Howard Finkel’s Greatest Ring Announcements

By Rob Siebert
A NEEEEEEEWWWWW Father

So I’ve had a week to process the death of Howard Finkel. A man who, let’s be honest, was the single greatest ring announcer of all time. This might be an apples to oranges comparison. But to yours truly and many fans who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s as I did, Howard Finkel is to ring announcing what Jim Ross was/is to play-by-play. He was that good.

Over the last several days, WWE has compiled some of Finkel’s greatest moments and pushed them out to YouTube. Let’s take a look…

First of all, there’s no “arguably” about it. “The Fink” was the absolute greatest.

Secondly, the “Dean of WWE Ring Announcing.” I kinda like that…

This next clip is one of my favorites, and quite possibly Finkel’s last truly great announcing moment. If only Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler hadn’t ruined it for the audience at home by being so damn disrespectful. But for the fans in Madison Square Garden that night? It must have been magic…

Frankly, I think that tweet we saw from Vince McMahon said it all…

Rest in peace, Howard, and know that you were loved by a great many.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Undertaker’s Best Promos: The Dead Speak!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

For my money, on Monday the Undertaker cut one of his best promos in years. If you haven’t seen it, you should see it.

So watch it.

In recent years a lot of fans have been clamoring for him to return to his American Bad Ass/Big Evil persona. That’s the closest we’ve gotten to it in a long time. In the right context, this Undertaker is every bit as menacing and intimidating as the Dead Man persona.

Like fine wine, the Undertaker improved with age. Critics, podcasters and “pundits” have talked about his matches with Kurt Angle, Batista, Edge, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, CM Punk, among others. Mind you, the first of those matches took place in February 2006. The real-life Mark Calaway had been wrestling for almost 20 years, and played the Undertaker for about 16 of them.

But what about the Undertaker’s mic work? His “character work,” so to speak. At the start of his run he was given a mouthpiece: Paul Bearer. The formula for an Undertaker/Paul Bearer promo was pretty simple. Paul would do most of the talking in that unsettling high pitched voice, and ‘Taker would chime in with something spooky at the end. But at that point he was playing the character like a zombie, or Frankenstein’s monster.

Below is a perfect example, and actually one of my favorite times we heard the Dead Man speak…

But after years at Paul Bearer’s side, and six years of growing and evolving the character, he clearly became more comfortable on the mic and began to take a more commanding presence in his promos. At times it was almost to the point where Bearer would simply speak to compliment what Undertaker would say.

Case in point, this little gem where he talks about a match on Valentine’s Day…

In 1996, the Undertaker/Paul Bearer tandem was split up. The Dead Man was left to fend for himself on the mic. Some nights were better than others. But on certain shows, he could make absolute magic. Especially when he had the production team behind him. These promos for the Buried Alive pay per view that fall are the stuff of legend.

Holy crap.

The changes continued into 1997 and 1998. The introduction of the Kane character, and the revelation of the Undertaker’s storyline family history would humanize the Dead Man in ways we’d never seen. In rare occasions he’d be in street clothes, albeit still black. As they built to an Undertaker/Kane match at Wrestlemania XIV, he would have to talk about his parents, his childhood, etc. The emotional needs of the story required a kind of acting that would prove challenging for anyone not trained traditional theater.

In the scene below, we see him talking to his deceased parents at their grave site. Y’know, that standard wrestling promo you’ve seen a thousand times…

But pre-produced Undertaker was not the same as arena Undertaker. That’s not to say he was bad. But a spooky, undead character obviously lends itself to more quiet settings. When you’re among screaming fans, it’s obviously very different.

Here we have a fairly famous “worked shoot” promo from 1998. He’s dressed in plain clothes, but allegedly that’s because his gear was lost in transit. It’s not the most polished mic work you’ll ever see. But the substance of it is great. I love the “slayer of dragons” line.

I’m not in love with this next one. But certain elements of it are very strong. Most notably Undertaker not looking into the camera as he’s threatening Vince McMahon. Mind you this is 1999. Years before WWE wrestlers were told not to look into the camera. This was done for effect. Then you’ve got the music, the lighting, the hood. It’s just a great looking piece of television.

