Mauro Ranallo: M.I.A. Plus, Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

You wouldn’t know it by watching WWE TV lately, but Finn Balor is back in action. He made his official in-ring return at a house show on March 10.

There’s been speculation about Balor being back for Wrestlemania since he was forced to relinquish the Universal Title back in August. Now, less than two weeks out, it appears that’s not the case.

It’s bittersweet, but for the best as far as I’m concerned. Wrestlemania is always so damn crowded. If you count the yet-to-be-made-official Triple H vs. Seth Rollins, the card already has 13 matches. And there’s always the potential for more. Guys like Samoa Joe and Sami Zayn are already lost in the shuffle. There’s no need to throw Balor in there, only for him to have nothing of consequence to contribute.

Balor seems almost a certainty for the night after Wrestlemania. The slate will be relatively clean, and his return will get the emphasis it deserves. I’m sure they’ll want to bring him back as a babyface. But if they decide to go the heel route, Balor vs. Rollins would be pretty natural. There’s been all this talk about Rollins missing Wrestlemania. But from a story perspective, he cost Balor his very first Wrestlemania. Something to think about…

Ponderings From Smackdown:

AJ Styles accepts Shane McMahon’s challenge, promises to face him in the parking lot later in the show. “Without AJ Styles, Smackdown Live plummets.” He’s not entirely right, but he’s not entirely wrong either. Something to keep in mind with all this buzz about Styles possibly going to Raw after Wrestlemania.

Mauro Ranallo absent from Smackdown for the second week in a row. Something’s not right here. A one-week absence? Sure. But two is suspicious. Tom Phillips said Ranallo was “out sick.” I don’t buy it. Your lead play-by-play guy doesn’t just vanish two weeks before the biggest show of the year. Either WWE has made a change, or something’s up with Mauro. Here’s hoping everything’s alright.

The Usos def. American Alpha to win the WWE Smackdown Tag Team Titles. Wasn’t expecting this. But no complaints on my end. The Usos have found a lot of new life since turning heel. They deserve this.

Familiar format here, with Gable selling, Jordan getting the hot tag, and then going into false finishes. But again, no complaints. Really good match. Tons of explosiveness. These guys supplied the hell out of each other.

Randy Orton def. Baron Corbin. Dean Ambrose distracts Corbin during the match, accepts his challenge for WrestlemaniaThese two weren’t bad together. They’ve got similar attitudes. There could easily be a program here someday. Thankful Corbin didn’t get beat clean, as he did by Cena several weeks ago. There was no need for that then, and there was no need for it here.

That little salute Orton gave to Ambrose before pinning Corbin was a nice touch.

Bray Wyatt, along with several henchmen in sheep masks, ambush Randy Orton backstage. Wyatt thanks Orton for “purging” him of his one flaw. The sheep mask thing is usually going to work, because it’s spooky and weird. Bray’s laughing was back this week, though. A bit more appropriate this time, but I still wish he’d have more of a deadly serious attitude about Orton. The guy did burn down his house, after all.

John Cena def. Fandango. Tyler Breeze is at ringside dressed as Nikki Bella. Xena and Nikki make quick work of Breezango. We saw Cena and Fandango together on Southpaw Regional Wrestling, the WWE Network’s parody of an old school southern wrestling show. Surprisingly funny stuff. Definitely worth a look.

Tyler Breeze had to sell a spear and a Rack Attack from Nikki here. As if the guy’s career on the main roster wasn’t dead enough already.

Becky Lynch vs. Carmella breaks down into a no-contest. Natalya, Mickie James, and Alexa Bliss brawl in the ring. Remember all that talk about WWE bringing back former female for Wrestlemania? I’m inclined to think this may have been the match they had in mind. It could still be in the cards, considering we still don’t even know what kind of match these ladies are having.

Eric Bischoff to induct Diamond Dallas Page into the WWE Hall of Fame, Jim Cornette to induct the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express. These should both be really interesting. Bischoff hasn’t been in front of a WWE crowd in quite some time. I imagine he’ll hear no fewer boos than he did years ago. As for Cornette, I doubt he’ll cause much trouble. I doubt he wants to, considering this is for Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson. But type his name into YouTube, and you’ll realize how crazy it is that he’s on WWE TV again.

The Miz and Maryse spoof Total BellasShockingly, these weren’t as bad as I thought they’d be. Though admittedly, I may be biased. I can’t stand to hear the Bellas talk. They come off way too much like Kardashian clones. It seemed like they were plucking lines straight from smark message boards here.

Shane McMahon calls out AJ Styles. A fight erupts, culminating in Shane hitting a top-rope elbow drop through the announce table. That duplex Styles gave Shane into the guard rail was sick. Hell of an appetizer, here. Is this the Wrestlemania match we never knew we wanted?

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A Roman Reigns Heel Turn? Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

How many years did we wait for a John Cena heel turn? Hell, some of us are still waiting. I was there at Wrestlemania XXII when he got booed out of the building during the main event. That was in 2006. So it’s been at least a decade.

