Triple H and 205 Live, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Over the last few weeks, 205 Live seems to have gained something it’s desperately needed from the start: Buzz. And the one we have to thank for it is, of all people, Triple H.

Or rather, the real-life Paul Levesque. Levesque, who serves as WWE’s Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events and Creative, has become the new showrunner for 205 Live. As such, the name of the game seems to be reemphasizing the wrestling, and toning down some of the more cartoony elements in the show.

Case in point, this week’s episode. We had two lengthy matches, one between Akira Tozawa and Mark Andrews, and the other between Drew Gulak and Tony Nese. The presentation was very much akin to what we’d previously seen from the Cruiserweight Classic, the UK Championship tournament, and quite often from NXT. Very much sport-oriented, with the announcers largely focused on what’s happening in the ring as opposed to traditional Vince McMahon style “storytelling.”

Backstage segments with new GM Drake Maverick are being used as a reset button of sorts for various wrestlers. We saw one last week with Gulak and Nese, which led to what we got on this show. This week we got one with Jack Gallagher, who was told to start wearing standard ring attire again.

We’re also introducing names from the NXT and the UK rosters. We spent a good amount of time getting to know Wales native Mark Andrews. Former NXT Tag Champ Buddy Murphy was also profiled, with the story being about him reinventing himself and cutting weight to make the 205 Live roster.

This is good. This is a change. One that makes sense, given 205 Live airs on the WWE Network. They can skew a bit more toward the devoted wrestling fans who pay that money every month rather than casual viewers. We’ve got plenty of time for that on Raw and Smackdown. The time has come to make 205 Live what it should have been from the start: An offshoot of the Cruiserweight Classic. That’s where WWE fans were first introduced to most of these guys. Let’s see if we can get some of those folks back.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn ambush Baron Corbin and Dolph Ziggler before they can wrestle for a spot in the title match at Fastlane. Shane McMahon later makes Corbin vs. Owens and Ziggler vs. Zayn. If Corbin and Ziggler win their respective matches, they get added to the Fastlane match. So Ziggler is apparently a babyface now, for no apparent reason. That’s fine, as Ziggler has proven he can do well in either role. I just wish they’d come up with a coherent reason for him to be back after voluntarily relinquishing the US Title. Later in the show, he talked about wanting to main event Wrestlemania. That’s a fine reason, but he still looks like a dope for walking out.

I don’t know why I’m even complaining at this point. As far as the writing and booking for Ziggler are concerned, this kind of thing is par for the course. What’s more, he reportedly just signed a new two-year deal for $1.5 million annually. Hey, at least he’s well paid.

Charlotte Flair def. Sarah Logan. At this point, Logan stands out the least among the three Riott Squad members. So I had trouble getting invested in this match for that reason. They made a point to talk about how Charlotte has now beaten both Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan, and is now targeting Ruby Riott. So what happens if she beats all three? Do they have to break up?

Baron Corbin def. Kevin Owens to earn a spot in the WWE Title Match at Fastlane. The finish to this one was pretty obvious, and it dragged as a result. I was surprised to see Corbin get the clean win, though.

Randy Orton attempts to accept Bobby Roode’s open challenge for the United States Title, but Jinder Mahal interrupts. A fight breaks out, and Jinder is left standing tall. So Jinder was trying to goad a reaction out of Orton for only being number 9 on the Smackdown Top 10. But the story behind the list is that it’s decided by votes from fellow wrestlers, and is essentially a popularity contest. Why would a loner character like Orton care?

On the other hand, this could open the door for a Randy Orton heel turn. It wouldn’t be a big stretch. He could talk about being disrespected by both the wrestlers and the fans, and throw in that he apparently wasn’t even invited to Raw‘s 25th anniversary show. And if he really wants heat, he can retire the RKO.

The New Day def. Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable. This match spun out of a segment about pancakes. No, seriously.

How Gable was able to hit that roll-through German Suplex on Big E, I’ll never know. Absolutely sick strength.

Dolph Ziggler def. Sami Zayn to earn a spot in the WWE Title Match at Fastlane. Like the Owens/Corbin match, my interest in this one was pretty low. They were starting to get me toward the end, though. Hell of an Exploder Suplex.

So now we’ve got a Fatal Five-Way for the title. I’d love to know why they’re so fixated on these five-man matches as opposed to four or six-man matches. Comparatively, it’s such an awkward number. The good news is that with AJ Styles, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, and Dolph Ziggler in there, they’d have to try pretty hard to make this a bad match.

