Enzo and Cass: One Year Later, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Last night, the WWE Network aired a special on the post-Wrestlemania XXXII edition of Raw. Naturally, we saw footage of Enzo and Cass, as they made their TV debut that night. They got a hell of a pop too. It’s tough to make a better first impression than that. A year later, its looking like they’ll be winning the Raw Tag Team Titles at Wrestlemania XXXIII.

But has their act gotten stale with age?

So many of the same “smart” fans that were marking out for Enzo and Cass on their first night are now booing them. Mind you, being on TV almost every week for a year has brought to light the repetition and flaws in their act. The constant repetition of catchphrases. The deer-in-the-headlights look on the face of Big Cass. What’s more, while Enzo has been praised as a Jedi Master on the mic, some argue he’s becoming as grating as Jar Jar Binks.

It’s a delicate balance WWE walks in the 21st century. The fans want to feel like they chose the top stars. But then when the company actually starts to go with those stars, the fans will sometimes turn on them. They’re almost screwed either way. So how do you fix Enzo and Cass? Or do they even need fixing at all?

Thankfully, this duo has a tremendous advantage: Enzo’s mic work. One of the things wrestling really misses right now is a certain cool factor. When Enzo gets on the mic and starts cutting opponents down, fans can live vicariously through him. When he talks, he sounds genuine. Almost everyone on Raw and Smackdown sounds the same, because they all recite dialogue written by the same writers. I don’t know how much input Enzo has into what he’s saying, but his delivery is truly distinct. It’s the arguably centerpiece to this team’s appeal. If they re-emphasize it, it might curb some of the boos.

These two characters also have an understated bond that serves them well. That’s something people can easily relate to. We don’t need to have another Festival of Friendship, but that’s a well WWE can go to if they don’t beat us over the head with it.

Enzo and Cass are lucky to have found each other in developmental. They accentuate one another’s positives, and camouflage the negatives. At the same time, they make a hell of a package deal. WWE seems to know that. Now if only they could write these guys a better KFC commercial. Yeesh. That might be where half the heat came from…

Ponderings From Raw:

Bayley opens the show. Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, and Nia Jax come out for a confrontation. Bayley and Sasha beat Charlotte and Nia in a tag match. Almost no interest in this from me, because it was pretty obvious where they were going. Talking segment leads to a match. They could have won me over if they skipped the tag match and just left it with a beat-down. But they obviously needed it to fill time.

Tony Schiavone said something on his podcast with Conrad Thompson yesterday that really applied to these three segments: “Showing too much sh*t hurts your product.” That’s what WWE does with everything these days. Almost everyone is overexposed. That’s one of the reasons our main event for this year’s Wrestlemania is between two guys who only show up every few weeks.

Pitbull, Flo Rida, Lunchmoney Lewis and Stephen Marley to perform at WrestlemaniaThe die-hards never like musical performances at these big shows. In this case, I’m with them. I’m one of the few that actually likes that “Green Light” song at a Wrestlemania theme. But I have no desire to see it performed on my wrestling show. This will be the bathroom break segment for yours truly.

Austin Aries def. Noam Dar. Neville joins the announce position. Fine match. In a perfect world, Neville and Aries would go to Wrestlemania and remind us what the Cruiserweight Division should be about. But we don’t live in a perfect world, do we?  Case in point: They’re on the pre-show. Hey, at least it’ll be a good pre-show, right?

Seth Rollins signs a hold-harmless agreement to face Triple H in a Non-Sanctioned Match at Wrestlemania“I liked who I was before I met you.” That was a really good line.  I wish he’d said it weeks ago. It makes things that much more personal. Hunter’s delivery was spot-on. Seth’s was missing something. I wanted a little more bite from him.

The key word for me on this one is curiosity. I’m very curious to see what these two are able to turn in on Sunday. One would think they’d be relying less on stunts and more on storytelling and psychology.

The Big Show wreaks havoc in an Over-the-Top-Rope Challenge. Braun Strowman threatens the giant going into WrestlemaniaNot much of a match here. But it got it’s point across. On the upside, Strowman finally has a match for Wrestlemania. It’s going to be the pre-show. But at least he’s on the damn card.

Neville def. Jack Gallagher. Austin Aries taunts Neville with the New Day. I’m not a fan of head-butts in general. They don’t make a lot of sense to me, and I associate them with Chris Benoit’s brain damage and Daniel Bryan’s early retirement. But for what it’s worth, that head-butt spot Neville and Gallagher did worked. I just wish Gallagher wouldn’t make a habit of it.

Putting Aries next to the New Day is…kind of a good sign, right? They trusted Aries to work with a hot act, however briefly.

Roman Reigns promises to “put the Dead Man down.” We see footage of the Undertaker digging a grave for Reigns. Obviously this graveyard stuff was classic Undertaker. “Vintage Undertaker,” as Michael Cole would say. It might not be a popular thing to say, but there’s something special about seeing these two in the ring together. This Wrestlemania match could be very special, depending on what they want to do. If it’s as simple as a clean victory for Roman, that crowd isn’t going to be happy.

