WWE Superstar Shake-Up, Night One: From Smackdown to Raw

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Hmmm. Alright. I called some of this. Not a lot of it, though. But to be fair, it’s only half over. We’ll see who Smackdown gets tonight.

They didn’t do much to improve the presentation of the Superstar Shake-Up this year. We had Kurt Angle come out at the top of the show and tell us that the picks had already been made. That helped matters. But I still miss the draft aesthetic, and the reaction shots when a wrestler realizes they’ve been drafted. Plus, the word “draft” just sounds better than “Superstar Shake-Up.” The latter feels like a Vince-McMahonism.

Anyway, let’s see who we got here. With one exception (which is noted), all these names are moving from Smackdown to Raw

Jinder Mahal and the Singh Brothers

Jinder doesn’t necessarily gain much from moving to Raw. If anything, it pushes him further away from Heavyweight Title contention. They’ve already pulled him out of a major pay per view match with Brock Lesnar. But his chances don’t look good when he’s next to the likes of Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman, and Samoa Joe.

It should be noted that technically only Sunil was drafted to Raw. But obviously they’re not splitting them up. Jinder is clearly better with two lackeys as opposed to one.

The Riott Squad

I’m into this move. The biggest thing Ruby Riott, Liv Morgan, and Sarah Logan had going against them was that they were unknowns. The majority of mainstream fans didn’t know who they were. So they looked weak compared to Absolution, who had Paige as their centerpiece. On Raw, the Riott Squad can not only play to a larger audience, but benefit from more camera time. Who are these girls, anyway? Let’s tell some stories here.

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

While some are anxious to see Owens and Zayn go to separate shows, I’m dead set against splitting them up now. They make an amazing duo. So long as they don’t go against one another any time soon, this works just fine. I actually wouldn’t mind seeing them go for the Raw Tag Team Titles against a babyface Sheamus and Cesaro. But of course, they could always find their way into the Universal Title picture. I wouldn’t even mind seeing Sami go against Braun Strowman again…

The Miz (to Smackdown)

I called this one. But to be fair, so did a lot of people. Fans were calling for Miz to go back to Smackdown for months now. Then Daniel Bryan was cleared, and the pot sweetened ten-fold. I’d love to see Bryan vs. Miz saved for a show like Summerslam or Wrestlemania. But I’m not sure they can wait that long. This match has been brewing for a long while. But if they take their time, they could have a hell of a draw on their hands.

Breezango

This is a lateral move for Fandango and Tyler Breeze. These guys have their role as comedic players, and as long as this act is together that’s likely all they’ll be.

Natalya

Welp, here’s Ronda Rousey’s first pay per view opponent. They even put them on camera together. And hey, Natalya is about the best choice they could have made. She can take care of Ronda out there, and a win over her will mean something. I imagine they can get a pay per view match out of her and Nia Jax as well. Nattie is going to be a solid utility player no matter where she goes. That’s going to pay off here, as she’s about to get one of the biggest matches of her career against Rousey.

Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre

I don’t think this is what anyone expected Drew McIntyre to do upon his return to the main roster. Frankly, I assumed he was Smackdown-bound. But this alliance with Dolph Ziggler isn’t the worst thing in the world. Ziggler is often tasked with helping introduce NXT call-ups to the main roster. That’s essentially what this is. Though I’m not sure McIntyre needed his help.

There was a lot of talk on Twitter about how the three members of 3MB, Drew MyIntyre, Jinder Mahal, and Heath Slater, are now all back on the same show. Pure coincidence, I assure you. But one I imagine they’ll take advantage of at least once. They’re certainly not getting back together, so we can rule that out.

Baron Corbin

Like Jinder, Corbin is done no favors by being placed in a larger pond. He seemed to be getting lost in the shuffle on Smackdown. Granted, a pair of embarrassing losses last summer did him no favors. But something is missing with Corbin. Here’s hoping they can find out what it is. Maybe all he needs is to work with the right opponent. In hindsight, his stuff with Dean Ambrose on Smackdown awhile back was actually pretty good.

Bobby Roode

Cue the heel turn. Roode is venturing dangerously close to white-meat babyface territory. He had a decent start on Smackdown, but now it’s time to get him back on track.

Mojo Rawley and Zack Ryder

The former Hype Bros weren’t drafted together. But I find it interesting they both wound up on Raw. I had pitched sending Mojo to Raw specifically to get him away from Ryder. We need to start seeing him as something besides “the guy who turned on Zack Ryder.” Thus, separating them. I’m curious to see if this is just a coincidence, or if they actually plan to have them work together on screen again.

Chad Gable

Before he got injured, Jason Jordan had a pretty good thing going for him as a heel. When he comes back, they’ll need to re-establish him a little bit. Putting him back with Chad Gable would be an interesting way to do that. They can continue to tell that nepotism story with Kurt Angle, only this time apply it to American Alpha and the tag team division. This could, of course, lead to a split and feud between Jordan and Gable.

