Posted in Wrestling

Asuka Coming to Monday Nights, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

After quite a bit of speculation, we learned Monday night that Asuka will be coming to Raw this fall. I assume it will be some time next month, as she’s currently nursing an injured collarbone.

Of course, Asuka is famous to WWE fans as the woman who went undefeated as NXT Women’s Champion for 534 days. She’s never been beaten in a WWE ring, and comes to Raw with more momentum and notoriety than arguably any of her fellow female NXT alums. Her matches are almost always among the highlights of the NXT Takeover shows.

There are more talented women on the WWE roster right now than at any time in the company’s history. Though obviously a marketing term, there’s a lot of validity to the “women’s revolution” they’ve been touting for awhile now. The problem is because of the brand split, we only have a handful of women on Raw and Smackdown. As such, we get a lot of the same combinations week after week. This is especially problematic on Raw, where matches are often drawn out to fill time.

The mystique of Asuka revolves around her being dominant, turning back challenger after challenger. But that approach becomes problematic when she has to be on television every week, and she’s only got three or four women to work with. Granted, they’ll probably feed her enhancement talent at first, as they did with Nia Jax. But once they get past that phase of her run, what’s to stop Asuka from becoming just another face in the crowd? How do you maintain that mystique? And how do you maintain the importance of her undefeated streak with so few names to beat?

There’s not necessarily an easy solution here. But I think part of it involves bringing more women on to the Raw roster. There was a good amount of talk about Bayley getting booed on Raw a few weeks ago. The boos weren’t necessarily directed at her, but at the way she’s been handled creatively. Like everyone else on that roster, she’s been overexposed. What’s more, she was in there with the same handful of names every week. It was always Bayley and Alexa. Or Bayley and Nia. Or Nia against Sasha, who has Bayley in her corner. And of course, there’s Bayley and Sasha against Alexa and Nia.

Like anything else, if you get the same thing over and over again it becomes boring. It’s not exclusive to the Women’s Division by any means. I’ve been saying this Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Sheamus, and Cesaro for weeks now. And of course, all four guys were in the ring together again this week.

More bodies in the Women’s Division will give all the ladies more breathing room, so they’re not necessarily doing the same thing every week. In Asuka’s case, she’ll have more challengers to beat, and a bigger talent pool to conquer. Now, if only there was a convenient place WWE could find more women to add to their roster….

By the way, did you guys see the Mae Young Classic?

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns def. Jason Jordan. Reigns trades insults with John Cena again. This wasn’t what the Cena/Jordan match was. But this match still achieved its goal. Jordan’s not quite where he needs to be yet. But matches like these giant him valuable credibility.

One of these days Jordan is going to turn that double Northern Lights Suplex combo into a triple. Fans are going to lap that up. Myself included.

I credit WWE with trying to make this Cena/Reigns stuff as reality-based as possible, even going as far as to reference Roman’s failed drug test. Despite being obviously scripted, it’s created a lot of buzz. So again, it achieved its goal.

Sasha Banks def. Emma. So Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax were both out there on commentary, and they’ve got them sitting next to one another at the announce desk. I don’t understand why they’re still supposed to be friends. Nia turned on Alexa. So what motivation does Nia now have to keep up this alliance? On top of it all, they’ve got them awkwardly sitting next to each other like kids in detention. It just doesn’t make sense.

Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman call out Braun Strowman. Strowman lays out Lesnar yet again. The best part of this segment? The look on Lesnar’s face when he saw Strowman had gotten back up after the big German Suplex.

This is a good story, and one we haven’t seen before. Brock Lesnar is the underdog, and Strowman has all the momentum in the world.

Bray Wyatt def. Goldust. Wyatt wipes the paint off Goldust’s face to reveal, “He’s just a man!” Finn Balor comes out for the save. LOVED that somersault off the apron Goldust did. Remember, Goldust is 48 years old and has been wrestling for the better part of 30 years. As Corey Graves said, the man seems to age in reverse.

Sadly, they seem to have pulled the plug on his renewed push. The only reason he was even wrestling Bray was because he had face paint on. So they had Bray beat him. I stand by my statement that Goldust could be something big if pushed the right way. If they can strap the rocket to Jinder Mahal, they can do it with Goldust.

On the upside, Bray won a match. That’s more of a rarity than it should be.

A fight breaks out between Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Sheamus, Cesaro, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. This is a little more my style, in contrast to the Alexa/Nia stuff earlier. A bunch of pissed off guys unable to restrain themselves. I just wish it hadn’t led to yet another consequence-free eight-man tag.

A vignette airs for the arrival of Asuka. God damn. That was the best character introduction vignettes they’ve done in years. Loved the use of the different masks, the spooky lighting, the music, the little glimpse of her face at the end.

Good God, WWE. Pllease don’t screw this up…

Elias def. Kalisto. Obviously Elias is supposed to be a bad guy, insulting the crowd the way he is. But the people were with him. A babyface turn isn’t out of the question here…

John Cena def. Braun Strowman via disqualification. Pretty good match. They spent a good amount of time building to Cena slamming Strowman. So you knew it was going to happen at some point. That doesn’t make it any less impressive, of course.

