A Roman Reigns Heel Turn? Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

If Roman is turning heel, however…

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

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

Ponderings From Smackdown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Finn Balor Arrives, Charlotte and Sasha Kill It, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

Dean Ambrose, WWE ChampionBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I was really surprised to see Dean Ambrose get the win at Battleground. Rollins seemed like the favorite. But I’m not complaining. Ambrose’s win in the triple threat, in addition to his pinfall victory over Rollins on Smackdown, sends an important message: Dean Ambrose is a main event player, and a World Champion.

Ambrose was advertised for the Stone Cold Podcast in two weeks. That’s another strong endorsement. This guy also has quite a story. He apparently grew up in public housing, and dropped out of high school to train as a wrestler. I’d love to see Austin get into that with him.

The downside to all this? Ambrose isn’t going to be WWE’s only Heavyweight Champion for long…

Ponderings From Raw:

Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley announce the creation of the WWE Universal Championship. Seth Rollins to face winner of main event.  *sigh* Well, here we go. Two world titles again. More belts inevitably water things down. But oh well…

And my God, what an awful name. The Universal Championship? They’re basically saying: “Oh yeah? You’ve got a world champion? Well we’ve got a Universe champion! And the universe is bigger than the world!!!!” Give me break.

Finn Balor, WWE Raw, July 25, 2016Finn Balor def. Rusev, Kevin Owens, and Cesaro to advance to the main event. I was really surprised to hear Cole run down Finn Balor’s resume, talking about the titles in IWGP, the NWA, and all that. JBL has done that kind sort of thing. But to hear it from Cole, who like it or not is the voice of the company, adds a certain weight. This sort of thing would never have happened as recently as three years ago. All this “new era” stuff is hokey. But it’s not entirely untrue.

Rusev and Kevin Owens worked well together in this match, developing a temporary partnership. They both have a good grasp on their personas, and were firmly in character. I have no desire to see them as a formal tag team. But if they were to team again in the near future, I wouldn’t be heartbroken.

It made sense for Balor to take this one. But I was rooting for Cesaro. As many of us saw, he cut a little “worked shoot” promo on the WWE Network after the draft, venting about his frustrations. There’s still time for them to capitalize on that. But tonight would have been the opportune time. At least he wasn’t pinned, unlike the damn United States Champion.

Nia Jax def. Britt Baker. A good ol’ fashioned enhancement match. Not thrilling to watch, per se. But it’s an effective start for Nia Jax.

Roman Reigns, WWE Raw, July 25, 2016Roman Reigns def. Chris Jericho, Sheamus, and Sami Zayn to advance to the main event. So I know I’ve said this before, and that I’m not the only one, but…can we please just turn Roman heel already? Let the long national nightmare end. You’ll never find a better, more organic time to turn him heel than now. The guy just came back from a drug policy violation, was pinned in his second straight pay per view main event, and the fans are still booing him!

And if you’re going to turn him heel, you won’t find a better opponent for him than Sami Zayn. The “Underdog from the Underground” garnered a lot of great sympathy as he was getting beat down by Reigns. But alas, Reigns is still a superhero.

Also, how hilarious was it wen Reigns went for the spear, and Jericho simply threw a kick and stopped him dead? Maybe I’m biased…

Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson trash a New Day celebration. Corey Graves: “Gallows and Anderson aren’t concerned with balloons and cereal. They’re worried about checks and championships.” Great line.

That video package they aired for the New Day was delightfully cheesy. It seems like a long time ago that these guys were heels. And if there’s one team that’s fit to pop their positivity bubble, it’s Gallows & Anderson. Is this why they didn’t get a title match earlier in the year? Because they were waiting for Summerslam? That works for me.

Neville, WWE Raw, July 25, 2016Neville def. Curtis Axel. So they’re calling Axel “Mr. Irrelevant” now? At least it’s factually accurate. How far he’s fallen since becoming a Paul Heyman guy.

The re-introduction of the Cruiserweight Division bodes well for Neville. The poor guy has zero personality. But he’s got incredible explosive athleticism. He can easily be the centerpiece to the whole thing.

Sasha Banks def. Charlotte to become the new WWE Women’s Champion. I found myself tempted to tune out a bit during this match. One would’ve thought they were saving Sasha’s win for Summerslam. But nope. Couldn’t.  They got me. I tip my hat to both these ladies. They’re truly great.

Charlotte’s flexibility is amazing. When Sasha got her in that straitjacket hold, the angle of her back was cringeworthy. And the double knees off the apron? Beautiful. We had a great story about the champion being in jeopardy. That is wrestling, folks.

These ladies scared the crap out of me twice in the span of about two minutes. On the subject of bent spines, Sasha’s landing after that dive to the outside was brutal. One can only wonder much adrenaline it takes to keep going after that. Then Charlotte goes for a moonsault on the outside, with only one person to catch her.

Sasha Banks, WWE Women's ChampionIt’s interesting that they switched the title tonight. I can only assume it was to create some extra buzz around Raw now that the brands are split. Either way, this was a long time coming. The fans have been ready for Sasha to take the top spot since she came up to the main roster at about this time last year. To say the very least, she deserves it.

The timing is interesting too, what with Bayley making her first main roster appearance last night as Sasha’s partner.

Corey Graves joins the Raw announce team. JBL moves to SmackdownGraves had a great first night. He felt more like a sports analyst, as opposed to JBL’s cowboy caricature. His time has finally come.