Gable gave an interview last night about starting a singles run, and I certainly don’t want to rule that out. Technically, Raw is still connected to 205 Live. So a run at the Cruiserweight Title could be in his future. But I truly think they brought him over to capitalize on his history with Jordan. Whatever that entails, it will be his job first and foremost.

The Ascension

Not sure why they bothered with this one. The ship has long since sailed for Konnor and Viktor. At least as the Ascension. Had they stayed on Smackdown, I actually would have been open to seeing them repackaged as the new Miztourage. Something to show us a new side of these guys, as it did for Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas. But now? I don’t know. It feels like they just moved these guys so they could be squashed by the Authors of Pain.

Maria and Mike Kanellis

As it was with the Singh Brothers, technically Mike was the only one drafted. But they wouldn’t move him without Maria.

I’m guessing, however, that they’ll want to repackage him. Maria getting pregnant obviously threw a monkey wrench into their whole “power of love” gimmick on Smackdown. Which might have been for the better, actually. While I maintain it could have worked, it clearly wasn’t. So a repackaging is clearly in order. For now, just getting back on television would be a step in the right direction.

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

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WWE Superstar Shake-Up Predictions: The Miz, Jeff Hardy, Becky Lynch, and more!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

First of all, I hate the name “Superstar Shake-Up.” Can we please just go back to calling it the draft?

Secondly, now that Wrestlemania has come and gone, it’s once again time to reshuffle the deck between Raw, Smackdown, NXT, and even 205 Live. It’s no secret that last year Smackdown got gutted. My hope is that they’ll do a better job of leveling the playing field this year. We can also hope they’ll inject a little more drama into it than simply having the draftees just walk out there.

With that, here’s what I guess you’d call a “Mock-Up Shake-Up” of sorts. My various draft picks. Some of these have been talked about for quite awhile, and some are a little more fresh. We’ll kick it off with a man who just returned to television this week…

Jeff Hardy to Smackdown

Now that Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt are a team, Jeff is free to be his own man. And as we’ve seen in the past, when he’s his own man Jeff is pretty damn good. As in, multiple time former Heavyweight Champion good. There are a lot of really interesting  dance partners for Jeff on Smackdown, not the least of which is the WWE Champion himself, AJ Styles. Whether WWE would once again trust Jeff in a lead role remains to be seen. But he’s stood at the top of Smackdown before. He can do it again.

Becky Lynch to Raw.

Becky Lynch is criminally underutilized on Smackdown. I mean it. It’s actually a crime, and someone should be prosecuted for it. The fans love her, and she’s got all the talent in the world. Let’s give her a new sandbox to play in, and maybe she can pick up some speed again. A feud with a heel Sasha Banks would be a great start. But you’ve also got Asuka and Ember Moon on the Raw side of things. And lest we forget Ronda Rousey. While I doubt she’d win, seeing Becky face Ronda in a battle of the arm bars could be fun.

Bayley to Smackdown

Sasha Banks and Bayley need to get away from one another. They’ve been teasing a big match between them for months, but they’ve missed their window. At this point, they’d be best served to just draft Bayley to Smackdown and come back to it later. The Bayley character can thrive if she’s put with a good heel. Carmella might be able to fill that role. But a better candidate might be Natalya. That could work really well  if they don’t make the same mistakes they made with Bayley and Alexa Bliss.

The Usos to Raw.

Jimmy and Jey reinvented themselves on Smackdown, and became one of the best teams in the entire industry. But now it’s time for something new. For months now, the Smackdown Tag Team Division has essentially been the Usos and the New Day. So like Sasha and Bayley, they need to get away from each other. A move to Raw can facilitate a feud between the Usos and the Bar, not to mention the newly called-up Authors of Pain. The prospect of the Usos vs. The Revival doesn’t exactly send me running either.

Finn Balor to Smackdown

Finn Balor can be one of the top guys in WWE. But it’s been a year since he came back, and he has yet to fully regain his momentum. Competing for real estate with the Shield didn’t help matters, nor did an embarrassing program with Bray Wyatt. Finn should be one of the cool kids on the block. So let’s move him to Smackdown and see if he can gain some traction in a smaller pond. Putting him on the same roster with AJ Styles could open up some really interesting doors. And that’s to say nothing of guys like Shinsuke Nakamura, Sami Zayn, and even Daniel Bryan…

Naomi to Raw. This one is two-fold. Firstly, if her real-life husband Jimmy Uso is moving to Raw, then it would be a dick move not to put Naomi there as well. Secondly, Naomi got a nice momentum boost by winning the Wrestlemania Women’s Battle Royal. So a move to Raw would be more impactful. In terms of new opponents and feuds for Naomi, she already has some history with Sasha Banks and Alexa Bliss. Nia Jax is a route they could take, but I can’t say I’m overly enthused about it. Ditto for Asuka and Ember Moon. Actually, looking at the number of babyfaces compared to the number of babyfaces in the Raw Women’s Division, Naomi may want to consider a turn to the dark side.

