WWE’s Most Fascinating People of 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Yeah, I’m still stealing this Barbara Walters bit. What can I say? I like it. I’ve been able to do it every year (with one exception) since 2012.

This list is subjective, as always. These are 10 people who, for reasons both good and bad, stood out to me over the course of 2017. We’ve got unlikely champions, call-ups from NXT whose journeys have been more tumultuous than anticipated, a veteran who’ll be on the Wrestle Kingdom 12 card, and many more.

So let’s get down to business…

1. Jinder Mahal

Jinder was one of WWE’s biggest gambles this year. The company made him their poster child for their attempts to break into the Indian market. In the process, Mahal went from glorified enhancement talent to WWE Champion in a matter of weeks. With help from the Singh Brothers (the former Bollywood Boyz), Mahal scored three consecutive pay per view victories over Randy Orton. He went on to retain over Shinsuke Nakamura at Summerslam and Hell in a Cell.

Though he held the title for most of the year, Mahal became a controversial figure for a variety of reasons. The question of whether he deserves this sudden shove into the limelight has always been there, with his matches and promos being highly critiqued. Also, the nature of his physique has been in question for quite some time. Many have suggested his increased musculature has come from steroids, or other performance enhancing drugs. The racial overtones used in his program with Nakamura did him no favors either. He actually got “That’s too far!” chants during a promo in October when he said of the Japanese star: “You always rook the same.”

Signs pointed to Mahal being the champion and the focal point of WWE’s two December shows in India. But by the time they got there, not only had the belt been taken from Jinder, but one of the shows had been cancelled. The “Maharaja” was still in a high profile match with Triple H. But he ended up eating the pin. He’d also been pulled from a headline match against Universal Champion Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series.

While success inevitably breeds envy and criticism, it’s safe to say the Jinder Mahal experiment hasn’t worked out the way anyone hoped. He may have an uphill battle ahead of him if he wants to stay near the top of the card.

2. Asuka

The “Empress of Tomorrow” made her long-awaited debut on the main roster in October. While she’s maintained her undefeated streak, Asuka has run into a familiar problem. Like many of her peers, she’s had trouble translating her NXT success to the main roster.

To WWE’s credit, they brought Asuka in with a ton of hype. But her match with Emma at No Mercy left fans underwhelmed. She scored a hard-fought victory, but she wasn’t presented as the dominant destroyer they’d come to know. They quickly switched gears, placing her in enhancement matches akin to those done for Braun Strowman and Nia Jax early in their Raw tenures. But you only get one chance to make a first impression, and for Asuka it had come and gone.

Thankfully, they seem to know what they have in her. She was the sole victor in the women’s match at Survivor Series, has started to score decisive wins over lower card wrestlers like Alicia Fox and Dana Brooke, and has publicly declared her intent to come after the Raw Women’s Championship. Asuka would be a perfect pick to win the recently announced Women’s Royal Rumble Match.

Asuka got off to a rocky start. But she seems to be picking up speed. I’d certainly hate to see her end up like a certain other woman on the Raw roster…

3. Bayley

Bayley’s 2017 was…okay. Just okay. She started out fairly strong, defeating Charlotte Flair on Raw to win her first Raw Women’s Title, and then breaking Flair’s pay per view undefeated streak shortly thereafter. She would go on to retain the title in a multi-woman match at Wrestlemania. Things seemed to be going well for her.

But by mid-year she’d fallen off track. WWE writers seem unsure of how to write Bayley. To an extent that’s understandable. Her character is very unique. You don’t see very many relentlessly positive, squeaky clean underdogs in 2017. But when paired against the spunky brat Alexa Bliss, she became a wishy-washy wet noodle. Bayley needed to show fire against Alexa. We needed to see that she could get angry when she had to. We didn’t get that. Instead we got bad dialogue, capped off by an absolutely atrocious “This Is Your Life” segment that was meant to garner sympathy for her.

By the time summer game around, she was getting the opposite. There were noticeable boos for WWE’s resident hugger, even when she was sidelined with a separated shoulder. These days, Bayley essentially just another name on the roster. From a creative standpoint, that’s an absolute travesty. Bayley is a special kind of character, who at one point had a special connection with a variety of fans. If there’s one person in all of WWE who could use a little character rehabbing, it’s her.

4. Matt Hardy

When it came to Matt Hardy, we spent most of 2017 waiting.

But just a few weeks ago, an on-screen breakdown led to the emergence of “Woken” Matt Hardy. The difference between Woken Matt and Broken Matt? Semantics. He’s got the same gear, the same hair, the same accent. For all intents and purposes, Broken Matt Hardy has come to WWE.

We haven’t seen a lot of him yet. It’s mostly been pre-taped promos, going back and forth with Bray Wyatt. Die-hard wrestling fans were already sold on Broken Matt. But the more casual fans watching Raw are seeing him for the first time. So far so good. Crowds have been reacting fairly well, and Matt has even breathed a tiny bit of life back into Bray.

There’s no shortage of options as to what can be done with this alternate version of Matt Hardy. In Impact, Jeff got in on the action as Brother Nero. But Matt’s wife, father-in-law, and children also became on-screen characters. We saw outrageous stuff on location at the Hardy compound. We saw a friggin’ drone. If Matt has a decent amount of control here, which he reportedly does, he could be one of the best parts of Raw in 2017.

5. Enzo Amore

Enzo faced a lot of criticism in 2017, but wound up proving a lot of his haters wrong. He started the year doing his usual shtick with Big Cass. Now he’s got the Cruiserweight Title and has essentially been made the star of 205 Live.

He could very well have fallen off the map after Cass went heel on him in June. But he ended up cutting some of the most passionate, scathing promos we heard on WWE TV all year. When Cass went down with an injury, Enzo was quickly moved into the Cruiserweight Division and put with Neville. Smart marks cried foul when Enzo somehow pinned Neville for the Cruiserweight Title in September. But the double turn that followed, turning Enzo heel and Neville babyface, turned out to be amazing. Enzo’s mic work and undeniable star power are undeniable. He’s earned his spot.

Enzo reminds me a lot of an early incarnation of the Miz. He won’t win any prizes for his wrestling. But his character work is on a different level than almost everybody else. When he talks, you believe him. In WWE, that’s a golden ticket that can take you almost anywhere. Enzo can be a singles wrestler, a tag team wrestler, a manager, an announcer, or whatever they need him to be. If Enzo is as tenacious and hard-working as Miz, he’s going to be around a long time.

And as long as we’re talking about him…

6. The Miz

Mike Mizanin’s suitability for pro wrestling stardom has been questioned from the start. Mainly because of his background as a reality TV star. But his wrestling ability has also been heavily critiqued. Throw in his success, including headlining a Wrestlemania, and he’s been a polarizing figure amongst die-hards.

But 2017 seemed to be the year Miz finally won over his critics. The majority of them anyway. He’s no slouch in the ring. But it”s mostly been a matter of his mic work and the presentation of his character. The continued inclusion of his wife Maryse, the slick suits, the good to great promos week after week, the incorporation of Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel as his “Miztourage.” It’s all come together. Now, roughly seven years after he main-evented Wrestlemania, he once again feels like a main-eventer. In 2017 he continued to make the Intercontinental Title feel prestigious again. He defended it, and in some cases traded it with, the likes of Dean Ambrose, Jeff Hardy, and Roman Reigns. It’s likely he’ll challenge for it again when he returns. Then again, perhaps it’s time for a new frontier…

Perhaps 2018 is the year Miz once again becomes WWE Champion.

7. Sami Zayn

Under the WWE umbrella, Sami Zayn was always portrayed as a sentimental underdog. It’s a role he wears well. Case in point, his work with Braun Strowman early in the year. But the underdog role isn’t always a good one to have. Yes, cases like Rey Mysterio Jr and Daniel Bryan will always exist. But the thing about being an underdog is that you sometimes have to lose. A lot. And despite what some in the WWE creative department would have you believe, wins and losses matter. As such, Sami Zayn’s time on the main roster as “the Underdog From the Underground” hasn’t been the most eventful. Even Sami himself has dropped hints of his frustration at how things have gone.

Then Hell in a Cell came around, and Sami aligned with nemesis Kevin Owens against Smackdown General Manager Shane McMahon. In the days to come it became clear that the underdog had become the villain.

