WWE Clash at the Castle – A Few Quick Thoughts…

WWE Clash at the Castle 2022 posterBy Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

I don’t watch Raw or Smackdown regularly anymore. Not only do my job(s) not really allow it, but the quality of WWE programming has been on a steady decline for more than 10 years now. A couple years ago, I simply tagged out and haven’t come back…

I do, however, usually follow along with what’s happening via social media. And I’ll tune in a few times a year to the big pay per view events. (Actually, I guess they’re called “premium live events” now.) Last night was one such night, as for the first time in 30 years, WWE presented a major show from the United Kingdom. The crowd promised to be hot. The card looked decent. And with all the positive changes we’ve seen recently now that Triple H is the…*double-checks his new job title*…chief content officer of WWE, things looked promising.

So I tuned in. Here are a few quick musings from WWE Clash at the Castle

Very classy for them to pay tribute to Davey Boy Smith and Bret Hart the way they did. They certainly didn’t have to. But that was a nice way to earn some points with the long-time fans. Those two had one of the all-time great pay per view main events at Summerslam ’92 all those years ago.

I had only seen a few of the renowned matches Gunther (then known as WALTER) had in NXT UK. But even so, his match with Sheamus was probably the match I was looking forward to the most. You knew these guys were going to go in there and beat the crap out of one another, and they definitely didn’t disappoint in that respect. This is one of those instances where I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to a rematch or two.

At a time when WWE is trying to reestablish the Intercontinental Title (as well as the U.S. Title) as a coveted prize, there may be no one better equipped to give us a new catalog of great Intercontinental Title matches than Gunther. With luck, this is just the beginning of what he’ll do for that belt.

Sheamus, Gunther, WWE Clash at the Castle 2022

On the subject of the belt itself, now that we’re in this new era, can we please get the classic IC Title back? You’re never going to get a better looking belt design than that one.

Can Shayna Baszler’s main roster run be salvaged at this point? Under Vince McMahon’s direction, WWE has spent these last few years absolutely murdering her credibility. No disrespect, but during her days as a dominant killer on NXT, could you even conceive of her losing a match to Liv Morgan? Much less a pay per view championship match? At this point, her best bet might be to go away and come back in a a few years for a fresh start.

Go back and look at Edge’s face when Dominik Mysterio kicks him below the belt. Great expression. That might have been my favorite part of the entire night.

Seth Rollins and Matt Riddle definitely delivered. You could argue it was the match of the night. And yet, what I’m thinking about today is what Rollins wore during his entrance. That’s one of those things Mrs. Primary Ignition wouldn’t have been able to get over, had she been watching with me. “But why is he wearing that?!?”

The crowd was hot the entire night. You love to see it. I’m sure WWE is hesitant to do more big overseas shows like this because of the time difference. But if we can get crowds like this on a more regular basis, I think it’d be worth it. Personally, I wouldn’t mind it.

Sucks to be Drew McIntyre. That was all I could think about when this show was over. The guy was one of only a few remaining credible opponents for Roman Reigns. He came into the match a hero, perfectly teed up to be the guy to finally end Roman’s tyrannical run at the top.

Roman Reigns, WWE Clash at the Castle 2022

And then he lost. Ouch.

I mean, it was due to outside interference. And I’m sure he got a really nice payday out of it, regardless. But still…ouch.

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

WWE’s 10 Most Fascinating People 2020

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Who exactly are the “10 Most Fascinating People” in a given year? Every year when I do this list, I typically let the word fascinating speak for itself. But for 2020, a year like no other, let’s go ahead and expand on it.

Every week, these performers compete for our attention. Not just with opposing programming, but with each other. Everyone wants to be part of the story that’s the most dramatic, emotional, intriguing, inspiring, etc.

The list of WWE’s most fascinating people is a list of WWE wrestlers and personalities who, in my opinion, had the most interesting stories in a given year. They can be the culmination of a lifelong journey, as Drew McIntyre achieved this year. They can spark pressing questions, such as whether this is really the end for the Undertaker. One can even wind up on this list for the wrong reason, like Otis did with the Money in the Bank briefcase.

To put it simply: These are WWE’s most fascinating people of 2020, and these are their stories.

1. Drew McIntyre
In 2020, Drew McIntyre lived up to his old nickname and became WWE’s “chosen one,” winning the WWE Championship from Brock Lesnar.

Unfortunately, it happened at just about the worst possible time.

The COVID-19 pandemic was in its early days when Wrestlemania XXXVI took place, and the world was still coming to grips with the new rules we were (and still are) all living under. WWE was holding its televised events, including Wrestlemania, inside the Performance Center in Orlando with no fans in attendance. Thus, Drew essentially had his crowning moment in a vacuum. One might even call him “the Pandemic Champion.”

But to his credit, he forged ahead. He played the stalwart babyface we all needed to see during such trying times. He was an optimistic, hopeful babyface champion hungry to prove himself against all challengers. Mere moments after beating Lesnar, McIntyre would beat back a challenge from the Big Show. He would go on to successfully defend against Seth Rollins, Bobby Lashley, Dolph Ziggler, and Bobby Roode. He also retained twice over Randy Orton before dropping the belt to him at Hell in a Cell. Then on November 16, McIntyre would make Orton’s reign a short one, taking back the title in the main event of Raw.

Whether or not McIntyre is remembered as the champion of the “pandemic era” remains to be seen. But either way, one thing is certain: He’s been a champion we can be proud of.

2. Otis
Even if you see him strictly as a comedic character, it’s tough to deny Otis had a career year. Even if it didn’t necessarily end the way he’d have hoped.

Coming into 2020, Otis’ affection for Mandy Rose made him the lovable everyman in one of, if not the most interesting story on WWE television. The tale culminated at Wrestlemania, as Otis defeated Dolph Ziggler and got to kiss the girl. It would have been a tremendous Wrestlemania moment if there’d been fans in the building…

The subsequent decision to give Otis the Money in the Bank briefcase was puzzling. He was hot coming out of Wrestlemania. But a Heavyweight Title contender? Hardly. As such, the briefcase served to weigh Otis down more than elevate him, as fans were more interested in how WWE was going to get the briefcase off of him, as opposed to how and when he’d cash in.

It all came crashing down for Otis at Hell in a Cell. He lost the briefcase to the Miz in a match where his longtime tag partner Tucker turned on him. Adding insult to injury, both Tucker and Mandy were drafted to Raw, leaving Otis on Smackdown without his arch rival or his girlfriend.

Ouch.

3. MVP
Montel Vontavius Porter was a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble Match. Despite being eliminated in a matter of seconds, he stuck around and became an unlikely staple of Raw.

He quickly aligned himself with Bobby Lashley, guiding him in a brief quest for Drew McIntyre’s WWE Championship. While Lashley would come up short, the duo would find new allies in Shelton Benjamin, and eventually Cedric Alexander. Together, they’ve formed the hottest, and certainly the most sharply dressed, faction WWE has seen in quite some time: The Hurt Business.

MVP’s staying power is lies almost entirely with the charisma and energy he brings to promos. But he’s also remained semi-active in the ring.

4. Dominik Mysterio
To say the very least, Dominik has come a long way since we saw him as the eight-year-old subject of a child custory storyline between his father Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero.

Now in his early 20s, Dominik began making appearances with his father last year, one of which saw him brutalized by Brock Lesnar. But in 2020 he established himself as a wrestler and television character by inserting himself into the feud between Rey and Seth Rollins. As a result, he was given the extremely unenviable task of having his first televised WWE match at Summerslam against Rollins. To Dominik’s eternal credit, I thought he and Rollins stole the show that night. Yes, their match had its fair share of “gaga,” including involvement by both Rey and Dominik’s mother Angie. And yes, Dominik was in good hands with Rollins. But in the end, that match told the best story that night. Much of that can be attributed to how good Dominik has become at such a young age.

Rey and Dominik were drafted to Smackdown in October, where the emphasis has been largely on Rey’s daughter Aliyah and her storyline with Murphy. Frankly, I don’t think it would hurt Dominik to spend some time apart from his father, perhaps in NXT. Though knowing how pro wrestling works, a father/son feud certainly isn’t out of the question. Especially as we move closer to Wrestlemania.

5. The Undertaker
This was the year the real-life Mark Calaway finally came out of the casket.

After his Boneyard Match with AJ Styles proved to be the unlikely show-stealer at Wrestlemania, the Undertaker went on an unprecedented media tour to promote Undertaker: The Last Ride, a documentary miniseries on the WWE Network. In the process, he pulled back the curtain on himself and the character in a way many have wanted for the better part of three decades. No one exploited the Dead Man’s new chatty demeanor more than WWE themselves, who produced numerous Undertaker-centric specials and interviews for the network. This included two lengthy interviews with Stone Cold Steve Austin.

It all culminated in a “final farewell” at Survivor Series, which marked the 30th anniversary of the character’s debut. His farewell address was short but sweet: “My time has come to let the Undertaker rest in peace.”

But as always, whether this truly is the end of the line for the Undertaker remains to be seen…

6. Roman Reigns
“The Big Dog” was absent for much of 2020 thanks to COVID-19. But when he made his return at Summerslam, he changed the entire landscape of Smackdown with both a new attitude and a new manager.

This year saw WWE give Roman Reigns the one thing they never gave to their last poster boy John Cena: A heel run. What’s more, a damn good heel run. At least thus far. Now a full-fledged Paul Heyman guy, and calling himself the “Tribal Chief,” Reigns quickly won the Universal Championship from Bray Wyatt. He went on to have two quality pay per view title matches with, of all people, Jey Uso. At Survivor Series, he once again stole the show in a champion vs. champion match with Drew McIntyre. He capped it off at TLC, retaining his title over Kevin Owens.

All the while, Reigns has been doing the best character work of his career. He projects a quiet and intimidating menace that has made him the most interest part of Smackdown for months now. Had we gotten this guy five years ago, Vince McMahon could very well have had the new mega-babyface he obviously wanted Reigns to be so badly.

7. Lana
The way things look now, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Lana challenging for the Raw Women’s Title at Wrestlemania.

