WWE Payback 2017 Predicitons, Plus: Nakamura and the “It” Factor

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

What exactly is the “it” factor? We hear wrestling insiders and experts talk about it all the time. This guy didn’t become a star because they were missing “it.” That guy connected because he had “it.”

So what the hell are they talking about?

“It” is something intangible and undefinable. Something that makes you unique. “It” draws people’s eyes to you when you walk into a room. It prompts them to put their money down to see you.

Shinsuke Nakamura has “it.” He just made his main roster debut a few weeks ago, but you only need to see him once to know he’s something special. HIs tremendous in-ring work aside, he simply has a presence about him. He’s an original. How often can you really say that about someone in pro wrestling? And perhaps more importantly, there’s a certain coolness about him. So little about the business is cool nowadays.

But Nakamura has a disadvantage that virtually no other major WWE babyface has had: His English. Listening to him speak, it’s quite obvious that English isn’t his forte yet. To be fair, he’s only been in America for about a year. Learning any language takes time, even when you don’t have the pressure of national television. But for all their efforts internationally, WWE has always been an American product through and through. For all his talents, Nakamura’s English could be his achilles heel. If there’s one thing standing between him and true WWE stardom, it’s that.

That’s why I hold my breath whenever they’ve put a mic in Nakamura’s hand, as they did this week on Smackdown. They’ve wisely kept his speaking time limited. But thus far, Nakamura’s done alright out there. Not great, but alright. At this stage, alright might just be good enough. But it won’t be that way forever. Nakamura’s star is rising fast, and he’s not going to speak perfect English any time soon. So when he’s is ready to take that next step, will WWE be ready to get behind him?

While Nakamura is undoubtedly an original, one person you might compare him to is Rob Van Dam. Rob Van Dam was a star in WWE. But he never became the superstar he could have been. This is largely because WWE, perhaps Vince McMahon in particular, couldn’t fully embrace his character. RVD wasn’t an aggressive promo guy. He was laid back and cool. But when the bell rang, the fans chanted his name because he did things no one else could do. He was different. Just like Nakamura is different. Neither man expresses himself in the traditional WWE style. But the fans respond to them nonetheless.

The question now is whether WWE can accept something it’s audience has always known: Different is good.

And now, let’s get to Payback…

PRE-SHOW MATCH:
Enzo and Cass vs. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

I’m curious to know how Enzo and Cass really feel about the Hardys being back. Had Matt and Jeff stayed with Ring of Honor, or gone else where, odds are Enzo and Cass would be the Raw Tag Team Champions right now. Instead, they’re working Gallows and Anderson again. On the pre-show, no less. I don’t expect their luck to improve here.

It seems natural that whoever wins here would get a Raw Tag Team Title Match. Assuming Matt and Jeff will finish their business with Cesaro and Sheamus at Payback, as heels Gallows and Anderson seem like they’d be next in line. Though part of me really hopes some kind of program with Finn Balor is in the works for them.

PREDICTION: Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Neville (c) vs. Austin Aries

What the hell? Put the belt on Aries. The guy’s hot right now. Why not capitalize? They can always put it right back on Neville if they want.

Some thought these two got slighted when they were put on the pre-show at Wrestlemania. In hindsight, that may have actually helped. These two were never going to be put in a position to do anything truly substantial on the main show. But Payback could be a different story. Here’s hoping…

PREDICTION: Austin Aries

WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The Hardy Boyz (c) vs Cesaro and Sheamus

Look at Matt’s face in that picture. How bad does this guy want to be Broken again?

He won’t get his wish at Payback, but he and Jeff will walk out with the tag titles. They just won them at Wrestlemania. To take them away now would almost be a waste. Sheamus and Cesaro have become more fun to watch in recent months. But the Hardys are as hot as they’ve ever been.

PREDICTION: The Hardy Boyz

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

The big picture here still needs to be about Bayley and Sasha. Hopefully for Summerslam. With that in mind, I don’t see Alexa winning here. I see Bayley taking it, then Alexa bringing in Nia Jax as back-up the night night on Raw. That could add a little extra garnish for a rematch at the next Raw pay per view.

