Enzo Amore’s Release, Plus Ponderings From Raw and Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It was only a matter of time before the #MeToo movement touched pro wrestling. I can’t say I expected Enzo Amore to be the one effected. But here we are.

The real-life Eric Arndt was suspended and subsequently released by WWE this week after rape allegations against him emerged via Twitter. Supposedly Enzo was fired not because he was accused, but because he failed to alert WWE that he was being investigated.

Either way, it’s a rotten situation. If he did it, then he deserves everything that’s coming to him. If he didn’t, and simply failed to be transparent with WWE about it, then this whole thing was needless. Arndt certainly isn’t the best in the ring. But he’s still incredibly talented, and can go far. If he is innocent, then hopefully he’ll be back. Perhaps a little wiser for the experience.

Ponderings From Raw and Smackdown:

Vince McMahon is honored by his children, Shane and Stephanie. Stone Cold Steve Austin interrupts, hitting the Stone Cold Stunner on Shane twice, and once on the chairman himself. This Raw 25 show as a disappointment for a variety of reasons. But we can’t say they didn’t start strong. At 72, Vince is every bit the showman he’s always been. And of course, it doesn’t get any hotter than Steve Austin.

Remember the days when Austin could hit the Stunner on Stephanie? Ahhh, good times…

Asuka, Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Mickie James def. Nia Jax, Alicia Fox, Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville. Asuka throws her teammates over the top rope afterward, in a preview of the Women’s Royal Rumble Match. Asuka is obviously a heavy favorite in the Women’s Royal Rumble Match this Sunday. But she’s also a little obvious. Who’s the dark horse candidate? Nia Jax? Becky Lynch, maybe?

The Undertaker returns to the Manhattan Center, says it’s time for those who’ve fallen to “rest in peace.” Lots of fans holding up smartphones during the Undertaker’s entrance. I’ll never understand that. Be in the moment, folks. Put your damn phones away.

Filming at both the Barclays Center and the Manhattan Center was a complete waste. I feel for the fans at the Manhattan Center, who obviously felt cheated with what relatively little they got. Watching current stars on that throwback set is such a great visual. Why not just do the Manhattan Center? Just jack up the ticket prices. The die-hards will pay.

There was a ton of speculation about an angle being shot for Undertaker vs. John Cena at Wrestlemania. I’m not necessarily disappointed we didn’t get that. But we didn’t get much of anything from ‘Taker. He said some drawn out stuff about his old enemies, and then he left. Again, seeing him back in the Manhattan Center was cool. But in the end, this was a big disappointment.

The Miz def. Roman Reigns to win the Intercontinental Championship. Loved the finish to this one, with the exposed turnbuckle pad being a surprise. Miz cheats to win, and gets his belt back in a match that the crowd was pretty into. Take note future champions: For the Miz, that IC Title is every bit as important as the WWE Title. That’s how you lend prestige to a championship.

Christian hosts Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan on the Peep Show. Jason Jordan’s got heat. Bar babyface turn? Sheamus and Cesaro interrupt. A brawl ensues. and Rollins accidentally takes out Jordan. A babyface turn for Sheamus and Cesaro is probably inevitable. They’ve got that cool factor going for them. Especially when they’re up against someone like Jason Jordan, who’s definitely coming into his own as a heel. He’s gettin’ there. Slowly but surely…

Bray Wyatt def. Woken Matt Hardy. Another opportunity they missed with the Manhattan Center presentation? Howard Finkel. That had him announce Undertaker’s entrance, but they switched to Greg Hamilton for the remainder of the night. The never even showed Finkel on camera. Why? What’s their aversion to letting this guy be on TV?

On the plus side, it’s always great to hear Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler on headset. Lawler alluded to us one day finding out who/what Sister Abigail is. I’d like to think that means the whole Bray in drag thing is being forgotten. More likely, they’re not as familiar with the recent product.

Chris Jericho appears in a backstage segment with Elias. Again, a total waste not having Jericho appear in front of the live crowd. Though at least for this one they have an excuse, what with the whole New Japan thing. He was even wearing his “Alpha Club” t-shirt. Did they just miss that?

Elias is interrupted by John Cena. A fight breaks out. Elias low blows Cena, and smashes him in the back with a guitar. Very cool to see Jimmy Fallon in the front row. Like him or not, he’s the host of The Tonight Show. That means something.

