Brock Lesnar Returns, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Brock Lesnar was back on television this week for the first time since Wrestlemania week, with the Universal Championship across his shoulder. Anytime Brock is on television it’s a big deal. Now that he’s got a Heavyweight Title again, that’s the case even moreso.

Nowadays we’re hearing a lot of the same talk we heard during Brock’s last run with the WWE Championship. He needs to be on TV more, not having him there takes away from the show, things like that. And yes, not having your champion there is a big adjustment. That title is usually what everyone is fighting for. It’s the motivation for most of the main characters on this TV show.

But they’re doing the right thing with Brock Lesnar, champion or not.

Brock is special. That was the case even before he became UFC Champion and all that. Now he’s one of the precious few difference-making attractions WWE has. So when Brock is on Raw, sparse as it may be at times, it’s special. It’s must-see TV. That shouldn’t change because he has the title.

The impetus, therefore, needs to be on WWE to provide us with compelling television despite the lack of a Heavyweight Champion. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, they haven’t consistently done that. But there are bright spots to be found. They’ve reintroduced certain mystery and soap opera elements that have been absent for awhile. The mystery of who’s attacking Enzo and Cass, the question of what’s going on with Kurt Angle, etc. They’ve got so many talented people on that Raw roster. The absence of your champion is a circumstance, not an excuse.

There’s also something to be said for restraint. Before the so-called Monday Night Wars, you didn’t see all your marquee stars in the ring every week. The announcers would talk about them, and you might see an interview. But they wouldn’t necessarily wrestle every week. Once WWE started fighting for ratings, that all changed. WWE would benefit greatly from not throwing everything and everyone at us each week. Yes, they have three hours to fill. But again, that’s not an excuse. It’s a call for them to be more creative.

What’s more, they’ve shown they can do it. Not just with Brock, either. Finn Balor hasn’t wrestled on Raw in two weeks. We saw a video package about him. But they kept him off the live show. Roman Reigns got the same treatment this week. Ergo, they’re a little bit fresher the next time we see them.

Ergo, despite what you might hear, Brock Lesnar’s less frequent appearances are an example of what WWE is doing right these days. Frankly, the anticipation and freshness they help create is something they should strive for with more of their main event talent.

Ponderings From Raw:

A brawl erupts between Brock Lesnar and Samoa Joe. There was a definite tension in the air when Brock and Paul Heyman came out. A tension which grew thicker with Heyman’s promo, and then even thicker when Joe finally came out.

What followed was a pull-apart brawl very reminiscent of the one we got between Brock and the Undertaker a few years ago. I’m disappointed they couldn’t come up with something different. But the two things I came away from this thinking about were Joe’s opening shot to Lesnar, and the kick he snuck in. They came off pretty evenly matched, but Joe was the one who got put over. In the end, this accomplished what it needed to.

Elias Samson def. Dean Ambrose after a distraction from Miz and Maryse. Wonder how many of the kids at home got Corey Graves’ Bobby Boucher reference…

Decent match. Nice to hear the crowd get into it. That’s not always what we get with some of these Raw crowds. This Ambrose/Miz thing needs to be over already. Between Raw and Smackdown, we’ve been seeing it for months now. Give us a fresh IC Title challenger, and let Ambrose work with Samson long form.

Afterward, we saw Kurt Angle get angry at Miz backstage. So…the GM was mad that a wrestler interfered in another wrestler’s match? He does know what show he’s in charge of, right?

Cedric Alexander def. Noam Dar. The tried a new story device here by putting Alicia Fox on the tron, framed inside an image of a phone (shown right). The idea was she was using FaceTime or something. They really should have set this up beforehand. Like, in the backstage segment we saw prior, have Dar tell Fox he’s going to put her up on the tron so people can still be treated to her beauty. Something like that. The transition was jarring. At least the match was short.

Roman Reigns to make an announcement regarding Summerslam next week. I like this. It seems pretty open-ended as far as who Reigns will be working with. So it could be just about anybody. It’d be nice if we could just do Reigns vs. Lesnar, and get it out of the way now. I expect we won’t be that lucky. Braun Strowman, maybe? I know he’s a Smackdown guy, but could it be John Cena? If so, it would make sense for them to start promoting it now.

Bray Wyatt and Seth Rollins come face-to-face in the ring. They must have used an old bumper for the backstage portion of Bray’s promo. There were some images of Randy Orton in there.

News broke yesterday about Bray’s wife filing for divorce, citing an alleged affair with ring announcer Jojo Offerman. I’m not defending what the real-life Wyndham Rotunda supposedly did. But it sucks whenever one’s dirty laundry gets aired like that. My heart goes out to the family.

Bray said, “You don’t want this fight, Seth. My power is more than you can possibly imagine.” Oh really? You lost clean to Roman Reigns last week. Also, you and Rollins have wrestled before, including in the main event of Raw not long ago. So yeah, I’m pretty sure he can imagine just fine.

Bray’s little disappearing act during this segment was very Undertaker-ish. He then said another line that made no sense: “Face your fear, man….and run.” Face your fear and run? What the hell does that mean?

Apollo Crews def. Kalisto. Titus O’Neil continues to try and recruit Akira Tozawa to the Titus Brand. Nice powerbomb finish to an okay match. I’d expect to see Titus, Apollo, and Kalisto start showing up on 205 Live to further this story. If they haven’t already, that is. Like most people, 205 Live isn’t much of a priority for me.

Sasha Banks, Mickie James, and Dana Brooke def. Alexa Bliss, Nia Jax, and Emma. Emma caught a really bad break with an injury shortly after she finally got back in the ring. So it was cool to see her return. Then of course, she tapped out. Some people just can’t catch a break.