It was just what the doctor ordered. Zayn tapped into a side of his personality that’s delightfully annoying, and become an atypical sort of heel. He described it on a podcast as: “…like when you’re dating a girl and she kind of has these quirks, but they’re lovable. But once you break up, it’s like, ‘oh, God! She was so annoying! … the things you used to love about her, now, you hate about her because you don’t love her anymore.”

Lovable or not, it’s working. Zayn has been a lot of fun to watch these past few months, and at the Royal Rumble he’ll be wrestling for the WWE Title. Now that’s progress.

8. Shinsuke Nakamura

Hopes were high this past spring when Shinsuke Nakamura was called up to Smackdown.    Performers like him don’t come by every day, and having him be on American television for the first time (not counting NXT) was a big deal. But WWE isn’t exactly known for giving their performers the best material to work with, even less for letting the performers be themselves. So the question of how he’d fare loomed ominously.

Coming from someone who hasn’t seem much of his work in Japan, Nakamura’s time on the main roster has been underwhelming. Almost a year later, it still feels like we hardly know the guy. The announcers call him things like “Artist” and “Rock Star.” But those are empty nicknames. Who is this man? Why is he the way he is? Granted, they’re not exactly writing Shakespeare for him. His program with Jinder Mahal was a low point for WWE television all year, particularly when the racial stuff started coming into play.

Still, bad creative can’t take away the performer Nakamura is. The crowds are still into him. There’s even been a little bit of buzz about him winning the Royal Rumble Match this year. Hope isn’t lost for Nakamura’s WWE tenure yet. But the guy needs a hit. That one great match. That one great promo or vignette. Something.

9. Braun Strowman

There’s an argument to be made that Braun Strowman, not Roman Reigns, should be WWE’s poster boy. At the very least, he’s not hearing the kind of boos Roman is.

It’s fitting then, that Strowman’s best work this year was with Reigns. They had an uncanny amount of chemistry, especially when you consider Strowman’s experience level. He’s only been around a few years. But these matches with Reigns have been damn good. That image of Strowman heaving a chair at Roman’s head is as awesome today as it was when it happened.

More importantly, Braun Strowman represents a tremendous success on WWE’s part. They’ve created a genuine homegrown star. And unlike a John Cena or a Roman Reigns, the male fans aren’t threatened by him. So if WWE went with Braun, he could potentially have a relationship with the audience that we haven’t seen from a “chosen one” in a long time. A top babyface that the fans actually want to cheer for. Imagine that. This could be it. This could be the year the “Monster Among Men” stands at the top.

10. Chris Jericho

One of WWE’s most fascinating people just wrestled Kenny Omega at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s biggest show of the year.

Chris Jericho’s choice to compete at Wrestle Kingdom 12 made a hell of a statement about NJPW’s foray into the United States, and its potential as an alternative to WWE. It also speaks volumes about who Chris Jericho is as a performer, and his resolve to continually challenge himself and grow. As if he wasn’t already the most versatile and multi-faceted performer in wrestling history.

Jericho also ended his latest WWE tenure on a high note. Coming into 2017, his rapport with Kevin Owens continued to be highlight of Raw every week. It culminated in a “Festival of Friendship,” which was arguably the most entertaining segment all year. Jericho and Owens weren’t nearly as compelling as enemies. But Owens got a Wrestlemania victory out of the deal, which is a nice feather in his cap. It’s a feather in Jericho’s cap too, as he got to help elevate yet another wrestler on their journey to WWE superstardom.

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WWE Survivor Series Predictions, Plus: The Jinder Mahal Experiment

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It’s been a week now since the Jinder Mahal experiment ended. For now, at least. So let’s pose the question: Did it work? All these months later, can we call Jinder Mahal’s reign as WWE Champion a success?

It depends on what your definition of success is. If the idea was to make Jinder a red hot WWE Champion, then this bet didn’t pay off. But if they were simply trying to elevate this guy and make him a commodity, then they got what they wanted…sort of. Either way, the results aren’t exactly stellar.

Jinder Mahal has been compared to JBL quite a bit. Jinder was abruptly shoved into the main event scene due to a lack of upper card heel talent, much like Layfield was in 2004. In hindsight, that’s a fair comparison. But only to a point. By 2004, JBL was a name. Not a huge one, but he’d achieved a measure of stardom with Ron Simmons in the APA. He was hardly the best worker in the world, but the Clothesline from Hell was a great finisher. He’s also a natural heel who could cut stellar promos. To this day some people still can’t stand the guy. (#FireJBL anyone?)

By comparison, Jinder has almost none of that going for him. That’s not to say he wasn’t talented in his own right. He’s a decent talker and has an amazing physique. But before the big push, he was just another guy on the roster. Most fans knew him from his days with 3MB, a comedy act whose job it was to put the real stars over. Mahal was actually cut, then brought back last year to fill space when they split the rosters again. He was a glorified enhancement guy. So giving him any kind of believability was an uphill battle from the start.

That’s not to say it couldn’t have worked. But instead of glossing over Mahal’s abysmal win/loss record, they should have leaned into it. Play Jinder up as a bottom-of-the-card guy who stole the WWE Title with help from the Singh Brothers. Every day he holds that championship is a travesty of justice. This is where having good announcers can come in handy. You have them say Jinder’s name with disdain, and remind us he’s an unworthy champion week after week.

Instead, we got things like the Punjabi Prison Match with Randy Orton and a feud with Shinsukt Nakamura that did nothing for either man. In the end, WWE had to abandon their newest pet project because no one bought him as an opponent for Brock Lesnar. For now at least, the experiment with Jinder Mahal and the WWE Championship is over.

Thankfully for Jinder, all is not lost. Now that he’s no longer under the pressure of being WWE Champion, he has a chance to actually prove himself as a commodity on Smackdown. They can develop his character and show us who he is when he doesn’t have to live up to the likes of Bruno Sammartino, Randy Savage, John Cena, etc. Heck, I’d take Jinder as the US Champion over Baron Corbin. Then he can play up the whole “Americans are prejudiced!” approach.

Did Jinder Mahal have any business being WWE Champion? Probably not. Either way, he’s now a player on WWE television. The question now is whether he can prove he deserves it.

Let’s jump into predictions for Survivor Series 2017…

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Enzo Amore (c) vs. Kalisto

Kalisto desperately needs to go to promo class. Either that, or WWE needs to tweak the way they present him. He’s capable of some truly amazing aerial stunts. I still vividly remember him hitting the Salida del Sol off a ladder a couple of years ago. If they emphasize that stuff, instead of making him another white meat babyface in the Cruiserweight Division, he might have a shot at being champion again. But for now, they’d be foolish to take it off Enzo.

PREDICTION: Enzo Amore

CHAMPION VS. CHAMPION:
The Miz vs. Baron Corbin

My expectations for this one are very low. It’s a heel vs. heel match with two guys who’ve never worked together, in a feud that will likely stop dead in its tracks after Survivor Series. Why should I care?

I’m always hopeful these kind of matches will prove me wrong. But considering Miz calls Corbin the “bathroom break of Smackdown,” it wouldn’t shock me if this became the bathroom break of Survivor Series.

I don’t see why you’d have Corbin beat Miz. The latter is easily the hotter commodity. Corbin is still a work in progress. There’s something there. But putting him next to Miz doesn’t make him look good at all.

PREDICTION: The Miz

CHAMPIONS VS CHAMPIONS:
Sheamus and Cesaro vs. The Usos

Another heel vs. heel match. But at least in this one we’re likely to get come good wrestling. Between their stellar promos and an outstanding run with the New Day, the Usos have been on fire this year. What’s more, Sheamus and Cesaro have more than proven their worth as a team on Raw. Given enough time and freedom, these four could turn in something great.

I think you give this one to the Usos. They’ve got a really hot act right now. As this is a one-off, why cool it down? Give them one more thing to get on the mic and brag about. Now it’s just a matter of finding them more teams to feud with…

PREDICTION: The Usos

CHAMPION VS CHAMPION:
Alexa Bliss vs. Charlotte Flair

I wish they’d had more time to build this, as it’s legitimately a pretty big match. It’s Alexa’s giant personality against the uncanny athleticism of Charlotte. I don’t know what to expect, but I’m intrigued.