Braun Strowman wins an enhancement match. Braun Strowman is on his own now, which I’m afraid means we have to endure yet another generic giant. I actually would have preferred another attempt to make Erick Rowan a single.

Enzo & Cass def. The Shining Stars. Did Enzo & Cass skip some dialogue before the match? It seems like Cass jumped right to the “S.A.W.F.T.” catch phrase.

Finn Balor def. Roman Reigns to advance to SummerslamWell, so much for Balor being a cruiserweight. This is as big an endorsement of a new star as we’ve seen in a long time. In his first night on the main roster, Finn Balor beats the man who was (and perhaps still is) pegged to be the new face of the company. Balor is immediately established as a main event player, and a new star. Seth Rollins against Finn Balor at Summerslam? I’m in.

Finn Balor, WWE Raw, July 25, 2016Now the question becomes what to do with Roman Reigns. He’s obviously being de-emphasized for the time being. Say, I wonder what Sami Zayn is doing at Summerslam

Tuesday Morning Talk Points: Finn Balor debuts. Sasha Banks wins the Women’s Title in an awesome match.

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The Bullet Club Reunites, AJ Styles Pays the Price, and Ponderings From Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Another day, another show without Roman Reigns being a heel. *sigh*

Still, Payback was largely a good show. We now have both Shane McMahon and Stephanie McMahon as our resident authority figures. That’s fair enough, I suppose. What’s more, the path to Summerslam seems pretty clear. Shane and Stephanie get fed up with each other, so Stephanie brings Triple H in to fight her brother for full control of Raw. That gives them a long time to tell this story, and it gives us a much-needed break from having Triple H on TV.

This is hardly the “new era” they’re playing it up as on TV, but lately Raw has been significantly better. We’ve got new faces, new programs, and the main events even feel more compelling. I’ve been very pleased with what I’ve been seeing on Raw lately, and this week was no exception…

Ponderings From Raw:

Kevin Owens, Cesaro, WWE Raw, May 2, 2016-Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro erupts into chaos as The Miz gets involved. Sami Zayn looks for revenge on Owens. Nice energetic opening match. But the most important element here? The emphasis on the Intercontinental Title. All four of these guys want it, and they’re all capable of having matches worthy of it. My guess is we get a fatal fourway at Extreme Rules.

Tyler Breeze def. Goldust. I’ve lost track of what’s happening in this Goldust/R-Truth story. First Goldust wanted to be Truth’s tag partner, then Truth wanted to be Goldust’s tag partner, now they’re bickering like exes. If any two guys in this segment should be a tag team, it’s Breeze and Fandango. Then they’d consistently have something to do.

The New Day, The Vaudevillains, and The Dudley Boyz share a ring before Colin Cassaday crashes things. An eight-man tag erupts between the babyfaces and the heels. First and foremost, that injury Enzo suffered at Payback was brutal. Every time I see the clip I cringe. It’s no wonder he got a concussion. On the upside, he’ll get a huge pop when he gets back.

Colin Cassaday, WWE Raw, May 2, 2016The Vaudvillains got off some good one-liners in the promo segment. “A real man would have gotten back up,” and then later we had “We made Enzo the realest guy in the emergency room.” I sometimes worry about how long Simon Gotch and Aiden English have before this gimmick degenerates into bad comedy. But they came off very cruel and callous here. That’s a very important ingredient in terms of them being taken seriously as a threat to the titles, and possibly as champions.

Big Cass did well in his first solo outing on the mic (on the main roster, that is). I can see that being really intimidating for someone who hasn’t’ been in front of a national audience that long. But he was playing off something very real, and the crowd was into him. He got a great hot tag too, and even got the pin!

Aside from Cass getting to shine on his own, the best part of this match was when Bubba got in the ring with Xavier Woods, and was actually teaching Gotch and English how to beat somebody up. I’m so anxious to see Bubba and Enzo go back and forth on the mic. They could really make some magic.

Emma vs. Becky Lynch, WWE Raw, May 2, 2016Emma def. Becky Lynch. I wish these two could have had a chance to wrestle at Payback, or at least on the pre-show. This was a really solid match. Not great, but solid. That being said, the thumb to the eye at the end was really weak looking. Emma really needs an acting coach.

Stephanie McMahon is a guest on The Ambrose Asylum, and reinstates Chris Jericho as host of The Highlight Reel. 

Rusev wins a battle royal royal to become the top contender to the US Title. Titus O’Neil returns to action. Kalisto should not have been out there on commentary. He came off nervous. He’d have been fine just sitting out there by the time keeper. No need to have him out there saying white meat babyface stuff.

Titus’ in-ring return was about what I expected it to be. Not really a big deal. They could have made a story out of it, but nope.

Rusev, Lana, WWE Raw, May 2, 2016I had Baron Corbin pegged to win this thing after losing to Dolph Ziggler at Payback. I was really surprised to see Ziggler win. But it was a pleasant surprise. Not every rookie needs to go on this big winning streak when they debut. I mean, logically they are rookies. It makes sense that they’d be bested at times by established main roster guys. But that doesn’t mean they can’t get over. I like the idea that a savvy veteran like Ziggler managed to pull out a win against the powerful rookie.

