Neville No More? Is the “King of the Cruiserweights” Gone?

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

When I closed out last week’s Raw review with a question about where Neville was, this wasn’t quite what I was expecting.

But low and behold, here we are. The real-life Benjamin Satterley reportedly walked out on WWE before Raw this past Monday. There are conflicting reports on whether it happened that day, or some time the previous week. But either way, the “King of the Cruiserweights” is likely gone from WWE TV. At least for the foreseeable future.

Jim Ross, who once served as WWE’s head of Talent Relations, has said that the reason a talent leaves the company is usually about one of two things: Cash or creative. With Neville, it’s reportedly both. Obviously we’re in the dark about much of this. But allegedly two of the factors for Satterley walking out were the direction of his character, and being left off the Wrestlemania 33 DVD. The later was also a factor in Austin Aries, ironically Neville’s opponent at the event, leaving the company. Not being on the DVD affects a talent’s royalties in a big way. I expect that was a big shot to Satterley’s wallet. 

It’s not really my place to talk about the money involved here, as I don’t know the particulars. However, from a creative perspective, this is a real shame. I’m not immensely familiar with Satterley’s pre-WWE work. But having watched him these last two years, it seemed like things finally picked up for him when he became a part of the 205 Live crew. He might be the only one who can make that claim. Sorry TJP, Rich Swann, and almost everyone from the Cruiserweight Classic

My big criticism of the Neville of 2015 and most of 2016 was that he had no personality. He was like a video game character who could do all these cool flippy moves, and of course the breathtaking Red Arrow. But there was no substance or personality to him beyond that.

But Neville’s entry into the Cruiserweight Division, more specifically the accompanying heel turn, gave him a chance to finally showcase some charisma. In doing so, he became far and away the star of 205 Live, and dare I say one of the best heels in the entire promotion. He found the missing ingredient, and seemed to be on track to bigger and better things.

So why walk out? Obviously, all this is all speculation. And as I said, I’m not going to dive into the financial element. But there are clues to be found…

First, let’s consider how WWE isolates the Cruiserweight Division compared to the rest of its roster. It’s rare to see a designated Cruiserweight get to wrestle someone outside the 205 Live roster. For instance, you wouldn’t see Jack Gallagher wrestle Sheamus, or Rich Swann against Seth Rollins. Gallagher and Swann would have to face each other in that equation, as they’re both Cruiserweights. The one exception to this rule seems to be Enzo Amore, who can apparently have one-off matches with the Miz, and get mauled by Braun Strowman. But everyone else has to stay in their division. Heck, the Cruiserweight Division even travels together as a whole, regardless of who is a babyface and who is a heel. They’ve all come out together numerous times to stare angrily at Enzo as he verbally castrates each of them.

It seems as though WWE is trying to avoid confusing casual viewers as they attempt to get the 205 Live brand over. I imagine they want the Cruiserweight Division to stand on its own before allowing it to bleed over into other areas of the show. Ergo, being a Cruiserweight essentially pigeonholes you into one corner of the roster. For someone like Neville, who’s clearly capable of graduating to a higher spot on the card, this would create an agonizing glass ceiling. Winning the Cruiserweight Title may have been both the best and worst thing to happen to him.

This general lack of flexibility on WWE’s part plays into the stifling of creativity that has already lead numerous big names to leave the company. CM Punk is the most prominent example. But there are also the likes of Cody Rhodes, Austin Aries, Ryback, and Wade Barrett. All those guys are awesome talents. But for whatever reason, they weren’t allowed to take their best shot at stardom because of how their characters were portrayed, or their stories were written. I understand not everyone can be in the main event picture. But doesn’t everyone deserve a chance to try? Doesn’t everyone deserve the chance to be themselves out there, and contribute to the product in their own unique way? Wouldn’t that make a more compelling television show?

The answer, of course, is yes. But that’s just not how it works in today’s WWE. Sometimes you simply are where you are. In terms of Neville, that’s such a missed opportunity. Once he found his groove on the main roster, it was obvious he had more to offer than a gorgeous finisher.

