Tag Archives: The Ascension

WWE Draft 2019 – Fox vs. USA Network…vs. TNT?

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

As we all know, WWE is holding a draft on Smackdown tomorrow night, for which I suspect the sole purpose is to beef up the star power on Team Blue. That network TV spotlight demands marquee talent, which I have no doubt WWE will provide.

I like the Fox vs. USA Network angle they’ve taken with this. While it’s obviously just hype, it makes the whole thing feel a little more real. This, as opposed to all the Raw vs. Smackdown “brand supremacy” talk we usually get.

Conspicuous by its absence among all the draft talk is NXT. That’s odd, considering there’s an actual battle for viewers happening between NXT on USA and All Elite Wrestling on TNT. Even if they’re not official draft picks, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a few main roster names pop up on Wednesday nights. I think NXT has a sufficient amount of star power. But if nothing else, a few moves would beef up the roster.

Presented below are my mock draft picks. Seven for each show. Some are rather obvious, and some aren’t. But let’s start with the most obvious one of all…

Brock Lesnar to Smackdown.
Brock is, of course, the new WWE Champion. If WWE really wants to draw eyes to Smackdown, they need their biggest marquee player on that show. Even on a part-time schedule, Brock Lesnar brings a lot of value to Smackdown. Even if they only have him wrestle on television a few times a year.

So who do you match Brock up with under the spotlight of network television? Cringeworthy as it seems, Roman Reigns is an obvious choice. There’s also a redemption story they can tell with Kofi Kingston. I’ve got a couple other ideas you’ll hear about as we move forward…

Shayna Baszler to Raw.
One thing I don’t see changing any time soon is Becky Lynch’s status as one of Raw‘s top stars. But since Wrestlemania, she’s been lacking strong villains to face. She found one in Sasha Banks. She can find another one in the ultra-dominant Shayna Baszler. Especially if they have even half the chemistry Becky had with Shayna’s pal Ronda Rousey.

There’s an obvious conflict here: Baszler is the NXT Women’s Champion. There are two ways they can handle that. She can compete on Raw with the belt, much like Kevin Owens did with the NXT Heavyweight Title. Hell, if they want to jump right into things, they can have her face Becky in a Raw vs. NXT match at Survivor Series. On the other hand, they can go the Asuka route, and have her surrender the championship unbeaten.

Dolph Ziggler to NXT.
Over the last few years, it’s been Dolph’s job to help NXT talents transition to either Raw or Smackdown. Baron Corbin, Shinsuke Nakamura, Drew McIntyre, and even his current tag partner Bobby Roode all started with Dolph in some form. It makes sense, as he can have a damn good match with practically anyone. But now that we’ve entered the “Wednesday Night Wars” era, it may be advantageous to have some of those matches on the black and gold brand. Ziggler vs. Johnny Gargano? Adam Cole? Matt Riddle? My interest is piqued. 

Sasha Banks to Smackdown.
Banks is undeniably one of the big trailblazers in the so-called “women’s evolution.” Thus, in introducing the product to a new audience, it’s to WWE’s advantage to move her front and center. It opens her up for feuds with her fellow NXT “Horsewomen” Charlotte Flair and Bayley, as well as less established names like Ember Moon, Sonya Deville, and Mandy Rose.

Asuka and Kairi Sane to Raw.
I don’t mind the Kabuki Warriors tag team as much as some people do. But it’s no secret that Asuka has been largely lost in the shuffle on Smackdown. And as she holds a tap-out victory over Becky Lynch, that’d be an easy  pairing. Not to mention a quality one. Also, main roster fans barely know Kairi Sane at all. So this could be a nice fresh start for her.

EC3 to NXT.
If you wanted to rank the various NXT personalities that have been wasted since their main roster call-ups, EC3 is near the top of that list. He never even got past the starting gate on Raw. So let him go back to NXT, get some actual TV time, then maybe consider moving him to Raw or Smackdown next year. Maybe.