Ah yes, Roman Reigns in Philadelphia. Always a fun time. Leave the memories alone…

Cesaro and Sheamus lay Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, Enzo, and Cass out with a ladder after a backstage assault by the Club. Gallows and Anderson regain the advantage, laying out the challengers. What was up with the cameras here? They seemed uncharacteristically out of position.

See, this is what the women should have done early in the show. Rather than just giving us another match, they shook things up a little bit. I actually wondered if they were going to turn the Wrestlemania bout into a Ladder Match.

Sami Zayn def. Kevin Owens, retaining his job on Raw. Samoa Joe tries to interfere, but Chris Jericho cuts him off. Jericho to Owens: “You just made the list!” Don’t have any ideas for Raw? Just book Kevin Owens against Sami Zayn. That’s not to say they don’t have good matches. Heck, they have great matches. But the law of diminishing returns has indeed come into effect. How many times have Owens and Zayn wrestled on Raw alone? At least in this one they got to brawl around the arena.

I cringed when Zayn did that somersault off the stage. Obviously it’s not nearly as high as it used to be. But when you’re flipping and falling like that, a bad landing always in the cards somewhere.

It’s been a good year thus far for the character of Sami Zayn. The stuff with Braun Strowman and Mick Foley was strong, and now he’s standing up to Stephanie. Hell, Steph put his job on the line in this match. He may not have a Wrestlemania match. But they’re building him, slowly but surely.

I’ve been waiting for Jericho to use that list line on Owens. Not sure I would have waited this long. But at least it got done.

Brock Lesnar and Bill Goldberg cross paths before Wrestlemania. Goldberg spears Lesnar again. A Paul Heyman promo is as good as almost any Raw main event you’re ever going to get. Notice that Heyman took the time to play up the importance of the Universal Title, calling it the “Holy Grail” of WWE.

I always get a kick out of Brock chuckling at Heyman’s remarks. People always say Brock doesn’t love wrestling, and maybe he doesn’t. But at least he’s having a little bit of fun.

Goldberg’s spear to Lesnar at ringside was extremely anticlimactic. It felt like somebody mistimed something. Still a better moment on the go-home Raw for Wrestlemania than Lesnar had with Roman Reigns. Remember that weird belt tug-o-war they had before Wrestlemania XXXI?

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The Paige Situation, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Human beings are so weird.

That was the first thing that came to mind when I read that Saraya-Jade Bevis, known to WWE fans as Paige, was one of the victims of yet another mass celebrity photo/video hacking. Sadly, Austin Watson (Xavier Woods) and Tyler Kluttz (formerly Brad Maddox) can also be seen in the…content. I haven’t seen it. But there’s reportedly quite a bit. We see this kind of thing so often nowadays. I don’t even want to imagine what it must be like. My heart goes out to all three. Particularly Bevis, who was clearly the target.

Something like this tends to bring out the worst in people. Certain wrestling fans can already be a crass, immature group at times. I’ve lost count of all the “Up Up Down Down” jokes I’ve seen on Twitter. I think back to what happened with Lita, Edge, and Matt Hardy all those years ago, and how tough things ended up being for Lita in particular. And this time there’s friggin’ video footage…

People are so quick to judge. But the fact is, Bevis, Watson, and Kluttz are three consenting adults who did nothing wrong. Though you can argue it was foolish of them to tape this. This looks like it’s a few years old. But sex tape leaks and cloud hacks are nothing new. You’d think that as public figures, they’d have been a little more conscious of that. Along those lines, there’s allegedly some footage of the NXT Women’s Title being, shall we say, defaced. They put that on film, for crying out loud. But in the…*ehem*…heat of the moment, your judgment can undoubtedly be impaired.

The reality of it is, Bevis already had one foot out of WWE. She’s already been popped twice for Wellness Policy violations, and she’s engaged to Alberto El Patron (formerly Alberto Del Rio), who happens to be the World Champion over at Impact Wrestling right now. This obviously complicates things further. While neither she nor Watson deserve to be fired over this, if she still has any desire to wrestle for WWE, she might be better off going her own way for awhile. To say the least, being a full-time wrestler for WWE is a demanding job. Until this blows over it’s just going to make it more difficult. If her heart’s not in it, she shouldn’t be doing it.

Again, my own heart goes out to all three of the victims here. I hope whoever leaked this stuff gets what they deserved.

Ponderings From Raw

After a public “apology,” Mick Foley gets fired by Stephanie McMahon. Sami Zayn comes out to defend him, gets put in a match with Samoa Joe. This was a nice spot for Zayn to be in. Definitely a big character moment for him. Hopefully he continues to establish himself as an anti-establishment underdog after Wrestlemania comes and goes. At this rate, I imagine he’ll just be in the Andre Battle Royal.

And so it seems Mick Foley’s time as the general manager of Raw has come to an end. This run from Foley obviously had it’s share of problems, the biggest of which was him having to recite WWE’s heavily scripted dialogue. Foley was, and is, a performer that can incite a heavily emotional response from audiences. Doing that using someone else’s words is difficult. Most of the time, that stuff comes from your gut and from your heart. Nobody wrote those ECW promos for Cactus Jack all those years ago. That’s not to say he can’t shoulder some of the blame. But in many ways, Mick was out of his element here.

