Posted in Wrestling

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.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

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Posted in Wrestling

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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Posted in Uncategorized

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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Posted in Wrestling

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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Posted in Wrestling

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.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

Posted in Wrestling

Bobby Roode’s Debut, Plus Ponderings From Smackdown Live

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Baron Corbin’s had a bad week. Last Tuesday, he unceremoniously cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase, and lost in a matter of seconds. Granted, it was after a distraction from John Cena on the outside. There was a lot of talk about this being done to heat up their match at Summerslam, with a furious Corbin getting a, angry, violent brand of revenge on Cena.

Then Cena won at Summerslam. Yikes. Either of these instances without the other? You can write it off as simply the story they’re telling with him. But combined? It looks like the Lone Wolf is getting neutered. Or at least “de-pushed.”

Rumors have obviously been swirling about WWE being upset with Corbin for some reason. Certain reports have cited a Twitter spat with Dave Meltzer, of all things. Either way, he’s clearly being punished for something. They had him involved in the main event on this week’s Smackdown, so he’s not dead in the water. But my guess is Corbin won’t be in the WWE Title picture anymore. At least for the foreseeable future.

I can’t say I’m heartbroken. Corbin is getting there. But is he ready to be WWE Champion? Probably not. Considering they’ve already taken something of a risk by abruptly putting the belt on Jinder Mahal, it’s probably best that Corbin gets a little more experience before being elevated to the top spot. The guy can get heat. But let’s have him see a few sights before he arrives at his destination.

Thankfully, if WWE needs someone to fill a gap in the upper card, this episode showed us a glorious new name they can plug in…

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Kevin Owens disputes Shane’s referee work at Summerslam. McMahon and Styles allow Owens to pick a guest referee for the main event. Owens eventually chooses Baron Corbin. Shane said that this was KO’s last shot at the title, one way or the other. Can we get that in writing?

Bobby Roode def. Aides English. Did you catch JBL’s Beer Money reference?

After being a heel for his entire NXT run, I’m surprised to see Roode called up as a babyface. It works, though. Crowds are going to cheer him regardless. He’s in good hands on Smackdown.

Daniel Bryan reveals Shelton Benjamin as Chad Gable’s new tag team partner. Shelton caught a bad break last year. He was set to come back, but had to deal with a torn rotator cuff. So this is a long time coming. He and Gable are a much needed addition to the Tag Team Division, and the matches should be epic.

JBL happened to mention the World’s Greatest Tag Team on commentary. Say, what’s Charlie Haas doing these days anyhow? Just curious…

The Usos def. The Hype Bros. Well, there goes a program between the Usos and the Hype Bros. So what happens now? Do we do the Usos and the New Day again? I thought I’d be sick of seeing them at this point. But after they tore the house down on the Summerslam pre-show, it’s tough to turn down more of that. Maybe throw in a cage or a ladder next time?

Actually, I’m just now noticing that Smackdown‘s next pay per view is Hell in a Cell. Right now, the Usos and the New Day are the closest thing Smackdown has to a real blood feud. Why not give them the cell?

Shinsuke Nakamura def. The Singh Brothers. Nakamura hits Jinder Mahal with the Kinshasa after the match. I’ve been calling for the Singh Brothers to wrestle for awhile now. They didn’t exactly look imposing here. But if they’re looking for challengers for the Usos or the New Day down the road…

Naomi and Becky Lynch def. Natalya and Carmella. I liked the story here, with Nattie not being able to trust Carmella. I was blown away when she took the belt at Summerslam. Not at all the direction I thought they were going. But I’ll never complain about someone getting their due. Natalya deserves to stand at the top of the mountain as much as anybody else.

On a more sour note, Carmella’s real-life boyfriend Big Cass apparently suffered a torn ACL on Raw, and will be out for about nine months. That’s an awful break. Cass was starting to get some decent heat, too. Best wishes for a speedy return.