One thing I love about Cena? His love for spontaneity. He’ll go with the crowd. Even if he’s just pointing out the stupid beach balls. That lends an energy to things that’s been sorely lacking for a long time.

Mark Henry finds out the Godfather is “grown up,” and now a married man. Of course the Godfather can’t have hoes anymore. That was an edgy gimmick back in the ’90s. I’m almost surprised they even let him be on TV nowadays.

The Dudley Boyz interrupt a tag team match. Heath Slater takes the 3D through a table. Why exactly couldn’t we get that Bubba Ray heel run last year? Hell, why couldn’t the Dudleys even get a token tag team title run? This seems to be a recurring theme, but what a waste…

Shawn Michaels, Triple H, the New Age Outlaws, X-Pac, and Scott Hall celebrate Raw’s 25th anniversary with the Balor Club. Gallows and Anderson defeat the Revival. The legends beat up Dash and Dawson. It tugged at my heartstrings to hear Hunter name-drop Chyna. It’s such a damn shame she never got to come back and take a bow. She absolutely deserved it.

Supposedly, this Revival stuff was supposed to have been done by Enzo. Dash and Dawson did just fine, of course. And somehow it wasn’t as bad as what the Ascension got from JBL and the gang a few years back.

The “Too Sweet” bit with the Balor Club felt like an unofficial passing of the torch moment. BNow if only Balor hadn’t lost to Seth Rollins last week.

A confrontation between Brock Lesnar, Kane, and Braun Strowman ends with Strowman Powerslamming Lesnar through an announce table. They did this table spot at Summerslam, right? Still a good spot. Now if only Strowman were winning the title this Sunday.

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn open Smackdown. AJ Styles agrees to face them in singles matches later in the show. They really want us to get behind the “Kami” nickname for Owens and Zayn. Coming from AJ, it almost feels like a dad joke. Good thing he’s the best in the damn world…

Chad Gable def. Jey Uso. Gable’s roll-through German Suplex somehow never gets old.  He’s so smooth in there. But at 5’8, his height could work against him in terms of a singles push. Granted, guys like Eddie Guerrero have been Heavyweight Champions at around that height. So it’s not unheard of.

Naomi def. Liv Morgan. The women’s locker room empties in anticipation of the Women’s Royal Rumble Match. Charlotte Flair wishes them good luck, “especially to the winner.” Saw someone on Twitter say that Liv Morgan looks like a Bratz doll. I’m not even sure what that means. But somehow I know it’s true.

We haven’t heard anything official about past stars coming in for the Women’s Rumble Match, which seems odd. I would imagine everyone they trotted out for that little hello on Raw is a candidate. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Nikki Bella show up. I’m sure Jacqueline would be happy to get in there. Trish Stratus seems like a must. I’ve also heard Molly Holly’s name mentioned. You’d think at least a few names would have been announced. Especially with them in attendance like that.

Randy Orton interrupts a match between Shinsuke Nakamura and Baron Corbin. Hits the RKO on both. Baron Corbin’s entrance music may be the best thing he’s got going for him right now. True story.

Hell of an entrance by Orton. He friggin’ flew into frame with that first RKO. His wife went on a little Instagram rant about how he was left off Raw 25. At least he didn’t miss much…

Bobby Roode, Kofi Kingston, and Xavier Woods def. Jinder Mahal, Rusev, and Aiden English. That “Keap of Faith” Kofi does over the top with his back turned is damn crazy. Talk about a trust fall…

AJ Styles def. Kevin Owens quickly after Owens seemingly injures his knee. After a pre-match beatdown, Sami Zayn pins the WWE Champion. The best part of all this? Zayn finally won a match with the Blue Thunder Bomb. It’s the best move he’s got, but he’s always used it as a set-up move.

The dead giveaway that Owens wasn’t really hurt? They kept showing him on camera during the match. Typically if somebody gets hurt, they don’t do that if they can help it.

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

Ponderings From Smackdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Triple H Annihilates Seth Rollins, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

WWE announced Monday that Jack Swagger has been granted his release. The real-life Jake Hager had apparently been looking to get out for awhile, even bringing it up on Chael Sonnen’s podcast earlier this month.