This feels like a Charlotte victory to me. They just put the belt on her this week. Plus, despite Alexa’s rise to the top these past two years, Charlotte remains the bigger star. So at least for now, the Queen of Smackdown trumps the Goddess of Raw.

PREDICTION: Charlotte Flair

SURVIVOR SERIES ELIMINATION MATCH:
Alicia Fox, Asuka, Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Nia Jax vs. Becky Lynch, Carmella, Naomi, Tamina, and ?

It’s Paige. Paige is going to Smackdown, and she’s the final member of their team.

She was at Raw this past Monday, after all. But they opted not to use her. Why? Because they wanted to save her for the pay per view. Why not? It gives her return, and the match as a whole, a lot more kick.

The x-factor in all of this should be Asuka. They’re still trying to establish her as a dominant force on Raw, and it’s proven more challenging than I think anyone expected. She should take out two or three members of Team Smackdown, before ultimately getting into a brawl with someone on her own team that leads to a count-out. Thus, we get her out of the match without pinning her.

If Paige is indeed coming back on Smackdown, then Team Smackdown needs to win. She can be the sole survivor. But I’d also like to see her and Becky Lynch standing tall at the end. Either way works for me.

PREDICTION: Team Smackdown

The New Day vs. The Usos

Expect big things from this one, folks. It could easily steal the show.

Let’s not lose sight of what a big deal this is for the New Day. Putting them next to the Shield is a big deal. Reigns, Rollins, and Ambrose all went on to become legit singles stars after they broke up. They’ve headlined pay per views, won world titles, etc. While Kofi Kingston had a good amount of success on his own, he was never a main eventer like his opponents here. So indicating that the New Day are competition for the Shield is a great endorsement for Kofi, Big E, and Xavier. I’d love to think it’s a good indicator for life after the New Day.

All that being said, you can’t beat the Shield. Not now. They just got back together. You can’t rain on the parade mere moments after it begins. These guys have a least a couple of months left in them before they start losing and Sports Betting Dime is giving them favorited odds of 3/17 – Believe that.

PREDICTION: The Shield

CHAMPION VS CHAMPION:
Brock Lesnar vs. AJ Styles

Imagine the heat they could have built for this with more than two weeks notice. Imagine what they could have done if they hadn’t spent that time hyping Brock vs. Jinder…

I don’t know what to expect from a Brock Lesnar match anymore. I’d have thought the one with Braun Strowman would have been amazing. Not so much. On the other hand, he turned in good stuff at Great Balls of Fire and Summerslam. And if there’s one person on the planet that’s qualified to give Brock a great match, it’s AJ Styles. He’ll bump around like a maniac for all Brock’s big moves. It could very well be a sight to behold.

But good match or bad, Brock wins. That’s usually the scenario, isn’t it? Brock’s got a date with Roman Reigns at Wrestlemania, and he’s walking in with a (mostly) clean record.

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

SURVIVOR SERIES ELIMINATION MATCH:
Kurt Angle, Triple H, Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, and Braun Strowman vs. Shane McMahon, John Cena, Randy Orton, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Bobby Roode

As good as Brock vs. AJ or the Shield vs. the New Day could be, this is the match that needs to main event the show. For no other reason than all the different combinations we might see. Shane vs. Triple H. Cena vs. Balor. Cena vs. Joe. Triple H vs. Nakamura. Angle vs. Nakamura. The list goes on…

So we’re obviously getting Kurt Angle vs. Triple H at Wrestlemania. Possibly even the Royal Rumble. They had him lay out Jason Jordan on Raw. Despite how stupid Angle looked just standing there watching, they can’t let that go. It’s got to lead to a fight. I suspect Hunter lays out Angle at some point during this match to further things.

Two men who aren’t in this match? Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. Two men who need to interfere in this match? Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. We saw them bail during the big Raw vs. Smackdown fight on Tuesday. That set a natural precedent for them coming in and costing Shane his triumph over Raw. More importantly, it sets them up as the top heels on Smackdown.

Grab some popcorn, kids. I imagine this one will go the distance.

PREDICTION: Team Raw

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Undertaker’s Raw Return, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Here we go, folks. The answer we’re looking for is coming. We may even have a firm date for it.

Details have started to emerge about the Raw 25th anniversary show that’s scheduled for January 22. As we’ve come to expect with these anniversary shows, they’re bringing in past stars for nostalgia purposes. Already announced are Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, and in his first appearance since Wrestlemania, the Undertaker.

So here it is. This is their window. If they’re going to to some kind of angle for an Undertaker match at Wrestlemania, this is it. I’ve talked before about the pros and cons of Undertaker wrestling another match. I really don’t think there’s a need for it at this point, especially after the great send-off he got this year. But this is pro wrestling. You can probably count the guys who’ve retired and not come back in some form on one hand.

Chances are we’re not getting another Undertaker/Roman Reigns match. We’ve known for quite awhile that Reigns has a date with Brock Lesnar this spring. If the Dead Man is coming back, there are a bunch of names they could put him with. But let’s be honest. There’s only one potential Undertaker match that absolutely demands the pomp and circumstance of Wrestlemania. You can even argue he’s the only one worthy of bringing the Undertaker back for at all.

John Cena.

There’s been speculation about this match for a long time. Apparently it almost happened this year. Could we live without it? Yes. But if they’re dead set (no pun intended) on bringing the Undertaker back, if they’re going to renege on everything we saw in Orlando this year, this has to be the match. Cena may be the only one that doesn’t cheapen or diminish what appeared to be Undertaker’s genuine retirement.

Then again, maybe he’s not. Maybe that person doesn’t exist. But consider the actual match Undertaker and Roman had. What we got afterward was amazing. But the match itself was nothing to write home about. If Cena can give the Dead Man one last amazing Wrestlemania match, maybe it’s worth one more comeback…

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Shane McMahon commends the New Day for their actions on Raw. Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens interrupt. A match is made between Sami Zayn and Kofi Kingston. The Manchester Arena holds 21,000 people, and there were apparently only about 9,000 in attendance for this show. That’s a downer. On the plus side, the fans that were there seemed into it. Particularly during this opening segment.

Kofi Kingston def. Sami Zayn. This match made headlines, and not in a good way.

Multiple news outlets reported that Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn were sent home from Manchester after this Smackdown taping. What happened, or rather didn’t happen, after this match was apparently what prompted it. Owens and Zayn were supposed to have a lengthier post-match fight inside the ring with the New Day. Instead, they stayed on the outside. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, as the two have allegedly been difficult to work with as of late.

This was a surprise. Especially when you consider how vital these two are to Smackdown. Zayn is just now getting a chance to have a more expanded role on television. So the idea that he’s been tough to deal with seems very odd.

I’d love to think this is all part of a storyline. But the general consensus is that it’s legit. So the best case scenario here is that they come back and this becomes something they reference on television to get a reaction. Similar to Miz mentioning the incident where Enzo got kicked off a tour bus.

Randy Orton def. Rusev to deny the latter a spot on Team Smackdown at Survivor SeriesUh huh. Right. Rusev totally had a shot at getting on that team. Sure…

Becky Lynch def. James Ellsworth. Carmella lays out Ellsworth with a superkick afterward. I’m not big on inter-gender wrestling. But it’s fine as an attraction once in awhile. That’s exactly what this was, and it managed to be a fun little match. A great moment for both Lynch and Ellsworth. My only real complaint is that they didn’t save this for a pay per view. They could have drawn this out as a longer story.

Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable def. The Usos by count-out in a Smackdown Tag Team Title Match. The Usos keep the belts. When you consider what these guys are capable of, this was a let-down. But I imagine this was the first of many matches they’ll have. So let’s call it chapter one.

