Enzo and Cass: One Year Later, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Last night, the WWE Network aired a special on the post-Wrestlemania XXXII edition of Raw. Naturally, we saw footage of Enzo and Cass, as they made their TV debut that night. They got a hell of a pop too. It’s tough to make a better first impression than that. A year later, its looking like they’ll be winning the Raw Tag Team Titles at Wrestlemania XXXIII.

But has their act gotten stale with age?

So many of the same “smart” fans that were marking out for Enzo and Cass on their first night are now booing them. Mind you, being on TV almost every week for a year has brought to light the repetition and flaws in their act. The constant repetition of catchphrases. The deer-in-the-headlights look on the face of Big Cass. What’s more, while Enzo has been praised as a Jedi Master on the mic, some argue he’s becoming as grating as Jar Jar Binks.

It’s a delicate balance WWE walks in the 21st century. The fans want to feel like they chose the top stars. But then when the company actually starts to go with those stars, the fans will sometimes turn on them. They’re almost screwed either way. So how do you fix Enzo and Cass? Or do they even need fixing at all?

Thankfully, this duo has a tremendous advantage: Enzo’s mic work. One of the things wrestling really misses right now is a certain cool factor. When Enzo gets on the mic and starts cutting opponents down, fans can live vicariously through him. When he talks, he sounds genuine. Almost everyone on Raw and Smackdown sounds the same, because they all recite dialogue written by the same writers. I don’t know how much input Enzo has into what he’s saying, but his delivery is truly distinct. It’s the arguably centerpiece to this team’s appeal. If they re-emphasize it, it might curb some of the boos.

These two characters also have an understated bond that serves them well. That’s something people can easily relate to. We don’t need to have another Festival of Friendship, but that’s a well WWE can go to if they don’t beat us over the head with it.

Enzo and Cass are lucky to have found each other in developmental. They accentuate one another’s positives, and camouflage the negatives. At the same time, they make a hell of a package deal. WWE seems to know that. Now if only they could write these guys a better KFC commercial. Yeesh. That might be where half the heat came from…

Ponderings From Raw:

Bayley opens the show. Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, and Nia Jax come out for a confrontation. Bayley and Sasha beat Charlotte and Nia in a tag match. Almost no interest in this from me, because it was pretty obvious where they were going. Talking segment leads to a match. They could have won me over if they skipped the tag match and just left it with a beat-down. But they obviously needed it to fill time.

Tony Schiavone said something on his podcast with Conrad Thompson yesterday that really applied to these three segments: “Showing too much sh*t hurts your product.” That’s what WWE does with everything these days. Almost everyone is overexposed. That’s one of the reasons our main event for this year’s Wrestlemania is between two guys who only show up every few weeks.

Pitbull, Flo Rida, Lunchmoney Lewis and Stephen Marley to perform at WrestlemaniaThe die-hards never like musical performances at these big shows. In this case, I’m with them. I’m one of the few that actually likes that “Green Light” song at a Wrestlemania theme. But I have no desire to see it performed on my wrestling show. This will be the bathroom break segment for yours truly.

Austin Aries def. Noam Dar. Neville joins the announce position. Fine match. In a perfect world, Neville and Aries would go to Wrestlemania and remind us what the Cruiserweight Division should be about. But we don’t live in a perfect world, do we?  Case in point: They’re on the pre-show. Hey, at least it’ll be a good pre-show, right?

Seth Rollins signs a hold-harmless agreement to face Triple H in a Non-Sanctioned Match at Wrestlemania“I liked who I was before I met you.” That was a really good line.  I wish he’d said it weeks ago. It makes things that much more personal. Hunter’s delivery was spot-on. Seth’s was missing something. I wanted a little more bite from him.

The key word for me on this one is curiosity. I’m very curious to see what these two are able to turn in on Sunday. One would think they’d be relying less on stunts and more on storytelling and psychology.

The Big Show wreaks havoc in an Over-the-Top-Rope Challenge. Braun Strowman threatens the giant going into WrestlemaniaNot much of a match here. But it got it’s point across. On the upside, Strowman finally has a match for Wrestlemania. It’s going to be the pre-show. But at least he’s on the damn card.

Neville def. Jack Gallagher. Austin Aries taunts Neville with the New Day. I’m not a fan of head-butts in general. They don’t make a lot of sense to me, and I associate them with Chris Benoit’s brain damage and Daniel Bryan’s early retirement. But for what it’s worth, that head-butt spot Neville and Gallagher did worked. I just wish Gallagher wouldn’t make a habit of it.

Putting Aries next to the New Day is…kind of a good sign, right? They trusted Aries to work with a hot act, however briefly.

