Tag Archives: Michael Cole

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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Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman Return, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Last week’s Raw was one of the best show’s they’ve had in recent memory. This one, on the other hand, felt more like business as usual. I’m wondering if the reason doesn’t have something to do with a continuous thread throughout the show. A sort of self-contained “spine” story that holds the show together, but also feeds a larger story.

For instance, last week it was all about who would face Rollins at Summerslam. It was decided in three matches spread out over the course of the show. And they made a new star in the process. They weren’t just throwing matches out there.

They did this during the Attitude Era, and it made for great TV. They keep calling this the “new era,” but that doesn’t mean we have to throw all the rules out…

Sasha Banks, WWE Raw, August 1, 2016Ponderings From Raw:

Sasha Banks kicks off the show, is featured in an in-ring segment with Charlotte, Chris Jericho, and Enzo. Charlotte & Jericho win a mixed tag. As cool as it was to have Sasha open the show, the opening skit fell flat. No disrespect to any of these performers. But unless you’ve got really compelling circumstances, i.e. a big return or something, 20 minutes of talking is too long. As such, the match fell a little flat as well.

Couldn’t help but wonder where Big Cass was. My first instinct was that he must have gotten in trouble for something. But he came out for the save afterward. So apparently they just opted to send Enzo out there without him. Enzo was fine on his own, of course.

Kevin Owens was out on commentary in this match for some reason. I’ll never complain about that. He’s got great confidence on commentary, which so many wrestlers lack.

Braun Strowman wins another enhancement match. When was the last time they regularly featured enhancement guys? I’m inclined to say it was with Ryback. In time, those enhancement matches got him over as a juggernaut. How Strowman will do once he’s back in competitive matches is another matter. But for now, this works for me.

The Shining Stars def. The Golden Truth. R-Truth misses a hot tag because he’s playing Pokemon Go. That’s almost like humor.

WWE Raw, August 1, 2016, Seth Rollins, Finn BalorSeth Rollins confronts Finn Balor. Let’s face facts: Balor isn’t a strong promo. He can talk, but he’s not exactly compelling to listen to by himself. That’s why it was interesting to see Michael Cole out there with him when the segment began. Years ago, they’d have Vince McMahon or Jim Ross do in-ring interviews on Raw. I’d be game for Cole doing something similar every week, the same way they’ve started to put Byron Saxton out there for post-match comments from wrestlers.

Of course, Rollins ended up coming out and dismissing Cole. Not much to note here, except that I’m impressed with how Balor has been portrayed. He’s a big deal. As he should be.

Rusev def. Mark Henry to retain the United States Championship. Rusev badmouths Americans in the Olympics, which draws out Roman Reigns. Poor Rusev. He keeps getting on these big rolls, only to run into run into a golden boy that kills his momentum. Awhile back it was John Cena. Now it’s Roman Reigns. Mind you, they could have a screw job finish that allows Rusev to keep the title. But smart bet is Reigns leaves Summerslam with the belt.

They seem to be presenting the idea that Mark Henry is being put out to pasture. Supposedly Henry is looking to retire. So if they want to make a story out of it, that’s fantastic. He does well with high emotion. So it might make for some good TV.

Titus O'Neil, Bob Backlund, WWE Raw, August 1, 2016Darren Young def. Titus O’Neil. Titus wins with a handful of tights. The slogan goes: “Make Darren  Young Great Again.” This match was based on Titus asking Darren a question we’ve all been wondering: “When were you ever great?”

Not happy to see Titus hold the tights for a pin. But at least they acknowledged it. As recently as a few months ago, the announcers would have ignored that. I don’t see the upside of having Titus be a heel. He’s very likable. On the plus side, his little shouting match with Bob Backlund backstage was fun. If all this gets the Young/Backlund team over, maybe it’ll be worth it.

Nia Jax wins an enhancement match. So Nia Jax and Braun Strowman are basically doing the same thing. They need to be careful about not doing the exact same thing with these two. I understand the objective is the same, and I’m fine with squash matches. But let’s change up the presentation between the two. Give me different textures and tones.

Kofi Kingston & Big E. def. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson. On the subject of different tones and textures, you can’t get much more different than these two. The New Day is joyful, and there’s nothing joyful about Gallows & Anderson. They’re natural opponents.

