WWE Superstar Shake-Up, Night Two: From Raw to Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Historically, Smackdown doesn’t always fare well in these drafts. It’s no secret that Raw is Vince McMahon’s baby, and he’s willing to keep it healthy at the expense of its sister show. Last year was a textbook example. While Kevin Owens, Charlotte Flair, and Sami Zayn were stellar additions to the show, Smackdown also lost Dean Ambrose, the Miz, Alexa Bliss, and Bray Wyatt.

Plus, like him or not, Jinder Mahal winning the WWE Championship only served to make Smackdown look like the B-show people already perceive it as.At first glance, it looks like the blue team did pretty well this year. Once upon a time, Smackdown had a reputation as “the wrestling show,” as opposed to the more entertainment and story-oriented Raw. As you’ll see, it may now be in a position to earn that title all over again.

The following wrestlers were drafted to Smackdown in the second night of the Superstar Shake-Up…

Jeff Hardy

I had a feeling this might happen. Especially after Jeff won the US Title on Raw. This is good news, though. If Jeff can stay clean, the smart bet is he’ll make magic on Smackdown once again.

Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville

I had pitched sending Deville to Smackdown by herself. But in truth, she’s probably not ready to be on her own yet. Ditto for Mandy Rose. I’d like to see them work heel against Paige, the babyface general manager. That way they’d get to develop a bit more.

Either way, what happened with Deville and Ronda Rousey on Raw proved my point about her ten-fold. She needed to get the hell out of there.

Samoa Joe

Now THIS is a move. One that could very well change the direction of Joe’s career.

Here’s the thing about Raw in the last year or so: If you’re a babyface, you’re living in the shadow of Roman Reigns. If you’re a heel, it’s Brock Lesnar’s shadow. Those are Vince’s two main guys right now. But Smackdown? Smackdown is seemingly anybody’s ball game. That whole “Land of Opportunity” line has some truth to it. And on this show, with this group of guys, all Joe needs is an opportunity. He’s got plenty of experience stealing the show with the likes of AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Daniel Bryan. There’s no reason to think he won’t do the same here. What’s more, he’s become one of the best and most consistent promos they have. If the cards fall the right way, 2018 could be the year Samoa Joe becomes a top guy in WWE.

SAnitY (Eric Young, Alexander Wolfe, and Killian Dane)

Full disclosure: I’m not as familiar with SAnitY as I probably should be. Eric Young has been around forever, of course. I’ve seen some awesome stuff from Kililan Dane. But I know next to nothing about Alexander Wolfe. Still, I’m very curious to see what these guys bring to the Smackdown Tag Team Division. There’s a lot of intrigue in putting them against the New Day, and I’m very curious to see how they match up against the Bludgeon Brothers.

Conspicuous by her absence is Nikki Cross, the female component of SAnitY. I’m not sure why they’d leave her out, unless they have something specific in mind for her down in NXT. A disappointment for sure. But let’s see what she does next…

Big Cass

This is it. As a solo, this is sink or swim time for Big Cass. He and Enzo obviously weren’t a team anymore when he was injured. But they were still working together. Now he’s completely on his own. Still, he couldn’t have asked for a better babyface to work against than Daniel Bryan. That’s not a feud anybody really wanted to see, but it’s the one we’re getting. So let the Big Cass experiment officially continue.

Asuka

In hindsight, this one is obvious. Asuka and Charlotte Flair stole the show at Wrestlemania. So there’s tremendous appeal in seeing them lock up again. Especially if the winner gets a shot at Carmella’s newly won Women’s Championship. Asuka has a broken streak to avenge. Now we can see her do it.

I also think an Asuka/Carmella match would be hilarious, just because of Carmella’s fearful screaming during the match. Those two characters could be a lot of fun together.

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

The story here isn’t Gallows and Anderson coming to Smackdown. It’s that Finn Balor didn’t come with them. Balor would have benefited from a fresh start every bit as much as Samoa Joe. Even worse, taking the Club away from him kills a huge portion of his invaluable cool factor.

Balor’s loss is AJ Styles’ gain, I suppose.

Sheamus and Cesaro

This one surprised me. I had these guys pegged as staying on Raw. I certainly won’t complain, though. While I’d never want to dismiss Sheamus, we now have Cesaro on a roster that also includes AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Daniel Bryan, Samoa Joe, and Jeff Hardy. Think of the possibilities.

Also, I imagine this means Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt are walking out of The Greatest Royal Rumble with the Raw Tag Team Titles. Can’t say I expected that. I thought they’d simply put them back on the Bar. But now, Sheamus and Cesaro can expand their resume to include the Smackdown Tag Team Titles.

R-Truth

How fitting that Truth was in a backstage segment with Tye Dillinger. Because like Dillinger, he’s simply on Smackdown to be a background player. No disrespect, but it’s true.

I will say this, though: The man looks damn good for 46.

Andrade “Cien” Almas and Zelina Vega

As with SAnitY, I know very little about Andrade “Cien” Almas, outside of the fact that he just lost the NXT Championship to Aleister Black. But from what I understand, this pairing with Zelina Vega really turned his career around. So I’m anxious to see what these two are about. If they catch on, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Almas gunning for the US Title before long.

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition on Twitter.

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WWE’s Most Fascinating People of 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Yeah, I’m still stealing this Barbara Walters bit. What can I say? I like it. I’ve been able to do it every year (with one exception) since 2012.

This list is subjective, as always. These are 10 people who, for reasons both good and bad, stood out to me over the course of 2017. We’ve got unlikely champions, call-ups from NXT whose journeys have been more tumultuous than anticipated, a veteran who’ll be on the Wrestle Kingdom 12 card, and many more.

So let’s get down to business…

1. Jinder Mahal

Jinder was one of WWE’s biggest gambles this year. The company made him their poster child for their attempts to break into the Indian market. In the process, Mahal went from glorified enhancement talent to WWE Champion in a matter of weeks. With help from the Singh Brothers (the former Bollywood Boyz), Mahal scored three consecutive pay per view victories over Randy Orton. He went on to retain over Shinsuke Nakamura at Summerslam and Hell in a Cell.

Though he held the title for most of the year, Mahal became a controversial figure for a variety of reasons. The question of whether he deserves this sudden shove into the limelight has always been there, with his matches and promos being highly critiqued. Also, the nature of his physique has been in question for quite some time. Many have suggested his increased musculature has come from steroids, or other performance enhancing drugs. The racial overtones used in his program with Nakamura did him no favors either. He actually got “That’s too far!” chants during a promo in October when he said of the Japanese star: “You always rook the same.”

Signs pointed to Mahal being the champion and the focal point of WWE’s two December shows in India. But by the time they got there, not only had the belt been taken from Jinder, but one of the shows had been cancelled. The “Maharaja” was still in a high profile match with Triple H. But he ended up eating the pin. He’d also been pulled from a headline match against Universal Champion Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series.

