Mauro Ranallo: M.I.A. Plus, Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

You wouldn’t know it by watching WWE TV lately, but Finn Balor is back in action. He made his official in-ring return at a house show on March 10.

There’s been speculation about Balor being back for Wrestlemania since he was forced to relinquish the Universal Title back in August. Now, less than two weeks out, it appears that’s not the case.

It’s bittersweet, but for the best as far as I’m concerned. Wrestlemania is always so damn crowded. If you count the yet-to-be-made-official Triple H vs. Seth Rollins, the card already has 13 matches. And there’s always the potential for more. Guys like Samoa Joe and Sami Zayn are already lost in the shuffle. There’s no need to throw Balor in there, only for him to have nothing of consequence to contribute.

Balor seems almost a certainty for the night after Wrestlemania. The slate will be relatively clean, and his return will get the emphasis it deserves. I’m sure they’ll want to bring him back as a babyface. But if they decide to go the heel route, Balor vs. Rollins would be pretty natural. There’s been all this talk about Rollins missing Wrestlemania. But from a story perspective, he cost Balor his very first Wrestlemania. Something to think about…

Ponderings From Smackdown:

AJ Styles accepts Shane McMahon’s challenge, promises to face him in the parking lot later in the show. “Without AJ Styles, Smackdown Live plummets.” He’s not entirely right, but he’s not entirely wrong either. Something to keep in mind with all this buzz about Styles possibly going to Raw after Wrestlemania.

Mauro Ranallo absent from Smackdown for the second week in a row. Something’s not right here. A one-week absence? Sure. But two is suspicious. Tom Phillips said Ranallo was “out sick.” I don’t buy it. Your lead play-by-play guy doesn’t just vanish two weeks before the biggest show of the year. Either WWE has made a change, or something’s up with Mauro. Here’s hoping everything’s alright.

The Usos def. American Alpha to win the WWE Smackdown Tag Team Titles. Wasn’t expecting this. But no complaints on my end. The Usos have found a lot of new life since turning heel. They deserve this.

Familiar format here, with Gable selling, Jordan getting the hot tag, and then going into false finishes. But again, no complaints. Really good match. Tons of explosiveness. These guys supplied the hell out of each other.

Randy Orton def. Baron Corbin. Dean Ambrose distracts Corbin during the match, accepts challenge for WrestlemaniaThese two weren’t bad together. They’ve got similar attitudes. There could easily be a program here someday. Thankful Corbin didn’t get beat clean, as he did by Cena several weeks ago. There was no need for that then, and there was no need for it here.

That little salute Orton gave to Ambrose before pinning Corbin was a nice touch.

Bray Wyatt, along with several henchmen in sheep masks, ambush Randy Orton backstage. Wyatt thanks Orton for “purging” him of his one flaw. The sheep mask thing is usually going to work, because it’s spooky and weird. Bray’s laughing was back this week, though. A bit more appropriate this time, but I still wish he’d have more of a deadly serious attitude about Orton. The guy did burn down his house, after all.

John Cena def. Fandango. Tyler Breeze is at ringside dressed as Nikki Bella. Xena and Nikki make quick work of Breezango. We saw Cena and Fandango together on Southpaw Regional Wrestling, the WWE Network’s parody of an old school southern wrestling show. Surprisingly funny stuff. Definitely worth a look.

Tyler Breeze had to sell a spear and a Rack Attack from Nikki here. As if the guy’s career on the main roster wasn’t dead enough already.

Becky Lynch vs. Carmella breaks down into a no-contest. Natalya, Mickie James, and Alexa Bliss brawl in the ring. Remember all that talk about WWE bringing back former female for Wrestlemania? I’m inclined to think this may have been the match they had in mind. It could still be in the cards, considering we still don’t even know what kind of match these ladies are having.

Eric Bischoff to induct Diamond Dallas Page into the WWE Hall of Fame, Jim Cornette to induct the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express. These should both be really interesting. Bischoff hasn’t been in front of a WWE crowd in quite some time. I imagine he’ll hear no fewer boos than he did years ago. As for Cornette, I doubt he’ll cause much trouble. I doubt he wants to, considering this is for Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson. But type his name into YouTube, and you’ll realize how crazy it is that he’s on WWE TV again.

The Miz and Maryse spoof Total BellasShockingly, these weren’t as bad as I thought they’d be. Though admittedly, I may be biased. I can’t stand to hear the Bellas talk. They come off way too much like Kardashian clones. It seemed like they were plucking lines straight from smark message boards here.

Shane McMahon calls out AJ Styles. A fight erupts, culminating in Shane hitting a top-rope elbow drop through the announce table. That duplex Styles gave Shane into the guard rail was sick. Hell of an appetizer, here. Is this the Wrestlemania match we never knew we wanted?

