The JBL/Jinder Mahal Connection, and Other Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Jinder Mahal is the new top contender for Randy Orton’s WWE Championship. He’ll face him at Backlash.

This was…surprising. Especially when you consider how few TV matches Jinder has won since his return. Last week he lost to Finn Balor on Raw, and then Mojo Rawley the next night on Smackdown. He was essentially brought back to put over the newer guys. But now, seemingly out of nowhere, he’s got a WWE Championship Match on pay per view.

Though when you look at the big picture, t’s fairly obvious why they did this. Smackdown needed another big heel, so they strapped the rocket to Jinder. He’s a pretty easy guy to boo, fitting well into the classic foreign heel category. It seems he’ll even be getting some back-up from the Bollywood Boyz. It could work out really well.

Oddly enough, this all reminds me of what WWE did with JBL back in 2004. Brock Lesnar had just left the company, and Smackdown needed a new top heel. They found one in Bradshaw, who’d found his greatest success teaming with Ron Simmons as the APA. He was repackaged as John Bradshaw Layfield, pushed to the moon, and became WWE Champion a few months later. At the time, a lot of the “smart fans” crapped on it. Mayfield had never been an established singles star. But in retrospect, no matter what you think of him personally, JBL made an awesome heel champion. He’s obviously still very easy to dislike in 2017.

When you look at it that way, Jinder Mahal may be getting a “JBL push.” I never, ever expected him to be competing for the WWE Title. But stranger things have happened…

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Charlotte Flair demands a match for the Smackdown Women’s Title. Naomi answers her, and gets physical. Charlotte later pins the champion to earn a title match next week. Naomi came off really well on this show. The “I ain’t never scared” line could be a new catch phrase for her.

This wasn’t the match I was hoping for. The crowd was sitting on their hands for most of it. At one point, Naomi tried one of her trademark spots, going for a flurry of kicks. Somehow, it just looked laughable this week. Some of it had to do with how Charlotte sold it. But we’ve obviously we’ve got more coming from these two. They’re both so damn athletic. They can do better than this.

Primo and Epico def. American Alpha. Ouch. Jordan and Gable get beat by the Shining Stars. That’s got to hurt…

Though apparently they’re not the Shining Stars anymore. They’re calling them the Colons,  which is their legit family name and are playing up their lineage. That sure as hell works for me. No more travel brochures, no more matador costumes. Just straight up wrestlers. That suits these guys.  At least for now. The in-ring element has always been their strong suit. That was evident here. They had decent chemistry with Jordan and Gable. But again, the crowd was pretty dead for this. Like Jinder, Primo and Epico spent most of their time on Raw losing. It could take awhile for them to build up any sort of steam.

Kevin Owens quickly defeats an enhancement talent in his “Face of America” Open Challenge. I love how they projected Owens’ face on to the entrance ramp. Very in-character for Owens.

They’re definitely letting Owens put his spin on the US Title, John Cena’s US Open Challenge concept, and the whole anti-America thing. If they’re going to have Jinder do something similar, then they need to be careful the two characters don’t bleed into one another. If they do, the most charismatic Owens will easily overshadow the less established Jinder.

AJ Styles def. Baron Corbin via count-out. A fairly anti-climactic main event, with an even more anti-climactic finish. They can’t all be barn burners, I suppose. Still, no one moves like AJ Styles.

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A Shield Reunion Coming Soon? Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It’s not an accident that Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, and Seth Rollins are all on Raw after the Superstar Shake-Up. This is it, folks. This is what people have been waiting for. A Shield reunion is coming.

But don’t kid yourselves. It’s going to be all about Roman Reigns.

Despite being booed for minutes on end last week, and despite everyone who cheered when Braun Strowman destroyed him this week, WWE still wants us to cheer this guy. He is positioned as their top babyface, after all. And what was it that got us to cheer Roman in the first place? The Shield. They know it, too. After the break-up, Reigns kept most of his Shield packaging, while Ambrose and Rollins had their presentations tweaked. Again, that’s not an accident.

Now, after everything that’s happened, it seems like a Shield reunion is just about the only thing that could get Reigns cheered. Fans miss this group. While some maintain it ended too soon, I think it ended at the perfect time. Their break-up was one of the great Raw moments of the last several years. Their reunion will be too.

But the mission will remain the same: Get Roman over at all costs. The only real difference will be the old hit they’re playing while they go about it.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

United States Champion Kevin Owens comes to Smackdown. Sami Zayn, Baron Corbin, and AJ Styles emerge to challenge him. I can’t believe they drafted Owens and Zayn together. Those two needed to be kept far away from one another. They have great matches, but I’m almost tired of seeing them. This feud needed a break. Give them a year or two apart, and then give us more. It’s not like there’s a shortage of guys for them to work with.

I’m happy Styles stayed on Smackdown. He’d have been fine on Raw, but he’s been arguably the biggest reason to watch the show every week. For all the talk about so-called “brands,” AJ has had a lot to do with giving Smackdown a different, more wrestling-heavy vibe from Raw.

Corbin is lucky Owens didn’t eat him alive on the mic. Seriously. It could have been worse than him being attacked by an actual wolf.

How do we know JBL is on his best behavior? He shook Byron Saxton’s hand at the top of the show. On screen, those two had a pronounced bully/victim dynamic.

