Brock Lesnar Returns, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponderings From Raw:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Jinder Mahal: WWE Champion, Plus Ponderings From Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

See, this is why you always go with your gut.

Going into Backlash, my gut told me Jinder was winning the belt. But I took the common sense approach and predicted Randy Orton would retain. I figured Jinder hadn’t been built up enough yet, and needed another month or so before getting the title.

But I’d forgotten one very important thing. This is pro wrestling. Common sense has little to no place. Ergo Jinder Mahal, mere months after being a jobber, defeats Randy Orton in the main event of a pay per view to win the WWE Championship.

Jinder was on Talk is Jericho last week, and talked about how Vince McMahon has taken tremendous interest in his character, even personally working on his verbiage. That should have been the giveaway. Between Jinder’s physical transformation, the idea of appealing to the Indian market, and him becoming Vince’s new project, the writing was on the wall.

I maintain that Jinder Mahal’s character isn’t at a level that merits being champion. But that’s not to say he can’t get there. I’ve been continually intrigued by this group he’s formed with the Singh Brothers. It’s something different, and I’m very interested in what it could become, if not necessarily what it is now.

That’s really the bottom line as far as Jinder is concerned. He’s not there yet, but he could be. He can grow into the role. The evil foreign menace is Pro Wrestling 101. If McMahon’s interest in Jinder maintains, and he gets a little more comfortable, he and the Singh Brothers could have something special here.

On the other hand, this could all be a flash in the pan. But the question of whether or not that’ll be the case has renewed some of my waned interest in Smackdown. At the very least, they’ve accomplished that.

Ponderings From Raw:

Bray Wyatt opens the show, but is interrupted by Roman Reigns. Kurt Angle makes a match between the two. Bray’s big monologue was frustrating.  I’d have stuck with the whole “I alone can slay the beast” narrative, and had less of the “I can save you all” stuff. Sometimes he just goes too far into the metaphorical. Also: Stop laughing, idiot.

The “It’s my yard” stuff is cool. But every time Roman says that, he grates on the people who grew up with and loved the Undertaker. And there are a lot of us.

Roman Reigns def. Bray Wyatt via disqualification when Samoa Joe interferes. Seth Rollins attacks Joe. Kind of a blah match. Though I admit, seeing the four of them in the ring together piqued my interest a bit for Extreme Rules. If they’re allowed to really play up the no holds barred elements, this match could end up being really good.

Akira Tozawa def. Ariya Daivari. Brian Kendrick watches and comments from backstage. We don’t see nearly enough of Tozawa on Raw. He’s one of the few guys in that Cruiserweight Division that doesn’t feel played out or overexposed. Even Austin Aries has suffered. After failing to capture the magic of the Cruiserweight Classic for so many months, it’s like the whole division has a stink on it.

While Tozawa himself seems to be fine, I’m amazed this story with Kendrick is still going on. No wonder 205 Live is so dead right now.

“The Drifter” Elias Samson makes his Raw wrestling debut, defeats Dean Ambrose via disqualification when Miz interferes. Not a bad start for Samson. Hell of a leaping knee strike to Ambrose. The character is still a little iffy for me. But they’re easing him in. We’ll see how things look in a couple of weeks.

Enzo Amore is attacked by a mystery assailant. Somebody get Enzo some damn pepper spray or something. He’s always getting attacked before he gets the chance to wrestle. Or at least tell Cass not to let the little bastard of his sight for awhile.

Paul Heyman interrupts Finn Balor’s pre-match promo, wishes him luck at Extreme RulesBalor vows to beat Brock Lesnar. We were overdue for a Heyman promo. They shouldn’t use him every week. But while Brock is gone, we need him every so often to represent the champion’s interests.

This segment is essentially an assurance that, at least for now, WWE plans to put Balor over at Extreme Rules. That’s good news as far as I’m concerned. Some dismiss the idea of a Finn Balor/Brock Lesnar match as not being believable. But this is the same company that just made Jinder Mahal one of their top champions. The key is not to stretch the audience’s suspension of disbelief too far. I don’t see that being an issue here. How good did Brock vs. CM Punk ended up being?

