The JBL/Jinder Mahal Connection, and Other Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Jinder Mahal is the new top contender for Randy Orton’s WWE Championship. He’ll face him at Backlash.

This was…surprising. Especially when you consider how few TV matches Jinder has won since his return. Last week he lost to Finn Balor on Raw, and then Mojo Rawley the next night on Smackdown. He was essentially brought back to put over the newer guys. But now, seemingly out of nowhere, he’s got a WWE Championship Match on pay per view.

Though when you look at the big picture, t’s fairly obvious why they did this. Smackdown needed another big heel, so they strapped the rocket to Jinder. He’s a pretty easy guy to boo, fitting well into the classic foreign heel category. It seems he’ll even be getting some back-up from the Bollywood Boyz. It could work out really well.

Oddly enough, this all reminds me of what WWE did with JBL back in 2004. Brock Lesnar had just left the company, and Smackdown needed a new top heel. They found one in Bradshaw, who’d found his greatest success teaming with Ron Simmons as the APA. He was repackaged as John Bradshaw Layfield, pushed to the moon, and became WWE Champion a few months later. At the time, a lot of the “smart fans” crapped on it. Mayfield had never been an established singles star. But in retrospect, no matter what you think of him personally, JBL made an awesome heel champion. He’s obviously still very easy to dislike in 2017.

When you look at it that way, Jinder Mahal may be getting a “JBL push.” I never, ever expected him to be competing for the WWE Title. But stranger things have happened…

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Charlotte Flair demands a match for the Smackdown Women’s Title. Naomi answers her, and gets physical. Charlotte later pins the champion to earn a title match next week. Naomi came off really well on this show. The “I ain’t never scared” line could be a new catch phrase for her.

This wasn’t the match I was hoping for. The crowd was sitting on their hands for most of it. At one point, Naomi tried one of her trademark spots, going for a flurry of kicks. Somehow, it just looked laughable this week. Some of it had to do with how Charlotte sold it. But we’ve obviously we’ve got more coming from these two. They’re both so damn athletic. They can do better than this.

Primo and Epico def. American Alpha. Ouch. Jordan and Gable get beat by the Shining Stars. That’s got to hurt…

Though apparently they’re not the Shining Stars anymore. They’re calling them the Colons,  which is their legit family name and are playing up their lineage. That sure as hell works for me. No more travel brochures, no more matador costumes. Just straight up wrestlers. That suits these guys.  At least for now. The in-ring element has always been their strong suit. That was evident here. They had decent chemistry with Jordan and Gable. But again, the crowd was pretty dead for this. Like Jinder, Primo and Epico spent most of their time on Raw losing. It could take awhile for them to build up any sort of steam.

Kevin Owens quickly defeats an enhancement talent in his “Face of America” Open Challenge. I love how they projected Owens’ face on to the entrance ramp. Very in-character for Owens.

They’re definitely letting Owens put his spin on the US Title, John Cena’s US Open Challenge concept, and the whole anti-America thing. If they’re going to have Jinder do something similar, then they need to be careful the two characters don’t bleed into one another. If they do, the most charismatic Owens will easily overshadow the less established Jinder.

AJ Styles def. Baron Corbin via count-out. A fairly anti-climactic main event, with an even more anti-climactic finish. They can’t all be barn burners, I suppose. Still, no one moves like AJ Styles.

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A Shield Reunion Coming Soon? Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

Ponderings From Smackdown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Undertaker Returns, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

Bayley, WWE Fastlane 2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

WWE Fastlane wasn’t a great show. But it gave us a couple of surprises, both positive and negative.

The biggest one, for my money, was Bayley retaining the Raw Women’s Title and ending Charlotte’s pay per view undefeated streak. I’ve said before that I wouldn’t have given the belt to Bayley when they did. But as that die had already been cast, I think they made the right move here.  After all he back and forth switches they did with Charlotte and Sasha, it seemed pretty obvious history was going to repeat itself. But they defied expectations, and added even more fuel for what seems like the inevitable Sasha Banks heel turn. Now you can once again call one of Bayley’s wins over Charlotte into question because of Sasha. What’s more, Bayley has done what Sasha could never do: Beat Charlotte on pay per view. This has turned out to be some really good storytelling. Bravo, WWE.

Less pleasant a surprise was the decision to have Roman Reigns beat Braun Strowman clean. Granted, it was the “chosen one” who beat him, and they did put on a really good match. But this all felt very anticlimactic. The establishment of Strowman as this unstoppable monster has become one of the better parts of Raw. I understand keeping Roman strong for Wrestlemania. But at the expense of Strowman? It seems like a waste. Mind you, Strowman won’t be killed by one loss. But this was needless. The big man could have gone undefeated for several more months.

