Mauro Ranallo: M.I.A. Plus, Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

You wouldn’t know it by watching WWE TV lately, but Finn Balor is back in action. He made his official in-ring return at a house show on March 10.

There’s been speculation about Balor being back for Wrestlemania since he was forced to relinquish the Universal Title back in August. Now, less than two weeks out, it appears that’s not the case.

It’s bittersweet, but for the best as far as I’m concerned. Wrestlemania is always so damn crowded. If you count the yet-to-be-made-official Triple H vs. Seth Rollins, the card already has 13 matches. And there’s always the potential for more. Guys like Samoa Joe and Sami Zayn are already lost in the shuffle. There’s no need to throw Balor in there, only for him to have nothing of consequence to contribute.

Balor seems almost a certainty for the night after Wrestlemania. The slate will be relatively clean, and his return will get the emphasis it deserves. I’m sure they’ll want to bring him back as a babyface. But if they decide to go the heel route, Balor vs. Rollins would be pretty natural. There’s been all this talk about Rollins missing Wrestlemania. But from a story perspective, he cost Balor his very first Wrestlemania. Something to think about…

Ponderings From Smackdown:

AJ Styles accepts Shane McMahon’s challenge, promises to face him in the parking lot later in the show. “Without AJ Styles, Smackdown Live plummets.” He’s not entirely right, but he’s not entirely wrong either. Something to keep in mind with all this buzz about Styles possibly going to Raw after Wrestlemania.

Mauro Ranallo absent from Smackdown for the second week in a row. Something’s not right here. A one-week absence? Sure. But two is suspicious. Tom Phillips said Ranallo was “out sick.” I don’t buy it. Your lead play-by-play guy doesn’t just vanish two weeks before the biggest show of the year. Either WWE has made a change, or something’s up with Mauro. Here’s hoping everything’s alright.

The Usos def. American Alpha to win the WWE Smackdown Tag Team Titles. Wasn’t expecting this. But no complaints on my end. The Usos have found a lot of new life since turning heel. They deserve this.

Familiar format here, with Gable selling, Jordan getting the hot tag, and then going into false finishes. But again, no complaints. Really good match. Tons of explosiveness. These guys supplied the hell out of each other.

Randy Orton def. Baron Corbin. Dean Ambrose distracts Corbin during the match, accepts challenge for WrestlemaniaThese two weren’t bad together. They’ve got similar attitudes. There could easily be a program here someday. Thankful Corbin didn’t get beat clean, as he did by Cena several weeks ago. There was no need for that then, and there was no need for it here.

That little salute Orton gave to Ambrose before pinning Corbin was a nice touch.

Bray Wyatt, along with several henchmen in sheep masks, ambush Randy Orton backstage. Wyatt thanks Orton for “purging” him of his one flaw. The sheep mask thing is usually going to work, because it’s spooky and weird. Bray’s laughing was back this week, though. A bit more appropriate this time, but I still wish he’d have more of a deadly serious attitude about Orton. The guy did burn down his house, after all.

John Cena def. Fandango. Tyler Breeze is at ringside dressed as Nikki Bella. Xena and Nikki make quick work of Breezango. We saw Cena and Fandango together on Southpaw Regional Wrestling, the WWE Network’s parody of an old school southern wrestling show. Surprisingly funny stuff. Definitely worth a look.

Tyler Breeze had to sell a spear and a Rack Attack from Nikki here. As if the guy’s career on the main roster wasn’t dead enough already.

Becky Lynch vs. Carmella breaks down into a no-contest. Natalya, Mickie James, and Alexa Bliss brawl in the ring. Remember all that talk about WWE bringing back former female for Wrestlemania? I’m inclined to think this may have been the match they had in mind. It could still be in the cards, considering we still don’t even know what kind of match these ladies are having.

Eric Bischoff to induct Diamond Dallas Page into the WWE Hall of Fame, Jim Cornette to induct the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express. These should both be really interesting. Bischoff hasn’t been in front of a WWE crowd in quite some time. I imagine he’ll hear no fewer boos than he did years ago. As for Cornette, I doubt he’ll cause much trouble. I doubt he wants to, considering this is for Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson. But type his name into YouTube, and you’ll realize how crazy it is that he’s on WWE TV again.

The Miz and Maryse spoof Total BellasShockingly, these weren’t as bad as I thought they’d be. Though admittedly, I may be biased. I can’t stand to hear the Bellas talk. They come off way too much like Kardashian clones. It seemed like they were plucking lines straight from smark message boards here.

Shane McMahon calls out AJ Styles. A fight erupts, culminating in Shane hitting a top-rope elbow drop through the announce table. That duplex Styles gave Shane into the guard rail was sick. Hell of an appetizer, here. Is this the Wrestlemania match we never knew we wanted?

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A Roman Reigns Heel Turn? Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

If Roman is turning heel, however…

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

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

Ponderings From Smackdown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Randy Orton Wins (Again), Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

You can make the argument that this has been the biggest week of Braun Strowman’s career. You can also argue it’s been his worst in quite some time. From a creative standpoint, at least.

