Posted in Wrestling

Asuka Coming to Monday Nights, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

After quite a bit of speculation, we learned Monday night that Asuka will be coming to Raw this fall. I assume it will be some time next month, as she’s currently nursing an injured collarbone.

Of course, Asuka is famous to WWE fans as the woman who went undefeated as NXT Women’s Champion for 534 days. She’s never been beaten in a WWE ring, and comes to Raw with more momentum and notoriety than arguably any of her fellow female NXT alums. Her matches are almost always among the highlights of the NXT Takeover shows.

There are more talented women on the WWE roster right now than at any time in the company’s history. Though obviously a marketing term, there’s a lot of validity to the “women’s revolution” they’ve been touting for awhile now. The problem is because of the brand split, we only have a handful of women on Raw and Smackdown. As such, we get a lot of the same combinations week after week. This is especially problematic on Raw, where matches are often drawn out to fill time.

The mystique of Asuka revolves around her being dominant, turning back challenger after challenger. But that approach becomes problematic when she has to be on television every week, and she’s only got three or four women to work with. Granted, they’ll probably feed her enhancement talent at first, as they did with Nia Jax. But once they get past that phase of her run, what’s to stop Asuka from becoming just another face in the crowd? How do you maintain that mystique? And how do you maintain the importance of her undefeated streak with so few names to beat?

There’s not necessarily an easy solution here. But I think part of it involves bringing more women on to the Raw roster. There was a good amount of talk about Bayley getting booed on Raw a few weeks ago. The boos weren’t necessarily directed at her, but at the way she’s been handled creatively. Like everyone else on that roster, she’s been overexposed. What’s more, she was in there with the same handful of names every week. It was always Bayley and Alexa. Or Bayley and Nia. Or Nia against Sasha, who has Bayley in her corner. And of course, there’s Bayley and Sasha against Alexa and Nia.

Like anything else, if you get the same thing over and over again it becomes boring. It’s not exclusive to the Women’s Division by any means. I’ve been saying this Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Sheamus, and Cesaro for weeks now. And of course, all four guys were in the ring together again this week.

More bodies in the Women’s Division will give all the ladies more breathing room, so they’re not necessarily doing the same thing every week. In Asuka’s case, she’ll have more challengers to beat, and a bigger talent pool to conquer. Now, if only there was a convenient place WWE could find more women to add to their roster….

By the way, did you guys see the Mae Young Classic?

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns def. Jason Jordan. Reigns trades insults with John Cena again. This wasn’t what the Cena/Jordan match was. But this match still achieved its goal. Jordan’s not quite where he needs to be yet. But matches like these giant him valuable credibility.

One of these days Jordan is going to turn that double Northern Lights Suplex combo into a triple. Fans are going to lap that up. Myself included.

I credit WWE with trying to make this Cena/Reigns stuff as reality-based as possible, even going as far as to reference Roman’s failed drug test. Despite being obviously scripted, it’s created a lot of buzz. So again, it achieved its goal.

Sasha Banks def. Emma. So Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax were both out there on commentary, and they’ve got them sitting next to one another at the announce desk. I don’t understand why they’re still supposed to be friends. Nia turned on Alexa. So what motivation does Nia now have to keep up this alliance? On top of it all, they’ve got them awkwardly sitting next to each other like kids in detention. It just doesn’t make sense.

Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman call out Braun Strowman. Strowman lays out Lesnar yet again. The best part of this segment? The look on Lesnar’s face when he saw Strowman had gotten back up after the big German Suplex.

This is a good story, and one we haven’t seen before. Brock Lesnar is the underdog, and Strowman has all the momentum in the world.

Bray Wyatt def. Goldust. Wyatt wipes the paint off Goldust’s face to reveal, “He’s just a man!” Finn Balor comes out for the save. LOVED that somersault off the apron Goldust did. Remember, Goldust is 48 years old and has been wrestling for the better part of 30 years. As Corey Graves said, the man seems to age in reverse.

Sadly, they seem to have pulled the plug on his renewed push. The only reason he was even wrestling Bray was because he had face paint on. So they had Bray beat him. I stand by my statement that Goldust could be something big if pushed the right way. If they can strap the rocket to Jinder Mahal, they can do it with Goldust.

On the upside, Bray won a match. That’s more of a rarity than it should be.

A fight breaks out between Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Sheamus, Cesaro, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. This is a little more my style, in contrast to the Alexa/Nia stuff earlier. A bunch of pissed off guys unable to restrain themselves. I just wish it hadn’t led to yet another consequence-free eight-man tag.

A vignette airs for the arrival of Asuka. God damn. That was the best character introduction vignettes they’ve done in years. Loved the use of the different masks, the spooky lighting, the music, the little glimpse of her face at the end.

Good God, WWE. Pllease don’t screw this up…

Elias def. Kalisto. Obviously Elias is supposed to be a bad guy, insulting the crowd the way he is. But the people were with him. A babyface turn isn’t out of the question here…

John Cena def. Braun Strowman via disqualification. Pretty good match. They spent a good amount of time building to Cena slamming Strowman. So you knew it was going to happen at some point. That doesn’t make it any less impressive, of course.

Would have loved to see Brock come out and try to get some payback from earlier. I guess you can write that off strategic discretion.

So Strowman hitting Cena with the steps on the outside isn’t a DQ. but Strowman getting him in the ring and slamming him on top of the steps is? Just a ring of the bell. Is that so hard?

The Miz and Maryse announce their pregnancy on Miz TV. Enzo interrupts. Miz gets disqualified as he and the Miztourage beat down Enzo. First and foremost, congrats to Miz and Maryse. Mrs. Primary Ignition and I are actually working on headin’ down that road ourselves. So I appreciate it that much more.

“Don’t you dare ‘How you doin?’ my wife.” Good line.

Between the Cena/Reigns stuff and Miz talking about Enzo being hated backstage, they’ve been much more reality-based lately. It’s a marked improvement.

I assume all that stuff with the mic was supposed to be there. It seems like Miz and Enzo messed up a spot, then Enzo took the mic and made the “your wrestling is straight to DVD” comment. Either way, it felt spontaneous. That’s the important thing.

Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, and the Hardy Boyz def. Sheamus, Cesaro, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson. I fully expected Cena and Strowman to main event the show. So when it became clear they were going to close things out with this big tag match, I wondered if they were going to do a big angle. Nope. Business as usual. A hell of an anticlimactic ending to what ended up being a pretty damn good show.

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Posted in Wrestling

Big Show’s Big Night, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

In the wake of JBL announcing his departure from the Smackdown Live announce team, WWE has quickly chosen a replacement for him. And it’s none other than Corey Graves. Indeed, Graves will now serve as a color analyst on both Raw and Smackdown. Nigel McGuinness will take his place on Main Event and 205 Live.

I’ve come to love the work Graves does. In a relatively short amount of time, he’s become the most credible announcer WWE has at their disposal. Fans may not know just how valuable he is until the day we have to live without him. That being said, having Graves on both Raw and Smackdown is not a good idea.