Dolph Ziggler cuts a return promo. Don’t be fooled, kids. Sadly, all we’ve got coming from Ziggler is more of the same. My guess is they’re putting him with Bobby Roode.

AJ Styles def. Kevin Owens to retain the United States Championship. Corbin blows off his referee duties when Shane McMahon intervenes. Shane takes over as the official in the closing moments of the match. I’m really hoping they don’t put Owens and Shane inside Hell in a Cell. Or worse, Mahal and Nakamura. Considering how they normally do things, I’m sure we will get one of those. But I’m tellin’ ya, the Usos and the New Day are the way to go.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

Posted in Wrestling

A WWE Summerslam 2017 Preview, Plus: Baron Corbin Goes Bankrupt

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

From pre-show to main event, Summerslam 2017 has 13 matches. THIRTEEN. Do we even have time for an introductory editorial?

Looking up and down the card, what comes to mind is that we’ve got an awesome main event. But everything else? Meh. Objectively, it’s a stacked card. But for me personally, it’s pretty much a one-match show. Not exactly ideal for the second biggest show of the year.

Let’s take a look…

PRE-SHOW MATCH:
The Hardy Boyz and Jason Jordan vs. The Miz and the Miztourage

It’s not often that you see the Hardys or the Miz on the pre-show. For better or worse, this card is like a double-stuffed Oreo…

Considering the direction they’re going with Jason Jordan, it seems unlikely that they’d have him lose here. I’m picturing him pinning Bo Dallas or Curtis Axel. I imagine they’ll have him challenge Miz for the Intercontinental Title at the next Raw pay per view. At least they didn’t rush into it.

PREDICTION: The Hardy Boyz and Jason Jordan

PRE-SHOW MATCH FOR WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE:
Akira Tozawa (c) vs. Neville

Ugh. Well what was the point of doing this on Raw if we’re just going to turn around and put it on Summerslam? I can’t stand it when they do this. At least with Finn Balor and Bray Wyatt they used it as an excuse to bring out the Demon. This just feels wasteful. Like they didn’t know how to kill time with them on Raw, so they just decided to switch the title. The one upside? They probably got more time on Raw than they will here.

I see them giving the belt back to Neville. Champion or not, he’s the best thing they’ve got going in that division. Winning the belt gave Tozawa a certain legitimacy. But as a character, Neville is more intriguing.

PREDICTION: Neville

PRE-SHOW MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
The New Day (c) vs. The Usos

The Usos deserve to get the belts back here. Their whole image change has been amazing. Their promos are among the best in the entire company. They’re like an entirely different team. And while they’d upped the ante and put some kind of stipulation on this match, they work really well with the New Day.

However, now that they’ve put the belts on Kofi, Xavier, and Big E., it feels like they need to stay there for awhile. I have no idea who they’ll put them with next. But it will almost certainly be a step down.

PREDICTION: The New Day

Randy Orton vs. Rusev

Remember when Rusev was an unstoppable monster? Seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it? The thing is, he could easily be that guy again if he could just get a few big wins under his belt.

Sadly, that’s seemingly not in the cards for him at Summerslam. Randy Orton just put Jinder Mahal over three times on pay per view. Despite inexplicably pinning Jinder last week, he’s owed a pay per view rebound. Apparently when a big babyface needs an obligatory win, Rusev is the guy you call.

PREDICTION: Randy Orton

Bray Wyatt vs. Finn Balor

Obviously, they had Bray beat and humiliate Finn on Raw to justify a Demon appearance at Summerslam. It’s a little cheap. But I’m just happy Bray got to beat him at all. Even without the Demon paint, it would have been easy to just have Balor get his big win and move on. At least he saves a little bit of face this way.

If Balor is breaking out the Demon stuff, he’s got to win. This is only the second time we’ve seen this alternate personality of his compete. When the Demon finally does lose, it should be a big deal. But he needs to be built up first. Thus, it’s a victory for Balor.