At Fastlane, Strowman dropped his first pinball loss to Roman Reigns. A needless loss, in my opinion. After Roman threw Undertaker out of the Royal Rumble Match, it was pretty apparent they were going to work together at Wrestlemania. Especially when Reigns said something to the effect of, “It’s my yard now.” That was all the impetus ‘Taker needed to show up at Fastlane and either cost Roman the match, or bring it to a DQ finish. Strowman did not need to lose clean.

But what happened on Monday was even worse. Strowman calls out Reigns, and gets the Undertaker instead. When the two come face to face, Strowman backs down. The big man’s been calling for competition for months now. But when he’s confronted by an icon like Undertaker, he cowers? BS.

So with less than a month left until Wrestlemania, what do you do with Strowman? There’s no obvious opponent for him, unless they want to do another match with the Big Show. Rumor has it Shaquille O’Neal has backed out of the match that was reportedly in the works for months. So another giant vs. giant match is something they could try. Show and Strowman definitely overachieved when they main evented Raw.

But I think it’s more likely Strowman winds up in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. And if that’s the case, he needs to win it. They’ve branded Strowman as a destroyer. So to rebound from what happened this week, he needs to destroy. Have him chuck out a bunch of smaller guys, and then eliminate a couple of bigger names. Kane and Big Show come to mind immediately. But you’ve also got guys like Dolph Ziggler, Rusev, and Luke Harper. These guys are all players, but it doesn’t look like they’re getting a featured match. They could even have the New Day present Braun with the big trophy, and have him lay them out.

I understand that Strowman couldn’t be undefeated forever. But now that he’s taken this step backward, he needs to take two steps forward.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

John Cena and Nikki Bella def. James Ellsworth and Carmella. Miz and Maryse ambush John and Nikki after the match. Toward the end of the match, our heroes hit Five Knuckle Shuffles in stereo. I can’t say I’m looking forward to Nikki adding that move to her arsenal.

“When you have true love, you don’t make her sign a contract to be your girlfriend.” That was a good line. I liked this whole “Our love is real, theirs isn’t” approach from Miz much better than what we got last week. While so much of what he said in that Miz TV segment seemed regurgitated from old feuds, this is something they haven’t done with Cena before. The stuff about his relationship with Nikki being fake and plastic strikes an intriguing chord.

After laying out Curt Hawkins again, Dean Ambrose calls out Baron Corbin. Later, Corbin takes out Ambrose with a pipe, and then traps him under a forklift. See, they call Baron Corbin the “Lone Wolf.” And he’s wearing a shirt with a wolf on it. Get it? Isn’t that cute?

Mojo Rawley announced for Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, has a brief confrontation with Dolph Ziggler. So we’ve pretty much established what heel Dolph Ziggler’s role is on Smackdown. He’s the ring general that works with newer undercard babyfaces like Apollo Crews, Kalisto, and now Mojo Rawley. He’s likely in the Andre Battle Royal at Wrestlemania this year.

I really think it’s time. If Dolph Ziggler still wants to be a top guy, he needs to go the way of Drew Galloway, Cody Rhodes, and Alberto El Patron. He needs to get out of that company, climb some new mountains (New Japan Pro Wrestling comes to mind), and then potentially come back later for a fresh start. Dolph Ziggler is such a damn workhorse, and he’s as talented and charismatic as anybody they’ve got. But he’s stuck in midcard hell. He could potentially become the hottest free agent in wrestling, and still do his stand-up comedy on the side if that’s what he wants. At this point, here are more opportunities for him outside of the WWE bubble than inside.

Alexa Bliss delivers her “Blissertation.” Becky Lynch and Natalya come out, each looking for a title match. Daniel Bryan announces Bliss will defend against every available woman on the Smackdown roster at WrestlemaniaCrowd seemed dead during Alexa’s portion of this. She’s really good on the mic, but there can be a disconnect between her and the live crowds sometimes.

This match seems destined for the pre-show, much like the big women’s tag match last year. So who’ve we got for this one? Obviously there’s Alexa Bliss, Mickie James, Becky Lynch, and Natalya. Carmella is around. The only other name I can think of is Eva Marie, unless they want to bring someone up from NXT at Wrestlemania.

Alexa Bliss and Mickie James def. Becky Lynch and Natalya. Natalya turns on Becky to cost her team the match. Mickie turns on Alexa after the champion steals the pin from her. Does this constitute a babyface turn for Mickie James? If they wanted a feel-good moment for longtime fans, they could have her win the belt at Wrestlemania. She’s certainly as capable as she’s ever been. Just a thought.

Randy Orton def. AJ Styles to secure his WWE Championship Match at Wrestlemania. Styles yells at Shane McMahon after the match. Loved the line: “Randy Orton burns down a man’s house and gets rewarded for it.” Hey, it’s essentially true.

