WWE Hell in a Cell 2017 Predictions, Plus More on Sister Abigail

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There was a decent amount of buzz about Sister Abigail coming out of Raw this past Monday. For years we’ve heard about this mysterious mentor figure from Bray Wyatt’s past. So hearing him say, “Sister Abigail is alive,” made for a pretty loaded moment. The natural assumption was that this would lead to the debut of a new character. Possibly a new manager to freshen up Bray’s presentation. The guy could certainly use a new coat of paint.

But now, rumor has it that this is leading not to a new character, but to an alter ego for Bray. Sort of his own heel version of Finn Balor’s Demon persona. I imagine it will be Sister Abigail vs. the Demon at TLC later this month.

This development is…disheartening. I understand the notion of Sister Abigail as this figure from Bray Wyatt’s past that he draws a demented sort of inspiration from. But it’s only natural for us to be curious about who she was, what she looked like, etc. Not introducing us to her feels like a wasted opportunity.

Plus, knowing WWE this Sister Abigail alter-ego will simply be a flash in the pan. Something they use to extend Bray’s program with Finn Balor. Once Balor wins, which I assume he will, there’ll be no reason to go back to it. Just another page in the “wasted ideas” portion of Bray Wyatt’s career. A portion that sadly gets bigger year after year.

Anyway, let’s take a look at the card for Hell in a Cell this Sunday…

PRE-SHOW MATCH:
The Hype Bros vs. Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable

Clearly, the Hype Bros are either turning heel or breaking up. Given that Mojo Rawley seems like a natural babyface, I’ve been banking on a heel turn for Zack Ryder. It’s a little bit of a crap shoot. But it’s been a long time since he’s walked on the dark side. It’s worth a try. Either way, there’s no reason Benjamin and Gable shouldn’t walk away with this one. It’s simply a question of when they’ll pull the trigger on something with the Hype Bros.

PREDICTION: Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable

Bobby Roode vs. Dolph Ziggler

This has always been about Roode coming out of the gate strong with a great opponent. Ziggler played this same role with Shinsuke Nakamura several months ago. So the winner here has never been in in doubt.

Ziggler has taken some flack for his promos on big, elaborate entrances these past few weeks. But I actually think they’ve been among his best mic work. They make sense to me. In his mind he’s the best. But the fans don’t care. So he’s lashing out at the people they do care about. I have no idea what’s next for Ziggler. But hopefully he continues to get mic time.

PREDICTION: Bobby Roode

Randy Orton vs. Rusev

If there’s any justice in the world, Rusev wins this match. But because there clearly isn’t, it’s probably going to be Orton.

Last week I talked about whether WWE would have been better off strapping the rocket to Rusev, as opposed to Jinder Mahal. I’m hardly the only one to pose that question, either. We’re never going to know, obviously. But hindsight being 20/20, Rusev does seem like a much better option. Especially if Lana were still with him. Rusev and Lana are obviously more of a money pairing than Rusev and Aiden English. Or friggin’ Lana and Tamina…

PREDICTION: Randy Orton

WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Natalya (c) vs. Charlotte Flair

Charlotte and Sasha Banks literally made history at this event last year. It was the first time a women’s match main vented a pay per view, with the first women’s Hell in a Cell Match. And she won! Tough act to follow…

I don’t see her faring quite as well this year. She’ll get the belt eventually, of course. But this feels like Nattie’s time. She’s not exactly lighting the world on fire. But there’s something there with her. There always has been. I’m not willing to give up on her as champion just yet. There’ll be plenty of time for Charlotte to be in that spot later.

PREDICTION: Natalya

WWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Baron Corbin

I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Tye Dillinger added to this match at the last minute. Especially after he beat Corbin on Smackdown this week. He’s been in the mix with Styles and Corbin almost since their program began. It’s breathed some much needed life into his run on the main roster, and it makes sense for him to be here. Plus, if they decide to put the belt on Corbin, they can do it without having him beat Styles.