While success inevitably breeds envy and criticism, it’s safe to say the Jinder Mahal experiment hasn’t worked out the way anyone hoped. He may have an uphill battle ahead of him if he wants to stay near the top of the card.

2. Asuka

The “Empress of Tomorrow” made her long-awaited debut on the main roster in October. While she’s maintained her undefeated streak, Asuka has run into a familiar problem. Like many of her peers, she’s had trouble translating her NXT success to the main roster.

To WWE’s credit, they brought Asuka in with a ton of hype. But her match with Emma at No Mercy left fans underwhelmed. She scored a hard-fought victory, but she wasn’t presented as the dominant destroyer they’d come to know. They quickly switched gears, placing her in enhancement matches akin to those done for Braun Strowman and Nia Jax early in their Raw tenures. But you only get one chance to make a first impression, and for Asuka it had come and gone.

Thankfully, they seem to know what they have in her. She was the sole victor in the women’s match at Survivor Series, has started to score decisive wins over lower card wrestlers like Alicia Fox and Dana Brooke, and has publicly declared her intent to come after the Raw Women’s Championship. Asuka would be a perfect pick to win the recently announced Women’s Royal Rumble Match.

Asuka got off to a rocky start. But she seems to be picking up speed. I’d certainly hate to see her end up like a certain other woman on the Raw roster…

3. Bayley

Bayley’s 2017 was…okay. Just okay. She started out fairly strong, defeating Charlotte Flair on Raw to win her first Raw Women’s Title, and then breaking Flair’s pay per view undefeated streak shortly thereafter. She would go on to retain the title in a multi-woman match at Wrestlemania. Things seemed to be going well for her.

But by mid-year she’d fallen off track. WWE writers seem unsure of how to write Bayley. To an extent that’s understandable. Her character is very unique. You don’t see very many relentlessly positive, squeaky clean underdogs in 2017. But when paired against the spunky brat Alexa Bliss, she became a wishy-washy wet noodle. Bayley needed to show fire against Alexa. We needed to see that she could get angry when she had to. We didn’t get that. Instead we got bad dialogue, capped off by an absolutely atrocious “This Is Your Life” segment that was meant to garner sympathy for her.

By the time summer game around, she was getting the opposite. There were noticeable boos for WWE’s resident hugger, even when she was sidelined with a separated shoulder. These days, Bayley essentially just another name on the roster. From a creative standpoint, that’s an absolute travesty. Bayley is a special kind of character, who at one point had a special connection with a variety of fans. If there’s one person in all of WWE who could use a little character rehabbing, it’s her.

4. Matt Hardy

When it came to Matt Hardy, we spent most of 2017 waiting.

But just a few weeks ago, an on-screen breakdown led to the emergence of “Woken” Matt Hardy. The difference between Woken Matt and Broken Matt? Semantics. He’s got the same gear, the same hair, the same accent. For all intents and purposes, Broken Matt Hardy has come to WWE.

We haven’t seen a lot of him yet. It’s mostly been pre-taped promos, going back and forth with Bray Wyatt. Die-hard wrestling fans were already sold on Broken Matt. But the more casual fans watching Raw are seeing him for the first time. So far so good. Crowds have been reacting fairly well, and Matt has even breathed a tiny bit of life back into Bray.

There’s no shortage of options as to what can be done with this alternate version of Matt Hardy. In Impact, Jeff got in on the action as Brother Nero. But Matt’s wife, father-in-law, and children also became on-screen characters. We saw outrageous stuff on location at the Hardy compound. We saw a friggin’ drone. If Matt has a decent amount of control here, which he reportedly does, he could be one of the best parts of Raw in 2017.

5. Enzo Amore

Enzo faced a lot of criticism in 2017, but wound up proving a lot of his haters wrong. He started the year doing his usual shtick with Big Cass. Now he’s got the Cruiserweight Title and has essentially been made the star of 205 Live.

He could very well have fallen off the map after Cass went heel on him in June. But he ended up cutting some of the most passionate, scathing promos we heard on WWE TV all year. When Cass went down with an injury, Enzo was quickly moved into the Cruiserweight Division and put with Neville. Smart marks cried foul when Enzo somehow pinned Neville for the Cruiserweight Title in September. But the double turn that followed, turning Enzo heel and Neville babyface, turned out to be amazing. Enzo’s mic work and undeniable star power are undeniable. He’s earned his spot.

Enzo reminds me a lot of an early incarnation of the Miz. He won’t win any prizes for his wrestling. But his character work is on a different level than almost everybody else. When he talks, you believe him. In WWE, that’s a golden ticket that can take you almost anywhere. Enzo can be a singles wrestler, a tag team wrestler, a manager, an announcer, or whatever they need him to be. If Enzo is as tenacious and hard-working as Miz, he’s going to be around a long time.

And as long as we’re talking about him…

6. The Miz

Mike Mizanin’s suitability for pro wrestling stardom has been questioned from the start. Mainly because of his background as a reality TV star. But his wrestling ability has also been heavily critiqued. Throw in his success, including headlining a Wrestlemania, and he’s been a polarizing figure amongst die-hards.

But 2017 seemed to be the year Miz finally won over his critics. The majority of them anyway. He’s no slouch in the ring. But it”s mostly been a matter of his mic work and the presentation of his character. The continued inclusion of his wife Maryse, the slick suits, the good to great promos week after week, the incorporation of Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel as his “Miztourage.” It’s all come together. Now, roughly seven years after he main-evented Wrestlemania, he once again feels like a main-eventer. In 2017 he continued to make the Intercontinental Title feel prestigious again. He defended it, and in some cases traded it with, the likes of Dean Ambrose, Jeff Hardy, and Roman Reigns. It’s likely he’ll challenge for it again when he returns. Then again, perhaps it’s time for a new frontier…

Perhaps 2018 is the year Miz once again becomes WWE Champion.

7. Sami Zayn

Under the WWE umbrella, Sami Zayn was always portrayed as a sentimental underdog. It’s a role he wears well. Case in point, his work with Braun Strowman early in the year. But the underdog role isn’t always a good one to have. Yes, cases like Rey Mysterio Jr and Daniel Bryan will always exist. But the thing about being an underdog is that you sometimes have to lose. A lot. And despite what some in the WWE creative department would have you believe, wins and losses matter. As such, Sami Zayn’s time on the main roster as “the Underdog From the Underground” hasn’t been the most eventful. Even Sami himself has dropped hints of his frustration at how things have gone.

Then Hell in a Cell came around, and Sami aligned with nemesis Kevin Owens against Smackdown General Manager Shane McMahon. In the days to come it became clear that the underdog had become the villain.