Finn Balor def. Karl Anderson. From bell to bell, Balor always looks like a star. But Karl Anderson is so underrated. He’s spent so much time as the fall guy for his tag team that people don’t realize just how talented he is. It’s always nice to see his singles game.

They’ve been dancing around this Bullet Club stuff for a few weeks. I’d love to see a program between Balor, Gallows, and Anderson. But considering Gallows and Anderson’s status as a tag team, and how big a singles star Finn Balor is, would that work?

Sasha Banks def. Alicia Fox. There’s been some buzz about Sasha losing to Alicia last week because Vince McMahon isn’t high on her, and thinks she’s injury prone. I don’t know that I buy that. I wasn’t happy seeing Alicia beat Sasha either. But this just comes off as them needing to find something for Sasha to do while she’s not in the title picture.

In a pre-taped promo, Goldust declares: “The Golden age is back.” As a longtime fan, I loved this. This is exactly how they should be using Goldust. Let people see just how unique this character can be. He’s so more than just a dude in makeup.

Kalisto def. Apollo Crews. A little surprised to see Kalisto get another win here. He might actually want to take Titus O’Neil up on becoming part of the Titus Brand. He could try and leach some of Titus’ charisma.

Matt Hardy def. Sheamus to decide the stipulation for the title match at Extreme Rules. The Tag Champions will defend in a Steel Cage Match. Corey Graves called Cesaro the “Swiss Cyborg” during this match. I actually like that name bettie than Swiss Superman. They should use that.

I thought we’d get another Ladder Match with these two at the pay per view. But a Cage Match changes things up, and hopefully it’ll leave these guys with less wear and tear.

Austin Aries def. Tony Nese. Neville to defend against Aries in a Submission Match at Extreme Rules. Look for Aries’ knee to be part of the story at Extreme Rules. I’d love to see him get the belt. But if he doesn’t, I say we go to Akira Tozawa as the next challenger for Neville.

Alexa Bliss def. Mickie James, wallops her with a kendo stick. Great facial expressions from Alexa here. I like that they’re playing up the damage a kendo stick can do. I’m still not a fan of the Kendo Stick on a Pole stipulation, but at least they’re making the stick mean something.

Bray Wyatt and Samoa Joe def. Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins. Can we get another Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe match? Those guys are both dynamic, explosive, and they hit hard. Something about those Samoans…

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Braun Strowman’s Injury, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This sucks. That’s all there is to it.

Last week, they gave Kurt Angle a line about Braun Strowman having a rotator cuff injury. That’s not exactly true, but there is a little something to it. Strowman is apparently having a minor procedure done on his elbow. He’s going to miss about eight weeks. Thus, the angle they shot on tonight’s show.

The timing of this is awful, as Strowman has become one of the hottest things on Raw right now. All the Roman Reigns detractors have gotten quite a kick out of watching Strowman beat the hell out of him. Rumor has it he was supposed to wrestle Brock Lesnar for the Universal Title in June of July. The silver lining in all of this is they may now have to save that match for Summerslam. That’s a better deal for Strowman, in my book. Now the question becomes who you put with Lesnar in the meantime. Balor? Rollins?

Strowman didn’t need a break from the spotlight. But he’ll have that much more momentum when that “Braaaauuuunn!!!!” bellow hits again, and he comes looking for revenge. There’s just something satisfying about watching a big, tough bastard looking for a fight. It’s simple. It works.

Ponderings From Raw:

Dean Ambrose and the Miz announced as guest co-general managers for the evening. An injured Braun Strowman comes out, says he wants Brock Lesnar. Despite the injury, Ambrose makes a match between Kalisto and the one-armed Strowman. Really surprised to see them give Kalisto a mic here. It remains his worst enemy. In contrast, I loved Strowman’s line: “I crushed you like an empty beer can.”

Finn Balor def. The Miz. Miz attempts to use his GM authority to disqualify Balor. Ambrose re-starts the match. Decent outing for these guys. Miz is settling into things on Raw better than I thought he might. He’s gotten lost in the shuffle before, and he did lose a little of his Smackdown buzz when he came over. But he seems to be on the rebound. He and Ambrose have a title match next week, and I’d be surprised if he didn’t win it back.