Goldberg, WWE Fastlane 2017Then there’s Goldberg. The 50-year-old former WCW star won his first Heavyweight Title in over a decade, beating Kevin Owens in about two minutes. It was fine for what it was. We knew these two weren’t having a long match. Loved Owens “taking a powder” before the bell even rang. He milked it wonderfully. And how ironic is it that Goldberg’s old rival Chris Jericho is the one to come out, cause the distraction, and allow him to score the pin.

I saw many a fan on Twitter whining about Kevin Owens having to drop the belt. To that I say boo hoo. He lost the belt to one of the biggest stars the business has ever seen. If a squash like that is good enough for Brock Lesnar, it’s good enough for Kevin Owens. The guy will be fine, kids. Calm down.

Ponderings From Raw:

Chris Jericho calls out Kevin Owens. US Title Match between the two announced for Wrestlemania. Owens and Samoa Joe attack Jericho. Sami Zayn makes the save. Owens beat Zayn in an impromptu match. This Owens/Jericho match fell nicely into place, didn’t it? No wasted time here.

This seems to be the start of an alliance between Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe, with Triple H being the common factor. They’d make an interesting tag team for sure.

Also, remember what Owens said about getting a rematch whenever he wants one. That’s a good continuity note for the future…

Neville def. Rich Swann to retain the WWE Cruiserweight Title. Austin Aries decks Neville after the champion disrespects him. Gorgeous attempt at a Phoenix Splash by Rich Swann. One of the best athletes on the entire roster.

Neville vs. Austin Aries. Now there’s a Wrestlemania match. I wouldn’t rule out a multi-man title match though. We all know how they love to shove everybody on the Wrestlemania card.

Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman interrupt Goldberg’s return to Raw as champion. Lesnar hits an F5 on Goldberg. I don’t have as much of an issue with those CM Punk chants as some people do. Especially in Chicago. But at certain points it’s cringeworthy. As much as I love Punk, had I been at this show I would not have been chanting his name at Goldberg. Not the time for that.

It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but Lesnar vs. Goldberg feels like a solid Wrestlemania main event to me. They’ve told a good story. Now it’s just a matter of how Goldberg will do in a match that’s longer than a minute…

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson def. Enzo and Cass via disqualification in a WWE Raw Tag Team Title Match when Sheamus and Cesaro interfere. Looks like we’ve got a Triple-Threat Tag Team Match coming our way. Not necessarily the recipe for a classic. But we got a pretty good one between Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit, Edge and Rey Mysterio, and Los Guerreros all those years ago.

Ravishing Rick Rude announced for WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2017. Ricky Steamboat to induct. This one is long overdue. The real-life Richard Rood was a big star in both the WWF and WCW. Rude is probably most widely remembered for the program he worked with Jake Roberts in the late ’80s, making public advances toward Jake’s then-wife. But he also got some great matches out of the Ultimate Warrior, and was the centerpiece of Paul Heyman’s Dangerous Alliance in WCW. Fans have been calling for this for years, and I don’t doubt it’ll make for a wonderful moment in Orlando.

Akira Tozawa def. Ariya Daivari. After what happened with Neville, they wisely kept Austin Aries off commentary for this match. But they also left Byron Saxton off. So for one segment we just had Cole and Graves. A pleasant return to the two-man announce booth, of only for a short time.

The New Day def. the Shining Stars. The New Day are still doing the ice cream thing. That was enough to get me to hit the fast-forward button. Thank God, otherwise I’d have seen the Shining Stars. *shudders*

Sasha Banks def. Bayley to make it a Triple-Threat Match for the Raw Women’s Title at Wrestlemania, also involving Charlotte. Slightly disappointed that we may be getting another three-way this year. It feels like they’ve simply tagged Bayley in for Becky Lynch. What’s more, Bayley and Sasha have such great chemistry in the ring, as we saw here. But it is what it is. What’s more, it’s certainly not too late for Nia Jax to be added, making it a four-way.

Triple H once again threatens to end Seth Rollins’ WWE career if he shows up at Wrestlemaniastill can’t get over how awesome Hunter’s return promo was a few weeks ago. It’s was the best he’s done in years. I think we took his mic work for granted when he was out there with guys like the Rock and Steve Austin, because they had such big personalities. But he was great then, and he’s great now.

A vignette airs for he return of Emma. See you in 17 weeks!

Samoa Joe def. Chris Jericho via count-out. How many years has this one been in the making? Hardly the ending I imagined, but I doubt this is the last time we’ll see these two in the ring together.

Braun Strowman calls out Roman Reigns, gets the Undertaker instead. Reigns comes out to face the Dead Man and gets a Chokeslam. Not a good couple of days for Strowman. First he loses his first match to Reigns. Then he flat out backs down from the Undertaker. Yuck.

As the Chicago crowd reminded us, putting Roman in there with the Undertaker is no way to get him cheered. But let’s not kid ourselves: It’s a good story. The old guard vs. the new guard. It also doesn’t hurt that Reigns has superficial similarities to a young Undertaker. The long hair, the goatee, the tattoos, etc. I have no idea what we’ll get once the bell rings. But the build-up should be really, really good.