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A Roman Reigns Heel Turn? Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

How many years did we wait for a John Cena heel turn? Hell, some of us are still waiting. I was there at Wrestlemania XXII when he got booed out of the building during the main event. That was in 2006. So it’s been at least a decade.

The smart bet is that it’s never happening. At this point, why bother? It feels like the fans are finally starting to turn back around on Cena, and cheer him as Smackdown‘s resident legend. But there was a long period where so many of us were clamoring for Cena to snap back at those crowds that were booing him so hard.

Obviously we now have the same situation with Roman Reigns. For better or worse, he’s the company’s next chosen one. Like Cena, he comes out to a chorus of boos from most of the grown men in the audience. Children and women seem to enjoy him, but the fanboys hate him. And they’re not likely to stop booing him anytime soon, especially given this stuff with the Undertaker.

This week’s Raw segment with Roman struck a chord with me. Not just because Shawn Michaels was in there with him, but because he threatened to retire the Undertaker. As Undertaker is someone I’ve been watching since I was 11 years old, it almost felt personal.  I suspect that’s how a lot of people feel, and you’ve got to know WWE is counting on that.

I understand the generational, “passing the torch” element of WWE putting Reigns with the Undertaker. But I don’t think having Roman beat the Undertaker helps him as far as being a lead babyface. People generally don’t like seeing the Undertaker beaten in big matches. Wrestlemania XXX comes to mind.

If Roman is turning heel, however…

Keeping Roman strong is a top priority, and has been for years. In this company, you can’t look any stronger than when you beat the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. Just ask Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman. But Brock was also a heel when he did that. I don’t see how beating the Undertaker at Wrestlemania makes Roman anything less than a heel. Mind you, I’m assuming that’s the direction they’re going. But I don’t see them simply having Roman lose to Undertaker, unless the plan is for him to snap afterward and beat the hell out of him. Again, as a heel.

Perhaps it’s pie in the sky thinking, and this heat from the crowds is simply part of being WWE’s marquee man nowadays. But man, imagine the story of Roman beating the Undertaker, and officially becoming the most hated man in the company. Especially if he cheats to do it…

Ponderings From Smackdown:

AJ Styles cuts a promo on not having a match at Wrestlemania, promises to confront Shane McMahon. Hearing AJ trace his frustrations back to the Royal Rumble made this feel very reminiscent of Bret Hart in early 1997. He would always talk about being screwed out of the WWF Title. It all culminated in that famous moment on Raw when he shoved Vince McMahon, and cut that scathing, cuss-laden promo. Now all these years later, It’s AJ against Vince’s son. It somehow feels fitting.

Tom Phillips and JBL call the show without Mauro Ranallo and David Otunga. Ranallo was supposedly held up by bad weather, and Otunga is shooting a Tyler Perry movie. So for the first time in quite awhile, we had a two-man announce team on WWE television. Wouldn’t you know it, the world didn’t end. Just sayin’.

Becky Lynch def. Natalya via submission. Carmella attacks Becky after the match. Tremendous counter from the top turnbuckle into the Disarm-Her. I feel like the crowd chants for Becky Lynch every week. I’m legitimately rooting for her at Wrestlemania. She deserves a moment in the sun.

Noticed Carmella didn’t have her accent in the backstage promo that followed. Did they drop it? If so, that sucks. That was instant heat with me.

John Cena and Nikki Bella appear on Miz TV. Maryse accuses Nikki of keeping her off the first season of Total Divas. Daniel Bryan makes a mixed tag match between the two couples for WrestlemaniaFor months, the heels on this show have made it a point to talk about how Cena will never marry Nikki. Miz and Maryse did the same here, with a close-up of her wedding ring for good measure. So we’re getting a proposal at Wrestlemania, right? Seems pretty obvious to me. Hey, we’ve never seen one before. So maybe it’ll be cool.

Last week on Talking Smack, Daniel Bryan made a vague comment about possibly being able to wrestle again in a year and a half. I imagine that’s when his contract expires. Obviously, his health issues have been well documented. Please be careful, good sir…

Mickie James def. Alexa Bliss. My question last week about Mickie turning face has apparently been answered. That’s seemingly how she was positioned here. No complaints from me in that respect. Less experienced ladies on the heel side of things, like Alexa Bliss, could learn a lot from her. Phillips and JBL also told a nice story about Mickie potentially tying Trish Stratus’ record of seven Women’s Championships at Wrestlemania.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Alexa lose more matches in the coming weeks to advance how vulnerable she is in the multi-woman match at Wrestlemania.

Mojo Rawley def. Dolph Ziggler via count-out. You know what the interesting thing is about this story with Ziggler believing he deserves a bigger spotlight? He’s right! He’s legitimately more talented than everyone they’ve put him up against since his heel turn.

