The JBL/Jinder Mahal Connection, and Other Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Jinder Mahal is the new top contender for Randy Orton’s WWE Championship. He’ll face him at Backlash.

This was…surprising. Especially when you consider how few TV matches Jinder has won since his return. Last week he lost to Finn Balor on Raw, and then Mojo Rawley the next night on Smackdown. He was essentially brought back to put over the newer guys. But now, seemingly out of nowhere, he’s got a WWE Championship Match on pay per view.

Though when you look at the big picture, t’s fairly obvious why they did this. Smackdown needed another big heel, so they strapped the rocket to Jinder. He’s a pretty easy guy to boo, fitting well into the classic foreign heel category. It seems he’ll even be getting some back-up from the Bollywood Boyz. It could work out really well.

Oddly enough, this all reminds me of what WWE did with JBL back in 2004. Brock Lesnar had just left the company, and Smackdown needed a new top heel. They found one in Bradshaw, who’d found his greatest success teaming with Ron Simmons as the APA. He was repackaged as John Bradshaw Layfield, pushed to the moon, and became WWE Champion a few months later. At the time, a lot of the “smart fans” crapped on it. Mayfield had never been an established singles star. But in retrospect, no matter what you think of him personally, JBL made an awesome heel champion. He’s obviously still very easy to dislike in 2017.

When you look at it that way, Jinder Mahal may be getting a “JBL push.” I never, ever expected him to be competing for the WWE Title. But stranger things have happened…

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Charlotte Flair demands a match for the Smackdown Women’s Title. Naomi answers her, and gets physical. Charlotte later pins the champion to earn a title match next week. Naomi came off really well on this show. The “I ain’t never scared” line could be a new catch phrase for her.

This wasn’t the match I was hoping for. The crowd was sitting on their hands for most of it. At one point, Naomi tried one of her trademark spots, going for a flurry of kicks. Somehow, it just looked laughable this week. Some of it had to do with how Charlotte sold it. But we’ve obviously we’ve got more coming from these two. They’re both so damn athletic. They can do better than this.

Primo and Epico def. American Alpha. Ouch. Jordan and Gable get beat by the Shining Stars. That’s got to hurt…

Though apparently they’re not the Shining Stars anymore. They’re calling them the Colons,  which is their legit family name and are playing up their lineage. That sure as hell works for me. No more travel brochures, no more matador costumes. Just straight up wrestlers. That suits these guys.  At least for now. The in-ring element has always been their strong suit. That was evident here. They had decent chemistry with Jordan and Gable. But again, the crowd was pretty dead for this. Like Jinder, Primo and Epico spent most of their time on Raw losing. It could take awhile for them to build up any sort of steam.

Kevin Owens quickly defeats an enhancement talent in his “Face of America” Open Challenge. I love how they projected Owens’ face on to the entrance ramp. Very in-character for Owens.

They’re definitely letting Owens put his spin on the US Title, John Cena’s US Open Challenge concept, and the whole anti-America thing. If they’re going to have Jinder do something similar, then they need to be careful the two characters don’t bleed into one another. If they do, the most charismatic Owens will easily overshadow the less established Jinder.

AJ Styles def. Baron Corbin via count-out. A fairly anti-climactic main event, with an even more anti-climactic finish. They can’t all be barn burners, I suppose. Still, no one moves like AJ Styles.

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A Shield Reunion Coming Soon? Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

Ponderings From Smackdown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chris Jericho’s Date with a Cage, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

WWE United Kingdom ChampionshipBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

With the announcement of the crowning of a United Kingdom Champion on the WWE Network next year, there’s naturally been a lot of buzz. The idea, reportedly, is for the network to have weekly UK show similar to what 205 Live is for the Cruiserweights. So there’ve been questions about the continued oversaturation of content, WWE potentially trying to create its own territorial system, what this means for other promotions across the world, etc. All valid questions.

Quite frankly, I don’t know if or when I’ll be able to see any of this UK content. There are only so many hours in a week. But for now, I’m taking an optimistic approach. This tournament has a big upside. The UK is in the midst of its own wrestling boom right now, and I’ve been able to see very little of what’s going on over there. All these guys now have a chance to wrestle in front of a whole new audience, and educate a lot of American fans about British wrestling.

