Does Rusev Want Out of WWE? Plus Ponderings From Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Can you really blame Rusev for wanting out of WWE?

At least that’s the rumor. Allegedly, the “Bulgarian Brute” is frustrated with how he’s being used lately, and even went as far as to ask for his release. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It’s the same reason Cody Rhodes left. Ditto for Ryback, Wade Barrett, and a few others on a list that’s growing longer and longer as time goes on.

It’s not like there isn’t a precedent for Rusev playing a more prominent role. He’s worked with both Roman Reigns and John Cena on major pay per views. You can throw Randy Orton on that list too, despite their Summerslam match lasting all of 10 seconds. Considering where he’s been, it’s understandable that he’d be frustrated with where he is now. Because these days Rusev is just…there. He’s an established heel for babyfaces to beat as they build momentum toward a bigger match. Has he reached his ceiling in WWE for the time being? Is he better off leaving and building on his reputation elsewhere?

Rusev has never been a top guy. I don’t know how much value he has in terms of being a marquee babyface. But he’s got a hell of an upside as a menacing monster heel. He looks the part, he’s got a good amount of charisma, and he’s more than capable in the ring. He’ll ever be a Roman Reigns type of star. But he deserves bigger opportunities than he’s being given right now. And he can get them.

WWE may be reluctant to grant Rusev his release, given how it would effect his real-life wife Lana. But if the real-life Miroslav Barnyashev (What a name…) and Catherine Perry get a chance to shine outside the WWE bubble, they should take it. There’d be no shortage of wrestlers willing to step up and take Rusev’s spot. And as we’ve seen numerous times already, a WWE run can be just as good, if not better, the second time around.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

WWE Champion Jinder Mahal opens the show. The Singh Brothers apologize for failing last week against Shinsuke Nakamra. Mahal, Rusev, and the Singhs get the better of Nakamura and Randy Orton in a scuffle. “I should be revered as your WWE Champion!” The word is pronounced “re-veered,” Jinder. Not “reh-verred.”

This was not good. Nakamura was apparently supposed to knock the Singhs aside and get to Jinder. But he just gave them a little push, and they just jumped out of the way. The Singhs were way too cartoony here, like henchmen on the ’60s Batman show. Brutal.

Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable def. The Ascension. Benjamin looked as good as he’s ever been. Once he and Gable get over to teams like the New Day and the Usos, we could see some really amazing stuff.

Hearing JBL call an Ascension match in 2017 is interesting, considering he buried them so much on commentary when they first came up to the main roster. He really damaged them, seemingly beyond repair. A repackaging could help these guys. But for now, they’re more dead than disco.

Tye Dillinger answesr AJ Styles’ United States Championship open challenge, despite being attacked by Baron Corbin beforehand. Styles gets a quick win with the Calf Crusher. While there’s no shame in losing to AJ Styles, I continue to be disappointed in how WWE is using Tye Dillinger. There’s something there with him. But he’s become just another guy on the roster.

So AJ’s next program is indeed going to be Corbin. The match between Corbin and Nakamura may have crapped the bed. If anybody can give him a good match, it’s Styles.

Bobby Roode def. Mike Kanellis. Speaking of just another guy on the roster. I was optimistic about Mike Kanellis’ spot on the roster. But now? Things look a little different…

Kevin Owens interrupts Aiden English to badmouth Shane McMahon. After responding, Shane sends Sami Zayn out to face English. Owens makes himself the referee, Powerbombs Zayn to give English the win. When Zayn’s music hit, I thought for sure we were getting him against KO. Have we seen these two go one-on-one since they came to Smackdown? I don’t think they have. That’s shocking, considering how often we used to see it on Raw.

The Usos def. The New Day, will decide the stipulation for the Tag Team Title rematch. I wish they wouldn’t keep giving this match away on free TV. On the Summerslam pre-show these guys proved they deserve to perform on the big stage. They shouldn’t diminish them by simply throwing them out there week after week.

This was decent. Obviously not as good as the Summerslam match. But it wasn’t meant to be. Interested to see what they do with the stipulation. As I said last week, they should really put these guys in Hell in a Cell. But I doubt they can wait that long.

Tamina won a squash match with Lana in her corner. Byron Saxton said he’d never seen a duo like Tamina and Lana before…

He’s never seen two people who can’t wrestle before? Is that what he means? It must be.

Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura def. Jinder Mahal and Rusev. Orton hits the RKO on Nakamura after the match. Orton and Nakamura to wrestle next week to determine top contender for WWE Title. Pretty standard stuff here. And of course, Rusev took the fall. The upside? They didn’t pin Jinder again.

The obvious direction for them to go is Jinder against Nakamura inside Hell in a Cell, the idea being the cage will keep the Singh Brothers out. But that program doesn’t deserve the cell. Plus, while I like what they’ve done with Jinder, his pay per view matches haven’t exactly been stellar. How much he’s to blame for that is up for debate. But he’s not ready for Hell in a Cell. Frankly, I’m not sure Nakamura is either.

One way or another, we’re probably going to find out.

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Chris Jericho is Back?!? Plus, Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Question: At what point does a midcard title mean as much, if not more, than a Heavyweight Title? Some would say that’s where we are with the WWE Title and the United States Title.

We always used to hear that kind of talk in the late ’90s, when Rob Van Dam held the ECW Television Title. His matches were outperforming the Heavyweight Title Matches on such a consistent basis that the perception of the title changed. While the ECW Championship was still the top title in theory, a large portion of the fanbase placed more value in the TV Title.

We’ve got a similar situation now with Jinder Mahal as the WWE Champion. In a way, it’s unfair to judge Mahal the way you would previous champions. He’s so inexperienced as a top guy, going from the undercard to the main event in a matter of weeks. Meanwhile, the guys competing for the US Title aren’t exactly slouches: Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, and Chris Jericho. They’re more experienced than him, more charismatic than him, and put on better matches than him.