No Bray Wyatt on this show, which I can appreciate. Last week was a big moment for his character. It’s wise to let things breathe a little bit.

A slower and more methodical match, which is Orton’s usual M.O. Not the most thrilling watch, but still pretty good. I was waiting for the big counter into the RKO, and I loved how they faked us out with that Phenomenal Forearm spot. I imagine they’ll save that for a pay per view match. Even if it’s not a singles bout, these two are bound to mix it up at a big show someday.

If you caught Talking Smack, you saw footage of Styles confronting Shane backstage. It was, of all people, Road Dogg who got between them. Michael Hayes had a cool cameo as well.

On Talking Smack, Miz also got to rebut John Cena’s scathing promo from last week. He talked about how Cena stole his last t-shirt design from a beer company, and how he stole his girlfriend from Dolph Ziggler. Why couldn’t that have been on TV?

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Broken Matt Hardy in WWE? Plus Ponderings From Smackdown

Broken Matt Hardy, Jeff HardyBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

As he revealed on his Twitter this week, Matt Hardy is gone from TNA. Reports say Jeff is on his way out as well.

Long story short, their contracts were set to expire and TNA reportedly bungled negotiations. We’ve heard similar stories in the past about the company’s dealings with AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode, among others. Mind you, Matt announced his departure just one day after TNA Grand Champion Drew Galloway also announced his. Ouch.

Matt’s departure is undoubtedly a huge blow for TNA. The whole Broken Matt/Brother Nero thing was the only thing in that company with any life to it. But from a fan perspective, it conceivably opens a huge door: Broken Matt Hardy’s arrival in WWE.

There’s been talk of Matt doing this bizarre character in WWE almost since he started it. Could it ever happen? Would WWE have any interest in it? If so, how much creative control would he have? Would he be forced to recite the awful dialogue we hear so often on Raw and Smackdown?

Broken Matt Hardy, TNAWWE is in an interesting spot with the Hardys. Obviously, they’d be fools not to at least explore the possibility of bringing Matt and Jeff back. They were immensely popular, and could headline a Hall of Fame class someday. But if they simply try to bring them back in their old characters, a giant portion of the audience will inevitably clamor for Broken Matt and Brother Nero. I can practically hear the “Delete!” chants now.

While they’ve obviously toned down their attempts to “re-brand” talent from other promotions, all this Broken Matt stuff originated on TNA television. I can see Vince McMahon rejecting it simply because it’s not a WWE creation. It’s the same reason we’ve never gotten a War Games Match on WWE TV. And that’s to say nothing of the outright silliness of the whole thing. Imagine the 70-year-old McMahon’s reaction to things like Senior Benjamin, Vanguard 1, and King Maxel.

I think what this all really comes down to is Matt’s priorities. Jim Ross has talked about the two Cs, cash and creative, being the primary reasons a talent departs a promotion. Matt has a young son, and another child on the way. One more WWE run could put his kids through college someday, and get him back in the loop with the biggest wrestling promotion in the world. But money isn’t everything. Matt has a good thing going with this character. It doesn’t necessitate him jumping off ladders every month. He can do it for another year, he can do it for another 10 years. If he’s found something that makes he and his family happy, I say stick with it.

wwe-smackdown-february-28-2017-john-cena-the-mizPonderings From Smackdown:

John Cena and the Miz get personal on Miz TV. Nikki Bella comes to Cena’s aid, the two share a kiss in the ring for the first time. They tried to do way too much with Miz here. He seemed to be stumbling trying to cover all the bases. From a story perspective, this renewed animosity between Cena and Miz seemed to come about spontaneously in the Battle Royal last week. But in this promo they tried to justify a deep-seated hatred of Cena by the Miz. They threw so much out there about Cena’s wrestling skills, his alleged politicking, and his latest attempts to balance WWE and Hollywood. But they don’t need all of that. They just needed to pick one motivation for Miz and stick with it. What we got here was all over the place.

Cena’s stuff about the Undertaker was really interesting. I highly doubt that was ad-libbed. But I’d like to think it was…

Inevitably, the John Cena/Nikki Bella relationship has come to Smackdown. In a way, this reminds me of when Randy Orton hit Stephanie McMahon with the DDT on Raw several years ago, and an enraged Triple H emerged from the back. Everyone knew they were together, but now it was “TV official.” It’s the same case here.

becky-lynch-wwe-smackdown-february-28-2017Becky Lynch def. Mickie James in a 2-out-of-3 Falls Match. Alexa Bliss unintentionally costs James the third fall. Good match. These two are fun to watch in the ring, and they compliment one another very well. This program has been exactly what I imagined it would be, and that’s a good thing.

Was Becky screaming “Becky Balboa!” after she won?

Apparently Alexa Bliss’ nickname amongst the NXT crew was “Baby Trish,” as in Trish Stratus. Listening to her promos, I can absolutely see why. Intentional or not, I can see a lot of of heel Trish Stratus in her. Considering the great success Trish had, there’s no one better for Alexa to emulate.

