Braun Strowman Breaks the Ring! Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Wrestling’s newest dominant monster, Braun Strowman, was all over Raw on Monday. After last week, it’s not hard to see why. His big attack on Roman Reigns was one of the best angles they’ve done in a long time. For certain Reigns fans it was downright horrifying. But for some of us it seemed downright cathartic. WWE seems to know that, and are actually playing into it. They seem to be using the fans’ hatred of Reigns, the so-called babyface, to get them to cheer Strowman, the supposed heel. By traditional wrestling logic, it’s about as backwards as you can get. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t fun to watch Strowman beat on people.

In the broad sense, there isn’t much about Strowman that makes him villainous. He’s a big, tough bastard who wants to fight everyone. In the context of a wrestling show that’s a pretty admirable quality. Yes, he absolutely destroyed Roman Reigns. But think about the stuff we used to see Steve Austin do to Vince McMahon and a lot of the other heels. One of the more famous moments in Raw history involves Austin abducting McMahon and holding him hostage with what we think is a gun (later revealed to be a toy). He only let him go after McMahon wet his pants in the middle of the ring.

It’s amazing what you can get away with doing to someone the fans hate. We’re being reminded of that with now with Strowman.

Ponderings From Raw:

After Kurt Angle tells Strowman he has a match with Roman Reigns at Payback, Strowman attacks numerous wrestlers in the locker room. The best of these backstage segments involved Strowman beating up Kalisto and then dropping him a dumpster. This poor guy has become WWE’s resident whipping boy. On Smackdown it was basically his job to get beat up by Dolph Ziggler. Now in his first week on Raw, he’s getting thrown in the trash by Strowman. He desperately needs to hide on 205 Live for awhile.

Booker T steps in for David Otunga at the announce table. Otunga’s start on Raw has been delayed, as he’s off shooting a movie. Can’t we just make Booker the full-time announcer? He’s got more personality than Otunga ever will, and he’s got decades of experience to draw from. He’s already doing the pre-shows, isn’t he? Why not just shift him on to the main broadcast?

Samoa Joe vs. Chris Jericho via submission. Rollins was on commentary for this match. So often, the babyfaces are so vanilla when they sit at the announce desk. I usually find myself wishing they’d be a little more charismatic, and make us actually like hearing them. Instead, this felt like the usual fluff. Nice post-match promo by Joe, though.

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson def. Enzo and Cass. No interest in this one from me. We’ve seen these teams wrestle a thousand times. I zipped right through it.

Dean Ambrose appears on Miz TV. It feels like we’re beating a dead horse here. Miz and Ambrose just feuded on Smackdown a few months ago. They did fine, but it’s not like we’re dying to see them go again.

They made a point to have Miz call Ambrose lazy and complacent in this segment. This is at least the second time they’ve done that since Steve Austin called him out last year for allegedly resting on his laurels. Why go there again? Can’t they come up with anything better for Miz to say? Hell, I’d have brought up his marriage to Renee Young before I went this route. They talked about it on their web site. Why not here?

TJ Perkins def. Jack Gallagher. Now that he’s a heel, Perkins needs a new entrance. That video game stuff is strictly babyface material. He seems to be having fun being a bad guy, though. It’s funny how much heat he got just from dabbing.

Alexa Bliss def. Sasha Banks, Mickie James, and Nia Jax to become the top contender for the Raw Women’s Title at Payback. Sasha did another one of her dives through the ropes during this match. I always hold my breath when she does that. It looked like she caught her leg on the rope, and went back-first into Mickie and Nia.

Saw a decent amount of buzz about Sasha vs. Alexa during this match. Not sure what would be so awesome about that program in particular. But I’m down for it.

Last week, Nia Jax caught heat online for dropping Charlotte Flair on her head during their match. Thus, she’s going to be scrutinized even more. To an extent it’s unfair to her, as she was thrust into the spotlight despite her inexperience. What’s she supposed to do? Turn down a prominent spot on Raw? But on the other hand, she’s in a spot that so many more seasoned wrestlers would kill for. So she’s got to take her lumps when she makes a mistake like that.

Finn Balor accepts an open challenge from Curt Hawkins, wins a quick match. Happy to see Balor in the ring this week. Rumors said he was concussed during his match with Jinder Mahal last week. Apparently he was healthy enough to do a short match this week, which is good news. The last thing he needed was another serious injury.

Dash Wilder sustains a broken jaw at NXT live event, will be out of action until summer. Terrible break for the Revival. Between Wilder, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, and Kofi Kingston’s ankle surgery, the injury bug is definitely going around.