The Revival to Smackdown.
Smackdown Tag Titles aside, the Revival’s alliance with Randy Orton has come off surprisingly natural. I’d opt to keep them together. Plus, on Raw Dash and Dawson essentially play the same roles as Gallows and Anderson: The no thrills, no BS bruiser team. Let them go to Smackdown and be the new centerpiece of the show’s tag team division.

Daniel Bryan to Raw.
I don’t know that Bryan necessarily needs to jump to Raw. It’s more a case of Raw needing him, what with so much marquee talent jumping to Smackdown. And whether he’s a heel or a babyface, it’s hard not to get excited about the prospect of seeing Bryan against the likes of Seth Rollins, AJ Styles, Ricochet, and even Braun Strowman.

Natalya to NXT.
No matter what show Nattie goes to, she essentially always fills the same role. She’s the resident veteran. The “elder statesman,” even. She’s worked with just about everyone there is to work with on the main roster. She’s not likely to meet a lot of new dance partners, until they get called up from NXT.

So instead of waiting for the likes of Candice LeRae, Io Shirai, and Bianca Belair to come to her, why not go to them? As the AEW women’s division continues to take shape over on TNT, Natalya can be a valuable asset, not to mention a mentor, to the ladies of NXT.

Rey Mysterio to Smackdown.
Cain Velasquez notwithstanding, Brock Lesnar brutalized Rey Mysterio’s son on national television, and made him watch. There’s no way Rey can let that go unanswered. So as Smackdown ascends to it’s largest stage yet, I say
give us the ultimate David vs. Goliath match, as Rey challenges Brock for the WWE Championship. Want to add more fuel to the fire? Put Rey’s career on the line. That’s a Wrestlemania-caliber match right there.

Shinsuke Nakamura to Raw.
This move not only gets Nakamura on the same show as his new mouthpiece Sami Zayn, it gives him a new sandbox to play in. Nakamura has been on Smackdown since he was called up in 2017. Since we’re using Zayn to freshen up his presentation, let’s keep that trend going by giving the “Artist” a new canvas to work on.

Yes, Nakamura is the Intercontinental Champion. But that’s an easy thing to work around. Either have him take the IC Title to Raw and switch the US Title to someone on Smackdown, or have Nakamura drop the title while he’s still on Team Blue. Ali is an obvious candidate.

Apollo Crews to NXT.
Either they had no clue what they were doing with Apollo when they called him up several years back, or he simply wasn’t ready for the main roster, or both. Either way, they’ve tried various times to push this guy, and it hasn’t gone anywhere. The most success he found was in a tag team with Titus O’Neil. He recently went back to NXT for one night to wrestle Kushida. I say we send him back there full time, and see if we can find him a personality. Winning smile aside, I think it’s time for a good ol’ fashioned heel turn.

The Miz to Smackdown.
Miz is one of those guys that’s been there so long, there’s a spot for him no matter what show he wrestles on. But given how savvy he is with media appearances and what not, I figure WWE wants him on Fox. At least for a little while. 

But make no mistake about it, Miz needs another facelift. Something akin to Maryse joining him a few years ago. And if the rumors are true, he might just find one alongside an old friend… (Keep reading for more.)

Aleister Black to Raw.
It’s fitting that Aleister Black’s entrance makes him appear to rise from the dead, as he’s basically been a ghost these last several weeks. He’s done some great work since being called up, most notably an awesome match with Cesaro at Extreme Rules. But I get the sense they’re struggling with him creatively. So let’s get him over to Raw, where that extra hour of TV time will allow him more opportunities to be on television. I get the sense he’ll do better on a Paul Heyman-directed show.

The Ascension to NXT.
Honestly? What do Konnor and Victor have to lose at this point? It’s hard to imagine a time when they weren’t simply cannon fodder for new teams on the main roster. But at one point, they were the most dominant tag team in NXT. Then they got called up and buried for…what? Getting too much heat? I never understood that. Either way, let them return to where they once thrived and see if they can get their mojo back. Like Tyler Breeze, their presence can harken back to the show’s early days, and educate fans about its history.

