Woken Matt Hardy, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

News leaked last week that longtime WWE composer Jim Johnston had been released after more than three decades with the company. That’s a hell of a downer.

Not surprising, mind you. If you look at Most the music WWE has produced in the last several years has been with CFO$, who have essentially become their in-house band. But Johnston was still working for WWE in some capacity. His most recent, and apparently final, theme song for the company was “I Bring the Darkness,” which Baron Corbin uses.

Consider how vital music is to the overall WWE experience. We literally can’t have matches without it, as wrestlers all have their own distinct entrance themes. This isn’t just the case in 2017. What would the Ultimate Warrior have been without the adrenaline-pumping guitar riffs as he sprinted to the ring? What is the Undertaker without the awe-inspiring orchestra that backs his entrance? How much did “Voices” change the tone of Randy Orton’s entire act?

The list goes on and on. Stone Cold Steve Austin, Dusty Rhodes, Degeneration X, Ted DiBiase, the Rock, the Big Bossman, Triple H, Goldust…

Johnston didn’t do it all himself, obviously. But he was the backbone of all things music-related in WWE for so long. He helped shape not only the product itself, but the careers of generations of wrestlers.

Johnston produced much of the soundtrack our childhoods. So thank you, sir. For so many years, and so many great songs.

Ponderings From Raw:

Both Jason Jordan and Samoa Joe attempt to answer Roman Reigns’ open challenge for the Intercontinental Championship. Jason Jordan gets the match, which Reigns wins. Joe attempts to attack Reigns after the match, but Jordan stops him with a suplex. Reigns repays him with a Superman Punch. Jason Jordan may have won me over in this segment. He was whiny and annoying as he clearly played the father/son card. But at the same time, they’ve tried to make this heel turn organic by giving a certain amount of legitimacy to his gripes. He’s a legit bad ass who can hang. When Jordan’s turn becomes official, they may actually have something with him.

Paige def. Sasha Banks. Absolution once again destroys Banks, Bayley, and Mickie James. The announcers have consistently remembered to bring up the fact that Sasha Banks has never successfully defended the Raw Women’s Title. They’re saving that little factoid for down the road. Hopefully it’s the Sasha heel turn we’ve been waiting on for months.

As annoying as I’ve come to find Sasha, when it comes to big bumps she goes all in. That Sunset Flip she took off the top rope was nasty.

Both this one and the opener went pretty long. In the first hour and a half of Raw, we only got two matches. Commercials notwithstanding, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Nia Jax flirts with Enzo backstage. Alright, sure. This could be decent. Just don’t let her wrestle him for the title…

Drew Gulak def. Cedric Alexander, Mustafa Ali, and Tony Nese. WWE announced this week that 205 Live is going to start running live events, starting with three on January 19, 20, and 21. This happens to be the weekend before the Royal Rumble. Supposedly, they’re looking for smaller venues for future events.

Considering a lot of the crowds for Smackdown have been half-empty lately, this seems like a disaster waiting to happen. Mind you, this comes on the heels of WWE sending out a fan survey asking why people aren’t watching the show. But I do like the idea of the cruiserweights performing in smaller venues. I’d be in favor of WWE moving 205 Live to a different night (Thursday?), so they could move it somewhere about the size of the facility NXT takes place in. Moving it out from the shadow of Smackdown could be a good thing. And smaller crowds could help recreate the intimate setting of the Cruiserweight Classic. Whether Enzo and that crew can sell tickets? That could be another story entirely. 

Damn, I wish Cedric Alexander could talk. His big dive over the rope, the standing Spanish Fly with Ali, and of course the Lumbar Check. He’s so damn good. But verbiage is the missing element for him.

The crowd was actually awake for this one. That’s a nice change of pace.

Braun Strowman dominates Elias before Kane interrupts via the tron to announce a match with Strowman next week. So does Kane go away after next week? Or does he stick around a little longer? Finn Balor could certainly use some retribution.

