Kurt Angle’s Acting Woes, Plus Ponderings From Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

You know who we really could use right about now? The Big Show.

Or at least someone like Big Show. People can say what they want about the pace he cuts in the ring. But that guy can take WWE’s scripted material and act the hell out of it. We’ve seen him break down and cry on live television. He can garner an amazing amount of sympathy for someone so big and powerful. Case in point, those segments from a few years ago when Stephanie McMahon would blackmail him into doing the Authority’s bidding.

Kurt Angle really needs some acting tips from the giant. Because they’re trying to cast him in a similar role heading into Wrestlemania. Coming off the contract signing at Elimination Chamber, it’s obvious Ronda Rousey’s first WWE match will see her team with Angle against Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. Rousey has taken to sticking up for the Raw General Manager as he’s been condescended to, belittled, and as we saw on Raw this week, outright attacked by WWE’s power couple.

The trouble is that in trying to recite WWE’s scripted dialogue, Angle often comes off like a bumbling fool. A likable fool, perhaps. But still a fool. That undercuts the story they’re trying to tell. And one with pretty high stakes, considering all they’ve invested in Rousey. On paper, Angle is a fantastic choice to team with Rousey. But depending how they script this, he could wind up dragging her down.

There could be one saving grace, however. Remember when Triple H surprised Angle with a Pedigree at Survivor Series? The next night on Raw, Angle marched up to him and said if he ever did it again, “…you can take this job and shove it, because I’m comin’ for you!” We’re inevitably going to see that Kurt Angle again in the next few weeks. The Raw General Manager will go away, and the Olympic champion will return. That’s got the potential to be a hell of a moment, and Rousey’s presence will only accentuate it.

If they can’t make this thing work from a story perspective, then maybe they can pump in a little more of that big fight feel….

Other Ponderings From Raw:

Alexa Bliss and Mickie James open the show. Asuka emerges, but walks into a trap set by Bliss, James, and Nia Jax. Sasha Banks and Bayley join the fight, and a six-woman tag match is made. The babyfaces prevail, despite Bayley refusing to tag Banks out of a predicament. God damn. Alexa Bliss cuts a career promo for the second night in a row. This woman is money on the mic. I don’t know if it’s right to call her an overachiever or not. But she’s damn sure maximized her minutes.

Supposedly, Sasha Banks and Alexa Bliss had legit heat at one point. Supposedly Banks didn’t think she had legit passion for the business. Seeing how well they work together, I wonder if that’s still a thing…

Banks isn’t a full fledged heel yet. But she’s damn close, and she’s that much better for it.

Question: Why exactly did Mickie James turn heel? I missed that memo.

John Cena talks about his failure at Elimination Chamber, challenging the Undertaker, and earning a match at Wrestlemania by moving to Smackdown. The big news item coming out of this segment was Cena announcing he will not be wrestling the Undertaker in New Orleans. Mind you, that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. It just means he said it’s not happening. Time will tell.

Personally, I think ‘Taker shows up at Wrestlemania. The fan interest is obviously there, as illustrated by how the crowd popped when Cena said his name. But after what we saw from him last year, I wouldn’t be heartbroken if he is fact done. If anyone has earned the right to stay retired, it’s him.

Bray Wyatt destroys Heath Slater and Rhyno, says the “great war” with Matt Hardy is far from over. STOP LAUGHING, you idiot. You lost a big match. On pay per view. Again. You’re on the road to becoming as much of a jobber as…well, Heath Slater and Rhyno.

After an impassioned promo from the Miz, the Intercontinental Champion loses a non-title match to Seth Rollins. Finn Balor comes out to upstage Rollins’ win. Miz is in a really special place right now. He was always a good mic guy. He became a great mic guy. But when he cuts promos like the one he did on this show, he proves he’s becoming one of the greatest promos of his generation. Not just the passion he spoke with, but some of the little entitled character bits he threw in there. And of course, he got to look in to the camera, which never hurts a damn bit. Homie was in the zone out there.

I wasn’t around last week to talk about it. But Seth Rollins’ stock is pretty damn high after last week. Probably as high as it’s been since he turned face. I’m well aware I’m not the first to say this, but I’ll say it anyway: Last week Rollins put on one of the best performances in Raw history. That being said, a lot of fans got swept up in the afterglow of the match, declaring Rollins could now feasibly be put against Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania. Assuming Roman Reigns went down with an injury, of course.

No. Just, no.

I’ve never taken anything away from this guy’s talent or his drive. He’s one of the best in the world right now. But the Seth Rollins character isn’t ready for a big match like that. He took a big step in that direction week. But he still needs to give us a little more to latch on to. Calling him the “Kingslayer,” or worse “the Architect” does nothing for his identity.

It’s a shame, especially when you look at some of the stuff this guy does out there, i.e. that freakish Frog Splash across the ring.

Finn Balor def. The Miz. So are we looking at a Fatal Four-Way for Wrestlemania? Miz vs. Rollins vs. Balor vs. Strowman? Or is Strowman even in the IC Title hunt anymore? You’d think he would be after what we saw in the Chamber Match.

