Posted in Wrestling

The Silent Wrestlemania Recap – Undertaker and AJ Steal the Show!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Well, alright then. Wrestlemania XXXVI (or as I call it, “The Silent Wrestlemania” happened.

Was it weird? Definitely. Awkward at times? Oh  yeah. But was it bad? No. Not even remotely.

I tweeted this yesterday, and I’ll reiterate it here: I think the world needs Wrestlemania now more than ever. So as long as it was done on a volunteer basis, Vince McMahon was right to carry on with the show in whatever form it took.

So thank you to all the wrestlers, producers, crew members, and everyone that made these shows possible.

Night One

Cesaro def. Drew Gulak.
Admittedly, I didn’t see this one. Was busy during the pre-show. But hey, technically Cesaro got a singles match at Wrestlemania. A win at that.

Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross def. The Kabuki Warriors to win the WWE Women’s Tag Team Titles.
Was surprised they kicked off the main card with this one. Not sure if they’d have gone that route if there was a crowd. But they put on a good match.

As far as I know, Asuka and Kairi Sane were the first wrestlers of the evening to play to a crowd that wasn’t there. Since Asuka did commentary on Raw that night, it seems like these two have been asked to be louder and more obnoxious. If that’s the case, they were successful.

Elias def. King Corbin.
True story: I fell asleep during this match. No disrespect to either man. It had been a long day. I went back and watched it though. Went a little long. At least Elias actually had a match at Wrestlemania, as opposed to in-ring skits. Then again, both those skits were with John Cena. Maybe he was better off before…

Becky Lynch def. Shayna Baszler to retain the WWE Raw Women’s Title.
Good match. Wrong finish.

The psychology was right in this one. It felt like a fight. Loved the spot where Shayna whipped her head-first into the announce table. But ultimately, Shayna lost to a version of the Bret Hart “pin yourself by not releasing the hold” spot. It’s a good spot. It’s just a shame Baszler has already lost a big match to that same pinning combo. Yup, Kairi Sane beat Shayna for the NXT Women’s Title almost the exact same way at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn IV.

Between this loss, the way she lost (though that’s minor in the grand scheme of things), and the fact that an alleged killer like her couldn’t win the Women’s Royal Rumble at the number 30 spot, Shayna does not look good coming out of this.

The upside? Becky continues to dominate. Plus, my guess is these two aren’t done. And there’s plenty of room for Shayna to get even more vicious.

Sami Zayn def. Daniel Bryan to retain the WWE Intercontinental Title.
These two were the first to really take advantage of the fact that we could actually hear the wrestlers talking to one another. That played to Sami’s strengths as an annoying heel. In the end, the right guy won. There’s still a lot Sami can do as the Intercontinental Champion.

You’ve got to wonder what Shinsuke Nakamura was thinking. It wasn’t long ago that he was challenging for the WWE Heavyweight Championship at this show…

John Morrison def. Kofi Kingston and Jimmy Uso to retain the WWE Smackdown Tag Team Titles.
I give these three a hell of a lot of credit for doing a spot-fest like this without any fans in the arena. It just wasn’t the same without the crowd reactions. Although those ladder shots did sound that much more painful.

Creative finish with John Morrison plummeting to his doom, albeit with the titles in hand. Fitting for the weirdest tag team title match in Wrestlemania history.

Kevin Owens def. Seth Rollins in a No Disqualification Match.
You can argue this was the best match of night one. (More on that in a moment.) It made Owens look like a million bucks. As Raw continues to be in need of top babyfaces, that’s the best outcome they could have hoped for.

Braun Strowman def. Bill Goldberg to win the WWE Universal Title.
Yeah, this sucked.

I’m pretty sure we saw a total of two moves in this entire match. The Spear from Goldberg, and the Powerslam from Strowman. I understand Goldberg is somewhat limited in what he can do, and that this match came together on short notice. But c’mon. This was the best they could put together?

In hindsight, it was silly for me to predict a Goldberg victory no matter who he was wrestling. He does short term deals. That’s his thing.

Alright. So here we have it. Braun Strowman is the Universal Champion. I’d argue it’s about two years too late. But it happened. Now it’s all about the follow up.

The Undertaker def. AJ Styles in a Boneyard Match.
Damn. He did it again. The son of a bitch did it again. The Undertaker stole the show at Wrestlemania.

He didn’t do it alone, of course. I’ve said that we’ve reached the point where they need to use smoke and mirrors to give us a quality Undertaker match. In this case, he not only had one of the best workers in the world in AJ Styles, but the entire WWE production juggernaut backing him up.

But even so, he did it again.

Before I go any further, WWE really needs to send Matt Hardy a thank you note for this one. They deny him his ability to work creatively, prompting his departure from the company. But then Undertaker and AJ Styles have a Wrestlemania match that captures the world’s imagination using the cinematic style he essentially pioneered.

I suppose whether you call this the show-stealer depends on your definition of what a wrestling match is. Jim Cornette, for instance, would not call this a wrestling match. The cinematic presentation, the music, the special effects. It was more like a short film. I saw someone on Twitter last night ponder if this is the future of the wrestling business. I hope not. I say you can only get away with something like this once a year, if that. But if you can do it, and it works…

Not only did this give us back the dominant, tough-as-nails Undertaker that we’ve missed, it told a great story. My favorite part isn’t a particular spot or stunt. Rather, it’s when Undertaker has Styles, and he’s taunting him with things like, “What’s my wife’s name?” and “You wanna talk about how old I am?”

I don’t think you could have done this in an arena. In that sense, the current circumstances worked in their favor. But one way or another the Undertaker, along with AJ Styles, has stolen the show at Wrestlemania. In 2020. Who’da thunk it?

Night Two

Liv Morgan def. Natalya.
Nice moment for Liv, I suppose. Though I doubt anything comes of it.

Charlotte Flair def. Rhea Ripley to win the NXT Women’s Title.
If you don’t count Undertaker vs. AJ Styles as an actual wrestling match, then this was the best match of the weekend. It should come as a surprise to no one that Charlotte Flair is involved. For my money, her matches 2016 and 2018 were both show stealers.

What made this match stand out to me was the tension in the air. This Charlotte/Rhea thing hasn’t been going on that long. But if you came into this cold, you’d think they’d hated each other’s guts for years. There was just this nasty, hateful, vicious vibe in the ring. I loved it.

Does it suck that Rhea Ripley lost? Of course it does. But if you’ve been paying attention, you knew it was coming. Charlotte Flair is the poster girl for their “Women’s Revolution.” She was the inaugural Women’s Champion at Wrestlemania 32. She broke Asuka’s undefeated streak at Wrestlemania 34. She was shoehorned into the main event of Wrestlemania 35. Notice a pattern?

However, as I speculated, these two were able to have an amazing match. And that benefits Rhea much more than winning a standard one does. Her star is still on the rise. So have no fear.

Aleister Black def. Bobby Lashley.
What does it say about this match that the only thing I could focus on for awhile was the fact that Lashley was wearing pants instead of trunks.

Loved the closing spot here, the attempted Spear from Lashley into the Black Mass Kick for the win. As Lana was the one who called for the Spear, does that mean we’re headed for a Lashley/Lana split?

Otis def. Dolph Ziggler.
This match pulled off a rarity. It had the right ending but the wrong winner. Otis needed to get the girl in the end, and he did. I can only imagine the pop that kiss would have gotten in front of a crowd.

The problem I had with this one is that Dolph is one of the most decorated wrestlers WWE has had in the last two decades. Otis on the other hand, is a tag team wrestler who’s only recently made it to the main roster. Ziggler should have won. Perhaps by cheating. So Dolph wins the battle, but not the war.

Incidentally, why was Mandy dressed to wrestle? Was it just one of those “always bring your gear” kind of things?

Edge def. Randy Orton in a Last Man Standing Match.
I give both these guys a lot of credit for this one. They beat the absolute piss out of each other in front of ZERO fans. Lots of creativity on display here. In terms of fighting all over the performance center, this was exactly what you wanted it to be. I can’t say I disliked much of what I saw.

Having said that, I couldn’t believe they let Orton choke Edge with the gym equipment. It’s been a long time, but that absolutely screams Benoit. Especially because those Dark Side of the Ring episodes aired so recently.

That being said, we need to talk about something I’ll call the Lesnar/Goldberg principle. They might have had the best built match going into Wrestlemania 33. And it lived up to the hype. But they only needed about five minutes to deliver on that. It was quick, high impact, and about as concise as you could ask for. They stole the show that year.

My point is, just because a match has such an amazing build doesn’t mean it needs to go 30 to 45 minutes. Whether a match is good or not usually has nothing to do with it’s length. Triple H’s big matches tend to have a problem with this.

The Lesnar/Goldberg principle. One to live by.

The Street Profits def. Angel Garza & Austin Theory to retain the WWE Raw Tag Team Titles.

The story here ended up being Bianca Belair, who saved Ford and Dawkins from a post-match beatdown. I assume will be with the Street Profits on Raw from here on out. Works for me. She’s earned her main roster spot. Becky Lynch is also going to need new challengers in the near future.

Bayley def. Sasha Banks, Naomi, Tamina, and Lacey Evans to retain the WWE Smackdown Women’s Title.
This is another one where hindsight is 20/20. I predicted it would come down to Bayley and Sasha. But for whatever reason, WWE avoids that match like the plague. Or in this case, Coronavirus.