Randy Orton explains his actions against Bray Wyatt. One thing I would have added here: Having Orton talk about “relinquishing” his title shot at Wrestlemania, and how that was the final step in earning Bray’s full confidence. Makes sense to me.

The visual of Bray “baptizing” himself with Sister Abigail’s ashes was haunting, and I loved that he cut down on the laughing. His end of this was really good.

In a backstage promo, Baron Corbin says he’ll take Dean Ambrose’s Intercontinental Title if he can make it to Wrestlemania. No Ambrose on TV this week, which is fine. He’s selling the injury, and it builds some anticipation to when we do see him again. Corbin gave his standard delivery here, which is to say it was strictly okay. But they gave him a good line: “They say Dean Ambrose can get up from anything. Well I’m the man that puts people down.”

The Usos def. American Alpha. I’m fine with these two teams working together again, especially now that the Usos seem to have found their heel groove. But when they’re done, who do they go to next? This Smackdown Tag Team Division is in desperate need of a shake-up. The Vaudevillians and the Ascension are dead teams. Breezango is a joke. Who else is there? Once Zack Ryder comes back, there’s a chance the Hype Bros can actually become something. But until then, these two teams are seemingly all that Smackdown has.

AJ Styles ambushes Shane McMahon in the parking garage, smashes his head through a car window. Daniel Bryan apparently fires Styles, but Shane later calls him out for Wrestlemania. And here it is. I think the brawl we saw was all the impetus we need for this to be a Street Fight.

I maintain this is a good spot for AJ to be in at Wrestlemania. It’s not going to be Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom. But AJ will get to shine here, and odds are he’ll win. He’s going to be just fine, folks.

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Broken Matt Hardy in WWE? Plus Ponderings From Smackdown

Broken Matt Hardy, Jeff HardyBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

As he revealed on his Twitter this week, Matt Hardy is gone from TNA. Reports say Jeff is on his way out as well.

Long story short, their contracts were set to expire and TNA reportedly bungled negotiations. We’ve heard similar stories in the past about the company’s dealings with AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode, among others. Mind you, Matt announced his departure just one day after TNA Grand Champion Drew Galloway also announced his. Ouch.

Matt’s departure is undoubtedly a huge blow for TNA. The whole Broken Matt/Brother Nero thing was the only thing in that company with any life to it. But from a fan perspective, it conceivably opens a huge door: Broken Matt Hardy’s arrival in WWE.

There’s been talk of Matt doing this bizarre character in WWE almost since he started it. Could it ever happen? Would WWE have any interest in it? If so, how much creative control would he have? Would he be forced to recite the awful dialogue we hear so often on Raw and Smackdown?

Broken Matt Hardy, TNAWWE is in an interesting spot with the Hardys. Obviously, they’d be fools not to at least explore the possibility of bringing Matt and Jeff back. They were immensely popular, and could headline a Hall of Fame class someday. But if they simply try to bring them back in their old characters, a giant portion of the audience will inevitably clamor for Broken Matt and Brother Nero. I can practically hear the “Delete!” chants now.

While they’ve obviously toned down their attempts to “re-brand” talent from other promotions, all this Broken Matt stuff originated on TNA television. I can see Vince McMahon rejecting it simply because it’s not a WWE creation. It’s the same reason we’ve never gotten a War Games Match on WWE TV. And that’s to say nothing of the outright silliness of the whole thing. Imagine the 70-year-old McMahon’s reaction to things like Senior Benjamin, Vanguard 1, and King Maxel.

I think what this all really comes down to is Matt’s priorities. Jim Ross has talked about the two Cs, cash and creative, being the primary reasons a talent departs a promotion. Matt has a young son, and another child on the way. One more WWE run could put his kids through college someday, and get him back in the loop with the biggest wrestling promotion in the world. But money isn’t everything. Matt has a good thing going with this character. It doesn’t necessitate him jumping off ladders every month. He can do it for another year, he can do it for another 10 years. If he’s found something that makes he and his family happy, I say stick with it.

wwe-smackdown-february-28-2017-john-cena-the-mizPonderings From Smackdown:

John Cena and the Miz get personal on Miz TV. Nikki Bella comes to Cena’s aid, the two share a kiss in the ring for the first time. They tried to do way too much with Miz here. He seemed to be stumbling trying to cover all the bases. From a story perspective, this renewed animosity between Cena and Miz seemed to come about spontaneously in the Battle Royal last week. But in this promo they tried to justify a deep-seated hatred of Cena by the Miz. They threw so much out there about Cena’s wrestling skills, his alleged politicking, and his latest attempts to balance WWE and Hollywood. But they don’t need all of that. They just needed to pick one motivation for Miz and stick with it. What we got here was all over the place.