Cesaro vs. Sheamus, WWE Raw, August 1, 2016Cesaro def. Sheamus. I don’t know if that promo Cesaro cut on the network was a “worked shoot” or a legit shoot. Either way, it’s nice to see them tapping into what I assume are Cesaro’s real emotions. Even if they’re not, it taps into some of the fans’ frustrations at Cesaro not getting the push he deserves.

So what do you do with Sheamus at this point? He feels so flat, so cold…

Jinder Mahal def. Heath Slater to earn a Raw contract. WWE is bringing back some old names to flesh out the dual rosters and put new talent over. Shelton Benjamin and Rhyno are on Smackdown, and now we’ve got Jinder Mahal on Raw. But what’s confusing about that is Mahal doesn’t have a lot of name value. Outside of his work with 3MB, I have no memory of what Jinder Mahal in his WWE run. Something with the Great Khali maybe? Either way, I’m glad for him. Who knows? Maybe he’ll get a better shot this time around.

Seth Rollins def. Sami Zayn. I appreciated Rollins and Zayn building to the Pedigree. By my count, Rollins went for it three times before he finally got it on the fourth. And on the subject of finishers, why isn’t Zayn beating people with the Blue Thunder Bomb? It’s a great move. But he never wins with it.

Brock Lesnar & Paul Heyman return to Raw. Randy Orton makes a surprise appearance to hit an RKO on Lesnar. Well, that didn’t take long. Our first attack across brand lines. There’s an element of frustration seeing this, plus Heath Slater showing up on both shows. This doesn’t exactly set a good prescedent. Why even draft Orton and Lesnar to separate shows?

Brock Lesnar, August 1, 2016Still, that shot of Orton hitting the RKO on Brock was great. I didn’t even hear the crowd make any noise. They need to interact somehow. I suspect Lesnar and Heyman will invade  Smackdown as early as this week, with a contract signing to follow.

Rumor had it Heyman’s contract with WWE had expired, and he just signed a new deal this week. After this promo, we should all be very thankful for that. A Paul Heyman promo was the main event of Raw, and for good reason.

Tuesday Morning Talk Points: NONE

Over on Smackdown:

Dolph Ziggler wins a six-pack challenge to earn a WWE Title shot at SummerslamAs if Finn Balor earning a shot at the Universal Title wasn’t enough, Ziggler pulled this win out of nowhere. Dolph Ziggler and Dean Ambrose wrestling for the WWE Championship at a major pay per view. Sure, why not? They’ve got some rehabbing to do with Dolph. But it’s a feel good moment. Ziggler works so hard, and deserves to much better than to just be another guy on the roster. He’s not getting the belt. Not now at least. But this is a great chance for him to shine on a big stage.

Randy Orton def. The Miz. I hated this. Not because Orton won, but because Miz lost clean. They just had to put Orton out there with the Intercontinental Champion? There was nobody else on that roster he could have wrestled?

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Finn Balor Arrives, Charlotte and Sasha Kill It, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

Dean Ambrose, WWE ChampionBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I was really surprised to see Dean Ambrose get the win at Battleground. Rollins seemed like the favorite. But I’m not complaining. Ambrose’s win in the triple threat, in addition to his pinfall victory over Rollins on Smackdown, sends an important message: Dean Ambrose is a main event player, and a World Champion.

Ambrose was advertised for the Stone Cold Podcast in two weeks. That’s another strong endorsement. This guy also has quite a story. He apparently grew up in public housing, and dropped out of high school to train as a wrestler. I’d love to see Austin get into that with him.

The downside to all this? Ambrose isn’t going to be WWE’s only Heavyweight Champion for long…

Ponderings From Raw:

Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley announce the creation of the WWE Universal Championship. Seth Rollins to face winner of main event.  *sigh* Well, here we go. Two world titles again. More belts inevitably water things down. But oh well…

And my God, what an awful name. The Universal Championship? They’re basically saying: “Oh yeah? You’ve got a world champion? Well we’ve got a Universe champion! And the universe is bigger than the world!!!!” Give me break.

Finn Balor, WWE Raw, July 25, 2016Finn Balor def. Rusev, Kevin Owens, and Cesaro to advance to the main event. I was really surprised to hear Cole run down Finn Balor’s resume, talking about the titles in IWGP, the NWA, and all that. JBL has done that kind sort of thing. But to hear it from Cole, who like it or not is the voice of the company, adds a certain weight. This sort of thing would never have happened as recently as three years ago. All this “new era” stuff is hokey. But it’s not entirely untrue.