Roman Reigns promises to “put the Dead Man down.” We see footage of the Undertaker digging a grave for Reigns. Obviously this graveyard stuff was classic Undertaker. “Vintage Undertaker,” as Michael Cole would say. It might not be a popular thing to say, but there’s something special about seeing these two in the ring together. This Wrestlemania match could be very special, depending on what they want to do. If it’s as simple as a clean victory for Roman, that crowd isn’t going to be happy.

Ah yes, Roman Reigns in Philadelphia. Always a fun time. Leave the memories alone…

Cesaro and Sheamus lay Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, Enzo, and Cass out with a ladder after a backstage assault by the Club. Gallows and Anderson regain the advantage, laying out the challengers. What was up with the cameras here? They seemed uncharacteristically out of position.

See, this is what the women should have done early in the show. Rather than just giving us another match, they shook things up a little bit. I actually wondered if they were going to turn the Wrestlemania bout into a Ladder Match.

Sami Zayn def. Kevin Owens, retaining his job on Raw. Samoa Joe tries to interfere, but Chris Jericho cuts him off. Jericho to Owens: “You just made the list!” Don’t have any ideas for Raw? Just book Kevin Owens against Sami Zayn. That’s not to say they don’t have good matches. Heck, they have great matches. But the law of diminishing returns has indeed come into effect. How many times have Owens and Zayn wrestled on Raw alone? At least in this one they got to brawl around the arena.

I cringed when Zayn did that somersault off the stage. Obviously it’s not nearly as high as it used to be. But when you’re flipping and falling like that, a bad landing always in the cards somewhere.

It’s been a good year thus far for the character of Sami Zayn. The stuff with Braun Strowman and Mick Foley was strong, and now he’s standing up to Stephanie. Hell, Steph put his job on the line in this match. He may not have a Wrestlemania match. But they’re building him, slowly but surely.

I’ve been waiting for Jericho to use that list line on Owens. Not sure I would have waited this long. But at least it got done.

Brock Lesnar and Bill Goldberg cross paths before Wrestlemania. Goldberg spears Lesnar again. A Paul Heyman promo is as good as almost any Raw main event you’re ever going to get. Notice that Heyman took the time to play up the importance of the Universal Title, calling it the “Holy Grail” of WWE.

I always get a kick out of Brock chuckling at Heyman’s remarks. People always say Brock doesn’t love wrestling, and maybe he doesn’t. But at least he’s having a little bit of fun.

Goldberg’s spear to Lesnar at ringside was extremely anticlimactic. It felt like somebody mistimed something. Still a better moment on the go-home Raw for Wrestlemania than Lesnar had with Roman Reigns. Remember that weird belt tug-o-war they had before Wrestlemania XXXI?

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Triple H Annihilates Seth Rollins, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponderings From Raw:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kevin Owens, Eye Contact, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

kelly-kelly-wwe-raw-february-13-2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There’s some buzz right now about WWE bringing back some female talents. Why? The timing suggests something to do with Wrestlemania. It also wouldn’t surprise me if they were trying to pad the Raw Women’s roster. As great as Charlotte, Sasha, and Bayley are, you can only do so much with the three of them for so long. And NXT is pretty skim at the moment.

Lisa Marie Varon, a.k.a. Victoria, is someone who’s been rumored for a comeback. I’d also love to see Melina Perez get another shot. But the woman at the top of my list is Madusa/Alundra Blayze. I doubt she’d be capable of working a full-time schedule again. But seeing her in the ring one more time against someone like Charlotte would be almost irresistible.

But the name that seems most likely to return is, of all people, Kelly Kelly. WWE posted a video last week about the real-life Barbie Blank being backstage at Raw. This is…discouraging.

Rosa MendesOn a loosely related note, Rosa Mendes became the subject of ridicule last week when she announced her retirement from WWE to focus on being a mother. Personally, I liked Rosa Mendes. What can I say? She was hot, in a very plastic and fake sort of way. But her work in the ring was, to put it mildly, forgettable.

While it’s unfair to compare the two, Kelly Kelly and Rosa Mendes were part of the same era in WWE women’s wrestling. What I’ll call the “Diva Search era,” when John Laurinaitis and other WWE talent scouts would attempt to train pretty faces to wrestle.  While there were bright spots like Candice Michelle, this era also gave us the likes of the Bella Twins, Christy Hemme, and Ashley Massaro. Some where good personalities, but they personify what we wanted to get away from with the so-called “women’s revolution.”

Could someone like Kelly Kelly have her place in WWE circa 2017? Sure. I’m just not sure that place is the ring. Let’s leave the wrestling to the ladies who can actually wrestle, and not risk tarnishing what they’ve created with this newly revitalized women’s division.

Kevin Owens, WWE Raw, February 20, 2017Ponderings From Raw:

Kevin Owens to Goldberg: “Superheroes don’t exist.” I wish Owens would wear a suit more often. He looks good.