Cena’s stuff about the Undertaker was really interesting. I highly doubt that was ad-libbed. But I’d like to think it was…

Inevitably, the John Cena/Nikki Bella relationship has come to Smackdown. In a way, this reminds me of when Randy Orton hit Stephanie McMahon with the DDT on Raw several years ago, and an enraged Triple H emerged from the back. Everyone knew they were together, but now it was “TV official.” It’s the same case here.

becky-lynch-wwe-smackdown-february-28-2017Becky Lynch def. Mickie James in a 2-out-of-3 Falls Match. Alexa Bliss unintentionally costs James the third fall. Good match. These two are fun to watch in the ring, and they compliment one another very well. This program has been exactly what I imagined it would be, and that’s a good thing.

Was Becky screaming “Becky Balboa!” after she won?

Apparently Alexa Bliss’ nickname amongst the NXT crew was “Baby Trish,” as in Trish Stratus. Listening to her promos, I can absolutely see why. Intentional or not, I can see a lot of of heel Trish Stratus in her. Considering the great success Trish had, there’s no one better for Alexa to emulate.

AJ Styles def. Luke Harper to earn a WWE Championship Match at Wrestlemania. Shane McMahon takes an accidental kick from Harper. This one surprised me. I thought for sure we were getting a three-way between Wyatt, Orton, and Harper. Now it looks like we may get Wyatt, Orton, and Styles.

I wouldn’t count out the match between Styles and Shane, though. They a point to put those two out there together a few times, including what we saw on Talking Smack. This is a nice way to keep AJ in the title hunt in the months leading up to Wrestlemania, but I don’t know if I see him in wrestling for it this year.

dean-ambrose-february-28-2017Dean Ambrose calls out Baron Corbin. Not Corbin’s best mic work by a long shot. Often times he’s very hit or miss in that respect. I’m buying into this stuff with he and Ambrose, though.

Dolph Zigger def. Apollo Crews in a Chairs Match. It’s funny. I hate Chairs Matches on the TLC pay per view. But this one didn’t bother me. I guess they’re fine on free TV,  but not if you have to pay for them?

Are they building this up to Crews finally rising to the occasion and getting a singles win over Ziggler? Otherwise, he’s looked like a jobber. An athletic jobber, but a jobber nonetheless.

Randy Orton turns on Bray Wyatt, burning down the Wyatt Family compound. I wasn’t crazy about Randy’s dialogue in this segment. But that’s the only thing I can really nitpick here. This was a great piece of business, using a setting that’s long been a part of the Wyatt Family lore. They even explained why that place is so precious to Bray, what with Sister Abigail being buried there.

Have we ever seen a vengeful, enraged Bray Wyatt before? I don’t know that we have. Certainly not like this. Certainly not like he’s bound to be now. An angry Bray Wyatt against an angry Randy Orton? That could be some interesting television…

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A WWE Elimination Chamber 2017 Preview – Bray Wyatt’s Big Moment?

Bray Wyatt, Raw, October 2, 2015By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Don’t get your hopes up too high for Bray Wyatt, folks.

Do I think he’s going to win on Sunday? Yes, I truly do. But if there’s one thing this company has excelled at in recent years, it’s breaking our hearts around Wrestlemania season. Considering some of the creative choices Vince McMahon has made, is it really that far-fetched he’d pick Cena to go over here? As such, we’d have John Cena/Randy Orton in Match #375 for Wrestlemania. *shudders* Be ready for anything. That’s all I’m saying.

That being said, signs do indeed point to this being Bray’s night, as they further the implosion of the Wyatt Family. It all seems very sudden. But I’m not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. The character has been immensely intriguing from day one. But some of the booking and creative decisions he’s endured over the years have been baffling. From his loss to John Cena at Wrestlemania XXX, to the inexplicable break-up of the Wyatt Family in 2014, to the overall failure to establish him as a top star. Granted, not all of this can be pinned on creative. They’ve put Wyatt in several marquee matches with the likes of Cena, Undertaker, Roman Reigns, and Dean Ambrose. But he’s also been plagued with numerous ill-timed injuries. And while his promo delivery has been consistently good, what he says often lacks focus. While it all sounds good, he’s not really saying anything.

But the potential for superstardom has always been there. And if there’s one thing WWE has desperately needed in the last 10 years, it’s new big-name stars. Putting the WWE Championship on him would obviously a huge step toward making Bray Wyatt the star we’ve always known he could be. Personally, I think he could be a tremendous lead babyface. But one step at a time…

Let’s look at our card for Elimination Chamber.

dolph-ziggler-kalisto-apollo-crews-wwe-elimination-chamber-2017HANDICAP MATCH:
Dolph Ziggler vs. Kalisto and Apollo Crews

Not sure what their thought process is on this one. The babyface is usually the one at a disadvantage in a pay per view Handicap Match. I can only assume the idea here is to have Dolph cheat to win. That makes Kalisto and Crews look like a pair of jabronis. But that’s not much of a stretch from how they’ve been booked on TV, is it?