AJ Styles def. Jinder Mahal to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. While I can’t complain about this in the slightest, I wouldn’t get my hopes up about Styles keeping the belt for long. Remember, they’re still touring India in December. While those are Raw shows, my guess is they’ll fly both these guys in so that Jinder can get the belt back in his home country. Or rather, his fake home country. The Modern Day Maharaja is actually from Canada…

AJ deserves to stay in the top spot, though. He’s the best performer in the entire company, if not the entire world. Moving from Brock Lesnar vs. Jinder Mahal to Brock vs. AJ is like going from hamburger to filet mignon. There was no reason to think it was going to be any good, and there seemed to be little to no interest in it. I suspect that’s why this happened. While I’ve been fairly open-minded about Jinder’s abrupt shove into the main event picture, this title switch is an indictment on WWE’s failure to turn him into a solid commodity. Or at the very least, someone worthy of putting with their biggest attraction.

The way they’ve booked Survivor Series in general has been really weird. Granted, they were thrown a curve-ball when Roman Reigns got sick. So we can forgive the sudden title switch off of Rollins and Ambrose to allow for a Shield vs. New Day match. But Brock against Jinder was a bad idea from the start. Ditto for Miz against Baron Corbin. Rumor has it they’re also thinking of putting the Smackdown Women’s Title on Charlotte Flair, so she can be swapped into the match with Raw Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss.

I mean…they knew November was coming, right? They had a calendar? They could have done the appropriate title changes at Hell in a Cell if they wanted to.

On the plus side, AJ gave Jinder the best match he’s ever had. And the crowd was hot for the change.

John Cena announced as the final member of Team SmackdownThis was a swerve. Cena was at one point rumored to be the guest referee in the Brock/Jinder match. It’s a decent spot for him. Though it raises a few questions about his loyalties between Raw and Smackdown.

Who am I kidding? Those creative geniuses will forget it ever happened the night after the show, anyway…

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Brock Lesnar vs. Jinder Mahal, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

We learned last week that Luke Harper and Erick Rowan are coming back to Smackdown, a tag team once again. This time they’ll be called the Bludgeon Brothers.

On one hand this is a shame, especially for Harper. This guy can go. His match with Randy Orton at Elimination Chamber was awesome. But any time he gets some momentum as a single, it fizzles out. So they put him back with Rowan, as that’s worked in the past. Plus, it’s not like Rowan was doing much anyway.

No matter what these guys do, they’ve been painfully stuck in the shadow of the Wyatt Family. This is no different. Their vignettes are shot in a wooded area, which is synonymous with the old Wyatt Family vignettes. Rowan still has the sheep mask. And what their saying is in very much the same tone as their promos with Bray. They’ve shifted the focus, but essentially they’re the same characters.

So at this point, is there any harm in just putting them back with Bray? The poor guy is dying a miserable death on Raw right now. I’ve talked about how he needs a new coat of paint or something. While the Wyatt Family is hardly new, at least it worked. Why not trade Harper and Rowan to Raw, and bring two guys of equal value over to Smackdown. Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews come to mind.

Or better yet, why not just move Bray back to Smackdown? On Team Red, he’s become a punch line. On Team Blue, he was WWE Champion. Can somebody throw this poor guy a lifeline? Throw all three of them a lifeline!

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Daniel Bryan opens the show in his home state of Washington. A confrontation with Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens ensues. This opening segment made me realize how much I miss Bryan as a wrestler. Clearly I’m not the only one. He’s more over than any of today’s full-time guys.

It’s almost a waste for heels to prod Bryan about not being able to wrestle anymore. It’s not going anywhere, but it makes people want to see it that much more.

Heel Sami Zayn is a lot of fun. Or at least he was this week. He needs new music, though.

Michael Cole fills in for Tom Phillips, who is “on assignment.” First we get Corey Graves on both shows, now we’ve got a few weeks of Cole on both shows. Do we just want to have Saxton pull double duty and get it over with?

Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and Naomi def. Natalya, Tamina, and Lana. Carmella was on commentary for this match. At one point, Graves asks her who she’d like to be champion when she cashes in her Money in the Bank contract. She said something about it not mattering. What she meant was, “Lana. She can’t wrestle. She also doesn’t know how to sell the Figure 8.”

Sin Cara def. Baron Corbin via count-out. Sin Cara isn’t becoming the United States Champion. Not now, anyway. He’s good enough for a larger role, though. He’s damn sure got the talent for it.

Jinder Mahal challenges Brock Lesnar to a match at Survivor Series. AJ Styles interrupts and attacks the WWE Champion. Well, they went and did it. It’s Brock Lesnar vs. Jinder Mahal at Survivor Series. The silver lining in all this?  I’m very curious to see how Paul Heyman puts Jinder over as a credible opponent.

Styles took exception to Mahal saying he’d beaten everyone worth beating on Smackdown, since “you haven’t beaten AJ Styles.” For the record, Jinder beat AJ in May, during the build-up to the Backlash match where he won the title. In their defense, I wouldn’t want to highlight that in building to a match between them.

Dolph Ziggler def. Bobby Roode. 50/50 booking rears its ugly head again. Not exactly a stellar match, either. On the upside, they didn’t have Roode lose on pay per view.

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn def. Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura. Really good match. Particularly for Nakamura, who’s had a rough couple of months. He and Jinder had ZERO chemistry, and their matches suffered for it. So for Nakamura to be in there with Sami Zayn, who he had an amazing match with in his NXT debut, was a huge breath of fresh air.

Also, Corey Graves called Nakamura a “combat artist.” Has he done that before? I like that. It works a lot better than simply calling him, “the Artist.”

Zayn and Randy Orton were awesome together. How about a program with them, and then one between Nakamura and Owens as a palette cleanser from Summerslam and Hell in a Cell?

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Kane Shocks Roman Reigns, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Rumor has it the planned main event for Survivor Series next month is Universal Champion Brock Lesnar against WWE World Heavyweight Champion Jinder Mahal.

Oh dear. Dear oh dear. That’s…that’s quite a choice, isn’t it?

In theory, this should be one of the biggest matches WWE can put on. The champion of Raw against the champion of Smackdown, on one of the biggest shows the company puts on all year. It beats the hell out ofwhen they’d putting the big champion vs. champion match on Raw with little to no build-up. And not even in the main event!

But Brock Lesnar vs. Jinder Mahal isn’t exactly Clash of the Titans. Yes, they’ve strapped the rocket to Jinder. But his big matches against Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura haven’t delivered, and his racially charged promos haven’t exactly inspired confidence.

Having grown up a wrestling fan in the ’90s, I present you with this analogy. Imagine if they put the WWE Championship on Bob Holly in 1997, and then tried to market a major pay per view match pitting him against the Undertaker.

The buzz is that it’s going to be a non-title match. So without the hook of a title possibly changing hands, what’s the draw here? I imagine it’s seeing Brock Lesnar beat the crap out of Jinder and the Singh Brothers. There’s also Paul Heyman’s promos in the build-up. If anyone can put Jinder over as a legitimate threat to Brock Lesnar, it’s Heyman.

Whenever they do these Raw vs. Smackdown matches, people always talk about how it could reflect badly on the loser’s brand. In this case, if Brock kills Jinder, how does that make Smackdown look compared to Raw? This kind of stuff gets overthought quite a bit. But given the perception of Smackdown as the B-show (even inside the walls of WWE, reportedly), some concern is merited.

Could they have Brock take Jinder to Suplex City and beat him? Yes. But I don’t see that happening. Remember, Jinder is a Vince McMahon project. They’ve spent most of the year trying to get this guy over as their big Indian star. They’re making a big fuss out of him being the champion when they go to India in December. So it’s in their best interest to keep him looking relatively strong through the end of the year. Frankly, I don’t see why you’d book this match if not to benefit Jinder in some way.

This match has “outside interference” and “screwjob finish” written all over it. You’ll have the Singh Brothers out there, you’ll have Heyman doing something. And Jinder’s next opponent (AJ Styles?) or Brock’s next opponent (Finn Balor?) could easily play a role in the finish somehow. It almost has to. That’s how you get out of this thing without Brock throwing Jinder around and making Smackdown look like the bush leagues.

So who wins? Give it to Jinder by disqualification or count-out. That way Brock gets away without being pinned, and Jinder can technically say he beat the mighty Brock Lesnar.

Then again, don’t put anything past this company. Remember, at this same show last year Brock lost to Bill Goldberg in less than two minutes…

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, and Seth Rollins call out their opponents at TLCGood to see the guys back in their black gear, doing the old Shield entrance. Not sure why we couldn’t have done that for the big reunion last week…

Jason Jordan, Apollo Crews, and Titus O’Neil def. Elias, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson. For some reason, that opening shot of Elias sitting with Gallows and Anderson was really funny. And a tribute to the Honky Tonk Man, of all people. Does that make Honky a good brother?

