Punjabi Prison Match Returning, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I turned Raw off this week at about the 90-minute mark. It was the first time I’d given up on a show since November. Apparently I missed some good stuff afterward, including a follow-up on the split between Enzo and Cass, Samoa Joe choking out Brock Lesnar, and a Gauntlet Match with the women.

What a shame I missed it. But I just couldn’t take it anymore. The show was actively irritating me.

It started when they brought Josh Duhamel out to do commentary during a six-man tag. He was there to promote Transformers: The Last Knight, and an upcoming film he’s working on with WWE Studios. They spent a large portion of the match asking Duhamel questions about the movies before actually bothering to talk about what was happening in the ring. I’ve been watching this stuff for over 20 years, and this kind of thing  is nothing new. But it’s seldom been as grating to me as it was here. It’s like they were trying to mimic a talk show interview.

Later in the show, they did a Miz TV segment with someone named Lamelo Ball and his son LaVar Ball, and then his other son Lonzo Ball. I had no idea who any of these people were. Apparently Lonzo just got drafted by the LA Lakers, so it was partially meant to appeal to the crowd in Los Angeles. But this was just not good. It was an obvious attempt by WWE to get coverage from the major sports outlets so they’d look “legitimate.” Whatever that means…

It was then made worse when 15-year-old Lamelo used the N-word twice. It happened during Dean Ambrose’s entrance, so the music pulled a little bit of focus from it. But it happened. Some of the blame goes on Lamelo for that. But he’s just a kid. What the hell was he doing with a live mic?

And frankly, as a wrestling fan, there’s a larger issue at play for me here. The Ball family shouldn’t have had a featured role on Raw to begin with. I understand WWE wanting to get “the rub” from celebrities. It makes good business sense, and it’s certainly worked in the past. Think of names like Mr. T, Cindi Lauper, Mike Tyson, and Floyd Mayweather.

But WWE has bigger problems right now that can’t be masked by celebrity involvement. They’re the same problems that have been there for years now. Everything is overly sanitized. The wrestlers are too scripted. Certain characters feel hollow. Nothing feels real. The show is too long. The list goes on.

The ratings reflect it, too. Viewership fell below three million people again this week. Pundits talk a lot about WWE’s “base” audience. As in, the people that are going to watch the shows no matter what. Usually, I’m part of that base. But this past week, they chased me off before I could see most of their big angles. If it’s gotten to the point that they’re chasing hardcore loyalists like myself off, how do they expect to bring casual viewers back to the product?

Over seven million people have watched the YouTube video of the first Brock Lesnar/Samoa Joe’s confrontation on Raw. So it’s not like there’s no interest in the WWE brand. I think a lot of the more casual fans are simply waiting for Raw to be good again. Why should they waste their time otherwise?

So what do they have to lose by changing up the presentation and the creative? More importantly, how much do they stand to gain by taking some risks? It’s not like what they’re doing now is setting the world on fire. Anything so we don’t see crap like that Miz TV segment anymore. That thing stunk like balls…

Sorry. I couldn’t resist. Let’s move on to Smackdown.  

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Daniel Bryan opens the show, Carmella vies to get her Money in the Bank briefcase back. James Ellsworth is ejected from the building. I chuckled at Ellsworth’s crack about Bryan not being able to cut it in the ring anymore. Bryan has made no secret about wanting to get back in there. He just can’t get cleared by WWE doctors. The smart bet his inevitable return take place in Ring of Honor or New Japan Pro Wrestling. That’s sad news for WWE buffs. But as much as anyone, Bryan deserves to live life on his own terms.

The Usos def. The Hype Bros. The New Day to challenge for the Smackdown Tag Titles at BattlegroundSurprised the Hype Bros lost this match clean. Maybe that Zack Ryder heel turn is coming sooner than I expected.

So Kofi Kingston insults the Usos, and they just stand there and take it? Yes, they’re heels. But do they have to be wusses too? At least tease some physicality.

Breezango interrogates the Ascension about attacking them at Money in the Bank. Konnor: “The only reason we were at Money in the Bank is because we wanted a match on the card.” Hey, at least he’s honest.

Naomi def. Lana to retain the Smackdown Women’s Title. I was actually rooting for Lana here. How much heat would she get if Rusev came down and cost Naomi the match? Is Lana as good wrestler yet? No. But neither was Stephanie McMahon when she was Women’s Champion. Just do it!

Randy Orton interrupts Aiden English to challenge Jinder Mahal to another WWE Title Match. Shane McMahon grants his request, allowing Mahal to choose the stipulation Mahal chooses a Punjabi Prison Match. How nice that they just happened to have that stock footage of the Punjabi Prison structure standing by. That’s the kind of thing that just shatters your suspension of disbelief.

Jinder name-dropped the Great Khali in this segment. Not sure how good an idea that was. Considering the quality of previous Punjabi Prison Matches, do they really want people Googling them with the Great Khali’s name attached? Not exactly a recipe for quality content.

Baron Corbin def. Sami Zayn. They had Sami Zayn interrupt Maria and Mike Kanellis on his way to the ring. Not a bad first opponent for Mike Kanellis. Not a bad first opponent for anybody, really.

Carmella def. Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Natalya, and Tamina Snuka in a Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match to regain the briefcase. Great effort from all the ladies involved here. It seemed like they were trying to slam each other hard to make up for a lack of hitting one another with the ladder.

