An Undertaker Return: Is it The Boy Who Cried Wolf?

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Since Wrestlemania XXXIII, there’s been truckloads of speculation about the Undertaker’s retirement. It’s a pretty natural conclusion to come to, given the way that show ended. The #ThankYouTaker hashtags broke out again, you saw all kinds of tributes to him, and WWE have played that moment up in a big way ever since. “I retired the Undertaker” is practically Roman Reigns’ new catchphrase. They’ve also given him Undertaker’s “This is my yard” line. Undertaker’s name was even thrown around in the big Roman Reigns/John Cena promo on Raw last week, with Cena calling the Dead Man a “battered veteran at the end of his career with a bad hip.” Hmm…

What people have been keen to point out, however, is that the announcers have been more tentative as far as ‘Taker’s retirement. They always talk about Reigns “potentially retiring” the Undertaker, as opposed to giving it any sort of finality. And of course, despite all the speculation there hasn’t been any confirmation about Undertaker being done. Until they spell it out for us that he’s retired, there’s a decent chance we’ll be seeing him in the ring again. Actually, there’s probably a really good chance we will.

I’m not sure how I feel about that.

While the Undertaker/Roman Reigns match wasn’t anything to write home about, the closing moments of Wrestlemania XXXIII were genuinely touching. There was an outpouring of emotion as fans seemingly said goodbye to a man who’d given so much of himself for over a 25 year career. Many of us had been watching him since we were children. Now, as adults, we were watching him ride off into the sunset.

To renege on a moment like that is almost in bad taste. This is twice now that we’ve gotten misty-eyed saying goodbye to the Undertaker. The first was after he lost to Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania XXX, ending his big winning streak. Me? I didn’t buy that as the end. But this Roman Reigns thing is different. In addition to drudging up all this emotion, it had a nice passing of the torch element to it. While the build-up could have been done much better, the generational aspect of the story was very appealing. And while so many detest Roman Reigns, the match had the right finish. If Undertaker comes back, it spoils all that.

Let’s also factor in the Undertaker being 52 years old, and not exactly blowing anyone away with what he did in the ring this year. Was it all his fault? Not necessarily. Remember, ‘Taker had recently come off hip surgery. He would reportedly go on to have a full on hip replacement done. There’s a lot to be said about a potential Reigns/Undertaker rematch, or the John Cena/Undertaker match so many have wanted. But if the real-life Mark Calaway is unable to perform at a high level, is bringing him back even worthwhile?

But at the same time…he’s the Undertaker. If anyone has earned the right to come and go on his own terms, it’s him. Let’s also remember that much of ‘Taker’s best in-ring work was done in his early to mid-forties. Think about his Wrestlemania matches with Batista, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and CM Punk. He has defied father time before. Given enough recovery and preparation time, it’s entirely possible he could do it again.

Regardless, the smart bet is that ‘Taker will be back sooner than later. But here’s my last lingering question: When he finally does say goodbye, how many of us will actually buy into it again? At what point does this Undertaker situation become just another version of The Boy Who Cried Wolf?

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Big Show’s Big Night, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

In the wake of JBL announcing his departure from the Smackdown Live announce team, WWE has quickly chosen a replacement for him. And it’s none other than Corey Graves. Indeed, Graves will now serve as a color analyst on both Raw and Smackdown. Nigel McGuinness will take his place on Main Event and 205 Live.

I’ve come to love the work Graves does. In a relatively short amount of time, he’s become the most credible announcer WWE has at their disposal. Fans may not know just how valuable he is until the day we have to live without him. That being said, having Graves on both Raw and Smackdown is not a good idea.

Setting aside the “too much of a good thing” lesson we’ve learned from all these years of three-hour Raw broadcasts, having Graves on both shows dilutes the integrity of the roster split. In theory, Raw and Smackdown are supposed to be two separate brands. It’s not simply a matter of different wrestlers and championships. The shows are supposed to have different looks and feels to them. The announcers are a critical component in that respect, as they literally give the shows their respective voices. Having Graves call both Raw and Smackdown blurs that line of distinction. What’s worse, it opens the door for the further blurring of that line. We’ve already got Corey Graves on both shows, and John Cena has been a “free agent.” Since they’ve gone this far, who’s to say certain wrestlers can’t show up on both shows?

It’s this kind of thing that led to the discontinuation of the original roster split. The integrity had been eroded to the point that there was no point in continuing the charade any longer. It got so bad toward the end that our two Heavyweight Champions wrestling in throwaway matches in the middle of Raw

Graves is an amazing announcer. But there are plenty of other qualified people WWE can call on to fill JBL’s seat. We just had Jerry Lawler back on last week’s Raw. Give him a buzz. Have Lita or Renee Young tag in to bring a female perspective to things. Mick Foley was an announcer on Smackdown several years ago. Could they talk him into coming back? Hell, what about Daniel Bryan? He was awesome on the Cruiserweight Classic. Yes, he’s an on-screen authority figure. But that’s a dynamic we’ve rarely if ever seen. Why not try it?

