Howard Finkel’s Greatest Ring Announcements

By Rob Siebert
A NEEEEEEEWWWWW Father

So I’ve had a week to process the death of Howard Finkel. A man who, let’s be honest, was the single greatest ring announcer of all time. This might be an apples to oranges comparison. But to yours truly and many fans who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s as I did, Howard Finkel is to ring announcing what Jim Ross was/is to play-by-play. He was that good.

Over the last several days, WWE has compiled some of Finkel’s greatest moments and pushed them out to YouTube. Let’s take a look…

First of all, there’s no “arguably” about it. “The Fink” was the absolute greatest.

Secondly, the “Dean of WWE Ring Announcing.” I kinda like that…

This next clip is one of my favorites, and quite possibly Finkel’s last truly great announcing moment. If only Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler hadn’t ruined it for the audience at home by being so damn disrespectful. But for the fans in Madison Square Garden that night? It must have been magic…

Frankly, I think that tweet we saw from Vince McMahon said it all…

Rest in peace, Howard, and know that you were loved by a great many.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Undertaker’s Best Promos: The Dead Speak!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

For my money, on Monday the Undertaker cut one of his best promos in years. If you haven’t seen it, you should see it.

So watch it.

In recent years a lot of fans have been clamoring for him to return to his American Bad Ass/Big Evil persona. That’s the closest we’ve gotten to it in a long time. In the right context, this Undertaker is every bit as menacing and intimidating as the Dead Man persona.

Like fine wine, the Undertaker improved with age. Critics, podcasters and “pundits” have talked about his matches with Kurt Angle, Batista, Edge, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, CM Punk, among others. Mind you, the first of those matches took place in February 2006. The real-life Mark Calaway had been wrestling for almost 20 years, and played the Undertaker for about 16 of them.

But what about the Undertaker’s mic work? His “character work,” so to speak. At the start of his run he was given a mouthpiece: Paul Bearer. The formula for an Undertaker/Paul Bearer promo was pretty simple. Paul would do most of the talking in that unsettling high pitched voice, and ‘Taker would chime in with something spooky at the end. But at that point he was playing the character like a zombie, or Frankenstein’s monster.

Below is a perfect example, and actually one of my favorite times we heard the Dead Man speak…

But after years at Paul Bearer’s side, and six years of growing and evolving the character, he clearly became more comfortable on the mic and began to take a more commanding presence in his promos. At times it was almost to the point where Bearer would simply speak to compliment what Undertaker would say.

Case in point, this little gem where he talks about a match on Valentine’s Day…

In 1996, the Undertaker/Paul Bearer tandem was split up. The Dead Man was left to fend for himself on the mic. Some nights were better than others. But on certain shows, he could make absolute magic. Especially when he had the production team behind him. These promos for the Buried Alive pay per view that fall are the stuff of legend.

Holy crap.

The changes continued into 1997 and 1998. The introduction of the Kane character, and the revelation of the Undertaker’s storyline family history would humanize the Dead Man in ways we’d never seen. In rare occasions he’d be in street clothes, albeit still black. As they built to an Undertaker/Kane match at Wrestlemania XIV, he would have to talk about his parents, his childhood, etc. The emotional needs of the story required a kind of acting that would prove challenging for anyone not trained traditional theater.

In the scene below, we see him talking to his deceased parents at their grave site. Y’know, that standard wrestling promo you’ve seen a thousand times…

But pre-produced Undertaker was not the same as arena Undertaker. That’s not to say he was bad. But a spooky, undead character obviously lends itself to more quiet settings. When you’re among screaming fans, it’s obviously very different.

Here we have a fairly famous “worked shoot” promo from 1998. He’s dressed in plain clothes, but allegedly that’s because his gear was lost in transit. It’s not the most polished mic work you’ll ever see. But the substance of it is great. I love the “slayer of dragons” line.

I’m not in love with this next one. But certain elements of it are very strong. Most notably Undertaker not looking into the camera as he’s threatening Vince McMahon. Mind you this is 1999. Years before WWE wrestlers were told not to look into the camera. This was done for effect. Then you’ve got the music, the lighting, the hood. It’s just a great looking piece of television.

Then came the American Bad Ass. In 2000, all the talk about taking souls and eternal damnation was over. After 10 years, the Undertaker was simply a tough-as-nails biker, looking like he might kill somebody at a moment’s notice. We’d seen a humanized Undertaker before. But I’d argue this was the first time we heard the Undertaker talk like Mark Calaway.

Even the Rock wasn’t safe.

The American Bad Ass would morph into Big Evil. The difference? As Bruce Prichard once said, “Semantics.” Although I suppose you could argue the American Bad Ass was a babyface, and Big Evil a heel.

By the time Wrestlemania XIX rolled around, ‘Taker wanted a match with Ric Flair. And he was going to get it. By any means necessary…

In hindsight, the really bone-chilling thing about this segment is that he references not only the future Charlotte Flair, but the late Reid Fliehr.

This next one from April of 2002 was special. Not just because of its delivery, but because they put the Undertaker with the recently-returned Hulk Hogan, and they let him talk about the elephant in the room. They let him talk about his first WWF Championship win in 1991 and say, “I beat you.” For so long, it had been taboo to reference Hogan unless it was some kind of joke or parody. But now he was back. And as you’ll see, he was fair game.