Setting aside the “too much of a good thing” lesson we’ve learned from all these years of three-hour Raw broadcasts, having Graves on both shows dilutes the integrity of the roster split. In theory, Raw and Smackdown are supposed to be two separate brands. It’s not simply a matter of different wrestlers and championships. The shows are supposed to have different looks and feels to them. The announcers are a critical component in that respect, as they literally give the shows their respective voices. Having Graves call both Raw and Smackdown blurs that line of distinction. What’s worse, it opens the door for the further blurring of that line. We’ve already got Corey Graves on both shows, and John Cena has been a “free agent.” Since they’ve gone this far, who’s to say certain wrestlers can’t show up on both shows?

It’s this kind of thing that led to the discontinuation of the original roster split. The integrity had been eroded to the point that there was no point in continuing the charade any longer. It got so bad toward the end that our two Heavyweight Champions wrestling in throwaway matches in the middle of Raw

Graves is an amazing announcer. But there are plenty of other qualified people WWE can call on to fill JBL’s seat. We just had Jerry Lawler back on last week’s Raw. Give him a buzz. Have Lita or Renee Young tag in to bring a female perspective to things. Mick Foley was an announcer on Smackdown several years ago. Could they talk him into coming back? Hell, what about Daniel Bryan? He was awesome on the Cruiserweight Classic. Yes, he’s an on-screen authority figure. But that’s a dynamic we’ve rarely if ever seen. Why not try it?

I’m hopeful this winds up being a band-aid until WWE can find a new permanent announcer. On the plus side, this is obviously a hell of an endorsement for Graves. A well-deserved endorsement at that, and one that seems to indicate WWE knows just how good he is. But let’s not ruin him by oversaturating the airwaves with his voice.

Ponderings From Raw:

John Cena def. Jason Jordan. Roman Reigns come out, and another verbal sparring session occurs. Really strong opener with a nice story. Very wise of them to incorporate that old Smackdown footage of Cena and Kurt Angle. Cena’s facials were strong early on. He looked caught off guard by Jordan’s amateur style.

This was the finish I expected. But Jordan got what he needed. It was his first really strong performance as a single, and perhaps the first time he really lived up to the new role WWE has cast him in.

The word coming out of last week’s segment with Cena and Reigns was that most of it was indeed scripted. Reigns did forget his lines at one point, which prompted Cena’s “It’s called a promo” jab. They played off that a little bit here. But this was clearly designed to have Roman get one up on Cena, just as Cena got one up on him last week. Reigns called Cena out for a fight, and “Big Match John” stepped back. Advantage Reigns.

Both these guys said “I don’t respect you.” Expect that to be a focal point moving forward. WWE has been big on “respect” storylines for a long time.

Sheamus and Cesaro def. Heath Slater and Rhyno. Pretty straightforward stuff here. I’m just happy to see Cesaro and Sheamus wrestling guys other than Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose.

The Miz def. Jeff Hardy to retain the Intercontinental Championship. Really good match, with Miz getting a (mostly) clean win. I wasn’t expecting them to change the title, but Miz and Jeff planted that seed of doubt in my mind. That’s how you know you’re seeing two greats. When just for a few minutes, they make you feel like a kid again. When they make you believe.

Enzo Amore, Cedric Alexander, and Gran Metallic def. Noam Dar, Tony Nese, and Drew Gulak. Enzo’s promo went too long for me. But the crowd was with him, so I can’t call it a flop.

They need to find something more substantial for Tony Nese to do. I’ve been saying it for months, this guy’s got something.

Bray Wyatt challenges Finn Balor to face him without using his Demon persona. This booking defies traditional logic. Usually they’d start with Bray against Finn, and then move to Bray against the Demon. It reminds me of John Cena facing Randy Orton in a straight up singles match at the Royal Rumble several years ago, after we’d already seen them in virtually every other match under the sun.

Still, this was one of Bray’s stronger promos in recent memory. It probably helps that it’s been a few weeks since we’ve heard him ramble and laugh nonsensically.

Nia Jax and Emma def. Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks. The Raw Women’s Championship Match at No Mercy will now be a Fatal Four-Way between these women. I’m hoping we’re headed for an Alexa Bliss/Sasha Banks double turn. As talented as she is, and as hard as she works, Sasha seems to become more and more of a brat as the weeks ago by. I’m sure much of that is my own evolving perception of her. Though a lot of fans are angry at Sasha right now for calling out fans who stalk her in airports. I won’t fault her for that. Boundaries, people. Boundaries.

Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. Sheamus and Cesaro were at ringside to watch Rollins and Ambrose, but they wound up scrapping with Gallows and Anderson. I imagine we’ll see those two teams face off next week. As long as they’re staying clear of Rollins and Ambrose until the pay per view, I’m good. I doubt that’ll end up happening. But I’ll enjoy it for now.

Braun Strowman def. The Big Show in a Steel Cage Match. There was a lot of talk here about Big Show being in the business for 23 years. I’ve been watching this guy for about 20 of those years. So believe me when I tell you: This was the best he’s ever been. Remember, he’s 45 years old.

Let’s start with that pre-match promo. Epic. Positively epic. He had fire. He was articulate, He was passionate. You got riled up because he was riled up. Show has been a good promo for most of his career. But this might have been his best.

Then you’ve got the bumps he took for Strowman. He dusted off the top rope elbow (shown above), which wound up being the highlight of the match. Then he took yet another Superplex from the top. And after the finish, they did the spot where Strowman slammed him through the cage wall. That last one came off a little choreographed. But who cares? Remember, this man is seven feet tall  and weighs over 300 pounds. Any time he takes a bump like that it’s a huge deal. But three in one match? Unbelievable.

You’ve also got to take your hat off to WWE for making this feel like an epic main event. They did a tremendous job playing up the Superplex spot from April, particularly when they interviewed the referee who took that great bump. This really came off like a Godzilla vs. King Kong level confrontation between monsters. And you know it’ll be that much bigger when they inevitably face off again.

Awesome. There’s no other way to put it. Simply awesome. A career night for this 20-plus year veteran.

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Posted in Wrestling

John Cena, Roman Reigns, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Wow. It’s really happening. John Cena against Roman Reigns. At friggin’ No Mercy. Damn. So should we just change the name to Wrestlemania in October?

It’s not that I don’t want to see it. It’s just that the timing is really, really weird. This probably the biggest match WWE can do right now. It’s a match that should be headlining Wrestlemania. WWE even called it a “Wrestlemania-worthy main event.” I’ve said it before, and I’m sure this comparison has been made quite a bit: This is the modern day equivalent to Hogan vs. Warrior from Wrestlemania VI. So why not have it at Wrestlemania? Why put it at the end of the year?

It makes even less sense when you see it’s being placed on the same card with Brock Lesnar vs. Braun Strowman, which is the other biggest match WWE can do right now.

I’d like to think this means they have something even bigger planned once we get into 2018. But what? And please don’t say Brock vs. Roman for the Universal Title…

That’s what it is, isn’t it? It’s Brock and Roman again. Ugh. This stupid company.

Ponderings From Raw

Jeff Hardy wins a Battle Royal to earn a shot at the Intercontinental Championship next week. This is a good move. The Hardys have nothing left to do in the Tag Team Division. Miz and Jeff are a fresh match, and it’s got plenty of intrigue going for it. But if Jeff becomes a single again, what happens with Matt? Aside from the obligatory Hardy Boyz vs. Miztourage match we’re bound to get on TV soon.

Big Show’s little “bring it on” moment was cool. Not being on TV every week has done him plenty of good.

Elias did the HBK/’95 Royal Rumble spot, with the dangling legs close to the floor. That’s pretty much mandatory in any televised WWE battle royal, isn’t it?