I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of time they gave this match. The Smackdown Women’s Division may be cold right now. But they gave these ladies a decent-sized canvas to create on.

Also…no, Michael Cole. Team B.A.D. was not a huge part of the Women’s Revolution. Just like Team P.C.B. wasn’t. And Team Bella damn sure wasn’t.

“The Fiend” Bray Wyatt def. John Cena in a Firefly Funhouse Match.
Coming into this match, I was expecting something akin to the Boneyard Match, only it would take place in some sort of demented funhouse setting.

That’s not what we got. In fact, in over two decades watching this stuff, I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything quite like what we got. It was more like a Saturday Night Live sketch than a wrestling match. It’s like they got together and said, “Bray Wyatt is crazy. So let’s just go nuts. Let’s throw shit against the wall.”

I’ll give you this much, I enjoyed its devotion to continuity. They really dove into history for this one, picking apart both characters.

I can’t say I enjoyed the Boneyard Match then turn around and say I didn’t like this one. For all intents and purposes they played by the same rules. But whereas I’d be game for seeing something like the Boneyard Match once a year, this is the kind of thing you can only do once maybe every five to 10 years.

Drew McIntyre def. Brock Lesnar to win the WWE World Heavyweight Title.
To my dismay, this match basically followed the same formula as the Goldberg/Strowman one. Hit the finishers a bunch, then have the challenger go over. In both matches it’s like they just wanted to get it over with.

Still, this one had the right outcome. Drew got his moment, unconventional though it was. One of the highlights of night two was him reaching out to the camera and saying, “Thank you.”

Congratulations, good sir. Your moment doesn’t look like anyone else’s, but it’s yours. So be proud. You earned it. You deserve it.

Email Rob at at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Posted in Wrestling

Top 10 Raw Moments of 2018: Stone Cold, John Cena, Becky Lynch, and more!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how Raw sucks. Not just from the fans, either. Last week, the McMahons themselves had to come out and, in so many words, admit their creative failures of late. For all this talk about “shaking up” the show, it seems like very little is actually going to change. Which is a damn shame, as the show desperately needs a revamp. Like, this sucker needs major renovations from the top down.

But as we’re taking time to look back on 2018, it’s only fair that we pay tribute to the things Raw got right. One of their buzzwords is “Raw moments,” i.e. moments or matches on the show that fans continue to look back on with fondness, awe, sadness, or whatever emotion it happened to evoke. Stone Cold and the beer truck, Eric Bischoff’s debut, that game-changing CM Punk promo, etc. The moments that made us love Raw in the first place, and are the reason we stick with it, despite all the frustrations and disappointments.

And so, with the disclaimer that these are all based on my personal opinion and viewing experiences, these are my top 10 Raw moments of 2018, in chronological order.

A few honorable mentions..
– January 29: Asuka vs. Sasha Banks.
– July 30: Brock Lesnar puts his hands on Paul Heyman.
– August 6: Ronda Rousey’s first match on Raw.

1. January 22: Austin’s got McMahon!
Raw 25 kicked off old school. Shane and Stephanie McMahon came to the ring to present a plaque to their father. What followed was classic Vince, as he proceeded to heel on the Brooklyn crowd, and then take all the credit for Raw‘s success. The crowd even broke out in an “Asshole!” chant, just like old times.

Then the glass shattered, and the crowd erupted as Stone Cold Steve Austin emerged. In a skit that included Vince throwing Shane to the wolves, Stone Cold Stunners to both McMahon men, and the throwing back of a few Steveweisers, suddenly Raw was great again. Just listen to that crowd. While I wish Austin would have gotten on the mic, in the end this segment was exactly what it needed to be: A quick nostalgia trip. It was also a reminder that even in his 70s, Vince can still deliver gold on the mic.

2. February 19: Seth Rollins steals the show in a Gauntlet Match.
This match featured all seven of the men who’d be involved in the Elimination Chamber Match to decide Brock Lesnar’s Wrestlemania opponent. We had John Cena, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, The Miz, Finn Balor, Braun Strowman, and Elias. Strowman would be the eventual winner. But the man everyone was talking about after this match was Seth Rollins.

Entering at the number two spot, Rollins wrestled for over an hour and five minutes, pinning both Roman Reigns and John Cena in the process. That’s a stellar accomplishment in and of itself, on par with Chris Jericho pinning Steve Austin and The Rock in one night back in 2001. By this point, Rollins had noticeably cooled off as a babyface. But this match was the catalyst for his reemergence as a contender for the top spot on Raw, if not the entire company.

Rollins didn’t get his shot at Lesnar in 2018, but this year might be a different story…

3. February 26: “Ladies and gentlemen, Braun Strowman!”
WWE loves to try their hand at comedy. Emphasis on the word “try.” While certain performers have natural comedic timing and abilities, most of WWE’s attempts at humor feel lame, forced and awkward.

But once in awhile, you get one out of left field that inexplicably works. The Vince McMahon “Are you ready for some wrestling?” skit, that first Daniel Bryan/Kane anger management skit, and now this. Braun Strowman coming out and strumming a bass on stage to make fun of Elias. And to make matters worse/better, mere seconds in, the instrument breaks. So Braun has to go on without it. For what it’s worth, the big guy’s voice isn’t so bad.

To cap it all off, the ensuing beatdown ended with Strowman lifting the bass up by the neck, and smashing it over Elias’ back. For yours truly, this segment embodied almost everything there is to love about Braun Strowman. It gave us his charisma, along with the brute strength and violence that he allows us to live vicariously through. This is the guy who could have headlined Wrestlemania.

4. March 19: The Ultimate Deletion.
This was the moment we’d been waiting for since the Hardys returned to WWE. A lawsuit with Anthem, the parent company of Impact Wrestling, had prevented Matt Hardy from using his “Broken” persona for most of 2017. But late in the year, we were introduced to “Woken” Matt Hardy, i.e. Broken Matt with one letter swapped out. He feuded with Bray Wyatt, culminating in this match, the “Ultimate Deletion.”

Akin to the other “Deletion” matches we saw on Impact, the match had a more cinematic, campy presentation. Most of the trademarks of the Broken universe were there. It took place at the Hardy compound. Matt’s wife and son made appearances, as did his real-life father-in-law, “Senor Benjamin.” Jeff Hardy also made a cameo. Hardy would win by sending Wyatt into the “lake of reincarnation.” Wyatt would not emerge again until the Wrestlemania pre-show, where he helped Hardy win the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal.

The Ultimate Deletion belongs on this list because, like the Broken/Woken universe itself, it dared to be different. It was also great validation for Matt. Not just because of the Anthem lawsuit, but because WWE once tried to do their own version of this match. You’ll recall the time the New Day visited the “Wyatt Family compound.” The results looked a lot like what the Hardys were doing on Impact at the time. We haven’t seen a match like this on Raw since, and we may never see one again. But it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility.

5. John Cena’s scathing promos on the Undertaker.
Undertaker no-showing the build-up to Wrestlemania 34 was extremely frustrating at the time. But in hindsight, it was the right way to go. Cena’s desperate, angry attempts to bring the Dead Man back made for great drama. The highlights of which included…

– “…stop hiding behind your lame excuses. You are not too old. You are not washed up. You are not broken down, ’cause if you was broken down, you wouldn’t be posting workout videos on your wife’s Instagram.”
– “You are not the god that [the fans] made you. You are the man you’ve allowed yourself to become. And that man, Undertaker, is a coward. The Undertaker is a coward.”
– “Hey Undertaker. It’s obvious that you left your hat in the ring. But it’s clear to everybody here that you left your balls at home.”

Then the match went two minutes, with Undertaker going over. I interpreted that as being because, in storyline, Undertaker surprised Cena. That’s why I think these two have unfinished business, and should go another round at Wrestlemania this year.

6. April 9: Paige announces her retirement.
Calling this one of Raw’s best moments feels a little weird. Obviously, if I had my way Paige would still be wrestling. But I have to tip my hat to the pure honesty, emotion, and bravery exhibited by Paige here.

Many of us were expecting this. The previous November, Paige had returned after a lengthy absence that included neck surgery. But just over a month after her return, Paige suffered another neck injury, forcing her to stay out of the ring. So the word “retirement” was being thrown around by fans online.

Still, it’s never easy to hear confirmation like this. Paige spoke very eloquently, and the crowd showered her with “Thank you Paige!” chants. But while retired, Paige wasn’t gone long at all. She showed up the very next night as the new general manager of Smackdown.

7. April 30: Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor
Seth Rollins was Raw‘s resident artist this year. If you look at the best matches in this show in 2018, he’s the one constant in most of them. He turned in epic performances with Dolph Ziggler, Kevin Owens, Drew McIntyre, among others.

But in many ways, this was the best TV match Rollins turned in all year. It earned 4.25 stars from Dave Meltzer, was for the Intercontinental Title, and the two men had a loaded history together. They were, of course, wrestling to become the first Universal Champion when Rollins injured Balor, forcing him to give up his newly won title.

Champion and challenger gave us a combination endurance/chess match. It was a collection of counters, dodges, kicks, and kick-outs from big moves in a prolonged game of “Can you top this?” Rollins would ultimately pin Balor using the Curb Stomp. Both these men can easily slip back into the Universal Title picture in 2019, and this match is one of the many pieces of evidence we have.