That may be blasphemous to some. But we all know WWE loves a good unlikely underdog story. And in trying to become a wrestler, the real-life CJ Perry is in fact an underdog. By her own admission, she’s not the most talented on the roster. While athletic, wrestling doesn’t come naturally to her. She’s also been the center of a few cringe-worthy storylines, not the least of which was her recent marriage storyline with Bobby Lashley. Did we mention her real-life husband, who now goes by Miro in AEW, was let go by WWE in April?

I invite those who would question Lana’s presence on this list to watch her episode of WWE Chronicle on the network. It’s a very revealing look into CJ Perry’s past, her mindset, and how hard she’s working to become a success in professional wrestling.

8. Randy Orton
This year, Randy Orton got back to doing what Randy Orton does best: Being a merciless, despicable heel. He does it better than just about anyone in the business today. So it’s not necessarily a surprise that in doing so, he became one of the centerpieces of Raw in 2020.

Much of it was familiar. He attacked legends like Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels, delivering his signature punt to the head. There were plenty of RKOs out of nowhere. And indeed, Orton claimed yet another WWE Championship, defeating Drew McIntyre in a Hell in a Cell Match in October.

But what once again made Orton one of the most compelling villains in WWE was what he did with Edge early in the year. The night after Edge made one of the more emotional returns in recent memory, Orton met him in the ring and proposed they reform Rated RKO. It was all a trap, of course. Orton would beat down his former friend, capping it off with a brutal chair attack (What Edge used to call a one-man “Con-Chair-To.”) This sparked a feud that went into the spring, and included Orton hitting an RKO on Edge’s wife Beth Phoenix. They had a Last Man Standing Match at Wrestlemania, and followed it up with a match dubiously titled “The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever” in June. Edge would win the former, Orton the latter. A rubber match is almost undoubtedly in the works. No doubt when it does, Orton will be as formidable and dangerous as he’s ever been…

9. Bayley
In 2020, the Smackdown Women’s Division was all about Bayley, Sasha Banks, and when their inevitable implosion would happen. The powder keg finally blew in September when Bayley ambushed Banks in the ring.

So why put Bayley on the list and not Sasha? A few reasons…

Coming into 2020, the experiment of turning Bayley heel was still fairly new. What’s more, compared to Raw Women’s Champion Becky Lynch or NXT Women’s Champion Rhea Ripley, she had by far the least buzz or momentum. Both Bayley and her championship were cold.

The alliance, and eventual feud, between Bayley and Banks revitalized the Bayley character as a villain, and thus revitalized the championship around her waist. Also a factor was the sheer length of Bayley’s run with the title. At 379 days, she’s the longest reigning Smackdown Women’s Champion of all time, and one of the longest of the modern era as well.

10. Edge
There was just something about seeing him come out at the Royal Rumble.

Edge had hit a spear during the Summerslam pre-show in 2019, which caused a little buzz about a return to the ring. That buzz increased tenfold when the wrestling news sites started reporting he’d be an entrant in the 2020 Royal Rumble Match. So it’s not like we had no clue he was coming…

But when his music hit that night, it had all the magic and grandeur it deserved. The “Rated R Superstar” had defied medical science and returned to the ring after nine years. And he wasn’t stopping with the Rumble.

The following night, Edge started a program with his former tag team partner Randy Orton that would extend into the summer. The two had a Last Man Standing Match at Wrestlemania, which would receive mixed reviews at best. They followed it up with a much better match, dubiously advertised as  “The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever” at Backlash. Sadly, Edge would suffer a torn triceps in that match that would leave him on the shelf for the rest of the year. But the smart bet is he and Orton will go one more round at this year’s Wrestlemania.

Assuming he can stay healthy, the best of Edge’s return has yet to come. Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic has largely robbed him of the chance to wrestle in front of live audiences again. He, and WWE at large, may fare better in 2021. Either way, he’s got a laundry list of big match opponents. From AJ Styles to Roman Reigns to Seth Rollins and beyond. With luck, Edge’s comeback tour has only just begun.

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

Best of WWE Extreme Rules: A Playlist Before This Year’s “Horror Show”

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

“It’s the one night of the year where WWE goes extreme!!!!”

What does that mean? Eh, nothing really. It’s a line they used to tack on to this Extreme Rules pay per view. In reality, it’s a show where they throw in some gimmick matches for the sake of the title. Extreme Rules is the descendant of ECW One Night Stand. So if they really wanted to make this show special, they’d stick it in a smaller venue like the Hammerstein Ballroom (shown above) to make it look like an old ECW show. Or maybe even someplace like Full Sail University, and up the ticket price accordingly to compensate for the smaller capacity.

Of course, you can’t do that now. Damn Coronavirus.

But where there is creativity and performance, there is inevitably some greatness to be found. As we build to this year’s Extreme Rules: The Horror Show show on July 19, here’s a playlist representing the best of this event over the last 11 years. Despite being WWE’s sanitized version of “extreme,” you might be surprised at the quality of what you find…

NO HOLDS BARRED MATCH:
Rey Mysterio vs. Chris Jericho
June 7, 2009
New Orleans, LA

It was on this night that Jericho won his ninth and (thus far) final Intercontinental Championship. That’s a record that stands to this day, and may in fact stand as long as the title exists.

But perhaps more importantly, this is one of the better IC Title matches of the so-called “PG Era.” We had a compelling yet simple story coming in about Jericho wanting to unmask Rey Mysterio Jr. Jim Ross and Todd Grisham were on commentary for this one, and the former did an excellent job playing up the importance of the mask to Rey. Not to mention its cultural significance. So in the end, when Jericho snatches Rey’s mask off during a 619 attempt and then rolls him up for the pin, it actually means something.

These two managed to cut a hell of a pace too. At certain points, you’d think they were still part of WCW’s renowned Cruiserweight Division. Moments before the finish, we get something we’d never see today: A chairshot to the head. Mind you, Rey “works” the shot to Jericho’s head fairly well. But a shot to the head is a shot to the head.

If this match proves anything, it’s that Jericho was and still is one of the true artists in the world of pro wrestling. Whoever elevates whomever he works with. Even if that person is already a legend like Ricky Steamboat, Shawn Michaels, or in this case, Rey Mysterio Jr.

LADDER MATCH:
Edge vs. Jeff Hardy
June 7, 2009
New Orleans, LA

I probably shouldn’t have, but I felt sorry for Edge, Jeff, and all those TLC guys for a long time.

Yes, I know those ladder matches and TLC Matches made stars out of the Hardys, the Dudleys, and Edge & Christian. But those matches would also follow all those guys around for the rest of their careers. They became synonymous with the Ladder Match to the point that so many of their big bouts had to be Ladder Matches. So when they started this program with one another, it was inevitable there’d be a Ladder Match at some point.

And this is how jaded we’d all become at that point: This match isn’t even that exciting. Yes, there are some brutal bumps. Edge takes a nasty bump between the rungs of a ladder. Later, he tries to recreate the famous mid-air spear spot from Wrestlemania. The results are mixed at best. The match is highlighted by that last visual of Edge being trapped between the ladder rungs, “crucified” as Todd Grisham puts it, as Hardy climbs up and takes the title.

This match earns its spot here because of the effort put forth by its participants. Hardly the most thrilling Ladder Match you’ll ever see. But you’ve got to take your hat off for what both these guys were willing to do to their bodies.

LADDER MATCH FOR VACANT WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
Alberto Del Rio vs. Christian
May 1, 2011
Tampa, FL

I don’t make a habit of going back and watching a lot of Alberto Del Rio matches. But in hindsight, he had a pretty good shtick with his personal ring announcer, the limo, the music, the big smile. If he weren’t such a sleaze bag in real life, I’d be inclined to say I miss him.

But of course, this match isn’t really about Del Rio. It’s all about Christian finally winning the big one. Would he lose it two days later at a Smackdown taping? Yes. But this is still a great moment that’s all the more relevant given how they just used him in the Edge/Randy Orton storyline.

CHICAGO STREET FIGHT:
CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho
April 29, 2012
Chicago, IL

We didn’t need the benefit of hindsight to see these two got overshadowed by the Rock and John Cena at Wrestlemania. We knew going in that it would happen. In the end, they’d once again be overshadowed at Extreme Rules by Cena and Brock Lesnar. But that doesn’t take away from the quality of the work they did. And this whole program, with a heel Chris Jericho getting personal with CM Punk about his father’s alcohol issues, was quality.

The fact that they were in Chicago did nothing but help them. This was less than a year after the famous Punk/Cena match at Money in the Bank. This crowd was every bit as pro-Punk as that one was. All these years later, I’d forgotten that Punk’s family was in the front row too. So when Jericho douses Punk in beer and beats the hell out of him with a kendo stick, it resonates that much more. The same can be said for when Punk finally pulls it out and retains the WWE Championship.

EXTREME RULES MATCH:
Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena
April 29, 2012
Chicago, IL

Mere moments into this match, Lesnar had Cena’s blood on him.

This match wasn’t necessarily as exciting as I remembered it. But as Brock Lesnar’s first match in eight years, it was still bigger and more important than almost anything that happened at Wrestlemania the previous month. This match was “big fight feel” defined.

In hindsight, this was structured not unlike the classic Cena and Lesnar would have at Summerslam two years later. Which is to say it was all about Cena being brutalized  by this WWE Champion turned MMA fighter, and the question of whether he could survive. Particularly under the Extreme Rules stipulation.

This match may also have one of the most hotly debated finishes in company history. Certainly in the last decade. Common sense would indicate that Brock would prevail here. Thus, they’d tell the story of Cena suffering yet another devastating loss just a month after losing to the Rock, and setting Brock up as a near invincible and monster.

Of course, they didn’t do that. They had Cena win after punching Lesnar with his old Thuganomics lock and chain, followed by an A.A. on to the steel ring steps. They didn’t even do a contested finish, i.e. “You can’t pin somebody on the steps!” It was just, “Cena wins. LOL.”

Still, it’s definitely a match worth looking back on. Arguably the best WWE match of 2012 overall.