AJ Styles def. Luke Harper to earn a WWE Championship Match at Wrestlemania. Shane McMahon takes an accidental kick from Harper. This one surprised me. I thought for sure we were getting a three-way between Wyatt, Orton, and Harper. Now it looks like we may get Wyatt, Orton, and Styles.

I wouldn’t count out the match between Styles and Shane, though. They a point to put those two out there together a few times, including what we saw on Talking Smack. This is a nice way to keep AJ in the title hunt in the months leading up to Wrestlemania, but I don’t know if I see him in wrestling for it this year.

dean-ambrose-february-28-2017Dean Ambrose calls out Baron Corbin. Not Corbin’s best mic work by a long shot. Often times he’s very hit or miss in that respect. I’m buying into this stuff with he and Ambrose, though.

Dolph Zigger def. Apollo Crews in a Chairs Match. It’s funny. I hate Chairs Matches on the TLC pay per view. But this one didn’t bother me. I guess they’re fine on free TV,  but not if you have to pay for them?

Are they building this up to Crews finally rising to the occasion and getting a singles win over Ziggler? Otherwise, he’s looked like a jobber. An athletic jobber, but a jobber nonetheless.

Randy Orton turns on Bray Wyatt, burning down the Wyatt Family compound. I wasn’t crazy about Randy’s dialogue in this segment. But that’s the only thing I can really nitpick here. This was a great piece of business, using a setting that’s long been a part of the Wyatt Family lore. They even explained why that place is so precious to Bray, what with Sister Abigail being buried there.

Have we ever seen a vengeful, enraged Bray Wyatt before? I don’t know that we have. Certainly not like this. Certainly not like he’s bound to be now. An angry Bray Wyatt against an angry Randy Orton? That could be some interesting television…

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Mickie James Returns! Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

Lita vs. Victoria, steel cage matchBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

With Becky Lynch and Alexa Bliss getting a Steel Cage match this week, there’s no better time to look back on the last time the ladies of WWE got to wrestle in the cage.

The recent Hell in a Cell Match between Charlotte and Sasha Banks notwithstanding, to see another traditional Cage Match with the women you’ve got to go all the way back to the November 24, 2003 edition of Raw. Your participants? Lita and Victoria. It was a Raw Roulette episode, thus in storyline the cage was sprung on them.

Bell to bell, the match is about five minutes long. So they don’t exactly have time to tell an epic tale of struggle and sacrifice. Victoria gets thrown into the cage twice in the opening seconds of the match, and we get some of the usual climbing-the-cage spots with Lita. Lita also hits a wicked moonsault on a standing Victoria. The match ends when Matt Hardy, in the midst of what would be a short-lived heel turn, slams the cage door on Lita’s head, allowing Victoria to crawl out.

While certainly a fun trivia point in Raw history, this match wasn’t even a fraction of what it could have been had they actually given these ladies time to tell a story. Thankfully, Becky and Alexa were awarded that privilege

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Shane McMahon announces the WWE Championship will be defended at Elimination Chamber on February 12. AJ Styles, John Cena, and the Miz emerge as likely participants. This was a gimme, of course. But it’s nice that they’re ahead of the game. It seems likely that the other participants will be Dean Ambrose, Baron Corbin, and Dolph Ziggler.

AJ Styles vs. The Miz, WWE Smackdown, January 17, 2017AJ Styles vs. The Miz went to a no-contest.. Styles was already hearing chants from the Memphis crowd. Putting him against Miz wasn’t going to dispel that, was it?

Sometimes I wonder whether Styles actually has what it takes to be Smackdown‘s lead babyface. He’s so much stronger on the mic than he used to be. But it’s never been his strong point, per se. Then you see how smooth and dynamic he is in the ring, and a lot of that doubt evaporates. Styles does his best talking in the ring in the same way guys like Bret Hart or Rob Van Dam used to. Needless to say, the fans got behind those two in a big way. The question is whether the company would get behind Styles in such a role.

Natalya provokes Nikki Bella, cutting a promo at a merchandise stand. Another brawl ensues between the two. Not the best mic work you’ll ever see, and this wasn’t nearly as good as the fight last week. But I still appreciate the intensity of the fighting itself. It’s the most interested I’ve been in a Nikki Bella program since she worked with Charlotte.

Dean Ambrose def. Randy Orton after a distraction by Luke Harper. The Earth didn’t move for me on this one. A little slow. Not a big fan of the distraction roll-up finish, either. He couldn’t have caught the Dirty Deeds and pinned him?

randy-orton-bray-wyatt-luke-harperIt’s odd to see Randy Orton being pinned so much lately. Obviously it’s all part of the larger Wyatt Family storyline. But Orton has always been one of WWE’s most protected guys. For years he was right up there with John Cena. I like this. It’s a change of pace.

Dolph Ziggler is a guest on the King’s Court. Oh wow. They went there.