Then came the American Bad Ass. In 2000, all the talk about taking souls and eternal damnation was over. After 10 years, the Undertaker was simply a tough-as-nails biker, looking like he might kill somebody at a moment’s notice. We’d seen a humanized Undertaker before. But I’d argue this was the first time we heard the Undertaker talk like Mark Calaway.

Even the Rock wasn’t safe.

The American Bad Ass would morph into Big Evil. The difference? As Bruce Prichard once said, “Semantics.” Although I suppose you could argue the American Bad Ass was a babyface, and Big Evil a heel.

By the time Wrestlemania XIX rolled around, ‘Taker wanted a match with Ric Flair. And he was going to get it. By any means necessary…

In hindsight, the really bone-chilling thing about this segment is that he references not only the future Charlotte Flair, but the late Reid Fliehr.

This next one from April of 2002 was special. Not just because of its delivery, but because they put the Undertaker with the recently-returned Hulk Hogan, and they let him talk about the elephant in the room. They let him talk about his first WWF Championship win in 1991 and say, “I beat you.” For so long, it had been taboo to reference Hogan unless it was some kind of joke or parody. But now he was back. And as you’ll see, he was fair game.

Big Evil was around until the end of 2003. By Wrestlemania the following year, the Dead Man was back. And yes, he would wear gold again. Specifically, the World Heavyweight Championship, a.k.a. the “Big Gold Belt.” He wore it three times between 2007 and 2009.

Here he is on Smackdown in 2009 after taking it CM Punk in a Hell in a Cell Match the previous Sunday. My favorite part of this promo is that he puts the belt over, and explains why he wanted it so badly. He even calls it “the Holy Grail of everyone who steps foot in this ring.”

At this point, what we were getting was a Dead Man/Big Evil hybrid. Lots of talk about souls, graves, etc. But at times, we’d see flashes of Big Evil.

Earlier that year, Wrestlemania XXV had taken place. The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels had that classic match, and started what would ultimately be a four-year saga that in time would include Triple H.

Once Triple H got involved in 2011, we started to see in-ring segments between all three. What resulted were some of the best, if not the best back-and-forth promos of all their iconic careers. There’s a tension in the air that you can’t script. It has to come from the performers and their chemistry.

I present to you, Exhibit A.

A year later, Triple H and the Undertaker would face off again. This time inside Hell in a Cell, with HBK as the guest referee. But initially, Hunter refused to face the Dead Man again.

What’s interesting about this segment is that it’s one of the rare times we see Undertaker come from a place of vulnerability. He’s been waiting a year for this opportunity, and he needs Triple H to say yes.

You wanna talk tension? That line about Shawn being better isn’t remotely as effective out of context. But with these characters and this dynamic, it’s huge.

Fast-forward to 2015, and we’ve got the Undertaker coming for Brock Lesnar after the Streak was broken at Wrestlemania XXX. I was so dissatisfied with that initial promo ‘Taker cut on Brock. It made him look like a sore loser. If they’d simply done something like the promo below, and included something about revenge and ‘Taker having nothing left to lose, it would have been perfect.

This next segment contains, in my opinion, the Undertaker’s last really good promo. Until last Monday, of course.

There’s not much to it, really. It’s ‘Taker declaring himself for the Royal Rumble Match. But it’s always stood out to me for two reasons. First, I love the “29 holes for 29 souls” line. Secondly, and more importantly, look at how he acts toward Stephanie McMahon. At this point (and perhaps to this day), nobody stood up to Stephanie like that.

But what could she do? He’s the Undertaker.

Email Rob at at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Strowman is Out, Balor is In, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Yeah, I had fun last week, so I’m back this week. Not a bad night for it either, as the Royal Rumble got a hell of a shake-up….

Braun Strowman opens the show, and announces he’s “all healed up.” Baron Corbin interrupts to taunt him. Strowman chases Corbin backstage, ripping apart Vince McMahon’s limo in the process. As punishment, McMahon cancels Strowman’s Universal Title Match at the Royal Rumble. When Vince and Braun had their scene next to the wrecked limo, I was literally saying out loud: “Braun, please don’t back down from the 73-year-old man who’s half your size.” Thankfully, he didn’t…much.

