Will Jinder Mahal Shock the World? Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

it looks like business just picked up. WWE and Jim Ross announced this week that the Hall of Fame broadcaster will lend his famous voice to the shows WWE recently taped in Norwich, England. The shows will be centered around the new WWE United Kingdom Division, of which the center is UK Champion Tyler Bate. Ross will work alongside Nigel McGuinness.

This is a hell of a selling point, not just for these UK shows, but for the WWE Network in general. JR’s voice is desperately missed on WWE television. He’s one of the best overall storytellers they’ve ever had. He could bring you inside the ring, break down the psychology, and put talent over in a way that most announcers today just don’t do. That’s a disservice to both the wrestlers and the fans. As many network subscribers will still be unfamiliar with the UK talent on that show, Ross’ name also has tremendous value.

I’m hopeful WWE will continue to bring JR in to call matches on the big shows, specifically Summerslam, the Royal Rumble, and Wrestlemania. We don’t need him to call every match. But he added some nice extra garnish to that Undertaker/Roman Reigns match. When WWE wants a match to feel special, they can always plug JR in to knock one out of the park. He’ll do it every time.

After WWE inexplicably let him go a few years back, it’s tremendous to see these two sides rebuilding that bridge. Let’s start making up for lost time.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Randy Orton appears for the first time since the House of Horrors Match. A brawl ensues with the other main eventers. A Six-Man Tag is made for later in the night. Jinder’s mic work had some heat to it. It wasn’t necessarily well-delivered. But if they keep working at this little experiment, they could have something here. The real question is what happens to Jinder after Backlash

By the way, does this grouping of Jinder Mahal and the Singh Brothers have a name? It seems like they should.

Natalya def. Becky Lynch. A Six-Woman Tag Match is made for Backlash, pitting the “Welcoming Committee” against Charlotte Flair, Naomi, and Lynch. Speaking of factions, can we get another name for this Nattie/Carmella/Tamina tandem? The Welcoming Committee is really damn lame.

Not a huge fan of the SIx-Woman Tag route they’re taking for Backlash. That’s a match for Smackdown, not a pay per view. The Welcoming Committee isn’t exactly the Shield.

Erick Rowan def. Luke Harper. Did Harper sleep with somebody’s wife or something? What does he have to do to get a substantial, sustained push?

Harper and Rowan are running into the same problem they had the last time the Wyatt Family broke up. They can’t seem to break out and distinguish themselves outside of being Bray Wyatt’s former henchmen. Harper has been close. But we still don’t know much about him. And the only thing we’ve ever really known about Rowan is his affinity for sheep masks. Why does he even wear it anymore?

Shinsuke Nakamura confronts Dolph Ziggler. A match is made for Backlash“You treat me like a contagious disease.” I like that line. I actually might steal that someday. Good mic work by Ziggler.

Be ready, folks. That Chicago crowd is going to go absolutely nuts for Nakamura.

In a WWE.com, Aiden English explains why he’s so emotional. Last week, Dave Meltzer speculated that WWE had English cry on television because they were mocking Mauro Ranallo. I’m not sure I buy that. I’m more curious why English is calling himself an “artist,” when that’s also Nakamura’s moniker. Apples and oranges, obviously. But still.

Breezango def. The Ascension, after another edition of “The Fashion Files” airs earlier in the evening. The Usos come out to cut a promo. So are Tyler Breeze and Fandango babyfaces now? They’re seemingly being shifted to a more comedic role. That suits their wit and delivery, so long as WWE doesn’t overdo it. Which they will, of course.

Another great promo from Jimmy and Jey. Where the hell have these guys been for the last seven years?

Kevin Owens, Baron Corbin, and Jinder Mahal def. Randy Orton, AJ Styles, and and Sami Zayn. Mahal scores the pinfall on Orton. Last week Jinder beats Sami, this week he pins Orton. I don’t know if it’s officially my prediction yet, but Jinder Mahal could very well shock the world at Backlash. They could position him as the beatable champion who needs his run-in buddies to retain the title. Stranger things have happened. In that sense, I can’t help but continue to think of him in the same vein as JBL circa 2004.