I’m hopeful this winds up being a band-aid until WWE can find a new permanent announcer. On the plus side, this is obviously a hell of an endorsement for Graves. A well-deserved endorsement at that, and one that seems to indicate WWE knows just how good he is. But let’s not ruin him by oversaturating the airwaves with his voice.

Ponderings From Raw:

John Cena def. Jason Jordan. Roman Reigns come out, and another verbal sparring session occurs. Really strong opener with a nice story. Very wise of them to incorporate that old Smackdown footage of Cena and Kurt Angle. Cena’s facials were strong early on. He looked caught off guard by Jordan’s amateur style.

This was the finish I expected. But Jordan got what he needed. It was his first really strong performance as a single, and perhaps the first time he really lived up to the new role WWE has cast him in.

The word coming out of last week’s segment with Cena and Reigns was that most of it was indeed scripted. Reigns did forget his lines at one point, which prompted Cena’s “It’s called a promo” jab. They played off that a little bit here. But this was clearly designed to have Roman get one up on Cena, just as Cena got one up on him last week. Reigns called Cena out for a fight, and “Big Match John” stepped back. Advantage Reigns.

Both these guys said “I don’t respect you.” Expect that to be a focal point moving forward. WWE has been big on “respect” storylines for a long time.

Sheamus and Cesaro def. Heath Slater and Rhyno. Pretty straightforward stuff here. I’m just happy to see Cesaro and Sheamus wrestling guys other than Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose.

The Miz def. Jeff Hardy to retain the Intercontinental Championship. Really good match, with Miz getting a (mostly) clean win. I wasn’t expecting them to change the title, but Miz and Jeff planted that seed of doubt in my mind. That’s how you know you’re seeing two greats. When just for a few minutes, they make you feel like a kid again. When they make you believe.

Enzo Amore, Cedric Alexander, and Gran Metallic def. Noam Dar, Tony Nese, and Drew Gulak. Enzo’s promo went too long for me. But the crowd was with him, so I can’t call it a flop.

They need to find something more substantial for Tony Nese to do. I’ve been saying it for months, this guy’s got something.

Bray Wyatt challenges Finn Balor to face him without using his Demon persona. This booking defies traditional logic. Usually they’d start with Bray against Finn, and then move to Bray against the Demon. It reminds me of John Cena facing Randy Orton in a straight up singles match at the Royal Rumble several years ago, after we’d already seen them in virtually every other match under the sun.

Still, this was one of Bray’s stronger promos in recent memory. It probably helps that it’s been a few weeks since we’ve heard him ramble and laugh nonsensically.

Nia Jax and Emma def. Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks. The Raw Women’s Championship Match at No Mercy will now be a Fatal Four-Way between these women. I’m hoping we’re headed for an Alexa Bliss/Sasha Banks double turn. As talented as she is, and as hard as she works, Sasha seems to become more and more of a brat as the weeks ago by. I’m sure much of that is my own evolving perception of her. Though a lot of fans are angry at Sasha right now for calling out fans who stalk her in airports. I won’t fault her for that. Boundaries, people. Boundaries.

Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. Sheamus and Cesaro were at ringside to watch Rollins and Ambrose, but they wound up scrapping with Gallows and Anderson. I imagine we’ll see those two teams face off next week. As long as they’re staying clear of Rollins and Ambrose until the pay per view, I’m good. I doubt that’ll end up happening. But I’ll enjoy it for now.

Braun Strowman def. The Big Show in a Steel Cage Match. There was a lot of talk here about Big Show being in the business for 23 years. I’ve been watching this guy for about 20 of those years. So believe me when I tell you: This was the best he’s ever been. Remember, he’s 45 years old.

Let’s start with that pre-match promo. Epic. Positively epic. He had fire. He was articulate, He was passionate. You got riled up because he was riled up. Show has been a good promo for most of his career. But this might have been his best.

Then you’ve got the bumps he took for Strowman. He dusted off the top rope elbow (shown above), which wound up being the highlight of the match. Then he took yet another Superplex from the top. And after the finish, they did the spot where Strowman slammed him through the cage wall. That last one came off a little choreographed. But who cares? Remember, this man is seven feet tall  and weighs over 300 pounds. Any time he takes a bump like that it’s a huge deal. But three in one match? Unbelievable.

You’ve also got to take your hat off to WWE for making this feel like an epic main event. They did a tremendous job playing up the Superplex spot from April, particularly when they interviewed the referee who took that great bump. This really came off like a Godzilla vs. King Kong level confrontation between monsters. And you know it’ll be that much bigger when they inevitably face off again.

Awesome. There’s no other way to put it. Simply awesome. A career night for this 20-plus year veteran.

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

Ponderings From Raw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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