Enzo Amore def. Noam Dar. Now that he’s a single, Enzo has a chance to silence some of his critics who say he can’t wrestle. He didn’t exactly blow me away here. But being in there with guys like Noam Dar will help. Enzo is an asset to the Cruiserweight Division whether people want to admit it or not. He brings some valuable star power to that show. Will it up the audience for 205 Live? Probably not. But It might make the Cruiserweight matches on Raw more interesting.

As Booker T remains with his family in Houston, Jerry Lawler fills in on commentary. It was good to hear Lawler’s voice again. His act had gotten old after so many years of being on Raw. But having him back gave me a warm, nostalgic feeling. Like Big Show, going away did him a lot of good.

Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman address Braun Strowman. This wasn’t exactly one for the record books. It’s always intriguing whenever Brock takes the mic. But I wish he’d have said something a little less predictable. Heyman has said the “Suplex City, bitch” line before. He could just as easily have done it here. I’d rather they give Brock something more distinct and memorable when they have him talk.

Cesaro def. Seth Rollins. Cesaro hits an uppercut off the distraction to score a flash pin. A variation on the distraction roll-up, which of course is a WWE specialty.

Dean Ambrose def. Sheamus in an impromptu match. Cesaro beats Rollins, then Ambrose beats Sheamus. You know what that means! We need to have a tag team match to settle the score!

Wait…

Sadly, by the time Ambrose and Sheamus got in there the law of diminishing returns had taken effect. We’ve seen these guys wrestle time after time, week after week. They put on good matches. But I’ve seen them enough for now. But chances are we’re getting another title match at No Mercy. So we’ll be seeing them wrestle for another month.

Emma def. Mickie James. Emma getting new music is a good sign, as is her finally getting a win. I don’t know if she’ll be wrestling for the title any time soon. But at least she’s doing something besides losing.

John Cena and Roman Reigns get heated during the contract signing before No Mercy. Cena and Reigns beat Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson in an impromptu tag team match. They’re very strategically blurring the lines between storyline and reality. I don’t believe for a second that either of these guys meant what they said out there. But their delivery was good enough that there’s reasonable doubt. That’s a common thread that a lot of classic storylines have. Well done, gentlemen.

The line of the night goes to Cena, for: “I’m still here because you can’t do your job!”

Then, of course  they killed the vibe by having the two of them work a tag match. Because of course they did.

Elias bashes Memphis in his newest song. Jerry Lawler brings out “Pelvis Wesley” of Southpaw Regional Wrestling (played by Heath Slater), who promptly gets destroyed. This was a popcorn fart if I ever saw one. This is why certain things are better left on the internet. Like Grumpy Cat! Remember when they had that damn cat on this show? Same principle.

Alexa Bliss def. Sasha Banks to win the Raw Women’s Championship. Nia Jax turns on her after the match. Did you know that despite winning that Women’s Championship multiple times, Sasha Banks has never successfully defended it? She wins the belt on pay per view, then loses it on Raw. She talked about the “Brooklyn Curse” last week. But clearly there’s a bigger curse that she needs to worry about. However, considering how annoying I’ve found her lately, I can’t exactly complain.

Pretty good match, though the dead crowd didn’t help at all during the first half. But after going from the high of that Cena/Reigns contract signing to the low of the Pelvis Wesley segment, you can’t exactly blame them for being a little indifferent.

So Alexa beats Sasha cleanly, then gets turned on by Nia Jax. So is this Alexa’s transition into a sympathetic babyface character that has to overcome the larger Nia Jax? Or do we go to a Triple Threat Match at No Mercy, given that Sasha is owed a rematch?

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

Posted in Wrestling

Braun Strowman as “the Guy,” Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Summerslam erased any lingering doubts: Braun Strowman needs to be WWE’s next “Guy.’ In other words, the top dog. The big cahuna. The man everyone vies to face. The spot currently occupied by John Cena, and the spot WWE has been trying to shoehorn Roman Reigns into for years.

While Brock Lesnar may have walked out of Summerslam‘s Fatal Four-Way with the Universal Title, make no mistake about it, Braun Strowman was the star of the match. To his credit, Brock Lesnar put him over like 10 million bucks. Has anybody ever given Lesnar a beating like that? Certainly not since he came back in 2012. But I can’t think of anything comparable in Brock’s entire WWE career. The result? Magic.

Michael Cole also deserves a pat on the back for his role in the Lesnar/Strowman stuff. He made a point to not only sell Strowman’s unprecedented dominance over “the Beast,” but to point out how it’s different from what Bill Goldberg did last year. Goldberg surprised Lesnar. Strowman conquered him.

They’ve really got something with this guy. He’s a giant that wants to dominate and destroy all challengers. Simple and to the point. More importantly, the fans are into him. And it happened organically. After what we saw at Summerslam, Lesnar vs. Strowman could easily main event Wrestlemania XXXIV.

Which is why it absolutely sucks that they’re blowing it off at No Mercy

Ponderings From Raw:

After a promo from Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar, Braun Strowman interrupts and destroys the Universal Champion. A title match between the two is later made for No MercyObviously, I understand the appeal of doing what these two did at Summerslam, and then putting them together the following month. But imagine if they just waited. If they let it stew until April. Have Braun win the Royal Rumble Match, and then make it your Wrestlemania main event.

Instead we’re probably getting Brock against Roman. Go figure.

Enzo Amore def. Big Cass in a Brooklyn Street Fight due to match stoppage when Cass suffers a knee injury. This doesn’t do much to cool Enzo’s backstage heat, does it? It didn’t look like it was Enzo’s fault, though. Just a bad fall by Cass.

Cass was obviously frustrated, his cussing apparently needing to be censored. We don’t have any sense of what the injury is. But the timing is terrible. Sending good vibes his way.

Nia Jax def. Emma. I guess there’s something to be said for getting TV time and having a storyline. But Emma has, for the time being, been cast as a loser.

Elias def. R-Truth. The Drifter has had his critics. But the crowds have been into him. You can’t deny that.

John Cena appears on Raw to confront Roman Reigns after Twitter smack talk. The Miz interrupts. A tag match is made for the main event. Lots of talk about Cena’s “bald spot” on Twitter. Hey, when you’ve got as much money as this guy, you can wear your hair however you want. Don’t believe me? Ask Trump.

When he was in there with Cena and Roman, Brooklyn made Miz the babyface. Miz. That says a lot, doesn’t it? What’s more, they had Miz play into it. I actually wondered if he was ad-libbing until he said the lines about the fans “not knowing whether to cheer or boo” Cena and Reigns. Classic WWE whitewashing, right there.

Cena was more or less expected on Raw after Summerslam, based on the local advertisements. They’re obviously planting the seeds for Cena against Reigns at some point. Lots of talk about big moments in this segment. Well, there’s nothing quite like an arena chanting, “You both suck!”

Cedric Alexander, Rich Swann, Mustafa Ali, and Gran Metalik def. Ariya Daivari, Tony Nese, Noam Dar and Drew Gulak. Remember that Raw in 1997 when Kane came down and beat up a bunch of midget wrestlers? I really wanted that here. Nothing like a little old school Kane to stir up some cruiserweight oatmeal…

Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose def. The Hardy Boyz. This one didn’t do it for me. The match looked good on paper. But it seemed like they never quite got into a groove. I’d be open to another match, though.

