Will Jinder Mahal Shock the World? Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

it looks like business just picked up. WWE and Jim Ross announced this week that the Hall of Fame broadcaster will lend his famous voice to the shows WWE recently taped in Norwich, England. The shows will be centered around the new WWE United Kingdom Division, of which the center is UK Champion Tyler Bate. Ross will work alongside Nigel McGuinness.

This is a hell of a selling point, not just for these UK shows, but for the WWE Network in general. JR’s voice is desperately missed on WWE television. He’s one of the best overall storytellers they’ve ever had. He could bring you inside the ring, break down the psychology, and put talent over in a way that most announcers today just don’t do. That’s a disservice to both the wrestlers and the fans. As many network subscribers will still be unfamiliar with the UK talent on that show, Ross’ name also has tremendous value.

I’m hopeful WWE will continue to bring JR in to call matches on the big shows, specifically Summerslam, the Royal Rumble, and Wrestlemania. We don’t need him to call every match. But he added some nice extra garnish to that Undertaker/Roman Reigns match. When WWE wants a match to feel special, they can always plug JR in to knock one out of the park. He’ll do it every time.

After WWE inexplicably let him go a few years back, it’s tremendous to see these two sides rebuilding that bridge. Let’s start making up for lost time.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Randy Orton appears for the first time since the House of Horrors Match. A brawl ensues with the other main eventers. A Six-Man Tag is made for later in the night. Jinder’s mic work had some heat to it. It wasn’t necessarily well-delivered. But if they keep working at this little experiment, they could have something here. The real question is what happens to Jinder after Backlash

By the way, does this grouping of Jinder Mahal and the Singh Brothers have a name? It seems like they should.

Natalya def. Becky Lynch. A Six-Woman Tag Match is made for Backlash, pitting the “Welcoming Committee” against Charlotte Flair, Naomi, and Lynch. Speaking of factions, can we get another name for this Nattie/Carmella/Tamina tandem? The Welcoming Committee is really damn lame.

Not a huge fan of the SIx-Woman Tag route they’re taking for Backlash. That’s a match for Smackdown, not a pay per view. The Welcoming Committee isn’t exactly the Shield.

Erick Rowan def. Luke Harper. Did Harper sleep with somebody’s wife or something? What does he have to do to get a substantial, sustained push?

Harper and Rowan are running into the same problem they had the last time the Wyatt Family broke up. They can’t seem to break out and distinguish themselves outside of being Bray Wyatt’s former henchmen. Harper has been close. But we still don’t know much about him. And the only thing we’ve ever really known about Rowan is his affinity for sheep masks. Why does he even wear it anymore?

Shinsuke Nakamura confronts Dolph Ziggler. A match is made for Backlash“You treat me like a contagious disease.” I like that line. I actually might steal that someday. Good mic work by Ziggler.

Be ready, folks. That Chicago crowd is going to go absolutely nuts for Nakamura.

In a WWE.com, Aiden English explains why he’s so emotional. Last week, Dave Meltzer speculated that WWE had English cry on television because they were mocking Mauro Ranallo. I’m not sure I buy that. I’m more curious why English is calling himself an “artist,” when that’s also Nakamura’s moniker. Apples and oranges, obviously. But still.

Breezango def. The Ascension, after another edition of “The Fashion Files” airs earlier in the evening. The Usos come out to cut a promo. So are Tyler Breeze and Fandango babyfaces now? They’re seemingly being shifted to a more comedic role. That suits their wit and delivery, so long as WWE doesn’t overdo it. Which they will, of course.

Another great promo from Jimmy and Jey. Where the hell have these guys been for the last seven years?

Kevin Owens, Baron Corbin, and Jinder Mahal def. Randy Orton, AJ Styles, and and Sami Zayn. Mahal scores the pinfall on Orton. Last week Jinder beats Sami, this week he pins Orton. I don’t know if it’s officially my prediction yet, but Jinder Mahal could very well shock the world at Backlash. They could position him as the beatable champion who needs his run-in buddies to retain the title. Stranger things have happened. In that sense, I can’t help but continue to think of him in the same vein as JBL circa 2004.