PREDICTION: Dolph Ziggler

nikki-bella-natalya-wwe-elimination-chamber-2017Nikki Bella vs. Natalya

This is the first of three women’s matches on this show. For some, I imagine that’s an acquired taste. But I think it’s cool. It says a lot about how WWE has upped the quality of their Women’s Division in the last two years or so.

After seeing some of the brawls these two have been in, I’m curious to see what they put together here. The promos between these two have been very personal. So I’m hoping we get something nice and physical. I see Nikki coming out on top here. Her role at Wrestlemania is still up in the air. But I imagine they’ll want her going in looking strong.

PREDICTION: Nikki Bella

becky-lynch-mickie-james-wwe-elimination-chamber-2017Becky Lynch vs. Mickie James

I’m not sure what to expect on this one. These two have never worked together, but on paper it looks great. I certainly don’t have any doubts about whether Mickie can still go. It’s just a question of chemistry.

Obviously Mickie is here to put the newer talent over. But I think it’s important to reestablish her as a force to be reckoned with. That’s why I see her going over Becky here. She’ll cheat to win, of course. So we’ll get a rematch. Probably several rematches, actually. That’s a good thing. From an in-ring standpoint, this could end up being one of the best female pairings we’ll see all year.

PREDICTION: Mickie James

tag-team-turmoil-wwe-elimination-chamber-2017TAG TEAM TURMOIL MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
American Alpha (c) vs. The Usos vs. Breezango vs. The Vaudevillains vs. The Ascension vs. Heath Slater and Rhyno

I like a good Tag Team Turmoil Match. But here’s the problem with what we have here: The Usos are the only team in this match that looks like a credible threat to American Alpha. Everyone else is just undercard oatmeal. Even the former champions Slater and Rhyno have lost their momentum. Perhaps that’s the point. To have a lesser team get the belts off Jordan and Gable, and then have them chase. But who? Aside from the Usos, each of these teams is a joke.

I’m going to take a shot in the dark and say the Usos take the belts here. They always gave us good matches with American Alpha, and they seem to be the best option here.

PREDICTION: The Usos

alexa-bliss-naomi-wwe-elimination-chamber-2017WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Naomi

The rise of Alexa Bliss as Smackdown Women’s Champion caught me completely off guard. I fully expected them to run with Becky as champion for awhile. But here we are. It’s certainly possible they could surprise us again and give the belt to Naomi. But my gut says Alexa keeps the title. She’s found a new ally in Mickie James, so they can have her come out and screw Naomi out of the victory. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Naomi end up with that belt eventually, though. Perhaps sooner rather than later.

PREDICTION: Alexa Bliss

luke-harper-randy-orton-wwe-elimination-chamber-2017Randy Orton vs. Luke Harper

I don’t see how Randy doesn’t win this one. He’s challenging for the title at Wrestlemania. Unless they want to make a three-way with Bray, Orton, and Harper. But that seems unlikely. Either way, this is a big match for Luke Harper. The biggest of his career, in fact.

Harper vs. Orton isn’t as intriguing as Harper vs. Wyatt. That’s why it’ll be interesting to see whether Bray is still champion after Wrestlemania. Harper would be a natural challenger for him.

PREDICTION: Randy Orton

WWE Elimination Chamber 2017, John CenaELIMINATION CHAMBER MATCH FOR WWE HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
John Cena (c) vs. AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Bray Wyatt vs. The Miz vs. Baron Corbin

Look for your usual Elimination Chamber stuff here. Slams on the grate, faces being raked against the chain walls, maybe even someone getting thrown through a pod. It should be fun.

Assuming Bray is winning here, that obviously sets up the WWE Title Match at Wrestlemania. But there’s also been some buzz about a mixed tag match at ‘Mania, featuring John Cena and Nikki Bella against the Miz and Maryse. If that’s the route they want to go, they could have Miz do something to cheat Cena out of the title.

There’s been a lot of speculation about what AJ Styles could end up doing at Wrestlemania. I don’t expect we’ll get that answer here. But as Ambrose and Corbin don’t have dance partners either, and the card is already starting to take shape, the answer may be yet another multi-man ladder match for the Intercontinental Title. While they’re usually fun to watch, I hate those matches from a creative standpoint. Chances are the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal will be back on this show. That’s your multi-man match right there. Give us a real Intercontinental Title Match, and give AJ something of substance to do. After the year he’s had, he deserves it.