Firstly, I love that they brought back the King’s Court. It gives Jerry Lawler something different to do. He’s still fully capable of contributing, no matter where they put him. Last week I talked about Miz TV potentially being the only talk show segment on Smackdown. But if they want to have Lawler do this once in awhile, I’m game.

I don’t know how widely accepted it is that Ziggler “caused” Lawler’s cardiac episode on Raw in 2012. But It’s something they’ve alluded to. King took a bunch of elbow’s from Ziggler in a match, and later in the night he went into cardiac arrest. This is the first time they’ve done anything with it in terms of a storyline. I loved it, but I wish they’d gone further. King hasn’t wrestled for WWE since then, and he may never again. That’s something they could have used to put some great heat on Ziggler. And maybe that’s what they’re doing.

Just as good was King retaliating with, “No matter how many times you change your attitude, you will always be a loser.”

Mickie James, Alexa Bliss, WWE Smackdown, January 17, 2017Alexa Bliss def. Becky Lynch in a Steel Cage Match to retain the WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship. La Luchadora assists Bliss, reveals herself as Mickie James. I wasn’t expecting them to go with Alexa Bliss as champion at all. Then once she became champion, I imagined her reign would be short. And yet, here we are. She’s becoming quite an asset to Smackdown. This match makes a hell of an addition to the resumes of both these ladies.

Pleased to hear Mauro Ranallo mention the Lita/Victoria cage match. I was also pleased that these two got to play with the cage a little more than those two did. Loved that kick into the cage, followed by the exploder suplex from the top. Great combo.

The Mickie James reveal was pulled off well. This was the outcome many expected, but I’m no less happy to have Mickie back. I maintain that Raw really could have used her, what with the lack of depth their female roster has. But we can now look forward to Mickie James vs. Becky Lynch. That’s a reason to be excited.

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WWE’s Most Fascinating People of 2016: AJ Styles, Charlotte, and More!

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Is Barbara Walters still doing her most fascinating people of the year list? I haven’t heard anything about it this year…

In any event, our list of WWE’s Most Fascinating People continues! While the current product may be marred by scripted promos, pro wrestling never has a shortage of interesting characters. For my money, these were the 10 most interesting of 2016.

Honorable mentions go to Goldberg, Dean Ambrose, and Shinsuke Nakamura.

AJ Styles, WWE Champion1. AJ Styles   

AJ Styles is the WWE Champion.

I’d like to say that again. Because even now, the novelty hasn’t worn off: AJ Styles is the WWE Champion. Imagine saying that a year ago at this time, before Styles made his debut in the Royal Rumble Match. We were asking ourselves questions about whether the former TNA mainstay would even be able to sniff the main event picture, let alone be WWE Champion. But to their credit, WWE conveyed Styles as a big deal from day one. He moved right into a program with Chris Jericho, which culminated in a Wrestlemania match. From there, he challenged Roman Reigns for the WWE Championship in two consecutive pay per view main events, stealing the show each time. And then? He went against the man himself, John Cena. Styles shocked the world by beating Cena in yet another show-stealer at Summerslam, At that point, it was practically inevitable. Styles took the belt off Dean Ambrose at Backlash in September, and has been the face of Smackdown ever since.

The 39-year-old Styles has been wrestling for almost 20 years, and has four kids at home. So it’s tough to hazard a guess as to how long he’ll remain on the active roster. But we can at least take comfort in the fact that against the odds, he made himself into a bonafide WWE superstar in 2016.

Shane McMahon, WWE Raw, March 7, 20162. Shane McMahon

When Shane made his surprise return to Raw in February, the way the crowd reacted you’d think Hulk Hogan or Steve Austin had walked out there. In an era where genuine human emotion can sometimes be hard to find on WWE programming, this was a hell of a moment for fans who’ve stuck with the show for a long time. Shane had been gone for nearly seven years. As silly as it seems now, we weren’t sure if/when we’d ever see him again. But here he was. And by the end of the segment he was in a Wrestlemania match with the Undertaker, inside Hell in a Cell.

The story they concocted for Shane’s return was initially very compelling, but eventually fell apart. He came in saying what a lot of people thought was reality-based stuff about wanting to take his rightful place in the company. Vince McMahon essentially used the Undertaker as a hired gun to take Shane out, with the caveat that if Shane could beat him, he’d be put in charge of Raw. But Undertaker’s role in the story was severely underdeveloped. And while he lost the match, Shane was essentially put in charge of Raw anyway. Also, while Shane took one of his trademark crazy bumps, the match was mostly underwhelming.

Shane currently serves as the Commissioner of Smackdown. Despite the rocky way he came back, he has something going for him that very few WWE personalities do. When he walks out there, it’s instant intrigue. There’s a constant question about how blurred the lines are between reality and fantasy. Plus, as we saw at Survivor Series, he’s still not afraid to take big risks for the fans. He earned the massive pops he gets out there.