The smart bet is that it’s never happening. At this point, why bother? It feels like the fans are finally starting to turn back around on Cena, and cheer him as Smackdown‘s resident legend. But there was a long period where so many of us were clamoring for Cena to snap back at those crowds that were booing him so hard.

Obviously we now have the same situation with Roman Reigns. For better or worse, he’s the company’s next chosen one. Like Cena, he comes out to a chorus of boos from most of the grown men in the audience. Children and women seem to enjoy him, but the fanboys hate him. And they’re not likely to stop booing him anytime soon, especially given this stuff with the Undertaker.

This week’s Raw segment with Roman struck a chord with me. Not just because Shawn Michaels was in there with him, but because he threatened to retire the Undertaker. As Undertaker is someone I’ve been watching since I was 11 years old, it almost felt personal.  I suspect that’s how a lot of people feel, and you’ve got to know WWE is counting on that.

I understand the generational, “passing the torch” element of WWE putting Reigns with the Undertaker. But I don’t think having Roman beat the Undertaker helps him as far as being a lead babyface. People generally don’t like seeing the Undertaker beaten in big matches. Wrestlemania XXX comes to mind.

If Roman is turning heel, however…

Keeping Roman strong is a top priority, and has been for years. In this company, you can’t look any stronger than when you beat the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. Just ask Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman. But Brock was also a heel when he did that. I don’t see how beating the Undertaker at Wrestlemania makes Roman anything less than a heel. Mind you, I’m assuming that’s the direction they’re going. But I don’t see them simply having Roman lose to Undertaker, unless the plan is for him to snap afterward and beat the hell out of him. Again, as a heel.

Perhaps it’s pie in the sky thinking, and this heat from the crowds is simply part of being WWE’s marquee man nowadays. But man, imagine the story of Roman beating the Undertaker, and officially becoming the most hated man in the company. Especially if he cheats to do it…

Ponderings From Smackdown:

AJ Styles cuts a promo on not having a match at Wrestlemania, promises to confront Shane McMahon. Hearing AJ trace his frustrations back to the Royal Rumble made this feel very reminiscent of Bret Hart in early 1997. He would always talk about being screwed out of the WWF Title. It all culminated in that famous moment on Raw when he shoved Vince McMahon, and cut that scathing, cuss-laden promo. Now all these years later, It’s AJ against Vince’s son. It somehow feels fitting.

Tom Phillips and JBL call the show without Mauro Ranallo and David Otunga. Ranallo was supposedly held up by bad weather, and Otunga is shooting a Tyler Perry movie. So for the first time in quite awhile, we had a two-man announce team on WWE television. Wouldn’t you know it, the world didn’t end. Just sayin’.

Becky Lynch def. Natalya via submission. Carmella attacks Becky after the match. Tremendous counter from the top turnbuckle into the Disarm-Her. I feel like the crowd chants for Becky Lynch every week. I’m legitimately rooting for her at Wrestlemania. She deserves a moment in the sun.

Noticed Carmella didn’t have her accent in the backstage promo that followed. Did they drop it? If so, that sucks. That was instant heat with me.

John Cena and Nikki Bella appear on Miz TV. Maryse accuses Nikki of keeping her off the first season of Total Divas. Daniel Bryan makes a mixed tag match between the two couples for WrestlemaniaFor months, the heels on this show have made it a point to talk about how Cena will never marry Nikki. Miz and Maryse did the same here, with a close-up of her wedding ring for good measure. So we’re getting a proposal at Wrestlemania, right? Seems pretty obvious to me. Hey, we’ve never seen one before. So maybe it’ll be cool.

Last week on Talking Smack, Daniel Bryan made a vague comment about possibly being able to wrestle again in a year and a half. I imagine that’s when his contract expires. Obviously, his health issues have been well documented. Please be careful, good sir…

Mickie James def. Alexa Bliss. My question last week about Mickie turning face has apparently been answered. That’s seemingly how she was positioned here. No complaints from me in that respect. Less experienced ladies on the heel side of things, like Alexa Bliss, could learn a lot from her. Phillips and JBL also told a nice story about Mickie potentially tying Trish Stratus’ record of seven Women’s Championships at Wrestlemania.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Alexa lose more matches in the coming weeks to advance how vulnerable she is in the multi-woman match at Wrestlemania.

Mojo Rawley def. Dolph Ziggler via count-out. You know what the interesting thing is about this story with Ziggler believing he deserves a bigger spotlight? He’s right! He’s legitimately more talented than everyone they’ve put him up against since his heel turn.

Randy Orton explains his actions against Bray Wyatt. One thing I would have added here: Having Orton talk about “relinquishing” his title shot at Wrestlemania, and how that was the final step in earning Bray’s full confidence. Makes sense to me.

The visual of Bray “baptizing” himself with Sister Abigail’s ashes was haunting, and I loved that he cut down on the laughing. His end of this was really good.

In a backstage promo, Baron Corbin says he’ll take Dean Ambrose’s Intercontinental Title if he can make it to Wrestlemania. No Ambrose on TV this week, which is fine. He’s selling the injury, and it builds some anticipation to when we do see him again. Corbin gave his standard delivery here, which is to say it was strictly okay. But they gave him a good line: “They say Dean Ambrose can get up from anything. Well I’m the man that puts people down.”

