Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Well I’ll be damned…

Kenny Omega vs. Chris Jericho at Wrestle Kingdom 12.

If you’re a pro wrestling geek, this is a huge match in just about every way possible. Granted, Jericho may only work one date for New Japan. A handful at most. But let’s pause for a moment and consider not just what this means artistically, but for NJPW’s presence in America.

Chris Jericho is obviously not under contract to WWE right now. But he’s a WWE superstar in every sense of the word. When he’s around, it’s a big deal. He’s been able to reinvent himself time and time again, making comeback after comeback and being consistently athletic and entertaining each time. This year, at age 46, he and Kevin Owens had one of the key storylines heading into Wrestlemania.

Perhaps most importantly, Jericho has wrestled exclusively for WWE since 1999. He’s a multi-faceted performer, and has a lot of irons in the fire. But when it comes to wrestling, for almost 20 years there’s only been one place to find Chris Jericho. He’s always said he only wanted to work for the top promotion in the world, and anywhere else would be a step down. Chris Jericho has been a WWE guy through and through. Until now.

Think about that. Think about what that says about Kenny Omega as a performer. Think about what that says about New Japan’s growing prominence in America. Think about what that says about NJPW’s potential as an alternative to WWE.

And if they can get Chris Jericho, who else can they get on more of a full-time basis?

Ponderings From Raw:

Kurt Angle appears on Miz TV at the top of the show, announces Miz vs. Braun Strowman in the main event. Miz had a great line here about Baron Corbin being “the bathroom break of Smackdown.” There’s a reason these guys haven’t been cutting promos on each other directly. In a war of words, Miz destroys Corbin every time. It’s not even close.

Jason Jordan def. Elias in a Guitar on a Pole Match. Angle later names Jordan to Team Raw at Survivor SeriesI don’t know why I expected this match to end with a guitar shot to the head. Maybe it’s because I’ve been trained to expect it after so many years watching guys like Jeff Jarrett smash guitars over people’s craniums. Maybe it’s because Elias got to hit Finn Balor in the head with it awhile back. Either way, this match ended on a whimper when Jordan smashed the damn guitar over Elias’ back. Either gimmick the guitar really well and go for it, or don’t book the damn match.

So Kurt Angle puts his “son” Jason Jordan on Team Raw. I like this a lot if it’s headed where I think it is…

Asuka won an enhancement match. I obviously don’t know how things sounded live. But on television this Manchester crowd sounded dead as a doornail. No one suffered the ill effects worse than Asuka did in this match. WWE are still trying to get her over with mainstream audiences, and this did not help. At all.

Samoa Joe runs through Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews, and issues an open challenge. Finn Balor accepts. The match goes to a double count-out. Kurt Angle later names both men to Team Raw. I hadn’t quite realized how much I missed Joe until I saw his promo here, and the subsequent match with Balor. Neither were great. But Joe’s intensity and believability are off the charts.

I really wish the announcers hadn’t mentioned the Kane thing from two weeks back. When Balor is stepping up and accepting a tough guy’s open challenge, it doesn’t help his cause to harken back to when got his ass handed to him in another open challenge. Frankly, I think we’d all love to forget that match ever happened…

Sasha Banks and Bayley def. Alicia Fox and Nia Jax. Sasha is later picked for the Raw women’s team. It’s amazing how stupid WWE thinks we are sometimes. The announcers speculated about whether Sasha and Bayley could be the two women to fill the remaining spots on the Raw women’s team. Shut the hell up. We all know it’s going to be them. Dana Brooke is an afterthought, and they’re not going to pass either of them up for Mickie James.

The only person worthy of replacing either of them would be Paige. Come to think of it, this would have been a good opportunity to bring her back. It’s her home country, after all.

The crowd woke up a little for Bayley. It’s been awhile since she got a reaction like that. Far too long, actually.

Braun Strowman def. The Miz via disqualification after interference from Kane. Mrs. Primary Ignition happened to be sitting next to me during Miz’s entrance. She doesn’t know much about wrestling. But she watched him during his MTV days. She was confused by what he wore to the ring…

“His outfit looks like he’s wearing a dress. I have no problem with a man wearing a dress. It just seems so out of character for him.”

That’s Hollywood fashion for you.

Pete Dunne makes his Raw debut, gaining a win over Enzo Amore. UK Division wrestlers to appear on 205 Live. For months there’s been buzz about the WWE Network adding a show dedicated to the guys who wrestled in the UK Championship Tournament. For whatever reason, that hasn’t happened. But if you’ve got these guys signed to a deal, you may as well use them. I was happy to see Pete Dunne show up in the homegrown hero role, even though he’s obviously a natural heel. I’m not thrilled that these UK guys may end up associated with 205 Live, as that brand is so tainted. But you may as well do something on TV with them.