I’ll give Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio, Rusev, and Zack Ryder credit. In the final moments of that match, they had me believing that Ryder could win. They created some really nice tension. I’m pleased to see Rusev and Lana back together on television. They’re a good combo. So long as this doesn’t turn into a love triangle story with Kalisto, this should be decent at the very least.

Charlotte and Ric Flair interview referee Charles Robinson about the so-called “Chicago Screw Job.” Natalya takes out both father and daughter. Charlotte and Nattie to wrestle in a submission match at Extreme RulesIt’s interesting when and how WWE conveniently pays attention to continuity and logic. Shane McMahon is in control of Raw for weeks after Wrestlemania, and yet WWE remembers Charles Robinson’s “Little Naitch” stuff from WCW. By the way, was that Madusa in that clip from Slamboree 1999? I’d forgotten just how chiseled she was.

Natalya, Ric Flair, WWE Raw, May 2, 2016It was disappointing to see WWE once again rehash the Montreal Screwjob at Payback. But it’s worth it to have Natalya getting the spotlight like this. She and Charlotte should have a good match at Extreme Rules, though I still don’t see her taking the title.

AJ Styles, Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows def. Roman Reigns & The Usos. Early in the show, JBL said something to the effect of “the club is back together!” It feels like everybody wants so badly to say “Bullet Club,” but they just won’t let them.

I expect Anderson and Gallows to turn on Styles at Extreme Rules. It looks like they wanted to further establish the friendship between the three before pulling the trigger. Styles came off looking like a great babyface when he refused to use the chair on Roman Reigns. As for the possibility of Reigns turning heel and siding with Anderson & Gallows, I’ve given up. It’s just doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

By the way, how about AJ Styles being booked on Sports Center tomorrow? Who’d have thought we’d see the day?

Eric Young, NXT, 2016In Other News:

Eric Young debuts with NXT. I was surprised to see Young wrestling for NXT before Bobby Roode. But either way, it’s nice to see him get the opportunity. I’m not sure where exactly he fits in on the NXT roster, but Iwe’ll find out sooner than later.

I spotted a funny t-shirt from Heelbook.com the other day, which said: “NXTNA: Developmental Career Rehabilitation Center.” Ouch…

Images courtesy of WWE.

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A WWE Payback 2016 Preview – The Rise of the Bullet Club?

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Chances are that once Payback is over, many of our questions regarding the WWE equivalent of the Bullet Club will have been answered.

Ever since word hit that WWE was in talks with AJ Styles, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows, speculation ran rampant about a Bullet Club invasion (though perhaps not with that name). Now that all three are on WWE TV, it looks like the time is near. Except the smart bet is that Anderson and Gallows will turn out to be against Styles.

So the question is, who do you put in that third spot? A heel Roman Reigns? The recently de-throned NXT Champion and former Bullet Club member Finn Balor? Or does there even need to be a third member? Could Anderson and Gallows stand on there own?

So many questions. And as I’ve said before, lingering questions are a good thing…

WWE Payback 2016, Ryback, KalistoPRE-SHOW MATCH FOR WWE UNITED STATES TITLE:
Kalisto (c) vs. Ryback

The only reason I can think of to put t these two together again would be to have Ryback win the title. Unless they’re punishing him for what he said in the media about not being happy with his spot on the Wrestlemania card. But if that’s the case then why put Ryback in a title match at all? I maintain Kalisto could do great things with the United States Title. But we haven’t seen much of him on Raw recently. His most recent appearance consisted of him being kayfabe injured in a match with The Dudley Boyz. He’s not a lost cause, but signs seem to indicate Kalisto’s time with the title is done with. Kind of a shame, but not a big loss in the grand scheme of things.

PREDICTION: Ryback

WWE Payback 2016, Dolph Ziggler, Baron CorbinDolph Ziggler vs. Baron Corbin

This one is pretty obvious. Ziggler loses to Corbin, in the process giving him a match that’s decent at the very least. I’ve said this from the start: Corbin is in great hands with Dolph. It’ll be interesting to see how he does when he works with wrestlers who don’t bump and sell like their lives depend on it. But for now, Corbin is in a good spot.

PREDICTION: Baron Corbin

Enzo & Cass vs. The VaudvillainsTAG TEAM TOURNAMENT FINAL:
Enzo & Cass vs. The Vaudvillains

Enzo & Cass didn’t barely scratched the surface of what they could have done with The Dudley Boyz. That’s why I see Bubba and D-Von running in on this one to cost them the match. That’ll give us more matches between those two teams, and at least one outing between The Vaudevillians and The New Day for the tag belts. Granted, they could have Cass & Enzo win, and then do the angle with the Dudleys during a title match. But given how over both those teams are as babyfaces, that seems like the kind of match you’d save for Summerslam. Plus, a win for The Vaudevillians gives them a chance to shine. If they lose, they’re left with nothing to do. Their cartoony villain personas will mesh well with The New Day.

PREDICTION: The Vaudevillians

The Miz, Cesaro, WWE Payback 2016WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
The Miz (c) vs. Cesaro

I see Miz weaseling his way out of this one somehow, likely with Maryse’s help. Having his wife with him has largely reinvigorated Miz’s career. If they give these two a nice long run, at least until Summerslam, they really have the chance to create something memorable. Of course, that means Cesaro has to lose this match. But if he loses the right way, it doesn’t have to be a setback. In any event, Cesaro doesn’t need the Intercontinental Title to get to the next level. If he keeps doing his thing and stealing the show on Raw, they won’t be able to ignore him.

