A Batman #25 Review – The Sad Clown

TITLE: Batman #25
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLER: Mikel Janin
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: June 21, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Not going to follow up on the whole marriage proposal thing, huh? Alright, I guess that’s one way to do it…

To be fair, we do kinda/sorta get an answer. “The War of Jokes and Riddles” is framed as a story being told by Bruce Wayne to Selina Kyle about his early days of Batman. You’ve got to figure if she’d said no, they wouldn’t be in bed together like we see them here. So, congratulations?

For the Joker, the unthinkable has happened. The Clown Prince of Crime has found his life suddenly devoid of humor. He can’t bring himself to laugh, or even smile. Conversely, the Riddler now finds all puzzles and quandaries have no thrill or meaning. The common cause? Batman. The Riddler proposes an alliance, but Joker responds with a gunshot that will ignite a war to decide who gets to kill the Dark Knight. A war with all of Gotham City in the crosshairs.

The Joker and the Riddler have similar mischievous, game-ish motifs, and obviously they’re both completely off the mental reservation. So they make natural rivals, in terms of one trying to outdo the other. Until now, that idea hasn’t been explored much in their near 70-year history of coexistence. So to see it played up as a big event like this is really cool. What’s more, the solicits make it look like they’re looping in most of the other major Batman villains. Almost like a Long Halloween type ensemble story. They’re diving head-first into the rogues gallery on this one.

Mikel Janin is back on the pencil, and he’s channeling his inner Brian Bolland. His Joker has a Killing Joke vibe to him. Nothing overt. The way he draws Joker’s face. The black suit he’s wearing, which is reminiscent of the Red Hood sequence in that book. The fact that this is a pretty dark and moody issue adds in that respect as well.

Janin’s take on Edward Nygma is a little bulky for my taste. Look at the lower panels in the image at right. Facially, he looks a little like John Cena, doesn’t he? He’s also more physically dynamic than we’re used to seeing. Early in the issue we see a cop questioning him in Arkham. He eventually leaps up in the air and slashes the guy’s throat. It’s almost a Matrix move.

King also has Riddler just recite riddles to himself. They’ll loosely connect to the situation he’s in, which justifies them to an extent. But it’s a trait I can’t remember seeing before. Not sure how I feel about it…

Still, Janin and Tom King respect the Riddler, just as Scott Snyder did during his run. There’s a really nice sequence where the Riddler escapes prison simply by saying the names of all the guards’ daughters. Answers, information, those are his currency. His power lies in his ability to be cunning and clever. And for a bit of charm, he’s got the classic green bowler hat on during the whole thing.

We get back to back two-page spreads in this issue, each a wide shot of the Joker’s office. The Riddler in one (shown below), Mr. J in another. It conveys a pretty big moment. Our first meeting of the two sides before the fighting begins. They’re also beautiful pages, Janin’s inks and June Chung‘s colors aligning perfectly to show us a gorgeous night in Gotham City. Though I can’t help but wonder how much this artistic choice had to do with the added page count for this “anniversary” issue.

There is one thing Batman #25 leaves unclear, perhaps purposely. In the office scene, the Joker shoots the Riddler at near point-blank range. He seems to hit him right in the gut, and we see a pool of blood. Yet Nygma is able to get to his feet and stumble away. Is he wearing a protective gimmick around his waste? Is the Joker using rubber bullets for some reason? What gives? The war should be over right here!

Tom King had a rocky start on Batman. The series is still a little rocky these days. But when this team is on, they’re really on. There’s nothing in here that damns “The War of Jokes and Riddles” from the get-go. But I’m not chomping at the bit to get to the next issue either. As a single issue, Batman #26 is fine. But for now, the story is still in the “Wait and See” column.

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Carmella’s Controversy, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Sometimes I think the so-called “smart” fans forget what real heat is. Wrestling is designed to make us angry, and play on some of our most basic human instincts. WWE did that with the finish to the first ever Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match on Sunday, and people were mad. The problem is they were mad for the wrong reason.

The finish of the match came when James Ellsworth climbed up the ladder, grabbed the briefcase, and dropped it down to Carmella. So the inaugural Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match was essentially won by a man. I got a little miffed about this initially. I even retweeted a comment or two from fans that were upset. But the more I think about this finish, the more I absolutely love it.

