fox is obviously being reemphasized, if only for a short time. But the bigger surprise is Becky Lynch. She’s obviously a star. But since dropping the Smackdown Women’s Title to Alexa Bliss last year, she’s been agonizingly underplayed. She’s got the potential to play a much bigger role. In a perfect world, the would be the beginning of a reemergence for her.

Randy Orton def. Sami Zayn to earn a spot on Team Smackdown at Survivor Series. Thus far, I’ve got nothing bad to say about Sami’s heel turn. He’s quickly gone from an afterthought to a main event player. I had talked about him needing new music. But that little dancing shtick he does is actually working for me.

Zayn took some awesome bumps from Orton in this match. The bounce off the top rope and into the ring, the fall on the announce table, the Superplex. Gorgeous work.

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

Ponderings From Raw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Raw ’97: It’s All About the Title

Shawn Michaels, WWF ChampionBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The January 27, 1997 edition of Raw was essentially about two things: Ahmed Johnson’s feud with the Nation of Domination, and more importantly the WWF Championship.

I’ve always been of the opinion that the most important thing in a wrestling promotion should, more often than not, be the Heavyweight Championship. That’s what motivates your characters. That’s what everyone aspires to have, and it’s what everybody shows up for. Steve Austin famously said that if you’re not trying to become the WWF Champion, then you shouldn’t be in the company at all.

This show has a great segment that’s centered around Shawn Michaels being the champion, and everyone vying to take what he has. What’s more, he says he’s willing to do anything it takes to keep it. Before you even inject the various personal rivalries into the scenario, you’ve already got instant drama.

Too often in today’s WWE, I think they take the “chase” factor for granted. More on Raw than Smackdown. We need to know how important that Universal Championship is, especially because it’s so new. Kevin Owens, though cowardly and underhanded, needs to be seen as the man on Raw. Instead, he’s simply one of a few top guys holding a prop.

Is it fair to compare anyone to Shawn Michaels in the mid-’90s? Of course not. By my point is more about how things are booked and written on television. I look forward to contrasting what was happening with the WWF Championship at this time in 1997, compared to what’s happening with the two Heavyweight Titles now.

ahmed-johnson-wwf-raw-january-27-1997Crush def. Ahmed Johnson. In 2017, Ahmed Johnson is more or less a punchline. His unintelligible promos. Those weird things he wore on his legs. Reportedly he wasn’t the safest guy to work with either. But I get what they saw in him at the time. He was a big, scary dude. When he would get mad, he was intimidating as hell. He had a presence, too. Crowds reacted to him. The real-life Tony Norris was actually the first black Intercontinental Champion, which gives him a place in history.

The story here was that Savio Vega had joined the Nation of Domination the previous Saturday at a house show in Madison Square Garden, turning on Ahmed. This was obviously off television. As this show was taped along with the previous week’s show, Savio didn’t appear to follow up on that.

I was surprised to see Crush win this one. But Vince and the King protected Ahmed by telling viewer that he’d taken a beating at the Garden on Saturday, and then wrestled on WWF Superstars the previous day. From a storyline perspective, it made sense that Ahmed was worn down. They sold us on Crush’s Heart Punch finisher too.

Time Stamp: Lawler says Ahmed is having a “New England Patriots kind of day.” The Patriots had lost to the Green Bay Packers at Super Bowl XXXI the night before.

Shawn Michaels, Vince McMahon, WWF Raw, January 27, 1997Shawn Michaels speaks for the first time since regaining the WWF Title. Rematch with Sycho Sid announced for Thursday Raw Thursday. Final Four participants confront the champion. Once again, it’s all about the WWF Championship. Everyone is dying to win it, and the man wearing it will do anything he can to keep it. I love this segment.

The essence of Bret Hart’s side of this segment is that he tells Shawn to do whatever he has to do to come into Wrestlemania with the title. One of the things he says is, “I don’t want you to injure yourself.” Considering what Shawn does on that Thursday Raw Thursday episode, that’s so ironic it’s almost laughable.

On the subject of irony, hearing Undertaker talk about facing Shawn at Wrestlemania is almost chilling. Notwithstanding what they would do together at Wrestlemania XXV, Undertaker would be Shawn’s final opponent in the main event of Wrestlemania 13 years later. Aw man, and they’re promoting Wrestlemania XIII here. This is spooky.