I’m wondering how much of this had to do with that horrible segment Braun and Brock had last week. Another Brock vs. Braun match wasn’t exactly red hot. But that segment practically put it on ice. IF there’s a silver lining here, it’s that Braun won’t have to lose to Brock again. At least not yet. Plus, it made this show that much more interesting.

Perhaps fittingly, Braun had yet another verbal flub here. He referenced “WWE World Cup” instead of WWE Crown Jewel. Although given all the nasty press that show got, maybe they actually scripted him that way.

Ronda Rousey and Sasha Banks def. Nia Jax and Tamina. Rousey and Banks get into a verbal spat after the match. After last week, I couldn’t help but be nervous when Sasha went up for that ‘rana on Nia early on. That image of Sasha going splat on the floor is going to stay with me awhile.

They did pretty well with the post-match verbage. Sasha managed not to come off like an obnoxious brat, which is always a plus. Expectations are high for them once we get to Phoenix.

The Revival def. Lucha House Party. I had flashbacks of “Lucha House Rules” Matches when the Revival’s music hit. Frankly, I didn’t ever need to see these two teams wrestle again. But at least this time, the right team won. And at least Dash and Dawson have a story nowadays.

John Cena, Drew McIntyre, Baron Corbin, and Finn Balor all pitch themselves as Brock’s new opponent at the Rumble. Vince McMahon makes a Fatal Four-Way Match later in the show to decide the new top contender. We got some pretty good mic work here. Cena played his veteran role to perfection, transitioning into McIntyre’s angry stuff. The stuff between Vince and Balor was interesting. They played right into the whole “Vince loves big guys” stereotype. Not bad at all.

Nikki Cross makes her Raw wrestling debut, teaming with Bayley, and Natalya to defeat The Riott Squad. So they’re letting this new crop of call-ups wrestle on both shows until they decide where to put them? That just tells me they still haven’t decided what to do with them yet. Some of them, at least. That’s somewhat understandable, given how abruptly they were apparently summoned. But they announced this a month ago. You’d think they’d have figured it out by now.

All that said, Nikki had a good outing here. Kudos to Ruby Riott for selling her ass off for her. And on a related note…

EC3, Lacey Evans, and Heavy Machinery have cameos during the broadcast. EC3 and Lacey both wrestled dark matches before Raw last week. At least this week they made TV.

I’m sure EC3 will be fine on the main roster. Though hopefully they don’t do what they did with Bobby Roode, and bring him in as a babyface when he’s such a natural heel. Heavy Machinery should do well too, so long as they don’t make Otis a comedy act. As for Lacey Evans, I’m curious to see how her persona plays on a national level. It could go either way.

Finn Balor def. Jinder Mahal to retain his spot in the Fatal Four-Way Match later in the night. When they made this match, the story for the four-way became pretty obvious. But it’s a good story, so I can’t fault them for it.

I can’t imagine what it feels like to take that double stomp off the top rope. Balor stuck that landing right in Jinder’s stomach. Ouch.

Bobby Lashley def. Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins in a Triple-Threat Match to win the Intercontinental Championship. Really good match. For my money, they could have had this as the main event and been perfectly fine. Great work by all four guys, Lio Rush included. And a great rub for Lashley.

I like this move. It’s got a bit of an old school WWF feel to it, with the big muscular champion and his mouthpiece. It’s a hell of an endorsement not just for Lashley, but for Rush, who literally helped turn the big man’s career around. Let’s face it: Lashley was floundering as a babyface. But they’ve slowly turned him into a commodity on that show.

On “A Moment of Bliss,” Alexa Bliss announces that at Elimination Chamber, six teams will compete to become the first WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions. Paul Heyman is interviewed. Otis Dozovic makes a bizarre interruption. They went a little Attitude Era with that guy walking in on Alexa changing. Not complaining. Just saying…

So the big news here is, of course, the Women’s Tag Team Titles. I can’t say I’m a fan of the Elimination Chamber being used to crown the champions. You’d think this would be the kind of thing they’d save for Wrestlemania. Nevertheless, here we are.

Now it’s just a question of who the six teams are. I’m going to guess Sasha Banks and Bayley, Nia Jax and Tamina, Billie Kay and Peyton Royce, the Riott Squad, Naomi and Carmella as a throw-together team, and let’s say…the Bella Twins? If they were doing this at Wrestlemania, I’d have pitched doing something with Trish Stratus and Lita. But that seems unlikely here.