I’m about a pretty progressive guy. I understand what’s gets people upset about a woman needing a man’s help to do something. But let’s lighten up and realize what this is. It’s a story that’s designed to get under people’s skin, and make them want to see Carmella and Ellsworth get their comeuppance. It did what pro wrestling is supposed to do.

Hey, I’m a smart fan too. But let’s not outsmart ourselves by analyzing this stuff to the point that we can’t enjoy it anymore.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Carmella and James Ellsworth discuss the controversial ending to the Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match. Carmella sounded pretty scripted here. But that’s not exactly uncommon on WWE TV these days. And she had some nice fire. So I was good with this. I’d also forgotten she was picked last in the draft last year. That was a nice touch.

Big E. def. Jimmy Usos. Nice win. Nobody ever talks about Big E. being a former Intercontinental Champion. Probably because it didn’t end up being that memorable. But it merits mentioning when he’s spotlighted by himself like this.

Shinsuke Nakamura def. Dolph Ziggler.  This was fun. A little slow at first, but one of those matches where you find yourself watching for the little details. Nakamura doesn’t necessarily look like somebody who can work the mat, but he and Dolph looked good jockeying for position out there. They gave these guys a lot of time too, which a match like this deserves.

Kevin Owens def. Chad Gable in a US Open Challenge Match. Both Chad Gable and Jason Jordan have been ghosts these last several weeks. So to see Gable get a singles spotlight like this was really cool. Absolutely gorgeous moonsault, and the crowd was into that roll-through German Suplex. I’ve talked before about how Gable could conceivably do well as a cruiserweight on Raw. But I’m scared of what would happen to him, given how stale 205 Live has become.

Daniel Bryan takes the Money in the Bank briefcase from Carmella, announces a rematch for next week. Ahhhhh, so that’s what it was. Do a contested finish, then direct people to a big episode of Smackdown. It’s a smart move. Not just because ratings are down, but because it’s never been done on WWE TV before.

I’m hoping Carmella wins again. Put even more heat on her. On Talking Smack we found out Ellsworth is banned from ringside. But she can still find a way to win. Why not?

I haven’t heard anything about injuries sustained in the Ladder Match, other than Bryan having a throwaway line about Charlotte’s neck. That’s a hell of a bruise Tamina has on her arm. I did, however, notice Tamina’s got a hell of a bruise on her arm. I imagine that was pretty painful. Though not quite as painful as her attempt to diss Charlotte here.

So we’ve got all these women competing in yet another Ladder Match for an on-demand shot at the Women’s Title. Meanwhile, Naomi grants Lana yet another title match for doing nothing other than running her mouth. I’d be more angry at her than Carmella.

WWE Champion Jinder Mahal def. Luke Harper. Baron Corbin teases a Money in the Bank cash-in. Randy Orton brutalizes Mahal the match. Tonight was the first night I really took note of Jinder’s new entrance. It gives him a great superstar vibe. When you see that entrance, it feels like somebody special is walking out. Is Jinder backing that up in the ring? Not necessarily. But his presentation is coming together nicely.

Why aren’t the Singh Brothers wrestling on TV? They’re sort of in the same role that J&J Security was a few years ago. But they’re obviously capable of more. More importantly, Smackdown needs heel tag teams.

So we’re not done with Jinder Mahal and Randy Orton, huh? Damn. I was hoping both these guys were moving on. This likely means Jinder is going to beat Randy Orton at three consecutive pay per views: BacklashMoney in the Bank, and Battleground next month. Not a bad way to get your new champion over. And now that it’s apparent John Cena vs. Roman Reigns isn’t happening at Summerslam, my guess is Jinder’s opponent in August will be “Big Match John” himself.

Maria Kanellis returns to WWE at Money in the Bank, alongside her husband Mike Kanellis. The two appear again in a WWE.com exclusive. I’ve been a Maria Kanellis fan for a long time. So it’s great to see her back. I don’t know much about Mike Bennett, but having him take his wife’s maiden name is a stroke of genius. Again, you appeal to people’s most basic instincts. A lot of men roll their eyes at the notion of a man doing that. Then on top of that you see all of the PDA, and that talk about love. It’s positively nauseating. And that’s why these two could make for a great heel act on Smackdown.