Alexa Bliss interrupted Sasha Banks’ celebration. I couldn’t. Sorry, folks. I couldn’t bring myself to listen to a Sasha Banks promo. But obviously, things are continuing between she and Alexa Bliss. Works for me.

Finn Balor def. Jason Jordan. These two had better chemistry than I expected. The announcers mentioned the time they spent together in the Performance Center. I expect that has something to do with it.

So how about this: At some point, Jason Jordan cheats to win a big match, drawing disapproval from his father, Kurt Angle. Thus, the start of a Jason Jordan heel turn, and a father vs. son feud. Jordan is so milquetoast right now. He needs something to spice things up.

John Cena and Roman Reigns def. The Miz and Samoa Joe. Reigns accidentally hits Cena with a Superman Punch during the match. The Brooklyn crowd had started the beach ball stuff during the Balor/Jordan match. Then in this match they did a friggin’ wave. And of course, Cena fed right into it.

The purist in me wants to bury the fans in the Barclays Center. But that’s what happens when your show is too damn long.

Booker: “I don’t want to remember the last time I was in the ring with Joe, because he left me bruised, battered, torn, and all busted up. … It also happened in my home town. I’ll never forget that.”

It was also in TNA. So WWE probably wants you to forget.

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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

Big Cass Goes Bad, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Let’s jump right to the main event this week, shall we? They went and did it. They turned Cass heel, revealing that not only has he been the one attacking Enzo, but that he’s been staging the attacks on himself. And why? Because Enzo’s supposedly been holding him back, and running his mouth too much.

I liked most of what they did here, especially how they looped Corey Graves in. I’m not sure what they’re trying to do with he and Kurt Angle. But between that and what we saw here, they’re turning him into an investigator of sorts.

Realistically, they could have turned Enzo. The fans have caught on to the fact that he can be damn annoying at times. But he’s also one of the best talkers in all of wrestling. The fans are still behind him because he’s got the God-given gift of gab. So if they had to turn one of them, they made the right choice with Cass. They even played the sympathetic card, with Cass essentially saying: “Nobody likes you because you’re annoying. And now I don’t like you either.”

Before the turn, they positioned Big Show as still having heat with Cass. So I imagine we’ll see Show vs. Cass at Great Balls of Fire, followed by a showdown between Cass and Enzo at Summerslam.

WWE is taking a risk here, which I commend them for. Ratings have been way down lately. Despite what they’d like you to believe sometimes, that matters. So a shake-up is merited. I just hope this is a shake-up that pays off. It seems like WWE has seen money in Cass since he came up from NXT. But he’s always been so tightly intertwined with Enzo. He’s achieved all this success in both NXT and WWE because he was with Enzo. Is he polished enough to go out there and deliver on his own? Sure, he’ll have some decent heat for the next few months. But what about after he’s done with Enzo? Who is Cass without his other half?

I’m hoping we like the answer we get…

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns announces he will challenge for the Universal Title at SummerslamSamoa Joe confronts Reigns, a brawl breaks out. Reigns was cocky here, which I actually liked. Better to have him show a little attitude than to just be reciting sanitized dialogue with no feeling behind it. And I loved the line: “You’ll never be Samoa Joe to me. You’ll always be just Joe.” Them is fightin’ words.

So…does this mean we’re getting Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns at Summerslam? I can dig that. The rumor was that we’d get it at Wrestlemania. But I’m good with this, especially since we’ve already seen Lesnar and Reigns at a Wrestlemania.

However, I was also game for Reigns against John Cena. Another day, then…

The Hardy Boyz def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. Not much interest in this one from me. They had me when Gallows and Anderson hit the Boot of Doom, and were seemingly about to get the pin. But other than that this just felt like filler. And let’s be honest: That’s what it was.

Goldust invites R-Truth to the premiere of “The Shattered Truth” next week. I lap up these Goldust promos, I really do. Hoping they hit this out of the park next week.

Finn Balor cuts Elias Samson off before he can sing. There’s something here with this “Drifter” gimmick. They’re getting there. The wrestling fan in me is dying for Samson to hit somebody with that guitar. Might not happen for awhile. But when it does, it’ll be great.

Finn Balor def. Bo Dallas. Balor later gets attacked by Samson. The early part of this match felt reminiscent of the last time they tried to push Bo a little bit, for all the good that did him. What exactly do they have to lose by putting him with Bray Wyatt? The two are legitimately siblings. Just go for it.

So I guess Balor has a new dance partner in Elias Samson. Wouldn’t have been my first choice. I’d have had him go with Ambrose, then put Balor with Miz.

Seth Rollins to be on the cover of WWE 2K18. Rollins cuts off Bray Wyatt before an attack. Yet another amazing commercial from the 2K folks. These things are more memorable than most Raw episodes.

Wasn’t a fan of Seth’s promo in front of the live crowd. Too white meat for my taste. “We can all get second chances,” and all that. Too syrupy for me.

So after a back and forth promo, Bray Wyatt comes to the ring, blows out his lantern, and immediately eats a cross body from Rollins. It’s amazing just how far this character has fallen. Again. Whenever he takes a step forward, it’s like he takes two steps back.

Akira Tozawa def. TJP, both Titus O’Neil and Neville watch from ringside. I’ll call it now: O’Neil accidentally costs Tozawa his inevitable title match with Neville. You can say what you want about how stale 205 Live is, but when Neville drops that belt it’s going to be a big deal.

Samoa Joe def. Roman Reigns after a distraction from the returning Braun Strowman. Strowman challenges Reigns to an Ambulance Match at Great Balls of FireReigns and Joe work well together. A real nice alpha male against alpha male dynamic. And it’s always very physical.

The announcers acted like it was a big thing when Joe kicked out of the Superman Punch. But when was the last time Reigns beat somebody with that move? It feels like he hits three or four of them each time he wrestles on pay per view.

Strowman had great entrance. A nice callback to the ambulance stuff he and Roman have done. Then he had to go and say, “I’ll see you at Great Balls of Fire pay per view.” Still, Strowman’s return is something to be happy about. WWE has done such a good job building him up that not having him on Raw has hurt the show.

Dean Ambrose ruins the Miz’s attempt at an apology to Maryse. Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel attack Ambrose. So does this mean Dallas and Axel are with Miz now? Hey, it did wonders for Damien Sandow. And it adds a little something extra to Miz’s presentation. Works for me.

Cesaro and Sheamus def. Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews. Crews is so damn explosive out there. If they can find a way to get this guy over, they could have a real commodity on their hands. Make it happen, WWE.

A video package airs for Brock Lesnar vs. Samoa Joe at Great Balls of FireThese are always so damn great. Brock had the best line in this one: “I’m gonna go through Samoa Joe like a freight train. On fire.”

Emma comes after Alexa Bliss while she’s on commentary for Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax. The match breaks down. Mickie James and Dana Brooke join the fight before Bayley cleans house. This seemed very rushed. Like they wanted to squeeze this in before the main event segment. At least Bayley looked fairly strong. She’s needed all the help she can get lately.

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Posted in Wrestling

Brock Lesnar Returns, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponderings From Raw:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted in Wrestling

#FireJBL? Plus, Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m going to tread lightly as I discuss the alleged situation between JBL and Mauro Ranallo. We’ve heard so little about this matter from either of them that it’s almost entirely rumor and speculation. But where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.