Corey Graves does a sit-down interview with Bayley. After not being able to use the kendo stick on Alexa Bliss at Extreme Rules, Bayley says she’s going to do things “her way” regardless of what people think. That’s a nice sentiment, and it’s very in-character. I just hope that after the bad booking Bayley has had to endure, the older fans don’t turn on her for being a white-meat babyface. I’m interested to see what kind of reaction she gets the next time she’s in front of a TV crowd.

Heath Slater and Rhyno def. The Miz and “Bear.” Well great. The crowd was chanting for the bear. Now we’ll be seeing the Miz in segments with it for weeks to come.

So Miz unmasks the bear, and it’s not Ambrose. Then a second bear comes in, and it is Ambrose. They seemed to lose the crowd at that point. Apparently Miz’s tag team partner being in a teddy bear costume was okay. A sudden costume switch? Not okay.

If they’re looking for someone for Miz to feud with, I wouldn’t mind seeing Slater get that spot. He’d make a great underdog challenger.

Neville lays out Rich Swann before their match can begin, advices Akira Tozawa to “tread carefully.” I’ve been waiting to see Tozawa and Neville mix it up since the former first appeared on Raw. I’m ready for this!

Big Cass is once again attacked backstage. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson defeat Enzo and Cass moments later. The Big Show comes to Enzo’s aid afterward. I’ll give them credit. I’m more interested in this story than I ever thought I would be. The big question seems to be about who’s going heel? Is it Enzo or Cass? I still don’t think they should be broken up. But it seems like that’d be the only worthwhile payoff…

 Sheamus and Cesaro vs The Hardy Boyz go to a double count-out in a 2 out of 3 Falls Match for the Raw Tag Team Titles. Love the positioning of this match. Really made the titles feel important. It’s also a break from the usual suspects being in the main event. Reigns, Rollins, etc.

Sheamus and Cesaro have been put over like a million bucks these past few weeks. First they pin everyone in a Tag Team Turmoil Match. Then they win the belts at Extreme Rules. Now the Hardys fail to beat them for the belts in a 2 out of 3 Falls Match. They may not have won here, but they are believably and definitively positioned as the top team on Raw right now. Maybe the top team in all of WWE. Good on you, gentlemen. Looking forward to seeing where it goes next.

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WWE Extreme Rules 2017 Preview, Plus: Enzo and Cass Splitting?

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The end could very well be near for the team of Enzo and Cass.

They’ve been telling a mystery assailant story for a couple of weeks now with Enzo. The Revival are the obvious suspects. But even with WWE’s fairly lazy standard of storytelling in the modern era, the obvious suspects rarely commit the crime. Considering how often tag partners turn on each other (Golden Truth, anyone?), Big Cass could very well end up being Enzo’s attacker. That prospect is…unsettling.

I’ve talked before about how Enzo and Cass were lucky to have found each other in developmental. They compliment each other so well. More importantly, they camouflage each other’s weaknesses. What Enzo lacks in stature, Cass makes up for. What Cass lacks in charisma and mic skills, Enzo makes up for in spades. As a team, they’re a complete package. As individuals? Not so much.

All the more worrisome is the idea of making Cass the heel in the equation. In WWE, the importance of personality always outweighs in-ring talent. Is that the way it should be? Probably not. But that’s how it’s always been. And from a personality standpoint, Cass has always ridden Enzo’s coattails. Putting him in a position where he has to talk people into disliking him is a recipe for disaster. If anything, it should be the other way around, with Enzo as the villain.

But this whole idea is silly to begin with. Enzo and Cass have a lot of mileage left as a tag team. Odds are they’d have won the Raw Tag Titles by now if the Hardys hadn’t come back and upstaged them. These two have earned their moment at the top of the mountain. Let’s at least let them have it before we break them up.

And now, on to Extreme Rules

MIXED TAG TEAM MATCH:
Sasha Banks and Rich Swann vs. Alicia Fox and Noam Dar

Eh, no thanks.

There’s just not a lot of heat to this one. One thing I will say: It’s nice to see Rich Swann not confined to 205 Live anymore. But this is definitely the “popcorn match.” It doesn’t really matter who wins. But let’s just say Fox and Dar. Why not?

PREDICTION: Alicia Fox and Noam Dar

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

While it doesn’t matter who wins that Mixed Tag, it matters who wins this one. For Aries in particular. He was really hot when he got back in the ring around Wrestlemania season. But the consecutive pay per view losses to Neville have cut his knees out from under him. So I’m thinking it’s time. Neville has had the title since January, and he’s definitively established himself as the top dog in the Cruiserweight Division. So let’s let Aries beat him with the Last Chancery and let him have a turn with it as the cool babyface champion. With the viewership for 205 Live at such a low, do they really have anything to lose?

PREDICTION: Austin Aries

STEEL CAGE MATCH FOR WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLES:
The Hardy Boyz (c) vs. Sheamus and Cesaro 

The nostalgia novelty of having the Hardys back with in original “Team Xtreme” packaging has mostly worn off, as far as I’m concerned. It seems like we’re all just waiting for Matt to be Broken again.

In the meantime, I’d enjoy seeing Matt and Jeff drop the belts to Sheamus and Cesaro. They can then chase them to prove they’re more than just a nostalgia act that had the element of surprise on their side at Wrestlemania. Do I think that’ll happen? No. Especially since the Hardys picked the stipulation here. The Hardys are going home with the gold.

PREDICTION: The Hardy Boyz

KENDO STICK ON A POLE MATCH FOR WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE: 

I can never get a good feel for when Alexa Bliss is going to win or lose championships. I’ve been wrong almost every time, going back to when she won her first one on Smackdown. That being said, I feel like she’ll sneak out of this one with the title. What’s more important is that we see some fire from Bayley. The question they’ve been asking in recent weeks is whether she can “get extreme.” For my money, whether this match succeeds or fails depends on them delivering that. Bayley needs to get angry. So let’s make it happen.

