Undertaker’s Best Promos: The Dead Speak!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

For my money, on Monday the Undertaker cut one of his best promos in years. If you haven’t seen it, you should see it.

So watch it.

In recent years a lot of fans have been clamoring for him to return to his American Bad Ass/Big Evil persona. That’s the closest we’ve gotten to it in a long time. In the right context, this Undertaker is every bit as menacing and intimidating as the Dead Man persona.

Like fine wine, the Undertaker improved with age. Critics, podcasters and “pundits” have talked about his matches with Kurt Angle, Batista, Edge, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, CM Punk, among others. Mind you, the first of those matches took place in February 2006. The real-life Mark Calaway had been wrestling for almost 20 years, and played the Undertaker for about 16 of them.

But what about the Undertaker’s mic work? His “character work,” so to speak. At the start of his run he was given a mouthpiece: Paul Bearer. The formula for an Undertaker/Paul Bearer promo was pretty simple. Paul would do most of the talking in that unsettling high pitched voice, and ‘Taker would chime in with something spooky at the end. But at that point he was playing the character like a zombie, or Frankenstein’s monster.

Below is a perfect example, and actually one of my favorite times we heard the Dead Man speak…

But after years at Paul Bearer’s side, and six years of growing and evolving the character, he clearly became more comfortable on the mic and began to take a more commanding presence in his promos. At times it was almost to the point where Bearer would simply speak to compliment what Undertaker would say.

Case in point, this little gem where he talks about a match on Valentine’s Day…

In 1996, the Undertaker/Paul Bearer tandem was split up. The Dead Man was left to fend for himself on the mic. Some nights were better than others. But on certain shows, he could make absolute magic. Especially when he had the production team behind him. These promos for the Buried Alive pay per view that fall are the stuff of legend.

Holy crap.

The changes continued into 1997 and 1998. The introduction of the Kane character, and the revelation of the Undertaker’s storyline family history would humanize the Dead Man in ways we’d never seen. In rare occasions he’d be in street clothes, albeit still black. As they built to an Undertaker/Kane match at Wrestlemania XIV, he would have to talk about his parents, his childhood, etc. The emotional needs of the story required a kind of acting that would prove challenging for anyone not trained traditional theater.

In the scene below, we see him talking to his deceased parents at their grave site. Y’know, that standard wrestling promo you’ve seen a thousand times…

But pre-produced Undertaker was not the same as arena Undertaker. That’s not to say he was bad. But a spooky, undead character obviously lends itself to more quiet settings. When you’re among screaming fans, it’s obviously very different.

Here we have a fairly famous “worked shoot” promo from 1998. He’s dressed in plain clothes, but allegedly that’s because his gear was lost in transit. It’s not the most polished mic work you’ll ever see. But the substance of it is great. I love the “slayer of dragons” line.

I’m not in love with this next one. But certain elements of it are very strong. Most notably Undertaker not looking into the camera as he’s threatening Vince McMahon. Mind you this is 1999. Years before WWE wrestlers were told not to look into the camera. This was done for effect. Then you’ve got the music, the lighting, the hood. It’s just a great looking piece of television.

Then came the American Bad Ass. In 2000, all the talk about taking souls and eternal damnation was over. After 10 years, the Undertaker was simply a tough-as-nails biker, looking like he might kill somebody at a moment’s notice. We’d seen a humanized Undertaker before. But I’d argue this was the first time we heard the Undertaker talk like Mark Calaway.

Even the Rock wasn’t safe.

The American Bad Ass would morph into Big Evil. The difference? As Bruce Prichard once said, “Semantics.” Although I suppose you could argue the American Bad Ass was a babyface, and Big Evil a heel.

By the time Wrestlemania XIX rolled around, ‘Taker wanted a match with Ric Flair. And he was going to get it. By any means necessary…

In hindsight, the really bone-chilling thing about this segment is that he references not only the future Charlotte Flair, but the late Reid Fliehr.

This next one from April of 2002 was special. Not just because of its delivery, but because they put the Undertaker with the recently-returned Hulk Hogan, and they let him talk about the elephant in the room. They let him talk about his first WWF Championship win in 1991 and say, “I beat you.” For so long, it had been taboo to reference Hogan unless it was some kind of joke or parody. But now he was back. And as you’ll see, he was fair game.

Big Evil was around until the end of 2003. By Wrestlemania the following year, the Dead Man was back. And yes, he would wear gold again. Specifically, the World Heavyweight Championship, a.k.a. the “Big Gold Belt.” He wore it three times between 2007 and 2009.

Here he is on Smackdown in 2009 after taking it CM Punk in a Hell in a Cell Match the previous Sunday. My favorite part of this promo is that he puts the belt over, and explains why he wanted it so badly. He even calls it “the Holy Grail of everyone who steps foot in this ring.”

At this point, what we were getting was a Dead Man/Big Evil hybrid. Lots of talk about souls, graves, etc. But at times, we’d see flashes of Big Evil.

Earlier that year, Wrestlemania XXV had taken place. The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels had that classic match, and started what would ultimately be a four-year saga that in time would include Triple H.

Once Triple H got involved in 2011, we started to see in-ring segments between all three. What resulted were some of the best, if not the best back-and-forth promos of all their iconic careers. There’s a tension in the air that you can’t script. It has to come from the performers and their chemistry.

I present to you, Exhibit A.

A year later, Triple H and the Undertaker would face off again. This time inside Hell in a Cell, with HBK as the guest referee. But initially, Hunter refused to face the Dead Man again.

What’s interesting about this segment is that it’s one of the rare times we see Undertaker come from a place of vulnerability. He’s been waiting a year for this opportunity, and he needs Triple H to say yes.

You wanna talk tension? That line about Shawn being better isn’t remotely as effective out of context. But with these characters and this dynamic, it’s huge.

Fast-forward to 2015, and we’ve got the Undertaker coming for Brock Lesnar after the Streak was broken at Wrestlemania XXX. I was so dissatisfied with that initial promo ‘Taker cut on Brock. It made him look like a sore loser. If they’d simply done something like the promo below, and included something about revenge and ‘Taker having nothing left to lose, it would have been perfect.

This next segment contains, in my opinion, the Undertaker’s last really good promo. Until last Monday, of course.

There’s not much to it, really. It’s ‘Taker declaring himself for the Royal Rumble Match. But it’s always stood out to me for two reasons. First, I love the “29 holes for 29 souls” line. Secondly, and more importantly, look at how he acts toward Stephanie McMahon. At this point (and perhaps to this day), nobody stood up to Stephanie like that.

But what could she do? He’s the Undertaker.

Email Rob at at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

A WWE Crown Jewel Preview – A Saudi Curse?

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Why did they use this name again? Crown Jewel, that is. There was so much bad press over last year’s Crown Jewel event, what with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, that they still can’t even say “Saudi Arabia” on television. They have to dance around it to avoid reminding people that’s where this show is being held, even though everyone knows anyway.

Sadly, these Saudi shows have become synonymous with embarrassing matches. Whether you’re talking about Undertaker vs. Goldberg earlier this year, or the Brothers of Destruction against DX last year, we’re not exactly looking at a great track record. Hopefully this one won’t give us anything along those lines. But from where I’m sitting, the card looks pretty weak.

By and large, wrestling fans either don’t like or don’t care about athletes from other sports getting in the ring. So you’ve got to make them care. They haven’t done that with either Cain Velasquez or Tyson Fury. Which is a damn shame, especially in Velasquez’s case.

More on that later, though. For now, let’s dive in…

Cesaro vs. Mansoor
Don’t remember who Mansoor is? Don’t worry. After this match, you probably won’t see much of him until the next Saudi show.

You’ll recall that at Super Show-Down earlier this year, Mansoor won a 51-man battle royal. He’s been mostly absent from WWE television ever since. But because he’s from Saudi Arabia, they plucked him out of the toy box to get a few home-country hero pops. Cesaro, of course, is here to make sure the match doesn’t suck. Of course, Mansoor gets the feel-good win for the Saudi crowd.

PREDICTION: Mansoor

20-Man Battle Royal:
Winner wrestles AJ Styles for the US Title later in the night.

It’s tough to call this one, as I don’t think a single name has been announced for this thing. I would hope they’d all be names from the Raw roster that are otherwise unoccupied. Given what we’ve seen on Raw recently, Kevin Owens comes to mind right away. But if I’m not mistaken, he’s historically opted out of these Saudi shows. So who else do we have…?

Buddy Murphy would be a cool name to throw in there. Newer faces to Raw, like Ricochet and Cedric Alexander, have benefited a lot from sharing the ring with him. They made a point of putting him over on Monday. I’m not quite sure if he’s supposed to be a heel or a babyface. But what the hell? Let’s throw him a bone. Give him the battle royal, with Styles retaining later in the evening. Murphy won’t win the title, but the exhaustion factor will mean the loss doesn’t really hurt him.