Lots of good stuff here. He got to look right into the hard camera, which was terrific. The line about knowing how to “play the game” better than anyone else is an obvious allusion to Triple H. And all that stuff about the outlasting Goldberg, watching Goldberg as a kid, not being a part of a superhero fantasy. Great way to kick off the show, Why we can’t do this more often is anybody’s guess. It doesn’t have to be a spotlight promo like this one. Just a monologue where someone looks into the camera.

Enzo and Cass def. Sheamus and Cesaro to become top contenders for the Raw Tag Team Titles at FastlaneNot really a surprise. I expect the big win to come for Enzo and Cass at Wrestlemania, though.

Cesaro once again looked like a star in this match. I was sour on his pairing with Sheamus in the beginning. But they’ve been good together. It’s helped us see a different side of Cesaro. But do I think this will be enough to result in a significant singles push for him? No. Not on Raw, at least…

Brian Kendrick, Akira Tozawa, WWE Raw, February 20, 2017Brian Kendrick beats down Akira Tozawa. Their match never happens. Kendrick clearly has his role here, and that’s to shine a spotlight on Tozawa, and eventually put him over. Hopefully that happens at Fastlane.

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson def. Roman Reigns via disqualification. Not much interest in this one from me. We just saw it last week, and I really have no interest in seeing Roman beat the tag champs. I’m scared that’s coming. That spear Reigns hit on Anderson was wicked, though. I’ll never deny his amazing athleticism.

The New Day to host Wrestlemania XXXIII. Kofi Kingston and Big E. def. Rusev and Jinder Mahal. Now that they aren’t the tag champs anymore, the New Day are now much more firmly planted in the entertainment end of this sports entertainment company. As such, while they have great chemistry, they’ve been harder to watch lately. They’ve been cutting promos on ice cream these past few weeks, and when Lana started talking about having the “plans” for their ice cream, I hit the fast-forward button on the DVR. Sorry guys, not interested.

Having them “host” Wrestlemania speaks volumes as to what WWE thinks of their act. They’ve put both the Rock and Hulk Hogan in the spot in years past. I imagine they’ll be a big part of the marketing end of things.

Neville, Jack Gallagher, WWE Raw, February 20, 2017Jack Gallagher and Neville sign the contract for their match at FastlaneGallagher got a “tea and biscuits” chant during this match. Wrestling fans are awesome sometimes.

LOVED Neville’s promo about Gallagher being a caricature of British people, and Gallagher getting to respond in kind. They both came off very genuine here. This, like everything else, was scripted. But it was well written. I don’t so much have a problem with scripting as I do bad scripting. Well done, gentlemen.

Bayley refuses to relinquish the Women’s Title to Stephanie McMahon. Charlotte announces she’s invoking her rematch clause at FastlaneI really hope Bayley and Stephanie have a match someday. They’re not rivals yet, but there’s so much potential there. Bayley comes off so pure, and Steph just comes off as pure evil. There’s money in that program.

The writing is on the wall for that Charlotte/Bayley rematch. They’ve built up Charlotte’s pay per view undefeated streak to the point that they can’t end it at a B-show like Fastlane. It would have to be a Wrestlemania or Summerslam.

Then again, we all thought Bayley would win her first Women’s Title on a Wrestlemania or a Summerslam. But here we are…

Charlotte, Sasha Banks, WWE Raw, Fabruary 20, 2017Sasha Banks def. Charlotte Flair. Another quality performance from these two. Though I had to roll my eyes when Sasha challenged Charlotte “for old time’s sake.” Old time’s sake? It wasn’t even two months ago…

Diamond Dallas Page added to WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2017. DDP had an amazing career. He didn’t become an active wrestler until he was 35. He went on to become one of the biggest home grown stars WCW ever had. But as great as he was in WCW, his work with former wrestlers like Jake Roberts and Scott Hall alone makes him worthy of a Hall of Fame induction. You used to hear horror stories about the substance abuse problems these guys had, and how they essentially had one foot in the grave. Page and his DDP Yoga program saved their lives. You also hear guys like Chris Jericho swear by DDP Yoga. So he’s as worthy as anyone has ever been, in my book. Congrats to DDP.

Kevin Owens def. Sami Zayn. Zayn is attacked by Owens before the match. Grateful for the interference from Joe. Owens and Zayn always have great matches. But between the handicap match, and the Sasha/Charlotte match, this was starting to feel like a rerun.

Given the look on Kevin Owens’ face as he watched Joe’s attack, it seems like some kind of NXT-related alliance has been formed here between Triple H, Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe. Very intriguing.

Brock Lesnar, WWE Raw, February 20, 2017Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman do a sit-down interview with Michael Cole. So they have Cole exit the segment, have Brock switch positions and…wait for it…LOOK INTO THE CAMERA, as Heyman does his promo. That’s two killer promos in one show, with both guys getting to make eye contact with the audience. Uh, more of this please? I doubt it’s more than a coincidence. But how cool would it be if we could make this sort of intimate connection with the performers more often?