PREDICTION: Alexa Bliss

STIPULATION MATCH FOR WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE:
Dean Ambrose (c) vs. The Miz
Title can change hands via disqualification. 

Miz is overdue to get the belt back. That stuff about him rejuvenating the Intercontinental Title? It’s not just hype. They’ve really got something with him right now. Considering how tepid Raw is these days, they need to go anything they can to heat things up. So putting the belt back on Miz seems like a no-brainer.

The question is, what happens to Dean Ambrose now? They’ve kept him out of the Universal Title picture since bringing him to Raw. Does he move back up once he no longer has the IC belt?? Or are they intentionally keeping him away from Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins to increase the impact of the inevitable Shield reunion?

PREDICTION: The Miz

FATAL FIVE-WAY EXTREME RULES MATCH:
Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins vs. Bray Wyatt vs. Finn Balor vs. Samoa Joe
Winner becomes top contender for Universal Title. 

Last week’s segment between Finn Balor and Paul Heyman was a pretty strong indicator that it’s going to be Finn going over here. Unless they want to save that for Summerslam or something. But more likely it ends up being Balor vs. Lesnar for the title. That says a lot about WWE’s faith in Balor. With so little time on the main roster, they’re already gearing him up for a match against one of their biggest cash cows.

WWE has had a weird fixation on five-person matches lately. As groan-inducing as that is, this match could be really good if they take full advantage of the Extreme Rules gimmick. These are five bona fide main-eventers. There’s no reason this match shouldn’t steal the whole damn show.

PREDICTION: Finn Balor

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Bray Wyatt’s House of Horrors, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Aw c’mon. You guys can do better than that.

That was the one thing that went through my mind as I watched WWE’s first ever House of Horrors Match at Payback. As many expected, it was literally inside a house. They put a bunch of horror-type gimmicks inside, played with the lighting, and gave us some spooky music and sound effects. Later, they ended up back in the ring, a la the Boiler Room Brawl that Undertaker and Mankind had all those years ago.

This was fine. Worthy of a second one, if they decide to go that route. But they could have done so much more. The most twisted thing they did in this match was hanging a bunch of deformed baby dolls from the ceiling. Considering the presentation was so cinematic, it feels like they wasted an opportunity by playing it fairly safe.

For instance, WWE.com has played up the fact that this month marks Orton’s 15-year anniversary with the company. Why not have a little fun with that? Have Bray put some old photos of Orton on the wall and deface them to his liking. You can even play with old footage. If the story was that Bray has prepared this house to fight Orton in, they could have made this House of Horrors Match every bit as psychological as it is physical.

One person who should be very happy about how this match was presented? Matt Hardy. The House of Horrors Match was clearly influenced by the “Final Deletion,” “Delete or Decay,” and a lot of the Broken stuff they did in Impact Wrestling. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, I suppose. And this isn’t the first time WWE has used Bray Wyatt to imitate what Matt and Jeff Hardy did in Impact. Broken Matt’s arrival in WWE seems inevitable at this point. So a match like this between Matt and Bray would undoubtedly make for interesting television.

They also went with the right finish, which saw Jinder Mahal and the Singh Brothers (formerly the Bollywood Boyz) come in and cost Orton the match. Hey Jinder? Next time be a little more convincing with that belt shot to the back of the head. Looked more like a shot to the shoulder…

Ponderings From Raw

Alexa Bliss holds a coronation ceremony for herself. In a subsequent match, Bliss, Nia Jax, Emma, and Alicia Fox defeat Bayley, Sasha Banks Mickie James, and Dana Brooke. “The Queen is dead.” That was an interesting little line, obviously directed at Charlotte Flair. Last night at Payback, Alexa Bliss became the first woman to have held both the Raw and Smackdown Women’s Titles. That’s a distinction that many, myself included, thought Charlotte Flair would achieve first. For all intents and purposes, she’s been the face of the so-called women’s revolution. So it’s nice to see someone else get a landmark win.

The match didn’t do much for me. But I did love Bayley’s facial expressions during the coronation segment. Don’t be fooled, folks. The long term story here is still about Bayley and Sasha.

Luke Gallows def. Enzo Amore. We were at about the 40 minute mark here, and it became obvious that this show was missing something. Normally by this point we’ve seen Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, or somebody involved in the top storyline on the show. This week, that would have been either Reigns or Braun Strowman. As we hadn’t seen them yet, things felt oddly cold.

In all fairness, Enzo and Gallows had a decent match. Has Gallows lost some weight?

Seth Rollins and Finn Balor vie for a Universal Title shot. Dean Ambrose says the Intercontinental Title is now the hottest title on Raw. Rollins vs. Balor vs. the Miz made to decide top contender for the IC Title. Rollins was really lame at the top of this segment. Trying to rile up the crowd, and then all that stuff about sticking it out when times are tough. He came off like a white meat babyface. Balor was a little bit better. He seems to have improved on the mic a little bit since he’s been gone.

I have no problem with the Intercontinental Title being elevated. I just wish they’d had Ambrose and Miz sell us on it a little more. Maybe have Ambrose stick it to Brock a little more. Drive home the point that he’s the top guy on Raw, because he’s the Intercontinental Champion. He defends it all the time, Brock rarely shows up, etc. We got that here, but it wasn’t emphasized enough.

Jack Gallagher, Rich Swann, and Akira Tozawa def. Brian Kendrick, Tony Nese, and Noam Dar. Cold match. Came off just like any other six-man you’d see on Raw. Tozawa could be something, but he’s stuck in purgatory on 205 Live.

Cesaro and Sheamus address the fans after ambushing the Hardys at PaybackI didn’t expect a heel turn for these two. But in retrospect it seems rather obvious. I expected them to up the aggression, but still stay in babyface territory. I actually found their little bromance endearing.