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson to Smackdown

The Club, meaning the trio of Finn Balor, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson, have something very important going for them: The Cool Factor. At Raw 25, they put those three guys in there with DX to do the whole “Too Sweet” thing. It was something of a passing of the torch moment, and that says a lot. So if Finn is going to Smackdown, Gallows and Anderson need to join him. Hopefully they can establish themselves as more serious contenders for tag team gold, as opposed to having silly Halloween matches with Heath Slater and Rhyno.

Mojo Rawley to Raw.

I’m moving Mojo to Raw primarily so he can get away from Zack Ryder. Yes, the Hype Bros were a thing. The team served its purpose and got Mojo on to the main roster. But it’s over now, and the feud between the two has been tepid at best. Mojo needs somebody new to work with, and bounce his charisma off of. For whatever reason, I can specifically picture him working against either Titus Worldwide or Goldust. The latter certainly wouldn’t hurt, as he could get a hell of an education.

Sonya DeVille to Smackdown

Now that Paige is the Smackdown General Manager, I think we can safely say Absolution is no more. Ergo, there’s no reason Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville need to be together anymore. And as I’ve said before, Sonya desperately needs to drop this MMA persona she’s got. Or at least develop it a little more. Putting her on the same roster as Ronda Rousey does her no favors at all. So lets shift her over to Smackdown and see what happens. Worst case scenario, Paige is there now. So they can use that association to develop her character a little more.

Randy Orton to Raw.

Orton doesn’t necessarily need to go to Raw. But he does need a change. The whole Viper persona has been stale for a few years now, and I think the “RKO Outta Nowhere” thing is a little old too. It felt like they only gave him the United States Title so he’d have something to do at Wrestlemania. At the very least, moving to Raw will give Randy a fresh environment to work in, with fresh opponents. If he says babyface, he can go against Samoa Joe or Elias. If he goes heel, as he apparently wants to, they can put him with Braun Strowman, Bobby Lashley, or even have him feud with Seth Rollins again. Either way, a move to Raw would be a bandage on the larger problem.

The Miz to Smackdown

It seems like he says it every week. But it’s true. Miz has indeed made the Intercontinental Title feel important again. In 2018, if you think of that title, you think of him.

So let’s take it away from him.

In other words, let’s use the momentum the Miz has built to push him into the WWE Title picture on Smackdown. The current champion is AJ Styles, one of the most well respected and best pure wrestlers on the planet. With respect he’s essentially the opposite of the Miz. They’d make natural opponents. A move to Smackdown would also open the door for a match with Miz’s longtime rival Daniel Bryan. While I’m not sure they can wait that long, WWE could do that match at next year’s Wrestlemania if they wanted to.

However, if Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel wind up staying on Raw, the Miz is going to need a new Miztourage. Whether it’s Maryse or Dallas and Axel, when it comes to Miz the garnish completes the presentation. With a new baby in the house, I expect we won’t be seeing Maryse for awhile. So we’ll need to put somebody new with him…

Enter Fandango and Tyler Breeze, a.k.a. the Fashion Police. Their comedy gimmick has run its course. So let’s let them bump around as Miz’s lackeys for a little while. A heel turn could do them some good.

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

 

Wrestlemania Predictions: Women’s Evolution

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

I can never keep it straight. Apparently it’s the “Women’s Evolution” and not the “Women’s Revolution.” Either way, the women of WWE are as prominent a part of this year’s Wrestlemania as they’ve ever been. In addition to the battle royal on the pre-show, we’ve got both the Raw and Smackdown Women’s Titles on the line, and a major attraction involving Stephanie McMahon and Ronda Rousey.

(For more predictions, check out our look at the Kick-Off Show matches, and some of the title matches.)

WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Nia Jax

Alexa Bliss really should have dropped an F-bomb. She should have called Nia Jax fat. She’s not, of course. But you talk about a way to get heat in this ultra-PC age…

I’ve gradually become a Nia Jax fan over the last several months. I dig what she does for body positivity. I don’t know if you’d call her an unlikely babyface. But from a character standpoint, I’ve enjoyed her progression.

Obviously Nia is going to get the win and the title eventually. I’d actually like to see Alexa cheat to win here, and give Nia yet another humiliation to overcome. But given this story, I don’t know that they’re brave enough to have the hero not prevail at their big show. So congratulations will be in order for Nia Jax on this one.

PREDICTION: Nia Jax

WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Charlotte Flair (c) vs. Asuka

This match has the misfortune of being on the same card as AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura, Daniel Bryan’s big return, and most likely John Cena and the Undertaker. Thus, it’s not necessarily getting all the attention it deserves. But make no mistake about it: This is a big one. Most likely red letter day in the careers of both women. Though in all honesty, I’m not sure what kind of match we’re going to get here.