BATTLE ROYAL PREDICTION: Buddy Murphy
TITLE MATCH PREDICTION:
 AJ Styles

TAG TEAM TURMOIL MATCH:
The Viking Raiders vs. The Revival vs. The New Day vs. Robert Roode & Dolph Ziggler vs. The OC vs. Curt Hawkins & Zack Ryder vs. Heavy Machinery vs. the Lucha House Party vs. The B-Team

Hmmmm. You know what they could do here? Put the Authors of Pain in here as surprise entrants, and have them demolish whatever teams are left at that point. You’ve got to believe a Viking Raiders vs. AOP program is in our future.

Expect the New Day to play a big role in the story here. With Xavier Woods now out with an injury, along with Kofi Kingston’s humiliating loss to Brock Lesnar, they’re really down on their luck. So there’ll be that much more pressure on them to win this thing. I expect them to lose in a heel team in a heartbreaker.

As for who wins…I’m going to say the Viking Raiders. The whole “World Cup” aspect of this thing seems better suited for a heel team. But I can’t see them giving it to the Revival, the OC, or Roode and Ziggler. So let the Raw tag champs bring it home. For whatever it’s worth.

PREDICTION: The Viking Raiders

TEAM HOGAN vs. TEAM FLAIR:
Roman Reigns, Rusev, Ricochet, Shorty G, & Ali vs. Randy Orton, Shinsuke Nakamura, Drew McIntyre, Baron Corbin, & Bobby Lashley

My goodness. What an…assortment of names we have here.

Ultimately, this match is just a meaningless attraction. An excuse to put Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair on the show in non-wrestling roles.

Has Flair ever beaten Hogan? Not just in the ring. But anywhere. At anything. I don’t think so. Why change that now? Give it to the babyfaces.

PREDICTION: Team Hogan

FALLS COUNT ANYWHERE MATCH FOR WWE UNIVERSAL HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
Seth Rollins (c) vs. Bray Wyatt

Obviously, the putrid finish to their Hell in a Cell match left a stink on both these guys. So they’re probably hoping to wash some of that off here. I’ll admit, out of everything on this card, this match has the best chance to steal the show.

This whole program was ill-conceived from the start. They just wanted an excuse to use Bray’s spooky gimmick on an October pay per view. So they rushed him into a title match, in the Cell no less, and have been paying for it ever since.

If they were going to put the Fiend character in this situation, given his momentum and popularity, you’d think they’ have him win the title. The best comparison I can think of right now is Brock Lesnar facing the Rock for the WWE Championship in 2002. That was a career defining night for Brock. But imagine if they’d not only had Brock lose, but lose in two consecutive pay per view title matches.

I can only assume that’s the fate that awaits Bray Wyatt here. Because it’s Falls Count Anywhere, they can obviously mess with the finish, i.e. have Rollins trap him under a forklift, or some pallets or something. Regardless, Rollins is leaving Saudi Arabia with that title, if for no other reason than Bray is a Smackdown guy now. And just like at Hell in a Cell, that’s not going to do Rollins any favors in terms of popularity. This guy is supposed to be Raw’s top babyface. But he keeps getting shot in the foot, whether it’s bad booking or bad tweets.

PREDICTION: Seth Rollins

Braun Strowman vs. Tyson Fury

Who the hell is Tyson Fury?

Okay, he’s a boxer. I get it. But why should I care? Tyson Fury in 2019 is not Mike Tyson in 1998, that’s for damn sure.

Either way, they didn’t bring him in to lose. So he’s either going to beat Strowman, or they’ll do some kind of no-contest finish. Someone could cost Strowman the match, but I’m not sure who that would be…

Either way, the smart bet is they give the win to their “celebrity” guest, as they always do.

PREDICTION: Tyson Fury

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Cain Velasquez

This could have been, and perhaps still will be, a Wrestlemania match.

There’s a great long-term story they could tell with these two. I don’t know much about Cain Velasquez. But unlike Tyson Fury, I at least know why I should care. Not only is this the guy Brock lost the UFC Championship to, but Velasquez legitimately put a scar on Lesnar’s face. Now he’s come to WWE to derail Brock again.

As I understand it, Velasquez has only had a match or two, wrestling for AAA in Mexico. He apparently impressed people. But he has yet to impress the WWE audience. His working punches alone have caused concern about how this match is going to turn out.

Despite having reportedly signed a multi-year deal with WWE, I would be shocked if they put the title on Velasquez so quickly. I don’t think you want either of these two gaining a decisive victory over the other at this point. I don’t think this needs to be anything more than a preview for a future, higher profile match. Sadly, that likely means this will end in a DQ or a no contest. This won’t be a great show in terms of definitive finishes.

Regardless, Brock will leave Saudi Arabia with the title. So for the sake of making a prediction, I’ll say Lesnar retains.

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

Ric Flair’s Legacy, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Ric Flair has once again become a hot topic. The iconic wrestler underwent major surgery this week. The exact nature of that surgery is unknown. But Flair was reportedly placed in a medically-induced coma. As we’re all too familiar with heartbreak and tragedy in situations like this, many of us feared the worst.

While the situation is still very serious, it seems like the real-life Richard Fliehr has a good amount of stylin’ and profilin’ left to do. That’s cause for celebration. The wrestling business has seen far more than its share of tragedy.

No one will ever be able to say with any certainty who the greatest professional wrestler of all time is. So much of this industry is subjective when it comes to the good and the bad. But as I scanned through the various well-wishes and tributes to Flair that popped up in my Twitter feed, it occurred to me that he may indeed be the closest we ever get to a definitive answer. For no other reason than if you ask any given wrestler, or even a knowledgable fan who the greatest of all time is, more often than not they’ll say Ric Flair. He’s synonymous with excellence and prestige in the wrestling industry. That’s not an accident. He inspired a generation of wrestlers with his incomparable promos and nearly unparalleled athleticism. Flair has given us so many memories. He’s a man who’s earned his place of honor in not only the wrestling industry, but popular culture itself.

So thank you, good sir. Have a speedy recovery.

Ponderings From Raw:

Dean Ambrose calls out Seth Rollins. The two come to blows. Sheamus and Cesaro come out to attack, but the former Shield members fight them off. Ambrose and Rollins finally do their trademark fist bump and reunite. The two duos to clash for the Raw Tag belts at SummerslamHave you ever seen a more milked fist bump? Jeez. Just make out, already.

Though I will say this: It worked. The crowd wanted to see them get back together, and WWE effectively built it up over several weeks. Now the question is, will they be as enthusiastic to see Roman Reigns rejoin the group?

Spoiler alert: No.

Sasha Banks def. Nia Jax to earn a Raw Women’s Title Match against Alexa Bliss at SummerslamAlexa’s silver lifeguard chair was an interesting touch to all this. Brings certain Baywatch-esque imagery to mind…

As time has gone on, Sasha has come to grate on me in more ways than one. But I’ll never deny how hellacious some of her bumps are. That swing she took into the barricade? Ouch. No way to protect your head on that one.

After a promo from Big Cass erupts into a fight, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson help Cass injure Big Show’s punching hand. What a difference a hot crowd makes. A different town would have given Cass the “What?” treatment. The fans in Boston made him look like a star. Cass even got to ad-lib a little bit. While he’s still not an awesome talker, this was his best segment thus far as a villain.

Akira Tozawa def. Neville to win the WWE Cruiserweight Title. I saw someone on Twitter say that Neville “legitimized” the Cruiserweight Division. While I wouldn’t go that far at all, it’s tough to understate what he’s meant to the 205 Live crew. He’s been the only one in this division with any kind of heat. He’s literally been an island. While this Cruiserweight Division has been an albatross for some (Austin Aries comes to mind), it’s been arguably the highlight of Neville’s entire WWE run. He made it work, and deserves a lot of credit for that. He deserves to graduate and move on to bigger things. But I imagine he’ll get his rematch in the near future.

One thing that has been legitimized? Akira Tozawa. He stood out from he moment he first appeared on Raw. And taking the belt off Neville after all this time is a huge deal.

Bray Wyatt def. Finn Balor. Wyatt dumps red paint on Balor afterward. This was the second of two matches on this show that were originally pencilled in for Summerslam. We later learned that it will now be Bray against Finn’s Demon personality at the pay per view. That’s pretty cheap, given how they got there. But at least Finn is getting on the show. I was worried this meant they were pulling the match. Not that it was all that amazing…

Mickie James def. Emma. Well, in Emma’s case I suppose a losing streak story is better than no story at all. Or worse yet, no TV time. Prior to last week, when was the last time we’d even seen Mickie on television? She deserves so much better.