But it’s something new for them to do. They were always going to be the number two babyface team now that the Hardys are back. Maybe number three, factoring in Enzo and Cass. So now they have a chance to be the top heel team. It’s not like it’s tough to dislike Sheamus.

Apollo Crews def. Heath Slater. The fans were chanting “He’s got kids!” for Slater at one point. I’m not sure where the ceiling is for him, but it’s higher than where he’s at now.

Kurt Angle announces Braun Strowman has a torn rotator cuff. Bray Wyatt introduces himself to the Raw General Manager. I panicked when Angle said the line about Strowman’s torn rotator cuff. Him going down now would be every bit as bad as when Finn Balor got hurt at Summerslam. But it’s reportedly just part of the storyline. Thank god.

Austin Aries def. TJP. Apparently TJ Perkins is just TJP now. Um…why?

The crowd was dying off at this point. Granted, it doesn’t help that some nights it feels like the Cruiserweight Division is dying off. This was definitely one such night.

Almost everything felt a little bit too long on this show. Almost as if they re-wrote or cut something, and had to compensate for it.

The Miz def. Seth Rollins and Finn Balor to become top contender for the Intercontinental Title. Bray Wyatt and Samoa Joe interfere. Good match. Loved Miz bowing out and after the bell and trying to avoid a beating. Great heel move. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him get the IC belt again.

I held out a little bit of hope that Balor was going to do something with Gallows and Anderson. Obviously he is indeed going with Bray. No doubt we’ll be hearing a lot of talk about demons in the coming weeks.

I’m actually starting to worry about Balor during his matches. He and Rollins had that scary cross body block landing. The last thing this guy needs is another bad head shot. The people are into him. But he obviously needs to stay healthy to maintain his momentum.

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The Undertaker Returns, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

Bayley, WWE Fastlane 2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

WWE Fastlane wasn’t a great show. But it gave us a couple of surprises, both positive and negative.

The biggest one, for my money, was Bayley retaining the Raw Women’s Title and ending Charlotte’s pay per view undefeated streak. I’ve said before that I wouldn’t have given the belt to Bayley when they did. But as that die had already been cast, I think they made the right move here.  After all he back and forth switches they did with Charlotte and Sasha, it seemed pretty obvious history was going to repeat itself. But they defied expectations, and added even more fuel for what seems like the inevitable Sasha Banks heel turn. Now you can once again call one of Bayley’s wins over Charlotte into question because of Sasha. What’s more, Bayley has done what Sasha could never do: Beat Charlotte on pay per view. This has turned out to be some really good storytelling. Bravo, WWE.

Less pleasant a surprise was the decision to have Roman Reigns beat Braun Strowman clean. Granted, it was the “chosen one” who beat him, and they did put on a really good match. But this all felt very anticlimactic. The establishment of Strowman as this unstoppable monster has become one of the better parts of Raw. I understand keeping Roman strong for Wrestlemania. But at the expense of Strowman? It seems like a waste. Mind you, Strowman won’t be killed by one loss. But this was needless. The big man could have gone undefeated for several more months.

Goldberg, WWE Fastlane 2017Then there’s Goldberg. The 50-year-old former WCW star won his first Heavyweight Title in over a decade, beating Kevin Owens in about two minutes. It was fine for what it was. We knew these two weren’t having a long match. Loved Owens “taking a powder” before the bell even rang. He milked it wonderfully. And how ironic is it that Goldberg’s old rival Chris Jericho is the one to come out, cause the distraction, and allow him to score the pin.

I saw many a fan on Twitter whining about Kevin Owens having to drop the belt. To that I say boo hoo. He lost the belt to one of the biggest stars the business has ever seen. If a squash like that is good enough for Brock Lesnar, it’s good enough for Kevin Owens. The guy will be fine, kids. Calm down.

Ponderings From Raw:

Chris Jericho calls out Kevin Owens. US Title Match between the two announced for Wrestlemania. Owens and Samoa Joe attack Jericho. Sami Zayn makes the save. Owens beat Zayn in an impromptu match. This Owens/Jericho match fell nicely into place, didn’t it? No wasted time here.

This seems to be the start of an alliance between Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe, with Triple H being the common factor. They’d make an interesting tag team for sure.

Also, remember what Owens said about getting a rematch whenever he wants one. That’s a good continuity note for the future…

Neville def. Rich Swann to retain the WWE Cruiserweight Title. Austin Aries decks Neville after the champion disrespects him. Gorgeous attempt at a Phoenix Splash by Rich Swann. One of the best athletes on the entire roster.

Neville vs. Austin Aries. Now there’s a Wrestlemania match. I wouldn’t rule out a multi-man title match though. We all know how they love to shove everybody on the Wrestlemania card.

Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman interrupt Goldberg’s return to Raw as champion. Lesnar hits an F5 on Goldberg. I don’t have as much of an issue with those CM Punk chants as some people do. Especially in Chicago. But at certain points it’s cringeworthy. As much as I love Punk, had I been at this show I would not have been chanting his name at Goldberg. Not the time for that.

It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but Lesnar vs. Goldberg feels like a solid Wrestlemania main event to me. They’ve told a good story. Now it’s just a matter of how Goldberg will do in a match that’s longer than a minute…

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson def. Enzo and Cass via disqualification in a WWE Raw Tag Team Title Match when Sheamus and Cesaro interfere. Looks like we’ve got a Triple-Threat Tag Team Match coming our way. Not necessarily the recipe for a classic. But we got a pretty good one between Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit, Edge and Rey Mysterio, and Los Guerreros all those years ago.

Ravishing Rick Rude announced for WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2017. Ricky Steamboat to induct. This one is long overdue. The real-life Richard Rood was a big star in both the WWF and WCW. Rude is probably most widely remembered for the program he worked with Jake Roberts in the late ’80s, making public advances toward Jake’s then-wife. But he also got some great matches out of the Ultimate Warrior, and was the centerpiece of Paul Heyman’s Dangerous Alliance in WCW. Fans have been calling for this for years, and I don’t doubt it’ll make for a wonderful moment in Orlando.

