A Roman Reigns Heel Turn? Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

How many years did we wait for a John Cena heel turn? Hell, some of us are still waiting. I was there at Wrestlemania XXII when he got booed out of the building during the main event. That was in 2006. So it’s been at least a decade.

The smart bet is that it’s never happening. At this point, why bother? It feels like the fans are finally starting to turn back around on Cena, and cheer him as Smackdown‘s resident legend. But there was a long period where so many of us were clamoring for Cena to snap back at those crowds that were booing him so hard.

Obviously we now have the same situation with Roman Reigns. For better or worse, he’s the company’s next chosen one. Like Cena, he comes out to a chorus of boos from most of the grown men in the audience. Children and women seem to enjoy him, but the fanboys hate him. And they’re not likely to stop booing him anytime soon, especially given this stuff with the Undertaker.

This week’s Raw segment with Roman struck a chord with me. Not just because Shawn Michaels was in there with him, but because he threatened to retire the Undertaker. As Undertaker is someone I’ve been watching since I was 11 years old, it almost felt personal.  I suspect that’s how a lot of people feel, and you’ve got to know WWE is counting on that.

I understand the generational, “passing the torch” element of WWE putting Reigns with the Undertaker. But I don’t think having Roman beat the Undertaker helps him as far as being a lead babyface. People generally don’t like seeing the Undertaker beaten in big matches. Wrestlemania XXX comes to mind.

If Roman is turning heel, however…

Keeping Roman strong is a top priority, and has been for years. In this company, you can’t look any stronger than when you beat the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. Just ask Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman. But Brock was also a heel when he did that. I don’t see how beating the Undertaker at Wrestlemania makes Roman anything less than a heel. Mind you, I’m assuming that’s the direction they’re going. But I don’t see them simply having Roman lose to Undertaker, unless the plan is for him to snap afterward and beat the hell out of him. Again, as a heel.

Perhaps it’s pie in the sky thinking, and this heat from the crowds is simply part of being WWE’s marquee man nowadays. But man, imagine the story of Roman beating the Undertaker, and officially becoming the most hated man in the company. Especially if he cheats to do it…

Ponderings From Smackdown:

AJ Styles cuts a promo on not having a match at Wrestlemania, promises to confront Shane McMahon. Hearing AJ trace his frustrations back to the Royal Rumble made this feel very reminiscent of Bret Hart in early 1997. He would always talk about being screwed out of the WWF Title. It all culminated in that famous moment on Raw when he shoved Vince McMahon, and cut that scathing, cuss-laden promo. Now all these years later, It’s AJ against Vince’s son. It somehow feels fitting.

Tom Phillips and JBL call the show without Mauro Ranallo and David Otunga. Ranallo was supposedly held up by bad weather, and Otunga is shooting a Tyler Perry movie. So for the first time in quite awhile, we had a two-man announce team on WWE television. Wouldn’t you know it, the world didn’t end. Just sayin’.

Becky Lynch def. Natalya via submission. Carmella attacks Becky after the match. Tremendous counter from the top turnbuckle into the Disarm-Her. I feel like the crowd chants for Becky Lynch every week. I’m legitimately rooting for her at Wrestlemania. She deserves a moment in the sun.

Noticed Carmella didn’t have her accent in the backstage promo that followed. Did they drop it? If so, that sucks. That was instant heat with me.

John Cena and Nikki Bella appear on Miz TV. Maryse accuses Nikki of keeping her off the first season of Total Divas. Daniel Bryan makes a mixed tag match between the two couples for WrestlemaniaFor months, the heels on this show have made it a point to talk about how Cena will never marry Nikki. Miz and Maryse did the same here, with a close-up of her wedding ring for good measure. So we’re getting a proposal at Wrestlemania, right? Seems pretty obvious to me. Hey, we’ve never seen one before. So maybe it’ll be cool.

Last week on Talking Smack, Daniel Bryan made a vague comment about possibly being able to wrestle again in a year and a half. I imagine that’s when his contract expires. Obviously, his health issues have been well documented. Please be careful, good sir…

Mickie James def. Alexa Bliss. My question last week about Mickie turning face has apparently been answered. That’s seemingly how she was positioned here. No complaints from me in that respect. Less experienced ladies on the heel side of things, like Alexa Bliss, could learn a lot from her. Phillips and JBL also told a nice story about Mickie potentially tying Trish Stratus’ record of seven Women’s Championships at Wrestlemania.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Alexa lose more matches in the coming weeks to advance how vulnerable she is in the multi-woman match at Wrestlemania.

Mojo Rawley def. Dolph Ziggler via count-out. You know what the interesting thing is about this story with Ziggler believing he deserves a bigger spotlight? He’s right! He’s legitimately more talented than everyone they’ve put him up against since his heel turn.

Randy Orton explains his actions against Bray Wyatt. One thing I would have added here: Having Orton talk about “relinquishing” his title shot at Wrestlemania, and how that was the final step in earning Bray’s full confidence. Makes sense to me.

The visual of Bray “baptizing” himself with Sister Abigail’s ashes was haunting, and I loved that he cut down on the laughing. His end of this was really good.