After a match between Jason Jordan and the Miz ends in a disqualification, Jordan and the Hardy Boyz beat Miz and the Miztourage in a Six-Man Tag Team Match. This Jason Jordan thing had better end in a heel turn. Because right now he’s about as milk-toast as can be. Ironically enough, this is what they did with Kurt Angle in 1999 to make him a bad guy.

By the way, stellar job last week guys. Putting Jordan against a job guy from Canada, in Canada. Oye. I don’t claim to be an expert in wrestling psychology. But that’s pretty basic, isn’t it?

A brawl erupts between Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns, Samoa Joe, and Braun Strowman. Lesnar and Strowman need to be pulled apart. This main event is pretty damn strong. And they can get some mileage out of putting Brock with all three of these guys in singles matches down the road. As we saw here’s there’s obviously some fun, unexplored territory between Brock and Braun. Brock is reportedly going to be around as we move into Autumn. Seems like a damn good way to hold fan interest coming out of Summerslam.

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WWE Roadblock 2016 Predictions, Plus Ponderings on Dolph’s Big Win

Dolph Ziggler, AJ Styles, WWE Smackdown, December 13, 2016By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Here we go again. It’s almost fitting that Dolph Ziggler has modeled much of his look after Shawn Michaels. He may very well be the new Heartbreak Kid. Only Dolph will break your heart for entirely different reasons.

Tuesday night, Dolph Ziggler became the top contender for AJ Styles’ WWE Championship, winning a fatal fourway match. He will now face Styles on the December 27 edition of Smackdown. Sound familiar? It should. Ziggler won a similar match to earn his WWE Title shot at Summerslam. The one he lost clean. He would then go on to lose match after match to the Miz. He finally pulled out a win when his career was on the line, only to eventually drop the title right back to Miz. Now, in one match, he’s back in the WWE Title hunt.

Don’t fall for it, folks. This is a rerun. Not only is Dolph Ziggler not winning the title, he’s not being elevated back to main event status. He’s in this spot because WWE ran out of babyfaces to challenge Styles for the belt. They’ve put him with Dean Ambrose a million times. He’s worked with John Cena quite a bit, and may again come Wrestlemania. Who else is there?

Dolph Ziggler, Dean Ambrose, WWE Smackdown, August 2016

From a performance standpoint, I love Dolph Ziggler. He’s stellar in the ring and solid on the mic. The problem is, I just don’t see him as a credible threat to Styles. Remember, AJ has spent the last several months picking up some of the biggest wins of his career. Ziggler has gone in the exact opposite direction.

Moreover, as a viewer I’ve lost faith in Ziggler. Why is he the new Heartbreak Kid? Because watching him continue to bust his ass yet still be denied the spot he deserves is downright heartbreaking. They just keep dangling that carrot in front of him, and he just keeps reaching.

Having an underdog character is one thing. But the audience can only take so much heartbreak. Eventually, they lose faith in you. This is why I think Ziggler should have lost to Miz at No Mercy. He could have gone away and come back revitalized. But of course, they can’t do that with him because they need bodies on that Smackdown roster. He deserves to be in this spot because of his talent and athleticism. But in the end, what it boils down to is attrition.

Moving over to Raw territory, let’s talk Roadblock

WWE Roadblock 2016, Big Cass, RusevPRE-SHOW MATCH:
Rusev vs. Big Cass

Rumor has it Vince McMahon likes Big Cass. And why not? Hell, I like Big Cass. He’s seven feet tall, and apparently you can’t teach that. Is Cass ready to be a singles star? Nope. Not at all. His mic skills need to be sharpened. He doesn’t have to be what Enzo is, but I need to believe him when he talks. Right now, that’s not the case.

Still, the guy has potential down the road. So it would behoove WWE to protect him. I don’t know if he’s going to pin Rusev clean, but Cass definitely isn’t taking the fall. My guess is Enzo comes in for some kind of screwball finish.

PREDICTION: Big Cass

WWE Roadblock 2016, Rich Swann, Brian Kendrick, TJ PerkinsWWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Rich Swann (c) vs. Brian Kendrick vs. TJ Perkins

I’m not expecting anything special here. That’s kind of sad, isn’t it? The cruiserweights had so much buzz after the Cruiserweight Classic. Nowadays, there’s very little to distinguish them from the rest of the roster outside of the purple ropes and title belt. They’re just…there.

I don’t see Rich Swann dropping the belt here. He’s proven to be the charismatic babyface you’d want at the top of your division. So I’d keep the belt on him for awhile, at least until a worthy new heel emerges.

You know who’s in an odd spot these days? TJ Perkins. He was the inaugural Cruiserweight Champ, then lost the belt to Kendrick fairly quickly. Now Swann has taken his spot as the division’s lead babyface, and he’s recently lost singles matches to both Swann and Kendrick. On a recent episode of 205 Live, Austin Aries flat out asked him: “Can you beat these guys at anything besides video games?” I’d say it might be time for a heel turn, but I don’t see WWE dropping his kid-friendly image in the near future.

PREDICTION: Rich Swann

WWE Roadblock 2016, Sami Zayn, Braun StrowmanSTIPULATION MATCH:
Braun Strowman vs. Sami Zayn
Match has a 10-minute time limit.

I like this match. The time limit plays up how dangerous Braun is supposed to be, while also masking his relative inexperience. It also plays perfectly into Sami Zayn’s underdog character.

Braun has to be the victor here, one way or the other. Maybe he’ll pin Sami, maybe we’ll see the match stopped. Either way, he’s not getting pinned. Zayn’s best hope here is a disqualification or count-out victory. That’s how it should be. Strowman has been one of WWE’s success stories this year. Why slow him down now?

PREDICTION: Braun Strowman

WWE Roadblock 2016, Seth Rollins, Chris JerichoSeth Rollins vs. Chris Jericho

This should be a good match. But from a story perspective, it doesn’t do much for me. I will, however, give them credit. At least they’ve laid out a reason for this match to occur. Rollins wants to be Universal Champion again, so that he can force a confrontation with Triple H. For that to happen, he needs to isolate Kevin Owens. For that to happen, he needs to get rid of Chris Jericho.

But I don’t see that happening. The “best friends” duo of Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho seems to be all but officially dissolved. This would seemingly indicate a match between the two is imminent, possibly at the Royal Rumble. Jericho doesn’t need to win this match to propel him toward a Universal Title Match. But it couldn’t hurt. Plus, with Rollins calling out Triple H the way he is, they have the perfect excuse to pull shenanigans and cost him the match. So why not?

PREDICTION: Chris Jericho

WWE Roadblock 2016, Kevin Owens, Roman ReignsWWE UNIVERSAL TITLE MATCH:
Kevin Owens (c) vs. Roman Reigns

For better or worse, Roman Reigns is still “the guy” in WWE. Ergo, he can become the Universal Champion (or the World Heavyweight Champion for that matter) at any time. I’d like to think that’s not what we’re going to see here. Owens hasn’t set the world on fire with that belt. But of the two he’s more intriguing, not to mention more entertaining.

I’m inclined to say Owens on this one. But it could go either way. Aside from Seth Rollins vs. Triple H and Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg, Wrestlemania still looks wide open. It would piss off many a smart mark, but they could give the belt to Reigns to set him up for a big title defense. The question is, against who? If you leave the belt on Owens, you keep the door open for not only a big match with Chris Jericho, but a confrontation with Finn Balor, who is eyeing Wrestlemania for his return. It seems like Owens is the one to go with. But if he doesn’t win this one, don’t expect Reigns to be too far from the title picture as we move forward.

PREDICTION: Kevin Owens

WWE Roadblock 2016, Sasha Banks, Charlotte Flair30-MINUTE IRON MAN MATCH FOR WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE:
Sasha Banks (c) vs. Charlotte

Two questions on this one…

1. What Women’s Title Match do we want to do at Wrestlemania?

2. Just how important is Charlotte’s pay per view winning streak?

The likely candidate to challenge for the title is Bayley. She’s been kept fairly strong, and she’s got a history with Sasha that would lend itself to a big match like that. On the other hand, Charlotte is objectively the best all-around female performer WWE has right now. She needs to do something at Wrestlemania, and a Women’s Title Match seems like the most natural spot for her. Plus, they’ve built this pay per view streak up quite a bit. If they want to break it, Wrestlemania seems like the right place.

You also have the Ric Flair factor. I sincerely doubt he’s there strictly as the garnish. Odds are he plays some sort of role in the outcome. The obvious route would be to have him swerve Sasha, and have the belt once again go back to Charlotte. Again, with Wrestlemania still wide open, this one could go either way. That’s especially true when you consider the back and forth nature of this program. It’s all been very pattern-based. Sasha wins it on Raw, Charlotte wins it on pay per view.