Strowman has been part of some really good Raw main events this year. He and Kane have a high bar to rise to. I’m not exactly optimistic, but I’m not dreading it either.

Asuka def. Alicia Fox. Absolution has another staredown with Asuka before annihilating Fox. I said this last week: I’m not a fan of Asuka backing out of the ring Paige, Deville, and Rose surround her. They’re having her smile, so you know she’s not cowering away. But it’s awkward, and doesn’t make a lot of sense. She clearly wants a fight, and could very well kick the hell out of them. Whether it’s ill-advised or not, why not just stand there and wait for them to make a move?

Finn Balor def. Bo Dallas. So Balor isn’t getting a match with Brock Lesnar at the Royal Rumble, and he just can’t seem to solve the Kane conundrum. But he can beat Bo Dallas! So that’s something…right?

“Woken” Matt Hardy makes his WWE television debut via pre-taped promo intercut with one of Bray Wyatt’s usual tron promos. Hardy sentences Wyatt to deletion. This little segment has been a long time coming. Some of us have been waiting on this since the Hardys came back at Wrestlemania. It’s been almost a year. But Broken Matt is finally here, albeit under a different name.

I was fine with this character’s first exposure to WWE audiences coming via pre-tape. As cool as it can be, it’s undeniably goofy. This lets the fans in on the joke before we inevitably get the bells and whistles the die-hards want to see.

Sheamus and Cesaro def. Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose to retain the Raw Tag Team Titles. Samoa Joe interferes in the match, costing the Shield the titles. It’s the feud that just won’t die. I’ve seen these four wrestle so much I nearly snoozed right through this one. Considering how good all these guys are, that tells you something. Can this please be the end? Please?

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Undertaker’s Raw Return, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Here we go, folks. The answer we’re looking for is coming. We may even have a firm date for it.

Details have started to emerge about the Raw 25th anniversary show that’s scheduled for January 22. As we’ve come to expect with these anniversary shows, they’re bringing in past stars for nostalgia purposes. Already announced are Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, and in his first appearance since Wrestlemania, the Undertaker.

So here it is. This is their window. If they’re going to to some kind of angle for an Undertaker match at Wrestlemania, this is it. I’ve talked before about the pros and cons of Undertaker wrestling another match. I really don’t think there’s a need for it at this point, especially after the great send-off he got this year. But this is pro wrestling. You can probably count the guys who’ve retired and not come back in some form on one hand.

Chances are we’re not getting another Undertaker/Roman Reigns match. We’ve known for quite awhile that Reigns has a date with Brock Lesnar this spring. If the Dead Man is coming back, there are a bunch of names they could put him with. But let’s be honest. There’s only one potential Undertaker match that absolutely demands the pomp and circumstance of Wrestlemania. You can even argue he’s the only one worthy of bringing the Undertaker back for at all.

John Cena.

There’s been speculation about this match for a long time. Apparently it almost happened this year. Could we live without it? Yes. But if they’re dead set (no pun intended) on bringing the Undertaker back, if they’re going to renege on everything we saw in Orlando this year, this has to be the match. Cena may be the only one that doesn’t cheapen or diminish what appeared to be Undertaker’s genuine retirement.

Then again, maybe he’s not. Maybe that person doesn’t exist. But consider the actual match Undertaker and Roman had. What we got afterward was amazing. But the match itself was nothing to write home about. If Cena can give the Dead Man one last amazing Wrestlemania match, maybe it’s worth one more comeback…

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Shane McMahon commends the New Day for their actions on Raw. Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens interrupt. A match is made between Sami Zayn and Kofi Kingston. The Manchester Arena holds 21,000 people, and there were apparently only about 9,000 in attendance for this show. That’s a downer. On the plus side, the fans that were there seemed into it. Particularly during this opening segment.

Kofi Kingston def. Sami Zayn. This match made headlines, and not in a good way.