Would have loved to see Brock come out and try to get some payback from earlier. I guess you can write that off strategic discretion.

So Strowman hitting Cena with the steps on the outside isn’t a DQ. but Strowman getting him in the ring and slamming him on top of the steps is? Just a ring of the bell. Is that so hard?

The Miz and Maryse announce their pregnancy on Miz TV. Enzo interrupts. Miz gets disqualified as he and the Miztourage beat down Enzo. First and foremost, congrats to Miz and Maryse. Mrs. Primary Ignition and I are actually working on headin’ down that road ourselves. So I appreciate it that much more.

“Don’t you dare ‘How you doin?’ my wife.” Good line.

Between the Cena/Reigns stuff and Miz talking about Enzo being hated backstage, they’ve been much more reality-based lately. It’s a marked improvement.

I assume all that stuff with the mic was supposed to be there. It seems like Miz and Enzo messed up a spot, then Enzo took the mic and made the “your wrestling is straight to DVD” comment. Either way, it felt spontaneous. That’s the important thing.

Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, and the Hardy Boyz def. Sheamus, Cesaro, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson. I fully expected Cena and Strowman to main event the show. So when it became clear they were going to close things out with this big tag match, I wondered if they were going to do a big angle. Nope. Business as usual. A hell of an anticlimactic ending to what ended up being a pretty damn good show.

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Posted in Wrestling

Braun Strowman as “the Guy,” Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Summerslam erased any lingering doubts: Braun Strowman needs to be WWE’s next “Guy.’ In other words, the top dog. The big cahuna. The man everyone vies to face. The spot currently occupied by John Cena, and the spot WWE has been trying to shoehorn Roman Reigns into for years.

While Brock Lesnar may have walked out of Summerslam‘s Fatal Four-Way with the Universal Title, make no mistake about it, Braun Strowman was the star of the match. To his credit, Brock Lesnar put him over like 10 million bucks. Has anybody ever given Lesnar a beating like that? Certainly not since he came back in 2012. But I can’t think of anything comparable in Brock’s entire WWE career. The result? Magic.

Michael Cole also deserves a pat on the back for his role in the Lesnar/Strowman stuff. He made a point to not only sell Strowman’s unprecedented dominance over “the Beast,” but to point out how it’s different from what Bill Goldberg did last year. Goldberg surprised Lesnar. Strowman conquered him.

They’ve really got something with this guy. He’s a giant that wants to dominate and destroy all challengers. Simple and to the point. More importantly, the fans are into him. And it happened organically. After what we saw at Summerslam, Lesnar vs. Strowman could easily main event Wrestlemania XXXIV.

Which is why it absolutely sucks that they’re blowing it off at No Mercy

Ponderings From Raw:

After a promo from Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar, Braun Strowman interrupts and destroys the Universal Champion. A title match between the two is later made for No MercyObviously, I understand the appeal of doing what these two did at Summerslam, and then putting them together the following month. But imagine if they just waited. If they let it stew until April. Have Braun win the Royal Rumble Match, and then make it your Wrestlemania main event.

Instead we’re probably getting Brock against Roman. Go figure.

Enzo Amore def. Big Cass in a Brooklyn Street Fight due to match stoppage when Cass suffers a knee injury. This doesn’t do much to cool Enzo’s backstage heat, does it? It didn’t look like it was Enzo’s fault, though. Just a bad fall by Cass.

Cass was obviously frustrated, his cussing apparently needing to be censored. We don’t have any sense of what the injury is. But the timing is terrible. Sending good vibes his way.

Nia Jax def. Emma. I guess there’s something to be said for getting TV time and having a storyline. But Emma has, for the time being, been cast as a loser.

Elias def. R-Truth. The Drifter has had his critics. But the crowds have been into him. You can’t deny that.

John Cena appears on Raw to confront Roman Reigns after Twitter smack talk. The Miz interrupts. A tag match is made for the main event. Lots of talk about Cena’s “bald spot” on Twitter. Hey, when you’ve got as much money as this guy, you can wear your hair however you want. Don’t believe me? Ask Trump.

When he was in there with Cena and Roman, Brooklyn made Miz the babyface. Miz. That says a lot, doesn’t it? What’s more, they had Miz play into it. I actually wondered if he was ad-libbing until he said the lines about the fans “not knowing whether to cheer or boo” Cena and Reigns. Classic WWE whitewashing, right there.

Cena was more or less expected on Raw after Summerslam, based on the local advertisements. They’re obviously planting the seeds for Cena against Reigns at some point. Lots of talk about big moments in this segment. Well, there’s nothing quite like an arena chanting, “You both suck!”

Cedric Alexander, Rich Swann, Mustafa Ali, and Gran Metalik def. Ariya Daivari, Tony Nese, Noam Dar and Drew Gulak. Remember that Raw in 1997 when Kane came down and beat up a bunch of midget wrestlers? I really wanted that here. Nothing like a little old school Kane to stir up some cruiserweight oatmeal…

Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose def. The Hardy Boyz. This one didn’t do it for me. The match looked good on paper. But it seemed like they never quite got into a groove. I’d be open to another match, though.