In a backstage promo, Baron Corbin says he’ll take Dean Ambrose’s Intercontinental Title if he can make it to Wrestlemania. No Ambrose on TV this week, which is fine. He’s selling the injury, and it builds some anticipation to when we do see him again. Corbin gave his standard delivery here, which is to say it was strictly okay. But they gave him a good line: “They say Dean Ambrose can get up from anything. Well I’m the man that puts people down.”

The Usos def. American Alpha. I’m fine with these two teams working together again, especially now that the Usos seem to have found their heel groove. But when they’re done, who do they go to next? This Smackdown Tag Team Division is in desperate need of a shake-up. The Vaudevillians and the Ascension are dead teams. Breezango is a joke. Who else is there? Once Zack Ryder comes back, there’s a chance the Hype Bros can actually become something. But until then, these two teams are seemingly all that Smackdown has.

AJ Styles ambushes Shane McMahon in the parking garage, smashes his head through a car window. Daniel Bryan apparently fires Styles, but Shane later calls him out for Wrestlemania. And here it is. I think the brawl we saw was all the impetus we need for this to be a Street Fight.

I maintain this is a good spot for AJ to be in at Wrestlemania. It’s not going to be Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom. But AJ will get to shine here, and odds are he’ll win. He’s going to be just fine, folks.

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John Cena’s SNL Gig, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

John Cena, NBCBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Don’t kid yourselves, folks. John Cena hosting Saturday Night Live this week is a huge deal. He’s only the third WWE wrestler to do it. The first was Hulk Hogan in 1984. The second was the Rock in 2000. Now we have Cena in 2016. So this only happens about once in a generation. It’s one of the few accolades Cena hasn’t achieved yet, and now he’s got it. It’s almost like a rite of passage from WWE into Hollywood.

We seem to have officially reached the point with John Cena that the Rock was at in the early-2000s. He always had tremendous crossover appeal. That’s part of what made him the megastar that he is. But now he’s officially splitting his time between WWE and outside ventures. Ironically, this was part of the basis for the Rock/Cena feud a few years ago. WWE could very well do the same kind of thing in a few years with Cena, and whoever they want to take his spot. Roman Reigns seems like the likely candidate.

But while fans turned on the Rock for his Hollywood ambitions, it seems like it’s having the opposite effect on Cena. The last few times he’s appeared on Smackdown, the fans have been a little warmer toward him. He’s been shoved down our throats so much in the last decade. It’s almost comical that absence seems to be making the collective fandom’s heart grow fonder. I won’t lie, I’m looking forward to Cena coming back to Smackdown.

Man oh man…I’ve become such a jaded internet fan that I’m actually cheering for John Cena. What have I become?

WWE Smackdown, December 6, 2016Ponderings From Smackdown:

AJ Styles announces he will not defend his title against James Ellsworth in the main event. Dean Ambrose lays out Ellsworth. Are they gradually shifting to an AJ Styles babyface turn? I’d like to think so. Outside of calling the fans “gullible geeks,” he was more or less neutral here. They’d need to reshuffle the deck a bit in terms of babyfaces and heels. But Styles is a natural babyface, in my opinion. It won’t be hard to get the fans to cheer him again.

Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt def. Heath Slater and Rhyno to retain the Smackdown Tag Team Titles. Jim Ross tweeted this week that Orton, Wyatt, and Luke Harper “can all become character babyfaces akin to the Attitude Era. Easily.” I can’t disagree. Loved the setup for Sister Abigail into the RKO. They may have really stumbled on to something with these two.

Natalya vs. Carmella erupted into a brawl. I had originally pegged Natalya to be behind Nikki’s attack at Survivor Series. But one name I hadn’t considered is Eva Marie, who may be returning soon. The prospect of a Nikki Bella/Eva Marie match doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. But that’s what DVRs are for.

The Hype Bros def. The Ascension. More or less a filler match. I can’t see either of these teams as suitable challengers to the Wyatt Family. On the other hand, American Alpha doesn’t seem to be in the title hunt right now. So maybe the Hype Bros kill some time with the Wyatts in the next few weeks.

WWE Smackdown, December 6, 2016, Dean Ambrose, Miz, MaryseDean Ambrose appears on Miz TV. Daniel Bryan makes an Intercontinental Title Match between the two for the main event. By God, they gave Ambrose the “You deserve it“ chant for the Miz’s little participation award. Say what you will about Miiz, but he’s one of the best heels they have right now. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I don’t know why they gave the IC belt to Ziggler in the first place. He’s as valuable now as he’s ever been, maybe more.

Baron Corbin def. Kalisto. Nice little sequence into the End of Days. Thankful this match didn’t overstay it’s welcome. These two have developed some nice chemistry, though. It was fun.

Baron Corbin on Sportscenter? I might actually watch that. I’d like to see how he talks when he’s not trying to memorize dialogue.

Chad Gable def. Tyler Breeze. Would like to have seen these two get a little more time. Both Breeze and Fandango are great talents. But Breezango is a bottom-of-the-card act. They’re not toiling at the Ascension’s level. But close.