Randy Orton isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire as a babyface WWE Champion. Granted, he hasn’t had a lot of time yet, nor a particularly hot feud. But right now, anyone not named AJ Styles is going to have an uphill battle if they want to be the top babyface.

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Broken Matt Hardy in WWE? Plus Ponderings From Smackdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AJ Styles, Luke Harper, and Other Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

aj-styles-daniel-bryan-luke-harper-wwe-smackdown-february-21-2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Let’s jump right into the good stuff, shall we?

Smackdown continued to pave a winding road to Wrestlemania this week, as a Number One Contender Battle Royal ended with the double elimination of both AJ Styles and Luke Harper. Ergo, we still don’t know who will challenge Bray Wyatt for the WWE Title at Wrestlemania. Styles and Harper will wrestle next week to finally give us a challenger.

This was good stuff. It came down to the two guys with no other apparent dance partners for Wrestlemania. They kept you guessing through the end of the show. They did a variation on the old Bret Hart/Lex Luger spot from the ’94 Royal Rumble, where both men’s feet are supposed to touch the floor at once. Not the smoothest execution I’ve ever seen. It looked to me like Styles did indeed hit first. But considering the size difference between the two, it worked out fine.

An eventual victory for Luke Harper seems like the best option here. Orton could then step up to defend Bray, making it a Triple-Threat Match in the process. They could throw Styles in there to make it a four-way. But that would taint the whole Wyatt Family theme for the match. That would leave Styles to wrestle Shane McMahon at Wrestlemania. It’s certainly not the ideal match for a guy like him. But I don’t think wrestling one of the McMahons that bada gig. If anybody can get a killer match out of Shane, it’s AJ.

Other Ponderings From Smackdown:

naomi-wwe-smackdown-2017Naomi surrenders Women’s Championship due to injury. So…what’s the deal here? I didn’t even talk about Naomi’s injury last week because everything seemed so vague. I actually wondered if it was an angle intended to inject some extra drama into the rematch. Apparently that’s not the case.

When Seth Rollins went down with his injury a few weeks ago, WWE was pretty straightforward with the information. Within 24 hours, we knew it was likely a torn MCL, and by Raw the following week. And obviously, we knew when it took place. With Naomi, we don’t have any of that information. In today’s WWE, it’s pretty standard that they at least tell us something. As such, this feels weird.

Still, at this point there’s no reason to doubt this is all legit. Awful break for the real-life Trinity Fatu, who was in the middle of the biggest break of her career. Here’s hoping she comes back better than ever.

alexa-bliss-becky-lynch-wwe-smackdown-february-21-2017Alexa Bliss def. Becky Lynch to win the Smackdown Women’s Title. This is a tiny, tiny nitpick. But I didn’t like the way this match was made. In storyline, Alexa came out spontaneously to talk to Bryan. Bryan then announces the match, seemingly on the spur of the moment. He calls for Alexa’s opponent, and Becky just happens to be ready. Logically, that makes no sense. To his credit, however, JBL brought that up on commentary during this match, spinning it into a conspiracy theory.

Nice match. Very surprised Mickie James didn’t somehow cost Becky the title, and instead came out afterward to rub it in. Granted, of course, Alexa won with a handful of tights (shown above). I didn’t think Elimination Chamber was the right time to take the belt off her anyway. So I’m pleased she got it back.

Participants in the Battle Royal cut promos on the possibility of main-eventing WrestlemaniaI loved these. Why? Because just like we saw from Kevin Owens and Brock Lesnar on Raw, they let these guys look into the camera during their promos. Maybe Raw wasn’t just a coincidence. Maybe they’re finally changing, and letting the wrestlers have that extra bit of connection with the viewers at home.

the-usos-wwe-smackdown-february-21-2017American Alpha def. Breezango. The Usos taunt the Tag Team Champions. Yet another short affair between American Alpha and Breezango. They never let Fandango and Tyler Breeze get an inch.

The Usos had some great fire here. I’m guessing they had some time to regroup creatively. For awhile, they seemed to just be drifting by in different outfits.

