A Shield Reunion Looms, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The Twitterverse hasn’t been kind to Sunday’s Battleground pay per view. There are a variety of reasons why. But one of the prominent ones has to do with the big guy on the right. The Great Khali is back.

Oh…great.

The seven-foot giant helped Jinder Mahal retain the WWE Championship in a Punjabi Prison Match. This actually makes sense from a story perspective. The Punjabi Prison Match was indeed created for Khali. Plus, in the build-up to Battleground, Jinder called Khali his hero. Admittedly, it was a surprise to see the big guy lumber out there. But it’s difficult to even articulate in English how little I want to see Khali wrestle again. Even WWE themselves have joked about how limited his in-ring skills are. Beyond chopping and bear-hugging, that is.

WWE apparently brought Khali in because of his popularity with the Indian market. They want Jinder to “get the rub” off him, so that WWE Network subscriptions go up in India. Fair enough, I guess. I do like the idea of an Indian faction. Khali could ideally serve the role of a bodyguard for Mahal, with the Singh Brothers finally becoming part of the Smackdown Tag Team Division.

Still, I can’t say Khali’s return gets me any more excited to watch Smackdown. Actually, it’s the opposite. If anything, I might be more inclined to fast-forward through the Jinder Mahal segments. Khalil’s segments were tough to get through before. So putting him with your new heel champion? Not the move I would have made…

Ponderings From Raw:

Kurt Angle announces Brock Lesnar will defend the Universal Championship against Roman Reigns, Samoa Joe, and Braun Strowman in a Fatal Four-Way Match at Summerslam. A brawl ensues between the challengers. This was the right move. Amidst all the buzz out there right now about Brock possibly going back to the UFC next year, having these three in there just ups the speculation about him dropping the belt. As was the case with Wrestlemania XXXI, they can have Brock lose the title without being pinned. Perhaps more importantly, this match has a great “Who’s the man?” vibe to it. Any of the four of them could walk away with the title.

Everybody had great intensity here. Loved Joe interrupting Angle’s exit. Roman has such a great smugness to him. He’d make such a great heel. But admittedly, part of me respects that kind of attitude from a babyface perspective…

Somebody posted a gif on Twitter of Strowman chucking one of those “security guards” out of the ring. Holy crap. The dude flew over the ropes and landed flat on his back. Spot of the night, right there.

Elias Samson def. Finn Balor in a No-Disqualification Match. Bray Wyatt gives the assist, hitting Balor with Sister Abigail. It’s amazing what a little bit of blood can do. I haven’t been to into these Balor/Samson matches. But after the nasty gash that guitar shot left in Balor’s head last week, I was looking forward to this one. It looked like they were really laying it in out there, too.

You know, now that Reigns vs. Lesnar may not be happening at Wrestlemania, I can think of one guy who never lost that Universal Title.

Big Cass def. Enzo Amore. So after the match, Big Show comes out. As he’s about to get in the ring, Cass has Enzo by the head, and is threatening to snap his neck. Well, death threats are one way to get over as a heel…

Nia Jax def. Emma. Emma has essentially been a jobber since she’d come back. I’d love to know how much of that has to do with the Emmalina persona not working out.

Nia Jax gets a lot of crap from “smart fans.” But that rolling Senton was awesome.

Akira Tozawa calls out Ariya Daivari, but gets Neville instead. Daivari lays out both. I was shocked as hell to see Daivari not only beat up Tozawa, but Neville as well. When Daivari first started showing up on Raw, it didn’t seem like he could get a win to save his life. Now this is happening. Pretty cool. But as long as Neville is in the Cruiserweight Division, he’s the top heel. Bar none. I shudder to think what it would look like without him.

Bayley def. Sasha Banks to earn a title match against Alexa Bliss at Summerslam.  In a backstage interview earlier in the night, Alexa called Sasha and Bayley “Team Gag Reflex.” That’s a good line. And when it comes to some of their promos, an accurate one.

But Sasha and Bayley got to the dance because of what they bring between the ropes, often against one another. This was the most prominent Sasha/Bayley match we’ve seen since they came to the main roster, and we got to see some of that magic. Portions of this were really smooth. Great to hear the crowd get into things as they cranked up the intensity in the second half. Really good match.

So now we’ve got another Bayley vs. Alexa Bliss match for Summerslam. Hopefully they resist the temptation to add Sasha to the match, and give us yet another multi-woman match on a pay per view. If Sasha does show up at Summerslam, she needs to accidentally cost Bayley the match. Or perhaps not accidentally?

