Posted in Wrestling

WWE’s 10 Most Fascinating People of 2019: Becky Lynch, CM Punk, and More!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

So I think I’m just going to claim this “Most Fascinating People” thing as my own. Barbara Walters doesn’t do it anymore. And I’ve been doing it on WWE personalities for years now…

Speaking of which, we’ve got some repeaters this year, as we always do. One of which I never thought we’d see again. (You’ll know him when you see him.) I’m sure a lot of them are obvious choices when you think about it. But I’d say two or three of them aren’t.

So once again, let’s get fascinating!

No? Not a good catch phrase? Just trying it on…

1. CM Punk
So yeah, this is happening.

After years of bad blood between Punk and WWE, including a lawsuit filed by WWE doctor Christopher Amann (Punk won), the old adage of “Everyone comes back eventually” was once again proven true. Well, kinda…

After weeks of speculation, on November 21 Punk did indeed become a part of WWE Backstage on FS1, serving as a frequent guest analyst. However, Punk’s deal is with Fox, not WWE. Ergo, he finds himself in the unique position of being able to critique the product as he sees fit, with seemingly no repercussions from the company. He’s already managed to stir things up with Seth Rollins. There’s no telling whose feathers he may ruffle next. Which is, of course, the point of bringing him on in the first place.

Naturally, this opened the floodgates for fans to make assumptions about an in-ring return. Truth be told, there is an aura of inevitability about it. It’s all guesswork as to when it could or would happen, but a Wrestlemania seems like an obvious choice. I wouldn’t expect “clobberin’ time” to come in 2020, though.

Punk is in a position to do things on his terms. That’s not a dynamic WWE is used to in 2019. But if there’s one person who’s been able to make this company squirm in recent years, it’s CM Punk. Seeing him do it again, even if it’s only in a storyline, would make for interesting TV.

This is CM Punk’s third appearance on the list, having been on it in 2012 and 2013.

2. Dean Ambrose
Before Jon Moxley became one of AEW’s hottest acquisitions, Dean Ambrose had perhaps the most amicable departure in WWE history.

In January, WWE put out a press release announcing that the real-life Jonathan Good would not be renewing his contract when it expired in April. The release continued: “We are grateful and appreciative of all that Dean has given to WWE and our fans. We wish him well and hope that one day Dean will return to WWE.”

This was, in many ways, unprecedented. WWE barely, if ever, calls attention to one of their top guys leaving the company. But there it was, right out in the limelight. Ambrose reportedly turned down a significant offer from WWE, citing all the “hokey” material he’d been given as of late. If you go back and watch some of what he was doing at that time, it’s not hard to see what he means…

The announcers usually danced around it on Raw. But most fans knew it was happening. To the further surprise of many, Ambrose wasn’t buried or jobbed out during his remaining months with the company. Yes, he was left off the Wrestlemania card. But he was also given a proper send-off via one more Shield reunion with Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns. WWE even made a network special out of his last night, calling it The Shield’s Final Chapter.

When you get right down to it, that’s got to be why they were so nice to Ambrose on his way out. Despite being open about his frustrations with the WWE creative process (including a scathing appearance on Talk is Jericho), the Shield has become one of their most bankable commodities of the last decade. They want to keep that door wide open for Ambrose to come back someday However, as Moxley has signed a multi-year deal with AEW, don’t expect that to happen any time soon.

This is Dean Ambrose’s second appearance on the list. He appeared on it last year.

3. Shayna Baszler
This year, Shayna Baszler became one of the key components in elevating NXT to cable television, and thus the same level as Raw and Smackdown. But before that happened, she dominated the entire NXT Women’s Roster. With the exception of a brief hiccup last year, Baszler has been the most dominant NXT Women’s Champion since Asuka.

We recently heard her run down the list of names herself. But this year alone she beat back Bianca Belair, Io Shirai, Mia Yim, and Candice LeRae. But her true crowning moment came at Survivor Series, when she defeated Raw Women’s Champion Becky Lynch and Smackdown Women’s Champion Bayley in a Triple-Threat Match. And although she just recently lost her NXT Title to Rhea Ripley, Baszler has a legit claim to being the top female wrestler in all of WWE.

Furthermore, there’s no shortage of bad blood between Baszler and Lynch. While it may trace back to Lynch toppling her friend Ronda Rousey at Wrestlemania, Baszler has been adamant that she’s not Rousey. She has her own legacy to create. My guess? That legacy continues with a victory in the 2020 Women’s Royal Rumble Match, and a title match against Lynch at Wrestlemania this spring.

4. Baron Corbin
Simply the name “Baron Corbin” is enough to make some people’s skin crawl. People hate this guy. Some fans think he’s boring. Others say he can’t wrestle. While some just see him as the smug prick he’s trying to come off as.

Either way, he may very well be one of the only true heels in all of wrestling. In an era where everybody wants to be a cool heel, a la Bray Wyatt or Adam Cole, Corbin isn’t afraid to draw legit heat from a crowd. And one of the oldest rules in the book is that if you can get people to hate you, they’ll pay to see you get beat up. That’s why they had him beat Kurt Angle in his final match. That’s why they had him win the King of the Ring. That’s why he’s feuded with the likes of Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns this year. They see him as a commodity. Or at least a commodity in the making.

Granted, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Corbin in 2019. The program with Rollins didn’t exactly leave us wanting more. Quite the opposite, in fact. And older fans have balked at some of the more childish antics he’s employed against Reigns. But mark my words, folks: At this rate, Corbin will be a Heavyweight Champion down the road. Possibly even this year.

5. Rey Mysterio
It’s no coincidence that Rey has been featured much more prominently since Paul Heyman became Raw‘s executive director. He brought Rey into ECW in the mid ’90s. Years later, when Heyman was writing Smackdown, he gave Rey a key role. So this is clearly a winning combination, and it was no different in 2019.

Rey obviously wants to set up some kind of “passing the torch” moment with his son Dominic, who is currently in training at the Performance Center. Father and son would share a sentimental moment backstage, when Dominic convinced Rey not to retire after a disheartening losing streak.

But there was nothing sentimental about the beating they’d both take from Brock Lesnar. After a brief detour involving Cain Velasquez, we got the obvious match: Brock vs. Rey for the WWE Championship at Survivor Series. Like so many before him, Rey failed to defeat Lesnar. But regardless, Rey Mysterio was once again in a marquee match at a major WWE pay per view. And to his credit, he did some damn good mic work along the way. The promo where he’s looking into the camera and has the pipe in his hand was simply awesome.

6. Rhea Ripley
Ripley has created her share of headlines. She was part of the infamous Mae Young Classic match where Tegan Nox’s knee exploded, and then famously mocked her on Twitter. She would go on to become the inaugural NXT UK Women’s Champion, and ultimately stay tucked away on that show for more than half the year.

Then in August, she made a surprise return to Full Sail, confronting then-NXT Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler. It was a moment that created instant buzz and speculation about Ripley challenging, and possibly becoming the one to finally dethrone Baszler.

In November, Ripley would lead her team to victory in the first-ever women’s War Games Match, defeating a team led by Baszler. Ripley would close out the year by doing what many expected, and defeating Baszler for the NXT Women’s Title on December 18.

Over the years, a select few have not only held that title, but in essence become the face of the NXT Women’s Division. Bayley played that role, as did Asuka. And for about two years now, Baszler has been the face of the division. Now, Rhea Ripley has an opportunity to make her mark on the ever-growing legacy of the NXT Women’s Title. I’ve got a feeling she won’t disappoint.