Becky Lynch interrupts Alexa Bliss’ championship celebration. Isn’t there an implied ugliness with the name “Wicked Witch?” Alexa Bliss is many things, but ugly isn’t one.

Alexa Bliss, WWE Smackdown, December 6, 2016Both ladies seemed to be struggling with their dialogue a little bit. They rolled through it, though. At least they didn’t have to talk about wrestling at Roadblock: End of the Line.

The Miz def. Dean Ambrose to retain his Intercontinental Title after an accidental distraction from James Ellsworth. We’ve seen these two wrestle a bunch of times. So there wasn’t a lot of novelty in seeing these two in the main event, even with the title on the line. Ambrose is always quality in the ring, though.

So what happens with Ambrose and Ellsworth now? They’re apparently trying to have Ellsworth keep on foot in bumbling babyface territory. So do you have them wrestle on TV in the next couple of weeks? I don’t see Ellsworth magically becoming competitive. So is this a ticket to a Dean Ambrose heel turn? Does he go too far and beat the holy hell out of Ellsworth? What happens next?

That’s a good question, isn’t it? That’s what you want to be asking. What happens next?

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Ric Flair/Halle Berry Creepiness, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

Ric Flair, 2016By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Looks like Uncle Ric is in trouble again.

A recent episode of The Ric Flair Show over at MLWRadio.com has drawn some heat for ol’ Naitch. Flair made a comment about sleeping with Halle Berry in 1997, shortly after her divorce from baseball star David Justice.

TMZ reports Berry is quite offended by what Flair said. They got a quote from a Berry rep that, for my money, says it all: “A man doesn’t get to sexualize and lie about a woman he’s never met to better himself or his name. It’s offensive, demeaning and beyond misogynistic.”

Having heard the clip from the podcast, I get the sense Flair was partially in wrestling promo mode when he said this. That’s one of the sad things about Flair. He always seems to be in promo mode, because he’s still trapped in that character. It’s not entirely his fault. We all have fond memories of that playboy persona, and even at 67 years old, that’s who a lot of fans still want Flair to be. That doesn’t make what he said acceptable or less creepy. But it’s worth noting where his mind likely was at the time.

Ric Flair deserves respect and admiration for his in-ring accomplishments. But these embarrassing slip-ups are making it painfully obvious that times have passed him by. I guess it’s not easy being an aging ’80s playboy in a world as politically correct and issue-sensitive as ours has become.

Ric Flair, Charlotte, Raw, November 30, 2015Case in point: This past spring, Ric was involved in the program between Charlotte and Natalya, and accidentally told Nattie to kill herself during a promo on Smackdown. While the show was taped and WWE was able to clip that line, you can find it on YouTube.

All this Halle Berry drama comes at a really interesting time, as lately his name has been brought up on Smackdown quite a bit. John Cena may be about to tie his record or 16 Heavyweight Titles. WWE obviously didn’t feel the need to avoid Flair’s name, and I expect we’ll see him on TV to talk about this at some point.

Bottom line, Flair got attention for his remark. But it wasn’t kind of attention he wanted. Just a sad situation overall.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Kane def. Bray Wyatt via count-out. I maintain this Bray Wyatt/Randy Orton program would have been better off had they let Bray beat Kane at Backlash. Now the poor guy can’t even beat him on free TV. By the law of averages alone, Bray does have to beat someone at some point, right?

Bray Wyatt, WWE Smackdown, October 4, 2016That shot of an upside down Bray suddenly noticing Orton on the tron was cool. Good acting by Bray. It lent credence to the idea that Orton is inside his head.

It looked like they were going to simply reverse the story they told last week, with Bray hunting Randy this time. Instead Randy trapped Bray in a storage container, and we got some nice grainy footage of Bray in there with the rocking chair. Very found footage. Randy also had a good line: “Lord have mercy…or not.”

Nikki Bella def. Alexa Bliss via disqualification after Carmella interferes. Bliss & Carmella win a subsequent tag match against Bella & Becky Lynch. Carmella was out there on commentary, and was doing an exaggerated New York accent. That only reinforces the whole Real Housewives vibe I’m getting from her. She’s also got a really grating voice when she’s screeching at opponents in the ring. All this translates to big heat with me. The good kind of heat, not Shining Stars channel changing heat. That accent’s not going to be easy to maintain all the time, though. Just ask Lana.

I did, however, get a kick out of Carmella calling Nikki a Kardashian wannabe. Also, nobody compared Alexa to Harley Quinn, and that Twisted Bliss moonsault is still gorgeous. So a good week for the women of Smackdown.

The Spirit Squad, Dolph Ziggler, WWE Smackdown, October 4, 2016The Spirit Squad returns during Miz TV, as Miz pays “tribute” to Dolph Ziggler’s career. One of the highlights of this segment was Ziggler cutting Miz off with: “I’m not gone yet, ass face. Say that again, I’ll knock the hell outta you.” Would it have killed them to just let him say asshole? That’s what he, and everyone in the audience is thinking. You’re on prime time TV, guys. Just let him say it.