John Morrison to Smackdown.
Here’s one out of left field. Apparently John Morrison, a.k.a. Johnny Mundo, a.k.a. Johnny Impact, among other names I’m probably missing, has once again signed with WWE. And who can offer an easy bridge back in for him? His old tag team partner the Miz. I say we re-unite Miz and Morrison, if only for a little while, and let them challenge for the Smackdown Tag Team Titles. Miz can help reintroduce the WWE audience to Morrison, as he wows fans with his unique in-ring style.

Elias to Raw.
Elias has a higher ceiling than a lot of us realize. Going to Smackdown was essentially a lateral move for him. But I don’t like that he’s been playing Shane McMahon’s lackey lately. His in-ring guitar segments are better suited Raw‘s three-hour format anyway. And by the way? Let him go babyface again. They cut that too short for my taste. 

Dana Brooke to NXT.
I’ve been calling for this move for years. Dana Brooke was called up way too soon, and that was in 2016. Since losing her role as Charlotte Flair’s sidekick, she’s been mostly lost in the mix. But there is something there with her. She’s got a great look, she can work the mic, and she’s improved in the ring. But, and note this is a recurring theme amongst NXT draft picks, she desperately needs a clean slate to re-establish herself, and gain some credibility. She’s not going to draw any viewers away from AEW. But that doesn’t mean she can’t be a viable player on the show. 

Cesaro to Smackdown.
If it’s true that Fox wants more of an athletic, sports-like presentation for Smackdown, you’re not going to find a better fit than Cesaro. It goes without saying that he’s one of the best pure athletes in the entire industry. If he has a few more classic matches with big name stars, he may finally be in a position to be a big name himself.

Buddy Murphy to Raw.
After toiling in obscurity for awhile, Buddy Murphy has finally started to establish himself on Smackdown. He’s had awesome matches with the likes of Roman Reigns, Daniel Bryan, and Ali. But with this move to Fox, he’s going to be fighting for TV time with much bigger stars. Like Aleister Black, a move to Raw would mean a better chance of getting screen time.

Plus, Murphy got a plethora of intriguing opponents to work with on Monday nights. AJ Styles alone might be worth the jump. Consider the performances Styles has put on with guys like Ricochet and Cedric Alexander. He can easily do the same with Murphy.

Bo Dallas to NXT.
One last “NXT OG” move. Because honestly, does Bo have anything better to do? Like so many others, he was called up to the main roster with seemingly no plan for him. Thus, he floundered. He stumbled on to tag team success with Curtis Axel. But at this point, B-Team act is dead and buried. So send him back to NXT and see if he can make us Bo-lieve again. It seems like a lifetime ago, but Bo once held the the same NXT Championship that’s synonymous with names like Adam Cole, Finn Balor, and Shinsuke Nakamura. It seems unlikely he’ll reach that pinnacle again. But stranger things have happened…

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

WWE Survivor Series 2018 Preview – What One Punch Can Change…

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

It’s pretty damn rare that you see an entire pay per view turned on its ear with less than a week out. But low and behold, that’s where we find ourselves with this year’s Survivor Series. It’s amazing just how much one punch can change…

Even having already covered the women’s matches, we’ve got a lot to get to. So let’s dive in!

SURVIVOR SERIES MATCH:
Bobby Roode and Chad Gable, the B-Team, the Revival, Lucha House Party, & the Ascension,
Vs.
The Usos, the New Day, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, SAnitY, & the Colons

Ugh. I hate these matches. I really do. Way too many people. It’s a cluster.

What’s more, there’s a built-in way for them to clean this thing up. Both the New Day and Lucha House Party are three-man groups. So just have it be The Usos and the New Day against Lucha House Party, Bobby Roode, and Chad Gable. See? We just trimmed all the fat.

Not that it matters. This match was thrown together because they felt like they had to do something with the tag teams. It’s a complete and utter toss-up as far as who wins. I’m going to say Team Smackdown because….they have the Usos and the New Day?