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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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Chris Jericho’s Run Ends, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I remember catching an episode of Smackdown with a buddy of mine about 10 years ago. Not a regular viewer, he was confused about the number of title belts he was seeing. He said to me, “I thought only the best wrestlers were supposed to have belts.”

Man, WWE was frustrating in the mid-2000s. Actually, it’s still pretty frustrating. But at least now the belts mean something.

For so many years, it seemed like WWE was just moving belts from wrestler to wrestler just for the sake of moving the belts. Almost as if it were an obligation. Not so much with the top titles. But the Intercontinental and United States Titles most certainly suffered. Only in recent years has the company tried to breathe some life back into those two belts, and play up their importance.

While some may not want to hear this, it really all started with John Cena. His run with the US Title reinvigorated it, and at times made it as important as the WWE Championship. That seemingly created the blueprint for other uppercard wrestlers to carry it, and that momentum also translated to the IC Title. Fast-forward to this week, and we’ve got guys like Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, and Chris Jericho fighting for them in the main events of Raw and Smackdown. It’s such a far cry from the days when the belts would essentially just be props that certain wrestlers would hold. Now it feels like they actually represent something. Prestige. Honor. Glory. Status.

The WWE and Universal Heavyweight Championships should always be the crown jewels of their respective shows. If you win one of those, you’ve reached the top. But the Intercontinental and United States Titles should be no one’s consolation prize. They aren’t second-place trophies. They’re championships with rich legacies of their own. WWE should never again allow us to forget what an honor it is to hold them. Especially now that Brock Lesnar is the Universal Champion. If this week’s Raw is any indication, the Intercontinental Title may soon become a vital part of Raw every week. And that’s exactly how it should be.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Chris Jericho opens the show. AJ Styles and Kevin Owens each interrupt, before brawling with each other. Not much to this segment, really. It was essentially Jericho’s re-introduction to Smackdown. I’m curious if they’ll actually keep him on this show when he inevitably comes back.

Jericho’s US Title win at Payback was a big surprise. By no means did they have to give him the belt. But it was a nice win for him on his way out. Also, conspicuous by their absence on this show were Randy Orton and the “suspended” Baron Corbin. Assuming WWE knew they would be absent coming into this show, that would explain Jericho being used as a band-aid of sorts.

Jinder Mahal def. Sami Zayn. Decent match. Three weeks ago, there wouldn’t have been a doubt in anybody’s mind that Zayn would go over here. Not only did Jinder win, but he’s building momentum for a WWE Championship Match. What a world we live in.

I like this alliance between Jinder and the Singh Brothers (formerly the Bollywood Boyz). Has there ever been any sort of Indian faction in WWE? I’ve been a fan for over 20 years, and nothing comes to mind.

Tye Dillinger def. Aiden English. Nice intensity from Dillinger here, for a quick win. This was more or less a glorified enhancement match. But we can’t say they haven’t started him out strong.

Natalya and Carmella def. Naomi and Charlotte. Becky Lynch runs out to help the babyfaces afterward. They’ve essentially done a 180 with Charlotte these past two weeks, turning her babyface. That’s a little odd, as she’s turned out to be such a natural heel. My guess would be they wanted to even out the babyface/heel ratio amongst the women on Smackdown.

The obvious direction would now be a Six-Woman Tag Match at Backlash. I can’t say that thrills me. As Carmella pinned Naomi in this match, I’d almost prefer to see the two of them have a match for the championship.

Dolph Ziggler def. Sin Cara. Not a fan of Sin Cara’s new gear. Not that it matters much. He’s in the exact same role on Smackdown that he had on Raw. Then again, it only took one night for Jinder Mahal to become top contender for the WWE Championship…

Another vignette airs for Lana’s Smackdown debut. My wife and I were at another couple’s home this weekend, and they happened to have Total Divas on. It was the episode where Lana and Rusev got married in Bulgaria. I can honestly say Lana was the most obnoxious woman on that show. Considering how irritating I find the Bellas, that’s really saying something. Rumor has it she may be dropping her Russian accent, which is fine. It seems like she’s not going to be with Rusev anymore. So why risk further accent slippage on TV?