Dolph went a little John Cena on us here, talking about kids looking up to him, doing Make a Wish stuff, etc. A bold move, considering Cena’s been doing that promo for years now, and probably busts it out before Thanksgiving dinner.

Hearing him talk about cashing in Money in the Bank the night after Wrestlemania really rang true. That’s the one moment in Ziggler’s career that everybody remembers. Unfortunately, it’s become a testament to this guy’s wasted potential.

On the subject of wasted potential, the big surprise here was the return of Ken Doane and Mike Mondo in their Spirit Squad gear. In an era where WWE is looking to pad their roster a little bit, I’m hopeful these guys can come back and deliver on some of that potential. WWE is actually advertising the return of Curt Hawkins for No Mercy, as if he wasn’t strictly an enhancement guy when he left. Wrestlers who didn’t leave on a great note are getting second chances.

Jason Jordan, Jey Uso, WWE Smackdown, October 4, 2016Jason Jordan def. Jey Uso. This one wrapped up quickly. A bit of a let down, actually. I’m always anxious to see Jordan suplex the hell out of somebody. Though it’s not like we won’t see him in there with the Usos again. The smart bet is Jimmy and Jey take the belts on Sunday, and we officially transition into a tag title feud with American Alpha.

Jack Swagger def. Baron Corbin by “submission.” Interesting finish, here. Corbin repeatedly reaches for the ropes in rapid succession, his wrist hitting the mat repeatedly, so the ref calls it a tap out victory for Swagger. Not sure if we’ve seen that before…

You know what Baron Corbin needs? A mouthpiece. Ironically, he’s in the same position Swagger was in before Zeb Colter came along. Yes, Corbin is the “Lone Wolf.” But he’s a lone wolf that’s getting eaten alive every time he opens his mouth.

AJ Styles, John Cena, and Dean Ambrose share a ring before their title match at No MercyBoth Styles and Ambrose jumped on Cena when this segment started. It made sense, given who Cena is and how good his mic work was on Talking Smack last week. But did it also made them look insecure? I can’t decide…

John Cena, Dean Ambrose, WWE Smackdown, October 4, 2016When it was his turn to talk, Ambrose went the backstage politics route. The line about “the guy who plays John Cena on TV” was good. There’s been some buzz about both these guys taking time away from Smackdown after No Mercy. Cena’s got his TV show, and Ambrose is allegedly shooting a movie. If that’s true, we lose the most compelling thing on this show, which is the stuff between the two of them. I’ll say it again: They need to work a singles program after No Mercy.

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John Cena, the Anti-Main Event, and Other Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I don’t get to watch Smackdown as often as I’d like, so this was a rare treat for me. This show is often a lot easier to digest than Raw. In an era where there’s so much content, since the brand split this show has left a lot of fans wanting more.

That wasn’t the case with this show. We had a recycled vignette from Raw and John Cena vs. Alberto Del Rio as the main event. Go figure. I picked an off week to tune in.

Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler, Smackdown, August 16, 2016Dolph Ziggler lands a super kick on Dean Ambrose when the two meet on Miz TV. “…kick your head right off your face!” It’s live, folks. What can I say?

Ambrose has come off consistently strong in these talking segments with Dolph. He almost seems dismissive. This was a good line: “You don’t want it bad enough. You’ve never wanted it bad enough. And you’re never going to get it.”

And of course, Ziggler responded with a surprise kick to the face. A page out of the book of (Who else?) Shawn Michaels. These two are the dark horse to steal the show at Summerslam. But I don’t see Ziggler winning. More likely he loses, then goes heel.

American Alpha, The Usos, & The Hype Bros def. The Vaudevillians, The Ascension, & Fandango & Tyler Breeze. A decent time killer. Of course, American Alpha is emphasized as the team to beat. But to their credit, the Hype Bros have an awesome finish.

Eva Marie’s Smackdown in-ring debut is “delayed due to traffic.” Damn. That’s a hell of an entrance for Naomi. Psychedelic. Not sure how much I dig that ring attire once the lights come back on, though.

On the subject of ring attire, I was hoping for another wardrobe malfunction for Eva Marie. What can I say? In the absence of talent, I’ll take pure smut.

Randy Orton, Heath Slater, WWE Smackdown, August 16, 2016A vignette airs for the return of Curt Hawkins. For his sake, I hope his comeback goes better than Jinder Mahal’s has thus far.

Heath Slater def. Randy Orton via disqualifiation, is nearly given a Smackdown contract. I really wish we’d gotten a contract signing between Lesnar and Orton. Let Randy talk, let Brock talk, let Heyman talk. They actually got some decent heat when they traded finishers. Now let them add to that instead of just talking about one another on different shows. I’m still confused as to why Lesnar and Orton were drafted to different shows in the first place.

Heath Slater is really on the map this week. I maintain that segment on Raw was the best thing he’s ever done. The authority figures are almost heels at this point for not giving him a contract. I imagine he’ll get quite a pop when he finally does get it. Solid storytelling.