Hager was signed to a WWE development deal in 2006. So he spent about a decade with WWE. He had a run that a lot of guys would be jealous of. The company clearly saw a lot of potential in him, perhaps as someone in the Kurt Angle mold. They did their best over the years to establish him as a top guy. Had the dice fallen differently, it might have worked. But fate just didn’t seem to be on Hager’s side in that respect.

Hager is a very good wrestler. But when it was time to talk, he was in trouble. He has a little bit of a lisp, and it was noticeable whenever he got on the mic. It undercut the wrestling stud vibe they were going for with him, and it became tough to take him seriously. They had him win Money in the Bank, and later made him World Heavyweight Champion on Smackdown. But it just didn’t click.

They seemingly found an answer in 2013, when Dutch Mantel came in to manage Swagger. As the character Zeb Colter, he essentially became what Paul Heyman is to Brock Lesnar. Dutch cut tremendous promos, weaving in contemporary political elements, most notably immigration. They even got a touch of mainstream buzz over the character. Swagger was put against Alberto Del Rio for the World Heavyweight Title at Wrestlemania XXIX, and seemed primed to win it…

And then he got arrested for DUI and drug possession (marijuana). He and Mantel remained together, but it was essentially over as far as Hager being a top guy.

But Hager’s career doesn’t have to end here. Like Drew Galloway, Cody Rhodes, and so many others who’ve left the WWE umbrella, he can thrive on the independent scene. I also wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see him show up in TNA in a few months, as his old pal Dutch is now back on the creative team there.

Brighter days are ahead for Jake Hager, and I commend him for having the guts to step outside the safety of the WWE bubble.

Ponderings From Raw:

Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar address Bill Goldberg. Herman’s prediction: “Down goes Goldberg!” That “down goes Goldberg” line is something they’ll be returning to in the weeks to come. It’s something Corey Graves, as the heel announcer, can come back to at the event itself. It’s a great line.

Note that Heyman also put Goldberg over, referring to his latest run as “the greatest championship comeback in sports entertainment history.”

Sasha Banks def. Dana Brooke. After taking abuse from Charlotte post-match, Dana attacks her. Dana has gotten a lot of bad press these past few weeks for her in-ring skills. Looking at this match, I can’t say it’s unfounded. But the real-life Ashley Sebera has only been wrestling since 2014. She’s still trying to learn. But she’s doing it on national television. It takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there like that. Having said that, she could really use another run on NXT. She can re-establish herself there, and come back later for a fresh start. Perhaps that’s where this turn is headed. I doubt it, but one can always hope.

Brian Kendrick and Tony Nese def. Akira Tozawa and TJ Perkins. TJ Perkins had a good match with Shinsuke Nakamura on NXT last week, and he was tremendous in this match. But this guy needs a heel turn. He’s looked like a loser for months, and he’s officially grating. I wouldn’t mind seeing he and Tozawa in a program.

Kevin Owens vows to take Chris Jericho’s US Title at Wrestlemania, and leave nothing left but the “Tears of Jericho.” Owens and Samoa Joe get themselves disqualified in a match with Jericho and Sami Zayn. Another really good promo from Owens. In classic heel fashion he justified his actions, believing himself to be right. He accused Jericho of wanting to get close to him just to get close to the Universal Championship. I love when bad guys do that. No one really believes they’re evil. We all usually believe we’re doing what’s right.

This Owens/Joe team-up did nothing to dispel the rumors of them forming a faction alongside Triple H. I’m not sure you need Triple H on TV every week in a group. But the prospect of Owens and Joe together consistently remains ntriguing.

I wouldn’t have had Owens and Jericho touch here. At the very least, I’d have limited their contact to that super kick Owens gave him. But then again, Owens obviously beat the hell out of him at the now infamous Festival of Friendship. So I guess we’ve been there and done that.

Big Show to compete in Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. They did a “New Day Talks” segment, which was supposed to be their take on a talk show segment. It ended up with Titus O’Neil being mad at Big Show because he wasn’t in the WWE/Jetsons movie that comes out this week. Wow. What compelling TV…

But what I got out of this segment was the line about Show getting the opportunity to be a two-time winner of the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Ouch. I guess that makes it official: Shaq is out of Wrestlemania. That’s a rotten break for Show. He supposedly spent months preparing for that match, getting himself in the best shape of his career, only to be stuck in the Battle Royal again this year.