PREDICTION: Cesaro

Chris Jericho, Dean Ambrose, WWE Payback 2016Chris Jericho vs. Dean Ambrose

Dean Ambrose could really use a big win. This guy was so close to winning the Royal Rumble, but came up short. Then he got pinned in the triple threat match at Fastlane. Then Triple H beat him in a title match at Roadblock. Then Brock pinned him in an underwhelming street fight at Wrestlemania. Can somebody throw this guy a bone? And by somebody, I mean Chris Jericho. Have Ambrose get the win, and then they can do a crazy gimmick match at Extreme Rules next month. Hopefully they can make that match mean a little more than this one does. I’m sure these two will have a good match, but this story could stand to have a little more meat to it.

PREDICTION: Dean Ambrose

Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens, WWE Payback 2016Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens

The cool thing about this program is that the rivalry between these two is so personal, we can learn more about the Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens characters by how they interact with each other. Or at least, the potential is there for something like that.

I’m hoping they let these two feud for awhile. Not just because these two have such a personal history, but because Zayn is such a great traditional babyface (which is rare these days), and Owens is such a good heel. Obviously, there’s potential for great television there. As for this match, I say we give Zayn the first win. That way, Owens has extra impetus to cheat to win the rematch, most likely at Extreme Rules. This one could be the dark horse to steal the show.

PREDICTION: Sami Zayn

Charlotte, Natalya, Ric Flair, Bret Hart, WWE Payback 2016WWE WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Charlotte (c) w/Ric Flair vs. Natalya w/Bret Hart

Much like Sami Zayn, Natalya is a great traditional babyface. She’s naturally very likable. This new era in the WWE women’ division is right up her alley. Anyone in the Hart family is bound to thrive when wrestling and match quality are emphasized.

Unfortunately, this isn’t her time. There’s no reason to take the title off Charlotte now. And while some feel otherwise, I think she and her dad make a nice combo. While he could have easily stolen her thunder, Flair is adding to her presentation rather than taking away. I’m not sure who you put her with after Nattie (Paige? Becky Lynch again?), but I get the feeling Charlotte will hold on to that title until she runs into Sasha Banks again.

PREDICTION: Charlotte

Roman Reigns, AJ Styles, WWE Payback 2016WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Roman Reigns (c) vs. AJ Styles

Well, here we are. Yet another opportunity for WWE to turn Roman Reigns heel. Will it happen? Probably not. But he’s in there with AJ Styles. In Chicago, of all places. WWE knows full well Reigns is walking in there to a chorus of boos. Hell, he walks into every arena to a chorus of boos. If they were going to turn him, now is as good a time as any.

Whatever happens with Anderson and Gallows, there’s no way Reigns drops the title here. Styles is hot right now, but he’s not that hot. The story also lends itself to AJ’s former friends turning on him. As WWE has spent the better part of a year stubbornly digging their feet in as far as Reigns being a babyface, I say if there is a third man to help cost Styles this match, it’s Finn Balor. WWE even ran a video on their web site about Balor possibly showing up on the main roster. He’s been ready for awhile now, and a program with AJ Styles will give him a hell of a start on the national stage.

PREDICTION: Roman Reigns

Images courtesy of WWE.com.

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The Bullet Club vs. The Roman Empire? Plus, Ponderings From WWE Raw

Luke Gallows Karl Anderson, Roman Reigns, WWE Raw, April 18, 2016By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This week on Raw, we saw the beginnings of what may end up being WWE’s version of the Bullet Club. Granted, I don’t recall them actually using that name on television. Signs are pointing to a renewed alliance between AJ Styles, Karl Anderson, and Luke Gallows.  But let’s be honest, how likely is that? Best case scenario: We’ve got a swerve coming our way. More on that in a bit.

But here’s a happy trend for ya: Raw has been good for three consecutive weeks. When was the last time we were able to say that?

Ponderings From WWE Raw:

Chris Jericho def. Sami Zayn. These past few months have been the first time I’ve been able to consistently watch Sami Zayn wrestle. Like most fans, I’ve loved what I’ve seen. From a performance standpoint he’s been on a roll. His match with Shinsuke Nakamura at NXT Takeover: Dallas, his performance in the Wrestlemania Ladder Match, and his match with AJ Styles last week were all great. And and now he’s working with Chris Jericho. Tonight’s match wasn’t amazing. But Jericho and Zayn have a nice heel dynamic, especially with Jericho cowering and then thumbing the eye to get the win.

Cass & Enzo, WWE Raw, April 18, 2016Enzo & Cass def. The Dudley Boyz to advance in the tag team tournament. I’m surprised they gave the first match between these teams away for free. But in terms of developing a rivalry, it makes sense. The Dudleys will likely cost Enzo & Cass the tournament finals, leading to more matches down the road.

AJ Styles reunites with Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson backstage. They later attack Roman Reigns. This is obviously a strong indicator that Gallows and Anderson will be turning on Styles in the near future, likely costing him his title match at Payback. But what does that do for Roman Reigns? If they finally wake up and turn him heel, a three-man group with Gallows and Anderson would be…unexpected. But not necessarily in a bad way.

Neither of these guys are great talkers, but they held their own out there. They kept it short and to the point, which was a smart move. As little credibility as the announcers have these days, they were right when they said this match has a “big fight feel.”