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Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

Seth Rollins, WWE Raw, December 5, 2016, Seth RollinsBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I was really hoping this was a work. I can’t even tell you how down I was when I learned that wasn’t the case.

During the finale of last week’s Raw, Seth Rollins re-injured his right knee. A torn MCL, to be exact. Supposedly his recovery time is around eight weeks, which would allow him to make his Wrestlemania match with Triple H by the skin of his teeth. But would you want to cut it that close for a big match like this? If they changed it, they’d obviously have to do some reshuffling creatively. But they may not even have a choice in the matter. The hope was that we’d get a better idea about Seth’s status on this week’s show. But it seems like things are still up in the air.

Simply put, this sucks. Especially when you consider how long they’ve dragged this Rollins/Triple H story out already. Not to mention the fact that Rollins missed last year’s Wrestlemania as well. As much as I hate to say it, if his recovery time really is eight weeks, then it seems like the responsible thing would be to pull him, and plug somebody else in. There’s been a bit of preemptive buzz about Shane McMahon taking Seth’s spot. If that’s the case, they could always have Rollins cost Hunter the match, and build to it at another big pay per view, a la Money in the Bank or Summerslam.

As frustrating as it is, we really have no answers right now. But what an awful, awful break for Rollins. He deserves to be back under those bright lights at Wrestlemania.

samoa-joe-february-6-2017-wwe-rawPonderings From Raw:

Samoa Joe signs his Raw contract. Roman Reigns lays down a challenge. Mick Foley makes Joe vs. Reigns for later in the show. Last week I mentioned how surreal it was to hear Michael Cole say Samoa Joe’s name. This week I got that same feeling hearing Stephanie McMahon call him the “Samoan Submission Machine.” They obviously called him that for years in TNA. So hearing one of the McMahons say it is, well, different.

I liked this segment. They didn’t waste a lot of time. There were no long, drawn out monologues. Everything was fairly concise, and we had our main event. Two big, tough bastards looking for a fight. What’s not to like?

Nia Jax def. Bayley after a distraction from Charlotte Flair. I like the stories they’re telling with Nia these days. She’s getting cocky after dominating Sasha Banks the way she did, and she had a similar performance here. Bayley taking that header into the second turnbuckle had a great looking whiplash effect.

They’ve got Charlotte defending against Bayley again next week. I expect the same result we got at the Rumble. Rumor has it we’ll be getting a Fatal Four-Way Match for the Raw Women’s Title at Wrestlemania. That doesn’t surprise me, considering the Charlotte/Bayley stuff is already crossing over with the Sasha/Nia stuff quite a bit.

braun-strowman-wwe-raw-february-6-2017Braun Strowman wins a 4-on-1 Handicap Match. Foley grants Strowman a match with Roman Reigns at FastlaneNice little exhibition, leading us into what we pretty much knew we were getting for Fastlane. Strowman needs to stay protected. So I’m very curious to see what they do with him in that match.

Akira Tozawa def. Drew Gulak. This was my first exposure to Tozawa. Not the most thrilling debut I’ve ever seen. But as Cesaro said in that introductory vignette, Tozawa’s a tremendous striker. He’s already got some tremendous credibility that most of the other wrestlers in the Cruiserweight Division don’t have. Plus, the crowd seemed to be into him. I say put him in there with Neville and let the magic happen.

Chris Jericho pitches a Title vs. Title match for Wrestlemania between himself and Kevin Owens. Goldberg interrupts to accept Brock Lesnar’s Wrestlemania challenge, and to challenge Owens to a Universal Title Match at Fastlane. Jericho accepts on the champion’s behalf. Bill Goldberg and Chris Jericho sharing a ring. Now that brings back some memories. Goldberg putting himself on the list was a fun moment. I briefly thought the Fastlane match was going to be Goldberg against both Owens and Jericho. But of course, it makes more sense this way.

goldberg-wwe-raw-february-6-2017So here it is. Former indy darling Kevin Steen and ’90s WCW icon Bill Goldberg. Wrestling on a pay per view. For a Heavyweight Title. This isn’t even fantasy warfare. It’s like we’re in a time warp. I wouldn’t expect this one to go long, though. I’d be surprised if it goes much longer than the Goldberg/Brock match at Survivor Series. And indeed, it will happen. It’s 2017, and Bill Goldberg will be a champion in WWE. Again…time warp.

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson def. Cesaro and Sheamus via disqualification in a Raw Tag Team Title Match. Enzo and Cass being out there and causing the DQ is a good sign. For one thing, it means the program with Rusev and Lana is done. Secondly, it indicates they’re likely in the Raw Tag Title picture at Wrestlemania. These two have earned a big win at the big show as far as I’m concerned.