Rusev and Kevin Owens worked well together in this match, developing a temporary partnership. They both have a good grasp on their personas, and were firmly in character. I have no desire to see them as a formal tag team. But if they were to team again in the near future, I wouldn’t be heartbroken.

It made sense for Balor to take this one. But I was rooting for Cesaro. As many of us saw, he cut a little “worked shoot” promo on the WWE Network after the draft, venting about his frustrations. There’s still time for them to capitalize on that. But tonight would have been the opportune time. At least he wasn’t pinned, unlike the damn United States Champion.

Nia Jax def. Britt Baker. A good ol’ fashioned enhancement match. Not thrilling to watch, per se. But it’s an effective start for Nia Jax.

Roman Reigns, WWE Raw, July 25, 2016Roman Reigns def. Chris Jericho, Sheamus, and Sami Zayn to advance to the main event. So I know I’ve said this before, and that I’m not the only one, but…can we please just turn Roman heel already? Let the long national nightmare end. You’ll never find a better, more organic time to turn him heel than now. The guy just came back from a drug policy violation, was pinned in his second straight pay per view main event, and the fans are still booing him!

And if you’re going to turn him heel, you won’t find a better opponent for him than Sami Zayn. The “Underdog from the Underground” garnered a lot of great sympathy as he was getting beat down by Reigns. But alas, Reigns is still a superhero.

Also, how hilarious was it wen Reigns went for the spear, and Jericho simply threw a kick and stopped him dead? Maybe I’m biased…

Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson trash a New Day celebration. Corey Graves: “Gallows and Anderson aren’t concerned with balloons and cereal. They’re worried about checks and championships.” Great line.

That video package they aired for the New Day was delightfully cheesy. It seems like a long time ago that these guys were heels. And if there’s one team that’s fit to pop their positivity bubble, it’s Gallows & Anderson. Is this why they didn’t get a title match earlier in the year? Because they were waiting for Summerslam? That works for me.

Neville, WWE Raw, July 25, 2016Neville def. Curtis Axel. So they’re calling Axel “Mr. Irrelevant” now? At least it’s factually accurate. How far he’s fallen since becoming a Paul Heyman guy.

The re-introduction of the Cruiserweight Division bodes well for Neville. The poor guy has zero personality. But he’s got incredible explosive athleticism. He can easily be the centerpiece to the whole thing.

Sasha Banks def. Charlotte to become the new WWE Women’s Champion. I found myself tempted to tune out a bit during this match. One would’ve thought they were saving Sasha’s win for Summerslam. But nope. Couldn’t.  They got me. I tip my hat to both these ladies. They’re truly great.

Charlotte’s flexibility is amazing. When Sasha got her in that straitjacket hold, the angle of her back was cringeworthy. And the double knees off the apron? Beautiful. We had a great story about the champion being in jeopardy. That is wrestling, folks.

These ladies scared the crap out of me twice in the span of about two minutes. On the subject of bent spines, Sasha’s landing after that dive to the outside was brutal. One can only wonder much adrenaline it takes to keep going after that. Then Charlotte goes for a moonsault on the outside, with only one person to catch her.

Sasha Banks, WWE Women's ChampionIt’s interesting that they switched the title tonight. I can only assume it was to create some extra buzz around Raw now that the brands are split. Either way, this was a long time coming. The fans have been ready for Sasha to take the top spot since she came up to the main roster at about this time last year. To say the very least, she deserves it.

The timing is interesting too, what with Bayley making her first main roster appearance last night as Sasha’s partner.

Corey Graves joins the Raw announce team. JBL moves to SmackdownGraves had a great first night. He felt more like a sports analyst, as opposed to JBL’s cowboy caricature. His time has finally come.

Braun Strowman wins an enhancement match. Braun Strowman is on his own now, which I’m afraid means we have to endure yet another generic giant. I actually would have preferred another attempt to make Erick Rowan a single.

Enzo & Cass def. The Shining Stars. Did Enzo & Cass skip some dialogue before the match? It seems like Cass jumped right to the “S.A.W.F.T.” catch phrase.

Finn Balor def. Roman Reigns to advance to SummerslamWell, so much for Balor being a cruiserweight. This is as big an endorsement of a new star as we’ve seen in a long time. In his first night on the main roster, Finn Balor beats the man who was (and perhaps still is) pegged to be the new face of the company. Balor is immediately established as a main event player, and a new star. Seth Rollins against Finn Balor at Summerslam? I’m in.