Cedric Alexander def. Jack Gallagher. Solid match. I’m still getting used to heel Jack Gallagher. He definitely needs new music.

There was a faint “We want Neville!” chant during this match…

I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing Alexander hit the Lumbar Check. I can’t imagine what it’s like to take that.

Braun Strowman appears on Miz TV. A stipulation is added to the Reigns/Stroman Steel Cage Match later in the night. So if Strowman wins, his team gets another partner at TLC. If Reigns wins, it goes back to three-on-three. A nice added hook for an already big match.

All this team stuff has me in the mood for Survivor Series. So do you put the Shield on a traditional five-person team? Or do you give them their own match? Maybe a six-man elimination match?

Sasha Banks def. Alicia Fox. Fox ambushes Banks afterward. Crazy Alicia Fox is entertaining. Campy, but entertaining nonetheless.

A brawl breaks out after Kalisto interrupts an Enzo Amore promo. Noam Dar, Ariya Daivari, Tony Nese, and Drew Gulak lay out Kalisto and Mustafa Ali. I cringed when Kalisto’s music hit. Any time this guy takes a mic, it’s bad. And he didn’t disappoint in that respect. He told Enzo he’d walk out of TLC the “new Cruiserweight Champion.”

I don’t know that it’s coincidence that WWE keeps bringing up Rey Mysterio Jr. They’ve mentioned him as one of Kalisto’s influences, they posted a brief video on Rey’s response to last week’s title win, and then they name dropped him again this week. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to hear they’re trying to court him for a return. Perhaps not a full time return. But they’d be foolish not to at least try for him.

Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins def. Cesaro and Sheamus to retain the Raw Tag Team Titles. With Ambrose and Rollins back in the Shield gear, there was a little extra sizzle on this one.  But as gifted as these guys are, it’s still the same match we’ve seen a hundred times. It’s a good match. But the law of diminishing returns was in full effect here.

Not a surprising finish here. Having the Shield take a big loss right before their big pay per view comeback wouldn’t make sense right now.

Finn Balor announces the Demon is coming to meet Sister Abigail at TLCAnother week, another promo from Finn Balor. Worse yet, that awful Sister Abigail promo from last week apparently rubbed off on him, as they reached into their special effects bag again. Though at least the Demon character is somewhat cool. That Sister Abigail thing is another story entirely.

Bayley and Mickie James def. Alexa Bliss and Emma. Mickie has been nicely rejuvenated. Of course, the big story is Asuka’s debut this Sunday. To their credit, WWE has playied her up as the big deal that she should be. Now all we can do is wait and see how it goes…

Braun Strowman def. Roman Reigns in a Steel Cage Match, with help from the returning Kane. Kane will now join Miz’s team against the Shield at TLCThis was a legit surprise. I didn’t think we’d see Kane back until his real-life run for mayor of Knox County, Tennessee was over. But his inclusion makes a certain amount of sense, as Reigns did supposedly retire his brother at Wrestlemania. Now watch them completely ignore that…

They were teasing Curtis Axel as the fifth man for most of the show. So to prove himself, Axel gets goaded into picking a fight with Roman before the Cage Match. So instead of finding him alone, or maybe jumping him as he’s going to the ring, we see him walk up to all three members of the Shield backstage. Axel’s a good wrestler, but he might just be the dumbest henchman in television history.

Then again, when Miz found him hanging upside down, one of the first things he asked was: “Who did this???” So is one of them rubbing off on the other?

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WWE Hell in a Cell 2017 Predictions, Plus More on Sister Abigail

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There was a decent amount of buzz about Sister Abigail coming out of Raw this past Monday. For years we’ve heard about this mysterious mentor figure from Bray Wyatt’s past. So hearing him say, “Sister Abigail is alive,” made for a pretty loaded moment. The natural assumption was that this would lead to the debut of a new character. Possibly a new manager to freshen up Bray’s presentation. The guy could certainly use a new coat of paint.

But now, rumor has it that this is leading not to a new character, but to an alter ego for Bray. Sort of his own heel version of Finn Balor’s Demon persona. I imagine it will be Sister Abigail vs. the Demon at TLC later this month.

This development is…disheartening. I understand the notion of Sister Abigail as this figure from Bray Wyatt’s past that he draws a demented sort of inspiration from. But it’s only natural for us to be curious about who she was, what she looked like, etc. Not introducing us to her feels like a wasted opportunity.

Plus, knowing WWE this Sister Abigail alter-ego will simply be a flash in the pan. Something they use to extend Bray’s program with Finn Balor. Once Balor wins, which I assume he will, there’ll be no reason to go back to it. Just another page in the “wasted ideas” portion of Bray Wyatt’s career. A portion that sadly gets bigger year after year.

Anyway, let’s take a look at the card for Hell in a Cell this Sunday…

PRE-SHOW MATCH:
The Hype Bros vs. Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable

Clearly, the Hype Bros are either turning heel or breaking up. Given that Mojo Rawley seems like a natural babyface, I’ve been banking on a heel turn for Zack Ryder. It’s a little bit of a crap shoot. But it’s been a long time since he’s walked on the dark side. It’s worth a try. Either way, there’s no reason Benjamin and Gable shouldn’t walk away with this one. It’s simply a question of when they’ll pull the trigger on something with the Hype Bros.

PREDICTION: Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable

Bobby Roode vs. Dolph Ziggler

This has always been about Roode coming out of the gate strong with a great opponent. Ziggler played this same role with Shinsuke Nakamura several months ago. So the winner here has never been in in doubt.

Ziggler has taken some flack for his promos on big, elaborate entrances these past few weeks. But I actually think they’ve been among his best mic work. They make sense to me. In his mind he’s the best. But the fans don’t care. So he’s lashing out at the people they do care about. I have no idea what’s next for Ziggler. But hopefully he continues to get mic time.

PREDICTION: Bobby Roode

Randy Orton vs. Rusev

If there’s any justice in the world, Rusev wins this match. But because there clearly isn’t, it’s probably going to be Orton.

Last week I talked about whether WWE would have been better off strapping the rocket to Rusev, as opposed to Jinder Mahal. I’m hardly the only one to pose that question, either. We’re never going to know, obviously. But hindsight being 20/20, Rusev does seem like a much better option. Especially if Lana were still with him. Rusev and Lana are obviously more of a money pairing than Rusev and Aiden English. Or friggin’ Lana and Tamina…

PREDICTION: Randy Orton

WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Natalya (c) vs. Charlotte Flair

Charlotte and Sasha Banks literally made history at this event last year. It was the first time a women’s match main vented a pay per view, with the first women’s Hell in a Cell Match. And she won! Tough act to follow…

I don’t see her faring quite as well this year. She’ll get the belt eventually, of course. But this feels like Nattie’s time. She’s not exactly lighting the world on fire. But there’s something there with her. There always has been. I’m not willing to give up on her as champion just yet. There’ll be plenty of time for Charlotte to be in that spot later.

PREDICTION: Natalya

WWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Baron Corbin

I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Tye Dillinger added to this match at the last minute. Especially after he beat Corbin on Smackdown this week. He’s been in the mix with Styles and Corbin almost since their program began. It’s breathed some much needed life into his run on the main roster, and it makes sense for him to be here. Plus, if they decide to put the belt on Corbin, they can do it without having him beat Styles.

I don’t see that happening though. At least not yet. Losing the Money in the Bank briefcase was a big step backward for him, and they’ve done too good a job building the US Title up to give it to him as a consolation prize. He needs some rehabbing before he wins gold. And he will win gold. We just need to slow his ascent a bit.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Jinder Mahal (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

They really should give it to Nakamura, shouldn’t they? After all the racial stuff Jinder threw out there, it would be pretty crappy not to have him get his comeuppance in the end. Mind you, I don’t think Nakamura is ready. Not in terms of how he’s been portrayed on television, at least. I still don’t feel like I know this guy. But that didn’t stop them from putting it on Jinder, did it? And at least Nakamura was a commodity for them in NXT. Let alone his massive body of work overseas…

But Jinder is probably going to keep it. WWE is going to India this December. Supposedly, one of the reasons they put it on him to begin with was to generate interest from India, so pulling the plug on him now would seem like a big admission of defeat. That means he’ll likely have it until the Royal Rumble at the earliest, Wrestlemania at the latest. It’s a real shame for Nakamura, as this program didn’t do him any favors at all.