A promo package airs featuring Bray Wyatt talking about the House of Horrors Match at Payback. This was the best parts of the entire show. Great horror imagery, combined with a promo without much of Bray’s trademark laughter. That’s a winning formula. Now if only they’d tell us what a House of  Horrors Match is.

Incidentally, Michael Cole called Payback a “Raw exclusive pay per view.” But it’s got matches for the WWE Title and the United States Title, both of which are on Smackdown. It’s an odd line-up, isn’t it?

Jeff Hardy def. Cesaro. Definitely the wrestling highlight of the show. Any time they put Cesaro in a prominent TV match, he delivers. Now if only Vince McMahon saw the same kind of star power in him that we all do.

Prior to the match, the Hardys did a backstage interview where Matt slipped a bit of his “Broken” accent in there. He’s clearly chomping at the bit to do that character on WWE TV. I can’t say I blame him.

Braun Strowman and the Big Show go to a No-Contest after they break the ring with a Superplex. Cole, Booker, and Corey Graves didn’t sell the ring break nearly enough. I understand we’ve seen this spot with Big Show before. But c’mon, guys! The damn ring imploded!

I continue to have mixed feelings about Braun Strowman leaving his feet during matches. In this match we saw him do dropkicks, kip-ups, and even Arm Drags. But if he’s going to do it, better he do it in a match with another giant. It obviously sets him apart quite a bit.

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#FireJBL? Plus, Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m going to tread lightly as I discuss the alleged situation between JBL and Mauro Ranallo. We’ve heard so little about this matter from either of them that it’s almost entirely rumor and speculation. But where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.

For the unaware, Mauro Ranallo has been off Smackdown for several weeks. He’s reportedly been battling symptoms of bipolar disorder, which he’s been very open about in the past. The belief is that this episode came about due to bullying by his broadcast partner John Layfield, a.k.a. JBL. What they’ve said to each other in private is anyone’s guess. But on a recent edition of Bring it to the Table on the WWE Network, Layfield chastised Ranallo for tweeting about wining the Wrestling Observer Newsletter‘s Announcer of the Year Award two years in a row. Ranallo would later cryptically tweet, “Jealousy is a hell of a drug.”

Then Ranallo missed that first Smackdown a few weeks ago, allegedly due to bad weather. Layfield would tweet: “I made the show, everyone made the show, everyone. Maybe he shouldn’t have bashed me if he wasn’t going to show up.” He’d later delete the tweet. But Ranallo hasn’t been seen on WWE TV since, and he may not be back. While WWE released a statement confirming Ranallo is under contract until August of this year, he’s since removed mentions of WWE from his social media profiles. Ironically, this story would later be extensively reported on in the Observer. 

Adding to the noise is former WWE ring announcer Justin Roberts, whose book came out this week. He writes about JBL bullying people backstage, and possibly stealing his passport. Such stories are nothing new. Numerous wrestlers have talked about Layfield’s backstage antics over the years. The Miz even mentioned such things in a promo on Raw several years ago. And hell, we all saw him beat the Blue Meanie to a pulp on live television at ECW One Night Stand in 2005.

The online backlash against Layfield has been extensive. There’s been talk about the culture backstage in WWE, and the inherent hypocrisy of the company’s association with the Be A S.T.A.R. campaign. The operative hashtag has been #FireJBL.

But firing JBL doesn’t fix the problem, does it?

Clearly this sort of behavior is an issue with this guy, and it’s all happened under the WWE umbrella. Ergo, WWE is culpable. So if what we’re hearing about this Mauro Ranallo situation is true, WWE needs to send JBL to sensitivity training of some kind. If he opts not to go, then he should be fired.

The ironic thing about all of this is that JBL’s apparent bullying tendencies are part of what made him such a great villain on screen. Frankly, this is the kind of heat WWE should be going for with their storylines. But let’s leave that to the world of fiction. In real life, bullies need to be put in their place.

Ponderings From Raw:

The Miz and Maryse arrive on Raw, along with Dean Ambrose. I’ll give ’em credit. I didn’t expect this. Ambrose coming to Raw is significant in that it puts him on the same show with Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins, potentially reuniting the Shield. But for now, it gives Raw one of the company’s top good guys. Though granted, would a real top good guy be relegated to the Wrestlemania pre-show?

I don’t think this is a good move for Miz and Maryse. On Smackdown, Miz was starting to sniff WWE Title contention again. But he’s in a larger pond now. What would you say the odds are of him winning the Universal Title now that Brock Lesnar is champion?

With all this talk about engagement rings, did anyone else notice the ring on Ambrose’s left hand? He was wearing it when he wrestled, too.

The Revival def. The New Day. Seeing this victory gives me the impression that not only are the New Day going to Raw, but Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson are likely headed to Smackdown. The Revival and the Club have a similar vibe. You don’t need both teams on the same show.