I don’t see that happening though. At least not yet. Losing the Money in the Bank briefcase was a big step backward for him, and they’ve done too good a job building the US Title up to give it to him as a consolation prize. He needs some rehabbing before he wins gold. And he will win gold. We just need to slow his ascent a bit.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Jinder Mahal (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

They really should give it to Nakamura, shouldn’t they? After all the racial stuff Jinder threw out there, it would be pretty crappy not to have him get his comeuppance in the end. Mind you, I don’t think Nakamura is ready. Not in terms of how he’s been portrayed on television, at least. I still don’t feel like I know this guy. But that didn’t stop them from putting it on Jinder, did it? And at least Nakamura was a commodity for them in NXT. Let alone his massive body of work overseas…

But Jinder is probably going to keep it. WWE is going to India this December. Supposedly, one of the reasons they put it on him to begin with was to generate interest from India, so pulling the plug on him now would seem like a big admission of defeat. That means he’ll likely have it until the Royal Rumble at the earliest, Wrestlemania at the latest. It’s a real shame for Nakamura, as this program didn’t do him any favors at all.

At least they didn’t shoehorn this match into the cage.

PREDICTION: Jinder Mahal

HELL IN A CELL MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
The New Day (c) vs. The Usos

I’ve been saying for weeks that this should be main eventing the show. These guys have earned it. Every time I think I’m done with this feud, they find a way to inject new life into it. Great matches, great promos. They’ve just made it work. I don’t expect this to be any different.

My gut tells me the Usos will take this one, which should really come as no surprise. They’ve been switching the belts back and forth this entire program. So why stop now? The New Day lose very little at this point. It also gives them a perfect line about turning Hell in a Cell into the Uso Penitentiary.

They may as well turn the Usos babyface after this. The respect factor is clearly there, and the fans have been digging their promos for quite awhile now. The only problem is finding a heel team worthy of challenging them. After all this, I doubt the Ascension are going to cut it. Ditto for the Hype Bros…

PREDICTION: The Usos

HELL IN A CELL MATCH:
Kevin Owens vs. Shane McMahon

This week they added a Falls Count Anywhere stipulation to this match, which seems to contradict the whole point of a cage match. Unless, of course, the plan is to break out of the cage and do a big bump. In which case that stipulation allows them to go out on the most dramatic note possible. For a Shane McMahon match, that only makes all the sense in the world.

They’ve built this up for quite awhile. You can even trace it back to before the brand split, with Shane and KO having little moments together. That, combined with how they’ve heated this program up over the last few weeks, makes this a match worthy of the cell. I maintain that they don’t absolutely need it, and the New Day/Usos match could have headlined. But this works fine too.

While Shane doesn’t need to win this one, I suspect he will. Had they not brought up Shane’s kids, I might think differently. This feels like a situation where the good guy should win. Perhaps the bigger question is what the crazy bump in this match is going to be. On Tuesday, Owens literally threatened to throw him off the cage. How can you not do something big after saying that in the build-up?

Keep in mind though, it doesn’t have to be Shane taking a big fall. KO could just as easily get himself a highlight reel moment.

PREDICTION: Shane McMahon

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Austin Aries Leaves WWE, Plus Ponderings From Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

So Austin Aries is gone from WWE? Well that’s a damn downer.

Depending on who you believe, either the real-life Daniel Solwold Jr. asked for his release, or WWE let him go. Aries; unhappiness with WWE’s decision to not include his Wrestlemania pre-show match with Neville on the DVD release was apparently a source of contention.

Regardless, the separation seems to be amicable. Aries tweeted some things that seemed vaguely happy. But from a fan’s perspective, it’s a shame. Aries is over. He was undoubtedly the top babyface they had on 205 Live. But by that same token, he could have gone so much further than the Cruiserweight Division. Aries has a metric ton of charisma, and could have made that company a lot of money in the right role.