That being said, I didn’t see Alexa winning the Smackdown Women’s Title last fall either. So anything’s possible.

PREDICTION: Bayley

Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe

Rollins just got one of the biggest wins of his career against Triple H. As the “Kingslayer,” it finally seems like he has a little bit of momentum as a babyface. It’d be a shame to have him walk right into a loss to Joe.

Joe has been handled almost perfectly since showing up on Raw. He’s been the dominant monster we all know, scoring big wins over Roman Reigns, Sami Zayn, and Chris Jericho. Rollins squeaking by with a victory won’t hurt him.

PREDICTION: Seth Rollins

WWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
Kevin Owens (c) vs. Chris Jericho

This is clearly a blow-off match. As such, I’m really hoping these two get the chance to give us an ending worthy of the whole “best friends” story they’ve told over the last several months. In a perfect world, they’d get to have a big brawl. But it seems like that’s what the House of Horrors Match is going to be.

This entire program has really been about building Kevin Owens. To the credit of all those involved, it’s worked tremendously. So it’s more than fitting that Owens go over here, and likely send Jericho packing for awhile. And so ends one of the best runs of Jericho’s entire career. I can’t help but wonder what our next “Gift of Jericho” will look like, and when we’ll get it…

PREDICTION: Kevin Owens

HOUSE OF HORRORS MATCH:
Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton

We still have very little indication of what a House of Horrors Match is, which is fine. Part of the draw is finding out about the match itself. Based on Bray’s promos, it seems like it’ll take place in some kind of actual house or structure.

They should really let Bray have this one. It’ll allow him to regain some of the momentum he lost at Wrestlemania. As I’ve mentioned, a victory over the WWE Champion could catapult him into contention for the Universal Title. Hell, have Jinder Mahal run interference if you don’t want to beat the champ cleanly. But for cryin’ out loud, let Bray win.

PREDICTION: Bray Wyatt

Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman

Just as Bray Wyatt needs to avenge his Wrestlemania loss to Randy Orton, Braun Strowman needs to avenge his Fastlane loss to Roman Reigns. Fastlane was seemingly about building Roman up for the Undertaker. This match should be about building Strowman up for Brock Lesnar. Not in the near future. But hopefully at a bigger show like Summerslam.

I don’t know that it matters whether Strowman beats Reigns cleanly or not. But if they want to give an excuse, the man was just beat to a pulp by Strowman two weeks ago. They said he had a separated shoulder and busted ribs, right? So they can play all that up, and have Roman fight through the pain only to fall short in the end. The important thing is Strowman wins.

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Will Bray Wyatt Challenge Brock Lesnar? Plus, Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This Sunday at Payback, Bray Wyatt has a House of Horrors Match with Randy Orton. We still have no idea what a House of Horrors Match is. But regardless, this Sunday is their last hurrah. Orton will stay on Smackdown and do business with, of all people, Jinder Mahal. That obviously leaves Bray Wyatt on Raw. But what exactly do you do after a House of Horrors Match?

How about challenging Brock Lesnar for the Universal Title?

Yes, early signs pointed to a program between Bray and Finn Balor. But it has yet to really get going. And they could always come back to it later. Let’s remember, we have a really interesting opportunity with this House of Horrors Match. Randy Orton is the WWE Champion. A victory over Orton would naturally propel Wyatt back into Heavyweight Title contention. Naturally, that would lead him to Raw‘s top champion, Brock Lesnar.

WWE has wanted to do Brock vs. Bray for quite some time. They seemingly had it pencilled in for Wrestlemania XXXII last year, before plans changed. As this could potentially be Lesnar’s last year with the company (his contract expires next spring), why not pull the trigger just in case? Plus, it has the added appeal of being a match we haven’t seen before.

Should Bray win the Universal Title? Probably not. But there’s no shame in losing to Brock, is there? Almost everyone has done it for the past few years. More importantly, it would be a big match for Bray. There’s also the potential for really good storytelling there. It might be worth it just to heat Bray joust with Paul Heyman on the mic..