It was just what the doctor ordered. Zayn tapped into a side of his personality that’s delightfully annoying, and become an atypical sort of heel. He described it on a podcast as: “…like when you’re dating a girl and she kind of has these quirks, but they’re lovable. But once you break up, it’s like, ‘oh, God! She was so annoying! … the things you used to love about her, now, you hate about her because you don’t love her anymore.”

Lovable or not, it’s working. Zayn has been a lot of fun to watch these past few months, and at the Royal Rumble he’ll be wrestling for the WWE Title. Now that’s progress.

8. Shinsuke Nakamura

Hopes were high this past spring when Shinsuke Nakamura was called up to Smackdown.    Performers like him don’t come by every day, and having him be on American television for the first time (not counting NXT) was a big deal. But WWE isn’t exactly known for giving their performers the best material to work with, even less for letting the performers be themselves. So the question of how he’d fare loomed ominously.

Coming from someone who hasn’t seem much of his work in Japan, Nakamura’s time on the main roster has been underwhelming. Almost a year later, it still feels like we hardly know the guy. The announcers call him things like “Artist” and “Rock Star.” But those are empty nicknames. Who is this man? Why is he the way he is? Granted, they’re not exactly writing Shakespeare for him. His program with Jinder Mahal was a low point for WWE television all year, particularly when the racial stuff started coming into play.

Still, bad creative can’t take away the performer Nakamura is. The crowds are still into him. There’s even been a little bit of buzz about him winning the Royal Rumble Match this year. Hope isn’t lost for Nakamura’s WWE tenure yet. But the guy needs a hit. That one great match. That one great promo or vignette. Something.

9. Braun Strowman

There’s an argument to be made that Braun Strowman, not Roman Reigns, should be WWE’s poster boy. At the very least, he’s not hearing the kind of boos Roman is.

It’s fitting then, that Strowman’s best work this year was with Reigns. They had an uncanny amount of chemistry, especially when you consider Strowman’s experience level. He’s only been around a few years. But these matches with Reigns have been damn good. That image of Strowman heaving a chair at Roman’s head is as awesome today as it was when it happened.

More importantly, Braun Strowman represents a tremendous success on WWE’s part. They’ve created a genuine homegrown star. And unlike a John Cena or a Roman Reigns, the male fans aren’t threatened by him. So if WWE went with Braun, he could potentially have a relationship with the audience that we haven’t seen from a “chosen one” in a long time. A top babyface that the fans actually want to cheer for. Imagine that. This could be it. This could be the year the “Monster Among Men” stands at the top.

10. Chris Jericho

One of WWE’s most fascinating people just wrestled Kenny Omega at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s biggest show of the year.

Chris Jericho’s choice to compete at Wrestle Kingdom 12 made a hell of a statement about NJPW’s foray into the United States, and its potential as an alternative to WWE. It also speaks volumes about who Chris Jericho is as a performer, and his resolve to continually challenge himself and grow. As if he wasn’t already the most versatile and multi-faceted performer in wrestling history.

Jericho also ended his latest WWE tenure on a high note. Coming into 2017, his rapport with Kevin Owens continued to be highlight of Raw every week. It culminated in a “Festival of Friendship,” which was arguably the most entertaining segment all year. Jericho and Owens weren’t nearly as compelling as enemies. But Owens got a Wrestlemania victory out of the deal, which is a nice feather in his cap. It’s a feather in Jericho’s cap too, as he got to help elevate yet another wrestler on their journey to WWE superstardom.

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WWE’s Most Fascinating People of 2016: AJ Styles, Charlotte, and More!

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Is Barbara Walters still doing her most fascinating people of the year list? I haven’t heard anything about it this year…

In any event, our list of WWE’s Most Fascinating People continues! While the current product may be marred by scripted promos, pro wrestling never has a shortage of interesting characters. For my money, these were the 10 most interesting of 2016.

Honorable mentions go to Goldberg, Dean Ambrose, and Shinsuke Nakamura.

AJ Styles, WWE Champion1. AJ Styles   

AJ Styles is the WWE Champion.

I’d like to say that again. Because even now, the novelty hasn’t worn off: AJ Styles is the WWE Champion. Imagine saying that a year ago at this time, before Styles made his debut in the Royal Rumble Match. We were asking ourselves questions about whether the former TNA mainstay would even be able to sniff the main event picture, let alone be WWE Champion. But to their credit, WWE conveyed Styles as a big deal from day one. He moved right into a program with Chris Jericho, which culminated in a Wrestlemania match. From there, he challenged Roman Reigns for the WWE Championship in two consecutive pay per view main events, stealing the show each time. And then? He went against the man himself, John Cena. Styles shocked the world by beating Cena in yet another show-stealer at Summerslam, At that point, it was practically inevitable. Styles took the belt off Dean Ambrose at Backlash in September, and has been the face of Smackdown ever since.

The 39-year-old Styles has been wrestling for almost 20 years, and has four kids at home. So it’s tough to hazard a guess as to how long he’ll remain on the active roster. But we can at least take comfort in the fact that against the odds, he made himself into a bonafide WWE superstar in 2016.

Shane McMahon, WWE Raw, March 7, 20162. Shane McMahon

When Shane made his surprise return to Raw in February, the way the crowd reacted you’d think Hulk Hogan or Steve Austin had walked out there. In an era where genuine human emotion can sometimes be hard to find on WWE programming, this was a hell of a moment for fans who’ve stuck with the show for a long time. Shane had been gone for nearly seven years. As silly as it seems now, we weren’t sure if/when we’d ever see him again. But here he was. And by the end of the segment he was in a Wrestlemania match with the Undertaker, inside Hell in a Cell.

The story they concocted for Shane’s return was initially very compelling, but eventually fell apart. He came in saying what a lot of people thought was reality-based stuff about wanting to take his rightful place in the company. Vince McMahon essentially used the Undertaker as a hired gun to take Shane out, with the caveat that if Shane could beat him, he’d be put in charge of Raw. But Undertaker’s role in the story was severely underdeveloped. And while he lost the match, Shane was essentially put in charge of Raw anyway. Also, while Shane took one of his trademark crazy bumps, the match was mostly underwhelming.

Shane currently serves as the Commissioner of Smackdown. Despite the rocky way he came back, he has something going for him that very few WWE personalities do. When he walks out there, it’s instant intrigue. There’s a constant question about how blurred the lines are between reality and fantasy. Plus, as we saw at Survivor Series, he’s still not afraid to take big risks for the fans. He earned the massive pops he gets out there.