Randy Orton isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire as a babyface WWE Champion. Granted, he hasn’t had a lot of time yet, nor a particularly hot feud. But right now, anyone not named AJ Styles is going to have an uphill battle if they want to be the top babyface.

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#FireJBL? Plus, Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponderings From Raw:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

Ponderings From Smackdown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The John Cena Brand, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

john_cena_nickelodeonBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

First the Today show, then the ESPYs, then the Teen Choice Awards, then Saturday Night Live, now the Kids Choice Awards. Instead of being “the face that runs the place,” John Cena should be the “host that does the most.”

Indeed, Cena will host Nickelodeon’s annual Kid’s Choice Awards on March 11, just a few weeks before Wrestlemania. But it’s seemingly becoming less and less about wrestling for Cena. We’ve always known he had major crossover appeal. Every bit as much as Hulk Hogan or Steve Austin. Perhaps even the Rock. That’s one of the things WWE looks for in their top guys. But in 2016, the demand for Cena outside the squared circle was higher than ever.

Things don’t seem to be slowing down, either. In the last several months, he’s had critical opportunities to define the John Cena “brand” for mainstream America. Consider all the different demographics he’s reached via ESPN, the Today show and Saturday Night Live on NBC, Trainwreck with Amy Schumer, American Grit on Fox, and now Nickelodeon. Simply put, he’s everywhere.

John Cena, NBCFor WWE, this is good news. Yes, we’re bound to see far less of Cena on their TV shows. But he’s also one of the best ambassadors they’ve ever had. He’s handsome, charismatic, and legitimately entertaining when given the right material. He’s a guy you would want synonymous with your company.

Eventually, the Rock outgrew WWE. The Dwayne Johnson brand became as big, if not bigger, than the company he wrestled for. At this point, WWE is still very much woven into the fabric of the John Cena brand. So until he leaves the nest on a more permanent basis, what’s good for Cena is good for WWE.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Randy Orton def. Luke Harper. Bray Wyatt hits Sister Abigail on Harper after the match. Nice match. We may now have one less Wyatt Family member.

WWE has tried to break Harper out on his own before. He even got a brief Intercontinental Title reign out of it. But he wasn’t able to carve out a distinct identity for himself. He was essentially a drifting Wyatt Family member. That’s why it felt so right when they eventually put the group back together. If this is another go at a singles run for him, they can’t repeat the same mistakes.

Mickie James, WWE Smackdown, January 24, 2017Mickie James explains her actions as La Luchadora. She and Alexa Bliss lay out Becky Lynch. I love Mickie. I really do. But when she started rattling off her resume, it screamed “scripted promo.” Most of this stuff is scripted, obviously. But that just made it painfully obvious.

I do appreciate her spicing up the delivery, though. Her character motivation makes sense. With all this talk of a women’s revolution, she feels forgotten. And I’ll admit, I got a little chill when Becky’s music hit, and she talked right over it. “Don’t cry about last week, honey! Get in this ring and I’ll give you something to cry about!” Damn!

One minor complaint: When Becky was down in the ring, Alexa gave her a little kick in the side. She didn’t even register it. Maybe lay that in a little more next time. But overall, some pretty good stuff here.

Carmella takes James Ellsworth shopping for a new wardrobe. These talking segments still aren’t Ellsworth’s strong point. But Carmella’s got a lot of charisma, and I appreciate the idea. It’s always good to break up the monotony. I’ll admit, I chuckled at Ellsworth wearing a turtleneck.

Mojo Rawley, January 24, 2017Mojo Rawley wins a 10-man Over the Top Rope Challenge to earn a spot in the Royal Rumble Match. Mojo Rawley caught a bad break when Zack Ryder got hurt. It’s cool that they’re testing the waters with him. But who is this guy? All I really know is he was Zack Ryder’s tag partner in NXT.

This is the first time we’ve seen Heath Slater in awhile. They need to find something for him to do. The team with Rhyno has run its course. But he can still contribute as a single.

They had Baron Corbin out there on commentary. He’s improving, but the Earth didn’t move for me on this one.

AJ Styles calls out John Cena. It found it hilarious that AJ talked about his placement on the Royal Rumble poster. I actually saw a few Twitter trolls complaining about that. It’s not entirely unjustified. But it’s a multi-man Royal Rumble poster that has the four biggest stars (Undertaker, Goldberg, Brock Lesnar, and Cena) in the front. Even the mighty Roman Reigns didn’t make the front row. Get over it.