“The Fashion Files” airs, starring Breezango. Tyler Breeze and Fandango target the Usos and the Smackdown Tag Team Titles at BacklashThese two have deserved a more prominent role for some time now. This fashion police gimmick has essentially been comedy fodder. To their credit, they got a chuckle or two out of me in this segment. But they can be much more than that. I don’t expect them to get the belts at Backlash. But at least they’re in the title picture.

Kevin Owens def. Chris Jericho to win the WWE United States Title. Owens destroys Jericho after the match. I’m surprised we didn’t see AJ Styles again in the closing moments of the show. He and Owens mixed it up in the opening segment, after all.

Nice clean win for Owens, followed by an injury angle to send Jericho away for however long he’ll be gone. Perhaps the best testament to how good this run has been for Jericho is how sorry so many of us are to see him go. He’ll obviously be sorely missed.

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

ANDRE THE GIANT MEMORIAL BATTLE ROYAL

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

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

PREDICTION: Braun Strowman

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

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

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

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

PREDICTION: Austin Aries

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

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

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

PREDICTION: Naomi

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

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

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

PREDICTION: Enzo and Cass

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

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

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

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

PREDICTION: Bayley

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

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

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

PREDICTION: Baron Corbin

John Cena and Nikki Bella vs. The Miz and Maryse

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

PREDICTION: John Cena and Nikki Bella

Shane McMahon vs. AJ Styles

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

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

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

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

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

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

PREDICTION: Kevin Owens

NON-SANCTIONED MATCH:
Triple H vs. Seth Rollins

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

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

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

PREDICTION: Seth Rollins

The Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns

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

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

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

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

PREDICTION: Roman Reigns

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

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

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

PREDICTION: Bray Wyatt

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

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

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

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

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

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

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Mauro Ranallo: M.I.A. Plus, Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

You wouldn’t know it by watching WWE TV lately, but Finn Balor is back in action. He made his official in-ring return at a house show on March 10.

There’s been speculation about Balor being back for Wrestlemania since he was forced to relinquish the Universal Title back in August. Now, less than two weeks out, it appears that’s not the case.

It’s bittersweet, but for the best as far as I’m concerned. Wrestlemania is always so damn crowded. If you count the yet-to-be-made-official Triple H vs. Seth Rollins, the card already has 13 matches. And there’s always the potential for more. Guys like Samoa Joe and Sami Zayn are already lost in the shuffle. There’s no need to throw Balor in there, only for him to have nothing of consequence to contribute.

Balor seems almost a certainty for the night after Wrestlemania. The slate will be relatively clean, and his return will get the emphasis it deserves. I’m sure they’ll want to bring him back as a babyface. But if they decide to go the heel route, Balor vs. Rollins would be pretty natural. There’s been all this talk about Rollins missing Wrestlemania. But from a story perspective, he cost Balor his very first Wrestlemania. Something to think about…

Ponderings From Smackdown:

AJ Styles accepts Shane McMahon’s challenge, promises to face him in the parking lot later in the show. “Without AJ Styles, Smackdown Live plummets.” He’s not entirely right, but he’s not entirely wrong either. Something to keep in mind with all this buzz about Styles possibly going to Raw after Wrestlemania.

Mauro Ranallo absent from Smackdown for the second week in a row. Something’s not right here. A one-week absence? Sure. But two is suspicious. Tom Phillips said Ranallo was “out sick.” I don’t buy it. Your lead play-by-play guy doesn’t just vanish two weeks before the biggest show of the year. Either WWE has made a change, or something’s up with Mauro. Here’s hoping everything’s alright.

The Usos def. American Alpha to win the WWE Smackdown Tag Team Titles. Wasn’t expecting this. But no complaints on my end. The Usos have found a lot of new life since turning heel. They deserve this.

Familiar format here, with Gable selling, Jordan getting the hot tag, and then going into false finishes. But again, no complaints. Really good match. Tons of explosiveness. These guys supplied the hell out of each other.

Randy Orton def. Baron Corbin. Dean Ambrose distracts Corbin during the match, accepts challenge for WrestlemaniaThese two weren’t bad together. They’ve got similar attitudes. There could easily be a program here someday. Thankful Corbin didn’t get beat clean, as he did by Cena several weeks ago. There was no need for that then, and there was no need for it here.

That little salute Orton gave to Ambrose before pinning Corbin was a nice touch.