There’s no question about whether Benjamin Satterley will be okay. Clearly he will. Other promotions will flock to him. But to me, the more pressing question is what WWE can do to allow their talents to be more creative, and have more of a voice in the presentation of their characters. In the long run, who knows what that might cost them? WCW let Steve Austin, one of the hottest stars in the history of the business, slip through their fingers. Who’s to say WWE isn’t sending future marquee talent out the door by refusing to let them realize their full potential?

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Will Jinder Mahal Shock the World? Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

it looks like business just picked up. WWE and Jim Ross announced this week that the Hall of Fame broadcaster will lend his famous voice to the shows WWE recently taped in Norwich, England. The shows will be centered around the new WWE United Kingdom Division, of which the center is UK Champion Tyler Bate. Ross will work alongside Nigel McGuinness.

This is a hell of a selling point, not just for these UK shows, but for the WWE Network in general. JR’s voice is desperately missed on WWE television. He’s one of the best overall storytellers they’ve ever had. He could bring you inside the ring, break down the psychology, and put talent over in a way that most announcers today just don’t do. That’s a disservice to both the wrestlers and the fans. As many network subscribers will still be unfamiliar with the UK talent on that show, Ross’ name also has tremendous value.

I’m hopeful WWE will continue to bring JR in to call matches on the big shows, specifically Summerslam, the Royal Rumble, and Wrestlemania. We don’t need him to call every match. But he added some nice extra garnish to that Undertaker/Roman Reigns match. When WWE wants a match to feel special, they can always plug JR in to knock one out of the park. He’ll do it every time.

After WWE inexplicably let him go a few years back, it’s tremendous to see these two sides rebuilding that bridge. Let’s start making up for lost time.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Randy Orton appears for the first time since the House of Horrors Match. A brawl ensues with the other main eventers. A Six-Man Tag is made for later in the night. Jinder’s mic work had some heat to it. It wasn’t necessarily well-delivered. But if they keep working at this little experiment, they could have something here. The real question is what happens to Jinder after Backlash

By the way, does this grouping of Jinder Mahal and the Singh Brothers have a name? It seems like they should.

Natalya def. Becky Lynch. A Six-Woman Tag Match is made for Backlash, pitting the “Welcoming Committee” against Charlotte Flair, Naomi, and Lynch. Speaking of factions, can we get another name for this Nattie/Carmella/Tamina tandem? The Welcoming Committee is really damn lame.

Not a huge fan of the SIx-Woman Tag route they’re taking for Backlash. That’s a match for Smackdown, not a pay per view. The Welcoming Committee isn’t exactly the Shield.

Erick Rowan def. Luke Harper. Did Harper sleep with somebody’s wife or something? What does he have to do to get a substantial, sustained push?

Harper and Rowan are running into the same problem they had the last time the Wyatt Family broke up. They can’t seem to break out and distinguish themselves outside of being Bray Wyatt’s former henchmen. Harper has been close. But we still don’t know much about him. And the only thing we’ve ever really known about Rowan is his affinity for sheep masks. Why does he even wear it anymore?

Shinsuke Nakamura confronts Dolph Ziggler. A match is made for Backlash“You treat me like a contagious disease.” I like that line. I actually might steal that someday. Good mic work by Ziggler.

Be ready, folks. That Chicago crowd is going to go absolutely nuts for Nakamura.

In a WWE.com, Aiden English explains why he’s so emotional. Last week, Dave Meltzer speculated that WWE had English cry on television because they were mocking Mauro Ranallo. I’m not sure I buy that. I’m more curious why English is calling himself an “artist,” when that’s also Nakamura’s moniker. Apples and oranges, obviously. But still.

Breezango def. The Ascension, after another edition of “The Fashion Files” airs earlier in the evening. The Usos come out to cut a promo. So are Tyler Breeze and Fandango babyfaces now? They’re seemingly being shifted to a more comedic role. That suits their wit and delivery, so long as WWE doesn’t overdo it. Which they will, of course.

Another great promo from Jimmy and Jey. Where the hell have these guys been for the last seven years?