As the wrestlers talk about Wrestlemania here, Vince interjects twice to remind them not to forget about Shawn’s title match with Sycho Sid. Good business on his part.

owen-hart-clarence-mason-british-bulldog-wwf-raw-january-27-1997The British Bulldog def. Doug Furnas, despite Owen Hart accidentally striking him with his Slammy Award. Owen and Phil Lafon are out there, having wrestled each other earlier in the night. Owen’s green track suit was certainly an interesting choice.

The sunset flip reversal spot Bulldog and Furnas ended this match with is the same one Bulldog and Bret Hart ended their classic Wembley Stadium match with in 1992.

Clarence Mason is associated with both the Nation of Domination, and this team of Owen and Bulldog. This used to be a fairly standard thing. Bobby Heenan’s multiple “clients” in the ’80s come to mind. We have so few managers today. But the ones we do have likely wouldn’t be with multiple wrestlers like this. The one rare exception is Paul Heyman, who a few years ago was with Brock Lesnar, Curtis Axel, and Ryback simultaneously.

The Clarence Mason character, played by a real-life attorney, is clearly a product of his time. Johnny Cochran had become a household name in the ’90s, thanks to the OJ Simpson trial. Clarence Mason wasn’t nearly as charismatic as Cochran was. But we got the idea.

vader-mankind-wwe-raw-january-27-1997The Godwinns def. Vader and Mankind via count-out. On the subject of managers, Paul Bearer was put with Vader after helping him beat the Undertaker at the Royal Rumble. That’s an odd pairing that’s even odder when you throw Mankind in there.

We’ve heard Mick Foley, and other wrestlers talk about taking Vader’s punches in the corner. In this match, you can see exactly what they’re talking about. The big guy gets Phineas Godwinn (later known as Mideon) up against the buckles and pops him in the head repeatedly. And this was in the era before they were so mindful of concussions. On top of that, Vader later takes an unprotected chair shot to the head from Foley.

Ahmed tries to attack the Nation with a two-by-four moments before Raw goes off the air. For some reason, a two-by-four always seemed to be Ahmed’s weapon of choice. I damn sure wouldn’t want to be around this guy when he’s got a weapon…

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Mickie James Returns! Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

Lita vs. Victoria, steel cage matchBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

With Becky Lynch and Alexa Bliss getting a Steel Cage match this week, there’s no better time to look back on the last time the ladies of WWE got to wrestle in the cage.

The recent Hell in a Cell Match between Charlotte and Sasha Banks notwithstanding, to see another traditional Cage Match with the women you’ve got to go all the way back to the November 24, 2003 edition of Raw. Your participants? Lita and Victoria. It was a Raw Roulette episode, thus in storyline the cage was sprung on them.

Bell to bell, the match is about five minutes long. So they don’t exactly have time to tell an epic tale of struggle and sacrifice. Victoria gets thrown into the cage twice in the opening seconds of the match, and we get some of the usual climbing-the-cage spots with Lita. Lita also hits a wicked moonsault on a standing Victoria. The match ends when Matt Hardy, in the midst of what would be a short-lived heel turn, slams the cage door on Lita’s head, allowing Victoria to crawl out.

While certainly a fun trivia point in Raw history, this match wasn’t even a fraction of what it could have been had they actually given these ladies time to tell a story. Thankfully, Becky and Alexa were awarded that privilege

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Shane McMahon announces the WWE Championship will be defended at Elimination Chamber on February 12. AJ Styles, John Cena, and the Miz emerge as likely participants. This was a gimme, of course. But it’s nice that they’re ahead of the game. It seems likely that the other participants will be Dean Ambrose, Baron Corbin, and Dolph Ziggler.

AJ Styles vs. The Miz, WWE Smackdown, January 17, 2017AJ Styles vs. The Miz went to a no-contest.. Styles was already hearing chants from the Memphis crowd. Putting him against Miz wasn’t going to dispel that, was it?

Sometimes I wonder whether Styles actually has what it takes to be Smackdown‘s lead babyface. He’s so much stronger on the mic than he used to be. But it’s never been his strong point, per se. Then you see how smooth and dynamic he is in the ring, and a lot of that doubt evaporates. Styles does his best talking in the ring in the same way guys like Bret Hart or Rob Van Dam used to. Needless to say, the fans got behind those two in a big way. The question is whether the company would get behind Styles in such a role.

Natalya provokes Nikki Bella, cutting a promo at a merchandise stand. Another brawl ensues between the two. Not the best mic work you’ll ever see, and this wasn’t nearly as good as the fight last week. But I still appreciate the intensity of the fighting itself. It’s the most interested I’ve been in a Nikki Bella program since she worked with Charlotte.