7. Bray Wyatt
This could have gone really, really wrong. Thankfully, it all worked out. Mostly…

C’mon, this is WWE we’re talking about. They could easily have fumbled the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde persona Bray took on when he finally returned to television with his “Firefly Funhouse” segments. Wyatt would take on a Mr. Rogers-like demeanor, complete with a red sweater and puppets. But there were obvious sinister overtones, which would lead to the debut of Bray’s new alter ego, “the Fiend.” Sporting a mask designed by famed horror and special effects guru Tom Savini, the character quickly became a hit, despite still playing a heel. After years of repetitive promos, and being virtually booked into oblivion, Bray Wyatt was experiencing a full fledged career resurrection.

WWE’s first major misstep with the character came when they rushed him into a title match with then-Universal Champion Seth Rollins. A Hell in a Cell Match, no less. To make matters worse, the match inexplicably ended via ref stoppage, resulting in a massive uproar among fans. WWE attempted to correct the misstep by putting the title on the Fiend at Crown Jewel. But the match would leave a stink on both Rollins and Wyatt for weeks.

Bray continues to reign as Universal Champion, as both he and the title have been moved to Smackdown. He’s once again embroiled in a feud with Daniel Bryan, which fans seem to be into. I have a sneaking suspicion he’ll come face to face with a certain Big Dog come Wrestlemania season. But in any event, Bray Wyatt has become what so many of us knew that he, with this character, could be: A top guy. He’s the Heavyweight Champion on a show that airs weekly on Fox. Now that’s a comeback story.

8. Kofi Kingston
Kofi had a comeback story of his own in 2019. One that, ultimately, would end in disaster.

Kofi Kingston was not supposed to be challenging for the WWE Title at Wrestlemania. My guess is he and the New Day would have been involved in some sort of multi-team tag match on the undercard. But fate stepped in when Mustafa Ali was injured in February, and Kofi replaced him in the Elimination Chamber Match for the WWE Championship. The fans fell in love with him all over again as he came within an eyelash of finally winning the big one after 11 years in WWE. He became an instant underdog sensation, as “KofiMania” was born. To WWE’s credit, they altered their storyline plans, and at Wrestlemania 35 in New Jersey, Kofi would steal the show with WWE Champion Daniel Bryan. The match culminated in an emotional victory celebration in the ring.

Kofi would keep the championship longer than many anticipated, retaining it against the likes of Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Dolph Ziggler, and even his old rival Randy Orton.

Then, along came Brock Lesnar. On October 4, in the main event of Smackdown’s debut broadcast on Fox, Lesnar would squash Kingston in less than 10 seconds to win the title. He hasn’t even sniffed a Heavyweight Title since then, having returned to tag team competition.

It’s debatable whether Kingston could  have played that top guy role longer. In the end, the real injustice here is that he’s seemingly been swept under the rug. Could Kofimania rise again? Perhaps. But it doesn’t seem likely, does it?

9. Seth Rollins
This was supposed to be Seth Rollins’ year. And in a lot of ways, it was. He won the Royal Rumble, and went on to defeat Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship at Wrestlemania. Shockingly, he’d beat Lesnar a second time at Summerslam. As if that weren’t enough, he got engaged to Becky Lynch, and the two would become an item both on and off screen.

But oh, the power of social media. Of all things, it was a series of ill-conceived tweets that started to turn the fans against Rollins. Throw in a post-Wrestlemania feud with Baron Corbin that went far too long, and the finish to his Hell in a Cell Match with Bray Wyatt, and he was dead in the water as a babyface. What’s more, I don’t think the pairing with Lynch did either of them any favors. The closest thing I can think to equate it to would be when they put The Undertaker’s wife Sara with him on television. It just wasn’t a side of him that people wanted to see. Ditto for both Rollins and Lynch here.

WWE would, once again, do the right thing by changing their plans and turning Rollins heel. Now aligned with AOP, he finds himself jockeying for the top heel spot on Raw against AJ Styles, and ironically enough, WWE Champion Brock Lesnar.

The more things change, the more they stay the same…

This is Seth Rollins’ second time on the list, having made it in 2015.

6. Becky Lynch
As far as I’m concerned, Becky Lynch was the face of WWE in 2019. And there isn’t even a close second.

Lynch rode a wave of momentum into the Royal Rumble, where she would tap out to Asuka, but then win the Women’s Royal Rumble Match. After an injury forced her to miss out on her chance to wrestle Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey at Survivor Series, fans desperately wanted to see those two collide. To their credit, both ladies made it feel like there was legit bad blood between the two. It was a match worthy of the Wrestlemania main event. To the dismay of many, Charlotte Flair was added to the match, and it became a three-way for both the Raw and Smackdown Women’s Championships. Becky would pin Ronda (albeit clumsily) to win both titles, victorious in the first women’s match to headline a Wrestlemania.

In the months that followed, we learned just how much a great hero needs a great villain. With Ronda gone, and the Charlotte feud played out, Lynch was put with Lacey Evans. With respect to Lacey, the matches were about as thrilling as they sound. Thankfully, the freshly heel-turned Sasha Banks would come to Becky’s rescue. Their program would culminate in an excellent Hell in a Cell match in October.

At Survivor Series, Becky wrestled Smackdown Women’s Champion Bayley and NXT Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler in a Triple-Threat Match. During the build-up, we saw some really nice tension between Lynch and Baszler that was reminiscent of what Lynch had with Rousey. Baszler was adamant that she is not Ronda Rousey, and I suspect she’ll be in a position to prove that to Becky in the near future. But for now, Baszler is licking her wounds after losing her title to Rhea Rhipley, and Becky wants to avenge her loss to Asuka at last year’s Royal Rumble.

Becky was always extremely likable. A natural babyface. Ironically, it was when they tried to turn her heel last year that the fans truly rallied behind her. Becky got angry, and they got angry with her. From a storytelling perspective, there were a lot of comparisons to Stone Cold Steve Austin’s rise to the top. That’s not entirely unjustified. But I think the similarities are superficial at best. I think one of the reasons fans got behind Becky so much is because she showed us something most modern babyfaces don’t: Legitimate passion and fire. So many wrestlers are struggling to memorize lines, and make the schlock written for them into passable television. All Lynch really had to do was go out there and be herself.

In the end, I think that’s something almost everyone has to do if they want to get over to any large extent. You show people who you are, albeit with the volume turned up and certain things exaggerated, and either they like you or they don’t. It’s not nearly as complicated as it seems, or as WWE makes it.

That’s something to keep in mind as we head into 2020…

This is Becky Lynch’s second time on the list. She was on it last year as well.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

Posted in Wrestling

WWE’s 10 Most Fascinating People of 2018

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

What we have here is a bit of a tradition here at PI.

It started as a take-off of something Barbara Walters used to do. She’d choose and profile the 10 “most fascinating people” of the year. I’ve borrowed that concept several times over the years, and the lists can be found in our archives.

(For your convenience: 2012. 2013. 2015. 2016. 2017.)

So once again, we’re back. On this year’s list, we’ve got a UFC Hall of Famer turned WWE Champion, a heroic underdog turned monster heel, a new hot babyface taking the company by storm, among several others…

1. Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey was always going to be a marquee player for WWE. That was blatantly obvious from the get-go. And why wouldn’t she be? But realistically, Ronda could have put in half the effort she does, and made less than half the appearances, and still gotten by. She could have coasted on her name, a few suplexes, and some armbars. She could have taken many would consider to be the Brock Lesnar path.

Instead, Rousey has consistently over-delivered. Whether it was her debut match at Wrestlemania, her match with Charlotte Flair at Survivor Series, or even her title bout with Nia Jax at TLC, this has unquestionably been the best-case scenario.