Sasha Banks, WWE Women's Champion3. Sasha Banks

It’s been an up and down year for Sasha. Her match with Charlotte and Becky Lynch stole the show at Wrestlemania. Then she flat out disappeared from television for several weeks. When she finally returned, she was put with Charlotte for most of the remainder of the year. She’d win her first Women’s Championship on the main roster in July, and would hot potato it with Charlotte multiple times.

While I’ve come to find her babyface promos very white-meat and and annoying, her passion for what she does in the ring can’t be denied. It may have gone on a little too long, but she and Charlotte made history together. After main eventing Raw together, at Hell in a Cell they were the first two women in WWE history to headline a pay per view. They’ve brought women’s wrestling to perhaps an unprecedented level of prominence and importance. In many ways, 2016 saw Sasha Banks become the game-changing performer many of us knew she was destined to be. Hopefully she’s just getting started.

Samoa Joe, NXT Champion4. Samoa Joe

Joe is another TNA mainstay that should have been in WWE a long time ago. He was making waves in Ring of Honor alongside the likes of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan as far back as the early 2000s. He would then elevate his game with guys like AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, and Kurt Angle in TNA. But WWE had always eluded him until last year, when he finally broke into NXT.

As a monster heel, Joe ascended to the top of NXT this year, winning the NXT Championship from Finn Balor in April. From there, he and Shinsuke Nakamura would trade the belt back and forth at Takeover: Brooklyn and Takeover: Toronto. Earlier this month, he dropped the belt back to Nakamura in Osaka, Japan. Rumors are now buzzing about a potential debut in the Royal Rumble Match, similar to what AJ Styles did last year.

In today’s WWE, wrestlers that come off legitimately angry and tough are a surprising anomaly. Brock Lesnar is one. I’d argue Braun Strowman is another. You can make a case for Rusev, too. But one man who’s definitely in that category is Joe. He can come to the main roster and be an easy sell as a threat to a top babyface or champion. It’s just a matter of figuring out where to put him.

In the end, his long road to the WWE roster may have been a blessing in disguise. Had he come in during a previous era, he might not have been allowed to be himself. Pissed off bad ass Samoa Joe is the guy we want. Thankfully, he’s the guy we got.

James Ellsworth5. James Ellsworth

The July 25 edition of Raw was probably the best of the year for a variety of reasons. It was Finn Balor’s first night on the main roster, and he immediately became the top contender for the Universal Title. Sasha Banks won her first Women’s Title. We also saw the debut of WWE’s most unlikely signee in over a decade: James Ellsworth. Granted, he wasn’t signed at the time. He was there to be squashed by Braun Strowman. But fans were captivated by his odd look, and the seemingly impossible odds he faced against Strowman. In a quick pre-match interview spot, Ellsworth put the icing on the cake by saying: “Any man with two hands has a fighting chance.”

That little squash match was all it took. Fast forward to today, and Ellsworth is now Smackdown‘s resident underdog. While you can probably count the number of offensive moves Ellsworth has hit on less than two hands, through the magic of storytelling he’s now due a shot at AJ Styles and the WWE Championship. Some say his act is getting old. But there’s just something about him that’s undeniably captivating. Ellsworth is a real life Cinderella story, and WWE was smart enough to capitalize on that.

Braun Strowmann, WWE Raw6. Braun Strowman

When Strowman had that squash match with Ellsworth on July 25, I wrote: “Braun Strowman is on his own now, which I’m afraid means we have to endure yet another generic giant. I actually would have preferred another attempt to make Erick Rowan a single.”

It wasn’t an unfounded fear, given what WWE has done with certain big men in the past. But they’ve protected Strowman in ways they didn’t protect others. As such, he’s now a commodity despite his relative inexperience. In the past few weeks, his story with Sami Zayn and Mick Foley has been one of the more interesting parts of the show. His presentation is simple, but so effective.

It’s very much in WWE’s interest to continue protecting Strowman in 2017. I never thought I’d say it, but if what we’re seeing from him continues, he’s got main event potential.

Finn Balor, WWE Raw, August 8, 20167. Finn Balor

This was supposed to be Finn Balor’s year. One night in, he pinned Roman Reigns clean in the main event. That really can’t be understated. Roman was, and still is, pegged to be WWE’s new poster boy. So for this new guy to beat him and earn a Universal Title Match at Summerslam was an amazing surprise. And of course, he beat Seth Rollins to win the title. Combine that momentum with Balor’s unique presentation and in-ring style, and it looked like we had Raw‘s new top star on our hands.

Clearly fate had other ideas. In a case of absolute disastrous timing, Balor suffered a torn labrum in the Summerslam match. One night after becoming the inaugural WWE Universal Champion, he was forced to hand the belt back.

Balor was on the main roster for just under a month. But Raw dearly misses him. Since September, the Universal Title picture has been monopolized by Rollins, Reigns, and the man who stepped up in his absence, Kevin Owens. Balor was a fresh face to signify  a new era. And if there’s one thing the Raw main event scene is hurting for, it’s fresh faces.