Big Evil was around until the end of 2003. By Wrestlemania the following year, the Dead Man was back. And yes, he would wear gold again. Specifically, the World Heavyweight Championship, a.k.a. the “Big Gold Belt.” He wore it three times between 2007 and 2009.

Here he is on Smackdown in 2009 after taking it CM Punk in a Hell in a Cell Match the previous Sunday. My favorite part of this promo is that he puts the belt over, and explains why he wanted it so badly. He even calls it “the Holy Grail of everyone who steps foot in this ring.”

At this point, what we were getting was a Dead Man/Big Evil hybrid. Lots of talk about souls, graves, etc. But at times, we’d see flashes of Big Evil.

Earlier that year, Wrestlemania XXV had taken place. The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels had that classic match, and started what would ultimately be a four-year saga that in time would include Triple H.

Once Triple H got involved in 2011, we started to see in-ring segments between all three. What resulted were some of the best, if not the best back-and-forth promos of all their iconic careers. There’s a tension in the air that you can’t script. It has to come from the performers and their chemistry.

I present to you, Exhibit A.

A year later, Triple H and the Undertaker would face off again. This time inside Hell in a Cell, with HBK as the guest referee. But initially, Hunter refused to face the Dead Man again.

What’s interesting about this segment is that it’s one of the rare times we see Undertaker come from a place of vulnerability. He’s been waiting a year for this opportunity, and he needs Triple H to say yes.

You wanna talk tension? That line about Shawn being better isn’t remotely as effective out of context. But with these characters and this dynamic, it’s huge.

Fast-forward to 2015, and we’ve got the Undertaker coming for Brock Lesnar after the Streak was broken at Wrestlemania XXX. I was so dissatisfied with that initial promo ‘Taker cut on Brock. It made him look like a sore loser. If they’d simply done something like the promo below, and included something about revenge and ‘Taker having nothing left to lose, it would have been perfect.

This next segment contains, in my opinion, the Undertaker’s last really good promo. Until last Monday, of course.

There’s not much to it, really. It’s ‘Taker declaring himself for the Royal Rumble Match. But it’s always stood out to me for two reasons. First, I love the “29 holes for 29 souls” line. Secondly, and more importantly, look at how he acts toward Stephanie McMahon. At this point (and perhaps to this day), nobody stood up to Stephanie like that.

But what could she do? He’s the Undertaker.

Email Rob at at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

WWE’s 10 Most Fascinating People of 2018

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

What we have here is a bit of a tradition here at PI.

It started as a take-off of something Barbara Walters used to do. She’d choose and profile the 10 “most fascinating people” of the year. I’ve borrowed that concept several times over the years, and the lists can be found in our archives.

(For your convenience: 2012. 2013. 2015. 2016. 2017.)

So once again, we’re back. On this year’s list, we’ve got a UFC Hall of Famer turned WWE Champion, a heroic underdog turned monster heel, a new hot babyface taking the company by storm, among several others…

1. Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey was always going to be a marquee player for WWE. That was blatantly obvious from the get-go. And why wouldn’t she be? But realistically, Ronda could have put in half the effort she does, and made less than half the appearances, and still gotten by. She could have coasted on her name, a few suplexes, and some armbars. She could have taken many would consider to be the Brock Lesnar path.

Instead, Rousey has consistently over-delivered. Whether it was her debut match at Wrestlemania, her match with Charlotte Flair at Survivor Series, or even her title bout with Nia Jax at TLC, this has unquestionably been the best-case scenario.

Rousey has her critics, who would have you believe she doesn’t deserve the spot she has. While so much of wrestling is relative based on one’s personal taste, many of those critics need to be reminded that much of the so-called “Women’s Evolution” can be attributed to Rousey’s success in the UFC. If she doesn’t become the box office draw that she does, WWE has no reason to revamp its own women’s division. Without Rousey, women like Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and Asuka wouldn’t have the chance to headline pay per views or steal the show at Wrestlemania.

What’s more, Rousey may be about to knock down yet another door. It’s looking more and more like she’ll be part of the first women’s match to headline the show of shows…

2. Daniel Bryan
This is Bryan’s third time on the list, and it’s not hard to see why. His performances spark a ton of emotion, and fans definitely ran the emotional gambit with him this year. In March, we were thrilled to hear he was cleared to return to the ring after more than two years in a WWE-imposed retirement. The move raises a number of questions regarding other wrestlers thought to be permanently retired due to injury. Among those names is Paige, who thanked Bryan in her retirement speech, adding “…you give me hope.”

Bryan made his emotional and genuinely inspirational return to the ring at Wrestlemania. For several months, Bryan was once again one of the company’s most popular acts. Then, less than a week before Survivor Series, Bryan shocked the world by winning back the WWE Championship, turning heel on AJ Styles in the process.

Since then, Bryan has condemned fans for their consumerism, and lack of regard for the environment. In one of the year’s most talked about promos, he promised to replace the leather strap on the WWE Title belt. He’s literally gone from one of the company’s top babyfaces, to perhaps its top heel. At this rate, it’s likely he’ll once again find himself back in the WWE Title Match at Wrestlemania this year.

3. Asuka
Asuka is also returning to this list, having made it last year. The “Empress of Tomorrow” started her 2018 at the highest of highs. Since arriving on Raw in October 2017, she’d kept her fabled undefeated streak alive. She would go on to win the inaugural Women’s Royal Rumble Match, earning a title match at Wrestlemania. She would face Smackdown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair in a match that, for my money, stole the damn show.