The New Day def. The Shining Stars. We hadn’t seen the Shining Stars on Raw in quite some time. And I liked it that way. Zipped right through this one on the DVR.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express to be part of the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2017.  This one was a long time coming. Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson were one of the most charismatic, athletic, and influential tag teams of all time. If you’ve a younger fan, you owe it to yourself to check them out on the network. Congrats to both men!

chris-jericho-wwe-raw-february-6-2017Chris Jericho def. Sami Zayn to retain the WWE United States Title. Not quite as good as what they turned in last week. But still a fine match. I expect we’ll see these two lock up at Fastlane, though I’m struggling with whether or not Zayn should get the belt. I suppose Jericho and Owens don’t need to compete for at title at Wrestlemania. But then again, Goldberg and Lesnar didn’t either.

TJ Perkins, Cedric Alexander, and Jack Gallagher def. Neville, Noam Dar, and Tony Nese. Not much to write home about here. Our story was that Perkins, Alexander, Gallagher, Dar, and Nese will compete to become the top contender to Neville’s title on 205 Live. I’d love to see Alexander or Gallagher get the match. But I have a sinking feeling they might give it to Perkins. No offense to the guy, but that doesn’t do it for me.

Samoa Joe def. Roman Reigns after a distraction from Braun Strowman. Strowman attacks Reigns after the match, driving him through the ringside barricade. A win over Roman is a hell of a way to start your main roster run. Just ask Finn Balor. More importantly, Joe looked like a ruthless heel. He hit hard, and Reigns hit him hard back. I’d love to see a more long form version of this match on a pay per view some day. One of the most compelling Raw main events we’ve gotten in several months.

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Chris Jericho’s Date with a Cage, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

WWE United Kingdom ChampionshipBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

With the announcement of the crowning of a United Kingdom Champion on the WWE Network next year, there’s naturally been a lot of buzz. The idea, reportedly, is for the network to have weekly UK show similar to what 205 Live is for the Cruiserweights. So there’ve been questions about the continued oversaturation of content, WWE potentially trying to create its own territorial system, what this means for other promotions across the world, etc. All valid questions.

Quite frankly, I don’t know if or when I’ll be able to see any of this UK content. There are only so many hours in a week. But for now, I’m taking an optimistic approach. This tournament has a big upside. The UK is in the midst of its own wrestling boom right now, and I’ve been able to see very little of what’s going on over there. All these guys now have a chance to wrestle in front of a whole new audience, and educate a lot of American fans about British wrestling.

One of WWE’s big drawbacks in the last several years has been its inability to create new stars. Using the Cruiserweight Classic tournament, they’ve been able to bring guys like Rich Swann, TJ Perkins, and Cedric Alexander to the main roster. Whether they’ll become big stars remains to be seen. But they’re commodities. They’re fresh faces. As somebody who watches Raw and Smackdown every week, it’s tough to complain about a potential new source of fresh faces.

Mick Foley, WWE Raw, December 19, 2016Ponderings From Raw:

Mick Foley announces Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns for the Universal Title at the Royal Rumble, with Chris Jericho suspended from the ceiling in a shark cage. Poor Mick. He tries so hard. And he’s still got some of his trademark charm despite being forced to recite scripted dialogue. But then he makes an embarrassing mistake like he did here, saying they were in Pittsburgh instead of Columbus. I love Mick Foley, I really do. But I’m glad he’s reportedly got a couple weeks off. He needs a break.

Some guys who need a break from each other? Kevin Owens, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Chris Jericho. It feels like they’ve been working together nonstop since September. The Jericho stipulation notwithstanding, the Universal Title Match announcement was a disappointment. If I’m Roman Reigns, I’m expecting a dome full of boos at the Rumble, justified or not.

Rusev def. Big Cass via disqualification. Enzo later attends sensitivity training. Shorter is probably better with Rusev and Cass right now, so I won’t complain about what we saw here. I’ll credit Cass with one thing: He looked legit pissed at Rusev.

One of the stories on this show involved Enzo being sent to sensitivity training after being “naked” on the show a few weeks back. This didn’t do much for me. It seemed like they were trying to mimic the success they had with the Daniel Bryan/Kane anger management skits a few years ago. But once again, I credit them for doing something different, breaking up the monotony, and extending a plot thread through much of the show.

WWE Raw, December 19, 2016, Sasha BanksNia Jax interrupts Sasha Banks. Firstly, mad respect for Sasha for her performance at Roadblock. She doesn’t have to take the risks she does. Often they’re unnecessary. But you can’t doubt her passion. That always shines through.

That being said, I turned the volume down when she started talking. This might be unpopular, but her promos now officially annoy me. It’s not entirely her fault. She’s just written as a white meat babyface right now. I will credit her with looking into the hard camera, though. Eye contact = connection. She can also put on a great boo-hoo face (shown above).