Sasha Banks, WWE Women's Champion3. Sasha Banks

It’s been an up and down year for Sasha. Her match with Charlotte and Becky Lynch stole the show at Wrestlemania. Then she flat out disappeared from television for several weeks. When she finally returned, she was put with Charlotte for most of the remainder of the year. She’d win her first Women’s Championship on the main roster in July, and would hot potato it with Charlotte multiple times.

While I’ve come to find her babyface promos very white-meat and and annoying, her passion for what she does in the ring can’t be denied. It may have gone on a little too long, but she and Charlotte made history together. After main eventing Raw together, at Hell in a Cell they were the first two women in WWE history to headline a pay per view. They’ve brought women’s wrestling to perhaps an unprecedented level of prominence and importance. In many ways, 2016 saw Sasha Banks become the game-changing performer many of us knew she was destined to be. Hopefully she’s just getting started.

Samoa Joe, NXT Champion4. Samoa Joe

Joe is another TNA mainstay that should have been in WWE a long time ago. He was making waves in Ring of Honor alongside the likes of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan as far back as the early 2000s. He would then elevate his game with guys like AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, and Kurt Angle in TNA. But WWE had always eluded him until last year, when he finally broke into NXT.

As a monster heel, Joe ascended to the top of NXT this year, winning the NXT Championship from Finn Balor in April. From there, he and Shinsuke Nakamura would trade the belt back and forth at Takeover: Brooklyn and Takeover: Toronto. Earlier this month, he dropped the belt back to Nakamura in Osaka, Japan. Rumors are now buzzing about a potential debut in the Royal Rumble Match, similar to what AJ Styles did last year.

In today’s WWE, wrestlers that come off legitimately angry and tough are a surprising anomaly. Brock Lesnar is one. I’d argue Braun Strowman is another. You can make a case for Rusev, too. But one man who’s definitely in that category is Joe. He can come to the main roster and be an easy sell as a threat to a top babyface or champion. It’s just a matter of figuring out where to put him.

In the end, his long road to the WWE roster may have been a blessing in disguise. Had he come in during a previous era, he might not have been allowed to be himself. Pissed off bad ass Samoa Joe is the guy we want. Thankfully, he’s the guy we got.

James Ellsworth5. James Ellsworth

The July 25 edition of Raw was probably the best of the year for a variety of reasons. It was Finn Balor’s first night on the main roster, and he immediately became the top contender for the Universal Title. Sasha Banks won her first Women’s Title. We also saw the debut of WWE’s most unlikely signee in over a decade: James Ellsworth. Granted, he wasn’t signed at the time. He was there to be squashed by Braun Strowman. But fans were captivated by his odd look, and the seemingly impossible odds he faced against Strowman. In a quick pre-match interview spot, Ellsworth put the icing on the cake by saying: “Any man with two hands has a fighting chance.”

That little squash match was all it took. Fast forward to today, and Ellsworth is now Smackdown‘s resident underdog. While you can probably count the number of offensive moves Ellsworth has hit on less than two hands, through the magic of storytelling he’s now due a shot at AJ Styles and the WWE Championship. Some say his act is getting old. But there’s just something about him that’s undeniably captivating. Ellsworth is a real life Cinderella story, and WWE was smart enough to capitalize on that.

Braun Strowmann, WWE Raw6. Braun Strowman

When Strowman had that squash match with Ellsworth on July 25, I wrote: “Braun Strowman is on his own now, which I’m afraid means we have to endure yet another generic giant. I actually would have preferred another attempt to make Erick Rowan a single.”

It wasn’t an unfounded fear, given what WWE has done with certain big men in the past. But they’ve protected Strowman in ways they didn’t protect others. As such, he’s now a commodity despite his relative inexperience. In the past few weeks, his story with Sami Zayn and Mick Foley has been one of the more interesting parts of the show. His presentation is simple, but so effective.

It’s very much in WWE’s interest to continue protecting Strowman in 2017. I never thought I’d say it, but if what we’re seeing from him continues, he’s got main event potential.

Finn Balor, WWE Raw, August 8, 20167. Finn Balor

This was supposed to be Finn Balor’s year. One night in, he pinned Roman Reigns clean in the main event. That really can’t be understated. Roman was, and still is, pegged to be WWE’s new poster boy. So for this new guy to beat him and earn a Universal Title Match at Summerslam was an amazing surprise. And of course, he beat Seth Rollins to win the title. Combine that momentum with Balor’s unique presentation and in-ring style, and it looked like we had Raw‘s new top star on our hands.

Clearly fate had other ideas. In a case of absolute disastrous timing, Balor suffered a torn labrum in the Summerslam match. One night after becoming the inaugural WWE Universal Champion, he was forced to hand the belt back.

Balor was on the main roster for just under a month. But Raw dearly misses him. Since September, the Universal Title picture has been monopolized by Rollins, Reigns, and the man who stepped up in his absence, Kevin Owens. Balor was a fresh face to signify  a new era. And if there’s one thing the Raw main event scene is hurting for, it’s fresh faces.

The good news is that Balor should be back around Wrestlemania. As he obviously never lost the belt, he should be in line for a title shot.

Chris Jericho, WWE Raw, October 24, 20168. Chris Jericho

Chris Jericho got a clipboard over in 2016. If that’s not a testament to his talents, I don’t know what is.

Jericho spent most of 2016 helping to get newer talent over. He was a vital component in AJ Styles getting over as well as he did, and got a match with him at Wrestlemania. He would then move on to Dean Ambrose, which would culminate in the first (and hopefully last) Asylum Match. But Jericho’s best stuff this year was his character work with Kevin Owens. Their tumultuous “best friends” partnership has been the most consistently entertaining thing about Raw these past few months. The “List of Jericho” running gag is more popular than most of the active wrestlers. WWE obviously recognizes their chemistry, as they’ve held off on putting Owens and Jericho against each other in a Universal Title program. They could easily have pulled the trigger at Survivor SeriesRoadblock, or the Royal Rumble. At this point, Wrestlemania seems like the earliest we’ll see them go at it. But even that isn’t a guarantee. And frankly, that’s okay. Roughly 17 years after his WWE debut, Chris Jericho is a vital part of WWE’s flagship show. So few are on his level both in the ring and on the mic. Perhaps he truly is the best in the world at what he does…

The Miz, Maryse9. The Miz

Maryse turned out to be the missing ingredient to Miz’s Hollywood A-lister persona. He always had that smarmy confidence about him. But having this gorgeous French supermodel next to him almost validates that confidence. Maybe he really is as great as he says he is. And the fact that she’s actually his wife adds a great layer of realism.

This newly completed package did wonders for the Intercontinental Championship in 2016. He became a beatable champion that somehow no one could beat. He and Dolph Ziggler had one of WWE’s most compelling feuds this year. Miz constantly found underhanded ways to win despite Ziggler’s tireless efforts. It seemingly culminated in Ziggler dropping his status as a lovable loser, taking the title from Miz at No Mercy. But Miz would take it back from him a few weeks later. The apex of his douchebaggery came just last week, when he publicly “outed” Renee Young’s relationship with Dean Ambrose.