But that’s where her luck began to change. Flair shocked the world when she ended Asuka’s undefeated streak. A strange move in hindsight, as she’d simply drop the title to Carmella. The same Carmella that would later defeat Asuka in back-to-back pay per views. Mere months beforehand, it had been unthinkable that Asuka could lose to anyone. She’d beaten the likes of Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Mickie James. But suddenly, here she was losing title matches to Carmella, and subsequently being mired in mediocrity, forming an alliance with Naomi. The two would lose to Peyton Royce and Billie Kay at Super Show-Down.

And yet, Asuka’s popularity has endured. Apparently, that’s what prompted Vince McMahon to add her to the Smackdown Women’s Title Match at TLC. Now, Asuka can add Smackdown Women’s Champion, and winner of the first Women’s TLC Match to her resume. It’s like the last 10 months never even happened…

So at last, Asuka has made it to the top. It didn’t happen the way any of us thought it would. But she is there. Now it’s just a question of whether she can stay at the top, or she’ll be lost in the shuffle again. One way or another, we’ll get our answer in 2019.

4. Shawn Michaels
It’s tough to remember HBK coming out of retirement, isn’t it? As big a deal as it is, it was drowned out by all the controversy surrounding WWE Crown Jewel. Not to mention the announcement that Roman Reigns would be stepping away to fight leukemia.

But indeed, Degeneration X reunited in Saudi Arabia to face the Brothers of Destruction. While many cried that Triple H, the Undertaker, and Kane showed their age out there, even after eight years away Shawn still managed to look pretty damn good. And while Shawn himself indicated he’d be going right back into retirement, there’s been plenty of speculation about “Mr. Wrestlemania” making yet another appearance at the show of shows. Another Undertaker match seems like the obvious route. But Shawn has no shortage of other options. I myself floated six of them.

In hindsight, I still wish Shawn hadn’t done this match. I really wanted him to be the one guy that stayed true to his word. But what’s done is done.

5. Tegan Nox
This one hurt. Like, it really hurt. You just wanted to reach through the screen and comfort this poor woman. She’d already been through hell, and now she was going to have to do it all over again.

Tegan Nox, whose real name is Steffanie Newell, was supposed to be in the first Mae Young Classic. But a torn ACL kept her out of the ring. For this year’s tournament, they were telling that story with her. In fact, she was one of the favorites to win the whole thing.

Then, mere seconds into her second-round match against Rhea Ripley, her other knee goes out. We later learned she’d torn that ACL as well. It was a legitimately heartbreaking moment for not only Newell, but everyone watching.

The only upside in all of this? We seem to be on the road to yet another redemption story for this character. In the aftermath of all this, Rhea Ripley, who has gone on to become the NXT UK Women’s Champion, started a war of words with Nox on Twitter. So assuming Nox will indeed be back in the ring, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see her wearing that title in 2019.

So get well soon, Miss Newell. Great things are waiting for you.

6. Johnny Gargano
As cliche as it is, I’ve got to go with the classic Harvey Dent quote from The Dark Knight on this one: “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Former tag team partners Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa have put on some of the best matches in all of wrestling this year. But the feud has transformed Gargano, arguably one of the last old school babyfaces in the business, into a man consumed with destroying Ciampa. So when Ciampa wrestled Aleister Black for the NXT Championship in July, Gargano attempted to interfere and cost him the match. It ended up backfiring, as Gargano hit Black with the belt, and essentially handed the title to Ciampa.

A Triple-Threat Match was made for the championship at NXT Takeover Brooklyn IV, but a mysterious attack took Black out of the match. Gargano failed to win the title, at it was later revealed the he was the one who attacked the former champion. Naturally, a feud ignited between the two, culminating in a steel cage match this past week on NXT, which Ciampa would help Gargano win. This has lead to rampant speculation that this blood feud between Gargano and Ciampa has ultimately led them to team up all over again.

This slow journey of Johnny Gargano’s, from victim, to heroic avenger, to fallen hero consumed by revenge, to villain, is a textbook example of pro wrestling done right. Deep, emotional stories, told through amazing in-ring action.

7. Dean Ambrose
Ambrose was absent for much of 2018, healing from a torn triceps. But when he returned in August, he was once again part of the Shield. But seeds of dissension were quickly planted by rivals Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler. We all sensed a turn was coming. But there was no way we could have predicted what actually happened…

Mere hours after Roman Reigns announced he was stepping away from the ring to fight leukemia, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins successfully challenged McIntyre and Ziggler for the Raw Tag Team Titles. With emotions still running high after the Reigns announcement, Ambrose shocked Rollins with a DDT, and then a brutal beatdown. While many would cry foul over the timing, for my money it was ultimately one of the best things WWE did all year. It did what pro wrestling is supposed to do: It sucked us in. Got us invested in the characters and their stories. It sparked raw emotion in the audience.

However, WWE’s handling of Ambrose since the turn has been hit-or-miss. While I actually like the new Bane-inspired gas mask look, Vince McMahon’s influence on some of his promos has been quite evident. He’s talked about how the fans smell, how they’re all lazy and unmotivated, etc. Very little with any emotional weight to it.

Still, Ambrose is an awesome performer. Given the right material and the right opportunities, he’s as capable of delivering the goods as anyone. And they have a potentially hot storyline practically gift-wrapped for them, as Ambrose’s real-life wife Renee Young is sitting there on commentary every week. She might just be the ticket to him becoming the vile, despicable heel we all know he can be.