Jason Jordan def. Curt Hawkins. Very explosive performance from Jordan. Crowd wasn’t buying much of this. But they’re still establishing Jordan as a single. Let’s see what happens when he gets something with some meat to it.

The Revival def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. The Hardys attack Dash and Dawson afterward. Anderson and Gallows cut what seemed to be a babyface promo before this match. I’m game for a face turn. If you’re into wrestling podcasts, you know Luke Gallows is extremely likable. They’ve also got a natural cool factor. Let’s see if they’re still going for cheers next week.

Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose def. The Miz, Curtis Axel, and Bo Dallas. Rollins attempts a show of solidarity with Ambrose after the match. Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas in a Raw main event in 2017. Do you believe in miracles?

They made a point to show Sheamus and Cesaro watching this match backstage. Are we about to see Rollins and Ambrose going for the tag straps?

Great image at the end. Rollins goes for the signature Shield fist bump, but Ambrose leaves him hanging. I’m still digging this. This is the first time I’ve really been into babyface Seth Rollins. While the Shield reunion is clearly being done to benefit Roman, Seth may be the one who benefits the most in the end.

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A WWE Battleground 2017 Preview – Punjabi Prison Blues

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Randy Orton and Jinder Mahal will likely have the best Punjabi Prison Match of all time this Sunday at Battleground. Unfortunately, the bar has been set pretty low for Punjabi Prison Matches. So I imagine it will still suck.

It’s not necessarily their fault. The Punjabi Prison Match concept was ill-conceived from the start. Bringing it back gave WWE an opportunity to change up the rules and make it a little less convoluted. As we saw this week on Smackdown, they’ve opted to keep it the same. That doesn’t bode well.

The Punjabi Prison is a double cage, one inside the other. To win, a wrestler must escape from both. The first cage has doors, each of which can only be opened for 60 seconds before it’s closed permanently. The second cage must be climbed.

I actually like the structure itself. But they’re overcomplicating things with the door rule for the first cage. Just have both guys fight to get out. Keep the damn thing simple, and easy to grasp.

The cages also look as big and cumbersome as ever. Remember, this thing was originally built for the Great Khali. It was downright painful watching Orton climb it while holding a microphone and talking.

I don’t envy these two at Battleground. As I’ve said previously, there’s a reason we haven’t seen a lot of Punjabi Prison Matches over the years. We weren’t exactly clamoring for another one. But here’s hoping Orton and Mahal put on a decent show nonetheless.

Let’s take a look at Battleground

PRE-SHOW MATCH:
Tye Dillinger vs. Aiden English

Oh c’mon. They’re doing the same pre-show match they did at Backlash? Sami Zayn, Chad Gable, Luke Harper, and Breezango are all on the bench, but these two are wrestling again?? Lame.

I’m not sure why Dillinger wouldn’t win again here. They seem content to have him dwindle at lower midcard status for now. That’s a shame. I don’t know if he’ll ever be WWE Champion. But he’s got plenty more to offer.

PREDICTION: Tye Dillinger

FATAL FIVE-WAY MATCH TO DETERMINE TOP CONTENDER FOR SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE AT SUMMERSLAM:
Charlotte Flair vs. Natalya vs. Becky Lynch vs. Lana vs. Tamina

The lack of creativity in this company is downright maddening sometimes. Charlotte, Becky, Natalya, and Tamina have been in so many of these multi-women matches together that there’s absolutely no draw here. You may as well just do Charlotte vs. Becky. At least we haven’t seen them wrestle on pay per view in awhile.

I don’t see them doing Summerslam without Charlotte. She’s already wrestled Naomi for the belt on television. But Summerslam is obviously a much bigger stage, and they can draw out a babyface vs. babyface feud. I maintain, however, that Charlotte has no business being a babyface. It wasn’t long ago that she was arguably the best villain in the company. Perhaps a loss to Naomi at Summerslam could put her back on a path to the dark side.

PREDICTION: Charlotte Flair

WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The Usos (c) vs. The New Day

The New Day are getting the titles at some point. It’s simply a question of when. As we saw in the rap battle segment a few weeks ago, these guys can be really entertaining together. So I say we give them a little more time to do their thing. I don’t have enough faith in WWE creative to think they’ll give us something better than the rap battle. But you never know.