One of WWE’s big drawbacks in the last several years has been its inability to create new stars. Using the Cruiserweight Classic tournament, they’ve been able to bring guys like Rich Swann, TJ Perkins, and Cedric Alexander to the main roster. Whether they’ll become big stars remains to be seen. But they’re commodities. They’re fresh faces. As somebody who watches Raw and Smackdown every week, it’s tough to complain about a potential new source of fresh faces.

Mick Foley, WWE Raw, December 19, 2016Ponderings From Raw:

Mick Foley announces Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns for the Universal Title at the Royal Rumble, with Chris Jericho suspended from the ceiling in a shark cage. Poor Mick. He tries so hard. And he’s still got some of his trademark charm despite being forced to recite scripted dialogue. But then he makes an embarrassing mistake like he did here, saying they were in Pittsburgh instead of Columbus. I love Mick Foley, I really do. But I’m glad he’s reportedly got a couple weeks off. He needs a break.

Some guys who need a break from each other? Kevin Owens, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Chris Jericho. It feels like they’ve been working together nonstop since September. The Jericho stipulation notwithstanding, the Universal Title Match announcement was a disappointment. If I’m Roman Reigns, I’m expecting a dome full of boos at the Rumble, justified or not.

Rusev def. Big Cass via disqualification. Enzo later attends sensitivity training. Shorter is probably better with Rusev and Cass right now, so I won’t complain about what we saw here. I’ll credit Cass with one thing: He looked legit pissed at Rusev.

One of the stories on this show involved Enzo being sent to sensitivity training after being “naked” on the show a few weeks back. This didn’t do much for me. It seemed like they were trying to mimic the success they had with the Daniel Bryan/Kane anger management skits a few years ago. But once again, I credit them for doing something different, breaking up the monotony, and extending a plot thread through much of the show.

WWE Raw, December 19, 2016, Sasha BanksNia Jax interrupts Sasha Banks. Firstly, mad respect for Sasha for her performance at Roadblock. She doesn’t have to take the risks she does. Often they’re unnecessary. But you can’t doubt her passion. That always shines through.

That being said, I turned the volume down when she started talking. This might be unpopular, but her promos now officially annoy me. It’s not entirely her fault. She’s just written as a white meat babyface right now. I will credit her with looking into the hard camera, though. Eye contact = connection. She can also put on a great boo-hoo face (shown above).

Champion or not, it wasn’t hard to figure out Nia Jax and Sasha were going to be partnered after Roadblock. Again, lack of roster depth. Given their obvious size difference, I’m intrigued. I liked Nia calling Charlotte a “little girl.” This program will be good for her.

Austin Aries makes his Raw debut at the announce desk. Cedric Alexander def. Noam Dar. I’ve got high hopes for Cedric Alexander in 2017. He’s so damn explosive, and that Lumbar Check is awesome. I also think this is the first time we’ve seen Cedric and Alicia come out together on Raw.

After the match, Noam Dar got on the mic and essentially said he wanted Alica. I’m certainly not Shakespeare, but here’s a writing tip: When another man says, on national television mind you, that he wants to get with your girlfriend, you kick his ass. You don’t just stand there and get angry. It makes you look like a chump.

Noam Dar, WWE Raw, December 19, 2016If I’m not mistaken, this was Austin Aries’ Raw debut. A little understated, considering what his status was in other promotions. But at least he’s there. He’s not a good announcer yet. But I like that they’re having him tag in for Cruiserweight matches. It’s a little bit like what Mike Tenay used to do on Nitro.

Sheamus, Cesaro, and the New Day def. Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, and the Shining Stars. I never hated the “penny” tag belts the way some fans did. The tag titles they used on Raw during the first brand split looked so generic that I was just grateful for something different. That being said, the red belts Sheamus and Cesaro got on this show look better.

The pre-match dialogue with New Day, Sheamus, and Cesaro was actually pretty good. Then Gallows and Anderson came out and spoiled it. Then the Shining Stars came out and killed it dead. No interest in the eight-man tag. I assume the New Day will get a tag title rematch soon.

Also, Big E’s little ad lib about Charlotte becoming a 16-time champ by next month was on point. I tip my hat to you, sir.

A commercial airs for John Cena’s return to Smackdown next week. I don’t normally comment on these things, but this spot for Cena’s return was really well done. It was like a super-condensed career retrospective, and played up Cena as the elder statesmen and legend they want him to be.