Multiple news outlets reported that Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn were sent home from Manchester after this Smackdown taping. What happened, or rather didn’t happen, after this match was apparently what prompted it. Owens and Zayn were supposed to have a lengthier post-match fight inside the ring with the New Day. Instead, they stayed on the outside. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, as the two have allegedly been difficult to work with as of late.

This was a surprise. Especially when you consider how vital these two are to Smackdown. Zayn is just now getting a chance to have a more expanded role on television. So the idea that he’s been tough to deal with seems very odd.

I’d love to think this is all part of a storyline. But the general consensus is that it’s legit. So the best case scenario here is that they come back and this becomes something they reference on television to get a reaction. Similar to Miz mentioning the incident where Enzo got kicked off a tour bus.

Randy Orton def. Rusev to deny the latter a spot on Team Smackdown at Survivor SeriesUh huh. Right. Rusev totally had a shot at getting on that team. Sure…

Becky Lynch def. James Ellsworth. Carmella lays out Ellsworth with a superkick afterward. I’m not big on inter-gender wrestling. But it’s fine as an attraction once in awhile. That’s exactly what this was, and it managed to be a fun little match. A great moment for both Lynch and Ellsworth. My only real complaint is that they didn’t save this for a pay per view. They could have drawn this out as a longer story.

Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable def. The Usos by count-out in a Smackdown Tag Team Title Match. The Usos keep the belts. When you consider what these guys are capable of, this was a let-down. But I imagine this was the first of many matches they’ll have. So let’s call it chapter one.

AJ Styles def. Jinder Mahal to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. While I can’t complain about this in the slightest, I wouldn’t get my hopes up about Styles keeping the belt for long. Remember, they’re still touring India in December. While those are Raw shows, my guess is they’ll fly both these guys in so that Jinder can get the belt back in his home country. Or rather, his fake home country. The Modern Day Maharaja is actually from Canada…

AJ deserves to stay in the top spot, though. He’s the best performer in the entire company, if not the entire world. Moving from Brock Lesnar vs. Jinder Mahal to Brock vs. AJ is like going from hamburger to filet mignon. There was no reason to think it was going to be any good, and there seemed to be little to no interest in it. I suspect that’s why this happened. While I’ve been fairly open-minded about Jinder’s abrupt shove into the main event picture, this title switch is an indictment on WWE’s failure to turn him into a solid commodity. Or at the very least, someone worthy of putting with their biggest attraction.

The way they’ve booked Survivor Series in general has been really weird. Granted, they were thrown a curve-ball when Roman Reigns got sick. So we can forgive the sudden title switch off of Rollins and Ambrose to allow for a Shield vs. New Day match. But Brock against Jinder was a bad idea from the start. Ditto for Miz against Baron Corbin. Rumor has it they’re also thinking of putting the Smackdown Women’s Title on Charlotte Flair, so she can be swapped into the match with Raw Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss.

I mean…they knew November was coming, right? They had a calendar? They could have done the appropriate title changes at Hell in a Cell if they wanted to.

On the plus side, AJ gave Jinder the best match he’s ever had. And the crowd was hot for the change.

John Cena announced as the final member of Team SmackdownThis was a swerve. Cena was at one point rumored to be the guest referee in the Brock/Jinder match. It’s a decent spot for him. Though it raises a few questions about his loyalties between Raw and Smackdown.

Who am I kidding? Those creative geniuses will forget it ever happened the night after the show, anyway…

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Kane Shocks Roman Reigns, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Rumor has it the planned main event for Survivor Series next month is Universal Champion Brock Lesnar against WWE World Heavyweight Champion Jinder Mahal.

Oh dear. Dear oh dear. That’s…that’s quite a choice, isn’t it?

In theory, this should be one of the biggest matches WWE can put on. The champion of Raw against the champion of Smackdown, on one of the biggest shows the company puts on all year. It beats the hell out ofwhen they’d putting the big champion vs. champion match on Raw with little to no build-up. And not even in the main event!

But Brock Lesnar vs. Jinder Mahal isn’t exactly Clash of the Titans. Yes, they’ve strapped the rocket to Jinder. But his big matches against Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura haven’t delivered, and his racially charged promos haven’t exactly inspired confidence.