Bray Wyatt, along with several henchmen in sheep masks, ambush Randy Orton backstage. Wyatt thanks Orton for “purging” him of his one flaw. The sheep mask thing is usually going to work, because it’s spooky and weird. Bray’s laughing was back this week, though. A bit more appropriate this time, but I still wish he’d have more of a deadly serious attitude about Orton. The guy did burn down his house, after all.

John Cena def. Fandango. Tyler Breeze is at ringside dressed as Nikki Bella. Xena and Nikki make quick work of Breezango. We saw Cena and Fandango together on Southpaw Regional Wrestling, the WWE Network’s parody of an old school southern wrestling show. Surprisingly funny stuff. Definitely worth a look.

Tyler Breeze had to sell a spear and a Rack Attack from Nikki here. As if the guy’s career on the main roster wasn’t dead enough already.

Becky Lynch vs. Carmella breaks down into a no-contest. Natalya, Mickie James, and Alexa Bliss brawl in the ring. Remember all that talk about WWE bringing back former female for Wrestlemania? I’m inclined to think this may have been the match they had in mind. It could still be in the cards, considering we still don’t even know what kind of match these ladies are having.

Eric Bischoff to induct Diamond Dallas Page into the WWE Hall of Fame, Jim Cornette to induct the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express. These should both be really interesting. Bischoff hasn’t been in front of a WWE crowd in quite some time. I imagine he’ll hear no fewer boos than he did years ago. As for Cornette, I doubt he’ll cause much trouble. I doubt he wants to, considering this is for Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson. But type his name into YouTube, and you’ll realize how crazy it is that he’s on WWE TV again.

The Miz and Maryse spoof Total BellasShockingly, these weren’t as bad as I thought they’d be. Though admittedly, I may be biased. I can’t stand to hear the Bellas talk. They come off way too much like Kardashian clones. It seemed like they were plucking lines straight from smark message boards here.

Shane McMahon calls out AJ Styles. A fight erupts, culminating in Shane hitting a top-rope elbow drop through the announce table. That duplex Styles gave Shane into the guard rail was sick. Hell of an appetizer, here. Is this the Wrestlemania match we never knew we wanted?

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A Roman Reigns Heel Turn? Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

How many years did we wait for a John Cena heel turn? Hell, some of us are still waiting. I was there at Wrestlemania XXII when he got booed out of the building during the main event. That was in 2006. So it’s been at least a decade.

The smart bet is that it’s never happening. At this point, why bother? It feels like the fans are finally starting to turn back around on Cena, and cheer him as Smackdown‘s resident legend. But there was a long period where so many of us were clamoring for Cena to snap back at those crowds that were booing him so hard.

Obviously we now have the same situation with Roman Reigns. For better or worse, he’s the company’s next chosen one. Like Cena, he comes out to a chorus of boos from most of the grown men in the audience. Children and women seem to enjoy him, but the fanboys hate him. And they’re not likely to stop booing him anytime soon, especially given this stuff with the Undertaker.

This week’s Raw segment with Roman struck a chord with me. Not just because Shawn Michaels was in there with him, but because he threatened to retire the Undertaker. As Undertaker is someone I’ve been watching since I was 11 years old, it almost felt personal.  I suspect that’s how a lot of people feel, and you’ve got to know WWE is counting on that.

I understand the generational, “passing the torch” element of WWE putting Reigns with the Undertaker. But I don’t think having Roman beat the Undertaker helps him as far as being a lead babyface. People generally don’t like seeing the Undertaker beaten in big matches. Wrestlemania XXX comes to mind.

If Roman is turning heel, however…

Keeping Roman strong is a top priority, and has been for years. In this company, you can’t look any stronger than when you beat the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. Just ask Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman. But Brock was also a heel when he did that. I don’t see how beating the Undertaker at Wrestlemania makes Roman anything less than a heel. Mind you, I’m assuming that’s the direction they’re going. But I don’t see them simply having Roman lose to Undertaker, unless the plan is for him to snap afterward and beat the hell out of him. Again, as a heel.