8. Drew McIntyre
Daniel Bryan may have had the comeback of the year, but Drew McIntyre had an epic comeback story of his own. McIntyre reinvented himself after being released by WWE in 2014. He found success in Impact Wrestling, Evolve, and PWG. When he returned to WWE via NXT in 2017, he was almost unrecognizable.

When McIntyre finally returned to the main roster this past April, he formed an unlikely alliance on Raw with Dolph Ziggler. The pair would ultimately up each other’s game, and be a dominant force on the show for most of the year. McIntyre would prove to be one of the show’s most consistent performers, both in the ring and on the mic.

Now a solo act again, the “Scottish Psychopath” will almost certainly challenge for the Universal Championship in 2019. McIntyre’s near five-year journey from the bottom of the wrestling may culminate with him standing at the very top. Frankly, it would be foolish to bet against him at this point.

9. Shinsuke Nakamura
Nakamura is back on this list this year, but unfortunately it’s for the wrong reasons. He and Asuka were very much on parallel journeys this year. They each won their respective Royal Rumble Matches, but failed to win gold at Wrestlemania. While Asuka failed to win the Smackdown Women’s Title from Carmella on two different occasions, Nakamura was unable to take the WWE Title from AJ Styles several times before finally dropping out of contention. He found a little bit of new life as a heel, and won the US Title from Jeff Hardy as a consolation prize. But his run has been fairly unremarkable, highlighted by a losing effort against Seth Rollins at Survivor Series. And while I won’t spoil this week’s Smackdown, the odds of Nakamura walking into 2019 with the belt are slim to none…

It would be easy to blame Nakamura’s failure as a main-eventer on WWE creative. The guy didn’t book himself to lose, after all. WWE also didn’t seem to know how to convey his unique persona, other than simply calling him “the Artist.” Losing multiple title matches to Jinder Mahal in 2017 didn’t help either.

But at the end of the day, Nakamura simply didn’t connect with mainstream American audiences well enough to justify the push he got. Yes, he’s a bona fide legend in Japan. Yes, he did very well in NXT. But on Raw and Smackdown you’re catering to the casuals and the average joes. And while we saw flashes of Nakamura’s greatness, over the long haul we never really got a good reason to invest in him emotionally, be it as a heel or a babyface. You can’t chalk all of that up to creative. Much of it, in fact, a majority of it, is about what happens in when the cameras are rolling.

Supposedly, Nakamura’s contract is up next month. If I’m in his shoes, I’m headed back to Japan. Because I’m at something of a loss as to how you build him back up at this point.

10. Becky Lynch
Up until recently, Becky Lynch was “always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” While her talent, charisma, and likability have been apparent almost from the start, WWE always seemed reluctant to fully get behind her. She was the only one of the “Four Horsewomen” of NXT to never win the NXT Women’s Title. While she did indeed become the inaugural Smackdown Women’s Champion, she only held the belt for two months. She more or less became a second-tier babyface afterward. This, despite fans clamoring to see her in a more prominent role.

We got our wish. Now, Becky Lynch may very well be the most popular wrestler in all of WWE.

Many of us, myself included, balked when Becky turned heel at Summerslam. But in hindsight, it gave her the creative freedom to become the defiant badass she is now. She’s often compared to Stone Cold Steve Austin, and that’s not entirely unjustified. Fans feel she’s been overlooked, and now they’re rooting for her to conquer the system that’s held her back for so long. Even when she was injured by Nia Jax and pulled out of a match against Ronda Rousey at Survivor Series, the fans stood behind her, every bit as outraged as she was. Now, she may be in a position to make history by headlining Wrestlemania with Rousey.

For more than a decade now, we’ve been in the era of forced babyfaces. Wrestlers we’re told we should cheer for, rather than heroes who earn those cheers organically. John Cena and Roman Reigns are both extremely talented, and great at what they do. But for most of their careers they’ve been going against the grain in terms of fan reception.

Becky Lynch is the exact opposite. No one told us to cheer for her. If anything, it’s been the exact opposite. But like Daniel Bryan before her, she’s started an uprising from the audience. And such uprisings should never be ignored, lest the main event of Wrestlemania be drowned out by chants of “Becky! Becky! Becky!”

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

WWE Crown Jewel Predictions – A Giant Friggin’ Headache

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

This thing has been a giant friggin’ headache, hasn’t it?

Despite intense pressure to cancel or perhaps move Crown Jewel out of Saudi Arabia following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, WWE has stayed the course. The show will proceed as planned, even as two of the company’s biggest stars, John Cena and Daniel Bryan, have opted not to go.

This is not a good look, ladies and gentlemen. Obviously they couldn’t have known something like this would happen back when they signed the 10-year deal with the Saudis, which is expected to make them up to $40 million this year. But now that it has happened, pushing forth with the show makes WWE look like your stereotypical greedy, soulless American corporation. Maybe that’s what they are at the end of the day…

While I myself won’t be watching Crown Jewel on Friday, the event will obviously impact what we see on WWE television in the near future. So even though writing about this show makes me want to take a shower, let’s take a look at the wrestling element of Crown Jewel.

WWE WORLD CUP TOURNAMENT:

They really made a mistake naming this thing. It should be the King of the Ring tournament, as opposed to the World Cup. Because the name World Cup comes has certain global implications to it. And it’s no secret that all these guys are born and bred Americans. So why give yourself that marketing headache?