For the unaware, Mauro Ranallo has been off Smackdown for several weeks. He’s reportedly been battling symptoms of bipolar disorder, which he’s been very open about in the past. The belief is that this episode came about due to bullying by his broadcast partner John Layfield, a.k.a. JBL. What they’ve said to each other in private is anyone’s guess. But on a recent edition of Bring it to the Table on the WWE Network, Layfield chastised Ranallo for tweeting about wining the Wrestling Observer Newsletter‘s Announcer of the Year Award two years in a row. Ranallo would later cryptically tweet, “Jealousy is a hell of a drug.”

Then Ranallo missed that first Smackdown a few weeks ago, allegedly due to bad weather. Layfield would tweet: “I made the show, everyone made the show, everyone. Maybe he shouldn’t have bashed me if he wasn’t going to show up.” He’d later delete the tweet. But Ranallo hasn’t been seen on WWE TV since, and he may not be back. While WWE released a statement confirming Ranallo is under contract until August of this year, he’s since removed mentions of WWE from his social media profiles. Ironically, this story would later be extensively reported on in the Observer. 

Adding to the noise is former WWE ring announcer Justin Roberts, whose book came out this week. He writes about JBL bullying people backstage, and possibly stealing his passport. Such stories are nothing new. Numerous wrestlers have talked about Layfield’s backstage antics over the years. The Miz even mentioned such things in a promo on Raw several years ago. And hell, we all saw him beat the Blue Meanie to a pulp on live television at ECW One Night Stand in 2005.

The online backlash against Layfield has been extensive. There’s been talk about the culture backstage in WWE, and the inherent hypocrisy of the company’s association with the Be A S.T.A.R. campaign. The operative hashtag has been #FireJBL.

But firing JBL doesn’t fix the problem, does it?

Clearly this sort of behavior is an issue with this guy, and it’s all happened under the WWE umbrella. Ergo, WWE is culpable. So if what we’re hearing about this Mauro Ranallo situation is true, WWE needs to send JBL to sensitivity training of some kind. If he opts not to go, then he should be fired.

The ironic thing about all of this is that JBL’s apparent bullying tendencies are part of what made him such a great villain on screen. Frankly, this is the kind of heat WWE should be going for with their storylines. But let’s leave that to the world of fiction. In real life, bullies need to be put in their place.

Ponderings From Raw:

The Miz and Maryse arrive on Raw, along with Dean Ambrose. I’ll give ’em credit. I didn’t expect this. Ambrose coming to Raw is significant in that it puts him on the same show with Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins, potentially reuniting the Shield. But for now, it gives Raw one of the company’s top good guys. Though granted, would a real top good guy be relegated to the Wrestlemania pre-show?

I don’t think this is a good move for Miz and Maryse. On Smackdown, Miz was starting to sniff WWE Title contention again. But he’s in a larger pond now. What would you say the odds are of him winning the Universal Title now that Brock Lesnar is champion?

With all this talk about engagement rings, did anyone else notice the ring on Ambrose’s left hand? He was wearing it when he wrestled, too.

The Revival def. The New Day. Seeing this victory gives me the impression that not only are the New Day going to Raw, but Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson are likely headed to Smackdown. The Revival and the Club have a similar vibe. You don’t need both teams on the same show.

The Big Show punches out new Raw arrival Curt Hawkins. I didn’t like this format at all. The drafts from Smackdown just come out? Where’s the drama? Where’s the anticipation? Big missed opportunity.

Neville tears down TJ Perkins backstage. Later, after a distraction from Neville, Perkins pins Austin Aries. Perkins attacks Aries after the match. Thank God. Perkins is extremely talented, but few wrestlers have needed a heel turn as much as him in recent months. This will be great for him,

Kurt Angle tells Seth Rollins he’s staying on Raw, despite what happened to Commissioner Stephanie McMahon at WrestlemaniaSamoa Joe attacks Rollins. How bad did you want to see Angle suplex Joe off of Rollins?

Great to see the crowd chanting for Seth here, as opposed to CM Punk. I guess that’s what getting Steph put through a table will do for you.

Nia Jax def. Charlotte Flair. Charlotte was seemingly positioned as the underdog babyface here. As was the case with the New Day, this loss seemingly confirms she’s on her way to Smackdown.

This was a big win for Nia. But at the same time, it didn’t necessarily do her any good to be in the ring with someone as good as Charlotte. The difference in their skill set became very apparent.

Finn Balor def. Jinder Mahal. Bray Wyatt announces he’s coming to RawThis will be a good move for Bray, if for no other reason than it’ll get him away from Randy Orton. Now the question is, will Balor end up jumping to Smackdown? If he stays where he is, these two would seemingly compliment each other well.

Apollo Crews, Kalisto, Heath Slater, Rhyno, and David Otunga coming to Raw. Byron Saxton moving to SmackdownI guess these guys all fall into the miscellaneous column. Most notable here is the drafting of Kalisto, who will obviously be a great get for the Cruiserweight Division.

Not a fan of the announcer switch at all. That news actually broke after Raw. People have been pretty tough on Saxton. But I very much prefer him to Otunga, who adds absolutely nothing to Smackdown. This seems like it was done just for the sake of moving people.

Sami Zayn def. The Miz. Nice win for Sami. They’ve been teasing him going to Smackdown for months. I expect this will be his last time on Raw for quite awhile.

Now that Miz and Daniel Bryan aren’t on the same show anymore, should Miz still be using his kicks? That doesn’t really make sense.

Braun Strowman destroys Roman Reigns backstage, tipping over an ambulance with his bare hands in the process. This was a great angle. It may as well have turned Strowman babyface. How do they expect him to hear anything but cheers now? He decimated the man who retired the Undertaker. Very well done, and an excellent way to re-emphasis Strowman.

“The Drifter” Elias Samson appears on stage during an eight-man tag. I’m not at all familiar with Samson’s work in NXT, though the buzz I’ve heard about the character hasn’t been stellar. Curious to see what he’s about.

Alexa Bliss and Mickie James arrive from Smackdown. Nia Jax lays out the babyfaces. Well, here we go. Your new layout for the Raw Women’s Division. Looks like we’ve got an alliance between Alexa and Nia Jax. I can dig that. It’s a much better role for Nia.

Our long form story here continues to be about Bayley and Sasha. It’s looking like they may go the babyface route with Sasha before she eventually turns. Again, I can dig that.

Dean Ambrose def. Kevin Owens. Chris Jericho hits Owens with a Codebreaker after the match. Historically speaking, when they move a champion from one show to the other, the counterpart championship also has to move. This would seemingly indicate that Kevin Owens is on his way to Smackdown. That’s a surprise, if for no other reason than Sami Zayn seems to be on his way over there. One of the biggest upsides to moving Zayn to Smackdown was to get him away from Owens. Now it looks like they may be drafted together yet again. That’s lame.

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Posted in Wrestling

Undertaker’s Last Ride, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

We all thought this might be it. That didn’t make it any less emotional, though.

On Sunday at Wrestlemania XXXIII, the Undertaker apparently had his last match. After losing to Roman Reigns, the Dead Man left his trademark hat, coat, and gloves in the ring, symbolizing the end had finally come. Then, like Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels at previous Wrestlemania events, he took that long walk up the aisle.