But does that mean that while AJ and the others are elevating the US Championship, Jinder is dragging the WWE Championship down? The answer is: Sort of. It goes beyond Jinder himself. It’s about the story they’re telling, and the importance that should be placed on that WWE Championship.

Given how recently Jinder was an undercard guy, the WWE Title can easily seem like an undercard belt while he holds it. That’s especially the case when he’s not as good a worker as a lot of the other guys. The way you change that is by telling a good story. Essentially, that story is about Jinder and the Singh Brothers stealing the title. This undeserving, unqualified charlatan of a champion is holding it hostage until someone can overcome the odds and take it. WWE’s equivalent to the Ark of the Covenant has been stolen. We, as the audience, need to understand just how important that is. All is not right with the world, and our heroes are striving to fix it. This needs to be played up on a weekly basis. Not just by the announcers, but the script writers. An immense injustice has occurred, and continues to occur every time Jinder retains that title with the help of the Singh Brothers, and now the Great Khali. This way, Jinder is more than a stereotypical foreign menace. He becomes a true villain.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with elevating the United States Championship. For so many years it was mired in irrelevance. The more prestigious it is, the better off your product is. But let’s not lose sight of where our priorities should be. There’s a reason Jim Ross always called the WWE Title the “richest prize in the industry.” If they’ve allowed us to forget that’s the case, then something has gone very, very wrong.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Chris Jericho makes a surprise return to Smackdown. Shane McMahon announces a Triple Threat Match for the US Title: Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho. This one came way out of left field. Definitely an awesome shot in the arm for Smackdown. Especially after Battleground was received so negatively.

There was absolutely no buzz about Jericho coming back any time soon, so there’s not much word on how long we’ve got him. For now, I’m just happy he’s back. Even with just a little bit of time, he can do quite a lot.

Damn, I love when wrestling is good.

Shinsuke Nakamura def. Baron Corbin. The match from Battleground did not get good reviews at all. The most notable thing that came out of it was a gif of Nakamura doing an exaggerated eye roll. The DQ finish certainly didn’t help. At least they got that part right this time. Why couldn’t they have done that Sunday?

This wasn’t much better. But you knew this wasn’t going to be magic either way.

Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch def. Lana and Tamina. Really surprised Charlotte didn’t win the match at Battleground. Does this mean she’s not going to be on the Summerslam card? That’s really odd. She’s a marquee player. You’d think she’d have a place on a show like Summerslam.

Lana has a lot of haters over her perceived lack of wrestling skills. They don’t seem to realize they’re supposed to be hating her, and as such are playing right into her hands. That’s part of her character, you morons…

John Cena comes out to challenge Jinder Mahal to a WWE Championship Match at Summerslam. Daniel Bryan makes a match between Cena and Nakamura for next week, with the winner challenging Mahal at the pay per view. I happened to be watching the first half of this show with Mrs. Primary Ignition. As Jinder was speaking Punjabi, she says: “I feel like this is pretty racist.” I tell her that’s the idea,

Her reply: “That’s a little too redneck for me.” Man, some people just don’t get it.

Loved Cena’s attitude toward Mahal, totally brushing him off as an opponent. That’s obviously the way a lot of the fans feel about him too. The good news for the Cena haters is that probably means the champ is retaining at Summerslam. I doubt they’d let Cena crap on Vince McMahon’s new pet project if he wasn’t going to get the win in the end.

As for the Cena/Nakamura match next week, that’s a hell of a bombshell. They’ve got my attention, that’s for sure. Here’s hoping they pop a decent rating with a week’s build-up.

Sami Zayn and Tye Dillinger def. Mike Kanellis and Aiden English. So Mike Kanellis loses at Battleground, then drops the fall again tonight. I wouldn’t be worried for him just yet. Not everybody gets a big undefeated streak. Given his whipped husband character, it might work for him in the short term.

A lot of fans have been quick to put Mike Kanellis’ gimmick into the “Wrestlecrap” category. Again, it’s too soon to judge. They just started. Give it some time. See how things play out…

The New Day are ambushed by the Usos. This was pretty quick and to the point. Considering how long some of the beat-downs go these days, that’s hardly a crime.

AJ Styles def. Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho to win the WWE United States Championship. Styles to defend against Owens in a rematch next week. Pretty good match. Rumor has it the finish to the Styles/Owens match at Battleground was changed with very little notice. This is pure speculation, but I imagine this was part of the reason why. Jericho’s return was a great twist in the story. I can’t say I’m dying to see Styles and Owens potentially work yet again at Summerslam. But there are certainly worse matches one could book…

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A WWE Battleground 2017 Preview – Punjabi Prison Blues

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Randy Orton and Jinder Mahal will likely have the best Punjabi Prison Match of all time this Sunday at Battleground. Unfortunately, the bar has been set pretty low for Punjabi Prison Matches. So I imagine it will still suck.

It’s not necessarily their fault. The Punjabi Prison Match concept was ill-conceived from the start. Bringing it back gave WWE an opportunity to change up the rules and make it a little less convoluted. As we saw this week on Smackdown, they’ve opted to keep it the same. That doesn’t bode well.

The Punjabi Prison is a double cage, one inside the other. To win, a wrestler must escape from both. The first cage has doors, each of which can only be opened for 60 seconds before it’s closed permanently. The second cage must be climbed.

I actually like the structure itself. But they’re overcomplicating things with the door rule for the first cage. Just have both guys fight to get out. Keep the damn thing simple, and easy to grasp.

The cages also look as big and cumbersome as ever. Remember, this thing was originally built for the Great Khali. It was downright painful watching Orton climb it while holding a microphone and talking.

I don’t envy these two at Battleground. As I’ve said previously, there’s a reason we haven’t seen a lot of Punjabi Prison Matches over the years. We weren’t exactly clamoring for another one. But here’s hoping Orton and Mahal put on a decent show nonetheless.

Let’s take a look at Battleground

PRE-SHOW MATCH:
Tye Dillinger vs. Aiden English

Oh c’mon. They’re doing the same pre-show match they did at Backlash? Sami Zayn, Chad Gable, Luke Harper, and Breezango are all on the bench, but these two are wrestling again?? Lame.