Dean Ambrose def. Eric Rowan. Nice win for the WWE Champion heading into Summerslam. The symbolism of Bray Wyatt leaving that mask on his rocking chair after the match was nice. Is this the end of the Wyatt Family? It may as well be. It’s not looking like much of a family these days. And Bray has been ready for a babyface turn for years. Literally, years.

Becky Lynch & Carmella def. Natalya & Alexa Bliss. After an appearance by Eva Marie and Naomi, a six-woman tag is announced for SummerslamOf course. They were saving Eva Marie’s debut for Summerslam.

Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Orton, Summerslam 2016The Brock Lesnar/Randy Orton video package that aired last week on Raw airs this week on Smackdown. Little things like this add to Smackdown‘s reputation as the B-show. If this had been a new vignette, that’d be one thing. But this was recycled material from Raw. It was good recycled material, but recycled nonetheless.

John Cena def. Alberto Del Rio. AJ Styles ambushes him with the Phenomenal Forearm. Xena returns the favor with an Attitude Adjustment on the announce table. This was like an anti-main event for yours truly. I still have a bad taste in my mouth from their WWE Title program a few years ago. From a personality standpoint, these two just don’t have a lot of chemistry. I take nothing away from their wrestling skills. But they’re usually very one-dimensional. So why would I be interested in seeing them fight?

I read awhile back that Del Rio is looking to leave WWE again. If he can find an out, he needs to take it. He got stuck with that bizarre Mex-America thing last year, then he moved into a dud stable, and now they’ve got nothing for him to do. To cap it all off, they drafted he and his girlfriend to different shows. It’s like he’s the real-life Heath Slater. Run, Del Rio! Run!

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Daniel Bryan’s Retirement, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

Daniel Bryan, WWE Raw, December 8, 2016By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This sucks. I mean, it really sucks. Unless you’re a wrestling fan, you can’t even comprehend how much this sucks.

There’s been a lot of buzz about Bryan’s in-ring future with WWE. But now we have the bottom line: In an era where WWE needs new stars more than ever, they’re losing this amazing talent, who has a truly unique connection with their audience.

One of the truly unique moments in the history of Raw happened in this same city back in December 2013, in what I think was called a “Championship Ascension Ceremony.” The segment was about Randy Orton and John Cena facing off to unify the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships, and they’d assembled a bunch of former champions in the ring. So in addition to Orton and Cena, we had CM Punk, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Rey Mystery, among others. But the crowd would simply not stop chanting for Daniel Bryan. It got to the point where Cena actually had to pull him into the segment and acknowledge it. He was just that over. Hell, the fans hijacked the Royal Rumble Match two years in a row because they weren’t getting Daniel Bryan, and they wanted him so badly.

Daniel Bryan, Yes Movement, WWE RawBut let’s look on the upside. Daniel Bryan was WWE’s biggest breakout star since John Cena. They may not have wanted him to be, but the fans chose him. So he rose from an indy darling who many thought didn’t have a chance at making it in WWE, to pulling double duty at Wrestlemania XXX and helping give fans a truly amazing underdog story. That’s something that can never be taken away from him, and something he and his fans can cherish forever.

But the real-life Bryan Danielson has a lot to live for outside the world of pro wrestling. Here’s hoping he can now enjoy some of the fruits of his labor. You earned it, my friend. Thank you and onward.

Pondering From Raw:

Brock Lesnar beats down Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose following Fastlane contract signing. Ambrose calls Brock out later in the show. According to Jim Ross, WWE was informed of Daniel Bryan’s decision when they got to Seattle for tonight’s show. If that’s true, they obviously had to change things up. The contract signing felt like it was supposed to be the main event, but got switched to the beginning to hook the audience.

Dean Ambrose, WWE Raw, December 8, 2016I’ll say this much, in this segment Brock Lesnar looked every bit like the monster WWE portrays him as. The way he smacked Reigns in the head with that table was borderline comical, considering he’s obviously the company’s golden boy these days. It’s look like they’re setting this up to be Ambrose and Reigns against Lesnar at the outset of the match. It’ll be interesting to see how that shakes out.

I love how Ambrose and Lesnar have developed their own rivalry. Despite how high the stakes are in this match, their story feels like the driving force behind this whole thing. And no wonder! It’s a pairing we haven’t seen before, and Dean’s got a fun pit bull approach when it comes to Lesnar. I can only assume Roman Reigns will be in the main event spotlight once we get to the Wrestlemania build up. But from where I sit, Ambrose could very easily be in that spot if they want him to be. I sure as hell do.

Miz TV becomes an impromptu edition of Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel. The switchover from the Miz TV setup to the Highlight Reel was neat. Granted, there’s not much to either setting. But it was a fun little moment, the likes of which I don’t think WWE has done before.

AJ Styles, Chris Jericho, WWE Raw, December 8, 2016Miz seemed more relaxed out there with Jericho. I imagine that stems from him not having to walk a less skilled talker through a segment like this. These two were able to go back and forth pretty well. And the centerpiece to it all was AJ Styles. As much as WWE gets wrong these days, they’ve done a fantastic job making Styles seem like a big deal. At this rate, Styles could be a major player in WWE in a fairly short time. At the rate the injuries are piling up, that’s a major positive.