Kevin Owens, Baron Corbin, and Jinder Mahal def. Randy Orton, AJ Styles, and and Sami Zayn. Mahal scores the pinfall on Orton. Last week Jinder beats Sami, this week he pins Orton. I don’t know if it’s officially my prediction yet, but Jinder Mahal could very well shock the world at Backlash. They could position him as the beatable champion who needs his run-in buddies to retain the title. Stranger things have happened. In that sense, I can’t help but continue to think of him in the same vein as JBL circa 2004.

Randy Orton isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire as a babyface WWE Champion. Granted, he hasn’t had a lot of time yet, nor a particularly hot feud. But right now, anyone not named AJ Styles is going to have an uphill battle if they want to be the top babyface.

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A Wrestlemania 33 Preview – “Showing Too Much Sh*t Hurts Your Product.”

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I have really bad memories of last year’s Wrestlemania. It was the first time I actually left the show angry. As much as I love pro wrestling and WWE, the company actually had go-away heat with me for several days.

The main event was simply horrible. Not because Triple H and Roman Reigns didn’t work hard, but because it simply wasn’t what fans wanted to see. But more importantly, the show was just too damn long.

The show isn’t any shorter this year. As of this writing there are 13 matches booked, assuming you count the pre-show. You’ll also have musical performances, and whatever the New Day ends up doing as the hosts. What’s more, Wrestlemania is obviously broadcast on the WWE Network. When you run your own distribution channel, it doesn’t matter if you go long, does it? As I recall, last year the show went over by almost a half hour. I don’t see why this year would be any different.

Earlier this week I mentioned something Tony Schiavone said on his podcast this week, and I’ll go back to it here: “Showing too much sh*t hurts your product.” Is there any better example of that than a six-hour long wrestling show? Whatever happened to leaving fans wanting more? Is there any worse time to leave a bad taste in the mouths of fans than at your biggest show of the year?

Regardless, we’ve got a lot to cover here. So let’s get to it. It should be noted that these first three matches are on the pre-show. That being said, it’s all on the network. So can it even be classified as a pre-show anymore?

ANDRE THE GIANT MEMORIAL BATTLE ROYAL

I don’t see how Braun Strowman doesn’t win this one. After dropping his first major loss to Roman Reigns at Fastlane, he could really use this to rebound. What better way to do that than to have him mow through an entire ring full of guys? Many have called it an injustice that Strowman didn’t get a featured match at Wrestlemania. But this makes a fine consolation prize.

Sadly, that’s not the case for the Big Show. The poor guy’s been on Battle Royal duty at Wrestlemania for the last four years. What’s more, the thought he was getting a high profile match with Shaquille O’Neal until Shaq supposedly bailed. The buzz was that Shaq would be Show’s final Wrestlemania opponent. But now that this has happened, I don’t see the big man going out this way. He’s got his critics, but after all these years he deserves better than that.

PREDICTION: Braun Strowman

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

Under the right circumstances, this match could steal the show. Sadly, on a show that’s this crowded I doubt they’ll get the time or the opportunity to do that.

But let’s not take away from what this match signifies for both men. They’re both journeymen, and have been pros for over a decade. Aries was famously rejected from Tough Enough in 2011, but has persevered. Neville also missed last year’s Wrestlemania due to a broken ankle. There’s an understated story of redemption here.

I say give the belt to Aries. He’s got a lot of momentum right now, and a big win like this would do wonders to further it. Plus, the prospect of more Aries/Neville matches doesn’t exactly scare me away.

PREDICTION: Austin Aries

WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Becky Lynch vs. Natalya vs. Mickie James vs. Carmella vs. Naomi

I imagine this must be really cool for Alexa Bliss. It’s her first Wrestlemania, and she’s the centerpiece to this big championship match. Now if only we knew how many women were in the match, not to mention what kind of match it actually is.

The addition of Naomi to this match changed my prediction. I originally had Alexa pegged to win. But Naomi coming back to win the title in her home town seems like too good a story to pass up. I’m going with her.