Alexa Bliss interrupted Sasha Banks’ celebration. I couldn’t. Sorry, folks. I couldn’t bring myself to listen to a Sasha Banks promo. But obviously, things are continuing between she and Alexa Bliss. Works for me.

Finn Balor def. Jason Jordan. These two had better chemistry than I expected. The announcers mentioned the time they spent together in the Performance Center. I expect that has something to do with it.

So how about this: At some point, Jason Jordan cheats to win a big match, drawing disapproval from his father, Kurt Angle. Thus, the start of a Jason Jordan heel turn, and a father vs. son feud. Jordan is so milquetoast right now. He needs something to spice things up.

John Cena and Roman Reigns def. The Miz and Samoa Joe. Reigns accidentally hits Cena with a Superman Punch during the match. The Brooklyn crowd had started the beach ball stuff during the Balor/Jordan match. Then in this match they did a friggin’ wave. And of course, Cena fed right into it.

The purist in me wants to bury the fans in the Barclays Center. But that’s what happens when your show is too damn long.

Booker: “I don’t want to remember the last time I was in the ring with Joe, because he left me bruised, battered, torn, and all busted up. … It also happened in my home town. I’ll never forget that.”

It was also in TNA. So WWE probably wants you to forget.

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Posted in Wrestling

A WWE Summerslam 2017 Preview, Plus: Baron Corbin Goes Bankrupt

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

From pre-show to main event, Summerslam 2017 has 13 matches. THIRTEEN. Do we even have time for an introductory editorial?

Looking up and down the card, what comes to mind is that we’ve got an awesome main event. But everything else? Meh. Objectively, it’s a stacked card. But for me personally, it’s pretty much a one-match show. Not exactly ideal for the second biggest show of the year.

Let’s take a look…

PRE-SHOW MATCH:
The Hardy Boyz and Jason Jordan vs. The Miz and the Miztourage

It’s not often that you see the Hardys or the Miz on the pre-show. For better or worse, this card is like a double-stuffed Oreo…

Considering the direction they’re going with Jason Jordan, it seems unlikely that they’d have him lose here. I’m picturing him pinning Bo Dallas or Curtis Axel. I imagine they’ll have him challenge Miz for the Intercontinental Title at the next Raw pay per view. At least they didn’t rush into it.

PREDICTION: The Hardy Boyz and Jason Jordan

PRE-SHOW MATCH FOR WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE:
Akira Tozawa (c) vs. Neville

Ugh. Well what was the point of doing this on Raw if we’re just going to turn around and put it on Summerslam? I can’t stand it when they do this. At least with Finn Balor and Bray Wyatt they used it as an excuse to bring out the Demon. This just feels wasteful. Like they didn’t know how to kill time with them on Raw, so they just decided to switch the title. The one upside? They probably got more time on Raw than they will here.

I see them giving the belt back to Neville. Champion or not, he’s the best thing they’ve got going in that division. Winning the belt gave Tozawa a certain legitimacy. But as a character, Neville is more intriguing.

PREDICTION: Neville

PRE-SHOW MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
The New Day (c) vs. The Usos

The Usos deserve to get the belts back here. Their whole image change has been amazing. Their promos are among the best in the entire company. They’re like an entirely different team. And while they’d upped the ante and put some kind of stipulation on this match, they work really well with the New Day.

However, now that they’ve put the belts on Kofi, Xavier, and Big E., it feels like they need to stay there for awhile. I have no idea who they’ll put them with next. But it will almost certainly be a step down.

PREDICTION: The New Day

Randy Orton vs. Rusev

Remember when Rusev was an unstoppable monster? Seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it? The thing is, he could easily be that guy again if he could just get a few big wins under his belt.

Sadly, that’s seemingly not in the cards for him at Summerslam. Randy Orton just put Jinder Mahal over three times on pay per view. Despite inexplicably pinning Jinder last week, he’s owed a pay per view rebound. Apparently when a big babyface needs an obligatory win, Rusev is the guy you call.

PREDICTION: Randy Orton

Bray Wyatt vs. Finn Balor

Obviously, they had Bray beat and humiliate Finn on Raw to justify a Demon appearance at Summerslam. It’s a little cheap. But I’m just happy Bray got to beat him at all. Even without the Demon paint, it would have been easy to just have Balor get his big win and move on. At least he saves a little bit of face this way.

If Balor is breaking out the Demon stuff, he’s got to win. This is only the second time we’ve seen this alternate personality of his compete. When the Demon finally does lose, it should be a big deal. But he needs to be built up first. Thus, it’s a victory for Balor.

PREDICTION: Finn Balor

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

With all due respect to Natalya, this seems more like the title match you’d make at a “B” pay per view. A No Mercy or an Elimination Chamber. It would be another thing if Nattie was on this big roll, and we had a sense they were going to go with her. But that’s not the case. This seems more like a match they’re putting out there as an excuse for Carmella to cash in her Money in the Bank briefcase. But after what we just saw with Baron Corbin on Smackdown, that seems a lot less likely. An attempted cash-in? Maybe. But nothing that will actually stick.