Oddly enough, I was actually watching that Today show episode as it aired. I rarely get to see it. But Cena happened to be on, and I caught that AJ Styles mention. I even tweeted about it. Because, you know, I tweet about things…

What can I say? I was tickled. Other than that, this was pretty much your standard Cena vs. Indy Guy promo. Not thrilled to see AJ stunned speechless at the end. Especially since there’s a good chance Cena’s walking out with the belt on Sunday.

Dolph Ziggler def. Kalisto. Apollo Crews saves Kalisto from another chair attack by Ziggler. Loved Kalisto dodging the clothesline with a backflip. That’s pretty much all I can say about this one, as it ended so quickly. I imagine we’ll see Ziggler vs. Crews sooner than later. Unless they want to do it at Elimination Chamber. But that seems unlikely. They’ll probably need Dolph for the chamber.

Naomi reemerges, places herself in the hunt for the Smackdown Women’s Title. Happy to see Naomi back on television. She’s clearly been hungry for awhile now, and she’s got so many athletic gifts. She deserves her shot.

Dean Ambrose, WWE Smackdown, January 24, 2017Dean Ambrose def. the Miz in a Lumberjack Match to retain the Intercontinental Championship. On the infographic they showed when Ambrose came out, he had two accomplishments listed: “Founding member of the Shield” and “Defeated the Miz for the Intercontinental Championship.” We’ve been getting Shield mentions every week on Raw, and Smackdown hasn’t been shy about bringing them up either. WWE really wants the Shield near the front of everyone’s mind. I imagine that’s because they want some of those fond memories to rub off on Roman Reigns. But it also doesn’t hurt to plant seeds for their inevitable reunion.

I was pleased to hear “Let’s go Ambrose!” chants during this match. Ambrose was starting to hear boos when he was programmed with AJ Styles. I’d like to think that had more to do with the love fans have for Styles than any disdain they developed for Ambrose. He’s such an eccentric talent, and one of my favorite guys to watch.

Just like they keep talking about Cena going for Heavyweight Title number 16, Mauro Ranallo kept hyping the idea of Miz being a seven-time Intercontinental Champion. Do they want him to break Jericho’s record of nine? Or is that just Mauro being an informed announcer? We’re not necessarily used to those…

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Mickie James Returns! Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

Lita vs. Victoria, steel cage matchBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

With Becky Lynch and Alexa Bliss getting a Steel Cage match this week, there’s no better time to look back on the last time the ladies of WWE got to wrestle in the cage.

The recent Hell in a Cell Match between Charlotte and Sasha Banks notwithstanding, to see another traditional Cage Match with the women you’ve got to go all the way back to the November 24, 2003 edition of Raw. Your participants? Lita and Victoria. It was a Raw Roulette episode, thus in storyline the cage was sprung on them.

Bell to bell, the match is about five minutes long. So they don’t exactly have time to tell an epic tale of struggle and sacrifice. Victoria gets thrown into the cage twice in the opening seconds of the match, and we get some of the usual climbing-the-cage spots with Lita. Lita also hits a wicked moonsault on a standing Victoria. The match ends when Matt Hardy, in the midst of what would be a short-lived heel turn, slams the cage door on Lita’s head, allowing Victoria to crawl out.

While certainly a fun trivia point in Raw history, this match wasn’t even a fraction of what it could have been had they actually given these ladies time to tell a story. Thankfully, Becky and Alexa were awarded that privilege

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Shane McMahon announces the WWE Championship will be defended at Elimination Chamber on February 12. AJ Styles, John Cena, and the Miz emerge as likely participants. This was a gimme, of course. But it’s nice that they’re ahead of the game. It seems likely that the other participants will be Dean Ambrose, Baron Corbin, and Dolph Ziggler.

AJ Styles vs. The Miz, WWE Smackdown, January 17, 2017AJ Styles vs. The Miz went to a no-contest.. Styles was already hearing chants from the Memphis crowd. Putting him against Miz wasn’t going to dispel that, was it?