I’m not sure why Dillinger wouldn’t win again here. They seem content to have him dwindle at lower midcard status for now. That’s a shame. I don’t know if he’ll ever be WWE Champion. But he’s got plenty more to offer.

PREDICTION: Tye Dillinger

FATAL FIVE-WAY MATCH TO DETERMINE TOP CONTENDER FOR SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE AT SUMMERSLAM:
Charlotte Flair vs. Natalya vs. Becky Lynch vs. Lana vs. Tamina

The lack of creativity in this company is downright maddening sometimes. Charlotte, Becky, Natalya, and Tamina have been in so many of these multi-women matches together that there’s absolutely no draw here. You may as well just do Charlotte vs. Becky. At least we haven’t seen them wrestle on pay per view in awhile.

I don’t see them doing Summerslam without Charlotte. She’s already wrestled Naomi for the belt on television. But Summerslam is obviously a much bigger stage, and they can draw out a babyface vs. babyface feud. I maintain, however, that Charlotte has no business being a babyface. It wasn’t long ago that she was arguably the best villain in the company. Perhaps a loss to Naomi at Summerslam could put her back on a path to the dark side.

PREDICTION: Charlotte Flair

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

The New Day are getting the titles at some point. It’s simply a question of when. As we saw in the rap battle segment a few weeks ago, these guys can be really entertaining together. So I say we give them a little more time to do their thing. I don’t have enough faith in WWE creative to think they’ll give us something better than the rap battle. But you never know.

How about we have the Usos retain here, and then do a stipulation match at Summerslam? If the New Day lose, they can’t challenge for the belts again as long as Jimmy and Jey have them. Just a thought.

PREDICTION: The Usos

Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Baron Corbin

For better or worse, the logic regarding the guy holding the Money in the Bank briefcase is that you can beat him all you want. Because at the end of the day, he’s still got the briefcase. I’ve always hated that idea. But it can apply in isolated incidents. This match is one such incident. Nakamura needs to be kept strong, and a loss here does minimal damage to Corbin. His ruthless attitude notwithstanding, Corbin has largely been portrayed as beatable when it comes to the bigger and more established names. John Cena, Randy Orton, Dean Ambrose, etc. I chalk that up to his inexperience. In reality it’s probably just bad booking.

After beating Corbin, I’d love to see Nakamura go to Summerslam to face John Cena. That doesn’t seem to be in the cards. But one day…

PREDICTION: Shinsuke Nakamura

WWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Kevin Owens

I didn’t expect AJ to win the belt at all, much less in a non-televised match. But there he is, our United States Champion. Supposedly they did it to keep Smackdown from having too many anti-American heel champions. Fair enough. The great thing about Owens and Styles is they’ll give you good matches no matter how many times you put them out there together.

I don’t see the need to keep this feud going until Summerslam, so this should be it for these guys. KO has been doing just fine with the whole “Face of America” thing. But I’m liking AJ with the belt. Chances are, he’s not challenging for the title in August. So being United States Champion keeps him in a prominent spot, and it’s a simple way to match him up against almost anyone. As for Owens, he can do just about anything and be perfectly fine. Just keep him away from Sami Zayn.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

FLAG MATCH:
John Cena vs. Rusev

Rusev could win this match. That would sure as hell be a surprise. There’s not much harm in it, either. It’s not like he’d be pinning Cena.

I don’t see it happening, though. Cena is the American hero in a Flag Match. It’s rather difficult to picture a scenario where he doesn’t win this one, and then go on to wrestle for the WWE Title at Summerslam. As for Rusev, he could go either way at this point. He hasn’t exactly had the best creative as of late. He doesn’t even have Lana with him anymore. The “Bulgarian Brute” has rebounded before. But they’re not making it easy for him, are they?

PREDICTION: John Cena

PUNJABI PRISON MATCH FOR WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
Jinder Mahal (c) vs. Randy Orton

The Jinder Mahal experiment hasn’t been a rousing success. But it hasn’t been a failure either. I haven’t been blown away by either his matches or his promos. But the WWE machine has given him an aura of importance. They’ve created the illusion of a big star. Now Jinder just needs to live up to the hype. It’s a slow process, but he’s getting there.

A third consecutive pay per view win over Randy Orton, which is what he’ll get here, is certainly a step in the right direction. The match isn’t going to win any awards. But it’s still a hell of a coup. And it could lead to an even bigger one, depending on what they decide to do with him at Summerslam.

I can’t say it’s a match I’m dying to see, but the story pretty much writes itself. John Cena wins a Flag Match with Rusev, and then defends his country’s honor yet again at one of the biggest shows of the year. But does the Jinder Mahal experiment end there…?

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Austin Aries Leaves WWE, Plus Ponderings From Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

So Austin Aries is gone from WWE? Well that’s a damn downer.

Depending on who you believe, either the real-life Daniel Solwold Jr. asked for his release, or WWE let him go. Aries; unhappiness with WWE’s decision to not include his Wrestlemania pre-show match with Neville on the DVD release was apparently a source of contention.

Regardless, the separation seems to be amicable. Aries tweeted some things that seemed vaguely happy. But from a fan’s perspective, it’s a shame. Aries is over. He was undoubtedly the top babyface they had on 205 Live. But by that same token, he could have gone so much further than the Cruiserweight Division. Aries has a metric ton of charisma, and could have made that company a lot of money in the right role.

The good news is Aries won’t be wanting for work. Between New Japan, Ring of Honor, the recently re-branded Global Force Wrestling, and the current indy scene, he’s got plenty of options. Ultimately, WWE’s loss is a major gain for somebody else.

It’s just a damn shame they had to lose him.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

AJ Styles opens the show by reinstating the US Championship Open Challenge. John Cena attempts to answer, but Kevin Owens interrupts. Rusev then jumps Cena and a fight ensues. The cool thing about AJ Styles winning the US Title in an untelevised match over the weekend isn’t just the surprise factor. It’s the fact that AJ Styles, a man that many thought would never grace a WWE ring, won a title in what is essentially the promotion’s home arena. Imagine that.