At least they didn’t shoehorn this match into the cage.

PREDICTION: Jinder Mahal

HELL IN A CELL MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
The New Day (c) vs. The Usos

I’ve been saying for weeks that this should be main eventing the show. These guys have earned it. Every time I think I’m done with this feud, they find a way to inject new life into it. Great matches, great promos. They’ve just made it work. I don’t expect this to be any different.

My gut tells me the Usos will take this one, which should really come as no surprise. They’ve been switching the belts back and forth this entire program. So why stop now? The New Day lose very little at this point. It also gives them a perfect line about turning Hell in a Cell into the Uso Penitentiary.

They may as well turn the Usos babyface after this. The respect factor is clearly there, and the fans have been digging their promos for quite awhile now. The only problem is finding a heel team worthy of challenging them. After all this, I doubt the Ascension are going to cut it. Ditto for the Hype Bros…

PREDICTION: The Usos

HELL IN A CELL MATCH:
Kevin Owens vs. Shane McMahon

This week they added a Falls Count Anywhere stipulation to this match, which seems to contradict the whole point of a cage match. Unless, of course, the plan is to break out of the cage and do a big bump. In which case that stipulation allows them to go out on the most dramatic note possible. For a Shane McMahon match, that only makes all the sense in the world.

They’ve built this up for quite awhile. You can even trace it back to before the brand split, with Shane and KO having little moments together. That, combined with how they’ve heated this program up over the last few weeks, makes this a match worthy of the cell. I maintain that they don’t absolutely need it, and the New Day/Usos match could have headlined. But this works fine too.

While Shane doesn’t need to win this one, I suspect he will. Had they not brought up Shane’s kids, I might think differently. This feels like a situation where the good guy should win. Perhaps the bigger question is what the crazy bump in this match is going to be. On Tuesday, Owens literally threatened to throw him off the cage. How can you not do something big after saying that in the build-up?

Keep in mind though, it doesn’t have to be Shane taking a big fall. KO could just as easily get himself a highlight reel moment.

PREDICTION: Shane McMahon

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The Jinder Mahal Experiment, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m starting to realize that I like what Jinder Mahal could be as WWE Champion, rather than what we’ve been given in reality.

When Jinder got his big push, I think a lot of us remembered Muhammad Hassan, the Arab-American character WWE created a few years after 9/11. He would accuse both the fans and other wrestlers of persecuting him because of his ethnicity. He wasn’t the most polished guy in the ring or on the mic, but the act got plenty of heat. It lasted about a year, ending when WWE took things too far in an angle that happened to air after the London bombings of 2005. Hassan was erased from WWE television shortly afterward.

They obviously want to strike some of the same chords with Jinder Mahal. We’ve heard Jinder talk about racism and xenophobia. WWE could easily have portrayed him as an underneath guy who used the Singh Brothers to cheat Randy Orton out of the WWE Championship, and then continued to cheat in subsequent title defenses. Announcers and other wrestlers would point to him with disgust as an undeserving paper champion holding the WWE Title hostage. In response, Jinder could point back and play the race card. “I’m an honorable champion, but you all hate me because I look different!”

I get the sense that’s the vibe they were going for with last week’s racially charged promo. Obviously they missed the mark pretty badly, opting for racial jokes as opposed to character-driven heat. The world is a very different place in 2017 than it was in 2004 and 2005. We’re all much quicker and easier to offend. Realizing this, they seem to be tempering Jinder’s material, trying not to cross a certain line. So what we have here is a foreign menace heel that can’t fully play that foreign menace role for fear of offending people too much. Ironically, that led to them pushing the envelope in the wrong direction, garnering exactly the kind of outrage they were trying to avoid.

So is it time to call the Jinder Mahal experiment a failure? Neither his matches nor his promos have been lighting the world on fire. They don’t seem to trust him to hold main event timeslots on Smackdown anymore. He also has hardly any chemistry with Shinsuke Nakamura, who he’s wrestling at Hell in a Cell.

I keep holding out hope that there’ll be a sudden breakthrough with Jinder. That he’ll suddenly find that right opponent or have that great promo. But at this point, maybe the best thing for him would be to take a step back and work on his character. After all, it’s not like he had a lot of time before being thrust into the spotlight. The Jinder Mahal experiment happened pretty fast. But it’s not too late for it to work.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Sami Zayn tries to talk sense into Kevin Owens. A match is made between the two for later in the evening. At one point, what we were seeing on WWE TV was dubbed the “Reality Era.” It was just a gimmick, of course. For the most part, there was nothing more real about what we were seeing than any other point in the company’s history. But considering the content of the promos we’ve been seeing lately, we may be in the middle of a miniature reality era right now.

Consider what we’ve seen lately. The stuff between John Cena and Roman Reigns was very insider-oriented, with lines about Roman’s real-life drug test failure, Cena’s Hollywood priorities, etc. You’ve got people on TV talking about how annoying Enzo is backstage. Hell, Miz and Maryse even announced their very real pregnancy on the air.

And then there’s this segment with KO and Sami Zayn, which illuminated what appear to be legit frustrations Sami has over his position on the card since coming to Smackdown. He and Daniel Bryan even had a little Twitter exchange about that recently.

You can debate the how “real” some of this stuff really is. But here’s the thing: Even if Sami isn’t really upset about his push, the story is somewhat based in reality. Sami hasn’t been featured prominently on Smackdown, and he’s never been a champion on the main roster. It’s something tangible that people have seen with their own eyes. It’s better storytelling. It’s an improvement.

Baron Corbin def. Tye Dillinger by count-out. So we’ve got AJ Styles vs. Baron Corbin at Hell in a Cell for the US Title. I don’t really have a strong opinion on Corbin being the US Champ. And perhaps that’s enough of a reason not to put it on him. For now, Styles is just fine with it.

Jinder Mahal cuts another promo on Shinsuke Nakamura. Nakamura finally gives Mahal and the Singhs their comeuppance. At the very least, the people were happy to see Nakamura finally come out and destroy these guys. There’s still not much heat or chemistry between them. But it was a nice moment.

The Usos def. The Hype Bros. The New Day to defend against the Usos inside the cage at Hell in a Cell. Well, at least we’re getting a Cell Match between these guys. While the Kevin Owens and Shane McMahon are fine for the cage, this Tag Team Title Match should not only be the only Cell Match on the card, but should be the main event. The New Day and the Usos have earned it.

Rusev’s Pride of Bulgaria victory celebration is crashed by Randy Orton. Aiden English had a really nice part in this segment, getting to sing Rusev to the ring. You know who else could have played a role? Lana. No, I will not let this go…

Rusev’s promo wasn’t amazing. But does anyone honestly think he wouldn’t be a better WWE Champion than Jinder Mahal? Mind you, I say that as a Jinder fan.

Charlotte Flair def. Carmella. I’m not really into inter-gender wrestling, but somehow the idea of Charlotte wrestling James Ellsworth amuses me. I’m sure the match would be abhorrent. But the visual is interesting.

Dolph Ziggler impersonates the Undertaker. Bobby Roode challenges Ziggler to a match at Hell in a Cell. And so we get the match we all knew this was building to. Incidentally, Dolph Ziggler vs. Undertaker? I’m game if they are.

Kevin Owens def. Sami Zayn via match stoppage. Shane McMahon comes after Owens. I still hate the hockey fight spot. Probably always will. On the flip side, that suplex Zayn gave Owens on the apron was sick. These two are always great in the ring. It’s simply about the law of diminishing returns. We’ve seen these guys wrestle so many times that it can become boring if we see it too much in a given timeframe. They used to wrestle all the time on Raw. But if I’m not mistaken, this is the first time they’ve wrestled one-on-one on Smackdown. So I’ve got no complaints here.

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WWE No Mercy Predictions, Plus: Did Jinder Go Too Far?