8. October 22: Roman Reigns announces he has leukemia, Dean Ambrose turns on Seth Rollins.
We got two shockers on this show. One was a storyline. The other was very, very real.

I had no idea Roman Reigns had ever battled leukemia, or any kind of cancer. So when he walked out at the top of the show and announced he was relinquishing the Universal Title because his leukemia had returned, I was floored. I think we all were. To their credit, the fans in Providence, many of whom had been booing Reigns when he came out, immediately switched gears. On his way out, Roman got the support that some would say he’s deserved all along.

Naturally, emotions were running high when Roman’s Shield brothers, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, challenged for the Raw Tag Team Titles in the main event that night. Which made what happened next all the more explosive…

After winning the titles, Dean Ambrose made his long-awaited heel turn, nailing Rollins with the DDT. The fans watched in stunned silence as he continued to destroy his partner. Ambrose had unraveled, and the Shield was no more.

9. November 5: Drew McIntyre destroys Kurt Angle.
This was Angle’s first match on Raw in over a decade. To his credit, it was memorable. Just not for the reason we thought it would be.

In a battle to decide whether Angle would captain the Raw Men’s team at Survivor Series, the Olympic Gold Medalist and WWE Hall of Famer put up a fight, even catching McIntyre with the Angle Slam. But in the end, McIntyre was simply too much. The “Scottish Psychopath” would hit an Angle Slam of his own, and later end the match by tapping Angle out with his trademark Ankle Lock. The match will no doubt go down as one of the definitive performances of McIntyre’s current WWE run.

What makes this a little bit more special is that supposedly this was Kurt Angle’s idea, at least partially. The two had worked together in Impact, and Angle wanted to put McIntyre over for the WWE audience. It’d call the attempt successful, wouldn’t you?

10. November 12: Becky Lynch invades.
Yes, technically it was the entire Smackdown women’s roster that invaded. But the part everyone remembers is Becky, blood on her face, standing victorious in the crowd.

This is an angle that’s been done time and time again. Wrestlers from Smackdown invading Raw, or Raw invading Smackdown, or whatever it is. But a wild punch changed everything.

It started out strong, with the camera rushing into the locker room to find Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey in Becky Lynch’s Disarm-Her. Lynch would then go to the ring to confront the Raw Women’s Survivor Series team. Lynch’s Smackdown cohorts would then ambush from the crowd. In the ensuing battle, Nia Jax would punch Becky in the face, breaking her nose and concussing her. WWE would later simply call it a “broken face.”

But the then-Smackdown Women’s Champion would find victory even in injury. The ensuing footage of Becky fighting with blood on her face only rallied fans to her cause. She had to bow out of a match against Rousey at Survivor Series. But this angle may very well have opened the door for her to be one of the first women to headline Wrestlemania. So all in all, I’d say things worked out for her…

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

Posted in Wrestling

WWE’s Most Fascinating People of 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Yeah, I’m still stealing this Barbara Walters bit. What can I say? I like it. I’ve been able to do it every year (with one exception) since 2012.

This list is subjective, as always. These are 10 people who, for reasons both good and bad, stood out to me over the course of 2017. We’ve got unlikely champions, call-ups from NXT whose journeys have been more tumultuous than anticipated, a veteran who’ll be on the Wrestle Kingdom 12 card, and many more.

So let’s get down to business…

1. Jinder Mahal

Jinder was one of WWE’s biggest gambles this year. The company made him their poster child for their attempts to break into the Indian market. In the process, Mahal went from glorified enhancement talent to WWE Champion in a matter of weeks. With help from the Singh Brothers (the former Bollywood Boyz), Mahal scored three consecutive pay per view victories over Randy Orton. He went on to retain over Shinsuke Nakamura at Summerslam and Hell in a Cell.

Though he held the title for most of the year, Mahal became a controversial figure for a variety of reasons. The question of whether he deserves this sudden shove into the limelight has always been there, with his matches and promos being highly critiqued. Also, the nature of his physique has been in question for quite some time. Many have suggested his increased musculature has come from steroids, or other performance enhancing drugs. The racial overtones used in his program with Nakamura did him no favors either. He actually got “That’s too far!” chants during a promo in October when he said of the Japanese star: “You always rook the same.”

Signs pointed to Mahal being the champion and the focal point of WWE’s two December shows in India. But by the time they got there, not only had the belt been taken from Jinder, but one of the shows had been cancelled. The “Maharaja” was still in a high profile match with Triple H. But he ended up eating the pin. He’d also been pulled from a headline match against Universal Champion Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series.

While success inevitably breeds envy and criticism, it’s safe to say the Jinder Mahal experiment hasn’t worked out the way anyone hoped. He may have an uphill battle ahead of him if he wants to stay near the top of the card.

2. Asuka

The “Empress of Tomorrow” made her long-awaited debut on the main roster in October. While she’s maintained her undefeated streak, Asuka has run into a familiar problem. Like many of her peers, she’s had trouble translating her NXT success to the main roster.

To WWE’s credit, they brought Asuka in with a ton of hype. But her match with Emma at No Mercy left fans underwhelmed. She scored a hard-fought victory, but she wasn’t presented as the dominant destroyer they’d come to know. They quickly switched gears, placing her in enhancement matches akin to those done for Braun Strowman and Nia Jax early in their Raw tenures. But you only get one chance to make a first impression, and for Asuka it had come and gone.

Thankfully, they seem to know what they have in her. She was the sole victor in the women’s match at Survivor Series, has started to score decisive wins over lower card wrestlers like Alicia Fox and Dana Brooke, and has publicly declared her intent to come after the Raw Women’s Championship. Asuka would be a perfect pick to win the recently announced Women’s Royal Rumble Match.

Asuka got off to a rocky start. But she seems to be picking up speed. I’d certainly hate to see her end up like a certain other woman on the Raw roster…

3. Bayley

Bayley’s 2017 was…okay. Just okay. She started out fairly strong, defeating Charlotte Flair on Raw to win her first Raw Women’s Title, and then breaking Flair’s pay per view undefeated streak shortly thereafter. She would go on to retain the title in a multi-woman match at Wrestlemania. Things seemed to be going well for her.

But by mid-year she’d fallen off track. WWE writers seem unsure of how to write Bayley. To an extent that’s understandable. Her character is very unique. You don’t see very many relentlessly positive, squeaky clean underdogs in 2017. But when paired against the spunky brat Alexa Bliss, she became a wishy-washy wet noodle. Bayley needed to show fire against Alexa. We needed to see that she could get angry when she had to. We didn’t get that. Instead we got bad dialogue, capped off by an absolutely atrocious “This Is Your Life” segment that was meant to garner sympathy for her.

By the time summer game around, she was getting the opposite. There were noticeable boos for WWE’s resident hugger, even when she was sidelined with a separated shoulder. These days, Bayley essentially just another name on the roster. From a creative standpoint, that’s an absolute travesty. Bayley is a special kind of character, who at one point had a special connection with a variety of fans. If there’s one person in all of WWE who could use a little character rehabbing, it’s her.

4. Matt Hardy

When it came to Matt Hardy, we spent most of 2017 waiting.

But just a few weeks ago, an on-screen breakdown led to the emergence of “Woken” Matt Hardy. The difference between Woken Matt and Broken Matt? Semantics. He’s got the same gear, the same hair, the same accent. For all intents and purposes, Broken Matt Hardy has come to WWE.

We haven’t seen a lot of him yet. It’s mostly been pre-taped promos, going back and forth with Bray Wyatt. Die-hard wrestling fans were already sold on Broken Matt. But the more casual fans watching Raw are seeing him for the first time. So far so good. Crowds have been reacting fairly well, and Matt has even breathed a tiny bit of life back into Bray.

There’s no shortage of options as to what can be done with this alternate version of Matt Hardy. In Impact, Jeff got in on the action as Brother Nero. But Matt’s wife, father-in-law, and children also became on-screen characters. We saw outrageous stuff on location at the Hardy compound. We saw a friggin’ drone. If Matt has a decent amount of control here, which he reportedly does, he could be one of the best parts of Raw in 2017.

5. Enzo Amore

Enzo faced a lot of criticism in 2017, but wound up proving a lot of his haters wrong. He started the year doing his usual shtick with Big Cass. Now he’s got the Cruiserweight Title and has essentially been made the star of 205 Live.

He could very well have fallen off the map after Cass went heel on him in June. But he ended up cutting some of the most passionate, scathing promos we heard on WWE TV all year. When Cass went down with an injury, Enzo was quickly moved into the Cruiserweight Division and put with Neville. Smart marks cried foul when Enzo somehow pinned Neville for the Cruiserweight Title in September. But the double turn that followed, turning Enzo heel and Neville babyface, turned out to be amazing. Enzo’s mic work and undeniable star power are undeniable. He’s earned his spot.

Enzo reminds me a lot of an early incarnation of the Miz. He won’t win any prizes for his wrestling. But his character work is on a different level than almost everybody else. When he talks, you believe him. In WWE, that’s a golden ticket that can take you almost anywhere. Enzo can be a singles wrestler, a tag team wrestler, a manager, an announcer, or whatever they need him to be. If Enzo is as tenacious and hard-working as Miz, he’s going to be around a long time.