Braun Strowman def. The Big Show. Strowman brutalizes Roman Reigns afterward. Not a bad match. Not a great one, but not bad. About as slow as one might imagine. But it did what it was designed to do. It put Strowman over like an invincible monster. They guy picked up the Big Show multiple times, and he pinned him clean. Not much more you could ask from this one.

It’s all but confirmed that Show is wrestling Shaquille O’Neal at Wrestlemania. Tonight would have been a great chance to have Shaq show up and do something. I assume the guy’s got a packed schedule. But when are they going to start building to this? Fastlane? The night after Fastlane?

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Charlotte and Sasha Banks Keep Going, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

WWE TLC 2016, Dean Ambrose, AJ StylesBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Let’s briefly touch on a few things from TLC before we get into Raw.

The finish to the AJ Styles/Dean Ambrose match was obviously going to involve James Ellsworth. Literally everything those two have done these last several weeks has involved him. Why wouldn’t this? So they were setting this up by having Ellsworth get all those fluke wins over Styles. Now he thinks he can beat Styles for the title. So does this constitute a heel turn for Ellsworth? That’s an odd choice, isn’t it?

Surprised to see Alexa Bliss take the Smackdown Women’s Title. Personally, I wasn’t ready to see Becky Lynch give it up yet. But given the quality of her work lately, Alexa is perfectly deserving. Congrats to her.

Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton took the Smackdown Tag Titles, which I didn’t expect, but probably should have. This stuff with Wyatt, Orton, and Luke Harper has been a breath of fresh air these last few weeks. Maybe we’ve got something here…

Ponderings From Raw:

Seth Rollins, WWE Raw, December 5, 2016, Seth RollinsSeth Rollins: “I want Triple H.” Nice to see Rollins make this little declaration. Now he officially has a goal that’s different than anyone else’s.

Dear God. You talk about contrived dialogue. Now, everyone has to call it Roadblock: End of the Line every single time. That’s like calling it Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens every time, as opposed to just The Force Awakens. It doesn’t get much more lame than that.

Seth Rollins def. Big Show by count-out. This was the first time we’d seen Big Show in a few months. He’s obviously a bit thinner now. Hopefully he’s not back on TV weekly. Rumor has it he’s facing, of all people, Shaquille O’Neal at Wrestlemania. Until it’s time to hype that match, I’m not interested in seeing Show on TV regularly. It wasn’t long ago he was one of the most overexposed guys in the company. Let’s go the opposite way.

Jack Gallagher def. Ariya Daivari. A decent outing for these guys here. But if you want a better one, check out last week’s 205 Live. Very happy we’re seeing Jack Gallagher on the main roster. I’m still getting acquainted with him. But he’s so damn smooth out there.

I’m not sure I’ve seen Daivari win a single match since he’s been in WWE. At least he got to show some personality after the match.

Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, WWE Raw, December 5, 2016Kevin Owens def. Sami Zayn. Even when he’s on a losing streak, Kevin Owens can still beat Sami Zayn. Just like everybody else. Good match from these two as always, though.

Rich Swann def. TJ Perkins. The Austin rowd was sitting on their hands for most of this one. Really cool to see Swann is using that spin kick as his finish. Seeing Perkins jump into one from the top rope was sick.

Bayley def. Alicia Fox. Crazy Alicia Fox is the best Alicia Fox. That wild charisma can be a breath of fresh air. On the other hand, it can be grating. It just depends on the night.

Mark Henry beats Titus O’Neil in less than a minute. We’re in Lesnar/Goldberg territory on this one. And they didn’t even have to shell out the millions they’re paying those two.

Roman Reigns def. Chris Jericho to retain the United States Title. A fine match here, with Owens accidentally costing Jericho the title. I can’t help but think this souring of the friendship between Owens and Jericho is off a step. Either they waited too long, or the impetus for the turn (which we saw last week) wasn’t strong enough. Maybe both?

Admiral Ackbar, it's a trapLana lures Enzo into a trap. For the second week in a row, they take the cameras outside the arena and break things up a bit. This was cool, though it was obviously a trap. Even WWE themselves tweeted the ol’ Admiral Ackbar “It’s a trap!” gif.

Kinda cool that Enzo was a babyface and backed off sleeping with Lana. He might be the most natural talker on the active roster. So he can pull off some of the contrived written dialogue in situations where most guys can’t. If there was anybody to put in this scenario, it’s him.

Some people are calling “not PG!” on this. But compared to some of the stuff they did with Mark Henry all those years ago, or Torrie Wilson and Dawn Marie on Smackdown, this looked like Disney Junior.