Akira Tozawa def. Ariya Daivari. After what happened with Neville, they wisely kept Austin Aries off commentary for this match. But they also left Byron Saxton off. So for one segment we just had Cole and Graves. A pleasant return to the two-man announce booth, of only for a short time.

The New Day def. the Shining Stars. The New Day are still doing the ice cream thing. That was enough to get me to hit the fast-forward button. Thank God, otherwise I’d have seen the Shining Stars. *shudders*

Sasha Banks def. Bayley to make it a Triple-Threat Match for the Raw Women’s Title at Wrestlemania, also involving Charlotte. Slightly disappointed that we may be getting another three-way this year. It feels like they’ve simply tagged Bayley in for Becky Lynch. What’s more, Bayley and Sasha have such great chemistry in the ring, as we saw here. But it is what it is. What’s more, it’s certainly not too late for Nia Jax to be added, making it a four-way.

Triple H once again threatens to end Seth Rollins’ WWE career if he shows up at Wrestlemaniastill can’t get over how awesome Hunter’s return promo was a few weeks ago. It’s was the best he’s done in years. I think we took his mic work for granted when he was out there with guys like the Rock and Steve Austin, because they had such big personalities. But he was great then, and he’s great now.

A vignette airs for he return of Emma. See you in 17 weeks!

Samoa Joe def. Chris Jericho via count-out. How many years has this one been in the making? Hardly the ending I imagined, but I doubt this is the last time we’ll see these two in the ring together.

Braun Strowman calls out Roman Reigns, gets the Undertaker instead. Reigns comes out to face the Dead Man and gets a Chokeslam. Not a good couple of days for Strowman. First he loses his first match to Reigns. Then he flat out backs down from the Undertaker. Yuck.

As the Chicago crowd reminded us, putting Roman in there with the Undertaker is no way to get him cheered. But let’s not kid ourselves: It’s a good story. The old guard vs. the new guard. It also doesn’t hurt that Reigns has superficial similarities to a young Undertaker. The long hair, the goatee, the tattoos, etc. I have no idea what we’ll get once the bell rings. But the build-up should be really, really good.

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A WWE Royal Rumble 2017 Review – Roman Trolls the Alamo Dome

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Well. To be fair, they never said Roman Reigns wasn’t going to be in the Rumble Match.

So let’s take it from the top. Well, almost the top. Full disclosure: I didn’t watch the entire pre-show. I’m still having bad flashbacks from Wrestlemania XXXII, when I sat in front of my computer for seven hours. No thank you. I turned the network on just as the Sasha Banks/Nia Jax match was starting. It was exactly what it should have been, with Sasha fighting from underneath and Nia shutting her down at the end. Gallows and Anderson are also our new Raw Tag Champs, which is a nice surprise. It’s long overdue.

As for the show itself…

Charlotte Flair, Bayley, WWE Royal Rumble 2017Charlotte Flair def. Bayley to retain the WWE Raw Women’s Title. Again, this match was what it needed to be. Charlotte retains after hitting an awesome Natural Selection on the ring apron. It’s not Bayley’s time yet. Considering how great Charlotte has become, it may not be anybody else’s time for quite awhile. Simply put, she’s one of the premiere performers in that company, male or female. What I remember about this match above all is when Charlotte had Bayley where she wanted her, and then looked into the crowd. Her expression and delivery were priceless when she pointed at Bayley and yelled: “This is you!” Rumor has it they want to do a four-way at Wrestlemania with these two, Sasha, and Nia. That’s fine, I guess. But if they wanted, they could rematch these two. I felt like things were just starting to pick up.

Kevin Owens def. Roman Reigns to retain the WWE Universal Title after interference from Braun Strowman. This was a fun fight, highlighted by that bump Owens took into the stack of chairs. I can’t imagine how that must feel. I had wondered about Jericho possibly dropping something down to Owens from the cage. But I wrote it off, thinking it would somehow be more complicated than it was. Ah, the charming simplicity of gravity. I just wish Roman would have sold that brass knocks shot more. Like, a lot more. I understand he’s supposed to be Superman. But even Superman can take a rough one on the chin. Still, both these guys put on a good show. Let it never be said that Roman isn’t a tremendous athlete.

Kevin Owens, Roman Reigns, WWE Royal Rumble 2017It looks like they’re going with Roman and Strowman for the next few weeks, which could be intriguing. The unstoppable babyface (in theory) against the dominant monster. As they’re leaving the belt on Owens, there’s a very real possibility he’ll find himself across the ring from Goldberg at Fastlane.

Neville def. Rich Swann to win the WWE Cruiserweight Title. This was the move to make. I always got on Neville’s case about not having any personality. But he’s done a complete 180 as far as I’m concerned. He’s the perfect centerpiece to the Cruiserweight Division right now.

John Cena def. AJ Styles to win the WWE Heavyweight Championship. This was clearly the match of the night. Not better than their Summerslam match, in my opinion. But still quality stuff. I’m always amazed by how damn smooth Styles is. From that standpoint, you can see where a lot of the Shawn Michaels comparisons come from.

If I could have changed one thing about this match, I’d have ended it with the AA. It seemed overindulgent to have Styles take that big fall, only to hit him with the move two more times. To me, that’s the equivalent of having someone survive a powerbomb spot through a table, and then pinning them with a regular powerbomb. Why not just beat them on the big one?

John Cena, WWE Royal Rumble 2017Cena tying Ric Flair’s record of 16 Heavyweight Titles was inevitable. One would think there’d be more uproar about him beating Styles. But a lot of people seem to have really turned the corner on him. He’s always going to have his haters. But he’s endured for so long that I think the respect element has taken effect. And after everything he’s done for WWE and the wrestling business in general, he deserves it.