Dean Ambrose def. Randy Orton after a distraction by Luke Harper. The Earth didn’t move for me on this one. A little slow. Not a big fan of the distraction roll-up finish, either. He couldn’t have caught the Dirty Deeds and pinned him?

randy-orton-bray-wyatt-luke-harperIt’s odd to see Randy Orton being pinned so much lately. Obviously it’s all part of the larger Wyatt Family storyline. But Orton has always been one of WWE’s most protected guys. For years he was right up there with John Cena. I like this. It’s a change of pace.

Dolph Ziggler is a guest on the King’s Court. Oh wow. They went there.

Firstly, I love that they brought back the King’s Court. It gives Jerry Lawler something different to do. He’s still fully capable of contributing, no matter where they put him. Last week I talked about Miz TV potentially being the only talk show segment on Smackdown. But if they want to have Lawler do this once in awhile, I’m game.

I don’t know how widely accepted it is that Ziggler “caused” Lawler’s cardiac episode on Raw in 2012. But It’s something they’ve alluded to. King took a bunch of elbow’s from Ziggler in a match, and later in the night he went into cardiac arrest. This is the first time they’ve done anything with it in terms of a storyline. I loved it, but I wish they’d gone further. King hasn’t wrestled for WWE since then, and he may never again. That’s something they could have used to put some great heat on Ziggler. And maybe that’s what they’re doing.

Just as good was King retaliating with, “No matter how many times you change your attitude, you will always be a loser.”

Mickie James, Alexa Bliss, WWE Smackdown, January 17, 2017Alexa Bliss def. Becky Lynch in a Steel Cage Match to retain the WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship. La Luchadora assists Bliss, reveals herself as Mickie James. I wasn’t expecting them to go with Alexa Bliss as champion at all. Then once she became champion, I imagined her reign would be short. And yet, here we are. She’s becoming quite an asset to Smackdown. This match makes a hell of an addition to the resumes of both these ladies.

Pleased to hear Mauro Ranallo mention the Lita/Victoria cage match. I was also pleased that these two got to play with the cage a little more than those two did. Loved that kick into the cage, followed by the exploder suplex from the top. Great combo.

The Mickie James reveal was pulled off well. This was the outcome many expected, but I’m no less happy to have Mickie back. I maintain that Raw really could have used her, what with the lack of depth their female roster has. But we can now look forward to Mickie James vs. Becky Lynch. That’s a reason to be excited.

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Raw ’97: The Rock Pulls Double Duty?

***Pro wrestling changed forever in 1997. From the rise of icons like the Rock and Bill Goldberg, to the Montreal Screwjob, to ECW’s pay per view debut, its impact would be felt for years to come. Personally, it’s always been my favorite year in wrestling. Here on Raw ’97, we’ll take a look back at what was happening on the WWF’s flagship show 20 years ago to the day. We’ll dig up hidden gems, and reexamine moments we’ll never forget.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

sycho-sid-wwf-raw-january-13-1997On January 13, 1997, Raw was still a one-hour show. Just north of 45 minutes, if you subtract commercials. In 2017, when we’re used to three-hour Raw broadcasts, that’s incredibly surreal.

In addition, because they taped multiple episodes in one night, this was an era where you didn’t see all the big stars wrestling every week. You might see them in backstage interview segments, or doing commentary. But not in the ring. In contrast, two weeks ago Raw featured Roman Reigns going against Kevin Owens. This past week? Reigns against Jericho. This coming week? Reigns vs. Owens and Jericho in a handicap match. There’s an obvious struggle to keep things fresh on a week to week basis, particularly with triple the air time.

Bottom line? Sometimes less is more.

Hunter Hearst Helmsly and Jerry “The King Lawler” def. Gloats and “Wildman” Marc Mero via disqualification. Lawler is such a great whiney, cowardly heel. There’s a moment in this match where he’s trying to tag Hunter, but Hunter doesn’t want to get in there with Goldust. So he just whines for his partner to come help. Great stuff.

Honky Tonk Man, WWF Raw, January 13, 2017Honky Tonk Man on commentary: [Hunter] will keep his cool just like OJ Simpson did just today on the witness stand.” Yeesh.