Finn Balor, WWE Raw, July 25, 2016Now the question becomes what to do with Roman Reigns. He’s obviously being de-emphasized for the time being. Say, I wonder what Sami Zayn is doing at Summerslam

Tuesday Morning Talk Points: Finn Balor debuts. Sasha Banks wins the Women’s Title in an awesome match.

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Big Cass Hits the Big Time, Champions Fall, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m going to get into Raw, as afterward we’ll get into Ryback’s current situation with WWE, and the numerous releases we saw last week.

Ponderings From WWE Raw:

WWE Raw, May 9, 2016, Chris Jericho, Big CassColin Cassaday interrupts Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel, and challenges him to a match. I was really annoyed when a light chant of “Where is Enzo?” broke out. WWE and Colin Cassady are trying to make the best of a bad situation. To his credit, he’s not doing a bad job. In terms of the Raw audience, I’d argue Enzo was over with the fans the night after Wrestlemania because of how great he was on the mic. Cass, while part of the act, didn’t have that advantage. So this is a great chance for him to flesh out his character. Thus, when Enzo returns, the team will be even stronger.

Baron Corbin def. Dolph Ziggler. “Even Steven” booking strikes again. I’m wondering if these two will rematch yet again at Extreme Rules. I don’t really see why they’d need to, as I don’t think there’s enough interest to merit it. But it’s a possibility. Pleased to see Corbin win with his finish, though he could have easily won with the Deep Six.

R-Truth def. Fandango. Michael Cole shoved a bunch of contrived pop cultural references into this match. He talked about the Goldust & Fandango vs. R-Truth & Tyler Breeze match on this week’s Smackdown being bigger than Captain America: Civil War. He also mentioned James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke,” and Ozzy Osbourne’s disappearance. It’s like someone picked the least important match on the show to shove all of that into. Last week I talked about this program not making any sense, but at least these four guys have something to do on Raw.

WWE Raw, May 9, 2016, Charlotte, Paige, NatalyaPaige def. Charlotte with a distraction roll-up. I get why they did this. They want the fans to question Charlotte’s ability to stand on her own as we head into a match where Ric Flair is banned. For continuity’s sake, Paige should get the next title shot at Money in the Bank next month.

I tend to mute the commentary when wrestlers put on a headset, especially when there are two of them bickering with one another. But Natalya was fine. She seemed to run out of things to say when Cole and JBL kept questioning her, but she came off well. I do, however, think she jumped up on the apron a bit too early. Logically, she should have jumped up there after Charlotte tried to win with her feet on the ropes.

Sami Zayn def. The Miz. Not a good night for champions, as both the Women’s Champ and the IC Champ lost clean. But in Zayn’s case, at least we know he’s getting a title opportunity. We now officially have the fatal fairway match I mentioned last week. My guess is Miz retains when Kevin Owens accidentally causes Zayn to get pinned. This Zayn/Owens stuff could go to Summerslam if they book it right.

Dana Brooke makes her Raw debut in a backstage segment with Emma and Becky Lynch. From a wrestling standpoint, I can’t say I’m that familiar with Dana Brooke. I’ve seen her in backstage segments Emma, as the two are obviously run-in buddies. But she’s largely unknown to me. Either way, her debut adds a bit more depth to the women’s roster, which is a good thing.

Darren Young, Bob Backlund vignetteDarren Young finds a life coach in Bob Backlund. This segment first aired on Smackdown. I’m really intrigued by this pairing. As I understand it, it was Darren Young’s idea, and WWE are letting him run with it. The “Make Darren Young Great Again” slogan is obviously timely. What’s more, this will give us a chance to get to know Young a bit more. We don’t know much about him, aside from the fact that he’s the first openly gay WWE star. And obviously, Backlund is very entertaining.

But the most surprising thing about this vignette? They let Young and Backlund say “wrestling.” Holy crap. I thought that word was banned! Then Byron Saxton said it!

Sin Cara def. Rusev with a distraction roll-up. The second distraction roll-up of the night. Ugh. Rusev really shouldn’t have lost this match. From where I sit, WWE is still in the process of rehabbing him. He won a big battle royal last week, and now he loses to Sin Cara? Lame. On the plus side, they learned their lesson and kept Kalisto off commentary.