With that in mind, I can only assume Naomi keeps the belt. Natalya deserves a big moment as much as anyone. I just don’t think this is it.

PREDICTION: Naomi

WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Sasha Banks

Her talent, guts, and passion notwithstanding, Sasha’s been getting on my nerves as of late. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is. But it’s somewhat related to her alleged real-life heat with Alexa. She was on Raw Talk awhile back and called her a fake, implying Alexa didn’t love wrestling as much as she did. Granted, it was a worked shoot. But Sasha strikes me as the kind of person to take herself too seriously in that respect.

Still, I see things paying off for her at Summerslam. Before Bayley got hurt, it seemed like they were setting her up to win the belt back from Alexa. Realistically, without Bayley around this is the biggest match they can do in that Raw Women’s Division as it exists now. Unless someone like Asuka shows up after Summerslam, they’re going to need to shake things up. Putting the belt on Sasha accomplishes that for now.

PREDICTION: Sasha Banks

WWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Kevin Owens
Guest Referee: Shane McMahon

It’s highly doubtful this match, or any match on this card, tops what AJ Styles did with John Cena at last year’s Summerslam. Especially given that he and Owens haven’t necessarily had the best chemistry. But adding Shane to the mix gave the program that extra push to get it here. I am intrigued to see how things play out with Shane. He and Owens have a really interesting dynamic.

Owens is obviously going with Shane after Summerslam. So it makes sense to have Owens lose after getting in Shane’s face and prompting a physical reaction. They could have AJ win clean, I suppose. But Shane is in there. May as well use him.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

The Big Show vs. Big Cass
Enzo Amore to be encased in a shark cage. 

Cass is one of WWE’s big projects right now. Regardless of how popular Enzo is, everything they’re doing here is about elevating him. So it should go without saying that he’ll wind up getting the win here.

It’s not often that you see a babyface trapped in the cage for a match like this. It’s almost always designed to keep a bad guy isolated so he can’t interfere. We just saw that with Chris Jericho at the Royal Rumble. If Enzo does wind up interfering, I imagine him somehow costing Show the match, furthering his status as the village irritant. To his fellow wrestlers, at least. To most fans? Not so much.

PREDICTION: Big Cass

WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Sheamus and Cesaro (c) vs. Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose

As hokey as it was at certain points, the build-up to the reunion of Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose was very effective. If you need proof, look no further than the crowd that night. It was a cool moment. A moment I imagine they’ll try to top once Roman Reigns comes into the picture.

But first, we’ve got to establish that Rollins and Ambrose can still do big things together. To do that, they’ve got to take the tag belts away from Sheamus and Cesaro. I expect that’s exactly what we’ll see here. The crowd should really be into this one as well. The Shield magic notwithstanding, all four of these guys can go. There’s a good chance this winds up being one of the better matches of the night.

PREDICTION: Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose

John Cena vs. Baron Corbin

Prior to Tuesday’s Smackdown, I had Cena pegged to win this one. But Corbin’s failed cash-in has me second-guessing things. If Cena costs Corbin his big match, and then beats him at Summerslam, where does that leave him? If they want him to remain a player, Corbin needs to get his revenge on Cena. Otherwise, he’s going to have to climb his way back up the card. Or worse, he could be the next Damien Sandow. Only not as talented. Or as over.

You know who I’d like to see? Frustrated, bitter, angry, violent Baron Corbin. Show me that this man is dangerous. Convince me that I should be afraid of him not just because of his physical stature, but his cunning and ruthless mind.

PREDICTION: Baron Corbin

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Jinder Mahal (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

This wasn’t at all what I expected for Nakamura at this show. Considering he just popped up on television in April, it’s a little quick for his first WWE Championship Match. But I can’t bring myself to gripe too much about it. At least it show us that WWE has enough confidence in him to place him in a big match like this. It’s reminiscent of where AJ Styles was last year.

Nakamura’s match with Baron Corbin at Battleground was a disappointment. If he and Jinder Mahal turn in a stinker on a big stage like Summerslam, some of that stink might stay on him for awhile. What’s more, Jinder hasn’t had that epic WWE Championship Match yet. So it’s in both these men’s interest to give us something great and memorable.

Ultimately, I don’t think the Jinder Mahal experiment is over just yet. I see this match having the same outcome that a lot of his matches do. The Singh Brothers meddle in the match, which results in either a dirty finish or a disqualification. Either way, the title stays on Jinder. After Randy Orton’s victory over the champ two weeks ago, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve got a three-way dance for the title coming up between Mahal, Nakamura, and Orton. I can’t say I’m dying to see it. But there’ve certainly been worse matches.

PREDICTION: Jinder Mahal

FATAL FOUR-WAY MATCH FOR WWE UNIVERSAL TITLE:
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe vs. Braun Strowman

From a conceptual standpoint, this is a fairly flawed show. That being said, they got the main event right. All four of these guys are hot right now, and any of them could conceivably walk out with the belt. On paper, that makes for an awesome main event.