PREDICTION: Bray Wyatt

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Cena vs. Orton at Wrestlemania? Plus Ponderings From Smackdown

Randy Orton vs. John CenaBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

John Cena defending the WWE Championship against Randy Orton at Wrestlemania? After so many years, and so many matches, it almost seems unthinkable they’d go to that well again.

Chances are they won’t. We’ve got Elimination Chamber in two weeks, and Wrestlemania is still two months away. So there’s lots of time to change things up. The smart bet is Orton challenging Bray Wyatt, who many are speculating will win the Chamber Match. While putting the title on Bray seems sudden, that match is undeniably more attractive.

But there is the 15th anniversary element to think of. As WWE highlighted in a post Royal Rumble press release this week, 2017 marks Orton and Cena’s 15th anniversary in the company. They could market the match around that. To be fair, these two have put on some great performances together. It’s entirely possible they’d have another.

But that Wrestlemania crowd would boo them out of the building, just like they did Roman Reigns and Triple H last year. Putting Orton and Wyatt together is the right move.

But who does that leave for Cena…?

WWE Elimination Chamber 2017, John CenaPonderings From Smackdown:

John Cena to defend the WWE Championship in an Elimination Chamber Match against AJ Styles, Bray Wyatt, Baron Corbin, The Miz, and Dean Ambrose. This was more or less what I thought the match would be. I originally thought Bray would be doing something with Orton and Luke Harper. But obviously Orton’s Rumble Match win changed all that.

Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton interrupt John Cena at the top of the show. Luke Harper comes to Cena’s aid. The Wyatt Family wins the subsequent tag match. Lots of interesting stuff here. Not the least of which is Cena getting pinned after an RKO. They’re keeping Orton strong, and getting people thinking about Orton and Cena. Again, I doubt that’s the direction they’ll go. But I put nothing past these people.

After what happened at the Royal Rumble, it looks like Harper has indeed separated himself from Bray. I like the idea of him fighting Bray’s influence despite his defection. The impetus is now on WWE, and obviously Harper himself, to distinguish himself a little more. When they broke up the Wyatts before, Harper essentially stayed the same. He can’t do that this time. We need to break some new ground.

Carmella def. Delilah Doom. Yes, I know she was called Delilah Dawson on the show. But she wrestles on the indies as Delilah Doom. I adore this girl’s look. WWE doesn’t have anybody like her. She’s welcome back any time as far as I’m concerned.

Kalisto, Dolph Ziggler, WWE Smackdown, January 31, 2017Dolph Ziggler def. Kalisto. Apollo Crews comes to Kalisto’s rescue again after the match. I assume the Ziggler/Crews match will finally happen at Elimination Chamber. I’ve actually got a bad taste in my mouth when it comes to Crews. I rolled my eyes when he came out at number 22 in the Royal Rumble Match. At that point, we were waiting for guys like Undertaker and Goldberg. Apollo Crews, who’s been cold as ice for months now, was not the guy to send out that late in the match. It almost reminded me of when Rey Mysterio Jr. came out last in the 2015 Rumble, when everyone was desperately hoping for Daniel Bryan.

Naomi and Becky Lynch def. Alexa Bliss and Mickie James. I’d have made Mickie’s first match back more of a big deal than this. She’s was on the losing end of two tag matches this week, the first of which took place on the Royal Rumble pre-show. Granted, she didn’t lose either fall. But what the hell? Why not have Mickie make her return against Becky at Elimination Chamber?

Naomi is obviously Alexa’s next challenger, having pinned her twice in the same week. This spotlight has been a long time coming for her. If you follow her Twitter, you know she’s felt underutilized for quite awhile. I don’t see her winning the title. But then again, I didn’t see Alexa taking it from Becky. Stranger things have happened.

WWE Smackdown, January 31, 2017, American Alpha, The UsosNumerous teams attempt to accept an open challenge from American Alpha. We now have a Tag Team Turmoil Match featuring the Vaudevillians, Breezango, the Ascension, Heath Slater and Rhyno, and the Usos at Elimination Chamber. That’s fine by me. It feels like it’s been awhile since we’ve seen the Usos. I don’t think they’ve quite gotten the hang of their new heel personas yet. They seem underdeveloped.

AJ Styles def. Dean Ambrose. At one point during this match we had Mauro Ranallo, JBL, David Otunga, the Miz, and Baron Corbin all on commentary. Of course, nowadays they usually have Tom Phillips on headset to chime in whenever they’re transitioning to something new. So he was just awkwardly sitting there the whole time. It’s so crowded at that table that JBL tripped over all the equipment on live TV last week. Once Corbin got there, I just hit the mute button. It was all too much.