Having grown up a wrestling fan in the ’90s, I present you with this analogy. Imagine if they put the WWE Championship on Bob Holly in 1997, and then tried to market a major pay per view match pitting him against the Undertaker.

The buzz is that it’s going to be a non-title match. So without the hook of a title possibly changing hands, what’s the draw here? I imagine it’s seeing Brock Lesnar beat the crap out of Jinder and the Singh Brothers. There’s also Paul Heyman’s promos in the build-up. If anyone can put Jinder over as a legitimate threat to Brock Lesnar, it’s Heyman.

Whenever they do these Raw vs. Smackdown matches, people always talk about how it could reflect badly on the loser’s brand. In this case, if Brock kills Jinder, how does that make Smackdown look compared to Raw? This kind of stuff gets overthought quite a bit. But given the perception of Smackdown as the B-show (even inside the walls of WWE, reportedly), some concern is merited.

Could they have Brock take Jinder to Suplex City and beat him? Yes. But I don’t see that happening. Remember, Jinder is a Vince McMahon project. They’ve spent most of the year trying to get this guy over as their big Indian star. They’re making a big fuss out of him being the champion when they go to India in December. So it’s in their best interest to keep him looking relatively strong through the end of the year. Frankly, I don’t see why you’d book this match if not to benefit Jinder in some way.

This match has “outside interference” and “screwjob finish” written all over it. You’ll have the Singh Brothers out there, you’ll have Heyman doing something. And Jinder’s next opponent (AJ Styles?) or Brock’s next opponent (Finn Balor?) could easily play a role in the finish somehow. It almost has to. That’s how you get out of this thing without Brock throwing Jinder around and making Smackdown look like the bush leagues.

So who wins? Give it to Jinder by disqualification or count-out. That way Brock gets away without being pinned, and Jinder can technically say he beat the mighty Brock Lesnar.

Then again, don’t put anything past this company. Remember, at this same show last year Brock lost to Bill Goldberg in less than two minutes…

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, and Seth Rollins call out their opponents at TLCGood to see the guys back in their black gear, doing the old Shield entrance. Not sure why we couldn’t have done that for the big reunion last week…

Jason Jordan, Apollo Crews, and Titus O’Neil def. Elias, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson. For some reason, that opening shot of Elias sitting with Gallows and Anderson was really funny. And a tribute to the Honky Tonk Man, of all people. Does that make Honky a good brother?

Cedric Alexander def. Jack Gallagher. Solid match. I’m still getting used to heel Jack Gallagher. He definitely needs new music.

There was a faint “We want Neville!” chant during this match…

I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing Alexander hit the Lumbar Check. I can’t imagine what it’s like to take that.

Braun Strowman appears on Miz TV. A stipulation is added to the Reigns/Stroman Steel Cage Match later in the night. So if Strowman wins, his team gets another partner at TLC. If Reigns wins, it goes back to three-on-three. A nice added hook for an already big match.

All this team stuff has me in the mood for Survivor Series. So do you put the Shield on a traditional five-person team? Or do you give them their own match? Maybe a six-man elimination match?

Sasha Banks def. Alicia Fox. Fox ambushes Banks afterward. Crazy Alicia Fox is entertaining. Campy, but entertaining nonetheless.

A brawl breaks out after Kalisto interrupts an Enzo Amore promo. Noam Dar, Ariya Daivari, Tony Nese, and Drew Gulak lay out Kalisto and Mustafa Ali. I cringed when Kalisto’s music hit. Any time this guy takes a mic, it’s bad. And he didn’t disappoint in that respect. He told Enzo he’d walk out of TLC the “new Cruiserweight Champion.”

I don’t know that it’s coincidence that WWE keeps bringing up Rey Mysterio Jr. They’ve mentioned him as one of Kalisto’s influences, they posted a brief video on Rey’s response to last week’s title win, and then they name dropped him again this week. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to hear they’re trying to court him for a return. Perhaps not a full time return. But they’d be foolish not to at least try for him.

Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins def. Cesaro and Sheamus to retain the Raw Tag Team Titles. With Ambrose and Rollins back in the Shield gear, there was a little extra sizzle on this one.  But as gifted as these guys are, it’s still the same match we’ve seen a hundred times. It’s a good match. But the law of diminishing returns was in full effect here.

Not a surprising finish here. Having the Shield take a big loss right before their big pay per view comeback wouldn’t make sense right now.

Finn Balor announces the Demon is coming to meet Sister Abigail at TLCAnother week, another promo from Finn Balor. Worse yet, that awful Sister Abigail promo from last week apparently rubbed off on him, as they reached into their special effects bag again. Though at least the Demon character is somewhat cool. That Sister Abigail thing is another story entirely.

Bayley and Mickie James def. Alexa Bliss and Emma. Mickie has been nicely rejuvenated. Of course, the big story is Asuka’s debut this Sunday. To their credit, WWE has playied her up as the big deal that she should be. Now all we can do is wait and see how it goes…

Braun Strowman def. Roman Reigns in a Steel Cage Match, with help from the returning Kane. Kane will now join Miz’s team against the Shield at TLCThis was a legit surprise. I didn’t think we’d see Kane back until his real-life run for mayor of Knox County, Tennessee was over. But his inclusion makes a certain amount of sense, as Reigns did supposedly retire his brother at Wrestlemania. Now watch them completely ignore that…

They were teasing Curtis Axel as the fifth man for most of the show. So to prove himself, Axel gets goaded into picking a fight with Roman before the Cage Match. So instead of finding him alone, or maybe jumping him as he’s going to the ring, we see him walk up to all three members of the Shield backstage. Axel’s a good wrestler, but he might just be the dumbest henchman in television history.

Then again, when Miz found him hanging upside down, one of the first things he asked was: “Who did this???” So is one of them rubbing off on the other?

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The Jinder Mahal Experiment, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m starting to realize that I like what Jinder Mahal could be as WWE Champion, rather than what we’ve been given in reality.

When Jinder got his big push, I think a lot of us remembered Muhammad Hassan, the Arab-American character WWE created a few years after 9/11. He would accuse both the fans and other wrestlers of persecuting him because of his ethnicity. He wasn’t the most polished guy in the ring or on the mic, but the act got plenty of heat. It lasted about a year, ending when WWE took things too far in an angle that happened to air after the London bombings of 2005. Hassan was erased from WWE television shortly afterward.

They obviously want to strike some of the same chords with Jinder Mahal. We’ve heard Jinder talk about racism and xenophobia. WWE could easily have portrayed him as an underneath guy who used the Singh Brothers to cheat Randy Orton out of the WWE Championship, and then continued to cheat in subsequent title defenses. Announcers and other wrestlers would point to him with disgust as an undeserving paper champion holding the WWE Title hostage. In response, Jinder could point back and play the race card. “I’m an honorable champion, but you all hate me because I look different!”

I get the sense that’s the vibe they were going for with last week’s racially charged promo. Obviously they missed the mark pretty badly, opting for racial jokes as opposed to character-driven heat. The world is a very different place in 2017 than it was in 2004 and 2005. We’re all much quicker and easier to offend. Realizing this, they seem to be tempering Jinder’s material, trying not to cross a certain line. So what we have here is a foreign menace heel that can’t fully play that foreign menace role for fear of offending people too much. Ironically, that led to them pushing the envelope in the wrong direction, garnering exactly the kind of outrage they were trying to avoid.

So is it time to call the Jinder Mahal experiment a failure? Neither his matches nor his promos have been lighting the world on fire. They don’t seem to trust him to hold main event timeslots on Smackdown anymore. He also has hardly any chemistry with Shinsuke Nakamura, who he’s wrestling at Hell in a Cell.