Also, we get it, Roman. You’re not a bad guy or a good guy. But if most people don’t like you…doesn’t that make you a bad guy?

Baron Corbin, WWE Raw, April 11, 2016Baron Corbin def. Fandango. Attacks Dolph Ziggler during and after the match. Baron Corbin is by no means perfect. But that End of Days move is pretty cool.

Cesaro crashes Miz TV, which turns into an 8-Man Tag. Two talk show segments in one show, huh? Hrm. Not exactly ideal, but whatever.

Miz obviously flubbed the first sentence in that Taken monologue. But that almost made it better, considering he’s an annoying heel. In contrast, Cesaro’s take on “When my hand goes up, your mouth goes shut” was a pretty good line.

Miz and Maryse continue to be a winning combo, and WWE seems to know that. As unlikely as it seems, it looks like Miz is the next in line to get a crack at bringing some prestige back to the Intercontinental Title. He’s not exactly known for his amazing mat skills. But the Intercontinental Championship has long been associated with some of the best bad guys WWE has ever seen. Think about the likes of Rick Rude, Mr. Perfect, Shawn Michaels, The Rock, among others. That’s not to say Miz is in their league, but putting the title on him makes more sense when you look at it that way.

I can’t say I was enamored with the match involving Cesaro, The New Day, The Miz, and The League of Nations. But the babyfaces were over big, so more power to them.

Natalya, WWE Raw, April 18, 2016Bret Hart to appear in Natalya’s corner at Payback. Charlotte taps out to the Sharpshooter on RawWith this match at Payback, they now have the exact same set up they had when Nattie faced Charlotte for the NXT Women’s Title in 2014. They had Bret Hart and Ric Flair in their corners then as well, and that was a hell of a match. Granted, Bret and Ric were simply the garnish. I’m not sure if that’ll be the case at Payback, as we’ve established that Flair interferes in Charlotte’s matches. Either way, it’s great to see Natalya getting an opportunity to shine. Though I don’t see her walking out of Payback with the title.

The Vaudevillains def. The Usos to advance in the tag team tournament. So now we’ve got two teams fresh up from NXT competing to become WWE Tag Team Champions. It’s tough to complain about that. If my earlier prediction about Cass & Enzo is true, that means The Vaudevillains are winning this tournament. Considering Cass & Enzo have already won the crowd over with charisma, it’d be nice to see Simon Gotch & Aiden English take it home. That gimmick could make or break them, depending on how they’re portrayed in these next few weeks.

A brief profile on Apollo Crews airs. Crews defeats Heath Slater. They did a profile like this on Baron Corbin last week. It wouldn’t hurt them to do something similar on with The Vaudevillians. Sadly, this didn’t do Crews any favors, as he came off like a white meat babyface. But his athleticism makes him hard to dislike, at least this early in his run.

Apollo Crews, WWE Raw, April 18, 2016Conspicuous by his absence this week was Adam Rose, who along with Konnor of The Ascension, was hit with a suspension last week for violating the company’s wellness policy. That’s always sad to see. I won’t say this Social Outcasts thing has done Rose a lot of favors. But at least he was on Raw most weeks.

Dean Ambrose def. Kevin Owens in the main event. Jericho comes in for the ambush after the match. Certainly not the best match these two have had. But it was a solid Raw main event.  Yet again, I found myself genuinely iinterested in the last segment of the show. Sad as it is, that’s a departure from the last several months.

Images courtesy of WWE.com.

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A Wrestlemania 32 Preview – Pushing For Overachievement

Triple H vs. Roman Reigns, Wrestlemania XXXIIBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This is not what WWE wanted to do for Wrestlemania.

John Cena. Randy Orton. Seth Rollins. Sting. Bray Wyatt (allegedly). Cesaro. Luke Harper. Neville. They’re all out with injuries, leaving a series of gaping holes in the roster at a time when WWE was hoping to put on the biggest Wrestlemania of all time.

What’s more, creative has been a mess. Fans refuse to accept Roman Reigns as the lead babyface, and have been booing him week after week. Considering he’s wrestling for the WWE Championship on this show, that’s a huge problem. To make matters worse, The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin, two of the biggest stars in the history of the industry, are going to be on this show. But we have no idea what they’re doing.

Simply put, the bar has been set low this year. We’ve been left with a Wrestlemania that we can only hope exceeds our low expectations. Thankfully, considering the quality of the product as of late, that shouldn’t be too hard.

Full disclosure: I’ve lost track of what is and isn’t on the pre-show. Considering we never know what could be taken off or put on the pre-show, we’ll simply proceed from the bottom of the card…

Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, 2016ANDRE THE GIANT MEMORIAL BATTLE ROYAL

We may as well pick a name out of a hat in this one. In the last two Andre Battle Royals, there’s been an obvious up and coming talent to give the win to. In 2014 it was Cesaro. It 2015 it was Damien Sandow. Granted, Sandow didn’t get it. But who would benefit from winning this year? There are 20 men in this thing, and we know 16 of them. I can only assume two of those free spots will be filled by Erick Rowan and Braun Strowman. Assuming they don’t pull a fast one and have somebody from NXT take it (which I’d be in favor of), I say we go with a pitch The Solomonster gave months ago, and have Mark Henry take it. This will likely be one of his last go-arounds, and it’d make for a feel good moment worthy of Wrestlemania. So given the amount of information we have, I’ve got to go with Henry.