Styles said the United States Championship has been “overlooked way too many times.” I appreciate the sentiment. But it seemingly doesn’t apply anymore, does it? They’ve kept that belt on upper card, main event level guys for quite awhile now. Owens, Cena, Roman Reigns, Chris Jericho, etc. The secondary titles have been in a much deserved renaissance lately, and we’re all reaping the benefits.

Jinder Mahal def. Tye Dillinger. Mahal promises to bring the Punjabi Prison to Smackdown next week. Is WWE management underwhelmed with Dillinger? The crowd obviously likes him, but until recently he’d been off television for awhile. What gives?

I’m still waiting for the Singh Brothers to get in the ring…

JBL mentioned how the Punjabi Prison dwarfs Hell in a Cell. Not sure that’s a good comparison to make. There’s a reason we haven’t seen a lot of these Punjabi Prison Matches, but there’s a Hell in a Cell pay per view.

Xavier Woods def. Jey Uso. Which Uso said the “R-rated” line in the rap battle last week? Let’s just say it was Jey. Because I love the irony of WWE editing that line out of the YouTube clips from the show, but then putting those two in the ring the next week.

A brawl breaks out between Shinsuke Nakamura and Baron Corbin before they can have a match. Cue a match between these two at Battleground. Let’s get this one out of the way so we can hopefully get to Nakamura vs. Cena at Summerslam.

Natalya and Tamina def. Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch. Battleground Fatal Five-Way Elimination Match to decide challenger for Women’s Title at SummerslamI’m hoping we can soon get back to one-on-one feuds in this division. We’ve seen so many multi-woman matches lately. If I had to guess, I’d say we get Naomi vs. Charlotte at Summerslam.

Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley appear on the latest edition of “The Fashion Files.” Last week Rawley eliminated Ryder from the big Battle Royal, and they made a point to mention it again this week. The smart bet is a Ryder heel turn is coming. But the guy is so likable. Both are, actually. It’ll be interesting to see if Ryder can garner any real heat after being a sympathetic underdog for so many years.

AJ Styles and John Cena def. Kevin Owens and Rusev. This one didn’t do much for me. The only thing really notable here was the in-ring return of Rusev. He looked fine out there. But man, you talk about drawing the short straw. He comes back, and is immediately put into a Flag Match with John Cena. You can certainly do worse than Cena as far as pay per view opponents go. But they’ll want Cena to have momentum going into Summerslam, so Rusev’s chances of winning are slim to none. Here’s hoping he’ll have a better time once we get through August.

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Punjabi Prison Match Returning, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponderings From Smackdown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You live and you learn…

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Carmella’s Controversy, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Sometimes I think the so-called “smart” fans forget what real heat is. Wrestling is designed to make us angry, and play on some of our most basic human instincts. WWE did that with the finish to the first ever Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match on Sunday, and people were mad. The problem is they were mad for the wrong reason.

The finish of the match came when James Ellsworth climbed up the ladder, grabbed the briefcase, and dropped it down to Carmella. So the inaugural Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match was essentially won by a man. I got a little miffed about this initially. I even retweeted a comment or two from fans that were upset. But the more I think about this finish, the more I absolutely love it.

I’m about a pretty progressive guy. I understand what’s gets people upset about a woman needing a man’s help to do something. But let’s lighten up and realize what this is. It’s a story that’s designed to get under people’s skin, and make them want to see Carmella and Ellsworth get their comeuppance. It did what pro wrestling is supposed to do.

Hey, I’m a smart fan too. But let’s not outsmart ourselves by analyzing this stuff to the point that we can’t enjoy it anymore.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Carmella and James Ellsworth discuss the controversial ending to the Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match. Carmella sounded pretty scripted here. But that’s not exactly uncommon on WWE TV these days. And she had some nice fire. So I was good with this. I’d also forgotten she was picked last in the draft last year. That was a nice touch.

Big E. def. Jimmy Usos. Nice win. Nobody ever talks about Big E. being a former Intercontinental Champion. Probably because it didn’t end up being that memorable. But it merits mentioning when he’s spotlighted by himself like this.

Shinsuke Nakamura def. Dolph Ziggler.  This was fun. A little slow at first, but one of those matches where you find yourself watching for the little details. Nakamura doesn’t necessarily look like somebody who can work the mat, but he and Dolph looked good jockeying for position out there. They gave these guys a lot of time too, which a match like this deserves.

Kevin Owens def. Chad Gable in a US Open Challenge Match. Both Chad Gable and Jason Jordan have been ghosts these last several weeks. So to see Gable get a singles spotlight like this was really cool. Absolutely gorgeous moonsault, and the crowd was into that roll-through German Suplex. I’ve talked before about how Gable could conceivably do well as a cruiserweight on Raw. But I’m scared of what would happen to him, given how stale 205 Live has become.

Daniel Bryan takes the Money in the Bank briefcase from Carmella, announces a rematch for next week. Ahhhhh, so that’s what it was. Do a contested finish, then direct people to a big episode of Smackdown. It’s a smart move. Not just because ratings are down, but because it’s never been done on WWE TV before.

I’m hoping Carmella wins again. Put even more heat on her. On Talking Smack we found out Ellsworth is banned from ringside. But she can still find a way to win. Why not?

I haven’t heard anything about injuries sustained in the Ladder Match, other than Bryan having a throwaway line about Charlotte’s neck. That’s a hell of a bruise Tamina has on her arm. I did, however, notice Tamina’s got a hell of a bruise on her arm. I imagine that was pretty painful. Though not quite as painful as her attempt to diss Charlotte here.

So we’ve got all these women competing in yet another Ladder Match for an on-demand shot at the Women’s Title. Meanwhile, Naomi grants Lana yet another title match for doing nothing other than running her mouth. I’d be more angry at her than Carmella.