And as long as we’re talking about him…

6. The Miz

Mike Mizanin’s suitability for pro wrestling stardom has been questioned from the start. Mainly because of his background as a reality TV star. But his wrestling ability has also been heavily critiqued. Throw in his success, including headlining a Wrestlemania, and he’s been a polarizing figure amongst die-hards.

But 2017 seemed to be the year Miz finally won over his critics. The majority of them anyway. He’s no slouch in the ring. But it”s mostly been a matter of his mic work and the presentation of his character. The continued inclusion of his wife Maryse, the slick suits, the good to great promos week after week, the incorporation of Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel as his “Miztourage.” It’s all come together. Now, roughly seven years after he main-evented Wrestlemania, he once again feels like a main-eventer. In 2017 he continued to make the Intercontinental Title feel prestigious again. He defended it, and in some cases traded it with, the likes of Dean Ambrose, Jeff Hardy, and Roman Reigns. It’s likely he’ll challenge for it again when he returns. Then again, perhaps it’s time for a new frontier…

Perhaps 2018 is the year Miz once again becomes WWE Champion.

7. Sami Zayn

Under the WWE umbrella, Sami Zayn was always portrayed as a sentimental underdog. It’s a role he wears well. Case in point, his work with Braun Strowman early in the year. But the underdog role isn’t always a good one to have. Yes, cases like Rey Mysterio Jr and Daniel Bryan will always exist. But the thing about being an underdog is that you sometimes have to lose. A lot. And despite what some in the WWE creative department would have you believe, wins and losses matter. As such, Sami Zayn’s time on the main roster as “the Underdog From the Underground” hasn’t been the most eventful. Even Sami himself has dropped hints of his frustration at how things have gone.

Then Hell in a Cell came around, and Sami aligned with nemesis Kevin Owens against Smackdown General Manager Shane McMahon. In the days to come it became clear that the underdog had become the villain.

It was just what the doctor ordered. Zayn tapped into a side of his personality that’s delightfully annoying, and become an atypical sort of heel. He described it on a podcast as: “…like when you’re dating a girl and she kind of has these quirks, but they’re lovable. But once you break up, it’s like, ‘oh, God! She was so annoying! … the things you used to love about her, now, you hate about her because you don’t love her anymore.”

Lovable or not, it’s working. Zayn has been a lot of fun to watch these past few months, and at the Royal Rumble he’ll be wrestling for the WWE Title. Now that’s progress.

8. Shinsuke Nakamura

Hopes were high this past spring when Shinsuke Nakamura was called up to Smackdown.    Performers like him don’t come by every day, and having him be on American television for the first time (not counting NXT) was a big deal. But WWE isn’t exactly known for giving their performers the best material to work with, even less for letting the performers be themselves. So the question of how he’d fare loomed ominously.

Coming from someone who hasn’t seem much of his work in Japan, Nakamura’s time on the main roster has been underwhelming. Almost a year later, it still feels like we hardly know the guy. The announcers call him things like “Artist” and “Rock Star.” But those are empty nicknames. Who is this man? Why is he the way he is? Granted, they’re not exactly writing Shakespeare for him. His program with Jinder Mahal was a low point for WWE television all year, particularly when the racial stuff started coming into play.

Still, bad creative can’t take away the performer Nakamura is. The crowds are still into him. There’s even been a little bit of buzz about him winning the Royal Rumble Match this year. Hope isn’t lost for Nakamura’s WWE tenure yet. But the guy needs a hit. That one great match. That one great promo or vignette. Something.

9. Braun Strowman

There’s an argument to be made that Braun Strowman, not Roman Reigns, should be WWE’s poster boy. At the very least, he’s not hearing the kind of boos Roman is.

It’s fitting then, that Strowman’s best work this year was with Reigns. They had an uncanny amount of chemistry, especially when you consider Strowman’s experience level. He’s only been around a few years. But these matches with Reigns have been damn good. That image of Strowman heaving a chair at Roman’s head is as awesome today as it was when it happened.

More importantly, Braun Strowman represents a tremendous success on WWE’s part. They’ve created a genuine homegrown star. And unlike a John Cena or a Roman Reigns, the male fans aren’t threatened by him. So if WWE went with Braun, he could potentially have a relationship with the audience that we haven’t seen from a “chosen one” in a long time. A top babyface that the fans actually want to cheer for. Imagine that. This could be it. This could be the year the “Monster Among Men” stands at the top.

10. Chris Jericho

One of WWE’s most fascinating people just wrestled Kenny Omega at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s biggest show of the year.

Chris Jericho’s choice to compete at Wrestle Kingdom 12 made a hell of a statement about NJPW’s foray into the United States, and its potential as an alternative to WWE. It also speaks volumes about who Chris Jericho is as a performer, and his resolve to continually challenge himself and grow. As if he wasn’t already the most versatile and multi-faceted performer in wrestling history.

Jericho also ended his latest WWE tenure on a high note. Coming into 2017, his rapport with Kevin Owens continued to be highlight of Raw every week. It culminated in a “Festival of Friendship,” which was arguably the most entertaining segment all year. Jericho and Owens weren’t nearly as compelling as enemies. But Owens got a Wrestlemania victory out of the deal, which is a nice feather in his cap. It’s a feather in Jericho’s cap too, as he got to help elevate yet another wrestler on their journey to WWE superstardom.

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Posted in Wrestling

Paige’s Comeback, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

How’s this for a feel-good story? After more than a year, Paige is back in a WWE ring. Why is this such a feel-good story? Because for awhile, things weren’t looking so good for the real-life Saraya-Jade Bevis.

Look at everything Bevis has been through since we last saw her. Tensions were high between she and WWE over two failed wellness tests, and a neck surgery that WWE reportedly didn’t want her to have. All the while, she was in what appeared to be a volatile relationship with the controversial Jose Rodriguez, also known as Alberto Del Rio. At one point Jose Rodriguez was under investigation for domestic violence, and there was talk of alcohol abuse and the use of cocaine. The relationship has apparently ended as of a few months ago.

Then there was the X-rated footage leak, which included footage of Bevis with the NXT Women’s Title. Make no mistake about it, she was the victim of a sex crime. But considering all the bad press, it would have been very easy for WWE to simply cut bait. It would have been even easier for her to become another wrestling tragedy.

I think a lot of us forget how young Bevis is. She’s been wrestling since she was 13. She wasn’t even 20 when she was signed by WWE, and she started appearing on national television at 21. Most of us are fortunate enough not to have their dirty laundry aired all over the internet. I don’t doubt that some of that will follow Bevis for a long time.

The silver lining? She’s back, seemingly better than ever, and I would guess stronger and wiser for what she’s gone through. I wouldn’t want to get on this woman’s bad side, or stand in her way going forward. Because the question isn’t what she’ll do next. But after everything she’s seen in her young life, what can’t she do?

Welcome back, Paige. We’ve missed you.

Ponderings From Raw:

Triple H gets confronted by Kurt Angle, Jason Jordan, and Braun Strowman. Stephanie McMahon makes Strowman vs. Jordan for later in the evening. This was one of the few times since his return that Kurt Angle actually looked like the bad ass wrestling machine we know he can be. After last night, it looks like that’s the direction we’re headed in for Wrestlemania. My interest is piqued…

Adding Triple H to anything involving a younger star can be risky. He can easily outshine or outperform his opponent, making them look weak by comparison. In hindsight, his program with Seth Rollins didn’t exactly work wonders for the so-called “Kingslayer.”

But to his credit, Hunter looked genuinely afraid of Strowman at Survivor Series. Less so in this segment. But we still got “You’re a coward!” chants, which were cool. As Triple H has been wrestling more frequently as of late, a match between he and Strowman is hardly far-fetched. But the right move in that scenario would be a Strowman victory, most likely after interference from Angle. Do they have the guts to pull the trigger on that?

So Strowman storms out there looking like he’s going to kill somebody, marches up to Hunter, and then…stands there. What? Triple H couldn’t have bailed? If a freight train is barreling toward you, you move. So move, damn it! Move!

Samoa Joe def. Finn Balor. These two always look like they’re beating the crap out of each other. Probably because they are, to an extent. I can’t imagine what it’s like to see a guy the size of Joe coming at you with a suicide dive…

Asuka def. Dana Brooke. I was legitimately afraid for Dana Brooke during this match. Asuka hits hard, and Brooke isn’t exactly smooth in there. But Brooke sold well for her.

What do they call that butt thump move Asuka does? The announcers never seem to call it. Does it have a name?

The Shield appears on Miz TV. Roman Reigns challenges the Miz to an Intercontinental Title Match. The crowd was having fun during this one. That’s more than you can say for a lot of Raw crowds these days.

Dean Ambrose def. Sheamus. Sheamus is damn good. When he gets a chance to be a single again, I really hope they get put the pieces together with him. He’s more valuable than a lot of people realize.

On that topic, hell of a performance by Sheamus, Cesaro, and the Usos at Survivor Series. Had Brock and AJ not been wrestling, they might have stolen the show altogether.

Paige returns, interrupting a top contender’s match between Sasha Banks, Mickie James, Bayley, and Alicia Fox. Paige, Mandy Rose, and Sonya Deville clear the ring. Afterward, the trio beat up Alexa Bliss backstage. Outside of being Tough Enough alums, I know next to nothing about Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville. But I’ve said more than once that this Raw Women’s Division needs more bodies. We can’t just have Sasha, Bayley, Alexa Bliss, and Nia Jax out there every week. So I’m glad they’re here.