PREDICTION: Finn Balor

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

With all due respect to Natalya, this seems more like the title match you’d make at a “B” pay per view. A No Mercy or an Elimination Chamber. It would be another thing if Nattie was on this big roll, and we had a sense they were going to go with her. But that’s not the case. This seems more like a match they’re putting out there as an excuse for Carmella to cash in her Money in the Bank briefcase. But after what we just saw with Baron Corbin on Smackdown, that seems a lot less likely. An attempted cash-in? Maybe. But nothing that will actually stick.

With that in mind, I can only assume Naomi keeps the belt. Natalya deserves a big moment as much as anyone. I just don’t think this is it.

PREDICTION: Naomi

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

Her talent, guts, and passion notwithstanding, Sasha’s been getting on my nerves as of late. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is. But it’s somewhat related to her alleged real-life heat with Alexa. She was on Raw Talk awhile back and called her a fake, implying Alexa didn’t love wrestling as much as she did. Granted, it was a worked shoot. But Sasha strikes me as the kind of person to take herself too seriously in that respect.

Still, I see things paying off for her at Summerslam. Before Bayley got hurt, it seemed like they were setting her up to win the belt back from Alexa. Realistically, without Bayley around this is the biggest match they can do in that Raw Women’s Division as it exists now. Unless someone like Asuka shows up after Summerslam, they’re going to need to shake things up. Putting the belt on Sasha accomplishes that for now.

PREDICTION: Sasha Banks

WWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Kevin Owens
Guest Referee: Shane McMahon

It’s highly doubtful this match, or any match on this card, tops what AJ Styles did with John Cena at last year’s Summerslam. Especially given that he and Owens haven’t necessarily had the best chemistry. But adding Shane to the mix gave the program that extra push to get it here. I am intrigued to see how things play out with Shane. He and Owens have a really interesting dynamic.

Owens is obviously going with Shane after Summerslam. So it makes sense to have Owens lose after getting in Shane’s face and prompting a physical reaction. They could have AJ win clean, I suppose. But Shane is in there. May as well use him.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

The Big Show vs. Big Cass
Enzo Amore to be encased in a shark cage. 

Cass is one of WWE’s big projects right now. Regardless of how popular Enzo is, everything they’re doing here is about elevating him. So it should go without saying that he’ll wind up getting the win here.

It’s not often that you see a babyface trapped in the cage for a match like this. It’s almost always designed to keep a bad guy isolated so he can’t interfere. We just saw that with Chris Jericho at the Royal Rumble. If Enzo does wind up interfering, I imagine him somehow costing Show the match, furthering his status as the village irritant. To his fellow wrestlers, at least. To most fans? Not so much.

PREDICTION: Big Cass

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

As hokey as it was at certain points, the build-up to the reunion of Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose was very effective. If you need proof, look no further than the crowd that night. It was a cool moment. A moment I imagine they’ll try to top once Roman Reigns comes into the picture.

But first, we’ve got to establish that Rollins and Ambrose can still do big things together. To do that, they’ve got to take the tag belts away from Sheamus and Cesaro. I expect that’s exactly what we’ll see here. The crowd should really be into this one as well. The Shield magic notwithstanding, all four of these guys can go. There’s a good chance this winds up being one of the better matches of the night.

PREDICTION: Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose

John Cena vs. Baron Corbin

Prior to Tuesday’s Smackdown, I had Cena pegged to win this one. But Corbin’s failed cash-in has me second-guessing things. If Cena costs Corbin his big match, and then beats him at Summerslam, where does that leave him? If they want him to remain a player, Corbin needs to get his revenge on Cena. Otherwise, he’s going to have to climb his way back up the card. Or worse, he could be the next Damien Sandow. Only not as talented. Or as over.

You know who I’d like to see? Frustrated, bitter, angry, violent Baron Corbin. Show me that this man is dangerous. Convince me that I should be afraid of him not just because of his physical stature, but his cunning and ruthless mind.