Still, this could be a career moment for somebody. Even big established names like these eight men have. So who do you give it to?

I think we go to Kurt Angle vs. Rey Mysterio in the finals. That’s a match we haven’t seen in WWE for a long time. How long it’ll go, or what it’ll look like is anybody’s guess. But it could be really interesting to see what those two do in a ring in 2018.

In the end, I think this tournament belongs to Kurt Angle. To me, this World Cup idea seems like a way to give him something in the same ball park as his Olympic Gold Medal win. In theory, at least. If he really is gearing up for another in-ring run, what better way to establish that he can still hang than giving him a bunch of victories over two modern day stars and a fellow legend? Of course, this can organically lead to a match at Survivor Series to conclusively decide who the General Manager of Raw is.

Although, speaking of Baron Corbin, he could easily do a run-in and cost Kurt the final match. That would definitely amp up the bad blood. Either way, there are a lot of directions they can go with this…

PREDICTION: Kurt Angle

WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The Bar (c) vs. The New Day

I really didn’t think they would take the belts off the New Day so soon. But here we are.

In all honesty, I don’t have a strong opinion about the outcome of this match. This one could really go either way. I’m just hoping the match itself is good. It feels like WWE put the titles on Sheamus and Cesaro just so they could have a title change on Smackdown 1000. But since they’ve taken the trouble of switching the belts, I say we go ahead and keep them on the Bar.

PREDICTION: The Bar

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Samoa Joe

I can’t decide if we should be happy about the change from AJ Styles vs. Daniel Bryan to another match with Samoa Joe. On one hand, Joe gets another title shot. But on the other, the smart bet is he’s going to lose again.

Supposedly Joe is dealing with yet another injury, which doesn’t bode well for his main roster championship aspirations. I’m actually a little surprised they didn’t stick the recently returned Big Show in this spot. But here we are with Joe again.

In terms of its outcome, I don’t see why this match should be any different than the other three. I suspect that after Crown Jewel, AJ will go right back to feuding with Bryan. Joe could still be involved, of course. They could build to a Triple-Threat Match at Survivor Series. But I’m not holding my breath.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

MATCH FOR VACANT WWE UNIVERSAL HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP:
Brock Lesnar vs. Braun Strowman

For a lot of fans, this match is just a formality. An obligation we have to meet just so we can get the belt on Braun Strowman. After all, Lesnar’s going back to the UFC, right?

Everybody likes to think they know where Brock stands with WWE. But we really don’t know much, do we? We were positive Wrestlemania was the end for him. Then he came back for the Greatest Royal Rumble. Then he came back for Summerslam. Now he’s back for Crown Jewel. So what are the odds that this isn’t the end either?

One of Paul Heyman’s big talking points this year has been about Brock Lesnar becoming a two-sport champion, holding the UFC Championship and the Universal Championship at the same time. As Lesnar is still making shots for WWE all these months after his deal was supposedly up, I wouldn’t take that notion lightly anymore. Remember, WWE has a lot of money invested in Brock Lesnar. And if Crown Jewel has taught us anything, it’s that this company isn’t about to leave money on the table.

Throw in the current feud between Braun Strowman and Drew McIntyre, and you’ve got the perfect out for Brock to win the belt after interference from McIntyre.

Yes, friends. It might not have been the plan before. But I suspect it’s the plan now. Brock Lesnar’s second reign of terror is about to begin.

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

Degeneration X vs. The Brothers of Destruction

*sigh* Oh, Shawn.

Yeah, these guys are probably going to headline the show. Why wouldn’t they? They headlined Super Show-Down. And it’s Shawn’s big return match, after all.

The persistent rumor has been that this is a three-match series. We had Triple H and Undertaker at Super Show-Down. We’ve got this match for Crown Jewel. Then supposedly it all culminates with another Shawn Michaels/Undertaker match at Survivor Series. I didn’t want to believe HBK was coming back. But now that he is, I’ve got no reason to believe he’s not wrestling Undertaker in a few weeks.

I’m thinking Undertaker and Kane take this one home, leading a pissed off Shawn Michaels to challenge the Dead Man to a one-on-one match. Those two have a hell of a legacy to live up to. More than eight years after their last match, I’m extremely skeptical they can give us something worth the return.

But then again, if anyone can do it, it’s these two…

PREDICTION: The Brothers of Destruction

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com!

 

Shawn Michaels’ Return: 6 Dream Matches for HBK

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

*sigh* He’s doing it. He’s actually doing it.

Shawn Michaels, who has stayed in retirement for more than eight years since losing to the Undertaker at Wrestlemania XXVI, is getting back in the ring. And of all things, it’s for a tag match with Triple H against Undertaker and Kane in Saudi Arabia. If it wasn’t official before, it damn sure is now. Retirement matches are a joke.

Alright. I’m done. That’s all I’m going to say about the tarnishing of one of the great stories in Wrestlemania history. I’m going to try and look at the silver lining here. This announcement obviously opens the door for more Shawn Michaels matches.

Am I being presumptuous? Possibly. I don’t think we’ll be seeing Shawn on a week-to-week basis. Or even month-to-month basis. Nor should we. But if things go well at Crown Jewel, I think there’s a damn good possibility HBK starts working an Undertaker-like schedule. We’ll see him a few times a year for big shows, most notably Wrestlemania. And if Shawn still has even half the gifts he had when we last saw him wrestle, there’s no shortage of potential new age mat classics he can help create.