The Usos def. American Alpha. I’m fine with these two teams working together again, especially now that the Usos seem to have found their heel groove. But when they’re done, who do they go to next? This Smackdown Tag Team Division is in desperate need of a shake-up. The Vaudevillians and the Ascension are dead teams. Breezango is a joke. Who else is there? Once Zack Ryder comes back, there’s a chance the Hype Bros can actually become something. But until then, these two teams are seemingly all that Smackdown has.

AJ Styles ambushes Shane McMahon in the parking garage, smashes his head through a car window. Daniel Bryan apparently fires Styles, but Shane later calls him out for Wrestlemania. And here it is. I think the brawl we saw was all the impetus we need for this to be a Street Fight.

I maintain this is a good spot for AJ to be in at Wrestlemania. It’s not going to be Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom. But AJ will get to shine here, and odds are he’ll win. He’s going to be just fine, folks.

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Randy Orton Wins (Again), Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

You can make the argument that this has been the biggest week of Braun Strowman’s career. You can also argue it’s been his worst in quite some time. From a creative standpoint, at least.

At Fastlane, Strowman dropped his first pinball loss to Roman Reigns. A needless loss, in my opinion. After Roman threw Undertaker out of the Royal Rumble Match, it was pretty apparent they were going to work together at Wrestlemania. Especially when Reigns said something to the effect of, “It’s my yard now.” That was all the impetus ‘Taker needed to show up at Fastlane and either cost Roman the match, or bring it to a DQ finish. Strowman did not need to lose clean.

But what happened on Monday was even worse. Strowman calls out Reigns, and gets the Undertaker instead. When the two come face to face, Strowman backs down. The big man’s been calling for competition for months now. But when he’s confronted by an icon like Undertaker, he cowers? BS.

So with less than a month left until Wrestlemania, what do you do with Strowman? There’s no obvious opponent for him, unless they want to do another match with the Big Show. Rumor has it Shaquille O’Neal has backed out of the match that was reportedly in the works for months. So another giant vs. giant match is something they could try. Show and Strowman definitely overachieved when they main evented Raw.

But I think it’s more likely Strowman winds up in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. And if that’s the case, he needs to win it. They’ve branded Strowman as a destroyer. So to rebound from what happened this week, he needs to destroy. Have him chuck out a bunch of smaller guys, and then eliminate a couple of bigger names. Kane and Big Show come to mind immediately. But you’ve also got guys like Dolph Ziggler, Rusev, and Luke Harper. These guys are all players, but it doesn’t look like they’re getting a featured match. They could even have the New Day present Braun with the big trophy, and have him lay them out.

I understand that Strowman couldn’t be undefeated forever. But now that he’s taken this step backward, he needs to take two steps forward.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

John Cena and Nikki Bella def. James Ellsworth and Carmella. Miz and Maryse ambush John and Nikki after the match. Toward the end of the match, our heroes hit Five Knuckle Shuffles in stereo. I can’t say I’m looking forward to Nikki adding that move to her arsenal.

“When you have true love, you don’t make her sign a contract to be your girlfriend.” That was a good line. I liked this whole “Our love is real, theirs isn’t” approach from Miz much better than what we got last week. While so much of what he said in that Miz TV segment seemed regurgitated from old feuds, this is something they haven’t done with Cena before. The stuff about his relationship with Nikki being fake and plastic strikes an intriguing chord.

After laying out Curt Hawkins again, Dean Ambrose calls out Baron Corbin. Later, Corbin takes out Ambrose with a pipe, and then traps him under a forklift. See, they call Baron Corbin the “Lone Wolf.” And he’s wearing a shirt with a wolf on it. Get it? Isn’t that cute?

Mojo Rawley announced for Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, has a brief confrontation with Dolph Ziggler. So we’ve pretty much established what heel Dolph Ziggler’s role is on Smackdown. He’s the ring general that works with newer undercard babyfaces like Apollo Crews, Kalisto, and now Mojo Rawley. He’s likely in the Andre Battle Royal at Wrestlemania this year.

I really think it’s time. If Dolph Ziggler still wants to be a top guy, he needs to go the way of Drew Galloway, Cody Rhodes, and Alberto El Patron. He needs to get out of that company, climb some new mountains (New Japan Pro Wrestling comes to mind), and then potentially come back later for a fresh start. Dolph Ziggler is such a damn workhorse, and he’s as talented and charismatic as anybody they’ve got. But he’s stuck in midcard hell. He could potentially become the hottest free agent in wrestling, and still do his stand-up comedy on the side if that’s what he wants. At this point, here are more opportunities for him outside of the WWE bubble than inside.

Alexa Bliss delivers her “Blissertation.” Becky Lynch and Natalya come out, each looking for a title match. Daniel Bryan announces Bliss will defend against every available woman on the Smackdown roster at WrestlemaniaCrowd seemed dead during Alexa’s portion of this. She’s really good on the mic, but there can be a disconnect between her and the live crowds sometimes.