Roman Reigns: “Brock Lesnar is an entitled piece of crap who hides behind his contract.” They were smart to play this card. It’s similar to the one Cena played against the Rock several years ago. The loyalty card. The full-timer/part-timer card. The “I care and he doesn’t” card. It’s simple, but effective. Because it’s rooted in truth. Roman is there almost every week, Brock isn’t.

Between Alexa Bliss and the Miz, I’ve talked a lot about mic work this week. While I wouldn’t call Roman a great talker, he can deliver big when he’s got something to sink his teeth into. He showed us that here tonight.

I highly doubt it’ll get Roman cheered any more than he would have been otherwise. But it’s about as good a shot as they can take.

The Bar def. Titus O’Neil and Apollo in a 2/3 Falls Match to retain the WWE Raw Tag Team Titles. The champs gloat on the mic. Sheamus and Cesaro have a point. Who have they got left to beat? Is it time to call up a team from NXT? This close to Wrestlemania, that seems doubtful.

Braun Strowman def. Elias via disqualification. This one really dragged. But both these guys are hot right now. I’ve actually been on quite the Elias kick lately. To the point that I actually looked forward to his song routine this week.

So are these two headed to Wrestlemania? Seems like that might be the case…

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Ronda Rousey’s WWE Debut, Plus Ponderings From the Royal Rumble and Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

“The landscape has changed.” That’s one of their go-to lines, isn’t it? Whenever something supposedly big happens, somebody has to say: “The landscape has changed.” It doesn’t really make sense, does it?

But last night the landscape did change, didn’t it? At least as far as women’s wrestling is concerned. Ronda Rousey is apparently now a full-time performer with WWE. What exactly “full-time” means for her has yet to be determined. Somehow I doubt she’ll be making all the house shows. She may end up being the female equivalent to Brock Lesnar. But one way or another, this is happening. Ronda Rousey is a professional wrestler.

People can say what they want about how Rousey last few fights went. But this woman is a legit superstar, and a true trailblazer in the world of women’s sports. Would the so-called “women’s revolution” in WWE have even occurred if not for what Rousey did in the world of MMA? The answer is no. What’s more, she’s a legit wrestling fan. This is apparently a legit passion project for her. Look no further than what she was wearing when she showed up after the Women’s Royal Rumble Match last night. A clear homage to Rowdy Roddy Piper, whose nickname she adopted in the UFC as “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey. That leather jacket legitimately belonged to Piper.

I always hesitate to use words like “legitimacy” or “credibility” when it comes to pro wrestling. This stuff is worked. It’s not the same as what Rousey did in the UFC, and it never will be. But a superstar like Rousey choosing to devote the next chapter of her career to WWE lends the business an amazing level of credibility. It’s a message to the world at large about what wrestling is and what it means to our popular culture. It’s also a hell of a shot in the arm for women’s wrestling overall.

We may be in the midst of a women’s revolution. But Ronda Rousey is about to start a revolution of her own.

Ponderings From Raw (with some added from the Royal Rumble):

Shinsuke Nakamura wins the 2018 Royal Rumble Match, challenges AJ Styles for Wrestlemania. Simply put, this was the best Royal Rumble Match in years. And not just because the right guy won. The Philadelphia crowd was hot, and they milked the drama so perfectly during those last several minutes. It’s been a long time since a wrestling match has actually made me nervous. But when we were down to Nakamura, Reigns, Cena, and Balor, my heart was in my throat.

What’s more, they’re giving us a match truly worthy of Wrestlemania: Shinsuke Nakamura against AJ Styles for the WWE Championship. Depending on how much time they have, these two could make magic. This was the career moment Nakamura needed, and the smart bet is he’ll have yet another one at Wrestlemania.

Rey Mysterio Jr. returns to WWE as a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble Match.  As I type this, the YouTube clip of Ronda Rousey’s appearance has almost two million views. The clip of Rey’s return? Almost five million. That should tell WWE all they need to know about whether to bring him back. Supposedly they want him to work a full-time schedule and he’s not up for it. I can’t say I blame him. The last time we saw him in WWE he looked tired and beat up. He’s earned the right to some breathing room.

Stephanie McMahon brings out Women’s Royal Rumble winner Asuka at the top of the show. An Elimination Chamber Match for the Raw Women’s Title is made for the upcoming pay per view. Sasha Banks challenges Asuka to a match, which is made for later in the night. When Asuka started speaking in Japanese, I wondered if they needed to give her a translator. But I’d say she got her message across just fine…

The Women’s Royal Rumble Match itself worked out fairly well. The right woman won, obviously. And despite my general distaste for Sasha Banks, I give her a world of credit for being out there as long as she was. Ditto for Becky Lynch.

However, the match did suffer for featuring several women who were either relatively inexperienced, hadn’t wrestled in a long time, or weren’t necessarily qualified to be wrestlers in the first place. While former stars like Trish Stratus and Beth Phoenix looked outstanding, I could have easily done without Vickie Guerrero, Kelly Kelly, and Torrie Wilson (despite the pop she got). The biggest problem this match had was its need for bodies. They were filling space for the sake of filling space. It’s forgivable this year. But next year they need to do better.