Natalya def. Nikki Bella in a Falls Count Anywhere Match. I loved the line in Nattie’s pre-match promo about Nikki being “manufactured in a lab for instagram likes.” Props to whoever wrote that.

I’m not a Nikki Bella fan. I think I’ve been pretty clear about that. But I’ve come to respect her. This program with Natalya has done her a lot of good. It’s allowed her to be more aggressive, and up the intensity of her mic work. It’s been some of the best work of both their careers. And this was a good match. Easily the best of Nikki’s career, in my opinion. The fighting through the backstage area almost made it reminiscent of an Attitude Era style Hardcore Match. That Alabama Slam Nattie took on the table (shown left) looked rough, what with the whiplash effect.

nikki-bella-natalya-wwe-smackdown-february-21-2017Also, and forgive me for being a creep, but Nikki is always having to pull up the back of her tights during her matches. It might behoove her to invest in new ring gear, lest we see something we’re not supposed to.

The interference from Maryse obviously indicated things were a go for the mixed tag at Wrestlemania involving Miz and John Cena. A fact further cemented by Miz eliminating Cena from the Battle Royal later. Happy to see Nattie get the win here, as these ladies go their separate ways for the time being.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s look at our card for Elimination Chamber.

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

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

PREDICTION: Dolph Ziggler

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

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

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

PREDICTION: Nikki Bella

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

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

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

PREDICTION: Mickie James

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

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

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

PREDICTION: The Usos

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

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

PREDICTION: Alexa Bliss

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

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

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

PREDICTION: Randy Orton

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

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

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

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

PREDICTION: Bray Wyatt

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Cena vs. Orton at Wrestlemania? Plus Ponderings From Smackdown

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

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

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

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

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

But who does that leave for Cena…?

WWE Elimination Chamber 2017, John CenaPonderings From Smackdown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The John Cena Brand, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

john_cena_nickelodeonBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

First the Today show, then the ESPYs, then the Teen Choice Awards, then Saturday Night Live, now the Kids Choice Awards. Instead of being “the face that runs the place,” John Cena should be the “host that does the most.”

Indeed, Cena will host Nickelodeon’s annual Kid’s Choice Awards on March 11, just a few weeks before Wrestlemania. But it’s seemingly becoming less and less about wrestling for Cena. We’ve always known he had major crossover appeal. Every bit as much as Hulk Hogan or Steve Austin. Perhaps even the Rock. That’s one of the things WWE looks for in their top guys. But in 2016, the demand for Cena outside the squared circle was higher than ever.

Things don’t seem to be slowing down, either. In the last several months, he’s had critical opportunities to define the John Cena “brand” for mainstream America. Consider all the different demographics he’s reached via ESPN, the Today show and Saturday Night Live on NBC, Trainwreck with Amy Schumer, American Grit on Fox, and now Nickelodeon. Simply put, he’s everywhere.

John Cena, NBCFor WWE, this is good news. Yes, we’re bound to see far less of Cena on their TV shows. But he’s also one of the best ambassadors they’ve ever had. He’s handsome, charismatic, and legitimately entertaining when given the right material. He’s a guy you would want synonymous with your company.

Eventually, the Rock outgrew WWE. The Dwayne Johnson brand became as big, if not bigger, than the company he wrestled for. At this point, WWE is still very much woven into the fabric of the John Cena brand. So until he leaves the nest on a more permanent basis, what’s good for Cena is good for WWE.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Randy Orton def. Luke Harper. Bray Wyatt hits Sister Abigail on Harper after the match. Nice match. We may now have one less Wyatt Family member.

WWE has tried to break Harper out on his own before. He even got a brief Intercontinental Title reign out of it. But he wasn’t able to carve out a distinct identity for himself. He was essentially a drifting Wyatt Family member. That’s why it felt so right when they eventually put the group back together. If this is another go at a singles run for him, they can’t repeat the same mistakes.

Mickie James, WWE Smackdown, January 24, 2017Mickie James explains her actions as La Luchadora. She and Alexa Bliss lay out Becky Lynch. I love Mickie. I really do. But when she started rattling off her resume, it screamed “scripted promo.” Most of this stuff is scripted, obviously. But that just made it painfully obvious.