This match seems destined for the pre-show, much like the big women’s tag match last year. So who’ve we got for this one? Obviously there’s Alexa Bliss, Mickie James, Becky Lynch, and Natalya. Carmella is around. The only other name I can think of is Eva Marie, unless they want to bring someone up from NXT at Wrestlemania.

Alexa Bliss and Mickie James def. Becky Lynch and Natalya. Natalya turns on Becky to cost her team the match. Mickie turns on Alexa after the champion steals the pin from her. Does this constitute a babyface turn for Mickie James? If they wanted a feel-good moment for longtime fans, they could have her win the belt at Wrestlemania. She’s certainly as capable as she’s ever been. Just a thought.

Randy Orton def. AJ Styles to secure his WWE Championship Match at Wrestlemania. Styles yells at Shane McMahon after the match. Loved the line: “Randy Orton burns down a man’s house and gets rewarded for it.” Hey, it’s essentially true.

No Bray Wyatt on this show, which I can appreciate. Last week was a big moment for his character. It’s wise to let things breathe a little bit.

A slower and more methodical match, which is Orton’s usual M.O. Not the most thrilling watch, but still pretty good. I was waiting for the big counter into the RKO, and I loved how they faked us out with that Phenomenal Forearm spot. I imagine they’ll save that for a pay per view match. Even if it’s not a singles bout, these two are bound to mix it up at a big show someday.

If you caught Talking Smack, you saw footage of Styles confronting Shane backstage. It was, of all people, Road Dogg who got between them. Michael Hayes had a cool cameo as well.

On Talking Smack, Miz also got to rebut John Cena’s scathing promo from last week. He talked about how Cena stole his last t-shirt design from a beer company, and how he stole his girlfriend from Dolph Ziggler. Why couldn’t that have been on TV?

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Broken Matt Hardy in WWE? Plus Ponderings From Smackdown

Broken Matt Hardy, Jeff HardyBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

As he revealed on his Twitter this week, Matt Hardy is gone from TNA. Reports say Jeff is on his way out as well.

Long story short, their contracts were set to expire and TNA reportedly bungled negotiations. We’ve heard similar stories in the past about the company’s dealings with AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode, among others. Mind you, Matt announced his departure just one day after TNA Grand Champion Drew Galloway also announced his. Ouch.

Matt’s departure is undoubtedly a huge blow for TNA. The whole Broken Matt/Brother Nero thing was the only thing in that company with any life to it. But from a fan perspective, it conceivably opens a huge door: Broken Matt Hardy’s arrival in WWE.

There’s been talk of Matt doing this bizarre character in WWE almost since he started it. Could it ever happen? Would WWE have any interest in it? If so, how much creative control would he have? Would he be forced to recite the awful dialogue we hear so often on Raw and Smackdown?

Broken Matt Hardy, TNAWWE is in an interesting spot with the Hardys. Obviously, they’d be fools not to at least explore the possibility of bringing Matt and Jeff back. They were immensely popular, and could headline a Hall of Fame class someday. But if they simply try to bring them back in their old characters, a giant portion of the audience will inevitably clamor for Broken Matt and Brother Nero. I can practically hear the “Delete!” chants now.

While they’ve obviously toned down their attempts to “re-brand” talent from other promotions, all this Broken Matt stuff originated on TNA television. I can see Vince McMahon rejecting it simply because it’s not a WWE creation. It’s the same reason we’ve never gotten a War Games Match on WWE TV. And that’s to say nothing of the outright silliness of the whole thing. Imagine the 70-year-old McMahon’s reaction to things like Senior Benjamin, Vanguard 1, and King Maxel.

I think what this all really comes down to is Matt’s priorities. Jim Ross has talked about the two Cs, cash and creative, being the primary reasons a talent departs a promotion. Matt has a young son, and another child on the way. One more WWE run could put his kids through college someday, and get him back in the loop with the biggest wrestling promotion in the world. But money isn’t everything. Matt has a good thing going with this character. It doesn’t necessitate him jumping off ladders every month. He can do it for another year, he can do it for another 10 years. If he’s found something that makes he and his family happy, I say stick with it.

wwe-smackdown-february-28-2017-john-cena-the-mizPonderings From Smackdown:

John Cena and the Miz get personal on Miz TV. Nikki Bella comes to Cena’s aid, the two share a kiss in the ring for the first time. They tried to do way too much with Miz here. He seemed to be stumbling trying to cover all the bases. From a story perspective, this renewed animosity between Cena and Miz seemed to come about spontaneously in the Battle Royal last week. But in this promo they tried to justify a deep-seated hatred of Cena by the Miz. They threw so much out there about Cena’s wrestling skills, his alleged politicking, and his latest attempts to balance WWE and Hollywood. But they don’t need all of that. They just needed to pick one motivation for Miz and stick with it. What we got here was all over the place.