Until Dunne came out and the physicality started, almost everything about this segment seemed clumsy. Enzo’s promo went on so long the announcers were trolling him on-air. Then Dunne’s music hit. But instead of just having him come out, they had Angle show up and introduce him. So basic wrestling logic (If such a thing exists…) begs the question: Why not just hit Angle’s music, then do Dunne’s after his name is said? I’m assuming this was a mistake. If not, it’s very weird.

Cesaro and Sheamus def. Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose to win the WWE Raw Tag Team Titles after the New Day cause a surprise distraction. This was a surprise. Not so much that they switched the titles, but that they had the New Day play a role in it. The reason seems obvious: A six-man tag at Survivor Series. I imagine they weren’t sure if Roman would be back in time, so they held off this angle just in case. I obviously don’t know that for a fact, but it makes sense.

Either way, if it happens that match could easily steal the show. It’s got a big match vibe not unlike the Shield vs. Wyatt Family stuff from a few years ago.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

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Kurt Angle Returning to the Ring, Plus WWE TLC Predictions

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve been a wrestling fan for more than 20 years, and I can’t ever remember a WWE pay per view being changed so significantly with so little notice. For the better, mind you.

Both Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt are reportedly suffering from viral infections, and have been pulled from this Sunday’s TLC show. As such, Smackdown‘s AJ Styles will replace Wyatt in the match with Finn Balor. But the bigger news is that Kurt Angle will wrestle his first WWE match in over a decade, as he replaces Reigns in the main event. The match will see Angle team with Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose in a Handicap Tables, Ladders, and Chairs Match against the Miz, Braun Strowman, Kane, Sheamus, and Cesaro.

To call this a wild move is an understatement. There’s obviously been buzz about Angle wrestling again since he came back. But you’ve got to believe he didn’t have much more notice about this than we did. Has he passed a physical? What’s he capable of doing? How far are they willing to push their luck? Remember, this is one of the most violent and dangerous matches WWE puts on all year. And having seen Angle wrestle for so many years, you know he’s not going to go half-assed.

It’s rare that a match becomes must-see in such an abrupt way. As we get into TLC predictions, I just hope all parties know what they’re doing…

PRE-SHOW MATCH:
Sasha Banks vs. Alicia Fox

Supposedly, this was supposed to be Sasha Banks against Nia Jax. That changed when Nia took a leave of absence. I’m a Nia Jax fan, but I don’t think we’re missing much by swapping her out for Alicia. We’ve seen Sasha and Nia wrestle so many times, and we’ll undoubtedly see them wrestle again soon enough. As for who wins, I don’t see a reason why it wouldn’t be Sasha. This is a throwaway match, and I doubt they’re leveling Alicia up.

PREDICTION: Sasha Banks

Cedric Alexander and Rich Swann vs. Brian Kendrick and Jack Gallagher

As someone who doesn’t regularly watch 205 Live, I’ve got almost no investment in this match from a story perspective. I do, however, like Alexander and Swann as a tag team. My hope is that these four can overachieve in what is essentially a filler match. We’ll need new babyface challengers for the Cruiserweight Title soon (more on that later), so it makes sense for Alexander and Swann to go over. Let’s just hope they look good doing it.

PREDICTION: Cedric Alexander and Rich Swann

WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Mickie James

This program has been everything I hoped it would be. It rejuvenated Mickie James. She’s too good to be the bit player she’s been since coming to Raw. Since returning to WWE, really. She got to show a little more personality, and newer fans got to know her a little better. If they don’t cast her aside after TLC, she could remain a commodity. After all, if there’s one thing this Women’s Division needs right now, it’s more names.

That being said, I don’t see her getting the belt. I’m not sure how quickly they’re going to move Asuka into the title picture. But we’re clearly moving in that direction, and Alexa is the perfect heel opponent for her. Even if Mickie didn’t get the belt, it wouldn’t be for long. A better use for her would be a pay per view match against Asuka, attempting to recapture some of the magic from their NXT Takeover match.

PREDICTION: Alexa Bliss

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Kalisto (c) vs. Enzo Amore

Was Kalisto even supposed to be Cruiserweight Champion? We know now that the Lumberjack Match in which he won it was originally supposed to be Enzo against Neville. But Neville walked out, and here we are. Was Kalisto simply going to be another opponent for Enzo? Or was he supposed to win this pay per view match, effectively ending Enzo’s “no contact clause” with the Cruiserweight Division?

Either way, one thing is certain: Now that Neville is gone, Enzo is the only true star on 205 Live. The best case scenario here is that he’s able to give the rub to somebody new. This was a nice little boost for Kalisto. But the pendulum now has to swing back in Enzo’s direction. Expect him to leave TLC as the “realest champ in the room” once again.