The good news is Aries won’t be wanting for work. Between New Japan, Ring of Honor, the recently re-branded Global Force Wrestling, and the current indy scene, he’s got plenty of options. Ultimately, WWE’s loss is a major gain for somebody else.

It’s just a damn shame they had to lose him.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

AJ Styles opens the show by reinstating the US Championship Open Challenge. John Cena attempts to answer, but Kevin Owens interrupts. Rusev then jumps Cena and a fight ensues. The cool thing about AJ Styles winning the US Title in an untelevised match over the weekend isn’t just the surprise factor. It’s the fact that AJ Styles, a man that many thought would never grace a WWE ring, won a title in what is essentially the promotion’s home arena. Imagine that.

Styles said the United States Championship has been “overlooked way too many times.” I appreciate the sentiment. But it seemingly doesn’t apply anymore, does it? They’ve kept that belt on upper card, main event level guys for quite awhile now. Owens, Cena, Roman Reigns, Chris Jericho, etc. The secondary titles have been in a much deserved renaissance lately, and we’re all reaping the benefits.

Jinder Mahal def. Tye Dillinger. Mahal promises to bring the Punjabi Prison to Smackdown next week. Is WWE management underwhelmed with Dillinger? The crowd obviously likes him, but until recently he’d been off television for awhile. What gives?

I’m still waiting for the Singh Brothers to get in the ring…

JBL mentioned how the Punjabi Prison dwarfs Hell in a Cell. Not sure that’s a good comparison to make. There’s a reason we haven’t seen a lot of these Punjabi Prison Matches, but there’s a Hell in a Cell pay per view.

Xavier Woods def. Jey Uso. Which Uso said the “R-rated” line in the rap battle last week? Let’s just say it was Jey. Because I love the irony of WWE editing that line out of the YouTube clips from the show, but then putting those two in the ring the next week.

A brawl breaks out between Shinsuke Nakamura and Baron Corbin before they can have a match. Cue a match between these two at Battleground. Let’s get this one out of the way so we can hopefully get to Nakamura vs. Cena at Summerslam.

Natalya and Tamina def. Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch. Battleground Fatal Five-Way Elimination Match to decide challenger for Women’s Title at SummerslamI’m hoping we can soon get back to one-on-one feuds in this division. We’ve seen so many multi-woman matches lately. If I had to guess, I’d say we get Naomi vs. Charlotte at Summerslam.

Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley appear on the latest edition of “The Fashion Files.” Last week Rawley eliminated Ryder from the big Battle Royal, and they made a point to mention it again this week. The smart bet is a Ryder heel turn is coming. But the guy is so likable. Both are, actually. It’ll be interesting to see if Ryder can garner any real heat after being a sympathetic underdog for so many years.

AJ Styles and John Cena def. Kevin Owens and Rusev. This one didn’t do much for me. The only thing really notable here was the in-ring return of Rusev. He looked fine out there. But man, you talk about drawing the short straw. He comes back, and is immediately put into a Flag Match with John Cena. You can certainly do worse than Cena as far as pay per view opponents go. But they’ll want Cena to have momentum going into Summerslam, so Rusev’s chances of winning are slim to none. Here’s hoping he’ll have a better time once we get through August.

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Punjabi Prison Match Returning, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I turned Raw off this week at about the 90-minute mark. It was the first time I’d given up on a show since November. Apparently I missed some good stuff afterward, including a follow-up on the split between Enzo and Cass, Samoa Joe choking out Brock Lesnar, and a Gauntlet Match with the women.

What a shame I missed it. But I just couldn’t take it anymore. The show was actively irritating me.

It started when they brought Josh Duhamel out to do commentary during a six-man tag. He was there to promote Transformers: The Last Knight, and an upcoming film he’s working on with WWE Studios. They spent a large portion of the match asking Duhamel questions about the movies before actually bothering to talk about what was happening in the ring. I’ve been watching this stuff for over 20 years, and this kind of thing  is nothing new. But it’s seldom been as grating to me as it was here. It’s like they were trying to mimic a talk show interview.