Conspicuous by his absence this week was Shinsuke Nakamura. Now that we’ve got five guys in the main event, and what appears to be a three-way between Randy Orton, Bobby Roode, and Jinder Mahal, who does that leave for Nakamura? Rusev, maybe? Could they feed him a lower midcard guy like Mojo Rawley?

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Women’s Royal Rumble Match, Plus Ponderings From Raw and Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve been gone for a few weeks. As such, I haven’t gotten the chance to talk about the upcoming women’s Royal Rumble Match.

Like almost everybody else, I’m cool with the match itself. I just wonder if this isn’t the beginning of WWE continuing to water down their big pay per view shows. Historically, there’s only been one Rumble Match each year. Now we’re getting a second. I imagine we’ll get the women’s Rumble at the top of the show, and the men’s Rumble as the main event. I’m very curious to see how that Philadelphia crowd reacts to two of these matches on one show. Does the novelty wear off for the second one?

I’m also curious to see how they fill those 30 slots. Almost every eligible woman on the main roster is now in the match. Factoring in Dana Brooke and Alicia Fox, who haven’t been announced yet, you’ve got 19 main roster names you can put in there. Thus, they have 11 spots they have to fill with either NXT talent or returning wrestlers. That’s a pretty big gap…

Obviously all of this is still very much in the experiment phase. Growing pains for the Women’s Division, which continues to grow. Much of what goes wrong (if anything) this year can be corrected in the years to come.

Ponderings From Raw and Smackdown:

Jason Jordan interrupts Roman Reigns’ opening promo, talks about a three-man group between Reigns, Jordan, and Seth Rollins. Finn Balor, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson interrupt. A six-man tag is made for the main event. This Shield reunion was apparently snake bit from the start. First Reigns has to bow out of their first main event together, and now Dean Ambrose goes down with an injury that’ll put him out for nine months. That’s a rotten break. But as these things sometimes are, it may be a blessing in disguise. Going away for awhile will hopefully freshen Ambrose up, and maybe even lead him back to heavyweight title contention.

Jason Jordan came off really well here from the standpoint of being a hokey, lame daddy’s boy trying to insert himself into the Shield. On the flip side, it’s great to see Balor teaming with Gallows and Anderson at long last. But the cool vibe they’ve got going for them gets undercut real quick when they have to recite that contrived WWE dialogue.

Sasha Banks and Bayley def. Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville. After a few weeks off, I still find Sasha Banks annoying. Absence doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder.

On Wrestling Observer Radio last week, Dave Meltzer mentioned that WWE has given up on Bayley. I’m inclined to believe him. But they’ve got no one to blame but themselves for that one. They wrote Bayley into a hole that she still hasn’t been able to escape.

Matt Hardy def. Curt Hawkins, stares down Bray Wyatt. Memphis was pretty quiet for this one, unless Matt was prompting them to chant. Then they had that weird staredown. Not the best night for the Woken one…

The Miz returns on Miz TV, announces he’s coming for the Intercontinental Title. This was pretty by-the-book. Good to see Miz back, of course. Raw missed him.

So apparently Miz and Maryse are getting a reality show on the USA Network. That’s actually a pretty big deal. I’m not a Total Divas fan at all, but that show caters to an audience that Raw and Smackdown obviously don’t. Given Miz’s background as a reality TV star, not to mention the couple’s work on Total Divas, this could be an awesome thing for them.

Cedric Alexander def Enzo Amore via count-out. Enzo retains the Cruiserweight Title. Ouch. Kudos to Enzo for finishing the match after getting busted open by a kick. Also, he was either selling really well, or he legit hurt his ankle. Did they have to call an audible on the finish?

Got a chance to catch Enzo on Straight to the Source, Corey Graves’ interview show on the WWE Network. Enzo spouted off a lot of catchphrases, but he still did damn good with that platform. He also seemed to set up a feud with Big Cass when he returns.

Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews def. Seams and Cesaro. So Dana Brooke is obviously with Titus and Apollo now. That business casual look actually suits her. It’s sort of a throwback to Debra’s old look. I would never have pegged “statistician” as a good role for Dana Brooke. But for now it’s working.

Kane ambushes Brock Lesnar after a Paul Heyman promo. Braun Strowman surprises them both, and then brings a lighting rig down on his Royal Rumble opponents. Firstly, since I didn’t get to say it last week, Brock sitting up and laughing at Kane’s Chokeslam was awesome. A really nice nod to the Undertaker.

So…that lighting rig obviously didn’t touch either Lesnar or Kane. That was pretty clear even on television. But still a pretty cool stunt for Strowman. And I liked the juxtaposition of Kane pulling himself back up with Lesnar getting loaded into the ambulance. I just wish the match stood a chance of living up to this hype.