Randy Orton def. Erick Rowan via disqualification. I don’t like Rowan’s chances without Bray Wyatt at his side. But then again, so many of us (myself included) said the same thing about Braun Strowman when he went to Raw by himself. And he’s become one of the best things about that show. So you never know who’ll surprise you.

The Usos def. American Alpha to retain the Smackdown Tag Team Titles. The Shining Stars attack the babyfaces afterward. Great offensive flurry from Chad Gable during this match. He does a lot of selling out there. But he can take the hot tag when called upon. Another really good match from these guys.

If Primo and Epico de-emphasize the awful travel agent gimmick, they might have yet another chance to reinvent themselves. Talent has never been the problem with these two. It’s always been a matter of packaging.

Mojo Rawley def. Jinder Mahal. Rob Gronkowski gets involved on Rawley’s behalf. The higher-ups definitely seem to have taken notice of Jinder Mahal’s physical changes. While still essentially an enhancement talent, he’s been part of some pretty prominent stuff recently. Most notably the stuff with Rob Gronkowski at the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. That obviously continued here.

Mojo really needs to write Gronk a thank-you note. As in, thank you for getting me the biggest push of my career.

Shane McMahon announces the arrival of Charlotte Flair and Tamina to SmackdownThey didn’t do Tamina any favors by building it up as if Charlotte were about to come out. Though in all fairness, she hasn’t been on TV in quite some time. She’ll need to re-establish herself.

Then of course, Charlotte did come out. Surprised she didn’t cut a promo of some kind. If I expect her to move right into a program with Naomi. I’m surprised so many people though Sasha Banks was coming in with her. She’s obviously factored in heavily with Bayley on Raw.

Tye Dillinger def. Aides English. With Simon Gotch having been released, it looks like English is going back to the singing gimmick he used in NXT. Hopefully he gets a fair shot. He’s got a good look.

I like that they’re telling the story of how long it took Dillinger to make it to the main roster. Anytime you can weave that element of truth in there, it’s a good thing. The people are clearly into him. If they play this right, I imagine he could get a US Title run this summer.

Sin Cara, Rusev, Lana, and the New Day are traded to SmackdownThey seem to be repackaging Lana with a dancing gimmick. At least until Rusev comes back. Is she going to wrestle? She’s not that experienced yet, is she?

It seems like they’re waiting to put the New Day on Smackdown until Kofi Kingston heals up from surgery. Fair enough. That act could use a breather anyway.

Shinsuke Nakamura outshines Dolph Ziggler in a confrontation. It might not have been wise for them to write Ziggler a promo about the “shiny new toys” from the Superstar Shake-Up becoming less special over time. Just saying…

They let Nakamura talk this week. Less is more as far as that’s concerned. This segment was a little awkward, as they spent a lot of time just standing there. Yes, the crowd was chanting for Nakamura. But this almost started to drag.

As far as first dance partners go, they don’t get much better than Dolph Ziggler. For now, Nakamura’s in good hands.

AJ Styles def. Sami Zayn and Baron Corbin in a Triple-Threat Match to become top contender for the United States Title following PaybackStyles has seemingly been positioned as a babyface, which is very much overdue. Everything this guy does looks great. Everything. I came out of this match thinking about how good he and Zayn looked out there together, and how good AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens could be. He’s practically the linchpin holding the show together.

Question: If Styles is going to be working with Owens after Payback, who works with Randy Orton? Corbin?

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Kurt Angle’s HOF Shocker, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

Jimmy SnukaBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

We’ll get to Kurt Angle in a bit. But first, a more somber note…

A matter of days after being cleared of murder charges, Jimmy Snuka passed away on Sunday at 73 years old. He’d been battling stomach cancer for quite some time.

It seems like how you remember Jimmy Snuka largely depends on when you became a wrestling fan. If you were a fan in the ’80s, you probably remember him as one of the first true WWF superstars. He obviously had a very distinct look, and his Superfly Splash from the top rope is one of the most fondly remembered finishes in history. He actually came into the company as a heel, managed by Captain Lou Albano. In a precursor to what we’d see generations later with guys like Steve Austin, he won fans over to the point that they had to turn him babyface. He’d go on to have a very famous Steel Cage Match with Don Muraco in Madison Square Garden that people talk about to this day.

But then there’s the other side of Snuka’s legacy, and the Nancy Argentino story. I invite you to check the story out for yourself. (Here’s Dave Meltzer and Jim Cornette discussing it in detail on Cornette’s podcast.) But to make a long story short, in 1983 Argentino, Snuka’s girlfriend at the time, died of traumatic brain injuries. There were suspicions against Snuka at the time, but he was never charged. When the case was re-examined in 2013, it was revealed that the coroner report detailed Nancy had injuries that were consistent with an abusive relationship. Snuka was later indicted on charges of third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. But on January 3 of this year, the charges were dismissed, as Snuka was deemed unfit to stand trial. That’s a controversial topic in and of itself. Over the years, he also reportedly told several stories as to how Argentino allegedly died.

jimmy-snuka-2010s

Whether or not you believe Snuka was responsible, there’s a large number of people out there that essentially see him as the OJ Simpson of professional wrestling.

Mick Foley, who was famously inspired by Snuka’s leap off the cage in Madison Square Garden, wrote a lengthy message on Snuka this week. He said he was finding comfort in the words of Bruce Springsteen: “Trust the art, not the artist.” I’m not sure how much I buy that notion. But the fact is, Snuka’s art and his legacy will stand the test of time. He inspired and opened doors for a great many. Whether he deserves all of he adulation he’s getting right now is a matter far bigger than any pro wrestling show.