WWE Champion Jinder Mahal def. Luke Harper. Baron Corbin teases a Money in the Bank cash-in. Randy Orton brutalizes Mahal the match. Tonight was the first night I really took note of Jinder’s new entrance. It gives him a great superstar vibe. When you see that entrance, it feels like somebody special is walking out. Is Jinder backing that up in the ring? Not necessarily. But his presentation is coming together nicely.

Why aren’t the Singh Brothers wrestling on TV? They’re sort of in the same role that J&J Security was a few years ago. But they’re obviously capable of more. More importantly, Smackdown needs heel tag teams.

So we’re not done with Jinder Mahal and Randy Orton, huh? Damn. I was hoping both these guys were moving on. This likely means Jinder is going to beat Randy Orton at three consecutive pay per views: BacklashMoney in the Bank, and Battleground next month. Not a bad way to get your new champion over. And now that it’s apparent John Cena vs. Roman Reigns isn’t happening at Summerslam, my guess is Jinder’s opponent in August will be “Big Match John” himself.

Maria Kanellis returns to WWE at Money in the Bank, alongside her husband Mike Kanellis. The two appear again in a WWE.com exclusive. I’ve been a Maria Kanellis fan for a long time. So it’s great to see her back. I don’t know much about Mike Bennett, but having him take his wife’s maiden name is a stroke of genius. Again, you appeal to people’s most basic instincts. A lot of men roll their eyes at the notion of a man doing that. Then on top of that you see all of the PDA, and that talk about love. It’s positively nauseating. And that’s why these two could make for a great heel act on Smackdown.

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John Cena vs. Roman Reigns, Plus WWE Money in the Bank Predictions

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

What do you do after you beat the Undertaker at Wrestlemania?

If you’re Brock Lesnar, you challenge for the WWE Championship. We saw that in 2014. But if you believe the rumors, that’s not in the cards for Roman Reigns until Wrestlemania XXXIV. So what exactly does this character have planned for Summerslam? WWE teased us with a Summerslam-related announcement from him next week. He’s got to be throwing down the challenge to somebody. But who?

It could be Braun Strowman. Those two have unfinished business. But we’ve seen them wrestle a few times already. And when we last saw Strowman, Reigns was giving him a pretty solid beatdown. So what’s his motivation to challenge Strowman again? We’re going to see that match again at some point. But it’s not the big summer blockbuster they want for one of their biggest shows of the year.

When you eliminate Strowman, and you presumably eliminate Brock, that really leaves only one viable name: John Cena.

Blasphemous as it may seem to many, John Cena vs. Roman Reigns is the closest thing they have to a modern-day Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior type match. The torchbearer taking on the one person that could conceivably take it from him. Like Hogan and Warrior at Wrestlemania VI, Cena and Reigns have never wrestled in a big pay per view match. So they can market it as their first meeting ever.

Some would say it’s a match that should be saved for Wrestlemania. But I’m reminded of the match Cena had with Batista at Summerslam all those years ago. Those two would later work a series of pay per view matches, including one at Wrestlemania XXVI. That Summerslam match gave them some extra history to go into a program with, and didn’t diminish anything at all. What’s more, WWE could really use some added viewership right now as Raw rating continue to dip. Putting Cena with Reigns could wind up being a really smart move.

But here’s the question: If you’re a fan, who do you root for? Particularly if you’re someone who jumps at the opportunity to boo either of these two…

WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Naomi (c) vs. Lana

This one is an attraction because of sheer curiosity. What kind of performance is Lana going to turn in? How many matches has she even worked? I know she’s been doing NXT house shows. But she can’t have more than 100 matches under her belt yet. Hell, it might be less than 50.

You know what they could do? Put a bunch of heat on Lana, and have her win the title by screwing over Naomi. Have Rusev come out there and cause a distraction or something, and have Lana cheap shot her for the pin. The more I think about it, the more I like that finish. That way you’ve not only got a great heel in your Women’s Division, but you’ve found a way to reintroduce Rusev.

I’m going to play it safe here and say Naomi keeps the belt via count-out. Lana doesn’t like being roughed up, so she walks out. But I’m tellin’ ya, don’t be surprised to see Lana wearing that belt at some point down the road.

PREDICTION: Naomi

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

You’ll notice they’ve made the New Day the focal point of the marketing for this show. That’s why you’ve got the Wizard of Oz type backgrounds for these images. The idea is they’re following the yellow brick road, or whatever. It’s good to have them back. Some have fussed over them being pushed right into a title match with the Usos. But they’re the New Day. They’re the longest-reigning tag champs in company history. That’s reason enough.

The New Day are going to get the belts at some point. I just hope they don’t rush the titles on to them here. Summerslam is right around the corner. Do it there. In the meantime, let’s let them do a little more mic work with the Usos. Also, let’s use the summer to build up another heel team for them to work with in the fall. Though for the life of me, I can’t think of who that would be…

PREDICTION: The Usos

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Jinder Mahal (c) vs. Randy Orton

How far are we into the Jinder Mahal as WWE Champion experiment? Three weeks? It’s too soon to take the belt off him. What’s more, Jinder has done alright thus far. But I think he can do much, much better. He’s one of the few bad guys in WWE with any kind of genuine heat. They should do everything they can to nurture that. It’s sorely needed.

At some point, Jinder is going to find himself across the ring from John Cena. Given Cena’s status as the American hero, it’s inevitable. It’s just a question of when, and whether Jinder still has the title at the time.

PREDICTION: Jinder Mahal

WOMEN’S MONEY IN THE BANK LADDER MATCH:
Charlotte Flair vs. Becky Lynch vs. Natalya vs. Carmella vs. Tamina Snuka

Here it is. Show us, ladies. Make us proud again.