Ponderings From Raw:

Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel opens the show. The Miz and Maryse hijack the segment, turning it into Miz TV. Dean Ambrose then switches it to the Ambrose Asylum. Ambrose hits Miz with Dirty Deeds, Maryse gets added to the List of Jericho. This came off like filler. That sucks, considering this is probably Jericho’s last Raw for awhile. Still, at least the crowd was hot for Jericho, the List, and all that stuff.

Matt Hardy def. Sheamus. Reportedly, WWE is working on settling with Anthem and Impact Wrestling and obtaining the rights to the Broken characters. The sooner they can do that, the better.

I expected this match to happen, but didn’t expect this finish. After Jeff beat Cesaro last week, I imagined Sheamus would get the win, and the Tag Title Match at Payback would be the rubber match. Looks like that’s not the story. I’m guessing the sportsmanship will come to an end on Sunday…

Austin Aries and Jack Gallagher def. Neville and TJ Perkins. This match wasn’t a classic. But it was quick enough that they were able to inject it with a certain energy that the Cruiserweight Division has desperately needed since it’s come to Raw. If keeping these matches shorter has that effect, I say we make ’em shorter. Anything to distinguish the cruiserweights from everyone else on this show.

Kalisto def. Braun Strowman in a Dumpster Match. Strowman responds by putting Kalisto in the dumpster and pushing it off the Raw stage. So Strowman is standing on the apron, Kalisto dropkicks his knees, and Strowman goes feet-first into the dumpster. As such, Kalisto wins. Somehow, I thought you had to shut the dumpster lid win the match. I guess I got it confused with a Casket Match.

To their credit, they promoted this going into the show. It ended up being pretty good. It’s probably the most notable thing Kalisto has done in his WWE career thus far. He got to beat Strowman, but the giant leaves the proceedings unharmed. Incidentally, did Kalisto get new entrance music?

The moment Strowman got him in that dumpster, I flashed back to that segment from 1998 when the New Age Outlaws put Cactus Jack and Terry Funk in a dumpster and pushed it off the stage. Mind you, the stage was much higher then. Kalisto took a relatively short drop by comparison. But it was a fine moment to recreate as they continue to build Braun Strowman.

Those “We want Roman!/Roman Sucks!” chants were probably exactly what WWE wanted to hear during this match.

The real loser in all of this? Kurt Angle. He was psyching up Kalisto before the match (the masked man’s mic work hasn’t improved much). But when the match was over, and he was getting shoved off the stage, Angle was nowhere to be found. Jamie Knoble, Finlay, and a bunch of refs were out there. Why not Angle? Were they afraid he’d pull focus?

Dana Brooke def. Alicia Fox. I’m not rooting against Dana Brooke. I’m really not. But her take on the Michinoku Driver was pretty ugly. She’s trying, bless her heart…

Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, and Big Cass def. Samoa Joe, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson. If I”m not mistaken, this is the first time since Summerslam that they’ve referenced Balor’s previous association with Gallows and Anderson. That’s been a long time coming. Let’s finally dive into this Bullet Club stuff…

They’re obviously still trying to be cautious with Rollins’ knee and Balor’s concussion. But they both looked good out there this week.

After an in-ring confrontation with Bayley, Alexa Bliss retreats from a match with Sasha Banks. Alexa Bliss might be the one person that actually benefits from these Raw promo segments going a little bit longer. I wouldn’t exactly call her soft-spoken. But her promo style is a little bit different. For the time being, the added time for her message to sink in is helpful.

There continues to be some heat on this Sasha Banks/Alexa Bliss pairing. People want to see them wrestle. And as we saw here, they’re pretty good together.

Apollo Crews def. Curt  Hawkins. Titus O’Neil comes out to “celebrate” with Crews after the win. I’m not sure how beneficial this association with Titus will be for Apollo. But at least it’s something. They did all of nothing with him on Smackdown.