WWE Raw, December 19, 2016, TJ Perkins, Rich SwannAfter turning on Rich Swann at Roadblock, Neville cuts his first heel promo on Raw. He and Brian Kendrick lay out Swann and TJ Perkins. Neville’s delivery was pretty good here. I don’t really see him as a big promo guy, but he surprised me. I was really skeptical about him turning heel. But if he switches up his in-ring game a little bit, this heel turn just might work for him.

Lately TJ Perkins has become the Dolph Ziggler of the Cruiserweight Division. Lately all he does is lose to Swann and Kendrick. Plus, he ran out there to save Swann, and immediately ate a kick from Neville. Thanks for coming, idiot. He needs to write a sternly worded letter to creative.

After Foley refuses to give him another shot at Sami Zayn, Braun Strowman decimates Sin Cara and Titus O’Neil. There was something very cathartic about seeing Braun Strowman rip apart that hokey Raw Christmas set. That’s something I’ve wanted to do for years.

I really dug that lingering shot of Mick Foley standing there looking over the body of Sin Cara, observing Braun’s damage and pondering the consequences of his actions.

WWE Raw, December 19, 2016, Bayley, Charlotte FlairCharlotte Flair gloats after her Roadblock victory. Bayley interrupts. Bayley pins Charlotte in controversial fashion. Corey Graves called Charlotte the “Iron Queen” as she came out. I like that. That’s different. As with Sasha, I give Charlotte a world of credit for the effort she put into that Iron Man Match. She’s the best female talent they have right now, and arguably the best overall heel in the company.

Good line: “Well, you are dressed like a fifth grader. So let’s go to school!”

Bad line: “Every month … you subscribe to the WWE Network thinking this is going to be the month that Charlotte loses, and every month I disappoint all of you.” Um, Charlotte has lost the title to Sasha three times now. I don’t need to buy the network hoping to see her lose. I can see it for free. Hell, I saw it this week! I get what she was going for, what with the pay per view winning streak. But there’s something to be said for clarity.

Based on what we saw here, I’m optimistic about what we’ll get from Charlotte and Bayley. This could lead to Bayley’s best in-ring performances since her main roster debut.

Braun Strowman interrupts the main event, attacking Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins. This might not be a popular opinion, given WWE’s obsession with three-man announce teams these days. But the Michael Cole/Byron Saxton/Corey Graves dynamic is growing on me. Specifically with the role Saxton is playing as the cheesy, aw-shucks babyface announcer that Graves hates. They had a little sarcastic exchange about Graves getting Saxton the night off next week, with Cole adding that Saxton should spend time with his family. Saxton’s reply: “You guys are my family!” I won’t lie, I laughed.

Brain Strowman, WWE Raw, December 19, 2016After sitting through yet another Raw main event with Owens, Jericho, Reigns, and Rollins (or some combination of said four), I was really pleased to see Strowman out there. Not only does it do him good to rub shoulders with the main eventers, but it did Sami Zayn a bit of good to have the announcers mention his role in all this during a main event segment.

I honestly never through I’d see the day Braun Strowman would be the best part of a Raw main event. But here we are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponderings From WWE Raw:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens in a Cage, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Rusev, Roman Reigns, Kevin Owens, WWE Raw, September 19, 2016It’s that time of year, folks. School is back in session. The leaves will soon be changing colors. The Halloween shops have started opening. Monday Night Football is back on the air. Autumn is here. Which for WWE fans means the “autumn slump.”

I’m not sure if I’m the first one to call it that, but I’m not the first talk about it. The autumn slump refers to the downturn in TV quality we tend to see between September and December. In the past few years, the autumn slump has brought us a Big Show/Randy Orton program for the WWE Championship, Sheamus winning the WWE Championship at a time when his career was lukewarm at best, and what may have been the 100th John Cena/Randy Orton feud.

And so once again, WWE must try to avoid the autumn slump, and persevere through competition from Monday Night Football.

They’re not off to a good start…

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns, Mick Foley, and Stephanie McMahon open the show. Coming off the finals of the Cruiserweight Classic tournament last week, I was hoping they’d open with the cruiserweights. Instead, we got yet another long-winded talking segment. A fairly cold start to things, which led to a cold match between Seth Rollins and Rusev. Even Kevin Owens, who’s usually very natural, came off highly scripted here.

