Ronda Rousey’s WWE Debut, Plus Ponderings From the Royal Rumble and Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

“The landscape has changed.” That’s one of their go-to lines, isn’t it? Whenever something supposedly big happens, somebody has to say: “The landscape has changed.” It doesn’t really make sense, does it?

But last night the landscape did change, didn’t it? At least as far as women’s wrestling is concerned. Ronda Rousey is apparently now a full-time performer with WWE. What exactly “full-time” means for her has yet to be determined. Somehow I doubt she’ll be making all the house shows. She may end up being the female equivalent to Brock Lesnar. But one way or another, this is happening. Ronda Rousey is a professional wrestler.

People can say what they want about how Rousey last few fights went. But this woman is a legit superstar, and a true trailblazer in the world of women’s sports. Would the so-called “women’s revolution” in WWE have even occurred if not for what Rousey did in the world of MMA? The answer is no. What’s more, she’s a legit wrestling fan. This is apparently a legit passion project for her. Look no further than what she was wearing when she showed up after the Women’s Royal Rumble Match last night. A clear homage to Rowdy Roddy Piper, whose nickname she adopted in the UFC as “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey. That leather jacket legitimately belonged to Piper.

I always hesitate to use words like “legitimacy” or “credibility” when it comes to pro wrestling. This stuff is worked. It’s not the same as what Rousey did in the UFC, and it never will be. But a superstar like Rousey choosing to devote the next chapter of her career to WWE lends the business an amazing level of credibility. It’s a message to the world at large about what wrestling is and what it means to our popular culture. It’s also a hell of a shot in the arm for women’s wrestling overall.

We may be in the midst of a women’s revolution. But Ronda Rousey is about to start a revolution of her own.

Ponderings From Raw (with some added from the Royal Rumble):

Shinsuke Nakamura wins the 2018 Royal Rumble Match, challenges AJ Styles for Wrestlemania. Simply put, this was the best Royal Rumble Match in years. And not just because the right guy won. The Philadelphia crowd was hot, and they milked the drama so perfectly during those last several minutes. It’s been a long time since a wrestling match has actually made me nervous. But when we were down to Nakamura, Reigns, Cena, and Balor, my heart was in my throat.

What’s more, they’re giving us a match truly worthy of Wrestlemania: Shinsuke Nakamura against AJ Styles for the WWE Championship. Depending on how much time they have, these two could make magic. This was the career moment Nakamura needed, and the smart bet is he’ll have yet another one at Wrestlemania.

Rey Mysterio Jr. returns to WWE as a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble Match.  As I type this, the YouTube clip of Ronda Rousey’s appearance has almost two million views. The clip of Rey’s return? Almost five million. That should tell WWE all they need to know about whether to bring him back. Supposedly they want him to work a full-time schedule and he’s not up for it. I can’t say I blame him. The last time we saw him in WWE he looked tired and beat up. He’s earned the right to some breathing room.

Stephanie McMahon brings out Women’s Royal Rumble winner Asuka at the top of the show. An Elimination Chamber Match for the Raw Women’s Title is made for the upcoming pay per view. Sasha Banks challenges Asuka to a match, which is made for later in the night. When Asuka started speaking in Japanese, I wondered if they needed to give her a translator. But I’d say she got her message across just fine…

The Women’s Royal Rumble Match itself worked out fairly well. The right woman won, obviously. And despite my general distaste for Sasha Banks, I give her a world of credit for being out there as long as she was. Ditto for Becky Lynch.

However, the match did suffer for featuring several women who were either relatively inexperienced, hadn’t wrestled in a long time, or weren’t necessarily qualified to be wrestlers in the first place. While former stars like Trish Stratus and Beth Phoenix looked outstanding, I could have easily done without Vickie Guerrero, Kelly Kelly, and Torrie Wilson (despite the pop she got). The biggest problem this match had was its need for bodies. They were filling space for the sake of filling space. It’s forgivable this year. But next year they need to do better.

Jonathan Coachman rejoins the Raw announce team full-time. Given Coach’s experience with ESPN, this was a nice get for WWE. I appreciate that he’s in an analyst role, as opposed a lead announcer. He’ll certainly do better than Booker T, whose commentary had long since gone off the deep end.

At least it’s not David Otunga.

Braun Strowman overturns part of the Raw stage on to Kane during a Last Man Standing Match to earn a spot in the upcoming Elimination Chamber Match. At this point, Braun is essentially WWE’s answer to the Hulk. Every week he performs some kind of superhuman feat of strength, leaving a trail of destruction behind him. That’s not a bad role to have. People love the Hulk, don’t they?