PREDICTION: Naomi

TRIPLE-THREAT LADDER MATCH FOR WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLES:
Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson (c) vs. Cesaro and Sheamus vs. Enzo and Cass

This match suddenly has some fresh appeal now that it’s a Ladder Match. Because you must have a Ladder Match at Wrestlemania. Apparently not having one would be downright blasphemy. Here’s hoping everybody stays safe.

The belts should go to Enzo and Cass. It’s been a year since their main roster debut, so it’s a nice story. As for Gallows and Anderson, they could really use a fresh start. Ideally on Smackdown. 

PREDICTION: Enzo and Cass

FATAL FOUR-WAY ELIMINATION MATCH FOR WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE:
Bayley (c) vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax

Last year, Charlotte, Sasha, and Becky Lynch stole the show at Wrestlemania. No doubt these four ladies are looking to make it two for two. The elimination stipulation helps in that regard. There’s some potential for great drama here.

I say you have it some down to Bayley and Sasha. They have a great history, and the story about Sasha protecting and helping her friend is a good one. I say we have Bayley win clean here, and then have Sasha be as a bitter heel challenger going forward.

Good luck, ladies. Make us proud all over again.

PREDICTION: Bayley

WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Baron Corbin

Dean Ambrose’s match with Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania XXXII should have been a highlight of the show. For one reason or another, it wasn’t. I’d like to think he’ll get a chance for redemption this year. But my hopes aren’t high. This match should really be a Street Fight, or something to tie into all brawls these two have had in recent weeks. Instead it’s just a regular match. Here’s hoping these two can overachieve.

Baron Corbin doesn’t need the Intercontinental Title. But this is where he landed, so we may as well give him a big win at Wrestlemania. I imagine these two will work each other again on pay per view in some sort of gimmick match. They can always make Corbin’s run brief, and give it back to Ambrose. It’s not like Corbin hasn’t been pinned before.

PREDICTION: Baron Corbin

John Cena and Nikki Bella vs. The Miz and Maryse

This should be a fun little match. But I imagine this will be more about what happens afterward. Cena’s “refusal” to marry Nikki has been a big part of this whole story. So a post-match marriage proposal seems likely. That’s never happened at Wrestlemania, so I’m interested to se how the crowd reacts. Who knows? We may end up with a Randy Savage/Elizabeth style wedding at Summerslam.

PREDICTION: John Cena and Nikki Bella

Shane McMahon vs. AJ Styles

Smart fans have griped about this match for weeks now. But when you look at it in the context of the show at large, it’s fairly intriguing. I imagine the reason Ambrose and Corbin aren’t getting a Street Fight is because these two are going to do a lot of that stuff. I’m not looking at this as a potential show-stealer. But you never know. This is AJ Styles, after all.

Styles deserves a win here. I don’t think you get nearly as much out of putting Shane over as you do AJ. And why the hell not? The fans are into him. Despite being a heel, he’s probably the most popular guy on Smackdown. He’s earned his moment. Let him have it.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

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

Despite this being as high as the United States Title has ever been on a Wrestlemania card, the belt is essentially an afterthought here. They used it as an excuse to have this match. But Owens and Jericho didn’t need an excuse, did they? We’ve been waiting for this one since the fall. Intentional or not, this is the best built match on the card. That’s a testament to the talents of both men.

Rumor has it Jericho is taking a break after Wrestlemania. I’m not sure how much I buy that, as he’s kept us guessing in the past. But considering how long he’s stuck around thus far, I’m more inclined to believe the rumors. Obviously, that means KO is taking this one home. As he should. Owens didn’t have a stellar run as Universal Champion. But he’s still an incredible asset to WWE, and Raw is going to need all the star power it can get after this show comes and goes. Lesnar, Goldberg, Undertaker, and apparently Jericho are going to be gone. So Owens needs to be in a strong position coming out of Wrestlemania. Coming out on top after everything these two have done together will be a career moment for him.

PREDICTION: Kevin Owens

NON-SANCTIONED MATCH:
Triple H vs. Seth Rollins

This has been a long time coming. Supposedly it was in the works for last year’s Wrestlemania, until Rollins hurt his knee. It almost didn’t happen at this year’s show either, for the same reason.