Kane interrupts Braun Strowman’s match with Jason Jordan. Kane devastates Strowman’s throat with a chair. December’s pay per view, Clash of Champions, is a Smackdown show. I’m guessing they’re not going to keep this going until the Royal Rumble. So it looks like Kane is Strowman’s TV program until Wrestlemania season.

Cedric Alexander, Rich Swann, Mustafa Ali, and Akira Tozawa def. Drew Gulak, Tony Nese, Ariya Daivari, and Noam Dar. You know what doesn’t help the 205 Live crew? The fact that the babyfaces travel in packs. The “Zo Train” is one thing. They’re a heel group. But Cedric, Rich and the others? Nobody stands out when they all come out at once. It’s just Cruiserweight oatmeal.

Matt Hardy attacks Elias. Is Elias spinning his wheels? These feuds with Jason Jordan and Matt Hardy don’t seem to be doing anything for him. But the crowds are usually into his schtick. It’s time for a step up.

Meanwhile, Matt cut a promo on WWE.com about his “breaking point.”

Get it? Broken Matt? Breaking point? Yeah, right…

Roman Reigns def. The Miz to win the Intercontinental Championship. Roman doesn’t need the Intercontinental Title any more than he needed the United States Title. This is a confusing move. Why not give it to Balor or Joe? Hell, they could even have given it to Elias. Maybe they want to put the tag belts back on Rollins and Ambrose, so all three of them have belts? But again, needless…

Awesome counter to the Superman Punch by Miz. Has that been done before?

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Posted in Wrestling

Braun Strowman as “the Guy,” Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Summerslam erased any lingering doubts: Braun Strowman needs to be WWE’s next “Guy.’ In other words, the top dog. The big cahuna. The man everyone vies to face. The spot currently occupied by John Cena, and the spot WWE has been trying to shoehorn Roman Reigns into for years.

While Brock Lesnar may have walked out of Summerslam‘s Fatal Four-Way with the Universal Title, make no mistake about it, Braun Strowman was the star of the match. To his credit, Brock Lesnar put him over like 10 million bucks. Has anybody ever given Lesnar a beating like that? Certainly not since he came back in 2012. But I can’t think of anything comparable in Brock’s entire WWE career. The result? Magic.

Michael Cole also deserves a pat on the back for his role in the Lesnar/Strowman stuff. He made a point to not only sell Strowman’s unprecedented dominance over “the Beast,” but to point out how it’s different from what Bill Goldberg did last year. Goldberg surprised Lesnar. Strowman conquered him.

They’ve really got something with this guy. He’s a giant that wants to dominate and destroy all challengers. Simple and to the point. More importantly, the fans are into him. And it happened organically. After what we saw at Summerslam, Lesnar vs. Strowman could easily main event Wrestlemania XXXIV.

Which is why it absolutely sucks that they’re blowing it off at No Mercy

Ponderings From Raw:

After a promo from Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar, Braun Strowman interrupts and destroys the Universal Champion. A title match between the two is later made for No MercyObviously, I understand the appeal of doing what these two did at Summerslam, and then putting them together the following month. But imagine if they just waited. If they let it stew until April. Have Braun win the Royal Rumble Match, and then make it your Wrestlemania main event.

Instead we’re probably getting Brock against Roman. Go figure.

Enzo Amore def. Big Cass in a Brooklyn Street Fight due to match stoppage when Cass suffers a knee injury. This doesn’t do much to cool Enzo’s backstage heat, does it? It didn’t look like it was Enzo’s fault, though. Just a bad fall by Cass.

Cass was obviously frustrated, his cussing apparently needing to be censored. We don’t have any sense of what the injury is. But the timing is terrible. Sending good vibes his way.

Nia Jax def. Emma. I guess there’s something to be said for getting TV time and having a storyline. But Emma has, for the time being, been cast as a loser.

Elias def. R-Truth. The Drifter has had his critics. But the crowds have been into him. You can’t deny that.

John Cena appears on Raw to confront Roman Reigns after Twitter smack talk. The Miz interrupts. A tag match is made for the main event. Lots of talk about Cena’s “bald spot” on Twitter. Hey, when you’ve got as much money as this guy, you can wear your hair however you want. Don’t believe me? Ask Trump.

When he was in there with Cena and Roman, Brooklyn made Miz the babyface. Miz. That says a lot, doesn’t it? What’s more, they had Miz play into it. I actually wondered if he was ad-libbing until he said the lines about the fans “not knowing whether to cheer or boo” Cena and Reigns. Classic WWE whitewashing, right there.

Cena was more or less expected on Raw after Summerslam, based on the local advertisements. They’re obviously planting the seeds for Cena against Reigns at some point. Lots of talk about big moments in this segment. Well, there’s nothing quite like an arena chanting, “You both suck!”

Cedric Alexander, Rich Swann, Mustafa Ali, and Gran Metalik def. Ariya Daivari, Tony Nese, Noam Dar and Drew Gulak. Remember that Raw in 1997 when Kane came down and beat up a bunch of midget wrestlers? I really wanted that here. Nothing like a little old school Kane to stir up some cruiserweight oatmeal…

Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose def. The Hardy Boyz. This one didn’t do it for me. The match looked good on paper. But it seemed like they never quite got into a groove. I’d be open to another match, though.

Alexa Bliss interrupted Sasha Banks’ celebration. I couldn’t. Sorry, folks. I couldn’t bring myself to listen to a Sasha Banks promo. But obviously, things are continuing between she and Alexa Bliss. Works for me.

Finn Balor def. Jason Jordan. These two had better chemistry than I expected. The announcers mentioned the time they spent together in the Performance Center. I expect that has something to do with it.

So how about this: At some point, Jason Jordan cheats to win a big match, drawing disapproval from his father, Kurt Angle. Thus, the start of a Jason Jordan heel turn, and a father vs. son feud. Jordan is so milquetoast right now. He needs something to spice things up.

John Cena and Roman Reigns def. The Miz and Samoa Joe. Reigns accidentally hits Cena with a Superman Punch during the match. The Brooklyn crowd had started the beach ball stuff during the Balor/Jordan match. Then in this match they did a friggin’ wave. And of course, Cena fed right into it.

The purist in me wants to bury the fans in the Barclays Center. But that’s what happens when your show is too damn long.

Booker: “I don’t want to remember the last time I was in the ring with Joe, because he left me bruised, battered, torn, and all busted up. … It also happened in my home town. I’ll never forget that.”

It was also in TNA. So WWE probably wants you to forget.

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Posted in Wrestling

A WWE Summerslam 2017 Preview, Plus: Baron Corbin Goes Bankrupt

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

From pre-show to main event, Summerslam 2017 has 13 matches. THIRTEEN. Do we even have time for an introductory editorial?

Looking up and down the card, what comes to mind is that we’ve got an awesome main event. But everything else? Meh. Objectively, it’s a stacked card. But for me personally, it’s pretty much a one-match show. Not exactly ideal for the second biggest show of the year.

Let’s take a look…

PRE-SHOW MATCH:
The Hardy Boyz and Jason Jordan vs. The Miz and the Miztourage

It’s not often that you see the Hardys or the Miz on the pre-show. For better or worse, this card is like a double-stuffed Oreo…

Considering the direction they’re going with Jason Jordan, it seems unlikely that they’d have him lose here. I’m picturing him pinning Bo Dallas or Curtis Axel. I imagine they’ll have him challenge Miz for the Intercontinental Title at the next Raw pay per view. At least they didn’t rush into it.

PREDICTION: The Hardy Boyz and Jason Jordan

PRE-SHOW MATCH FOR WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE:
Akira Tozawa (c) vs. Neville

Ugh. Well what was the point of doing this on Raw if we’re just going to turn around and put it on Summerslam? I can’t stand it when they do this. At least with Finn Balor and Bray Wyatt they used it as an excuse to bring out the Demon. This just feels wasteful. Like they didn’t know how to kill time with them on Raw, so they just decided to switch the title. The one upside? They probably got more time on Raw than they will here.

I see them giving the belt back to Neville. Champion or not, he’s the best thing they’ve got going in that division. Winning the belt gave Tozawa a certain legitimacy. But as a character, Neville is more intriguing.

PREDICTION: Neville

PRE-SHOW MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
The New Day (c) vs. The Usos

The Usos deserve to get the belts back here. Their whole image change has been amazing. Their promos are among the best in the entire company. They’re like an entirely different team. And while they’d upped the ante and put some kind of stipulation on this match, they work really well with the New Day.

However, now that they’ve put the belts on Kofi, Xavier, and Big E., it feels like they need to stay there for awhile. I have no idea who they’ll put them with next. But it will almost certainly be a step down.

PREDICTION: The New Day

Randy Orton vs. Rusev

Remember when Rusev was an unstoppable monster? Seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it? The thing is, he could easily be that guy again if he could just get a few big wins under his belt.

Sadly, that’s seemingly not in the cards for him at Summerslam. Randy Orton just put Jinder Mahal over three times on pay per view. Despite inexplicably pinning Jinder last week, he’s owed a pay per view rebound. Apparently when a big babyface needs an obligatory win, Rusev is the guy you call.