Mick Foley, WWE Raw, September 19, 2016Meanwhile, we still have no idea why Triple H interfered in the Universal Title Match a few weeks ago. Even Reigns brought up Hunter’s absence. Steph did “guess” at his motivations later in the show. But we still don’t have any answers from Triple H. Perhaps those answers will come at Clash of Champions.

Seth Rollins vs. Rusev goes to a double count-out. As good as both these guys are, I’ll admit I had this match on mute most of the time. What was at stake? And in the end, they had a non-finish. Again, such a cold, cold start.

Braun Strowman def. Sin Cara. Not the match they needed to go with at this stage of the show. Both guys were perfectly serviceable. But again, not much to latch on to between these two. I found myself utterly bored.

Sasha Banks & Bayley def. Charlotte & Dana Brooke. It took them almost an hour to give us a match that actually had something going on in it. Though were hardly perfect here. I can only assume they’re still trying to turn Dana Brooke into a babyface. To what end I’m not sure. Not only is she a natural heel, but she’s on a roster with two widely popular female wrestlers like Sasha and Bayley.

Dana Brooke, WWE Raw, September 19, 2016So…does Dana cost Charlotte the title at Clash of Champions? They made a point to put the title on Sasha several weeks ago. I assume the reason Charlotte won it back was because they didn’t know how long Sasha would be out with her back problems. Perhaps now they simply go back to their original plan with her.

Bo Dallas wins another squash match. Just when you thought the show was about to pick up… Ugh.

Cesaro def. Sheamus. Their Best of Seven series is now tied at 3-3. I must have rewound my DVR and watched that finish four or five times. Not because it was so spectacular, but because for a moment I thought Sheamus flung himself into an uppercut in the balls. Winning with your feet on the ropes is one thing. An uppercut to the balls? That’s something else.

The New Day, Enzo & Cass, & Sami Zayn def. Chris Jericho, Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, & the Shining Stars. The in-ring segment at the top of the hour wasn’t so bad until the Shining Stars came out. As talented as they are, Primo & Epico are about as appealing as a wet fart. After that, everything went downhill. Did Big E. actually say the New Day came out because they had nothing better to do? From the minds of creative geniuses, ladies and gentlemen…

WWE Raw, September 19, 2016, Cedric Alexander, Rich SwannLike most of what we saw tonight, they were just killing time with this stuff. Nothing of consequence at all.

Brian Kendrick def. Cedric Alexander, Gran Metallic  and Rich Swann to earn a Cruiserweight Title Match at Clash of Champions. Once these guys started working, it became painfully obvious they should have opened the show. While the majority of what we saw on this show still would have sucked, we wouldn’t have started with a bad taste in our mouths. The entire vibe of the show could have improved.

A few weeks ago we saw Titus O’Neil absolutely murder a pre-match scripted promo on live television. While Foley’s time out there wasn’t as bad, like Titus you could see him struggling to remember his lines. Yet another illustration of how over-scripting hinders what we see on Raw every week.

The obvious favorite to win the Cruiserweight Classic was Kota Ibushi. But Ibushi opted not to sign with WWE, so he was eliminated by TJ Perkins in the semifinals. Still, the announcers made a point to mention him more than once. So I imagine the door is still open for him.

Brian Kendrick, Cedric Alexander, WWE Raw, September 19, 2016The only part of this match I didn’t like was Rich Swann flipping around the ring for no reason. They tend to call that “showboating.” Neville does the same thing in his matches. It’s overkill.

Frankly, I’d have had Cedric Alexander go over in this one. But the story they’re telling with Kendrick is a good one. And for what it’s worth, Kendrick has experience in WWE pay per view matches. All in all, a very good start to the Cruiserweight element on Raw.

Roman Reigns def. Kevin Owens in a steel cage match. At least Reigns won by escape. He didn’t pin the champion. That’s not to say it won’t happen. The way things are going, it’ll probably happen next week…

Corey Graves named the Owens/Zayn simultaneous punching spot during this match. “Hockey fight.” Is that what it’s supposed to be? It still looks awful…

Kevin Owens had the quote of the night, telling Rusev to “Machka something!”

By wrestling standards, I suppose that dive by Rollins off the top of the cage wasn’t incredibly risky. He had both Owens and Rusev to catch him. But after all the injuries we’ve seen this year, and what just happened with Finn Balor, it’s especially unwise to tempt fate these days.