Later in the show, they did a Miz TV segment with someone named Lamelo Ball and his son LaVar Ball, and then his other son Lonzo Ball. I had no idea who any of these people were. Apparently Lonzo just got drafted by the LA Lakers, so it was partially meant to appeal to the crowd in Los Angeles. But this was just not good. It was an obvious attempt by WWE to get coverage from the major sports outlets so they’d look “legitimate.” Whatever that means…

It was then made worse when 15-year-old Lamelo used the N-word twice. It happened during Dean Ambrose’s entrance, so the music pulled a little bit of focus from it. But it happened. Some of the blame goes on Lamelo for that. But he’s just a kid. What the hell was he doing with a live mic?

And frankly, as a wrestling fan, there’s a larger issue at play for me here. The Ball family shouldn’t have had a featured role on Raw to begin with. I understand WWE wanting to get “the rub” from celebrities. It makes good business sense, and it’s certainly worked in the past. Think of names like Mr. T, Cindi Lauper, Mike Tyson, and Floyd Mayweather.

But WWE has bigger problems right now that can’t be masked by celebrity involvement. They’re the same problems that have been there for years now. Everything is overly sanitized. The wrestlers are too scripted. Certain characters feel hollow. Nothing feels real. The show is too long. The list goes on.

The ratings reflect it, too. Viewership fell below three million people again this week. Pundits talk a lot about WWE’s “base” audience. As in, the people that are going to watch the shows no matter what. Usually, I’m part of that base. But this past week, they chased me off before I could see most of their big angles. If it’s gotten to the point that they’re chasing hardcore loyalists like myself off, how do they expect to bring casual viewers back to the product?

Over seven million people have watched the YouTube video of the first Brock Lesnar/Samoa Joe’s confrontation on Raw. So it’s not like there’s no interest in the WWE brand. I think a lot of the more casual fans are simply waiting for Raw to be good again. Why should they waste their time otherwise?

So what do they have to lose by changing up the presentation and the creative? More importantly, how much do they stand to gain by taking some risks? It’s not like what they’re doing now is setting the world on fire. Anything so we don’t see crap like that Miz TV segment anymore. That thing stunk like balls…

Sorry. I couldn’t resist. Let’s move on to Smackdown.  

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Daniel Bryan opens the show, Carmella vies to get her Money in the Bank briefcase back. James Ellsworth is ejected from the building. I chuckled at Ellsworth’s crack about Bryan not being able to cut it in the ring anymore. Bryan has made no secret about wanting to get back in there. He just can’t get cleared by WWE doctors. The smart bet his inevitable return take place in Ring of Honor or New Japan Pro Wrestling. That’s sad news for WWE buffs. But as much as anyone, Bryan deserves to live life on his own terms.

The Usos def. The Hype Bros. The New Day to challenge for the Smackdown Tag Titles at BattlegroundSurprised the Hype Bros lost this match clean. Maybe that Zack Ryder heel turn is coming sooner than I expected.

So Kofi Kingston insults the Usos, and they just stand there and take it? Yes, they’re heels. But do they have to be wusses too? At least tease some physicality.

Breezango interrogates the Ascension about attacking them at Money in the Bank. Konnor: “The only reason we were at Money in the Bank is because we wanted a match on the card.” Hey, at least he’s honest.

Naomi def. Lana to retain the Smackdown Women’s Title. I was actually rooting for Lana here. How much heat would she get if Rusev came down and cost Naomi the match? Is Lana as good wrestler yet? No. But neither was Stephanie McMahon when she was Women’s Champion. Just do it!

Randy Orton interrupts Aiden English to challenge Jinder Mahal to another WWE Title Match. Shane McMahon grants his request, allowing Mahal to choose the stipulation Mahal chooses a Punjabi Prison Match. How nice that they just happened to have that stock footage of the Punjabi Prison structure standing by. That’s the kind of thing that just shatters your suspension of disbelief.