Bray Wyatt comes to the Miz’s aid against Chris Jericho and Dean Ambrose. Bray’s initial target in this match was Ambrose. We saw those two work together pretty extensively in 2014. I can’t say I’m itching for them to work together again. But as a TV program, it might work. As I said above, I’m more interested in Bray setting his sights a little higher…

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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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Braun Strowman Breaks the Ring! Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Wrestling’s newest dominant monster, Braun Strowman, was all over Raw on Monday. After last week, it’s not hard to see why. His big attack on Roman Reigns was one of the best angles they’ve done in a long time. For certain Reigns fans it was downright horrifying. But for some of us it seemed downright cathartic. WWE seems to know that, and are actually playing into it. They seem to be using the fans’ hatred of Reigns, the so-called babyface, to get them to cheer Strowman, the supposed heel. By traditional wrestling logic, it’s about as backwards as you can get. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t fun to watch Strowman beat on people.

In the broad sense, there isn’t much about Strowman that makes him villainous. He’s a big, tough bastard who wants to fight everyone. In the context of a wrestling show that’s a pretty admirable quality. Yes, he absolutely destroyed Roman Reigns. But think about the stuff we used to see Steve Austin do to Vince McMahon and a lot of the other heels. One of the more famous moments in Raw history involves Austin abducting McMahon and holding him hostage with what we think is a gun (later revealed to be a toy). He only let him go after McMahon wet his pants in the middle of the ring.

It’s amazing what you can get away with doing to someone the fans hate. We’re being reminded of that with now with Strowman.

Ponderings From Raw:

After Kurt Angle tells Strowman he has a match with Roman Reigns at Payback, Strowman attacks numerous wrestlers in the locker room. The best of these backstage segments involved Strowman beating up Kalisto and then dropping him a dumpster. This poor guy has become WWE’s resident whipping boy. On Smackdown it was basically his job to get beat up by Dolph Ziggler. Now in his first week on Raw, he’s getting thrown in the trash by Strowman. He desperately needs to hide on 205 Live for awhile.

Booker T steps in for David Otunga at the announce table. Otunga’s start on Raw has been delayed, as he’s off shooting a movie. Can’t we just make Booker the full-time announcer? He’s got more personality than Otunga ever will, and he’s got decades of experience to draw from. He’s already doing the pre-shows, isn’t he? Why not just shift him on to the main broadcast?

Samoa Joe vs. Chris Jericho via submission. Rollins was on commentary for this match. So often, the babyfaces are so vanilla when they sit at the announce desk. I usually find myself wishing they’d be a little more charismatic, and make us actually like hearing them. Instead, this felt like the usual fluff. Nice post-match promo by Joe, though.

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson def. Enzo and Cass. No interest in this one from me. We’ve seen these teams wrestle a thousand times. I zipped right through it.

Dean Ambrose appears on Miz TV. It feels like we’re beating a dead horse here. Miz and Ambrose just feuded on Smackdown a few months ago. They did fine, but it’s not like we’re dying to see them go again.

They made a point to have Miz call Ambrose lazy and complacent in this segment. This is at least the second time they’ve done that since Steve Austin called him out last year for allegedly resting on his laurels. Why go there again? Can’t they come up with anything better for Miz to say? Hell, I’d have brought up his marriage to Renee Young before I went this route. They talked about it on their web site. Why not here?

TJ Perkins def. Jack Gallagher. Now that he’s a heel, Perkins needs a new entrance. That video game stuff is strictly babyface material. He seems to be having fun being a bad guy, though. It’s funny how much heat he got just from dabbing.

Alexa Bliss def. Sasha Banks, Mickie James, and Nia Jax to become the top contender for the Raw Women’s Title at Payback. Sasha did another one of her dives through the ropes during this match. I always hold my breath when she does that. It looked like she caught her leg on the rope, and went back-first into Mickie and Nia.

Saw a decent amount of buzz about Sasha vs. Alexa during this match. Not sure what would be so awesome about that program in particular. But I’m down for it.