WWE tried to throw a curveball our way by having Paul Heyman announce that if Brock loses the title, both of them will walk out. Considering Brock is not only under contract until Wrestlemania, and he’s being advertised for shows post-Summerslam, it seems unlikely he’ll drop it here. That’s not to say he can’t lose it, go away, and then come back later. But my gut says Brock keeps the title.

For me, the real drawing power of this match lies in the potential for sheer brutal chaos. All four of these guys hit hard and throw far. Hopefully, no matter who comes out on top, the audience wins.

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

Big Cass Goes Bad, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Let’s jump right to the main event this week, shall we? They went and did it. They turned Cass heel, revealing that not only has he been the one attacking Enzo, but that he’s been staging the attacks on himself. And why? Because Enzo’s supposedly been holding him back, and running his mouth too much.

I liked most of what they did here, especially how they looped Corey Graves in. I’m not sure what they’re trying to do with he and Kurt Angle. But between that and what we saw here, they’re turning him into an investigator of sorts.

Realistically, they could have turned Enzo. The fans have caught on to the fact that he can be damn annoying at times. But he’s also one of the best talkers in all of wrestling. The fans are still behind him because he’s got the God-given gift of gab. So if they had to turn one of them, they made the right choice with Cass. They even played the sympathetic card, with Cass essentially saying: “Nobody likes you because you’re annoying. And now I don’t like you either.”

Before the turn, they positioned Big Show as still having heat with Cass. So I imagine we’ll see Show vs. Cass at Great Balls of Fire, followed by a showdown between Cass and Enzo at Summerslam.

WWE is taking a risk here, which I commend them for. Ratings have been way down lately. Despite what they’d like you to believe sometimes, that matters. So a shake-up is merited. I just hope this is a shake-up that pays off. It seems like WWE has seen money in Cass since he came up from NXT. But he’s always been so tightly intertwined with Enzo. He’s achieved all this success in both NXT and WWE because he was with Enzo. Is he polished enough to go out there and deliver on his own? Sure, he’ll have some decent heat for the next few months. But what about after he’s done with Enzo? Who is Cass without his other half?

I’m hoping we like the answer we get…

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns announces he will challenge for the Universal Title at SummerslamSamoa Joe confronts Reigns, a brawl breaks out. Reigns was cocky here, which I actually liked. Better to have him show a little attitude than to just be reciting sanitized dialogue with no feeling behind it. And I loved the line: “You’ll never be Samoa Joe to me. You’ll always be just Joe.” Them is fightin’ words.

So…does this mean we’re getting Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns at Summerslam? I can dig that. The rumor was that we’d get it at Wrestlemania. But I’m good with this, especially since we’ve already seen Lesnar and Reigns at a Wrestlemania.

However, I was also game for Reigns against John Cena. Another day, then…

The Hardy Boyz def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. Not much interest in this one from me. They had me when Gallows and Anderson hit the Boot of Doom, and were seemingly about to get the pin. But other than that this just felt like filler. And let’s be honest: That’s what it was.

Goldust invites R-Truth to the premiere of “The Shattered Truth” next week. I lap up these Goldust promos, I really do. Hoping they hit this out of the park next week.

Finn Balor cuts Elias Samson off before he can sing. There’s something here with this “Drifter” gimmick. They’re getting there. The wrestling fan in me is dying for Samson to hit somebody with that guitar. Might not happen for awhile. But when it does, it’ll be great.

Finn Balor def. Bo Dallas. Balor later gets attacked by Samson. The early part of this match felt reminiscent of the last time they tried to push Bo a little bit, for all the good that did him. What exactly do they have to lose by putting him with Bray Wyatt? The two are legitimately siblings. Just go for it.

So I guess Balor has a new dance partner in Elias Samson. Wouldn’t have been my first choice. I’d have had him go with Ambrose, then put Balor with Miz.

Seth Rollins to be on the cover of WWE 2K18. Rollins cuts off Bray Wyatt before an attack. Yet another amazing commercial from the 2K folks. These things are more memorable than most Raw episodes.

Wasn’t a fan of Seth’s promo in front of the live crowd. Too white meat for my taste. “We can all get second chances,” and all that. Too syrupy for me.

So after a back and forth promo, Bray Wyatt comes to the ring, blows out his lantern, and immediately eats a cross body from Rollins. It’s amazing just how far this character has fallen. Again. Whenever he takes a step forward, it’s like he takes two steps back.

Akira Tozawa def. TJP, both Titus O’Neil and Neville watch from ringside. I’ll call it now: O’Neil accidentally costs Tozawa his inevitable title match with Neville. You can say what you want about how stale 205 Live is, but when Neville drops that belt it’s going to be a big deal.

Samoa Joe def. Roman Reigns after a distraction from the returning Braun Strowman. Strowman challenges Reigns to an Ambulance Match at Great Balls of FireReigns and Joe work well together. A real nice alpha male against alpha male dynamic. And it’s always very physical.