Champion or not, it wasn’t hard to figure out Nia Jax and Sasha were going to be partnered after Roadblock. Again, lack of roster depth. Given their obvious size difference, I’m intrigued. I liked Nia calling Charlotte a “little girl.” This program will be good for her.

Austin Aries makes his Raw debut at the announce desk. Cedric Alexander def. Noam Dar. I’ve got high hopes for Cedric Alexander in 2017. He’s so damn explosive, and that Lumbar Check is awesome. I also think this is the first time we’ve seen Cedric and Alicia come out together on Raw.

After the match, Noam Dar got on the mic and essentially said he wanted Alica. I’m certainly not Shakespeare, but here’s a writing tip: When another man says, on national television mind you, that he wants to get with your girlfriend, you kick his ass. You don’t just stand there and get angry. It makes you look like a chump.

Noam Dar, WWE Raw, December 19, 2016If I’m not mistaken, this was Austin Aries’ Raw debut. A little understated, considering what his status was in other promotions. But at least he’s there. He’s not a good announcer yet. But I like that they’re having him tag in for Cruiserweight matches. It’s a little bit like what Mike Tenay used to do on Nitro.

Sheamus, Cesaro, and the New Day def. Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, and the Shining Stars. I never hated the “penny” tag belts the way some fans did. The tag titles they used on Raw during the first brand split looked so generic that I was just grateful for something different. That being said, the red belts Sheamus and Cesaro got on this show look better.

The pre-match dialogue with New Day, Sheamus, and Cesaro was actually pretty good. Then Gallows and Anderson came out and spoiled it. Then the Shining Stars came out and killed it dead. No interest in the eight-man tag. I assume the New Day will get a tag title rematch soon.

Also, Big E’s little ad lib about Charlotte becoming a 16-time champ by next month was on point. I tip my hat to you, sir.

A commercial airs for John Cena’s return to Smackdown next week. I don’t normally comment on these things, but this spot for Cena’s return was really well done. It was like a super-condensed career retrospective, and played up Cena as the elder statesmen and legend they want him to be.

WWE Raw, December 19, 2016, TJ Perkins, Rich SwannAfter turning on Rich Swann at Roadblock, Neville cuts his first heel promo on Raw. He and Brian Kendrick lay out Swann and TJ Perkins. Neville’s delivery was pretty good here. I don’t really see him as a big promo guy, but he surprised me. I was really skeptical about him turning heel. But if he switches up his in-ring game a little bit, this heel turn just might work for him.

Lately TJ Perkins has become the Dolph Ziggler of the Cruiserweight Division. Lately all he does is lose to Swann and Kendrick. Plus, he ran out there to save Swann, and immediately ate a kick from Neville. Thanks for coming, idiot. He needs to write a sternly worded letter to creative.

After Foley refuses to give him another shot at Sami Zayn, Braun Strowman decimates Sin Cara and Titus O’Neil. There was something very cathartic about seeing Braun Strowman rip apart that hokey Raw Christmas set. That’s something I’ve wanted to do for years.

I really dug that lingering shot of Mick Foley standing there looking over the body of Sin Cara, observing Braun’s damage and pondering the consequences of his actions.

WWE Raw, December 19, 2016, Bayley, Charlotte FlairCharlotte Flair gloats after her Roadblock victory. Bayley interrupts. Bayley pins Charlotte in controversial fashion. Corey Graves called Charlotte the “Iron Queen” as she came out. I like that. That’s different. As with Sasha, I give Charlotte a world of credit for the effort she put into that Iron Man Match. She’s the best female talent they have right now, and arguably the best overall heel in the company.

Good line: “Well, you are dressed like a fifth grader. So let’s go to school!”

Bad line: “Every month … you subscribe to the WWE Network thinking this is going to be the month that Charlotte loses, and every month I disappoint all of you.” Um, Charlotte has lost the title to Sasha three times now. I don’t need to buy the network hoping to see her lose. I can see it for free. Hell, I saw it this week! I get what she was going for, what with the pay per view winning streak. But there’s something to be said for clarity.

Based on what we saw here, I’m optimistic about what we’ll get from Charlotte and Bayley. This could lead to Bayley’s best in-ring performances since her main roster debut.

Braun Strowman interrupts the main event, attacking Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins. This might not be a popular opinion, given WWE’s obsession with three-man announce teams these days. But the Michael Cole/Byron Saxton/Corey Graves dynamic is growing on me. Specifically with the role Saxton is playing as the cheesy, aw-shucks babyface announcer that Graves hates. They had a little sarcastic exchange about Graves getting Saxton the night off next week, with Cole adding that Saxton should spend time with his family. Saxton’s reply: “You guys are my family!” I won’t lie, I laughed.