Sometimes I wonder whether Styles actually has what it takes to be Smackdown‘s lead babyface. He’s so much stronger on the mic than he used to be. But it’s never been his strong point, per se. Then you see how smooth and dynamic he is in the ring, and a lot of that doubt evaporates. Styles does his best talking in the ring in the same way guys like Bret Hart or Rob Van Dam used to. Needless to say, the fans got behind those two in a big way. The question is whether the company would get behind Styles in such a role.

Natalya provokes Nikki Bella, cutting a promo at a merchandise stand. Another brawl ensues between the two. Not the best mic work you’ll ever see, and this wasn’t nearly as good as the fight last week. But I still appreciate the intensity of the fighting itself. It’s the most interested I’ve been in a Nikki Bella program since she worked with Charlotte.

Dean Ambrose def. Randy Orton after a distraction by Luke Harper. The Earth didn’t move for me on this one. A little slow. Not a big fan of the distraction roll-up finish, either. He couldn’t have caught the Dirty Deeds and pinned him?

randy-orton-bray-wyatt-luke-harperIt’s odd to see Randy Orton being pinned so much lately. Obviously it’s all part of the larger Wyatt Family storyline. But Orton has always been one of WWE’s most protected guys. For years he was right up there with John Cena. I like this. It’s a change of pace.

Dolph Ziggler is a guest on the King’s Court. Oh wow. They went there.

Firstly, I love that they brought back the King’s Court. It gives Jerry Lawler something different to do. He’s still fully capable of contributing, no matter where they put him. Last week I talked about Miz TV potentially being the only talk show segment on Smackdown. But if they want to have Lawler do this once in awhile, I’m game.

I don’t know how widely accepted it is that Ziggler “caused” Lawler’s cardiac episode on Raw in 2012. But It’s something they’ve alluded to. King took a bunch of elbow’s from Ziggler in a match, and later in the night he went into cardiac arrest. This is the first time they’ve done anything with it in terms of a storyline. I loved it, but I wish they’d gone further. King hasn’t wrestled for WWE since then, and he may never again. That’s something they could have used to put some great heat on Ziggler. And maybe that’s what they’re doing.

Just as good was King retaliating with, “No matter how many times you change your attitude, you will always be a loser.”

Mickie James, Alexa Bliss, WWE Smackdown, January 17, 2017Alexa Bliss def. Becky Lynch in a Steel Cage Match to retain the WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship. La Luchadora assists Bliss, reveals herself as Mickie James. I wasn’t expecting them to go with Alexa Bliss as champion at all. Then once she became champion, I imagined her reign would be short. And yet, here we are. She’s becoming quite an asset to Smackdown. This match makes a hell of an addition to the resumes of both these ladies.

Pleased to hear Mauro Ranallo mention the Lita/Victoria cage match. I was also pleased that these two got to play with the cage a little more than those two did. Loved that kick into the cage, followed by the exploder suplex from the top. Great combo.

The Mickie James reveal was pulled off well. This was the outcome many expected, but I’m no less happy to have Mickie back. I maintain that Raw really could have used her, what with the lack of depth their female roster has. But we can now look forward to Mickie James vs. Becky Lynch. That’s a reason to be excited.

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Kevin Owens Stands Tall, More Cruiserweights, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

Brian Kendrick, TJ Perkins, Lince DoradoBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Question: How much content is too much? Is there such a thing?

Last week, we got the announcement of WWE 205 Live, a WWE Network exclusive show featuring the cruiserweights. The show will air after Smackdown on Tuesdays. Mauro Renallo and Corey Graves will call matches featuring the likes of Brian Kendrick, TJ Perkins, Cedric Alexander, etc. Talking Smack will now move to 11 p.m. Eastern.

I’ve got mixed feelings about this. Obviously, WWE’s number one priority right now is the network. From a business standpoint, there are few things more important than getting those subscription numbers up. Obviously the network appeals primarily to die-hard wrestling fans. So what better way to entice them than with more wrestling? Called by Mauro Ranallo and Corey Graves, no less.

But even the geekiest of pro wrestling geeks have lives, don’t they? Is WWE going to burn out their dedicated core audience by giving them too much? Factoring in RawSmackdownNXT, and now this 205 Live show, that’s seven hours of fresh content a week. And that’s not counting supplementary shows like Main Event and Superstars. That’s also not accounting for pay per views, of which there are now 19. I don’t care how big a fan you are, that’s a lot of wrestling.