I keep holding out hope that there’ll be a sudden breakthrough with Jinder. That he’ll suddenly find that right opponent or have that great promo. But at this point, maybe the best thing for him would be to take a step back and work on his character. After all, it’s not like he had a lot of time before being thrust into the spotlight. The Jinder Mahal experiment happened pretty fast. But it’s not too late for it to work.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Sami Zayn tries to talk sense into Kevin Owens. A match is made between the two for later in the evening. At one point, what we were seeing on WWE TV was dubbed the “Reality Era.” It was just a gimmick, of course. For the most part, there was nothing more real about what we were seeing than any other point in the company’s history. But considering the content of the promos we’ve been seeing lately, we may be in the middle of a miniature reality era right now.

Consider what we’ve seen lately. The stuff between John Cena and Roman Reigns was very insider-oriented, with lines about Roman’s real-life drug test failure, Cena’s Hollywood priorities, etc. You’ve got people on TV talking about how annoying Enzo is backstage. Hell, Miz and Maryse even announced their very real pregnancy on the air.

And then there’s this segment with KO and Sami Zayn, which illuminated what appear to be legit frustrations Sami has over his position on the card since coming to Smackdown. He and Daniel Bryan even had a little Twitter exchange about that recently.

You can debate the how “real” some of this stuff really is. But here’s the thing: Even if Sami isn’t really upset about his push, the story is somewhat based in reality. Sami hasn’t been featured prominently on Smackdown, and he’s never been a champion on the main roster. It’s something tangible that people have seen with their own eyes. It’s better storytelling. It’s an improvement.

Baron Corbin def. Tye Dillinger by count-out. So we’ve got AJ Styles vs. Baron Corbin at Hell in a Cell for the US Title. I don’t really have a strong opinion on Corbin being the US Champ. And perhaps that’s enough of a reason not to put it on him. For now, Styles is just fine with it.

Jinder Mahal cuts another promo on Shinsuke Nakamura. Nakamura finally gives Mahal and the Singhs their comeuppance. At the very least, the people were happy to see Nakamura finally come out and destroy these guys. There’s still not much heat or chemistry between them. But it was a nice moment.

The Usos def. The Hype Bros. The New Day to defend against the Usos inside the cage at Hell in a Cell. Well, at least we’re getting a Cell Match between these guys. While the Kevin Owens and Shane McMahon are fine for the cage, this Tag Team Title Match should not only be the only Cell Match on the card, but should be the main event. The New Day and the Usos have earned it.

Rusev’s Pride of Bulgaria victory celebration is crashed by Randy Orton. Aiden English had a really nice part in this segment, getting to sing Rusev to the ring. You know who else could have played a role? Lana. No, I will not let this go…

Rusev’s promo wasn’t amazing. But does anyone honestly think he wouldn’t be a better WWE Champion than Jinder Mahal? Mind you, I say that as a Jinder fan.

Charlotte Flair def. Carmella. I’m not really into inter-gender wrestling, but somehow the idea of Charlotte wrestling James Ellsworth amuses me. I’m sure the match would be abhorrent. But the visual is interesting.

Dolph Ziggler impersonates the Undertaker. Bobby Roode challenges Ziggler to a match at Hell in a Cell. And so we get the match we all knew this was building to. Incidentally, Dolph Ziggler vs. Undertaker? I’m game if they are.

Kevin Owens def. Sami Zayn via match stoppage. Shane McMahon comes after Owens. I still hate the hockey fight spot. Probably always will. On the flip side, that suplex Zayn gave Owens on the apron was sick. These two are always great in the ring. It’s simply about the law of diminishing returns. We’ve seen these guys wrestle so many times that it can become boring if we see it too much in a given timeframe. They used to wrestle all the time on Raw. But if I’m not mistaken, this is the first time they’ve wrestled one-on-one on Smackdown. So I’ve got no complaints here.

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An Undertaker Return: Is it The Boy Who Cried Wolf?