PREDICTION: Team Smackdown

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Buddy Murphy (c) vs. Mustafa Ali

At some point, Mustafa Ali is winning the Cruiserweight Championship. It’s just a question of when. Survivor Series wouldn’t be too soon. Heck, Wrestlemania wouldn’t have been too soon. But I get the sense they’re not done with Murphy yet. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He’s earned this spot. So we’ll let him keep it for now.

PREDICTION: Buddy Murphy

CHAMPION VS. CHAMPION:
Seth Rollins vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

Back in July, I said that Shinsuke Nakamura needed a big win to help him rebound from all those losses to AJ Styles. He got that win, and the United States Championship. But all these months later we’re back in the same spot, even though Nakamura still has the title.

I think we’ve officially reached the point where we can call Nakamura an underachiever on the main roster. I take no joy in saying that, as he’s obviously got no shortage of talent or charisma. And I don’t think there’s any one thing to point to as far as why. For whatever reason, he just hasn’t connected with mainstream audiences in the way we all hoped he would.

But I’m grateful they haven’t given up on him. And in fact, I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t get a big win over Rollins here. The IC Champ has a perfect out, as he’s still feuding with Dean Ambrose. So they can just have Ambrose come in and cost him the match.

PREDICTION: Shinsuke Nakamura

CHAMPIONS VS. CHAMPIONS:
AOP vs. The Bar

I almost would have rather seen them keep the titles on Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose for this match. They could have had Rollins face Shinsuke Nakamura earlier in the evening, then go into this match with Ambrose having deserted him. He’d have lost both times, but looked like a bad ass in the process. That story is a lot more interesting than the one we have here. I’d say the most interesting thing we have to look forward to here is some kind of spot between the Big Show and Drake Maverick.

WWE has just started to book AOP like the unstoppable force they should have been from the start. So if we must have this match, they should be the ones to walk out victorious. However, this is one of the few times I’d be okay with a non-finish for a pay per view match.

PREDICTION: AOP

CHAMPION VS. CHAMPION:
Brock Lesnar vs. Daniel Bryan

Supposedly, AJ Styles dropped the WWE Championship to Daniel Bryan because Vince McMahon didn’t want him losing to Brock Lesnar two years in a row. I find that logic somewhat confusing. Roman Reigns, who until recently was the company’s top creative priority, took two consecutive pay per view losses to Brock. Still, at least Vince is trying to take care of AJ.

Adding Bryan to this match, as a heel no less, obviously adds an element of intrigue that wasn’t there with Styles. I’m very interested to see what these two do together. It’s been well documented over the last several days that Bryan has wanted this match for years. Regardless, whether it’s Styles or Bryan, I still don’t see Brock losing on this show. Nor should he, quite frankly. Hopefully Bryan can come away with an artistic victory, if not a literal one.

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

SURVIVOR SERIES MATCH:
Braun Strowman, Drew McIntyre, Dolph Ziggler, Finn Balor, & Bobby Lashley
vs.
The Miz, Shane McMahon, Rey Mysterio, Samoa Joe, & Jeff Hardy

One of the stories going into this match is that if Team Raw wins, Braun Strowman gets a Universal Title Match down the road, as well as a big match with Baron Corbin. With Roman Reigns now on the shelf indefinitely, the course of action going forward should be rather obvious: Build Raw around Braun. What’s the best way to do that? Give him the Universal Championship at Wrestlemamia. Mind you, it doesn’t have to be another singles match against Brock. They can do a Triple-Threat that also includes Drew McIntyre. Or if you want to go way into left field, a Fatal Four-Way with somebody like Dolph Ziggler or Seth Rollins. Either way, Braun should walk out of Wrestlemania with the big red belt.

But if you want to give him the title in April, then there’s no logic in giving him a title shot now. That’s why I think Team Smackdown wins here.

I see Braun somehow getting counted out or disqualified, most likely because of something Corbin does. But have him eliminate a couple of Smackdown guys (Shane and Jeff?) on his way out, just so he still looks strong. Then you do some kind of finish where Miz survives in the end. He’s the only one I really feel strong about surviving here.