I think Foley is often put in these authority figure roles in the hopes of re-creating the magic of his time as WWF Commissioner in 2000. Foley has often said he wishes he’d stayed in that position longer. But frankly, I think it ended at just the right time. He left us wanting more, and clearly it’s left a lasting impact.

Regardless of what anyone thought of Foley’s time as general manager, he remains one of my favorite pro wrestlers of all time. To me, he has always been passion personified.

Samoa Joe def. Sami Zayn via submission. Joe with that damn dive through the ropes to the outside. Not sure why they felt the need to have him do that. We so many of those dives, at this rate the Big Show will be doing one next.

Charlotte Flair def. Dana Brooke. They could easily have put Dana Brooke into the Women’s Title Match at Wrestlemania by having her beat Charlotte here. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Wrong place, wrong time for Dana. I’m interested to see how she does on her own from here on out. But I don’t have high hopes.

Chris Jericho exposes the “real” Kevin Owens on the Highlight Reel. Owens ambushes him, rips up the List of Jericho. Damn. He ripped up the list. That clipboard is more over than most of their roster…

As was the case when Owens slammed Jericho’s head into that sign a few weeks ago, there were shades of Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels here. Only this time, we have to go all the way back to Wrestlemania XIX, when they did that story about Jericho idolizing Michaels as a youngster. This struck a similar chord.

Incidentally, notice that Darren Drozdov figure in the photo of 16-year-old KO? I still have that. Why I have that one as opposed to certain others, I have no idea. But it’s somewhere in my home right now.

Brian Kendrick def. TJ Perkins. Afterward, Kendrick reveals he’s stolen Akira Tozawa’s passport. Not much of a match here. Though he focal point was obviously the furthering of the Kendrick/Tozawa story.

They did another episode of Bring It to the Table after Raw last week, on which JBL and Corey Graves both expressed that 205 Live isn’t the show if should be right now. The emphasis, they said, should be more on action and less on the gaga and entertainment aspects. I can’t say I disagree. I was just surprise to hear them say it.

Nia Jax def. Bayley in a No Disqualification Match to earn a spot on the Raw Women’s Title Match at WrestlemaniaNo surprise here. A Fatal Four-Way between Bayley, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Nia Jax has been rumored for weeks now. All I can say is I hope Nia doesn’t win it. If I had to pick now, I’d say Bayley retains. But it seems like it’s up in the air.

Triple H: Seth Rollins can compete at Wrestlemania  if he signs on for a Non-Sanctioned Match. So there it is. Seth Rollins is going to get physical at Wrestlemania. It’s been somewhat evident for awhile now, especially after last week. But it’s nice to see this officially put on the table. As unfortunate as Seth’s injury was, it gave them a cool story to tell. It put him in a hell of a babyface spot.

The CM Punk chants were out in full force again this week, during both Hunter and Stephanie’s segments. @ProWrestlingMag on Twitter, who I tend to disagree with half the time, made a valid point during the Stephanie/Zayn stuff: “Maybe chant for SAMI instead of CM PUNK. Idiots.” Fair point…

Cesaro and Sheamus def. Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, Enzo and Cass in a handicap match to retain their spot in the Raw Tag Team Title Match at WrestlemaniaHappy to hear the announcers point out how seemingly illogical it was that Gallows and Anderson attacked their partners at the top of the match. The idea was if Sheamus and Cesaro lost, they’d lose their spot at Wrestlemania. I understand “emotions running high,” or whatever. But the champs looked downright stupid here.

Austin Aries def. Tony Nese. Neville confronts Aries after the match. In a very short time, Aries has established himself as Neville’s most credible challenger yet. If they give these two enough time, they could be a dark horse candidate to steal the whole show.

The Undertaker interrupts the main event between Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman. The Dead Man chokeslams Strowman, but eats a spear from Reigns. Undertaker took some flack for looking old after hitting Strowman with the chokeslam. Hey assholes, Strowman’s got to weigh over 350 lbs. Undertaker had hip surgery less than a year ago. Do the math. I’m actually surprised they did that spot.

They didn’t follow up on Reigns’ retirement comment from last week. I half expected the Wrestlemania bout to become a Retirement Match. You’d think if ‘Taker’s career were truly about to end, they’d promote the hell out of it. This week was the absolute latest you’d want to pull the trigger on that…right? Let the speculation continue, I suppose.

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Triple H Annihilates Seth Rollins, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

WWE announced Monday that Jack Swagger has been granted his release. The real-life Jake Hager had apparently been looking to get out for awhile, even bringing it up on Chael Sonnen’s podcast earlier this month.

Hager was signed to a WWE development deal in 2006. So he spent about a decade with WWE. He had a run that a lot of guys would be jealous of. The company clearly saw a lot of potential in him, perhaps as someone in the Kurt Angle mold. They did their best over the years to establish him as a top guy. Had the dice fallen differently, it might have worked. But fate just didn’t seem to be on Hager’s side in that respect.

Hager is a very good wrestler. But when it was time to talk, he was in trouble. He has a little bit of a lisp, and it was noticeable whenever he got on the mic. It undercut the wrestling stud vibe they were going for with him, and it became tough to take him seriously. They had him win Money in the Bank, and later made him World Heavyweight Champion on Smackdown. But it just didn’t click.