Charlotte would be a fine choice as the one to break Asuka’s streak. But it’s not going to happen here. Asuka has only been on the main roster for about six months. Her shtick is just starting to catch on with mainstream audiences. Making such a big change would be a terrible mistake. Unfortunately for Charlotte, the streak must go on.

PREDICTION: Asuka

Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle vs. Stephanie McMahon and Triple H

Do I even need to predict this one? It’s been pretty obvious from the get-go. Ronda makes Steph tap out, probably with an arm bar. The only potential variation on that is Hunter tapping to the arm bar.

I wouldn’t expect us to see a lot of Ronda in the ring. Not just because she’s so new to wrestling, but because Ronda’s fights were famously quick. Women’s revolution notwithstanding, I expect Kurt and Triple H do most of the actual wrestling, with Ronda getting the finish.

You know what I hope we see here? A taste of who Ronda was in the UFC. Bad ass Ronda Rousey. Death stare Ronda Rousey. Gladiator Ronda Rousey. It won’t be exactly the same, of course. But that’s what I want to see. That’s what everybody wants to see.

PREDICTION: Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle

More predictions to come!!!

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

Kurt Angle’s Acting Woes, Plus Ponderings From Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

You know who we really could use right about now? The Big Show.

Or at least someone like Big Show. People can say what they want about the pace he cuts in the ring. But that guy can take WWE’s scripted material and act the hell out of it. We’ve seen him break down and cry on live television. He can garner an amazing amount of sympathy for someone so big and powerful. Case in point, those segments from a few years ago when Stephanie McMahon would blackmail him into doing the Authority’s bidding.

Kurt Angle really needs some acting tips from the giant. Because they’re trying to cast him in a similar role heading into Wrestlemania. Coming off the contract signing at Elimination Chamber, it’s obvious Ronda Rousey’s first WWE match will see her team with Angle against Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. Rousey has taken to sticking up for the Raw General Manager as he’s been condescended to, belittled, and as we saw on Raw this week, outright attacked by WWE’s power couple.

The trouble is that in trying to recite WWE’s scripted dialogue, Angle often comes off like a bumbling fool. A likable fool, perhaps. But still a fool. That undercuts the story they’re trying to tell. And one with pretty high stakes, considering all they’ve invested in Rousey. On paper, Angle is a fantastic choice to team with Rousey. But depending how they script this, he could wind up dragging her down.

There could be one saving grace, however. Remember when Triple H surprised Angle with a Pedigree at Survivor Series? The next night on Raw, Angle marched up to him and said if he ever did it again, “…you can take this job and shove it, because I’m comin’ for you!” We’re inevitably going to see that Kurt Angle again in the next few weeks. The Raw General Manager will go away, and the Olympic champion will return. That’s got the potential to be a hell of a moment, and Rousey’s presence will only accentuate it.

If they can’t make this thing work from a story perspective, then maybe they can pump in a little more of that big fight feel….

Other Ponderings From Raw:

Alexa Bliss and Mickie James open the show. Asuka emerges, but walks into a trap set by Bliss, James, and Nia Jax. Sasha Banks and Bayley join the fight, and a six-woman tag match is made. The babyfaces prevail, despite Bayley refusing to tag Banks out of a predicament. God damn. Alexa Bliss cuts a career promo for the second night in a row. This woman is money on the mic. I don’t know if it’s right to call her an overachiever or not. But she’s damn sure maximized her minutes.

Supposedly, Sasha Banks and Alexa Bliss had legit heat at one point. Supposedly Banks didn’t think she had legit passion for the business. Seeing how well they work together, I wonder if that’s still a thing…

Banks isn’t a full fledged heel yet. But she’s damn close, and she’s that much better for it.

Question: Why exactly did Mickie James turn heel? I missed that memo.

John Cena talks about his failure at Elimination Chamber, challenging the Undertaker, and earning a match at Wrestlemania by moving to Smackdown. The big news item coming out of this segment was Cena announcing he will not be wrestling the Undertaker in New Orleans. Mind you, that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. It just means he said it’s not happening. Time will tell.

Personally, I think ‘Taker shows up at Wrestlemania. The fan interest is obviously there, as illustrated by how the crowd popped when Cena said his name. But after what we saw from him last year, I wouldn’t be heartbroken if he is fact done. If anyone has earned the right to stay retired, it’s him.

Bray Wyatt destroys Heath Slater and Rhyno, says the “great war” with Matt Hardy is far from over. STOP LAUGHING, you idiot. You lost a big match. On pay per view. Again. You’re on the road to becoming as much of a jobber as…well, Heath Slater and Rhyno.

After an impassioned promo from the Miz, the Intercontinental Champion loses a non-title match to Seth Rollins. Finn Balor comes out to upstage Rollins’ win. Miz is in a really special place right now. He was always a good mic guy. He became a great mic guy. But when he cuts promos like the one he did on this show, he proves he’s becoming one of the greatest promos of his generation. Not just the passion he spoke with, but some of the little entitled character bits he threw in there. And of course, he got to look in to the camera, which never hurts a damn bit. Homie was in the zone out there.