WWE Raw, October 31, 2016, Brian Kendrick, TJ PerkinsPerhaps its a matter of variety. For years we’ve heard talk about the Raw brand, the Smackdown brand, etc. But in reality, it’s pretty much all been the same stuff. In a lot of ways, NXT changed that. NXT isn’t simply about different talent. There’s a different look and vibe to the entire product. It’s an alternative, and you can only get that alternative by forking out 10 bucks a month for the network. Is 205 Live going to be it’s own unique alternative? What can we see on that show that we can’t see on Raw?

I understand the on-demand nature of the WWE Network, and that you can essentially take in this content at your own pace. But with all this content coming out from WWE, at what point to we stop being surprised that Raw ratings are going down? It’s not rocket science, folks. The more content you give, the less urgent it is to see it. When all we had were two hours of Raw every Monday, we couldn’t wait to take it in. Now there are weeks where we simply can’t take it anymore.

At the very least this show will give the guys who aren’t on Raw every week, i.e Cedric Alexander, Lince Dorado, and Jack Gallagher another stage to perform on. I just wonder if and how the audience will divide as WWE continues to expand and diversify its offerings.

Ponderings From WWE Raw:

Chris Jericho, Kevin Owens, WWE Raw, November 7, 2016After a volatile start to the show, a fatal five-way match is made between Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman, and the newest member of Team Raw, Seth Rollins. I hate these fatal five-way matches. It’s an awkward number. Somehow four wrestlers work, and six wrestlers work, but five is don’t.

A pretty standard segment for a “Can these teammates get along?” story. I wish we’d had more definitive consequences. Stephanie told them to fight like their jobs depend on it, “Because they do.” Does that even mean anything? They also missed an opportunity to make the winner the captain of the team.

Rich Swann & Sin Cara def. Brian Kendrick & Noam Dar. Assuming these rumors of a fight with Chris Jericho are true, it’ll be interesting to see if Sin Cara remains on television. It’s not like they don’t have plenty of cruiserweights. Though he earned mad respect for me after that senton to the outside on Noam Dar.

This was my first exposure to Noam Dar. We didn’t get to see much of him. But a nice little introduction. Brian Kendrick deserves a lot of credit for helping establish some of these guys in front of the mainstream audience. I expect he’ll face Rich Swann for the title at Survivor Series.

Bill GoldbergA retrospective vignette on Goldberg airs. I was hoping they’d do something like this, as they usually do for Brock Lesnar’s matches. These are always good.

Since Goldberg has resurfaced, WWE has made a point to market him as a WCW star, WCW legend, WCW Champion, etc. That’s fair enough. He’s as much a WCW guy as anything else. But he wasn’t just a WCW guy. He was a champion in WWE as well. They’ve almost glossed over that. Perhaps it’s fitting, considering how forgettable most of Goldberg’s WWE run was.

The New Day rally Team Raw for their match at Survivor Series. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson knock off the champions in a non-title match. The crowd really pulled this segment out of the ground. When you’ve got so many guys out there, I understand having to script the dialogue. But this was the same canned verbiage we always get, and it seemed like it went on forever. At least the Scotland fans were having fun.

Imagine my shock to see Anderson and Gallows get the win here. So do they now fight Cesaro and Sheamus to see who gets the next title shot?

WWE Wrestlemania XX, Bill Goldberg, Steve AustinBrock Lesnar talks Goldberg via video package. This one was even better than Goldberg’s, considering how politically incorrect Brock always is. “At Wrestlemania XX in Madison Square Garden, I didn’t give two sh*ts about wrestling.” HA!

This was another awesome line: “I don’t give a damn what his 10-year-old son is gonna think. I’m not gonna show any f@#kin’ mercy on Bill Goldberg.”

Finally, someone on this show has some balls. No wonder Brock is so over. Look at how he talks, compared to how everyone in that New Day segment talked. There are no chains on Brock. He’s allowed to be himself.

The Shining Stars def. Golden Truth to get their spot in the tag team elimination match at Survivor SeriesI zipped right through this one on the DVR. Here’s what I will say: At least they kept the Shining Stars out of the third hour.