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Since Wrestlemania XXXIII, there’s been truckloads of speculation about the Undertaker’s retirement. It’s a pretty natural conclusion to come to, given the way that show ended. The #ThankYouTaker hashtags broke out again, you saw all kinds of tributes to him, and WWE have played that moment up in a big way ever since. “I retired the Undertaker” is practically Roman Reigns’ new catchphrase. They’ve also given him Undertaker’s “This is my yard” line. Undertaker’s name was even thrown around in the big Roman Reigns/John Cena promo on Raw last week, with Cena calling the Dead Man a “battered veteran at the end of his career with a bad hip.” Hmm…

What people have been keen to point out, however, is that the announcers have been more tentative as far as ‘Taker’s retirement. They always talk about Reigns “potentially retiring” the Undertaker, as opposed to giving it any sort of finality. And of course, despite all the speculation there hasn’t been any confirmation about Undertaker being done. Until they spell it out for us that he’s retired, there’s a decent chance we’ll be seeing him in the ring again. Actually, there’s probably a really good chance we will.

I’m not sure how I feel about that.

While the Undertaker/Roman Reigns match wasn’t anything to write home about, the closing moments of Wrestlemania XXXIII were genuinely touching. There was an outpouring of emotion as fans seemingly said goodbye to a man who’d given so much of himself for over a 25 year career. Many of us had been watching him since we were children. Now, as adults, we were watching him ride off into the sunset.

To renege on a moment like that is almost in bad taste. This is twice now that we’ve gotten misty-eyed saying goodbye to the Undertaker. The first was after he lost to Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania XXX, ending his big winning streak. Me? I didn’t buy that as the end. But this Roman Reigns thing is different. In addition to drudging up all this emotion, it had a nice passing of the torch element to it. While the build-up could have been done much better, the generational aspect of the story was very appealing. And while so many detest Roman Reigns, the match had the right finish. If Undertaker comes back, it spoils all that.

Let’s also factor in the Undertaker being 52 years old, and not exactly blowing anyone away with what he did in the ring this year. Was it all his fault? Not necessarily. Remember, ‘Taker had recently come off hip surgery. He would reportedly go on to have a full on hip replacement done. There’s a lot to be said about a potential Reigns/Undertaker rematch, or the John Cena/Undertaker match so many have wanted. But if the real-life Mark Calaway is unable to perform at a high level, is bringing him back even worthwhile?

But at the same time…he’s the Undertaker. If anyone has earned the right to come and go on his own terms, it’s him. Let’s also remember that much of ‘Taker’s best in-ring work was done in his early to mid-forties. Think about his Wrestlemania matches with Batista, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and CM Punk. He has defied father time before. Given enough recovery and preparation time, it’s entirely possible he could do it again.

Regardless, the smart bet is that ‘Taker will be back sooner than later. But here’s my last lingering question: When he finally does say goodbye, how many of us will actually buy into it again? At what point does this Undertaker situation become just another version of The Boy Who Cried Wolf?

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WWE Raw Ponderings: Brock Lesnar’s Big Announcement

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

And so the plot thickens…

Roughly 48 hours after Brock Lesnar was challenged by new UFC Champion Jon Jones, Paul Heyman announces on Raw that Brock will leave WWE if he doesn’t retain the Universal Title at Summerslam. They didn’t mention Jones or UFC. But a good portion of the audience undoubtedly knew about it.

Obviously this is meant to plant yet another seed of doubt as to who’s walking out of Summerslam with the belt. While there’s been plenty of talk lately about Brock potentially making another return to the octagon, I don’t think this confirms anything. Even if he loses the title, who’s to say he leaves WWE altogether? He could bow out for awhile and then come back around the Royal Rumble or Wrestlemania. We saw something similar when he fought Mark Hunt.

Either way, a Jon Jones vs. Brock Lesnar fight seems likely. It’s just a question of when. And if/when it does happen, that means Brock remains a hot commodity. All the more reason for WWE to continue pursuing him in the years to come.