Sycho Sid speaks on location from the Alamo Dome in San Antonio. Sid more or less quotes Nietzsche in this promo. The actual quote is: ““Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster…” Sid goes on to say that both he and Shawn will have to become monsters at the Royal Rumble. It’s a clever concept for a wrestling promo. But wow, Sid and Nietzsche. There’s a tag team for you.

Shawn Michaels cuts a promo from San Antonio. Not much to this one. Shawn essentially rebukes all of Sid’s stuff, and says he’s going to kick Sid’s teeth down his throat. I do like that shot of Shawn with the fans, though. I was surprised he didn’t name drop Bret Hart when talking about facing the winner of the Royal Rumble Match at Wrestlemania. But Vince made sure to connect the two mere seconds later, when Bret came out for commentary. His exact words: “… the man that Shawn Michaels took the WWF Championship from.”

owen-hart-bret-hart-wwf-raw-january-13-1997Rocky Miavia def. The British Bulldog via count-out. Owen Hart came out during this match and stood right in front of Bret, blocking his view of the match. That’s one of the really cool things about this Bret/Owen rivalry. It never really ended. These two had their famous program in late ’93 and most of ’94, and yet here we are in 1997.

They’d done an angle on the previous episode of Superstars where Steve Austin took out Bret’s knee. Continuing on that theme, Austin takes out Bulldog’s knee here. But Owen can’t see it because he’s watching Bret. Bret then goes after Austin. I remember Austin and Bulldog having some kind of bad blood around this time. They kept teasing a Bulldog babyface turn, and a feud against Owen. You can argue that never fully culminated because of what happened after Wrestlemania XIII. Though they did have an awesome match to crown the first ever European Champion, which we’ll cover later.

Hilariously, a few minutes after this match they went back to the footage of Shawn in San Antonio, and Rocky popped up. Vince simply said, “Hey, there’s Rocky!” They tried to cover it up in the next segment, with Honky chiding Vince about seeing Rocky in two places at once. But it’s clearly him.

nation-of-domination-wwf-raw-january-13-1997The Undertaker def. Crush via disqualification. Vader decimates Undertaker before their match at the Royal RumbleThis was back when the Nation of Domination had JC Ice and Wolfie D, a.k.a PG-13, accompany them to the ring. Those two didn’t last long. I missed them when they were gone.

This was also the era where they’d paint a black teardrop on the Undertaker’s face. The teardrop tattoo obviously has murderous implications, and is such a great little detail for the Undertaker character.

Honky Tonk Man on commentary: [Who wins this match] is a tough one for the Honky Tonk Man to call. There’s not a lot of tough things for me. But this is probably the toughest.” Really? This is the toughest thing to call?

Over on Nitro: Diamond Dallas Page famously refuses to join the nWo. Hulk Hogan faces the Giant in a non-title match.

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Raw ’97: Bret Hart vs. Vader, Sid Powerbombs Pete Lothario

***Pro wrestling changed forever in 1997. From the rise of icons like the Rock and Bill Goldberg, to the Montreal Screwjob, to ECW’s pay per view debut, its impact would be felt for years to come. Personally, it’s always been my favorite year in wrestling. Here on Raw ’97, we’ll take a look back at what was happening on the WWF’s flagship show 20 years ago to the day. We’ll dig up hidden gems, and reexamine moments we’ll never forget.***

Terri Runnels, flash, Shotgun Saturday NightBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The January 6, 1997 edition of Raw was heavy on footage from Shotgun Saturday Night, which had premiered less than 48 hours earlier. Broadcast from the Mirage Nightclub in New York City, this was the episode where Terri Runnels (playing Marlena at the time) famously flashed the Sultan. And as we saw repeatedly during this Raw show, Ahmed Johnson gave D’Lo Brown the Pearl River Plunge on the roof of a car.

This was an attempt by the WWF to present something edgier, supposedly in response to ECW’s popularity. The original incarnation of the show, broadcast from nightclubs and what not, only lasted six weeks before it essentially became just another syndicated WWF show. I’ve got fond memories of those first several Shotgun episodes. In hindsight, it’s an obvious precursor to the Attitude Era. It’s a shame they never tried anything like that again.

Mankind def. Owen Hart. Chances are you’re going to hear this a lot as I watch these old shows: I have no memory of this match. Specifically, Mankind beating Owen. Not that it was so far-fetched. But Owen was my favorite wrestler at the time. You’d think I’d have at least a faint recollection of him going down via the Mandible Claw. This was also a heel vs heel match, an interesting way to start the year.

What I came away from this match thinking about was Owen’s spinning heel kick. He threw a couple of those here. That used to be a trademark of his.