The announcers acted like it was a big thing when Joe kicked out of the Superman Punch. But when was the last time Reigns beat somebody with that move? It feels like he hits three or four of them each time he wrestles on pay per view.

Strowman had great entrance. A nice callback to the ambulance stuff he and Roman have done. Then he had to go and say, “I’ll see you at Great Balls of Fire pay per view.” Still, Strowman’s return is something to be happy about. WWE has done such a good job building him up that not having him on Raw has hurt the show.

Dean Ambrose ruins the Miz’s attempt at an apology to Maryse. Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel attack Ambrose. So does this mean Dallas and Axel are with Miz now? Hey, it did wonders for Damien Sandow. And it adds a little something extra to Miz’s presentation. Works for me.

Cesaro and Sheamus def. Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews. Crews is so damn explosive out there. If they can find a way to get this guy over, they could have a real commodity on their hands. Make it happen, WWE.

A video package airs for Brock Lesnar vs. Samoa Joe at Great Balls of FireThese are always so damn great. Brock had the best line in this one: “I’m gonna go through Samoa Joe like a freight train. On fire.”

Emma comes after Alexa Bliss while she’s on commentary for Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax. The match breaks down. Mickie James and Dana Brooke join the fight before Bayley cleans house. This seemed very rushed. Like they wanted to squeeze this in before the main event segment. At least Bayley looked fairly strong. She’s needed all the help she can get lately.

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Posted in Wrestling

Brock Lesnar Returns, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Brock Lesnar was back on television this week for the first time since Wrestlemania week, with the Universal Championship across his shoulder. Anytime Brock is on television it’s a big deal. Now that he’s got a Heavyweight Title again, that’s the case even moreso.

Nowadays we’re hearing a lot of the same talk we heard during Brock’s last run with the WWE Championship. He needs to be on TV more, not having him there takes away from the show, things like that. And yes, not having your champion there is a big adjustment. That title is usually what everyone is fighting for. It’s the motivation for most of the main characters on this TV show.

But they’re doing the right thing with Brock Lesnar, champion or not.

Brock is special. That was the case even before he became UFC Champion and all that. Now he’s one of the precious few difference-making attractions WWE has. So when Brock is on Raw, sparse as it may be at times, it’s special. It’s must-see TV. That shouldn’t change because he has the title.

The impetus, therefore, needs to be on WWE to provide us with compelling television despite the lack of a Heavyweight Champion. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, they haven’t consistently done that. But there are bright spots to be found. They’ve reintroduced certain mystery and soap opera elements that have been absent for awhile. The mystery of who’s attacking Enzo and Cass, the question of what’s going on with Kurt Angle, etc. They’ve got so many talented people on that Raw roster. The absence of your champion is a circumstance, not an excuse.

There’s also something to be said for restraint. Before the so-called Monday Night Wars, you didn’t see all your marquee stars in the ring every week. The announcers would talk about them, and you might see an interview. But they wouldn’t necessarily wrestle every week. Once WWE started fighting for ratings, that all changed. WWE would benefit greatly from not throwing everything and everyone at us each week. Yes, they have three hours to fill. But again, that’s not an excuse. It’s a call for them to be more creative.

What’s more, they’ve shown they can do it. Not just with Brock, either. Finn Balor hasn’t wrestled on Raw in two weeks. We saw a video package about him. But they kept him off the live show. Roman Reigns got the same treatment this week. Ergo, they’re a little bit fresher the next time we see them.

Ergo, despite what you might hear, Brock Lesnar’s less frequent appearances are an example of what WWE is doing right these days. Frankly, the anticipation and freshness they help create is something they should strive for with more of their main event talent.

Ponderings From Raw:

A brawl erupts between Brock Lesnar and Samoa Joe. There was a definite tension in the air when Brock and Paul Heyman came out. A tension which grew thicker with Heyman’s promo, and then even thicker when Joe finally came out.

What followed was a pull-apart brawl very reminiscent of the one we got between Brock and the Undertaker a few years ago. I’m disappointed they couldn’t come up with something different. But the two things I came away from this thinking about were Joe’s opening shot to Lesnar, and the kick he snuck in. They came off pretty evenly matched, but Joe was the one who got put over. In the end, this accomplished what it needed to.

Elias Samson def. Dean Ambrose after a distraction from Miz and Maryse. Wonder how many of the kids at home got Corey Graves’ Bobby Boucher reference…

Decent match. Nice to hear the crowd get into it. That’s not always what we get with some of these Raw crowds. This Ambrose/Miz thing needs to be over already. Between Raw and Smackdown, we’ve been seeing it for months now. Give us a fresh IC Title challenger, and let Ambrose work with Samson long form.

Afterward, we saw Kurt Angle get angry at Miz backstage. So…the GM was mad that a wrestler interfered in another wrestler’s match? He does know what show he’s in charge of, right?