EXTREME RULES MATCH:
Roman Reigns vs. AJ Styles
May 22, 2016
Newark, New Jersey

I’m not sure how politically correct this is to say, but AJ Styles became a made man in WWE by working with Roman Reigns.

Yes, he came in and worked with Chris Jericho. Yes, he’d go on to have some amazing matches with John Cena. But by putting Reigns over in back-to-back title matches at Payback and Extreme Rules in two great matches, Styles proved that not only was he an all-time great performer, but one that could succeed within the WWE system. These matches proved he was here to stay.

You can tell both these guys are really going for it here. Reigns had just won the WWE Championship from Triple H at Wrestlemania, and had a lot to prove to his critics. Meanwhile, I suspect Styles knew what a big opportunity this was for him, and set out to over-deliver. He succeeded, taking some downright scary bumps in the process. These included a very high backdrop off one announce table through another. Styles actually over-rotated, taking what looked like a painful landing on his butt. That’s how you crack your tailbone, right there.

In the end, what they turned in here was very much a WWE style brawl, complete with a fight through the crowd and outside antics from the Usos and Gallows & Anderson. In the end, Reigns countered a Phenomenal Forearm into a spear for the victory.

30-MINUTE IRON MAN MATCH:
Dolph Ziggler vs. Seth Rollins
July 15, 2018
Pittsburgh, PA

This match was better than the Pittsburgh crowd gave it credit for. They spent a good portion of this match counting along with the clock, Royal Rumble Match style. Meanwhile, Rollins and Ziggler were putting on a clinic in there.

They gave us a little bit of everything in this one. We had the babyface Rollins gain an early lead. We had Ziggler’s heavy Drew McIntyre come in to interfere. Then we had the heel Ziggler even it out. Then we had the heel go up, forcing the babyface to fight from underneath. We go into sudden death, a la Wrestlemania XII. Then it was McIntyre once again playing a role to give Ziggler the win. So McIntyre gets over as a force to be reckoned with, and Rollins and Ziggler get over as two workhorses, with Ziggler getting the added rub of main-eventing his first pay per view.

Let’s also not lose sight of the fact that this was the first time the Intercontinental Title was defended in the main event of a pay per view since Bret and Bulldog at Summerslam in ’92. So we’re not only elevating our two wrestlers, but we’re once again elevating the Intercontinental Title.

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

WWE’s 10 Most Fascinating People of 2019: Becky Lynch, CM Punk, and More!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

So I think I’m just going to claim this “Most Fascinating People” thing as my own. Barbara Walters doesn’t do it anymore. And I’ve been doing it on WWE personalities for years now…

Speaking of which, we’ve got some repeaters this year, as we always do. One of which I never thought we’d see again. (You’ll know him when you see him.) I’m sure a lot of them are obvious choices when you think about it. But I’d say two or three of them aren’t.

So once again, let’s get fascinating!

No? Not a good catch phrase? Just trying it on…

1. CM Punk
So yeah, this is happening.

After years of bad blood between Punk and WWE, including a lawsuit filed by WWE doctor Christopher Amann (Punk won), the old adage of “Everyone comes back eventually” was once again proven true. Well, kinda…

After weeks of speculation, on November 21 Punk did indeed become a part of WWE Backstage on FS1, serving as a frequent guest analyst. However, Punk’s deal is with Fox, not WWE. Ergo, he finds himself in the unique position of being able to critique the product as he sees fit, with seemingly no repercussions from the company. He’s already managed to stir things up with Seth Rollins. There’s no telling whose feathers he may ruffle next. Which is, of course, the point of bringing him on in the first place.

Naturally, this opened the floodgates for fans to make assumptions about an in-ring return. Truth be told, there is an aura of inevitability about it. It’s all guesswork as to when it could or would happen, but a Wrestlemania seems like an obvious choice. I wouldn’t expect “clobberin’ time” to come in 2020, though.

Punk is in a position to do things on his terms. That’s not a dynamic WWE is used to in 2019. But if there’s one person who’s been able to make this company squirm in recent years, it’s CM Punk. Seeing him do it again, even if it’s only in a storyline, would make for interesting TV.

This is CM Punk’s third appearance on the list, having been on it in 2012 and 2013.

2. Dean Ambrose
Before Jon Moxley became one of AEW’s hottest acquisitions, Dean Ambrose had perhaps the most amicable departure in WWE history.

In January, WWE put out a press release announcing that the real-life Jonathan Good would not be renewing his contract when it expired in April. The release continued: “We are grateful and appreciative of all that Dean has given to WWE and our fans. We wish him well and hope that one day Dean will return to WWE.”

This was, in many ways, unprecedented. WWE barely, if ever, calls attention to one of their top guys leaving the company. But there it was, right out in the limelight. Ambrose reportedly turned down a significant offer from WWE, citing all the “hokey” material he’d been given as of late. If you go back and watch some of what he was doing at that time, it’s not hard to see what he means…

The announcers usually danced around it on Raw. But most fans knew it was happening. To the further surprise of many, Ambrose wasn’t buried or jobbed out during his remaining months with the company. Yes, he was left off the Wrestlemania card. But he was also given a proper send-off via one more Shield reunion with Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns. WWE even made a network special out of his last night, calling it The Shield’s Final Chapter.

When you get right down to it, that’s got to be why they were so nice to Ambrose on his way out. Despite being open about his frustrations with the WWE creative process (including a scathing appearance on Talk is Jericho), the Shield has become one of their most bankable commodities of the last decade. They want to keep that door wide open for Ambrose to come back someday However, as Moxley has signed a multi-year deal with AEW, don’t expect that to happen any time soon.

This is Dean Ambrose’s second appearance on the list. He appeared on it last year.

3. Shayna Baszler
This year, Shayna Baszler became one of the key components in elevating NXT to cable television, and thus the same level as Raw and Smackdown. But before that happened, she dominated the entire NXT Women’s Roster. With the exception of a brief hiccup last year, Baszler has been the most dominant NXT Women’s Champion since Asuka.

We recently heard her run down the list of names herself. But this year alone she beat back Bianca Belair, Io Shirai, Mia Yim, and Candice LeRae. But her true crowning moment came at Survivor Series, when she defeated Raw Women’s Champion Becky Lynch and Smackdown Women’s Champion Bayley in a Triple-Threat Match. And although she just recently lost her NXT Title to Rhea Ripley, Baszler has a legit claim to being the top female wrestler in all of WWE.

Furthermore, there’s no shortage of bad blood between Baszler and Lynch. While it may trace back to Lynch toppling her friend Ronda Rousey at Wrestlemania, Baszler has been adamant that she’s not Rousey. She has her own legacy to create. My guess? That legacy continues with a victory in the 2020 Women’s Royal Rumble Match, and a title match against Lynch at Wrestlemania this spring.

4. Baron Corbin
Simply the name “Baron Corbin” is enough to make some people’s skin crawl. People hate this guy. Some fans think he’s boring. Others say he can’t wrestle. While some just see him as the smug prick he’s trying to come off as.

Either way, he may very well be one of the only true heels in all of wrestling. In an era where everybody wants to be a cool heel, a la Bray Wyatt or Adam Cole, Corbin isn’t afraid to draw legit heat from a crowd. And one of the oldest rules in the book is that if you can get people to hate you, they’ll pay to see you get beat up. That’s why they had him beat Kurt Angle in his final match. That’s why they had him win the King of the Ring. That’s why he’s feuded with the likes of Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns this year. They see him as a commodity. Or at least a commodity in the making.

Granted, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Corbin in 2019. The program with Rollins didn’t exactly leave us wanting more. Quite the opposite, in fact. And older fans have balked at some of the more childish antics he’s employed against Reigns. But mark my words, folks: At this rate, Corbin will be a Heavyweight Champion down the road. Possibly even this year.

5. Rey Mysterio
It’s no coincidence that Rey has been featured much more prominently since Paul Heyman became Raw‘s executive director. He brought Rey into ECW in the mid ’90s. Years later, when Heyman was writing Smackdown, he gave Rey a key role. So this is clearly a winning combination, and it was no different in 2019.

Rey obviously wants to set up some kind of “passing the torch” moment with his son Dominic, who is currently in training at the Performance Center. Father and son would share a sentimental moment backstage, when Dominic convinced Rey not to retire after a disheartening losing streak.

But there was nothing sentimental about the beating they’d both take from Brock Lesnar. After a brief detour involving Cain Velasquez, we got the obvious match: Brock vs. Rey for the WWE Championship at Survivor Series. Like so many before him, Rey failed to defeat Lesnar. But regardless, Rey Mysterio was once again in a marquee match at a major WWE pay per view. And to his credit, he did some damn good mic work along the way. The promo where he’s looking into the camera and has the pipe in his hand was simply awesome.

6. Rhea Ripley
Ripley has created her share of headlines. She was part of the infamous Mae Young Classic match where Tegan Nox’s knee exploded, and then famously mocked her on Twitter. She would go on to become the inaugural NXT UK Women’s Champion, and ultimately stay tucked away on that show for more than half the year.

Then in August, she made a surprise return to Full Sail, confronting then-NXT Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler. It was a moment that created instant buzz and speculation about Ripley challenging, and possibly becoming the one to finally dethrone Baszler.

In November, Ripley would lead her team to victory in the first-ever women’s War Games Match, defeating a team led by Baszler. Ripley would close out the year by doing what many expected, and defeating Baszler for the NXT Women’s Title on December 18.

Over the years, a select few have not only held that title, but in essence become the face of the NXT Women’s Division. Bayley played that role, as did Asuka. And for about two years now, Baszler has been the face of the division. Now, Rhea Ripley has an opportunity to make her mark on the ever-growing legacy of the NXT Women’s Title. I’ve got a feeling she won’t disappoint.

7. Bray Wyatt
This could have gone really, really wrong. Thankfully, it all worked out. Mostly…

C’mon, this is WWE we’re talking about. They could easily have fumbled the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde persona Bray took on when he finally returned to television with his “Firefly Funhouse” segments. Wyatt would take on a Mr. Rogers-like demeanor, complete with a red sweater and puppets. But there were obvious sinister overtones, which would lead to the debut of Bray’s new alter ego, “the Fiend.” Sporting a mask designed by famed horror and special effects guru Tom Savini, the character quickly became a hit, despite still playing a heel. After years of repetitive promos, and being virtually booked into oblivion, Bray Wyatt was experiencing a full fledged career resurrection.