A year ago, the idea of him ever regaining the WWE Championship seemed unlikely at best. But now? Not so much. At this rate, Miz could very well stand at the top of the mountain again in 2017.

WWE Raw, July 4, 2016, Charlotte10. Charlotte Flair

When 2016 began, we’d heard a lot of talk about a “Divas Revolution,” and how women’s wrestling was changing in WWE. Surprisingly, they were able to make good on those bold claims. Why? Because of Charlotte.

That’s not to say it couldn’t have happened without her. Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Bayley, Alexa Bliss, and numerous other talented ladies are on the WWE roster right now. But Charlotte has been the centerpiece to it all. She was the first to strike gold, winning the then-Divas Championship in September. She was victorious when the women stole the show at Wrestlemania for the first time. She and Sasha Banks were the first women of this era to main event Raw, and the first women of any era to main event a pay per view. All the while, she’s been arguably the best heel in the entire company.

Keep in mind, she accomplished all of that in about a year and a half. The smart bet is she’s just getting started. So what will she have

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Kevin Owens Stands Tall, More Cruiserweights, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

Brian Kendrick, TJ Perkins, Lince DoradoBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Question: How much content is too much? Is there such a thing?

Last week, we got the announcement of WWE 205 Live, a WWE Network exclusive show featuring the cruiserweights. The show will air after Smackdown on Tuesdays. Mauro Renallo and Corey Graves will call matches featuring the likes of Brian Kendrick, TJ Perkins, Cedric Alexander, etc. Talking Smack will now move to 11 p.m. Eastern.

I’ve got mixed feelings about this. Obviously, WWE’s number one priority right now is the network. From a business standpoint, there are few things more important than getting those subscription numbers up. Obviously the network appeals primarily to die-hard wrestling fans. So what better way to entice them than with more wrestling? Called by Mauro Ranallo and Corey Graves, no less.

But even the geekiest of pro wrestling geeks have lives, don’t they? Is WWE going to burn out their dedicated core audience by giving them too much? Factoring in RawSmackdownNXT, and now this 205 Live show, that’s seven hours of fresh content a week. And that’s not counting supplementary shows like Main Event and Superstars. That’s also not accounting for pay per views, of which there are now 19. I don’t care how big a fan you are, that’s a lot of wrestling.

WWE Raw, October 31, 2016, Brian Kendrick, TJ PerkinsPerhaps its a matter of variety. For years we’ve heard talk about the Raw brand, the Smackdown brand, etc. But in reality, it’s pretty much all been the same stuff. In a lot of ways, NXT changed that. NXT isn’t simply about different talent. There’s a different look and vibe to the entire product. It’s an alternative, and you can only get that alternative by forking out 10 bucks a month for the network. Is 205 Live going to be it’s own unique alternative? What can we see on that show that we can’t see on Raw?

I understand the on-demand nature of the WWE Network, and that you can essentially take in this content at your own pace. But with all this content coming out from WWE, at what point to we stop being surprised that Raw ratings are going down? It’s not rocket science, folks. The more content you give, the less urgent it is to see it. When all we had were two hours of Raw every Monday, we couldn’t wait to take it in. Now there are weeks where we simply can’t take it anymore.

At the very least this show will give the guys who aren’t on Raw every week, i.e Cedric Alexander, Lince Dorado, and Jack Gallagher another stage to perform on. I just wonder if and how the audience will divide as WWE continues to expand and diversify its offerings.

Ponderings From WWE Raw:

Chris Jericho, Kevin Owens, WWE Raw, November 7, 2016After a volatile start to the show, a fatal five-way match is made between Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman, and the newest member of Team Raw, Seth Rollins. I hate these fatal five-way matches. It’s an awkward number. Somehow four wrestlers work, and six wrestlers work, but five is don’t.

A pretty standard segment for a “Can these teammates get along?” story. I wish we’d had more definitive consequences. Stephanie told them to fight like their jobs depend on it, “Because they do.” Does that even mean anything? They also missed an opportunity to make the winner the captain of the team.

Rich Swann & Sin Cara def. Brian Kendrick & Noam Dar. Assuming these rumors of a fight with Chris Jericho are true, it’ll be interesting to see if Sin Cara remains on television. It’s not like they don’t have plenty of cruiserweights. Though he earned mad respect for me after that senton to the outside on Noam Dar.

This was my first exposure to Noam Dar. We didn’t get to see much of him. But a nice little introduction. Brian Kendrick deserves a lot of credit for helping establish some of these guys in front of the mainstream audience. I expect he’ll face Rich Swann for the title at Survivor Series.

Bill GoldbergA retrospective vignette on Goldberg airs. I was hoping they’d do something like this, as they usually do for Brock Lesnar’s matches. These are always good.

Since Goldberg has resurfaced, WWE has made a point to market him as a WCW star, WCW legend, WCW Champion, etc. That’s fair enough. He’s as much a WCW guy as anything else. But he wasn’t just a WCW guy. He was a champion in WWE as well. They’ve almost glossed over that. Perhaps it’s fitting, considering how forgettable most of Goldberg’s WWE run was.

The New Day rally Team Raw for their match at Survivor Series. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson knock off the champions in a non-title match. The crowd really pulled this segment out of the ground. When you’ve got so many guys out there, I understand having to script the dialogue. But this was the same canned verbiage we always get, and it seemed like it went on forever. At least the Scotland fans were having fun.

Imagine my shock to see Anderson and Gallows get the win here. So do they now fight Cesaro and Sheamus to see who gets the next title shot?

WWE Wrestlemania XX, Bill Goldberg, Steve AustinBrock Lesnar talks Goldberg via video package. This one was even better than Goldberg’s, considering how politically incorrect Brock always is. “At Wrestlemania XX in Madison Square Garden, I didn’t give two sh*ts about wrestling.” HA!

This was another awesome line: “I don’t give a damn what his 10-year-old son is gonna think. I’m not gonna show any f@#kin’ mercy on Bill Goldberg.”

Finally, someone on this show has some balls. No wonder Brock is so over. Look at how he talks, compared to how everyone in that New Day segment talked. There are no chains on Brock. He’s allowed to be himself.

The Shining Stars def. Golden Truth to get their spot in the tag team elimination match at Survivor SeriesI zipped right through this one on the DVR. Here’s what I will say: At least they kept the Shining Stars out of the third hour.

Not sure why they did this. To even the babyface-heel ratio on Team Raw? Why? What’s the difference either way? I’d much rather see Goldust and R-Truth in a pay per view match than Primo and Epico. I don’t know what it is about these guys, but I don’t know if an act has ever had as much channel-changing heat with me.