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

How far is too far? That’s the question many of us were asking Tuesday night after Jinder Mahal ruffled some feathers with a mildly controversial promo on Shinsuke Nakamura. They played the race card, with the WWE Champion making a handful of Asian jokes. The heaviest was probably Jinder saying, “you always rook the same.” Mahal got what may have been the first, “That’s too far!” chant.

Race is always a tricky subject. They obviously knew that going in. So much of what does and doesn’t offend people is subjective. While I’m not the most qualified person to dive into the subject of race relations, I don’t think Jinder said anything truly reprehensible. In bad taste? Sure. But it’s not worth lining up in the streets to protest.

If this segment was guilty of anything, it’s going for cheap heat. Mahal and Nakamura don’t have a hell of a lot of chemistry together. So they played the race card to add some personal stakes to the match. In a storytelling sense, it’s sad they had to go there.

But remember, the purpose behind segments like these is to get you to hate Jinder. He accuses the WWE fans of being xenophobic toward him, but then he turns around and makes about of racial jokes about Nakamura. He’s a hypocrite, and you’re supposed to want to see Nakamura kick his head off at Hell in a Cell. One way or another, I guess this segment accomplished that. People are mad at Jinder Mahal. It’s just a question of whether they’re mad for the right reasons.

Remember folks, it’s pro wrestling. It’s designed to drudge up emotions. Maybe Jinder was just doing his job…

WWE No Mercy Predictions:

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Neville (c) vs. Enzo Amore

There’s been a lot of talk these past few weeks about how “polarizing” John Cena and Roman Reigns are. Another name that should be on that list? Enzo. It’s more than just lip service when we heard all that stuff we’ve heard about how reviled this guy is by so many people. He genuinely gets under people’s skin. Me? I like him. Love him or hate him, he’s different. Say what you want about his in-ring skills, but Enzo has made more of an impression than guys like TJP, Rich Swann, or Akira Tozawa. He elevates that Cruiserweight Division.

But does that mean he’s walking away with the title? No. Not yet, at least. They’re telling an underdog story here. For him to take the title on his first try would needlessly cut it short. I do think he’s winning it at some point, though. So get ready, haters.

PREDICTION: Neville

WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
The Miz (c) vs. Jason Jordan

Really? This is the match we’re getting? I mean, really? They couldn’t have given us, say, Miz against Matt Hardy? It’s not like Matt wouldn’t get a reaction…

As I’ve said, I don’t think Jordan is the guy to take the belt from Miz. I’m fine if they want to make a failed quest for the IC Title part of a a larger story. But Jordan isn’t ready to carry the belt yet. So it’s with tremendous hope that I pick Miz. This probably isn’t over. But at least he’ll keep the belt for now.

PREDICTION: The Miz

FATAL FIVE-WAY MATCH FOR WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE:
Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax vs. Emma vs. Bayley

Had Bayley not gone down with that injury, I think she would have walked out of Summerslam with that Raw Women’s Championship. I think they put Bayley in this match to make up for lost time. Why else would they bring her back one week before the show? Because they want to put the belt on her and get back on their original course. I assume that course leads to a big match against a heel Sasha Banks. In the short term, I see her resuming her feud with Alexa Bliss, who will have a legit gripe over not taking the losing fall in this match. The one who takes that fall? Emma, of course.

PREDICTION: Bayley

Finn Balor vs. Bray Wyatt

We should really be getting the Demon this month, as opposed to last month. But we needed to have the Demon at Summerslam. So here we are. Though in all fairness, Finn’s line on Monday about the man being more dangerous than the demon was pretty good.

You know what they should do here? Insert a stipulation where the winner gets a Universal Title shot. As it is, it doesn’t feel like there’s much on the line here. I’m assuming Bray wins, and then we’ll get some sort of rubber match down the line.

PREDICTION: Bray Wyatt

WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Cesaro and Sheamus

This match would be a hell of a lot more interesting if these four hadn’t worked almost exclusively with each other for the past two months. This is essentially just another match.

I don’t see why Rollins and Ambrose wouldn’t retain here. The bigger question is, who you put them with after Cesaro and Sheamus? Gallows and Anderson have been in the mix lately. But for my money the Miztourage are a better option, simply because we haven’t already seen them work Rollins and Ambrose a bunch of times. The inevitable singles matches would also be a nice showcase for them. In the end, what both these teams need going forward is something fresh.

PREDICTION: Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose

WWE UNIVERSAL TITLE MATCH:
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Braun Strowman

This could be good. Really, really good. And they don’t have to move mountains to make it that way. It all boils down to psychology.

We’ve established that Strowman can overpower Lesnar, and that he can pop right back up from one of Lesnar’s trademark German Suplexes. If they continue to portray Strowman as invincible, and have him throw Brock around a little bit the way he did at Summerslam, that’s a recipe for great drama.

Of course, Lesnar needs to somehow squeak out a victory here. How it happens is anybody’s guess. Outside interference, maybe? Either way, I imagine it’ll take more than one F5 to get it done. I’ve got high expectations for this one.

PREDICTION: Braun Strowman

John Cena vs. Roman Reigns

I actually feel a little bad for Lesnar and Strowman. If this were any other match, they’d be far and away the main event of this show. But Cena and Reigns inevitably pull focus.

This is a Wrestlemania-worthy main event. I assume there are two main reasons it’s not happening at ‘Mania. The first deals with ratings as we head into football season. The second is that this is the first match in a series. And that’s why I think Cena is going to take it.

It’s fitting that they references Cena’s feud with the Rock on Monday. The Rock won their Wrestlemania XXVIII match, and it hung over Cena until the rematch the following year. I don’t see them drawing this out that long. But Cena is the resident legend here, and ultimately it’s up to Reigns to rise to his level. I see Cena getting the win in an evenly fought match, causing Reigns to obsess over beating him in the inevitable rematch. To an extent, history would be repeating itself, a la Rock and Cena.

Then again, Reigns cheating to win would be a hell of a finish too…

PREDICTION: John Cena

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Kevin Owens Attacks Vince, Ponderings From WWE Smackdown Live

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

We got a pretty cool moment this week on Raw when the Miz announced he and Maryse are having their first child. Obviously they met through WWE, so for them to have that moment in the ring together was really nice.

The only downside to this situation is that the Miz is probably going away for awhile. Maryse certainly will be. Not necessarily in the near future, but close enough down the road that it merits discussion. WWE is taking a lot of flack for running shows on Christmas and New Year’s Day. But I doubt even Ebenezer McMahon would deny the Intercontinental Champion a little paternity leave. He’s certainly earned it, given he’s almost single-handedly made that IC belt mean something again.

So naturally, the question becomes about who you give the title to when he’s gone. They’ve previously tried to maintain Miz’s momentum by having him drop the title to guys like Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler. On paper, those were great choices. But in both cases, the magic was gone.

The most likely candidate to take the belt from Miz seems to be Jason Jordan. That’s a bad idea. A really bad idea. Notwithstanding his recent strong outings with John Cena and Roman Reigns, Jordan is still far too “white meat” to get the belt. He’s not established enough, either in terms of character or credibility. If he continues having quality singles matches, he’ll get there in due time. But that time isn’t now. They can’t just throw Jordan a belt and expect him to be a made man. The fans will chew him up and spit him out.

So if not Jordan, then who? You’ve got more than a few good options. I’ll give you five…

Jeff Hardy’s name comes to mind right away. There was a good amount of buzz when he won that Battle Royal a few weeks ago, and got a shot at Miz. He didn’t win, obviously. But there’s plenty of interest in another Jeff Hardy singles run. The IC Title would be a fine way to start him down that path.

Another name to consider is Finn Balor. This program with Bray Wyatt isn’t lighting the world on fire, but the fans are still into him. As he’s already been established as a main event guy, an Intercontinental Title run would be believable.

You’ve also got Samoa Joe. He’s currently out with a knee injury, but given the high profile losses he suffered at Great Balls of Fire and Summerslam, a little break will do him good. Joe needs to rack up a few big wins. One way to do that would be to make him a dominant IC Champ. Joe has yet to wear gold on the main roster, and the title would be a valuable addition to his resume.