Rousey has her critics, who would have you believe she doesn’t deserve the spot she has. While so much of wrestling is relative based on one’s personal taste, many of those critics need to be reminded that much of the so-called “Women’s Evolution” can be attributed to Rousey’s success in the UFC. If she doesn’t become the box office draw that she does, WWE has no reason to revamp its own women’s division. Without Rousey, women like Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and Asuka wouldn’t have the chance to headline pay per views or steal the show at Wrestlemania.

What’s more, Rousey may be about to knock down yet another door. It’s looking more and more like she’ll be part of the first women’s match to headline the show of shows…

2. Daniel Bryan
This is Bryan’s third time on the list, and it’s not hard to see why. His performances spark a ton of emotion, and fans definitely ran the emotional gambit with him this year. In March, we were thrilled to hear he was cleared to return to the ring after more than two years in a WWE-imposed retirement. The move raises a number of questions regarding other wrestlers thought to be permanently retired due to injury. Among those names is Paige, who thanked Bryan in her retirement speech, adding “…you give me hope.”

Bryan made his emotional and genuinely inspirational return to the ring at Wrestlemania. For several months, Bryan was once again one of the company’s most popular acts. Then, less than a week before Survivor Series, Bryan shocked the world by winning back the WWE Championship, turning heel on AJ Styles in the process.

Since then, Bryan has condemned fans for their consumerism, and lack of regard for the environment. In one of the year’s most talked about promos, he promised to replace the leather strap on the WWE Title belt. He’s literally gone from one of the company’s top babyfaces, to perhaps its top heel. At this rate, it’s likely he’ll once again find himself back in the WWE Title Match at Wrestlemania this year.

3. Asuka
Asuka is also returning to this list, having made it last year. The “Empress of Tomorrow” started her 2018 at the highest of highs. Since arriving on Raw in October 2017, she’d kept her fabled undefeated streak alive. She would go on to win the inaugural Women’s Royal Rumble Match, earning a title match at Wrestlemania. She would face Smackdown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair in a match that, for my money, stole the damn show.

But that’s where her luck began to change. Flair shocked the world when she ended Asuka’s undefeated streak. A strange move in hindsight, as she’d simply drop the title to Carmella. The same Carmella that would later defeat Asuka in back-to-back pay per views. Mere months beforehand, it had been unthinkable that Asuka could lose to anyone. She’d beaten the likes of Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Mickie James. But suddenly, here she was losing title matches to Carmella, and subsequently being mired in mediocrity, forming an alliance with Naomi. The two would lose to Peyton Royce and Billie Kay at Super Show-Down.

And yet, Asuka’s popularity has endured. Apparently, that’s what prompted Vince McMahon to add her to the Smackdown Women’s Title Match at TLC. Now, Asuka can add Smackdown Women’s Champion, and winner of the first Women’s TLC Match to her resume. It’s like the last 10 months never even happened…

So at last, Asuka has made it to the top. It didn’t happen the way any of us thought it would. But she is there. Now it’s just a question of whether she can stay at the top, or she’ll be lost in the shuffle again. One way or another, we’ll get our answer in 2019.

4. Shawn Michaels
It’s tough to remember HBK coming out of retirement, isn’t it? As big a deal as it is, it was drowned out by all the controversy surrounding WWE Crown Jewel. Not to mention the announcement that Roman Reigns would be stepping away to fight leukemia.

But indeed, Degeneration X reunited in Saudi Arabia to face the Brothers of Destruction. While many cried that Triple H, the Undertaker, and Kane showed their age out there, even after eight years away Shawn still managed to look pretty damn good. And while Shawn himself indicated he’d be going right back into retirement, there’s been plenty of speculation about “Mr. Wrestlemania” making yet another appearance at the show of shows. Another Undertaker match seems like the obvious route. But Shawn has no shortage of other options. I myself floated six of them.

In hindsight, I still wish Shawn hadn’t done this match. I really wanted him to be the one guy that stayed true to his word. But what’s done is done.

5. Tegan Nox
This one hurt. Like, it really hurt. You just wanted to reach through the screen and comfort this poor woman. She’d already been through hell, and now she was going to have to do it all over again.

Tegan Nox, whose real name is Steffanie Newell, was supposed to be in the first Mae Young Classic. But a torn ACL kept her out of the ring. For this year’s tournament, they were telling that story with her. In fact, she was one of the favorites to win the whole thing.

Then, mere seconds into her second-round match against Rhea Ripley, her other knee goes out. We later learned she’d torn that ACL as well. It was a legitimately heartbreaking moment for not only Newell, but everyone watching.

The only upside in all of this? We seem to be on the road to yet another redemption story for this character. In the aftermath of all this, Rhea Ripley, who has gone on to become the NXT UK Women’s Champion, started a war of words with Nox on Twitter. So assuming Nox will indeed be back in the ring, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see her wearing that title in 2019.

So get well soon, Miss Newell. Great things are waiting for you.

6. Johnny Gargano
As cliche as it is, I’ve got to go with the classic Harvey Dent quote from The Dark Knight on this one: “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Former tag team partners Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa have put on some of the best matches in all of wrestling this year. But the feud has transformed Gargano, arguably one of the last old school babyfaces in the business, into a man consumed with destroying Ciampa. So when Ciampa wrestled Aleister Black for the NXT Championship in July, Gargano attempted to interfere and cost him the match. It ended up backfiring, as Gargano hit Black with the belt, and essentially handed the title to Ciampa.

A Triple-Threat Match was made for the championship at NXT Takeover Brooklyn IV, but a mysterious attack took Black out of the match. Gargano failed to win the title, at it was later revealed the he was the one who attacked the former champion. Naturally, a feud ignited between the two, culminating in a steel cage match this past week on NXT, which Ciampa would help Gargano win. This has lead to rampant speculation that this blood feud between Gargano and Ciampa has ultimately led them to team up all over again.

This slow journey of Johnny Gargano’s, from victim, to heroic avenger, to fallen hero consumed by revenge, to villain, is a textbook example of pro wrestling done right. Deep, emotional stories, told through amazing in-ring action.

7. Dean Ambrose
Ambrose was absent for much of 2018, healing from a torn triceps. But when he returned in August, he was once again part of the Shield. But seeds of dissension were quickly planted by rivals Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler. We all sensed a turn was coming. But there was no way we could have predicted what actually happened…

Mere hours after Roman Reigns announced he was stepping away from the ring to fight leukemia, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins successfully challenged McIntyre and Ziggler for the Raw Tag Team Titles. With emotions still running high after the Reigns announcement, Ambrose shocked Rollins with a DDT, and then a brutal beatdown. While many would cry foul over the timing, for my money it was ultimately one of the best things WWE did all year. It did what pro wrestling is supposed to do: It sucked us in. Got us invested in the characters and their stories. It sparked raw emotion in the audience.

However, WWE’s handling of Ambrose since the turn has been hit-or-miss. While I actually like the new Bane-inspired gas mask look, Vince McMahon’s influence on some of his promos has been quite evident. He’s talked about how the fans smell, how they’re all lazy and unmotivated, etc. Very little with any emotional weight to it.

Still, Ambrose is an awesome performer. Given the right material and the right opportunities, he’s as capable of delivering the goods as anyone. And they have a potentially hot storyline practically gift-wrapped for them, as Ambrose’s real-life wife Renee Young is sitting there on commentary every week. She might just be the ticket to him becoming the vile, despicable heel we all know he can be.

8. Drew McIntyre
Daniel Bryan may have had the comeback of the year, but Drew McIntyre had an epic comeback story of his own. McIntyre reinvented himself after being released by WWE in 2014. He found success in Impact Wrestling, Evolve, and PWG. When he returned to WWE via NXT in 2017, he was almost unrecognizable.