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns, Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Seth Rollins, Braun Strowman and Brock Lesnar vie for dominance before Wrestlemania. Sami Zayn ambushes Strowman. Roman says he isn’t complaining about losing the US Title. Why not? You lost your belt, man! Get pissed off! That’s a page out of the John Cena playbook.

This was a nice kick-off to the show, with Lesnar adding some extra oomph. Didn’t expect to see Zayn out there. He was a nice touch.

Big Cass, WWE Raw, January 16, 2017Enzo and Cass def. Rusev and Jinder Mahal. Happy to see Enzo back in the ring. But I wasn’t any more interested in this match than I was the Cass/Jinder match from last week. I zipped through this one.

Lita is highlighted in an “extreme moment” sponsored by XXX: The Return of Xander CageUmmm…didn’t they just fire Lita?

Ariya Daivari def. Lince Dorado. Jack Gallagher joins the announce position. Dorado hits a damn good springboard stunner. Puts Cena’s old attempts at it to shame. Though I suppose it’s an unfair comparison. Cena’s a lot bulkier.

They seem to really be embracing Gallagher. I enjoyed him on commentary here. He could stand to speak up a little. But I expect that will come with time.

Footage is shown of Sasha Banks being ambushed earlier in the day by Nia Jax. I liked this. Something a little different. My only complaint is that Nia was in her ring gear. I’d rather she have been in street clothes or Tap Out gear. Something to make it look a little more spontaneous.

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, WWE Raw, January 16, 2017Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson def. Sheamus and Cesaro via disqualification in a Raw Tag Team Titles. The titles do not change hands. So Sheamus knocks the ref out on accident, another ref comes down and counts three for Anderson and Gallows, then the first ref reverses the decision and makes it a DQ. I believe this is a “Dusty finish” (as in Dusty Rhodes), where they reverse the decision after a wrestler has already been declared the winner.

Gallows and Anderson have needed rehabbing for awhile. In theory, they’re the top heel team on Raw. But they’ve been beaten so much they haven’t looked like much of a threat to Sheamus and Cesaro. This was a step in the right direction. But I still don’t see them taking the belts.

Neville attacks Rich Swann before a match. Neville has quickly become the most interesting guy in the Cruiserweight Division. It certainly helps that, unlike most of the wrestlers in that division, he was around beforehand. Decent promo afterward.

WWE Raw, January 16, 2017, Big E., Titus O'NeilBig E. def. Titus O’Neil, retaining his spot in the Royal Rumble Match. In the pre-match skit, Big E actually said to Titus: “No more showing up at our porch with fake mustache and a pizza box with a hole at the bottom.” Holy crap. If he got heat for cracking a joke about all of Charlotte’s title wins, I can’t imagine what he’s going to get for that.

Charlotte digs up Bayley’s old photos and poems. I liked this segment a lot. I feel like we got to know Bayley more here than at any point since her main roster debut. When they brought her up, hey seemed to take for granted that a lot of viewers already knew who she was. They can’t afford to do that. We made up for some lost time here.

Cedric Alexander def. Brian Kendrick. Alicia Fox comes to ringside for the match. What did Graves call that move where Kendrick’s knees went right into Kendrick’s head? A springboard slingshot moonsault? Either way, it looked like it hurt like hell. So Cedric and Alicia are broken up now, which mean she’ll likely end up with Noam Dar at some point. I’m mildly curious to see how they match up as a pair.

Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, and Braun Strowman def. Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Sami Zayn. They’re really struggling with this Raw main event scene right now. There’s this awful, boring, sameness to everything week after week. All I could think of during this match was, who cares? There were no stakes or consequences. It was just another match.

Perhaps this needs to be a rule: Having main event level guys in a match it doesn’t make it a main event.

Kurt Angle, WWEKurt Angle announced for WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2017. This one came way out of left field. There’d been some buzz about Angle coming in this year. But I think most of us assumed it would be for a big match. But this was a genuine surprise. Kudos to WWE for keeping a lid on it.

While the announcement itself is a shock, Kurt Angle going into the Hall of Fame has been an inevitability for over a decade now. It was just a matter of when. Angle was one of the greatest mat wrestlers the company ever saw. But Michael Cole really nailed it when he called him “one of the great entertainers” in WWE history. I remember watching Kurt’s first nationally televised match at Survivor Series in 1999. He was entertaining from the start. It was plain as day that he had that undefinable “it” factor that you need to be a WWE star. I would estimate he succeeded beyond anyone’s imagination.

Angle had so many great matches in WWE. But off the top of my head, these are a few essentials to check out…

– Summerslam 2001 against Steve Austin.
Wrestlemania XXI against Shawn Michaels (my personal favorite).
– Royal Rumble 2003 against Chris Benoit.
No Way Out 2006 against the Undertaker.

Congratulations, Mr. Angle. It’s an honor you truly deserve.

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Undertaker to Rumble Again, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

Wrestle Kingdom 11, main eventBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I don’t watch a lot of Japanese wrestling. Not because I don’t like it or I don’t care. It’s just there are only so many hours in a week, and habitually I’ve always watched American stuff. Obviously the emphasis has been on WWE stuff. But the buzz about the Kenny Omega/Kazuchika Okada match from this past week’s Wrestle Kingdom 11 has been so phenomenal that I couldn’t resist.