I became a wrestling fan in 1996. The Monday Night Wars were still in full effect, and at the time the Undertaker was building to a Buried Alive Match with Mankind. On Raw, we’d see video packages of him standing in a graveyard, talking about what was coming. It wasn’t unlike the packages that aired last week, as he dug a grave for Roman Reigns.

I was 11 at the time. I’m 32 now. I have a wife, a career, and plans to have a kid of my own. As someone who’s learned the value of a day’s work, and how far a dollar goes in this world, I have so much respect for all this extraordinary person has given us for so many years. All the sacrifices he’s made, all the pain he’s endured, and all the moments he’s given us. He’s been with us for so long. It’s going to be incredibly odd not having him here anymore. But if anyone’s earned the right to go out on his own terms, it’s Mark Calaway. He was a class act at Wrestlemania XXXIII, putting over the company’s top guy (for better or worse) on his way out.

In an industry where so many performers want to transcend and connect with the “mainstream,” the Undertaker was one of wrestling’s most recognizable figures for over two decades.

Cast in point, when I was in seventh grade, the Attitude Era was in full swing. Somebody in one of my classes had just gone to a WWF show, and my teacher happened to be talking to him about it. She seemed half-interested. He mentioned Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Rock. Mankind, and a few others. No reaction.

Then he said the name, “Undertaker.”

“Oh, I know him!”

Even if you weren’t a wrestling fan, you knew the Undertaker. If you were, you knew just how important and how special he was.

And he still is.

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns: “This is my yard now.” Probably the most impactful five-word promo you’ll ever see. Just minute after minute of boos and more boos. It doesn’t have to be this way. But whether it’s John Cena or Roman Reigns, apparently this is just what it means to be the top guy in WWE these days.

I’m going to sprinkle in a few Wrestlemania thoughts between my usual Raw and Smackdown reviews. Truth be told, I haven’t seen the entire show yet. I refused to let the sheer length of the show piss my off like it did last year. And I had a prior commitment on Sunday anyway. One thing I did make sure to see, however, was the tag team Ladder Match…

The Hardy Boyz def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson to retain the Raw Tag Team Titles. As some speculated, the Hardys did indeed return to a massive pop. Are they the first team to hold tag team gold in Impact Wrestling, Ring of Honor, and WWE in the same calendar year?

It looks like Matt and Jeff are more or less back in their old WWE characters, with Matt throwing in bits and pieces of the Broken stuff from Impact. Until the law suit with Anthem Sports is settled, I imagine that’ll be the extent of it.

Speaking of Anthem, “F*ck that owl” wins chant of the night.

Neville def. Mustafa Ali. The beach ball was back this year. It pretty much had to be after the company put it over on that WWE 24 special last week. That’s almost a shame. These guys were pretty good about that. The Spanish Fly off the top was amazing. If only more wrestlers were as over as that damn beach ball…

Vince McMahon names Kurt Angle the new General Manager of RawMany of us have seen this coming for months now. That doesn’t make it any less cool, though. And based on the backstage stuff we saw with Enzo, Cass, and Sami Zayn, we’ll be seeing stuff reminiscent of early 2000s Kurt Angle. That could be a real breath of nostalgic fresh air. Especially considering Stephanie isn’t there to lord over him.

The Revival make their main roster debut, defeating the New Day. Considering how these post-Raw crowds can be, I’m surprised they didn’t get a “Big E’s dick” chant when he talked about the blood flowing from his head down to his…

Wasn’t expecting to see the Revival on Raw. They always struck me as a Smackdown team. But considering we’ve got this “shake-up” coming next week, the respective vibes for the shows may end up shifting. Still, here’s hoping these guys are as successful on the main roster as they were in NXT.

Bayley, Sasha Banks, and Dana Brooke def. Charlotte Flair, Nia Jax, and Emma. Nia and Charlotte turn on each other after the match. Not expecting a lot of emphasis on Emma going forward. It’s not like they’ve made her a priority for the last several months. Why would things change now?

Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman address the crowd. Braun Strowman confronts him. They went ahead and planted the seed for Reigns vs. Lesnar in this segment, as the battle of the two men who beat the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. “The two in 23-2.” Loved the line: “If Roman Reigns is the big dog, then Brock Lesnar is animal cruelty.”

Rumor has it they want to do Reigns and Lesnar again at Wrestlemania next year. From a story perspective, I can’t say that thrills me. But those two had a damn good match a few years ago. Perhaps this could be another situation where the match surpasses the hype.

Sheamus and Cesaro def. Enzo and Cass to become top contenders for the Raw Tag Team Titles. The Hardys essentially came in and stole Cass and Enzo’s big moment at Wrestlemania. But Matt and Jeff may have done them a favor. Now they can challenge for the belts in their home state at Summerslam.

Finn Balor returns to Raw, teams with Seth Rollins to defeat US Champion Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe. Tremendous way to close the show, with Balor finally returning. Plus, as the announcers pointed out, these four all have a bit of a shared history. For my money, Balor could be the man in WWE if given the right opportunities. He caught a really awful break last year. If he can say healthy, there could be truly amazing things in his future.

On the subject of staying healthy, I couldn’t believe Rollins did that somersault to the outside. His knee must be in better shape than they’re letting on. At least I’d hope that’s the case…

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Posted in Wrestling

A Wrestlemania 33 Preview – “Showing Too Much Sh*t Hurts Your Product.”

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I have really bad memories of last year’s Wrestlemania. It was the first time I actually left the show angry. As much as I love pro wrestling and WWE, the company actually had go-away heat with me for several days.

The main event was simply horrible. Not because Triple H and Roman Reigns didn’t work hard, but because it simply wasn’t what fans wanted to see. But more importantly, the show was just too damn long.

The show isn’t any shorter this year. As of this writing there are 13 matches booked, assuming you count the pre-show. You’ll also have musical performances, and whatever the New Day ends up doing as the hosts. What’s more, Wrestlemania is obviously broadcast on the WWE Network. When you run your own distribution channel, it doesn’t matter if you go long, does it? As I recall, last year the show went over by almost a half hour. I don’t see why this year would be any different.

Earlier this week I mentioned something Tony Schiavone said on his podcast this week, and I’ll go back to it here: “Showing too much sh*t hurts your product.” Is there any better example of that than a six-hour long wrestling show? Whatever happened to leaving fans wanting more? Is there any worse time to leave a bad taste in the mouths of fans than at your biggest show of the year?

Regardless, we’ve got a lot to cover here. So let’s get to it. It should be noted that these first three matches are on the pre-show. That being said, it’s all on the network. So can it even be classified as a pre-show anymore?

ANDRE THE GIANT MEMORIAL BATTLE ROYAL

I don’t see how Braun Strowman doesn’t win this one. After dropping his first major loss to Roman Reigns at Fastlane, he could really use this to rebound. What better way to do that than to have him mow through an entire ring full of guys? Many have called it an injustice that Strowman didn’t get a featured match at Wrestlemania. But this makes a fine consolation prize.

Sadly, that’s not the case for the Big Show. The poor guy’s been on Battle Royal duty at Wrestlemania for the last four years. What’s more, the thought he was getting a high profile match with Shaquille O’Neal until Shaq supposedly bailed. The buzz was that Shaq would be Show’s final Wrestlemania opponent. But now that this has happened, I don’t see the big man going out this way. He’s got his critics, but after all these years he deserves better than that.