The Big Show punches out new Raw arrival Curt Hawkins. I didn’t like this format at all. The drafts from Smackdown just come out? Where’s the drama? Where’s the anticipation? Big missed opportunity.

Neville tears down TJ Perkins backstage. Later, after a distraction from Neville, Perkins pins Austin Aries. Perkins attacks Aries after the match. Thank God. Perkins is extremely talented, but few wrestlers have needed a heel turn as much as him in recent months. This will be great for him,

Kurt Angle tells Seth Rollins he’s staying on Raw, despite what happened to Commissioner Stephanie McMahon at WrestlemaniaSamoa Joe attacks Rollins. How bad did you want to see Angle suplex Joe off of Rollins?

Great to see the crowd chanting for Seth here, as opposed to CM Punk. I guess that’s what getting Steph put through a table will do for you.

Nia Jax def. Charlotte Flair. Charlotte was seemingly positioned as the underdog babyface here. As was the case with the New Day, this loss seemingly confirms she’s on her way to Smackdown.

This was a big win for Nia. But at the same time, it didn’t necessarily do her any good to be in the ring with someone as good as Charlotte. The difference in their skill set became very apparent.

Finn Balor def. Jinder Mahal. Bray Wyatt announces he’s coming to RawThis will be a good move for Bray, if for no other reason than it’ll get him away from Randy Orton. Now the question is, will Balor end up jumping to Smackdown? If he stays where he is, these two would seemingly compliment each other well.

Apollo Crews, Kalisto, Heath Slater, Rhyno, and David Otunga coming to Raw. Byron Saxton moving to SmackdownI guess these guys all fall into the miscellaneous column. Most notable here is the drafting of Kalisto, who will obviously be a great get for the Cruiserweight Division.

Not a fan of the announcer switch at all. That news actually broke after Raw. People have been pretty tough on Saxton. But I very much prefer him to Otunga, who adds absolutely nothing to Smackdown. This seems like it was done just for the sake of moving people.

Sami Zayn def. The Miz. Nice win for Sami. They’ve been teasing him going to Smackdown for months. I expect this will be his last time on Raw for quite awhile.

Now that Miz and Daniel Bryan aren’t on the same show anymore, should Miz still be using his kicks? That doesn’t really make sense.

Braun Strowman destroys Roman Reigns backstage, tipping over an ambulance with his bare hands in the process. This was a great angle. It may as well have turned Strowman babyface. How do they expect him to hear anything but cheers now? He decimated the man who retired the Undertaker. Very well done, and an excellent way to re-emphasis Strowman.

“The Drifter” Elias Samson appears on stage during an eight-man tag. I’m not at all familiar with Samson’s work in NXT, though the buzz I’ve heard about the character hasn’t been stellar. Curious to see what he’s about.

Alexa Bliss and Mickie James arrive from Smackdown. Nia Jax lays out the babyfaces. Well, here we go. Your new layout for the Raw Women’s Division. Looks like we’ve got an alliance between Alexa and Nia Jax. I can dig that. It’s a much better role for Nia.

Our long form story here continues to be about Bayley and Sasha. It’s looking like they may go the babyface route with Sasha before she eventually turns. Again, I can dig that.

Dean Ambrose def. Kevin Owens. Chris Jericho hits Owens with a Codebreaker after the match. Historically speaking, when they move a champion from one show to the other, the counterpart championship also has to move. This would seemingly indicate that Kevin Owens is on his way to Smackdown. That’s a surprise, if for no other reason than Sami Zayn seems to be on his way over there. One of the biggest upsides to moving Zayn to Smackdown was to get him away from Owens. Now it looks like they may be drafted together yet again. That’s lame.

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Undertaker’s Last Ride, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

We all thought this might be it. That didn’t make it any less emotional, though.

On Sunday at Wrestlemania XXXIII, the Undertaker apparently had his last match. After losing to Roman Reigns, the Dead Man left his trademark hat, coat, and gloves in the ring, symbolizing the end had finally come. Then, like Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels at previous Wrestlemania events, he took that long walk up the aisle.

I became a wrestling fan in 1996. The Monday Night Wars were still in full effect, and at the time the Undertaker was building to a Buried Alive Match with Mankind. On Raw, we’d see video packages of him standing in a graveyard, talking about what was coming. It wasn’t unlike the packages that aired last week, as he dug a grave for Roman Reigns.