Owen Hart, Mankind, WWF Raw, January 7, 1997Lawler on commentary: “I hope Jose [Lothario] is not gonna come out here, is he? … Are all his veins still clogged with those refried being and tacos and enchiladas? I heart they took an x-ray of his heart and there was a big jalapeño blocking his aorta.”

Doug Furnas and Phil Lafon def. Razor Ramon and Diesel. Keep in mind, this is January of ’97. So we’re not seeing Scott Hall or Kevin Nash as Razor and Diesel. This is Rick Bognar, and the man who would be Kane, Glen Jacobs.

This one was a dud for me. More or less a throwaway match. More entertaining was the Honky Tonk Man joining Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler on commentary. This was when he was looking for a protege, who would later turn out to be Billy Gunn as Rockabilly.

WWF Champion Sycho Sid is interviewed in the ring by Jim Ross. HBK emerges to do commentary during the main event. Sid apologies for what he’s going to do. The famous Royal Rumble show from the Alamo Dome in San Antonio was coming up on January 19, and Sid was set to defend against the hometown hero Shawn Michaels.

On a recent episode of Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard, the former WWF producer revealed Sid was at one point discussed to be Hulk Hogan’s successor as the top babyface. But Sid allegedly turned it down to stay heel. That’s a fascinating idea, especially when you look at Sid’s mic work. As we see in this promo here, Sid has a great presence and a commanding delivery. But I don’t think one would ever mistake him as the most articulate guy in the room. I think his best mic stuff was always short and sweet.

Bret Hart vs. Vader, WWE January 6, 1997For some odd reason, Shawn came out in jeans, boots, and a bathrobe. The things you can get away with when you’re the Heartbreak Kid…

Vader def. Bret Hart. This was another one that took me by surprise. I remember Vader pinning Shawn, and even pinning Undertaker. But I had no idea he’d ever beaten Bret. Not a clean victory,  mind you. Bret took a stunner from Steve Austin in the aisle. But Bret getting pinned after a Vader Bomb is still surreal. Had things worked out differently for Vader in the WWF, this match might have happened on pay per view.

At this point, it seems like they were still building for Bret vs. Shawn at Wrestlemania XIII. That didn’t happen, obviously. But Shawn’s agenda during this segment is clearly to talk smack about Bret, and their history dating back to Wrestlemania XII. There’s also a lot of talk from Vince about Bret being a marked man in the upcoming Royal Rumble Match. Bret was reportedly in line to win at one point, which isn’t difficult to see.

Shawn on commentary: “[Bret] is telling everybody he’s a brain surgeon and an angel. Believe me folks, he ain’t no angel. And if I could come clean, I would. But I know [Vince] will smack me in the face if I do.”

Sycho Sid, Pete Lothario, WWF Raw, January 6, 1997That’s really interesting to hear, considering the marital infidelities Bret talked about in his book. I can only assume Shawn and the other wrestlers knew.

During the main event, Sid grabs a camera man, and films himself powerbombing Jose Lothario’s son Pete on a table. Pete Lothario. There’s a name from the past for you.

Again, short and sweet with Sid’s mic stuff: “I’m sorry to do this. It’s going to hurt me to do this. But I’m going to have to.” Shawn legitimately sprinted to the back, adding to the drama. As a kid, I remember thinking Sid wasn’t somebody you wanted to mess with. That’s probably still the case 20 years later.

Over on Nitro: Rey Mysterio Jr. beats Psicosis. The Giant gets beat down by the nWo, but gets a chokeslam in on Vincent.

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Dean Ambrose: WWE Champion, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

WWEBy Rob Siebert

Well, what do you know about that.

I didn’t even think Dean Ambrose was winning the briefcase, much less getting the belt, much less on the same show!

This is overdue by at least a few months. I’d have gone with Ambrose at Wrestlemania over Roman Reigns, and I know I’m not the only one. I don’t think this represents a changing of priorities on WWE’s part. Roman is still “the guy.” But it never hurts to have another guy around, does it? Or in Ambrose’s case, “the dude.”

So congrats, dude. You earned it. I don’t know how long this is going to last. But I’m going to enjoy it. I hope you do too.

Ponderings From Raw:

Dean Ambrose arrives as WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins vie to be top contender. The best part of this segment? Roman responding to those “You can’t wrestle!” chants. “Calm down, take a sip of your beer and shut up.” Not the best line I’ve ever heard. But at least he got to throw one back.