I wasn’t around last week to talk about it. But Seth Rollins’ stock is pretty damn high after last week. Probably as high as it’s been since he turned face. I’m well aware I’m not the first to say this, but I’ll say it anyway: Last week Rollins put on one of the best performances in Raw history. That being said, a lot of fans got swept up in the afterglow of the match, declaring Rollins could now feasibly be put against Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania. Assuming Roman Reigns went down with an injury, of course.

No. Just, no.

I’ve never taken anything away from this guy’s talent or his drive. He’s one of the best in the world right now. But the Seth Rollins character isn’t ready for a big match like that. He took a big step in that direction week. But he still needs to give us a little more to latch on to. Calling him the “Kingslayer,” or worse “the Architect” does nothing for his identity.

It’s a shame, especially when you look at some of the stuff this guy does out there, i.e. that freakish Frog Splash across the ring.

Finn Balor def. The Miz. So are we looking at a Fatal Four-Way for Wrestlemania? Miz vs. Rollins vs. Balor vs. Strowman? Or is Strowman even in the IC Title hunt anymore? You’d think he would be after what we saw in the Chamber Match.

Roman Reigns: “Brock Lesnar is an entitled piece of crap who hides behind his contract.” They were smart to play this card. It’s similar to the one Cena played against the Rock several years ago. The loyalty card. The full-timer/part-timer card. The “I care and he doesn’t” card. It’s simple, but effective. Because it’s rooted in truth. Roman is there almost every week, Brock isn’t.

Between Alexa Bliss and the Miz, I’ve talked a lot about mic work this week. While I wouldn’t call Roman a great talker, he can deliver big when he’s got something to sink his teeth into. He showed us that here tonight.

I highly doubt it’ll get Roman cheered any more than he would have been otherwise. But it’s about as good a shot as they can take.

The Bar def. Titus O’Neil and Apollo in a 2/3 Falls Match to retain the WWE Raw Tag Team Titles. The champs gloat on the mic. Sheamus and Cesaro have a point. Who have they got left to beat? Is it time to call up a team from NXT? This close to Wrestlemania, that seems doubtful.

Braun Strowman def. Elias via disqualification. This one really dragged. But both these guys are hot right now. I’ve actually been on quite the Elias kick lately. To the point that I actually looked forward to his song routine this week.

So are these two headed to Wrestlemania? Seems like that might be the case…

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least it’s not David Otunga.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WWE Royal Rumble 2018 Predictions. Plus: This is the XFL…again.

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

He’s really going to try this, isn’t he? I can’t believe it…

As most of you reading this already know, Vince McMahon announced this week that the XFL will be revived in 2020.

This revamped version of the league, which hosted one season in 2001, will attempt to come at the game from a different perspective. McMahon noted the league will emphasize safety, be non-political, and exclude players with criminal records.

Professional football has never been my thing. But even I can see that Vince is once again aiming for disenfranchised NFL fans. He still doesn’t wish to compete directly, as the XFL season will kick-off after the NFL season has wrapped up. The league will supposedly not effect McMahon’s role as chairman and CEO of WWE.

As facepalm worthy as this is, I do give Vince credit. The guy wants a football league, and he’s going to try again regardless of the inevitable criticism and ridicule. There’s a lot to be said for that. He’s also not using WWE money this time. He’s started a new company, Alpha Entertainment LLC, specifically to pursue outside entertainment endeavors. Did we mention he’s 72 years old. That old catchphrase rings true: Vince really does have balls the size of grapefruits.

That said I have virtually no interest. I’m a pro wrestling guy. Vince McMahon is also a pro wrestling guy. WWE has always been his bread and butter, and almost every time he’s tried something else it’s ended badly. The original XFL obviously comes to mind. But he also tried the World Bodybuilding Federation in the early ’90s. In 1998 he bought the Debbie Reynolds Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for $10 million, which nothing came of. WWE Studios hasn’t exactly set the movie industry on fire, though at least it’s still alive after more than 15 years. You might even lump Linda McMahon’s senate campaign in there. So despite what WWE would have you believe, Vince McMahon is not a genius.

But let’s not miscast him as a fool, either. At his core, Vince McMahon is a gutsy and stubborn entrepreneur who takes calculated risks and is willing to endure failure. Most of his greatest successes are things he’s willed into existence. The global expansion of WWE. The creation of Wrestlemania. His ratings war with Turner Broadcasting. Now he’s trying to will the XFL into existence once again.

Part of what makes Vince so successful is his penchant for both spectacular success and spectacular failure. So in the end, win or lose, this XFL resurrection will be a sight to behold. It’s hard not to root for the guy sometimes. Even when it seems like he’s stubbornly beating a dead horse.