Dolph Ziggler def. Kevin Owens. They treated Ziggler beating Owens like he’d won the World Title or something. You’d think they were actually going to do something with him. Still, it’s nice to see some friggin’ emotion on this show again. Dolph is overjoyed, Owens is pissed off beyond belief. It didn’t feel manufactured.

I can’t say I’m tired of seeing these two wrestle week after week, because the performances they turn in are consistently good. But what’s their endgame here? A match at Fastlane to settle the score? I’d be up for that. Two out of three falls, maybe?

The Dudley Boyz, WWE Raw, February 8, 2016The Dudley Boyz turn on The Usos after the four defeat The New Day & Mark Henry in a tables match. The Dudleys are at their best when they have more of an edge, and this is the most edge we’ve seen from them since they returned. I’m sure this now means they’ll be cast as heels. But Bubba Ray can cut some absolutely amazing heel promos. So this opens the door for the Dudleys to up their game in a big way.

Sasha Banks & Becky Lynch vs. Tamina & Naomi announced for FastlaneI like this. The women’s division gets extra representation at a pay per view, and it doubles as build-up for what I assume will be a triple-threat match between Charlotte, Sasha, and Becky at Wrestlemania. I’m still not thrilled about Brie Bella having a title match at Fastlane. But the right pieces are gradually falling into place.

Bray Wyatt def. Ryback. Ryback isn’t doing himself any favors with the black trunks. He’s practically inviting the fans to chant for Bill Goldberg. WWE also isn’t doing him any favors by hyping him up with a video package, only to have him be The Wyatt Family’s latest victim. I can only assume that package was shown to remind the fans that Ryback can indeed be monster worthy of slaying, and thus worthy of The Wyatt Family’s attention.

Images courtesy of WWE.com.

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Dean Ambrose and False Hope, Plus Pondering From WWE Raw

Bret Hart, WWE ChampionBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Before we get to Raw, let’s touch on a couple of stories. The first one just broke yesterday, and it’s a bit of unfortunate news regarding an all-time great…

Bret Hart announces he’s battling prostate cancer. Bret himself made this announcement on his Facebook. He seems optimistic about it, which is good news. Bret is a hero to many, and he’s in the hearts of a great many this week. Good luck, Bret. We’ll be thinking of you.

Vince McMahon allegedly angered by The Rock going off-script on last week’s RawI, like a lot of fans, really enjoyed that moment last week when The Rock went “off the script” and talked to those cosplayers at ringside. They were having fun, and the crowd was having fun, so The Rock decided to have fun. But low and behold, Vince allegedly didn’t like it.

Considering how WWE has been booked over the last few years, that sounds about right.

I loved The Rock’s response to said heat on Twitter: “…at @WWE events, going “off script” is what I live for. So much fun for the fans. Nightmare for Vince.”

Dean Ambrose, WWE Raw, January 1, 2016Ponderings From WWE Raw:

Dean Ambrose confronts Brock Lesnar at the top of the show, Lesnar attacks Ambrose to close the show. Well how about this? For once, it wasn’t all about Roman Reigns. They let Ambrose have the headline story this week.

I’d love to think WWE might surprise us at Fastlane, and give Ambrose the main event with Triple H. It’d damn sure be something different. The fans are into Ambrose, and the suspense when he and Hunter were the last ones in the Rumble Match was amazing. And it could create some interesting tension between Ambrose and Reigns! It won’t happen, of course. WWE has been bound and determined to make Reigns their guy for over a year, and they’re not about to stop now. But it’s fun to think about.

Still, it’s clear WWE has faith in Dean Ambrose. They trusted him to hold his own in there with Lesnar, and he did just that. Ambrose can be such a huge star for WWE. I just hope they realize what they have with him.

Stephanie McMahon, Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, WWE Raw, February 1, 2016Michael Cole hypes Stephanie McMahon’s appearance on Good Morning America, as part of a series on women making a difference and serving as positive role models. That bit of copy Michael Cole read during Dolph Ziggler’s entrance is a perfect example of the disconnect that exists between WWE and its fans, and it’s one of the many reasons why fans just don’t get into WWE like they used to.

Every week on television, Stephanie McMahon plays a tyrannical heel authority figure. But because WWE is so image conscious, they make a point of hyping up her humanitarianism, her involvement with charities, etc. There’s nothing wrong with her doing any of that, but when they go out of their way to mention that on TV, they contradict the stories they’re trying to tell. They’re breaking the illusion they’ve created in their fictional universe. Yes, we know Stephanie isn’t really an evil person. But can you let us suspend our disbelief when we watch your damn show?

Dolph Ziggler, Kevin Owens, WWE Raw, February 1, 2016Dolph Ziggler def. Kevin Owens. Really good match. I loved the way Ziggler attacked that turnbuckle when Owens Irish-whipped him into the corner. Shades of Bret Hart, there.  The fact that Ziggler isn’t consistently main eventing Raw is a crime, and yet another indictment of just how screwed up creative is right now.