WWE Raw, June 20, 2016, Seth Rollins, Roman ReignsAs Jim Ross tweeted during Money in the Bank, Reigns “has a natural, heel-like demeanor that’s difficult to teach.” I’d be blown away if Reigns goes heel. But it bears repeating.

Meanwhile, Rollins continues to come off like a babyface. He beat Reigns clean at the pay per view, then got jumped from behind when Ambrose cashed in. He’s not exactly wrong when he talks about having a claim to the title.

Sami Zayn def. Kevin Owens. Zayn and Owens always hit each other with those same punches at the start of every match or fight. Left hand behind the other guy’s head, while the right hand is throwing the blows. Seriously, guys. I love you both. But change it up.

That being said, this was a fun match. We don’t see guys go into the crowd nearly as much as we used to. I’m hoping this paves way for a street fight between the two at Battleground.

John Laurinaitis, WWE Raw, June 20, 2016John Laurinaitis returns to Raw, schmoozes for Smackdown General Manager job. I don’t know how WWE ever justified giving this guy a regular role on television. People give Roman Reigns a hard time about his mic skills. But honest to God, this guy cannot speak in public.

Enzo & Cass def. The Vaudevillains. Nothing of any consequence here. The Vaudvillains didn’t end up eating the pin at Money in the Bank the way I thought they would. But I expect them to now be out of the title picture. At least for the next few months.

Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows apologize to AJ Styles and John Cena for interfering in their match at Money in the Bank. The Club beats Cena down after he defeats Anderson in a match. The in-ring segment was decent. About what I expected, I suppose. We may be building to a cage match between Cena and Styles. 

Karl Anderson didn’t exactly get a great shake in that match with Cena. But I suppose it makes sense. Anderson hasn’t been there very long, and he’s strictly a tag team guy. Wouldn’t be the most logical thing to have him dominate Cena, would it?

Baron Corbin, WWE Raw, June 20, 2016Baron Corbin def. Zack Ryder. I’m now convinced WWE didn’t have anything resembling a worthwhile plan for Corbin. He’s been floating, trading wins back and forth with Dolph Ziggler. But what happens now? How does he make himself stand out? All else fails, I suppose he can always go back to NXT.

Charlotte def. Paige to retain the WWE Women’s Championship. Sasha Banks shows up to assert herself. There were rumors that Paige had been arrested after Money in the Bank. That doesn’t seem to be the case, though she was put in handcuffs. But if it were something serious, she wouldn’t have been on television.

I can’t remember the last time Sasha Banks was on Raw. But this seemingly confirms all the rumors about her facing Charlotte at Summerslam. As for what happens at Battleground…another tag match? This time with Sasha and Paige? I admit that’s pretty lame. But last long as we get to Summerslam, that’s what matters.

The Wyatt Family returns, is interrupted by The New Day. Earlier in the show, they aired a vignette for Bray’s return. Then they cut to the announcers, and Cole says they’re returning “later tonight.”

Bray Wyatt, WWE Raw, June 20, 2016Uh…what?

Many of us in the internet wrestling community have read about the last-minute re-writes to shows over the years. Based on some of the things Bray Wyatt has tweeted in recent weeks, it seems like this has been in the works since late May, but they’ve been putting it off. If I had to guess, I’d say they didn’t know this was going to be on the show until Monday, so they didn’t have time to promote it they way they should have. A Wyatt Family return is something they could have promoted for weeks. But instead we go an hour’s notice. Pitiful.

Seth Rollins vs. Roman Reigns goes to a double disqualification. Ambrose volunteers to defend against both in a triple threat match at BattlegroundThis Shield triple threat is something they could have done at Summerslam. Or better yet, Wrestlemania. For my money, this announcement can only mean these three are being separated in the draft. So as I said, let’s enjoy the united roster while we still can.

Tuesday Morning Talk Point: Dean Ambrose as WWE Champion.

Jerry LawlerIn Other News:

Jerry Lawler and fiancee arrested and jailed after alleged domestic abuse incident. Lawler is indefinitely suspended by WWE. It’s always sad when this kind of thing happens. The frustrating thing is, it’s Lawler’s word against his fiancee’s So who really knows what happened? I’m certainly not taking one person’s side over the other. But if Lawler is at fault here, then he deserved what he got. If he isn’t, then let’s just hope things get resolved quietly.

Image 1 from cagesideseats.com. Image 6 from variety.com. Remaining images courtesy of WWE. 

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