Brain Strowman, WWE Raw, December 19, 2016After sitting through yet another Raw main event with Owens, Jericho, Reigns, and Rollins (or some combination of said four), I was really pleased to see Strowman out there. Not only does it do him good to rub shoulders with the main eventers, but it did Sami Zayn a bit of good to have the announcers mention his role in all this during a main event segment.

I honestly never through I’d see the day Braun Strowman would be the best part of a Raw main event. But here we are.

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A WWE Survivor Series 2016 Preview – A Battle With No Consequences

Team Raw, WWE Raw, November 14, 2016By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m still a little grumpy at WWE after this week’s Raw. Because all my questions still apply. At Survivor Series, what happens to the winning show? What happens to the losing show?  And why should I care?

Assuming they continue with this brand split stuff, the Raw vs. Smackdown format is a good hook for Survivor Series. But this show needs consequences. If Raw beats Smackdown, do they get to pluck a couple of guys from their roster? Do they get the first pick in the next draft? Do they get exclusive rights to a previously shared show, like Money in the Bank? Do they get a gaudy trophy? What’s at stake? We’ve gotten vague threats from Stephanie McMahon, and even the Undertaker. But nothing specific.

In previous years, this is where they’ve run into problems with the Raw vs. Smackdown stuff. There is no real competition between the two shows. That “ratings war” they occasionally bring up is all pretend. Viewers aren’t going to flock to one show over the other depending on who wins at Survivor Series. This isn’t like the World Series, where teams battle through elimination all year. We need a prize to fight for. Otherwise, what does it even matter?

Let’s get to predictions…

Brian Kendrick, Kalisto, WWE Survivor Series 2016STIPULATION MATCH FOR WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE:
Brian Kendrick (c) vs. Kalisto
If Kalisto wins, the cruiserweight division goes to Smackdown.

One would think the Cruiserweight Division would be better on Smackdown, what with Mauro Ranallo being there to call the action. But Raw needs the cruiserweights to help fill three hours every week. If anything, it should be Kalisto going to Raw. Taking the belt off Kendrick wouldn’t be a big shock. But it seems like it would be a big misstep.

PREDICTION: Brian Kendrick

The Miz, Sami Zayn, WWE Survivor Series 2016WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
The Miz (c) vs. Sami Zayn

Like the cruiserweight situation, moving the Intercontinental Title to Raw would be a big misstep. Unless they somehow move the US Title to Smackdown. But why bother? No need to fix something that isn’t broken.

Having Dolph Ziggler in this match would have made it a more thrilling watch. But it’s still a nice way to break up all the multi-man matches.

PREDICTION: Dolph Ziggler

WWE Survivor Series 2016, Women's MatchSURVIVOR SERIES MATCH:
Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Nia Jax, & Alicia Fox
Vs.
Nikki Bella, Becky Lynch, Alexa Bliss, Naomi, & Carmella

Nikki Bella being the captain of the Smackdown team stands out like a sore thumb. Becky Lynch is standing right behind her with the title. It’s just weird.

With Nia Jax on the red team, I’d wager they come out of this with the win. They could always remove Nia via count-out or DQ, but I imagine they’ll do that with Braun Strowman later. My gut says our survivors are Nia and Charlotte. I imagine Charlotte continues her feud with Bayley next month, and we get a little something with Sasha and Nia. Though I maintain some sort of bullying story between Nia and Bayley would be great.

PREDICTION: Team Raw

WWE Survivor Series 2016, Tag Team MatchSURVIVOR SERIES MATCH:
The New DayGallows & Anderson, Enzo & Cass, Cesaro & Sheamus, & the Shining Stars
Vs.
Heath Slater & Rhyno, American Alpha, the Usos, the  Hype Bros, & Breezango. 

Sixteen guys? What a mess…

So if one member of a team gets pinned, both guys are out. Thus, I imagine we’ll see some eliminations rather quickly just to thin out the herd. Breezango and the Shining Stars? Thanks for coming.

With Raw winning the women’s match, Smackdown should take this one to make the next match the tie-breaker. So I’d wager a disagreement between New Day and Sheamus & Cesaro cost Raw the match. As for which Smackdown guys survive, it’s hard to bet against American Alpha. Those guys are a long-term investment that should be protected.

PREDICTION: Team Smackdown

WWE Survivor Series 2016, Main Event MatchSURVIVOR SERIES MATCH:
Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, & Braun Strowman
Vs.
AJ Styles, Dean Ambrose, Randy Orton, Bray Wyatt, & Shane McMahon

This should be a good one. There’s been no shortage of build to this match, as a lot of their big-money ball players are in it. It feels like there should be more riding on it. In reality, it’s just another match.

Keep in mind, we’ve got two pay per view main events announced for next month: Owens against Reigns, and Styles against Ambrose. So they’ll want to throw in some friction between those guys. I imagine we’ll also have some kind of Shield moment between Reigns, Ambrose, and Rollins. There also seems to be a little bit of interest in Braun and Bray, so perhaps those two will end up brawling on the outside, and that’s how we get out count-out.