The condition of Rollins’ knee likely throws a big monkey wrench into their plans for the physicality here. I’m expecting a lot of “gaga.” Stephanie and Samoa Joe will likely make appearances. Sami Zayn could easily come out and be on Rollins’ side. While I pitched a program between the two last week, Finn Balor could run in on Seth’s behalf as well. In some ways, I imagine this will be similar to what Hunter and Sting did with DX and the nWo at Wrestlemania XXXI.

It seems like this entire program has been geared toward giving Rollins a hero’s victory over the tyrannical Triple H. I can’t imagine that’s changed. Rollins hasn’t been the hottest babyface in the world, but perhaps a big come-from-behind victory over Hunter will help in that regard.

PREDICTION: Seth Rollins

The Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns

This is the most emotional match on the card, to be sure. I imagine the longer you’ve been a fan, the more this match means to you. I’ve got about 20 years invested in this one.

I can’t bring myself to speculate about the Undertaker’s retirement anymore. Until I hear about it from either WWE or the man himself, the Dead Man hasn’t wrestled his last match. At 52 years old, I certainly couldn’t blame him for wanting to ride off into the sunset. But as far as I’m concerned, he’s welcome as long as he wants to be here.

I’d like to think WWE knows better than to have Roman simply beat the Undertaker clean. But who am I kidding? Chances are that’s exactly what they’ll do. To the dismay of many, Roman Reigns is the company’s top priority at the moment. They’re going to do anything they think will help his cause, no matter how much it hurts him in reality. In a perfect world, Roman would leave Wrestlemania XXXIII a heel.

But life isn’t perfect, and neither is pro wrestling. I can practically hear the boos now…

PREDICTION: Roman Reigns

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Bray Wyatt (c) vs. Randy Orton

Damn, folks. It’s Wrestlemania and Bray Wyatt is the WWE Champion. That’s pretty sweet.

My head tells me Randy Orton is taking the title home, but somehow my gut is pointing me toward Bray Wyatt. This guy has been on the cusp of superstardom for years. He finally get the belt…only to lose it less than two months later? That doesn’t smell right. They’ve certainly done stupid stuff like that in the past. But this would be a really bad time to beat Bray. So with a tinge of uncertainty, I’m going with the champ on this one.

PREDICTION: Bray Wyatt

WWE UNIVERSAL HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Bill Goldberg (c) vs. Brock Lesnar

Goldberg and Brock Lesnar are back at Wrestlemania. In 2017. In the main event, no less. Pro wrestling may not be fair, but it can also be really cool.

Yeah, I’m into the Goldberg stuff. People can knock him all they want, talk about how he can’t wrestle, etc. But here’s the bottom line: Goldberg is over. He’s an attraction. People chant his name. As we’ve come to find out, there’s still value with him. If people are still willing to pay to see Goldberg, then why not take advantage of that?

Lots of people, myself included, complained about the finish to the Lesnar/Goldberg match at Survivor Series. But in hindsight, it’s hard to deny that it worked. That match ignited this long program that got us to the main event of Wrestlemania. And yes, this match is the main event. The simple intrigue over what these guys are going to do and how long they’re going to go makes it one of the most interesting bouts on the card. It’s not going to be a classic, by any means. But as Jim Ross said on The Ross Report this week, the match these two have will be different from what everyone else does. As such, it’s well-suited to follow what everyone else does.

The finish seems pretty obvious. Lesnar gets his win back, as well as the Universal Title. Then again, I thought the Survivor Series finish was obvious, too. You never know…

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

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Raw ’97: Bret Hart Quits the WWF

***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.***

steve-austin 1997 royal rumbleBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The January 20 edition of Raw was our post-Royal Rumble show. This was the Alamo Dome Rumble that’s obviously very topical these days, as this year’s Rumble takes place in the same venue. Obviously it’s also the 20-year anniversary.

As much as the Rumble revolved around Shawn Michaels winning the title back from Sycho Sid in his home town, what I’ve always remembered about that show was Steve Austin’s performance in the Rumble Match. He was the fifth entrant, and essentially dominated the match until Bret Hart came out at number 21. And like a true heel, he cheated to win. When the referees were distracted by a brawl on the outside, he dumped the Undertaker, Vader, and Hart out to win the match.