Cass had some really nice fire in that pre-match promo. He still had some that deer-in-the-headlights look going on. But he made me believe.

Sheamus and Cesaro vs. Enzo and Cass goes to a no-contest after Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson interfere. Not much suspense to this match. Earlier in the show, Anderson and Gallows cut that promo about taking the spotlight for themselves. The finish to this one was pretty obvious at that point.

As if it wasn’t already pretty clear what the match is going to be at Wrestlemania. And of course a short time later it was made official: a Triple-Threat Tag Team Match for the Raw Tag Team Titles.

The Undertaker’s trademark gong goes off during Roman Reigns’ match with Jinder Mahal. Reigns calls the Undertaker out. Shawn Michaels surprises him. Reigns: The Undertaker retired you, and I’m the guy that’s gonna retire him.” Well, they went there. Let the speculation about the Undertaker’s retirement continue. This is already so damn emotional. Damn…this could really be it…

If this does turn out to be Undertaker’s retirement match, how fitting is it that it’s Shawn Michaels who planted that seed in Roman’s mind. Nice continuity there.

Austin Aries def. Ariya Daivari. Austin Aries wrestling on Raw. By God, what a time to be alive.

Bayley def. Nia Jax via DQ. Couldn’t muster up much enthusiasm for this one. We’ve seen this one so much. I dig the larger story they’re telling here, though. The idea is that Bayley can’t win big matches without Sasha’s help, so all these women are worthy of title shots. I expect Nia to be added to Wrestlemania in short order.

Mick Foley refuses to fire someone by order of Stephanie McMahon. Triple H comes out to belittle him. Seth Rollins makes the save, but the Game destroys the would-be “King Slayer.” I loved this segment. I really did. Everybody was perfectly in character, and it made perfect sense. This was great drama.

Seeing Mick and Triple H in the ring together was a nice nostalgia trip. They’ve always had a great lovable hero meets cunning villain chemistry. Foley was good on the mic here, too. He stumbled a bit, but he was in the zone. He hasn’t had an easy time in this role. But I was proud of him tonight.

Didn’t expect Rollins to be on the losing end of that confrontation with Hunter. But it makes sense when you stop to think about it. Seth’s knee has a big question mark over it. So now we’re left guessing.

Those CM Punk chants aren’t going away, are they? They’re following Steph, in particular. Considering the adverse effect that character has had on this show in recent years, I’m not complaining. I’m a Punk fan, after all.

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Raw ’97: Muhammad Ali or Dennis Rodman?

Shawn Michaels, WWF Raw, February 3, 1997By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The February 3 episode of Raw was, without any sort of hype or announcement, the first ever two-hour edition of the show. This was obviously an attempt to be more competitive with WCW Monday Nitro, and there were clear efforts made to make this feel like a bigger show than it was. They were in the Toronto SkyDome, though at one point you can see it’s way under capacity. And all hands are on deck here.

This show was hyped as “Royal Rumble Raw.” We’d been told the week before that the Rumble match would be shown in its entirety. That’s not what happened, as we merely got highlights. Maybe they decided to stick with fresh content? I guess the idea of airing pay per view footage that’s two weeks old is a little lame.

Vader def. Stone Cold Steve Austin via disqualification. Before the match, Bret Hart attacks Austin from behind. Well, they weren’t going to have one of these guys pin the other before Final Four, right? They want it to look like everybody’s on an even playing field.

Steve Austin, Vader, WWF Raw, February 3, 1997Things are noticeably a little angrier on this show, presumably to hype up the drama. Before this match begins, the normally reserved yet heroic Bret Hart comes out and ambushes Austin. After the match, a commercial airs for Thursday Raw Thursday, where all the wrestlers are full of piss and vinegar. Again, even Bret, who yells: “Everybody better get out of my way!” They hadn’t quite found their famous “Attitude” yet. But they were looking for it.

Savio Vega def. Flash Funk. This is the television audience’s first exposure to heel Savio Vega, who turned heel off camera at a house show at Madison Square Garden. At this point, the only difference is a big leather jacket he wears to the ring.