Wow. From a presentation standpoint, what a breath of fresh air. The respect shown to the actual wrestling was such a contrast to what we see on Raw and Smackdown. I’ve never been of the mindset that WWE should be presented the way MMA is, with the entertainment element nixed. But people also know that they’re watching a wrestling show. So why downplay the wrestling? Why not dive into the wrestling element? Tremendous work by Kevin Kelly and Steve Corino at the announce booth.

The match itself was supremely athletic. They beat the crap out of each other for about 45 minutes. In particular, that back drop Omega took out of the ring through the table was brutal. He looked like he landed right on his tailbone. And that suplex Okada took off the top toward the end? He landed right on his damn head. How either of these guys are still walking, Okada in particular, is beyond me. And of course, you had Omega’s constantly going for the One-Winged Angel but never getting it. Great stuff.

Okada, Wrestle Kingdom 11Some fans have said this was the greatest match they’ve ever seen. Dave Meltzer gave it six stars, saying Okada and Omega may have put on “the greatest match in pro wrestling history.” I can’t say I agree with that. But it was a hell of a match, a hell of a story, and a hell of a spectacle in front of all those Tokyo Dome fans.

If you’ve never seen a NJPW show, I’d highly recommend Wrestle Kingdom 11, this match in particular. It sets the bar pretty high. But this is what pro wrestling should be about.

Ponderings From Raw:

An attempt to start the US Title Match featuring Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho escalates into a brawl with Braun Strowman. Seth Rollins saves Reigns. Stephanie McMahon makes Rollins vs. Strowman. The highlight of this segment? Rollins busting out a Van Daminator on Strowman. Happy to see the big guy pissed off after the double spear last week.

Seth Rollins vs. Braun Strowman goes to a double count-out. Like Sami Zayn, Rollins was able to use his experience and relatively smaller size to make Strowman look good. To his credit, Rollins looked more credible against the giant than Zayn did. He’s so damn explosive and athletic. But like everyone else, he looked like he was running into a brick wall when put against Strowman.

That drop Rollins took from the top rope to the ringside barricade did not look like fun…

Drew Gulak, Jack Gallagher, WWE Raw, January 9, 2017Jack Gallagher def. Drew Gulak. Loved the sound of that clothesline Gulak gave Gallagher from the second rope. Ouch.

Gallagher is emerging as one of the stand-out personalities in the Cruiserweight Division. Key word: Personality. (For my money, the others would be Neville and Rich Swann.) I’m not sure if the crowds are quite with him yet, and that particular post-match promo wasn’t the greatest. But he’s got something.

Shawn Michaels gets interrupted by Rusev, Lana, and Jinder Mahal. Enzo and Cass come to his aid. I can’t help but smile when Shawn’s music hits. Call me a mark, but he’s such a damn star.

Not the smoothest segment they’ve ever done. But Shawn, Rusev, and Enzo are all very natural out there. So it still came off fairly well. And it was fun to see them ad lib.

Big Cass def. Jinder Mahal. This whole match was about one thing: The super kick. We spent the whole match waiting for it. It must have been really cool for Rusev to take that.

There was some buzz during the fall that Shawn was going to come out of retirement to face AJ Styles at the Rumble. As much as I love Shawn, I don’t ever need to see him in the ring again. Let the impetus be on the current stars to match what he created.

Neville, Lince Dorado, WWE Raw, January 9, 2017Neville def. Lince Dorado. Rich Swann saves Dorado from a beatdown. Really good showing from Lince Dorado early on here. This guy has been around since the division restarted, but I still don’t have much of an impression of him. Despite the loss, this was a good night for him.

Swann showed some great fire out there. He and Neville have an nice hero/villain dynamic. I’m looking forward to the inevitable title match.

Sheamus def. Luke Gallows. I turned the volume down when I saw Cesaro was joining the announce position. Not because I wasn’t interested in hearing him, but because we already had Karl Anderson joining our usual three talking heads. You can argue three guys are already too much. Four is ridiculous. And five? I’m out.

Gallows may have lost tonight, but I’m still not over the novelty of Anderson getting a singles win last week. Over Cesaro, no less.

The Undertaker announces his entrance into the Royal Rumble Match. Listen to the crowd during this segment. They all chanted his name in unison. Why the hell wasn’t this the main event?

So he says “No one controls the Undertaker,” then he walks over to Stephanie and says: “No one.” I assume that was scripted. But it’s a hell of a lot more fun to imagine it wasn’t.

The Undertaker, Mick Foley, January 17, 2017They seemingly tipped their hand by showing us Braun Strowman backstage during this promo. There was a buzz about Strowman facing Undertaker at Wrestlemania last year. Is that back in the cards this year?

Charlotte and Nia Jax def. Bayley and Sasha Banks. Yet another example of why Raw needs more women. These are essentially the only four active female wrestlers the show has. Lately, they’ve got Alicia Fox mixed up in a love triangle. Speaking of which…

Alicia Fox surprises Noam Dar with a kiss backstage, remarks that he “can’t handle a real woman.” The “real woman” line seemed lost in the shock of the kiss. She obviously insulted him, but it definitely seems like she’s playing Dar and Cedric Alexander against each other.

Kofi Kingston def. Titus O’Neil. Before the match, the New Day had Titus try and carry a keg around the ring in less than 12 seconds because…he fell down when he tried to do it in 2010? No thanks.

Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho def. Roman Reigns in a handicap match for the United States Title. Jericho is declared champion. This probably would have had more of a punch if they’d done it earlier. But whatever. At least they finally made a change instead of essentially giving us the same US Title Match over and over.

Now watch them have Roman exercise his rematch clause against Jericho next week.

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Ronda Rousey’s UFC 207 Loss, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

Ronda Rousey, UFC 207By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I find it somewhat odd that I’m commenting on yet another UFC fight, as I’m a pro wrestling guy through and through.

Then again, maybe it’s not so odd. Ronda Rousey changed the world. She’s a bonafide superstar that opened doors for women not just in MMA, but athletics at large. Her impact has been felt more in pro wrestling than most sports. The “women’s revolution” we’ve seen in the last few years didn’t happen because WWE suddenly changed their minds about how to portray their female talent. The popularity of Ronda Rousey opened the door for Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, etc.

Given all this, it was very jarring to see Rousey sustain yet another quick loss at UFC 207. I’ll never claim to be a UFC aficionado. But you don’t have to be one to see she’s looked like a different fighter in there.

Twitter trolls were pretty hard on Ronda that night. There was a lot of talk about Rousey retiring, and even trading in her fighting gloves for pro wrestling tights. There’s been some debate about how much of an attraction she would be now that she’s lost twice. My response to that: Brock Lesnar had sustained losses in the UFC prior to his WWE return. Now he’s arguably the biggest attraction they have. And even after CM Punk’s UFC loss, I don’t doubt they’d kill to have him back. Rest assured, Rousey would do just fine in WWE.

But frankly, I’m hoping Rousey doesn’t retire just yet. Her career has meant too much for her to pack it in after a couple of rough losses. If MMA is something she’s still passionate about, she’s earned the right to stay in the octagon. And I know there are plenty of people who’d still pay money to see her.

Don’t listen to the haters, Ronda. Go out on your own terms.

WWE Raw, January 2, 2016Ponderings From Raw:

Stephanie McMahon announces Chris Jericho will challenge Roman Reigns for the United States Title in the main event. Kevin Owens vs. Seth Rollins is made, with the loser being banned from ringside in the main event. Toward the end of this segment, Steph mentioned how Smackdown beat Raw in the ratings last week, and that Raw has a ratings war to win. I wouldn’t exactly call more Owens/Reigns/Rollins/Jericho a winning strategy. It feels like we’ve been watching the same matches for months. In fact, this same title match took place on Raw a month ago.

Meanwhile, Mick Foley had yet another verbal gaff during this match. Oh Mick…

Seth Rollins def. Kevin Owens via disqualification. Owens is banned from the main event. It’s a shame Rollins does’t have more momentum as a babyface. He’s so damn athletic. What a horrible missed opportunity it was to not bring him back as a babyface last year.

Karl Anderson def. Cesaro. As soon as Gallows and Anderson’s music hit, I figured they were dropping the fall here. When they announced Anderson was in the match, it was virtually a guarantee. And then low and behold, Karl Anderson pins Cesaro. Imagine my shock. Great looking neckbreaker off the top rope. But spoiler alert: Gallows and Anderson ain’t gettin’ the tag belts.

Braun Strowman, Sami Zayn, WWE Raw, January 2, 2017Braun Strowman def. Sami Zayn in a Last Man Standing Match. I wish they’d saved this for the main event, or at least the top of the third hour. You could have built the entire show around this match. It’s a great David vs. Goliath story. Loved the backstage brawling. It’s been refreshing to see them get back to that in recent weeks.

I wish we’d seen a match like this earlier in Zayn’s main roster run. It would have done wonders to establish his character.

WWE hypes the premiere of Bring It to the TableThis actually looks pretty good. One of the questions they hyped for it was about whether Hulk Hogan would ever return to WWE. The fact that they even said that on television means he’s coming back, most likely around Wrestlemania.

Titus O’Neil auditions to be a member of the New Day, loses to Xavier Woods. I liked this audition segment. Titus got to be entertaining and show off his personality. He took his share of criticism in 2016. But he’s better than a lot of people give him credit for.

Stephanie McMahon tells Bayley she never wanted her on RawI don’t say this about Steph’s segments very often, but I loved this. It fit her character perfectly. And you can potentially pay it off down the road with a Bayley/Stephanie match. I’d love to see more.

Drew Gulak, Cedric Alexander, WWE Raw, January 2, 2017Drew Gulak def. Cedric Alexander. There wasn’t much to this one. I can only assume Alicia Fox will eventually turn on Cedric and go with Noam Dar.

Roman Reigns def. Chris Jericho to retain the United States Championship. I couldn’t help but tune out of this one a bit. That’s no reflection on the talent these two have. But we’ve seen them wrestle so many times that the novelty has just worn off. Still, seeing Reigns smack the ring post on that attempted Drive By was cool.

Interesting that Jericho did that Eddie Guerrero spot with the implied strike with the title belt. He’s obviously supposed to be a heel. But longtime fans have happy memories of Eddie doing that.

TJ Perkins def. Brian Kendrick. I was legit surprised Perkins won. I feel like it’s been months since he got a win on television. I guess statistically it had to happen.

Rusev and Jinder Mahal def. Big Cass in a Handicap Match. It’s nice to see Jinder has something to do as Rusev’s run-in buddy. Dude’s looking jacked these days, to the point where people were making wellness policy jokes. I won’t go that far. Innocent until proven guilty, folks.