Ponderings From Raw:

Kurt Angle opens the show in his hometown of Pittsburgh. Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman interrupt to make the aforementioned announcement. Remember when Kurt did that backstage segment with Enzo and Cass? The one that ended with, “That’s not how you spell soft…” I wish we could see more of that Kurt Angle. The cheesy all-American boy he played when he made his debut in 1999. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the guy we’re getting nowadays. But the “vintage” style Kurt Angle would be much more fun to watch. At least once in awhile.

The Hardy Boyz def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. A three-team brawl erupts with the Revival afterward. After the show, the Hardys dropped yet another tease for the “Broken” stuff on Twitter. We’ve been waiting on this for months. All I can say is I’ll believe it when I see it.

Akira Tozawa, Rich Swann, and Cedric Alexander def. Ariya Daivari, TJP, and Tony Nese. Hey! The ropes weren’t purple! Are they finally scrapping that?

I wouldn’t want to take that Senton from Tozawa. He gets some mad height on that.

Jason Jordan appears on Miz TV. This was about what I expected it to be. Miz baiting Jordan into a confrontation, doing most of the heavy lifting in terms of mic work. Right now, Jordan is where you’d imagine he’d be in terms of his mic skills. He hasn’t had much of a chance to talk on front of a national audience. He’s inexperienced. But that doesn’t mean he’s doomed. Let’s give him a little time. Scrap that new entrance theme, though.

Seth Rollins def. Sheamus. Dean Ambrose saves Rollins from a beatdown. Speaking of entrance music, they added that little “Burn it down!” lyric to the opening of Rollins’ theme. Seth has needed a song with more punch to it for a long time. This is hardly the solution. But it’s a start.

Bray Wyatt cuts a promo on Finn Balor. Balor attacks, sending Bray reeling. About three quarters of the way through Bray’s promo, I hit the fast-forward button. As usual, they let him go way too long. As with a lot of Bray’s programs these days, this one is about hope and heroism. The fans look to up to Balor and cheer for him, so Bray wants to put him down. I’ll say this much: It means a little more after Bray beat Seth Rollins at Great Balls of Fire. And yet it feels like he’s been playing this same tune for months. A lot of people weren’t happy with the Bray Wyatt/Randy Orton program. But at least there was some good storytelling there.

Roman Reigns def. Samoa Joe and Braun Strowman in a Triple-Threat Match. Give them credit. They made this feel like a big main event. Parts of it had a pier 6 brawl vibe that I’d love to see more of at Summerslam.

The match itself was decent. All three guys came off strong at different points. Wasn’t a fan of Joe being pinned by Reigns. But better him than Strowman. Also, Joe has beaten Reigns twice. So it’s not like it kills him.

They made a point to remind us a few different times on this show that Roman retired the Undertaker. I’ve talked before about how that does nothing to endear him to the die-hards that hate him. Then again, it’s not like he’s going to win those folks over anyway….

Elias def. Kalisto. Elias Samson lost his last name some time last week. Thus, he’s now simply Elias. For the past 20 years or so, WWE has too many guys without last names. But this sort of fits with the vibe of his character. So fair enough, I guess.

Hey, remember when Kalisto beat Braun Strowman in a Dumpster Match? Me either.

Bayley def. Nia Jax via count-out. Damn, this show needs more women. How many times have we seen Bayley against Nia Jax? How about Bayley against Emma? Would they dare actually let her be competitive out there?

Still, not a bad match. They protected Nia, and made Bayley look like the underdog challenger chopping down the big tree.

Big Cass def. The Big Show via disqualification. What the hell was Enzo saying about bananas? Oye…

Corey Graves said something about Enzo not being a great tipper. Considering the story that came out last week about Enzo at a strip club, that’s a fairly hot line.

Based on how much time they had left when the entrances started, it was clear we weren’t getting a lengthy one here. And that’s fine. This was obviously a Summerslam appetizer. After seeing what Show did with Braun Strowman, I was actually looking forward to this one. What we got didn’t exactly break the ring. But being in there with Show gives Cass some valuable credibility.

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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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