Samoa Joe vs. Brock Lesnar, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Since he turned heel a few weeks back, a question has nagged me: Can Goldust be a main eventer for WWE in 2017? It’s not as much of a long shot as you might think.

The operative word in that question is 2017. The real-life Dustin Runnels is unquestionably a main event caliber talent, and has been in that role before. He wasn’t headlining pay per views, mind you. But in 1995 and 1996, he was main-eventing Raw broadcasts and house shows with the likes of Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker. Early on, his…ehem…”androgynous” character was one of the industry’s hottest topics. He’s had his share of big-money ball games. But can he do it again today?

For my money, the answer is an absolute, unequivocal yes.

I’m not sure how often you want to have him wrestle, given he’s 48 years old. But watch how he moves out there. He damn sure doesn’t look 48. And as we’ve seen with his recent pre-taped promos, his mic work is as strong as ever.

After the mostly abysmal show we got last week, it’s clear Raw is in need of something fresh. They seem to have found something with the reintroduction of Goldust, a character that many a lapsed wrestling fan will remember, and possibly tune back in to see in a prominent role. They obviously can’t go the sexual route they did in the ’90s. But this character can work as as a bizarre, movie-fanatical, almost comic-bookish villain.

Do I think Goldust should be challenging Brock Lesnar for the Universal Title? No. Not in the near future, at least. But a heel Goldust against Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, or Dean Ambrose? Why the hell not? Raw could use another strong heel. Goldust can fill that role as well, if not better than anyone we see on TV these days.

Do they really have anything to lose?

Ponderings From Raw:

Samoa Joe to face Brock Lesnar for the Universal Title on July 9 at Great Balls of FireThis one came out of left field. I can’t bring myself to complain about it, though. This is a match that’s been talked about since Joe signed.

The choice to put Joe with Brock is interesting, given how little time he’s spent on the main roster. It hasn’t even been six months yet. It says a lot about WWE’s faith in him. In terms of credible and believable opponents for Brock, he’s one of the best choices they could have made. Joe isn’t an MMA fighter, strictly speaking. But his style is certainly MMA-inspired. This could be really compelling if they play that up.

I’m curious why they opted not to go with Finn Balor. They had a ready-made story with him, as he never lost the Universal Title. They even did the segment with Balor and Heyman a couple of weeks back…

Roman Reigns def. Bray Wyatt. As if there was any doubt Roman Reigns was the successor to John Cena, we got dueling “Let’s go Roman!”/”Roman Sucks!” chants.

They promoted this match as the show opener. I usually like when they do that, but this one didn’t do much for me. We’ve seen these two wrestle so many times, and they didn’t do much to make this one seem special at all.

Yet another loss for Bray Wyatt…

Dean Ambrose interrupts a song from Elias Samson, challenges Miz. Miz says there will be a championship celebration for him later in the evening. It sounded like Michael Cole was laughing during the Drifter’s little ditty. Can’t say I blame him. The guy could use a little more rehearsal time.

Samoa Joe chokes Paul Heyman out with the Coquina Clutch. It was during this segment that I realized they’re just simply calling it Great Balls of Fire. It has to be “the Great Balls of Fire pay per view event,” or whatever. Oh joy…

Can we even call Brock a heel or a babyface anymore? He seems to morph based on who he’s in there with. Or maybe he’s just beyond that at this point. he simply is what he is.

This was pretty good. I liked Joe’s jealousy of Brock, wanting everything he has, and what not. Heyman’s “worst case scenario” stuff was cool. Then they have Joe get so close to Heyman it’s borderline homoerotic, and tell him what’s about to happen to him in the Coquina Clutch. Really grim stuff. Joe is a really underrated promo. If they keep playing it this way, this match could have a great big-fight feel to it.

The follow-up backstage with Joe and Kurt Angle made for a nice moment too. The crowd seemed into it. Assuming Kurt gets cleared to wrestle, that match is just sitting there waiting to happen.

Sheamus and Cesaro def. Heath Slater and Rhyno. Remember when Slater and Rhyno had credibility? Seems like a really long time ago, doesn’t it?

I didn’t expect to see Sheamus and Cesaro walk away with the belts at Extreme Rules. But like Samoa Joe’s win, this was a pleasant surprise. They deserve to be in this spot. These two have turned out to be damn good for each other. Sheamus in particular has a whole new life to him.

TJP def. Mustafa Ali. Neville attacks TJP afterward. A title match is made between the two for 205 LivePerkins is looking to cash in on that title shot that Neville promised him, but Neville turns on him. Perkins looks stupid for not seeing that coming, but oh well. Does this mean he’s a babyface again? I was enjoying cocky, smarmy TJP. It did him a lot of good to show a little more personality out there.

Kalisto def. Titus O’Neil. Notice they gave Sin Cara’s entrance with the big jump over the ropes to Kalisto. They gave him some cool new music too. I’ll give them credit. They’re trying to make him into something.

The Miz holds a celebration to kick off his “Intercontinental Championship Comeback Tour.” Miz expects an attack from Ambrose, and gets one when he least expects it. On this very show, they had Kurt Angle call last week’s “This is Your Life” segment with Alexa Bliss and Bayley one of the worst in Raw history. So if I’m the Miz, I’m pretty damn unnerved to see something like this in the script this week. But he came off pretty well, despite having to attack a giant cardboard box with a chair.