Jonathan Coachman rejoins the Raw announce team full-time. Given Coach’s experience with ESPN, this was a nice get for WWE. I appreciate that he’s in an analyst role, as opposed a lead announcer. He’ll certainly do better than Booker T, whose commentary had long since gone off the deep end.

At least it’s not David Otunga.

Braun Strowman overturns part of the Raw stage on to Kane during a Last Man Standing Match to earn a spot in the upcoming Elimination Chamber Match. At this point, Braun is essentially WWE’s answer to the Hulk. Every week he performs some kind of superhuman feat of strength, leaving a trail of destruction behind him. That’s not a bad role to have. People love the Hulk, don’t they?

Gotta love Kurt Angle yelling at Braun about the whole thing. Um, Kurt? You booked it…

Elias def. Woken Matt Hardy, with an assist from Bray Wyatt, to advance to the Elimination Chamber. It’s been several weeks since we first saw Woken Matt on Raw, and my interest is tapering off. It doesn’t help that he’s been losing more than winning. The whole reason for Matt’s awakening in the first place was that he couldn’t win a match. So where does that leave him now?

The Miz def. Roman Reigns to retain the WWE Intercontinental Title. Why would Miz try to chop him? Roman Reigns wears a damn vest. Think, you idiot! Think!

Good match, though. These two have better chemistry than you would think, given how different their backgrounds are.

The Revival def. Heath Slater and Rhyno. You know what I wouldn’t mind seeing? The Revival against a babyface Sheamus and Cesaro for the Raw Tag Team Titles. Sounds like a Wrestlemania match to me.

The Dudley Boyz announced for WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2018. I still say it’s a shame Bubba and D-Von never got to hold the tag belts again after they came back. Even so, this is obviously well-deserved. They’d never tell you this on Raw, but the Dudleys are the only team to have won championships in WWE, ECW, TNA, and New Japan Pro Wrestling. They’re one of the most widely popular tag teams in wrestling history. This has long since been an inevitability. Congrats, gentlemen.

Asuka def. Sasha Banks. I expected to see Bayley during this match after Sasha tossed her out of the Rumble last night. That’s the kind of thing that’d make you think a Bayley heel turn is coming. Personally, I’d rather they do babyface Bayley right.

Loving all the talk about Asuka’s streak potentially ending. We need more of that. The streak is on the line every time Asuka steps in the ring, and with each victory it grows.

Between the Rumble and this match with Asuka, Sasha’s had a hell of a weekend. It looks like they’re finally working toward a heel turn for her. Works for me. I don’t think it’s a secret that I’m done with her as a babyface. As a heel, though…

Whether hero or villain, she needs to stop those damn dives. This wasn’t the first nasty fall she’s taken with one of those. She’s tough as hell for getting up and continuing the match, and it was obviously a hell of an effort from both ladies. But enough is enough.

The Miz, Finn Balor, and John Cena cut backstage promos using handheld devices. I ADORE this. Scripted or not, it comes off so much more naturally. And by God, they’re looking into the camera! Glory, glory, hallelujah!

The Bar def. Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews to retain the Raw Tag Team Titles. Corey Graves said something during this match about Dana Brooke being the missing ingredient for O’Neil and Crews. As unlikely as it is on paper, that seems to be the case.

Crews was a stud out there this week. Eve after taking that nasty Power Bomb from Sheamus. He’s so explosive. Like a damn human super ball.

John Cena def. Finn Balor to advance to the Elimination Chamber. There’s no shame in losing to John Cena. Cena certainly puts enough people over in his own right. I just wish they’d let Balor pick up some steam. He’s one of the coolest acts on the roster, and he puts on great matches consistently. But he just keeps losing. This guy can headline Wrestlemania this year if they wanted him to. But he just can’t seem to bust through the glass ceiling. What gives?

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Is Paige’s Career Over? Plus, Ponderings From Raw and Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m sure Paige isn’t someone who would want to be pitied. But man, this girl has had a rough couple of years. And I thought my 20s were a mess…

Over the last severals days, various wrestling news outlets have reported that after sustaining an injury at a house show on December 28, WWE officials are opting not to clear the real-life Saraya-Jade Bevis to wrestle again. This news comes mere weeks after she made her return to the promotion after a lengthy absence.

WWE has confirmed Paige’s absence from the upcoming women’s Royal Rumble Match, but hasn’t gone any further than that. Perhaps they want to run some more tests? Or maybe they don’t want to announce a forced retirement as we head toward next week’s big Raw anniversary show. Maybe it’s a combination of both.

Despite how things look now, I wouldn’t get too broken up about this just yet. Until WWE or Paige officially say that she’s done, she’s not done. That might seem like denial, but stranger things have happened.

Furthermore, WWE refusing to clear Paige does not mean she’ll never wrestle again. I hesitate to compare the two, but the situation with Daniel Bryan comes to mind. He’s outright said he will wrestle again, whether it’s in WWE or not. If Paige wants to wrestle again, she will. It’s just a question of when.

But if this is indeed the end of Paige’s time in WWE as a wrestler, there’s still plenty she can do with them while she’s under contract. She’s obviously a good talker, and despite the so-called “Women’s Revolution,” there are still no women calling the action on a regular basis. With some practice, that’s a role Paige could easily fill. She could also use her verbal skills as a manager or valet, helping get a less experienced talent over. Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville obviously come to mind.