How about we have the Usos retain here, and then do a stipulation match at Summerslam? If the New Day lose, they can’t challenge for the belts again as long as Jimmy and Jey have them. Just a thought.

PREDICTION: The Usos

Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Baron Corbin

For better or worse, the logic regarding the guy holding the Money in the Bank briefcase is that you can beat him all you want. Because at the end of the day, he’s still got the briefcase. I’ve always hated that idea. But it can apply in isolated incidents. This match is one such incident. Nakamura needs to be kept strong, and a loss here does minimal damage to Corbin. His ruthless attitude notwithstanding, Corbin has largely been portrayed as beatable when it comes to the bigger and more established names. John Cena, Randy Orton, Dean Ambrose, etc. I chalk that up to his inexperience. In reality it’s probably just bad booking.

After beating Corbin, I’d love to see Nakamura go to Summerslam to face John Cena. That doesn’t seem to be in the cards. But one day…

PREDICTION: Shinsuke Nakamura

WWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Kevin Owens

I didn’t expect AJ to win the belt at all, much less in a non-televised match. But there he is, our United States Champion. Supposedly they did it to keep Smackdown from having too many anti-American heel champions. Fair enough. The great thing about Owens and Styles is they’ll give you good matches no matter how many times you put them out there together.

I don’t see the need to keep this feud going until Summerslam, so this should be it for these guys. KO has been doing just fine with the whole “Face of America” thing. But I’m liking AJ with the belt. Chances are, he’s not challenging for the title in August. So being United States Champion keeps him in a prominent spot, and it’s a simple way to match him up against almost anyone. As for Owens, he can do just about anything and be perfectly fine. Just keep him away from Sami Zayn.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

FLAG MATCH:
John Cena vs. Rusev

Rusev could win this match. That would sure as hell be a surprise. There’s not much harm in it, either. It’s not like he’d be pinning Cena.

I don’t see it happening, though. Cena is the American hero in a Flag Match. It’s rather difficult to picture a scenario where he doesn’t win this one, and then go on to wrestle for the WWE Title at Summerslam. As for Rusev, he could go either way at this point. He hasn’t exactly had the best creative as of late. He doesn’t even have Lana with him anymore. The “Bulgarian Brute” has rebounded before. But they’re not making it easy for him, are they?

PREDICTION: John Cena

PUNJABI PRISON MATCH FOR WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
Jinder Mahal (c) vs. Randy Orton

The Jinder Mahal experiment hasn’t been a rousing success. But it hasn’t been a failure either. I haven’t been blown away by either his matches or his promos. But the WWE machine has given him an aura of importance. They’ve created the illusion of a big star. Now Jinder just needs to live up to the hype. It’s a slow process, but he’s getting there.

A third consecutive pay per view win over Randy Orton, which is what he’ll get here, is certainly a step in the right direction. The match isn’t going to win any awards. But it’s still a hell of a coup. And it could lead to an even bigger one, depending on what they decide to do with him at Summerslam.

I can’t say it’s a match I’m dying to see, but the story pretty much writes itself. John Cena wins a Flag Match with Rusev, and then defends his country’s honor yet again at one of the biggest shows of the year. But does the Jinder Mahal experiment end there…?

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Austin Aries Leaves WWE, Plus Ponderings From Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

So Austin Aries is gone from WWE? Well that’s a damn downer.

Depending on who you believe, either the real-life Daniel Solwold Jr. asked for his release, or WWE let him go. Aries; unhappiness with WWE’s decision to not include his Wrestlemania pre-show match with Neville on the DVD release was apparently a source of contention.

Regardless, the separation seems to be amicable. Aries tweeted some things that seemed vaguely happy. But from a fan’s perspective, it’s a shame. Aries is over. He was undoubtedly the top babyface they had on 205 Live. But by that same token, he could have gone so much further than the Cruiserweight Division. Aries has a metric ton of charisma, and could have made that company a lot of money in the right role.

The good news is Aries won’t be wanting for work. Between New Japan, Ring of Honor, the recently re-branded Global Force Wrestling, and the current indy scene, he’s got plenty of options. Ultimately, WWE’s loss is a major gain for somebody else.

It’s just a damn shame they had to lose him.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

AJ Styles opens the show by reinstating the US Championship Open Challenge. John Cena attempts to answer, but Kevin Owens interrupts. Rusev then jumps Cena and a fight ensues. The cool thing about AJ Styles winning the US Title in an untelevised match over the weekend isn’t just the surprise factor. It’s the fact that AJ Styles, a man that many thought would never grace a WWE ring, won a title in what is essentially the promotion’s home arena. Imagine that.