I was 11 at the time. I’m 32 now. I have a wife, a career, and plans to have a kid of my own. As someone who’s learned the value of a day’s work, and how far a dollar goes in this world, I have so much respect for all this extraordinary person has given us for so many years. All the sacrifices he’s made, all the pain he’s endured, and all the moments he’s given us. He’s been with us for so long. It’s going to be incredibly odd not having him here anymore. But if anyone’s earned the right to go out on his own terms, it’s Mark Calaway. He was a class act at Wrestlemania XXXIII, putting over the company’s top guy (for better or worse) on his way out.

In an industry where so many performers want to transcend and connect with the “mainstream,” the Undertaker was one of wrestling’s most recognizable figures for over two decades.

Cast in point, when I was in seventh grade, the Attitude Era was in full swing. Somebody in one of my classes had just gone to a WWF show, and my teacher happened to be talking to him about it. She seemed half-interested. He mentioned Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Rock. Mankind, and a few others. No reaction.

Then he said the name, “Undertaker.”

“Oh, I know him!”

Even if you weren’t a wrestling fan, you knew the Undertaker. If you were, you knew just how important and how special he was.

And he still is.

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns: “This is my yard now.” Probably the most impactful five-word promo you’ll ever see. Just minute after minute of boos and more boos. It doesn’t have to be this way. But whether it’s John Cena or Roman Reigns, apparently this is just what it means to be the top guy in WWE these days.

I’m going to sprinkle in a few Wrestlemania thoughts between my usual Raw and Smackdown reviews. Truth be told, I haven’t seen the entire show yet. I refused to let the sheer length of the show piss my off like it did last year. And I had a prior commitment on Sunday anyway. One thing I did make sure to see, however, was the tag team Ladder Match…

The Hardy Boyz def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson to retain the Raw Tag Team Titles. As some speculated, the Hardys did indeed return to a massive pop. Are they the first team to hold tag team gold in Impact Wrestling, Ring of Honor, and WWE in the same calendar year?

It looks like Matt and Jeff are more or less back in their old WWE characters, with Matt throwing in bits and pieces of the Broken stuff from Impact. Until the law suit with Anthem Sports is settled, I imagine that’ll be the extent of it.

Speaking of Anthem, “F*ck that owl” wins chant of the night.

Neville def. Mustafa Ali. The beach ball was back this year. It pretty much had to be after the company put it over on that WWE 24 special last week. That’s almost a shame. These guys were pretty good about that. The Spanish Fly off the top was amazing. If only more wrestlers were as over as that damn beach ball…

Vince McMahon names Kurt Angle the new General Manager of RawMany of us have seen this coming for months now. That doesn’t make it any less cool, though. And based on the backstage stuff we saw with Enzo, Cass, and Sami Zayn, we’ll be seeing stuff reminiscent of early 2000s Kurt Angle. That could be a real breath of nostalgic fresh air. Especially considering Stephanie isn’t there to lord over him.

The Revival make their main roster debut, defeating the New Day. Considering how these post-Raw crowds can be, I’m surprised they didn’t get a “Big E’s dick” chant when he talked about the blood flowing from his head down to his…

Wasn’t expecting to see the Revival on Raw. They always struck me as a Smackdown team. But considering we’ve got this “shake-up” coming next week, the respective vibes for the shows may end up shifting. Still, here’s hoping these guys are as successful on the main roster as they were in NXT.

Bayley, Sasha Banks, and Dana Brooke def. Charlotte Flair, Nia Jax, and Emma. Nia and Charlotte turn on each other after the match. Not expecting a lot of emphasis on Emma going forward. It’s not like they’ve made her a priority for the last several months. Why would things change now?

Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman address the crowd. Braun Strowman confronts him. They went ahead and planted the seed for Reigns vs. Lesnar in this segment, as the battle of the two men who beat the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. “The two in 23-2.” Loved the line: “If Roman Reigns is the big dog, then Brock Lesnar is animal cruelty.”

Rumor has it they want to do Reigns and Lesnar again at Wrestlemania next year. From a story perspective, I can’t say that thrills me. But those two had a damn good match a few years ago. Perhaps this could be another situation where the match surpasses the hype.

Sheamus and Cesaro def. Enzo and Cass to become top contenders for the Raw Tag Team Titles. The Hardys essentially came in and stole Cass and Enzo’s big moment at Wrestlemania. But Matt and Jeff may have done them a favor. Now they can challenge for the belts in their home state at Summerslam.

Finn Balor returns to Raw, teams with Seth Rollins to defeat US Champion Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe. Tremendous way to close the show, with Balor finally returning. Plus, as the announcers pointed out, these four all have a bit of a shared history. For my money, Balor could be the man in WWE if given the right opportunities. He caught a really awful break last year. If he can say healthy, there could be truly amazing things in his future.