They seemingly found an answer in 2013, when Dutch Mantel came in to manage Swagger. As the character Zeb Colter, he essentially became what Paul Heyman is to Brock Lesnar. Dutch cut tremendous promos, weaving in contemporary political elements, most notably immigration. They even got a touch of mainstream buzz over the character. Swagger was put against Alberto Del Rio for the World Heavyweight Title at Wrestlemania XXIX, and seemed primed to win it…

And then he got arrested for DUI and drug possession (marijuana). He and Mantel remained together, but it was essentially over as far as Hager being a top guy.

But Hager’s career doesn’t have to end here. Like Drew Galloway, Cody Rhodes, and so many others who’ve left the WWE umbrella, he can thrive on the independent scene. I also wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see him show up in TNA in a few months, as his old pal Dutch is now back on the creative team there.

Brighter days are ahead for Jake Hager, and I commend him for having the guts to step outside the safety of the WWE bubble.

Ponderings From Raw:

Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar address Bill Goldberg. Herman’s prediction: “Down goes Goldberg!” That “down goes Goldberg” line is something they’ll be returning to in the weeks to come. It’s something Corey Graves, as the heel announcer, can come back to at the event itself. It’s a great line.

Note that Heyman also put Goldberg over, referring to his latest run as “the greatest championship comeback in sports entertainment history.”

Sasha Banks def. Dana Brooke. After taking abuse from Charlotte post-match, Dana attacks her. Dana has gotten a lot of bad press these past few weeks for her in-ring skills. Looking at this match, I can’t say it’s unfounded. But the real-life Ashley Sebera has only been wrestling since 2014. She’s still trying to learn. But she’s doing it on national television. It takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there like that. Having said that, she could really use another run on NXT. She can re-establish herself there, and come back later for a fresh start. Perhaps that’s where this turn is headed. I doubt it, but one can always hope.

Brian Kendrick and Tony Nese def. Akira Tozawa and TJ Perkins. TJ Perkins had a good match with Shinsuke Nakamura on NXT last week, and he was tremendous in this match. But this guy needs a heel turn. He’s looked like a loser for months, and he’s officially grating. I wouldn’t mind seeing he and Tozawa in a program.

Kevin Owens vows to take Chris Jericho’s US Title at Wrestlemania, and leave nothing left but the “Tears of Jericho.” Owens and Samoa Joe get themselves disqualified in a match with Jericho and Sami Zayn. Another really good promo from Owens. In classic heel fashion he justified his actions, believing himself to be right. He accused Jericho of wanting to get close to him just to get close to the Universal Championship. I love when bad guys do that. No one really believes they’re evil. We all usually believe we’re doing what’s right.

This Owens/Joe team-up did nothing to dispel the rumors of them forming a faction alongside Triple H. I’m not sure you need Triple H on TV every week in a group. But the prospect of Owens and Joe together consistently remains ntriguing.

I wouldn’t have had Owens and Jericho touch here. At the very least, I’d have limited their contact to that super kick Owens gave him. But then again, Owens obviously beat the hell out of him at the now infamous Festival of Friendship. So I guess we’ve been there and done that.

Big Show to compete in Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. They did a “New Day Talks” segment, which was supposed to be their take on a talk show segment. It ended up with Titus O’Neil being mad at Big Show because he wasn’t in the WWE/Jetsons movie that comes out this week. Wow. What compelling TV…

But what I got out of this segment was the line about Show getting the opportunity to be a two-time winner of the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Ouch. I guess that makes it official: Shaq is out of Wrestlemania. That’s a rotten break for Show. He supposedly spent months preparing for that match, getting himself in the best shape of his career, only to be stuck in the Battle Royal again this year.

Cass had some really nice fire in that pre-match promo. He still had some that deer-in-the-headlights look going on. But he made me believe.

Sheamus and Cesaro vs. Enzo and Cass goes to a no-contest after Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson interfere. Not much suspense to this match. Earlier in the show, Anderson and Gallows cut that promo about taking the spotlight for themselves. The finish to this one was pretty obvious at that point.

As if it wasn’t already pretty clear what the match is going to be at Wrestlemania. And of course a short time later it was made official: a Triple-Threat Tag Team Match for the Raw Tag Team Titles.

The Undertaker’s trademark gong goes off during Roman Reigns’ match with Jinder Mahal. Reigns calls the Undertaker out. Shawn Michaels surprises him. Reigns: The Undertaker retired you, and I’m the guy that’s gonna retire him.” Well, they went there. Let the speculation about the Undertaker’s retirement continue. This is already so damn emotional. Damn…this could really be it…

If this does turn out to be Undertaker’s retirement match, how fitting is it that it’s Shawn Michaels who planted that seed in Roman’s mind. Nice continuity there.

Austin Aries def. Ariya Daivari. Austin Aries wrestling on Raw. By God, what a time to be alive.

Bayley def. Nia Jax via DQ. Couldn’t muster up much enthusiasm for this one. We’ve seen this one so much. I dig the larger story they’re telling here, though. The idea is that Bayley can’t win big matches without Sasha’s help, so all these women are worthy of title shots. I expect Nia to be added to Wrestlemania in short order.