Goldust didn’t have a good night on Raw this week. But I’m tellin’ ya, this guy can do great things if they just give him the ball again. They re-established him in a low profile feud with R-Truth, but have thus far failed to follow up in a meaningful way. Having Bray wipe his face paint off was a big step in the wrong direction. But all is not lost. If Goldust mounts a strong comeback, he can still be a contender. Plus, he and Miz could have a great feud.

Then there’s Elias. I never expected to say this, but he’s overachieved since coming to Raw. Despite being a heel, the fans seem to be into him. They certainly were in Anaheim this week. He’s not quite ready for the IC Title yet. But character-wise, he’s in a better spot than Jason Jordan is. Give him another few months, and he might just be singing about Intercontinental gold.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Kevin Owens opens the show, talks about suing the McMahons and turning Smackdown into The Kevin Owens Show. Dolph Ziggler trolls the audience with Shane McMahon’s music. Daniel Bryan comes out and says Mr. McMahon will be there later. I got a big kick out of Sami Zayn being the first person “fired” from the Kevin Owens show. A nice little touch there.

Kevin Owens and Dolph Ziggler are the tag team I never knew I wanted. I mean, why not? The whole impersonator gimmick is usually the kiss of death, so what exactly does Dolph have to lose?

AJ Styles def. Tye Dillinger to retain the WWE United States Championship. Baron Corbin attempts to interfere in the match. Corbin announces he’ll face Styles for the title next week. An okay outing for Styles and Dillinger. I think most people knew going in that Dillinger wasn’t going to take it. Especially since they haven’t gotten much mileage out of Styles using the open challenge gimmick yet.

WWE Champion Jinder Mahal mocks Shinsuke Nakamura’s facial expressions. This was pretty lame. But on the plus side, it was so annoying that I definitely want to see Nakamura kick Jinder’s head off. I’m not sure that’s heat, per se. But it’s something.

The New Day def. The Usos to win the WWE Smackdown Tag Team Titles. Parts of this were nice and stiff. These guys took some nasty falls. When Big E. goes into that second gear, he’s money. Now that we’ve gotten to know him over the years, they might have something with him If he can ever transition into a more serious role.

Natalya def. Naomi to retain the WWE Smackdown Women’s Title. Carmella and James Ellsworth look on from ringside, get taken out by Naomi during the match. So Carmella literally has Ellsworth on a leash now? A little on the nose. But I guess that’s one way to garner some sympathy for the guy.

Dolph Ziggler mocks Bayley and the Ultimate Warrior’s entrances. Interestingly enough, both Bayley and Warrior’s widow were in the building for the Mae Young Classic. Coincidence? Probably.

Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable def. The Hype Bros. Zack Ryder opts not to shake hands with Benjamin or Gable afterward. That Zack Ryder heel turn is finally coming. I’ve been ready for this for awhile now. Not because I think he’ll be this amazing super-heel (Though I guess he could be…), but out of sheer curiosity.

Kevin Owens attacks Vince McMahon after a Hell in a Cell Match is made for KO and Shane McMahon. I’d still prefer the New Day and the Usos get the cell match. But Owens and Shane are a better choice than Nakamura and Mahal would have been. You win some, you lose some…

So KO headbutts Vince, opening him up immediately. Thanks a lot, man. Vince’s creative choices are weird enough without tacking on additional head trauma…

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Does Rusev Want Out of WWE? Plus Ponderings From Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Can you really blame Rusev for wanting out of WWE?

At least that’s the rumor. Allegedly, the “Bulgarian Brute” is frustrated with how he’s being used lately, and even went as far as to ask for his release. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It’s the same reason Cody Rhodes left. Ditto for Ryback, Wade Barrett, and a few others on a list that’s growing longer and longer as time goes on.

It’s not like there isn’t a precedent for Rusev playing a more prominent role. He’s worked with both Roman Reigns and John Cena on major pay per views. You can throw Randy Orton on that list too, despite their Summerslam match lasting all of 10 seconds. Considering where he’s been, it’s understandable that he’d be frustrated with where he is now. Because these days Rusev is just…there. He’s an established heel for babyfaces to beat as they build momentum toward a bigger match. Has he reached his ceiling in WWE for the time being? Is he better off leaving and building on his reputation elsewhere?

Rusev has never been a top guy. I don’t know how much value he has in terms of being a marquee babyface. But he’s got a hell of an upside as a menacing monster heel. He looks the part, he’s got a good amount of charisma, and he’s more than capable in the ring. He’ll ever be a Roman Reigns type of star. But he deserves bigger opportunities than he’s being given right now. And he can get them.

WWE may be reluctant to grant Rusev his release, given how it would effect his real-life wife Lana. But if the real-life Miroslav Barnyashev (What a name…) and Catherine Perry get a chance to shine outside the WWE bubble, they should take it. There’d be no shortage of wrestlers willing to step up and take Rusev’s spot. And as we’ve seen numerous times already, a WWE run can be just as good, if not better, the second time around.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

WWE Champion Jinder Mahal opens the show. The Singh Brothers apologize for failing last week against Shinsuke Nakamra. Mahal, Rusev, and the Singhs get the better of Nakamura and Randy Orton in a scuffle. “I should be revered as your WWE Champion!” The word is pronounced “re-veered,” Jinder. Not “reh-verred.”

This was not good. Nakamura was apparently supposed to knock the Singhs aside and get to Jinder. But he just gave them a little push, and they just jumped out of the way. The Singhs were way too cartoony here, like henchmen on the ’60s Batman show. Brutal.

Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable def. The Ascension. Benjamin looked as good as he’s ever been. Once he and Gable get over to teams like the New Day and the Usos, we could see some really amazing stuff.

Hearing JBL call an Ascension match in 2017 is interesting, considering he buried them so much on commentary when they first came up to the main roster. He really damaged them, seemingly beyond repair. A repackaging could help these guys. But for now, they’re more dead than disco.

Tye Dillinger answesr AJ Styles’ United States Championship open challenge, despite being attacked by Baron Corbin beforehand. Styles gets a quick win with the Calf Crusher. While there’s no shame in losing to AJ Styles, I continue to be disappointed in how WWE is using Tye Dillinger. There’s something there with him. But he’s become just another guy on the roster.

So AJ’s next program is indeed going to be Corbin. The match between Corbin and Nakamura may have crapped the bed. If anybody can give him a good match, it’s Styles.

Bobby Roode def. Mike Kanellis. Speaking of just another guy on the roster. I was optimistic about Mike Kanellis’ spot on the roster. But now? Things look a little different…

Kevin Owens interrupts Aiden English to badmouth Shane McMahon. After responding, Shane sends Sami Zayn out to face English. Owens makes himself the referee, Powerbombs Zayn to give English the win. When Zayn’s music hit, I thought for sure we were getting him against KO. Have we seen these two go one-on-one since they came to Smackdown? I don’t think they have. That’s shocking, considering how often we used to see it on Raw.

The Usos def. The New Day, will decide the stipulation for the Tag Team Title rematch. I wish they wouldn’t keep giving this match away on free TV. On the Summerslam pre-show these guys proved they deserve to perform on the big stage. They shouldn’t diminish them by simply throwing them out there week after week.

This was decent. Obviously not as good as the Summerslam match. But it wasn’t meant to be. Interested to see what they do with the stipulation. As I said last week, they should really put these guys in Hell in a Cell. But I doubt they can wait that long.

Tamina won a squash match with Lana in her corner. Byron Saxton said he’d never seen a duo like Tamina and Lana before…

He’s never seen two people who can’t wrestle before? Is that what he means? It must be.

Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura def. Jinder Mahal and Rusev. Orton hits the RKO on Nakamura after the match. Orton and Nakamura to wrestle next week to determine top contender for WWE Title. Pretty standard stuff here. And of course, Rusev took the fall. The upside? They didn’t pin Jinder again.

The obvious direction for them to go is Jinder against Nakamura inside Hell in a Cell, the idea being the cage will keep the Singh Brothers out. But that program doesn’t deserve the cell. Plus, while I like what they’ve done with Jinder, his pay per view matches haven’t exactly been stellar. How much he’s to blame for that is up for debate. But he’s not ready for Hell in a Cell. Frankly, I’m not sure Nakamura is either.

One way or another, we’re probably going to find out.

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