When McIntyre finally returned to the main roster this past April, he formed an unlikely alliance on Raw with Dolph Ziggler. The pair would ultimately up each other’s game, and be a dominant force on the show for most of the year. McIntyre would prove to be one of the show’s most consistent performers, both in the ring and on the mic.

Now a solo act again, the “Scottish Psychopath” will almost certainly challenge for the Universal Championship in 2019. McIntyre’s near five-year journey from the bottom of the wrestling may culminate with him standing at the very top. Frankly, it would be foolish to bet against him at this point.

9. Shinsuke Nakamura
Nakamura is back on this list this year, but unfortunately it’s for the wrong reasons. He and Asuka were very much on parallel journeys this year. They each won their respective Royal Rumble Matches, but failed to win gold at Wrestlemania. While Asuka failed to win the Smackdown Women’s Title from Carmella on two different occasions, Nakamura was unable to take the WWE Title from AJ Styles several times before finally dropping out of contention. He found a little bit of new life as a heel, and won the US Title from Jeff Hardy as a consolation prize. But his run has been fairly unremarkable, highlighted by a losing effort against Seth Rollins at Survivor Series. And while I won’t spoil this week’s Smackdown, the odds of Nakamura walking into 2019 with the belt are slim to none…

It would be easy to blame Nakamura’s failure as a main-eventer on WWE creative. The guy didn’t book himself to lose, after all. WWE also didn’t seem to know how to convey his unique persona, other than simply calling him “the Artist.” Losing multiple title matches to Jinder Mahal in 2017 didn’t help either.

But at the end of the day, Nakamura simply didn’t connect with mainstream American audiences well enough to justify the push he got. Yes, he’s a bona fide legend in Japan. Yes, he did very well in NXT. But on Raw and Smackdown you’re catering to the casuals and the average joes. And while we saw flashes of Nakamura’s greatness, over the long haul we never really got a good reason to invest in him emotionally, be it as a heel or a babyface. You can’t chalk all of that up to creative. Much of it, in fact, a majority of it, is about what happens in when the cameras are rolling.

Supposedly, Nakamura’s contract is up next month. If I’m in his shoes, I’m headed back to Japan. Because I’m at something of a loss as to how you build him back up at this point.

10. Becky Lynch
Up until recently, Becky Lynch was “always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” While her talent, charisma, and likability have been apparent almost from the start, WWE always seemed reluctant to fully get behind her. She was the only one of the “Four Horsewomen” of NXT to never win the NXT Women’s Title. While she did indeed become the inaugural Smackdown Women’s Champion, she only held the belt for two months. She more or less became a second-tier babyface afterward. This, despite fans clamoring to see her in a more prominent role.

We got our wish. Now, Becky Lynch may very well be the most popular wrestler in all of WWE.

Many of us, myself included, balked when Becky turned heel at Summerslam. But in hindsight, it gave her the creative freedom to become the defiant badass she is now. She’s often compared to Stone Cold Steve Austin, and that’s not entirely unjustified. Fans feel she’s been overlooked, and now they’re rooting for her to conquer the system that’s held her back for so long. Even when she was injured by Nia Jax and pulled out of a match against Ronda Rousey at Survivor Series, the fans stood behind her, every bit as outraged as she was. Now, she may be in a position to make history by headlining Wrestlemania with Rousey.

For more than a decade now, we’ve been in the era of forced babyfaces. Wrestlers we’re told we should cheer for, rather than heroes who earn those cheers organically. John Cena and Roman Reigns are both extremely talented, and great at what they do. But for most of their careers they’ve been going against the grain in terms of fan reception.

Becky Lynch is the exact opposite. No one told us to cheer for her. If anything, it’s been the exact opposite. But like Daniel Bryan before her, she’s started an uprising from the audience. And such uprisings should never be ignored, lest the main event of Wrestlemania be drowned out by chants of “Becky! Becky! Becky!”

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

Posted in Wrestling

WWE Evolution Predictions – Is This Show Going to Suck?

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

It’s a little hard to dissect a wrestling pay per view after what Roman Reigns told the world this week about his battle with leukemia.

It’s no secret that Roman Reigns’ TV personality is one of the most polarizing in the business. But if you’re able to look at him with any sort of objectivity, his heart, talent, and natural athleticism are more than evident. Cancer of any kind is a horrific, often unspeakable battle. But if Roman is anything like the person he portrays on TV, this illness is in for a hell of a fight.

Get well soon, Roman.

And now, for the most awkward transition of all time…

This Evolution pay per view has been somewhat controversial from the get-go. But it really shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be about the company supposedly doing this in response to negative backlash over the women not being able to perform on the Saudi pay per views. Or how much they’ve patted themselves on the back for being progressive. Or the weird booking choices. (We’ll get there…)

The current crop of female performers on the WWE roster have earned this. They deserve this time to shine. So as I make some of the critiques you’re about to read, let it be known that I haven’t lost sight of what a milestone this is. I’m damn proud to see women’s wrestling where it is today, as opposed to where it was when I started watching in the ’90s. Hell, where it was less than a decade ago. That can be attributed to many of the women you’ll see on this show.

Conspicuous by its absence will be the finals of the 2018 Mae Young Classic. I’m not caught up with the tournament, and I’m not informed enough to give a prediction. But I have absolutely no issue with that match being on the show. It’s a hell of a showcase for the talents involved.

These next two matches, however? I’ve got problems.

Natalya, Sasha Banks & Bayley vs. The Riott Squad

I haven’t been a Sasha Banks fan lately. Not because I don’t like her work, but because she often comes off like a brat in interviews. She grates on me. It’s gotten to the point that some weeks, I’ll even fast-forward through her matches.

But I’m not blind to what Sasha has done for women’s wrestling. Her matches with Bayley in particular, will stand the test of time. As for Natalya, year after year she was a wrestler among “divas.” For their roles in the advancement of women’s wrestling, these three deserve better than to be thrown into what’s essentially a glorified Raw match.

So let’s go ahead and give it to the Riott Squad. I mean, why not? What difference does it make at this point?

PREDICTION: The Riott Squad

BATTLE ROYAL FOR FUTURE TITLE MATCH:

Perhaps Nattie, Sasha, and Bayley can take some solace in the fact that they aren’t the only ones that got screwed.

We knew there was probably going to be a battle royal on this show. But to throw Asuka in there speaks volumes about just how far WWE have let her fall. Had this show taken place a year ago, Asuka could have headlined it. Now she’s being relegated to what’s essentially a filler match.

But it goes beyond Asuka. It also applies to women like Naomi. Nia Jax. Carmella. Ember Moon. Some of these ladies don’t have the natural wrestling talent of a Charlotte Flair or a Becky Lynch. Nor have some been featured as prominently during the so-called “women’s evolution.” But their contributions damn sure merit more than to simply be thrown together like this.

On the plus side, at least they get to share a ring with some of the women who paved they way for them. Madusa. Ivory. Molly Holly. It’ll be nice to see them again.

As for who wins, I’d love to say Asuka. But that seems a little too obvious. Given who we know is in this match, I’m going to predict Ember Moon. Let’s give her a brighter spotlight. At least for the time being.

PREDICTION: Ember Moon

NXT WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Kairi Sane (c) vs. Shayna Baszler

Given the role the NXT Women’s Title played in the careers of women like Paige, Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Asuka, among others, I can’t find it in my heart to complain about it being on this show. Ditto for Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler. You could call either of them up to the main roster and they’d be perfectly fine.

In fact, that’s what I’m betting on as it relates to Baszler. This is going to be the first time she and Ronda Rousey have wrestled on the same show. As two of the “Four Horsewomen of MMA,” they share a unique connection. I’m hoping we get some kind of backstage meeting or confrontation between the two that plants a seed for a future match.