But let’s go out on a limb. Let’s say this is where they finally break the cycle. Sasha wins, feuds with Nia Jax between now and Wrestlemania, and then gets to Bayley at Wrestlemania. As for who that leaves for Charlotte…um…Nikki Bella? That’s a tough one. There’s no way she doesn’t get on Wrestlemania, though. One way or another, Charlotte will return to wrestling’s grandest stage.

PREDICTION: Sasha Banks

Sasha Banks Strikes Again, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

Sasha Banks, WWE Raw, November 28, 2016By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This is getting a little silly, isn’t it?

Sasha Banks beat Charlotte Flair for the Women’s Title Monday in a Falls Count Anywhere Match. It was the latest in a pattern that has emerged this year. Charlotte wins the Women’s Title on pay per view, Sasha Banks wins it from her on Raw. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat.

Understand this: These two have really good matches. Risky. But still good. Some of the hype WWE spews about the “women’s revolution” is actually true, and much of it can be attributed to these two. They were the first women to main event a WWE pay per view. Ever. That alone gives them a place in history. Then you factor in all their talents, and the body of work they’ve put together. It’s awesome.

That being said, duration does not an epic feud make.

In 2009, WWE did John Cena vs. Randy Orton at four consecutive pay per views. They did a straight one-on-one match, an “I Quit” Match, a Hell in a Cell Match, and an Iron Man Match, all for the WWE Championship. And this was after they’d wrestled sporadically over the years. They build it up as the epic, mother of all feuds. But it wasn’t. The matches were good, but by no means was it a bitter rivalry for the ages. They just wrestled over and over again. They would continue to wrestle on and off over the years. It’s gotten to the point where the idea of another Cena/Orton match makes me wretch.

WWE Raw, November 28, 2016I’m nervous we’re venturing into that kind of territory with Charlotte and Sasha. Yes, they’ve been great together. But they should have taken a break after Hell in a Cell. Like Cena and Orton in 2009, they’re being forced to continue because of a lack of depth on the roster. They desperately need a few more ladies on Raw. I’m looking at you, Mickie James. I saw that Takeover match…

Charlotte and Sasha are probably going to wrestle again at Roadblock. If they must, then they must. But let that be the end of it. Don’t make us tired of seeing these two work. They’re too damn good together for that.

Ponderings From Raw:

Kevin Owens appears on Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel. Roman Reigns interrupts, and a match is made between Owens and Reigns. The energy in this segment was off. I hate to keep harping on this week after week, but it’s the scripted promos. These guys are trying to remember dialogue, and it drags these talking segments down so much. When Owens yelled at Jericho, it wasn’t nearly the moment it should have been because it didn’t feel natural.

Braun Strowman def. R-Truth. Strowman brutalizes Sami Zayn afterward. I’m becoming a Braun Strowman guy. He’s not the best wrestler you’ll see out there. But he’s a giant ass kicker, and he’s being booked like one. This thing with Sami Zayn has been good for both men thus far. It’s the classic David vs. Goliath story. But in the context of what we’ve seen on Raw these last few months, it feels fresh.

WWE Raw, November 28, 2016Mick Foley tells Sami Zayn he can’t beat Braun Strowman. Zayn calls Foley a hypocrite. Yikes. Foley’s bottom teeth came out in the middle of that promo. He glossed over it better than I thought he would, though. The live crowd didn’t seem to notice.

Again with the scripted promos. Nobody says “How dare you.” Sami Zayn certainly wouldn’t say it in the heat of the moment. Still, the segment helped establish Zayn’s underdog status, which enhances the program with Strowman. So it worked for me.

Tony Nese def. Cedric Alexander. Nice win for Tony Nese, though it sucked to see Cedric lose in his hometown. I’m mildly encouraged that they’re apparently starting a story with Cedric and Alicia Fox. He’s been on and off of Raw, and hopefully this gives him something consistent to do.

Seth Rollins ambushes Chris Jericho in the parking lot. I liked this. It feels like we haven’t had a nice backstage fight in awhile. The pedigree on the car was a cool stunt, and Rollins seemed legitimately pissed off.

Enzo Amore def. Rusev via disqualification after a low blow. Not much to say about this one. I assume they’re building to a match between Rusev and Big Cass at Roadblock.

WWE Raw, November 28, 2016, Rich Swann, Noam DarRich Swann def. Noam Dar. Hell of a sound on that kick that ended the match. Not a bad post-match promo, either. Still, I don’t see Swann walking out of 205 Live with the belt.

A bar fight angle airs with Sheamus and Cesaro.  From an acting standpoint, Sheamus and Cesaro were mostly okay here. But good lord, everybody else was awful. So I guess these guys are friends now? Cool. Like ’em or not, they’re your next tag champs.

Roman Reigns def. Kevin Owens to earn a Universal Title Match at RoadblockThis match had already been advertised locally, so some of us knew it was coming. Having Reigns in the main event of Roadblock is fine, I guess. But it makes it that much more evident how much this show misses Finn Balor.

Paul Heyman: Brock Lesnar will be in the 2017 Royal Rumble Match. Heyman dropped an F-bomb! “This guy’s a f*#$ing relic.” God damn. I love this guy so much. And were those tears in his eyes?

The simplicity of Cole’s first question to Heyman was a nice touch. Just, “What happened?” Nice.

New Day, WWE Raw, November 28, 2016The New Day def. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson  to retain the Raw Tag Team Titles. Oh c’mon. You knew it wasn’t going to be Gallows and Anderson. How many big matches have these guys lost to the New Day?

So the champs have had to cheat to win these last two weeks. Does that lead to somebody giving them their comeuppance before they break the record?

Sasha Banks def. Charlotte Flair in a Falls Count Anywhere Match to win the Raw Women’s Title. A few notes on this match. Or matches, if you count the first one that ended in a double count-out.

At about the 1:04:43 mark on the DVR, Sasha literally smacks Charlotte in the right boob. Ouch. I get what she was going for. The whole Ric Flair chop thing. But still, ouch. Sasha also heard some boos from the Charlotte crowd. Not used to that.

Not sure when the last time we saw a weapon used in a women’s match, especially since the PG era began.

That was a cool image of Sasha bending Charlotte back over the railing for the win. A nice finale. And the stuff with Ric Flair was a nice pay-off to her dumping him a few months back. A nice note to end the feud on. Now if only they’d actually end it, and let both ladies move on.

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Ric Flair/Halle Berry Creepiness, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

Ric Flair, 2016By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Looks like Uncle Ric is in trouble again.

A recent episode of The Ric Flair Show over at MLWRadio.com has drawn some heat for ol’ Naitch. Flair made a comment about sleeping with Halle Berry in 1997, shortly after her divorce from baseball star David Justice.

TMZ reports Berry is quite offended by what Flair said. They got a quote from a Berry rep that, for my money, says it all: “A man doesn’t get to sexualize and lie about a woman he’s never met to better himself or his name. It’s offensive, demeaning and beyond misogynistic.”

Having heard the clip from the podcast, I get the sense Flair was partially in wrestling promo mode when he said this. That’s one of the sad things about Flair. He always seems to be in promo mode, because he’s still trapped in that character. It’s not entirely his fault. We all have fond memories of that playboy persona, and even at 67 years old, that’s who a lot of fans still want Flair to be. That doesn’t make what he said acceptable or less creepy. But it’s worth noting where his mind likely was at the time.

Ric Flair deserves respect and admiration for his in-ring accomplishments. But these embarrassing slip-ups are making it painfully obvious that times have passed him by. I guess it’s not easy being an aging ’80s playboy in a world as politically correct and issue-sensitive as ours has become.

Ric Flair, Charlotte, Raw, November 30, 2015Case in point: This past spring, Ric was involved in the program between Charlotte and Natalya, and accidentally told Nattie to kill herself during a promo on Smackdown. While the show was taped and WWE was able to clip that line, you can find it on YouTube.

All this Halle Berry drama comes at a really interesting time, as lately his name has been brought up on Smackdown quite a bit. John Cena may be about to tie his record or 16 Heavyweight Titles. WWE obviously didn’t feel the need to avoid Flair’s name, and I expect we’ll see him on TV to talk about this at some point.

Bottom line, Flair got attention for his remark. But it wasn’t kind of attention he wanted. Just a sad situation overall.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Kane def. Bray Wyatt via count-out. I maintain this Bray Wyatt/Randy Orton program would have been better off had they let Bray beat Kane at Backlash. Now the poor guy can’t even beat him on free TV. By the law of averages alone, Bray does have to beat someone at some point, right?