Or quite frankly, she can opt to pursue something outside of wrestling. It’s so easy to forget how young this woman is. She’s 25. She started wrestling when she was 13. Bevis has accomplished so much in the wrestling industry. Perhaps it’s time to conquer another frontier. She’s made a name for herself with WWE, and has a devoted fan base that would likely follow her into another endeavor. It’s simply a question of what she wants to do.

When she’s performing in the ring, Paige loves to tell us: “This is my house!” But if it can’t be her house anymore, she can always look for another one. Perhaps in a completely different neighborhood…

Ponderings From Raw and Smackdown:

After Braun Strowman opens Raw with a promo, Kurt Angle fires Strowman for last week’s attack on Brock Lesnar and Kane. Strowman goes on a rampage over the next hour. At some point during all of this, Michael Cole called the destruction caused  by Strowman “unprecedented.” I understand why the announcers say stuff like that. But considering how much they want us to buy the WWE Network, which literally has hours of footage of guys like Steve Austin laying waste to their surroundings, it’s just so stupid.

Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews def. Sheamus and Cesaro, aided by a distraction from Jason Jordan. I’m still getting used to Dana Brooke’s new duds. For whatever reason, seeing her portray a statistician in this segment made me wonder if she even has a college degree. So I looked it up. Turns out she has a BS in fashion, merchandising, and design, with a minor in business administration. I wouldn’t have guessed that…

Cedric Alexander def. Tony Nese. Nothing too interesting here, as the outcome was never a question. Nese took the Lumbar Check like a beast, though.

So they had Goldust out there with Alexander, and Enzo out with Nese. Goldust vs. Enzo is a match I never knew I wanted.

Angle re-hires Strowman after he overturns a semi truck and throws Michael Cole off the stage. As Cole went flying, he should have screamed: “This is unprecedented!!!!” Kudos to him for doing that, though. It looked staged as hell with all those “security guards” clumped together to catch him. But still.

Asuka def. Nia Jax via referee stoppage. I loved this match. No joke. This was the best thing either of these ladies have given us since their main roster debuts. It wasn’t wall-to-wall action, but the story an the intrigue were there. This is the most vulnerable we’ve ever seen Nia Jax, and it was the unstoppable Asuka that took her to that point. Both ladies sold everything really well, and I’m actually anxious to see them in the ring together again. Well done.

The Revival win an enhancement match, then cut an impassioned promo. I don’t have a good feeling about Dash and Dawson knocking Austin, DX, and the nostalgia names that will be at next week’s anniversary show. Remember what happened to the Ascension? I’m having flashbacks to that segment with the nWo, the APA and the New Age Outlaws that essentially killed them dead.

Coincidentally, all those guys will be there next week…

Roman Reigns def. Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas in a Handicap Match. Again, not too much interest in this one because the outcome was so obvious. But at least it wasn’t another Miztourage/Finn Balor match.

Sonya Deville def. Sasha Banks. This was a surprise. Really nice moment for Sonya Deville, though. With Shayna Baszler making waves in NXT, most of the luster is off her MMA-inspired presentation. So the more she can do to stand out, the better.

Matt Hardy def. Heath Slater. This seems like as good a time as any to bring up Samoa Joe, who apparently hurt his foot during his match with Rhyno last week. Thus, he’s on the injured reserve list yet again, and will miss the Royal Rumble. Horrible break for Joe, who’s at risk for being labeled “injury prone.”

Digging Matt Hardy’s piano music. They should take the voiceovers out though. Just let the music speak for itself.

Bill Goldberg announced for WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2018. This one isn’t a surprise. But it’s still very cool. He got to close his career on a great note last year, and this is great icing on that cake.

Seth Rollins def. Finn Balor. This match had the wrong winner. Balor has finally picked up speed again since reuniting with Gallows and Anderson. Rollins wouldn’t have been hurt by a loss to Balor, especially if it were accidentally caused by Jason Jordan.

Great to see the Curb Stomp back, though. That one’s been gone for a few years now. Let’s hope it sicks around.

Jinder Mahal def. Xavier Woods to advance to the finals of the United States Title tournament. Good story here. Xavier was the underdog from the get-go, as the announcers cast him as the “little brother” of the New Day. Despite the loss, this was a nice individual spotlight for Woods.

Bobby Roode def. Mojo Rawley to advance to the finals of the United States Title tournament. Roode challenges Mahal to have the finals later that night. Daniel Bryan makes the match. It was fairly obvious from the get-go that it would be Jinder vs. Roode in the finals. But this tournament was good to Mojo. He got to beat Ryder again, and he got to be really aggressive here. Despite the potential he had as a babyface, the heel stuff is working for him.

The Riott Squad def. Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and Naomi. I spent most of this match watching Liv Morgan. Her inexperience is somewhat obvious. But her demeanor, the way she carries herself out there, is fun to watch. I don’t know much about her from NXT, but there’s clearly something there with her.

Baron Corbin, Randy Orton, and Shinske Nakamura cut backstage promos for the Royal Rumble using handheld cameras. I liked this. Anytime wrestlers can cut solo promos for the Rumble Match, it feels old school. The handheld cameras were a nice touch as well. More of this, please.