The Money in the Bank briefcase typically works best as a heel’s tool. That way you can have your cunning villain cash in when the champion is at a disadvantage. Looking at everyone in this match, I’d say that scenario would work best for Carmella. Combine that with the fact that she’ll have James Ellsworth out there with her, and the rumor that management has been high on her lately, and she’s my pick. This win could elevate her to top villainess status on Smackdown. That is, as long as Charlotte is still being shoehorned into the babyface role.

PREDICTION: Carmella

MEN’S MONEY IN THE BANK LADDER MATCH:
Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Baron Corbin

This is a tough one to call. That’s what you want when you’ve got these big multi-man matches. I can see a scenario where almost any of these guys walk out with the briefcase.

So let’s do it this way: Who’s probably not winning this thing? The first name that jumps out is Dolph Ziggler. After everything that’s happened, I don’t see why they’d choose to give this to him now. So he’s out. Neither Kevin Owens nor AJ Styles need it. They’re pretty safe bets as far as staying at the top of the card on Smackdown. They don’t need it.

You can make an argument for Sami Zayn. They’ve done a pretty good job this year of casting him as the perennial underdog. You can give it to him and say that he’s finally got a shot at climbing to the top. I’m just not sure Sami is that big a priority for them right now. He’s the dark horse in this match.

There’s a pretty good chance they give it to Baron Corbin. The biggest thing working against him is his inexperience. Remember when they had Jack Swagger win the briefcase at Wrestlemania? They were trying to strap the rocket to him, much like they’ve done with Jinder Mahal now. But he didn’t quite have all the tools yet, so it ended up being a popcorn fart. I’m worried the same thing will happen to Corbin if they put the title on him too soon.

And then there’s Shinsuke Nakamura. WWE want you to see him as a big deal, and they’ve made mostly good decisions with him thus far. One might argue they’re marketing him a little too hard as “the Artist” or “the Rock Star.” But generally speaking, but he’s just about where they want him to be right now.

As I said, typically the Money in the Bank briefcase works best as a heel’s tool. But we’ve obviously seen babyfaces use it too. I’ve always thought the good guys should go the more honorable route more often, avoiding surprise cash-ins. Like the way Rob Van Dam did it in 2006.

With that in mind, I’m going to go ahead and pick Nakamura to win here. Have him hold on to it until Wrestlemania season, and then you can have him challenge for the title at their biggest show of the year. And what if the champion just happens to be AJ Styles?

Book it.

PREDICTION: Shinsuke Nakamura

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Dolph Ziggler Leaving WWE? Plus, Ponderings From Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

YouTube vlogger Trisha Paytas says Dolph Ziggler is leaving wrestling soon. Who the hell is Trisha Paytas? How well does she know Ziggler? Does she have even the slightest amount of credibility? I can’t answer any of these questions. Though apparently he stood her up on a date.

Either way, I hope she’s right. At least as far as WWE is concerned. Not because I have anything against Ziggler, but because the real-life Nick Nemeth deserves better.

I’ve talked about this before, and I’m certainly not the only one. Dolph Ziggler is one of the few guys I’ve ever seen who can really do it all. In the ring, he’s about the closest thing we have to a modern day Shawn Michaels. His physique is ripped to shreds. From a personality standpoint, he can do whatever you need. He can be a good guy, a bad guy, dramatic, intense, funny, you name it. He’s got practically everything you could want in a WWE star, and he’s been scratched and clawed his way toward the top year after year after year. While he’s certainly had his share of accolades, including a short run with a Heavyweight Title, so many wrestling fans justifiably believe Dolph Ziggler could have been so much more than they’ve allowed him to become.

We’re long overdue for Dolph to step away from WWE, and go the route of guys like Cody Rhodes and Drew Galloway. If he wants to stay in wrestling, it’s time for him to reinvent himself outside of their umbrella. I don’t doubt for a second that Dolph Ziggler could make bank in New Japan Pro Wrestling. For my money, Nick Nemeth as the IWGP Heavyweight Champion isn’t the least bit far fetched. Ironically, he’d then likely find more opportunities in WWE if he were to come back.

Dolph Ziggler just needs to take that leap of faith, and prove he doesn’t need WWE to be a success in pro wrestling. There are entirely different crowds just waiting for him to show up and show off. The time is now.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Lana arrives on Smackdown, asks to be part of the Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match. Lana in a Ladder Match? Good lord. Why even mention that? Are they trying to kill her?

Lana’s still got the Russian accent, which is fine. If they wanted her to drop it, now would have been the time. It’ll be interesting to see where she is in relation to Rusev when he finally gets back on TV. It also looks like she’s getting some of the packaging that the Emmalina character might have gotten.

Naomi came off really scripted here. But I’ll give her this: She’s got charisma.

Natalya, Carmella, and Tamina def. Naomi, Charlotte Flair, and Becky Lynch. Lana interferes to cost Naomi the fall. Lana is later granted a championship match against at Money in the Bank. Not to pick on Naomi, but I really hate that spot she does with the rapid kicks. It looks so damn staged and fake.

I’m not sure how much better or worse Lana has gotten in the ring. Bad kicks or not, I wouldn’t want to be Naomi having to carry Lana through a match.

AJ Styles def. Dolph Ziggler. I was shocked as hell to see Ziggler get a clean win over Styles last week. But of course, Dolph can’t maintain any substantial momentum, can he? We had to have 50/50 booking this week.

I really shouldn’t complain though. These guys are about as smooth as it gets. Nice and fluid counter into the Styles Clash for the win.

WWE Champion Jinder Mahal def. Mojo Rawley. What have they done with Mojo that’s been of any kind of substance since he won that Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal? Nothing, really. The missing piece of the puzzle for him at this point is Zack Ryder. Once Ryder comes back, their tag team will mean that much more than it did when he got hurt.

They’re playing up the fact that Money in the Bank is in St. Louis, Randy Orton’s hometown. Traditionally, that’s a dead giveaway that the hometown wrestler is walking away with a win. But lately it’s gone primarily in the opposite direction. Bayley lost the Raw Women’s Title to Alexa Bliss in her home town. Styles lost to Ziggler in his home state of Georgia last week. And those are just two examples. Chances are the Jinder experiment isn’t over yet.