PREDICTION: Randy Orton

Bray Wyatt vs. Finn Balor

Obviously, they had Bray beat and humiliate Finn on Raw to justify a Demon appearance at Summerslam. It’s a little cheap. But I’m just happy Bray got to beat him at all. Even without the Demon paint, it would have been easy to just have Balor get his big win and move on. At least he saves a little bit of face this way.

If Balor is breaking out the Demon stuff, he’s got to win. This is only the second time we’ve seen this alternate personality of his compete. When the Demon finally does lose, it should be a big deal. But he needs to be built up first. Thus, it’s a victory for Balor.

PREDICTION: Finn Balor

WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Naomi (c) vs. Natalya

With all due respect to Natalya, this seems more like the title match you’d make at a “B” pay per view. A No Mercy or an Elimination Chamber. It would be another thing if Nattie was on this big roll, and we had a sense they were going to go with her. But that’s not the case. This seems more like a match they’re putting out there as an excuse for Carmella to cash in her Money in the Bank briefcase. But after what we just saw with Baron Corbin on Smackdown, that seems a lot less likely. An attempted cash-in? Maybe. But nothing that will actually stick.

With that in mind, I can only assume Naomi keeps the belt. Natalya deserves a big moment as much as anyone. I just don’t think this is it.

PREDICTION: Naomi

WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Sasha Banks

Her talent, guts, and passion notwithstanding, Sasha’s been getting on my nerves as of late. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is. But it’s somewhat related to her alleged real-life heat with Alexa. She was on Raw Talk awhile back and called her a fake, implying Alexa didn’t love wrestling as much as she did. Granted, it was a worked shoot. But Sasha strikes me as the kind of person to take herself too seriously in that respect.

Still, I see things paying off for her at Summerslam. Before Bayley got hurt, it seemed like they were setting her up to win the belt back from Alexa. Realistically, without Bayley around this is the biggest match they can do in that Raw Women’s Division as it exists now. Unless someone like Asuka shows up after Summerslam, they’re going to need to shake things up. Putting the belt on Sasha accomplishes that for now.

PREDICTION: Sasha Banks

WWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Kevin Owens
Guest Referee: Shane McMahon

It’s highly doubtful this match, or any match on this card, tops what AJ Styles did with John Cena at last year’s Summerslam. Especially given that he and Owens haven’t necessarily had the best chemistry. But adding Shane to the mix gave the program that extra push to get it here. I am intrigued to see how things play out with Shane. He and Owens have a really interesting dynamic.

Owens is obviously going with Shane after Summerslam. So it makes sense to have Owens lose after getting in Shane’s face and prompting a physical reaction. They could have AJ win clean, I suppose. But Shane is in there. May as well use him.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

The Big Show vs. Big Cass
Enzo Amore to be encased in a shark cage. 

Cass is one of WWE’s big projects right now. Regardless of how popular Enzo is, everything they’re doing here is about elevating him. So it should go without saying that he’ll wind up getting the win here.

It’s not often that you see a babyface trapped in the cage for a match like this. It’s almost always designed to keep a bad guy isolated so he can’t interfere. We just saw that with Chris Jericho at the Royal Rumble. If Enzo does wind up interfering, I imagine him somehow costing Show the match, furthering his status as the village irritant. To his fellow wrestlers, at least. To most fans? Not so much.

PREDICTION: Big Cass

WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Sheamus and Cesaro (c) vs. Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose

As hokey as it was at certain points, the build-up to the reunion of Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose was very effective. If you need proof, look no further than the crowd that night. It was a cool moment. A moment I imagine they’ll try to top once Roman Reigns comes into the picture.

But first, we’ve got to establish that Rollins and Ambrose can still do big things together. To do that, they’ve got to take the tag belts away from Sheamus and Cesaro. I expect that’s exactly what we’ll see here. The crowd should really be into this one as well. The Shield magic notwithstanding, all four of these guys can go. There’s a good chance this winds up being one of the better matches of the night.

PREDICTION: Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose

John Cena vs. Baron Corbin

Prior to Tuesday’s Smackdown, I had Cena pegged to win this one. But Corbin’s failed cash-in has me second-guessing things. If Cena costs Corbin his big match, and then beats him at Summerslam, where does that leave him? If they want him to remain a player, Corbin needs to get his revenge on Cena. Otherwise, he’s going to have to climb his way back up the card. Or worse, he could be the next Damien Sandow. Only not as talented. Or as over.

You know who I’d like to see? Frustrated, bitter, angry, violent Baron Corbin. Show me that this man is dangerous. Convince me that I should be afraid of him not just because of his physical stature, but his cunning and ruthless mind.

PREDICTION: Baron Corbin

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Jinder Mahal (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

This wasn’t at all what I expected for Nakamura at this show. Considering he just popped up on television in April, it’s a little quick for his first WWE Championship Match. But I can’t bring myself to gripe too much about it. At least it show us that WWE has enough confidence in him to place him in a big match like this. It’s reminiscent of where AJ Styles was last year.

Nakamura’s match with Baron Corbin at Battleground was a disappointment. If he and Jinder Mahal turn in a stinker on a big stage like Summerslam, some of that stink might stay on him for awhile. What’s more, Jinder hasn’t had that epic WWE Championship Match yet. So it’s in both these men’s interest to give us something great and memorable.

Ultimately, I don’t think the Jinder Mahal experiment is over just yet. I see this match having the same outcome that a lot of his matches do. The Singh Brothers meddle in the match, which results in either a dirty finish or a disqualification. Either way, the title stays on Jinder. After Randy Orton’s victory over the champ two weeks ago, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve got a three-way dance for the title coming up between Mahal, Nakamura, and Orton. I can’t say I’m dying to see it. But there’ve certainly been worse matches.

PREDICTION: Jinder Mahal

FATAL FOUR-WAY MATCH FOR WWE UNIVERSAL TITLE:
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe vs. Braun Strowman

From a conceptual standpoint, this is a fairly flawed show. That being said, they got the main event right. All four of these guys are hot right now, and any of them could conceivably walk out with the belt. On paper, that makes for an awesome main event.

WWE tried to throw a curveball our way by having Paul Heyman announce that if Brock loses the title, both of them will walk out. Considering Brock is not only under contract until Wrestlemania, and he’s being advertised for shows post-Summerslam, it seems unlikely he’ll drop it here. That’s not to say he can’t lose it, go away, and then come back later. But my gut says Brock keeps the title.

For me, the real drawing power of this match lies in the potential for sheer brutal chaos. All four of these guys hit hard and throw far. Hopefully, no matter who comes out on top, the audience wins.

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

Big Cass Goes Bad, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Let’s jump right to the main event this week, shall we? They went and did it. They turned Cass heel, revealing that not only has he been the one attacking Enzo, but that he’s been staging the attacks on himself. And why? Because Enzo’s supposedly been holding him back, and running his mouth too much.

I liked most of what they did here, especially how they looped Corey Graves in. I’m not sure what they’re trying to do with he and Kurt Angle. But between that and what we saw here, they’re turning him into an investigator of sorts.

Realistically, they could have turned Enzo. The fans have caught on to the fact that he can be damn annoying at times. But he’s also one of the best talkers in all of wrestling. The fans are still behind him because he’s got the God-given gift of gab. So if they had to turn one of them, they made the right choice with Cass. They even played the sympathetic card, with Cass essentially saying: “Nobody likes you because you’re annoying. And now I don’t like you either.”

Before the turn, they positioned Big Show as still having heat with Cass. So I imagine we’ll see Show vs. Cass at Great Balls of Fire, followed by a showdown between Cass and Enzo at Summerslam.

WWE is taking a risk here, which I commend them for. Ratings have been way down lately. Despite what they’d like you to believe sometimes, that matters. So a shake-up is merited. I just hope this is a shake-up that pays off. It seems like WWE has seen money in Cass since he came up from NXT. But he’s always been so tightly intertwined with Enzo. He’s achieved all this success in both NXT and WWE because he was with Enzo. Is he polished enough to go out there and deliver on his own? Sure, he’ll have some decent heat for the next few months. But what about after he’s done with Enzo? Who is Cass without his other half?

I’m hoping we like the answer we get…

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns announces he will challenge for the Universal Title at SummerslamSamoa Joe confronts Reigns, a brawl breaks out. Reigns was cocky here, which I actually liked. Better to have him show a little attitude than to just be reciting sanitized dialogue with no feeling behind it. And I loved the line: “You’ll never be Samoa Joe to me. You’ll always be just Joe.” Them is fightin’ words.

So…does this mean we’re getting Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns at Summerslam? I can dig that. The rumor was that we’d get it at Wrestlemania. But I’m good with this, especially since we’ve already seen Lesnar and Reigns at a Wrestlemania.

However, I was also game for Reigns against John Cena. Another day, then…

The Hardy Boyz def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. Not much interest in this one from me. They had me when Gallows and Anderson hit the Boot of Doom, and were seemingly about to get the pin. But other than that this just felt like filler. And let’s be honest: That’s what it was.

Goldust invites R-Truth to the premiere of “The Shattered Truth” next week. I lap up these Goldust promos, I really do. Hoping they hit this out of the park next week.

Finn Balor cuts Elias Samson off before he can sing. There’s something here with this “Drifter” gimmick. They’re getting there. The wrestling fan in me is dying for Samson to hit somebody with that guitar. Might not happen for awhile. But when it does, it’ll be great.