They did a weird sequence where Charlotte and Tamina (with her Joan Jett look) were holding a closed ladder straight up, and Becky Lynch tried to leap up and climb it. They held it there for several seconds, then let it drop across the ropes as Becky remained perched. A few seconds later, they then attacked her. Very tentative. Again, it hurts your suspension of disbelief. But then again, I’m not the one out there on the ladder…

That chair shot Carmella gave to Becky at the end of the match looked weak as hell. If you’re going to use the damn chair, make it look good! That being said, this was the right finish. Carmella gets heat with how she won at the pay per view, and she keeps it here. Smackdown has its new top heel in the Women’s Division. But lay that damn chair in! Also, don’t let the cameras catch you peeking at the ring when you’re supposed to be down on the outside!

You live and you learn…

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Money in the Bank Takes Shape, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There was a little bit of buzz Monday night about WWE changing a match graphic midway through Raw. I’m amazed people notice this stuff, honestly.

In advertising the Matt Hardy/Sheamus match, WWE initially showed the above image. Later in the show it was changed to show us a more even tempered Matt. Rumor has it this was done to avoid drama over the “Broken” intellectual property, which is owned by Anthem Sports and Impact Wrestling. That’s obviously much to the chagrin of wrestling fans who want to see Broken Matt and Brother Nero in WWE. ProWrestlingSheet.com has the full story, for those interested.

I don’t know that I agree with what Anthem has done here. As an artistic type, I’m usually inclined to favor creator ownership, and the Broken stuff always seemed like it was coming straight from Matt and Jeff. But I can appreciate the situation Anthem finds themselves in. The Broken characters generated interest the likes of which they haven’t seen in years, and certainly haven’t seen since. They want that stuff associated with the Impact brand. It’s good business.

But what’s not good business? Damaging your rep with wrestling fans even further. Now as much as ever, people love the Hardys. Fans are going to be on their side, especially when it comes to these Broken characters. In keeping that IP locked up, Anthem is denying us one of the hottest acts in all of wrestling. That has already created a backlash resulting in a lot of bad press. And if there’s one thing Impact doesn’t need more of, it’s bad press.

So yes, Anthem’s retention of the Broken Hardys IP is good business…for now. But how much money are they shooing away in the long run by leaving a bad taste in the mouths of potential viewers? I shudder to think.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Shane McMahon announces the participants for the 2017 Money in the Bank Ladder Match: AJ Styles, Baron Corbin, Sami Zayn, Dolph Ziggler, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Kevin Owens. Pretty good line up. Nakamura and Styles in the same Ladder Match? That may be worth the price of admission alone.

I got curious when Ziggler came out, so I looked it up: This will be his seventh Money in the Bank Ladder Match. One more and he’ll have appeared in more of these than anyone else. Of course, they put him in these things because they know how good he is at them. Can’t be easy on his body, though.

Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch def. Natalya and Carmella. And so the Charlotte babyface turn continues. I was waiting for the other shoe to fall.

Later on, they made a Fatal Five-Way for next week to decide the top contender for the Women’s Title. What is their obsession with Fatal Five-Way Matches lately? It’s like a shiny new toy they just can’t put down. Rumor has it Carmella is in line to hold the belt next, so there’s a decent chance she’ll walk away with it.

Sami Zayn def. Baron Corbin with a quick roll-up. Corbin destroys Zayn after the match. Damn. Corbin can’t seem to buy a win these days. That’s…okay, the more I think about it. Not everybody should be an unstoppable giant. It’s also pretty obvious that Corbin lacks the experience that guys like Zayn and Orton do. Plus, win or lose, he beat the hell out of Zayn in the end.

Jinder Mahal holds a Punjabi celebration after winning the WWE Title at Backlash. Randy Orton to invoke his rematch clause at Money in the BankSurprised as hell that Orton didn’t come out and trash this thing. That’s usually what the babyface does. I’m assuming they wanted to hammer home this Jinder Mahal thing that much harder.

From a character perspective, Randy Orton should be embarrassed and mad as hell. The guy that comes back from this shouldn’t be the calm and reserved dude. We need to see Randy our for revenge. Hell, maybe he’ll burn Jinder’s house down too

Tyler Breeze def. Jey Uso with a distraction roll-up in a quick match. Fandango then does the same to Jimmy Uso. Factoring in the Corbin/Zayn match, that’s three roll-up finishes in the same broadcast. I get that they were going for comedy, and I like Breezango more and more as the weeks go by. But that’s too much.

The Usos def. Breezango to retain the Smackdown Tag Team Titles. At least it didn’t end with a roll-up. I imagine they’re gearing the Usos up to face the New Day soon. But WWE would do well to keep Breezango on television. They’ve become a really fun act.

Side note: Where is American Alpha? Are they just giving them a little break?

AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura def. Kevin Owens and Dolph Ziggler. Both the announcers and the fans made a big deal out of Styles and Nakamura teaming together for the first time. Rightfully so, given their history in New Japan.

I enjoyed seeing Styles work with Ziggler here. Typically when they’re building to a multi-man match like this, they have everybody wrestle each other in singles matches during the build-up. So we could see our first Styles/Ziggler match as early as next week.

They kept calling Nakamura a rock star, as if that’s his new nickname. Meh. There’s worse things to be called, I suppose.

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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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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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