Jim Ross interviews Sycho Sid. During some of these old promos with Sid, they keep his music playing at a lower volume. That’s a great effect. It keeps his mystique alive. Especially as he’s talking about evil. He’s not particularly articulate. But it sounds like he’s saying stuff that’s spooky and cool. So it works.

Doug Furnas and Phil Lafon def. The British Bulldog and Owen Hart in a WWF Tag Team Title Match via count-out. The titles do not change hands. Rediscovering Phil Lafon’s work has been a nice byproduct of this whole Raw ’97 experience. But I maintain what I’ve said before about these two: No personality. Very vanilla. So there’s not much to latch on to.

Owen Hart, British Bulldog, WWF Raw, February 3, 1997Owen as he steps through the ropes: “I hate Canada! I’m the only thing good about Canada!”

Crush def. Goldust. Savio comes in with a spinning heel kick to Goldust to cost him the match. There’s heel Savio.

These matches drag. It’s very apparent they’re not fully prepared for the move to two hours yet.

Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart come face-to-face in the ring. Austin attacks Hart from behind. The best thing on the show by a mile. I’ve always remembered one particular moment from this segment. Shawn is talking about not being liked. He says: “Everybody hated Muhammad Ali while he was the world champion. Now everyone refers to him as the greatest of all time.”

Bret later responds with: “Muhammad Ali? I don’t think so. Dennis Rodman, maybe.”

WWF hypes the debut of Tiger Ali Singh. If you’ll recall, the highlight of Singh’s WWF career was getting audience members to lick toe jam and eat boogers. A true success story if there ever was one…

Triple H, Marc Mero, WWF Raw, February 3, 1997Hunter Hearst Helmsley def. Marc Mero after a shot with brass knocks. If you watch these shows back, you notice the announcers keep talking about Robin Hood, as they do during this match. It took me awhile to figure out exactly what the connection was.

On January 13, TNT began airing The New Adventures of Robin Hood after WCW Nitro. That night, a match between Hulk Hogan and the Giant began two minutes before Nitro went off the air, and continued during portions of the commercial breaks during Robin Hood. Unique, to be certain. But obvious fodder for jokes.

The Undertaker and Ahmed Johnson def. Farrow and Mankind in a No Holds Barred Match. We saw Ahmed make use of his beloved two-by-four in this match, chasing the Nation off and then hitting Faarooq in the back. We also saw Vader attack ‘Taker in this match before Mankind takes a Tombstone on a chair and loses the fall.

All in all, not a strong show. Even by modern standards. Though that will change next week, as we get to a pretty famous Raw moment involving HBK. Though perhaps infamous would be a better word to describe it…

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Raw ’97: It’s All About the Title

Shawn Michaels, WWF ChampionBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The January 27, 1997 edition of Raw was essentially about two things: Ahmed Johnson’s feud with the Nation of Domination, and more importantly the WWF Championship.

I’ve always been of the opinion that the most important thing in a wrestling promotion should, more often than not, be the Heavyweight Championship. That’s what motivates your characters. That’s what everyone aspires to have, and it’s what everybody shows up for. Steve Austin famously said that if you’re not trying to become the WWF Champion, then you shouldn’t be in the company at all.

This show has a great segment that’s centered around Shawn Michaels being the champion, and everyone vying to take what he has. What’s more, he says he’s willing to do anything it takes to keep it. Before you even inject the various personal rivalries into the scenario, you’ve already got instant drama.

Too often in today’s WWE, I think they take the “chase” factor for granted. More on Raw than Smackdown. We need to know how important that Universal Championship is, especially because it’s so new. Kevin Owens, though cowardly and underhanded, needs to be seen as the man on Raw. Instead, he’s simply one of a few top guys holding a prop.

Is it fair to compare anyone to Shawn Michaels in the mid-’90s? Of course not. By my point is more about how things are booked and written on television. I look forward to contrasting what was happening with the WWF Championship at this time in 1997, compared to what’s happening with the two Heavyweight Titles now.

ahmed-johnson-wwf-raw-january-27-1997Crush def. Ahmed Johnson. In 2017, Ahmed Johnson is more or less a punchline. His unintelligible promos. Those weird things he wore on his legs. Reportedly he wasn’t the safest guy to work with either. But I get what they saw in him at the time. He was a big, scary dude. When he would get mad, he was intimidating as hell. He had a presence, too. Crowds reacted to him. The real-life Tony Norris was actually the first black Intercontinental Champion, which gives him a place in history.