The problem I had with the Styles/Ambrose pairing a few months ago was that we were seeing them wrestle too often. But they’ve always had good chemistry, and usually they deliver. This was no exception. After his stellar performance with Cena at the Royal Rumble, AJ Styles is more valuable to WWE than ever. Now that he’s lost the title, I’m hoping he doesn’t get lost in the shuffle as we move toward Wrestlemania. As much as anyone, he’s earned a chance to shine on the company’s biggest stage.

Neither Raw nor Smackdown were kind to their champions this week. Our WWE Heavyweight, United States, and Intercontinental Champions were all pinned, as were both Womens Champions. That’s astounding, the more I think about it.

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Mickie James Returns! Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

Lita vs. Victoria, steel cage matchBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

With Becky Lynch and Alexa Bliss getting a Steel Cage match this week, there’s no better time to look back on the last time the ladies of WWE got to wrestle in the cage.

The recent Hell in a Cell Match between Charlotte and Sasha Banks notwithstanding, to see another traditional Cage Match with the women you’ve got to go all the way back to the November 24, 2003 edition of Raw. Your participants? Lita and Victoria. It was a Raw Roulette episode, thus in storyline the cage was sprung on them.

Bell to bell, the match is about five minutes long. So they don’t exactly have time to tell an epic tale of struggle and sacrifice. Victoria gets thrown into the cage twice in the opening seconds of the match, and we get some of the usual climbing-the-cage spots with Lita. Lita also hits a wicked moonsault on a standing Victoria. The match ends when Matt Hardy, in the midst of what would be a short-lived heel turn, slams the cage door on Lita’s head, allowing Victoria to crawl out.

While certainly a fun trivia point in Raw history, this match wasn’t even a fraction of what it could have been had they actually given these ladies time to tell a story. Thankfully, Becky and Alexa were awarded that privilege

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Shane McMahon announces the WWE Championship will be defended at Elimination Chamber on February 12. AJ Styles, John Cena, and the Miz emerge as likely participants. This was a gimme, of course. But it’s nice that they’re ahead of the game. It seems likely that the other participants will be Dean Ambrose, Baron Corbin, and Dolph Ziggler.

AJ Styles vs. The Miz, WWE Smackdown, January 17, 2017AJ Styles vs. The Miz went to a no-contest.. Styles was already hearing chants from the Memphis crowd. Putting him against Miz wasn’t going to dispel that, was it?

Sometimes I wonder whether Styles actually has what it takes to be Smackdown‘s lead babyface. He’s so much stronger on the mic than he used to be. But it’s never been his strong point, per se. Then you see how smooth and dynamic he is in the ring, and a lot of that doubt evaporates. Styles does his best talking in the ring in the same way guys like Bret Hart or Rob Van Dam used to. Needless to say, the fans got behind those two in a big way. The question is whether the company would get behind Styles in such a role.

Natalya provokes Nikki Bella, cutting a promo at a merchandise stand. Another brawl ensues between the two. Not the best mic work you’ll ever see, and this wasn’t nearly as good as the fight last week. But I still appreciate the intensity of the fighting itself. It’s the most interested I’ve been in a Nikki Bella program since she worked with Charlotte.

Dean Ambrose def. Randy Orton after a distraction by Luke Harper. The Earth didn’t move for me on this one. A little slow. Not a big fan of the distraction roll-up finish, either. He couldn’t have caught the Dirty Deeds and pinned him?

randy-orton-bray-wyatt-luke-harperIt’s odd to see Randy Orton being pinned so much lately. Obviously it’s all part of the larger Wyatt Family storyline. But Orton has always been one of WWE’s most protected guys. For years he was right up there with John Cena. I like this. It’s a change of pace.

Dolph Ziggler is a guest on the King’s Court. Oh wow. They went there.

Firstly, I love that they brought back the King’s Court. It gives Jerry Lawler something different to do. He’s still fully capable of contributing, no matter where they put him. Last week I talked about Miz TV potentially being the only talk show segment on Smackdown. But if they want to have Lawler do this once in awhile, I’m game.

I don’t know how widely accepted it is that Ziggler “caused” Lawler’s cardiac episode on Raw in 2012. But It’s something they’ve alluded to. King took a bunch of elbow’s from Ziggler in a match, and later in the night he went into cardiac arrest. This is the first time they’ve done anything with it in terms of a storyline. I loved it, but I wish they’d gone further. King hasn’t wrestled for WWE since then, and he may never again. That’s something they could have used to put some great heat on Ziggler. And maybe that’s what they’re doing.

Just as good was King retaliating with, “No matter how many times you change your attitude, you will always be a loser.”

Mickie James, Alexa Bliss, WWE Smackdown, January 17, 2017Alexa Bliss def. Becky Lynch in a Steel Cage Match to retain the WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship. La Luchadora assists Bliss, reveals herself as Mickie James. I wasn’t expecting them to go with Alexa Bliss as champion at all. Then once she became champion, I imagined her reign would be short. And yet, here we are. She’s becoming quite an asset to Smackdown. This match makes a hell of an addition to the resumes of both these ladies.