Bray Wyatt, WWE Smackdown, October 4, 2016That shot of an upside down Bray suddenly noticing Orton on the tron was cool. Good acting by Bray. It lent credence to the idea that Orton is inside his head.

It looked like they were going to simply reverse the story they told last week, with Bray hunting Randy this time. Instead Randy trapped Bray in a storage container, and we got some nice grainy footage of Bray in there with the rocking chair. Very found footage. Randy also had a good line: “Lord have mercy…or not.”

Nikki Bella def. Alexa Bliss via disqualification after Carmella interferes. Bliss & Carmella win a subsequent tag match against Bella & Becky Lynch. Carmella was out there on commentary, and was doing an exaggerated New York accent. That only reinforces the whole Real Housewives vibe I’m getting from her. She’s also got a really grating voice when she’s screeching at opponents in the ring. All this translates to big heat with me. The good kind of heat, not Shining Stars channel changing heat. That accent’s not going to be easy to maintain all the time, though. Just ask Lana.

I did, however, get a kick out of Carmella calling Nikki a Kardashian wannabe. Also, nobody compared Alexa to Harley Quinn, and that Twisted Bliss moonsault is still gorgeous. So a good week for the women of Smackdown.

The Spirit Squad, Dolph Ziggler, WWE Smackdown, October 4, 2016The Spirit Squad returns during Miz TV, as Miz pays “tribute” to Dolph Ziggler’s career. One of the highlights of this segment was Ziggler cutting Miz off with: “I’m not gone yet, ass face. Say that again, I’ll knock the hell outta you.” Would it have killed them to just let him say asshole? That’s what he, and everyone in the audience is thinking. You’re on prime time TV, guys. Just let him say it.

Dolph went a little John Cena on us here, talking about kids looking up to him, doing Make a Wish stuff, etc. A bold move, considering Cena’s been doing that promo for years now, and probably busts it out before Thanksgiving dinner.

Hearing him talk about cashing in Money in the Bank the night after Wrestlemania really rang true. That’s the one moment in Ziggler’s career that everybody remembers. Unfortunately, it’s become a testament to this guy’s wasted potential.

On the subject of wasted potential, the big surprise here was the return of Ken Doane and Mike Mondo in their Spirit Squad gear. In an era where WWE is looking to pad their roster a little bit, I’m hopeful these guys can come back and deliver on some of that potential. WWE is actually advertising the return of Curt Hawkins for No Mercy, as if he wasn’t strictly an enhancement guy when he left. Wrestlers who didn’t leave on a great note are getting second chances.

Jason Jordan, Jey Uso, WWE Smackdown, October 4, 2016Jason Jordan def. Jey Uso. This one wrapped up quickly. A bit of a let down, actually. I’m always anxious to see Jordan suplex the hell out of somebody. Though it’s not like we won’t see him in there with the Usos again. The smart bet is Jimmy and Jey take the belts on Sunday, and we officially transition into a tag title feud with American Alpha.

Jack Swagger def. Baron Corbin by “submission.” Interesting finish, here. Corbin repeatedly reaches for the ropes in rapid succession, his wrist hitting the mat repeatedly, so the ref calls it a tap out victory for Swagger. Not sure if we’ve seen that before…

You know what Baron Corbin needs? A mouthpiece. Ironically, he’s in the same position Swagger was in before Zeb Colter came along. Yes, Corbin is the “Lone Wolf.” But he’s a lone wolf that’s getting eaten alive every time he opens his mouth.

AJ Styles, John Cena, and Dean Ambrose share a ring before their title match at No MercyBoth Styles and Ambrose jumped on Cena when this segment started. It made sense, given who Cena is and how good his mic work was on Talking Smack last week. But did it also made them look insecure? I can’t decide…

John Cena, Dean Ambrose, WWE Smackdown, October 4, 2016When it was his turn to talk, Ambrose went the backstage politics route. The line about “the guy who plays John Cena on TV” was good. There’s been some buzz about both these guys taking time away from Smackdown after No Mercy. Cena’s got his TV show, and Ambrose is allegedly shooting a movie. If that’s true, we lose the most compelling thing on this show, which is the stuff between the two of them. I’ll say it again: They need to work a singles program after No Mercy.

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Seth Rollins Returns, Cody Rhodes Departs, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

Cody Rhodes, WWE Intercontinental ChampionBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Before we get into Raw, let’s talk about Cody Rhodes, who requested and was granted his WWE release over the weekend.

This is becoming something of a trend, isn’t it? Wade Barrett opted not to sign a new contract with WWE. Ryback went home due to a contract dispute, as well as creative frustrations. And now Cody Rhodes/Stardust is gone, partially due to creative frustrations. He has apparently wanted to ditch the Stardust character for awhile now. But WWE apparently didn’t see that as being in the cards for him. So he made what many would consider to be a bold move, and asked to be let go. And to WWE’s credit, they didn’t keep him against his will.

I’m not sure if Rhodes was ever going to be a top guy for them. But he certainly had the potential to be more than he was. I keep thinking back to those years he spent in the Intercontinental Title picture. Not just bringing back the classic IC Belt, but feuding with the likes of Rey Mysterio Jr. and The Big Show at Wrestlemania. And my God, the number of personas he had over the years. First he was the upstart rookie, then he was with Legacy, then he was “Dashing” Cody Rhodes, then there was “disfigured” Cody Rhodes, and then he had the mustache, and then he was Stardust. He was so versatile in the ways he connected with the audience. I, for one, will miss him.

WWE, StardustI keep thinking back to an article I spotted awhile back on RingsideNews.com entitled “The Lost Generation of WWE.” It spotlights a lot of different guys who might have been stars, perhaps even main eventers, if WWE had given them an honest chance. Rhodes is among them. It’s definitely worth a look.

Getting back to this being a trend, when you look at Barrett and Rhodes calling it quits, Ryback going home, and all the talents who have vented creative frustrations via social media (Zack Ryder, Damien Sandow, Naomi, Cameron, Alex Riley, etc.), the glass ceiling in WWE becomes that much easier to see. That’s obviously some pretty tough glass to break through, folks. And the one guy who can open a door and let you through? Vince McMahon. Once you sign that contract, to an extent you only go as far as Vince McMahon allows you to go.

Is that fair? Nope. Is it a good thing? I’m not so sure anymore…

Ponderings From WWE Raw:

Seth Rollins attacks Roman Reigns at Extreme Rules. Title match to take place at Money in the BankWe didn’t get Finn Balor, as I thought we might. But Rollins was just as pleasant a surprise. I’m happy to see he’s staying heel. I’m not sure what a babyface Seth Rollins would look like at this point. Also, before he left, Rollins was one of the few really good heels WWE had. I don’t doubt he can play that role again.

Seth Rollins, WWE Raw, May 23, 2016Roman Reigns was good in this segment. Granted, it did’t require much. All he had to do was walk down there and look menacing. Silent but menacing Roman Reigns is the one I want to see. And when he does speak, I want it short, concise, and to the point.

Sami Zayn def. Sheamus to qualify for the Money in the Bank Ladder Match. Sheamus attacks Apollo Crews afterward. No complaints here. Glad they learned their lesson and kept Sheamus away from the Money in the Bank Ladder Match this year. Putting him with Apollo Crews is pretty harmless. As I’ve said before, I don’t mind Sheamus in the ring. But creatively, he’s been stale for the longest time. Even when he was champion, he didn’t have much going for. They need to find something to shake Sheamus up. Otherwise, I’m not sure where he goes from here.

Cesaro def. The Miz to qualify for the Money in the Bank Ladder Match. Considering how good Miz has been since Wrestlemania, and how he won that awesome Fatal Fourway Match at Extreme Rules, I wasn’t a big fan of him losing. But in the long run, I really think it’s more important to give Cesaro more momentum. of course.

WWE Raw, May 23, 2016, Chris Jericho, Apollo CrewsChris Jericho def. Apollo Crews to qualify for the Money in the Bank Ladder Match. I loved Jericho’s expression on the way down to the ring. Like a pouty little kid. And those whiney screams when Crews would attack those oversized bandages on his back were great. Just like silent Reigns is the best Reigns, heel Jericho is the best Jericho. I was surprised they beat Crews clean. One would think they’d have Sheamus at least be out there for the distraction. But there’s certainly no shame in losing to Jericho.

Bob Backlund scolds Darren Young for saying “damn” in latest vignette. Is there a reason Backlund and Young aren’t in the same place for these segments? At times there’s a weird disconnect between them. That was especially the case here. If you put them in a room together, they’d be able to play off each other, and there’d be so much more energy. Hopefully we see them try this out in a match soon.