PREDICTION: Team Smackdown

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

WWE Superstar Shake-Up, Night One: From Smackdown to Raw

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Hmmm. Alright. I called some of this. Not a lot of it, though. But to be fair, it’s only half over. We’ll see who Smackdown gets tonight.

They didn’t do much to improve the presentation of the Superstar Shake-Up this year. We had Kurt Angle come out at the top of the show and tell us that the picks had already been made. That helped matters. But I still miss the draft aesthetic, and the reaction shots when a wrestler realizes they’ve been drafted. Plus, the word “draft” just sounds better than “Superstar Shake-Up.” The latter feels like a Vince-McMahonism.

Anyway, let’s see who we got here. With one exception (which is noted), all these names are moving from Smackdown to Raw

Jinder Mahal and the Singh Brothers

Jinder doesn’t necessarily gain much from moving to Raw. If anything, it pushes him further away from Heavyweight Title contention. They’ve already pulled him out of a major pay per view match with Brock Lesnar. But his chances don’t look good when he’s next to the likes of Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman, and Samoa Joe.

It should be noted that technically only Sunil was drafted to Raw. But obviously they’re not splitting them up. Jinder is clearly better with two lackeys as opposed to one.

The Riott Squad

I’m into this move. The biggest thing Ruby Riott, Liv Morgan, and Sarah Logan had going against them was that they were unknowns. The majority of mainstream fans didn’t know who they were. So they looked weak compared to Absolution, who had Paige as their centerpiece. On Raw, the Riott Squad can not only play to a larger audience, but benefit from more camera time. Who are these girls, anyway? Let’s tell some stories here.

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

While some are anxious to see Owens and Zayn go to separate shows, I’m dead set against splitting them up now. They make an amazing duo. So long as they don’t go against one another any time soon, this works just fine. I actually wouldn’t mind seeing them go for the Raw Tag Team Titles against a babyface Sheamus and Cesaro. But of course, they could always find their way into the Universal Title picture. I wouldn’t even mind seeing Sami go against Braun Strowman again…

The Miz (to Smackdown)

I called this one. But to be fair, so did a lot of people. Fans were calling for Miz to go back to Smackdown for months now. Then Daniel Bryan was cleared, and the pot sweetened ten-fold. I’d love to see Bryan vs. Miz saved for a show like Summerslam or Wrestlemania. But I’m not sure they can wait that long. This match has been brewing for a long while. But if they take their time, they could have a hell of a draw on their hands.

Breezango

This is a lateral move for Fandango and Tyler Breeze. These guys have their role as comedic players, and as long as this act is together that’s likely all they’ll be.

Natalya

Welp, here’s Ronda Rousey’s first pay per view opponent. They even put them on camera together. And hey, Natalya is about the best choice they could have made. She can take care of Ronda out there, and a win over her will mean something. I imagine they can get a pay per view match out of her and Nia Jax as well. Nattie is going to be a solid utility player no matter where she goes. That’s going to pay off here, as she’s about to get one of the biggest matches of her career against Rousey.

Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre

I don’t think this is what anyone expected Drew McIntyre to do upon his return to the main roster. Frankly, I assumed he was Smackdown-bound. But this alliance with Dolph Ziggler isn’t the worst thing in the world. Ziggler is often tasked with helping introduce NXT call-ups to the main roster. That’s essentially what this is. Though I’m not sure McIntyre needed his help.

There was a lot of talk on Twitter about how the three members of 3MB, Drew MyIntyre, Jinder Mahal, and Heath Slater, are now all back on the same show. Pure coincidence, I assure you. But one I imagine they’ll take advantage of at least once. They’re certainly not getting back together, so we can rule that out.

Baron Corbin

Like Jinder, Corbin is done no favors by being placed in a larger pond. He seemed to be getting lost in the shuffle on Smackdown. Granted, a pair of embarrassing losses last summer did him no favors. But something is missing with Corbin. Here’s hoping they can find out what it is. Maybe all he needs is to work with the right opponent. In hindsight, his stuff with Dean Ambrose on Smackdown awhile back was actually pretty good.