Samoa Joe def. Rhyno, announces he’s targeting John Cena at the Royal Rumble. Crowd was dead for this one too. But in all fairness Rhyno has essentially become an enhancement talent. The final ECW Heavyweight Champion, ladies and gentlemen.

Finn Balor, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson def. Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Jason Jordan. The Miz and the Miztourage ambush Reigns after the match. Teaming with Gallows and Anderson is already producing results for Balor. He got to score the pin and beat a team that’s not the Miztourage!

AJ Styles is interviewed at the top of the show. A Handicap Match is made for the main event. AJ’s end of this promo was weird. For one thing, he actually said “smart booking” on WWE television, which feels like something he’s not supposed to say. He also seemed legit flustered at one point. That’s sort of where he was supposed to be coming from in the promo. But I’m not sure he’s that good an actor…

Becky Lynch def. Ruby Riott. It was confusing that Charlotte and Naomi came out after Becky. Neither of them were in the match…

During this match I tweeted: “If Absolution is Coca Cola, then the Riott Squad is RC Cola.” That’s to say, Ruby and her crew seem like a cheap knock-off. That’s a shame, as Ruby’s look is so distinct. The big difference is Paige. Between Absolution and the Riott Squad, she’s the only established WWE name. We’re still getting to know everyone else.

Mojo Rawley def. Zack Ryder to advance to the semi-finals in the United States Championship tournament. This was hardly a shock. Ryder was always going to end up putting Rawley over. Though I still maintain a heel turn would have worked for Ryder.

There’s not much suspense in this tournament, as it’s obviously going to be Bobby Roode against Jinder Mahal in the finals at the Rumble. I’m assuming they’ll give it to Jinder as a way to rehab him after his WWE title run.

Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable demand justice for the Smackdown Tag Team Titles. Daniel Bryan puts them in a Two-Out-of-Three Falls Match at the Royal Rumble. Gable and Benjamin were alright on the mic here. The big reason Benjamin was never able to reach that top echelon was he never had much of a personality. I think his opportunity to be a main-eventer has come and gone But if Gable can help bring a little more charisma out of him, he could still reap some big benefits down the road.

Breezango def. Rusev Day. Despite their loss here, Rusev and English should be tag champs before the year is through. For whatever reason, this Rusev Day thing is over.

AJ Styles, Randy Orton, and Shinsuke Nakamura def. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in a Handicap Match. Shane McMahon adds stipulations to the match when Owens and Zayn try to get counted out, and then disqualified. I’m never a fan of the babyfaces outnumbering the heels in Handicap Matches. It throws the psychology out of whack. You can make a legitimate case that Shane is the heel here. He’s essentially trapping Owens and Zayn in this match. But that seems to be what they’re going for. This Shane McMahon/Daniel Bryan thing is all about shades of gray. It’s interesting, but confusing at times.

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Paige and…PMS??? Plus, Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

So there’s a rumor going around that Vince McMahon originally wanted to refer to Paige’s faction with Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville as “PMS.”

Get it? Paige, Mandy, and Sonya? I don’t know if I buy it, considering how ridiculously sanitized everything on WWE television is today. But on paper, that’s about as much a Vince McMahon idea as you’ll ever find. Remember, this is the same guy who brought us the infamous Dr. Heiney sketch. Supposedly the idea was nixed once Stephanie McMahon caught wind of it.

And yes, I remember Terri Runnels and Jacqueline being called PMS in the late ’90s. I’m trying to forget that one, actually…

Though to be honest, I might have preferred the name PMS to what we got. Absolution? That’s got no kick to it. No zest, no flavor. What exactly is Paige being absolved for? The leaked footage? The Del Rio stuff? Probably not. WWE might brush across that on a network special, but I don’t imagine they’d go near it on a national level. So what gives?

Ponderings From Smackdown

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn open the show. Randy Orton surprises Owens with an RKO. Shane McMahon announces Zayn vs Orton in the main event, with Owens handcuffed to a ring rope. Over the years, I’ve seen so many of these opening promo segments where the authority figure winds out coming out and making a match. They’re paint by numbers at this point. But I loved this one. Heel Sami Zayn is a damn riot. He’s beautifully smug and irritating. “You only boo ’cause you know it’s true.” Classic.

Owens and Zayn had a decent script here too. We got some good stuff about Randy Orton doing dirty work for the McMahons over the years, and getting more opportunities than anyone else. If you didn’t know better, you’d think Owens and Zayn were the babyfaces in all of this.