I liked that they toyed with our expectations as far as an Ambrose attack was concerned. We all knew it was coming. It was just a question of when. Hell, I was expecting him to be in the bear suit. So well done.

Big Cass is found backstage, having been attacked by a mystery assailant. Later, Enzo Amore and the Big Show def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. So Enzo gets attacked two weeks in a row, now Cass gets it. I like that they’re starting to incorporate some mystery elements intp the show again. We’ve got this, plus the whole Kurt Angle/Corey Graves thing. Now it’s just the question of the pay-offs.

They’re really teasing an Enzo and Cass break-up. Having Show go out there and do Cass’ bit struck some of the same chords they just played on NXT with Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa. Cass being “replaced” and all that. I’m tellin’ ya, don’t break ’em up. Not a good plan…

Alexa Bliss def. Nia Jax via disqualification to retain the Raw Women’s Title. Mickie James and Dana Brooke both looked like idiots here. They come out to watch the bully Alexa Bliss get her comeuppance, and in the process come off like bullies themselves. What’s more, when Bliss attacks them they hit her back, resulting in the DQ finish. They cost themselves the chance to see Alexa lose the title! Really, really dumb.

They were wise to give the Bayley character a rest this week. Creative hasn’t exactly done her any favors lately. First she loses the title in her home town at Payback. Then she’s part of “This is Your Life” last week. And at Extreme Rules she not only fails to get the belt back, but the script it so she’s too kind to use the kendo stick on Alexa and “get extreme.” Fans are starting to turn on her. She and Alexa likely aren’t done. But for now, give her some room to breathe.

Samoa Joe def. Seth Rollins. Good match. Served as a nice showcase for Joe as he prepares for Brock. They did the Bray Wyatt effect on screen, which distracted Rollins and allowed Joe to lock in the Coquina Clutch for the win. So it looks like they’re now going with Bray Wyatt against Seth Rollins, as opposed to Bray Wyatt against Finn Balor. The latter has been teased for quite some time. I’m not exactly chomping at the bit to see it, though. So this direction is fine by me.

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Braun Strowman Breaks the Ring! Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

Ponderings From Raw:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bayley’s Big Moment, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

Bray Wyatt, WWE Elimination Chamber, February 12, 2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Bray Wyatt had a good night at Elimination Chamber, as many of us expected. He won the titular match, pinning both John Cena and AJ Styles in the process, to take home his first WWE Heavyweight Title.

This was overdue. Despite his often convoluted promos, the real-life Windham Rotunda has made the Bray Wyatt character an intriguing and valuable commodity from day one. He deserves the chance to be more than a transitional champion. The John Cena/Undertaker Wrestlemania match was allegedly nixed because Vince McMahon wants to play for the long-term instead of the short-term. I’d like to think they wouldn’t put the belt on a newer star, just to turn around a month later and give back to someone who’s been a made man in that company for 15 years now.

The match itself turned out very well, as did the new Chamber structure itself. It seems a little safer, with the metal grate outside the ropes covered up, and more room above the pods. Ambrose and Styles in particular were really dynamic in there. I was surprised to see Corbin rolled up and pinned the way he was by Ambrose. But considering he wasn’t winning, they protected him as well as they could. I’m encouraged by the early sign of a match between the two at Wrestlemania. And some seeds were indeed planted for a mixed tag match involving John Cena, Nikki Bella, The Miz, and Maryse.

Still no apparent dance partner for AJ Styles…

Roman Reigns, WWE Raw, February 13, 2017Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson via disqualification. Full disclosure: I DVRed right through the opening segment with Steph and Roman. You’ve heard of channel-changing heat? Steph has fast-forward heat.

So Gallows and Anderson essentially throw out the rulebook, opting simply to beat the hell out of Reigns instead of win the match. Coming from them, I can respect that. But of course, Reigns gets to be the babyface that overcomes the odds by the end of the segment. Considering he would have to overcome big odds at Fastlane to beat Braun Strowman, I can respect that too. I am, however, going to start counting Superman punches during his matches. Our number here was two. But if you look at his pay per view matches, I think it can get as high as five.

Teddy Long announced for Hall of Fame Class of 2017. Long has been around for over 30 years. This is a cool honor for him. Who knows? Maybe he’ll use his Hall of Fame speech to make a tag team match, playa.

Kofi Kingston def. Bo Dallas. For the uninitiated, Bo Dallas and Bray Wyatt are actually brothers. After seeing this segment, I felt for the real-life Bo Rotunda. One night after his brother wins the WWE Championship, he’s getting beaten in what’s essentially a comedy match, which culminates with him getting cereal poured down his gullet. And to think, after the roster split they were actually trying to heat him up a little bit.

The New Day, Bo Dallas, WWE Raw, February 13, 2017The good news is, there’s hope for Bo. If they get him over to Smackdown, they can either put him with his brother, or do an Owen Hart style jealous sibling feud with the two of them. Either way, it’s time to pull that card.

Jack Gallagher def. Noam Dar. Gallagher to challenge Neville for the Cruiserweight Title at FastlaneNot much to say about this one. I noticed Dar has “No Role Model” on the back of his tights. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if next week they said “Alicia Fooooooox.” That’s basically his gimmick, right?

From a personality standpoint, Neville and Gallagher are an interesting match. I’m curious to see how their styles mesh in the ring at Fastlane.