The bit with Nakamura, though… Does he stand a chance of winning the Rumble, and actually being in a big Wrestlemania match? I go back and forth.

Bobby Roode def. Jinder Mahal to win the United States Title tournament. This surprised me. I thought for sure it was going to Mahal. I won’t complain, though. It’s a career moment for Roode. That stuff they say about people not thinking he’d make it to WWE? It’s a shoot. The longer he spent with TNA, the less likely it seemed he’d ever get to work for WWE. So him coming in and having the success that he’s had makes for a great story.

Not sure why they opted to crown the new champ on this show as opposed to the Royal Rumble. But it made for a good night, and it gave us a breather from seeing the main event guys in the ring every week.

Finn Balor and Sasha Banks def. Shinsuke Nakamura and Natalya in the first edition of WWE Mixed Match Challenge. Right off the bat, we’ve got too many announcers. They had Renee Young and Byron Saxton open the show on handheld mics, just to turn it over to Cole, Corey Graves, and Beth Phoenix.

You want to make this show different? Take a risk. Pull Cole and Saxton out. Have our announce team be Young, Graves, and Phoenix. Fans have wanted to see Renee Young take another crack at play-by-play for years. This is a great chance. It’s a short broadcast, and Graves will be there to help steer the ship if she needs it.

As far as Beth’s announcing is concerned, it was obvious she’d never done it before. She came off a little nervous. But there’s a lot of potential there. Between she and Paige, WWE has their share of options as it relates to female announcers.

The way Nattie and Nakamura played off each other was fun. The babyface/heel personality clashes we’re going to see of this show could be interesting. Big E and Carmella, Sami Zayn and Becky Lynch, etc. It’s tough to predict anything at this point. But Finn and Sasha are favorites, as are Miz and Asuka. I wouldn’t necessarily bet against Bobby Roode and Charlotte Flair, either.

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Women’s Royal Rumble Match, Plus Ponderings From Raw and Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve been gone for a few weeks. As such, I haven’t gotten the chance to talk about the upcoming women’s Royal Rumble Match.

Like almost everybody else, I’m cool with the match itself. I just wonder if this isn’t the beginning of WWE continuing to water down their big pay per view shows. Historically, there’s only been one Rumble Match each year. Now we’re getting a second. I imagine we’ll get the women’s Rumble at the top of the show, and the men’s Rumble as the main event. I’m very curious to see how that Philadelphia crowd reacts to two of these matches on one show. Does the novelty wear off for the second one?

I’m also curious to see how they fill those 30 slots. Almost every eligible woman on the main roster is now in the match. Factoring in Dana Brooke and Alicia Fox, who haven’t been announced yet, you’ve got 19 main roster names you can put in there. Thus, they have 11 spots they have to fill with either NXT talent or returning wrestlers. That’s a pretty big gap…

Obviously all of this is still very much in the experiment phase. Growing pains for the Women’s Division, which continues to grow. Much of what goes wrong (if anything) this year can be corrected in the years to come.

Ponderings From Raw and Smackdown:

Jason Jordan interrupts Roman Reigns’ opening promo, talks about a three-man group between Reigns, Jordan, and Seth Rollins. Finn Balor, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson interrupt. A six-man tag is made for the main event. This Shield reunion was apparently snake bit from the start. First Reigns has to bow out of their first main event together, and now Dean Ambrose goes down with an injury that’ll put him out for nine months. That’s a rotten break. But as these things sometimes are, it may be a blessing in disguise. Going away for awhile will hopefully freshen Ambrose up, and maybe even lead him back to heavyweight title contention.

Jason Jordan came off really well here from the standpoint of being a hokey, lame daddy’s boy trying to insert himself into the Shield. On the flip side, it’s great to see Balor teaming with Gallows and Anderson at long last. But the cool vibe they’ve got going for them gets undercut real quick when they have to recite that contrived WWE dialogue.

Sasha Banks and Bayley def. Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville. After a few weeks off, I still find Sasha Banks annoying. Absence doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder.

On Wrestling Observer Radio last week, Dave Meltzer mentioned that WWE has given up on Bayley. I’m inclined to believe him. But they’ve got no one to blame but themselves for that one. They wrote Bayley into a hole that she still hasn’t been able to escape.

Matt Hardy def. Curt Hawkins, stares down Bray Wyatt. Memphis was pretty quiet for this one, unless Matt was prompting them to chant. Then they had that weird staredown. Not the best night for the Woken one…

The Miz returns on Miz TV, announces he’s coming for the Intercontinental Title. This was pretty by-the-book. Good to see Miz back, of course. Raw missed him.

So apparently Miz and Maryse are getting a reality show on the USA Network. That’s actually a pretty big deal. I’m not a Total Divas fan at all, but that show caters to an audience that Raw and Smackdown obviously don’t. Given Miz’s background as a reality TV star, not to mention the couple’s work on Total Divas, this could be an awesome thing for them.

Cedric Alexander def Enzo Amore via count-out. Enzo retains the Cruiserweight Title. Ouch. Kudos to Enzo for finishing the match after getting busted open by a kick. Also, he was either selling really well, or he legit hurt his ankle. Did they have to call an audible on the finish?