To me, the finish of this match hinges on how WWE has booked Kevin Owens. He’s beatable champion, which makes sense given how he won the belt. AJ Styles, on the other hand, is Mr. Smackdown. A heel champion? Yes. But he’s also the guy who beat John Cena clean at Summerslam. So if you have to beat one of these guys, Kevin Owens is the one to go with.

So keeping in mind that we’ve got Owens vs. Reigns to build to at Roadblock, while also slow burning this Owens/Jericho program, I say something happens between the three of them to cost Team Raw the match. This will then allow heel commissioner Stephanie McMahon to do her heel authority figure shtick and punish everybody.

As for the Smackdown side of things, my guess is Ambrose comes out looking strong. We’ve seen Styles and Ambrose multiple times already, so at the very least they have to make us believe he can beat AJ at TLC next month. Who he goes with at the Rumble in January is a toss up. Randy Orton? Is it too far-fetched to suggest the Undertaker? They’ve got a big dome to fill up, after all.

PREDICTION: Team Smackdown

WWE Survivor Series 2016, Bill Goldberg, Brock LesnarBill Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar

The clock will be an interesting factor in this match. Goldberg wasn’t exactly known for giving us lengthy Ric Flair style classics. After all these years away from the ring, it would behoove them to keep that in mind.

I don’t see how Brock doesn’t win this one. He’s still in the position to make WWE a lot of money as the invincible monster that ended the Undertaker’s undefeated streak and victimized John Cena. The reaction to Goldberg has been great (with one exception), but they’re nostalgia pops. Brock is the guy to go with here.

This is why I’m banking on Goldberg coming back one more time at Wrestlemania against somebody like Rusev. They’ve built him up as this heroic family man who’s coming back one more time so his son can see him wrestle, all so he can lose to Brock? I don’t buy it. These next few months are likely Goldberg’s last hurrah, so they need to send him out on a high note. In essence, they need to do the opposite of what they did with Sting.

Just be careful, guys.

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

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Kevin Owens Stands Tall, More Cruiserweights, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

Brian Kendrick, TJ Perkins, Lince DoradoBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Question: How much content is too much? Is there such a thing?

Last week, we got the announcement of WWE 205 Live, a WWE Network exclusive show featuring the cruiserweights. The show will air after Smackdown on Tuesdays. Mauro Renallo and Corey Graves will call matches featuring the likes of Brian Kendrick, TJ Perkins, Cedric Alexander, etc. Talking Smack will now move to 11 p.m. Eastern.

I’ve got mixed feelings about this. Obviously, WWE’s number one priority right now is the network. From a business standpoint, there are few things more important than getting those subscription numbers up. Obviously the network appeals primarily to die-hard wrestling fans. So what better way to entice them than with more wrestling? Called by Mauro Ranallo and Corey Graves, no less.

But even the geekiest of pro wrestling geeks have lives, don’t they? Is WWE going to burn out their dedicated core audience by giving them too much? Factoring in RawSmackdownNXT, and now this 205 Live show, that’s seven hours of fresh content a week. And that’s not counting supplementary shows like Main Event and Superstars. That’s also not accounting for pay per views, of which there are now 19. I don’t care how big a fan you are, that’s a lot of wrestling.

WWE Raw, October 31, 2016, Brian Kendrick, TJ PerkinsPerhaps its a matter of variety. For years we’ve heard talk about the Raw brand, the Smackdown brand, etc. But in reality, it’s pretty much all been the same stuff. In a lot of ways, NXT changed that. NXT isn’t simply about different talent. There’s a different look and vibe to the entire product. It’s an alternative, and you can only get that alternative by forking out 10 bucks a month for the network. Is 205 Live going to be it’s own unique alternative? What can we see on that show that we can’t see on Raw?

I understand the on-demand nature of the WWE Network, and that you can essentially take in this content at your own pace. But with all this content coming out from WWE, at what point to we stop being surprised that Raw ratings are going down? It’s not rocket science, folks. The more content you give, the less urgent it is to see it. When all we had were two hours of Raw every Monday, we couldn’t wait to take it in. Now there are weeks where we simply can’t take it anymore.

At the very least this show will give the guys who aren’t on Raw every week, i.e Cedric Alexander, Lince Dorado, and Jack Gallagher another stage to perform on. I just wonder if and how the audience will divide as WWE continues to expand and diversify its offerings.

Ponderings From WWE Raw:

Chris Jericho, Kevin Owens, WWE Raw, November 7, 2016After a volatile start to the show, a fatal five-way match is made between Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman, and the newest member of Team Raw, Seth Rollins. I hate these fatal five-way matches. It’s an awkward number. Somehow four wrestlers work, and six wrestlers work, but five is don’t.