PREDICTION: Baron Corbin

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

This wasn’t at all what I expected for Nakamura at this show. Considering he just popped up on television in April, it’s a little quick for his first WWE Championship Match. But I can’t bring myself to gripe too much about it. At least it show us that WWE has enough confidence in him to place him in a big match like this. It’s reminiscent of where AJ Styles was last year.

Nakamura’s match with Baron Corbin at Battleground was a disappointment. If he and Jinder Mahal turn in a stinker on a big stage like Summerslam, some of that stink might stay on him for awhile. What’s more, Jinder hasn’t had that epic WWE Championship Match yet. So it’s in both these men’s interest to give us something great and memorable.

Ultimately, I don’t think the Jinder Mahal experiment is over just yet. I see this match having the same outcome that a lot of his matches do. The Singh Brothers meddle in the match, which results in either a dirty finish or a disqualification. Either way, the title stays on Jinder. After Randy Orton’s victory over the champ two weeks ago, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve got a three-way dance for the title coming up between Mahal, Nakamura, and Orton. I can’t say I’m dying to see it. But there’ve certainly been worse matches.

PREDICTION: Jinder Mahal

FATAL FOUR-WAY MATCH FOR WWE UNIVERSAL TITLE:
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe vs. Braun Strowman

From a conceptual standpoint, this is a fairly flawed show. That being said, they got the main event right. All four of these guys are hot right now, and any of them could conceivably walk out with the belt. On paper, that makes for an awesome main event.

WWE tried to throw a curveball our way by having Paul Heyman announce that if Brock loses the title, both of them will walk out. Considering Brock is not only under contract until Wrestlemania, and he’s being advertised for shows post-Summerslam, it seems unlikely he’ll drop it here. That’s not to say he can’t lose it, go away, and then come back later. But my gut says Brock keeps the title.

For me, the real drawing power of this match lies in the potential for sheer brutal chaos. All four of these guys hit hard and throw far. Hopefully, no matter who comes out on top, the audience wins.

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

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Posted in Wrestling

Punjabi Prison Match Returning, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I turned Raw off this week at about the 90-minute mark. It was the first time I’d given up on a show since November. Apparently I missed some good stuff afterward, including a follow-up on the split between Enzo and Cass, Samoa Joe choking out Brock Lesnar, and a Gauntlet Match with the women.

What a shame I missed it. But I just couldn’t take it anymore. The show was actively irritating me.

It started when they brought Josh Duhamel out to do commentary during a six-man tag. He was there to promote Transformers: The Last Knight, and an upcoming film he’s working on with WWE Studios. They spent a large portion of the match asking Duhamel questions about the movies before actually bothering to talk about what was happening in the ring. I’ve been watching this stuff for over 20 years, and this kind of thing  is nothing new. But it’s seldom been as grating to me as it was here. It’s like they were trying to mimic a talk show interview.

Later in the show, they did a Miz TV segment with someone named Lamelo Ball and his son LaVar Ball, and then his other son Lonzo Ball. I had no idea who any of these people were. Apparently Lonzo just got drafted by the LA Lakers, so it was partially meant to appeal to the crowd in Los Angeles. But this was just not good. It was an obvious attempt by WWE to get coverage from the major sports outlets so they’d look “legitimate.” Whatever that means…

It was then made worse when 15-year-old Lamelo used the N-word twice. It happened during Dean Ambrose’s entrance, so the music pulled a little bit of focus from it. But it happened. Some of the blame goes on Lamelo for that. But he’s just a kid. What the hell was he doing with a live mic?

And frankly, as a wrestling fan, there’s a larger issue at play for me here. The Ball family shouldn’t have had a featured role on Raw to begin with. I understand WWE wanting to get “the rub” from celebrities. It makes good business sense, and it’s certainly worked in the past. Think of names like Mr. T, Cindi Lauper, Mike Tyson, and Floyd Mayweather.