I’d be fine with this one going either way. But the more I think about it, the more I want to go with Baszler. If they want to start setting her up for Ronda, there’s no better time than now.

PREDICTION: Shayna Baszler

Trish Stratus & Lita vs. Alexa Bliss & Mickie James

I’m going into this assuming that Alexa will be able to wrestle, despite the reports that she’s out with a concussion. Supposedly, Alicia Fox is on deck to replace her.

I wouldn’t expect a mat classic out of these four. But hopefully this turns out to be fun. The crowd reacted really nicely to Trish and Mickie in the ring at the Royal Rumble. Hopefully they’ll do the same here. But for crying out loud, just be careful on that moonsault, Lita…

Part of me wants to give the nod to Alexa and Mickie, just because they’re on Raw every week. But they’ll likely give the win to Trish and Lita and give us a feel-good moment.

PREDICTION: Trish Stratus and Lita

LAST WOMAN STANDING MATCH:
Becky Lynch (c) vs. Charlotte Flair

Ronda and Nikki will almost surely headline the show. But for my money, this is the real main event.

So with 20/20 hindsight, was it the right move to turn Becky heel? Probably not. But they’ve nevertheless created some great bad blood between these two, and allowed Becky to do some of the best mic work of her career. Everybody involved has really made the best of what started as a bad situation.

Who know who the real victim in all of this was? Charlotte. I don’t know how long people have been calling her “the female Roman Reigns” in terms of her booking, but this was the first time I really noticed it. Had she not dropped the title to Becky, things might have gotten really bad in terms of her crowd reactions. Like, really bad.

Come to think of it, it might still get bad. Because I see Charlotte taking the belt home here. As she’s the other person they want to make into a big marquee female star (more than she already is, at least), they’ll want to give her a big win on a historic show like this. That doesn’t mean Becky can’t win it back. But Evolution will be Charlotte’s night.

PREDICTION: Charlotte Flair

WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Ronda Rousey (c) vs. Nikki Bella

Yeah, this is happening. WWE’s first all-female pay per view is being headlined by Nikki Bella.

While you’ll never convince me that Nikki deserves this particular spot on this particular show, I’ll admit that they turned this into a money program fairly quick. Ronda’s “do nothing Bellas” promo took this whole thing to another level. And I’ll give Nikki and Brie credit for playing into it very well.

But from a match standpoint? I’m not sure what to expect from this one. Nikki has been able to deliver in the past. But how she’ll match up with Ronda remains to be seen. I don’t exactly have high hopes. But Ronda has been overachieving from the start. So they might just surprise us.

Either way, Ronda keeps the title here. Like Charlotte, they’ll want her to have a big win. And frankly, she deserves it after the year she’s had.

PREDICTION: Ronda Rousey

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com!

Posted in Wrestling

Shawn Michaels’ Return: 6 Dream Matches for HBK

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

*sigh* He’s doing it. He’s actually doing it.

Shawn Michaels, who has stayed in retirement for more than eight years since losing to the Undertaker at Wrestlemania XXVI, is getting back in the ring. And of all things, it’s for a tag match with Triple H against Undertaker and Kane in Saudi Arabia. If it wasn’t official before, it damn sure is now. Retirement matches are a joke.

Alright. I’m done. That’s all I’m going to say about the tarnishing of one of the great stories in Wrestlemania history. I’m going to try and look at the silver lining here. This announcement obviously opens the door for more Shawn Michaels matches.

Am I being presumptuous? Possibly. I don’t think we’ll be seeing Shawn on a week-to-week basis. Or even month-to-month basis. Nor should we. But if things go well at Crown Jewel, I think there’s a damn good possibility HBK starts working an Undertaker-like schedule. We’ll see him a few times a year for big shows, most notably Wrestlemania. And if Shawn still has even half the gifts he had when we last saw him wrestle, there’s no shortage of potential new age mat classics he can help create.

I’ve listed six potential HBK opponents below. Some of them are obvious. Some of them might not be. Let the speculation begin!

1. AJ Styles
It doesn’t get more obvious than this, does it?

Both these men are considered to be among the best, if not the best, of their generations. People have been comparing Styles to HBK since his TNA days. Naturally, that talk has only accelerated since he started his WWE run. The run he’s having with the WWE Championship right now isn’t unlike the one Shawn had in 1996. There was even some online buzz about Shawn coming out of retirement last year to wrestle AJ at the Royal Rumble.

Clearly, if you want to talk about dream matches for HBK, this one is as big as almost any other. The problem is that expectations will be sky high. We saw how that worked for AJ and Shinsuke Nakamura at Wrestlemania. Could the same fate befall Styles and Michaels? There’s only one way to find out, I suppose…

2. Daniel Bryan
The battle of the comeback stories. It’s tough to believe these two came back in the same year. What are the odds?

This is another pretty obvious one. Not just because Shawn had a hand in training Bryan, but because fans remember Bryan putting Shawn in the Yes Lock a few years ago (shown above). That’s certainly something they can reference, though they don’t need to. (Let’s be honest, they won’t.)

It would be interesting to see how Bryan’s style would match up with Shawn’s, as they were both often the babyfaces fighting from underneath. What happens when you put two of those guys in the ring together? Hopefully, something damn good.

3. Dolph Ziggler
Let’s make one thing clear: Dolph has never needed to imitate Shawn Michaels. He’s got the kind of natural athleticism and charisma that most wrestlers would fall off Hell in a Cell to have. And yet, Ziggler has clearly made an effort to pay homage to HBK in various ways. His use of the super kick is an obvious example. But at different points he’s worn ring gear that’s obviously based off what Shawn worn in the ’90s.

There’s an interesting story to be told here about all the modern wrestlers that clearly want to be “the next Shawn Michaels.” Shawn has talked about how he never set out to be the “next” anyone. But he’s clearly one of the most imitated wrestlers of the last 15 to 20 years. That’s a good jumping off point for a story about how Ziggler, despite imitating Shawn, has never quite reached the same heights he did. They don’t just have to repeat the Chris Jericho story from Wrestlemania XIX. They can come at it from another angle. Perhaps an even better one.

4. Seth Rollins
Rollins is another guy that falls into that “next Shawn Michaels” category. At face value, there’s not much of a story to tell here outside of the standard “generations collide” tale. But Shawn Michaels vs. Seth Rollins is a match that could address a pretty big elephant in the room: Why the newer, younger stars aren’t as over as the ’90s guys.

Mind you, they don’t have to phrase it that way. But there’s all this talk about “the era” that these guys are from. They’re talking about the Attitude Era, of course. So let’s dive into that. Have Shawn go on television and talk about how Seth can’t ever be like him, because Shawn was able to do things on TV that he could never do. In return, Seth can talk about how the current crop of guys are better conditioned, more athletic, and can do things the Attitude Era guys couldn’t.

The catch? Seth has to win. Regardless of how you feel about the Attitude Era vs. the current product, you just can’t bury the current crop of guys by having their representative lose in a story like that.

5. Roman Reigns
Yeah, I know. We’ve already had to watch Roman Reigns beat Triple H and the Undertaker in Wrestlemania main events. Now he has to beat Shawn too?

Not necessarily. But Roman has as much claim to a match with Shawn Michaels as anyone. He’s the top guy. Shawn used to be the top guy. That’s all the premise you need, really. And don’t think emotions wouldn’t be running high for this one. It would be every bit as volatile as when Reigns was out there with the Undertaker. For the most part, he wouldn’t be able to buy cheers.

Let’s not sell Roman’s in-ring abilities short either. He’s proven he can go out and have that epic, awesome match when the they need him to. Who the hell are we to say he couldn’t do it with, of all people, Shawn Michaels?