Gotta love Kurt Angle yelling at Braun about the whole thing. Um, Kurt? You booked it…

Elias def. Woken Matt Hardy, with an assist from Bray Wyatt, to advance to the Elimination Chamber. It’s been several weeks since we first saw Woken Matt on Raw, and my interest is tapering off. It doesn’t help that he’s been losing more than winning. The whole reason for Matt’s awakening in the first place was that he couldn’t win a match. So where does that leave him now?

The Miz def. Roman Reigns to retain the WWE Intercontinental Title. Why would Miz try to chop him? Roman Reigns wears a damn vest. Think, you idiot! Think!

Good match, though. These two have better chemistry than you would think, given how different their backgrounds are.

The Revival def. Heath Slater and Rhyno. You know what I wouldn’t mind seeing? The Revival against a babyface Sheamus and Cesaro for the Raw Tag Team Titles. Sounds like a Wrestlemania match to me.

The Dudley Boyz announced for WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2018. I still say it’s a shame Bubba and D-Von never got to hold the tag belts again after they came back. Even so, this is obviously well-deserved. They’d never tell you this on Raw, but the Dudleys are the only team to have won championships in WWE, ECW, TNA, and New Japan Pro Wrestling. They’re one of the most widely popular tag teams in wrestling history. This has long since been an inevitability. Congrats, gentlemen.

Asuka def. Sasha Banks. I expected to see Bayley during this match after Sasha tossed her out of the Rumble last night. That’s the kind of thing that’d make you think a Bayley heel turn is coming. Personally, I’d rather they do babyface Bayley right.

Loving all the talk about Asuka’s streak potentially ending. We need more of that. The streak is on the line every time Asuka steps in the ring, and with each victory it grows.

Between the Rumble and this match with Asuka, Sasha’s had a hell of a weekend. It looks like they’re finally working toward a heel turn for her. Works for me. I don’t think it’s a secret that I’m done with her as a babyface. As a heel, though…

Whether hero or villain, she needs to stop those damn dives. This wasn’t the first nasty fall she’s taken with one of those. She’s tough as hell for getting up and continuing the match, and it was obviously a hell of an effort from both ladies. But enough is enough.

The Miz, Finn Balor, and John Cena cut backstage promos using handheld devices. I ADORE this. Scripted or not, it comes off so much more naturally. And by God, they’re looking into the camera! Glory, glory, hallelujah!

The Bar def. Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews to retain the Raw Tag Team Titles. Corey Graves said something during this match about Dana Brooke being the missing ingredient for O’Neil and Crews. As unlikely as it is on paper, that seems to be the case.

Crews was a stud out there this week. Eve after taking that nasty Power Bomb from Sheamus. He’s so explosive. Like a damn human super ball.

John Cena def. Finn Balor to advance to the Elimination Chamber. There’s no shame in losing to John Cena. Cena certainly puts enough people over in his own right. I just wish they’d let Balor pick up some steam. He’s one of the coolest acts on the roster, and he puts on great matches consistently. But he just keeps losing. This guy can headline Wrestlemania this year if they wanted him to. But he just can’t seem to bust through the glass ceiling. What gives?

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Kane Shocks Roman Reigns, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Rumor has it the planned main event for Survivor Series next month is Universal Champion Brock Lesnar against WWE World Heavyweight Champion Jinder Mahal.

Oh dear. Dear oh dear. That’s…that’s quite a choice, isn’t it?

In theory, this should be one of the biggest matches WWE can put on. The champion of Raw against the champion of Smackdown, on one of the biggest shows the company puts on all year. It beats the hell out ofwhen they’d putting the big champion vs. champion match on Raw with little to no build-up. And not even in the main event!

But Brock Lesnar vs. Jinder Mahal isn’t exactly Clash of the Titans. Yes, they’ve strapped the rocket to Jinder. But his big matches against Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura haven’t delivered, and his racially charged promos haven’t exactly inspired confidence.

Having grown up a wrestling fan in the ’90s, I present you with this analogy. Imagine if they put the WWE Championship on Bob Holly in 1997, and then tried to market a major pay per view match pitting him against the Undertaker.

The buzz is that it’s going to be a non-title match. So without the hook of a title possibly changing hands, what’s the draw here? I imagine it’s seeing Brock Lesnar beat the crap out of Jinder and the Singh Brothers. There’s also Paul Heyman’s promos in the build-up. If anyone can put Jinder over as a legitimate threat to Brock Lesnar, it’s Heyman.

Whenever they do these Raw vs. Smackdown matches, people always talk about how it could reflect badly on the loser’s brand. In this case, if Brock kills Jinder, how does that make Smackdown look compared to Raw? This kind of stuff gets overthought quite a bit. But given the perception of Smackdown as the B-show (even inside the walls of WWE, reportedly), some concern is merited.