Mick Foley refuses to fire someone by order of Stephanie McMahon. Triple H comes out to belittle him. Seth Rollins makes the save, but the Game destroys the would-be “King Slayer.” I loved this segment. I really did. Everybody was perfectly in character, and it made perfect sense. This was great drama.

Seeing Mick and Triple H in the ring together was a nice nostalgia trip. They’ve always had a great lovable hero meets cunning villain chemistry. Foley was good on the mic here, too. He stumbled a bit, but he was in the zone. He hasn’t had an easy time in this role. But I was proud of him tonight.

Didn’t expect Rollins to be on the losing end of that confrontation with Hunter. But it makes sense when you stop to think about it. Seth’s knee has a big question mark over it. So now we’re left guessing.

Those CM Punk chants aren’t going away, are they? They’re following Steph, in particular. Considering the adverse effect that character has had on this show in recent years, I’m not complaining. I’m a Punk fan, after all.

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WWE Fastlane 2017 Predictions, Plus Ponderings From Raw

seth-rollins-wwe-raw-february-27-2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Some quick thoughts from Raw before we get into Fastlane predictions…

– The big news coming out of this show is that Seth Rollins is apparently still going to get physical at Wrestlemania. From a storyline perspective, it seems like Hunter baited Seth into a confrontation by demanding that he “not call me out at Wrestlemania.” Do we eventually find out that was his plan? Either way, I’m happy Rollins won’t be missing his second consecutive Wrestlemania. He caught an awful break, and he deserves the chance to finally have this match.

– There’s been plenty of talk these past few weeks about Samoa Joe being Triple H’s puppet, and what Hunter has done to his old allies. Is this something they’re planting a seed for in case Rollins somehow has to pull out of Wrestlemania? Or is this a more long term plan? Perhaps it’s both.

wwe-raw-february-27-2017– Good match between Joe and Cesaro this week, as one would expect. Samoa Joe weighs almost 300 lbs, and Cesaro kept picking the damn guy up. Honest to God, just get this guy some acting classes and let him have a singles run. Hell, give him the US Title again! Why not?

– Did everybody pick up on the whole New Day/Oscars joke? See, the envelope said the wrong name. Like what happened with La La Land at the Oscars. They’re spoofing current events. Get it? Huh? Did ya get it?????

Of course, like their usual attempts at topical humor, it was brutal. I’m actually starting to dread New Day segments. Please give these guys something else to do.

And now on to Fastlane. I skimmed the Sasha Banks/Nia Jax match off here, as well as the pre-show match. Couldn’t muster up much enthusiasm for ’em, and it’s not like there’s any shortage of stuff to go over otherwise…

wwe-fastlane-2017-luke-gallows-karl-anderson-enzo-and-cassWWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson (c) vs. Enzo and Cass

If I’ve got the pen here, Enzo and Cass win the Tag Team Titles at Wrestlemania. Gallows and Anderson just won them a few weeks ago, and I don’t see any reason to take the belts away from them a month before the big show. Then again, I thought for sure Bayley’s first title win would happen at a show like Wrestlemania or Summerslam, and they did it two weeks ago on Raw. But a title change here would be, in the words of Gorilla Monsoon, “highly unlikely.”

PREDICTION: Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

wwe-fastlane-2017-neville-jack-gallagherWWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Neville vs. Jack Gallagher

I like these two together. They overachieved last week in that contract signing segment. Gallagher is a lot of fun, and I imagine he will be Cruiserweight Champion someday. But that day isn’t today. Neville is the hottest thing they have in that division right now. He’s been such a breath of fresh air on Raw. They’ve got a good thing going with him. Let’s not nix it prematurely.

PREDICTION: Neville

wwe-fastlane-2017-sami-zayn-samoa-joeSamoa Joe vs. Sami Zayn

I can’t imagine Zayn winning this match. But considering this was originally supposed to be Seth Rollins’ spot, it’s a hell of an opportunity for him to show off in a brighter spotlight. I imagine he won’t disappoint.

So…what does Joe do at Wrestlemania now? Be in Triple H’s corner?

PREDICTION: Samoa Joe

wwe-fastlane-2017-bayley-charlotte-flairWWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Bayley (c) vs. Charlotte Flair

Ugh. Fine. Just give the damn belt back to Charlotte. At this point they have to, don’t they? They’ve built up this pay per view undefeated streak to the point that they can’t just break it now. With this in mind, their decision to put the belt on Bayley two weeks ago seems even more ridiculous. But they’re struggling for stories to tell in this Women’s Division right now, because they just don’t have enough wrestlers. It seems like Bayley’s first title win was just done for the sake of filling time. Dhe deserved better than that. Either way, what’s done is done. Just give Charlotte the belt back, and we can look ahead to what I assume will be a multi-woman match at Wrestlemania.

PREDICTION: Charlotte Flair

wwe-fastlane-2017-roman-reigns-braun-strowmanRoman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman

I imagine this one will be better than some are thinking. Roman is so athletic and explosive. I’m picturing a sort of irresistable force meets immovable object scenario which could be fun.