On top of everything else, that surprise RKO was timed beautifully.

Rusev and Aiden English def. The New Day to earn a spot in the Tag Team Title Match at Clash of Champions. So is Rusev Day the actual name of the Rusev/English team? Because I’m okay with that. These two match up better than I ever expected.

The Bludgeon Brothers win an enhancement match. If we’ve learned nothing else since they split the rosters again, it’s about the power of the enhancement match. They did wonders for Braun Strowman and Nia Jax, and they’re using them now to try and rehab Asuka a little bit. So it’s good to give Harper and Rowan a mix of jobbers and established names.

Bobby Roode def. Baron Corbin via disqualification after Dolph Ziggler hits him with the Zig Zag. Ziggler follows it up with a Zig Zag to Corbin. Ziggler was sporting a camouflage hat and a five o’clock shadow here. As if he needed to resemble Shawn Michaels anymore…

Ziggler is obviously in the Triple-Threat Match at the pay per view to take the losing fall. It’s just a question of whether they give it to Roode or Corbin. I’m all for getting that title on Roode as soon as possible. Corbin’s not doing it for me.

Charlotte Flair def. Tamina Snuka. Charlotte to defend the Women’s Title in a Lumberjack Match against Natalya at Clash of ChampionsSupposedly Charlotte was supposed to feud with Tamina before they brought the Riott Squad in. Like this match, that would have been a snooze-fest. So let’s take a moment to be thankful for Ruby and the gang in that respect.

What I’m less thankful for is the dialogue they gave these girls. What Owens and Zayn got at the top of the show? This was at the polar opposite end of the spectrum. Extremely generic, cookie-cutter BS. I know next to nothing about Sarah Logan. And after that line she had about long-tailed cats in a room full of rocking chairs, I’m not sure I want to.

Randy Orton def. Sami Zayn, despite Kevin Owens escaping from the handcuffs.  Nakamura comes out to make the save. Owens and Zayn to face Orton and Nakamura at Clash of Champions, with Shane McMahon as the guest referee. If Owens and Zayn lose, they’re fired from WWE. I get the sense Orton really enjoys throwing Zayn around out there. Make of that what you will.

The next big step in Bryan’s apparent heel turn is obviously going to come at the pay per view, when he somehow grants Owens and Zayn the win. Though I guess it’s up for debate whether it’s an actual heel turn. There’s more gray area here than we typically see.

So do Owens and Zayn get anything if they win? A shot at the tag titles, perhaps?

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Batista on His Way Back? Plus, Ponderings From Raw and Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Batista made headlines during a recent guest spot on The Ross Report. The former WWE Champion and Guardians of the Galaxy star told JR he’s been in talks with WWE about a return to active wrestling. More specifically, for a run against Triple H.

Meh. Batista and Triple H? Been there, done that. Done it to perfection, actually. More than a decade later, how could they possible hope to match what they did leading up to Wrestlemania XXI? It’s a set-up for failure. At least on paper.

On the other hand, Batista against today’s stars? Specifically, against these five top stars? That might be a different story…

1. Roman Reigns
The obvious choice. Any time you have a big name from the past come back, you think about matching them with the company’s current big star. Like him or not, Roman is that guy. What’s more, he’s a guy that’s proven he can excel in big match situations. A Roman/Batista match would also pull in the kind of media coverage WWE clearly wants Reigns to get. This one might not be as far-fetched as people think.

2. Baron Corbin
Corbin is in a weird spot right now. Despite winning a Money in the Bank Ladder Match, and taking the United States Title from AJ Styles, he’s an underachiever. They want him to be a big star. But he’s having trouble living up to his push in terms of both his in-ring work and his mic work. That being said, he’s very easy to dislike. He’s got a natural smugness about him. Doing a returning hero vs. young punk story with Batista might help Corbin get some of his momentum back. Especially if they loosen the creative reigns, and let Corbin be himself out there.

3. The Miz
This is an easy one. The Hollywood star against the guy who thinks he’s a Hollywood star. What’s more, Miz is more well-rounded than he’s ever been. Not just his mic work, but his ring work. I don’t see it being a five-star classic. But I imagine they’d give us something worthwhile. Plus, we’d get to see Batista throw the Miztourage around. Tell me that doesn’t sound like fun…

4. Samoa Joe
This one would play more toward Batista’s MMA experience. He actually does have one fight under his belt, which is more than we can say for Joe. But that’d be a fine lens to look at this pairing through. It worked well enough for Joe and Brock Lesnar. What’s more, I’d like to see what Batista would do when faced with Joe’s intensity.