I do appreciate her spicing up the delivery, though. Her character motivation makes sense. With all this talk of a women’s revolution, she feels forgotten. And I’ll admit, I got a little chill when Becky’s music hit, and she talked right over it. “Don’t cry about last week, honey! Get in this ring and I’ll give you something to cry about!” Damn!

One minor complaint: When Becky was down in the ring, Alexa gave her a little kick in the side. She didn’t even register it. Maybe lay that in a little more next time. But overall, some pretty good stuff here.

Carmella takes James Ellsworth shopping for a new wardrobe. These talking segments still aren’t Ellsworth’s strong point. But Carmella’s got a lot of charisma, and I appreciate the idea. It’s always good to break up the monotony. I’ll admit, I chuckled at Ellsworth wearing a turtleneck.

Mojo Rawley, January 24, 2017Mojo Rawley wins a 10-man Over the Top Rope Challenge to earn a spot in the Royal Rumble Match. Mojo Rawley caught a bad break when Zack Ryder got hurt. It’s cool that they’re testing the waters with him. But who is this guy? All I really know is he was Zack Ryder’s tag partner in NXT.

This is the first time we’ve seen Heath Slater in awhile. They need to find something for him to do. The team with Rhyno has run its course. But he can still contribute as a single.

They had Baron Corbin out there on commentary. He’s improving, but the Earth didn’t move for me on this one.

AJ Styles calls out John Cena. It found it hilarious that AJ talked about his placement on the Royal Rumble poster. I actually saw a few Twitter trolls complaining about that. It’s not entirely unjustified. But it’s a multi-man Royal Rumble poster that has the four biggest stars (Undertaker, Goldberg, Brock Lesnar, and Cena) in the front. Even the mighty Roman Reigns didn’t make the front row. Get over it.

Oddly enough, I was actually watching that Today show episode as it aired. I rarely get to see it. But Cena happened to be on, and I caught that AJ Styles mention. I even tweeted about it. Because, you know, I tweet about things…

What can I say? I was tickled. Other than that, this was pretty much your standard Cena vs. Indy Guy promo. Not thrilled to see AJ stunned speechless at the end. Especially since there’s a good chance Cena’s walking out with the belt on Sunday.

Dolph Ziggler def. Kalisto. Apollo Crews saves Kalisto from another chair attack by Ziggler. Loved Kalisto dodging the clothesline with a backflip. That’s pretty much all I can say about this one, as it ended so quickly. I imagine we’ll see Ziggler vs. Crews sooner than later. Unless they want to do it at Elimination Chamber. But that seems unlikely. They’ll probably need Dolph for the chamber.

Naomi reemerges, places herself in the hunt for the Smackdown Women’s Title. Happy to see Naomi back on television. She’s clearly been hungry for awhile now, and she’s got so many athletic gifts. She deserves her shot.

Dean Ambrose, WWE Smackdown, January 24, 2017Dean Ambrose def. the Miz in a Lumberjack Match to retain the Intercontinental Championship. On the infographic they showed when Ambrose came out, he had two accomplishments listed: “Founding member of the Shield” and “Defeated the Miz for the Intercontinental Championship.” We’ve been getting Shield mentions every week on Raw, and Smackdown hasn’t been shy about bringing them up either. WWE really wants the Shield near the front of everyone’s mind. I imagine that’s because they want some of those fond memories to rub off on Roman Reigns. But it also doesn’t hurt to plant seeds for their inevitable reunion.

I was pleased to hear “Let’s go Ambrose!” chants during this match. Ambrose was starting to hear boos when he was programmed with AJ Styles. I’d like to think that had more to do with the love fans have for Styles than any disdain they developed for Ambrose. He’s such an eccentric talent, and one of my favorite guys to watch.

Just like they keep talking about Cena going for Heavyweight Title number 16, Mauro Ranallo kept hyping the idea of Miz being a seven-time Intercontinental Champion. Do they want him to break Jericho’s record of nine? Or is that just Mauro being an informed announcer? We’re not necessarily used to those…

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Mickie James Returns! Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

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

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

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

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

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

Ponderings From Smackdown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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