Randy Orton won the 2017 Royal Rumble. This match wasn’t what a lot of us wanted it to be. Once it got in the ring I think we remembered that Undertaker’s been having hip issues, and Goldberg hasn’t wrestled in about a decade. Still, they did their best with what they had. The stuff with Lesnar/Goldberg bit was fun. I’ve come to enjoy this story about Goldberg being the one person who can not only beat Lesnar, but embarrass him. And the crowed dug it. They were chanting for Goldberg before he even got out there.

There was some buzz about NXT star Tye Dillinger being entrant number 10, what with his “Perfect 10” gimmick. So I was happy to see him. But other than that, they didn’t pull any rabbits out of their hats in terms of surprises. No Samoa Joe. No former stars coming in for a big pop. I had my hopes up that they’d bring Sid in, given his role in the 1997 Rumble. He’d have gotten a big reaction, a la Kevin Nash a few years ago. No such luck.

Randy Orton, WWE Royal Rumble 2017James Ellsworth took a brutal looking fall when Braun Strowman threw him out. I was actually amused by the stuff between those two. Strowman was my pick to win, but he looked good out there. Corbin eliminating him was a surprise, though it made Corbin look like a million bucks.

Once Undertaker came out at 29, and we had all the key players in the ring, I started thinking about Finn Balor. I don’t know if he’s ready to go yet. But if he was, that would have been the perfect spot for him. Instead we got Roman Reigns, and many of us let out a collective wretch. You talk about trolling your audience. They had to know Roman would get that reaction. They had to. Then on top of that, he eliminates the Undertaker. The whole thing went over like a wet fart.

I may be giving them too much credit here, but they may have used Roman in that spot to benefit Randy Orton. Orton has never had the kind of smart backlash that Cena or Roman has had, and I think the fans like him well enough. But Randy has been a made man in WWE for years now, and he’s not exactly a new face. So having him win the Rumble Match might have been an eye roller. But compared to Reigns, Orton doesn’t look so bad, does he?

WWE Royal Rumble 2017, Undertaker, Roman ReignsOn the subject of wretch-worthy scenarios, we now have Randy Orton as the Rumble winner, and John Cena as the WWE Champion. If there’s one match we never need to see again, it’s that one. Thankfully, we have an Elimination Chamber Match for the title in just two weeks. Given the direction things have been going with the Wyatt Family, there’s now a very real chance that Bray Wyatt will go in to Wrestlemania XXXIII with the title and face Orton. It would be nice to finally see Bray in that upper echelon. They’ve made so many missteps with that character, and I expect it’ll be nice to see him reach that upper echelon.

As for Roman, it’s looking like he’s got a date with Undertaker at Wrestlemania. From a performance standpoint, I can’t say that thrills me. And if they’re still trying to get people to cheer Reigns, that seems downright stupid. But at least the crowd will be hot for it. If they thought Roman got booed tonight, wait till he’s in there with ‘Taker at Wrestlemania

All in all, a good show. Not quite as good as we were hoping for. Had they delivered more with the Rumble Match, this might have been one for the ages. But it was still solid.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

WWE Royal Rumble 2017 Predictions, Plus Ponderings From Raw

seth-rollins-wwe-raw-january-23-2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

As Raw has been…less than thrilling lately, I’ve opted to emphasize on Royal Rumble predictions this week, and scale back on Raw coverage. Looking at the results, I didn’t miss much anyway.

Our most notable news item is that Seth Rollins is no longer in the Royal Rumble Match, having lost it to Sami Zayn. Triple H’s music played, and he got beat off the distraction. I assume he’ll find his way back into the Rumble somehow, most likely by beating somebody up and taking their spot. Other than some small updates to the Royal Rumble card, that’s about it.

It looks like they’re doing an extra-long pre-show, with Raw putting in two matches. I imagine Smackdown will put in at least one. For my purposes, I’m sticking to the stuff that’s been announced for the main show.

So let’s dive in!

Rich Swann vs. Neville, WWE Royal Rumble 2017WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Rich Swann (c) vs. Neville

On paper, this is the strongest pay per view match we’ve seen from the Cruiserweights, as it features the two strongest personalities in the division. Neville’s heel turn has been a very pleasant surprise. So pleasant in fact, that I think he needs to take the belt here. Outside of Neville, the Cruiserweight Division doesn’t have any really strong heels. So if you make him the centerpiece to the division, you can put him with the various babyfaces like Swann, Cedric Alexander, TJ Perkins, and Jack Gallagher. All the while, they can keep building their other heels. To me, it makes all the sense in the world.

PREDICTION: Neville

WWE Royal Rumble 2017, Charlotte Flair, BayleyWWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Charlotte Flair (c) vs. Bayley

As much as I liked the Raw segment with all of Bayley’s poems, this program is sort of…meh. When Bayley wins her first championship on the main roster, it needs to be a big moment. We’re not primed for a big moment yet. So Charlotte needs to win here.

If they want to keep this going until Wrestlemania, which they very well could, I want to hear more about the differences between these two. The genetically superior athlete vs the die-hard fan from San Jose. I liked Charlotte’s line last week about when Bayley was being a fangirl, she was winning state volleyball championships, or something like that. More of that, please. As Bayley has already pinned Charlotte a few times, we can’t make this that much of an underdog story. But we can make it a good childhood dream story. I’d certainly rather see this match in Orlando than a multi-woman match of some sort.

PREDICTION: Charlotte Flair

Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns, WWE Royal Rumble 2017NO DISQUALIFICATION MATCH FOR WWE UNIVERSAL TITLE:
Kevin Owens (c) vs. Roman Reigns
Chris Jericho will be above the ring in a shark cage.