Could they have Brock take Jinder to Suplex City and beat him? Yes. But I don’t see that happening. Remember, Jinder is a Vince McMahon project. They’ve spent most of the year trying to get this guy over as their big Indian star. They’re making a big fuss out of him being the champion when they go to India in December. So it’s in their best interest to keep him looking relatively strong through the end of the year. Frankly, I don’t see why you’d book this match if not to benefit Jinder in some way.

This match has “outside interference” and “screwjob finish” written all over it. You’ll have the Singh Brothers out there, you’ll have Heyman doing something. And Jinder’s next opponent (AJ Styles?) or Brock’s next opponent (Finn Balor?) could easily play a role in the finish somehow. It almost has to. That’s how you get out of this thing without Brock throwing Jinder around and making Smackdown look like the bush leagues.

So who wins? Give it to Jinder by disqualification or count-out. That way Brock gets away without being pinned, and Jinder can technically say he beat the mighty Brock Lesnar.

Then again, don’t put anything past this company. Remember, at this same show last year Brock lost to Bill Goldberg in less than two minutes…

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, and Seth Rollins call out their opponents at TLCGood to see the guys back in their black gear, doing the old Shield entrance. Not sure why we couldn’t have done that for the big reunion last week…

Jason Jordan, Apollo Crews, and Titus O’Neil def. Elias, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson. For some reason, that opening shot of Elias sitting with Gallows and Anderson was really funny. And a tribute to the Honky Tonk Man, of all people. Does that make Honky a good brother?

Cedric Alexander def. Jack Gallagher. Solid match. I’m still getting used to heel Jack Gallagher. He definitely needs new music.

There was a faint “We want Neville!” chant during this match…

I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing Alexander hit the Lumbar Check. I can’t imagine what it’s like to take that.

Braun Strowman appears on Miz TV. A stipulation is added to the Reigns/Stroman Steel Cage Match later in the night. So if Strowman wins, his team gets another partner at TLC. If Reigns wins, it goes back to three-on-three. A nice added hook for an already big match.

All this team stuff has me in the mood for Survivor Series. So do you put the Shield on a traditional five-person team? Or do you give them their own match? Maybe a six-man elimination match?

Sasha Banks def. Alicia Fox. Fox ambushes Banks afterward. Crazy Alicia Fox is entertaining. Campy, but entertaining nonetheless.

A brawl breaks out after Kalisto interrupts an Enzo Amore promo. Noam Dar, Ariya Daivari, Tony Nese, and Drew Gulak lay out Kalisto and Mustafa Ali. I cringed when Kalisto’s music hit. Any time this guy takes a mic, it’s bad. And he didn’t disappoint in that respect. He told Enzo he’d walk out of TLC the “new Cruiserweight Champion.”

I don’t know that it’s coincidence that WWE keeps bringing up Rey Mysterio Jr. They’ve mentioned him as one of Kalisto’s influences, they posted a brief video on Rey’s response to last week’s title win, and then they name dropped him again this week. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to hear they’re trying to court him for a return. Perhaps not a full time return. But they’d be foolish not to at least try for him.

Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins def. Cesaro and Sheamus to retain the Raw Tag Team Titles. With Ambrose and Rollins back in the Shield gear, there was a little extra sizzle on this one.  But as gifted as these guys are, it’s still the same match we’ve seen a hundred times. It’s a good match. But the law of diminishing returns was in full effect here.

Not a surprising finish here. Having the Shield take a big loss right before their big pay per view comeback wouldn’t make sense right now.

Finn Balor announces the Demon is coming to meet Sister Abigail at TLCAnother week, another promo from Finn Balor. Worse yet, that awful Sister Abigail promo from last week apparently rubbed off on him, as they reached into their special effects bag again. Though at least the Demon character is somewhat cool. That Sister Abigail thing is another story entirely.

Bayley and Mickie James def. Alexa Bliss and Emma. Mickie has been nicely rejuvenated. Of course, the big story is Asuka’s debut this Sunday. To their credit, WWE has playied her up as the big deal that she should be. Now all we can do is wait and see how it goes…

Braun Strowman def. Roman Reigns in a Steel Cage Match, with help from the returning Kane. Kane will now join Miz’s team against the Shield at TLCThis was a legit surprise. I didn’t think we’d see Kane back until his real-life run for mayor of Knox County, Tennessee was over. But his inclusion makes a certain amount of sense, as Reigns did supposedly retire his brother at Wrestlemania. Now watch them completely ignore that…

They were teasing Curtis Axel as the fifth man for most of the show. So to prove himself, Axel gets goaded into picking a fight with Roman before the Cage Match. So instead of finding him alone, or maybe jumping him as he’s going to the ring, we see him walk up to all three members of the Shield backstage. Axel’s a good wrestler, but he might just be the dumbest henchman in television history.