Not sure why they did this. To even the babyface-heel ratio on Team Raw? Why? What’s the difference either way? I’d much rather see Goldust and R-Truth in a pay per view match than Primo and Epico. I don’t know what it is about these guys, but I don’t know if an act has ever had as much channel-changing heat with me.

Bayley, Charlotte, WWE Raw, November 7, 2016Michael Cole interviews Raw‘s female team. Sasha Banks and Alicia Fox are revealed as the remaining two members. The Scotland fans serenade Bayley.  The crowd didn’t exactly make it easy on them, did they? The girls couldn’t even get their lines out. As off-putting as it may have been, it’s always great to see a crowd that enthusiastic. Especially for the women’s division. Bayley might have been the one person more over in Scotland than Noam Dar.

The Alicia Fox portion of this segment was painful. Not because of Alicia, but because of that Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie reference. They really shoehorned that line in there.

Bayley, Sasha Banks, & Alicia Fox def. Charlotte, Nia Jax, & Dana Brooke. My favorite part of this match was when Bayley and Nia were in the ring together. They have to do some kind of program between them soon.

I’m not thrilled that Charlotte took the fall on this one. After Gallows & Anderson beat the New Day, that means two champions were beaten on this show.

WWE Raw, November 7, 2016, Sami Zayn, RusevSami Zayn def. Rusev to earn an Intercontinental Title Match at Survivor Series. I breathed a sigh of relief on this one. After all the love triangle stuff last year, I’ve had my fill of Rusev/Dolph Ziggler stuff for awhile. Ziggler and Zayn should also have a hell of a pay per view match.

Rusev hasn’t had a great couple of weeks. He lost to Roman Reigns at Hell in a Cell, he got punched out by Goldberg last week, and now he loses to Sami Zayn. I’m hopeful we can get Rusev back on track as a monster soon.

Kevin Owens def. Seth Rollins, Chris Jericho, Roman Reigns, & Braun Strowman in a fatal five-way match. The right person won this one, especially on a show where the New Day and Charlotte were pinned. And he pinned Jericho, which was a nice touch.

To WWE’s credit, they’ve done an excellent job making protecting Braun Strowman since the roster split. I once cringed at the thought of him challenging the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. It’s still not a match I’m dying to see, but at least now Strowman is a commodity. Until now he’s just been large.

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Is Goldberg in Trouble? Plus, Ponderings From WWE Smackdown Live

Bill GoldbergBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This week’s segment on Raw with Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar brought back some interesting memories. Not of either of them, but of Bill Goldberg.

Goldberg was a superstar, make no mistake about it. He was a larger than life superhero. But so was Hulk Hogan. So is John Cena. So is Roman Reigns. As we’ve seen with all those men, sometimes wrestling fans get tired of the superhero shtick. Older fans in particular want someone more complex, someone with more gray area to them. As such, cheers can turn into boos.

Goldberg was no stranger to boos. WCW even tried an ill conceived Goldberg heel turn. But it simply was what it was. Some fans liked Goldberg, others didn’t.

These memories might have been lost to many of us as we basked in the honeymoon period of Goldberg’s return. But as we saw on Raw, the honeymoon may be over. They chanted for Brock despite Heyman’s obvious attempts to get them to chant for Goldberg. Eventually, we actually heard chants of “Goldberg sucks!” Reportedly, Vince McMahon became angry backstage and pulled the plug on the segment.

Granted, it was in Brock’s home state of Minnesota. In hindsight, it wasn’t the best place to try getting the crowd to chant his opponent’s name. But what happens when they put Goldberg out there in front of the famously opinionated Toronto crowd at Survivor Series? Remember, this was the crowd that famously turned on the Rock at Wrestlemania XVIII. It’s also the home country of Bret Hart, whose career Goldberg unintentionally ended with a brutal kick to the head.

Bill Goldberg vs. Brock LesnarHeel or babyface, Goldberg is a draw. What happened Monday doesn’t change that. But WWE needs to be ready for whatever these crowds decide to do in the weeks leading up to Survivor Series. Fans may have bought a lot of Goldberg DVDs in recent years, but that might not translate to an adoring audience…

Ponderings From Smackdown Live:

Bray Wyatt def. Kane in a no disqualification match, when Randy Orton abruptly hit the RKO on Kane. If they were going to go to the trouble of making this a no DQ match, they could have actually made it seem like the reigns were off a little. Outside of the interference by Orton and Luke Harper, what exactly made this match more dangerous than your average one-on-one match?