WWE’s first major misstep with the character came when they rushed him into a title match with then-Universal Champion Seth Rollins. A Hell in a Cell Match, no less. To make matters worse, the match inexplicably ended via ref stoppage, resulting in a massive uproar among fans. WWE attempted to correct the misstep by putting the title on the Fiend at Crown Jewel. But the match would leave a stink on both Rollins and Wyatt for weeks.

Bray continues to reign as Universal Champion, as both he and the title have been moved to Smackdown. He’s once again embroiled in a feud with Daniel Bryan, which fans seem to be into. I have a sneaking suspicion he’ll come face to face with a certain Big Dog come Wrestlemania season. But in any event, Bray Wyatt has become what so many of us knew that he, with this character, could be: A top guy. He’s the Heavyweight Champion on a show that airs weekly on Fox. Now that’s a comeback story.

8. Kofi Kingston
Kofi had a comeback story of his own in 2019. One that, ultimately, would end in disaster.

Kofi Kingston was not supposed to be challenging for the WWE Title at Wrestlemania. My guess is he and the New Day would have been involved in some sort of multi-team tag match on the undercard. But fate stepped in when Mustafa Ali was injured in February, and Kofi replaced him in the Elimination Chamber Match for the WWE Championship. The fans fell in love with him all over again as he came within an eyelash of finally winning the big one after 11 years in WWE. He became an instant underdog sensation, as “KofiMania” was born. To WWE’s credit, they altered their storyline plans, and at Wrestlemania 35 in New Jersey, Kofi would steal the show with WWE Champion Daniel Bryan. The match culminated in an emotional victory celebration in the ring.

Kofi would keep the championship longer than many anticipated, retaining it against the likes of Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Dolph Ziggler, and even his old rival Randy Orton.

Then, along came Brock Lesnar. On October 4, in the main event of Smackdown’s debut broadcast on Fox, Lesnar would squash Kingston in less than 10 seconds to win the title. He hasn’t even sniffed a Heavyweight Title since then, having returned to tag team competition.

It’s debatable whether Kingston could  have played that top guy role longer. In the end, the real injustice here is that he’s seemingly been swept under the rug. Could Kofimania rise again? Perhaps. But it doesn’t seem likely, does it?

9. Seth Rollins
This was supposed to be Seth Rollins’ year. And in a lot of ways, it was. He won the Royal Rumble, and went on to defeat Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship at Wrestlemania. Shockingly, he’d beat Lesnar a second time at Summerslam. As if that weren’t enough, he got engaged to Becky Lynch, and the two would become an item both on and off screen.

But oh, the power of social media. Of all things, it was a series of ill-conceived tweets that started to turn the fans against Rollins. Throw in a post-Wrestlemania feud with Baron Corbin that went far too long, and the finish to his Hell in a Cell Match with Bray Wyatt, and he was dead in the water as a babyface. What’s more, I don’t think the pairing with Lynch did either of them any favors. The closest thing I can think to equate it to would be when they put The Undertaker’s wife Sara with him on television. It just wasn’t a side of him that people wanted to see. Ditto for both Rollins and Lynch here.

WWE would, once again, do the right thing by changing their plans and turning Rollins heel. Now aligned with AOP, he finds himself jockeying for the top heel spot on Raw against AJ Styles, and ironically enough, WWE Champion Brock Lesnar.

The more things change, the more they stay the same…

This is Seth Rollins’ second time on the list, having made it in 2015.

6. Becky Lynch
As far as I’m concerned, Becky Lynch was the face of WWE in 2019. And there isn’t even a close second.

Lynch rode a wave of momentum into the Royal Rumble, where she would tap out to Asuka, but then win the Women’s Royal Rumble Match. After an injury forced her to miss out on her chance to wrestle Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey at Survivor Series, fans desperately wanted to see those two collide. To their credit, both ladies made it feel like there was legit bad blood between the two. It was a match worthy of the Wrestlemania main event. To the dismay of many, Charlotte Flair was added to the match, and it became a three-way for both the Raw and Smackdown Women’s Championships. Becky would pin Ronda (albeit clumsily) to win both titles, victorious in the first women’s match to headline a Wrestlemania.

In the months that followed, we learned just how much a great hero needs a great villain. With Ronda gone, and the Charlotte feud played out, Lynch was put with Lacey Evans. With respect to Lacey, the matches were about as thrilling as they sound. Thankfully, the freshly heel-turned Sasha Banks would come to Becky’s rescue. Their program would culminate in an excellent Hell in a Cell match in October.

At Survivor Series, Becky wrestled Smackdown Women’s Champion Bayley and NXT Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler in a Triple-Threat Match. During the build-up, we saw some really nice tension between Lynch and Baszler that was reminiscent of what Lynch had with Rousey. Baszler was adamant that she is not Ronda Rousey, and I suspect she’ll be in a position to prove that to Becky in the near future. But for now, Baszler is licking her wounds after losing her title to Rhea Rhipley, and Becky wants to avenge her loss to Asuka at last year’s Royal Rumble.

Becky was always extremely likable. A natural babyface. Ironically, it was when they tried to turn her heel last year that the fans truly rallied behind her. Becky got angry, and they got angry with her. From a storytelling perspective, there were a lot of comparisons to Stone Cold Steve Austin’s rise to the top. That’s not entirely unjustified. But I think the similarities are superficial at best. I think one of the reasons fans got behind Becky so much is because she showed us something most modern babyfaces don’t: Legitimate passion and fire. So many wrestlers are struggling to memorize lines, and make the schlock written for them into passable television. All Lynch really had to do was go out there and be herself.

In the end, I think that’s something almost everyone has to do if they want to get over to any large extent. You show people who you are, albeit with the volume turned up and certain things exaggerated, and either they like you or they don’t. It’s not nearly as complicated as it seems, or as WWE makes it.

That’s something to keep in mind as we head into 2020…

This is Becky Lynch’s second time on the list. She was on it last year as well.

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

Top 10 Raw Moments of 2018: Stone Cold, John Cena, Becky Lynch, and more!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how Raw sucks. Not just from the fans, either. Last week, the McMahons themselves had to come out and, in so many words, admit their creative failures of late. For all this talk about “shaking up” the show, it seems like very little is actually going to change. Which is a damn shame, as the show desperately needs a revamp. Like, this sucker needs major renovations from the top down.

But as we’re taking time to look back on 2018, it’s only fair that we pay tribute to the things Raw got right. One of their buzzwords is “Raw moments,” i.e. moments or matches on the show that fans continue to look back on with fondness, awe, sadness, or whatever emotion it happened to evoke. Stone Cold and the beer truck, Eric Bischoff’s debut, that game-changing CM Punk promo, etc. The moments that made us love Raw in the first place, and are the reason we stick with it, despite all the frustrations and disappointments.

And so, with the disclaimer that these are all based on my personal opinion and viewing experiences, these are my top 10 Raw moments of 2018, in chronological order.

A few honorable mentions..
– January 29: Asuka vs. Sasha Banks.
– July 30: Brock Lesnar puts his hands on Paul Heyman.
– August 6: Ronda Rousey’s first match on Raw.

1. January 22: Austin’s got McMahon!
Raw 25 kicked off old school. Shane and Stephanie McMahon came to the ring to present a plaque to their father. What followed was classic Vince, as he proceeded to heel on the Brooklyn crowd, and then take all the credit for Raw‘s success. The crowd even broke out in an “Asshole!” chant, just like old times.

Then the glass shattered, and the crowd erupted as Stone Cold Steve Austin emerged. In a skit that included Vince throwing Shane to the wolves, Stone Cold Stunners to both McMahon men, and the throwing back of a few Steveweisers, suddenly Raw was great again. Just listen to that crowd. While I wish Austin would have gotten on the mic, in the end this segment was exactly what it needed to be: A quick nostalgia trip. It was also a reminder that even in his 70s, Vince can still deliver gold on the mic.

2. February 19: Seth Rollins steals the show in a Gauntlet Match.
This match featured all seven of the men who’d be involved in the Elimination Chamber Match to decide Brock Lesnar’s Wrestlemania opponent. We had John Cena, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, The Miz, Finn Balor, Braun Strowman, and Elias. Strowman would be the eventual winner. But the man everyone was talking about after this match was Seth Rollins.

Entering at the number two spot, Rollins wrestled for over an hour and five minutes, pinning both Roman Reigns and John Cena in the process. That’s a stellar accomplishment in and of itself, on par with Chris Jericho pinning Steve Austin and The Rock in one night back in 2001. By this point, Rollins had noticeably cooled off as a babyface. But this match was the catalyst for his reemergence as a contender for the top spot on Raw, if not the entire company.

Rollins didn’t get his shot at Lesnar in 2018, but this year might be a different story…

3. February 26: “Ladies and gentlemen, Braun Strowman!”
WWE loves to try their hand at comedy. Emphasis on the word “try.” While certain performers have natural comedic timing and abilities, most of WWE’s attempts at humor feel lame, forced and awkward.

But once in awhile, you get one out of left field that inexplicably works. The Vince McMahon “Are you ready for some wrestling?” skit, that first Daniel Bryan/Kane anger management skit, and now this. Braun Strowman coming out and strumming a bass on stage to make fun of Elias. And to make matters worse/better, mere seconds in, the instrument breaks. So Braun has to go on without it. For what it’s worth, the big guy’s voice isn’t so bad.

To cap it all off, the ensuing beatdown ended with Strowman lifting the bass up by the neck, and smashing it over Elias’ back. For yours truly, this segment embodied almost everything there is to love about Braun Strowman. It gave us his charisma, along with the brute strength and violence that he allows us to live vicariously through. This is the guy who could have headlined Wrestlemania.

4. March 19: The Ultimate Deletion.
This was the moment we’d been waiting for since the Hardys returned to WWE. A lawsuit with Anthem, the parent company of Impact Wrestling, had prevented Matt Hardy from using his “Broken” persona for most of 2017. But late in the year, we were introduced to “Woken” Matt Hardy, i.e. Broken Matt with one letter swapped out. He feuded with Bray Wyatt, culminating in this match, the “Ultimate Deletion.”

