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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AJ Styles, Luke Harper, and Other Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

aj-styles-daniel-bryan-luke-harper-wwe-smackdown-february-21-2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Let’s jump right into the good stuff, shall we?

Smackdown continued to pave a winding road to Wrestlemania this week, as a Number One Contender Battle Royal ended with the double elimination of both AJ Styles and Luke Harper. Ergo, we still don’t know who will challenge Bray Wyatt for the WWE Title at Wrestlemania. Styles and Harper will wrestle next week to finally give us a challenger.

This was good stuff. It came down to the two guys with no other apparent dance partners for Wrestlemania. They kept you guessing through the end of the show. They did a variation on the old Bret Hart/Lex Luger spot from the ’94 Royal Rumble, where both men’s feet are supposed to touch the floor at once. Not the smoothest execution I’ve ever seen. It looked to me like Styles did indeed hit first. But considering the size difference between the two, it worked out fine.

An eventual victory for Luke Harper seems like the best option here. Orton could then step up to defend Bray, making it a Triple-Threat Match in the process. They could throw Styles in there to make it a four-way. But that would taint the whole Wyatt Family theme for the match. That would leave Styles to wrestle Shane McMahon at Wrestlemania. It’s certainly not the ideal match for a guy like him. But I don’t think wrestling one of the McMahons that bada gig. If anybody can get a killer match out of Shane, it’s AJ.

Other Ponderings From Smackdown:

naomi-wwe-smackdown-2017Naomi surrenders Women’s Championship due to injury. So…what’s the deal here? I didn’t even talk about Naomi’s injury last week because everything seemed so vague. I actually wondered if it was an angle intended to inject some extra drama into the rematch. Apparently that’s not the case.

When Seth Rollins went down with his injury a few weeks ago, WWE was pretty straightforward with the information. Within 24 hours, we knew it was likely a torn MCL, and by Raw the following week. And obviously, we knew when it took place. With Naomi, we don’t have any of that information. In today’s WWE, it’s pretty standard that they at least tell us something. As such, this feels weird.

Still, at this point there’s no reason to doubt this is all legit. Awful break for the real-life Trinity Fatu, who was in the middle of the biggest break of her career. Here’s hoping she comes back better than ever.

alexa-bliss-becky-lynch-wwe-smackdown-february-21-2017Alexa Bliss def. Becky Lynch to win the Smackdown Women’s Title. This is a tiny, tiny nitpick. But I didn’t like the way this match was made. In storyline, Alexa came out spontaneously to talk to Bryan. Bryan then announces the match, seemingly on the spur of the moment. He calls for Alexa’s opponent, and Becky just happens to be ready. Logically, that makes no sense. To his credit, however, JBL brought that up on commentary during this match, spinning it into a conspiracy theory.

Nice match. Very surprised Mickie James didn’t somehow cost Becky the title, and instead came out afterward to rub it in. Granted, of course, Alexa won with a handful of tights (shown above). I didn’t think Elimination Chamber was the right time to take the belt off her anyway. So I’m pleased she got it back.

Participants in the Battle Royal cut promos on the possibility of main-eventing WrestlemaniaI loved these. Why? Because just like we saw from Kevin Owens and Brock Lesnar on Raw, they let these guys look into the camera during their promos. Maybe Raw wasn’t just a coincidence. Maybe they’re finally changing, and letting the wrestlers have that extra bit of connection with the viewers at home.

the-usos-wwe-smackdown-february-21-2017American Alpha def. Breezango. The Usos taunt the Tag Team Champions. Yet another short affair between American Alpha and Breezango. They never let Fandango and Tyler Breeze get an inch.

The Usos had some great fire here. I’m guessing they had some time to regroup creatively. For awhile, they seemed to just be drifting by in different outfits.

Natalya def. Nikki Bella in a Falls Count Anywhere Match. I loved the line in Nattie’s pre-match promo about Nikki being “manufactured in a lab for instagram likes.” Props to whoever wrote that.

I’m not a Nikki Bella fan. I think I’ve been pretty clear about that. But I’ve come to respect her. This program with Natalya has done her a lot of good. It’s allowed her to be more aggressive, and up the intensity of her mic work. It’s been some of the best work of both their careers. And this was a good match. Easily the best of Nikki’s career, in my opinion. The fighting through the backstage area almost made it reminiscent of an Attitude Era style Hardcore Match. That Alabama Slam Nattie took on the table (shown left) looked rough, what with the whiplash effect.

nikki-bella-natalya-wwe-smackdown-february-21-2017Also, and forgive me for being a creep, but Nikki is always having to pull up the back of her tights during her matches. It might behoove her to invest in new ring gear, lest we see something we’re not supposed to.