Last week, Nia Jax caught heat online for dropping Charlotte Flair on her head during their match. Thus, she’s going to be scrutinized even more. To an extent it’s unfair to her, as she was thrust into the spotlight despite her inexperience. What’s she supposed to do? Turn down a prominent spot on Raw? But on the other hand, she’s in a spot that so many more seasoned wrestlers would kill for. So she’s got to take her lumps when she makes a mistake like that.

Finn Balor accepts an open challenge from Curt Hawkins, wins a quick match. Happy to see Balor in the ring this week. Rumors said he was concussed during his match with Jinder Mahal last week. Apparently he was healthy enough to do a short match this week, which is good news. The last thing he needed was another serious injury.

Dash Wilder sustains a broken jaw at NXT live event, will be out of action until summer. Terrible break for the Revival. Between Wilder, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, and Kofi Kingston’s ankle surgery, the injury bug is definitely going around.

A promo package airs featuring Bray Wyatt talking about the House of Horrors Match at Payback. This was the best parts of the entire show. Great horror imagery, combined with a promo without much of Bray’s trademark laughter. That’s a winning formula. Now if only they’d tell us what a House of  Horrors Match is.

Incidentally, Michael Cole called Payback a “Raw exclusive pay per view.” But it’s got matches for the WWE Title and the United States Title, both of which are on Smackdown. It’s an odd line-up, isn’t it?

Jeff Hardy def. Cesaro. Definitely the wrestling highlight of the show. Any time they put Cesaro in a prominent TV match, he delivers. Now if only Vince McMahon saw the same kind of star power in him that we all do.

Prior to the match, the Hardys did a backstage interview where Matt slipped a bit of his “Broken” accent in there. He’s clearly chomping at the bit to do that character on WWE TV. I can’t say I blame him.

Braun Strowman and the Big Show go to a No-Contest after they break the ring with a Superplex. Cole, Booker, and Corey Graves didn’t sell the ring break nearly enough. I understand we’ve seen this spot with Big Show before. But c’mon, guys! The damn ring imploded!

I continue to have mixed feelings about Braun Strowman leaving his feet during matches. In this match we saw him do dropkicks, kip-ups, and even Arm Drags. But if he’s going to do it, better he do it in a match with another giant. It obviously sets him apart quite a bit.

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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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#FireJBL? Plus, Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m going to tread lightly as I discuss the alleged situation between JBL and Mauro Ranallo. We’ve heard so little about this matter from either of them that it’s almost entirely rumor and speculation. But where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.

For the unaware, Mauro Ranallo has been off Smackdown for several weeks. He’s reportedly been battling symptoms of bipolar disorder, which he’s been very open about in the past. The belief is that this episode came about due to bullying by his broadcast partner John Layfield, a.k.a. JBL. What they’ve said to each other in private is anyone’s guess. But on a recent edition of Bring it to the Table on the WWE Network, Layfield chastised Ranallo for tweeting about wining the Wrestling Observer Newsletter‘s Announcer of the Year Award two years in a row. Ranallo would later cryptically tweet, “Jealousy is a hell of a drug.”

Then Ranallo missed that first Smackdown a few weeks ago, allegedly due to bad weather. Layfield would tweet: “I made the show, everyone made the show, everyone. Maybe he shouldn’t have bashed me if he wasn’t going to show up.” He’d later delete the tweet. But Ranallo hasn’t been seen on WWE TV since, and he may not be back. While WWE released a statement confirming Ranallo is under contract until August of this year, he’s since removed mentions of WWE from his social media profiles. Ironically, this story would later be extensively reported on in the Observer. 

Adding to the noise is former WWE ring announcer Justin Roberts, whose book came out this week. He writes about JBL bullying people backstage, and possibly stealing his passport. Such stories are nothing new. Numerous wrestlers have talked about Layfield’s backstage antics over the years. The Miz even mentioned such things in a promo on Raw several years ago. And hell, we all saw him beat the Blue Meanie to a pulp on live television at ECW One Night Stand in 2005.