Akin to the other “Deletion” matches we saw on Impact, the match had a more cinematic, campy presentation. Most of the trademarks of the Broken universe were there. It took place at the Hardy compound. Matt’s wife and son made appearances, as did his real-life father-in-law, “Senor Benjamin.” Jeff Hardy also made a cameo. Hardy would win by sending Wyatt into the “lake of reincarnation.” Wyatt would not emerge again until the Wrestlemania pre-show, where he helped Hardy win the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal.

The Ultimate Deletion belongs on this list because, like the Broken/Woken universe itself, it dared to be different. It was also great validation for Matt. Not just because of the Anthem lawsuit, but because WWE once tried to do their own version of this match. You’ll recall the time the New Day visited the “Wyatt Family compound.” The results looked a lot like what the Hardys were doing on Impact at the time. We haven’t seen a match like this on Raw since, and we may never see one again. But it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility.

5. John Cena’s scathing promos on the Undertaker.
Undertaker no-showing the build-up to Wrestlemania 34 was extremely frustrating at the time. But in hindsight, it was the right way to go. Cena’s desperate, angry attempts to bring the Dead Man back made for great drama. The highlights of which included…

– “…stop hiding behind your lame excuses. You are not too old. You are not washed up. You are not broken down, ’cause if you was broken down, you wouldn’t be posting workout videos on your wife’s Instagram.”
– “You are not the god that [the fans] made you. You are the man you’ve allowed yourself to become. And that man, Undertaker, is a coward. The Undertaker is a coward.”
– “Hey Undertaker. It’s obvious that you left your hat in the ring. But it’s clear to everybody here that you left your balls at home.”

Then the match went two minutes, with Undertaker going over. I interpreted that as being because, in storyline, Undertaker surprised Cena. That’s why I think these two have unfinished business, and should go another round at Wrestlemania this year.

6. April 9: Paige announces her retirement.
Calling this one of Raw’s best moments feels a little weird. Obviously, if I had my way Paige would still be wrestling. But I have to tip my hat to the pure honesty, emotion, and bravery exhibited by Paige here.

Many of us were expecting this. The previous November, Paige had returned after a lengthy absence that included neck surgery. But just over a month after her return, Paige suffered another neck injury, forcing her to stay out of the ring. So the word “retirement” was being thrown around by fans online.

Still, it’s never easy to hear confirmation like this. Paige spoke very eloquently, and the crowd showered her with “Thank you Paige!” chants. But while retired, Paige wasn’t gone long at all. She showed up the very next night as the new general manager of Smackdown.

7. April 30: Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor
Seth Rollins was Raw‘s resident artist this year. If you look at the best matches in this show in 2018, he’s the one constant in most of them. He turned in epic performances with Dolph Ziggler, Kevin Owens, Drew McIntyre, among others.

But in many ways, this was the best TV match Rollins turned in all year. It earned 4.25 stars from Dave Meltzer, was for the Intercontinental Title, and the two men had a loaded history together. They were, of course, wrestling to become the first Universal Champion when Rollins injured Balor, forcing him to give up his newly won title.

Champion and challenger gave us a combination endurance/chess match. It was a collection of counters, dodges, kicks, and kick-outs from big moves in a prolonged game of “Can you top this?” Rollins would ultimately pin Balor using the Curb Stomp. Both these men can easily slip back into the Universal Title picture in 2019, and this match is one of the many pieces of evidence we have.

8. October 22: Roman Reigns announces he has leukemia, Dean Ambrose turns on Seth Rollins.
We got two shockers on this show. One was a storyline. The other was very, very real.

I had no idea Roman Reigns had ever battled leukemia, or any kind of cancer. So when he walked out at the top of the show and announced he was relinquishing the Universal Title because his leukemia had returned, I was floored. I think we all were. To their credit, the fans in Providence, many of whom had been booing Reigns when he came out, immediately switched gears. On his way out, Roman got the support that some would say he’s deserved all along.

Naturally, emotions were running high when Roman’s Shield brothers, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, challenged for the Raw Tag Team Titles in the main event that night. Which made what happened next all the more explosive…

After winning the titles, Dean Ambrose made his long-awaited heel turn, nailing Rollins with the DDT. The fans watched in stunned silence as he continued to destroy his partner. Ambrose had unraveled, and the Shield was no more.

9. November 5: Drew McIntyre destroys Kurt Angle.
This was Angle’s first match on Raw in over a decade. To his credit, it was memorable. Just not for the reason we thought it would be.

In a battle to decide whether Angle would captain the Raw Men’s team at Survivor Series, the Olympic Gold Medalist and WWE Hall of Famer put up a fight, even catching McIntyre with the Angle Slam. But in the end, McIntyre was simply too much. The “Scottish Psychopath” would hit an Angle Slam of his own, and later end the match by tapping Angle out with his trademark Ankle Lock. The match will no doubt go down as one of the definitive performances of McIntyre’s current WWE run.

What makes this a little bit more special is that supposedly this was Kurt Angle’s idea, at least partially. The two had worked together in Impact, and Angle wanted to put McIntyre over for the WWE audience. It’d call the attempt successful, wouldn’t you?

10. November 12: Becky Lynch invades.
Yes, technically it was the entire Smackdown women’s roster that invaded. But the part everyone remembers is Becky, blood on her face, standing victorious in the crowd.

This is an angle that’s been done time and time again. Wrestlers from Smackdown invading Raw, or Raw invading Smackdown, or whatever it is. But a wild punch changed everything.

It started out strong, with the camera rushing into the locker room to find Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey in Becky Lynch’s Disarm-Her. Lynch would then go to the ring to confront the Raw Women’s Survivor Series team. Lynch’s Smackdown cohorts would then ambush from the crowd. In the ensuing battle, Nia Jax would punch Becky in the face, breaking her nose and concussing her. WWE would later simply call it a “broken face.”

But the then-Smackdown Women’s Champion would find victory even in injury. The ensuing footage of Becky fighting with blood on her face only rallied fans to her cause. She had to bow out of a match against Rousey at Survivor Series. But this angle may very well have opened the door for her to be one of the first women to headline Wrestlemania. So all in all, I’d say things worked out for her…

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

WWE’s 10 Most Fascinating People of 2018

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

What we have here is a bit of a tradition here at PI.

It started as a take-off of something Barbara Walters used to do. She’d choose and profile the 10 “most fascinating people” of the year. I’ve borrowed that concept several times over the years, and the lists can be found in our archives.

(For your convenience: 2012. 2013. 2015. 2016. 2017.)

So once again, we’re back. On this year’s list, we’ve got a UFC Hall of Famer turned WWE Champion, a heroic underdog turned monster heel, a new hot babyface taking the company by storm, among several others…

1. Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey was always going to be a marquee player for WWE. That was blatantly obvious from the get-go. And why wouldn’t she be? But realistically, Ronda could have put in half the effort she does, and made less than half the appearances, and still gotten by. She could have coasted on her name, a few suplexes, and some armbars. She could have taken many would consider to be the Brock Lesnar path.

Instead, Rousey has consistently over-delivered. Whether it was her debut match at Wrestlemania, her match with Charlotte Flair at Survivor Series, or even her title bout with Nia Jax at TLC, this has unquestionably been the best-case scenario.

Rousey has her critics, who would have you believe she doesn’t deserve the spot she has. While so much of wrestling is relative based on one’s personal taste, many of those critics need to be reminded that much of the so-called “Women’s Evolution” can be attributed to Rousey’s success in the UFC. If she doesn’t become the box office draw that she does, WWE has no reason to revamp its own women’s division. Without Rousey, women like Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and Asuka wouldn’t have the chance to headline pay per views or steal the show at Wrestlemania.

What’s more, Rousey may be about to knock down yet another door. It’s looking more and more like she’ll be part of the first women’s match to headline the show of shows…

2. Daniel Bryan
This is Bryan’s third time on the list, and it’s not hard to see why. His performances spark a ton of emotion, and fans definitely ran the emotional gambit with him this year. In March, we were thrilled to hear he was cleared to return to the ring after more than two years in a WWE-imposed retirement. The move raises a number of questions regarding other wrestlers thought to be permanently retired due to injury. Among those names is Paige, who thanked Bryan in her retirement speech, adding “…you give me hope.”

Bryan made his emotional and genuinely inspirational return to the ring at Wrestlemania. For several months, Bryan was once again one of the company’s most popular acts. Then, less than a week before Survivor Series, Bryan shocked the world by winning back the WWE Championship, turning heel on AJ Styles in the process.

Since then, Bryan has condemned fans for their consumerism, and lack of regard for the environment. In one of the year’s most talked about promos, he promised to replace the leather strap on the WWE Title belt. He’s literally gone from one of the company’s top babyfaces, to perhaps its top heel. At this rate, it’s likely he’ll once again find himself back in the WWE Title Match at Wrestlemania this year.

3. Asuka
Asuka is also returning to this list, having made it last year. The “Empress of Tomorrow” started her 2018 at the highest of highs. Since arriving on Raw in October 2017, she’d kept her fabled undefeated streak alive. She would go on to win the inaugural Women’s Royal Rumble Match, earning a title match at Wrestlemania. She would face Smackdown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair in a match that, for my money, stole the damn show.

But that’s where her luck began to change. Flair shocked the world when she ended Asuka’s undefeated streak. A strange move in hindsight, as she’d simply drop the title to Carmella. The same Carmella that would later defeat Asuka in back-to-back pay per views. Mere months beforehand, it had been unthinkable that Asuka could lose to anyone. She’d beaten the likes of Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Mickie James. But suddenly, here she was losing title matches to Carmella, and subsequently being mired in mediocrity, forming an alliance with Naomi. The two would lose to Peyton Royce and Billie Kay at Super Show-Down.