I’ve listed six potential HBK opponents below. Some of them are obvious. Some of them might not be. Let the speculation begin!

1. AJ Styles
It doesn’t get more obvious than this, does it?

Both these men are considered to be among the best, if not the best, of their generations. People have been comparing Styles to HBK since his TNA days. Naturally, that talk has only accelerated since he started his WWE run. The run he’s having with the WWE Championship right now isn’t unlike the one Shawn had in 1996. There was even some online buzz about Shawn coming out of retirement last year to wrestle AJ at the Royal Rumble.

Clearly, if you want to talk about dream matches for HBK, this one is as big as almost any other. The problem is that expectations will be sky high. We saw how that worked for AJ and Shinsuke Nakamura at Wrestlemania. Could the same fate befall Styles and Michaels? There’s only one way to find out, I suppose…

2. Daniel Bryan
The battle of the comeback stories. It’s tough to believe these two came back in the same year. What are the odds?

This is another pretty obvious one. Not just because Shawn had a hand in training Bryan, but because fans remember Bryan putting Shawn in the Yes Lock a few years ago (shown above). That’s certainly something they can reference, though they don’t need to. (Let’s be honest, they won’t.)

It would be interesting to see how Bryan’s style would match up with Shawn’s, as they were both often the babyfaces fighting from underneath. What happens when you put two of those guys in the ring together? Hopefully, something damn good.

3. Dolph Ziggler
Let’s make one thing clear: Dolph has never needed to imitate Shawn Michaels. He’s got the kind of natural athleticism and charisma that most wrestlers would fall off Hell in a Cell to have. And yet, Ziggler has clearly made an effort to pay homage to HBK in various ways. His use of the super kick is an obvious example. But at different points he’s worn ring gear that’s obviously based off what Shawn worn in the ’90s.

There’s an interesting story to be told here about all the modern wrestlers that clearly want to be “the next Shawn Michaels.” Shawn has talked about how he never set out to be the “next” anyone. But he’s clearly one of the most imitated wrestlers of the last 15 to 20 years. That’s a good jumping off point for a story about how Ziggler, despite imitating Shawn, has never quite reached the same heights he did. They don’t just have to repeat the Chris Jericho story from Wrestlemania XIX. They can come at it from another angle. Perhaps an even better one.

4. Seth Rollins
Rollins is another guy that falls into that “next Shawn Michaels” category. At face value, there’s not much of a story to tell here outside of the standard “generations collide” tale. But Shawn Michaels vs. Seth Rollins is a match that could address a pretty big elephant in the room: Why the newer, younger stars aren’t as over as the ’90s guys.

Mind you, they don’t have to phrase it that way. But there’s all this talk about “the era” that these guys are from. They’re talking about the Attitude Era, of course. So let’s dive into that. Have Shawn go on television and talk about how Seth can’t ever be like him, because Shawn was able to do things on TV that he could never do. In return, Seth can talk about how the current crop of guys are better conditioned, more athletic, and can do things the Attitude Era guys couldn’t.

The catch? Seth has to win. Regardless of how you feel about the Attitude Era vs. the current product, you just can’t bury the current crop of guys by having their representative lose in a story like that.

5. Roman Reigns
Yeah, I know. We’ve already had to watch Roman Reigns beat Triple H and the Undertaker in Wrestlemania main events. Now he has to beat Shawn too?

Not necessarily. But Roman has as much claim to a match with Shawn Michaels as anyone. He’s the top guy. Shawn used to be the top guy. That’s all the premise you need, really. And don’t think emotions wouldn’t be running high for this one. It would be every bit as volatile as when Reigns was out there with the Undertaker. For the most part, he wouldn’t be able to buy cheers.

Let’s not sell Roman’s in-ring abilities short either. He’s proven he can go out and have that epic, awesome match when the they need him to. Who the hell are we to say he couldn’t do it with, of all people, Shawn Michaels?

6. Tommaso Ciampa
Sam Roberts has pitched this match several times on his podcast. I like it a lot. From a story perspective, this could wind up being the best match out of all these.

What do you notice about the other names on this list? Most of them are babyfaces. AJ Styles. Daniel Bryan. Seth Rollins. Roman Reigns (in theory, at least). While they could all be fantastic in the ring with Shawn, there’s nothing quite like a classic good vs. evil program. And if Tommaso Ciampa has proven anything in the last year, it’s that heroes and villains still have a place in wrestling.

These days, Shawn coaches young talent at the Performance Center in Orlando. So I can only assume he’s more than familiar with the NXT roster. Imagine Shawn Michaels coming out during an NXT show, perhaps to help an injured talent, only to come face to face with Ciampa, and in the process become his next target. Like Johnny Gargano, HBK would make the perfect babyface to feud with the black-hearted Ciampa.

Is there a place for Shawn Michaels in an NXT ring? If, and only if, the story is right, my answer is an emphatic yes.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com!

WWE Super Show-Down Predictions – A Throw-Away Show?

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

I’ve been debating over whether to call Super Show-Down a throw-away pay per view. It’s tempting. But I think a better term for it would be “special attraction pay per view.” If not for the special attraction WWE has thrown in for the overseas fans, this would be a pretty sub-standard pay per view.

The Greatest Royal Rumble was the same kind of show. Yes, we had the cage match between Roman and Brock. But in the end, we got a non-finish. What held that show up was the big Royal Rumble Match that Braun Strowman won. It’s the same thing with Super Show-Down and the Undertaker/Triple H match.