People got pretty excited when Owens won the Universal Title in August. Rightfully so, as he’s a hell of a talent. But the five months Owens has spent with the title haven’t exactly represented a creative high for Raw. The opposite, actually.

It’s not his fault, of course. He’s made the best of his situation, turning his partnership with Chris Jericho into a highlight of Raw each week. But his programs with Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns have been tepid at best, because neither of them are particularly hot as babyfaces. Reigns is loathed by much of the audience, and Rollins was awkwardly turned face after Finn Balor went down with his injury. That damn injury threw a serious monkey wrench into Raw‘s main event scene.

I say we give the belt to Reigns. Like him or not, he’s the man in that company right now. So he may as well have it, especially as we get closer to Wrestlemania. Taking the spotlight off Owens will give him something fresh to do creatively, and it’ll likely give us our long awaited Owens/Jericho feud. Despite losing the belt, this is a good move for Owens.

PREDICTION: Roman Reigns

AJ Styles vs. John Cena, WWE Royal Rumble 2017WWE HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
AJ Styles (c) vs. John Cena

This one can go either way, as you’ve got the Elimination Chamber Match next month. If they want to put the belt on Cena, they can do it here or they can wait a month.

I think they’ll probably give it to him here, so he can avenge his loss to Styles at Summerslam. As is the case with Reigns, a lot of people aren’t going to like that. Especially because this win allows Cena to tie Ric Flair’s record of 16 Heavyweight Titles. But let’s be honest: We know he’s going to do it eventually. At least this way he’ll get a hell of a match out of it. And it will be a hell of a match, folks.

Allegedly, the John Cena vs. Undertaker match is now off the books for Wrestlemania. So the direction for both these men heading into that show is largely unknown. But I can’t bring myself to complain much about that. The element of surprise is something the wrestling industry misses badly. All I can say is, they’d better have something good cooked up for these two.

PREDICTION: John Cena

Royal Rumble Match 20172017 ROYAL RUMBLE MATCH:

This match is always best when you don’t have an obvious winner. Not only do we not have one this year, but this is the most stacked Rumble Match we’ve had in quite some time. The Undertaker, Goldberg, and Brock Lesnar by themselves make this a hell of an attraction. Throw in the full-timers like Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Bray Wyatt, and Randy Orton, and this could be really good.

Want some statistics? As of this writing, the 2017 Royal Rumble Match features four previous Rumble winners. We also have 10 former Heavyweight Champions. Those 10 men have held a combined 45 Heavyweight Championships in WWE and WCW.

So who’s probably not winning? Goldberg and Lesnar jump out immediately, as they’re working each other at Wrestlemania. Chris Jericho is in that same category, as he’ll likely work with Kevin Owens. Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton are likely out of the running as well, as they’re almost certainly working together. Granted, you can put a title in any of those programs. But you don’t need to.

They could easily give this to the Undertaker. But again, does Undertaker need a Royal Rumble win? Not really. He’s the Undertaker. He’s one of the few who could credibly and believably get a title shot simply because of who he is. Though they could go for a feel-good moment anyway.

So who does that leave? Baron Corbin is a dark horse candidate, but I don’t think he’s ready. Ambrose? Probably not. Miz? No. Finn Balor’s name is out there. But I’m not ready to get my hopes up for him. Ditto for Samoa Joe. So who does that leave?

Braun Strowmann, WWE RawHere’s an answer that may divide the fanbase: Braun Strowman.

WWE likes Braun Strowman. They always have. I can see why. He’s big,  he’s credible, and he’s got a very distinct look. He’s like giant monster with a face like a small child. He’s a monster-baby. More importantly, they’ve done a great job with him since the brand split. He’s been destroying everyone. He has yet to be pinned. It took a combined spear from Roman Reigns and Bill Goldberg to take him down.

The downside? He’s green. He made his wrestling debut in late 2014. While he’s been improving as of late, he’s still very much in the learning phase of his career.

But there was once another man who came in with relatively little experience, destroyed everyone, and shot to the top. That man’s name is Bill Goldberg, and he became a bonafide superstar.

Look at the three biggest stars in this match: Goldberg, Lesnar, and Undertaker. They’re all part-timers who will never again be on TV regularly. Strowman, on the other hand, is one of the only full-time Raw guys that isn’t in that tepid category. If they get behind him and protect him, he can really be somebody.

If I knew for sure Finn Balor was going to be in this match, I’d go with him. But without confirmation, I’ve got to go with Strowman. He’s an investment their future. And keep in mind, just because they go with him here, doesn’t mean he has to win the title. There are ways they can get around that…

PREDICTION: Braun Strowman

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Kurt Angle’s HOF Shocker, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

Jimmy SnukaBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

We’ll get to Kurt Angle in a bit. But first, a more somber note…

A matter of days after being cleared of murder charges, Jimmy Snuka passed away on Sunday at 73 years old. He’d been battling stomach cancer for quite some time.

It seems like how you remember Jimmy Snuka largely depends on when you became a wrestling fan. If you were a fan in the ’80s, you probably remember him as one of the first true WWF superstars. He obviously had a very distinct look, and his Superfly Splash from the top rope is one of the most fondly remembered finishes in history. He actually came into the company as a heel, managed by Captain Lou Albano. In a precursor to what we’d see generations later with guys like Steve Austin, he won fans over to the point that they had to turn him babyface. He’d go on to have a very famous Steel Cage Match with Don Muraco in Madison Square Garden that people talk about to this day.