The online backlash against Layfield has been extensive. There’s been talk about the culture backstage in WWE, and the inherent hypocrisy of the company’s association with the Be A S.T.A.R. campaign. The operative hashtag has been #FireJBL.

But firing JBL doesn’t fix the problem, does it?

Clearly this sort of behavior is an issue with this guy, and it’s all happened under the WWE umbrella. Ergo, WWE is culpable. So if what we’re hearing about this Mauro Ranallo situation is true, WWE needs to send JBL to sensitivity training of some kind. If he opts not to go, then he should be fired.

The ironic thing about all of this is that JBL’s apparent bullying tendencies are part of what made him such a great villain on screen. Frankly, this is the kind of heat WWE should be going for with their storylines. But let’s leave that to the world of fiction. In real life, bullies need to be put in their place.

Ponderings From Raw:

The Miz and Maryse arrive on Raw, along with Dean Ambrose. I’ll give ’em credit. I didn’t expect this. Ambrose coming to Raw is significant in that it puts him on the same show with Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins, potentially reuniting the Shield. But for now, it gives Raw one of the company’s top good guys. Though granted, would a real top good guy be relegated to the Wrestlemania pre-show?

I don’t think this is a good move for Miz and Maryse. On Smackdown, Miz was starting to sniff WWE Title contention again. But he’s in a larger pond now. What would you say the odds are of him winning the Universal Title now that Brock Lesnar is champion?

With all this talk about engagement rings, did anyone else notice the ring on Ambrose’s left hand? He was wearing it when he wrestled, too.

The Revival def. The New Day. Seeing this victory gives me the impression that not only are the New Day going to Raw, but Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson are likely headed to Smackdown. The Revival and the Club have a similar vibe. You don’t need both teams on the same show.

The Big Show punches out new Raw arrival Curt Hawkins. I didn’t like this format at all. The drafts from Smackdown just come out? Where’s the drama? Where’s the anticipation? Big missed opportunity.

Neville tears down TJ Perkins backstage. Later, after a distraction from Neville, Perkins pins Austin Aries. Perkins attacks Aries after the match. Thank God. Perkins is extremely talented, but few wrestlers have needed a heel turn as much as him in recent months. This will be great for him,

Kurt Angle tells Seth Rollins he’s staying on Raw, despite what happened to Commissioner Stephanie McMahon at WrestlemaniaSamoa Joe attacks Rollins. How bad did you want to see Angle suplex Joe off of Rollins?

Great to see the crowd chanting for Seth here, as opposed to CM Punk. I guess that’s what getting Steph put through a table will do for you.

Nia Jax def. Charlotte Flair. Charlotte was seemingly positioned as the underdog babyface here. As was the case with the New Day, this loss seemingly confirms she’s on her way to Smackdown.

This was a big win for Nia. But at the same time, it didn’t necessarily do her any good to be in the ring with someone as good as Charlotte. The difference in their skill set became very apparent.

Finn Balor def. Jinder Mahal. Bray Wyatt announces he’s coming to RawThis will be a good move for Bray, if for no other reason than it’ll get him away from Randy Orton. Now the question is, will Balor end up jumping to Smackdown? If he stays where he is, these two would seemingly compliment each other well.

Apollo Crews, Kalisto, Heath Slater, Rhyno, and David Otunga coming to Raw. Byron Saxton moving to SmackdownI guess these guys all fall into the miscellaneous column. Most notable here is the drafting of Kalisto, who will obviously be a great get for the Cruiserweight Division.

Not a fan of the announcer switch at all. That news actually broke after Raw. People have been pretty tough on Saxton. But I very much prefer him to Otunga, who adds absolutely nothing to Smackdown. This seems like it was done just for the sake of moving people.

Sami Zayn def. The Miz. Nice win for Sami. They’ve been teasing him going to Smackdown for months. I expect this will be his last time on Raw for quite awhile.

Now that Miz and Daniel Bryan aren’t on the same show anymore, should Miz still be using his kicks? That doesn’t really make sense.