Alexa Bliss w/Nia Jax def. Mickie James w/Bayley. Glad to hear a crowd actually be into Mickie a little bit. She deserves so much more than a lot of the American crowds have given her since she’s been back.

Alexa Bliss is already really good. But she’s going to be great someday Some of the little mannerisms and the little things she does with her body language are really fun to watch.

Roman Reigns interrupts Braun Strowman’s match with Kalisto, takes a chair to the giant’s bad arm. There’s something borderline funny about this feud leaving both guys bandaged up like this. Jim Ross would say they look like they’ve been in a car wreck.

This UK crowd wasn’t kind to Roman, though few crowds are. Those were some intense boos when his music hit.

Sheamus and Cesaro won a Tag Team Turmoil Match to become top contenders for the Raw Tag Team Titles. Damn. This is a hell of a win for Sheamus and Cesaro. Not just to win Tag Team Turmoil, but to pin every other team in the match. You can’t look much more dominant than that.

But do they need a new entrance? The one they have now has a little bit of a babyface vibe to it.

Goldust and R-Truth were in the hopeful underdog spot here. I’ve never understood why they don’t use Goldust more. He’s as good as he’s ever been. Maybe better.

Seth Rollins det. Samoa Joe via disqualification. Court Bauer was on Steve Austin’s podcast last week. The two happened to talk about how they need to do a better job of defining Seth Rollins’ identity as a babyface. Definitely worth checking out, as they made a lot of good points. The Kingslayer nickname is cool. But we need more on the character end from him.

I appreciated the taunting spot they put in this match when Joe was working Rollins’ knee. Joe makes a hell of a convincing bully when he wants to. Him sending Rollins into that exposed steel turnbuckle didn’t hurt in that sense either.

TJP def. Jack Gallagher with a handful of tights. They put Neville on commentary for this match, and he did pretty well. If you’d told me that a year ago, I’d never have believed it. That’s how far this guy has come.

Sasha Banks def. Alicia Fox. Cold match. At least we didn’t have to endure any stuff with Fox and Noam Dar this week.

Bray Wyatt def. Dean Ambrose after the Miz interfered. Pretty predictable finish. Ambrose and Wyatt did pretty well here, though. The shock of the night was that after what happened last week, we didn’t see Finn Balor go after Bray. I assume they’re still working together.

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Bray Wyatt’s House of Horrors, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Aw c’mon. You guys can do better than that.

That was the one thing that went through my mind as I watched WWE’s first ever House of Horrors Match at Payback. As many expected, it was literally inside a house. They put a bunch of horror-type gimmicks inside, played with the lighting, and gave us some spooky music and sound effects. Later, they ended up back in the ring, a la the Boiler Room Brawl that Undertaker and Mankind had all those years ago.

This was fine. Worthy of a second one, if they decide to go that route. But they could have done so much more. The most twisted thing they did in this match was hanging a bunch of deformed baby dolls from the ceiling. Considering the presentation was so cinematic, it feels like they wasted an opportunity by playing it fairly safe.

For instance, WWE.com has played up the fact that this month marks Orton’s 15-year anniversary with the company. Why not have a little fun with that? Have Bray put some old photos of Orton on the wall and deface them to his liking. You can even play with old footage. If the story was that Bray has prepared this house to fight Orton in, they could have made this House of Horrors Match every bit as psychological as it is physical.

One person who should be very happy about how this match was presented? Matt Hardy. The House of Horrors Match was clearly influenced by the “Final Deletion,” “Delete or Decay,” and a lot of the Broken stuff they did in Impact Wrestling. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, I suppose. And this isn’t the first time WWE has used Bray Wyatt to imitate what Matt and Jeff Hardy did in Impact. Broken Matt’s arrival in WWE seems inevitable at this point. So a match like this between Matt and Bray would undoubtedly make for interesting television.