Emma finally re-debut as Emmalina, says we’ll now see the makeover of “Emmalina to Emma.” Well, this is one way to get heat.

After months of those vignettes, I assume this is the last we’ll see of Emmalina. I’m going to withhold judgment until I see what, if anything, they do with her next week. But if they’re simply dropping the whole thing, then this whole thing has been a giant indictment of the WWE creative process. This woman sat at home for months so we could have this?

Emmalina, WWE Raw, February 13, 2017Here’s what I will say, though: When the vignettes started I was skeptical as to whether Emma could pull off a more demanding role from a speaking standpoint. But she was fine here. Granted, it only lasted a minute and a half. But she was better than I thought she would be.

Braun Strowman def. Mark Henry. Strowman and Roman Reigns go at it after the match. When they announced this match, I tweeted that it would probably be a slow one. I wasn’t wrong. But Strowman putting Henry on his shoulder for a powerslam was amazing. Strowman actually did a dropkick of sorts in this match. I didn’t mind it so much. But hopefully he doesn’t make a habit of that.

Roman hit two Superman Punches on Reigns after the match, bringing our total count for the night to four.

Samoa Joe does a sit-down interview with Michael Cole. This was a good line: “For the past 18 years, I’ve laid a path of destruction across the world. And the only reason I wasn’t here, is because they were scared of hiring me.” Though this case, “across the world” mostly means Florida.

Also a good line: “I’m not some Sami Zayn, who’s just happy to be on Raw.” Well, there’s your Fastlane match, right there. I also like the creator and destroyer stuff.

samoa-joe-wwe-raw-february-13-2017Not a good line: “…I beat ‘the Man,’ and I beat ‘the Guy.'” I get the gist of what he’s saying, but that’s just stupid writing.

Joe said in this interview that Seth Rollins would miss Wrestlemania for the second year in a row. I wouldn’t take that as confirmation of anything. If Rollins is indeed going to try and make it back for Wrestlemania, I imagine the story will be about his injury, and whether he’ll be in any shape to face Triple H.

Sami Zayn def. Rusev. Zayn fires back at Joe, resulting in Joe jumping him moments later. Zayn seems to be gradually creeping up the ladder, while Rusev is gradually creeping down. Though at least they played Sami’s win off like a shocker.

Zayn makes a fine replacement for Rollins at Fastlane. This opens up a nice opportunity for him to put on yet another show-stealing performance on pay per view, and up his stock even more.

Akira Tozawa def. Ariya Daivari. I’ve become a Tozawa fan very quickly. If Neville keeps the belt, a title match between the two of them would be something to see. Wrestlemania might be too soon, but you never know.

On the subject of the Cruiserweight Division and Wrestlemania, supposedly Austin Aries has been cleared to wrestle again. Food for thought…

Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Festival of Friendship, WWE Raw, February 13, 2017Kevin Owens turns on Chris Jericho during their “Festival of Friendship.” This was a lot of fun, and it ended with precisely the impact it needed. Jericho hammed it up wonderfully, and Owens’ reactions were great. Even the stupid hat was a nice touch.

In hindsight, the return of Gilbert was inevitable, wasn’t it?

I think Owens smashing Jericho’s head into that sign was meant to be a callback to Jericho smashing Shawn Michaels’ head through the TV several years ago. If you listen closely, you can hear Owens say, “I hate you” just before he does it. The refs putting the towel over Jericho’s head afterward added a bit of drama too. This lived up to expectations. It really did. A fantastic Raw moment.

Cesaro def. Enzo Amore. That pre-match Enzo and Cass promo was a rare miss for the two of them. It didn’t really become one until Cass said that line about marshmallows.

This one went a little long. I might lead to a top contenders match at Fastlane, with the winners facing Gallows and Anderson at Wrestemania. Enzo and Cass would get their big moment there.

Bayley def. Charlotte Flair to win the Raw Women’s Championship. This was surprising. And not necessarily in a good way.

Bayley, Champion, WWE Raw, February 13, 2017Bayley is special. I think most fans would agree with me on that one. She has a connection with the fans, young fans in particular, that you rarely see. Her first title win deserved to be a big moment. As in Wrestlemania big. Instead, they did it on Raw.

Was this a great moment? Absolutely. But it could have been so much more.

Yet again, I go back to Wrestlemania. I’m concerned about what this means for Bayley and Charlotte going into that show. They’re clearly in love with Charlotte being undefeated on pay per view. My concern is they gave the belt to Bayley just to have Charlotte win it back at Wrestlemania. Or worse, at Fastlane. Charlotte is a star, and the best female wrestler they have right now. I’d never take that away from her. But Bayley is a star too, and she deserves her time in the sun.

On the fringe here is Sasha Banks, who ran some interference in this match. It was reminiscent of what Steve Austin did to help Mankind win the title all those years ago. There’s clearly a heel turn in the works here. It’s just a matter of when. Do they have Sasha cost Bayley the title at Fastlane to lead to a multi-woman match for the belt at Wrestlemania?

Not surprisingly, the match itself was good. I wouldn’t necessarily put it up there with the matches Charlotte had with Sasha. For the second week in a row, we got a whiplash spot with Bayley, and turned it into a nice story.

Either way, congratulations are in order. Well done, miss. You deserve this moment.