6. Tommaso Ciampa
Sam Roberts has pitched this match several times on his podcast. I like it a lot. From a story perspective, this could wind up being the best match out of all these.

What do you notice about the other names on this list? Most of them are babyfaces. AJ Styles. Daniel Bryan. Seth Rollins. Roman Reigns (in theory, at least). While they could all be fantastic in the ring with Shawn, there’s nothing quite like a classic good vs. evil program. And if Tommaso Ciampa has proven anything in the last year, it’s that heroes and villains still have a place in wrestling.

These days, Shawn coaches young talent at the Performance Center in Orlando. So I can only assume he’s more than familiar with the NXT roster. Imagine Shawn Michaels coming out during an NXT show, perhaps to help an injured talent, only to come face to face with Ciampa, and in the process become his next target. Like Johnny Gargano, HBK would make the perfect babyface to feud with the black-hearted Ciampa.

Is there a place for Shawn Michaels in an NXT ring? If, and only if, the story is right, my answer is an emphatic yes.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com!

Posted in Wrestling

WWE’s All-Women Event: Let’s Book the Show!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Rumor has it WWE is planning an event this fall that will be strictly for female talent. A sort of make-good for the ladies being left off the Greatest Royal Rumble show in Saudi Arabia.

I’m inclined to believe it will happen, and that they’ll  make a pay per view out of it. Why not? WWE wants to be seen as progressive. We’ve had the women main event TV shows and pay per views. They’ve had a Royal Rumble Match, an Elimination Chamber Match, Money in the Bank Ladder Matches, etc. This seems to be the next logical step.

But who or what do you put on an all-female pay per view? Supposedly, this would be like the Women’s Royal Rumble Match in that it would include names from the past. Though in truth, I’m not sure they need to do that too extensively. If they focus on telling good stories, they’ve got more than enough ladies to put on a good show. Maybe even a great one.

My usual speculation is going to look a little bit different this time. Whereas with predictions I start from the bottom of the card and work up, with this one I’ll be starting with the main event and working down. I’m also jumping to conclusions about who the champions will be once we get to this show. But with or without championships, the matches should work just fine.

And if WWE is going to promote an all-female pay per view, you know who they’ll have pegged for a main event position…

WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Ronda Rousey (c) vs. Natalya

The seeds for this one have obviously been planted for awhile now. It’s just a question of how long they want to wait.

I wouldn’t try and make a big Wrestlemania match out of Ronda and Nattie. But for something like this it would work just fine. There’s also a great story there if Ronda is the champion. Natalya comes from a wrestling family, and has seen the hardships it can wreak. Her husband suffered a career-ending injury in the ring. She herself spent years working her way to the top of WWE. And yet, here Ronda is with one of the top titles in the industry after less than a year.

Here’s a sad truth: Natalie Neidhart-Wilson’s contributions to the “Women’s Evolution” are largely overlooked. But in many ways she was ahead of her time. Before we had Sasha Banks, Bayley, Becky Lynch, or even someone like Paige, we had Natalya working a more sophisticated, technically sound style. The first Charlotte Flair match that really got people buzzing was with Nattie at the inaugural NXT Takeover show.

Here’s where I’m going with this: Nattie deserves to main event a show like this. Future generations will look back on her the way we now look back at names like Molly Holly.

LADDER MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE:
Asuka (c) vs. Charlotte Flair

If the die-hards aren’t hooked by Ronda vs. Nattie, this should do the trick.

I’ve touched on this a little bit already, but WWE needs to work on rebuilding Asuka a bit. She lost her undefeated streak at Wrestlemania, then she lost to Carmella at Money in the Bank, failing to win the Smackdown Women’s Championship on both occasions. It was once unthinkable that someone could beat Asuka. Now she’s dangerously close to becoming just another woman on the roster.

As such, Asuka needs to beat Carmella at Extreme Rules. Then she needs to retain over Charlotte Flair at Summerslam, with this being the rubber match. The ladder is some nice icing on the cake. Though I’ll admit, I’m nervous about Charlotte potentially doing one of her moonsaults off the damn thing.

Mickie James vs. Trish Stratus

One of the highlights of this year’s Women’s Royal Rumble was Mickie James and Trish Stratus being in the ring together for the first time in over a decade. The fans popped big. It was the first time Mickie hast generated that kind of buzz since she’s been back.

So if the people want to see it again, let’s give it to them!

As you’ll see, I’m reticent about giving alumni prominent spots on this show. Because, and I’m sorry to say this, most of them weren’t that good at the Rumble. But there were exceptions. (Michelle McCool, Beth Phoenix, Molly Holly hitting the Molly-Go-Round.) Trish was one of them. I wouldn’t ask her to go 30 minutes with Charlotte or Sasha. But a veteran like Mickie can carry a match with her as a special attraction.

2/3 FALLS MATCH:
Sasha Banks vs. Bayley

By the time we get here, I assume Sasha and Bayley will have had a couple of pay per view matches already. So this is my attempt at letting these two blow off this program once and for all by putting on a clinic. I don’t know if can top their famous NXT Takeover: Brooklyn match.  But they can certainly try. The winner of this match would theoretically be in line for a Raw Women’s Title Match. That’s a natural doorway to Ronda vs. Sasha, if you ask me.

#1 CONTENDER MATCH:
Becky Lynch vs. Naomi vs. Carmella

Admittedly, this is a throw-together match. I had originally put Becky with Charlotte, but figured Charlotte vs. Asuka would be the bigger match. I do think Charlotte vs. Becky would be money, though. It’s well documented that those two are good friends.

On the upside, I would have Becky win this one. While WWE loves their multi-person matches, I’d keep it at three here. No need to muddy the waters. If they want to put more Smackdown ladies out there for this one, they can put somebody on commentary. Peyton Royce and Billie Kay come to mind. But they could have Lana do it as well.

Lita & Ember Moon vs. Alexa Bliss & Victoria

A little more nostalgia in this one. I like Lita being with a spiritual successor in Ember Moon. As for Victoria, she was conspicuous by her absence at the Royal Rumble, and deserves a spotlight like this. She’s also a great heel. So she makes sense for this spot.

Inevitably, Lita has to do a moonsault in this match. But for crying out loud, lady, please be careful. That one at the Rumble scared me…

STIPULATION HANDICAP MATCH:
Nia Jax vs. The Riott Squad
If Nia loses, her head is shaved.
If the Riott Squad loses, Ruby’s head is shaved.

We see Handicap Matches on Raw all the time. But I like the idea of the larger Nia Jax against the three Riott Squad members. The hair stipulation makes for some nice garnish. Plus, I bet Ruby looks good bald!

The caveat here is that Ruby might be injured and unable to wrestle. If that’s the case, depending on how much she’s healed at this point, I say you keep her on TV as much as possible. Have her mentor Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan in backstage segments.

On the subject of backstage segments, it would be cute if after the match, Molly Holly came up to a freshly bald Ruby Riott and said something like, “Don’t worry kid, it’ll grow back.”

NXT WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Kairi Sane (c) vs. Shayna Baszler

Without spoiling anything, unless something unexpected happens, this match will very happen again in the very near future. I see Kairi Sane winning her first NXT Women’s Championship in that encounter. This would be Baszler’s rematch for the belt.

Normally I’d be reticent to put NXT matches on a main roster card. But given what NXT has done for women’s wrestling in the last few years, to not include this championship on a show like this almost seems improper.

Shayna Baszler and Kairi Sane also wrestled in the inaugural Mae Young Classic. So they can tell that story, and connect it to this year’s tournament. I assume it will be over by the time we get here. But if it isn’t, having the finals on this show would be tremendous.