The interference from Maryse obviously indicated things were a go for the mixed tag at Wrestlemania involving Miz and John Cena. A fact further cemented by Miz eliminating Cena from the Battle Royal later. Happy to see Nattie get the win here, as these ladies go their separate ways for the time being.

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John Cena vs. Undertaker at Wrestlemania? Plus Ponderings From Smackdown

The Undertaker, WWE Raw, January 9, 2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

As we heard this week on Raw, the Undertaker is in the Royal Rumble Match. And as we know, the Rumble will also feature John Cena a WWE Championship Match.

This could be it, folks. Cena and the Undertaker.

It’s not a dream match, per se. But it’s still a match that’s been talked about for years. These two haven’t had a pay per view match in over a decade. They rarely even cross paths. There’s a good reason for that. They’re two titans of WWE, and the industry at large. When they’re in the same ring, it should be special.

There’s so often speculation about the Undertaker’s retirement. Will he or won’t he? And who will his final opponent be? John Cena’s name comes up often in that discussion. Who better for ‘Taker to ride off into the sunset with than the company’s biggest name? And there’s arguably no bigger match WWE can put on than Cena vs. Undertaker.

I’ve always tried not to overthink Undertaker’s retirement. I vividly remember people talking about this stuff as far back as 2000. So it obviously bears little fruit. Among so many other things, Undertaker has earned the right to step down when he’s ready. And of course, there was that cutaway we saw to Braun Strowman during his promo on Monday. They could easily be gearing those two up for a Wrestlemania match.

But is it just me, or does something about all this feel…different?

The Miz, Maryse, Dean Ambrose, WWE Smackdown, January 10, 2017Ponderings From Smackdown:

During the Ambrose Asylum, Dean Ambrose and the Miz announce their participation in the Royal Rumble Match. It seems like everybody has a talk show segment. Miz TV. The Ambrose Asylum. The Rollins Report. The Kevin Owens Show. Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel. At this rate it’s a matter of time before Roman Reigns gets a talk show segment. New Rule: One talk show segment per roster. My advice? Do Miz TV on Smackdown and the Highlight Reel on Raw.

JBL: “So many people believe that Nikki Bella is the one that started the Divas Revolution.” Who? Who thinks that? Point them out to me. I want to see them.

Nikki Bella vs Natalya turned into a brawl. I’ll give Nikki credit, though. She came out there full of piss and vinegar, and put on a really convincing catfight with Nattie. At certain points they were really pounding the crap out of each other. I’ve been a Nikki Bella critic for sure. But she deserves credit for what she did out there. And that visual of Nikki in the Sharpshooter on the outside was tremendous.

Question: How much do you think these two are trying to compete with what Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks did on Raw?

Dolph Ziggler, Kalisto, WWE Smackdown, January 10, 2017Kalisto def. Dolph Ziggler. Ziggler lays out both Kalisto and Apollo Crews with a chair. Damn. Even as a heel, Dolph can’t win. But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Nice little temper tantrum after the match. I wouldn’t mind seeing Ziggler and Kalisto hook up again. I imagine they can do some really cool stuff together.

Really liked Chad Gable’s selling during this match. And as always, they were both explosive as hell. They’re suplex machines. Even in defeat, Wyatt and Orton were able to come off like the more experienced, main event level talents they obviously are.

Next week: Alexa Bliss defends the Smackdown Women’s Title against Becky Lynch in a Steel Cage Match. I love it. The last time I remember the women getting a steel cage match (not to be confused with Hell in a Cell) was when Lita and Victoria had one on Raw in 2004. This should be good.

John Cena def. Baron Corbin. Cena cut a really good promo earlier in the show. And why was it so good? Because he looked into the camera. Why we don’t see more of that is beyond me. To his credit, Corbin would later cut a pretty good one too. His stock is clearly on the rise. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him as one of the final four guys in the Royal Rumble Match.

John Cena, Baron Corbin, WWE Smackdown, January 10, 2017That’s why it was a surprise to see Cena pin him clean with the Attitude Adjustment. I suppose it makes sense to have Cena stay strong as we get closer to the Rumble. But remember, this is John Cena. Strong has been his status quo for about a decade now. It seems odd they’d do this with Corbin.