They also went with the right finish, which saw Jinder Mahal and the Singh Brothers (formerly the Bollywood Boyz) come in and cost Orton the match. Hey Jinder? Next time be a little more convincing with that belt shot to the back of the head. Looked more like a shot to the shoulder…

Ponderings From Raw

Alexa Bliss holds a coronation ceremony for herself. In a subsequent match, Bliss, Nia Jax, Emma, and Alicia Fox defeat Bayley, Sasha Banks Mickie James, and Dana Brooke. “The Queen is dead.” That was an interesting little line, obviously directed at Charlotte Flair. Last night at Payback, Alexa Bliss became the first woman to have held both the Raw and Smackdown Women’s Titles. That’s a distinction that many, myself included, thought Charlotte Flair would achieve first. For all intents and purposes, she’s been the face of the so-called women’s revolution. So it’s nice to see someone else get a landmark win.

The match didn’t do much for me. But I did love Bayley’s facial expressions during the coronation segment. Don’t be fooled, folks. The long term story here is still about Bayley and Sasha.

Luke Gallows def. Enzo Amore. We were at about the 40 minute mark here, and it became obvious that this show was missing something. Normally by this point we’ve seen Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, or somebody involved in the top storyline on the show. This week, that would have been either Reigns or Braun Strowman. As we hadn’t seen them yet, things felt oddly cold.

In all fairness, Enzo and Gallows had a decent match. Has Gallows lost some weight?

Seth Rollins and Finn Balor vie for a Universal Title shot. Dean Ambrose says the Intercontinental Title is now the hottest title on Raw. Rollins vs. Balor vs. the Miz made to decide top contender for the IC Title. Rollins was really lame at the top of this segment. Trying to rile up the crowd, and then all that stuff about sticking it out when times are tough. He came off like a white meat babyface. Balor was a little bit better. He seems to have improved on the mic a little bit since he’s been gone.

I have no problem with the Intercontinental Title being elevated. I just wish they’d had Ambrose and Miz sell us on it a little more. Maybe have Ambrose stick it to Brock a little more. Drive home the point that he’s the top guy on Raw, because he’s the Intercontinental Champion. He defends it all the time, Brock rarely shows up, etc. We got that here, but it wasn’t emphasized enough.

Jack Gallagher, Rich Swann, and Akira Tozawa def. Brian Kendrick, Tony Nese, and Noam Dar. Cold match. Came off just like any other six-man you’d see on Raw. Tozawa could be something, but he’s stuck in purgatory on 205 Live.

Cesaro and Sheamus address the fans after ambushing the Hardys at PaybackI didn’t expect a heel turn for these two. But in retrospect it seems rather obvious. I expected them to up the aggression, but still stay in babyface territory. I actually found their little bromance endearing.

But it’s something new for them to do. They were always going to be the number two babyface team now that the Hardys are back. Maybe number three, factoring in Enzo and Cass. So now they have a chance to be the top heel team. It’s not like it’s tough to dislike Sheamus.

Apollo Crews def. Heath Slater. The fans were chanting “He’s got kids!” for Slater at one point. I’m not sure where the ceiling is for him, but it’s higher than where he’s at now.

Kurt Angle announces Braun Strowman has a torn rotator cuff. Bray Wyatt introduces himself to the Raw General Manager. I panicked when Angle said the line about Strowman’s torn rotator cuff. Him going down now would be every bit as bad as when Finn Balor got hurt at Summerslam. But it’s reportedly just part of the storyline. Thank god.

Austin Aries def. TJP. Apparently TJ Perkins is just TJP now. Um…why?

The crowd was dying off at this point. Granted, it doesn’t help that some nights it feels like the Cruiserweight Division is dying off. This was definitely one such night.

Almost everything felt a little bit too long on this show. Almost as if they re-wrote or cut something, and had to compensate for it.

The Miz def. Seth Rollins and Finn Balor to become top contender for the Intercontinental Title. Bray Wyatt and Samoa Joe interfere. Good match. Loved Miz bowing out and after the bell and trying to avoid a beating. Great heel move. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him get the IC belt again.

I held out a little bit of hope that Balor was going to do something with Gallows and Anderson. Obviously he is indeed going with Bray. No doubt we’ll be hearing a lot of talk about demons in the coming weeks.

I’m actually starting to worry about Balor during his matches. He and Rollins had that scary cross body block landing. The last thing this guy needs is another bad head shot. The people are into him. But he obviously needs to stay healthy to maintain his momentum.

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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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#FireJBL? Plus, Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponderings From Raw:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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