Later in the show, Orton simply said: “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” He took the world’s longest pregnant pause before he said it, but he got it out eventually.

Of course, Daniel Bryan used this same logic a few years ago when he joined the Wyatt Family. He got a hell of a moment out of it on Raw when he finally turned on Bray inside a steel cage. A normal person wouldn’t be stupid enough to fall for this again….

But because these are WWE writers penning this, we’re probably getting a week or two of Randy Orton in the Wyatt Family.

Alexa Bliss, Becky Lynch, WWE Smackdown, October 25, 2016Alexa Bliss interrupts Becky Lynch’s return to Smackdown after an injury. There’s so much talk about the “four horsewomen” of NXT. But in terms of charisma, Alexa Bliss is up there. She’s obviously reciting written dialogue, but she’s so natural with it. It’s tough to believe she’s only been wrestling for about four years.

Pleased to see Becky back. When she couldn’t wrestle at No Mercy, I think we all had flashbacks to Sasha Banks having to drop the Raw Women’s Title. It should be fun to see her defend the belt in front of that Scotland crowd in two weeks.

The Hype Bros def. The Ascension, will represent Smackdown at Survivor SeriesSo this Survivor Series match with the tag teams will be 10-on-10, with five teams being represented in each match. So in order to win, do all 10 members of a team have to be eliminated? Or are both members of a team eliminated when one is pinned?

Either way, the Hype Bros qualify as expected. Much like Karl Anderson in a singles match, when the Ascension was announced, the outcome was never in question. These poor guys never get to win.

Nikki Bella def. Natalya to become the captain of the Smackdown women’s team at Survivor Series. Natalya is hereby left out of the match. Carmella ambushes Nikki afterward. Of course Nikki Bella is the captain. Why wouldn’t she be? I assume they’re waiting to announce the addition of the women’s champion until after the Becky/Alexa match in Scotland.

Nikki Bella, Natalya, WWE Smackdown, October 25, 2016With Nikki’s use of a modified STF to end this match, they continue to build up her relationship with John Cena. I imagine that’ll be part of a larger story down the road. It’s inevitable that one of Cena’s opponents will use Nikki to get to him.

Heath Slater & Rhyno def. The Spirit Squad to retain the WWE Smackdown Tag Team Titles. Adding Slater and Rhyno to the mix is a decent way to pad the program with Miz and Ziggler for another month. But after Survivor Series it has to end. These guys need new dance partners. Unfortunately, the only heel challenger that immediately comes to mind for Ziggler is Baron Corbin. That program was done to death earlier this year.

AJ Styles def. Dean Ambrose by disqualification. After they showed a replay of Ambrose doing a big dive to the outside, JBL said: “We need Rick Grimes out here.” Not only did that reference not land, but I can almost guarantee you he’s never seen The Walking Dead, and had no idea what he was saying. Bad form, sir. More accurately, bad form to whoever told him to say it.

Something about Mauro Renallo calling a Fujiwara arm bar made me smile. I can’t remember a WWE announcer saying that since Taz. Inevitably, one of the reasons Mauro gets compared to Jim Ross so much is because, like JR, he calls the moves. That’s the difference between being a wrestling announcer and a sports entertainment announcer.

James Ellsworth, AJ Styles, WWE Smackdown, October 25, 2016Ambrose and Styles always have good matches, and I’d been looking forward to seeing what they’d pull out of the hat here. As it turned out, one of their big tricks was James Ellsworth getting overzealous and attacking Styles, costing Ambrose the match. I liked this. It casts Ellsworth as not only a hopeless underdog, but a misfit and a screw up. He played it up even more on Talking Smack, looking like the saddest, most ashamed guy you’ll ever see. You’re not going to go to Madison Square Garden with James Ellsworth. But as a character, this guy is good. He’s an unconventional asset they can use to tell really interesting stories.

Also, No Chin Music is a hilarious name for a finish.

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