Needless to say, Austin had the evening’s stand-out performance. I think the first few months of Austin’s program with Hart were when the perception of him started to shift. Going toe to toe with Bret the way he did was a big push toward main event status. This Royal Rumble Match was the next step up. Not only did winning the Rumble put Austin in some pretty elite company, but the way he won it was beautifully in character.

Obviously this was a big night for Shawn too. But Austin’s career would never be the same again.

Bret Hart quits WWFBret Hart quits the WWF. This is a pretty famous Raw moment. Fed up with being screwed by the WWF, Bret Hart quits in protest.

In his book, Bret says he was wondering where the payoff was for his character after a night like this. Supposedly his heel turn wasn’t presented to him until a few days before Wrestlemania XIII. It seems things were being switched up constantly in the weeks leading up to that show. If you believe what Bret wrote, it’s because of Shawn not wanting to lose to him.

Moments after Bret quits, Stone Cold Steve Austin comes out and takes the mic. Late ’96 and early ’97 Stone Cold is my favorite Stone Cold. Listen to how angry and bitter he sounds. It’s no wonder he captured everybody’s imagination the way he did. My favorite lint from Austin’s rant here is about his main event match with the Undertaker: “Drag his dead ass out here! I’ve got somethin’ for him!”

The British Bulldog and Owen Hart def. Doug Furnas and Phil Lafon. Objectively, Furnas and Lafon were great wrestlers. But they come off very vanilla compared to all the other big WWF personalities. They might have been better served to come in as heels.

faarooq-wwf-raw-january-20-1996Faarooq def. Bart Gunn. Just over two years before he got knocked out by Butterbean, Gunn gets taken down by Ron Simmons and the Nation of Domination. Bart didn’t win much after the Smoking Gunns broke up. That’s a shame. I liked Bart.

Time stamp: Both JR and King mention Bill Clinton’s second inauguration, which occurred on this day.

Gorilla Monsoon announces the main event of the February In Your House pay per view: Bret Hart vs. The Undertaker vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Vader. The winner faces the champion in the main event of Wrestlemania XIII. Austin responds. Hart returns, brawls with Austin. Austin: “You sit there and call yourself the gorilla, yet you hee-haw out here like a jackass!” Love it.

Bret was right to be concerned about coming off like a whiner. He quits when he doesn’t get his way, then comes back when he gets another opportunity. By the time we got to Wrestlemania XIII (I was in the arena that night), Bret was basically a heel. It’s not hard to see why.

The Undertaker vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin went to a no-contest after outside interference from Vader and Bret Hart. In the middle of this match, Lawler gets up from the announce desk, stands at ringside and yells for Austin to go after ‘Taker’s ribs. I can only assume this was improvised. Either way, it was funny.

bret-hart-wwe-raw-january-20-1997At one point in this match, ‘Taker comes up behind Austin, and gets surprised with a Stone Cold Stunner. But the crowd doesn’t react at all. It’s so damn surreal. Did they not register the move because it didn’t come with the usual boot to the gut beforehand?

Over on NitroThe Giant comes out to attack Hulk Hogan just as Nitro abruptly goes off the air.

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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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John Cena’s SNL Gig, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

John Cena, NBCBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Don’t kid yourselves, folks. John Cena hosting Saturday Night Live this week is a huge deal. He’s only the third WWE wrestler to do it. The first was Hulk Hogan in 1984. The second was the Rock in 2000. Now we have Cena in 2016. So this only happens about once in a generation. It’s one of the few accolades Cena hasn’t achieved yet, and now he’s got it. It’s almost like a rite of passage from WWE into Hollywood.

We seem to have officially reached the point with John Cena that the Rock was at in the early-2000s. He always had tremendous crossover appeal. That’s part of what made him the megastar that he is. But now he’s officially splitting his time between WWE and outside ventures. Ironically, this was part of the basis for the Rock/Cena feud a few years ago. WWE could very well do the same kind of thing in a few years with Cena, and whoever they want to take his spot. Roman Reigns seems like the likely candidate.