After a double count-out finish, Gallows and Karl Anderson, as well as Cesaro and Sheamus will face the New Day in a triple-threat tag match next week. If the New Day wins, they break the all-time record set by Demolition. It seems like they’re setting it up for Cesaro and Sheamus to win the belts. But it could go either way. Not Gallows and Anderson, of course. But any other way.

Sasha Banks challenges Charlotte Flair to a 30 Minute Iron Man Match at Roadblock. Charlotte feigns an apology to Ric Flair, then smacks him, and beats up Sasha. Last week I compared this Charlotte/Sasha Banks program to the one John Cena and Randy Orton did in 2009. Fittingly enough, those two also followed up a Hell in a Cell Match with an Iron Man Match. Go figure.

Charlotte, Ric Flair, WWE, December 5, 2016On the subject of predictions, let’s go ahead and call this: Ric turns on Sasha at Roadblock, giving Charlotte the belt back. The Sasha/Charlotte pattern continues. On the plus side, Charlotte has become one of the most entertaining talkers they have. Pretty natural, too. Not quite on Enzo’s level. But at times she’s close.

One more time, ladies. Then its time to find new dance partners.

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WWE Draft Picks, and Other Ponderings From Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Dean Ambrose retains over Seth Rollins? Nice! Rollins has been emphasized heavily lately. So it’s cool that they evened the playing field a bit, and gave Rollins a win.

Aside from the title match, literally nothing mattered on this show except the WWE Draft picks. So let’s jump right into those, and see what the rosters look like…

Seth Rollins, WWE Draft 2016Raw‘s Draft Picks
1. Seth Rollins
2. Charlotte
3. Finn Balor
4. Roman Reigns
5. Brock Lesnar
6. The New Day
7. Sami Zayn
8. Sasha Banks
9. Chris Jericho
10. Rusev & Lana
11. Kevin Owens
12. Enzo & Cass
13. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson
14. The Big Show
15. Nia Jax
16. Neville
17. Cesaro
18. Sheamus

Dean Ambrose, WWE Draft 2016Smackdown‘s Draft Picks
1. Dean Ambrose
2. AJ Styles
3. John Cena
4. Randy Orton
5. Bray Wyatt
6. Becky Lynch
7. The Miz & Maryse
8. Baron Corbin
9. American Alpha
10. Dolph Ziggler
11. Natalya
12. Alberto Del Rio

Let’s assume for now that the WWE, Women’s, and Tag Team Champions will travel to both shows. We haven’t been told otherwise, though I do believe it’s happening. That means Raw now has the United States Title and the future Cruiserweight Title, while the Intercontinental Title is on Smackdown.

John Cena, WWE Draft 2016John Cena being summoned to Smackdown was no surprise. If the idea is to make Smackdown relevant and to drive viewers up, having the face of the company on the show makes all the sense in the world. And as you want some built-in rivalries once the split takes effect, it’s easy to see why AJ Styles would got to Smackdown as well.

What’s surprising is Finn Balor going to Raw. Balor has a built-in history with AJ Styles from New Japan Pro Wrestling. One would think they’d want to capitalize on that, and put him on Smackdown. But The Solomonster made a great point on Twitter: At about 190 lbs, Balor could be WWE’s choice to head up the new Cruiserweight Division.

On the other hand, he has even more of a history with Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, who will be on Raw with him. I’m disappointed we won’t get to see Styles and Balor clash in the near future. But at least there’s a chance for them to run with the history that exists between he and The Club.

Becky Lynch, WWE Draft 2016Becky Lynch should be happy. She’s the lead female babyface on Smackdown. You can argue this is a consolation prize, considering she’s in a smaller pond, and Charlotte and Sasha were picked first. But not being put next to those two will give her a chance to develop even more. This woman is a star, and now she has the chance to shine brighter than ever.

Kane should not be happy, at least from a story perspective. A proven commodity dating all the way back to the Attitude Era, and he wasn’t even in the top 30? They even had him chokeslam Zayn and Owens in front of the authority figures. They could easily do some sort of program with this. An aging demon? Hm…

Many of us expected to see American Alpha drafted. Nia Jax is a different story. I haven’t seen much of her work, but her look immediately sets her apart from every other woman in the company. It’s unfair to compare the two at this juncture, but I hope she becomes what Awesome Kong never became in WWE.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

The Brock Lesnar Blunder, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

Brock Lesnar, UFCBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a company as self conscious about their image as WWE.

You’ve got Brock Lesnar, who in addition to being a WWE star is one of the biggest attractions in MMA history, under contract. You allow him to have one more fight, and it becomes a huge mainstream news story. You find yourself with a huge opportunity to rub shoulders with an organization that has the mainstream attention and legitimacy you so desperately want. So what do you do?

If you’re WWE, you don’t even mention it on television. Not a promo, not a commercial, not a mention from the announcers. Not one word.