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Samoa Joe Finally Arrives, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

Samoa Joe, WWE Raw, January 30, 2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Not much use in leading with anything but Samoa Joe, is there?

What we saw on Raw was over a decade in the making. After so many years of speculation as to whether he’d even be considered by WWE, Samoa Joe finally arrives on the main roster. What’s more, he’s going into a program with one of their top stars in Seth Rollins. I can’t even tell you how surreal it was just to hear Michael Cole say Joe’s name.

Many were disappointed that we didn’t see Joe in the Royal Rumble Match on Sunday. Would I have put him in there? Sure. That way the mainstream audience has a better idea of who he is before he shows up here. But then again, does that chip away at the surprise element? If Joe is in the Rumble, maybe this moment isn’t quite as special.

Either way, this was about as good a debut as we could have wanted for Samoa Joe. After years of stealing the show elsewhere, he finally gets to do it on wrestling’s biggest stage. Congratulations, good sir. You deserve it.

Ponderings From Raw:

Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho open the show. Braun Strowman demands a title shot. Mick Foley announces Owens will defend against Strowman later in the show. Decent opener. The best part of this segment was Strowman demanding his shot, “or I’ll break you in half.” You know what? I believe him.

Sami Zayn, Chris Jericho, WWE Raw, January 20, 2017Interesting that Mick Foley came to Raw dressed as the Riddler. Where exactly does one get a suit like that?

Sami Zayn def. Chris Jericho. Supposedly Jericho’s current run will wrap up in May so he can go back on tour with Fozzy. Some have said this has been the best run of Jericho’s career. I wouldn’t go that far. But it’s definitely up there. He’s consistently been one of the best parts of Raw, and the show will miss him when he’s gone. The guy is 46 and he can still hit Sami Zayn with a Frankensteiner (shown right). Amazing.

This was good stuff. For the second consecutive week, Zayn is in the best match on the show. Really dug the exploder duplex into the corner. I still wish he’d start beating people with the Blue Thunder Bomb. It’s his best move.

Mustafa Ali def. Tony Nese. Raw needs more of both these guys. I adore Ali’s reverse 450 splash. It’s a damn shame we didn’t get to see it this week. It’s also a damn shame that the fans still don’t give a damn about the Cruiserweight Division. Maybe one of the reasons Neville’s run in the division has worked so well is that we’ve known him the longest. Most of these other guys are still working to establish themselves in front of the national audience. Rich Swann and Jack Gallagher have started to do it. But that’s it.

Seth Rollins calls out Stephanie McMahon, who announces Triple H is on his way to RawThis seemed very choreographed and scripted, as these talking segments often do. Still, I love how irreverent Rollins is toward Stephanie. While much of his dialogue still comes off contrived, it’s refreshing. No one has talked to her this way in so long.

Stephanie McMahon, Seth Rollins, WWE Raw, January 30, 2017Having him mention coming to her front door and having one of their kids answer was a little edgy. I get why they did it. It makes the whole thing more personal. But I’d avoid approaching that topic again. Even Stone Cold never talked about going after little kids…

Bayley, Cesaro, and Sheamus def. Charlotte Flair, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson. This one didn’t do anything for me. Once again, Bayley pins Charlotte. She’s somehow unbeatable on pay per view, but extremely beatable on television.

The new Cruiserweight Champion Neville addresses the crowd. Rich Swann interrupts. Scripted promos can work if you present them believably. You forget they’re saying lines. Neville did that here. Where the hell has this guy been? Pissed off Neville is the best Neville.

In contrast, any time somebody says “WWE Universe,” any integrity the scene has is lost because no one would actually say that in the heat of the moment. Sorry Rich.

Last night at the Rumble, they showed some pictures of Neville and Swann earlier in their careers. I guess they came up together? Why not go that route for this promo and make things a little more relatable?

Kevin Owens, WWE Raw, January 30, 2017Braun Strowman def. Kevin Owens via disqualification after Roman Reigns interferes. After Strowman’s interference in last night’s Universal Title Match, the finish to this one was obvious. I’m happy Owens was able to be a little competitive here, while Strowman was still kept strong against both of them.

Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman challenge Goldberg to a match at WrestlemaniaA very predictable outcome. But yet another masterful promo by Paul Heyman. The “Yeah, but…” lines worked well.

The mentioning of Hulk Hogan beating Andre the Giant is yet another indicator that Hogan is likely on his way back. They’re planting the seeds.

Nia Jax def. Sasha Banks via referee stoppage. Byron Saxton: “How scary a sight is that? To have Nia Jax smiling, knowing that she’s gonna have her way with you.” That’s not the verbiage I would have used, Saxton…

What happened with the bell here? It rang, but the ref clearly didn’t call for it. Still, Sasha did a fine job putting Nia over, both tonight and on the Rumble pre-show. The full nelson swings into the ring post looked good.

Triple H, WWE Raw, January 30, 2017Enzo and Cass def. Rusev and Jinder Mahal in a Tornado Tag Team Match. I’ve got no use for this program anymore. Now that Enzo and Cass won this match, can we please move on?

Triple H: “Seth Rollins was a failure.” Samoa Joe ambushes Rollins. Awesome promo. I actually preferred this one to the Heyman stuff. The spinning of the narrative to where Seth owes him an apology. Hunter calling Seth an abject failure. The stuff about not being “that guy” anymore, and wearing the suit. Awesome. When Hunter is on, he’s on. I just wish we’d gotten this promo months ago, so the whole story didn’t cool off so much.