And yet, Asuka’s popularity has endured. Apparently, that’s what prompted Vince McMahon to add her to the Smackdown Women’s Title Match at TLC. Now, Asuka can add Smackdown Women’s Champion, and winner of the first Women’s TLC Match to her resume. It’s like the last 10 months never even happened…

So at last, Asuka has made it to the top. It didn’t happen the way any of us thought it would. But she is there. Now it’s just a question of whether she can stay at the top, or she’ll be lost in the shuffle again. One way or another, we’ll get our answer in 2019.

4. Shawn Michaels
It’s tough to remember HBK coming out of retirement, isn’t it? As big a deal as it is, it was drowned out by all the controversy surrounding WWE Crown Jewel. Not to mention the announcement that Roman Reigns would be stepping away to fight leukemia.

But indeed, Degeneration X reunited in Saudi Arabia to face the Brothers of Destruction. While many cried that Triple H, the Undertaker, and Kane showed their age out there, even after eight years away Shawn still managed to look pretty damn good. And while Shawn himself indicated he’d be going right back into retirement, there’s been plenty of speculation about “Mr. Wrestlemania” making yet another appearance at the show of shows. Another Undertaker match seems like the obvious route. But Shawn has no shortage of other options. I myself floated six of them.

In hindsight, I still wish Shawn hadn’t done this match. I really wanted him to be the one guy that stayed true to his word. But what’s done is done.

5. Tegan Nox
This one hurt. Like, it really hurt. You just wanted to reach through the screen and comfort this poor woman. She’d already been through hell, and now she was going to have to do it all over again.

Tegan Nox, whose real name is Steffanie Newell, was supposed to be in the first Mae Young Classic. But a torn ACL kept her out of the ring. For this year’s tournament, they were telling that story with her. In fact, she was one of the favorites to win the whole thing.

Then, mere seconds into her second-round match against Rhea Ripley, her other knee goes out. We later learned she’d torn that ACL as well. It was a legitimately heartbreaking moment for not only Newell, but everyone watching.

The only upside in all of this? We seem to be on the road to yet another redemption story for this character. In the aftermath of all this, Rhea Ripley, who has gone on to become the NXT UK Women’s Champion, started a war of words with Nox on Twitter. So assuming Nox will indeed be back in the ring, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see her wearing that title in 2019.

So get well soon, Miss Newell. Great things are waiting for you.

6. Johnny Gargano
As cliche as it is, I’ve got to go with the classic Harvey Dent quote from The Dark Knight on this one: “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Former tag team partners Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa have put on some of the best matches in all of wrestling this year. But the feud has transformed Gargano, arguably one of the last old school babyfaces in the business, into a man consumed with destroying Ciampa. So when Ciampa wrestled Aleister Black for the NXT Championship in July, Gargano attempted to interfere and cost him the match. It ended up backfiring, as Gargano hit Black with the belt, and essentially handed the title to Ciampa.

A Triple-Threat Match was made for the championship at NXT Takeover Brooklyn IV, but a mysterious attack took Black out of the match. Gargano failed to win the title, at it was later revealed the he was the one who attacked the former champion. Naturally, a feud ignited between the two, culminating in a steel cage match this past week on NXT, which Ciampa would help Gargano win. This has lead to rampant speculation that this blood feud between Gargano and Ciampa has ultimately led them to team up all over again.

This slow journey of Johnny Gargano’s, from victim, to heroic avenger, to fallen hero consumed by revenge, to villain, is a textbook example of pro wrestling done right. Deep, emotional stories, told through amazing in-ring action.

7. Dean Ambrose
Ambrose was absent for much of 2018, healing from a torn triceps. But when he returned in August, he was once again part of the Shield. But seeds of dissension were quickly planted by rivals Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler. We all sensed a turn was coming. But there was no way we could have predicted what actually happened…

Mere hours after Roman Reigns announced he was stepping away from the ring to fight leukemia, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins successfully challenged McIntyre and Ziggler for the Raw Tag Team Titles. With emotions still running high after the Reigns announcement, Ambrose shocked Rollins with a DDT, and then a brutal beatdown. While many would cry foul over the timing, for my money it was ultimately one of the best things WWE did all year. It did what pro wrestling is supposed to do: It sucked us in. Got us invested in the characters and their stories. It sparked raw emotion in the audience.

However, WWE’s handling of Ambrose since the turn has been hit-or-miss. While I actually like the new Bane-inspired gas mask look, Vince McMahon’s influence on some of his promos has been quite evident. He’s talked about how the fans smell, how they’re all lazy and unmotivated, etc. Very little with any emotional weight to it.

Still, Ambrose is an awesome performer. Given the right material and the right opportunities, he’s as capable of delivering the goods as anyone. And they have a potentially hot storyline practically gift-wrapped for them, as Ambrose’s real-life wife Renee Young is sitting there on commentary every week. She might just be the ticket to him becoming the vile, despicable heel we all know he can be.

8. Drew McIntyre
Daniel Bryan may have had the comeback of the year, but Drew McIntyre had an epic comeback story of his own. McIntyre reinvented himself after being released by WWE in 2014. He found success in Impact Wrestling, Evolve, and PWG. When he returned to WWE via NXT in 2017, he was almost unrecognizable.

When McIntyre finally returned to the main roster this past April, he formed an unlikely alliance on Raw with Dolph Ziggler. The pair would ultimately up each other’s game, and be a dominant force on the show for most of the year. McIntyre would prove to be one of the show’s most consistent performers, both in the ring and on the mic.

Now a solo act again, the “Scottish Psychopath” will almost certainly challenge for the Universal Championship in 2019. McIntyre’s near five-year journey from the bottom of the wrestling may culminate with him standing at the very top. Frankly, it would be foolish to bet against him at this point.

9. Shinsuke Nakamura
Nakamura is back on this list this year, but unfortunately it’s for the wrong reasons. He and Asuka were very much on parallel journeys this year. They each won their respective Royal Rumble Matches, but failed to win gold at Wrestlemania. While Asuka failed to win the Smackdown Women’s Title from Carmella on two different occasions, Nakamura was unable to take the WWE Title from AJ Styles several times before finally dropping out of contention. He found a little bit of new life as a heel, and won the US Title from Jeff Hardy as a consolation prize. But his run has been fairly unremarkable, highlighted by a losing effort against Seth Rollins at Survivor Series. And while I won’t spoil this week’s Smackdown, the odds of Nakamura walking into 2019 with the belt are slim to none…

It would be easy to blame Nakamura’s failure as a main-eventer on WWE creative. The guy didn’t book himself to lose, after all. WWE also didn’t seem to know how to convey his unique persona, other than simply calling him “the Artist.” Losing multiple title matches to Jinder Mahal in 2017 didn’t help either.

But at the end of the day, Nakamura simply didn’t connect with mainstream American audiences well enough to justify the push he got. Yes, he’s a bona fide legend in Japan. Yes, he did very well in NXT. But on Raw and Smackdown you’re catering to the casuals and the average joes. And while we saw flashes of Nakamura’s greatness, over the long haul we never really got a good reason to invest in him emotionally, be it as a heel or a babyface. You can’t chalk all of that up to creative. Much of it, in fact, a majority of it, is about what happens in when the cameras are rolling.

Supposedly, Nakamura’s contract is up next month. If I’m in his shoes, I’m headed back to Japan. Because I’m at something of a loss as to how you build him back up at this point.

10. Becky Lynch
Up until recently, Becky Lynch was “always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” While her talent, charisma, and likability have been apparent almost from the start, WWE always seemed reluctant to fully get behind her. She was the only one of the “Four Horsewomen” of NXT to never win the NXT Women’s Title. While she did indeed become the inaugural Smackdown Women’s Champion, she only held the belt for two months. She more or less became a second-tier babyface afterward. This, despite fans clamoring to see her in a more prominent role.

We got our wish. Now, Becky Lynch may very well be the most popular wrestler in all of WWE.

Many of us, myself included, balked when Becky turned heel at Summerslam. But in hindsight, it gave her the creative freedom to become the defiant badass she is now. She’s often compared to Stone Cold Steve Austin, and that’s not entirely unjustified. Fans feel she’s been overlooked, and now they’re rooting for her to conquer the system that’s held her back for so long. Even when she was injured by Nia Jax and pulled out of a match against Ronda Rousey at Survivor Series, the fans stood behind her, every bit as outraged as she was. Now, she may be in a position to make history by headlining Wrestlemania with Rousey.

For more than a decade now, we’ve been in the era of forced babyfaces. Wrestlers we’re told we should cheer for, rather than heroes who earn those cheers organically. John Cena and Roman Reigns are both extremely talented, and great at what they do. But for most of their careers they’ve been going against the grain in terms of fan reception.

Becky Lynch is the exact opposite. No one told us to cheer for her. If anything, it’s been the exact opposite. But like Daniel Bryan before her, she’s started an uprising from the audience. And such uprisings should never be ignored, lest the main event of Wrestlemania be drowned out by chants of “Becky! Becky! Becky!”

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

Undertaker’s Next Opponent: Who Ya Got?

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Like it or not, the Undertaker’s wrestling career is not over. I was sore about that for awhile, given how emotional everything was at Wrestlemania 33. But what’s done is done.

From a wrestling standpoint, we’ve actually seen more of ‘Taker this year than we have in some years past. He worked John Cena at Wrestlemania, Rusev at the Greatest Royal Rumble, and was part of a six-man tag at a house show at Madison Square Garden. We’ll see him at least once more in October when he wrestles Triple H at WWE’s “largest live event ever” in Australia. There’s also been some buzz about him wrestling at Summerslam

But who do you put in the ring with an icon who has virtually nothing left to prove?

The answer is: Whoever can tell the best story with him. Not to mention who can have the bring out the best in him between the ropes.

There are some obvious names that come to mind. Some are a little more obscure than others. Either way, I’ve got five. Ring the bell, ya’ll…

1. John Cena

This, of course, is the most obvious one. After the Dean Man surprised Cena in April, these two have unfinished business. Business which may be on the table as soon as Summerslam. If not, then next year’s Wrestlemania. John Cena vs. The Undertaker isn’t exactly a match you can do at Backlash.