Then on top of that, Stephanie McMahon does an interview with Business Insider and says…

“We are not supporting the fight necessarily but…it’s not a competitor to us and the more that our superstars, that’s how we refer to our talent, the more they do outside of WWE, the more awareness it generates and the broader the audience can be that is then brought back into our properties. So we recognize the value of that.”

Stephanie McMahon, WWEDo you? Because you haven’t said a word about it on television. They’ve had weeks to figure something out. They couldn’t have slipped in a mention? Why even let Brock fight if you’re not going to use the extra exposure to your advantage? It’s downright bizarre.

By the way, Brock had the perfect response to Steph’s comment about “not supporting” the fight: “I don’t care what she thinks.”

Ponderings From Raw:

The show begins with a Fourth of July food fight. Honestly, to me the only thing interesting about this was that Jack Swagger and Alberto Del Rio were standing together when the segment started. Aren’t they still enemies?

Rusev def. Titus O’Neil to retain the United States Title. Did they have to dress Titus O’Neil like Uncle Sam? How hokey can you get…

“Go ahead, celebrate with your hamburgers and little weenies.” Great line. And the right result for this match. The dominant champion wins with his finisher.

Enzo & Cass interrupt the Social Outcasts, defeat Bo Dallos & Curtis Axel. The crowd didn’t react nearly as much as they should have to Enzo reciting all the presidents like that. Bob Backlund must be proud.

WWE Raw, July 4, 2016, CharlotteCharlotte and Sasha Banks come face to face once again. This was really good. Charlotte came off very natural, and every bit as conceited and self-centered as she needs to be. From a talking standpoint, Banks wasn’t as strong. But she still held her own. And of course, she came out on top in the end. They also didn’t stay out there too long. It took just the right amount of time. Lovely work from both ladies.

WWE Champion Dean Ambrose def. Intercontinental Champion The Miz. WWE should be careful about how they book Dean Ambrose while he has the title. He needs to look strong, and not like a fluke champion. Clearly, he’s not their first choice to be WWE Champion right now. But champion or not, Ambrose will be one of the top stars on Raw or Smackdown. Having him win the title was a great step toward establishing him not just as a player, but a major player. But they need to keep him strong. Putting him at the top of hour two isn’t the spot I’d have him. In a champion vs. champion match, no less.

Still, at least he won. I’m not a fan of champions getting pinned. But if somebody has to beat the Intercontinental Champion, the WWE Champion is the man to do it.

Seth Rollins def. Dolph Ziggler. Steve Austin said on a podcast recently that one of the things wrong with Raw nowadays is there’s no continuing plot thread that holds the show together. They’re just throwing matches out there. That’s a great point, and one of the factors in the ratings plummeting for that third hour.

Seth Rollins vs. Dolph ZigglerThis match had backstory, at least. The idea was these guys may end up on different shows after the draft. So Ziggler wants to prove himself against Rollins just in case. Fair enough, but it would have been nice to see Dolph make that challenge. And of course he lost, because that’s what he does.

Also, Ziggler’s transformation into ’90s era Shawn Michaels is almost complete. He just needs to grow out his chest hair. Better get on that.

Vickie Guerrero returns, vies for Smackdown Chief Operating Officer job. You’ve got to give Vickie credit. Her mic skills weren’t rusty at all. She was never a great performer in the purist sense of the word. But she got more heat than most of the wrestlers she worked with.

So they’re not calling them general managers anymore. Instead, they’re chief operating officers. Isn’t that Triple H’s on-screen role? So what does he become now?

Golden Truth def. The Vaudevillians. Has anyone ever had that kind of “follow the bouncing ball” entrance before? Golden Truth might have made history tonight…

Hopefully The Vaudevillains will get a jumpstart when the roster splits. They may be getting TV time, but they’ve lost the cruel edge that set them apart. That’s not good news.

WWE Raw, July 4, 2016, AJ Styles, John CenaJohn Cena calls out The Club. Enzo & Cass come to his defense. A six-man tag is booked for BattlegroundStyles talked about Cena “burying” him again in this promo. At least tonight we got a bit of insight into what he means by that. He talked about the “powers that be” who didn’t want him in the company. The implication seems to be that Cena can get WWE to push Styles out of the title picture. I wish he’d just come out and say that already.

I wish The Club hadn’t done the whole mount and punch routine for so long during the beat down. The fact that Cena didn’t come up a bruised and bloody pulp crushes your suspense of disbelief like a bug.

So Enzo & Cass are aligned with Cena now. I’m not sure what that’ll do to them in the eyes of the Cena haters. But I’m interested to see how they match up with The Club.

Becky Lynch def. Summer Rae. Happy to see Becky and Natalya getting a pay per view match. They both absolutely deserve this time in the limelight. For that matter, so does Summer Rae. She’s been part of a few bad storylines. But she’s a good performer, and can be a solid asset to whatever show she’s on after the draft.