The story here was that Savio Vega had joined the Nation of Domination the previous Saturday at a house show in Madison Square Garden, turning on Ahmed. This was obviously off television. As this show was taped along with the previous week’s show, Savio didn’t appear to follow up on that.

I was surprised to see Crush win this one. But Vince and the King protected Ahmed by telling viewer that he’d taken a beating at the Garden on Saturday, and then wrestled on WWF Superstars the previous day. From a storyline perspective, it made sense that Ahmed was worn down. They sold us on Crush’s Heart Punch finisher too.

Time Stamp: Lawler says Ahmed is having a “New England Patriots kind of day.” The Patriots had lost to the Green Bay Packers at Super Bowl XXXI the night before.

Shawn Michaels, Vince McMahon, WWF Raw, January 27, 1997Shawn Michaels speaks for the first time since regaining the WWF Title. Rematch with Sycho Sid announced for Thursday Raw Thursday. Final Four participants confront the champion. Once again, it’s all about the WWF Championship. Everyone is dying to win it, and the man wearing it will do anything he can to keep it. I love this segment.

The essence of Bret Hart’s side of this segment is that he tells Shawn to do whatever he has to do to come into Wrestlemania with the title. One of the things he says is, “I don’t want you to injure yourself.” Considering what Shawn does on that Thursday Raw Thursday episode, that’s so ironic it’s almost laughable.

On the subject of irony, hearing Undertaker talk about facing Shawn at Wrestlemania is almost chilling. Notwithstanding what they would do together at Wrestlemania XXV, Undertaker would be Shawn’s final opponent in the main event of Wrestlemania 13 years later. Aw man, and they’re promoting Wrestlemania XIII here. This is spooky.

As the wrestlers talk about Wrestlemania here, Vince interjects twice to remind them not to forget about Shawn’s title match with Sycho Sid. Good business on his part.

owen-hart-clarence-mason-british-bulldog-wwf-raw-january-27-1997The British Bulldog def. Doug Furnas, despite Owen Hart accidentally striking him with his Slammy Award. Owen and Phil Lafon are out there, having wrestled each other earlier in the night. Owen’s green track suit was certainly an interesting choice.

The sunset flip reversal spot Bulldog and Furnas ended this match with is the same one Bulldog and Bret Hart ended their classic Wembley Stadium match with in 1992.

Clarence Mason is associated with both the Nation of Domination, and this team of Owen and Bulldog. This used to be a fairly standard thing. Bobby Heenan’s multiple “clients” in the ’80s come to mind. We have so few managers today. But the ones we do have likely wouldn’t be with multiple wrestlers like this. The one rare exception is Paul Heyman, who a few years ago was with Brock Lesnar, Curtis Axel, and Ryback simultaneously.

The Clarence Mason character, played by a real-life attorney, is clearly a product of his time. Johnny Cochran had become a household name in the ’90s, thanks to the OJ Simpson trial. Clarence Mason wasn’t nearly as charismatic as Cochran was. But we got the idea.

vader-mankind-wwe-raw-january-27-1997The Godwinns def. Vader and Mankind via count-out. On the subject of managers, Paul Bearer was put with Vader after helping him beat the Undertaker at the Royal Rumble. That’s an odd pairing that’s even odder when you throw Mankind in there.

We’ve heard Mick Foley, and other wrestlers talk about taking Vader’s punches in the corner. In this match, you can see exactly what they’re talking about. The big guy gets Phineas Godwinn (later known as Mideon) up against the buckles and pops him in the head repeatedly. And this was in the era before they were so mindful of concussions. On top of that, Vader later takes an unprotected chair shot to the head from Foley.

Ahmed tries to attack the Nation with a two-by-four moments before Raw goes off the air. For some reason, a two-by-four always seemed to be Ahmed’s weapon of choice. I damn sure wouldn’t want to be around this guy when he’s got a weapon…

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Raw ’97: Bret Hart Quits the WWF

***Pro wrestling changed forever in 1997. From the rise of icons like the Rock and Bill Goldberg, to the Montreal Screwjob, to ECW’s pay per view debut, its impact would be felt for years to come. Personally, it’s always been my favorite year in wrestling. Here on Raw ’97, we’ll take a look back at what was happening on the WWF’s flagship show 20 years ago to the day. We’ll dig up hidden gems, and reexamine moments we’ll never forget.***

steve-austin 1997 royal rumbleBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The January 20 edition of Raw was our post-Royal Rumble show. This was the Alamo Dome Rumble that’s obviously very topical these days, as this year’s Rumble takes place in the same venue. Obviously it’s also the 20-year anniversary.