Cena has an easy in for a rematch. Let’s be honest: Undertaker surprised him after being silent for weeks. Cena called ‘Taker a coward before Wrestlemania, and in theory, he can still go out there and say that’s true. “Prove you’re not a coward, Undertaker. Fight me on an even playing field.” Give us the build-up we all thought we’d get for Wrestlemania this year.

2. The Miz

When you read as many comic books as I do, you tend to hear the saying, “A hero is only as good as the villain he fights.” In other words, a better bad guy means a better good guy. And you won’t find a better bad guy in WWE these days (on main roster at least…) than the Miz. He’s as deserving as anyone of a match against the Undertaker.

When Miz actually has something of substance to talk about, he cuts a great scathing bad guy promo. That’s why I see him running Undertaker down for being “old,” “irrelevant,” and “a relic from the ’90s.” I can’t imagine the match would be much to write home about. But it would make for a feel-good moment for ‘Taker, and a hell of a career moment for the Miz.

3. Roman Reigns

The other really obvious name. Undertaker and Roman Reigns have unfinished business.

At Wrestlemania 33, fans still had a bad taste in our mouths from Brock Lesnar breaking the Dean Man’s fabled undefeated streak. So seeing ‘Taker lose at Wrestlemania again was the last thing they wanted to see. Much less to Roman Reigns. It was yet another attempt to pass the torch to Roman, and give him his big crowning moment as the company’s top guy. The next night on Raw, he got one of the loudest negative reactions in company history.

You know what would get an equally strong positive reaction? Having ‘Taker pin Roman after a Tombstone. And at some point, having him tell “the Big Dog” that this will always be his yard.

Dolph Ziggler

When he came back to Raw, Dolph Ziggler talked a lot about how the locker room had become lazy and complacent. In his mind, who could be more lazy and complacent than the Undertaker? A 53-year-old man who wrestles sporadically, while still cashing major paychecks? And did we mention he gets treated like a god? Meanwhile, Ziggler works his ass off on a full-time schedule and gets a fraction of the respect ‘Taker does. For that character, that’s more than enough motivation to spark a conflict.

Why Dolph and not his run-in buddy, Drew McIntyre? No disrespect to Drew, who had to fight and claw his way back to WWE stardom. But I see Ziggler getting the better match out of Undertaker, bumping around and what not. And like the Miz, Ziggler cuts a hell of a scathing promo. This one is a long shot, but it’d be worth it.

AJ Styles

The Phenom vs. The Phenomenal One. I’ve been calling for this one since Wrestlemania 32. I was pitching for AJ to come out, say he came to WWE to face the very best, and then challenge the Undertaker. He can do the exact same thing now. Only he can do it more credibly, given all he’s done in the company.

To be clear, I’m not advocating for Undertaker to win the WWE Championship again. But this match doesn’t need the title anyway. This match has all the natural intrigue in the world. And is there any doubt that if anyone in the entire industry is capable of getting one more great match out of the Undertaker, it’s AJ Styles? I sure as hell don’t.

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition on Twitter.

 

SDCC Trailer Reactions: Aquaman, Fantastic Beasts, and More!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

A butt-load of trailers dropped at San Diego Comic Con this weekend.

Let’s talk about some, shall we?

Aquaman:

Yes, this looks pretty in an Avatar sort of way. But I’m not super optimistic about this one. Aquaman as a dude bro didn’t work for me in Justice League, and it certainly doesn’t work as its own movie. I see people rejecting this movie, much as they rejected Green Lantern. So it’s fitting in that sense that I can’t look at Jason Momoa without seeing Roman Reigns…

SHAZAM!

Kinda wish they’d gone a little younger with Billy Batson. But other than that, I can’t bring myself to complain about much here. SHAZAM! looks like it might be fun. And if these DC movies have been lacking one thing above all else, it’s that. Plus, Zachary Levi is a good choice.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

In the first one, they overhyped Bryan Cranston’s role in the movie to the point that it looked like Godzilla vs. Walter White. Then they got rid of Cranston in the first act. This one looks like Godzilla vs. Eleven. So if it’s anything like last time, we’ll see Millie Bobbie Brown about as much as we saw Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace.

This trailer only served to remind me that we have to wait another year for the next season of Stranger Things

The Walking Dead, Season 9:

It’s fashionable to crap on The Walking Dead nowadays. And in all fairness, the bloom is indeed off this undead rose. But I’m still into it. Especially Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan.

So with Andrew Lincoln (Rick) and Lauren Cohan (Maggie) both leaving the show, The Walking Dead season 9 has the unenviable task of writing out two major characters. The downside there is rather obvious. But the upside is that the show is going to look markedly different than the comics from here on out. From a predictability standpoint, that’s a great thing.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald:

“What Mr. Scamander fears above everything else is…”
“Having to work in an office, sir.”

Join the club, kid.

Mrs. Primary Ignition will end up taking me to see this.But honestly, I’m having trouble caring. Call me when they start covering what happens after Deathly Hallows.

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition on Twitter.

WWE’s Most Fascinating People of 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Yeah, I’m still stealing this Barbara Walters bit. What can I say? I like it. I’ve been able to do it every year (with one exception) since 2012.

This list is subjective, as always. These are 10 people who, for reasons both good and bad, stood out to me over the course of 2017. We’ve got unlikely champions, call-ups from NXT whose journeys have been more tumultuous than anticipated, a veteran who’ll be on the Wrestle Kingdom 12 card, and many more.

So let’s get down to business…

1. Jinder Mahal

Jinder was one of WWE’s biggest gambles this year. The company made him their poster child for their attempts to break into the Indian market. In the process, Mahal went from glorified enhancement talent to WWE Champion in a matter of weeks. With help from the Singh Brothers (the former Bollywood Boyz), Mahal scored three consecutive pay per view victories over Randy Orton. He went on to retain over Shinsuke Nakamura at Summerslam and Hell in a Cell.

Though he held the title for most of the year, Mahal became a controversial figure for a variety of reasons. The question of whether he deserves this sudden shove into the limelight has always been there, with his matches and promos being highly critiqued. Also, the nature of his physique has been in question for quite some time. Many have suggested his increased musculature has come from steroids, or other performance enhancing drugs. The racial overtones used in his program with Nakamura did him no favors either. He actually got “That’s too far!” chants during a promo in October when he said of the Japanese star: “You always rook the same.”

Signs pointed to Mahal being the champion and the focal point of WWE’s two December shows in India. But by the time they got there, not only had the belt been taken from Jinder, but one of the shows had been cancelled. The “Maharaja” was still in a high profile match with Triple H. But he ended up eating the pin. He’d also been pulled from a headline match against Universal Champion Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series.

While success inevitably breeds envy and criticism, it’s safe to say the Jinder Mahal experiment hasn’t worked out the way anyone hoped. He may have an uphill battle ahead of him if he wants to stay near the top of the card.

2. Asuka

The “Empress of Tomorrow” made her long-awaited debut on the main roster in October. While she’s maintained her undefeated streak, Asuka has run into a familiar problem. Like many of her peers, she’s had trouble translating her NXT success to the main roster.

To WWE’s credit, they brought Asuka in with a ton of hype. But her match with Emma at No Mercy left fans underwhelmed. She scored a hard-fought victory, but she wasn’t presented as the dominant destroyer they’d come to know. They quickly switched gears, placing her in enhancement matches akin to those done for Braun Strowman and Nia Jax early in their Raw tenures. But you only get one chance to make a first impression, and for Asuka it had come and gone.

Thankfully, they seem to know what they have in her. She was the sole victor in the women’s match at Survivor Series, has started to score decisive wins over lower card wrestlers like Alicia Fox and Dana Brooke, and has publicly declared her intent to come after the Raw Women’s Championship. Asuka would be a perfect pick to win the recently announced Women’s Royal Rumble Match.

Asuka got off to a rocky start. But she seems to be picking up speed. I’d certainly hate to see her end up like a certain other woman on the Raw roster…

3. Bayley

Bayley’s 2017 was…okay. Just okay. She started out fairly strong, defeating Charlotte Flair on Raw to win her first Raw Women’s Title, and then breaking Flair’s pay per view undefeated streak shortly thereafter. She would go on to retain the title in a multi-woman match at Wrestlemania. Things seemed to be going well for her.

But by mid-year she’d fallen off track. WWE writers seem unsure of how to write Bayley. To an extent that’s understandable. Her character is very unique. You don’t see very many relentlessly positive, squeaky clean underdogs in 2017. But when paired against the spunky brat Alexa Bliss, she became a wishy-washy wet noodle. Bayley needed to show fire against Alexa. We needed to see that she could get angry when she had to. We didn’t get that. Instead we got bad dialogue, capped off by an absolutely atrocious “This Is Your Life” segment that was meant to garner sympathy for her.

By the time summer game around, she was getting the opposite. There were noticeable boos for WWE’s resident hugger, even when she was sidelined with a separated shoulder. These days, Bayley essentially just another name on the roster. From a creative standpoint, that’s an absolute travesty. Bayley is a special kind of character, who at one point had a special connection with a variety of fans. If there’s one person in all of WWE who could use a little character rehabbing, it’s her.

4. Matt Hardy

When it came to Matt Hardy, we spent most of 2017 waiting.

But just a few weeks ago, an on-screen breakdown led to the emergence of “Woken” Matt Hardy. The difference between Woken Matt and Broken Matt? Semantics. He’s got the same gear, the same hair, the same accent. For all intents and purposes, Broken Matt Hardy has come to WWE.

We haven’t seen a lot of him yet. It’s mostly been pre-taped promos, going back and forth with Bray Wyatt. Die-hard wrestling fans were already sold on Broken Matt. But the more casual fans watching Raw are seeing him for the first time. So far so good. Crowds have been reacting fairly well, and Matt has even breathed a tiny bit of life back into Bray.

There’s no shortage of options as to what can be done with this alternate version of Matt Hardy. In Impact, Jeff got in on the action as Brother Nero. But Matt’s wife, father-in-law, and children also became on-screen characters. We saw outrageous stuff on location at the Hardy compound. We saw a friggin’ drone. If Matt has a decent amount of control here, which he reportedly does, he could be one of the best parts of Raw in 2017.