But it’s just one match. It’s not like Corbin hasn’t been pinned before. What’s more, he looked pretty good in there with Cena. He’s slowly making me a believer. Slowly.

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Roman Reigns and the US Title, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

Roman Reigns, United State ChampionBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There’s going to be some talk about the Miz and the Intercontinental Title this week. So as long as we’re on the subject of secondary titles, let’s talk about the US Championship. And with it, everyone’s favorite person: Roman Reigns.

I’m not sure exactly why the decision was made to put the US Title on Reigns. I can only assume it had something to do with keeping him out of the main event scene following his suspension. You also had the added bonus of elevating the title by putting it on a top guy. They did the exact same thing with John Cena and the US Championship in 2015. Cena, of course had great matches as part of his “US Open” challenge segments.

I’m not a big Roman Reigns fan. And at this point, I could take or leave him as US Champion. I was all for putting the belt on Chris Jericho this week. But I also think it’s unfair to compare the attempt to elevate the title with Reigns to what was done with Cena. The stuff with Reigns started as an attempt to turn a pretty big lemon into lemonade. They were making the best of a bad situation. With Cena it seemed like a more concentrated attempt to not just elevate the title, but give him something new to do each week. With Cena, the belt was a priority. With Reigns, it’s a byproduct.

I do, however, think Reigns has run his course as US Champ. The question is, who do you put the belt on now? Putting it on Jericho would be fine, but that’s almost a lateral move. He doesn’t need the belt any more than Reigns does. They could always give it back to Rusev, I suppose.

Hey, is Sami Zayn done with Braun Strowman now? It seems like he might need something to do…

The Miz, Maryse, WWE Smackdown, January 3, 2016Ponderings From Smackdown:

The Miz demands an apology from Renee Young, gets Dean Ambrose instead. Maryse slaps Ambrose. I haven’t had a chance to talk about this Miz/Renee Young stuff yet. Simply put: I love it. They’re blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, as the best wrestling angles often do. Plus, Young is so easy to like, and Miz is so easy to hate. It’s made for some really interesting television. I loved the line about how she “sacrificed her journalistic integrity for dirty deeds with Dean Ambrose.”

Baron Corbin def. Dolph Ziggler. Kalisto saves Ziggler from further punishment, but Ziggler surprises him with a superkick. While he may still lack sufficient mic skills, this is the second consecutive week Corbin has been in a really good match. You obviously can’t discount the skills of Dolph Ziggler, who was in there with him both times. But credit where credit is due.

It looks like Dolph is finally turning heel. Long overdue. I’m excited for what we’ll see from him in the next few weeks.

Becky Lynch def. La Luchadora. During the match, Alexa Bliss pulls a switcheroo, entering the ring in a La Luchadora costume. Rumor has it Mickie James will be the one under the La Luchadora mask. Reportedly it’s NXT talent Deonna Purrazzo that’s actually been under the mask these past few weeks. I’m not sure they need to go that route to bring Mickie back. Clearly a lot of fans remember her. But it’s a fine pay off.

WWE Smackdown, January 3, 2017, AJ Styles, John CenaAJ Styles and John Cena sign the contract for their WWE Title Match at the Royal Rumble. Baron Corbin comes out to announce he’s in the Royal Rumble Match. This was another one of those segments where somebody comes at Cena hard, blurring a bit of truth into what they say, and then Cena comes back with a big rah-rah speech. It’s always a fine segment. But it’s nothing too special. As we’ve seen, Cena and Styles do their best talking from bell to bell.

 Carmella def. Aliyah. So the story with Carmella and James Ellsworth will obviously end with her turning on him and breaking his heart. From a character standpoint, that’s fine. But Ellsworth is not good at the acting side of things. Nothing with depth to it, at least. Best case scenario is this gives him a chance to sharpen up.

American Alpha def. Breezango. A tag title rematch with the Wyatt Family is announced for next week.  I was blown away to see Jason Jordan and Chad Gable win the Smackdown tag belts last week. These guys were always going to be tag champs. I just expected they’d wait a little longer. Zack Ryder’s knee injury obviously sped things up. They even got to pin Randy Orton with their finish! I don’t expect the Wyatts to regain the belts next week either.