PREDICTION: Braun Strowman

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

Under the right circumstances, this match could steal the show. Sadly, on a show that’s this crowded I doubt they’ll get the time or the opportunity to do that.

But let’s not take away from what this match signifies for both men. They’re both journeymen, and have been pros for over a decade. Aries was famously rejected from Tough Enough in 2011, but has persevered. Neville also missed last year’s Wrestlemania due to a broken ankle. There’s an understated story of redemption here.

I say give the belt to Aries. He’s got a lot of momentum right now, and a big win like this would do wonders to further it. Plus, the prospect of more Aries/Neville matches doesn’t exactly scare me away.

PREDICTION: Austin Aries

WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Becky Lynch vs. Natalya vs. Mickie James vs. Carmella vs. Naomi

I imagine this must be really cool for Alexa Bliss. It’s her first Wrestlemania, and she’s the centerpiece to this big championship match. Now if only we knew how many women were in the match, not to mention what kind of match it actually is.

The addition of Naomi to this match changed my prediction. I originally had Alexa pegged to win. But Naomi coming back to win the title in her home town seems like too good a story to pass up. I’m going with her.

PREDICTION: Naomi

TRIPLE-THREAT LADDER MATCH FOR WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLES:
Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson (c) vs. Cesaro and Sheamus vs. Enzo and Cass

This match suddenly has some fresh appeal now that it’s a Ladder Match. Because you must have a Ladder Match at Wrestlemania. Apparently not having one would be downright blasphemy. Here’s hoping everybody stays safe.

The belts should go to Enzo and Cass. It’s been a year since their main roster debut, so it’s a nice story. As for Gallows and Anderson, they could really use a fresh start. Ideally on Smackdown. 

PREDICTION: Enzo and Cass

FATAL FOUR-WAY ELIMINATION MATCH FOR WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE:
Bayley (c) vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax

Last year, Charlotte, Sasha, and Becky Lynch stole the show at Wrestlemania. No doubt these four ladies are looking to make it two for two. The elimination stipulation helps in that regard. There’s some potential for great drama here.

I say you have it some down to Bayley and Sasha. They have a great history, and the story about Sasha protecting and helping her friend is a good one. I say we have Bayley win clean here, and then have Sasha be as a bitter heel challenger going forward.

Good luck, ladies. Make us proud all over again.

PREDICTION: Bayley

WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Baron Corbin

Dean Ambrose’s match with Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania XXXII should have been a highlight of the show. For one reason or another, it wasn’t. I’d like to think he’ll get a chance for redemption this year. But my hopes aren’t high. This match should really be a Street Fight, or something to tie into all brawls these two have had in recent weeks. Instead it’s just a regular match. Here’s hoping these two can overachieve.

Baron Corbin doesn’t need the Intercontinental Title. But this is where he landed, so we may as well give him a big win at Wrestlemania. I imagine these two will work each other again on pay per view in some sort of gimmick match. They can always make Corbin’s run brief, and give it back to Ambrose. It’s not like Corbin hasn’t been pinned before.

PREDICTION: Baron Corbin

John Cena and Nikki Bella vs. The Miz and Maryse

This should be a fun little match. But I imagine this will be more about what happens afterward. Cena’s “refusal” to marry Nikki has been a big part of this whole story. So a post-match marriage proposal seems likely. That’s never happened at Wrestlemania, so I’m interested to se how the crowd reacts. Who knows? We may end up with a Randy Savage/Elizabeth style wedding at Summerslam.

PREDICTION: John Cena and Nikki Bella

Shane McMahon vs. AJ Styles

Smart fans have griped about this match for weeks now. But when you look at it in the context of the show at large, it’s fairly intriguing. I imagine the reason Ambrose and Corbin aren’t getting a Street Fight is because these two are going to do a lot of that stuff. I’m not looking at this as a potential show-stealer. But you never know. This is AJ Styles, after all.

Styles deserves a win here. I don’t think you get nearly as much out of putting Shane over as you do AJ. And why the hell not? The fans are into him. Despite being a heel, he’s probably the most popular guy on Smackdown. He’s earned his moment. Let him have it.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

WWE UNITED STATES TITLES MATCH:
Chris Jericho (c) vs. Kevin Owens

Despite this being as high as the United States Title has ever been on a Wrestlemania card, the belt is essentially an afterthought here. They used it as an excuse to have this match. But Owens and Jericho didn’t need an excuse, did they? We’ve been waiting for this one since the fall. Intentional or not, this is the best built match on the card. That’s a testament to the talents of both men.

Rumor has it Jericho is taking a break after Wrestlemania. I’m not sure how much I buy that, as he’s kept us guessing in the past. But considering how long he’s stuck around thus far, I’m more inclined to believe the rumors. Obviously, that means KO is taking this one home. As he should. Owens didn’t have a stellar run as Universal Champion. But he’s still an incredible asset to WWE, and Raw is going to need all the star power it can get after this show comes and goes. Lesnar, Goldberg, Undertaker, and apparently Jericho are going to be gone. So Owens needs to be in a strong position coming out of Wrestlemania. Coming out on top after everything these two have done together will be a career moment for him.

PREDICTION: Kevin Owens

NON-SANCTIONED MATCH:
Triple H vs. Seth Rollins

This has been a long time coming. Supposedly it was in the works for last year’s Wrestlemania, until Rollins hurt his knee. It almost didn’t happen at this year’s show either, for the same reason.

The condition of Rollins’ knee likely throws a big monkey wrench into their plans for the physicality here. I’m expecting a lot of “gaga.” Stephanie and Samoa Joe will likely make appearances. Sami Zayn could easily come out and be on Rollins’ side. While I pitched a program between the two last week, Finn Balor could run in on Seth’s behalf as well. In some ways, I imagine this will be similar to what Hunter and Sting did with DX and the nWo at Wrestlemania XXXI.

It seems like this entire program has been geared toward giving Rollins a hero’s victory over the tyrannical Triple H. I can’t imagine that’s changed. Rollins hasn’t been the hottest babyface in the world, but perhaps a big come-from-behind victory over Hunter will help in that regard.

PREDICTION: Seth Rollins

The Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns

This is the most emotional match on the card, to be sure. I imagine the longer you’ve been a fan, the more this match means to you. I’ve got about 20 years invested in this one.

I can’t bring myself to speculate about the Undertaker’s retirement anymore. Until I hear about it from either WWE or the man himself, the Dead Man hasn’t wrestled his last match. At 52 years old, I certainly couldn’t blame him for wanting to ride off into the sunset. But as far as I’m concerned, he’s welcome as long as he wants to be here.

I’d like to think WWE knows better than to have Roman simply beat the Undertaker clean. But who am I kidding? Chances are that’s exactly what they’ll do. To the dismay of many, Roman Reigns is the company’s top priority at the moment. They’re going to do anything they think will help his cause, no matter how much it hurts him in reality. In a perfect world, Roman would leave Wrestlemania XXXIII a heel.

But life isn’t perfect, and neither is pro wrestling. I can practically hear the boos now…

PREDICTION: Roman Reigns

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Bray Wyatt (c) vs. Randy Orton

Damn, folks. It’s Wrestlemania and Bray Wyatt is the WWE Champion. That’s pretty sweet.