As much as the Rumble revolved around Shawn Michaels winning the title back from Sycho Sid in his home town, what I’ve always remembered about that show was Steve Austin’s performance in the Rumble Match. He was the fifth entrant, and essentially dominated the match until Bret Hart came out at number 21. And like a true heel, he cheated to win. When the referees were distracted by a brawl on the outside, he dumped the Undertaker, Vader, and Hart out to win the match.

Needless to say, Austin had the evening’s stand-out performance. I think the first few months of Austin’s program with Hart were when the perception of him started to shift. Going toe to toe with Bret the way he did was a big push toward main event status. This Royal Rumble Match was the next step up. Not only did winning the Rumble put Austin in some pretty elite company, but the way he won it was beautifully in character.

Obviously this was a big night for Shawn too. But Austin’s career would never be the same again.

Bret Hart quits WWFBret Hart quits the WWF. This is a pretty famous Raw moment. Fed up with being screwed by the WWF, Bret Hart quits in protest.

In his book, Bret says he was wondering where the payoff was for his character after a night like this. Supposedly his heel turn wasn’t presented to him until a few days before Wrestlemania XIII. It seems things were being switched up constantly in the weeks leading up to that show. If you believe what Bret wrote, it’s because of Shawn not wanting to lose to him.

Moments after Bret quits, Stone Cold Steve Austin comes out and takes the mic. Late ’96 and early ’97 Stone Cold is my favorite Stone Cold. Listen to how angry and bitter he sounds. It’s no wonder he captured everybody’s imagination the way he did. My favorite lint from Austin’s rant here is about his main event match with the Undertaker: “Drag his dead ass out here! I’ve got somethin’ for him!”

The British Bulldog and Owen Hart def. Doug Furnas and Phil Lafon. Objectively, Furnas and Lafon were great wrestlers. But they come off very vanilla compared to all the other big WWF personalities. They might have been better served to come in as heels.

faarooq-wwf-raw-january-20-1996Faarooq def. Bart Gunn. Just over two years before he got knocked out by Butterbean, Gunn gets taken down by Ron Simmons and the Nation of Domination. Bart didn’t win much after the Smoking Gunns broke up. That’s a shame. I liked Bart.

Time stamp: Both JR and King mention Bill Clinton’s second inauguration, which occurred on this day.

Gorilla Monsoon announces the main event of the February In Your House pay per view: Bret Hart vs. The Undertaker vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Vader. The winner faces the champion in the main event of Wrestlemania XIII. Austin responds. Hart returns, brawls with Austin. Austin: “You sit there and call yourself the gorilla, yet you hee-haw out here like a jackass!” Love it.

Bret was right to be concerned about coming off like a whiner. He quits when he doesn’t get his way, then comes back when he gets another opportunity. By the time we got to Wrestlemania XIII (I was in the arena that night), Bret was basically a heel. It’s not hard to see why.

The Undertaker vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin went to a no-contest after outside interference from Vader and Bret Hart. In the middle of this match, Lawler gets up from the announce desk, stands at ringside and yells for Austin to go after ‘Taker’s ribs. I can only assume this was improvised. Either way, it was funny.

bret-hart-wwe-raw-january-20-1997At one point in this match, ‘Taker comes up behind Austin, and gets surprised with a Stone Cold Stunner. But the crowd doesn’t react at all. It’s so damn surreal. Did they not register the move because it didn’t come with the usual boot to the gut beforehand?

Over on NitroThe Giant comes out to attack Hulk Hogan just as Nitro abruptly goes off the air.

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Raw ’97: The Rock Pulls Double Duty?