With that, let’s take a look at the Royal Rumble. I’m skipping the kick-off show matches this year, as we’ve already got a lot to cover on the main show…

2/3 FALLS MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
The Usos (c) vs. Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable

I’m going with Benjamin and Gable on this one. The Usos have had the belts for awhile now. As babyfaces, it might do them good to chase a heel team. Benjamin and Gable have also been growing on me as complaining heels. Gable in particular has done some really nice mic work, which is a good sign as far as a potential singles run is concerned. So let’s give ’em the belts and see what happens.

By the way, do Benjamin and Gable have a team name? I was never a fan of the “World’s Greatest Tag Team” name. Nothing like that, please.

PREDICTION: Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable

WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan (c) vs. The Bar

A win for Sheamus and Cesaro might help everybody here. I’d wager the Bar are on their way to a babyface turn. The respect factor is getting tougher to ignore as the weeks go by. On the flip side, Jason Jordan is starting to come into his own as an annoying heel. A loss to the Bar can easily transition into a feud with Rollins, who could sorely use a program with some heat to it. An audience clamoring for Rollins to curb stomp Jordan doesn’t sound so bad.

I can’t say I’m any less tired of seeing Rollins wrestle Sheamus and Cesaro. But even so, this one could be the dark horse to steal the show.

PREDICTION: The Bar

HANDICAP MATCH FOR WWE HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

If the Raw Tag Title Match doesn’t still the show, this one probably will. These three have all proven they can turn in epic pay per view matches. The 2-on-1 format also lends itself to good storytelling. So I’ve got high expectations.

I don’t see why Styles wouldn’t retain here. Though it doubt it’ll be without controversy. Expect to see Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan during this one, leading to a confrontation or a dispute that allows Styles to pick up a win. Something is obviously going to happen with Bryan and Shane at Wrestlemania. It’s just a question of what, and whether it involves Bryan lacing up his boots again…

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

TRIPLE-THREAT MATCH FOR WWE UNIVERSAL HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Braun Strowman vs. Kane

In terms of match quality, these three are fighting an uphill battle. Brock’s matches are hit or miss depending on who he’s in there with. His match with Strowman at No Mercy was a groaner. And despite his status as a WWE icon, Kane’s matches tend to be slow. It might be better if they got this one over with quickly.

On the other hand, Brock’s multi-man matches have historically been pretty great. The fatal four-way match at Summerslam, the triple-threat with John Cena and Seth Rollins a few years back. If Brock, Strowman, and Kane can pique the audience’s interest early, they could overachieve

Either way Brock wins, hopefully pinning Kane. He’d better pin Kane. So help me God, if he pins Strowman again…

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

2018 WOMEN’S ROYAL RUMBLE:

I was pretty excited for this until I read that Stephanie McMahon will be on commentary for it. From a publicity standpoint, I get it. They want her to be heavily associated with the “women’s revolution.” But I have no desire to hear that woman talk for an hour. Especially when there are multiple women they could plug in who’d be a better fit. Lita comes to mind, as she did commentary for the Mae Young Classic. But there’s also Renee Young. What about Charlotte Flair and Alexa Bliss? They’re the two champions and they’re not wrestling that night. So have them lend some insight to the match. Yes, a five person announce desk is overkill. But it beats having Stephanie out there.

You know who really deserves to win this match? Becky Lynch. Crowds love her, and she deserves a big match at a Wrestlemania. They’ve also played up her friendship with Charlotte for awhile now. That could set up a great reluctant opponents storyline. But I have very little faith they’ll do the right thing with her.

Nia Jax is a possibility. Notwithstanding the beatdown Asuka put on her, they’ve established her as a dominant force from the start. She and Alexa Bliss have been connected as far back to their NXT days. A match between them could be intriguing, but I don’t see it for Wrestlemania. More likely she gets ganged up on and eliminated, or someone surprises her.

The big favorite is Asuka. She’s finally starting to pick up speed on the main roster as an undefeated, unstoppable force. In that respect, winning the first Women’s Royal Rumble Match could be like tossing gasoline on a fire. But it seems so obvious. It feels like they want us to think it’s her just so they can swerve us.

There are 30 women in this match. As of this writing, only 18 have been announced. So I’m making this prediction with more than a third of the participants unknown. As I’ve said, I’m inclined to think some of the women we saw at Raw 25 will be here. Trish Stratus, Jacqueline, Nikki Bella. Maybe Torrie Wilson and/or Kelly Kelly. They need bodies in this thing. We almost have to see some NXT names. Ember Moon, Peyton Royce, Billie Kay, Nikki Cross, etc. Maybe Shayna Baszler.

It should be noted that Ronda Rousey has denied she’s in this match. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. It just means she’s denying it.

In the end, I’ve got to go with Asuka. Yes, it’s obvious. But they’ve gone the obvious route with Rumble Matches before. Asuka vs. Alexa Bliss is one of the more intriguing matches they can do on the main roster right now. For that matter, so is Asuka vs. Charlotte. They really can’t lose with her.