By and large, this was a strong show. Literally the best they’ve put on in months. Now we have a new face on Raw, and we’ll be seeing some of the bigger stars more regularly. Raw has been tough to watch lately. They didn’t so much fall into an autumn slump this year as a winter slump. But as always, things are picking up as we get closer to Wrestlemania.

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Chris Jericho’s Date with a Cage, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

WWE United Kingdom ChampionshipBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

With the announcement of the crowning of a United Kingdom Champion on the WWE Network next year, there’s naturally been a lot of buzz. The idea, reportedly, is for the network to have weekly UK show similar to what 205 Live is for the Cruiserweights. So there’ve been questions about the continued oversaturation of content, WWE potentially trying to create its own territorial system, what this means for other promotions across the world, etc. All valid questions.

Quite frankly, I don’t know if or when I’ll be able to see any of this UK content. There are only so many hours in a week. But for now, I’m taking an optimistic approach. This tournament has a big upside. The UK is in the midst of its own wrestling boom right now, and I’ve been able to see very little of what’s going on over there. All these guys now have a chance to wrestle in front of a whole new audience, and educate a lot of American fans about British wrestling.

One of WWE’s big drawbacks in the last several years has been its inability to create new stars. Using the Cruiserweight Classic tournament, they’ve been able to bring guys like Rich Swann, TJ Perkins, and Cedric Alexander to the main roster. Whether they’ll become big stars remains to be seen. But they’re commodities. They’re fresh faces. As somebody who watches Raw and Smackdown every week, it’s tough to complain about a potential new source of fresh faces.

Mick Foley, WWE Raw, December 19, 2016Ponderings From Raw:

Mick Foley announces Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns for the Universal Title at the Royal Rumble, with Chris Jericho suspended from the ceiling in a shark cage. Poor Mick. He tries so hard. And he’s still got some of his trademark charm despite being forced to recite scripted dialogue. But then he makes an embarrassing mistake like he did here, saying they were in Pittsburgh instead of Columbus. I love Mick Foley, I really do. But I’m glad he’s reportedly got a couple weeks off. He needs a break.

Some guys who need a break from each other? Kevin Owens, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Chris Jericho. It feels like they’ve been working together nonstop since September. The Jericho stipulation notwithstanding, the Universal Title Match announcement was a disappointment. If I’m Roman Reigns, I’m expecting a dome full of boos at the Rumble, justified or not.

Rusev def. Big Cass via disqualification. Enzo later attends sensitivity training. Shorter is probably better with Rusev and Cass right now, so I won’t complain about what we saw here. I’ll credit Cass with one thing: He looked legit pissed at Rusev.

One of the stories on this show involved Enzo being sent to sensitivity training after being “naked” on the show a few weeks back. This didn’t do much for me. It seemed like they were trying to mimic the success they had with the Daniel Bryan/Kane anger management skits a few years ago. But once again, I credit them for doing something different, breaking up the monotony, and extending a plot thread through much of the show.

WWE Raw, December 19, 2016, Sasha BanksNia Jax interrupts Sasha Banks. Firstly, mad respect for Sasha for her performance at Roadblock. She doesn’t have to take the risks she does. Often they’re unnecessary. But you can’t doubt her passion. That always shines through.

That being said, I turned the volume down when she started talking. This might be unpopular, but her promos now officially annoy me. It’s not entirely her fault. She’s just written as a white meat babyface right now. I will credit her with looking into the hard camera, though. Eye contact = connection. She can also put on a great boo-hoo face (shown above).

Champion or not, it wasn’t hard to figure out Nia Jax and Sasha were going to be partnered after Roadblock. Again, lack of roster depth. Given their obvious size difference, I’m intrigued. I liked Nia calling Charlotte a “little girl.” This program will be good for her.

Austin Aries makes his Raw debut at the announce desk. Cedric Alexander def. Noam Dar. I’ve got high hopes for Cedric Alexander in 2017. He’s so damn explosive, and that Lumbar Check is awesome. I also think this is the first time we’ve seen Cedric and Alicia come out together on Raw.

After the match, Noam Dar got on the mic and essentially said he wanted Alica. I’m certainly not Shakespeare, but here’s a writing tip: When another man says, on national television mind you, that he wants to get with your girlfriend, you kick his ass. You don’t just stand there and get angry. It makes you look like a chump.

Noam Dar, WWE Raw, December 19, 2016If I’m not mistaken, this was Austin Aries’ Raw debut. A little understated, considering what his status was in other promotions. But at least he’s there. He’s not a good announcer yet. But I like that they’re having him tag in for Cruiserweight matches. It’s a little bit like what Mike Tenay used to do on Nitro.

Sheamus, Cesaro, and the New Day def. Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, and the Shining Stars. I never hated the “penny” tag belts the way some fans did. The tag titles they used on Raw during the first brand split looked so generic that I was just grateful for something different. That being said, the red belts Sheamus and Cesaro got on this show look better.

The pre-match dialogue with New Day, Sheamus, and Cesaro was actually pretty good. Then Gallows and Anderson came out and spoiled it. Then the Shining Stars came out and killed it dead. No interest in the eight-man tag. I assume the New Day will get a tag title rematch soon.