Jinder name-dropped the Great Khali in this segment. Not sure how good an idea that was. Considering the quality of previous Punjabi Prison Matches, do they really want people Googling them with the Great Khali’s name attached? Not exactly a recipe for quality content.

Baron Corbin def. Sami Zayn. They had Sami Zayn interrupt Maria and Mike Kanellis on his way to the ring. Not a bad first opponent for Mike Kanellis. Not a bad first opponent for anybody, really.

Carmella def. Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Natalya, and Tamina Snuka in a Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match to regain the briefcase. Great effort from all the ladies involved here. It seemed like they were trying to slam each other hard to make up for a lack of hitting one another with the ladder.

They did a weird sequence where Charlotte and Tamina (with her Joan Jett look) were holding a closed ladder straight up, and Becky Lynch tried to leap up and climb it. They held it there for several seconds, then let it drop across the ropes as Becky remained perched. A few seconds later, they then attacked her. Very tentative. Again, it hurts your suspension of disbelief. But then again, I’m not the one out there on the ladder…

That chair shot Carmella gave to Becky at the end of the match looked weak as hell. If you’re going to use the damn chair, make it look good! That being said, this was the right finish. Carmella gets heat with how she won at the pay per view, and she keeps it here. Smackdown has its new top heel in the Women’s Division. But lay that damn chair in! Also, don’t let the cameras catch you peeking at the ring when you’re supposed to be down on the outside!

You live and you learn…

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Dolph Ziggler Leaving WWE? Plus, Ponderings From Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

YouTube vlogger Trisha Paytas says Dolph Ziggler is leaving wrestling soon. Who the hell is Trisha Paytas? How well does she know Ziggler? Does she have even the slightest amount of credibility? I can’t answer any of these questions. Though apparently he stood her up on a date.

Either way, I hope she’s right. At least as far as WWE is concerned. Not because I have anything against Ziggler, but because the real-life Nick Nemeth deserves better.

I’ve talked about this before, and I’m certainly not the only one. Dolph Ziggler is one of the few guys I’ve ever seen who can really do it all. In the ring, he’s about the closest thing we have to a modern day Shawn Michaels. His physique is ripped to shreds. From a personality standpoint, he can do whatever you need. He can be a good guy, a bad guy, dramatic, intense, funny, you name it. He’s got practically everything you could want in a WWE star, and he’s been scratched and clawed his way toward the top year after year after year. While he’s certainly had his share of accolades, including a short run with a Heavyweight Title, so many wrestling fans justifiably believe Dolph Ziggler could have been so much more than they’ve allowed him to become.

We’re long overdue for Dolph to step away from WWE, and go the route of guys like Cody Rhodes and Drew Galloway. If he wants to stay in wrestling, it’s time for him to reinvent himself outside of their umbrella. I don’t doubt for a second that Dolph Ziggler could make bank in New Japan Pro Wrestling. For my money, Nick Nemeth as the IWGP Heavyweight Champion isn’t the least bit far fetched. Ironically, he’d then likely find more opportunities in WWE if he were to come back.

Dolph Ziggler just needs to take that leap of faith, and prove he doesn’t need WWE to be a success in pro wrestling. There are entirely different crowds just waiting for him to show up and show off. The time is now.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Lana arrives on Smackdown, asks to be part of the Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match. Lana in a Ladder Match? Good lord. Why even mention that? Are they trying to kill her?

Lana’s still got the Russian accent, which is fine. If they wanted her to drop it, now would have been the time. It’ll be interesting to see where she is in relation to Rusev when he finally gets back on TV. It also looks like she’s getting some of the packaging that the Emmalina character might have gotten.

Naomi came off really scripted here. But I’ll give her this: She’s got charisma.

