Undertaker’s Raw Return, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

John Cena.

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

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

Ponderings From Smackdown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kane Shocks Roman Reigns, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponderings From Raw:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

I’m not sure how I feel about that.

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

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

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

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

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

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