Braun Strowman destroys Roman Reigns backstage, tipping over an ambulance with his bare hands in the process. This was a great angle. It may as well have turned Strowman babyface. How do they expect him to hear anything but cheers now? He decimated the man who retired the Undertaker. Very well done, and an excellent way to re-emphasis Strowman.

“The Drifter” Elias Samson appears on stage during an eight-man tag. I’m not at all familiar with Samson’s work in NXT, though the buzz I’ve heard about the character hasn’t been stellar. Curious to see what he’s about.

Alexa Bliss and Mickie James arrive from Smackdown. Nia Jax lays out the babyfaces. Well, here we go. Your new layout for the Raw Women’s Division. Looks like we’ve got an alliance between Alexa and Nia Jax. I can dig that. It’s a much better role for Nia.

Our long form story here continues to be about Bayley and Sasha. It’s looking like they may go the babyface route with Sasha before she eventually turns. Again, I can dig that.

Dean Ambrose def. Kevin Owens. Chris Jericho hits Owens with a Codebreaker after the match. Historically speaking, when they move a champion from one show to the other, the counterpart championship also has to move. This would seemingly indicate that Kevin Owens is on his way to Smackdown. That’s a surprise, if for no other reason than Sami Zayn seems to be on his way over there. One of the biggest upsides to moving Zayn to Smackdown was to get him away from Owens. Now it looks like they may be drafted together yet again. That’s lame.

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WWE’s Superstar Shake-Up: 10 Potential Roster Switches

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It’s the draft. They’re calling it the “Superstar Shake-Up.” But for all intents and purposes, it’s the draft. This is a good time a year for it, too. It’s the unofficial start to WWE’s new season. You can shift people around and start building new programs for Summerslam, or even Wrestlemania XXXIV. More importantly, it freshens everything up with new programs, and gives certain talents a clean slate.

There’s been plenty of buzz about who’s going and who’s staying. I’ll address some of that here. But by and large, these would be my draft picks for Raw and Smackdown, with five picks for each show.

Let the mock draft begin!

1. AJ Styles to Raw
Moving AJ to Raw is a risky move. He’s arguably Smackdown‘s most valuable asset right now, and they’ve largely built that show around him since the roster split.

By on the flip side, there’d be a lot for him to do on Raw. His former Bullet Club co-horts Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson are over there. As is the man he ousted from that group, Finn Balor. You can build to programs with Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins. While I don’t expect him to go babyface, if that happens, Kevin Owens would be there. I’d be curious to see what AJ could do with Braun Strowman. There’s also the man I’ve listed at number nine. Either way, Styles presents you with a lot of options.

Considering how valuable he’s been to the company at large since his debut, it’s not surprising they’d want him on the so-called flagship show. With any luck, he can breathe a little more life into those three hour broadcasts.

2. Charlotte Flair to Smackdown.
From a creative perspective, Charlotte has simply run out of opponents on Raw. They’ve put her with Bayley since January, and we all know how long she was with Sasha Banks. On paper, a move to Smackdown immediately presents her with three intriguing opponents: Naomi, Nikki Bella, and Mickie James. Of course, we’ve seen her work with Becky Lynch before. But it’s been awhile, and they always had a nice hero/villain dynamic.

Bottom line: The “Queen” needs a new kingdom to rule over. So let’s give her one.

3. Alexa Bliss to Raw.
Alexa is essentially in the same situation Charlotte is in. But while she was one of the breakout stars of the draft, her abilities aren’t quite as refined as Charlotte’s. Her mic work is also very different. She’s got a great high school cheerleader vibe going on, but her vocal delivery is softer than we’re used to. It will do her some good to mix it up with Bayley on television. I’m not sure how much longer Sasha Banks will be a babyface. But in the meantime, that would work too.

4. The New Day to Smackdown.
The Smackdown Tag Team Division has The Usos, American Alpha…and that’s it, really. None of the other teams have any steam right now. So putting the New Day on Smackdown makes sense in that respect.