Cena’s stuff about the Undertaker was really interesting. I highly doubt that was ad-libbed. But I’d like to think it was…

Inevitably, the John Cena/Nikki Bella relationship has come to Smackdown. In a way, this reminds me of when Randy Orton hit Stephanie McMahon with the DDT on Raw several years ago, and an enraged Triple H emerged from the back. Everyone knew they were together, but now it was “TV official.” It’s the same case here.

becky-lynch-wwe-smackdown-february-28-2017Becky Lynch def. Mickie James in a 2-out-of-3 Falls Match. Alexa Bliss unintentionally costs James the third fall. Good match. These two are fun to watch in the ring, and they compliment one another very well. This program has been exactly what I imagined it would be, and that’s a good thing.

Was Becky screaming “Becky Balboa!” after she won?

Apparently Alexa Bliss’ nickname amongst the NXT crew was “Baby Trish,” as in Trish Stratus. Listening to her promos, I can absolutely see why. Intentional or not, I can see a lot of of heel Trish Stratus in her. Considering the great success Trish had, there’s no one better for Alexa to emulate.

AJ Styles def. Luke Harper to earn a WWE Championship Match at Wrestlemania. Shane McMahon takes an accidental kick from Harper. This one surprised me. I thought for sure we were getting a three-way between Wyatt, Orton, and Harper. Now it looks like we may get Wyatt, Orton, and Styles.

I wouldn’t count out the match between Styles and Shane, though. They a point to put those two out there together a few times, including what we saw on Talking Smack. This is a nice way to keep AJ in the title hunt in the months leading up to Wrestlemania, but I don’t know if I see him in wrestling for it this year.

dean-ambrose-february-28-2017Dean Ambrose calls out Baron Corbin. Not Corbin’s best mic work by a long shot. Often times he’s very hit or miss in that respect. I’m buying into this stuff with he and Ambrose, though.

Dolph Zigger def. Apollo Crews in a Chairs Match. It’s funny. I hate Chairs Matches on the TLC pay per view. But this one didn’t bother me. I guess they’re fine on free TV,  but not if you have to pay for them?

Are they building this up to Crews finally rising to the occasion and getting a singles win over Ziggler? Otherwise, he’s looked like a jobber. An athletic jobber, but a jobber nonetheless.

Randy Orton turns on Bray Wyatt, burning down the Wyatt Family compound. I wasn’t crazy about Randy’s dialogue in this segment. But that’s the only thing I can really nitpick here. This was a great piece of business, using a setting that’s long been a part of the Wyatt Family lore. They even explained why that place is so precious to Bray, what with Sister Abigail being buried there.

Have we ever seen a vengeful, enraged Bray Wyatt before? I don’t know that we have. Certainly not like this. Certainly not like he’s bound to be now. An angry Bray Wyatt against an angry Randy Orton? That could be some interesting television…

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Randy Orton’s Refusal, and Other Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

Emmalina, WWE Raw, February 13, 2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

After Raw’s confusing Emmalina debut, details have started to emerge as to why we saw what we saw.

Pro Wrestling Sheet reports that the Emmalina character was supposed to be “throwback to characters like Sable and The Kat.” But the real-life Tenille Dashwood allegedly wasn’t impressing in rehearsals. She “wasn’t committing enough to the role.”

That’s…fair enough. If she couldn’t pull it off, then they did what they felt they had to do. But this whole thing seemed ill-conceived from the start. First and foremost, Dashwood was miscast in a character like this. The verbal aspect of pro wrestling has never been her strong suit. She should have been given more time to develop her mic skills before they went this way with her.

To that one might say that the verbal skills of someone like Sable were nothing to write home about. This is true. But Sable was also able to be sexual in a way that Emmalina would never get to be. Let’s be honest, Sable and the Kat were stars because they were hot and they showed a lot of skin. When you look at it that way, I’m not sure how you’d create a throwback to that era anyway. Lots of sexy photoshoots? I don’t get it.

Emma, WWEAs a performer, you are responsible for making your character work. The example I always think of when that comes up is Goldust. Dustin Runnels embodied that character and made it work in a way no one else could. But did a character like Bastion Booger ever have a chance? How about Mantaur? Or Beaver Cleavage?

Bottom line: Sometimes you’re the victim of a bad idea. I just hope Emma gets another shot. She’s talented enough, and she deserves it.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

WWE Champion Bray Wyatt opens the show. John Cena and AJ Styles interrupt. Daniel Bryan makes the main event a triple-threat for the WWE Championship. Somebody needed to remind these folks that Bray is supposed to be a heel. Those “You deserve it!” chants were pretty damn loud. I’m tellin’ ya, there’s a huge upside to Bray Wyatt becoming a babyface in the near future. Especially now that he’s the champion.

American Alpha def. The Ascension. The Usos challenge the champions. I wondered if they’d actually give the win to the Ascension here. They’ve been slightly re-emphasized these last few weeks. But of course, the Usos will make for a better match.

dean-ambrose-baron-corbin-wwe-smackdown-february-14-2017Baron Corbin brawls with Dean Ambrose before his match with James Ellsworth. Ambrose gets layed out on production equipment. It occurred to me during this segment that a decade ago, the fans might have been chanting “Slut!” at Carmella. I’m split on whether that’s something I miss.