Finn Balor def. John Cena, Drew McIntyre, and Baron Corbin to earn a Universal Title Match against Brock Lesnar at the Royal Rumble. Cena endorses Balor after the match. Mrs. Primary Ignition, like everyone else, was appalled by Cena’s hair. She actually called it upsetting. I mean, people used to make fun of Shawn Michaels’ bald spot. But Cena’s got him beat by a mile and a half.

I said this finish was obvious after the match with Jinder was made. But actually, it was probably when Balor and Vince had that back and forth. Either way, I’m glad we’re finally getting this match. Not that I think Balor’s going to win. If anything, I think this is confirmation that Lesnar is indeed going to Wrestlemania, where hopefully he’ll drop the title to Seth Rollins.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

Top 10 Raw Moments of 2018: Stone Cold, John Cena, Becky Lynch, and more!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how Raw sucks. Not just from the fans, either. Last week, the McMahons themselves had to come out and, in so many words, admit their creative failures of late. For all this talk about “shaking up” the show, it seems like very little is actually going to change. Which is a damn shame, as the show desperately needs a revamp. Like, this sucker needs major renovations from the top down.

But as we’re taking time to look back on 2018, it’s only fair that we pay tribute to the things Raw got right. One of their buzzwords is “Raw moments,” i.e. moments or matches on the show that fans continue to look back on with fondness, awe, sadness, or whatever emotion it happened to evoke. Stone Cold and the beer truck, Eric Bischoff’s debut, that game-changing CM Punk promo, etc. The moments that made us love Raw in the first place, and are the reason we stick with it, despite all the frustrations and disappointments.

And so, with the disclaimer that these are all based on my personal opinion and viewing experiences, these are my top 10 Raw moments of 2018, in chronological order.

A few honorable mentions..
– January 29: Asuka vs. Sasha Banks.
– July 30: Brock Lesnar puts his hands on Paul Heyman.
– August 6: Ronda Rousey’s first match on Raw.

1. January 22: Austin’s got McMahon!
Raw 25 kicked off old school. Shane and Stephanie McMahon came to the ring to present a plaque to their father. What followed was classic Vince, as he proceeded to heel on the Brooklyn crowd, and then take all the credit for Raw‘s success. The crowd even broke out in an “Asshole!” chant, just like old times.

Then the glass shattered, and the crowd erupted as Stone Cold Steve Austin emerged. In a skit that included Vince throwing Shane to the wolves, Stone Cold Stunners to both McMahon men, and the throwing back of a few Steveweisers, suddenly Raw was great again. Just listen to that crowd. While I wish Austin would have gotten on the mic, in the end this segment was exactly what it needed to be: A quick nostalgia trip. It was also a reminder that even in his 70s, Vince can still deliver gold on the mic.

2. February 19: Seth Rollins steals the show in a Gauntlet Match.
This match featured all seven of the men who’d be involved in the Elimination Chamber Match to decide Brock Lesnar’s Wrestlemania opponent. We had John Cena, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, The Miz, Finn Balor, Braun Strowman, and Elias. Strowman would be the eventual winner. But the man everyone was talking about after this match was Seth Rollins.

Entering at the number two spot, Rollins wrestled for over an hour and five minutes, pinning both Roman Reigns and John Cena in the process. That’s a stellar accomplishment in and of itself, on par with Chris Jericho pinning Steve Austin and The Rock in one night back in 2001. By this point, Rollins had noticeably cooled off as a babyface. But this match was the catalyst for his reemergence as a contender for the top spot on Raw, if not the entire company.

Rollins didn’t get his shot at Lesnar in 2018, but this year might be a different story…

3. February 26: “Ladies and gentlemen, Braun Strowman!”
WWE loves to try their hand at comedy. Emphasis on the word “try.” While certain performers have natural comedic timing and abilities, most of WWE’s attempts at humor feel lame, forced and awkward.