The Wyatt Family, WWE Raw, July 4, 2016The Wyatt Family invites The New Day to their compound. This has turned out to be the feud I never knew I wanted. The whole positivity vs. darkness story really works.

I’m surprised it’s taken us this long to get a confrontation at the Wyatt Family compound. It seems like a no-brainer to me, and maybe an opportunity to learn more about who these guys are. This would be a cool selling point for Battleground.

The Big Show and Zack Ryder survive a “Team USA vs. The World” elimination tag match. An utterly skippable main event. Why not put this at the top of the first hour, instead of the damn WWE Champion? On the plus side, WWE seems to have embraced Zack Ryder as their new resident underdog. That’s not a bad spot to be in. I just wish we hadn’t had to sit through this match for his latest feel-good moment.

Tuesday Morning Talk Points: NONE.

Image 1 from foxsports.com. Remaining images courtesy of WWE.

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John Cena is Back, the WWE Brand Split, and Ponderings From WWE Raw

WWE rosterBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve sat on the revelation of WWE’s new brand split for about a week now, because I wanted to collect my thoughts and talk rationally. I’ll be honest, my initial thoughts on the matter were not rational at all. There were a lot of four-letter words, and a lot of nerd rage. I generally try and talk calmly and rationally about this kind of stuff. But I was really disheartened and angry about this announcement at first.

Not because of Smackdown going live on Tuesdays, which is a great thing.

Not because of wrestlers being specific to both shows.

It’s because of the titles, and the prospect of having two world championships again.

Yeah, I know. Geek much? But the championship picture in WWE has a lot to do with how shows are structured, and what a wrestler’s motivation is. In theory, when a wrestler signs a WWE contract, their number one goal should be to win the WWE Championship. Right now Roman Reigns is, as he says, the guy in WWE. Why? Because he’s the champion. He’s got the prize everybody’s gunning for. If you take that prize and split it in two, it ruins the novelty of there being one man at the top of the mountain. If you go for the title and you lose, in theory you can just go for the other. We just cleaned up this mess when the two world titles were unified in 2013. Are we really going to go back to it?

Roman Reigns, Wrestlemania XXXIIWhen WWE did their original brand split in 2002, the WWE Champion and the Women’s Champion could appear on both shows. If they put me in charge of all this, I’d put the Intercontinental Title on one show, the United States Title on the other, and have the WWE, Women’s, and Tag Team Champions given immunity to the whole thing. That way there’s added privilege to being the top dog of your particular title picture. Meanwhile, you still have the novelty of, say, John Cena only appearing on Smackdown or Roman Reigns only appearing on Raw.

That’s all I’ve got on the brand split for now. We’ve still got a little while before it comes to fruition. Lord knows there’ll be a lot to say between now and then. I just wish I had more faith in WWE creative to pull this off well.

Ponderings From WWE Raw:

The New Day ask Shane and Stephanie questions about the brand split. Why do they always feel the need to say “Welcome to Monday Night Raw!” at the start of the show? Isn’t that what the opening title sequence is for? To welcome us to the show?

Shane McMahon, The New Day, WWE Raw, May 30, 2016This seems like it was designed to get people excited about the brand split. Frankly, it was more frustrating than anything else. But it echoed the reports of what’s going on creatively. Nothing is in con crete yet. If that is the case, it seems weird. You’d think they’d have this kind of thing mapped out before they actually announced it.

The New Day def. The Vaudevillians via disqualification after Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson attack. Okay, so we’re probably getting The New Day against Gallows & Anderson at Money in the Bank. I don’t expect them to win the titles yet. . But their personalities contrast nicely with that of the champs.

The Big Show advises Apollo Crews on dealing with Sheamus. This is the first time we’ve seen Show on Raw in several weeks. I’m pleased he’s sticking to a supporting role for the time being. I imagine once the roster split comes around, we’ll be seeing him on a regular basis again. Show and Crews are both pretty natural on the mic. I just wish they weren’t being given such heavily scripted dialogue.

The Usos def. Tyler Breeze & Fandango with Golden Truth on commentary. The heels take a beating after the match. I was a little bummed The Usos took this one. Breeze & Fandango look good as a tag team. If you elevate them a bit, they might be able to challenge The New Day for the tag belts at some point. I don’t know if you give them the belts. But they can at least have a match, right?.

WWE Raw, May 30, 2016, Seth RollinsRoman Reigns calls out Seth Rollins. Rollins teases the crowd. I happened to be listening to one of Vince Russo’s podcasts yesterday. I don’t agree with a lot of what he says. But on this show, Glen Gilbertti (formerly Disco Inferno in WCW) was talking about “the eye test,” i.e. having a casual viewer take you seriously as a wrestler based on your look. Make no mistake about it, Roman Reigns passes the eye test with flying colors. The problem is, what he’s saying rarely sounds genuine. That stuff about “The Man” being afraid to face “The Guy” was just cringeworthy. How’s that for an epic confrontation? The Man vs. The Guy.