I imagine Kofi, Big E., and Woods will jump right into the title hunt, and quit talking about ice cream. Frankly, that may be the biggest benefit to the move.

5. Kalisto to Raw.
I’m wondering if they put Kaliso on Smackdown in the hopes that he’d become the next break-out Hispanic star. So far they’ve had no such luck. But that’s what getting demolished by Dolph Ziggler week after week will do to you.

Billed at 170 lbs, Kalisto is a natural fit for the Cruiserweight Division. He always has been. As we’ve seen with Neville, there’s tremendous value to adding pre-established names to that fold. They also have the option of putting him back with Sin Cara if they need to. This switch can get Kalisto back on track.

6. Sami Zayn to Smackdown.
When Sami was called up, the biggest issue I had with him was that he had no identity to the casual viewer. He was Kevin Owens’ best friend turned worst enemy. That’s all we knew. That’s been rectified in these last few months. He’s now our new resident underdog.

But Raw is also pretty crowded. Sami has had to compete for airtime with the likes of Goldberg, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Chris Jericho. Goldberg is gone now, but Finn Balor is also back.

Moving Sami to Smackdown does two things. Firstly, it gets him away from Kevin Owens. On a given week when they can’t come up with anything for them, they simply put Owens and Zayn against each other. Their rivalry desperately needs some space. More importantly, putting him in a slightly smaller pond gives him a chance to up his value and prove his worth as an upper-card babyface. Sami Zayn has a legit shot at being a star in the same vein as Daniel Bryan. This can be his next step on that path.

7. Mickie James to Raw.
Since arriving on Smackdown, Mickie’s had some good matches with Becky Lynch. She also cut a pretty good return promo. But that’s about it. While I understand she’s there to put the new girls over, she became a background player far too quickly for my taste.

Mickie is more or less a babyface right now. I say you keep her that way, and get her over to Nia Jax. I’m not as hard on Nia as some people are. But working with Mickie could be a valuable learning experience for her. Later, Mickie can work with Sasha Banks and Bayley. And if Alexa is indeed moved to Raw, there’s always the potential for more there.

8. Cesaro to Smackdown.
I’ll begrudgingly admit that teaming with Sheamus has been good for Cesaro. It’s brought out another side of his personality, and let him get in touch with the entertainment aspect of WWE a bit more. But we’ve all been saying it for years: There’s so much potential in a Cesaro singles run. So let the man go to Smackdown and do his thing. Put the Intercontinental Title on him and let him have a good, sustained run. Let him establish himself as a credible champion. Plus, Sheamus and Cesaro will inevitably break up at some point. With all due respect, is the world really clamoring for matches between those two after what we saw last year?

9. Luke Harper to Raw.
Harper is in a awkward spot on Smackdown. He had a damn good match with Randy Orton at Fastlane, but he lost. Then he almost became the top contender for Bray Wyatt’s WWE Title, but he lost. Then he wrestled Bray on television, and he lost. A feud between Bray and Luke could have ben interesting. But the timing seems to be off. Moving him to Raw is risky, considering what happened the last time they broke him away from the Wyatt Family. But he’s got a little more developed this time around. They’ve been giving him some mic time, and that would need to continue if he moves to Raw. But perhaps it’s time to re-brand all together. Up to this point, he’s been completely defined by his relationship to Bray Wyatt. It may be time to put a fresh coat of paint on Harper.

10. Samoa Joe to Smackdown.
At the moment, Joe is Triple H’s hired gun. But apparently Hunter and Stephanie won’t be around for a little while. That gives Joe some valuable time to establish himself away from them. The best place to do that might be in the void left by AJ Styles on Smackdown. While I can’t say I’m looking forward to hearing David Otunga call his matches, a lone Joe could easily find himself in the WWE Title picture on Smackdown. It’s tough to be the resident monster when you’re sharing a broadcast with Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman. But he’d have lots of room on Smackdown. What’s more, as an ally of Stephanie’s he’d have a built-in opponent in Shane McMahon. Summerslam, perhaps?

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