Also, Big E’s little ad lib about Charlotte becoming a 16-time champ by next month was on point. I tip my hat to you, sir.

A commercial airs for John Cena’s return to Smackdown next week. I don’t normally comment on these things, but this spot for Cena’s return was really well done. It was like a super-condensed career retrospective, and played up Cena as the elder statesmen and legend they want him to be.

WWE Raw, December 19, 2016, TJ Perkins, Rich SwannAfter turning on Rich Swann at Roadblock, Neville cuts his first heel promo on Raw. He and Brian Kendrick lay out Swann and TJ Perkins. Neville’s delivery was pretty good here. I don’t really see him as a big promo guy, but he surprised me. I was really skeptical about him turning heel. But if he switches up his in-ring game a little bit, this heel turn just might work for him.

Lately TJ Perkins has become the Dolph Ziggler of the Cruiserweight Division. Lately all he does is lose to Swann and Kendrick. Plus, he ran out there to save Swann, and immediately ate a kick from Neville. Thanks for coming, idiot. He needs to write a sternly worded letter to creative.

After Foley refuses to give him another shot at Sami Zayn, Braun Strowman decimates Sin Cara and Titus O’Neil. There was something very cathartic about seeing Braun Strowman rip apart that hokey Raw Christmas set. That’s something I’ve wanted to do for years.

I really dug that lingering shot of Mick Foley standing there looking over the body of Sin Cara, observing Braun’s damage and pondering the consequences of his actions.

WWE Raw, December 19, 2016, Bayley, Charlotte FlairCharlotte Flair gloats after her Roadblock victory. Bayley interrupts. Bayley pins Charlotte in controversial fashion. Corey Graves called Charlotte the “Iron Queen” as she came out. I like that. That’s different. As with Sasha, I give Charlotte a world of credit for the effort she put into that Iron Man Match. She’s the best female talent they have right now, and arguably the best overall heel in the company.

Good line: “Well, you are dressed like a fifth grader. So let’s go to school!”

Bad line: “Every month … you subscribe to the WWE Network thinking this is going to be the month that Charlotte loses, and every month I disappoint all of you.” Um, Charlotte has lost the title to Sasha three times now. I don’t need to buy the network hoping to see her lose. I can see it for free. Hell, I saw it this week! I get what she was going for, what with the pay per view winning streak. But there’s something to be said for clarity.

Based on what we saw here, I’m optimistic about what we’ll get from Charlotte and Bayley. This could lead to Bayley’s best in-ring performances since her main roster debut.

Braun Strowman interrupts the main event, attacking Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins. This might not be a popular opinion, given WWE’s obsession with three-man announce teams these days. But the Michael Cole/Byron Saxton/Corey Graves dynamic is growing on me. Specifically with the role Saxton is playing as the cheesy, aw-shucks babyface announcer that Graves hates. They had a little sarcastic exchange about Graves getting Saxton the night off next week, with Cole adding that Saxton should spend time with his family. Saxton’s reply: “You guys are my family!” I won’t lie, I laughed.

Brain Strowman, WWE Raw, December 19, 2016After sitting through yet another Raw main event with Owens, Jericho, Reigns, and Rollins (or some combination of said four), I was really pleased to see Strowman out there. Not only does it do him good to rub shoulders with the main eventers, but it did Sami Zayn a bit of good to have the announcers mention his role in all this during a main event segment.

I honestly never through I’d see the day Braun Strowman would be the best part of a Raw main event. But here we are.

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Sasha Banks Strikes Again, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

Sasha Banks, WWE Raw, November 28, 2016By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This is getting a little silly, isn’t it?

Sasha Banks beat Charlotte Flair for the Women’s Title Monday in a Falls Count Anywhere Match. It was the latest in a pattern that has emerged this year. Charlotte wins the Women’s Title on pay per view, Sasha Banks wins it from her on Raw. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat.

Understand this: These two have really good matches. Risky. But still good. Some of the hype WWE spews about the “women’s revolution” is actually true, and much of it can be attributed to these two. They were the first women to main event a WWE pay per view. Ever. That alone gives them a place in history. Then you factor in all their talents, and the body of work they’ve put together. It’s awesome.

That being said, duration does not an epic feud make.

In 2009, WWE did John Cena vs. Randy Orton at four consecutive pay per views. They did a straight one-on-one match, an “I Quit” Match, a Hell in a Cell Match, and an Iron Man Match, all for the WWE Championship. And this was after they’d wrestled sporadically over the years. They build it up as the epic, mother of all feuds. But it wasn’t. The matches were good, but by no means was it a bitter rivalry for the ages. They just wrestled over and over again. They would continue to wrestle on and off over the years. It’s gotten to the point where the idea of another Cena/Orton match makes me wretch.

WWE Raw, November 28, 2016I’m nervous we’re venturing into that kind of territory with Charlotte and Sasha. Yes, they’ve been great together. But they should have taken a break after Hell in a Cell. Like Cena and Orton in 2009, they’re being forced to continue because of a lack of depth on the roster. They desperately need a few more ladies on Raw. I’m looking at you, Mickie James. I saw that Takeover match…

Charlotte and Sasha are probably going to wrestle again at Roadblock. If they must, then they must. But let that be the end of it. Don’t make us tired of seeing these two work. They’re too damn good together for that.