But then there’s the other side of Snuka’s legacy, and the Nancy Argentino story. I invite you to check the story out for yourself. (Here’s Dave Meltzer and Jim Cornette discussing it in detail on Cornette’s podcast.) But to make a long story short, in 1983 Argentino, Snuka’s girlfriend at the time, died of traumatic brain injuries. There were suspicions against Snuka at the time, but he was never charged. When the case was re-examined in 2013, it was revealed that the coroner report detailed Nancy had injuries that were consistent with an abusive relationship. Snuka was later indicted on charges of third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. But on January 3 of this year, the charges were dismissed, as Snuka was deemed unfit to stand trial. That’s a controversial topic in and of itself. Over the years, he also reportedly told several stories as to how Argentino allegedly died.

jimmy-snuka-2010s

Whether or not you believe Snuka was responsible, there’s a large number of people out there that essentially see him as the OJ Simpson of professional wrestling.

Mick Foley, who was famously inspired by Snuka’s leap off the cage in Madison Square Garden, wrote a lengthy message on Snuka this week. He said he was finding comfort in the words of Bruce Springsteen: “Trust the art, not the artist.” I’m not sure how much I buy that notion. But the fact is, Snuka’s art and his legacy will stand the test of time. He inspired and opened doors for a great many. Whether he deserves all of he adulation he’s getting right now is a matter far bigger than any pro wrestling show.

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns, Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Seth Rollins, Braun Strowman and Brock Lesnar vie for dominance before Wrestlemania. Sami Zayn ambushes Strowman. Roman says he isn’t complaining about losing the US Title. Why not? You lost your belt, man! Get pissed off! That’s a page out of the John Cena playbook.

This was a nice kick-off to the show, with Lesnar adding some extra oomph. Didn’t expect to see Zayn out there. He was a nice touch.

Big Cass, WWE Raw, January 16, 2017Enzo and Cass def. Rusev and Jinder Mahal. Happy to see Enzo back in the ring. But I wasn’t any more interested in this match than I was the Cass/Jinder match from last week. I zipped through this one.

Lita is highlighted in an “extreme moment” sponsored by XXX: The Return of Xander CageUmmm…didn’t they just fire Lita?

Ariya Daivari def. Lince Dorado. Jack Gallagher joins the announce position. Dorado hits a damn good springboard stunner. Puts Cena’s old attempts at it to shame. Though I suppose it’s an unfair comparison. Cena’s a lot bulkier.

They seem to really be embracing Gallagher. I enjoyed him on commentary here. He could stand to speak up a little. But I expect that will come with time.

Footage is shown of Sasha Banks being ambushed earlier in the day by Nia Jax. I liked this. Something a little different. My only complaint is that Nia was in her ring gear. I’d rather she have been in street clothes or Tap Out gear. Something to make it look a little more spontaneous.

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, WWE Raw, January 16, 2017Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson def. Sheamus and Cesaro via disqualification in a Raw Tag Team Titles. The titles do not change hands. So Sheamus knocks the ref out on accident, another ref comes down and counts three for Anderson and Gallows, then the first ref reverses the decision and makes it a DQ. I believe this is a “Dusty finish” (as in Dusty Rhodes), where they reverse the decision after a wrestler has already been declared the winner.

Gallows and Anderson have needed rehabbing for awhile. In theory, they’re the top heel team on Raw. But they’ve been beaten so much they haven’t looked like much of a threat to Sheamus and Cesaro. This was a step in the right direction. But I still don’t see them taking the belts.

Neville attacks Rich Swann before a match. Neville has quickly become the most interesting guy in the Cruiserweight Division. It certainly helps that, unlike most of the wrestlers in that division, he was around beforehand. Decent promo afterward.

WWE Raw, January 16, 2017, Big E., Titus O'NeilBig E. def. Titus O’Neil, retaining his spot in the Royal Rumble Match. In the pre-match skit, Big E actually said to Titus: “No more showing up at our porch with fake mustache and a pizza box with a hole at the bottom.” Holy crap. If he got heat for cracking a joke about all of Charlotte’s title wins, I can’t imagine what he’s going to get for that.

Charlotte digs up Bayley’s old photos and poems. I liked this segment a lot. I feel like we got to know Bayley more here than at any point since her main roster debut. When they brought her up, hey seemed to take for granted that a lot of viewers already knew who she was. They can’t afford to do that. We made up for some lost time here.

Cedric Alexander def. Brian Kendrick. Alicia Fox comes to ringside for the match. What did Graves call that move where Kendrick’s knees went right into Kendrick’s head? A springboard slingshot moonsault? Either way, it looked like it hurt like hell. So Cedric and Alicia are broken up now, which mean she’ll likely end up with Noam Dar at some point. I’m mildly curious to see how they match up as a pair.

Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, and Braun Strowman def. Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Sami Zayn. They’re really struggling with this Raw main event scene right now. There’s this awful, boring, sameness to everything week after week. All I could think of during this match was, who cares? There were no stakes or consequences. It was just another match.

Perhaps this needs to be a rule: Having main event level guys in a match it doesn’t make it a main event.

Kurt Angle, WWEKurt Angle announced for WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2017. This one came way out of left field. There’d been some buzz about Angle coming in this year. But I think most of us assumed it would be for a big match. But this was a genuine surprise. Kudos to WWE for keeping a lid on it.

While the announcement itself is a shock, Kurt Angle going into the Hall of Fame has been an inevitability for over a decade now. It was just a matter of when. Angle was one of the greatest mat wrestlers the company ever saw. But Michael Cole really nailed it when he called him “one of the great entertainers” in WWE history. I remember watching Kurt’s first nationally televised match at Survivor Series in 1999. He was entertaining from the start. It was plain as day that he had that undefinable “it” factor that you need to be a WWE star. I would estimate he succeeded beyond anyone’s imagination.

Angle had so many great matches in WWE. But off the top of my head, these are a few essentials to check out…

– Summerslam 2001 against Steve Austin.
Wrestlemania XXI against Shawn Michaels (my personal favorite).
– Royal Rumble 2003 against Chris Benoit.
No Way Out 2006 against the Undertaker.

Congratulations, Mr. Angle. It’s an honor you truly deserve.

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