Still, they’ve definitely packed it full of talent. So let’s take a look.

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH
Cedric Alexander (c) vs. Buddy Murphy

I’m blown away that this hasn’t been bumped to some kind of pre-show yet. Because 205 Live doesn’t build to pay per view matches. It builds to pay per view pre-show matches held in front of half-empty buildings. Don’t believe me? Ask Cedric Alexander and Drew Gulak how their Summerslam match went.

Yes, Buddy Murphy will be in his home country at Super Show-Down. But I still don’t see them taking the title off Cedric. My opinion hasn’t changed about Mustafa Ali being the man to take it from him, possibly at Wrestlemania next year. Or more accurately, the Wrestlemania pre-show.

PREDICTION: Cedric Alexander

Naomi & Asuka vs. The IIconics

You know what the problem is with the Smackdown Women’s Division these days? Actually, there are a a few. But do you know what the biggest problem is with the Smackdown Women’s Division these days? They turned the wrong woman heel. Instead of Becky Lynch (which was utterly stupid in the first place), it should have been Asuka.

It’s been painful, physically painful, to see Asuka’s fall from prominence since Wrestlemania. Charlotte beat her, and she’s become utterly and unbearably average. Just another name on the roster. This is unacceptable.

Billie Kay and Peyton Royce should take this one home. As they’re Australian, this match is tailor-made to give them a big win. But after the match, Asuka needs to turn on Naomi. This is the biggest stage she’s performed on in months, and the heel turn opportunity is practically gift-wrapped for them. For the love of God, give this woman something.

PREDICTION: The IIconics

WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The New Day (c) vs. The Bar

This should be good, as these guys rarely disappoint. And while I’d be just fine with the Bar taking the titles, I wouldn’t look for it here. I’ve got to believe that when the time comes, they want them to drop the belts to a team that hasn’t had them before. I’d love for SAnitY to be that team. But maybe not. Either way, this will be another feel-good moment for the New Day down under.

PREDICTION: The New Day

John Cena & Bobby Lashley vs. Kevin Owens & Elias

I’ve actually been very surprised at how little we’ve seen John Cena since Wrestlemania. As far as I can remember, this is his first televised match, if not his first match altogether, since losing to the Undertaker. I’d be surprised if the good guys didn’t win here, specifically after an AA by Cena.

Oddly enough, the person I’m thinking about going into this match is Lio Rush. His on-screen partnership with Bobby Lashley is very much in its infancy. But it’s packed with intrigue. Lio Rush could, and I’ll emphasis could, be for Bobby Lashley what Paul Heyman was for Brock Lesnar. Those are huge shoes to fill. But give it time Even if Lio can’t fill them, he might surprise you by coming close.

PREDICTION: John Cena & Bobby Lashley

STIPULATION MATCH:
The Miz vs. Daniel Bryan
Winner gets a WWE Championship Match.

I was surprised to see Daniel Bryan and Brie Bella lose at Hell in a Cell. If they’d won, this would have been the rubber match between Bryan and Miz. But since they lost, I’m thinking Bryan picks up a clean win over Miz here. Bryan can go on to challenge whoever the WWE Champion is, and Miz can go on TV and complain that he’s beaten Bryan twice and deserves a shot himself.

But what’s fun about the WWE Title picture on Smackdown right now, is that the immediate future isn’t so obvious. There are a few ways this could go, most of which are intriguing. Coming out of Super Show-Down, we could be looking at AJ Styles vs. Daniel Bryan, or Samoa Joe vs. Daniel Bryan. Or perhaps AJ Styles vs. The Miz. Smackdown may very well avoid the annual “autumn slump.”

PREDICTION: Daniel Bryan

Ronda Rousey & The Bella Twins vs. The Riott Squad

I’m not a big fan of six-person tag matches on pay per views. I’ve been conditioned to see them as TV filler over the years. That, combined with the fact that the Bellas (Brie in particular) haven’t exactly turned in quality in-ring work lately, make me wonder if this is the bathroom-break match. Nothing personal, ladies.

There’s been plenty of buzz about Ronda defending the title against Nikki Bella at Evolution. As revolting as that sounds, it’s looking like that is indeed where we’re going. And if they’re going to do a heel turn with Nikki, this would be the place to do it. I’d still expect Ronda and the Bellas to win, though. Most likely with an armbar by the champ.

Incidentally, I really enjoyed that Ronda vs. Ruby match we got on Raw this past week. How about we make that the match for Evolution, instead of Ronda vs. Nikki?

PREDICTION: Ronda Rousey & The Bella Twins

The Shield vs. Braun Strowman, Dolph Ziggler, & Drew McIntyre

Again, six-person tags and TV filler. But this one at least has a decent story going for it. I’ve actually been digging the stuff they’ve done with Dean Ambrose lately. Honestly, now is as good a time as ever for them to shoot for a Reigns vs. Rollins vs. Ambrose match for Wrestlemania. I’d go with that over Reigns vs. Rock.

I originally picked the Shield to go over here. But now that we’ve got a Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman vs. Brock Lesnar match on the horizon, I think it’s gotta be the heels. Have Braun pin Roman, perhaps due to a blunder with Ambrose. Thus, Braun has a little added credibility going into Crown Jewel.