“Even Steven Booking” strikes again on this one. Owens beat Ziggler last week, Ziggler beats Owens this week. The sad thing is that Owens is one of the few good heels WWE has right now. If WWE wanted to build him up as a potential Undertaker opponent for Wrestlemania, they could easily have a really good program. I originally thought Owens and Sami Zayn were going to wrestle on that show, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Alas, Owens is left spinning his wheels for no good reason.

Brie Bella def. Charlotte. OH HELL NO…

Brie Bella, Charlotte, WWE Raw, February 1, 2016What the hell happened here? We were doing so well. Charlotte was in a compelling storyline with Becky Lynch that allowed both of them to shine. Then at the Royal Rumble we introduced Sasha Banks into the title picture. And now…Charlotte gets beaten by Brie? (Her right shoulder may not have even been down, as you can see on the right.)  Seriously, what the hell? I suspect this is will lead to a title match at Fastlane, which I suppose I can tolerate as long as Sasha gets the Wrestlemania match. But what a disappointing direction to take things in.

Naomi & Tamina turn on Sasha Banks during her match with Becky Lynch. I love how they slipped that little Kanye/Wiz Khalifa reference into the talking segment. “We’re hip! Really, we are!”

Happy to see Sasha is officially separated from Naomi and Tamina. She’s destined to be a star on her own. And if/when she becomes champion this year, they can easily come back to one or both of those two for a title defense. Neither of them would have given Ric Flair or Shawn Michaels a run for their money, but they’re both decent hands in their own right.

AJ Styles, The Miz, WWE Raw, February 1, 2016AJ Styles appears on Miz TV. Not at all what I was hoping to see Styles do on Raw this week, but at least they’re investing time in him. Granted, the fact that Miz talked for 90 percent of the segment doesn’t say much for their faith in his mic skills. But there are worse guys for him to spend TV time with than The Miz.

The Big Show def. Erick Rowan before getting decimated by The Wyatt Family. I’m still disappointed that babyface Big Show is back. He’s so much better as a heel. But the upside is, at the rate his turns have been going, he’ll be a heel again in no time.

They’re obviously building toward a Big Show/Braun Strowman match at Fastlane. Goody goody gumdrops. I will say that it’s good to see The Wyatts looking strong again. But as wrote last week, an Undertaker/Strowman match, if that is indeed what they’re building for, is a terrible idea. Especially when there are so many superior opponents available for the Dead Man.

The Usos, WWE Raw, February 1, 2016Lilian Garcia botches The Usos’ introduction, refers to them as “Grammy Award winning tag team of the year.” Okay, so Lilian botched an intro. With all due respect, it wasn’t the first time and it probably won’t be the last. And of course they made fun of her, because they’re bullies like that. But they actually took the time to replay it when they came back from a commercial break. Well, that’s one way to kill time on a three-hour broadcast. Hey, at least Vince was having fun on the headset…

On the plus side, we’ve apparently gotten The Usos away from The New Day. That’s definitely a good thing.

Kalisto def. Rusev via count-out, will defend US Title against Alberto Del Rio at FastlaneUgh. I was hoping they’d get the Del Rio rematch out of the way on television so Kalisto could move on to someone else. This gives WWE the opportunity to change their minds about Kalisto, and switch the belt back to Del Rio. Make no mistake about it, Del Rio does not need the US Title. But it can help build Kalisto into something they desperately need: A new star.

Images courtesy of WWE.com.

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Vince McMahon is Not a Genius. Plus, Ponderings From WWE Raw

Vince McMahon, ForbesBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Over the years, WWE has had a grand old time trying to convince people that Vince McMahon is a genius. He’s the genius that took his company global and changed an industry forever. He’s the genius that created pop cultural icons like Hulk Hogan and The Undertaker. He’s the genius at the helm of a company that entertains millions. Stuff like that.

But if these last several years have proven anything, it’s that Vince McMahon is not a genius. He’s an intelligent, tireless, ballsy, charismatic promoter. But that doesn’t make him a genius. Albert Einstein was a genius. Thomas Edison was a genius. Vince McMahon? Not so much.

A genius would understand that “legitimacy” by way of sponsorships with companies like Toys R Us and Kay Jewelers doesn’t mean much when the product they’re sponsoring has become so cookie-cutter and stale.

A genius would know that micromanagement from the top only stifles creativity, and leads to anxiety amongst employees.

A genius doesn’t fight with his audience, whether they’re die-hards or casual fans. Ultimately, the fans invest in the performers they want to see, not the ones you want them to want to see.

But hey, what do I know? Clearly I’m no genius…

The League of Nations, Raw, November 30, 2015Ponderings From WWE Raw:

Sheamus forms new faction, the League of Nations, with Alberto Del Rio, Wade Barrett, and Rusev. There’s potential here. A faction like this can allow for Sheamus to be portrayed as a champion that can’t beat challengers on his own, and needs help from his buddies. If I’m the booker, I’ve got Sheamus in the upper card, Del Rio taking the midcard, and Barrett and Rusev as a tag team. There’s also the potential for Del Rio to get sick of Sheamus and turn babyface, which would give him another shot at being WWE’s marquee Hispanic star.