James Ellsworth Open Challenge

“Aw c’mon! Ellsworth has no place wrestling on an all-female pay per view! It was bad enough when he helped Carmella win the first Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match! It’s disgusting! It’s a disgrace!”

Shut up. It’s pro wrestling, not the Olympics.

Part of Ellsworth’s character is that he wrestles women. And he loses. Every single time. So obviously he loses here too. They went to the trouble of bringing him back. So let’s use him! Have him go out there and throw out an open challenge to any woman in all of WWE.

There are a couple directions they can go in here. One is to bring an alumni out. Beth Phoenix would be a great choice for this spot. She’d hit a clothesline, a press slam, a Glam Slam, and then be done.

On the other hand, they could put Lana in there. She’s billed at 5’7, while Ellsworth is about 5’8. Weight wise, they can’t be too far from each other. So you can have that moment of tension, in which it actually looks like Ellsworth can beat Lana up. Then you maybe have her do a high-kick and knock him out. Either way, same kind of match.

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

Posted in Wrestling

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.

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

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Posted in Wrestling

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

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

Posted in Wrestling

The Roman Reigns Era Begins, and Other Ponderings From Wrestlemania Week

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Now that we’re back from our little angry time out, we’ve got a lot to cover. So let’s not waste any time…

Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, Charlotte, Wrestlemania XXXIIPonderings From Wrestlemania Week:

Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch steal the show at Wrestlemania. Charlotte begins a program with Natalya on RawA Women’s Title Match stole the show at Wrestlemania. A Wrestlemania that featured a Hell in a Cell Match, a multi-man ladder match, Brock Lesnar, and AJ Styles, was topped by a Women’s Title Match. How amazing is that?

Mind you, this is subjective. But in terms of suspense and engagement, this match beat everything else at Wrestlemania. I couldn’t be more proud of Charlotte, Sasha, and Becky. Today’s WWE announcers aren’t very credible. But what JBL is saying about this being a great era for women’s wrestling is definitely valid. What’s more, Natalya is being added to the mix. I’m absolutely thrilled.

And let us continue to rejoice that the Women’s Title is back, and the Divas Title is dead. That butterfly belt was one of the gaudiest looking titles I’ve ever seen. Thank God we never have to see Sasha, Becky, Bayley, or Asuka wear that awful thing. Seeing Lita unveil that new belt on the Wrestlemania pre-show was a really cool moment. Having her their was very fitting.

Wrestlemania XXXII, Triple H, Roman ReignsRoman Reigns received with thunderous boos as he wins the WWE Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania, and appears on RawI’m not sure what else can be said at this point about Reigns’ popularity, or lack thereof, with the fans. He and Triple H got booed mercilessly at Wrestlemania, and he was booed mercilessly on Raw. Our top babyface, ladies and gentlemen.

I adored that sign somebody had at Raw, in response to WWE allegedly turning down the microphones at Wrestlemania to hide the boos: “Don’t mute our voices! We pay 4 this!”

Given who earned the right to challenge for the title on Raw (more on that later), it’s been rumored we may get a Roman Reigns heel turn at Payback next month. I’ll believe that when I see it…

AJ Styles wins the right to challenge Roman Reigns for the WWE Championship by defeating Chris Jericho, Kevin Owens, and the returning Cesaro. First and foremost, AJ Styles and Chris Jericho were awesome at Wrestlemania. Not quite as good as the Women’s Title Match in my view. But still great. Styles’ loss caught a lot of fans by surprise, but obviously he made up for it here.

AJ Styles, Chris Jericho, WWE Raw, April 4, 2016Cesaro has to make up for lost time, but he looks like he hasn’t lost a step. I’m curious if that suit is now a part of his entrance. That Jason Statham look definitely suits him.

While it remains to be seen when Styles will challenge for the title. But the theory is because this is a babyface vs. babyface match, Reigns could turn heel and enlist the help of the Bullet Club, a.k.a. Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows. Again, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Kevin Owens attacks Sami Zayn, keeping him out of fatal fourway main event. Now that there’s no Intercontinental Title at stake, it’s now WWE’s responsibility to tell us why these two men don’t like each other.

The Undertaker def. Shane McMahon at Wrestlemania, in a Hell in a Cell Match that saw Shane jump from the top of the cage. I take no joy in saying this, but this match was a snooze fest. From an execution standpoint, it had a lot working against it, not the least of which was that Shane hadn’t wrestled in so long. Plus, you had two big babyfaces in there, which seemed to leave the crowd unclear on who to cheer for. People definitely loved Shane. But who wants to root against The Undertaker?

The Undertaker, Shane McMahon, Wrestlemania XXXIIThen you have that dive Shane took off the cell. I love Shane for being willing to take that risk. But in truth, this match didn’t deserve a huge bump like that. It was almost a waste.

I’m not convinced we’ve seen the last of Shane. In a company that desperately needs marquee talent, Shane is truly over, and truly beloved. There’s as much a place for him there as there’s ever been.

The Rock and John Cena beat down The Wyatt Family at Wrestlemania. The Rock pins Erick Rowan in a six second match. This stuff with The Rock needlessly ate up so much time. I’m not sure why they felt the need to have Rock pin Rowan in all of six seconds, when they could gone right to the beat-down we all knew was coming anyway. Still, it was cool to see Rock spar with Bray on the mic a bit. And yes, it was nice to see John Cena. Given some of the reactions Roman Reigns has been getting, Cena’s reactions look like Hogan’s in the ’80s.

Zack Ryder wins Intercontinental Championship at Wrestlemania, loses title to The Miz (with his wife Maryse) on RawTo say the least, Ryder’s Wrestlemania win was a shock. But he deserved it. The poor guy has been messed around with by WWE so much over the years, and we know how much WWE loves a good underdog story.

Zack Ryder, Wrestlemania XXXIIThat being said, it wasn’t surprising to see them take the belt off him the very next night. Ryder was only put in that match as a replacement for the injured Neville. He hadn’t even been on Raw regularly. I’m a Zack Ryder fan. I even bought on of his Broski t-shirts when he was hot a few years ago. But the writing was on the wall.

I’m intrigued by Maryse’s return alongside her real-life husband, The Miz. He’s called himself a chick magnet in the past. But actually seeing him with someone as gorgeous as Maryse is bound to draw some heat. I’m down for that.

The League of Nations def. The New Day at Wrestlemania, but after failing to win the tag titles on Raw, Wade Barrett is ousted from the group. The remaining members are then attacked by The Wyatt Family. As it’s been all but confirmed that Barrett is leaving the company when his contract expires in June, this may have been his last appearance on Raw. It’s truly sad that he was never truly able to live up to the potential he had when he made the main roster in 2010. Yes, he was injury prone. But it wasn’t strictly his fault. He was also the victim of some bad booking decisions in 2010, most notably The Nexus’ loss at Summerslam that year. Still, he had a run with the biggest wrestling company in the world, and was able to main event some pay per views with John Cena. That’s something nobody can take away from him.

The Wyatt Family, WWE Raw, April 4, 2016I can only assume this attack by The Wyatt Family means they’re finally turning babyface. Bray is ready, and has been ready for quite some time. However, one thing that was painfully apparent at both Wrestlemania and Raw was how sorely the group misses Luke Harper. Neither Erick Rowan or Braun Strowman have that much credibility on their own, especially after Rowan lost to The Rock in six seconds at Wrestlemania. It’ll be interesting how the dynamic of this group shifts if this is a turn.