Nia Jax, Bayley, WWE Raw, January 2, 2016Bayley def. Nia Jax to earn a Raw Women’s Title Match at the Royal Rumble. What is Nia Jax’s bodysuit made out of? Is it actual leather? Is that a stupid question?

@TheMarkySmark on Twitter posted something funny when Sasha Banks came out to post Nia the match: “Watch out Nia Jaxx, a 90lb woman is coming after you!” (sic) She makes a good point.

The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels announced for Raw next week. I got goosebumps when they announced ‘Taker would be appearing in New Orleans for the first time since the Streak ended at Wrestlemania XXX. This feels like a big announcement. Could it even be the announcement that Wrestlemania XXXIII will be his last go-around? I hate to even put that out there, considering we’ve been speculating about that for 17 years. But it gets more likely every year…

Bill Goldberg appears on the inaugural edition of the Kevin Owens Show. Goldberg and Roman Reigns hit a double-spear on Braun Strowman. Chris Jericho threw his name in the hat for the Royal Rumble Match. Given the likelihood of an Owens/Jericho match at Wrestlemania, does he actually have a shot at winning?

Braun Strowman should have a strong presence in the Rumble Match. I’m curious to see where he goes as we get closer to Wrestlemania.

Roman Reigns, Goldberg, WWE Raw, January 2, 2017Nice to see Goldberg and Kevin Owens share a ring. The presence Owens has out there matches well with Goldberg’s superhero aura. Seeing Goldberg and Jericho out there together also bring back interesting memories. I doubt we’ll see Reigns and Goldberg wrestle, but there’s obvious intrigue there.

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CM Punk’s UFC 203 Loss, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

Mickey Gall, CM Punk, UFC 203, September 10, 2016By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I had no desire to see CM Punk lose at UFC 203. But my hopes weren’t high that he’d win. The smart bet was we’d get exactly what we got: A Mickey Gall victory in the first round. Specifically, by submission at two minutes and 14 seconds.

That didn’t make it any easier to watch, though…

Full disclosure: I’m a big CM Punk fan. Many wrestling fans have turned their backs on him since he walked out of WWE. Ironically, I came to love him even more for that. Despite generous pay, the real-life Phil Brooks was feeling disrespected and misused by WWE, and was suffering from what turned out to be a severe staph infection. So he made his health and sanity his top priority, and he walked away to pursue other interests. Stories like that strike a chord with me, given some of the bosses I’ve had over the years. When I had the chance to meet Punk at a comic book convention in Chicago awhile back, I was really proud to tell him: “Thank you for setting a good example and standing up for yourself.”

For yours truly, Punk personifies what Joseph Campbell called “following your bliss.” You don’t listen to what your friends, your peers, your culture, or even your loved ones want you to do, and you simply follow your heart and passion. You live with your heart as much, if not more than your head.

I’m guessing this marks the end of Punk’s UFC career, at least for now. But if MMA is where he finds his bliss, then he should continue to pursue it. He’s undoubtedly having a rough few days. But his wrestling career was built in part on defying expectations and proving people wrong. I see no reason why his MMA career shouldn’t be the same way.

Ponderings From Raw:

wwe-raw-september-12-2016-bayleyMick Foley, Charlotte, Dana Brooke, Sasha Banks, and Bayley open the show. After too much disrespect, Dana slaps Charlotte across the face. Sasha vs. Bayley vs. Dana is made to decide the top contender for the Raw Women’s Title.  Right after Sasha came out and said she was going to take the belt back at Clash of Champions, there was a long, awkward silence. Nobody said anything. Charlotte didn’t respond to Sasha’s threat, Sasha didn’t follow up with anything, Mick didn’t interject. They just stood there. And why? Because Bayley’s cue got messed up somehow. So they all stood there like high school kids in a play.

This is why I wish they didn’t overly script these segments. Granted, it sucked that Bayley’s entrance was late, and it was a bad position for anyone to be in. But if you’re performers, and you’re in the moment, you can compensate for that.

The audience definitely popped when Dana slapped Charlotte. But imagine if Dana hadn’t been playing such a bratty heel the whole time. Imagine if she actually had some sympathy. Imagine how much more impactful it would have been…

On a more positive note, I Iiked shy Bayley. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of that side of her character. Very endearing.

sasha-banks-wwe-raw-september-12-2016Sasha Banks def. Bayley and Dana Brooke to earn a Raw Women’s Title Match at Clash of Champions. I loved how the TV audience barely saw Sasha and Bayley wrestle in this match. Dana Brooke was constantly between them. That’s how it should be. The novelty of seeing them wrestle for the first time on the main roster should be protected as much as possible.

Of course, Sasha did end up sneaking in to catch a quick pin on Bayley. My question is, were they both supposed to have their shoulders on the mat? Was that supposed to be a double pin that the ref didn’t see? If so, that’s a nice way to protect Bayley until they eventually meet.

In a pre-tape, Enzo challenges Epico to a match. The only one of Enzo’s catchphrases I’ve soured on is the one about “a cuppa haters.” He overuses it.

So Primo & Epico are literally Puerto Rican travel agents at this point?

Bo Dallas wins a squash match. I’ll give them this much: I’m interested to see what happens when Bo stops squashing jobbers. I’m not hopeful he’ll get very far reciting poems like Heidenreich used to to. But you never know.