Got a chance to catch Enzo on Straight to the Source, Corey Graves’ interview show on the WWE Network. Enzo spouted off a lot of catchphrases, but he still did damn good with that platform. He also seemed to set up a feud with Big Cass when he returns.

Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews def. Seams and Cesaro. So Dana Brooke is obviously with Titus and Apollo now. That business casual look actually suits her. It’s sort of a throwback to Debra’s old look. I would never have pegged “statistician” as a good role for Dana Brooke. But for now it’s working.

Kane ambushes Brock Lesnar after a Paul Heyman promo. Braun Strowman surprises them both, and then brings a lighting rig down on his Royal Rumble opponents. Firstly, since I didn’t get to say it last week, Brock sitting up and laughing at Kane’s Chokeslam was awesome. A really nice nod to the Undertaker.

So…that lighting rig obviously didn’t touch either Lesnar or Kane. That was pretty clear even on television. But still a pretty cool stunt for Strowman. And I liked the juxtaposition of Kane pulling himself back up with Lesnar getting loaded into the ambulance. I just wish the match stood a chance of living up to this hype.

Samoa Joe def. Rhyno, announces he’s targeting John Cena at the Royal Rumble. Crowd was dead for this one too. But in all fairness Rhyno has essentially become an enhancement talent. The final ECW Heavyweight Champion, ladies and gentlemen.

Finn Balor, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson def. Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Jason Jordan. The Miz and the Miztourage ambush Reigns after the match. Teaming with Gallows and Anderson is already producing results for Balor. He got to score the pin and beat a team that’s not the Miztourage!

AJ Styles is interviewed at the top of the show. A Handicap Match is made for the main event. AJ’s end of this promo was weird. For one thing, he actually said “smart booking” on WWE television, which feels like something he’s not supposed to say. He also seemed legit flustered at one point. That’s sort of where he was supposed to be coming from in the promo. But I’m not sure he’s that good an actor…

Becky Lynch def. Ruby Riott. It was confusing that Charlotte and Naomi came out after Becky. Neither of them were in the match…

During this match I tweeted: “If Absolution is Coca Cola, then the Riott Squad is RC Cola.” That’s to say, Ruby and her crew seem like a cheap knock-off. That’s a shame, as Ruby’s look is so distinct. The big difference is Paige. Between Absolution and the Riott Squad, she’s the only established WWE name. We’re still getting to know everyone else.

Mojo Rawley def. Zack Ryder to advance to the semi-finals in the United States Championship tournament. This was hardly a shock. Ryder was always going to end up putting Rawley over. Though I still maintain a heel turn would have worked for Ryder.

There’s not much suspense in this tournament, as it’s obviously going to be Bobby Roode against Jinder Mahal in the finals at the Rumble. I’m assuming they’ll give it to Jinder as a way to rehab him after his WWE title run.

Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable demand justice for the Smackdown Tag Team Titles. Daniel Bryan puts them in a Two-Out-of-Three Falls Match at the Royal Rumble. Gable and Benjamin were alright on the mic here. The big reason Benjamin was never able to reach that top echelon was he never had much of a personality. I think his opportunity to be a main-eventer has come and gone But if Gable can help bring a little more charisma out of him, he could still reap some big benefits down the road.

Breezango def. Rusev Day. Despite their loss here, Rusev and English should be tag champs before the year is through. For whatever reason, this Rusev Day thing is over.

AJ Styles, Randy Orton, and Shinsuke Nakamura def. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in a Handicap Match. Shane McMahon adds stipulations to the match when Owens and Zayn try to get counted out, and then disqualified. I’m never a fan of the babyfaces outnumbering the heels in Handicap Matches. It throws the psychology out of whack. You can make a legitimate case that Shane is the heel here. He’s essentially trapping Owens and Zayn in this match. But that seems to be what they’re going for. This Shane McMahon/Daniel Bryan thing is all about shades of gray. It’s interesting, but confusing at times.

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Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Well I’ll be damned…

Kenny Omega vs. Chris Jericho at Wrestle Kingdom 12.

If you’re a pro wrestling geek, this is a huge match in just about every way possible. Granted, Jericho may only work one date for New Japan. A handful at most. But let’s pause for a moment and consider not just what this means artistically, but for NJPW’s presence in America.

Chris Jericho is obviously not under contract to WWE right now. But he’s a WWE superstar in every sense of the word. When he’s around, it’s a big deal. He’s been able to reinvent himself time and time again, making comeback after comeback and being consistently athletic and entertaining each time. This year, at age 46, he and Kevin Owens had one of the key storylines heading into Wrestlemania.

Perhaps most importantly, Jericho has wrestled exclusively for WWE since 1999. He’s a multi-faceted performer, and has a lot of irons in the fire. But when it comes to wrestling, for almost 20 years there’s only been one place to find Chris Jericho. He’s always said he only wanted to work for the top promotion in the world, and anywhere else would be a step down. Chris Jericho has been a WWE guy through and through. Until now.

Think about that. Think about what that says about Kenny Omega as a performer. Think about what that says about New Japan’s growing prominence in America. Think about what that says about NJPW’s potential as an alternative to WWE.