Roman Reigns & The Usos def. AJ Styles, Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson via disqualification in a six-man elimination tag team match. Anderson and Gallows had a few heel moments here. You had Gallows cheap shooting Jey Uso, then Gallows abruptly tagging AJ out of the match, and of course attacking Reigns to cause a DQ.

WWE Raw, May 9, 2016, Roman Reigns, Karl AndersonI like the bad blood that exists between these two teams. And people can say what they want about Roman Reigns (I certainly have), but that moment when he looked at the chair, said “I don’t need it” and gave it to Styles? That was bad ass. On the other hand, Styles proves that babyfaces can be cheered in the modern era, so long as they have talent and a good amount of fire.

Kevin Owens def. Zack Ryder. We certainly can’t say Zack Ryder hasn’t gotten some decent TV time since Wrestlemania season. WWE seems to appreciate him as a guy who the fans like, and can give anyone a run for their money, but keeps coming up short. He’s an underdog. That’s not a necessarily a great position to be in. But it’s better than not being on TV at all. And as I recall, underdogs have done some great things in WWE…

Last week I mentioned how no one could have imagined AJ Styles on Sportscenter. But how about Kevin Steen showing up on Sportscenter? What a world we live in…

The Dudley Boyz def. The New Day. What the hell? The Women’s Champ, the IC Champ, and the Tag Champs all lose non-title matches in the same night. Between that and the distraction roll-ups, this is really weird. Just like Paige hopefully getting a title shot at Money in the Bank, one would hope the Dudleys will now be in the tag title picture next month as well. Also, hat big clothesline Kofi took from D-Von looked awesome.

WWE Raw, May 9, 2016, Dean AmbroseDean Ambrose attacked Chris Jericho before his match with Big Cass. This was disappointing. They hyped Big Cass against Jericho for the entire show. Ambrose’s appearance was obvious, but they could have at least let them wrestle a bit. Cass didn’t have to beat Jericho. Ambrose could have attacked him and ended the match.

The visual of Ambrose wearing Jericho’s jacket, and then destroying it was pretty cool. But the idea that “Mitch the potted plant” meant the world to Ambrose is just stupid. It was a running joke. Now suddenly it’s a factor in a program between two of WWE’s biggest stars? What the hell…?

In Other News:

Ryback off TV over contract dispute, posts lengthy blog on the issue. Much of the blog Ryback posted on his Tumblr page had to do with how wrestlers are paid, and how talents who win matches should get paid as much as the ones who lose. He seems to be implying that all WWE wrestlers should be paid equally. Allegedly, he also wants WWE to pay for his travel and hotel expenses.

(Incidentally, I hadn’t caught the “pre-show stopper” weight belt Ryback wore out for his pre-show match at Payback. Funny stuff.)

Ryback, pre-show stopperI doubt WWE will give at all. If they don’t feel Ryback should be paid more, chances are they’re not going to shill out more for him. Especially now that he’s talked about the issue publicly. As for the travel stuff, if WWE doesn’t pay for John Cena or Roman Reigns to travel across the globe, they’re not going to do it for Ryback.

Still, I give “The Big Guy” credit for trying to take on the system. As far as the travel stuff, he’s right in principle. If there’s another industry that doesn’t pay for its employees to travel, I’m not aware of it. Perhaps that falls back under WWE classifying its employees as “independent contractors.” Which, of course, is a big sham.

WWE releases the following talents: Wade Barrett, Damien Sandow, Santino Marella, Hornswoggle, Alex Riley, Cameron, Zeb Colter, El Torito. WWE did what many refer to as its annual “spring cleaning” last week. Most of these aren’t surprises, as the talents haven’t been on TV in a number of months. We had a pretty good idea that Wade Barrett was leaving, which is a shame considering all he could have offered. Cameron, a.k.a. the real life Ariane Andrew, had posted a lengthy rant regarding fans cyber-bullying her less than a day before this announcement. Frankly, I’m sad to see her go. She many not have been a great wrestler, but her on-screen personality was very easy to dislike. At the very least, she might have been a good valet for someone.

But the one that really hurts is Damien Sandow. At one point, this guy was one of the most over guys on the roster. Why you wouldn’t make at least some use of a guy like that is beyond me. Hopefully WWE’s loss will be somebody else’s gain.

Image 3 from wrestlenewz.com. Image 6 from cagesideseats.com. Remaining images courtesy of WWE. 

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