The New Day def. The Colons. The Usos cut a promo after the match. Primo and Epico had that renewed push for about two weeks. Now they’re right back to where they were before.

The Usos will turn themselves back into babyfaces into this rate. They’ve got something WWE desperately needs right now: The cool factor.

Shinsuke Nakamura def. Kevin Owens in a non-title match. Baron Corbin attacks Nakamura after the match. When you listen to him on commentary or on Talking Smack, it’s clear there’s a big difference between Baron Corbin talking, and Baron Corbin reciting lines. He sounded so natural here.

An okay showing for Nakamura and Owens here. There’s been a little bit of buzz about Nakamura winning the Money in the Bank Ladder Match. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Corbin walk out with the briefcase, though. While they haven’t given him any big wins lately, he’s a long-term project for WWE. And they’d have as much as a year to build him up as a title contender. Don’t be surprised if it happens, folks.

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WWE Backlash 2017 Predictions – Can Jinder Mahal Strike Gold?

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Not much of note coming out of Smackdown this week. They filled out the Backlash card a bit, and Baron Corbin sustained yet another loss to Randy Orton. But other than that, this was fairly week considering it’s the go-home show for a pay per view.

So let’s not waste any time, shall we? Let’s get right to Backlash predictions…

PRE-SHOW MATCH:
Tye Dillinger vs. Aiden English

I’m surprised Dillinger hasn’t been more prominently featured since his main roster debut. That’s not to say he should be at Nakamura’s level. But people are definitely into the whole Perfect 10 thing. Maybe creative is still feeling him out? Either way, he’s picking up a win here.

PREDICTION: Tye Dillinger

Luke Harper vs. Erick Rowan

These two didn’t exactly light the world on fire last week. They’re obviously being brought in to kill time.

My gut tells me Rowan gets this one, as he did last week. Could it be that Erick Rowan is actually a higher priority for WWE than Luke Harper? To that I simply say, why? Because he has a scary mask? It just seems odd that they’d put Rowan over at the expense of Harper, who showed a lot of promise earlier this year. Not that it matters much, anyway. These two have no heat at all right now.

PREDICTION: Erick Rowan

Sami Zayn vs. Baron Corbin. 

Rumor has it Corbin is one of WWE’s big projects right now, but you wouldn’t know it considering his win/loss record in singles matches lately. He lost to Dean Ambrose on the Wrestlemania pre-show, and this week he dropped yet another clean loss to Randy Orton. The story seems to be that Corbin has a lot of raw talent and rage, but is unrefined. Thus, he’s susceptible to being outworked by more experienced wrestlers. That doesn’t seem like it’s too far from the truth, actually.

Zayn should be able to get a pretty good match out of Corbin, just as he did with Braun Strowman earlier this year. Ultimately, the outcome should be the same. Corbin needs a big win. Sami can come back and beat him later if they want to keep this going. But let’s give the guy some of his momentum back.

PREDICTION: Baron Corbin

Naomi, Charlotte, and Becky Lynch vs. Natalya, Carmella, and Tamina.

I don’t like this as a pay per view match. I admit, Six-Person Tags have to overachieve for me to enjoy them. But this feels like it belongs at the midway point of a Smackdown.

They can salvage this a little bit by having Charlotte reassert herself as a heel and attack her teammates, presumably costing her team the match. I don’t think it’s time for babyface Charlotte yet. They can get some more mileage out of her working with Naomi, and then reviving her feud with Becky Lynch. Granted, that thins out the babyface side of the Smackdown Women’s Division. But they’ve only got two hours to fill. They can make it work for a little while.

PREDICTION: Natalya, Carmella, and Tamina

WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The Usos (c) vs. Breezango

This has worked out much better than I thought it would. That’s a credit to WWE creative making good use of Tyler Breeze and Fandango, and those two men capitalizing on their opportunity. They’ve both been criminally underrated for quite some time. Fandango in particular, who was never adequately positioned to capitalize on that “Fandangoing” buzz he got a few years ago.

That being said, right now the Usos are as hot as they’ve ever been. Any time you put a mic in their hands, it’s money. So I say keep the belts on them for now. But I wouldn’t be at all opposed to this thing with Breezango continuing. The Usos need a good team to play off of right now. Depending on how the chips fall, Tyler Breeze and Fandango could be that team.

PREDICTION: The Usos

Dolph Ziggler vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

This match could easily steal the show, depending on how competitive they let Ziggler be. As I’ve said previously, Nakamura couldn’t have a better first opponent than Ziggler. He’ll bump around and sell for him so much that anyone who isn’t already sold on him will be after this match.

The outcome here isn’t really in doubt. Nakamura wins in his debut. The fact that they’ve made him the centerpiece of the advertising for Backlash is very encouraging in terms of WWE’s willingness to push him despite his limited English. This match could go a long way in determining Nakamura’s immediate future.

PREDICTION: Shinsuke Nakamura

WWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
Kevin Owens (c) vs. AJ Styles

If Nakamura/Ziggler doesn’t steal the show, this one will. Hell, they could easily have these two main event the show, and have Orton/Mahal open it. They did that when Styles, Dean Ambrose, and John Cena opened No Mercy back in October.

I don’t really see the need to put the US Title on AJ Styles. The world is clamoring for him to compete for the WWE Title. So I see Owens winning with some sort of screwball finish. For my money, the draw here isn’t the chemistry these two have as rivals, but the quality of match they’ll end up having. Here’s hoping they live up to the hype.

PREDICTION: Kevin Owens

WWE HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Randy Orton (c) vs. Jinder Mahal

Don’t laugh, folks. Jinder Mahal has a chance here.

I keep coming back to the JBL/Eddie Guerrero program from 2004. No one thought JBL had a chance. But he ended up getting a sort of fluke win from Eddie in their second outing. They could easily do the same thing with Jinder here. Especially when you consider that Orton being champ has been met with a resounding “meh” from fans.