PREDICTION: Enzo Amore

Asuka vs. Emma

You know what’s sad? This is the biggest match Emma has had since she came up to the main roster. She’s clearly capable of more, and she’s actually developed a certain charisma since coming back from the Emmalina fiasco.

But of course, this match isn’t about her. It’s all about Asuka, and for good reason. They’ve got something with her. Not just in terms of her persona, and her in-ring style, but her winning streak. She was never beaten in NXT, and toward the end of her run they were really starting to play that up. That needs to continue on Raw.

Thankfully, Asuka doesn’t work by the hour. I’d expect her to make quick work of Emma to show us who and what she is. Expect suplexes, expect kicks, and expect the Asuka Lock. Whatever you do, don’t take a pee break during this one.

PREDICTION: Asuka

Finn Balor vs. AJ Styles

This is a bigger match than most casual WWE fans realize. Not that they’ll tell you why…

In 2014, AJ Styles was the man who succeeded Finn Balor as leader of the Bullet Club over in New Japan Pro Wrestling. They weren’t rivals. In fact, they barely spent any time in the promotion together, as Styles came in right as Balor was leaving. But that’s an irresistibly intriguing commonality between them.

WWE won’t talk about the Bullet Club, especially after that little “invasion” stunt a few weeks ago. But in the preview for this match over on WWE.com, they do mention that Balor and Styles briefly crossed paths in Japan. That’s likely as far as they’ll take it. That’s a shane. Especially considering Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, also former Bullet Club members, will likely be in the building.

Balor was originally supposed to be in his Demon get-up for this match. That seems wholly unnecessary now. While he and AJ have a history of sorts, there’s not enough bad blood here to merit the Demon’s presence. Not yet, anyway.

They’re obviously gearing AJ up to challenge for the WWE Championship soon. So having him lose to Balor wouldn’t be great from a timing standpoint. Also, Balor has racked up two pay per view victories over Bray Wyatt. So he can afford to drop one here. But in the end, this one isn’t necessarily about who wins. It’s more about what they’ll deliver from an artistic standpoint. Given enough time and opportunity, these guys could turn in a classic.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

HANDICAP TLC MATCH:
Kurt Angle, Seth Rollins, and Dean Ambrose vs. The Miz, Braun Strowman, Kane, Sheamus, and Cesaro

This match was already a little messy. Now that Reigns has been swapped out for Angle, I barely know what to make of it.

The story here was about the Shield overcoming impossible odds. But taking Reigns out ruins that, and inserting Angle creates a whole new equation. Now, it’s all about what Kurt will do, and the question of what he’ll be like in the ring after all these years. It actually doesn’t make much sense for it to be a Handicap Match anymore.

How about this: Add Matt Hardy and Angle’s “son” Jason Jordan to the mix. Now you’ve got an even five-on-five. And how about we put something on the line? Maybe the winners get to represent Raw in a traditional Survivor Series Match against Smackdown? They can figure out a way to sub Miz or Strowman in there later. I’m just looking to add stakes to this match.

Either way, the outcome here was never in doubt. The good guys win. This match will likely go a long way in determining Angle’s in-ring future. They could easily use this to set up a future match with Miz, or even Strowman. All of that in due time. For now, I just want Kurt to get through this match safely. Needless to say, this wasn’t how any of us expected his in-ring return to go.

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Undertaker to Rumble Again, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

Wrestle Kingdom 11, main eventBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I don’t watch a lot of Japanese wrestling. Not because I don’t like it or I don’t care. It’s just there are only so many hours in a week, and habitually I’ve always watched American stuff. Obviously the emphasis has been on WWE stuff. But the buzz about the Kenny Omega/Kazuchika Okada match from this past week’s Wrestle Kingdom 11 has been so phenomenal that I couldn’t resist.

Wow. From a presentation standpoint, what a breath of fresh air. The respect shown to the actual wrestling was such a contrast to what we see on Raw and Smackdown. I’ve never been of the mindset that WWE should be presented the way MMA is, with the entertainment element nixed. But people also know that they’re watching a wrestling show. So why downplay the wrestling? Why not dive into the wrestling element? Tremendous work by Kevin Kelly and Steve Corino at the announce booth.

The match itself was supremely athletic. They beat the crap out of each other for about 45 minutes. In particular, that back drop Omega took out of the ring through the table was brutal. He looked like he landed right on his tailbone. And that suplex Okada took off the top toward the end? He landed right on his damn head. How either of these guys are still walking, Okada in particular, is beyond me. And of course, you had Omega’s constantly going for the One-Winged Angel but never getting it. Great stuff.