Bayley, Charlotte, WWE Raw, November 7, 2016Michael Cole interviews Raw‘s female team. Sasha Banks and Alicia Fox are revealed as the remaining two members. The Scotland fans serenade Bayley.  The crowd didn’t exactly make it easy on them, did they? The girls couldn’t even get their lines out. As off-putting as it may have been, it’s always great to see a crowd that enthusiastic. Especially for the women’s division. Bayley might have been the one person more over in Scotland than Noam Dar.

The Alicia Fox portion of this segment was painful. Not because of Alicia, but because of that Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie reference. They really shoehorned that line in there.

Bayley, Sasha Banks, & Alicia Fox def. Charlotte, Nia Jax, & Dana Brooke. My favorite part of this match was when Bayley and Nia were in the ring together. They have to do some kind of program between them soon.

I’m not thrilled that Charlotte took the fall on this one. After Gallows & Anderson beat the New Day, that means two champions were beaten on this show.

WWE Raw, November 7, 2016, Sami Zayn, RusevSami Zayn def. Rusev to earn an Intercontinental Title Match at Survivor Series. I breathed a sigh of relief on this one. After all the love triangle stuff last year, I’ve had my fill of Rusev/Dolph Ziggler stuff for awhile. Ziggler and Zayn should also have a hell of a pay per view match.

Rusev hasn’t had a great couple of weeks. He lost to Roman Reigns at Hell in a Cell, he got punched out by Goldberg last week, and now he loses to Sami Zayn. I’m hopeful we can get Rusev back on track as a monster soon.

Kevin Owens def. Seth Rollins, Chris Jericho, Roman Reigns, & Braun Strowman in a fatal five-way match. The right person won this one, especially on a show where the New Day and Charlotte were pinned. And he pinned Jericho, which was a nice touch.

To WWE’s credit, they’ve done an excellent job making protecting Braun Strowman since the roster split. I once cringed at the thought of him challenging the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. It’s still not a match I’m dying to see, but at least now Strowman is a commodity. Until now he’s just been large.

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Finn Balor and the Cursed Title, Plus Ponderings From WWE Summerslam Week

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Between NXT Takeover: Brooklyn IISummerslamRaw, and Smackdown, we’ve got a lot to cover. There’s too much to go match by match. But lets tackle some of the big stuff. We might jump around a bit in the process, so bear with me…

WWE Raw, August 22, 2016Finn Balor wins WWE Universal Championship at Summerslam, relinquishes title the following night due to injury. Damn. I mean, just…damn.

One night after becoming the first ever WWE Universal Champion, Finn Balor has to vacate the title due to injury. An injury suffered by Seth Rollins powerbombing him into the ringside barricade, much like the career-ending bucklebomb he gave to Sting almost a year ago.

This hurts. For a lot of reasons. Finn Balor relinquishes the Universal title less than 24 hours after he won it. It’s a title that, after being unveiled, received a collective groan and chants of “That belt sucks!” Mind you, they were already being mocked for the Universal Title name.

All this for a belt that waters things down by bringing us back to an era where there are two heavyweight champions.

Good lord…the belt is cursed! What other explanation could there be??

In all seriousness, I’m sorry Finn. Come back healthy. Be the star that we all know you are.

WWE Universal Title unveilingUniversal Title design booed by many in attendance at Summerslam. Chants of “That belt sucks!” are heard. Frankly, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Yes, it looks a little like an accessory for Eva Marie. But we just came out of an era that gave us the spinner belt and the butterfly belt. If you’d swapped either of those out with the Universal Title, I’d have jumped for joy.

Rollins also took to Twitter to gripe about how the Brooklyn crowd “really let me down” with the chants. His frustration is understandable. But those fans paid money to sit in those seats and cheer/boo/chant whatever they want. Look on the bright side. At least nobody jumped the barricade like an idiot…

Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Kevin Owens, and Big Cass advance to a fatal fourway match on next week’s Raw to crown a new Universal Champion. Without Balor, Raw will likely now revert back to Roman Reigns being the top babyface. So much for the “new era,” I guess.

Big Cass is an interesting addition to this match. It’s fairly obvious they’re eyeing him as a singles star down the road. But with due respect, he’s not even close to ready. As good as he and Enzo are together, Cass doesn’t exactly look good when you compare them. Yes, he’s a big boy. But as we’ve seen countless times, one can’t make a career on size alone.

AJ Styles, John Cena, WWE Summerslam 2016AJ Styles def. John Cena in a show-stealer at Summerslam, earns title shot against Dean Ambrose at Backlash next month. Truly, this was AJ’s week. You can make the argument that the match with Cena wasn’t much of a creative effort, as they spent much of it kicking out of finishes. But the crowd reaction spoke for itself. They lit that place on fire. And to WWE’s credit, they made the right move putting Styles over. I’m not sure what’s going on with Cena’s reduced schedule. Either way, AJ’s star has never burned brighter.

Putting Styles with Ambrose next month was really the only choice. Who else could they have gone with? Ziggler again? Not after his clean loss to Ambrose. I’m really hoping this is the start of a heel turn for him. Otherwise, his last chance to be taken seriously as a main venter has been dashed.

Charlotte def. Sasha Banks for the WWE Women’s Title. Banks to take a brief respite from the ring. There were a couple of really scary moments in this match. Sasha took that nasty fall on the ropes, and then you had that really risky crucifix powerbomb spot. It’s no wonder Sasha’s got back problems. The title change was a shock. But if Sasha needs to heal up, it’s obviously the right move.

WWE Raw, August 22, 2016, BayleyBayley makes her main roster debut on Raw after losing to Asuka at TakeoverPeople have been waiting for this for a long time. Truly, Bayley has the potential to be a one of the biggest stars in all of WWE. Bigger than most, if not all of the men. Bayley’s connection with her fans is truly special. It’s just a question of how they use her.

Shinsuke Nakamura def. Samoa Joe for NXT Championship. I don’t for a second doubt Nakamura’s talent or his star power. But I’m concerned that his English will be an obstacle once he makes it to the main roster. NXT is Triple H’s sandbox. But WWE at large is Vince McMahon’s. This is a huge week for him. But he’s got a great many trials ahead of him.

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The Bullet Club Reunites, AJ Styles Pays the Price, and Ponderings From Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Another day, another show without Roman Reigns being a heel. *sigh*

Still, Payback was largely a good show. We now have both Shane McMahon and Stephanie McMahon as our resident authority figures. That’s fair enough, I suppose. What’s more, the path to Summerslam seems pretty clear. Shane and Stephanie get fed up with each other, so Stephanie brings Triple H in to fight her brother for full control of Raw. That gives them a long time to tell this story, and it gives us a much-needed break from having Triple H on TV.