Nikki Bella and Natalya trade insults in the ring. I keep coming back to the notion of blurred lines between fantasy and reality. In this segment Nattie said things that a lot of fans have said for years about Nikki getting opportunities because of her looks. Nikki fired back with some intriguing stuff about Nattie using her family’s legacy to get ahead. They ended it with a corny line about dying alone. But this was good stuff.

Natalya, Nikki Bella, WWE Smackdown, January 3, 2017I’ve harped on quite a bit about scripted promos lately. I’m not sure how scripted this was. But there’s always something to be said for good writing, and the writing on this show has stepped up significantly.

Dean Ambrose def. the Miz to win the Intercontinental Title. Miz snaps on Talking SmackThere are two schools of thought here. I’ll give you both…

Initially, I felt the same way about this that I felt about Dolph Ziggler beating Miz for the belt at No Mercy. Miz and Marise’s presentation is better with that Intercontinental Title, and chances are they’ll give it right back to Miz anyway. So why bother beating him for it?

On the other hand, look at what they did on Talking Smack, with Miz talking about Ambrose getting the title match because of Daniel Bryan’s friendship with Renee Young. Miz got a little bit silly at the end. But you can see how that character believes he’s right. He’s not the best wrestler, but in so many ways Miz is the most interesting character on Smackdown right now. Maybe in WWE altogether.

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WWE’s Most Fascinating People of 2016: AJ Styles, Charlotte, and More!

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Is Barbara Walters still doing her most fascinating people of the year list? I haven’t heard anything about it this year…

In any event, our list of WWE’s Most Fascinating People continues! While the current product may be marred by scripted promos, pro wrestling never has a shortage of interesting characters. For my money, these were the 10 most interesting of 2016.

Honorable mentions go to Goldberg, Dean Ambrose, and Shinsuke Nakamura.

AJ Styles, WWE Champion1. AJ Styles   

AJ Styles is the WWE Champion.

I’d like to say that again. Because even now, the novelty hasn’t worn off: AJ Styles is the WWE Champion. Imagine saying that a year ago at this time, before Styles made his debut in the Royal Rumble Match. We were asking ourselves questions about whether the former TNA mainstay would even be able to sniff the main event picture, let alone be WWE Champion. But to their credit, WWE conveyed Styles as a big deal from day one. He moved right into a program with Chris Jericho, which culminated in a Wrestlemania match. From there, he challenged Roman Reigns for the WWE Championship in two consecutive pay per view main events, stealing the show each time. And then? He went against the man himself, John Cena. Styles shocked the world by beating Cena in yet another show-stealer at Summerslam, At that point, it was practically inevitable. Styles took the belt off Dean Ambrose at Backlash in September, and has been the face of Smackdown ever since.

The 39-year-old Styles has been wrestling for almost 20 years, and has four kids at home. So it’s tough to hazard a guess as to how long he’ll remain on the active roster. But we can at least take comfort in the fact that against the odds, he made himself into a bonafide WWE superstar in 2016.

Shane McMahon, WWE Raw, March 7, 20162. Shane McMahon

When Shane made his surprise return to Raw in February, the way the crowd reacted you’d think Hulk Hogan or Steve Austin had walked out there. In an era where genuine human emotion can sometimes be hard to find on WWE programming, this was a hell of a moment for fans who’ve stuck with the show for a long time. Shane had been gone for nearly seven years. As silly as it seems now, we weren’t sure if/when we’d ever see him again. But here he was. And by the end of the segment he was in a Wrestlemania match with the Undertaker, inside Hell in a Cell.

The story they concocted for Shane’s return was initially very compelling, but eventually fell apart. He came in saying what a lot of people thought was reality-based stuff about wanting to take his rightful place in the company. Vince McMahon essentially used the Undertaker as a hired gun to take Shane out, with the caveat that if Shane could beat him, he’d be put in charge of Raw. But Undertaker’s role in the story was severely underdeveloped. And while he lost the match, Shane was essentially put in charge of Raw anyway. Also, while Shane took one of his trademark crazy bumps, the match was mostly underwhelming.

Shane currently serves as the Commissioner of Smackdown. Despite the rocky way he came back, he has something going for him that very few WWE personalities do. When he walks out there, it’s instant intrigue. There’s a constant question about how blurred the lines are between reality and fantasy. Plus, as we saw at Survivor Series, he’s still not afraid to take big risks for the fans. He earned the massive pops he gets out there.