Pleased to hear Mauro Ranallo mention the Lita/Victoria cage match. I was also pleased that these two got to play with the cage a little more than those two did. Loved that kick into the cage, followed by the exploder suplex from the top. Great combo.

The Mickie James reveal was pulled off well. This was the outcome many expected, but I’m no less happy to have Mickie back. I maintain that Raw really could have used her, what with the lack of depth their female roster has. But we can now look forward to Mickie James vs. Becky Lynch. That’s a reason to be excited.

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

John Cena vs. Undertaker at Wrestlemania? Plus Ponderings From Smackdown

The Undertaker, WWE Raw, January 9, 2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

As we heard this week on Raw, the Undertaker is in the Royal Rumble Match. And as we know, the Rumble will also feature John Cena a WWE Championship Match.

This could be it, folks. Cena and the Undertaker.

It’s not a dream match, per se. But it’s still a match that’s been talked about for years. These two haven’t had a pay per view match in over a decade. They rarely even cross paths. There’s a good reason for that. They’re two titans of WWE, and the industry at large. When they’re in the same ring, it should be special.

There’s so often speculation about the Undertaker’s retirement. Will he or won’t he? And who will his final opponent be? John Cena’s name comes up often in that discussion. Who better for ‘Taker to ride off into the sunset with than the company’s biggest name? And there’s arguably no bigger match WWE can put on than Cena vs. Undertaker.

I’ve always tried not to overthink Undertaker’s retirement. I vividly remember people talking about this stuff as far back as 2000. So it obviously bears little fruit. Among so many other things, Undertaker has earned the right to step down when he’s ready. And of course, there was that cutaway we saw to Braun Strowman during his promo on Monday. They could easily be gearing those two up for a Wrestlemania match.

But is it just me, or does something about all this feel…different?

The Miz, Maryse, Dean Ambrose, WWE Smackdown, January 10, 2017Ponderings From Smackdown:

During the Ambrose Asylum, Dean Ambrose and the Miz announce their participation in the Royal Rumble Match. It seems like everybody has a talk show segment. Miz TV. The Ambrose Asylum. The Rollins Report. The Kevin Owens Show. Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel. At this rate it’s a matter of time before Roman Reigns gets a talk show segment. New Rule: One talk show segment per roster. My advice? Do Miz TV on Smackdown and the Highlight Reel on Raw.

JBL: “So many people believe that Nikki Bella is the one that started the Divas Revolution.” Who? Who thinks that? Point them out to me. I want to see them.

Nikki Bella vs Natalya turned into a brawl. I’ll give Nikki credit, though. She came out there full of piss and vinegar, and put on a really convincing catfight with Nattie. At certain points they were really pounding the crap out of each other. I’ve been a Nikki Bella critic for sure. But she deserves credit for what she did out there. And that visual of Nikki in the Sharpshooter on the outside was tremendous.

Question: How much do you think these two are trying to compete with what Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks did on Raw?

Dolph Ziggler, Kalisto, WWE Smackdown, January 10, 2017Kalisto def. Dolph Ziggler. Ziggler lays out both Kalisto and Apollo Crews with a chair. Damn. Even as a heel, Dolph can’t win. But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Nice little temper tantrum after the match. I wouldn’t mind seeing Ziggler and Kalisto hook up again. I imagine they can do some really cool stuff together.

Really liked Chad Gable’s selling during this match. And as always, they were both explosive as hell. They’re suplex machines. Even in defeat, Wyatt and Orton were able to come off like the more experienced, main event level talents they obviously are.

Next week: Alexa Bliss defends the Smackdown Women’s Title against Becky Lynch in a Steel Cage Match. I love it. The last time I remember the women getting a steel cage match (not to be confused with Hell in a Cell) was when Lita and Victoria had one on Raw in 2004. This should be good.

John Cena def. Baron Corbin. Cena cut a really good promo earlier in the show. And why was it so good? Because he looked into the camera. Why we don’t see more of that is beyond me. To his credit, Corbin would later cut a pretty good one too. His stock is clearly on the rise. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him as one of the final four guys in the Royal Rumble Match.

John Cena, Baron Corbin, WWE Smackdown, January 10, 2017That’s why it was a surprise to see Cena pin him clean with the Attitude Adjustment. I suppose it makes sense to have Cena stay strong as we get closer to the Rumble. But remember, this is John Cena. Strong has been his status quo for about a decade now. It seems odd they’d do this with Corbin.

But it’s just one match. It’s not like Corbin hasn’t been pinned before. What’s more, he looked pretty good in there with Cena. He’s slowly making me a believer. Slowly.

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