This is hardly the “new era” they’re playing it up as on TV, but lately Raw has been significantly better. We’ve got new faces, new programs, and the main events even feel more compelling. I’ve been very pleased with what I’ve been seeing on Raw lately, and this week was no exception…

Ponderings From Raw:

Kevin Owens, Cesaro, WWE Raw, May 2, 2016-Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro erupts into chaos as The Miz gets involved. Sami Zayn looks for revenge on Owens. Nice energetic opening match. But the most important element here? The emphasis on the Intercontinental Title. All four of these guys want it, and they’re all capable of having matches worthy of it. My guess is we get a fatal fourway at Extreme Rules.

Tyler Breeze def. Goldust. I’ve lost track of what’s happening in this Goldust/R-Truth story. First Goldust wanted to be Truth’s tag partner, then Truth wanted to be Goldust’s tag partner, now they’re bickering like exes. If any two guys in this segment should be a tag team, it’s Breeze and Fandango. Then they’d consistently have something to do.

The New Day, The Vaudevillains, and The Dudley Boyz share a ring before Colin Cassaday crashes things. An eight-man tag erupts between the babyfaces and the heels. First and foremost, that injury Enzo suffered at Payback was brutal. Every time I see the clip I cringe. It’s no wonder he got a concussion. On the upside, he’ll get a huge pop when he gets back.

Colin Cassaday, WWE Raw, May 2, 2016The Vaudvillains got off some good one-liners in the promo segment. “A real man would have gotten back up,” and then later we had “We made Enzo the realest guy in the emergency room.” I sometimes worry about how long Simon Gotch and Aiden English have before this gimmick degenerates into bad comedy. But they came off very cruel and callous here. That’s a very important ingredient in terms of them being taken seriously as a threat to the titles, and possibly as champions.

Big Cass did well in his first solo outing on the mic (on the main roster, that is). I can see that being really intimidating for someone who hasn’t’ been in front of a national audience that long. But he was playing off something very real, and the crowd was into him. He got a great hot tag too, and even got the pin!

Aside from Cass getting to shine on his own, the best part of this match was when Bubba got in the ring with Xavier Woods, and was actually teaching Gotch and English how to beat somebody up. I’m so anxious to see Bubba and Enzo go back and forth on the mic. They could really make some magic.

Emma vs. Becky Lynch, WWE Raw, May 2, 2016Emma def. Becky Lynch. I wish these two could have had a chance to wrestle at Payback, or at least on the pre-show. This was a really solid match. Not great, but solid. That being said, the thumb to the eye at the end was really weak looking. Emma really needs an acting coach.

Stephanie McMahon is a guest on The Ambrose Asylum, and reinstates Chris Jericho as host of The Highlight Reel. 

Rusev wins a battle royal royal to become the top contender to the US Title. Titus O’Neil returns to action. Kalisto should not have been out there on commentary. He came off nervous. He’d have been fine just sitting out there by the time keeper. No need to have him out there saying white meat babyface stuff.

Titus’ in-ring return was about what I expected it to be. Not really a big deal. They could have made a story out of it, but nope.

Rusev, Lana, WWE Raw, May 2, 2016I had Baron Corbin pegged to win this thing after losing to Dolph Ziggler at Payback. I was really surprised to see Ziggler win. But it was a pleasant surprise. Not every rookie needs to go on this big winning streak when they debut. I mean, logically they are rookies. It makes sense that they’d be bested at times by established main roster guys. But that doesn’t mean they can’t get over. I like the idea that a savvy veteran like Ziggler managed to pull out a win against the powerful rookie.

I’ll give Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio, Rusev, and Zack Ryder credit. In the final moments of that match, they had me believing that Ryder could win. They created some really nice tension. I’m pleased to see Rusev and Lana back together on television. They’re a good combo. So long as this doesn’t turn into a love triangle story with Kalisto, this should be decent at the very least.

Charlotte and Ric Flair interview referee Charles Robinson about the so-called “Chicago Screw Job.” Natalya takes out both father and daughter. Charlotte and Nattie to wrestle in a submission match at Extreme RulesIt’s interesting when and how WWE conveniently pays attention to continuity and logic. Shane McMahon is in control of Raw for weeks after Wrestlemania, and yet WWE remembers Charles Robinson’s “Little Naitch” stuff from WCW. By the way, was that Madusa in that clip from Slamboree 1999? I’d forgotten just how chiseled she was.

Natalya, Ric Flair, WWE Raw, May 2, 2016It was disappointing to see WWE once again rehash the Montreal Screwjob at Payback. But it’s worth it to have Natalya getting the spotlight like this. She and Charlotte should have a good match at Extreme Rules, though I still don’t see her taking the title.

AJ Styles, Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows def. Roman Reigns & The Usos. Early in the show, JBL said something to the effect of “the club is back together!” It feels like everybody wants so badly to say “Bullet Club,” but they just won’t let them.

I expect Anderson and Gallows to turn on Styles at Extreme Rules. It looks like they wanted to further establish the friendship between the three before pulling the trigger. Styles came off looking like a great babyface when he refused to use the chair on Roman Reigns. As for the possibility of Reigns turning heel and siding with Anderson & Gallows, I’ve given up. It’s just doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

By the way, how about AJ Styles being booked on Sports Center tomorrow? Who’d have thought we’d see the day?

Eric Young, NXT, 2016In Other News:

Eric Young debuts with NXT. I was surprised to see Young wrestling for NXT before Bobby Roode. But either way, it’s nice to see him get the opportunity. I’m not sure where exactly he fits in on the NXT roster, but Iwe’ll find out sooner than later.

I spotted a funny t-shirt from Heelbook.com the other day, which said: “NXTNA: Developmental Career Rehabilitation Center.” Ouch…

Images courtesy of WWE.

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Roman Reigns, AJ Styes, Lingering Questions, and Ponderings From WWE Raw

The Undertaker, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Fully Loaded 1998By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve been listening to Vince Russo’s podcast lately. For those who don’t know him, Russo was a writer for WWE during the “Attitude Era.” He also wrote for WCW during its final days, and TNA for much of its existence. I definitely don’t agree with everything his says, i.e. his pitch for Sami Zayn to be portrayed as a former cab driver. But he’s got a unique perspective on the industry.

Last week, he talked about the go-home Raw for WWF Fully Loaded in 1998. The main event for the pay per view was Stone Cold Steve Austin & The Undertaker against Kane & Mankind. The story was about whether Undertaker and Kane were secretly working together, and if Austin was walking into a trap. One of the things Russo mentioned was the questions that were thrown at viewers. Was The Undertaker aligned with Kane? If so, what would become of Austin? And what about Mankind? Would an alliance mean victory for Vince McMahon?