***Pro wrestling changed forever in 1997. From the rise of icons like the Rock and Bill Goldberg, to the Montreal Screwjob, to ECW’s pay per view debut, its impact would be felt for years to come. Personally, it’s always been my favorite year in wrestling. Here on Raw ’97, we’ll take a look back at what was happening on the WWF’s flagship show 20 years ago to the day. We’ll dig up hidden gems, and reexamine moments we’ll never forget.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

sycho-sid-wwf-raw-january-13-1997On January 13, 1997, Raw was still a one-hour show. Just north of 45 minutes, if you subtract commercials. In 2017, when we’re used to three-hour Raw broadcasts, that’s incredibly surreal.

In addition, because they taped multiple episodes in one night, this was an era where you didn’t see all the big stars wrestling every week. You might see them in backstage interview segments, or doing commentary. But not in the ring. In contrast, two weeks ago Raw featured Roman Reigns going against Kevin Owens. This past week? Reigns against Jericho. This coming week? Reigns vs. Owens and Jericho in a handicap match. There’s an obvious struggle to keep things fresh on a week to week basis, particularly with triple the air time.

Bottom line? Sometimes less is more.

Hunter Hearst Helmsly and Jerry “The King Lawler” def. Gloats and “Wildman” Marc Mero via disqualification. Lawler is such a great whiney, cowardly heel. There’s a moment in this match where he’s trying to tag Hunter, but Hunter doesn’t want to get in there with Goldust. So he just whines for his partner to come help. Great stuff.

Honky Tonk Man, WWF Raw, January 13, 2017Honky Tonk Man on commentary: [Hunter] will keep his cool just like OJ Simpson did just today on the witness stand.” Yeesh.

Sycho Sid speaks on location from the Alamo Dome in San Antonio. Sid more or less quotes Nietzsche in this promo. The actual quote is: ““Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster…” Sid goes on to say that both he and Shawn will have to become monsters at the Royal Rumble. It’s a clever concept for a wrestling promo. But wow, Sid and Nietzsche. There’s a tag team for you.

Shawn Michaels cuts a promo from San Antonio. Not much to this one. Shawn essentially rebukes all of Sid’s stuff, and says he’s going to kick Sid’s teeth down his throat. I do like that shot of Shawn with the fans, though. I was surprised he didn’t name drop Bret Hart when talking about facing the winner of the Royal Rumble Match at Wrestlemania. But Vince made sure to connect the two mere seconds later, when Bret came out for commentary. His exact words: “… the man that Shawn Michaels took the WWF Championship from.”

owen-hart-bret-hart-wwf-raw-january-13-1997Rocky Miavia def. The British Bulldog via count-out. Owen Hart came out during this match and stood right in front of Bret, blocking his view of the match. That’s one of the really cool things about this Bret/Owen rivalry. It never really ended. These two had their famous program in late ’93 and most of ’94, and yet here we are in 1997.

They’d done an angle on the previous episode of Superstars where Steve Austin took out Bret’s knee. Continuing on that theme, Austin takes out Bulldog’s knee here. But Owen can’t see it because he’s watching Bret. Bret then goes after Austin. I remember Austin and Bulldog having some kind of bad blood around this time. They kept teasing a Bulldog babyface turn, and a feud against Owen. You can argue that never fully culminated because of what happened after Wrestlemania XIII. Though they did have an awesome match to crown the first ever European Champion, which we’ll cover later.

Hilariously, a few minutes after this match they went back to the footage of Shawn in San Antonio, and Rocky popped up. Vince simply said, “Hey, there’s Rocky!” They tried to cover it up in the next segment, with Honky chiding Vince about seeing Rocky in two places at once. But it’s clearly him.

nation-of-domination-wwf-raw-january-13-1997The Undertaker def. Crush via disqualification. Vader decimates Undertaker before their match at the Royal RumbleThis was back when the Nation of Domination had JC Ice and Wolfie D, a.k.a PG-13, accompany them to the ring. Those two didn’t last long. I missed them when they were gone.

This was also the era where they’d paint a black teardrop on the Undertaker’s face. The teardrop tattoo obviously has murderous implications, and is such a great little detail for the Undertaker character.

Honky Tonk Man on commentary: [Who wins this match] is a tough one for the Honky Tonk Man to call. There’s not a lot of tough things for me. But this is probably the toughest.” Really? This is the toughest thing to call?

Over on Nitro: Diamond Dallas Page famously refuses to join the nWo. Hulk Hogan faces the Giant in a non-title match.

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