But WWE has bigger problems right now that can’t be masked by celebrity involvement. They’re the same problems that have been there for years now. Everything is overly sanitized. The wrestlers are too scripted. Certain characters feel hollow. Nothing feels real. The show is too long. The list goes on.

The ratings reflect it, too. Viewership fell below three million people again this week. Pundits talk a lot about WWE’s “base” audience. As in, the people that are going to watch the shows no matter what. Usually, I’m part of that base. But this past week, they chased me off before I could see most of their big angles. If it’s gotten to the point that they’re chasing hardcore loyalists like myself off, how do they expect to bring casual viewers back to the product?

Over seven million people have watched the YouTube video of the first Brock Lesnar/Samoa Joe’s confrontation on Raw. So it’s not like there’s no interest in the WWE brand. I think a lot of the more casual fans are simply waiting for Raw to be good again. Why should they waste their time otherwise?

So what do they have to lose by changing up the presentation and the creative? More importantly, how much do they stand to gain by taking some risks? It’s not like what they’re doing now is setting the world on fire. Anything so we don’t see crap like that Miz TV segment anymore. That thing stunk like balls…

Sorry. I couldn’t resist. Let’s move on to Smackdown.  

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Daniel Bryan opens the show, Carmella vies to get her Money in the Bank briefcase back. James Ellsworth is ejected from the building. I chuckled at Ellsworth’s crack about Bryan not being able to cut it in the ring anymore. Bryan has made no secret about wanting to get back in there. He just can’t get cleared by WWE doctors. The smart bet his inevitable return take place in Ring of Honor or New Japan Pro Wrestling. That’s sad news for WWE buffs. But as much as anyone, Bryan deserves to live life on his own terms.

The Usos def. The Hype Bros. The New Day to challenge for the Smackdown Tag Titles at BattlegroundSurprised the Hype Bros lost this match clean. Maybe that Zack Ryder heel turn is coming sooner than I expected.

So Kofi Kingston insults the Usos, and they just stand there and take it? Yes, they’re heels. But do they have to be wusses too? At least tease some physicality.

Breezango interrogates the Ascension about attacking them at Money in the Bank. Konnor: “The only reason we were at Money in the Bank is because we wanted a match on the card.” Hey, at least he’s honest.

Naomi def. Lana to retain the Smackdown Women’s Title. I was actually rooting for Lana here. How much heat would she get if Rusev came down and cost Naomi the match? Is Lana as good wrestler yet? No. But neither was Stephanie McMahon when she was Women’s Champion. Just do it!

Randy Orton interrupts Aiden English to challenge Jinder Mahal to another WWE Title Match. Shane McMahon grants his request, allowing Mahal to choose the stipulation Mahal chooses a Punjabi Prison Match. How nice that they just happened to have that stock footage of the Punjabi Prison structure standing by. That’s the kind of thing that just shatters your suspension of disbelief.

Jinder name-dropped the Great Khali in this segment. Not sure how good an idea that was. Considering the quality of previous Punjabi Prison Matches, do they really want people Googling them with the Great Khali’s name attached? Not exactly a recipe for quality content.

Baron Corbin def. Sami Zayn. They had Sami Zayn interrupt Maria and Mike Kanellis on his way to the ring. Not a bad first opponent for Mike Kanellis. Not a bad first opponent for anybody, really.

Carmella def. Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Natalya, and Tamina Snuka in a Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match to regain the briefcase. Great effort from all the ladies involved here. It seemed like they were trying to slam each other hard to make up for a lack of hitting one another with the ladder.

They did a weird sequence where Charlotte and Tamina (with her Joan Jett look) were holding a closed ladder straight up, and Becky Lynch tried to leap up and climb it. They held it there for several seconds, then let it drop across the ropes as Becky remained perched. A few seconds later, they then attacked her. Very tentative. Again, it hurts your suspension of disbelief. But then again, I’m not the one out there on the ladder…

That chair shot Carmella gave to Becky at the end of the match looked weak as hell. If you’re going to use the damn chair, make it look good! That being said, this was the right finish. Carmella gets heat with how she won at the pay per view, and she keeps it here. Smackdown has its new top heel in the Women’s Division. But lay that damn chair in! Also, don’t let the cameras catch you peeking at the ring when you’re supposed to be down on the outside!