Chris Jericho, WWE Raw, September 12, 2016Sami Zayn is a guest on Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel. Zayn bringing up “the old Chris Jericho” is likely a foreshadowing of what we’ll see from the inevitable Jericho vs. Owens feud. Owens obviously can’t play the babyface. So it looks like we’ll be getting the return of the Ayatollah of Rock ‘n Rolla. In the meantime, Jericho vs. Zayn seems imminent.

Cesaro def. Sheamus in match five of their Best of Seven series. The current score is Sheamus: 3, Cesaro: 2. Cesaro cheats to win, like true babyfaces always do. Ugh. They’ve timed this so the last match can take place at Clash of Champions. This “championship opportunity” the winner gets is pretty vague. I suppose it’s too much to ask that Cesaro earn a Universal Title Match at Hell in a Cell in October. More likely they go with Seth Rollins again.

Nia Jax def. Alicia Fox. Very effective outing for Nia. The size difference between these two ladies was almost unsettling. I can’t recall ever seeing someone hurled into the barricade by their hair. Also, have we ever seen one of the girls do e a spear through the barricade? I can’t think of one offhand.

I got a chuckle at Cole referring to Fox as “one of the most accomplished competitors here in the WWE women’s division for years.” I get what he was trying to do. But c’mon, Cole. Accomplished? When was the last time she even won a match?

WWE September 12, 2016, Gallows & AndersonLuke Gallows & Karl Anderson def. The New Day. I find it funny that in the pre-match promo, Kofi talked about how Gallows & Anderson’s “Old Day” segment from last week wasted five minutes of everyone’s time. Why would I want to watch this show when the performers themselves are telling me it’s wasting my time? Still, at least WWE has a sense of humor about how bad that damn skit was. Also, Anderson & Gallows were back to being serious ass kickers this week.

This was another instance of WWE basically giving us the pay per view match early to…wait for it…promote the pay per view match. Because that always works so well.

Jinder Mahal def. Jack Swagger. Wow. They gave us this match during the third hour, and expect to hold the casual fan’s interest? This is basically a Superstars match.

After the match they had Tom Phillips mention Swagger’s Raw contract expiring soon. I guess that might be interesting. Jack Swagger has basically been Dolph Ziggler’s constant reminder that things could always be worse…

Epico def. Enzo Amore. So they gave us Jinder Mahal, Jack Swagger, and Epico in the third hour. Even with him winning, I’d call that a tactical mistake, wouldn’t you?

Rusev, Roman Reigns, WWE Raw, September 12, 2016Kevin Owens def. Roman Reigns thanks to a distraction by Rusev. So now we’ve got Kevin Owens vs. Seth Rollins at Clash of Champions, and chances are we’ll get Roman vs. Rusev as well. No doubt a lot of people are happy about Reigns being kept out of the Universal Title picture. I can’t say it breaks my heart.

So what’s the deal with this Seth Rollins/Mick Foley stuff? Where does that go? Not in a match, we know that much. Will they find themselves at odds over where Stephanie’s loyalties lay? Come to think of it, we still don’t know why Triple H helped Owens win the title. Hopefully they can answer that one sooner than later…

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Mick Foley Returns to Promoland? Plus, Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Before we get into Raw, there’s a nasty rumor circulating that WWE threatened to fire Paige if she didn’t break off her relationship with Alberto Del Rio. There’s obviously some truth to it, as the two of them were drafted to separate shows. Now Del Rio seems to be done with the company, and we have no idea what the future holds for Paige after her recent violation of the wellness policy. Coincidentally, her violation was announced just a day before Del Rio got popped as well.

Here’s the bottom line: Don’t mess with people’s relationships. It’s bad karma. It also seems to be bad for business. Live and let live.

WWE Raw, September 5, 2016, Mick Foley, Stephanie McMahonPonderings From WWE Raw:

Mick Foley goes back to “Promoland” for Raw‘s opening segment In one of his books, Mic referred to the headspace he got into for big wrestling interviews as Promoland. Though it may have been written for him, I’d like to think this segment represents a return to Promoland for everyone’s favorite Hardcore Legend.

I loved this. Stephanie played the alpha female role, as she always does. But Mick didn’t cower. He humanized her with a sweet story, prompting Stephanie to melt a little. Some of that harsh exterior melted. And that last line about Steph possibly being a “really good liar and a really bad person,” was awesome. There was no screaming, no threatening of violence, no menacing stare, or any of the stuff we saw in some of his classic promos. But this was truly some of the best Mick Foley verbiage we’ve seen in quite some time.

Seth Rollins interrupts Kevin Owens’ victory celebration. Rollins really shouldn’t have said “bull crap.” It made him sound like a grade schooler. Just saying “bull” might have actually been better.

Still, Rollins brought a nice intensity to this segment. He actually got up in Steph’s face and got pissed off for a change. And once again, Steph wasn’t exactly fighting back. She certainly wasn’t emasculating the male stars as she’s done in the past. It was a refreshing change of pace to say the least.

WWE Raw, September 5, 2016, Chris Jericho, Kevin Owens, Stephanie McMahon, Mick FoleyAlso, why is it called Clash of Champions and not Clash of the Champions?

They followed this up with a backstage segment in which Chris Jericho called Owens the “longest reigning WWE Universal Champion in history.” That was a great line.