On the subject of staying healthy, I couldn’t believe Rollins did that somersault to the outside. His knee must be in better shape than they’re letting on. At least I’d hope that’s the case…

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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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TNA’s Latest Resurrection, and Other Ponderings From Impact Wrestling

TNA Impact Wrestling, Pop TVBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

TNA has become a punchline. Sad, but true. The organization was once poised to be the one true American alternative to WWE. And now? They’re on their second network in two years, fighting to stay alive despite stars leaving in droves, and far more bad publicity than good. TNA, in the eyes of many, is damaged beyond repair.

But to their credit, they have survived. Despite all the blemishes on their record, there’s something to be said for that. And despite all the “fresh starts” TNA has had over the years, this week they got yet another chance.

Ideally, this show should have been formatted to cater to both TNA die-hards and those seeing the product for the first time. As it’s been quite awhile since I watched even a portion of Impact (I didn’t get Destination America), I essentially came in as the latter. TNA’s job this week was to impress me. So did they?

In all honesty, not really. But there were some definite bright spots on the show this week.

I’m going to do something I don’t normally do with my Raw reviews, which is go over the show in mostly chronological order. It lends itself to the tournament format…

Dixie Carter, TNA Impact, Pop TVPonderings From TNA’s POP TV Debut:

Dixie Carter opens the broadcast. Championship series participants make appearances. I would not have opened the show with Dixie. In a lot of ways, her management is what’s been wrong with TNA for so many years. Seeing the show open up with her in the ring, kissing the network’s ass, as the audience waves a bunch of obviously planted POP TV gimmicks was hokey beyond belief. Also, she can’t act.

All four guys really should have gotten a chance to speak. Neither EC3 or Matt Hardy cut great promos, but at least they were able to introduce themselves to the audience. EC3 definitely came off as the star of the show, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And Matt was introduced as the hero. As for the others, we got the sense that Eric Young was a bad guy and Bobby Lashley was a good guy. That’s about it. It’s a start, I suppose. But not necessarily an ideal one.

Josh Matthews and “Pope” D’Angelo Dinero are on commentary. I’ve listened to Josh Matthews call a lot of matches over the years. And here’s my question: Why is he lowering his register at times? His regular voice is fine. When your lead announcer sounds like he’s putting on a fake voice, that’s generally not a good sign.

Ethan Carter III, TNA ImpactEthan Carter III def. Bobby Lashley to advance to the finals of the championship series. So…why is Lashley wearing a head band? He’s built like a brick wall and has a truck-load of natural athleticism. That’s all you need. The headband is just distracting.

Carter was the obvious winner here, simply because you couldn’t not have your lead heel in the main event. As athletic and explosive as Lashley can be, what’s always held him back is that he’s never had much of a character. He’s fun to watch, but he lacks a certain depth. Nice to see EC3 cheat to win with the help of Tyrus.

Kurt Angle announces Drew Galloway as the first opponent for his “farewell tour.” Match to take place next week on Impact. Jessie Godderz and Eli Drake chime in. This is a good choice. It’s certainly a far cry from Galloway’s days in 3MB. From a tactical standpoint, I’m very pleased to see TNA giving us a reason to tune in next week. Unlike Raw, they’re not relying purely on their audiences viewing habits.

I don’t know much about Jessie Godderz or Eli Drake. Drake wasn’t a bad promo, but his line about Godderz being “a hit with the 13-year-old girls” was kinda creepy. I’m not sure how long Godderz has been doing the whole social media darling persona, but in this segment he came off like a poor man’s Tyler Breeze.

Jeff Hardy, TNAJeff Hardy appears in backstage segment with Jeremy Borash. Borash and Matthews need to switch roles. I don’t think I’ve ever even heard Borash call a match. But by this point in the show I knew I’d rather hear him than Josh.

It will be quite some time before we see Jeff Hardy wrestle again, which is a damn shame. Not just for him, but for TNA. He’s a star they could really use right now. Instead, he’s there in a supporting role for Matt, which doesn’t work. As good as Matt is, that’s the equivalent of having Batman in Robin’s corner.

Matt Hardy def. Eric Young to advance to the finals of the championship series. I didn’t get much out of this one. Again, the winner was pretty obvious. I like the idea of Eric Young playing an unhinged heel. But he still comes off goofy to me. Maybe I just need to see more of him…

James Storm returns to TNA to help Bobby Roode fend off Eric Young and the returning Bram. This was a big surprise, as James Storm has spent some time in NXT recently. I can only assume WWE wasn’t interested in signing him. Why else would we see him back in TNA? To be honest, it’s a little sad…

James Storm, NXTStill, as a TNA Original, James Storm will always be appreciated with this company. And evidently Beer Money is back together, which could be interesting. Seeing them go against The Wolves might make for a fun match.