Dolph Ziggler challenges Baron Corbin to another match. Hearing Corbin recite that scripted dialogue was painful. Simply put, the guy needs acting lessons. What’s more, he seemed to have trouble knowing whether to look into the camera or away from it. To his credit, he had the right idea. Wrestlers have been looking into the camera to cut promos for generations now. Why they make these guys look off into the distance is a mystery to me. On the plus side, apparently you can say the word “wrestling” on WWE TV now.

Enzo & Cass, WWE Raw, May 23, 2016Enzo Amore returns after a concussion, is in Big Cass’ corner as he beats Bubba Ray Dudley. It’s great to see Enzo, obviously. But I’m curious as to why they didn’t mention The Vaudevillians. They were in the ring with Cass & Enzo when the injury happened. You’d think they’d want to go back to that, or at least mention it. Cass continues to be solid in singles matches. He just needs some more experience, and hopefully the other pieces will fall into place.

Charlotte (with Dana Brooke at her side) cuts ties with Ric Flair. Being with Charlotte obviously isn’t a bad spot for Dana Brooke. Though Charlotte has become a pretty good mic worker, Brooke has a natural charisma that will hopefully add to her presentation.

Charlotte may have acknowledged the crowd a little too much in this segment. I give her a lot of credit for being able to ad lib. But it drew focus away from the stuff with Flair, which was obviously what this segment was about. But she cranked up the intensity really nicely when it was time for her to get heat.

Once again, they’re pulling some pretty personal strings with Charlotte and her family. I always thought they should have tried something like this with David Flair when he was in WCW. That way, they could have built to a match between father and son. That’s not something they can do with Charlotte and Ric. But despite a few flubs in her delivery, I think Charlotte played the heartless villain really well. I’m curious to see if Flair leaves this regular TV gig with Charlotte, or if they do a feud of sorts.

WWE Raw, May 23, 2016Dean Ambrose def. Dolph Ziggler to qualify for the Money in the Bank Ladder Match. Ambrose is on a nice little role, with back-to-back pay per view wins over Chris Jericho. Would I complain about him winning Money in the Bank? Hell no. But do I expect it? Nope.

AJ Styles breaks away from Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. Styles loses a Money in the Bank Qualifying Match to Kevin Owens. Remember that night Styles and Owens stole the show in the first hour of Raw? This is the spot a match between these two deserve to be in. They proved that tonight. A strong main event, in a period where WWE really needs to try to  build to that third hour. Now that Owens is in the Money in the Bank Ladder Match, I expect the feud between he and Sami Zayn to be incorporated into things, which will hopefully add further depth to the match.

I can appreciate the fact that this story with Styles, Anderson, and Gallows is being drawn out. If WWE wants to create their own version of The Bullet Club, it deserves to be a long term, detailed story. Still, it would have been damn cool to see Finn Balor show up at Extreme Rules.

Images courtesy of WWE.

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A WWE Extreme Rules 2016 Preview – Bullet Club or Balor Club?

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Life seems pretty good for AJ Styles these days, doesn’t it? He’s been on the main roster for less than five months, and he’s main eventing his second pay per view. For the WWE Championship, no less.

Not that he’ll be winning it. These past few months it’s looked a lot like The Bullet Club is coming to WWE. Or is it The Balor Club? Extreme Rules may be the night we finally find out. Either way, I don’t suspect the answer will be good for AJ Styles. He may be in “The Club” now, but chances are his membership is getting revoked sooner, rather than later…

WWE Extreme Rules 2016, Dolph Ziggler, Baron CorbinNO DISQUALIFICATION MATCH:
Dolph Ziggler vs. Baron Corbin

Oye. Look at that picture. Baron Corbin is decent int he ring, but he REALLY needs acting lessons. It’s like Ziggler found a deer in the headlights and decided to snap a pic.

Still, that deer is going to beat him. I’d have thought this would have been over and done with by now, with Corbin having solidly beaten Ziggler at Payback. I was pleasantly surprised Ziggler got a pay per view win out of this deal, but it’s time to end it. I’m not sure who Corbin goes with after Ziggler. Maybe a smaller undercard guy like Kalisto or Zack Ryder to play up the bully factor? It’s clear Corbin still has a lot of learning to do. Hopefully he was able to make the most out of his time with Ziggler.

PREDICTION: Baron Corbin

Kalisto, Rusev, WWE Extreme Rules 2016WWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
Kalisto (c) vs. Rusev

As of last Monday’s Raw, I’ve officially soured on Kalisto as US Champion. Not because of anything he did, but because the booking just hasn’t done anything for me. For some reason his latest loss to Alberto Del Rio that night made me finally throw my hands up. How many losses does that make to Del Rio this year? I understand he’s a smaller guy and has to get beat up, maybe even pinned by bigger guys once in awhile. But I really think Kalisto had (and still has) it in him to be something special in the vein of a Rey Mysterio Jr. JBL even made that comparison on Monday. But they’ve tucked this poor guy away on the pre-show for months now, and he’s just flat. There’s no buzz. It’s time to cut losses on Kalisto’s run with the US Title. At least for now.

Is Rusev the guy I would have picked? Eh, maybe. Taking the belt back might put some shine back on Rusev, and God knows he needs it after being stuck in the League of Nations. But I’m worried his act with Lana is a bit too similar to what The Miz and Maryse are doing. Miz, of course, is the Intercontinental Champion. But I think the pros of putting the belt on Rusev out-weigh the cons. So I’m going with The Bulgarian Brute becoming a two-time champ. Better luck next time, Kalisto.

PREDICTION: Rusev

The Usos, Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, WWE Extreme Rules 2016TEXAS TORNADO MATCH:
The Usos vs. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson

When was the last time we saw a Texas Tornado Match in WWE? I can’t remember one offhand. I imagine it’s been quite awhile.

So I’m just going to float this. If Gallows and Anderson were to beat The Usos, that might serve as a partial motivation for Roman to turn on them and side with “The Club.” Yeah, I know. If only…

I see Gallows and Anderson winning regardless. They’re still establishing themselves in WWE, and a win here would definitely help in that regard. Let alone the idea that we may see a WWE version of the Bullet Club emerging…

PREDICTION: Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson

WWE Extreme Rules 2016, The New Day, The VaudevilliansWWE TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The New Day vs. The Vaudevillians

As I’ve said previously, I like that The Vaudvillains have been able to come off as cruel, sadistic heels. They put Enzo Amore out of action, they leave The New Day laying, and they revel in it. That’s actually the kind of thing I expected the Dudleys to do when they went heel. But The Vaudvillains need that mean streak more. It balances out their silly, cartoony persona and allows them to be taken at least a little bit serious.

That being said, I don’t think there’s any reason to take the belts away from The New Day. They’ve got a great thing going, and they’re over. It’s been such a long time since a tag team that doesn’t consist of main eventers (i.e. DX, Rated RKO, etc.) has been over like this. They’re special. And I just don’t see it as the right time for them to take a big loss. Plus, Simon Gotch and Aiden English have unfinished business with Enzo & Cass. Let them tend to that while The New Day face their next challengers.

PREDICTION: The New Day

WWE Extreme Rules 2016, Kevin Owens, The Miz, Cesaro, Sami ZaynFATAL FOURWAY MATCH FOR WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE:
The Miz (c) vs. Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro vs. Sami Zayn

There’s a pretty good chance this match will steal the show. Consider what all these guys have to offer individually, and it’s hard not to look at this match as such.

As talented as Owens, Cesaro, and Zayn are, I still don’t think it’s the right time to take the belt off Miz. He and Maryse have a good thing going, and I think he’s got at least another month as champion in him. I do see the belt eventually going to Sami Zayn, possibly midsummer. I can see Zayn vs. Owens in an Intercontinental Title Match at Summerslam. Of course, it’s possible all these men may be involved in the Money in the Bank Ladder Match next month. So perhaps the best time to switch the title to Zayn would be in a singles match in July. Either way, Miz comes out on top here.

PREDICTION: The Miz

WWE Extreme Rules 2016, Dean Ambrose, Chris JerichoASYLUM MATCH:
Dean Ambrose vs. Chris Jericho

At one point, I was not okay with Dean Ambrose’s character being associated with a straightjacket. I didn’t want him going the route of a Mankind or a Kane. His character has a certain cool factor that those don’t. But now that he’s had some time to flesh out who he is, this should be fine. And the straightjacket is definitely the most intriguing weapon we saw hanging from that cage Monday. I suspect at some point we’ll see Jericho in that straightjacket. At this stage in their careers, Jericho obviously has very little to lose, and Ambrose has quite a bit to gain. Take that into consideration, along with the fact that this is Ambrose’s match, should add up to a win for “The Lunatic Fringe.”