Bobby Roode

Cue the heel turn. Roode is venturing dangerously close to white-meat babyface territory. He had a decent start on Smackdown, but now it’s time to get him back on track.

Mojo Rawley and Zack Ryder

The former Hype Bros weren’t drafted together. But I find it interesting they both wound up on Raw. I had pitched sending Mojo to Raw specifically to get him away from Ryder. We need to start seeing him as something besides “the guy who turned on Zack Ryder.” Thus, separating them. I’m curious to see if this is just a coincidence, or if they actually plan to have them work together on screen again.

Chad Gable

Before he got injured, Jason Jordan had a pretty good thing going for him as a heel. When he comes back, they’ll need to re-establish him a little bit. Putting him back with Chad Gable would be an interesting way to do that. They can continue to tell that nepotism story with Kurt Angle, only this time apply it to American Alpha and the tag team division. This could, of course, lead to a split and feud between Jordan and Gable.

Gable gave an interview last night about starting a singles run, and I certainly don’t want to rule that out. Technically, Raw is still connected to 205 Live. So a run at the Cruiserweight Title could be in his future. But I truly think they brought him over to capitalize on his history with Jordan. Whatever that entails, it will be his job first and foremost.

The Ascension

Not sure why they bothered with this one. The ship has long since sailed for Konnor and Viktor. At least as the Ascension. Had they stayed on Smackdown, I actually would have been open to seeing them repackaged as the new Miztourage. Something to show us a new side of these guys, as it did for Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas. But now? I don’t know. It feels like they just moved these guys so they could be squashed by the Authors of Pain.

Maria and Mike Kanellis

As it was with the Singh Brothers, technically Mike was the only one drafted. But they wouldn’t move him without Maria.

I’m guessing, however, that they’ll want to repackage him. Maria getting pregnant obviously threw a monkey wrench into their whole “power of love” gimmick on Smackdown. Which might have been for the better, actually. While I maintain it could have worked, it clearly wasn’t. So a repackaging is clearly in order. For now, just getting back on television would be a step in the right direction.

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

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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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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Will Jinder Mahal Shock the World? Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

it looks like business just picked up. WWE and Jim Ross announced this week that the Hall of Fame broadcaster will lend his famous voice to the shows WWE recently taped in Norwich, England. The shows will be centered around the new WWE United Kingdom Division, of which the center is UK Champion Tyler Bate. Ross will work alongside Nigel McGuinness.

This is a hell of a selling point, not just for these UK shows, but for the WWE Network in general. JR’s voice is desperately missed on WWE television. He’s one of the best overall storytellers they’ve ever had. He could bring you inside the ring, break down the psychology, and put talent over in a way that most announcers today just don’t do. That’s a disservice to both the wrestlers and the fans. As many network subscribers will still be unfamiliar with the UK talent on that show, Ross’ name also has tremendous value.

I’m hopeful WWE will continue to bring JR in to call matches on the big shows, specifically Summerslam, the Royal Rumble, and Wrestlemania. We don’t need him to call every match. But he added some nice extra garnish to that Undertaker/Roman Reigns match. When WWE wants a match to feel special, they can always plug JR in to knock one out of the park. He’ll do it every time.

After WWE inexplicably let him go a few years back, it’s tremendous to see these two sides rebuilding that bridge. Let’s start making up for lost time.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Randy Orton appears for the first time since the House of Horrors Match. A brawl ensues with the other main eventers. A Six-Man Tag is made for later in the night. Jinder’s mic work had some heat to it. It wasn’t necessarily well-delivered. But if they keep working at this little experiment, they could have something here. The real question is what happens to Jinder after Backlash

By the way, does this grouping of Jinder Mahal and the Singh Brothers have a name? It seems like they should.

Natalya def. Becky Lynch. A Six-Woman Tag Match is made for Backlash, pitting the “Welcoming Committee” against Charlotte Flair, Naomi, and Lynch. Speaking of factions, can we get another name for this Nattie/Carmella/Tamina tandem? The Welcoming Committee is really damn lame.