5. Enzo Amore

Enzo faced a lot of criticism in 2017, but wound up proving a lot of his haters wrong. He started the year doing his usual shtick with Big Cass. Now he’s got the Cruiserweight Title and has essentially been made the star of 205 Live.

He could very well have fallen off the map after Cass went heel on him in June. But he ended up cutting some of the most passionate, scathing promos we heard on WWE TV all year. When Cass went down with an injury, Enzo was quickly moved into the Cruiserweight Division and put with Neville. Smart marks cried foul when Enzo somehow pinned Neville for the Cruiserweight Title in September. But the double turn that followed, turning Enzo heel and Neville babyface, turned out to be amazing. Enzo’s mic work and undeniable star power are undeniable. He’s earned his spot.

Enzo reminds me a lot of an early incarnation of the Miz. He won’t win any prizes for his wrestling. But his character work is on a different level than almost everybody else. When he talks, you believe him. In WWE, that’s a golden ticket that can take you almost anywhere. Enzo can be a singles wrestler, a tag team wrestler, a manager, an announcer, or whatever they need him to be. If Enzo is as tenacious and hard-working as Miz, he’s going to be around a long time.

And as long as we’re talking about him…

6. The Miz

Mike Mizanin’s suitability for pro wrestling stardom has been questioned from the start. Mainly because of his background as a reality TV star. But his wrestling ability has also been heavily critiqued. Throw in his success, including headlining a Wrestlemania, and he’s been a polarizing figure amongst die-hards.

But 2017 seemed to be the year Miz finally won over his critics. The majority of them anyway. He’s no slouch in the ring. But it”s mostly been a matter of his mic work and the presentation of his character. The continued inclusion of his wife Maryse, the slick suits, the good to great promos week after week, the incorporation of Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel as his “Miztourage.” It’s all come together. Now, roughly seven years after he main-evented Wrestlemania, he once again feels like a main-eventer. In 2017 he continued to make the Intercontinental Title feel prestigious again. He defended it, and in some cases traded it with, the likes of Dean Ambrose, Jeff Hardy, and Roman Reigns. It’s likely he’ll challenge for it again when he returns. Then again, perhaps it’s time for a new frontier…

Perhaps 2018 is the year Miz once again becomes WWE Champion.

7. Sami Zayn

Under the WWE umbrella, Sami Zayn was always portrayed as a sentimental underdog. It’s a role he wears well. Case in point, his work with Braun Strowman early in the year. But the underdog role isn’t always a good one to have. Yes, cases like Rey Mysterio Jr and Daniel Bryan will always exist. But the thing about being an underdog is that you sometimes have to lose. A lot. And despite what some in the WWE creative department would have you believe, wins and losses matter. As such, Sami Zayn’s time on the main roster as “the Underdog From the Underground” hasn’t been the most eventful. Even Sami himself has dropped hints of his frustration at how things have gone.

Then Hell in a Cell came around, and Sami aligned with nemesis Kevin Owens against Smackdown General Manager Shane McMahon. In the days to come it became clear that the underdog had become the villain.

It was just what the doctor ordered. Zayn tapped into a side of his personality that’s delightfully annoying, and become an atypical sort of heel. He described it on a podcast as: “…like when you’re dating a girl and she kind of has these quirks, but they’re lovable. But once you break up, it’s like, ‘oh, God! She was so annoying! … the things you used to love about her, now, you hate about her because you don’t love her anymore.”

Lovable or not, it’s working. Zayn has been a lot of fun to watch these past few months, and at the Royal Rumble he’ll be wrestling for the WWE Title. Now that’s progress.

8. Shinsuke Nakamura

Hopes were high this past spring when Shinsuke Nakamura was called up to Smackdown.    Performers like him don’t come by every day, and having him be on American television for the first time (not counting NXT) was a big deal. But WWE isn’t exactly known for giving their performers the best material to work with, even less for letting the performers be themselves. So the question of how he’d fare loomed ominously.

Coming from someone who hasn’t seem much of his work in Japan, Nakamura’s time on the main roster has been underwhelming. Almost a year later, it still feels like we hardly know the guy. The announcers call him things like “Artist” and “Rock Star.” But those are empty nicknames. Who is this man? Why is he the way he is? Granted, they’re not exactly writing Shakespeare for him. His program with Jinder Mahal was a low point for WWE television all year, particularly when the racial stuff started coming into play.

Still, bad creative can’t take away the performer Nakamura is. The crowds are still into him. There’s even been a little bit of buzz about him winning the Royal Rumble Match this year. Hope isn’t lost for Nakamura’s WWE tenure yet. But the guy needs a hit. That one great match. That one great promo or vignette. Something.

9. Braun Strowman

There’s an argument to be made that Braun Strowman, not Roman Reigns, should be WWE’s poster boy. At the very least, he’s not hearing the kind of boos Roman is.

It’s fitting then, that Strowman’s best work this year was with Reigns. They had an uncanny amount of chemistry, especially when you consider Strowman’s experience level. He’s only been around a few years. But these matches with Reigns have been damn good. That image of Strowman heaving a chair at Roman’s head is as awesome today as it was when it happened.

More importantly, Braun Strowman represents a tremendous success on WWE’s part. They’ve created a genuine homegrown star. And unlike a John Cena or a Roman Reigns, the male fans aren’t threatened by him. So if WWE went with Braun, he could potentially have a relationship with the audience that we haven’t seen from a “chosen one” in a long time. A top babyface that the fans actually want to cheer for. Imagine that. This could be it. This could be the year the “Monster Among Men” stands at the top.

10. Chris Jericho

One of WWE’s most fascinating people just wrestled Kenny Omega at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s biggest show of the year.

Chris Jericho’s choice to compete at Wrestle Kingdom 12 made a hell of a statement about NJPW’s foray into the United States, and its potential as an alternative to WWE. It also speaks volumes about who Chris Jericho is as a performer, and his resolve to continually challenge himself and grow. As if he wasn’t already the most versatile and multi-faceted performer in wrestling history.

Jericho also ended his latest WWE tenure on a high note. Coming into 2017, his rapport with Kevin Owens continued to be highlight of Raw every week. It culminated in a “Festival of Friendship,” which was arguably the most entertaining segment all year. Jericho and Owens weren’t nearly as compelling as enemies. But Owens got a Wrestlemania victory out of the deal, which is a nice feather in his cap. It’s a feather in Jericho’s cap too, as he got to help elevate yet another wrestler on their journey to WWE superstardom.

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

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A WWE: Then. Now. Forever. #1 Review – A Labor of Love

WWE: Then Now Forever #1, Seth Rollins, CoverTITLE: WWE: Then Now Forever #1
AUTHOR: Dennis Hopeless, Ross Thibodeaux, Rob Schamberger, Derek Fridolfs, Daniel Bayliss.
PENCILLERS: Dan Mora, Rob Guillory, Schamberger, Fridolfs, Bayliss. Cover by Mora.
PUBLISHER: BOOM! Studios
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: $3.99

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Wouldn’t be much of a pro wrestling/comic book web site if I didn’t talk about this one. While most WWE/comic book crossovers are fairly cringeworthy, this one is pretty damn good. It may be the best one that’s ever been done, save the epically campy Ultimate Warrior book from the ’90s.

Usually, licensed WWE comic books try to make the characters work outside their own environment. In 2010, Titan Comics started publishing WWE stories involving immortals, cultists, time travel, etc. Papercutz also published strange crime-noirish stories involving WWE stars in the fictitious “Titan City.” Then of course, you had the stuff Chaos Comics put out in the early 2000s. Now that was weird.

BOOM! Studios does venture into the outlandish and bizarre. But our main story is character driven, and very grounded…at least by WWE comic book standards. It also does something that, to my knowledge, has never been done before. It’s in-continuity with WWE television.

WWE Then Now Forever #1, 2016Written by Dennis Hopeless, the story takes place in the days prior to the Shield breaking up. Our main character is Seth Rollins, who WWE fans know will turn on Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns. We look at the brotherly dynamic between the three as they have a high-stakes confrontation with the Wyatt Family. But this brotherly bond will soon come to an end, as Rollins strikes out on his own at the expense of his Shield brothers.

What impressed me the most about this issue was how Hopeless handled Dean Ambrose. He’s not the main character, but the authenticity in his voice gives credibility to the story. Ambrose is an interesting blend of coolness and instability, with just a touch of goofiness. If you go overboard with any one of those, it’s not Dean Ambrose. For the most part, Hopeless nails it. Some of the dialogue is shaky, but it’s still some of the best I’ve seen in a wrestling comic book.

Dan Mora’s art is very expressive and animated. Very fitting for a world like this, with characters this flamboyant and colorful. Not to harp on Ambrose, but there’s a shot of Ambrose’s face right after Seth’s betrayal that actually tugs at the heartstrings. It’s all pretty highly muscled, but that’s hardly a sin.

We’ve got a lot of back up content here. First up is a story about the New Day using their time machine (Remember that?) to “bring hope and cheer to those cynical and despairing times” in WWE history. This is the kind of stuff I expected. As a five-page back up, it’s harmless enough. But if this had been the main story, I wouldn’t have brought this one home. Not my thing.

WWE Then Now Forever #1, Rob Schamberger, Eddie Guerrero, Sasha BanksWWE artist Rob Schamberger has a four-pager showing us a young Sasha Banks watching Eddie Guerrero on television, and then flashing forward to some of her career highlights. We play up the idea of her being a role model for girls, and her being a part of Eddie’s legacy, as Mick Foley mentioned a few weeks ago. In many ways, these are beautiful pages. Especially as someone who watched Eddie when he was alive.

We then go to a two-page cartoon featuring ’80s stars Tugboat and Earthquake. It looks very “Steamboat Willie” inspired. An unexpected, and very creative surprise.

The issue closes with some one-page tributes to stars like Steve Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker, and Dusty Rhodes, courtesy of Daniel Bayliss. Not a huge fan of how ‘Taker was rendered. But most of this is good stuff.

WWE is in good hands with Dennis Hopeless and the crew at BOOM! Studios. This feels like a labor of love, whereas before it often felt like a labor of…obligation. This could be a lot of fun.

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