And if they can get Chris Jericho, who else can they get on more of a full-time basis?

Ponderings From Raw:

Kurt Angle appears on Miz TV at the top of the show, announces Miz vs. Braun Strowman in the main event. Miz had a great line here about Baron Corbin being “the bathroom break of Smackdown.” There’s a reason these guys haven’t been cutting promos on each other directly. In a war of words, Miz destroys Corbin every time. It’s not even close.

Jason Jordan def. Elias in a Guitar on a Pole Match. Angle later names Jordan to Team Raw at Survivor SeriesI don’t know why I expected this match to end with a guitar shot to the head. Maybe it’s because I’ve been trained to expect it after so many years watching guys like Jeff Jarrett smash guitars over people’s craniums. Maybe it’s because Elias got to hit Finn Balor in the head with it awhile back. Either way, this match ended on a whimper when Jordan smashed the damn guitar over Elias’ back. Either gimmick the guitar really well and go for it, or don’t book the damn match.

So Kurt Angle puts his “son” Jason Jordan on Team Raw. I like this a lot if it’s headed where I think it is…

Asuka won an enhancement match. I obviously don’t know how things sounded live. But on television this Manchester crowd sounded dead as a doornail. No one suffered the ill effects worse than Asuka did in this match. WWE are still trying to get her over with mainstream audiences, and this did not help. At all.

Samoa Joe runs through Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews, and issues an open challenge. Finn Balor accepts. The match goes to a double count-out. Kurt Angle later names both men to Team Raw. I hadn’t quite realized how much I missed Joe until I saw his promo here, and the subsequent match with Balor. Neither were great. But Joe’s intensity and believability are off the charts.

I really wish the announcers hadn’t mentioned the Kane thing from two weeks back. When Balor is stepping up and accepting a tough guy’s open challenge, it doesn’t help his cause to harken back to when got his ass handed to him in another open challenge. Frankly, I think we’d all love to forget that match ever happened…

Sasha Banks and Bayley def. Alicia Fox and Nia Jax. Sasha is later picked for the Raw women’s team. It’s amazing how stupid WWE thinks we are sometimes. The announcers speculated about whether Sasha and Bayley could be the two women to fill the remaining spots on the Raw women’s team. Shut the hell up. We all know it’s going to be them. Dana Brooke is an afterthought, and they’re not going to pass either of them up for Mickie James.

The only person worthy of replacing either of them would be Paige. Come to think of it, this would have been a good opportunity to bring her back. It’s her home country, after all.

The crowd woke up a little for Bayley. It’s been awhile since she got a reaction like that. Far too long, actually.

Braun Strowman def. The Miz via disqualification after interference from Kane. Mrs. Primary Ignition happened to be sitting next to me during Miz’s entrance. She doesn’t know much about wrestling. But she watched him during his MTV days. She was confused by what he wore to the ring…

“His outfit looks like he’s wearing a dress. I have no problem with a man wearing a dress. It just seems so out of character for him.”

That’s Hollywood fashion for you.

Pete Dunne makes his Raw debut, gaining a win over Enzo Amore. UK Division wrestlers to appear on 205 Live. For months there’s been buzz about the WWE Network adding a show dedicated to the guys who wrestled in the UK Championship Tournament. For whatever reason, that hasn’t happened. But if you’ve got these guys signed to a deal, you may as well use them. I was happy to see Pete Dunne show up in the homegrown hero role, even though he’s obviously a natural heel. I’m not thrilled that these UK guys may end up associated with 205 Live, as that brand is so tainted. But you may as well do something on TV with them.

Until Dunne came out and the physicality started, almost everything about this segment seemed clumsy. Enzo’s promo went on so long the announcers were trolling him on-air. Then Dunne’s music hit. But instead of just having him come out, they had Angle show up and introduce him. So basic wrestling logic (If such a thing exists…) begs the question: Why not just hit Angle’s music, then do Dunne’s after his name is said? I’m assuming this was a mistake. If not, it’s very weird.

Cesaro and Sheamus def. Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose to win the WWE Raw Tag Team Titles after the New Day cause a surprise distraction. This was a surprise. Not so much that they switched the titles, but that they had the New Day play a role in it. The reason seems obvious: A six-man tag at Survivor Series. I imagine they weren’t sure if Roman would be back in time, so they held off this angle just in case. I obviously don’t know that for a fact, but it makes sense.

Either way, if it happens that match could easily steal the show. It’s got a big match vibe not unlike the Shield vs. Wyatt Family stuff from a few years ago.

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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 Shield Returns at Last, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

A few quick thoughts from Hell in a Cell before we get into Raw

It’s amazing how the Usos and the New Day have continued to top themselves over the last several months. They did it again here, turning in a performance with every bit as much drama and bad blood as the Kevin Owens/Shane McMahon match. One can even argue it was better artistically. In a match where everyone expects some kind of 20 foot dive off the cage, it takes real creativity to deliver on the Hell in a Cell concept while actually staying inside the cell. Both teams were elevated here. All these guys should be very proud.

While the signs were there in retrospect, Sami Zayn’s heel turn seemed to come out of nowhere. It’s a hell of an intriguing twist that could potentially breathe some valuable new life into Sami’s run on Smackdown.