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

CM Punk’s UFC 203 Loss, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

Mickey Gall, CM Punk, UFC 203, September 10, 2016By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I had no desire to see CM Punk lose at UFC 203. But my hopes weren’t high that he’d win. The smart bet was we’d get exactly what we got: A Mickey Gall victory in the first round. Specifically, by submission at two minutes and 14 seconds.

That didn’t make it any easier to watch, though…

Full disclosure: I’m a big CM Punk fan. Many wrestling fans have turned their backs on him since he walked out of WWE. Ironically, I came to love him even more for that. Despite generous pay, the real-life Phil Brooks was feeling disrespected and misused by WWE, and was suffering from what turned out to be a severe staph infection. So he made his health and sanity his top priority, and he walked away to pursue other interests. Stories like that strike a chord with me, given some of the bosses I’ve had over the years. When I had the chance to meet Punk at a comic book convention in Chicago awhile back, I was really proud to tell him: “Thank you for setting a good example and standing up for yourself.”

For yours truly, Punk personifies what Joseph Campbell called “following your bliss.” You don’t listen to what your friends, your peers, your culture, or even your loved ones want you to do, and you simply follow your heart and passion. You live with your heart as much, if not more than your head.

I’m guessing this marks the end of Punk’s UFC career, at least for now. But if MMA is where he finds his bliss, then he should continue to pursue it. He’s undoubtedly having a rough few days. But his wrestling career was built in part on defying expectations and proving people wrong. I see no reason why his MMA career shouldn’t be the same way.

Ponderings From Raw:

wwe-raw-september-12-2016-bayleyMick Foley, Charlotte, Dana Brooke, Sasha Banks, and Bayley open the show. After too much disrespect, Dana slaps Charlotte across the face. Sasha vs. Bayley vs. Dana is made to decide the top contender for the Raw Women’s Title.  Right after Sasha came out and said she was going to take the belt back at Clash of Champions, there was a long, awkward silence. Nobody said anything. Charlotte didn’t respond to Sasha’s threat, Sasha didn’t follow up with anything, Mick didn’t interject. They just stood there. And why? Because Bayley’s cue got messed up somehow. So they all stood there like high school kids in a play.

This is why I wish they didn’t overly script these segments. Granted, it sucked that Bayley’s entrance was late, and it was a bad position for anyone to be in. But if you’re performers, and you’re in the moment, you can compensate for that.

The audience definitely popped when Dana slapped Charlotte. But imagine if Dana hadn’t been playing such a bratty heel the whole time. Imagine if she actually had some sympathy. Imagine how much more impactful it would have been…

On a more positive note, I Iiked shy Bayley. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of that side of her character. Very endearing.

sasha-banks-wwe-raw-september-12-2016Sasha Banks def. Bayley and Dana Brooke to earn a Raw Women’s Title Match at Clash of Champions. I loved how the TV audience barely saw Sasha and Bayley wrestle in this match. Dana Brooke was constantly between them. That’s how it should be. The novelty of seeing them wrestle for the first time on the main roster should be protected as much as possible.

Of course, Sasha did end up sneaking in to catch a quick pin on Bayley. My question is, were they both supposed to have their shoulders on the mat? Was that supposed to be a double pin that the ref didn’t see? If so, that’s a nice way to protect Bayley until they eventually meet.

In a pre-tape, Enzo challenges Epico to a match. The only one of Enzo’s catchphrases I’ve soured on is the one about “a cuppa haters.” He overuses it.

So Primo & Epico are literally Puerto Rican travel agents at this point?

Bo Dallas wins a squash match. I’ll give them this much: I’m interested to see what happens when Bo stops squashing jobbers. I’m not hopeful he’ll get very far reciting poems like Heidenreich used to to. But you never know.

Chris Jericho, WWE Raw, September 12, 2016Sami Zayn is a guest on Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel. Zayn bringing up “the old Chris Jericho” is likely a foreshadowing of what we’ll see from the inevitable Jericho vs. Owens feud. Owens obviously can’t play the babyface. So it looks like we’ll be getting the return of the Ayatollah of Rock ‘n Rolla. In the meantime, Jericho vs. Zayn seems imminent.

Cesaro def. Sheamus in match five of their Best of Seven series. The current score is Sheamus: 3, Cesaro: 2. Cesaro cheats to win, like true babyfaces always do. Ugh. They’ve timed this so the last match can take place at Clash of Champions. This “championship opportunity” the winner gets is pretty vague. I suppose it’s too much to ask that Cesaro earn a Universal Title Match at Hell in a Cell in October. More likely they go with Seth Rollins again.