Ponderings From Raw:

Kevin Owens appears on Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel. Roman Reigns interrupts, and a match is made between Owens and Reigns. The energy in this segment was off. I hate to keep harping on this week after week, but it’s the scripted promos. These guys are trying to remember dialogue, and it drags these talking segments down so much. When Owens yelled at Jericho, it wasn’t nearly the moment it should have been because it didn’t feel natural.

Braun Strowman def. R-Truth. Strowman brutalizes Sami Zayn afterward. I’m becoming a Braun Strowman guy. He’s not the best wrestler you’ll see out there. But he’s a giant ass kicker, and he’s being booked like one. This thing with Sami Zayn has been good for both men thus far. It’s the classic David vs. Goliath story. But in the context of what we’ve seen on Raw these last few months, it feels fresh.

WWE Raw, November 28, 2016Mick Foley tells Sami Zayn he can’t beat Braun Strowman. Zayn calls Foley a hypocrite. Yikes. Foley’s bottom teeth came out in the middle of that promo. He glossed over it better than I thought he would, though. The live crowd didn’t seem to notice.

Again with the scripted promos. Nobody says “How dare you.” Sami Zayn certainly wouldn’t say it in the heat of the moment. Still, the segment helped establish Zayn’s underdog status, which enhances the program with Strowman. So it worked for me.

Tony Nese def. Cedric Alexander. Nice win for Tony Nese, though it sucked to see Cedric lose in his hometown. I’m mildly encouraged that they’re apparently starting a story with Cedric and Alicia Fox. He’s been on and off of Raw, and hopefully this gives him something consistent to do.

Seth Rollins ambushes Chris Jericho in the parking lot. I liked this. It feels like we haven’t had a nice backstage fight in awhile. The pedigree on the car was a cool stunt, and Rollins seemed legitimately pissed off.

Enzo Amore def. Rusev via disqualification after a low blow. Not much to say about this one. I assume they’re building to a match between Rusev and Big Cass at Roadblock.

WWE Raw, November 28, 2016, Rich Swann, Noam DarRich Swann def. Noam Dar. Hell of a sound on that kick that ended the match. Not a bad post-match promo, either. Still, I don’t see Swann walking out of 205 Live with the belt.

A bar fight angle airs with Sheamus and Cesaro.  From an acting standpoint, Sheamus and Cesaro were mostly okay here. But good lord, everybody else was awful. So I guess these guys are friends now? Cool. Like ’em or not, they’re your next tag champs.

Roman Reigns def. Kevin Owens to earn a Universal Title Match at RoadblockThis match had already been advertised locally, so some of us knew it was coming. Having Reigns in the main event of Roadblock is fine, I guess. But it makes it that much more evident how much this show misses Finn Balor.

Paul Heyman: Brock Lesnar will be in the 2017 Royal Rumble Match. Heyman dropped an F-bomb! “This guy’s a f*#$ing relic.” God damn. I love this guy so much. And were those tears in his eyes?

The simplicity of Cole’s first question to Heyman was a nice touch. Just, “What happened?” Nice.

New Day, WWE Raw, November 28, 2016The New Day def. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson  to retain the Raw Tag Team Titles. Oh c’mon. You knew it wasn’t going to be Gallows and Anderson. How many big matches have these guys lost to the New Day?

So the champs have had to cheat to win these last two weeks. Does that lead to somebody giving them their comeuppance before they break the record?

Sasha Banks def. Charlotte Flair in a Falls Count Anywhere Match to win the Raw Women’s Title. A few notes on this match. Or matches, if you count the first one that ended in a double count-out.

At about the 1:04:43 mark on the DVR, Sasha literally smacks Charlotte in the right boob. Ouch. I get what she was going for. The whole Ric Flair chop thing. But still, ouch. Sasha also heard some boos from the Charlotte crowd. Not used to that.

Not sure when the last time we saw a weapon used in a women’s match, especially since the PG era began.

That was a cool image of Sasha bending Charlotte back over the railing for the win. A nice finale. And the stuff with Ric Flair was a nice pay-off to her dumping him a few months back. A nice note to end the feud on. Now if only they’d actually end it, and let both ladies move on.

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Sasha Banks Repeats History, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m not sure if the ratings will reflect it, but this was a good show. Possibly the best since Finn Balor’s arrival. It wasn’t Earth shaking. But we had some good wrestling, some good mic work, and some attempts at comedy that actually landed. If that last one isn’t noteworthy, nothing is.

So let’s dive straight in!

Roman Reigns, WWE Raw, October 3, 2016Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns and Lana open the show. Lana challenges Reigns on behalf of her husband. Reigns and Rusev to face again inside Hell in a Cell. This wasn’t bad. By no means great, but not bad. People on Twitter were on Lana’s case for accent slippage. But I didn’t think she was any worse than normal. Take that for what you will. Her “Go to hell!” line was a dead giveaway. And then she repeated it for emphasis.

Is this the first time the US Title is being decided in the cell? I can’t recall any other time that would have been done. That’s a nice little coup for that belt. I’m not expecting a classic by any means. But win or lose, being in a match like this will be good for Rusev’s name value. Especially if he wins, as he should. They’ll do some kind of screwball finish, of course. But he’ll still be able to say he beat Roman Reigns inside Hell in a Cell.