PREDICTION: Asuka

2018 MEN’S ROYAL RUMBLE:

Oddly enough, there are only 17 names announced for the Men’s Royal Rumble compared to 18 for the women. You wouldn’t think that’d be the case, as they’ve obviously got so many more male wrestlers.

Like the John Cenas and Randy Ortons of the world, Roman Reigns is always a top contender for the Rumble Match. The buzz since Wrestlemania 33 has been about him headlining this year’s show with Brock Lesnar. So in theory, he could take this one home….*shudders*

I doubt it, though. I can’t see them wanting the Rumble Match drowned out by boos again. So we’ve got to look elsewhere. So with Lesnar occupied on the Raw side, we’re looking for a challenger for the WWE Championship on Smackdown. Going into Wrestlemania, your champion is probably going to be AJ Styles. Who do you put with AJ?

Finn Balor’s name jumps out immediately. Yes, he’s on Raw. But we’ve seen guys win the Rumble and jump ship before. Balor is with Gallows and Anderson now, and we’ve established that they have a history with AJ in Japan. And of course, AJ was with Gallows and Anderson in WWE for awhile. I’m not sure how much they’d want to go into all the New Japan/Bullet Club stuff. But they can always touch on it and then branch off into their own story. Remember, Finn pinned AJ in that throw-together match at TLC. Balor can be a marquee player for WWE. He just needs the right story. This could be it.

They could do AJ Styles vs. Randy Orton. But the match Orton had with Bray Wyatt left a bad taste in people’s mouths. Plus, Orton just won it last year. So I’d steer clear of him.

The only other name that makes sense is Shinsuke Nakamura. That’s a bigger risk than some would admit. Nakamura is clearly special and obviously a star. I can’t complain about most of his matches. (The Jinder Mahal stuff notwithstanding.) But I don’t know that he’s connecting with the audience at a level that justifies a Rumble win. The language barrier is part of it. But I still don’t feel like I know anything about this guy. Yes, he’s a legend in Japan. But why? What makes him such a “Rock Star” or an “Artist” or whatever they want to call him?  I’d like to see Nakamura win the title. I’d like to see him work with AJ. But if they still don’t have a solid grasp on how to portray him, maybe now isn’t the time.

Then again, they put the title on Jinder Mahal. If they can take a risk with Jinder, they can take a risk with Nakamura. A win for him win would get a big reaction. It could also make for a feel-good story about the Japanese legend who comes to America and wins the title. I’m not overly confident with this pick. But Nakamura has a shot this weekend.

PREDICTION: Shinsuke Nakamura

MISCELLANEOUS RUMBLE MATCH PREDICTIONS: 

I expect Elias to eliminate Cena, and going on to face him at Elimination Chamber. He’s essentially getting the role Samoa Joe was supposed to have.

There’ve been rumors about EC3 making his debut in the Rumble Match, now that he’s left Impact Wrestling. More power to him. It did wonders for AJ a few years ago.  He went somewhere else and made a name for himself. He deserves another shot.

As they’re in Philadelphia again, a surprise ECW entrant seems likely. Tommy Dreamer, maybe? They could always throw Rhyno in there. But as an ECW fan, I’m still not over Rhyno dressing up like Mrs. Clause.

So does Tye Dillinger have to come in at number 10 every year now?

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Mia Khalifa vs. the Wrestling Industry, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Wrestling fans can be an easily triggered group. Retired porn star Mia Khalifa found that out the hard way last week.

Khalifa was on a YouTube show last week discussing Ronda Rousey’s probable move to WWE, and said: “This is where her career will go to die. I have no respect for the WWE. I don’t think it’s a real sport. …You go from real fights to wearing a sequin unitard and pretending to fight?”

Her words obviously struck a raw nerve with wrestling fans, and eventually numerous wrestlers. The most notable response came from Shane Helms, who tweeted: “I’m not gonna get upset that a Porn Star doesn’t respect Pro Wrestling. She’s entitled to her opinion. Our bodies take a pounding. and well … so does hers.”

Numerous news and entertainment websites have picked up on the Khalifa/Helms story, with Helms catching a little bit of backlash for supposedly slut-shaming her. Khalifa has subsequently accepted an invitation to an indy wrestling show, and says she isn’t opposed to having her opinion challenged. She also says she doesn’t hate wrestlers, and just loves talking trash. I dunno. I think I hear backpedaling…

I can’t say I was bothered by what she said. One of the things wrestling fans collectively need to work on is being less insecure about what the world thinks of the sport we love. Who cares what other people think of it? We love it. That’s what matters.

The truly ironic thing about this is that both the porn industry and the wrestling industry come with an obvious social stigma. Even in 2017, with political correctness at a fever pitch, we still can’t get past “Ew, she did porn!” and “Ew, wrestling is so fake!” I’d like to think that someday we as a society will understand that everybody has to make a living somehow. If you’re doing something by choice and not hurting anybody, where’s the shame in that? Especially if it’s something you love, and that other people enjoy. Most of the wrestlers we see on a week-to-week basis are obviously passionate about what they do. As I understand it, you pretty much have to be in order to endure the hardships that come with the business.