An appearance from the Undertaker seems likely here. They planted that seed in the Royal Rumble Match, so this would be as good a time as any to give us the next chapter in that story. Roman can be on the verge of winning, and then you get the standard Undertaker gong, the lights go out, and he hits him with a Tombstone or something. No matter how it happens, a pinball victory over Roman Reigns is a big deal. It’s a hell of a feather in Braun’s cap as we head into Wrestlemania.

PREDICTION: Braun Strowman

kevin-owens-bill-goldberg-wwe-fastlane-2017WWE UNIVERSAL HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Kevin Owens (c) vs. Bill Goldberg

Very little doubt about this one. Goldberg wins his first title in over a decade. It’s just a question of how it happens, and how quickly.

There’s a lot of potential for run-ins and chaos here, both from Brock Lesnar and Chris Jericho. If I had to pick one, I’d say Jericho. He and Owens did that great angle on Raw, and they did another one more recently at an overseas show.

But they really don’t need any interference here. If Goldberg can squash Brock Lesnar in under two minutes, it’s not going to hurt Kevin Owens to sustain a similar loss. Don’t blink during this one, folks.

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Raw ’97: Muhammad Ali or Dennis Rodman?

Shawn Michaels, WWF Raw, February 3, 1997By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The February 3 episode of Raw was, without any sort of hype or announcement, the first ever two-hour edition of the show. This was obviously an attempt to be more competitive with WCW Monday Nitro, and there were clear efforts made to make this feel like a bigger show than it was. They were in the Toronto SkyDome, though at one point you can see it’s way under capacity. And all hands are on deck here.

This show was hyped as “Royal Rumble Raw.” We’d been told the week before that the Rumble match would be shown in its entirety. That’s not what happened, as we merely got highlights. Maybe they decided to stick with fresh content? I guess the idea of airing pay per view footage that’s two weeks old is a little lame.

Vader def. Stone Cold Steve Austin via disqualification. Before the match, Bret Hart attacks Austin from behind. Well, they weren’t going to have one of these guys pin the other before Final Four, right? They want it to look like everybody’s on an even playing field.

Steve Austin, Vader, WWF Raw, February 3, 1997Things are noticeably a little angrier on this show, presumably to hype up the drama. Before this match begins, the normally reserved yet heroic Bret Hart comes out and ambushes Austin. After the match, a commercial airs for Thursday Raw Thursday, where all the wrestlers are full of piss and vinegar. Again, even Bret, who yells: “Everybody better get out of my way!” They hadn’t quite found their famous “Attitude” yet. But they were looking for it.

Savio Vega def. Flash Funk. This is the television audience’s first exposure to heel Savio Vega, who turned heel off camera at a house show at Madison Square Garden. At this point, the only difference is a big leather jacket he wears to the ring.

Jim Ross interviews Sycho Sid. During some of these old promos with Sid, they keep his music playing at a lower volume. That’s a great effect. It keeps his mystique alive. Especially as he’s talking about evil. He’s not particularly articulate. But it sounds like he’s saying stuff that’s spooky and cool. So it works.

Doug Furnas and Phil Lafon def. The British Bulldog and Owen Hart in a WWF Tag Team Title Match via count-out. The titles do not change hands. Rediscovering Phil Lafon’s work has been a nice byproduct of this whole Raw ’97 experience. But I maintain what I’ve said before about these two: No personality. Very vanilla. So there’s not much to latch on to.

Owen Hart, British Bulldog, WWF Raw, February 3, 1997Owen as he steps through the ropes: “I hate Canada! I’m the only thing good about Canada!”

Crush def. Goldust. Savio comes in with a spinning heel kick to Goldust to cost him the match. There’s heel Savio.

These matches drag. It’s very apparent they’re not fully prepared for the move to two hours yet.

Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart come face-to-face in the ring. Austin attacks Hart from behind. The best thing on the show by a mile. I’ve always remembered one particular moment from this segment. Shawn is talking about not being liked. He says: “Everybody hated Muhammad Ali while he was the world champion. Now everyone refers to him as the greatest of all time.”

Bret later responds with: “Muhammad Ali? I don’t think so. Dennis Rodman, maybe.”

WWF hypes the debut of Tiger Ali Singh. If you’ll recall, the highlight of Singh’s WWF career was getting audience members to lick toe jam and eat boogers. A true success story if there ever was one…

Triple H, Marc Mero, WWF Raw, February 3, 1997Hunter Hearst Helmsley def. Marc Mero after a shot with brass knocks. If you watch these shows back, you notice the announcers keep talking about Robin Hood, as they do during this match. It took me awhile to figure out exactly what the connection was.

On January 13, TNT began airing The New Adventures of Robin Hood after WCW Nitro. That night, a match between Hulk Hogan and the Giant began two minutes before Nitro went off the air, and continued during portions of the commercial breaks during Robin Hood. Unique, to be certain. But obvious fodder for jokes.

The Undertaker and Ahmed Johnson def. Farrow and Mankind in a No Holds Barred Match. We saw Ahmed make use of his beloved two-by-four in this match, chasing the Nation off and then hitting Faarooq in the back. We also saw Vader attack ‘Taker in this match before Mankind takes a Tombstone on a chair and loses the fall.