Sasha Banks, WWE Women's Champion3. Sasha Banks

It’s been an up and down year for Sasha. Her match with Charlotte and Becky Lynch stole the show at Wrestlemania. Then she flat out disappeared from television for several weeks. When she finally returned, she was put with Charlotte for most of the remainder of the year. She’d win her first Women’s Championship on the main roster in July, and would hot potato it with Charlotte multiple times.

While I’ve come to find her babyface promos very white-meat and and annoying, her passion for what she does in the ring can’t be denied. It may have gone on a little too long, but she and Charlotte made history together. After main eventing Raw together, at Hell in a Cell they were the first two women in WWE history to headline a pay per view. They’ve brought women’s wrestling to perhaps an unprecedented level of prominence and importance. In many ways, 2016 saw Sasha Banks become the game-changing performer many of us knew she was destined to be. Hopefully she’s just getting started.

Samoa Joe, NXT Champion4. Samoa Joe

Joe is another TNA mainstay that should have been in WWE a long time ago. He was making waves in Ring of Honor alongside the likes of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan as far back as the early 2000s. He would then elevate his game with guys like AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, and Kurt Angle in TNA. But WWE had always eluded him until last year, when he finally broke into NXT.

As a monster heel, Joe ascended to the top of NXT this year, winning the NXT Championship from Finn Balor in April. From there, he and Shinsuke Nakamura would trade the belt back and forth at Takeover: Brooklyn and Takeover: Toronto. Earlier this month, he dropped the belt back to Nakamura in Osaka, Japan. Rumors are now buzzing about a potential debut in the Royal Rumble Match, similar to what AJ Styles did last year.

In today’s WWE, wrestlers that come off legitimately angry and tough are a surprising anomaly. Brock Lesnar is one. I’d argue Braun Strowman is another. You can make a case for Rusev, too. But one man who’s definitely in that category is Joe. He can come to the main roster and be an easy sell as a threat to a top babyface or champion. It’s just a matter of figuring out where to put him.

In the end, his long road to the WWE roster may have been a blessing in disguise. Had he come in during a previous era, he might not have been allowed to be himself. Pissed off bad ass Samoa Joe is the guy we want. Thankfully, he’s the guy we got.

James Ellsworth5. James Ellsworth

The July 25 edition of Raw was probably the best of the year for a variety of reasons. It was Finn Balor’s first night on the main roster, and he immediately became the top contender for the Universal Title. Sasha Banks won her first Women’s Title. We also saw the debut of WWE’s most unlikely signee in over a decade: James Ellsworth. Granted, he wasn’t signed at the time. He was there to be squashed by Braun Strowman. But fans were captivated by his odd look, and the seemingly impossible odds he faced against Strowman. In a quick pre-match interview spot, Ellsworth put the icing on the cake by saying: “Any man with two hands has a fighting chance.”

That little squash match was all it took. Fast forward to today, and Ellsworth is now Smackdown‘s resident underdog. While you can probably count the number of offensive moves Ellsworth has hit on less than two hands, through the magic of storytelling he’s now due a shot at AJ Styles and the WWE Championship. Some say his act is getting old. But there’s just something about him that’s undeniably captivating. Ellsworth is a real life Cinderella story, and WWE was smart enough to capitalize on that.

Braun Strowmann, WWE Raw6. Braun Strowman

When Strowman had that squash match with Ellsworth on July 25, I wrote: “Braun Strowman is on his own now, which I’m afraid means we have to endure yet another generic giant. I actually would have preferred another attempt to make Erick Rowan a single.”

It wasn’t an unfounded fear, given what WWE has done with certain big men in the past. But they’ve protected Strowman in ways they didn’t protect others. As such, he’s now a commodity despite his relative inexperience. In the past few weeks, his story with Sami Zayn and Mick Foley has been one of the more interesting parts of the show. His presentation is simple, but so effective.

It’s very much in WWE’s interest to continue protecting Strowman in 2017. I never thought I’d say it, but if what we’re seeing from him continues, he’s got main event potential.

Finn Balor, WWE Raw, August 8, 20167. Finn Balor

This was supposed to be Finn Balor’s year. One night in, he pinned Roman Reigns clean in the main event. That really can’t be understated. Roman was, and still is, pegged to be WWE’s new poster boy. So for this new guy to beat him and earn a Universal Title Match at Summerslam was an amazing surprise. And of course, he beat Seth Rollins to win the title. Combine that momentum with Balor’s unique presentation and in-ring style, and it looked like we had Raw‘s new top star on our hands.