Cedric Alexander def. Noam Dar. The tried a new story device here by putting Alicia Fox on the tron, framed inside an image of a phone (shown right). The idea was she was using FaceTime or something. They really should have set this up beforehand. Like, in the backstage segment we saw prior, have Dar tell Fox he’s going to put her up on the tron so people can still be treated to her beauty. Something like that. The transition was jarring. At least the match was short.

Roman Reigns to make an announcement regarding Summerslam next week. I like this. It seems pretty open-ended as far as who Reigns will be working with. So it could be just about anybody. It’d be nice if we could just do Reigns vs. Lesnar, and get it out of the way now. I expect we won’t be that lucky. Braun Strowman, maybe? I know he’s a Smackdown guy, but could it be John Cena? If so, it would make sense for them to start promoting it now.

Bray Wyatt and Seth Rollins come face-to-face in the ring. They must have used an old bumper for the backstage portion of Bray’s promo. There were some images of Randy Orton in there.

News broke yesterday about Bray’s wife filing for divorce, citing an alleged affair with ring announcer Jojo Offerman. I’m not defending what the real-life Wyndham Rotunda supposedly did. But it sucks whenever one’s dirty laundry gets aired like that. My heart goes out to the family.

Bray said, “You don’t want this fight, Seth. My power is more than you can possibly imagine.” Oh really? You lost clean to Roman Reigns last week. Also, you and Rollins have wrestled before, including in the main event of Raw not long ago. So yeah, I’m pretty sure he can imagine just fine.

Bray’s little disappearing act during this segment was very Undertaker-ish. He then said another line that made no sense: “Face your fear, man….and run.” Face your fear and run? What the hell does that mean?

Apollo Crews def. Kalisto. Titus O’Neil continues to try and recruit Akira Tozawa to the Titus Brand. Nice powerbomb finish to an okay match. I’d expect to see Titus, Apollo, and Kalisto start showing up on 205 Live to further this story. If they haven’t already, that is. Like most people, 205 Live isn’t much of a priority for me.

Sasha Banks, Mickie James, and Dana Brooke def. Alexa Bliss, Nia Jax, and Emma. Emma caught a really bad break with an injury shortly after she finally got back in the ring. So it was cool to see her return. Then of course, she tapped out. Some people just can’t catch a break.

Corey Graves does a sit-down interview with Bayley. After not being able to use the kendo stick on Alexa Bliss at Extreme Rules, Bayley says she’s going to do things “her way” regardless of what people think. That’s a nice sentiment, and it’s very in-character. I just hope that after the bad booking Bayley has had to endure, the older fans don’t turn on her for being a white-meat babyface. I’m interested to see what kind of reaction she gets the next time she’s in front of a TV crowd.

Heath Slater and Rhyno def. The Miz and “Bear.” Well great. The crowd was chanting for the bear. Now we’ll be seeing the Miz in segments with it for weeks to come.

So Miz unmasks the bear, and it’s not Ambrose. Then a second bear comes in, and it is Ambrose. They seemed to lose the crowd at that point. Apparently Miz’s tag team partner being in a teddy bear costume was okay. A sudden costume switch? Not okay.

If they’re looking for someone for Miz to feud with, I wouldn’t mind seeing Slater get that spot. He’d make a great underdog challenger.

Neville lays out Rich Swann before their match can begin, advices Akira Tozawa to “tread carefully.” I’ve been waiting to see Tozawa and Neville mix it up since the former first appeared on Raw. I’m ready for this!

Big Cass is once again attacked backstage. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson defeat Enzo and Cass moments later. The Big Show comes to Enzo’s aid afterward. I’ll give them credit. I’m more interested in this story than I ever thought I would be. The big question seems to be about who’s going heel? Is it Enzo or Cass? I still don’t think they should be broken up. But it seems like that’d be the only worthwhile payoff…

 Sheamus and Cesaro vs The Hardy Boyz go to a double count-out in a 2 out of 3 Falls Match for the Raw Tag Team Titles. Love the positioning of this match. Really made the titles feel important. It’s also a break from the usual suspects being in the main event. Reigns, Rollins, etc.

Sheamus and Cesaro have been put over like a million bucks these past few weeks. First they pin everyone in a Tag Team Turmoil Match. Then they win the belts at Extreme Rules. Now the Hardys fail to beat them for the belts in a 2 out of 3 Falls Match. They may not have won here, but they are believably and definitively positioned as the top team on Raw right now. Maybe the top team in all of WWE. Good on you, gentlemen. Looking forward to seeing where it goes next.

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Posted in Wrestling

Undertaker’s Last Ride, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

We all thought this might be it. That didn’t make it any less emotional, though.

On Sunday at Wrestlemania XXXIII, the Undertaker apparently had his last match. After losing to Roman Reigns, the Dead Man left his trademark hat, coat, and gloves in the ring, symbolizing the end had finally come. Then, like Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels at previous Wrestlemania events, he took that long walk up the aisle.

I became a wrestling fan in 1996. The Monday Night Wars were still in full effect, and at the time the Undertaker was building to a Buried Alive Match with Mankind. On Raw, we’d see video packages of him standing in a graveyard, talking about what was coming. It wasn’t unlike the packages that aired last week, as he dug a grave for Roman Reigns.