As for Mia Khalifa, I don’t know if she enjoyed her adult film career. But she’s obviously made a living off it, and has been afforded opportunities she wouldn’t have had otherwise. So live and let live.

I will say this, though: It might not be wise to throw shade at Ronda Rousey, of all people. Yes, she lost her last two fights. But she can still murder most of us with her bare hands. Just saying…

Ponderings From Raw

Samoa Joe opens the show, calls out Roman Reigns. Sheamus and Cesaro emerge, springing a trap. Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins get beat down as well. Joe’s promo came off really scripted, especially once he tried to up the intensity. When he started talking about Roman’s “compatriots Seth and Dean,” and the Shield being “a grand stable of imperial champions,” the promo was dead.

The one line that did stick out? Joe referring to Ambrose and Rollins as Roman’s lap dogs. If they wanted it to, that line could be the spark for somebody’s heel turn down the line.

Paige and Mandy Rose def. Mickie James and Bayley. Nothing special here from a wrestling standpoint. Oddly enough, the only person that stood out to me here was Sonya Deville. She only had a couple of lines in the pre-match promo. But she was the most believable of the group. More believable than Mandy Rose, that’s for damn sure.

Another back and forth pre-taped promo airs between Bray Wyatt and Woken Matt Hardy. I ended up watching last week’s segment with Matt and Bray several times during the week. Unlike most of what we see on this show, it holds up to repeat viewings. This one didn’t fare nearly as well. They essentially did the same stuff as last week, with Matt hamming it up more. They’d best bust out a new trick or two next time.

Finn Balor def. Curtis Axel. Balor’s not exactly in there with main event talent (no offense to the Miztourage). But at least he’s not getting mauled by Kane. That’s a plus.

Seth Rollins def. Sheamus. I’ve reached the point where I automatically tune out whenever a combination of Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Sheamus, and Cesaro are in the ring together. They’ve been wrestling each other on TV for months, and it’s this kind of repetition that strangles the life out of Raw. But word has surfaced that Sheamus is dealing with spinal stenosis, the same condition that ultimately ended the careers of Steve Austin, Edge, and Sting.

Though you certainly wouldn’t know Sheamus is having neck and back issues. The Blockbuster he took off the top rope, his use of the Stretch Muffler, the Superplex followed by the Falcon Arrow, etc. Pro wrestlers are damn near superhuman. But if history is an indicator, Sheamus is wrestling on borrowed time. Here’s hoping he gets to make the most of it.

Cedric Alexander def. Mustafa Ali, Tony Nese, and Ariya Daivari to advance closer to a Cruiserweight Title Match. The elephant in the room during this match was obviously Rich Swann’s arrest for domestic battery and false imprisonment. As one would imagine, he’s been indefinitely suspended. Really ugly situation.

Drew Gulak was on commentary for this match, and they were doing a bit where he played a politician pivoting and avoiding questions. It was entertaining enough.

Alexander and Ali did that hockey fight spot that we used to see Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn do all the time. I hate that spot. Hate it, hate it, hate it.

Roman Reigns def. Cesaro in an Intercontinental Championship open challenge match. Excellent match. Compelling story with Cesaro targeting Roman’s arm, which lead into a series of exciting false finishes. Something of an abrupt ending with the Spear. But quality work nonetheless.

We’ve long since passed the point where we can deny what Roman brings to the table every week. As for Cesaro, every time he gets in there with a big name he delivers awesome matches. Every. Time. It’s a damn shame he may never get a chance to be a big name himself.

When Absolution gangs up on Asuka, the women’s locker room empties to fend them off. Yeah, these Paige promos are officially bad. When it comes to Absolution’s dialogue, less is more.

Samoa Joe def. Dean Ambrose. Surprisingly, this one didn’t do it for me. Maybe a little too slow in the early going to grab my attention. Happy to see they protected Ambrose a little bit, though.

The Disaster Artist just came out. So more eyes are now on The Room and its star Tommy Wiseau than ever before. At some point, can somebody give Tommy a Kane mask just so we can see how close the resemblance is? For whatever reason, I’m interested.

Kane vs. Braun Strowman went to a double count-out. A post-match brawl ends with Strowman Powerslamming Kane through a table. The stipulation here was that the winner would get to face Brock Lesnar at the Royal Rumble. My guess is it winds up bring a three-way. I can’t say I have high expectations for that one.

But I didn’t have high expectations for this one either, and it wound up being pretty harmless. I expected this one to be pretty slow and sluggish, not because of Braun, but because of Kane. As great as he can be, his slower pace can work to his own detriment. When they were putting this match together, they countered that by keeping the wrestling portion of it short and to the point. They then threw in the weapons to up the stakes. They’ve consistently been smart with how they’ve protected Strowman in these main event matches, and that needs to continue into the new year.

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