Awesome Kong seemingly joins The Dollhouse after their loss to Gail Kim and The Beautiful People. I’m not familiar with Marti Bell, or the other two Dollhouse members. But I do remember that The Beautiful People was a heel group. And a pretty damn good one at that. So I’m guessing they’re back together for a nostalgia kick? Either way, it seems odd that they ended up teaming with Gail Kim.

Awesome Kong is a hell of an attraction, and an asset to whatever promotion she’s in. I’m not sure if, at this stage in her career, she’s got a lot of miles left on her. But in this role she might be able to give a nice rub to Marti Bell, or another new player in the Knockouts division, which is in need of some fresh blood.

“Miracle” Mike Bennett and Maria debut with TNA. No matter what you want to say about TNA, this is a good move for Bennett and Maria. They were with Ring of Honor for years, and it was time for a change in scenery. Husband and wife can now bring their act to a new promotion, and get in the mix with some new faces. It appears they even have an opponent ready for them in Matt Hardy. TNA really needs some new blood to liven things up, and if they’re lucky, Bennett is only the first of several new acquisitions.

Ethan Carter III, TNA ChampionEthan Carter III def. Matt Hardy to become the new TNA World Heavyweight Champion. A solid match between these two, and without a doubt, the right man won. EC3 is without a doubt, this company’s brightest star. What’s more, he’s a star they created themselves. This is the guy they need to hitch their wagon to, and he’s the guy they need to use to make other new stars.

You can argue that much of this show was the same ol’ TNA we’ve seen for years now. But TNA is on a new network, with a young, talented, compelling performer leading the charge. They’re not nearly as good as they used to be. But they’ve certainly been in worse shape. And while that might not sound like the most optimistic take in the world, it’s definitely a realistic one.

Images 1, 2, and 3 courtesy of impactwrestling.com. Image 4 from bleacherreport.com. Image 5 from thewrestlereview.wordpress.com.

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Nikki Bella Reigns Supreme, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

Nikki Bella, Raw, September 14, 2015By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Raw was a really good show this week. It had one major drawback, which we’ll get to shortly. But overall, a really solid “season premiere.” This show proved that if they want to, WWE can still make Raw main events feel important. Now if only they had announced one particular match in advance…

Thoughts From WWE Raw:

After a DQ finish, Nikki Bella becomes the longest reigning Divas Champion of all time. In the almost two decades I’ve been watching pro wrestling, this was one of the few women’s matches I’ve ever seen that had a big fight feel to it. Part of that had to do with the fact that Nikki has so much heat with “smarks” like myself. So many of us genuinely wanted to see her lose the title. It also has to deal with Charlotte, and how many of us respect what she’s accomplished in such a short amount of time. It also has to do with the build-up. WWE talked a lot about this match for an entire week. And the first two hours of Raw built up to it. There was a tension in the air by the time they got in the ring. We had to see whether Charlotte was going to win the title.

Charlotte vs. Nikki Bella, Raw, September 12, 2015The match itself told a nice story, with Nikki working the arm, which Charlotte sold very well. Charlotte is such a natural athlete that you can’t help but root for her. You could almost say she has the same kind of appeal Cesaro has. And I’ll give her credit, Nikki was as good as she’s ever been out there. She’s not the most graceful woman in the world, but with the right opponent, she’s clearly capable of putting on good matches.

I loved the finish. It built sympathy for Charlotte, got the Bellas a lot of heat, and pointed us toward Night of Champions. And it incorporated one of the Bellas’ trademark tricks as well. Good storytelling, good booking. I don’t say that about WWE often enough, but it deserves to be said here. Congrats to both Nikki and Charlotte.

This match made be believe that we could actually be see a revolution in the WWE women’s division. Is it here now? No. But could it be here in the next several months? It could go either way, but it’s not impossible. They made a believer out of me.

Sting, Raw, September 14 ,2015Sting wrestles his first match on Raw against The Big Show. What a wasted opportunity. Sting’s first Raw match was something they could have built this up for at least a week. How hard would it have been last week to have Triple H or Stephanie to announce this at the end of Raw? No, it obviously wasn’t going to be a five-star classic. But that’s not the point! He’s Sting, and he’s wrestling on Raw for the very first time! We had all week to think about Charlotte vs. Nikki Bella. You’d think they’d give the same advantage to someone like Sting. Sadly, they probably came up with it relatively last minute as a ratings grab. But oh, what it could have been.

The fact that it turned into a tag team match with John Cena and Seth Rollins was fine. But here’s a question: Why did Sting have to wrestle in a t-shirt? Yes, the shirt has a big scorpion on it. So what? He wore his gear at Wrestlemania and he looked fine. What they needed was to cover up his bald spot, and that appears to be taken care of. So what’s the deal?