Natalya, Carmella, and Tamina def. Naomi, Charlotte Flair, and Becky Lynch. Lana interferes to cost Naomi the fall. Lana is later granted a championship match against at Money in the Bank. Not to pick on Naomi, but I really hate that spot she does with the rapid kicks. It looks so damn staged and fake.

I’m not sure how much better or worse Lana has gotten in the ring. Bad kicks or not, I wouldn’t want to be Naomi having to carry Lana through a match.

AJ Styles def. Dolph Ziggler. I was shocked as hell to see Ziggler get a clean win over Styles last week. But of course, Dolph can’t maintain any substantial momentum, can he? We had to have 50/50 booking this week.

I really shouldn’t complain though. These guys are about as smooth as it gets. Nice and fluid counter into the Styles Clash for the win.

WWE Champion Jinder Mahal def. Mojo Rawley. What have they done with Mojo that’s been of any kind of substance since he won that Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal? Nothing, really. The missing piece of the puzzle for him at this point is Zack Ryder. Once Ryder comes back, their tag team will mean that much more than it did when he got hurt.

They’re playing up the fact that Money in the Bank is in St. Louis, Randy Orton’s hometown. Traditionally, that’s a dead giveaway that the hometown wrestler is walking away with a win. But lately it’s gone primarily in the opposite direction. Bayley lost the Raw Women’s Title to Alexa Bliss in her home town. Styles lost to Ziggler in his home state of Georgia last week. And those are just two examples. Chances are the Jinder experiment isn’t over yet.

The New Day def. The Colons. The Usos cut a promo after the match. Primo and Epico had that renewed push for about two weeks. Now they’re right back to where they were before.

The Usos will turn themselves back into babyfaces into this rate. They’ve got something WWE desperately needs right now: The cool factor.

Shinsuke Nakamura def. Kevin Owens in a non-title match. Baron Corbin attacks Nakamura after the match. When you listen to him on commentary or on Talking Smack, it’s clear there’s a big difference between Baron Corbin talking, and Baron Corbin reciting lines. He sounded so natural here.

An okay showing for Nakamura and Owens here. There’s been a little bit of buzz about Nakamura winning the Money in the Bank Ladder Match. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Corbin walk out with the briefcase, though. While they haven’t given him any big wins lately, he’s a long-term project for WWE. And they’d have as much as a year to build him up as a title contender. Don’t be surprised if it happens, folks.

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A Shield Reunion Coming Soon? Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It’s not an accident that Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, and Seth Rollins are all on Raw after the Superstar Shake-Up. This is it, folks. This is what people have been waiting for. A Shield reunion is coming.

But don’t kid yourselves. It’s going to be all about Roman Reigns.

Despite being booed for minutes on end last week, and despite everyone who cheered when Braun Strowman destroyed him this week, WWE still wants us to cheer this guy. He is positioned as their top babyface, after all. And what was it that got us to cheer Roman in the first place? The Shield. They know it, too. After the break-up, Reigns kept most of his Shield packaging, while Ambrose and Rollins had their presentations tweaked. Again, that’s not an accident.

Now, after everything that’s happened, it seems like a Shield reunion is just about the only thing that could get Reigns cheered. Fans miss this group. While some maintain it ended too soon, I think it ended at the perfect time. Their break-up was one of the great Raw moments of the last several years. Their reunion will be too.

But the mission will remain the same: Get Roman over at all costs. The only real difference will be the old hit they’re playing while they go about it.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

United States Champion Kevin Owens comes to Smackdown. Sami Zayn, Baron Corbin, and AJ Styles emerge to challenge him. I can’t believe they drafted Owens and Zayn together. Those two needed to be kept far away from one another. They have great matches, but I’m almost tired of seeing them. This feud needed a break. Give them a year or two apart, and then give us more. It’s not like there’s a shortage of guys for them to work with.

I’m happy Styles stayed on Smackdown. He’d have been fine on Raw, but he’s been arguably the biggest reason to watch the show every week. For all the talk about so-called “brands,” AJ has had a lot to do with giving Smackdown a different, more wrestling-heavy vibe from Raw.