But while fans turned on the Rock for his Hollywood ambitions, it seems like it’s having the opposite effect on Cena. The last few times he’s appeared on Smackdown, the fans have been a little warmer toward him. He’s been shoved down our throats so much in the last decade. It’s almost comical that absence seems to be making the collective fandom’s heart grow fonder. I won’t lie, I’m looking forward to Cena coming back to Smackdown.

Man oh man…I’ve become such a jaded internet fan that I’m actually cheering for John Cena. What have I become?

WWE Smackdown, December 6, 2016Ponderings From Smackdown:

AJ Styles announces he will not defend his title against James Ellsworth in the main event. Dean Ambrose lays out Ellsworth. Are they gradually shifting to an AJ Styles babyface turn? I’d like to think so. Outside of calling the fans “gullible geeks,” he was more or less neutral here. They’d need to reshuffle the deck a bit in terms of babyfaces and heels. But Styles is a natural babyface, in my opinion. It won’t be hard to get the fans to cheer him again.

Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt def. Heath Slater and Rhyno to retain the Smackdown Tag Team Titles. Jim Ross tweeted this week that Orton, Wyatt, and Luke Harper “can all become character babyfaces akin to the Attitude Era. Easily.” I can’t disagree. Loved the setup for Sister Abigail into the RKO. They may have really stumbled on to something with these two.

Natalya vs. Carmella erupted into a brawl. I had originally pegged Natalya to be behind Nikki’s attack at Survivor Series. But one name I hadn’t considered is Eva Marie, who may be returning soon. The prospect of a Nikki Bella/Eva Marie match doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. But that’s what DVRs are for.

The Hype Bros def. The Ascension. More or less a filler match. I can’t see either of these teams as suitable challengers to the Wyatt Family. On the other hand, American Alpha doesn’t seem to be in the title hunt right now. So maybe the Hype Bros kill some time with the Wyatts in the next few weeks.

WWE Smackdown, December 6, 2016, Dean Ambrose, Miz, MaryseDean Ambrose appears on Miz TV. Daniel Bryan makes an Intercontinental Title Match between the two for the main event. By God, they gave Ambrose the “You deserve it“ chant for the Miz’s little participation award. Say what you will about Miiz, but he’s one of the best heels they have right now. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I don’t know why they gave the IC belt to Ziggler in the first place. He’s as valuable now as he’s ever been, maybe more.

Baron Corbin def. Kalisto. Nice little sequence into the End of Days. Thankful this match didn’t overstay it’s welcome. These two have developed some nice chemistry, though. It was fun.

Baron Corbin on Sportscenter? I might actually watch that. I’d like to see how he talks when he’s not trying to memorize dialogue.

Chad Gable def. Tyler Breeze. Would like to have seen these two get a little more time. Both Breeze and Fandango are great talents. But Breezango is a bottom-of-the-card act. They’re not toiling at the Ascension’s level. But close.

Becky Lynch interrupts Alexa Bliss’ championship celebration. Isn’t there an implied ugliness with the name “Wicked Witch?” Alexa Bliss is many things, but ugly isn’t one.

Alexa Bliss, WWE Smackdown, December 6, 2016Both ladies seemed to be struggling with their dialogue a little bit. They rolled through it, though. At least they didn’t have to talk about wrestling at Roadblock: End of the Line.

The Miz def. Dean Ambrose to retain his Intercontinental Title after an accidental distraction from James Ellsworth. We’ve seen these two wrestle a bunch of times. So there wasn’t a lot of novelty in seeing these two in the main event, even with the title on the line. Ambrose is always quality in the ring, though.

So what happens with Ambrose and Ellsworth now? They’re apparently trying to have Ellsworth keep on foot in bumbling babyface territory. So do you have them wrestle on TV in the next couple of weeks? I don’t see Ellsworth magically becoming competitive. So is this a ticket to a Dean Ambrose heel turn? Does he go too far and beat the holy hell out of Ellsworth? What happens next?

That’s a good question, isn’t it? That’s what you want to be asking. What happens next?

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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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