PREDICTION: Dean Ambrose

Charlotte, Natalya, WWE Extreme Rules 2016SUBMISSION MATCH FOR WWE WOMEN’S TITLE:
Charlotte (c) vs. Natalya
If Ric Flair appears at ringside, Charlotte loses the title. 

From a creative standpoint, this program with Charlotte and Natalya hasn’t been mind-blowing. Hell, they rehashed the Montreal Screwjob. What does that say? But this is probably the highest profile program Nattie has ever been involved in. And she deserves it.

I don’t see Charlotte losing the belt here. So how do you get out of this match? They did the crooked ref thing last month, so that’s out. You’ve got to figure Flair gets involved somehow. Maybe he shows up on the tron? Maybe they dress him up like a camera guy? Either way, hopefully they won’t make this a clean win for Charlotte. Granted, Nattie will still have to tap out. But a few underhanded tactics will soften the blow for her.

A rumor popped up recently that Paige would indeed be Charlotte’s next opponent. The idea is that they’d be feuding over Alberto Del Rio to coincide with the photos that recently leaked of he and Paige together. I call BS on the storyline, but I do expect Paige to get a title shot. She did pin the champ, after all. Then again, Paige just lost to Dana Brooke on Smackdown. So who knows?

PREDICTION: Charlotte

WWE Extreme Rules 2016, Roman Reigns, AJ StylesEXTREME RULES MATCH FOR WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
Roman Reigns (c) vs. AJ Styles

An Extreme Rules Match means no disqualifications and no count-outs, right? But given the Texas Tornado Match earlier in the evening, The Usos, Anderson, and Gallows might not be a factor here. Or at least they won’t have a major impact. One person who might? Finn Balor. With “The Club” out of the picture, Styles would never see him coming. And given their history with The Bullet Club, it would make sense. I’m not sure what that would do in terms of the fans booing Reigns. But they’re the ones who wouldn’t turn him heel…

Reigns and Styles did really well last month. There’s no reason they shouldn’t do well this month. Either way, Reigns walks out with the title. The good news is, if Finn Balor is the plan here, Styles has a built-in program going into Money in the Bank next month. Of course, there’s always the chance Styles could win the Money in the Bank Briefcase, which opens up a whole new set of possibilities.

Images courtesy of WWE.com.

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Roman Reigns, “What an Ovation!”, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This wasn’t the show I was hoping to end the road to Extreme Rules with. Even with all the intrigue that comes with this Roman Reigns/AJ Styles program, it seems like they’ve run out of plays to call for these guys. So they slapped The Usos together with Gallows and Anderson, and we limp into a pay per view that will hopefully leave all parties better than when they walked in.

*sigh* They just won’t turn Roman. No matter how much he’s booed, they just won’t let him go heel. Speaking of those boos…

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns, AJ Styles, WWE Raw, May 16, 2016AJ Styles and Roman Reigns face off at the top of the show. JBL is hardly the world’s most credibly announcer, is he? Roman’s music hit, he was showered in boos, and JBL goes: “What an ovation!” Gimme a damn break.

Still, this program is hot. Not super hot, but hot nonetheless. I’ll take this over a 20-minute Authority promo any day. AJ Styles isn’t an amazing talker, but he’s definitely serviceable. He more than held his own here. The same can be said for Reigns. He definitely didn’t endear himself to the Greensboro crowd, who apparently were chanting for Seth Rollins. They must have muted them, which always sucks.

Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn def. The Miz & Cesaro. I was sad to see the Zayn vs. Cesaro match broken up. Those two had a classic in NXT awhile back, and a rematch would have been cool. And Owens on commentary? Even better. But it was cool to see Cesaro hit Miz with his own finish.

What I paid attention to during this match were the interactions between Owens and Zayn. I really want this rivalry to live up to the enormous potential it has. What can I say? I’m short on patience. They definitely make for good television. For now, that’s enough.

Primo & Epico, WWE Raw, May 16, 2016Primo & Epico return as The Shining Stars. I’ve never had a problem with Primo & Epico in the ring. But I haven’t been enamored with their latest repackaging. Neither was the crowd, apparently. The Shining Stars? That’s pretty damn generic. Oh, and their finisher? The Shining Star, of course. But they are getting a chance to talk, which could work to their advantage. The problem is they’re not saying much of substance. “Come to Puerto Rico!” It’s a little grating, but not enough to base an act on. They need to add another dimension to this, and fast.

Dean Ambrose calls out Chris Jericho. The first ever Asylum Match is made for Extreme Rules. You know who could really use the rub from Chris Jericho? Roman Reigns. They’re not going to get the crowd to cheer Reigns simply by putting him with Jericho. But Jericho might be able to bring something out in Reigns that either we haven’t seen before, or could endear him to fans a bit more. That said, this Asylum Match is likely going to end with an Ambrose victory. Which would mean that next week on Raw our old friend 50/50 booking would have to rear it’s ugly head, with Jericho somehow becoming the new top contender.

Dana Brooke def. Becky Lynch. Dana caught a really bad break this week, as her partner Emma is now sidelined with a ruptured disc in her back. As such, Brooke is obviously on her own. But I thought she did well enough out there with Becky. She’s by no means sunk.

Dana Brooke, BEcky Lynch, WWE Raw, May 16, 2016We got a “We want Sasha!” chant during this match. That’s a little discouraging, especially considering how great Becky is as a babyface. I’m not sure why they’re keeping Sasha off TV, as apparently she’s still working a full time schedule. I can only assume she’s in line to challenge Charlotte down the road.

A “Life Lessons from Coach Backlund” vignette airs. Not bad. But I’ve got one note: Backlund needs to crank up the intensity at certain points. We know he’s got it in him. Now we need to see it in his new role with Darren Young.

Tyler Breeze & Fandango def. Golden Truth. I get what they were going for with that video package, and we did need to know why Goldust and R-Truth are suddenly a tag team. But that pre-match video package was way too long. In a way it’s fitting, as this damn bromance story feels like it’s gone on forever. But they do have comedic chemistry, so it’s nice to see them finally together. And it looks like Tyler Breeze and Fandango have gotten something out of this. I’m not sure how seriously they’ll be taken. But if they stay together, they could be a really good team. But that “Breeze-ango” name has to go.

The New Day return to “a bygone era.” This was the kind of thing I had in mind when it became apparent The New Day and The Vaudevillians would cross paths. I can’t say it was as good as I hoped it would be. But Kofi had a nice little moment when he went back to 2007 for a moment. As for Simon Gotcha and Aiden English, as long as they’re allowed to be mean, they’re still in the game. If they lose that edge, they’re dead in the water.

WWE Raw, May 16, 2016, AJ Styles, Roman ReignsThe Usos def. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson. AJ Styles finally gets to use a steel chair on Roman Reigns. I’ve given up hope that WWE is actually going to turn Reigns heel. But given how WWE has set up the teams here, with Reigns going with The Usos and Styles going with “The Club,” how cool would it be to see Reigns go heel and recruit Gallows and Anderson? That would shake up the whole dynamic. What if this attack from Styles shook his confidence, and he found a cheap way to win? It’s not going to happen. But it’d be damn cool.

Extreme Rules would be as good a time as any for Finn Balor to show up and cost Styles the match. He’s got an NXT Championship Match with Samoa Joe at the NXT Takeover special in June. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be on the main roster by then.

Alberto Del Rio def. Kalisto. Rusev brutalizes both Lucha Dragons. Ugh. Just take the belt off Kalisto already. I like the guy. But between all the pre-show title matches, the back and forth wins with Del Rio, not to mention the awful commentary, I’m over him as US Champion. They could certainly choose somebody worse for him to drop it to than Rusev. Hell, he could end up dropping it to Del Rio again.

Stephanie McMahon, Ric Flair, WWE Raw, May 16, 2016A contract signing between Charlotte and Natalya main events the show. Charlotte winds up in the Sharpshooter again. It’s always cool to see the women get a main event spot like this. As I recall, the last time we had a contract signing with the ladies in the main event spot, we got the whole Reid Fleihr controversy. This obviously doesn’t erase that. But it’s nice to see they’re still willing to give the girls this spot. Granted, this had more to do with them being in North Carolina, and Ric Flair being there. But hey, who would have thought Natalya would be main eventing Raw? And of course, Stephanie slapped Flair. Because she slaps everybody…

This is the second week in a row they’ve opted not to give the main event spot to Roman Reigns and AJ Styles, despite them having far and away the most interesting storyline in the company. I wonder why that is. Do they not want him getting booed at the end of the show for some reason? It sure as hell didn’t stop them at Wrestlemania

In Other News:

Regan Arts to publish Stephanie McMahon memoir. I groaned when I read this. Not because I don’t think Stephanie has an interesting story, but because everything she does from a professional standpoint is about growing the WWE brand. As it should be. But the only time I ever see her is when she’s on TV, reciting overly scripted dialogue. As such, my impression of her is that everything she says goes through about five different strictly PG public relations filters. As such, I get the feeling this will be the equivalent of reading a book about a sanitary napkin growing up in WWE.