You live and you learn…

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Posted in Uncategorized

John Cena vs. Roman Reigns, Plus WWE Money in the Bank Predictions

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

What do you do after you beat the Undertaker at Wrestlemania?

If you’re Brock Lesnar, you challenge for the WWE Championship. We saw that in 2014. But if you believe the rumors, that’s not in the cards for Roman Reigns until Wrestlemania XXXIV. So what exactly does this character have planned for Summerslam? WWE teased us with a Summerslam-related announcement from him next week. He’s got to be throwing down the challenge to somebody. But who?

It could be Braun Strowman. Those two have unfinished business. But we’ve seen them wrestle a few times already. And when we last saw Strowman, Reigns was giving him a pretty solid beatdown. So what’s his motivation to challenge Strowman again? We’re going to see that match again at some point. But it’s not the big summer blockbuster they want for one of their biggest shows of the year.

When you eliminate Strowman, and you presumably eliminate Brock, that really leaves only one viable name: John Cena.

Blasphemous as it may seem to many, John Cena vs. Roman Reigns is the closest thing they have to a modern-day Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior type match. The torchbearer taking on the one person that could conceivably take it from him. Like Hogan and Warrior at Wrestlemania VI, Cena and Reigns have never wrestled in a big pay per view match. So they can market it as their first meeting ever.

Some would say it’s a match that should be saved for Wrestlemania. But I’m reminded of the match Cena had with Batista at Summerslam all those years ago. Those two would later work a series of pay per view matches, including one at Wrestlemania XXVI. That Summerslam match gave them some extra history to go into a program with, and didn’t diminish anything at all. What’s more, WWE could really use some added viewership right now as Raw rating continue to dip. Putting Cena with Reigns could wind up being a really smart move.

But here’s the question: If you’re a fan, who do you root for? Particularly if you’re someone who jumps at the opportunity to boo either of these two…

WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Naomi (c) vs. Lana

This one is an attraction because of sheer curiosity. What kind of performance is Lana going to turn in? How many matches has she even worked? I know she’s been doing NXT house shows. But she can’t have more than 100 matches under her belt yet. Hell, it might be less than 50.

You know what they could do? Put a bunch of heat on Lana, and have her win the title by screwing over Naomi. Have Rusev come out there and cause a distraction or something, and have Lana cheap shot her for the pin. The more I think about it, the more I like that finish. That way you’ve not only got a great heel in your Women’s Division, but you’ve found a way to reintroduce Rusev.

I’m going to play it safe here and say Naomi keeps the belt via count-out. Lana doesn’t like being roughed up, so she walks out. But I’m tellin’ ya, don’t be surprised to see Lana wearing that belt at some point down the road.

PREDICTION: Naomi

WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The Usos (c) vs. The New Day

You’ll notice they’ve made the New Day the focal point of the marketing for this show. That’s why you’ve got the Wizard of Oz type backgrounds for these images. The idea is they’re following the yellow brick road, or whatever. It’s good to have them back. Some have fussed over them being pushed right into a title match with the Usos. But they’re the New Day. They’re the longest-reigning tag champs in company history. That’s reason enough.

The New Day are going to get the belts at some point. I just hope they don’t rush the titles on to them here. Summerslam is right around the corner. Do it there. In the meantime, let’s let them do a little more mic work with the Usos. Also, let’s use the summer to build up another heel team for them to work with in the fall. Though for the life of me, I can’t think of who that would be…

PREDICTION: The Usos

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Jinder Mahal (c) vs. Randy Orton

How far are we into the Jinder Mahal as WWE Champion experiment? Three weeks? It’s too soon to take the belt off him. What’s more, Jinder has done alright thus far. But I think he can do much, much better. He’s one of the few bad guys in WWE with any kind of genuine heat. They should do everything they can to nurture that. It’s sorely needed.