PREDICTION: Braun Strowman, Dolph Ziggler & Drew McIntyre

WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Becky Lynch (c) vs. Charlotte Flair

Becky finally got her big win at Hell in a Cell. Now the question becomes, what do you do with this match? This is Flair’s championship rematch, of course. So if Becky can win this one, she should theoretically be done with Charlotte for awhile. Assuming they want Charlotte to remain a babyface, that’s probably the best course of action here. Right now, anyone they put against Becky is going to get booed.

In a perfect world, this is where Asuka would come in. A newly heel Asuka could make the perfect challenger for Becky, who for all intends and purposes is a babyface right now anyway. Considering how dominant Asuka used to be, if she can recapture some of that magic it might help Becky keep that underdog quality that fans love about her.

Mind you, that doesn’t leave much for Charlotte to sink her teeth into. I suppose you have the IIconics, Mandy Rose, and Sonya Deville. Maybe even Zelina Vega. But that’s all small potatoes by comparison. Hm. Perplexing…

PREDICTION: Becky Lynch

NO-DQ MATCH FOR WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Samoa Joe

They protected Samoa Joe in his loss to AJ Styles at Hell in a Cell. But nevertheless, he walked out empty-handed. The operative question here is, have they missed their chance to put the title on Joe?

I think the answer, at least for now, is yes.

If Joe takes the belt here, I think this program continues for at least another month. Styles will be owed a rematch, which he’ll probably get at Crown Jewel in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, they will have already established a new top contender in the Miz/Bryan match. So they’d have to do a little more clean-up in that scenario. Plus, at this point they’ve kept the title on AJ for so long. They may as well let him carry it past the one-year mark. That’s a hell of a notch on his belt.

The time to give Joe the belt was Hell in a Cell. Granted, I’d love to be wrong. But for now, I think the best we can hope is that he gets an another opportunity somewhere down the road.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

The Undertaker w/Kane vs. Triple H w/Shawn Michaels

There’s been some speculation about whether this match is the first in a series that will lead to Shawn Michaels coming out of retirement. First in a tag match with Hunter against Undertaker and Kane. Then another big one-on-one match with Undertaker.

I have no desire to see Shawn Michaels come out of retirement. I say that as a tried and true Shawn Michaels fan. His career had a perfect storybook ending that shouldn’t be tarnished. If he wants a little physicality, that’s fine. Throw a superkick, take a chokeslam, whatever. But no more matches. I want Shawn to be the one guy who keeps his word.

At this point in his career, I really don’t think the Undertaker should lose unless they’re trying to get a new star over, i.e. what they did with Roman at Wrestlemania 33. Obviously, that match sucked and was ill-conceived. But their intentions were good, and the right guy won.

But after all the “Is he retired?” drama that took place after that match, people want to see the Undertaker win. They want a Tombstone Piledriver and a pinfall. So I say we give that to them. Hopefully we get a good match in the process.

PREDICTION: The Undertaker

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com!

Wrestling Headlines: RIP Vader, Big Cass’ Release, and More!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Leon White, known to fans as Vader, passes away at the age of 63. Very sad to hear of Vader’s passing this week after a battle with pneumonia.

I started following wrestling on a consistent basis in the summer of 1996, when the big man was feuding with Shawn Michaels for the WWF Championship. So many of my early fandom memories involve Vader.

But as many longtime fans know, the Vader we saw on WWF television was but a fraction of what Big Van Vader had been in Japan and WCW. This guy’s offense was so tough, so stiff, and so brutal, he truly earned his reputation as a monster. Watch some of the work he did with Cactus Jack in WCW. There’s also a famous match he had with Stan Hansen in Japan where his eye literally popped out of its socket. For better or worse, it was the stuff of legends.

White was fairly open about his recent health issues. In late 2016, he famously tweeted that a doctor had told him he had roughly two years left to live due to congestive heart failure. Given how much press that generated, it’s frustrating that WWE didn’t opt to put him in the Hall of Fame. Still, we can take some solace in the fact that he at least got to be up on that stage to induct Stan Hansen. I can only assume he’ll be inducted posthumously at some point.

Here’s to you, big man. Thanks for the memories.

Big Cass abruptly fired from WWE before Tuesday’s Smackdown. Yikes. We’d heard he had heat with management. But wow…

Supposedly it was a variety of things. Going against Vince McMahon’s direction in a segment a few weeks back, an incident on a tour bus, being intoxicated in public on a European tour. This is totally a guess on my part, but it sounds like the pressures of a singles push were getting to him. That, and maybe some maturity issues.

If Cass wants to continue wrestling, I have no doubt he can find stardom somewhere else. At the very least, he can reunite with Enzo and make some money on the indies. Whether he wants to be associated with Enzo and all that drama is another story.

Kurt Angle “suspends” Ronda Rousey from Raw for 30 days. Not really sure where they’re going with this. Supposedly, Ronda will still be making house show appearances. I assume that’s why they’re saying “suspended from Raw” as opposed to just suspended. Maybe they do a bunch of angles where she runs in from the crowd to try and get Alexa Bliss?

Rusev earns WWE Championship Match with AJ Styles at Extreme RulesI can’t say I expected this.  I won’t complain, though. Glad to see they’re listening to the people. Now the question is, do they buck their track record thus far, and actually let AJ Styles, their WWE Champion, main event a pay per view?

The answer, of course, is no. The multi-man match to decide Brock’s next opponent will go on last at Extreme Rules. But hey, it’s fun to think about, right?

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition on Twitter.

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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