Then again, when Miz found him hanging upside down, one of the first things he asked was: “Who did this???” So is one of them rubbing off on the other?

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Summerslam on the Horizon, and Other Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Doing something different this week. Let’s rapid fire a few news stories…

Rey Mysterio Jr. reportedly not returning to WWE. The company reportedly passed on Rey because they weren’t interested in working with Konan, who is part of Rey’s representation. It’s no big loss or gain either way, as far as I’m concerned. No disrespect to Rey. But at the end of his WWE run he simply wasn’t the same caliber a performer. That’s what age and injury will do to you.

I understand the impulse to use a big name like Rey to appeal to the Latin market. But they don’t need him to do that, do they? I’ve always wondered why they didn’t plug Kalisto into that spot. Granted, Kalisto’s not much of a talker. But Rey never was either.

Becky Lynch and Cris Cyborg create Summerslam buzz. UFC Women’s Featherweight Champion Cris Cyborg has been sparring with Becky Lynch on Twitter, supposedly to create buzz for a Summerslam match.

Uh huh. Sure. They’re going to book a match with a big name UFC star this close to the event. And that’s assuming she’d even get clearance from UFC to do anything physical.

Would I like to see it? Sure. But I’ll believe it when I see it.

Global Force Wrestling Women’s Champion Sienna calls Charlotte Flair out on Twitter for copying her look and pinky finger mannerism. Again with the Twitter drama. I had never heard of this woman until I caught wind of this. I’m sure she’s talented and everything. But…is she for real with this?

Sienna incorporates the Peacock into her look, as does Charlotte. But what apparently prompted the jab from her was the pinky gesture Charlotte uses with Becky Lynch. It’s a jokey thing they do that means “tea time.”

I’m sure Sienna is an awesome wrestler. I wouldn’t know, as I’ve never seen her. And with all due respect, I’m pretty sure Charlotte hasn’t either. So let’s cool our jets and not go to war over coincidences.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

John Cena opens the show. Baron Corbin interrupts. Daniel Bryan makes a match between the two at SummerslamTom Phillips gave this match a nice little tagline: “The Future vs The Franchise.”

In an era where so much of what we see is scripted, Cena’s ad-libbing is usually really refreshing. Now fans get the pleasure of chanting “Dumpster Fire” at Baron Corbin. (They should have chanted it at that Punjabi Prison Match.) Imagine how many cool moments like that we’ve missed over the years because of over-scripting.

The Usos def. Sami Zayn and Tye Dillinger. The New Day return to beat down their Summerslam challengers. Fun to see the New Day show a little more of an edge as they attacked the Usos. Now if only the rubber match at Summerslam was a Street Fight or something, and not just another match.

Charlotte Flair def. Lana. The story of this match was supposed to be about Charlotte outdoing Lana at every turn. And yes, hey gave us that. But it ultimately became about Charlotte’s wardrobe malfunction. Yep. Her tights got pulled down a bit. That happened.

It’s funny what catches on. All these years after the Janet Jackson/Super Bowl scandal, we’re still using the term “wardrobe malfunction.” The world is so random…

Shane McMahon brings AJ Styles and Kevin Owens to the ring to set the record straight regarding Summerslam. Shane accidentally takes a Pele Kick from Styles. I’d love to know what percentage of my brain is made up of useless pro wrestling trivia. When Kevin Owens referenced Shane having refereed before, my mind immediately jumped to the moment from Survivor Series ’98 that they ended up showing. I can’t decide whether that’s quirky or sad.

Carmella def. Naomi in a non-title match with help from James Ellsworth. Natalya is the one challenging for the belt at Summerslam. But between Carmella having the Money in the Bank briefcase, the alliance between Lana and Tamina, and the ever-present Charlotte and Becky Lynch, Nattie is almost an afterthought. I’m a Natalya fan, but this almost feels like a pre-show match.

Also, can we get Ellsworth an acting coach or something? He was awful in that backstage segment with Nattie and Carmella.

Shinsuke Nakamura talks to Renee Young about his WWE Title Match at Summerslam. Not to overstate my point on the whole scripting thing, but one of the biggest drawbacks of not letting the wrestlers speak for themselves is that they all end up saying the same things. That stuff Nakamura said about Cena being the measuring stick of WWE and being a 16-time champion was all fine in theory. But the actual structuring of his verbiage made it come off phony. Something about him using that measuring stick expression just didn’t feel right.