Nia Jax def. Alicia Fox. Very effective outing for Nia. The size difference between these two ladies was almost unsettling. I can’t recall ever seeing someone hurled into the barricade by their hair. Also, have we ever seen one of the girls do e a spear through the barricade? I can’t think of one offhand.

I got a chuckle at Cole referring to Fox as “one of the most accomplished competitors here in the WWE women’s division for years.” I get what he was trying to do. But c’mon, Cole. Accomplished? When was the last time she even won a match?

WWE September 12, 2016, Gallows & AndersonLuke Gallows & Karl Anderson def. The New Day. I find it funny that in the pre-match promo, Kofi talked about how Gallows & Anderson’s “Old Day” segment from last week wasted five minutes of everyone’s time. Why would I want to watch this show when the performers themselves are telling me it’s wasting my time? Still, at least WWE has a sense of humor about how bad that damn skit was. Also, Anderson & Gallows were back to being serious ass kickers this week.

This was another instance of WWE basically giving us the pay per view match early to…wait for it…promote the pay per view match. Because that always works so well.

Jinder Mahal def. Jack Swagger. Wow. They gave us this match during the third hour, and expect to hold the casual fan’s interest? This is basically a Superstars match.

After the match they had Tom Phillips mention Swagger’s Raw contract expiring soon. I guess that might be interesting. Jack Swagger has basically been Dolph Ziggler’s constant reminder that things could always be worse…

Epico def. Enzo Amore. So they gave us Jinder Mahal, Jack Swagger, and Epico in the third hour. Even with him winning, I’d call that a tactical mistake, wouldn’t you?

Rusev, Roman Reigns, WWE Raw, September 12, 2016Kevin Owens def. Roman Reigns thanks to a distraction by Rusev. So now we’ve got Kevin Owens vs. Seth Rollins at Clash of Champions, and chances are we’ll get Roman vs. Rusev as well. No doubt a lot of people are happy about Reigns being kept out of the Universal Title picture. I can’t say it breaks my heart.

So what’s the deal with this Seth Rollins/Mick Foley stuff? Where does that go? Not in a match, we know that much. Will they find themselves at odds over where Stephanie’s loyalties lay? Come to think of it, we still don’t know why Triple H helped Owens win the title. Hopefully they can answer that one sooner than later…

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

Heath Slater Steals the Show (Seriously), and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

We’ve got some extra TNA talk after Raw this week. So let’s jump right in…

Roman Reigns, Mick Foley, Rusev, WWE Raw, August 15, 2016Ponderings From Raw

Rusev & Lana hijack the show. A non-title match between Rusev and Roman Reigns is made for later in the show. I don’t like when they do this. Put the pay per view matches on pay per view. Don’t give them away a week before. I understand the stakes are different. But this waters the Summerslam title match down.

Sami Zayn def. Sheamus after a distraction by Cesaro. Mick Foley books Cesaro and Sheamus in a Best of Seven Series that starts at SummerslamI liked the start to this match. Corey Graves called it “scrappy.” Made things feel a bit more real. They put Cesaro on commentary for most of this. It doesn’t seem like he’ll ever be a great talker. But he’s improved. It’s interesting how Finn Balor is presented, in contrast to Cesaro. The two are on equal ground in terms of mic work. But while Balor has shot to the top of the card after only a month on TV, Cesaro can’t seem to gain any real traction.

A Best of Seven Series, eh? Alright, sure. We haven’t had one of those in awhile, and it’s something for these guys to do. But here’s my question, what does the winner get?

The New Day def. The Dudley Boyz. Watch D-Von shortly after the pin. Bubba slides in the ring and gives him the same kind of stare as last week. They didn’t get a shot of it, but it looks like this is indeed a story. But does it end with the Dudleys winning the tag belts, or splitting up? Notice it’s D-Von that’s eaten the pin two weeks in a row…

Heath Slater, Brock Lesnar, WWE Raw, August 15, 2016Heath Slater goes to Suplex City after interrupting Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman. This segment was the best thing Heath Slater has ever done in WWE. No, seriously.