Styles said the United States Championship has been “overlooked way too many times.” I appreciate the sentiment. But it seemingly doesn’t apply anymore, does it? They’ve kept that belt on upper card, main event level guys for quite awhile now. Owens, Cena, Roman Reigns, Chris Jericho, etc. The secondary titles have been in a much deserved renaissance lately, and we’re all reaping the benefits.

Jinder Mahal def. Tye Dillinger. Mahal promises to bring the Punjabi Prison to Smackdown next week. Is WWE management underwhelmed with Dillinger? The crowd obviously likes him, but until recently he’d been off television for awhile. What gives?

I’m still waiting for the Singh Brothers to get in the ring…

JBL mentioned how the Punjabi Prison dwarfs Hell in a Cell. Not sure that’s a good comparison to make. There’s a reason we haven’t seen a lot of these Punjabi Prison Matches, but there’s a Hell in a Cell pay per view.

Xavier Woods def. Jey Uso. Which Uso said the “R-rated” line in the rap battle last week? Let’s just say it was Jey. Because I love the irony of WWE editing that line out of the YouTube clips from the show, but then putting those two in the ring the next week.

A brawl breaks out between Shinsuke Nakamura and Baron Corbin before they can have a match. Cue a match between these two at Battleground. Let’s get this one out of the way so we can hopefully get to Nakamura vs. Cena at Summerslam.

Natalya and Tamina def. Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch. Battleground Fatal Five-Way Elimination Match to decide challenger for Women’s Title at SummerslamI’m hoping we can soon get back to one-on-one feuds in this division. We’ve seen so many multi-woman matches lately. If I had to guess, I’d say we get Naomi vs. Charlotte at Summerslam.

Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley appear on the latest edition of “The Fashion Files.” Last week Rawley eliminated Ryder from the big Battle Royal, and they made a point to mention it again this week. The smart bet is a Ryder heel turn is coming. But the guy is so likable. Both are, actually. It’ll be interesting to see if Ryder can garner any real heat after being a sympathetic underdog for so many years.

AJ Styles and John Cena def. Kevin Owens and Rusev. This one didn’t do much for me. The only thing really notable here was the in-ring return of Rusev. He looked fine out there. But man, you talk about drawing the short straw. He comes back, and is immediately put into a Flag Match with John Cena. You can certainly do worse than Cena as far as pay per view opponents go. But they’ll want Cena to have momentum going into Summerslam, so Rusev’s chances of winning are slim to none. Here’s hoping he’ll have a better time once we get through August.

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Punjabi Prison Match Returning, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I turned Raw off this week at about the 90-minute mark. It was the first time I’d given up on a show since November. Apparently I missed some good stuff afterward, including a follow-up on the split between Enzo and Cass, Samoa Joe choking out Brock Lesnar, and a Gauntlet Match with the women.

What a shame I missed it. But I just couldn’t take it anymore. The show was actively irritating me.

It started when they brought Josh Duhamel out to do commentary during a six-man tag. He was there to promote Transformers: The Last Knight, and an upcoming film he’s working on with WWE Studios. They spent a large portion of the match asking Duhamel questions about the movies before actually bothering to talk about what was happening in the ring. I’ve been watching this stuff for over 20 years, and this kind of thing  is nothing new. But it’s seldom been as grating to me as it was here. It’s like they were trying to mimic a talk show interview.

Later in the show, they did a Miz TV segment with someone named Lamelo Ball and his son LaVar Ball, and then his other son Lonzo Ball. I had no idea who any of these people were. Apparently Lonzo just got drafted by the LA Lakers, so it was partially meant to appeal to the crowd in Los Angeles. But this was just not good. It was an obvious attempt by WWE to get coverage from the major sports outlets so they’d look “legitimate.” Whatever that means…

It was then made worse when 15-year-old Lamelo used the N-word twice. It happened during Dean Ambrose’s entrance, so the music pulled a little bit of focus from it. But it happened. Some of the blame goes on Lamelo for that. But he’s just a kid. What the hell was he doing with a live mic?

And frankly, as a wrestling fan, there’s a larger issue at play for me here. The Ball family shouldn’t have had a featured role on Raw to begin with. I understand WWE wanting to get “the rub” from celebrities. It makes good business sense, and it’s certainly worked in the past. Think of names like Mr. T, Cindi Lauper, Mike Tyson, and Floyd Mayweather.