What we saw here, combined with what we got at Elimination Chamber, gives me high hopes for this Ambrose/Corbin program. Ambrose can do a lot to help build Corbin. But here’s my question: Does Corbin need the Intercontinental Title? Questionable mic skills notwithstanding, he seems like he’s on track to main event status without it.

Nikki Bella to face Natalya in a Falls Count Anywhere Match next week. While the match these two had at Elimination Chamber was largely a bore, it had its moments. I’ve enjoyed this program the most when they’ve had those knock-down, drag-out fights. So this should be good.

Mickie James def. Becky Lynch. Some nice mat work early on here. I’d go as far as to say that while Charlotte and Sasha Banks may be better all around performers, Becky Lynch is the best pure grappler of the “Four Horsewomen.” I imagine that comes with being the most experienced. She made her in-ring debut in 2002.

becky-lynch-wwe-smackdown-february-14-2017I wasn’t a fan of James losing at Elimination Chamber. But I assume this win will lead to a rubber match with Becky in the near future. Perhaps they didn’t want her losing two straight matches? Maybe I’m overthinking it…

Renee Young interviews the new Smackdown Women’s Champion Naomi. Alexa Bliss interrupts, announces she’ll invoke her rematch clause next week. Naomi mentioned it’s taken her eight years to get to where she is now. It’s hard to believe she’s been around that long. But she signed her development deal in 2009. She didn’t make it to Raw and Smackdown until 2012.

I wanted Alexa to be angrier here. She did just lose her title, after all. Next week’s match is a toss-up as far as I’m concerned. These Women’s Championships have been changing hands so frequently, it’s seemingly anybody’s ball game.

Bray Wyatt def. John Cena and AJ Styles in a No-Disqualificaiton Match to retain the WWE Championship. Luke Harper attacks Wyatt before the match. I’ll admit, I got a little nervous when Harper attacked. They might have used that attack to justify a title change.

You’ll notice they’ve already started talking about Cena breaking Ric Flair’s record. To their credit, Mauro Ranallo and JBL did a nice job of playing that up, and making this seem that much bigger. It’s going to happen, folks. Maybe not this year. But it’ll happen.

randy-orton-bray-wyatt-wwe-smackdown-february-14-2017With all the near falls and false finishes, this felt like a mini-pay-per-view match. Happy to see Bray win clean here, just as he did in the Chamber Match on Sunday. It further cements him as the top guy on Smackdown right now.

Randy Orton refuses to challenge Bray Wyatt for the title at Wrestlemania. On Talking Smack, Daniel Bryan makes a battle royal for next week to determine the top contender for WrestlemaniaThis is a nice little twist in the road. I still fully expect Randy Orton to be in the WWE Title Match at Wrestlemania. But now we may end up with a three-way on our hands. At the very least, I imagine the winner of this battle royal will challenge for the title on an episode of Smackdown some time next month.

While AJ Styles still has no dance partner for Wrestlemania, and this spot could easily go to him, I think this is Luke Harper’s spot. He turned a lot of heads at Elimination Chamber, and they could bill this match as “The Wyatt Family Implodes,” or something like that.

Between this battle royal, the Women’s Title Match, and what I assume will be the Nikki vs. Natalya blow-off, they’ve stacked the card for next week’s show. I’ve got high hopes.

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A WWE Elimination Chamber 2017 Preview – Bray Wyatt’s Big Moment?

Bray Wyatt, Raw, October 2, 2015By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Don’t get your hopes up too high for Bray Wyatt, folks.

Do I think he’s going to win on Sunday? Yes, I truly do. But if there’s one thing this company has excelled at in recent years, it’s breaking our hearts around Wrestlemania season. Considering some of the creative choices Vince McMahon has made, is it really that far-fetched he’d pick Cena to go over here? As such, we’d have John Cena/Randy Orton in Match #375 for Wrestlemania. *shudders* Be ready for anything. That’s all I’m saying.

That being said, signs do indeed point to this being Bray’s night, as they further the implosion of the Wyatt Family. It all seems very sudden. But I’m not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. The character has been immensely intriguing from day one. But some of the booking and creative decisions he’s endured over the years have been baffling. From his loss to John Cena at Wrestlemania XXX, to the inexplicable break-up of the Wyatt Family in 2014, to the overall failure to establish him as a top star. Granted, not all of this can be pinned on creative. They’ve put Wyatt in several marquee matches with the likes of Cena, Undertaker, Roman Reigns, and Dean Ambrose. But he’s also been plagued with numerous ill-timed injuries. And while his promo delivery has been consistently good, what he says often lacks focus. While it all sounds good, he’s not really saying anything.