Clearly fate had other ideas. In a case of absolute disastrous timing, Balor suffered a torn labrum in the Summerslam match. One night after becoming the inaugural WWE Universal Champion, he was forced to hand the belt back.

Balor was on the main roster for just under a month. But Raw dearly misses him. Since September, the Universal Title picture has been monopolized by Rollins, Reigns, and the man who stepped up in his absence, Kevin Owens. Balor was a fresh face to signify  a new era. And if there’s one thing the Raw main event scene is hurting for, it’s fresh faces.

The good news is that Balor should be back around Wrestlemania. As he obviously never lost the belt, he should be in line for a title shot.

Chris Jericho, WWE Raw, October 24, 20168. Chris Jericho

Chris Jericho got a clipboard over in 2016. If that’s not a testament to his talents, I don’t know what is.

Jericho spent most of 2016 helping to get newer talent over. He was a vital component in AJ Styles getting over as well as he did, and got a match with him at Wrestlemania. He would then move on to Dean Ambrose, which would culminate in the first (and hopefully last) Asylum Match. But Jericho’s best stuff this year was his character work with Kevin Owens. Their tumultuous “best friends” partnership has been the most consistently entertaining thing about Raw these past few months. The “List of Jericho” running gag is more popular than most of the active wrestlers. WWE obviously recognizes their chemistry, as they’ve held off on putting Owens and Jericho against each other in a Universal Title program. They could easily have pulled the trigger at Survivor SeriesRoadblock, or the Royal Rumble. At this point, Wrestlemania seems like the earliest we’ll see them go at it. But even that isn’t a guarantee. And frankly, that’s okay. Roughly 17 years after his WWE debut, Chris Jericho is a vital part of WWE’s flagship show. So few are on his level both in the ring and on the mic. Perhaps he truly is the best in the world at what he does…

The Miz, Maryse9. The Miz

Maryse turned out to be the missing ingredient to Miz’s Hollywood A-lister persona. He always had that smarmy confidence about him. But having this gorgeous French supermodel next to him almost validates that confidence. Maybe he really is as great as he says he is. And the fact that she’s actually his wife adds a great layer of realism.

This newly completed package did wonders for the Intercontinental Championship in 2016. He became a beatable champion that somehow no one could beat. He and Dolph Ziggler had one of WWE’s most compelling feuds this year. Miz constantly found underhanded ways to win despite Ziggler’s tireless efforts. It seemingly culminated in Ziggler dropping his status as a lovable loser, taking the title from Miz at No Mercy. But Miz would take it back from him a few weeks later. The apex of his douchebaggery came just last week, when he publicly “outed” Renee Young’s relationship with Dean Ambrose.

A year ago, the idea of him ever regaining the WWE Championship seemed unlikely at best. But now? Not so much. At this rate, Miz could very well stand at the top of the mountain again in 2017.

WWE Raw, July 4, 2016, Charlotte10. Charlotte Flair

When 2016 began, we’d heard a lot of talk about a “Divas Revolution,” and how women’s wrestling was changing in WWE. Surprisingly, they were able to make good on those bold claims. Why? Because of Charlotte.

That’s not to say it couldn’t have happened without her. Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Bayley, Alexa Bliss, and numerous other talented ladies are on the WWE roster right now. But Charlotte has been the centerpiece to it all. She was the first to strike gold, winning the then-Divas Championship in September. She was victorious when the women stole the show at Wrestlemania for the first time. She and Sasha Banks were the first women of this era to main event Raw, and the first women of any era to main event a pay per view. All the while, she’s been arguably the best heel in the entire company.

Keep in mind, she accomplished all of that in about a year and a half. The smart bet is she’s just getting started. So what will she have

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

John Cena’s SNL Gig, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

John Cena, NBCBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Don’t kid yourselves, folks. John Cena hosting Saturday Night Live this week is a huge deal. He’s only the third WWE wrestler to do it. The first was Hulk Hogan in 1984. The second was the Rock in 2000. Now we have Cena in 2016. So this only happens about once in a generation. It’s one of the few accolades Cena hasn’t achieved yet, and now he’s got it. It’s almost like a rite of passage from WWE into Hollywood.