Baron Corbin loses to Austin Aries at NXT Takeover: Dallas, wins the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at Wrestlemania, beats down Dolph Ziggler on Raw. Definitely a big week for Baron Corbin. His victory at Wrestlemania was a welcome surprise. From a match perspective, I can’t say I was enamored with what I saw from him. He also looked like he had some butterflies during his promo on Raw. I can’t say I blame him. But he’ll be in good hands going forward, as it looks like he’ll be spending time with Dolph Ziggler.

The Dudley Boyz and The Usos trade wins at Wrestlemania and Raw. Enzo Amore and Colin Cassaday debut after the Raw match. It looks like the Dudleys are getting new dance partners in Enzo & Cass. That’s an awesome pairing in my book. But I’d be open to one more match between the Dudleys and the Usos on Raw. It’d be the perfect chance for our newcomers to interfere and cost them a win.

Enzo & Cass, WWE Raw, April 4, 2016This was a hell of a start for Enzo & Cass, and overdue in the eyes of many. These guys certainly have no shortage of catchphrases. I’m curious to see how well the crowd knows them next week, as we lose a lot of that post-Wrestlemania glow.

Apollo Crews def. Tyler Breeze in his Raw debut. I haven’t seen as much of Apollo Crews as I have other NXT wrestlers. But I was very impressed with what I saw in this short match. He gave a lot of credence to what the announcers were saying about his versatility. It’s not often you see someone who has both that strength, agility, and explosive leaping ability. I only wish he hadn’t knocked of Tyler Breeze. He’s been there such a short time, and already he’s being used as enhancement talent. Not that there’s anything wrong with that,  but damn.

Images courtesy of WWE.com.

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

Posted in Wrestling

Undertaker vs. Braun Strowman? Five Alternatives For Taker’s Wrestlemania Rival

Braun Strowmann, WWE RawBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Braun Strowman. That‘s their plan for The Undertaker at Wrestlemania XXXII? It’s supposed to be the highest attended Wrestlemania of all time, in ‘Taker’s home state no less, and they’re putting him with Braun Strowman. He (allegedly) went from being pencilled in with Brock Lesnar, to John Cena…to Braun Strowman?

This is wrong for a variety of reasons. While he’s been put over as a monster since his debut, Braun Strowman is still relatively green, and not ready, or qualified to be in a match of this magnitude. Also, given time and experience, Strowman could indeed be a money opponent for ‘Taker. They’d be shooting their wad too soon by putting them together here. Hell, they need to build up not only Strowman, but The Wyatt Family in general.

Also, Brock Lesnar is apparently facing Bray Wyatt at Wrestlemania. With Braun Strowman, they’d essentially be giving Undertaker one of Bray’s henchmen, while Brock takes on the big dog.

But mores than anything else, even with so many marquee stars on the injured list right now (Cena, Randy Orton, Sting, Seth Rollins), there are so many wrestlers better suited to face The Undertaker than Braun Strowman. Cast in point, the five names I’ve assembled.

Obviously, none of these men have the marquee value of a Brock Lesnar or a John Cena. But let’s go into this under the assumption that the allure of this match is seeing The Undertaker in action at Wrestlemania, and we’re simply trying to give the fans a match worth their money. I don’t think Braun Strowman can do that. But these five can.

Luke Harper, WWE1. Luke Harper

Assuming we must go to The Wyatt Family for an Undertaker opponent, we need to pick a different Wyatt. Luke Harper has over a decade of experience under his belt. Yes, we still have the issue of ‘Taker facing one of Bray Wyatt’s henchmen. But it was Harper who was pinned by Undertaker in the tag match at Survivor Series. Who’s to say Harper, looking to bring glory to The Wyatt Family, doesn’t strike out on his own in the hope of ending The Undertaker’s legacy once and or all. WWE has tried to break Harper out as a singles star before. As it turned out, they jumped the gun, and ultimately ended up putting The Wyatt Family back together. I’m certainly not advocating breaking the Wyatts up again, but a program like this could help Harper establish a persona of his own. Thus, if/when he does break out on his own again, it could mean more. Plus, he’d give ‘Taker a solid match.

Samoa Joe, NXT2. Samoa Joe

Samoa Joe is easily NXT’s best heel right now. And WWE desperately needs good heels. They had to play the Mr. McMahon card to get the fans to cheer Roman Reigns. But in 2016, Vince McMahon is hardly an ideal ongoing bad guy for television. Samoa Joe on the other hand…

Joe’s in-ring skills speak for themselves. This would simply be a matter of getting him on television and ready for The Undertaker. The Royal Rumble would have been a great opportunity, but that ship has sailed. If this is the direction they’re inclined to go in, I say bring up up at Fastlane, and simply say he’s come to take out the best WWE has to offer (or something like that). Bing bang boom, instant Undertaker match It’s not the most convenient option from a storytelling standpoint, but it would make for a hell of a Wrestlemania match, and add a strong heel to the main roster.

Chris Jericho, Raw, January 4, 20163. Chris Jericho

Jericho’s heel run in 2008 was the stuff of legends, and in a company currently devoid of hot heels, an evil Chris Jericho could reap more benefits than ever for WWE. And who better to put him with at Wrestlemania XXXII in Texas than The Undertaker?

For a heel Chris Jericho, a program with The Undertaker would be all about ego. Jericho has never had a Wrestlemania match with the Dead Man. Ergo, in his mind, The Undertaker has been disrespecting him for years by never standing across from him at Wrestlemania. A challenge is laid down, and ‘Taker accepts. From there, it’s all about the promos. And in terms of the match, Jericho could potentially help ‘Taker give a performance league with his bouts with Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and CM Punk.

WWE Raw, June 15, 2015, Sheamus4. Sheamus

Despite winning the Money in the Bank briefcase, and the WWE Championship, Sheamus didn’t have a great 2015. He was a lame duck heel, and as such a lame duck champion. Fans were desperate to see somebody take the belt off of him, which is one of the reasons Roman’s title win on Raw was so well received. People just don’t like Sheamus…

So what do they have to lose by having The Undertaker kick the crap out of him at Wrestlemania? He might even establish some credibility along the way. Sheamus was an annoying braggart during his brief run with the title last year. He’d be able to draw plenty of ire by challenging The Undertaker in an attempt to redeem himself after his failure as champion. And if we needed them, the League of Nations could be involved at ringside. Supposedly, Sheamus is currently sidelined with tendonitis in his arm. But I’d wager we’d be able to get him back for at least one big match. And it doesn’t get any bigger than The Undertaker at Wrestlemania.

AJ Styles, Royal Rumble 20165. AJ Styles

The Phenom vs. The Phenomenal One. AJ might not have been our first choice for The Undertaker’s Wrestlemania opponent. But he might be the one we need right now.

To their credit, WWE is making a big deal out of AJ Styles. They played him up on their website before he showed up at the Rumble, reacted appropriately when he made his debut, and then let him show off in a match with Chris Jericho the following night on Raw. WWE needs new stars, and they seem to recognize one in the making. And what better way to indicate that AJ Styles is a must-see superstar than putting him in the ring with another must-see superstar at the biggest event of the year?

The story more or less writes itself. AJ wants to take full advantage of signing with WWE by doing something he can only do in WWE: Facing The Undertaker at Wrestlemania. He’s certainly got momentum on his side, and he may only get hotter as we go through Fastlane. And Styles, like Jericho, is one of the few wrestlers in that company capable of giving ‘Taker one more Wrestlemania show-stealer.

The Undertaker, 2015So come on, WWE. We just celebrated The Undertaker’s 25th anniversary. So how about we give the guy somebody he doesn’t have to carry through a Wrestlemania match? In 2017, maybe Undertaker/Braun Strowman will be a viable Wrestlemania match (assuming ‘Taker can still go at that point). But this year? To paraphrase Bray Wyatt: “Anyone but you Strowman.”

Images courtesy of wwe.com.

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