You know who I was thinking about this week? Jack Tunney. Tunney was WWE’s on-screen president from 1984 to 1995. We never saw much of him. He’d show up when they needed to announce a big match, or settle some controversy. We didn’t need to see Jack Tunney on television every week. We certainly didn’t need a Jack Tunney heel turn.

The establishment of this League of Nations group fills what WWE seems to see as a need for tyrannical heels at the top of the card. Now would be a good opportunity to phase Triple H and Stephanie out of their weekly TV roles, and scale them back to as-needed, big moment roles. Obviously the exception would be when they need Triple H to wrestle. But generally speaking, that’d be a good rule of thumb.

Will it happen? Probably not. But we can dream.

Ric Flair, Charlotte, Raw, November 30, 2015Ric Flair prompts Charlotte to feign an injury to defeat Becky Lynch. This was weird. Charlotte pulls a heel move to win a match with Becky, then talks about “tough love.” This prompts Paige to come in and play mind games, perhaps teasing a Becky heel turn.

So were we supposed to forgive Charlotte when she gave the tough love excuse? In all honesty, I initially thought they were turning Charlotte heel, which makes no sense. The one we left this segment sympathizing with was Becky, because her friend dicked her over. I’m confused.

I can only assume this means Ric and WWE have smoothed over whatever problems they had with the Reid controversy a few weeks ago. I can’t help but think of what Flair said on his podcast about not wanting to hurt Charlotte’s career by speaking ill of WWE. It wouldn’t surprise me if he was quick to cooperate with them for his daughter’s sake. Granted, I obviously have nothing to base that on.

Tommy Dreamer returns to WWE to help The Dudley Boyz against The Wyatt Family.  I’ve got no complaints about seeing Tommy, especially during a period where the roster is so thin. I’m guessing leads to a six-man tables match at TLC.

Tommy Dreamer, Raw, November 30, 2015It was cool to see Bubba get the mic, but the initial monologue came off really scripted. I’ll say it again: Micromanagement stifles creativity. Also, with all that talk about “family,” did anybody else think Spike Dudley was coming out?

Another question: Why put Bray through a table on this show? With only two weeks to go before the pay per view, you’d think they’d do that spot with Harper or Rowan this week, then Strowman next week. This felt like an early climax (*ehem*).

Dolph Ziggler def. Tyler Breeze. Decent showing here. Yet another instance of 50/50 booking. Breeze beats Dolph at Survivor Series, Dolph beats Breeze here. Nobody really gets over.

When JBL brought up what a big moment it was when Breeze beat Ziggler, a former World Champion, what immediately came to mind was Fandango beating Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania. By God, what a historic win that was. And as we all know, Fandango went on to bigger and better things…right?

Lana returns to Raw alongside Rusev during “Miz TV.” Rumors of nuclear heat notwithstanding, Lana was back. I’m pleased they took the time to actually explain why she and Rusev are back together, as opposed to pretending nothing happened. And I’ll credit Rusev for rolling with those “We want Lana” chants.

Rusev, Lana, Raw, November 30, 2015I’m not sure what Rusev’s subsequent loss to Ryback was supposed to accomplish, though. Common sense would dictate that you have the reinvigorated Rusev beat Ryback to re-assert his dominance. That one was a head scratcher.

Also, how pathetic was it that they had to mention three times that TMZ that leaked the news of their engagement. Yes WWE, we get it. TMZ knows you exist.

Adam Rose debuts “Rosebush” gossip segment. As I understand, Rose did something like this on WWE.com awhile back. Can’t say I caught that. But if I’m Adam Rose, I’m ecstatic about this. WWE may actually be giving him something to do on a weekly basis. Sure, it’s a pre-tape. But at least he gets to talk.

Sasha Banks def. Brie Bella. So…was Brie supposed to be the babyface here? Even though she was a heel just a few weeks ago? Ugh. Either way, Sasha won. So it’s a victory for our side either way.

In Other News:

Raw, June 1, 2015, Kevin OwensKevin Owens wants to face Brock Lesnar. There’s a built-in match between Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn at Wrestlemania XXXII if WWE wants to go that route. But recent reports indicate Owens wants to face Brock Lesnar (not to mention The Undertaker) at some point. But at this point, WWE may want to seriously consider putting Owens with Brock. Owens, I think, has a good understanding of what being a true heel is about, and can really make the fans want to see Brock beat the piss out of him at Wrestlemania. Are there better options than Owens? Maybe. But there aren’t many better options…

WWE fires Brad Maddox for using the phrase “cocky pricks” before a dark match. WWE did the real-life Tyler Kluttz a favor with this one. When they put you in a turkey suit to take a Tombstone from The Undertaker in front of millions of people on The Tonight Show, you’ve got a pretty good indication of how much they value you.

Image 1 from forbes.com. Remaining images courtesy of WWE.com.

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