My head tells me Randy Orton is taking the title home, but somehow my gut is pointing me toward Bray Wyatt. This guy has been on the cusp of superstardom for years. He finally get the belt…only to lose it less than two months later? That doesn’t smell right. They’ve certainly done stupid stuff like that in the past. But this would be a really bad time to beat Bray. So with a tinge of uncertainty, I’m going with the champ on this one.

PREDICTION: Bray Wyatt

WWE UNIVERSAL HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Bill Goldberg (c) vs. Brock Lesnar

Goldberg and Brock Lesnar are back at Wrestlemania. In 2017. In the main event, no less. Pro wrestling may not be fair, but it can also be really cool.

Yeah, I’m into the Goldberg stuff. People can knock him all they want, talk about how he can’t wrestle, etc. But here’s the bottom line: Goldberg is over. He’s an attraction. People chant his name. As we’ve come to find out, there’s still value with him. If people are still willing to pay to see Goldberg, then why not take advantage of that?

Lots of people, myself included, complained about the finish to the Lesnar/Goldberg match at Survivor Series. But in hindsight, it’s hard to deny that it worked. That match ignited this long program that got us to the main event of Wrestlemania. And yes, this match is the main event. The simple intrigue over what these guys are going to do and how long they’re going to go makes it one of the most interesting bouts on the card. It’s not going to be a classic, by any means. But as Jim Ross said on The Ross Report this week, the match these two have will be different from what everyone else does. As such, it’s well-suited to follow what everyone else does.

The finish seems pretty obvious. Lesnar gets his win back, as well as the Universal Title. Then again, I thought the Survivor Series finish was obvious, too. You never know…

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

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Posted in Wrestling

Samoa Joe Finally Arrives, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

Samoa Joe, WWE Raw, January 30, 2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Not much use in leading with anything but Samoa Joe, is there?

What we saw on Raw was over a decade in the making. After so many years of speculation as to whether he’d even be considered by WWE, Samoa Joe finally arrives on the main roster. What’s more, he’s going into a program with one of their top stars in Seth Rollins. I can’t even tell you how surreal it was just to hear Michael Cole say Joe’s name.

Many were disappointed that we didn’t see Joe in the Royal Rumble Match on Sunday. Would I have put him in there? Sure. That way the mainstream audience has a better idea of who he is before he shows up here. But then again, does that chip away at the surprise element? If Joe is in the Rumble, maybe this moment isn’t quite as special.

Either way, this was about as good a debut as we could have wanted for Samoa Joe. After years of stealing the show elsewhere, he finally gets to do it on wrestling’s biggest stage. Congratulations, good sir. You deserve it.

Ponderings From Raw:

Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho open the show. Braun Strowman demands a title shot. Mick Foley announces Owens will defend against Strowman later in the show. Decent opener. The best part of this segment was Strowman demanding his shot, “or I’ll break you in half.” You know what? I believe him.

Sami Zayn, Chris Jericho, WWE Raw, January 20, 2017Interesting that Mick Foley came to Raw dressed as the Riddler. Where exactly does one get a suit like that?

Sami Zayn def. Chris Jericho. Supposedly Jericho’s current run will wrap up in May so he can go back on tour with Fozzy. Some have said this has been the best run of Jericho’s career. I wouldn’t go that far. But it’s definitely up there. He’s consistently been one of the best parts of Raw, and the show will miss him when he’s gone. The guy is 46 and he can still hit Sami Zayn with a Frankensteiner (shown right). Amazing.

This was good stuff. For the second consecutive week, Zayn is in the best match on the show. Really dug the exploder duplex into the corner. I still wish he’d start beating people with the Blue Thunder Bomb. It’s his best move.

Mustafa Ali def. Tony Nese. Raw needs more of both these guys. I adore Ali’s reverse 450 splash. It’s a damn shame we didn’t get to see it this week. It’s also a damn shame that the fans still don’t give a damn about the Cruiserweight Division. Maybe one of the reasons Neville’s run in the division has worked so well is that we’ve known him the longest. Most of these other guys are still working to establish themselves in front of the national audience. Rich Swann and Jack Gallagher have started to do it. But that’s it.

Seth Rollins calls out Stephanie McMahon, who announces Triple H is on his way to RawThis seemed very choreographed and scripted, as these talking segments often do. Still, I love how irreverent Rollins is toward Stephanie. While much of his dialogue still comes off contrived, it’s refreshing. No one has talked to her this way in so long.

Stephanie McMahon, Seth Rollins, WWE Raw, January 30, 2017Having him mention coming to her front door and having one of their kids answer was a little edgy. I get why they did it. It makes the whole thing more personal. But I’d avoid approaching that topic again. Even Stone Cold never talked about going after little kids…

Bayley, Cesaro, and Sheamus def. Charlotte Flair, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson. This one didn’t do anything for me. Once again, Bayley pins Charlotte. She’s somehow unbeatable on pay per view, but extremely beatable on television.

The new Cruiserweight Champion Neville addresses the crowd. Rich Swann interrupts. Scripted promos can work if you present them believably. You forget they’re saying lines. Neville did that here. Where the hell has this guy been? Pissed off Neville is the best Neville.

In contrast, any time somebody says “WWE Universe,” any integrity the scene has is lost because no one would actually say that in the heat of the moment. Sorry Rich.

Last night at the Rumble, they showed some pictures of Neville and Swann earlier in their careers. I guess they came up together? Why not go that route for this promo and make things a little more relatable?

Kevin Owens, WWE Raw, January 30, 2017Braun Strowman def. Kevin Owens via disqualification after Roman Reigns interferes. After Strowman’s interference in last night’s Universal Title Match, the finish to this one was obvious. I’m happy Owens was able to be a little competitive here, while Strowman was still kept strong against both of them.

Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman challenge Goldberg to a match at WrestlemaniaA very predictable outcome. But yet another masterful promo by Paul Heyman. The “Yeah, but…” lines worked well.

The mentioning of Hulk Hogan beating Andre the Giant is yet another indicator that Hogan is likely on his way back. They’re planting the seeds.

Nia Jax def. Sasha Banks via referee stoppage. Byron Saxton: “How scary a sight is that? To have Nia Jax smiling, knowing that she’s gonna have her way with you.” That’s not the verbiage I would have used, Saxton…

What happened with the bell here? It rang, but the ref clearly didn’t call for it. Still, Sasha did a fine job putting Nia over, both tonight and on the Rumble pre-show. The full nelson swings into the ring post looked good.

Triple H, WWE Raw, January 30, 2017Enzo and Cass def. Rusev and Jinder Mahal in a Tornado Tag Team Match. I’ve got no use for this program anymore. Now that Enzo and Cass won this match, can we please move on?

Triple H: “Seth Rollins was a failure.” Samoa Joe ambushes Rollins. Awesome promo. I actually preferred this one to the Heyman stuff. The spinning of the narrative to where Seth owes him an apology. Hunter calling Seth an abject failure. The stuff about not being “that guy” anymore, and wearing the suit. Awesome. When Hunter is on, he’s on. I just wish we’d gotten this promo months ago, so the whole story didn’t cool off so much.

By and large, this was a strong show. Literally the best they’ve put on in months. Now we have a new face on Raw, and we’ll be seeing some of the bigger stars more regularly. Raw has been tough to watch lately. They didn’t so much fall into an autumn slump this year as a winter slump. But as always, things are picking up as we get closer to Wrestlemania.

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