All in all, not a strong show. Even by modern standards. Though that will change next week, as we get to a pretty famous Raw moment involving HBK. Though perhaps infamous would be a better word to describe it…

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Samoa Joe Finally Arrives, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

Samoa Joe, WWE Raw, January 30, 2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Not much use in leading with anything but Samoa Joe, is there?

What we saw on Raw was over a decade in the making. After so many years of speculation as to whether he’d even be considered by WWE, Samoa Joe finally arrives on the main roster. What’s more, he’s going into a program with one of their top stars in Seth Rollins. I can’t even tell you how surreal it was just to hear Michael Cole say Joe’s name.

Many were disappointed that we didn’t see Joe in the Royal Rumble Match on Sunday. Would I have put him in there? Sure. That way the mainstream audience has a better idea of who he is before he shows up here. But then again, does that chip away at the surprise element? If Joe is in the Rumble, maybe this moment isn’t quite as special.

Either way, this was about as good a debut as we could have wanted for Samoa Joe. After years of stealing the show elsewhere, he finally gets to do it on wrestling’s biggest stage. Congratulations, good sir. You deserve it.

Ponderings From Raw:

Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho open the show. Braun Strowman demands a title shot. Mick Foley announces Owens will defend against Strowman later in the show. Decent opener. The best part of this segment was Strowman demanding his shot, “or I’ll break you in half.” You know what? I believe him.

Sami Zayn, Chris Jericho, WWE Raw, January 20, 2017Interesting that Mick Foley came to Raw dressed as the Riddler. Where exactly does one get a suit like that?

Sami Zayn def. Chris Jericho. Supposedly Jericho’s current run will wrap up in May so he can go back on tour with Fozzy. Some have said this has been the best run of Jericho’s career. I wouldn’t go that far. But it’s definitely up there. He’s consistently been one of the best parts of Raw, and the show will miss him when he’s gone. The guy is 46 and he can still hit Sami Zayn with a Frankensteiner (shown right). Amazing.

This was good stuff. For the second consecutive week, Zayn is in the best match on the show. Really dug the exploder duplex into the corner. I still wish he’d start beating people with the Blue Thunder Bomb. It’s his best move.

Mustafa Ali def. Tony Nese. Raw needs more of both these guys. I adore Ali’s reverse 450 splash. It’s a damn shame we didn’t get to see it this week. It’s also a damn shame that the fans still don’t give a damn about the Cruiserweight Division. Maybe one of the reasons Neville’s run in the division has worked so well is that we’ve known him the longest. Most of these other guys are still working to establish themselves in front of the national audience. Rich Swann and Jack Gallagher have started to do it. But that’s it.

Seth Rollins calls out Stephanie McMahon, who announces Triple H is on his way to RawThis seemed very choreographed and scripted, as these talking segments often do. Still, I love how irreverent Rollins is toward Stephanie. While much of his dialogue still comes off contrived, it’s refreshing. No one has talked to her this way in so long.

Stephanie McMahon, Seth Rollins, WWE Raw, January 30, 2017Having him mention coming to her front door and having one of their kids answer was a little edgy. I get why they did it. It makes the whole thing more personal. But I’d avoid approaching that topic again. Even Stone Cold never talked about going after little kids…

Bayley, Cesaro, and Sheamus def. Charlotte Flair, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson. This one didn’t do anything for me. Once again, Bayley pins Charlotte. She’s somehow unbeatable on pay per view, but extremely beatable on television.

The new Cruiserweight Champion Neville addresses the crowd. Rich Swann interrupts. Scripted promos can work if you present them believably. You forget they’re saying lines. Neville did that here. Where the hell has this guy been? Pissed off Neville is the best Neville.

In contrast, any time somebody says “WWE Universe,” any integrity the scene has is lost because no one would actually say that in the heat of the moment. Sorry Rich.

Last night at the Rumble, they showed some pictures of Neville and Swann earlier in their careers. I guess they came up together? Why not go that route for this promo and make things a little more relatable?

Kevin Owens, WWE Raw, January 30, 2017Braun Strowman def. Kevin Owens via disqualification after Roman Reigns interferes. After Strowman’s interference in last night’s Universal Title Match, the finish to this one was obvious. I’m happy Owens was able to be a little competitive here, while Strowman was still kept strong against both of them.

Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman challenge Goldberg to a match at WrestlemaniaA very predictable outcome. But yet another masterful promo by Paul Heyman. The “Yeah, but…” lines worked well.

The mentioning of Hulk Hogan beating Andre the Giant is yet another indicator that Hogan is likely on his way back. They’re planting the seeds.

Nia Jax def. Sasha Banks via referee stoppage. Byron Saxton: “How scary a sight is that? To have Nia Jax smiling, knowing that she’s gonna have her way with you.” That’s not the verbiage I would have used, Saxton…

What happened with the bell here? It rang, but the ref clearly didn’t call for it. Still, Sasha did a fine job putting Nia over, both tonight and on the Rumble pre-show. The full nelson swings into the ring post looked good.

Triple H, WWE Raw, January 30, 2017Enzo and Cass def. Rusev and Jinder Mahal in a Tornado Tag Team Match. I’ve got no use for this program anymore. Now that Enzo and Cass won this match, can we please move on?