So the idea here (I think) was for Rollins to continuously tease the audience with either a promo or a fight, and draw heat by never following through. Not a bad idea in theory. But in an era where a big portion of audience has DVR remotes, it’s probably not the best idea. This was basically a big waste of everyone’s time.

Goldberg appears in epic WWE 2K17 commercial. It’s amazing how these video game commercials are often better than anything on Raw. I still remember how awesome those commercials with The Ultimate Warrior and Sting. Why can’t WWE’s vignettes for new wrestlers ever be this cool?

WWE Raw, May 30, 2016, RusevRusev def. Zack Ryder. Titus O’Neil confronts him after the match. It’s great to see Rusev return to being a dominant United States Champion, and I’m happy they didn’t feed him to John Cena for a Memorial Day American hero story. I’m also pleasantly surprised to see Titus featured like this. And that punch he threw at him looked awesome!

But no one, and I mean no one, would ever say “Bulgarian Blowhard.” Again, a wrestler falls victim to overly scripted dialogue.

In a pre-tape, Stephanie dresses down Charlotte for how she treated Ric Flair. This segment made me mad for all the wrong reasons. Again Stephanie shouts down one of the wrestlers and gets over at the expense of the talent. And after they’d just aired a video package and shown us tweets about how everyone hated what Charlotte did. We got it. Charlotte did a horrible thing. How was this segment necessary? Also, isn’t Stephanie supposed to be a heel?

Enzo & Cass def. The Dudley Boyz. I was rolling my eyes at how much Enzo was brown-nosing the Green Bay crowd. But he won me over as he and Cass went on. This is the difference between over-scripting, and letting a wrestler get over himself. I was surprised they had the Dudleys lose clean. You’d think they’d have saved this for Money in the Bank. Maybe they put them together again in a Tables Match?

WWE Raw, May 30, 2016, John Cena, AJ Styles, Karl Anderson, Luke GallowsJohn Cena gets dropped by AJ Styles, Luke Gallows, & Karl Anderson. This was out of left field. Like a lot of folks, I thought for sure it was going to be Styles going against Gallows & Anderson. But low and behold, here they are together.

While I usually prefer babyface AJ to heel AJ, this isn’t a bad move, per se. We’ll get to see AJ’s personality come out a bit more, and working with John Cena definitely isn’t a bad spot for him to be in. Gallows and Anderson should benefit from this as well. But here’s my question: Can we call them the Bullet Club now? Or at least something other than The Club?

Dana Brooke (w/Charlotte) def. Natalya. Becky Lynch comes out to save Nattie from a beatdown. This duo of Charlotte and Dana Brooke is growing on me. And now it looks like they’ve got a team to face. Rumor has it WWE likes Brooke enough to make her the “female Roman Reigns.” I assume that means they want her to be the face of the women’s division. I say it’s too early to make a call like that. But you never know.

Baron Corbin def. Dolph Ziggler by disqualification when Ziggler hits a blatant low blow. Corbin didn’t exactly look like a million bucks here. Ziggler simply punted him in the nuts. But Corbin’s a rookie, and Dolph is a veteran. So I guess it’s passable. The bait-and-switch was nice. Ziggler’s use of the headgear was fun.

Cesaro, Chris Jericho, WWE Raw, May 30, 2016Dean Ambrose, Cesaro & Sami Zayn def. Chris Jericho, Kevin Owens & Alberto Del Rio. So are there only six men in the Money in the Bank Ladder Match this year? If so, I’m fine with that. But WWE.com was hyping up another person possibly qualifying. Did they change their mind?

Moments after Del Rio hits an axe handle on Cesaro and then puts him in a rear chin lock, Jericho shouts “Tear his head off!” About a second later, Ambrose calls “C’mon Claudio!” As in Claudio Castagnoli, Cesaro’s real name. What a weird moment…

As I’ve said before, I’m not a big six-man tag fan. But they do this every year with the Money in the Bank participants. I can’t say this did much for me. But something occurred to me during this match. Chris Jericho is 45 years old, and this will be his fifth Money in the Bank Ladder Match. Not that 45 is ancient by any means, but how he still does this at that age is beyond me. That DDP Yoga stuff must truly work wonders.

In Other News:

Former announcer Tony Schiavone reveals he’s training to be a barista at Starbucks. So in addition to his duties as a sports announcer, writer, and producer, Schiavone wants to be a barista so he can fill most of his time working. I think that’s awesome. I don’t know how old Schiavone’s five children are. But if he wants to spend his extra time providing for them, who are any of us to judge him? Even if that’s not the case, what an amazing work ethic this guy has.

Image 1 from goliath.com. Remaining images courtesy of WWE.com.