We seem to have officially reached the point with John Cena that the Rock was at in the early-2000s. He always had tremendous crossover appeal. That’s part of what made him the megastar that he is. But now he’s officially splitting his time between WWE and outside ventures. Ironically, this was part of the basis for the Rock/Cena feud a few years ago. WWE could very well do the same kind of thing in a few years with Cena, and whoever they want to take his spot. Roman Reigns seems like the likely candidate.

But while fans turned on the Rock for his Hollywood ambitions, it seems like it’s having the opposite effect on Cena. The last few times he’s appeared on Smackdown, the fans have been a little warmer toward him. He’s been shoved down our throats so much in the last decade. It’s almost comical that absence seems to be making the collective fandom’s heart grow fonder. I won’t lie, I’m looking forward to Cena coming back to Smackdown.

Man oh man…I’ve become such a jaded internet fan that I’m actually cheering for John Cena. What have I become?

WWE Smackdown, December 6, 2016Ponderings From Smackdown:

AJ Styles announces he will not defend his title against James Ellsworth in the main event. Dean Ambrose lays out Ellsworth. Are they gradually shifting to an AJ Styles babyface turn? I’d like to think so. Outside of calling the fans “gullible geeks,” he was more or less neutral here. They’d need to reshuffle the deck a bit in terms of babyfaces and heels. But Styles is a natural babyface, in my opinion. It won’t be hard to get the fans to cheer him again.

Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt def. Heath Slater and Rhyno to retain the Smackdown Tag Team Titles. Jim Ross tweeted this week that Orton, Wyatt, and Luke Harper “can all become character babyfaces akin to the Attitude Era. Easily.” I can’t disagree. Loved the setup for Sister Abigail into the RKO. They may have really stumbled on to something with these two.

Natalya vs. Carmella erupted into a brawl. I had originally pegged Natalya to be behind Nikki’s attack at Survivor Series. But one name I hadn’t considered is Eva Marie, who may be returning soon. The prospect of a Nikki Bella/Eva Marie match doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. But that’s what DVRs are for.

The Hype Bros def. The Ascension. More or less a filler match. I can’t see either of these teams as suitable challengers to the Wyatt Family. On the other hand, American Alpha doesn’t seem to be in the title hunt right now. So maybe the Hype Bros kill some time with the Wyatts in the next few weeks.

WWE Smackdown, December 6, 2016, Dean Ambrose, Miz, MaryseDean Ambrose appears on Miz TV. Daniel Bryan makes an Intercontinental Title Match between the two for the main event. By God, they gave Ambrose the “You deserve it“ chant for the Miz’s little participation award. Say what you will about Miiz, but he’s one of the best heels they have right now. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I don’t know why they gave the IC belt to Ziggler in the first place. He’s as valuable now as he’s ever been, maybe more.

Baron Corbin def. Kalisto. Nice little sequence into the End of Days. Thankful this match didn’t overstay it’s welcome. These two have developed some nice chemistry, though. It was fun.

Baron Corbin on Sportscenter? I might actually watch that. I’d like to see how he talks when he’s not trying to memorize dialogue.

Chad Gable def. Tyler Breeze. Would like to have seen these two get a little more time. Both Breeze and Fandango are great talents. But Breezango is a bottom-of-the-card act. They’re not toiling at the Ascension’s level. But close.

Becky Lynch interrupts Alexa Bliss’ championship celebration. Isn’t there an implied ugliness with the name “Wicked Witch?” Alexa Bliss is many things, but ugly isn’t one.

Alexa Bliss, WWE Smackdown, December 6, 2016Both ladies seemed to be struggling with their dialogue a little bit. They rolled through it, though. At least they didn’t have to talk about wrestling at Roadblock: End of the Line.

The Miz def. Dean Ambrose to retain his Intercontinental Title after an accidental distraction from James Ellsworth. We’ve seen these two wrestle a bunch of times. So there wasn’t a lot of novelty in seeing these two in the main event, even with the title on the line. Ambrose is always quality in the ring, though.

So what happens with Ambrose and Ellsworth now? They’re apparently trying to have Ellsworth keep on foot in bumbling babyface territory. So do you have them wrestle on TV in the next couple of weeks? I don’t see Ellsworth magically becoming competitive. So is this a ticket to a Dean Ambrose heel turn? Does he go too far and beat the holy hell out of Ellsworth? What happens next?

That’s a good question, isn’t it? That’s what you want to be asking. What happens next?

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