Finn Balor def. Bo Dallas. Balor later gets attacked by Samson. The early part of this match felt reminiscent of the last time they tried to push Bo a little bit, for all the good that did him. What exactly do they have to lose by putting him with Bray Wyatt? The two are legitimately siblings. Just go for it.

So I guess Balor has a new dance partner in Elias Samson. Wouldn’t have been my first choice. I’d have had him go with Ambrose, then put Balor with Miz.

Seth Rollins to be on the cover of WWE 2K18. Rollins cuts off Bray Wyatt before an attack. Yet another amazing commercial from the 2K folks. These things are more memorable than most Raw episodes.

Wasn’t a fan of Seth’s promo in front of the live crowd. Too white meat for my taste. “We can all get second chances,” and all that. Too syrupy for me.

So after a back and forth promo, Bray Wyatt comes to the ring, blows out his lantern, and immediately eats a cross body from Rollins. It’s amazing just how far this character has fallen. Again. Whenever he takes a step forward, it’s like he takes two steps back.

Akira Tozawa def. TJP, both Titus O’Neil and Neville watch from ringside. I’ll call it now: O’Neil accidentally costs Tozawa his inevitable title match with Neville. You can say what you want about how stale 205 Live is, but when Neville drops that belt it’s going to be a big deal.

Samoa Joe def. Roman Reigns after a distraction from the returning Braun Strowman. Strowman challenges Reigns to an Ambulance Match at Great Balls of FireReigns and Joe work well together. A real nice alpha male against alpha male dynamic. And it’s always very physical.

The announcers acted like it was a big thing when Joe kicked out of the Superman Punch. But when was the last time Reigns beat somebody with that move? It feels like he hits three or four of them each time he wrestles on pay per view.

Strowman had great entrance. A nice callback to the ambulance stuff he and Roman have done. Then he had to go and say, “I’ll see you at Great Balls of Fire pay per view.” Still, Strowman’s return is something to be happy about. WWE has done such a good job building him up that not having him on Raw has hurt the show.

Dean Ambrose ruins the Miz’s attempt at an apology to Maryse. Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel attack Ambrose. So does this mean Dallas and Axel are with Miz now? Hey, it did wonders for Damien Sandow. And it adds a little something extra to Miz’s presentation. Works for me.

Cesaro and Sheamus def. Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews. Crews is so damn explosive out there. If they can find a way to get this guy over, they could have a real commodity on their hands. Make it happen, WWE.

A video package airs for Brock Lesnar vs. Samoa Joe at Great Balls of FireThese are always so damn great. Brock had the best line in this one: “I’m gonna go through Samoa Joe like a freight train. On fire.”

Emma comes after Alexa Bliss while she’s on commentary for Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax. The match breaks down. Mickie James and Dana Brooke join the fight before Bayley cleans house. This seemed very rushed. Like they wanted to squeeze this in before the main event segment. At least Bayley looked fairly strong. She’s needed all the help she can get lately.

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

Posted in Wrestling

Brock Lesnar Returns, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Brock Lesnar was back on television this week for the first time since Wrestlemania week, with the Universal Championship across his shoulder. Anytime Brock is on television it’s a big deal. Now that he’s got a Heavyweight Title again, that’s the case even moreso.

Nowadays we’re hearing a lot of the same talk we heard during Brock’s last run with the WWE Championship. He needs to be on TV more, not having him there takes away from the show, things like that. And yes, not having your champion there is a big adjustment. That title is usually what everyone is fighting for. It’s the motivation for most of the main characters on this TV show.

But they’re doing the right thing with Brock Lesnar, champion or not.

Brock is special. That was the case even before he became UFC Champion and all that. Now he’s one of the precious few difference-making attractions WWE has. So when Brock is on Raw, sparse as it may be at times, it’s special. It’s must-see TV. That shouldn’t change because he has the title.

The impetus, therefore, needs to be on WWE to provide us with compelling television despite the lack of a Heavyweight Champion. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, they haven’t consistently done that. But there are bright spots to be found. They’ve reintroduced certain mystery and soap opera elements that have been absent for awhile. The mystery of who’s attacking Enzo and Cass, the question of what’s going on with Kurt Angle, etc. They’ve got so many talented people on that Raw roster. The absence of your champion is a circumstance, not an excuse.

There’s also something to be said for restraint. Before the so-called Monday Night Wars, you didn’t see all your marquee stars in the ring every week. The announcers would talk about them, and you might see an interview. But they wouldn’t necessarily wrestle every week. Once WWE started fighting for ratings, that all changed. WWE would benefit greatly from not throwing everything and everyone at us each week. Yes, they have three hours to fill. But again, that’s not an excuse. It’s a call for them to be more creative.

What’s more, they’ve shown they can do it. Not just with Brock, either. Finn Balor hasn’t wrestled on Raw in two weeks. We saw a video package about him. But they kept him off the live show. Roman Reigns got the same treatment this week. Ergo, they’re a little bit fresher the next time we see them.

Ergo, despite what you might hear, Brock Lesnar’s less frequent appearances are an example of what WWE is doing right these days. Frankly, the anticipation and freshness they help create is something they should strive for with more of their main event talent.

Ponderings From Raw:

A brawl erupts between Brock Lesnar and Samoa Joe. There was a definite tension in the air when Brock and Paul Heyman came out. A tension which grew thicker with Heyman’s promo, and then even thicker when Joe finally came out.

What followed was a pull-apart brawl very reminiscent of the one we got between Brock and the Undertaker a few years ago. I’m disappointed they couldn’t come up with something different. But the two things I came away from this thinking about were Joe’s opening shot to Lesnar, and the kick he snuck in. They came off pretty evenly matched, but Joe was the one who got put over. In the end, this accomplished what it needed to.

Elias Samson def. Dean Ambrose after a distraction from Miz and Maryse. Wonder how many of the kids at home got Corey Graves’ Bobby Boucher reference…

Decent match. Nice to hear the crowd get into it. That’s not always what we get with some of these Raw crowds. This Ambrose/Miz thing needs to be over already. Between Raw and Smackdown, we’ve been seeing it for months now. Give us a fresh IC Title challenger, and let Ambrose work with Samson long form.

Afterward, we saw Kurt Angle get angry at Miz backstage. So…the GM was mad that a wrestler interfered in another wrestler’s match? He does know what show he’s in charge of, right?

Cedric Alexander def. Noam Dar. The tried a new story device here by putting Alicia Fox on the tron, framed inside an image of a phone (shown right). The idea was she was using FaceTime or something. They really should have set this up beforehand. Like, in the backstage segment we saw prior, have Dar tell Fox he’s going to put her up on the tron so people can still be treated to her beauty. Something like that. The transition was jarring. At least the match was short.

Roman Reigns to make an announcement regarding Summerslam next week. I like this. It seems pretty open-ended as far as who Reigns will be working with. So it could be just about anybody. It’d be nice if we could just do Reigns vs. Lesnar, and get it out of the way now. I expect we won’t be that lucky. Braun Strowman, maybe? I know he’s a Smackdown guy, but could it be John Cena? If so, it would make sense for them to start promoting it now.

Bray Wyatt and Seth Rollins come face-to-face in the ring. They must have used an old bumper for the backstage portion of Bray’s promo. There were some images of Randy Orton in there.

News broke yesterday about Bray’s wife filing for divorce, citing an alleged affair with ring announcer Jojo Offerman. I’m not defending what the real-life Wyndham Rotunda supposedly did. But it sucks whenever one’s dirty laundry gets aired like that. My heart goes out to the family.

Bray said, “You don’t want this fight, Seth. My power is more than you can possibly imagine.” Oh really? You lost clean to Roman Reigns last week. Also, you and Rollins have wrestled before, including in the main event of Raw not long ago. So yeah, I’m pretty sure he can imagine just fine.

Bray’s little disappearing act during this segment was very Undertaker-ish. He then said another line that made no sense: “Face your fear, man….and run.” Face your fear and run? What the hell does that mean?

Apollo Crews def. Kalisto. Titus O’Neil continues to try and recruit Akira Tozawa to the Titus Brand. Nice powerbomb finish to an okay match. I’d expect to see Titus, Apollo, and Kalisto start showing up on 205 Live to further this story. If they haven’t already, that is. Like most people, 205 Live isn’t much of a priority for me.

Sasha Banks, Mickie James, and Dana Brooke def. Alexa Bliss, Nia Jax, and Emma. Emma caught a really bad break with an injury shortly after she finally got back in the ring. So it was cool to see her return. Then of course, she tapped out. Some people just can’t catch a break.

Corey Graves does a sit-down interview with Bayley. After not being able to use the kendo stick on Alexa Bliss at Extreme Rules, Bayley says she’s going to do things “her way” regardless of what people think. That’s a nice sentiment, and it’s very in-character. I just hope that after the bad booking Bayley has had to endure, the older fans don’t turn on her for being a white-meat babyface. I’m interested to see what kind of reaction she gets the next time she’s in front of a TV crowd.

Heath Slater and Rhyno def. The Miz and “Bear.” Well great. The crowd was chanting for the bear. Now we’ll be seeing the Miz in segments with it for weeks to come.