PREDICTION: Mark Henry

Divas Tag Team Match, Wrestlemania XXXIILana, Summer Rae, Naomi, Tamina, & Emma vs. Brie Bella, Paige, Natalya, Alicia Fox & Eva Marie 

More or less a filler match for the ladies, which is a shame considering we have potentially the best women’s match Wrestlemania has seen in years later on the card. Who wins? It really doesn’t matter. But considering Brie Bella is allegedly retiring sooner than expected, I imagine her team will pick up the win here.

PREDICTION: Brie Bella, Paige, Natalya, Alicia Fox, Eva Marie

WWE Wrestlemania XXXII, The Dudley Boyz, The UsosThe Usos vs. The Dudley Boyz

This program has been good for the Usos. The Dudleys, Bubba in particular, or such vile and nasty heels that Jimmy and Jey have needed to crank up the intensity to match them. The best comparison I can think of is when Shawn Michaels worked with Mankind in September 1996. Hopefully these four get a bigger spotlight once there’s more room on Raw after Wrestlemania. As for this match, I see Bubba and D-Von picking up the win. It’s the Dudleys’ first Wrestlemania since their return, and they deserve it. Plus, the Usos will look good on the comeback trail. That is, assuming they stay babyface… (More on that later.)

PREDICTION: The Dudley Boyz

WWE Wrestlemania XXXII, Ryback, KalistoWWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
Kalisto (c) vs. Ryback

Frankly, I’d have preferred to see the US Title get the multi-man match, while Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn went at it for the Intercontinental Title. But here we are. While I wouldn’t expect this one to go long, being in a singles match for a title is unquestionably a big moment in the careers of both Kalisto and Ryback. As for who wins, WWE clearly sees potential in Ryback. Perhaps not as much as they used to, but they obviously like him. So I’m putting my money on “The Big Guy” getting a big win. Hopefully Kalisto remains a contender, though. I maintain he can be a big international star in the same vein as Rey Mysterio Jr.

PREDICTION: Ryback

The New Day vs. The League of Nations, WWE Wrestlemania XXXIIThe New Day vs. The League of Nations

The cool thing about this match is the Dallas crowd should be firmly in The New Day’s corner. On a night where we’ve got two big babyface vs. babyface matches, and a main event where the hero isn’t going to be cheered, that’s a big plus. I don’t see why Kofi, Big E., and Xavier shouldn’t retain here. Crowds love them, and they’ve just starting their babyface turn. While WWE may want you to think they’ve got a hot rivalry going with the League of Nations, in reality it’s just something for the League to do on the card. Hopefully this is one of their last go-arounds as a group. After this match, we shouldn’t have anything to be sour about.

PREDICTION: The New Day

WWE Wrestlemania XXXII, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Dolph Ziggler, Sin Cara, Zack Ryder, StardustLADDER MATCH FOR WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE:

Another year, another ladder match for the IC Title. As I’ve said before, from a booking standpoint matches like this are often devoid of any creativity. They simply threw seven guys into a ladder match. Hell, Zack Ryder allegedly replaced Neville in this match, and it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference from a story perspective. I rest my case. I’m sure it’ll be a fun match to watch. But man, what a waste…

For my money, this match comes down to Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. Everybody else is just there to fill space. The Owens/Zayn rivalry is seriously lacking depth right now, but that’s an easy problem to fix. They can simply slap a video package together the way they did with The Undertaker and Shane McMahon last week. And just like that, they up the intrigue. I see Owens retaining here, somehow screwing Zayn over in the end. After that, they can get at least another two months out of rematches.

PREDICTION: Kevin Owens

AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho, WWE Wrestlemania XXXIIChris Jericho vs. AJ Styles

This is the fourth time we’ll have seen these two wrestle since January, so the pressure is on them to pull something fresh out of the hat. On the upside, you’ll rarely find two men more qualified to do that. To Jericho’s credit, he’s dedicated most of his 2016 run to making AJ Styles a star in WWE. How Styles will fare without Jericho helping him remains to be seen (no disrespect). But for now, things are looking up for Styles, as he’s all but guaranteed to get a victory at his first Wrestlemania. And the smart bet is that his won’t suffer the same fate as Fandango after his ‘Mania bout with Jericho.

I’d love to see Jericho stick around a little while as we head into Spring, especially now that he’s a heel again. One would be hard pressed to find a wrestler who wouldn’t benefit from some ring time with him.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

WWE Wrestlemania XXXII, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Becky LynchTRIPLE THREAT MATCH FOR WWE DIVAS TITLE:
Charlotte (c) vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch

I’m conflicted on this one. Becky Lynch has really taken off as a babyface since January. For yours truly, she’s a sentimental favorite in this match, and a title win would make for a hell of a Wrestlemania moment.

On the other hand, Sasha Banks is looked at by many as the woman who could truly stamp this as a new era for women’s wrestling. I’ve even seen reports WWE is rebranding the Divas Title in favor of the Women’s Title after Wrestlemania, with Sasha holding the belt. So in the bigger picture, a win for Sasha may be more important.

But…couldn’t Becky bring back the Women’s Title just as easily? From a character standpoint, I think she’s actually more developed than Sasha is. And for the record, I’m a Sasha Banks fan.