The good news is that Balor should be back around Wrestlemania. As he obviously never lost the belt, he should be in line for a title shot.

Chris Jericho, WWE Raw, October 24, 20168. Chris Jericho

Chris Jericho got a clipboard over in 2016. If that’s not a testament to his talents, I don’t know what is.

Jericho spent most of 2016 helping to get newer talent over. He was a vital component in AJ Styles getting over as well as he did, and got a match with him at Wrestlemania. He would then move on to Dean Ambrose, which would culminate in the first (and hopefully last) Asylum Match. But Jericho’s best stuff this year was his character work with Kevin Owens. Their tumultuous “best friends” partnership has been the most consistently entertaining thing about Raw these past few months. The “List of Jericho” running gag is more popular than most of the active wrestlers. WWE obviously recognizes their chemistry, as they’ve held off on putting Owens and Jericho against each other in a Universal Title program. They could easily have pulled the trigger at Survivor SeriesRoadblock, or the Royal Rumble. At this point, Wrestlemania seems like the earliest we’ll see them go at it. But even that isn’t a guarantee. And frankly, that’s okay. Roughly 17 years after his WWE debut, Chris Jericho is a vital part of WWE’s flagship show. So few are on his level both in the ring and on the mic. Perhaps he truly is the best in the world at what he does…

The Miz, Maryse9. The Miz

Maryse turned out to be the missing ingredient to Miz’s Hollywood A-lister persona. He always had that smarmy confidence about him. But having this gorgeous French supermodel next to him almost validates that confidence. Maybe he really is as great as he says he is. And the fact that she’s actually his wife adds a great layer of realism.

This newly completed package did wonders for the Intercontinental Championship in 2016. He became a beatable champion that somehow no one could beat. He and Dolph Ziggler had one of WWE’s most compelling feuds this year. Miz constantly found underhanded ways to win despite Ziggler’s tireless efforts. It seemingly culminated in Ziggler dropping his status as a lovable loser, taking the title from Miz at No Mercy. But Miz would take it back from him a few weeks later. The apex of his douchebaggery came just last week, when he publicly “outed” Renee Young’s relationship with Dean Ambrose.

A year ago, the idea of him ever regaining the WWE Championship seemed unlikely at best. But now? Not so much. At this rate, Miz could very well stand at the top of the mountain again in 2017.

WWE Raw, July 4, 2016, Charlotte10. Charlotte Flair

When 2016 began, we’d heard a lot of talk about a “Divas Revolution,” and how women’s wrestling was changing in WWE. Surprisingly, they were able to make good on those bold claims. Why? Because of Charlotte.

That’s not to say it couldn’t have happened without her. Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Bayley, Alexa Bliss, and numerous other talented ladies are on the WWE roster right now. But Charlotte has been the centerpiece to it all. She was the first to strike gold, winning the then-Divas Championship in September. She was victorious when the women stole the show at Wrestlemania for the first time. She and Sasha Banks were the first women of this era to main event Raw, and the first women of any era to main event a pay per view. All the while, she’s been arguably the best heel in the entire company.

Keep in mind, she accomplished all of that in about a year and a half. The smart bet is she’s just getting started. So what will she have

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A WWE Survivor Series 2016 Preview – A Battle With No Consequences

Team Raw, WWE Raw, November 14, 2016By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m still a little grumpy at WWE after this week’s Raw. Because all my questions still apply. At Survivor Series, what happens to the winning show? What happens to the losing show?  And why should I care?

Assuming they continue with this brand split stuff, the Raw vs. Smackdown format is a good hook for Survivor Series. But this show needs consequences. If Raw beats Smackdown, do they get to pluck a couple of guys from their roster? Do they get the first pick in the next draft? Do they get exclusive rights to a previously shared show, like Money in the Bank? Do they get a gaudy trophy? What’s at stake? We’ve gotten vague threats from Stephanie McMahon, and even the Undertaker. But nothing specific.

In previous years, this is where they’ve run into problems with the Raw vs. Smackdown stuff. There is no real competition between the two shows. That “ratings war” they occasionally bring up is all pretend. Viewers aren’t going to flock to one show over the other depending on who wins at Survivor Series. This isn’t like the World Series, where teams battle through elimination all year. We need a prize to fight for. Otherwise, what does it even matter?

Let’s get to predictions…

Brian Kendrick, Kalisto, WWE Survivor Series 2016STIPULATION MATCH FOR WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE:
Brian Kendrick (c) vs. Kalisto
If Kalisto wins, the cruiserweight division goes to Smackdown.

One would think the Cruiserweight Division would be better on Smackdown, what with Mauro Ranallo being there to call the action. But Raw needs the cruiserweights to help fill three hours every week. If anything, it should be Kalisto going to Raw. Taking the belt off Kendrick wouldn’t be a big shock. But it seems like it would be a big misstep.