A pretty standard segment for a “Can these teammates get along?” story. I wish we’d had more definitive consequences. Stephanie told them to fight like their jobs depend on it, “Because they do.” Does that even mean anything? They also missed an opportunity to make the winner the captain of the team.

Rich Swann & Sin Cara def. Brian Kendrick & Noam Dar. Assuming these rumors of a fight with Chris Jericho are true, it’ll be interesting to see if Sin Cara remains on television. It’s not like they don’t have plenty of cruiserweights. Though he earned mad respect for me after that senton to the outside on Noam Dar.

This was my first exposure to Noam Dar. We didn’t get to see much of him. But a nice little introduction. Brian Kendrick deserves a lot of credit for helping establish some of these guys in front of the mainstream audience. I expect he’ll face Rich Swann for the title at Survivor Series.

Bill GoldbergA retrospective vignette on Goldberg airs. I was hoping they’d do something like this, as they usually do for Brock Lesnar’s matches. These are always good.

Since Goldberg has resurfaced, WWE has made a point to market him as a WCW star, WCW legend, WCW Champion, etc. That’s fair enough. He’s as much a WCW guy as anything else. But he wasn’t just a WCW guy. He was a champion in WWE as well. They’ve almost glossed over that. Perhaps it’s fitting, considering how forgettable most of Goldberg’s WWE run was.

The New Day rally Team Raw for their match at Survivor Series. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson knock off the champions in a non-title match. The crowd really pulled this segment out of the ground. When you’ve got so many guys out there, I understand having to script the dialogue. But this was the same canned verbiage we always get, and it seemed like it went on forever. At least the Scotland fans were having fun.

Imagine my shock to see Anderson and Gallows get the win here. So do they now fight Cesaro and Sheamus to see who gets the next title shot?

WWE Wrestlemania XX, Bill Goldberg, Steve AustinBrock Lesnar talks Goldberg via video package. This one was even better than Goldberg’s, considering how politically incorrect Brock always is. “At Wrestlemania XX in Madison Square Garden, I didn’t give two sh*ts about wrestling.” HA!

This was another awesome line: “I don’t give a damn what his 10-year-old son is gonna think. I’m not gonna show any f@#kin’ mercy on Bill Goldberg.”

Finally, someone on this show has some balls. No wonder Brock is so over. Look at how he talks, compared to how everyone in that New Day segment talked. There are no chains on Brock. He’s allowed to be himself.

The Shining Stars def. Golden Truth to get their spot in the tag team elimination match at Survivor SeriesI zipped right through this one on the DVR. Here’s what I will say: At least they kept the Shining Stars out of the third hour.

Not sure why they did this. To even the babyface-heel ratio on Team Raw? Why? What’s the difference either way? I’d much rather see Goldust and R-Truth in a pay per view match than Primo and Epico. I don’t know what it is about these guys, but I don’t know if an act has ever had as much channel-changing heat with me.

Bayley, Charlotte, WWE Raw, November 7, 2016Michael Cole interviews Raw‘s female team. Sasha Banks and Alicia Fox are revealed as the remaining two members. The Scotland fans serenade Bayley.  The crowd didn’t exactly make it easy on them, did they? The girls couldn’t even get their lines out. As off-putting as it may have been, it’s always great to see a crowd that enthusiastic. Especially for the women’s division. Bayley might have been the one person more over in Scotland than Noam Dar.

The Alicia Fox portion of this segment was painful. Not because of Alicia, but because of that Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie reference. They really shoehorned that line in there.

Bayley, Sasha Banks, & Alicia Fox def. Charlotte, Nia Jax, & Dana Brooke. My favorite part of this match was when Bayley and Nia were in the ring together. They have to do some kind of program between them soon.

I’m not thrilled that Charlotte took the fall on this one. After Gallows & Anderson beat the New Day, that means two champions were beaten on this show.

WWE Raw, November 7, 2016, Sami Zayn, RusevSami Zayn def. Rusev to earn an Intercontinental Title Match at Survivor Series. I breathed a sigh of relief on this one. After all the love triangle stuff last year, I’ve had my fill of Rusev/Dolph Ziggler stuff for awhile. Ziggler and Zayn should also have a hell of a pay per view match.

Rusev hasn’t had a great couple of weeks. He lost to Roman Reigns at Hell in a Cell, he got punched out by Goldberg last week, and now he loses to Sami Zayn. I’m hopeful we can get Rusev back on track as a monster soon.

Kevin Owens def. Seth Rollins, Chris Jericho, Roman Reigns, & Braun Strowman in a fatal five-way match. The right person won this one, especially on a show where the New Day and Charlotte were pinned. And he pinned Jericho, which was a nice touch.

To WWE’s credit, they’ve done an excellent job making protecting Braun Strowman since the roster split. I once cringed at the thought of him challenging the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. It’s still not a match I’m dying to see, but at least now Strowman is a commodity. Until now he’s just been large.

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