Tag Archives: NXT

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.

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Wrestling Headlines: CM Punk in Court, Enzo’s “Consensual Penis,” and More!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

I actually thought this was going to be a slow news week. Turns out, not so much.

The Dr. Chris Amann/CM Punk/Colt Cabana case goes to trial. Like so many others who heard it, I was enthralled by the now infamous CM Punk/Colt Cabana podcast on Punk’s departure from WWE. So all these years later, it’s fascinating to see the fallout involving WWE’s Dr. Chris Amann. I’ve been following the coverage on WrestleZone.

Amann was treating Punk in the months prior to his WWE departure, and is suing for defamation. The real-life Phil Brooks said Amann misdiagnosed a staph infection, which lead to months of suffering. Amann refutes the accusation, and is seeking $1 million in damages.

WWE officials and personalities such as Kane, referee John Cone, and WWE’s Senior Director of Talent Relations Mark Carrano all testified via recording about Punk’s participation in the 2014 Royal Rumble Match the night before he walked out. It’s incredibly surreal to read their recollections, as they use all this pro wrestling jargon in a legal setting. Kane mentioned eliminating Punk from the Rumble “illegally.” Carrano described Punk after the Rumble as “one angry superstar.” It’s so weird…

In a bit of bizarre hilarity, the jury actually had to watch footage of Punk being eliminate by Kane in the 2014 Royal Rumble, which took place the night before his famous walk-out. When the judge said he didn’t know who Kane was, someone reportedly told him: “The big guy without a shirt on.”

Also, it’s now on record that the “CM” in CM Punk stands for “Chick Magnet.” So that’s a thing now, I guess…

Meanwhile, Punk’s next UFC fight is on June 9. It should be interesting to say the least.

The former Enzo Amore releases a rap video, calling himself Real1. Enzo isn’t exactly Jay-Z, and I’m not exactly sure what to make of what I’m seeing here. But this video does have over a million views. So he’s got that going for him…

Silly imagery aside, he’s rapping about a very real situation. Earlier this year the real-life Eric Arndt was the subject of a rape investigation, and ultimately fired by WWE for not cluing them in on it. The investigation was ultimately dropped due to insufficient evidence.

I hope to God I’m never in the position this guy was in. But if I am, I probably wont release any kind of public statement, rap or otherwise, that talks about “gripping my consensual penis.” It’s also probably not a good idea to alienate wrestling fans, many of whom were chanting “We want Enzo!” at Big Cass not long ago.

But hey, that’s just me.

John Cena says the Velveteen Dream might be “something special.” Cena was at MegaCon in Orlando this week, and someone asked him a question about facing wrestlers from NXT. While he also mentioned EC3 by name, the one he really put over was the Velveteen Dream.

“You know how in the Star Wars movies the old Jedis can look at the rookie Jedis and be like, ‘I think that’s the one,’” Cena said. “I kinda have a weird, odd Midichlorian feeling about Velveteen Dream. I think there’s something special there.”

That’s a hell of an endorsement for the real-life Patrick Clark Jr. But if you’ve seen the guy, you know it’s not exactly unfounded. I highly recommend his match with Aleister Black from NXT TakeOver: War Games.

Sasha Banks wins Women’s Gauntlet Match to take final spot in Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match. This match didn’t do much for me, mostly because the quick eliminations of Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan left a bad taste in my mouth. I understand wanting to give the women a spotlight like this. But if you’ve got younger ones on the roster that can’t hang in a match like this, keep them out! Morgan and Logan could have stayed on the outside and helped Ruby Riott beat Bayley, Mickie James, and Dana Brooke, only to have Sasha overcome the odds at the end.

Ruby ended up being the star here. She’s obviously a good hand in the ring. But she also has such a unique look, and can cut a decent promo. They obviously thought enough of her to give her a group named after her. I’ve got high hopes.

Samoa Joe def. Daniel Bryan and Big Cass to take the last spot in the Men’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match. So Cass wasn’t really hurt? Or at least he’s well enough to keep wrestling? Good. In terms of being a singles star, he doesn’t quite have it yet. But he might get there. Working with guys like Bryan and Joe certainly won’t hurt him.

Cedric Alexander def. Buddy Murphy to retain the WWE Cruiserweight Championship. I haven’t had a chance to watch a lot of 205 Live lately. But I heard some good buzz about this Cedric Alexander/Buddy Murphy match. Damn, I forgot how good 205 Live has become. Not being on Raw every week has also done Cedric a lot of good. He still comes off pretty bland. But he’s athletic as hell. And the development of Buddy Murphy as a character has been a pleasant surprise. This one’s worth checking out, folks.

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

Trailer: Bipolar Rock ‘n’ Roller, starring Mauro Ranallo

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

It takes a LOT of guts to put yourself out there like this.

Thank you, Mauro. You give hope to us all.

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

Jeff Hardy

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

Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville

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

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

Samoa Joe

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

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

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

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

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

Big Cass

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

Asuka

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

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

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

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

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

Sheamus and Cesaro

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

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

R-Truth

How fitting that Truth was in a segment with Tye Dillinger. Because like Dillinger, he’s on Smackdown to be a background player.

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

Andrade “Cien” Almas and Zelina Vega

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

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

WWE’s Most Fascinating People of 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

So let’s get down to business…

1. Jinder Mahal

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

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

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

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

2. Asuka

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

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

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

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

3. Bayley

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

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

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

4. Matt Hardy

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

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

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

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

5. Enzo Amore

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

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

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

And as long as we’re talking about him…

6. The Miz

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

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

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

7. Sami Zayn

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

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

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

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

8. Shinsuke Nakamura

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

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

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

9. Braun Strowman

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

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

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

10. Chris Jericho

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

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

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

AJ Styles, WWE Champion1. AJ Styles   

AJ Styles is the WWE Champion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sasha Banks, WWE Women's Champion3. Sasha Banks

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

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

Samoa Joe, NXT Champion4. Samoa Joe

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

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

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

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

James Ellsworth5. James Ellsworth

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

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

Braun Strowmann, WWE Raw6. Braun Strowman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Miz, Maryse9. The Miz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponderings From WWE Raw:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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