Bayley def. Charlotte in a non-title match. If you listen to The Steve Austin Show or The Ross Report, you hear a lot about the importance of selling. With that in mind, I paid extra attention when Bayley sold her left knee after the half Boston crab. Really nice work.

So what happens after Charlotte and Dana Brooke break up? That’s obviously where they’re going here. Do they turn her babyface? I don’t know if I buy her in the hero role quite yet. She’d likely be better off going back to NXT at this point.

Bo Dallas returns to Raw, winning a squash match. Apparently a recent arrest for intoxication hasn’t adversely effected Bo’s career. Hell, it seems to be helping! He might want to ditch the singlet that says “outcast,” though.

Seth Rollins def. Chris Jericho. Now that Rollins is transitioning into a babyface, it’s time for a new theme. CFO$ and Downstait seem to be on the case.

Seth Rollins, WWE Raw, September 5, 2016Rollins’ athleticism should never be taken for granted. That diving somersault off the top rope into a neck breaker? Awesome. That frog splash? Excellent. The sad thing is, those moves would likely all mean more if they’d just made him a babyface when he came back. The transition is indeed underway, but he’s in that awkward middle ground right now. It could have been so easily avoided.

Sheamus goes up 3-0 in the Best of Seven Series against Cesaro. As was the case in the Charlotte/Bayley match, I kept an eye on the selling of the injury. In this case, the focus was obviously Cesaro’s match. We had some really nice storytelling here, with Sheamus focusing much of his offense on the back. The five backbreakers in a row were a great sequence. I’d have been perfectly fine with the match ending there. The Brogue Kick was almost redundant at that point.

The announcers talked about the winner getting a championship opportunity. But which championship? Does it go without saying it’s the Universal Title? I wouldn’t mind seeing Cesaro challenge Owens.

The Shining Stars def. Enzo & Cass. Big Cass got a real nice shine from last week’s main event. He and Enzo are still an amazing package deal, and he’s still nowhere near ready for a singles push. But he’s little more ready than he was last week…

The Shining Stars, WWE Raw, September 5, 2016Of course, a loss to Primo & Epico doesn’t exactly help his case. These two have absolutely nothing to talk about other than their Puerto Rico shtick, which is long since stale. Can’t we give them anything else to say?

Nia Jax won a squash match. They established here that the jobber was a friend of Alicia Fox, and it looks like they’re finally giving Nia a mini-program. One I suggested last week, no less. They had a little backstage segment later in the show where Nia jabbed Fox about Total Divas and reality TV. Fox actually said the line: “This isn’t reality.” Hm…how about Summer Rae? Didn’t I suggest her too?

Gallows & Anderson spoof The New Day. I actually enjoyed Gallows & Anderson’s “Ringpostitis” gag, as stupid as it was. But I’m ready for them to get down to business. These guys should be the ultimate killjoys, not stealing from Edge & Christian’s playbook. Actually, this whole thing felt like they were struggling to kill time.

Darren Young def. Jinder Mahal. So Jinder Mahal has had three matches since he’s come back, and he’s lost three times. Good on ya, man…

Titus O’Neil was on commentary for this match. Any time that happens, I can’t help but remember him cracking up Cole and Lawler a few years ago. Great stuff. But if they really wanted entertainment, they’d let Bob Backlund do commentary.

WWE Raw, September 5, 2016, Braun Strowman, Sin CaraAlso, can we not act like Bob Backlund is this frail oxygenation? He’s probably stronger than a lot of the active wrestlers.

Braun Strowman def. Sin Cara via count-out. Whaddaya know? Like Nia Jax, Braun Strowman gets a break from squash matches! Strowman also got a nice little story here about ripping off the jobber’s mask last week. I was wondering if Sin Cara would lose his mask as well. Perhaps that’s still in the cards.

Sasha Banks returns, teases retirement, will face Charlotte for Raw Women’s Title at Clash of ChampionsSasha wearing less make up was a nice, subtle change. She wasn’t dressed as the Boss. She was just herself. As she talked about the progression “Women’s Revolution” in WWE, I absolutely adored her for the line: “No more stupid butterfly title.”

I’d love to think this wasn’t scripted for Sasha. She really opened up and let that passion come out. She really got us too, didn’t she? We’ve seen a few retirement speeches on Raw in the last several years, and this felt like one of them. But let’s be honest, they wouldn’t have had her tweet about “bad news” if she was really retiring. I, for one, am very pleased her final chapter hasn’t been written yet.

Kevin Owens, WWE Raw, September 5, 2016Kevin Owens def. Sami Zayn. I’m very encouraged that they haven’t forgotten about Zayn beating Owens at Battleground. That puts Zayn in the title picture. He’s by no means in the center of that picture. But at least he’s there. This one didn’t top the Battleground match, but it was a worthy main event. The right guy won, with the champ going over. Though Owens may not be so lucky next week…

Mick Foley announces Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens for next week, giving Reigns a chance  to enter the main event at Clash of Champions. Charlotte got pinned this week, and now next week Owens is in a position to be beaten by Reigns. I don’t like that they’re starting to pin champions on TV again. Those belts need to mean something. It’s bad enough we’ve got so many of them again. But if the champions and the titles aren’t protected, what’s the point of any of it? Here’s hoping we see the reappearance of Rusev next week, costing Roman the match.

Then again, that means the US Title is once again in danger of leaving Rusev’s waist, which I’m not a fan of. But let’s take it one week at a time, folks.

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