Okada, Wrestle Kingdom 11Some fans have said this was the greatest match they’ve ever seen. Dave Meltzer gave it six stars, saying Okada and Omega may have put on “the greatest match in pro wrestling history.” I can’t say I agree with that. But it was a hell of a match, a hell of a story, and a hell of a spectacle in front of all those Tokyo Dome fans.

If you’ve never seen a NJPW show, I’d highly recommend Wrestle Kingdom 11, this match in particular. It sets the bar pretty high. But this is what pro wrestling should be about.

Ponderings From Raw:

An attempt to start the US Title Match featuring Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho escalates into a brawl with Braun Strowman. Seth Rollins saves Reigns. Stephanie McMahon makes Rollins vs. Strowman. The highlight of this segment? Rollins busting out a Van Daminator on Strowman. Happy to see the big guy pissed off after the double spear last week.

Seth Rollins vs. Braun Strowman goes to a double count-out. Like Sami Zayn, Rollins was able to use his experience and relatively smaller size to make Strowman look good. To his credit, Rollins looked more credible against the giant than Zayn did. He’s so damn explosive and athletic. But like everyone else, he looked like he was running into a brick wall when put against Strowman.

That drop Rollins took from the top rope to the ringside barricade did not look like fun…

Drew Gulak, Jack Gallagher, WWE Raw, January 9, 2017Jack Gallagher def. Drew Gulak. Loved the sound of that clothesline Gulak gave Gallagher from the second rope. Ouch.

Gallagher is emerging as one of the stand-out personalities in the Cruiserweight Division. Key word: Personality. (For my money, the others would be Neville and Rich Swann.) I’m not sure if the crowds are quite with him yet, and that particular post-match promo wasn’t the greatest. But he’s got something.

Shawn Michaels gets interrupted by Rusev, Lana, and Jinder Mahal. Enzo and Cass come to his aid. I can’t help but smile when Shawn’s music hits. Call me a mark, but he’s such a damn star.

Not the smoothest segment they’ve ever done. But Shawn, Rusev, and Enzo are all very natural out there. So it still came off fairly well. And it was fun to see them ad lib.

Big Cass def. Jinder Mahal. This whole match was about one thing: The super kick. We spent the whole match waiting for it. It must have been really cool for Rusev to take that.

There was some buzz during the fall that Shawn was going to come out of retirement to face AJ Styles at the Rumble. As much as I love Shawn, I don’t ever need to see him in the ring again. Let the impetus be on the current stars to match what he created.

Neville, Lince Dorado, WWE Raw, January 9, 2017Neville def. Lince Dorado. Rich Swann saves Dorado from a beatdown. Really good showing from Lince Dorado early on here. This guy has been around since the division restarted, but I still don’t have much of an impression of him. Despite the loss, this was a good night for him.

Swann showed some great fire out there. He and Neville have an nice hero/villain dynamic. I’m looking forward to the inevitable title match.

Sheamus def. Luke Gallows. I turned the volume down when I saw Cesaro was joining the announce position. Not because I wasn’t interested in hearing him, but because we already had Karl Anderson joining our usual three talking heads. You can argue three guys are already too much. Four is ridiculous. And five? I’m out.

Gallows may have lost tonight, but I’m still not over the novelty of Anderson getting a singles win last week. Over Cesaro, no less.

The Undertaker announces his entrance into the Royal Rumble Match. Listen to the crowd during this segment. They all chanted his name in unison. Why the hell wasn’t this the main event?

So he says “No one controls the Undertaker,” then he walks over to Stephanie and says: “No one.” I assume that was scripted. But it’s a hell of a lot more fun to imagine it wasn’t.

The Undertaker, Mick Foley, January 17, 2017They seemingly tipped their hand by showing us Braun Strowman backstage during this promo. There was a buzz about Strowman facing Undertaker at Wrestlemania last year. Is that back in the cards this year?

Charlotte and Nia Jax def. Bayley and Sasha Banks. Yet another example of why Raw needs more women. These are essentially the only four active female wrestlers the show has. Lately, they’ve got Alicia Fox mixed up in a love triangle. Speaking of which…

Alicia Fox surprises Noam Dar with a kiss backstage, remarks that he “can’t handle a real woman.” The “real woman” line seemed lost in the shock of the kiss. She obviously insulted him, but it definitely seems like she’s playing Dar and Cedric Alexander against each other.

Kofi Kingston def. Titus O’Neil. Before the match, the New Day had Titus try and carry a keg around the ring in less than 12 seconds because…he fell down when he tried to do it in 2010? No thanks.

Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho def. Roman Reigns in a handicap match for the United States Title. Jericho is declared champion. This probably would have had more of a punch if they’d done it earlier. But whatever. At least they finally made a change instead of essentially giving us the same US Title Match over and over.

Now watch them have Roman exercise his rematch clause against Jericho next week.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.