It had never occurred to me how important questions are in a big wrestling storyline. They invite the viewer in, and generate intrigue. Fittingly, we’ve got a lot of questions heading into the main event of Payback this weekend. Is AJ Styles working with Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows? If so, will they cost Roman Reigns the title? Will The Usos play a role at all?

If this is indeed a “new era” for Raw, WWE (the announcers in particular) needs to pose more questions to the audience. The Attitude Era wasn’t just about foul language and sex appeal. There were some great stories told. In the end, that’s really what we’re here for, isn’t it? They’d do well to remember that this Sunday.

Ponderings From WWE Raw:

Shane McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, WWE Raw, April 25, 2016Vince McMahon to decide who’s running Raw at PaybackHopefully this will strictly be between the McMahons, as I’m keen for Triple H to stay off TV for awhile longer. For that matter, I’m keen for Stephanie to do the same. This Authority have been doing the same thing for two and a half years. We need a break. I’m not sure how they’ll rationalize giving the show to Shane, considering he lost to The Undertaker at Wrestlemania. But as we’ve seen, ration isn’t WWE’s strong point…

AJ Styles def. Sheamus. This one went on a hair too long for me. But it did what it was designed to do. They kept AJ strong heading into his title match at Payback, and they furthered the intrigue with Anderson & Gallows. I can’t complain.

The New Day, The Vaudevillians, and Enzo & Cass share a ring. I was glad to hear Aiden English say the line about The Vaudevillians representing a better, bygone era. He said it on Smackdown as well. Like many wrestlers on the main roster, they didn’t get a great introduction on television. At least not on Raw. So we needed to know why these guys are dressed in those costumes. My money is on them winning at Payback.

That pop Enzo & Cass got was great. The luster isn’t off these guys yet, and hopefully it won’t be for quite some time.

Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, WWE Raw, April 25, 2016Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows def. The Usos. Did anybody catch that line from Michael Cole about Anderson & Gallows being “part of a club” in Japan? I guess they’re not allowed to say Bullet Club, even though that’s what everybody’s thinking. The fans were even chanting “Bullet Club!” tonight.

It had been several years since I’d seen Gallows wrestle, and I’d never seen Anderson in the ring. Gallows’ agility and his striking came off well here, as did what we saw of Anderson’s leaping ability. Not a thrilling match, per se. But again, it did what it needed to do for the larger story.

It’ll be interesting to see if and how The Usos’ role evolves here. As unlikely as it is, If Reigns does indeed turn this Sunday, we could see an interesting role reversal. Think about a six-man tag featuring Roman Reigns, Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows against AJ Styles and The Usos. I’m not enamored with six-man tags, but I’d watch it.

A Sami Zayn/Kevin Owens retrospective video airs. Zayn is attacked by Owens after a win over Rusev. I loved this. It should have been done weeks ago. This Zayn/Owens rivalry is something WWE can go back to a number of times in the years to come, because it has depth to it. And tonight we finally got to see some of that.

Rusev, Sami Zayn, WWE Raw, April 25, 2016Lana was with Rusev on Raw for the first time in quite awhile. I can only assume they wanted to avoid fans chanting for her during segments with the League of Nations. But they’re a good combo, and it’s good to see them back together. Also, does Rusev look leaner to anyone else?

Apollo Crews def. Stardust. This match had a surprisingly good backstory. That stuff about Dusty Rhodes helping Apollo out in NXT could have been great material for a larger story with Stardust. He could have been Crews’ first pay per view opponent. The announcers said Crews dedicates every match to Dusty. If you were Cody Rhodes, how would you react to that?

Chris Jericho comes out on top after Dean Ambrose calls him out. One of the great things about Dean Ambrose is that he’s not just great on the mic, he’s different on the mic.  His rhythms, his cadence, and his whole demeanor are unlike anyone else in the industry. He may not have come out on top here, but he’s a hell of a player. I maintain he deserves a shot at that top babyface spot.

Natalya def. Emma. Was the crowd chanting “We want Lana!” during this match? If so, that really sucks. These ladies didn’t have a lot of time, but what they gave us was pretty good. Emma has definitely improved from a charisma standpoint. But there’s still room for improvement. I hope we see more of her on Raw. The more time she works on this heel persona, the better she’ll get.

Chyna memorial graphic, WWEWWE airs tribute to Joanie Laurer, a.k.a. Chyna. This was classy. It doesn’t make up for WWE more or less blacklisting Chyna after she left the company. But it was a nice video. Chyna’s autobiography was called If They Only Knew. But when you see how much love and respect Laurer had from her peers, what comes to mind is, if only she knew.

Dolph Ziggler ambushes Baron Corbin before his match. Whatever Ziggler and Corbin did was secondary. Because before the ambush took place, we got a few seconds of DAMIEN SANDOW on Raw. Last year he was one of the most over guys on the roster. Now? We’re lucky if we even see him on TV. And of course, he didn’t even get to wrestle. What a damn rib.

The Miz runs down the Cesaro Section, nearly goes for the big swing. Miz’s promo started off rocky. But once he started talking about the Intercontinental Title and the so-called nerds in the Cesaro section, he really got on a role. I’m almost sorry Cesaro had to interrupt. I’m a Cesaro fan, but his end of this segment came off heavily scripted. Still, practice makes perfect, I suppose…

Roman Reigns def. Alberto Del Rio. Anderson & Gallows attack Reigns after the match. Reigns and AJ Styles trade blows. I’ve been meaning to say this for awhile: “The Phenomenal Forearm” is a dumb name for a finisher. Was that really the best they could do?

Okay, so it’s obviously not going to be Styles, Gallows, and Anderson teaming up at Payback. So if Roman isn’t turning heel, then what? Let’s ponder that, shall we? Been keeping up with NXT lately…?

Samoa Joe, NXT ChampionSamoa Joe wins the NXT Championship from Finn Balor at an NXT house show. This was a huge surprise, obviously. WWE hasn’t done something like this in years. Why do this on a house show rather than a Takeover special? No idea. Perhaps that will be revealed in time. This does open Balor up for a main roster spot, presumably to do something with his old Bullet Club buddies Anderson and Gallows. Personally, I think he’s got at least a little time left with NXT. But I expect to see him on the main roster sooner rather than later. If Reigns isn’t the third man in WWE’s version of the Bullet Club, the smart bet is on Balor.

WWE announces John Cena’s return for the Memorial Day edition of RawThis is definitely good news, especially with Bray Wyatt falling victim to the injury plague. Cena is the biggest star of his generation, and WWE is dying for some star power right now.

Image 1 from onlineworldofwrestling.com. Image 6 from whatculture.com. Remaining images courtesy of WWE.com.

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