On the upside, his English was fine as a whole. I didn’t have any trouble understanding him. Doing this in a pre-tape was smart. Nakamura might be like Brock Lesnar, in that when he has to talk, it’s better not to put him out in front of the crowd.

Randy Orton def. Jinder Mahal in a non-title match. Rusev jumps Orton afterward. I’d forgotten Jinder is Canadian. That Toronto crowd reminded me real quick. What else would you expect from the city that booed Bayley?

Very surprised to see Jinder lose clean here. I assume this was done to make him look beatable for Nakamura at Summerslam. I just hope they don’t use this match as an excuse to give us more Orton/Mahal matches. The fairly quality of their pay per view encounters notwithstanding,  Orton did what he was supposed to do and put the new star over strong. Now onward.

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Dusty Rhodes, Brock Lesnar, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

Dusty RhodesBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Obviously, Dusty Rhodes is on everybody’s mind this week, and rightfully so. In an industry where words like “legend” and “icon” are thrown around far too loosely, Dusty was truly both. His mic work was some of the best ever, and his matches with the likes of Ric Flair are forever etched into the annals of wrestling history.

Thanks for the memories, Dream. What a life, what a man.

Ponderings From WWE Raw:

WWE Battleground 2015, Seth Rollins, Brock LesnarBrock Lesnar returns, will face Seth Rollins for the WWE Championship at Battleground. Battleground, huh? They’re making this match for Battleground? That’s an odd move, in my book. The inevitable match between Seth Rollins and Brock Lesnar seemed tailor-made for Summerslam. I can only assume they’re getting the initial encounter out of the way at Battleground so they can make the Summerslam rematch bigger. Cage match, maybe? In a perfect world, it’d be Hell in a Cell, but they can’t necessarily do that because of the Hell in a Cell pay per view in October.

Either way, it’s great to see Lesnar back, even if he didn’t do anything but stand there. I’m pleased they didn’t have Paul Heyman say anything this week. This way we can build the anticipation for whatever he’s going to say next week. But even if the build up is lackluster, I imagine the match will be spectacular, even if it does involve some sort of BS finish to get us to Summerslam.

WWE Raw, June 15, 2015, Kevin OwensKevin Owens beats Dolph Ziggler in an open challenge, later powerbombs Machine Gun Kelly off the stage. I was worried about Owens coming off like a babyface earlier in the show when he threw out that open challenge. But he pulled a great heel move by slipping in that it wasn’t for the NXT Championship. But then he leaned babyface again when he attacked Machine Gun Kelly. Yes, I know that’s technically a heel move. But let’s be honest: Nobody likes musical performances on Raw. It never works. So Owens doing that stunt with MGK did more to raise his popularity than hurt it.

So here’s what I’m thinking: Owens loses the NXT Championship to Finn Balor at the big Japan show in July. Then he goes on to win the United States Title from John Cena at Battleground, and essentially take the torch. It seems like the most logical thing to do from here. Then again, WWE hasn’t always been big on logic…

WWE Raw, June 14, 2015, Bray WyattBray Wyatt costs Roman Reigns the Money in the Bank Ladder Match, cuts a promo with a photo of his daughter on Raw. I was wondering why they showed that awful Fatherhood.gov commercial with Roman Reigns, the Samoan Bad Ass, singing “I’m a Little Tea Pot.”

But in light of what we saw with Bray, it makes a little more sense. If they are indeed doing an angle with Reigns’ daughter, it could go a long way in terms of allowing the fans to build a more personal connection with him. On the other hand, it could turn into a lot of hokey, stupid crap. Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio Jr. had some awesome matches in the mid 2000s. But that whole storyline about Eddie trying to get custory of Rey’s son was awful. Lots of bad acting, lots of contrived storytelling. It was just bad. So just let’s hope this ends up helping Reigns instead of hurting him.

Randy Orton mixes it up with Sheamus and Kane. Yeah, I switched to the NHL play offs during the Orton/Kane match. How many times have we seen these guys wrestle over the years? No thanks.

WWE Raw, June 15, 2015, SheamusI found myself phasing out when Orton attacked Sheamus too. I just feel like I’ve seen all this stuff. Coming out of Money in the Bank, I actually would have preferred they put Sheamus with Roman Reigns, and Randy Orton with Bray Wyatt. Those are two programs I could have sunk my teeth into. At least at first glance.

On the subject of Kane, I’m still surprised they haven’t put the mask back on him and turned him babyface for a match against Rollins.. It seemed like that was the direction they were going in.

Images courtesy of WWE.com.

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