At some point, Jinder is going to find himself across the ring from John Cena. Given Cena’s status as the American hero, it’s inevitable. It’s just a question of when, and whether Jinder still has the title at the time.

PREDICTION: Jinder Mahal

WOMEN’S MONEY IN THE BANK LADDER MATCH:
Charlotte Flair vs. Becky Lynch vs. Natalya vs. Carmella vs. Tamina Snuka

Here it is. Show us, ladies. Make us proud again.

The Money in the Bank briefcase typically works best as a heel’s tool. That way you can have your cunning villain cash in when the champion is at a disadvantage. Looking at everyone in this match, I’d say that scenario would work best for Carmella. Combine that with the fact that she’ll have James Ellsworth out there with her, and the rumor that management has been high on her lately, and she’s my pick. This win could elevate her to top villainess status on Smackdown. That is, as long as Charlotte is still being shoehorned into the babyface role.

PREDICTION: Carmella

MEN’S MONEY IN THE BANK LADDER MATCH:
Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Baron Corbin

This is a tough one to call. That’s what you want when you’ve got these big multi-man matches. I can see a scenario where almost any of these guys walk out with the briefcase.

So let’s do it this way: Who’s probably not winning this thing? The first name that jumps out is Dolph Ziggler. After everything that’s happened, I don’t see why they’d choose to give this to him now. So he’s out. Neither Kevin Owens nor AJ Styles need it. They’re pretty safe bets as far as staying at the top of the card on Smackdown. They don’t need it.

You can make an argument for Sami Zayn. They’ve done a pretty good job this year of casting him as the perennial underdog. You can give it to him and say that he’s finally got a shot at climbing to the top. I’m just not sure Sami is that big a priority for them right now. He’s the dark horse in this match.

There’s a pretty good chance they give it to Baron Corbin. The biggest thing working against him is his inexperience. Remember when they had Jack Swagger win the briefcase at Wrestlemania? They were trying to strap the rocket to him, much like they’ve done with Jinder Mahal now. But he didn’t quite have all the tools yet, so it ended up being a popcorn fart. I’m worried the same thing will happen to Corbin if they put the title on him too soon.

And then there’s Shinsuke Nakamura. WWE want you to see him as a big deal, and they’ve made mostly good decisions with him thus far. One might argue they’re marketing him a little too hard as “the Artist” or “the Rock Star.” But generally speaking, but he’s just about where they want him to be right now.

As I said, typically the Money in the Bank briefcase works best as a heel’s tool. But we’ve obviously seen babyfaces use it too. I’ve always thought the good guys should go the more honorable route more often, avoiding surprise cash-ins. Like the way Rob Van Dam did it in 2006.

With that in mind, I’m going to go ahead and pick Nakamura to win here. Have him hold on to it until Wrestlemania season, and then you can have him challenge for the title at their biggest show of the year. And what if the champion just happens to be AJ Styles?

Book it.

PREDICTION: Shinsuke Nakamura

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Posted in Wrestling

Dolph Ziggler Leaving WWE? Plus, Ponderings From Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

YouTube vlogger Trisha Paytas says Dolph Ziggler is leaving wrestling soon. Who the hell is Trisha Paytas? How well does she know Ziggler? Does she have even the slightest amount of credibility? I can’t answer any of these questions. Though apparently he stood her up on a date.

Either way, I hope she’s right. At least as far as WWE is concerned. Not because I have anything against Ziggler, but because the real-life Nick Nemeth deserves better.