But in truth, regardless of who wins here, the fans are winners. That’s a cliche, but it’s true. We’re getting three quality female wrestlers competing for a championship at the biggest show of the year. In the end, I think Sasha will end up with the belt. But it could truly end up being any of these talented ladies.

PREDICTION: Sasha Banks

WWE Wrestlemania XXXII, Dean Ambrose, Brock LesnarSTREET FIGHT:
Brock Lesnar vs. Dean Ambrose

I know they’re hyping this as a “No Holds Barred Street Fight.” But isn’t a street fight by it’s very nature no holds barred? Who even uses wrestling holds in a street fight?

To my recollection, Brock Lesnar hasn’t been pinned since Triple H beat him at Wrestlemania XXIX. That was three years ago. If Brock loses here, it’s not the end of the world. What’s more, they can have him loses in a way that barely hurts him at all. WWE has had Ambrose ponder the use of a barbed wire baseball bat and a chainsaw against this guy. How much more of a monster can you build him up as?

What’s more, Ambrose is the right guy to win this match. He is ascending, and truly on his way to becoming a top guy. Paul Heyman even said it in his promo on Monday. A win over a mega attraction like Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania could truly catapult him to the next level. At a time where they desperately need new stars, the time is now to give a huge win to someone that the fans favor organically. Dean Ambrose is that guy.

PREDICTION: Dean Ambrose

WWE Wrestlemania XXXII, The Undertaker, Shane McMahonSTIPULATION HELL IN A CELL MATCH:
The Undertaker vs. Shane McMahon
If Shane wins, he gets control of Raw, and Undertaker can never compete at Wrestlemania again.

Talk about coming WAY out of left field. They slapped this one together pretty hastily, but what choice did they have? WWE hasn’t been bit by the injury bug, it’s been infected with an injury plague. But as far as thrown together Wrestlemania attractions are concerned, this one is pretty damn good. But the question is, can it live up to the hype? And there’s certainly no shortage of hype between Shane’s return, the possibility of a much needed shake up on Raw, and The Undertaker competing in a Hell in a Cell Match at Wrestlemania.

I expect no shortage of craziness here. Vince and Stephanie will likely be at ringside. Shane is probably taking a crazy bump of some kind. We may see action outside the cage, and perhaps even on top. Maybe this is where Steve Austin fits into things. Perhaps a run-in and a Stone Cold Stunner to lead into the finish?

Regardless of what’s on the line in this match, I truly have no desire to see The Undertaker lose at Wrestlemania again. I understand his winning streak has been broken, and that beating him wouldn’t have nearly the amount of impact it did two years ago. But he’s still The Undertaker, and this is still Wrestlemania. Changing things on Raw doesn’t necessitate Shane being in the picture, though I admit that would certainly be a plus. Furthermore, who’s to say Shane can’t end up being in charge of Raw anyway? He supposedly has a big secret over Vince’s head, right? What if that secret comes out the night after Wrestlemania, and Triple H and Stephanie resign in its wake, leaving Vince with no choice but to make Shane the new General Manager of Raw?

Either way, there’s a strong possibility that this match steals the show. Or at the very least, proves to be a worthwhile substitute for the presence of all the stars on the injured list…

PREDICTION: The Undertaker

WWE Wrestlemania XXXII, Triple H, Roman ReignsWWE HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Triple H (c) vs. Roman Reigns

We’ve had some lame duck Wrestlemania main events in the past. But it’s tough to point to any headline match that’s been as in over it’s head as this one. This match represents a year’s worth of effort by WWE to turn Roman Reigns into the company’s top babyface. Simply put? It didn’t work. Now they’ve got him against Triple H, WWE’s tyrannical on-screen authority figure/WWE Champion, and the fans have been cheering for the tyrant.

Ouch.

Simply put, you can’t force-feed a hero to to your audience. Even if you’re Vince McMahon. They really have nobody to blame but themselves for all those boos Roman is going to hear in Dallas. I honestly feel for the guy. It’s not his fault. He’s got his marching orders. What’s he supposed to do? Say no to a Wrestlemania main event, and the top spot in the company?

It’s been said time and time again, but it bears repeating now more than ever: Roman needs to turn heel. They’ve been ducking and dodging it for months now. But unless they’re comfortable with their alleged top babyface being booed out of arenas across the country, the fans need to be allowed to hate him Roman Reigns. And like any heel who is good at what he does, eventually he’ll be cheered.

Roman Reigns, The RockThis needs to be a double turn. Vince McMahon sides with Roman Reigns and costs Triple H the match. This leads to Roman becoming our new heel champion, possibly with The Usos as his run-in buddies. From there, he can feud with the likes of Dean Ambrose, Brock Lesnar, John Cena, Randy Orton, or whichever babyfaces they want to put him with. WWE is desperate for strong heels right now, and nobody is getting more heat than Reigns. The time has come to stop going against the grain.

I can only assume The Rock will play some kind of role in this match. One sure fire way to get heat? Turn on the People’s Champion. I’m just sayin’.

In any event, whether he’s a heel or a babyface, I don’t see any way Reigns doesn’t leave Dallas with the title. Let’s just hope it’s under the right circumstances.

PREDICTION: Roman Reigns

Images courtesy of WWE.com.

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A WWE Survivor Series 2015 Preview – Roman Reigns or Dean Ambrose?

Triple H, Roman Reigns, WWE ChampionshipBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Make no mistake about it, Survivor Series is important this year.