But the potential for superstardom has always been there. And if there’s one thing WWE has desperately needed in the last 10 years, it’s new big-name stars. Putting the WWE Championship on him would obviously a huge step toward making Bray Wyatt the star we’ve always known he could be. Personally, I think he could be a tremendous lead babyface. But one step at a time…

Let’s look at our card for Elimination Chamber.

dolph-ziggler-kalisto-apollo-crews-wwe-elimination-chamber-2017HANDICAP MATCH:
Dolph Ziggler vs. Kalisto and Apollo Crews

Not sure what their thought process is on this one. The babyface is usually the one at a disadvantage in a pay per view Handicap Match. I can only assume the idea here is to have Dolph cheat to win. That makes Kalisto and Crews look like a pair of jabronis. But that’s not much of a stretch from how they’ve been booked on TV, is it?

PREDICTION: Dolph Ziggler

nikki-bella-natalya-wwe-elimination-chamber-2017Nikki Bella vs. Natalya

This is the first of three women’s matches on this show. For some, I imagine that’s an acquired taste. But I think it’s cool. It says a lot about how WWE has upped the quality of their Women’s Division in the last two years or so.

After seeing some of the brawls these two have been in, I’m curious to see what they put together here. The promos between these two have been very personal. So I’m hoping we get something nice and physical. I see Nikki coming out on top here. Her role at Wrestlemania is still up in the air. But I imagine they’ll want her going in looking strong.

PREDICTION: Nikki Bella

becky-lynch-mickie-james-wwe-elimination-chamber-2017Becky Lynch vs. Mickie James

I’m not sure what to expect on this one. These two have never worked together, but on paper it looks great. I certainly don’t have any doubts about whether Mickie can still go. It’s just a question of chemistry.

Obviously Mickie is here to put the newer talent over. But I think it’s important to reestablish her as a force to be reckoned with. That’s why I see her going over Becky here. She’ll cheat to win, of course. So we’ll get a rematch. Probably several rematches, actually. That’s a good thing. From an in-ring standpoint, this could end up being one of the best female pairings we’ll see all year.

PREDICTION: Mickie James

tag-team-turmoil-wwe-elimination-chamber-2017TAG TEAM TURMOIL MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
American Alpha (c) vs. The Usos vs. Breezango vs. The Vaudevillains vs. The Ascension vs. Heath Slater and Rhyno

I like a good Tag Team Turmoil Match. But here’s the problem with what we have here: The Usos are the only team in this match that looks like a credible threat to American Alpha. Everyone else is just undercard oatmeal. Even the former champions Slater and Rhyno have lost their momentum. Perhaps that’s the point. To have a lesser team get the belts off Jordan and Gable, and then have them chase. But who? Aside from the Usos, each of these teams is a joke.

I’m going to take a shot in the dark and say the Usos take the belts here. They always gave us good matches with American Alpha, and they seem to be the best option here.

PREDICTION: The Usos

alexa-bliss-naomi-wwe-elimination-chamber-2017WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Naomi

The rise of Alexa Bliss as Smackdown Women’s Champion caught me completely off guard. I fully expected them to run with Becky as champion for awhile. But here we are. It’s certainly possible they could surprise us again and give the belt to Naomi. But my gut says Alexa keeps the title. She’s found a new ally in Mickie James, so they can have her come out and screw Naomi out of the victory. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Naomi end up with that belt eventually, though. Perhaps sooner rather than later.

PREDICTION: Alexa Bliss

luke-harper-randy-orton-wwe-elimination-chamber-2017Randy Orton vs. Luke Harper

I don’t see how Randy doesn’t win this one. He’s challenging for the title at Wrestlemania. Unless they want to make a three-way with Bray, Orton, and Harper. But that seems unlikely. Either way, this is a big match for Luke Harper. The biggest of his career, in fact.

Harper vs. Orton isn’t as intriguing as Harper vs. Wyatt. That’s why it’ll be interesting to see whether Bray is still champion after Wrestlemania. Harper would be a natural challenger for him.

PREDICTION: Randy Orton

WWE Elimination Chamber 2017, John CenaELIMINATION CHAMBER MATCH FOR WWE HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
John Cena (c) vs. AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Bray Wyatt vs. The Miz vs. Baron Corbin

Look for your usual Elimination Chamber stuff here. Slams on the grate, faces being raked against the chain walls, maybe even someone getting thrown through a pod. It should be fun.

Assuming Bray is winning here, that obviously sets up the WWE Title Match at Wrestlemania. But there’s also been some buzz about a mixed tag match at ‘Mania, featuring John Cena and Nikki Bella against the Miz and Maryse. If that’s the route they want to go, they could have Miz do something to cheat Cena out of the title.

There’s been a lot of speculation about what AJ Styles could end up doing at Wrestlemania. I don’t expect we’ll get that answer here. But as Ambrose and Corbin don’t have dance partners either, and the card is already starting to take shape, the answer may be yet another multi-man ladder match for the Intercontinental Title. While they’re usually fun to watch, I hate those matches from a creative standpoint. Chances are the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal will be back on this show. That’s your multi-man match right there. Give us a real Intercontinental Title Match, and give AJ something of substance to do. After the year he’s had, he deserves it.

PREDICTION: Bray Wyatt

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Cena vs. Orton at Wrestlemania? Plus Ponderings From Smackdown

Randy Orton vs. John CenaBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

John Cena defending the WWE Championship against Randy Orton at Wrestlemania? After so many years, and so many matches, it almost seems unthinkable they’d go to that well again.