Not a huge fan of the SIx-Woman Tag route they’re taking for Backlash. That’s a match for Smackdown, not a pay per view. The Welcoming Committee isn’t exactly the Shield.

Erick Rowan def. Luke Harper. Did Harper sleep with somebody’s wife or something? What does he have to do to get a substantial, sustained push?

Harper and Rowan are running into the same problem they had the last time the Wyatt Family broke up. They can’t seem to break out and distinguish themselves outside of being Bray Wyatt’s former henchmen. Harper has been close. But we still don’t know much about him. And the only thing we’ve ever really known about Rowan is his affinity for sheep masks. Why does he even wear it anymore?

Shinsuke Nakamura confronts Dolph Ziggler. A match is made for Backlash“You treat me like a contagious disease.” I like that line. I actually might steal that someday. Good mic work by Ziggler.

Be ready, folks. That Chicago crowd is going to go absolutely nuts for Nakamura.

In a WWE.com, Aiden English explains why he’s so emotional. Last week, Dave Meltzer speculated that WWE had English cry on television because they were mocking Mauro Ranallo. I’m not sure I buy that. I’m more curious why English is calling himself an “artist,” when that’s also Nakamura’s moniker. Apples and oranges, obviously. But still.

Breezango def. The Ascension, after another edition of “The Fashion Files” airs earlier in the evening. The Usos come out to cut a promo. So are Tyler Breeze and Fandango babyfaces now? They’re seemingly being shifted to a more comedic role. That suits their wit and delivery, so long as WWE doesn’t overdo it. Which they will, of course.

Another great promo from Jimmy and Jey. Where the hell have these guys been for the last seven years?

Kevin Owens, Baron Corbin, and Jinder Mahal def. Randy Orton, AJ Styles, and and Sami Zayn. Mahal scores the pinfall on Orton. Last week Jinder beats Sami, this week he pins Orton. I don’t know if it’s officially my prediction yet, but Jinder Mahal could very well shock the world at Backlash. They could position him as the beatable champion who needs his run-in buddies to retain the title. Stranger things have happened. In that sense, I can’t help but continue to think of him in the same vein as JBL circa 2004.

Randy Orton isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire as a babyface WWE Champion. Granted, he hasn’t had a lot of time yet, nor a particularly hot feud. But right now, anyone not named AJ Styles is going to have an uphill battle if they want to be the top babyface.

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Randy Orton’s Refusal, and Other Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

Emmalina, WWE Raw, February 13, 2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

After Raw’s confusing Emmalina debut, details have started to emerge as to why we saw what we saw.

Pro Wrestling Sheet reports that the Emmalina character was supposed to be “throwback to characters like Sable and The Kat.” But the real-life Tenille Dashwood allegedly wasn’t impressing in rehearsals. She “wasn’t committing enough to the role.”

That’s…fair enough. If she couldn’t pull it off, then they did what they felt they had to do. But this whole thing seemed ill-conceived from the start. First and foremost, Dashwood was miscast in a character like this. The verbal aspect of pro wrestling has never been her strong suit. She should have been given more time to develop her mic skills before they went this way with her.

To that one might say that the verbal skills of someone like Sable were nothing to write home about. This is true. But Sable was also able to be sexual in a way that Emmalina would never get to be. Let’s be honest, Sable and the Kat were stars because they were hot and they showed a lot of skin. When you look at it that way, I’m not sure how you’d create a throwback to that era anyway. Lots of sexy photoshoots? I don’t get it.

Emma, WWEAs a performer, you are responsible for making your character work. The example I always think of when that comes up is Goldust. Dustin Runnels embodied that character and made it work in a way no one else could. But did a character like Bastion Booger ever have a chance? How about Mantaur? Or Beaver Cleavage?

Bottom line: Sometimes you’re the victim of a bad idea. I just hope Emma gets another shot. She’s talented enough, and she deserves it.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

WWE Champion Bray Wyatt opens the show. John Cena and AJ Styles interrupt. Daniel Bryan makes the main event a triple-threat for the WWE Championship. Somebody needed to remind these folks that Bray is supposed to be a heel. Those “You deserve it!” chants were pretty damn loud. I’m tellin’ ya, there’s a huge upside to Bray Wyatt becoming a babyface in the near future. Especially now that he’s the champion.