That’s a welcome change from most of the stuff we’ve seen in the last decade. Most WWE fans know that Survivor Series used to be one of WWE’s biggest shows of the year, arguably in league with the Royal Rumble and Summerslam. But over the last several years, the show has lost much of its luster. WWE has actually contemplated “rebranding” their November pay per view, and eliminating the Survivor Series concept altogether. That’s a really sad notion, considering that if booked a certain way, the various Survivor Series tag team matches can be made important again.

However, WWE does seem to be trying to make Survivor Series feel important again. Last year, Sting made his long-awaited WWE debut, and was responsible for The Authority being ousted from power. The impact of that stipulation was nullified just over a month later, but the moment itself was huge.

This year, happenstance has prompted the crowning of a new WWE World Heavyweight Champion at Survivor Series. And I do mean a new champion. There’s a 75 percent chance that the man walking out with the belt will be wearing it for the first time. Make no mistake about it, in an era where fans are dying for something fresh, a new champion may prove to be a step in the right direction.

More on that later. Let’s run down the show and see what we’ve got to look forward to.

WWE Survivor Series 2015, Dolph Ziggler, Tyler BreezeDolph Ziggler vs. Tyler Breeze

In a way, this match is really sad. Last year, Dolph Ziggler was the sole survivor of his team, and the man who (with some help from Sting) sent The Authority packing. This year? He’s probably going to lose to Tyler Breeze. There’s nothing wrong with losing to Tyler Breeze, but man…how many times can they drop the ball on this guy?

Seeing as Breeze did lose his debut match to Dean Ambrose, I suppose he could theoretically survive a loss to Ziggler here. But that’s not the right move. WWE needs some new blood to step up, and Breeze is more than capable. I just wish they didn’t have to sacrifice Dolph for that to happen.

PREDICTION: Tyler Breeze

WWE Survivor Series 2015, Paige, CharlotteWWE DIVAS TITLE MATCH:
Charlotte (c) vs. Paige

I’m curious to see how the crowd reacts to his match, given how poorly many fans reacted to WWE making Reid Fleihr’s death a factor in the storyline. If WWE has its way, every bit of that heat will wind up on Paige, and Charlotte will be the sentimental favorite. But given how smart a large percentage of the audience is in the modern era, that may not be the case.

Charlotte should be the one they go with here. I imagine that would’ve been the case even without all the heat. Charlotte is a good ambassador for what WWE seems to want their women’s division to become. She’s not great on the mic yet. But she’s a great athlete, a good wrestlers, and she can be a positive role model for young girls. I don’t see her dropping the title in the near future.

PREDICTION: Charlotte

WWE Survivor Series 2015, The Undertaker, Kane, The Wyatt FamilyThe Undertaker & Kane vs. The Wyatt Family

Oh, come on. Of course it’s going to be Undertaker and Kane. It’s the 25th anniversary of ‘Taker’s debut, and he just lost a Hell in a Cell match to Brock Lesnar. There’s no way they let him take another loss here.

An unfortunate side effect of this match is that The Wyatt Family are starting to look like chumps. Bray Wyatt lost to The Undertaker at Wrestlemania. He went back and forth with Roman Reigns before finally losing to him at Hell in a Cell. Now he and his entire group are about to lose to ‘Taker and Kane. If booked properly, The Wyatt Family can become one of the most dominant groups WWE has seen in years, and have a real mystique about them. But they’re definitely not headed that way now.

PREDICTION: The Undertaker & Kane

WWE Survivor Series 2015, tournament bracketTOURNAMENT TO DECLARE NEW WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION:
Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, Alberto Del Rio, Kevin Owens

WWE did the right thing in terms of booking this tournament. They didn’t call John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Chris Jericho, or any other big names to throw in there. They stuck with members of the full-time, active roster. Things were a little rocky in the first round, as The Big Show was simply there to be fed to Roman Reigns, and they had to use tag team wrestlers like Titus O’Neil and Kalisto. But for the most part it’s gone very well, and we’ve got some really good matches out of this tournament.

The direction they’re going seems pretty obvious. They’ve even teased it this week. It’s Roman Reigns over Alberto Del Rio, and Dean Ambrose over Kevin Owens. I’m very pleased they let the US and Intercontinental Champions make it this far. But in the end, it has to be the two former Shield members in the finals.

WWE Smackdown, November 19, 2015, Roman Reigns, Dean AmbroseWith Seth Rollins gone, WWE needs a new lead villain. The purpose of this Survivor Series main event should ultimately be filling that role. For my money, it needs to be Roman Reigns. They already planted the seed with that Triple H segment, and in certain arenas he’s already got half the crowd booing him. If they simply let the fans get the booing out of their system, they’ll eventually turn around and start cheering him. That’s how it worked for The Rock, and it can work the same way for Reigns. They just have to go with the flow and stop fighting with their audience. Can Dean Ambrose pull off a heel turn? Absolutely. But he shouldn’t have to. Fans want to boo Reigns, so WWE should give them the pleasure of booing him.

In terms of predictions, I’m going to give WWE the benefit of the doubt and say they’ll do the right thing with Reigns. But considering WWE’s track record of doing the right thing with talents like CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, and Dolph Ziggler, this is a 50/50 toss up at best.

PREDICTION: Roman Reigns

Images courtesy of WWE.com.

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