I was 11 at the time. I’m 32 now. I have a wife, a career, and plans to have a kid of my own. As someone who’s learned the value of a day’s work, and how far a dollar goes in this world, I have so much respect for all this extraordinary person has given us for so many years. All the sacrifices he’s made, all the pain he’s endured, and all the moments he’s given us. He’s been with us for so long. It’s going to be incredibly odd not having him here anymore. But if anyone’s earned the right to go out on his own terms, it’s Mark Calaway. He was a class act at Wrestlemania XXXIII, putting over the company’s top guy (for better or worse) on his way out.

In an industry where so many performers want to transcend and connect with the “mainstream,” the Undertaker was one of wrestling’s most recognizable figures for over two decades.

Cast in point, when I was in seventh grade, the Attitude Era was in full swing. Somebody in one of my classes had just gone to a WWF show, and my teacher happened to be talking to him about it. She seemed half-interested. He mentioned Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Rock. Mankind, and a few others. No reaction.

Then he said the name, “Undertaker.”

“Oh, I know him!”

Even if you weren’t a wrestling fan, you knew the Undertaker. If you were, you knew just how important and how special he was.

And he still is.

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns: “This is my yard now.” Probably the most impactful five-word promo you’ll ever see. Just minute after minute of boos and more boos. It doesn’t have to be this way. But whether it’s John Cena or Roman Reigns, apparently this is just what it means to be the top guy in WWE these days.

I’m going to sprinkle in a few Wrestlemania thoughts between my usual Raw and Smackdown reviews. Truth be told, I haven’t seen the entire show yet. I refused to let the sheer length of the show piss my off like it did last year. And I had a prior commitment on Sunday anyway. One thing I did make sure to see, however, was the tag team Ladder Match…

The Hardy Boyz def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson to retain the Raw Tag Team Titles. As some speculated, the Hardys did indeed return to a massive pop. Are they the first team to hold tag team gold in Impact Wrestling, Ring of Honor, and WWE in the same calendar year?

It looks like Matt and Jeff are more or less back in their old WWE characters, with Matt throwing in bits and pieces of the Broken stuff from Impact. Until the law suit with Anthem Sports is settled, I imagine that’ll be the extent of it.

Speaking of Anthem, “F*ck that owl” wins chant of the night.

Neville def. Mustafa Ali. The beach ball was back this year. It pretty much had to be after the company put it over on that WWE 24 special last week. That’s almost a shame. These guys were pretty good about that. The Spanish Fly off the top was amazing. If only more wrestlers were as over as that damn beach ball…

Vince McMahon names Kurt Angle the new General Manager of RawMany of us have seen this coming for months now. That doesn’t make it any less cool, though. And based on the backstage stuff we saw with Enzo, Cass, and Sami Zayn, we’ll be seeing stuff reminiscent of early 2000s Kurt Angle. That could be a real breath of nostalgic fresh air. Especially considering Stephanie isn’t there to lord over him.

The Revival make their main roster debut, defeating the New Day. Considering how these post-Raw crowds can be, I’m surprised they didn’t get a “Big E’s dick” chant when he talked about the blood flowing from his head down to his…

Wasn’t expecting to see the Revival on Raw. They always struck me as a Smackdown team. But considering we’ve got this “shake-up” coming next week, the respective vibes for the shows may end up shifting. Still, here’s hoping these guys are as successful on the main roster as they were in NXT.

Bayley, Sasha Banks, and Dana Brooke def. Charlotte Flair, Nia Jax, and Emma. Nia and Charlotte turn on each other after the match. Not expecting a lot of emphasis on Emma going forward. It’s not like they’ve made her a priority for the last several months. Why would things change now?

Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman address the crowd. Braun Strowman confronts him. They went ahead and planted the seed for Reigns vs. Lesnar in this segment, as the battle of the two men who beat the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. “The two in 23-2.” Loved the line: “If Roman Reigns is the big dog, then Brock Lesnar is animal cruelty.”

Rumor has it they want to do Reigns and Lesnar again at Wrestlemania next year. From a story perspective, I can’t say that thrills me. But those two had a damn good match a few years ago. Perhaps this could be another situation where the match surpasses the hype.

Sheamus and Cesaro def. Enzo and Cass to become top contenders for the Raw Tag Team Titles. The Hardys essentially came in and stole Cass and Enzo’s big moment at Wrestlemania. But Matt and Jeff may have done them a favor. Now they can challenge for the belts in their home state at Summerslam.

Finn Balor returns to Raw, teams with Seth Rollins to defeat US Champion Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe. Tremendous way to close the show, with Balor finally returning. Plus, as the announcers pointed out, these four all have a bit of a shared history. For my money, Balor could be the man in WWE if given the right opportunities. He caught a really awful break last year. If he can say healthy, there could be truly amazing things in his future.

On the subject of staying healthy, I couldn’t believe Rollins did that somersault to the outside. His knee must be in better shape than they’re letting on. At least I’d hope that’s the case…

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