So that’s twice Shane has tried the elbow drop off the top of the cell, and twice he’s crashed and burned. Maybe it’s time to pluck that one from the playbook, eh? Really good match, though. Now if only they hadn’t gotten that shot of one of Shane’s kids grinning as Owens was beating up his dad and taunting him.

Ponderings From Raw:

The Shield finally reunites against the Miz, Cesaro and Sheamus. This was obviously something they’ve built to for months. So to see Reigns, Rollins, and Ambrose back together is cool. I imagine we’ll get them back in their trademark black outfits at TLC.

I’m trying to enjoy this for what it is. But one thing that does put a damper on it is that it’s obviously all just another attempt to get Roman Reigns cheered. Just look at the blocking in the segment. Rollins on the left, Ambrose, on the right, Reigns in the middle. And of course, Reigns kept using the Shield music after they broke up. So their entrance is going to be synonymous with him in particular.

Yes, I’m nitpicking. But this is also very transparent. What’s more, it’s not even going to work. For better or worse, most fans have made up their mind about Roman. As soon as this is over, the haters will start booing again.

Jason Jordan def. Karl Anderson. I’m not sure Booker T is the guy to be playing up the notion of Kurt Angle giving his son special treatment. His amazing career notwithstanding, he has virtually no credibility. As the weeks go by he just becomes more a verbal whipping boy for Michael Cole and Corey Graves. Granted, better to have him out there than David Otunga. But that dynamic between Angle and Jordan is important. Better to have Graves play it up.

Elias def. Apollo Crews. When Titus is on, he’s really on. Hokey as it was, I got a kick out of the banjo stuff before the match. This manager gig really suits him.

On the flip side, I’m not at all amused that Elias broke out the Undertaker’s “Old School” spot and walked the top rope. The announcers didn’t even acknowledge it. Though to be fair, Graves alluded to it, calling it a “disrespectful version of a cover song.”

Kurt Angle puts Enzo Amore in a Cruiserweight Title Match against Kalisto for later in the evening. Enzo called it the “Loserweight Division.” That one might stick.

Braun Strowman def. Matt Hardy. The Shield emerges, Powerbombs Strowman through the announce table. This was really good. To his credit, Roman nailed his line about them being “the three workhorses that run this business now.” He even got to look into the camera.

Mickie James and Alexa Bliss exchange words leading up to TLC. Last week I talked about how WWE should exploit Mickie’s talent for country music and have her record her own entrance theme. We didn’t get that here, but it was definitely a step in the right direction. Mickie was in country gear here, and even put a little twang in her voice. This is good. For WWE audiences, this is fresh. And apparently, they like the term “biscuit butt.”. More of this, please.

Brian Kendrick and Jack Gallagher def. Cedric Alexander and Mustafa Ali. Why is Jack Gallagher is wrestling in that get up? Yes, he’s a heel now. But why does that mean he can’t wear wrestling trunks?

Both Alexander and Ali are so damn good. It’s such a shame they haven’t been able to get over to any real extent

The Shield to headline TLC against the Miz, Sheamus, Cesaro, and Braun Strowman in a Handicap TLC Match. Four on three? That’s a little weird. Strowman could do some amazing things in that environment, though. Especially with support from the veterans in this match.

Bray Wyatt reveals his “Sister Abigail” persona to Finn Balor. So Sister Abigail is Bray Wyatt with some kind of shroud over his head and a weird voice filter. Wow. What a great pay off to years of build-up.

And this was in the new “main event” spot. They wanted people to stay tuned in for that third hour after this. Balor can’t move on soon enough.

Emma def. Sasha Banks, Bayley, Alicia Fox, and Dana Brooke to earn a match with Asuka at TLCGraves: “I don’t really know what to say about Emma anymore. I’m so baffled by the fact that she still exists.” Wow. What an awesome endorsement for Asuka’s first challenger.

To be fair no one actually expects Emma to beat her. That’s half the reason they chose Emma for this spot. She’s someone they can feed to Asuka, but also give her good match. Somehow I don’t think the same can be said for Alicia Fox or Dana Brooke.

I’m worried Dana Brooke is going to hurt somebody someday. That sequence she had in there with Bayley was….yeesh. But Alicia, and even Emma looked like they had two left feet out there too. This one just didn’t click.

Roman Reigns to face Braun Strowman in a Steel Cage Match next week. They’re going back to the well with these two, which is fine by me. Like the Usos and the New Day, they always deliver.

Kalisto def. Enzo Amore in a Lumberjack Match to win the WWE Cruiserweight Title. I hate to go back to Graves again, but he was really tearing Enzo down during his entrance here. I can’t tell if there’s legit heat between those two. Either way, it doesn’t pay to piss off one of the guys that calls your matches every week.

So Enzo puts his hand on Mustafa Ali during the match. Ali later gets his receipt, which more or less costs Enzo the match. If this means Ali gets to be in a (relatively) high profile feud with Enzo, I’m game. He deserves a shot.

I’d be surprised if Enzo didn’t get the belt back soon. This seems like something they concocted to get out of the no-contact clause thing. He could very well get it back at TLC.

By the way, where was Neville during all this?

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