I believed every word he said when he talked about having to support his kids. Then Lesnar had that great line: “I don’t give a sh*t about your kids.” We added a new dimension to Slater, and Brock stayed true to his character. I’m not sure if Slater was supposed to be heel or babyface before this segment. But now he’s a babyface in my book.

It’s not often you hear me looking for less Paul Heyman mic time. But we really didn’t need him to say so much after the Slater stuff. Specifically, the stuff about Brock and MMA. I’m not sure if he was going for shock value there, what with Brock’s drug test failure. But all we really needed was “That’s what’s going to happen to Randy Orton at Summerslam.”

Big Cass def. Kevin Owens via disqualification. During their pre-match promos, sometimes it looks like Cass is just watching Enzo in awe like the rest of us. The tag match at Summerslam should be fun.

The Shining Stars def. Darren Young & Titus O’Neil. That bit of the Prime Time Players and Bob Backlund doing the “Millions of Dollars” dance was all I needed from this match. Apparently even that was more than the crowd in Corpus Christi needed. This match was pretty flat.

Finn Balor, Demon King, WWE Raw, August 15, 2016Neville def. Jinder Mahal. Yep. Good to have you back, Jinder Mahal. Your check is in the mail.

Finn Balor arrives in his “Demon King” persona. Not sure we needed to see Seth Rollins wandering around all night looking for the Demon King. If he was just going to call Balor out later, why wander around searching for him? Also, the emergence of this Demon King persona means we really need to drop the “Demon Kane” moniker. It’s not often one would confuse Finn Balor with Kane. But it applies here.

Some idiot got into the ring during Rollins’ promo. Way to go, security. Granted, it was a boring promo. But come on. There’s no need for that…

I wish they’d saved the Demon King for Summerslam. Because let’s be honest, what is the Demon King really but a cool entrance? What does the Demon do that Finn Balor doesn’t? Yes, it looks cool. But this, combined with the Reigns/Rusev match, makes it seem like they just didn’t have any ideas for this week’s show.

Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson def. The Golden Truth. The New Day attack after the match. I still think the “ringpostitis” skits are funny. Something about the visual of these guys in lab coats. On the other hand, the idea of Anderson getting hit the balls with a trombone is pretty funny too.

Charlotte, Alicia Fox, August 15, 2016Charlotte def. Alicia Fox. I can’t even remember when the last time was that I saw Alicia Fox in the ring. The last time I have her tagged in a post was around Wrestlemania. I don’t expect her profile to get any higher. At least as long as she’s on Raw with the likes of Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Nia Jax.

I’m assuming Dana Brooke is still with Charlotte after this segment. Dana still has a lot to learn, but I maintain that they make a good team.

Roman Reigns def. Rusev. I still don’t like this match, but it’s nice to see Rusev main eventing Raw for the second week in a row. If they book him well, I truly believe he can be a main event player. One note, though: Don’t break out the diving headbutt again. How many did he do in this match? Three? Between what it seemingly did to Chris Benoit and Daniel Bryan, we don’t need it around anymore. It’s not worth it.

This is Rusev’s first singles loss in awhile, isn’t it? The cool thing about this is it means he may not have to drop the title at Summerslam. A DQ finish, perhaps? As long as they establish Roman as having the upper hand, that may satisfy whatever desire they have for this program.

Tuesday Morning Talk Points: NONE.

Over in TNA:

Dixie Carter, Billy Corgan, TNABilly Corgan named President of IMPACT Ventures, will manage day-to-day TNA operations. Dixie Carter promoted to Chairman. TNA, IMPACT Ventures, or whatever the company is called, has very little to lose at this point. If promoting Corgan shakes up their TV product and brings new eyes, that’s fantastic. The time had long since come for Dixie Carter to be removed from the actual running of the business.

WWE’s Damien Sandow becomes TNA’s Aron Rex. This was a feel-good moment. For whatever reason, the real-life Aaron Stevens was held back and ultimately laid off by WWE. As they’ve done many times before, TNA has picked up the ball in hopes of gaining some new eyes, and riding that momentum. I wish Stevens all the luck in the world, but I hope he hasn’t jumped on to a sinking ship…

Bobby Lashley holds TNA Heavyweight Title, King of the Mountain Title, and X Division Title. When I read about this, I immediately thought of Rhyno holding the ECW Heavyweight and Television Titles in the final weeks of the promotion’s existence. I remember reading something to the effect of: “Unified champions. Another sign of a dying promotion.” I can only hope that’s not the case.

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