Brian Kendrick def. TJ Perkins via submission. I was under the impression this was for the title. So imagine my surprise when Perkins tapped out but didn’t lose the belt. I guess now they have something to do at the pay per view.

The crowd was into this one, which lends credence to the idea that the Cruiserweights are a solid bet to get the crowd excited at the top of the show. Granted, this match had a good story behind it, which always helps.

Seth Rollins, WWE Raw, October 3, 2016Michael Cole interviews Seth Rollins. They should do sit down interview segments like this more often. As we saw with Mick Foley in 1997, they can help add an entirely new dimension to a character. That’s not what we got here, but anything that breaks up the monotony and the sameness of this show is good.

After another squash match, Braun Strowman demands better competition. While repetitive as can be, these squash matches have done wonders to rehabilitate and build interest in Braun Strowman. Now it seems like it’s time to move on. But who do you put in there with Strowman? I have nothing to base this on, but I have a terrible feeling it’s going to be Big Show…

Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho announce their intention to challenge for the Raw Tag Team Titles. The New Day responds. The big line in this segment was when Jericho said: “It’s not like I’m asking you for an opportunity at your championship.” As weirdly scripted as that line was, the crowd popped for it. We even got some nice “Y2J” chants. That’s a good omen.

It’s so interesting what manages to be funny on WWE TV. The “List of Jericho” is as stupid as any idea they’ve ever come up with. But Jericho’s charisma and delivery made it work. That damn clipboard is over! What’s more, that little exchange between Woods and Owens about “jumping the shark” got a laugh out of me. By God, actual humor! It can happen on Raw!

Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, WWE Raw, October 3, 2016Here’s the thing: These guys all remembered their lines. But they weren’t chained to them. They weren’t struggling to remember anything. They just went with the flow. And the crowd ate it up! Nice work, gentlemen.

Bill Goldberg to appear on the WWE segment of Sportscenter this week. They made a point to mention Goldberg more than once this week. It’s really just a matter of time before they announce Goldberg’s return match, isn’t it?

Sami Zayn def. Titus O’Neil. Titus absolutely murdered that in-ring promo a few weeks ago. But this guy is so articulate, and so damn charming. To me, it’s no wonder WWE keeps bringing him back to the forefront after mishaps like that. Hell, it wasn’t long ago he was suspended for grabbing Vince McMahon himself! But he keeps coming back, and I’m glad for it. Hell, I’m into the “Titus Brand” thing!

That being said, I’m not on board for having Titus upset Sami Zayn to get his brand over. That suplex Zayn gave him into the corner was really cool, considering Titus is 6’6 and about 270, while Sami is 6’1 and 205. Better luck next week, Titus.

Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson def. Golden Truth. I like that the New Day are being talked about in multiple segments involving tag teams. Gallows and Anderson talked about them. Cesaro and Sheamus are talking about them. And of course, we had Owens and Jericho earlier. They’re playing up the importance of the tag titles. That’s a good thing.

Gallows and Anderson, WWE Raw, October 3, 2016Gallows and Anderson need some rehabbing. These guys have lost multiple pay per view matches to the New Day, and they need to rack up some wins. Tonight was a good start.

The New Day def. Kevin Owens & Chris Jericho, with Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson on commentary. Here’s what I’ll say about Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson being on commentary: At least they weren’t micromanaged. The back-and-forth between Kutcher, Masterson, and Corey Graves felt very organic. To his credit, Kutcher seemed excited to be there. I’d have been alright if they brought them back out for the main event.

After costing Owens & Jericho their match Seth Rollins tells Stephanie he’ll “burn Raw to the ground” if he doesn’t get another Universal Title Match. After seeing Mick Foley become the latest talent to be eviscerated by Stephanie last week, it was nice to see somebody stand up to her. Not that she won’t eventually get to dress him down like everyone else. But it’s a nice change of pace.

Tony Nese def. Rich Swann. Swann is obviously talented, but his smiley dancing act continues to grate on me. On the other hand, Tony Nese is quickly becoming one of my favorites. He’s very much build like a heavyweight, but he moves as quickly and swiftly as any of his cruiserweight peers.

Emma, WWEA vignette airs for the return of Emma. It looks like they’re going in a sexier, more glamorous direction with Emma. Or as she’s now being called, “Emmalina.” I’m skeptical about that being the right direction for her, as charisma aspect of the job has never been her strong point. But best case scenario, this new gimmick allows her to grow as a performer. Hopefully they can also put her back with Dana Brooke.

Cesaro & Sheamus win another squash match. On the subject of charisma, it seems like that’s what they’re trying to pull out of Cesaro with this new pairing. As I said last week, Sheamus is better on the mic than he gets credit for. He and Cesaro are developing a chemistry. They’re not the next Rock n Sock Connection. But hopefully this makes for some okay television.

Sasha Banks def. Charlotte to win the Raw Women’s Title. These two had an epic match the last time they wrestled on Raw. But they also play a little too hard sometimes. We all remember those high spots at Summerslam. As we saw in this match, Sasha is still doing those scary suicide dives to the outside, and Charlotte is still doing flips off the top rope to the outside.

While not quite as epic as their match in July, this was still an excellent main event. Some of these spots may be tough to watch, but these two always deliver. And now we’re one step closer to a Sasha/Bayley title match on pay per view. A good ending to a good show. We don’t get to say that often enough these days.

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