So Miz unmasks the bear, and it’s not Ambrose. Then a second bear comes in, and it is Ambrose. They seemed to lose the crowd at that point. Apparently Miz’s tag team partner being in a teddy bear costume was okay. A sudden costume switch? Not okay.

If they’re looking for someone for Miz to feud with, I wouldn’t mind seeing Slater get that spot. He’d make a great underdog challenger.

Neville lays out Rich Swann before their match can begin, advices Akira Tozawa to “tread carefully.” I’ve been waiting to see Tozawa and Neville mix it up since the former first appeared on Raw. I’m ready for this!

Big Cass is once again attacked backstage. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson defeat Enzo and Cass moments later. The Big Show comes to Enzo’s aid afterward. I’ll give them credit. I’m more interested in this story than I ever thought I would be. The big question seems to be about who’s going heel? Is it Enzo or Cass? I still don’t think they should be broken up. But it seems like that’d be the only worthwhile payoff…

 Sheamus and Cesaro vs The Hardy Boyz go to a double count-out in a 2 out of 3 Falls Match for the Raw Tag Team Titles. Love the positioning of this match. Really made the titles feel important. It’s also a break from the usual suspects being in the main event. Reigns, Rollins, etc.

Sheamus and Cesaro have been put over like a million bucks these past few weeks. First they pin everyone in a Tag Team Turmoil Match. Then they win the belts at Extreme Rules. Now the Hardys fail to beat them for the belts in a 2 out of 3 Falls Match. They may not have won here, but they are believably and definitively positioned as the top team on Raw right now. Maybe the top team in all of WWE. Good on you, gentlemen. Looking forward to seeing where it goes next.

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Posted in Wrestling

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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Posted in Wrestling

Brock Lesnar’s Victory, The Final Deletion, and Ponderings From WWE Raw

Brock Lesnar, UFC 200By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Very happy to see Brock Lesnar get the win over Mark Hunt. The doubters weren’t totally justified in questioning Lesnar’s chances. The guy hadn’t had a fight in years. But he was obviously ready. I don’t know if he regrets re-signing with WWE, but it’s clear his heart is still in MMA. I expect we’ll see him back in the octagon soon.

Lesnar will now carry the momentum from this fight into Summerslam, where we now know he’ll wrestle the returning Randy Orton. The announcement of Lesnar’s opponent happened on Smackdown, actually prompting me to watch the show for once. We heard Corey Graves bring up the fact that these two came up together in the WWE developmental system. I expect that will be a large part of the story they tell as we move toward August. I’m a bit concerned about Orton staying healthy in there with Brock. He’s just come off shoulder surgery, after all. But then again, I had those same concerns about The Undertaker, and as far as I know he came out of it fine.

WWE is going to need as many stars as they can fine once this brand split starts. Make no mistake about it, Randy Orton is one of their biggest commodities.

I also loved how they finally acknowledged the damn fight on television this week. Only after Brock had won, of course…

Bob Backlund, Darren Young, WWE Raw, July 11, 2016Ponderings From Raw:

Darren Young wins a battle royal to earn an Intercontinental Title Match at BattlegroundThe obvious choice to win this match seemed to be Apollo Crews, for no other reason than he was the only participant to get a TV entrance, and they played his music through Miz’s pre-match promo. But Darren Young was a pleasant surprise. And they were chanting his name! Imagine that.

However, I’m curious about the way he won. Crews and Baron Corbin eliminated themselves. Young won by accident. So what does that say about him going into Battleground? Either way, any excuse to get Bob Backlund on live TV works for me.

I’ve come to enjoy Miz’s commentary. He does a nice job putting other talents over. He seemed to be getting instructions to put Corbin over. That’s fair enough. I suspect Corbin will receive much more attention once the brand split takes effect. He still comes off really green. But the best solution for that is experience.

Sheamus def. Zack Ryder. I was blown away when I saw Ryder get a clean win over Sheamus on Smackdown. That, combined with his win last week on Raw, leads one to a stunning conclusion: Zack Ryder is getting a push. Four years after he took the wrestling world by storm with his YouTube show, WWE finally seems to be taking him seriously. I’m really proud that he’s persevered after all this time. The only wrestling t-shirt I’ve purchased in the last decade was Ryder’s Broski v-neck. That’s how much of a fan I was, and still am. A United States Title Match with Rusev seems imminent. Will he win? Probably not. But at least he’s in the conversation.

Kalisto, WWE Raw, July 11, 2016Tyler Breeze & Fandango def. The Lucha Dragons. During this match the announcers brought up the idea that tag teams could be split up during the draft. I’m hoping that doesn’t happen very much. Remember when they split the Dudleys up in 2002 for no real reason? And then they put them back together a matter of months later? Yeah, let’s not do that again.

Seth Rollins airs mock interview with Roman Reigns using old interview footage. Dean Ambrose comes out to confront him. A WWE Title Match is made for next week’s RawKurt Angle did something like this to The Rock at the tail end of the Attitude Era. It’s an okay little gag. No harm done, even though they are talking about a legitimate drug test violation.

Seth Rollins came off like a million bucks in this segment. He said that Reigns should be taken out of the title match at Battleground, and the fans cheered. He talked about Ambrose sneaking up on him and taking the belt, which did happen. He was also right that Ambrose couldn’t beat him for the belt last year. Rollins has a legitimate argument to being the uncrowned WWE Champion, and being better than both Ambrose and Reigns.

In Ambrose’s response, however, he came off more threatening than he has in weeks. Jokey Dean Ambrose is fine sometimes. But as the champion, we need to see more of the crazy and dangerous Dean Ambrose. When he’s on, Ambrose is as good as anybody in the company. Rollins, to his credit, played off of that intensity very well. He looked intimidated, as his character should be. As for next week’s title match, I don’t expect the belt to change hands. Battleground, however, is a different story.

WWE Raw, July 11, 2016Kevin Owen gets Sami Zayn ejected from the commentary table before his victory over Cesaro. Zayn attacks Owens afterward. I wish they’d just make this some kind of stipulation match that allows Zayn and Owens to fight all over the arena. I just wish they’d stop doing that lock-up/punches thing they do. It takes me right out of whatever scene they’re in.

The New Day journey to the Wyatt Family “compound.” So…was this WWE’s attempt to outdo the “Final Deletion” that TNA did on Impact last week? If so, they failed.

Let’s go ahead and talk about the Final Deletion. It was a match Matt and Jeff Hardy shot on location, which served as the blow-off for the bizarre program they’ve had in TNA this year. Produced by Jeremy Borash, it was a truly ridiculous spectacle. There was a weird vignette with drones and a hologram, spots with fireworks, and the lunacy fans have come to expect from Matt’s crazy character. It was far from your traditional main event, but that was the point. A lot of fans enjoyed it, and it got TNA some much-needed positive buzz.

All I can say about this, is that it’s good to see people talking about TNA again. What that brand desperately needs is some buzz, and they got it.

Fast-forward six days, and we get this. It looked like WWE’s take on a found footage flick, a la The Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield. But the shaky camera was just awful. There were traces of the Final Deletion. We had the music, the stuff in the water, Bray using an axe, the car crash, etc. The ironic thing is, had they shot this in a more traditional manner, it would have been a lot more interesting. We’d have been able to follow the action more closely. Also, that didn’t look much like a compound to me. More like an open field.

TNA, The Final Deletion, Matt and Jeff HardyOn the plus side, the image of Braun Strowman rising from the water and roaring was awesome. Literally the best thing he’s ever done. And that final image of the lanterns in the forest was cool. But all in all, this was very derivative. WWE drawing inspiration from something TNA did? In 2016? Who’d have thought?

Enzo & Cass def. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson via disqualification. John Cena makes the save afterward. Of course Cena was there. C’mon, now.

Decent match. I’ve got high hopes the match at Battleground will be one of the better six-man bouts we’ve seen on pay per view in recent years. I doubt it’ll top The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family. But you never know. This all obviously leads to another match between AJ Styles and John Cena at Summerslam, and possibly a tag title shot for Enzo & Cass.

Sasha Banks def. Dana Brooke. I was really curious to see how Banks and Brooke would match up. All things considered, they did pretty well. Absolutely the best match I’ve seen from Dana Brooke since she got called up. They also gave this match a good amount of time, which I credit them for. We wanted Sasha, and they gave us Sasha. They took their damn time, but better late than never.

Vince McMahon names Shane McMahon Commissioner of Smackdown, Stephanie McMahon named Commissioner of Raw. General Managers to be named next week. First off, Vince’s impression of “sweet” Stephanie was awesome. The funniest thing on this show in weeks.

McMahon Family, WWE Raw, July 11, 2016What happened here isn’t surprising. This looked like where they were going. The heel Stephanie on one show, the babyface Shane on the other. The General Manager thing is a bit odd. Traditionally, you have one authority figure that makes matches, stipulations, etc. So does the GM now fill that role, with Shane or Steph coming in as necessary? It all seems redundant. But maybe it’ll make sense when we see it in action. By the way, isn’t Kurt Angle available these days?

I do, however, think Vince gave us a clue about how things are really going to go once this split takes effect. He made a point to call Raw the “three-hour flagship” of WWE. In the end, Raw is like Vince’s favorite child. Even with the added emphasis on Smackdown, eventually it all comes back to Raw.

 Image 1 from rt.com. Image 5 from denofgeek.com. Remaining images courtesy of WWE.

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