5. Kevin Owens
There’s a lot to be said about KO’s work with Goldberg earlier this year, and what came of it. But one thing is certain: Owens played his role about as well as one could hope. He might be the best and most consistent mic guy they have. His matches don’t leave much to be desired either. He’d have a nice loudmouth villain chemistry with Batista. There’s a little intrigue in the obvious physical differences between them as well. You’d be hard pressed to find a better option than KO.

Let’s hit some of the highlights from Raw and Smackdown

Ponderings From Raw and Smackdown:

Roman Reigns issues an open challenge for the Intercontinental Title, which is accepted by Elias. Reigns pins Elias later in the evening. Samoa Joe ambushes Reigns after the match. This was a pretty good match. Maybe the best Elias has had since coming to the main roster. This guy has yet to emerge as a real player. But frankly, I

This is the second week in a row we’ve had a crowd be really into Roman. They broke into a chant for him in the opening segment, and even Roman himself looked surprised. I doubt this will continue once the Shield separates again. But for now, WWE is getting what they want from this Shield reunion.

Matt Hardy has a “breakdown” following a loss to Bray Wyatt. Well, here it is. It’s almost a year too late. But it looks like we’re finally getting Broken Matt Hardy in WWE. That’s a great thing. Now it’s just a question of how much creative control Matt has, and what they choose to do with this character. It’s unlike anything WWE, or pro wrestling itself, has ever seen before.

Rich Swann def. Akira Tozawa, Noam Dar, and Ariya Daivari. This ended up being pretty good, for as little reaction as it got. Poor Rich Swann took that big suplex on the outside, which literally got no reaction at all. Why? Because no one in this Cruiserweight Division outside of Enzo Amore is over. It’s a damn shame. Especially for somebody like Swann, who is objectively spectacular.

The newly named “Absolution” triple-teams Sasha Banks, has a staredown with Asuka. The Asuka staredown was a nice teaser for the Asuka/Paige match I had no clue I wanted to see. I wish Asuka hadn’t had to back out of the ring the way she did. But they’ve got her looking unstoppable. Tough to ask for much more than that. As for Sasha, she’s still got go-away heat with me these days. So this beatdown from Absolution was almost the equivalent of a babyface turn for me.

Kane gets disqualified in a match with Finn Balor. He destroys Balor before Braun Strowman attacks his throat. There’s been a lot of buzz about Balor allegedly being removed as Brock Lesnar’s opponent for the Royal Rumble because Vince McMahon doesn’t think he’s over enough. If that’s really the case, this did him no favors. Just like having Kane beat him up the night after TLC did him no favors. Or having Kane lay him out with a Tombstone before leaving him for dead did him no favors. If the idea here is to have Balor get his revenge in a big way, then lets get on with it. He could be one of WWE’s biggest stars, but the negatives of this situation are outweighing the positives at this point.

Mojo Rawley turns on Zack Ryder following a loss to the Bludgeon Brothers. This was my first time getting to see Harper and Rowan doing the Bludgeon Brothers thing. Really cool entrance. That’s really all there is to say at this point. Lets see if they can gain any traction.

I legitimately thought it was going to be Zack Ryder going heel, with the idea being to push Rawley as a babyface. I think he could have handled that. I was very curious to see how they might have handled a Zack Ryder heel turn. Moot point now, I guess.

The Riott Squad def. Charlotte Flair, Naomi, and Natalya. Natalya abandons her team. Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan incapacitate Naomi. Charlotte is left on her own. I absolutely adore Ruby Riott’s look. She’s about as different as you can get. And of course, I’m glad to have three more bodies in the Smackdown women’s roster. But this trio of Ruby, Liv Morgan, and Sarah Logan is at a disadvantage when you compare them to Absolution over on Raw. With Paige, they have a very distinct voice and identity. The Riott Squad are essentially just three new girls. What’s more, three new girls who had to cut a really scripted, bland backstage promo before this match.

The announcers even made a point to reference the similarities between Absolution and the Riott Squad. That might lend some credence to the rumor that Paige will be revealed as the mastermind behind both groups.

Sami Zayn interferes in the Randy Orton vs. Kevin Owens main event, despite being banned from ringside. Owens picks up the win. They’re obviously positioning Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan against each other, with the idea that Bryan will end up aligning with the heel Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. The notion of turning Bryan heel is, on paper, ridiculous. It seems like they’ll be fighting the crowd every step of the way. But all three of those guys are extremely talented, and extremely charismatic in their own way. So I’m trying to keep an open mind…

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