I’ve talked about this before, and I’m certainly not the only one. Dolph Ziggler is one of the few guys I’ve ever seen who can really do it all. In the ring, he’s about the closest thing we have to a modern day Shawn Michaels. His physique is ripped to shreds. From a personality standpoint, he can do whatever you need. He can be a good guy, a bad guy, dramatic, intense, funny, you name it. He’s got practically everything you could want in a WWE star, and he’s been scratched and clawed his way toward the top year after year after year. While he’s certainly had his share of accolades, including a short run with a Heavyweight Title, so many wrestling fans justifiably believe Dolph Ziggler could have been so much more than they’ve allowed him to become.

We’re long overdue for Dolph to step away from WWE, and go the route of guys like Cody Rhodes and Drew Galloway. If he wants to stay in wrestling, it’s time for him to reinvent himself outside of their umbrella. I don’t doubt for a second that Dolph Ziggler could make bank in New Japan Pro Wrestling. For my money, Nick Nemeth as the IWGP Heavyweight Champion isn’t the least bit far fetched. Ironically, he’d then likely find more opportunities in WWE if he were to come back.

Dolph Ziggler just needs to take that leap of faith, and prove he doesn’t need WWE to be a success in pro wrestling. There are entirely different crowds just waiting for him to show up and show off. The time is now.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Lana arrives on Smackdown, asks to be part of the Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match. Lana in a Ladder Match? Good lord. Why even mention that? Are they trying to kill her?

Lana’s still got the Russian accent, which is fine. If they wanted her to drop it, now would have been the time. It’ll be interesting to see where she is in relation to Rusev when he finally gets back on TV. It also looks like she’s getting some of the packaging that the Emmalina character might have gotten.

Naomi came off really scripted here. But I’ll give her this: She’s got charisma.

Natalya, Carmella, and Tamina def. Naomi, Charlotte Flair, and Becky Lynch. Lana interferes to cost Naomi the fall. Lana is later granted a championship match against at Money in the Bank. Not to pick on Naomi, but I really hate that spot she does with the rapid kicks. It looks so damn staged and fake.

I’m not sure how much better or worse Lana has gotten in the ring. Bad kicks or not, I wouldn’t want to be Naomi having to carry Lana through a match.

AJ Styles def. Dolph Ziggler. I was shocked as hell to see Ziggler get a clean win over Styles last week. But of course, Dolph can’t maintain any substantial momentum, can he? We had to have 50/50 booking this week.

I really shouldn’t complain though. These guys are about as smooth as it gets. Nice and fluid counter into the Styles Clash for the win.

WWE Champion Jinder Mahal def. Mojo Rawley. What have they done with Mojo that’s been of any kind of substance since he won that Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal? Nothing, really. The missing piece of the puzzle for him at this point is Zack Ryder. Once Ryder comes back, their tag team will mean that much more than it did when he got hurt.

They’re playing up the fact that Money in the Bank is in St. Louis, Randy Orton’s hometown. Traditionally, that’s a dead giveaway that the hometown wrestler is walking away with a win. But lately it’s gone primarily in the opposite direction. Bayley lost the Raw Women’s Title to Alexa Bliss in her home town. Styles lost to Ziggler in his home state of Georgia last week. And those are just two examples. Chances are the Jinder experiment isn’t over yet.

The New Day def. The Colons. The Usos cut a promo after the match. Primo and Epico had that renewed push for about two weeks. Now they’re right back to where they were before.

The Usos will turn themselves back into babyfaces into this rate. They’ve got something WWE desperately needs right now: The cool factor.

Shinsuke Nakamura def. Kevin Owens in a non-title match. Baron Corbin attacks Nakamura after the match. When you listen to him on commentary or on Talking Smack, it’s clear there’s a big difference between Baron Corbin talking, and Baron Corbin reciting lines. He sounded so natural here.

An okay showing for Nakamura and Owens here. There’s been a little bit of buzz about Nakamura winning the Money in the Bank Ladder Match. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Corbin walk out with the briefcase, though. While they haven’t given him any big wins lately, he’s a long-term project for WWE. And they’d have as much as a year to build him up as a title contender. Don’t be surprised if it happens, folks.

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