Here’s what it comes down to for me: Jinder needs to be built up more. He won the Six-Pack Challenge. He pinned Sami Zayn. He pinned Orton in a tag match. This week, he even got to pin AJ Styles, albeit with some help. That’s all well and good. But he needs more credibility if they want to put the title on him. So I say give this one to Orton. If the plan is to actually give Jinder the belt, then they can do a disputed finish, or even a DQ finish involving the Singh Brothers, and come back again at Money in the Bank. 

Question: You think the fans will be chanting for Bully Ray during this match? Wouldn’t surprise me at all.

PREDICTION: Randy Orton

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A Shield Reunion Coming Soon? Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It’s not an accident that Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, and Seth Rollins are all on Raw after the Superstar Shake-Up. This is it, folks. This is what people have been waiting for. A Shield reunion is coming.

But don’t kid yourselves. It’s going to be all about Roman Reigns.

Despite being booed for minutes on end last week, and despite everyone who cheered when Braun Strowman destroyed him this week, WWE still wants us to cheer this guy. He is positioned as their top babyface, after all. And what was it that got us to cheer Roman in the first place? The Shield. They know it, too. After the break-up, Reigns kept most of his Shield packaging, while Ambrose and Rollins had their presentations tweaked. Again, that’s not an accident.

Now, after everything that’s happened, it seems like a Shield reunion is just about the only thing that could get Reigns cheered. Fans miss this group. While some maintain it ended too soon, I think it ended at the perfect time. Their break-up was one of the great Raw moments of the last several years. Their reunion will be too.

But the mission will remain the same: Get Roman over at all costs. The only real difference will be the old hit they’re playing while they go about it.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

United States Champion Kevin Owens comes to Smackdown. Sami Zayn, Baron Corbin, and AJ Styles emerge to challenge him. I can’t believe they drafted Owens and Zayn together. Those two needed to be kept far away from one another. They have great matches, but I’m almost tired of seeing them. This feud needed a break. Give them a year or two apart, and then give us more. It’s not like there’s a shortage of guys for them to work with.

I’m happy Styles stayed on Smackdown. He’d have been fine on Raw, but he’s been arguably the biggest reason to watch the show every week. For all the talk about so-called “brands,” AJ has had a lot to do with giving Smackdown a different, more wrestling-heavy vibe from Raw.

Corbin is lucky Owens didn’t eat him alive on the mic. Seriously. It could have been worse than him being attacked by an actual wolf.

How do we know JBL is on his best behavior? He shook Byron Saxton’s hand at the top of the show. On screen, those two had a pronounced bully/victim dynamic.

Randy Orton def. Erick Rowan via disqualification. I don’t like Rowan’s chances without Bray Wyatt at his side. But then again, so many of us (myself included) said the same thing about Braun Strowman when he went to Raw by himself. And he’s become one of the best things about that show. So you never know who’ll surprise you.

The Usos def. American Alpha to retain the Smackdown Tag Team Titles. The Shining Stars attack the babyfaces afterward. Great offensive flurry from Chad Gable during this match. He does a lot of selling out there. But he can take the hot tag when called upon. Another really good match from these guys.

If Primo and Epico de-emphasize the awful travel agent gimmick, they might have yet another chance to reinvent themselves. Talent has never been the problem with these two. It’s always been a matter of packaging.

Mojo Rawley def. Jinder Mahal. Rob Gronkowski gets involved on Rawley’s behalf. The higher-ups definitely seem to have taken notice of Jinder Mahal’s physical changes. While still essentially an enhancement talent, he’s been part of some pretty prominent stuff recently. Most notably the stuff with Rob Gronkowski at the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. That obviously continued here.

Mojo really needs to write Gronk a thank-you note. As in, thank you for getting me the biggest push of my career.

Shane McMahon announces the arrival of Charlotte Flair and Tamina to SmackdownThey didn’t do Tamina any favors by building it up as if Charlotte were about to come out. Though in all fairness, she hasn’t been on TV in quite some time. She’ll need to re-establish herself.

Then of course, Charlotte did come out. Surprised she didn’t cut a promo of some kind. If I expect her to move right into a program with Naomi. I’m surprised so many people though Sasha Banks was coming in with her. She’s obviously factored in heavily with Bayley on Raw.

Tye Dillinger def. Aides English. With Simon Gotch having been released, it looks like English is going back to the singing gimmick he used in NXT. Hopefully he gets a fair shot. He’s got a good look.

I like that they’re telling the story of how long it took Dillinger to make it to the main roster. Anytime you can weave that element of truth in there, it’s a good thing. The people are clearly into him. If they play this right, I imagine he could get a US Title run this summer.

Sin Cara, Rusev, Lana, and the New Day are traded to SmackdownThey seem to be repackaging Lana with a dancing gimmick. At least until Rusev comes back. Is she going to wrestle? She’s not that experienced yet, is she?

It seems like they’re waiting to put the New Day on Smackdown until Kofi Kingston heals up from surgery. Fair enough. That act could use a breather anyway.

Shinsuke Nakamura outshines Dolph Ziggler in a confrontation. It might not have been wise for them to write Ziggler a promo about the “shiny new toys” from the Superstar Shake-Up becoming less special over time. Just saying…

They let Nakamura talk this week. Less is more as far as that’s concerned. This segment was a little awkward, as they spent a lot of time just standing there. Yes, the crowd was chanting for Nakamura. But this almost started to drag.

As far as first dance partners go, they don’t get much better than Dolph Ziggler. For now, Nakamura’s in good hands.

AJ Styles def. Sami Zayn and Baron Corbin in a Triple-Threat Match to become top contender for the United States Title following PaybackStyles has seemingly been positioned as a babyface, which is very much overdue. Everything this guy does looks great. Everything. I came out of this match thinking about how good he and Zayn looked out there together, and how good AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens could be. He’s practically the linchpin holding the show together.

Question: If Styles is going to be working with Owens after Payback, who works with Randy Orton? Corbin?

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