Triple H: “Seth Rollins was a failure.” Samoa Joe ambushes Rollins. Awesome promo. I actually preferred this one to the Heyman stuff. The spinning of the narrative to where Seth owes him an apology. Hunter calling Seth an abject failure. The stuff about not being “that guy” anymore, and wearing the suit. Awesome. When Hunter is on, he’s on. I just wish we’d gotten this promo months ago, so the whole story didn’t cool off so much.

By and large, this was a strong show. Literally the best they’ve put on in months. Now we have a new face on Raw, and we’ll be seeing some of the bigger stars more regularly. Raw has been tough to watch lately. They didn’t so much fall into an autumn slump this year as a winter slump. But as always, things are picking up as we get closer to Wrestlemania.

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Raw ’97: The Rock Pulls Double Duty?

***Pro wrestling changed forever in 1997. From the rise of icons like the Rock and Bill Goldberg, to the Montreal Screwjob, to ECW’s pay per view debut, its impact would be felt for years to come. Personally, it’s always been my favorite year in wrestling. Here on Raw ’97, we’ll take a look back at what was happening on the WWF’s flagship show 20 years ago to the day. We’ll dig up hidden gems, and reexamine moments we’ll never forget.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

sycho-sid-wwf-raw-january-13-1997On January 13, 1997, Raw was still a one-hour show. Just north of 45 minutes, if you subtract commercials. In 2017, when we’re used to three-hour Raw broadcasts, that’s incredibly surreal.

In addition, because they taped multiple episodes in one night, this was an era where you didn’t see all the big stars wrestling every week. You might see them in backstage interview segments, or doing commentary. But not in the ring. In contrast, two weeks ago Raw featured Roman Reigns going against Kevin Owens. This past week? Reigns against Jericho. This coming week? Reigns vs. Owens and Jericho in a handicap match. There’s an obvious struggle to keep things fresh on a week to week basis, particularly with triple the air time.

Bottom line? Sometimes less is more.

Hunter Hearst Helmsly and Jerry “The King Lawler” def. Gloats and “Wildman” Marc Mero via disqualification. Lawler is such a great whiney, cowardly heel. There’s a moment in this match where he’s trying to tag Hunter, but Hunter doesn’t want to get in there with Goldust. So he just whines for his partner to come help. Great stuff.

Honky Tonk Man, WWF Raw, January 13, 2017Honky Tonk Man on commentary: [Hunter] will keep his cool just like OJ Simpson did just today on the witness stand.” Yeesh.

Sycho Sid speaks on location from the Alamo Dome in San Antonio. Sid more or less quotes Nietzsche in this promo. The actual quote is: ““Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster…” Sid goes on to say that both he and Shawn will have to become monsters at the Royal Rumble. It’s a clever concept for a wrestling promo. But wow, Sid and Nietzsche. There’s a tag team for you.

Shawn Michaels cuts a promo from San Antonio. Not much to this one. Shawn essentially rebukes all of Sid’s stuff, and says he’s going to kick Sid’s teeth down his throat. I do like that shot of Shawn with the fans, though. I was surprised he didn’t name drop Bret Hart when talking about facing the winner of the Royal Rumble Match at Wrestlemania. But Vince made sure to connect the two mere seconds later, when Bret came out for commentary. His exact words: “… the man that Shawn Michaels took the WWF Championship from.”

owen-hart-bret-hart-wwf-raw-january-13-1997Rocky Miavia def. The British Bulldog via count-out. Owen Hart came out during this match and stood right in front of Bret, blocking his view of the match. That’s one of the really cool things about this Bret/Owen rivalry. It never really ended. These two had their famous program in late ’93 and most of ’94, and yet here we are in 1997.

They’d done an angle on the previous episode of Superstars where Steve Austin took out Bret’s knee. Continuing on that theme, Austin takes out Bulldog’s knee here. But Owen can’t see it because he’s watching Bret. Bret then goes after Austin. I remember Austin and Bulldog having some kind of bad blood around this time. They kept teasing a Bulldog babyface turn, and a feud against Owen. You can argue that never fully culminated because of what happened after Wrestlemania XIII. Though they did have an awesome match to crown the first ever European Champion, which we’ll cover later.

Hilariously, a few minutes after this match they went back to the footage of Shawn in San Antonio, and Rocky popped up. Vince simply said, “Hey, there’s Rocky!” They tried to cover it up in the next segment, with Honky chiding Vince about seeing Rocky in two places at once. But it’s clearly him.

nation-of-domination-wwf-raw-january-13-1997The Undertaker def. Crush via disqualification. Vader decimates Undertaker before their match at the Royal RumbleThis was back when the Nation of Domination had JC Ice and Wolfie D, a.k.a PG-13, accompany them to the ring. Those two didn’t last long. I missed them when they were gone.

This was also the era where they’d paint a black teardrop on the Undertaker’s face. The teardrop tattoo obviously has murderous implications, and is such a great little detail for the Undertaker character.

Honky Tonk Man on commentary: [Who wins this match] is a tough one for the Honky Tonk Man to call. There’s not a lot of tough things for me. But this is probably the toughest.” Really? This is the toughest thing to call?

Over on Nitro: Diamond Dallas Page famously refuses to join the nWo. Hulk Hogan faces the Giant in a non-title match.

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