Sasha Banks def. Paige. The most interesting part of this match was the dueling chants of “Let’s Go Sasha!” and “Let’s Go Paige!” We also heard some of that during the Charlotte/Nikki match. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a chant like that during a women’s bout. Also, a HELL of German Suplex by Paige. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Paige turn heel soon. I actually thought it might happen tonight. But it could also happen at Night of Champions.

Bray Wyatt, Raw, September 14, 2015The Wyatt Family appears on Miz TV, Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose attack. Rough flub by The Miz, referring to Night of Champions as Hell in a Cell. But he soldiered on, despite some heckling.

So apparently Randy Orton was simply written off TV last week, and may not be the third man on Reigns and Ambrose’s team. So I suppose we’re free to continue speculating. Erick Rowan? Bo Dallas? Chris Jericho?

Kevin Owens and Ryback have an in-ring segment. I loved that they talked about The Secret, and how Owens used it to prod Ryback. That opportunity has been sitting there for months, but nobody capitalized on it. Owens and Ryback obviously did a little ad-libbing out there, which I’m always a fan of. Ryback isn’t always great at it (Did he say “The Master of the Feed Me More?”), but Owens damn sure is. Really interested to see how their styles match up at Night of Champions.

The New Day def. The Prime Time Players to retain the WWE Tag Team Titles. The New Day are babyfaces. Yes, they’re cheating. But they’re too funny to dislike. Xavier Woods is obviously trying to be a Jimmy Hart-type annoying manager with the trombone. But while Hart was annoying, Xavier is entertaining.

Kurt Angle, TNAPonderings From Around the Wrestling World:

Kurt Angle announces he’s not renewing his TNA contract. Yet another tough break for TNA. His past health problems notwithstanding, Angle is one of TNA’s tentpole talents. Not having him around doesn’t exactly bode well for their future. I’d love to see a Cinderella story here. But the brand may be too badly damaged at this point…

WWE reportedly interested in bringing Edge back for an on-air role. I don’t see the long-term benefit of bringing Edge back on a regular basis. Yes, he’s a good talker. But after awhile the novelty would wear off. I am happy, however, that they’re actively trying to prevent themselves from slipping into the annual “autumn slump.” For the past couple of years, Raw has been pretty hard to watch between September and November. An Edge return is an interesting idea, but not the solution they’re looking for.

Jake “The Snake” Roberts appears on The Steve Austin Show Unleashed. If you’re interested in what goes into the craft of wrestling, this is a really fascinating interview. Jake talks about the art of blading, why heels need to cheat, selling, etc. One of the better wrestler interviews Austin has done in quite awhile.

Image 5 from whatculture.com. Remaining images courtesy of WWE.com.

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Jon Stewart Takes a Plunge, A Night of Returns, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

John Cena, Jon Stewart, WWE Summerslam 2015By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I wasn’t disappointed with Summerslam, despite what many deem to be poor finishes to both Rollins vs. Cena, and Brock vs. Undertaker. The broadcast had a big fight feel to it, which is something most WWE pay per views have been lacking over the last several years. Over the last decade, perhaps. So I can’t complain.

We’ll get to some of those controversial finishes in a bit. But we’ve got no shortage of things to talk about here…

After costing John Cena his match at Summerslam, Jon Stewart gets an Attitude Adjustment. As far as publicity grabs go, it’s hard to top this one. You’ve probably got to go all the way back to the Mike Tyson stuff at Wrestlemania XIV to see WWE get celebrity involvement this good. Arguably the most culturally relevant talk show host in the last 20 years, Jon Stewart, gets physical with their biggest marquee talent, John Cena.

WWE Raw, August 24, 2015, Jon Stewart, Jon CenaSome fans balked at Stewart costing Cena the match at Summerslam. I say boo hoo, get over it. It’s pro wrestling. What did you expect?

Nice move by WWE pulling the Ric Flair card with Stewart’s motivation. This is something they can run with for quite awhile, and make that 16th title win actually mean something. And of course, they got Flair to trot out there and endorse Cena, which we knew was coming. In a perfect world, a heel Flair would take on a protege (Dolph Ziggler, perhaps?), and have him feud with Cena. That way, Cena has a road block in his way for the foreseeable future.

Speaking of heel moves, I really wish Flair hasn’t said that “God’s in the house tonight,” line. He used to talk like that in TNA, didn’t he? He was on the show as a babyface. But referring to yourself as God is pretty much the biggest heel move in the book.