But WWE has bigger problems right now that can’t be masked by celebrity involvement. They’re the same problems that have been there for years now. Everything is overly sanitized. The wrestlers are too scripted. Certain characters feel hollow. Nothing feels real. The show is too long. The list goes on.

The ratings reflect it, too. Viewership fell below three million people again this week. Pundits talk a lot about WWE’s “base” audience. As in, the people that are going to watch the shows no matter what. Usually, I’m part of that base. But this past week, they chased me off before I could see most of their big angles. If it’s gotten to the point that they’re chasing hardcore loyalists like myself off, how do they expect to bring casual viewers back to the product?

Over seven million people have watched the YouTube video of the first Brock Lesnar/Samoa Joe’s confrontation on Raw. So it’s not like there’s no interest in the WWE brand. I think a lot of the more casual fans are simply waiting for Raw to be good again. Why should they waste their time otherwise?

So what do they have to lose by changing up the presentation and the creative? More importantly, how much do they stand to gain by taking some risks? It’s not like what they’re doing now is setting the world on fire. Anything so we don’t see crap like that Miz TV segment anymore. That thing stunk like balls…

Sorry. I couldn’t resist. Let’s move on to Smackdown.  

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Daniel Bryan opens the show, Carmella vies to get her Money in the Bank briefcase back. James Ellsworth is ejected from the building. I chuckled at Ellsworth’s crack about Bryan not being able to cut it in the ring anymore. Bryan has made no secret about wanting to get back in there. He just can’t get cleared by WWE doctors. The smart bet his inevitable return take place in Ring of Honor or New Japan Pro Wrestling. That’s sad news for WWE buffs. But as much as anyone, Bryan deserves to live life on his own terms.

The Usos def. The Hype Bros. The New Day to challenge for the Smackdown Tag Titles at BattlegroundSurprised the Hype Bros lost this match clean. Maybe that Zack Ryder heel turn is coming sooner than I expected.

So Kofi Kingston insults the Usos, and they just stand there and take it? Yes, they’re heels. But do they have to be wusses too? At least tease some physicality.

Breezango interrogates the Ascension about attacking them at Money in the Bank. Konnor: “The only reason we were at Money in the Bank is because we wanted a match on the card.” Hey, at least he’s honest.

Naomi def. Lana to retain the Smackdown Women’s Title. I was actually rooting for Lana here. How much heat would she get if Rusev came down and cost Naomi the match? Is Lana as good wrestler yet? No. But neither was Stephanie McMahon when she was Women’s Champion. Just do it!

Randy Orton interrupts Aiden English to challenge Jinder Mahal to another WWE Title Match. Shane McMahon grants his request, allowing Mahal to choose the stipulation Mahal chooses a Punjabi Prison Match. How nice that they just happened to have that stock footage of the Punjabi Prison structure standing by. That’s the kind of thing that just shatters your suspension of disbelief.

Jinder name-dropped the Great Khali in this segment. Not sure how good an idea that was. Considering the quality of previous Punjabi Prison Matches, do they really want people Googling them with the Great Khali’s name attached? Not exactly a recipe for quality content.

Baron Corbin def. Sami Zayn. They had Sami Zayn interrupt Maria and Mike Kanellis on his way to the ring. Not a bad first opponent for Mike Kanellis. Not a bad first opponent for anybody, really.

Carmella def. Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Natalya, and Tamina Snuka in a Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match to regain the briefcase. Great effort from all the ladies involved here. It seemed like they were trying to slam each other hard to make up for a lack of hitting one another with the ladder.

They did a weird sequence where Charlotte and Tamina (with her Joan Jett look) were holding a closed ladder straight up, and Becky Lynch tried to leap up and climb it. They held it there for several seconds, then let it drop across the ropes as Becky remained perched. A few seconds later, they then attacked her. Very tentative. Again, it hurts your suspension of disbelief. But then again, I’m not the one out there on the ladder…

That chair shot Carmella gave to Becky at the end of the match looked weak as hell. If you’re going to use the damn chair, make it look good! That being said, this was the right finish. Carmella gets heat with how she won at the pay per view, and she keeps it here. Smackdown has its new top heel in the Women’s Division. But lay that damn chair in! Also, don’t let the cameras catch you peeking at the ring when you’re supposed to be down on the outside!

You live and you learn…

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