You know, I’m curious. Stephanie must have signed a contract for this book, right? Well, after the documents were signed…did she slap somebody at Regan? She must have. That’s just how she rolls.

Images courtesy of WWE.com. 

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Big Cass Hits the Big Time, Champions Fall, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m going to get into Raw, as afterward we’ll get into Ryback’s current situation with WWE, and the numerous releases we saw last week.

Ponderings From WWE Raw:

WWE Raw, May 9, 2016, Chris Jericho, Big CassColin Cassaday interrupts Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel, and challenges him to a match. I was really annoyed when a light chant of “Where is Enzo?” broke out. WWE and Colin Cassady are trying to make the best of a bad situation. To his credit, he’s not doing a bad job. In terms of the Raw audience, I’d argue Enzo was over with the fans the night after Wrestlemania because of how great he was on the mic. Cass, while part of the act, didn’t have that advantage. So this is a great chance for him to flesh out his character. Thus, when Enzo returns, the team will be even stronger.

Baron Corbin def. Dolph Ziggler. “Even Steven” booking strikes again. I’m wondering if these two will rematch yet again at Extreme Rules. I don’t really see why they’d need to, as I don’t think there’s enough interest to merit it. But it’s a possibility. Pleased to see Corbin win with his finish, though he could have easily won with the Deep Six.

R-Truth def. Fandango. Michael Cole shoved a bunch of contrived pop cultural references into this match. He talked about the Goldust & Fandango vs. R-Truth & Tyler Breeze match on this week’s Smackdown being bigger than Captain America: Civil War. He also mentioned James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke,” and Ozzy Osbourne’s disappearance. It’s like someone picked the least important match on the show to shove all of that into. Last week I talked about this program not making any sense, but at least these four guys have something to do on Raw.

WWE Raw, May 9, 2016, Charlotte, Paige, NatalyaPaige def. Charlotte with a distraction roll-up. I get why they did this. They want the fans to question Charlotte’s ability to stand on her own as we head into a match where Ric Flair is banned. For continuity’s sake, Paige should get the next title shot at Money in the Bank next month.

I tend to mute the commentary when wrestlers put on a headset, especially when there are two of them bickering with one another. But Natalya was fine. She seemed to run out of things to say when Cole and JBL kept questioning her, but she came off well. I do, however, think she jumped up on the apron a bit too early. Logically, she should have jumped up there after Charlotte tried to win with her feet on the ropes.

Sami Zayn def. The Miz. Not a good night for champions, as both the Women’s Champ and the IC Champ lost clean. But in Zayn’s case, at least we know he’s getting a title opportunity. We now officially have the fatal fairway match I mentioned last week. My guess is Miz retains when Kevin Owens accidentally causes Zayn to get pinned. This Zayn/Owens stuff could go to Summerslam if they book it right.

Dana Brooke makes her Raw debut in a backstage segment with Emma and Becky Lynch. From a wrestling standpoint, I can’t say I’m that familiar with Dana Brooke. I’ve seen her in backstage segments Emma, as the two are obviously run-in buddies. But she’s largely unknown to me. Either way, her debut adds a bit more depth to the women’s roster, which is a good thing.

Darren Young, Bob Backlund vignetteDarren Young finds a life coach in Bob Backlund. This segment first aired on Smackdown. I’m really intrigued by this pairing. As I understand it, it was Darren Young’s idea, and WWE are letting him run with it. The “Make Darren Young Great Again” slogan is obviously timely. What’s more, this will give us a chance to get to know Young a bit more. We don’t know much about him, aside from the fact that he’s the first openly gay WWE star. And obviously, Backlund is very entertaining.

But the most surprising thing about this vignette? They let Young and Backlund say “wrestling.” Holy crap. I thought that word was banned! Then Byron Saxton said it!

Sin Cara def. Rusev with a distraction roll-up. The second distraction roll-up of the night. Ugh. Rusev really shouldn’t have lost this match. From where I sit, WWE is still in the process of rehabbing him. He won a big battle royal last week, and now he loses to Sin Cara? Lame. On the plus side, they learned their lesson and kept Kalisto off commentary.

Roman Reigns & The Usos def. AJ Styles, Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson via disqualification in a six-man elimination tag team match. Anderson and Gallows had a few heel moments here. You had Gallows cheap shooting Jey Uso, then Gallows abruptly tagging AJ out of the match, and of course attacking Reigns to cause a DQ.

WWE Raw, May 9, 2016, Roman Reigns, Karl AndersonI like the bad blood that exists between these two teams. And people can say what they want about Roman Reigns (I certainly have), but that moment when he looked at the chair, said “I don’t need it” and gave it to Styles? That was bad ass. On the other hand, Styles proves that babyfaces can be cheered in the modern era, so long as they have talent and a good amount of fire.

Kevin Owens def. Zack Ryder. We certainly can’t say Zack Ryder hasn’t gotten some decent TV time since Wrestlemania season. WWE seems to appreciate him as a guy who the fans like, and can give anyone a run for their money, but keeps coming up short. He’s an underdog. That’s not a necessarily a great position to be in. But it’s better than not being on TV at all. And as I recall, underdogs have done some great things in WWE…

Last week I mentioned how no one could have imagined AJ Styles on Sportscenter. But how about Kevin Steen showing up on Sportscenter? What a world we live in…

The Dudley Boyz def. The New Day. What the hell? The Women’s Champ, the IC Champ, and the Tag Champs all lose non-title matches in the same night. Between that and the distraction roll-ups, this is really weird. Just like Paige hopefully getting a title shot at Money in the Bank, one would hope the Dudleys will now be in the tag title picture next month as well. Also, hat big clothesline Kofi took from D-Von looked awesome.

WWE Raw, May 9, 2016, Dean AmbroseDean Ambrose attacked Chris Jericho before his match with Big Cass. This was disappointing. They hyped Big Cass against Jericho for the entire show. Ambrose’s appearance was obvious, but they could have at least let them wrestle a bit. Cass didn’t have to beat Jericho. Ambrose could have attacked him and ended the match.

The visual of Ambrose wearing Jericho’s jacket, and then destroying it was pretty cool. But the idea that “Mitch the potted plant” meant the world to Ambrose is just stupid. It was a running joke. Now suddenly it’s a factor in a program between two of WWE’s biggest stars? What the hell…?

In Other News:

Ryback off TV over contract dispute, posts lengthy blog on the issue. Much of the blog Ryback posted on his Tumblr page had to do with how wrestlers are paid, and how talents who win matches should get paid as much as the ones who lose. He seems to be implying that all WWE wrestlers should be paid equally. Allegedly, he also wants WWE to pay for his travel and hotel expenses.

(Incidentally, I hadn’t caught the “pre-show stopper” weight belt Ryback wore out for his pre-show match at Payback. Funny stuff.)

Ryback, pre-show stopperI doubt WWE will give at all. If they don’t feel Ryback should be paid more, chances are they’re not going to shill out more for him. Especially now that he’s talked about the issue publicly. As for the travel stuff, if WWE doesn’t pay for John Cena or Roman Reigns to travel across the globe, they’re not going to do it for Ryback.

Still, I give “The Big Guy” credit for trying to take on the system. As far as the travel stuff, he’s right in principle. If there’s another industry that doesn’t pay for its employees to travel, I’m not aware of it. Perhaps that falls back under WWE classifying its employees as “independent contractors.” Which, of course, is a big sham.

WWE releases the following talents: Wade Barrett, Damien Sandow, Santino Marella, Hornswoggle, Alex Riley, Cameron, Zeb Colter, El Torito. WWE did what many refer to as its annual “spring cleaning” last week. Most of these aren’t surprises, as the talents haven’t been on TV in a number of months. We had a pretty good idea that Wade Barrett was leaving, which is a shame considering all he could have offered. Cameron, a.k.a. the real life Ariane Andrew, had posted a lengthy rant regarding fans cyber-bullying her less than a day before this announcement. Frankly, I’m sad to see her go. She many not have been a great wrestler, but her on-screen personality was very easy to dislike. At the very least, she might have been a good valet for someone.

But the one that really hurts is Damien Sandow. At one point, this guy was one of the most over guys on the roster. Why you wouldn’t make at least some use of a guy like that is beyond me. Hopefully WWE’s loss will be somebody else’s gain.

Image 3 from wrestlenewz.com. Image 6 from cagesideseats.com. Remaining images courtesy of WWE. 

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