PREDICTION: Brian Kendrick

The Miz, Sami Zayn, WWE Survivor Series 2016WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
The Miz (c) vs. Sami Zayn

Like the cruiserweight situation, moving the Intercontinental Title to Raw would be a big misstep. Unless they somehow move the US Title to Smackdown. But why bother? No need to fix something that isn’t broken.

Having Dolph Ziggler in this match would have made it a more thrilling watch. But it’s still a nice way to break up all the multi-man matches.

PREDICTION: Dolph Ziggler

WWE Survivor Series 2016, Women's MatchSURVIVOR SERIES MATCH:
Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Nia Jax, & Alicia Fox
Vs.
Nikki Bella, Becky Lynch, Alexa Bliss, Naomi, & Carmella

Nikki Bella being the captain of the Smackdown team stands out like a sore thumb. Becky Lynch is standing right behind her with the title. It’s just weird.

With Nia Jax on the red team, I’d wager they come out of this with the win. They could always remove Nia via count-out or DQ, but I imagine they’ll do that with Braun Strowman later. My gut says our survivors are Nia and Charlotte. I imagine Charlotte continues her feud with Bayley next month, and we get a little something with Sasha and Nia. Though I maintain some sort of bullying story between Nia and Bayley would be great.

PREDICTION: Team Raw

WWE Survivor Series 2016, Tag Team MatchSURVIVOR SERIES MATCH:
The New DayGallows & Anderson, Enzo & Cass, Cesaro & Sheamus, & the Shining Stars
Vs.
Heath Slater & Rhyno, American Alpha, the Usos, the  Hype Bros, & Breezango. 

Sixteen guys? What a mess…

So if one member of a team gets pinned, both guys are out. Thus, I imagine we’ll see some eliminations rather quickly just to thin out the herd. Breezango and the Shining Stars? Thanks for coming.

With Raw winning the women’s match, Smackdown should take this one to make the next match the tie-breaker. So I’d wager a disagreement between New Day and Sheamus & Cesaro cost Raw the match. As for which Smackdown guys survive, it’s hard to bet against American Alpha. Those guys are a long-term investment that should be protected.

PREDICTION: Team Smackdown

WWE Survivor Series 2016, Main Event MatchSURVIVOR SERIES MATCH:
Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, & Braun Strowman
Vs.
AJ Styles, Dean Ambrose, Randy Orton, Bray Wyatt, & Shane McMahon

This should be a good one. There’s been no shortage of build to this match, as a lot of their big-money ball players are in it. It feels like there should be more riding on it. In reality, it’s just another match.

Keep in mind, we’ve got two pay per view main events announced for next month: Owens against Reigns, and Styles against Ambrose. So they’ll want to throw in some friction between those guys. I imagine we’ll also have some kind of Shield moment between Reigns, Ambrose, and Rollins. There also seems to be a little bit of interest in Braun and Bray, so perhaps those two will end up brawling on the outside, and that’s how we get out count-out.

To me, the finish of this match hinges on how WWE has booked Kevin Owens. He’s beatable champion, which makes sense given how he won the belt. AJ Styles, on the other hand, is Mr. Smackdown. A heel champion? Yes. But he’s also the guy who beat John Cena clean at Summerslam. So if you have to beat one of these guys, Kevin Owens is the one to go with.

So keeping in mind that we’ve got Owens vs. Reigns to build to at Roadblock, while also slow burning this Owens/Jericho program, I say something happens between the three of them to cost Team Raw the match. This will then allow heel commissioner Stephanie McMahon to do her heel authority figure shtick and punish everybody.

As for the Smackdown side of things, my guess is Ambrose comes out looking strong. We’ve seen Styles and Ambrose multiple times already, so at the very least they have to make us believe he can beat AJ at TLC next month. Who he goes with at the Rumble in January is a toss up. Randy Orton? Is it too far-fetched to suggest the Undertaker? They’ve got a big dome to fill up, after all.

PREDICTION: Team Smackdown

WWE Survivor Series 2016, Bill Goldberg, Brock LesnarBill Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar

The clock will be an interesting factor in this match. Goldberg wasn’t exactly known for giving us lengthy Ric Flair style classics. After all these years away from the ring, it would behoove them to keep that in mind.

I don’t see how Brock doesn’t win this one. He’s still in the position to make WWE a lot of money as the invincible monster that ended the Undertaker’s undefeated streak and victimized John Cena. The reaction to Goldberg has been great (with one exception), but they’re nostalgia pops. Brock is the guy to go with here.

This is why I’m banking on Goldberg coming back one more time at Wrestlemania against somebody like Rusev. They’ve built him up as this heroic family man who’s coming back one more time so his son can see him wrestle, all so he can lose to Brock? I don’t buy it. These next few months are likely Goldberg’s last hurrah, so they need to send him out on a high note. In essence, they need to do the opposite of what they did with Sting.

Just be careful, guys.

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

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