Corbin is lucky Owens didn’t eat him alive on the mic. Seriously. It could have been worse than him being attacked by an actual wolf.

How do we know JBL is on his best behavior? He shook Byron Saxton’s hand at the top of the show. On screen, those two had a pronounced bully/victim dynamic.

Randy Orton def. Erick Rowan via disqualification. I don’t like Rowan’s chances without Bray Wyatt at his side. But then again, so many of us (myself included) said the same thing about Braun Strowman when he went to Raw by himself. And he’s become one of the best things about that show. So you never know who’ll surprise you.

The Usos def. American Alpha to retain the Smackdown Tag Team Titles. The Shining Stars attack the babyfaces afterward. Great offensive flurry from Chad Gable during this match. He does a lot of selling out there. But he can take the hot tag when called upon. Another really good match from these guys.

If Primo and Epico de-emphasize the awful travel agent gimmick, they might have yet another chance to reinvent themselves. Talent has never been the problem with these two. It’s always been a matter of packaging.

Mojo Rawley def. Jinder Mahal. Rob Gronkowski gets involved on Rawley’s behalf. The higher-ups definitely seem to have taken notice of Jinder Mahal’s physical changes. While still essentially an enhancement talent, he’s been part of some pretty prominent stuff recently. Most notably the stuff with Rob Gronkowski at the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. That obviously continued here.

Mojo really needs to write Gronk a thank-you note. As in, thank you for getting me the biggest push of my career.

Shane McMahon announces the arrival of Charlotte Flair and Tamina to SmackdownThey didn’t do Tamina any favors by building it up as if Charlotte were about to come out. Though in all fairness, she hasn’t been on TV in quite some time. She’ll need to re-establish herself.

Then of course, Charlotte did come out. Surprised she didn’t cut a promo of some kind. If I expect her to move right into a program with Naomi. I’m surprised so many people though Sasha Banks was coming in with her. She’s obviously factored in heavily with Bayley on Raw.

Tye Dillinger def. Aides English. With Simon Gotch having been released, it looks like English is going back to the singing gimmick he used in NXT. Hopefully he gets a fair shot. He’s got a good look.

I like that they’re telling the story of how long it took Dillinger to make it to the main roster. Anytime you can weave that element of truth in there, it’s a good thing. The people are clearly into him. If they play this right, I imagine he could get a US Title run this summer.

Sin Cara, Rusev, Lana, and the New Day are traded to SmackdownThey seem to be repackaging Lana with a dancing gimmick. At least until Rusev comes back. Is she going to wrestle? She’s not that experienced yet, is she?

It seems like they’re waiting to put the New Day on Smackdown until Kofi Kingston heals up from surgery. Fair enough. That act could use a breather anyway.

Shinsuke Nakamura outshines Dolph Ziggler in a confrontation. It might not have been wise for them to write Ziggler a promo about the “shiny new toys” from the Superstar Shake-Up becoming less special over time. Just saying…

They let Nakamura talk this week. Less is more as far as that’s concerned. This segment was a little awkward, as they spent a lot of time just standing there. Yes, the crowd was chanting for Nakamura. But this almost started to drag.

As far as first dance partners go, they don’t get much better than Dolph Ziggler. For now, Nakamura’s in good hands.

AJ Styles def. Sami Zayn and Baron Corbin in a Triple-Threat Match to become top contender for the United States Title following PaybackStyles has seemingly been positioned as a babyface, which is very much overdue. Everything this guy does looks great. Everything. I came out of this match thinking about how good he and Zayn looked out there together, and how good AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens could be. He’s practically the linchpin holding the show together.

Question: If Styles is going to be working with Owens after Payback, who works with Randy Orton? Corbin?

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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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The John Cena Brand, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

john_cena_nickelodeonBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

Ponderings From Smackdown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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