The Dudley Boyz return and attack The New Day. Before we get into the Dudleys, it has to be said: That trombone entrance was classic. A comedy bit on Raw that was actually funny. Who’da thunk it? It’s no wonder these guys are hearing some cheers nowadays. They even got a “That was awesome!” chant.

The Dudley Boyz, Raw, August 24, 2015But of course, The Dudley Boyz returning from out of nowhere stole the segment, and perhaps the entire show. It’s tough to believe we haven’t seen these guys on WWE TV in about 10 years. As a longtime fan, it’s really gratifying to see they’re getting one last run on the big stage. I only wished Titus O’Neil would have kept his mouth shut during their big entrance. JBL was actually doing a decent job hyping them up, but Titus kept trying to talk over him.

I can only assume the reason it’s taken so long to get the Dudleys back after Bubba’s appearance in the Royal Rumble match had to do with them getting a deal that was right for them. The Dudleys are a legendary team with some nice Attitude Era name value. So I imagine WWE will get their money’s worth.

It’ll be interesting to see how Bubba Ray and D-Von evolve the act after all these years. Obviously Bubba, the former Bully Ray in TNA, has upped his game quite a bit since WWE fans last saw him. When they put a mic in his hands, things could get really interesting.

WWE Raw, August 24, 2015, StingSting surprises The Authority during Seth Rollins statue unveiling. Better late than never, I suppose. Did Summerslam need Sting? Not really. Would it have been cool to see him involved in the match with the Wyatts, Roman Reigns, and Dean Ambrose? Absolutely. But at least this way, he’ll presumably get to main event a WWE pay per view against Rollins.

So it looks like it’s Sting vs. Seth Rollins for the WWE Championship at Night of Champions. Naturally, Rollins isn’t going to lose the title to Sting. So that means Sting has to lose…again. Not to be presumptuous, but from a win/loss perspective, this guy just can’t catch a break. He makes his big debut against Triple H at Summerslam, and he loses. So now he gets a follow up match against Seth Rollins, and he’s presumably going to lose. At some point, Sting has to beat somebody, doesn’t he?

Hey, what about Bo Dallas? He seems like easy pickings these days…

After controversial Summerslam finish, Brock Lesnar takes Bo Dallas to “Suplex City.” Paul Heyman is probably one of the few performers on the planet who could come out at the top of the show every week and do that 20 minute promo spot without anyone getting tired of it.

WWE Raw, August 24, 2015, Brock Lesnar, Bo DallasDespite what WWE would have you believe, The Undertaker has tapped before. As I recall, there was a Kurt Angle vs. Undertaker match that ended in a simultaneous pinfall/submission finish. Angle had ‘Taker in a triangle choke, but his shoulders were down. As the ref counted three, ‘Taker tapped out.

This obviously isn’t the route many of us thought they’d go. Another Undertaker loss would have naturally led us to ‘Taker getting one last chance at Wrestlemania XXXII. But of course, now it’s the rubber match. Hell, Heyman kinda/sorta laid down the challenge tonight. I’m curious to see who Brock wrestles before we head to Dallas next Spring. One thing’s for sure, it won’t be Bo Dallas. His body bounced on that first suplex…

Paige, Charlotte, and Becky Lynch appear on Miz TV. This segment came off heavily scripted. It seemed like the girls were reciting memorized dialogue. Although Paige’s stuff about this being “the era of the female athlete” was decent. I wish we could have heard from Becky a bit more. She didn’t get to say much, but she came off quirky.

Sadly, I had to mute the TV when the Bellas showed up. As I’ve said before, when the Bellas are on the mic, they get X-Pac heat from me.

PCB, WWE Raw, August 24, 2015Incidentally, Charlotte’s line about The Four Horsemen being “the greatest faction in WWE history” was a stinker. You’d think she, of all people, would know the Horsemen were an NWA/WCW group, as opposed to a WWE one. Is that nitpicking? Yes. Is she at fault? Not necessarily. But that still stuck out like a sore thumb.

Braun Stowman debuts on Raw as a member of The Wyatt Family. Who is Braun Stowman? Full disclosure: I have no idea. But he’s got the right look for The Wyatt Family, that’s for sure. It’s like he has the body of a fully grown man, but the face of a wide-eyed little boy. But what, if anything, does his appearance means for Erick Rowan’s future?

After the loss to Neville & Stephen Amell at Summerslam, Stardust attacks King Barrett before dodging a Red Arrow from Neville. Damn. Barret takes the pin at Summerslam, then gets beat up by his partner the next night. If Bo Dallas isn’t available, Barrett would be another sure fire victory for Sting. Nothing personal, but this guy has turned into one of WWE’s biggest losers.

Images courtesy of WWE.com.

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