American Alpha def. The Ascension. The Usos challenge the champions. I wondered if they’d actually give the win to the Ascension here. They’ve been slightly re-emphasized these last few weeks. But of course, the Usos will make for a better match.

dean-ambrose-baron-corbin-wwe-smackdown-february-14-2017Baron Corbin brawls with Dean Ambrose before his match with James Ellsworth. Ambrose gets layed out on production equipment. It occurred to me during this segment that a decade ago, the fans might have been chanting “Slut!” at Carmella. I’m split on whether that’s something I miss.

What we saw here, combined with what we got at Elimination Chamber, gives me high hopes for this Ambrose/Corbin program. Ambrose can do a lot to help build Corbin. But here’s my question: Does Corbin need the Intercontinental Title? Questionable mic skills notwithstanding, he seems like he’s on track to main event status without it.

Nikki Bella to face Natalya in a Falls Count Anywhere Match next week. While the match these two had at Elimination Chamber was largely a bore, it had its moments. I’ve enjoyed this program the most when they’ve had those knock-down, drag-out fights. So this should be good.

Mickie James def. Becky Lynch. Some nice mat work early on here. I’d go as far as to say that while Charlotte and Sasha Banks may be better all around performers, Becky Lynch is the best pure grappler of the “Four Horsewomen.” I imagine that comes with being the most experienced. She made her in-ring debut in 2002.

becky-lynch-wwe-smackdown-february-14-2017I wasn’t a fan of James losing at Elimination Chamber. But I assume this win will lead to a rubber match with Becky in the near future. Perhaps they didn’t want her losing two straight matches? Maybe I’m overthinking it…

Renee Young interviews the new Smackdown Women’s Champion Naomi. Alexa Bliss interrupts, announces she’ll invoke her rematch clause next week. Naomi mentioned it’s taken her eight years to get to where she is now. It’s hard to believe she’s been around that long. But she signed her development deal in 2009. She didn’t make it to Raw and Smackdown until 2012.

I wanted Alexa to be angrier here. She did just lose her title, after all. Next week’s match is a toss-up as far as I’m concerned. These Women’s Championships have been changing hands so frequently, it’s seemingly anybody’s ball game.

Bray Wyatt def. John Cena and AJ Styles in a No-Disqualificaiton Match to retain the WWE Championship. Luke Harper attacks Wyatt before the match. I’ll admit, I got a little nervous when Harper attacked. They might have used that attack to justify a title change.

You’ll notice they’ve already started talking about Cena breaking Ric Flair’s record. To their credit, Mauro Ranallo and JBL did a nice job of playing that up, and making this seem that much bigger. It’s going to happen, folks. Maybe not this year. But it’ll happen.

randy-orton-bray-wyatt-wwe-smackdown-february-14-2017With all the near falls and false finishes, this felt like a mini-pay-per-view match. Happy to see Bray win clean here, just as he did in the Chamber Match on Sunday. It further cements him as the top guy on Smackdown right now.

Randy Orton refuses to challenge Bray Wyatt for the title at Wrestlemania. On Talking Smack, Daniel Bryan makes a battle royal for next week to determine the top contender for WrestlemaniaThis is a nice little twist in the road. I still fully expect Randy Orton to be in the WWE Title Match at Wrestlemania. But now we may end up with a three-way on our hands. At the very least, I imagine the winner of this battle royal will challenge for the title on an episode of Smackdown some time next month.

While AJ Styles still has no dance partner for Wrestlemania, and this spot could easily go to him, I think this is Luke Harper’s spot. He turned a lot of heads at Elimination Chamber, and they could bill this match as “The Wyatt Family Implodes,” or something like that.

Between this battle royal, the Women’s Title Match, and what I assume will be the Nikki vs. Natalya blow-off, they’ve stacked the card for next week’s show. I’ve got high hopes.

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