Perhaps it’s pie in the sky thinking, and this heat from the crowds is simply part of being WWE’s marquee man nowadays. But man, imagine the story of Roman beating the Undertaker, and officially becoming the most hated man in the company. Especially if he cheats to do it…

Ponderings From Smackdown:

AJ Styles cuts a promo on not having a match at Wrestlemania, promises to confront Shane McMahon. Hearing AJ trace his frustrations back to the Royal Rumble made this feel very reminiscent of Bret Hart in early 1997. He would always talk about being screwed out of the WWF Title. It all culminated in that famous moment on Raw when he shoved Vince McMahon, and cut that scathing, cuss-laden promo. Now all these years later, It’s AJ against Vince’s son. It somehow feels fitting.

Tom Phillips and JBL call the show without Mauro Ranallo and David Otunga. Ranallo was supposedly held up by bad weather, and Otunga is shooting a Tyler Perry movie. So for the first time in quite awhile, we had a two-man announce team on WWE television. Wouldn’t you know it, the world didn’t end. Just sayin’.

Becky Lynch def. Natalya via submission. Carmella attacks Becky after the match. Tremendous counter from the top turnbuckle into the Disarm-Her. I feel like the crowd chants for Becky Lynch every week. I’m legitimately rooting for her at Wrestlemania. She deserves a moment in the sun.

Noticed Carmella didn’t have her accent in the backstage promo that followed. Did they drop it? If so, that sucks. That was instant heat with me.

John Cena and Nikki Bella appear on Miz TV. Maryse accuses Nikki of keeping her off the first season of Total Divas. Daniel Bryan makes a mixed tag match between the two couples for WrestlemaniaFor months, the heels on this show have made it a point to talk about how Cena will never marry Nikki. Miz and Maryse did the same here, with a close-up of her wedding ring for good measure. So we’re getting a proposal at Wrestlemania, right? Seems pretty obvious to me. Hey, we’ve never seen one before. So maybe it’ll be cool.

Last week on Talking Smack, Daniel Bryan made a vague comment about possibly being able to wrestle again in a year and a half. I imagine that’s when his contract expires. Obviously, his health issues have been well documented. Please be careful, good sir…

Mickie James def. Alexa Bliss. My question last week about Mickie turning face has apparently been answered. That’s seemingly how she was positioned here. No complaints from me in that respect. Less experienced ladies on the heel side of things, like Alexa Bliss, could learn a lot from her. Phillips and JBL also told a nice story about Mickie potentially tying Trish Stratus’ record of seven Women’s Championships at Wrestlemania.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Alexa lose more matches in the coming weeks to advance how vulnerable she is in the multi-woman match at Wrestlemania.

Mojo Rawley def. Dolph Ziggler via count-out. You know what the interesting thing is about this story with Ziggler believing he deserves a bigger spotlight? He’s right! He’s legitimately more talented than everyone they’ve put him up against since his heel turn.

Randy Orton explains his actions against Bray Wyatt. One thing I would have added here: Having Orton talk about “relinquishing” his title shot at Wrestlemania, and how that was the final step in earning Bray’s full confidence. Makes sense to me.

The visual of Bray “baptizing” himself with Sister Abigail’s ashes was haunting, and I loved that he cut down on the laughing. His end of this was really good.

In a backstage promo, Baron Corbin says he’ll take Dean Ambrose’s Intercontinental Title if he can make it to Wrestlemania. No Ambrose on TV this week, which is fine. He’s selling the injury, and it builds some anticipation to when we do see him again. Corbin gave his standard delivery here, which is to say it was strictly okay. But they gave him a good line: “They say Dean Ambrose can get up from anything. Well I’m the man that puts people down.”

The Usos def. American Alpha. I’m fine with these two teams working together again, especially now that the Usos seem to have found their heel groove. But when they’re done, who do they go to next? This Smackdown Tag Team Division is in desperate need of a shake-up. The Vaudevillians and the Ascension are dead teams. Breezango is a joke. Who else is there? Once Zack Ryder comes back, there’s a chance the Hype Bros can actually become something. But until then, these two teams are seemingly all that Smackdown has.

AJ Styles ambushes Shane McMahon in the parking garage, smashes his head through a car window. Daniel Bryan apparently fires Styles, but Shane later calls him out for Wrestlemania. And here it is. I think the brawl we saw was all the impetus we need for this to be a Street Fight.

I maintain this is a good spot for AJ to be in at Wrestlemania. It’s not going to be Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom. But AJ will get to shine here, and odds are he’ll win. He’s going to be just fine, folks.

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