Chances are they won’t. We’ve got Elimination Chamber in two weeks, and Wrestlemania is still two months away. So there’s lots of time to change things up. The smart bet is Orton challenging Bray Wyatt, who many are speculating will win the Chamber Match. While putting the title on Bray seems sudden, that match is undeniably more attractive.

But there is the 15th anniversary element to think of. As WWE highlighted in a post Royal Rumble press release this week, 2017 marks Orton and Cena’s 15th anniversary in the company. They could market the match around that. To be fair, these two have put on some great performances together. It’s entirely possible they’d have another.

But that Wrestlemania crowd would boo them out of the building, just like they did Roman Reigns and Triple H last year. Putting Orton and Wyatt together is the right move.

But who does that leave for Cena…?

WWE Elimination Chamber 2017, John CenaPonderings From Smackdown:

John Cena to defend the WWE Championship in an Elimination Chamber Match against AJ Styles, Bray Wyatt, Baron Corbin, The Miz, and Dean Ambrose. This was more or less what I thought the match would be. I originally thought Bray would be doing something with Orton and Luke Harper. But obviously Orton’s Rumble Match win changed all that.

Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton interrupt John Cena at the top of the show. Luke Harper comes to Cena’s aid. The Wyatt Family wins the subsequent tag match. Lots of interesting stuff here. Not the least of which is Cena getting pinned after an RKO. They’re keeping Orton strong, and getting people thinking about Orton and Cena. Again, I doubt that’s the direction they’ll go. But I put nothing past these people.

After what happened at the Royal Rumble, it looks like Harper has indeed separated himself from Bray. I like the idea of him fighting Bray’s influence despite his defection. The impetus is now on WWE, and obviously Harper himself, to distinguish himself a little more. When they broke up the Wyatts before, Harper essentially stayed the same. He can’t do that this time. We need to break some new ground.

Carmella def. Delilah Doom. Yes, I know she was called Delilah Dawson on the show. But she wrestles on the indies as Delilah Doom. I adore this girl’s look. WWE doesn’t have anybody like her. She’s welcome back any time as far as I’m concerned.

Kalisto, Dolph Ziggler, WWE Smackdown, January 31, 2017Dolph Ziggler def. Kalisto. Apollo Crews comes to Kalisto’s rescue again after the match. I assume the Ziggler/Crews match will finally happen at Elimination Chamber. I’ve actually got a bad taste in my mouth when it comes to Crews. I rolled my eyes when he came out at number 22 in the Royal Rumble Match. At that point, we were waiting for guys like Undertaker and Goldberg. Apollo Crews, who’s been cold as ice for months now, was not the guy to send out that late in the match. It almost reminded me of when Rey Mysterio Jr. came out last in the 2015 Rumble, when everyone was desperately hoping for Daniel Bryan.

Naomi and Becky Lynch def. Alexa Bliss and Mickie James. I’d have made Mickie’s first match back more of a big deal than this. She’s was on the losing end of two tag matches this week, the first of which took place on the Royal Rumble pre-show. Granted, she didn’t lose either fall. But what the hell? Why not have Mickie make her return against Becky at Elimination Chamber?

Naomi is obviously Alexa’s next challenger, having pinned her twice in the same week. This spotlight has been a long time coming for her. If you follow her Twitter, you know she’s felt underutilized for quite awhile. I don’t see her winning the title. But then again, I didn’t see Alexa taking it from Becky. Stranger things have happened.

WWE Smackdown, January 31, 2017, American Alpha, The UsosNumerous teams attempt to accept an open challenge from American Alpha. We now have a Tag Team Turmoil Match featuring the Vaudevillians, Breezango, the Ascension, Heath Slater and Rhyno, and the Usos at Elimination Chamber. That’s fine by me. It feels like it’s been awhile since we’ve seen the Usos. I don’t think they’ve quite gotten the hang of their new heel personas yet. They seem underdeveloped.

AJ Styles def. Dean Ambrose. At one point during this match we had Mauro Ranallo, JBL, David Otunga, the Miz, and Baron Corbin all on commentary. Of course, nowadays they usually have Tom Phillips on headset to chime in whenever they’re transitioning to something new. So he was just awkwardly sitting there the whole time. It’s so crowded at that table that JBL tripped over all the equipment on live TV last week. Once Corbin got there, I just hit the mute button. It was all too much.

The problem I had with the Styles/Ambrose pairing a few months ago was that we were seeing them wrestle too often. But they’ve always had good chemistry, and usually they deliver. This was no exception. After his stellar performance with Cena at the Royal Rumble, AJ Styles is more valuable to WWE than ever. Now that he’s lost the title, I’m hoping he doesn’t get lost in the shuffle as we move toward Wrestlemania. As much as anyone, he’s earned a chance to shine on the company’s biggest stage.

Neither Raw nor Smackdown were kind to their champions this week. Our WWE Heavyweight, United States, and Intercontinental Champions were all pinned, as were both Womens Champions. That’s astounding, the more I think about it.

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