But once in awhile, you get one out of left field that inexplicably works. The Vince McMahon “Are you ready for some wrestling?” skit, that first Daniel Bryan/Kane anger management skit, and now this. Braun Strowman coming out and strumming a bass on stage to make fun of Elias. And to make matters worse/better, mere seconds in, the instrument breaks. So Braun has to go on without it. For what it’s worth, the big guy’s voice isn’t so bad.

To cap it all off, the ensuing beatdown ended with Strowman lifting the bass up by the neck, and smashing it over Elias’ back. For yours truly, this segment embodied almost everything there is to love about Braun Strowman. It gave us his charisma, along with the brute strength and violence that he allows us to live vicariously through. This is the guy who could have headlined Wrestlemania.

4. March 19: The Ultimate Deletion.
This was the moment we’d been waiting for since the Hardys returned to WWE. A lawsuit with Anthem, the parent company of Impact Wrestling, had prevented Matt Hardy from using his “Broken” persona for most of 2017. But late in the year, we were introduced to “Woken” Matt Hardy, i.e. Broken Matt with one letter swapped out. He feuded with Bray Wyatt, culminating in this match, the “Ultimate Deletion.”

Akin to the other “Deletion” matches we saw on Impact, the match had a more cinematic, campy presentation. Most of the trademarks of the Broken universe were there. It took place at the Hardy compound. Matt’s wife and son made appearances, as did his real-life father-in-law, “Senor Benjamin.” Jeff Hardy also made a cameo. Hardy would win by sending Wyatt into the “lake of reincarnation.” Wyatt would not emerge again until the Wrestlemania pre-show, where he helped Hardy win the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal.

The Ultimate Deletion belongs on this list because, like the Broken/Woken universe itself, it dared to be different. It was also great validation for Matt. Not just because of the Anthem lawsuit, but because WWE once tried to do their own version of this match. You’ll recall the time the New Day visited the “Wyatt Family compound.” The results looked a lot like what the Hardys were doing on Impact at the time. We haven’t seen a match like this on Raw since, and we may never see one again. But it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility.

5. John Cena’s scathing promos on the Undertaker.
Undertaker no-showing the build-up to Wrestlemania 34 was extremely frustrating at the time. But in hindsight, it was the right way to go. Cena’s desperate, angry attempts to bring the Dead Man back made for great drama. The highlights of which included…

– “…stop hiding behind your lame excuses. You are not too old. You are not washed up. You are not broken down, ’cause if you was broken down, you wouldn’t be posting workout videos on your wife’s Instagram.”
– “You are not the god that [the fans] made you. You are the man you’ve allowed yourself to become. And that man, Undertaker, is a coward. The Undertaker is a coward.”
– “Hey Undertaker. It’s obvious that you left your hat in the ring. But it’s clear to everybody here that you left your balls at home.”

Then the match went two minutes, with Undertaker going over. I interpreted that as being because, in storyline, Undertaker surprised Cena. That’s why I think these two have unfinished business, and should go another round at Wrestlemania this year.

6. April 9: Paige announces her retirement.
Calling this one of Raw’s best moments feels a little weird. Obviously, if I had my way Paige would still be wrestling. But I have to tip my hat to the pure honesty, emotion, and bravery exhibited by Paige here.

Many of us were expecting this. The previous November, Paige had returned after a lengthy absence that included neck surgery. But just over a month after her return, Paige suffered another neck injury, forcing her to stay out of the ring. So the word “retirement” was being thrown around by fans online.

Still, it’s never easy to hear confirmation like this. Paige spoke very eloquently, and the crowd showered her with “Thank you Paige!” chants. But while retired, Paige wasn’t gone long at all. She showed up the very next night as the new general manager of Smackdown.

7. April 30: Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor
Seth Rollins was Raw‘s resident artist this year. If you look at the best matches in this show in 2018, he’s the one constant in most of them. He turned in epic performances with Dolph Ziggler, Kevin Owens, Drew McIntyre, among others.

But in many ways, this was the best TV match Rollins turned in all year. It earned 4.25 stars from Dave Meltzer, was for the Intercontinental Title, and the two men had a loaded history together. They were, of course, wrestling to become the first Universal Champion when Rollins injured Balor, forcing him to give up his newly won title.

Champion and challenger gave us a combination endurance/chess match. It was a collection of counters, dodges, kicks, and kick-outs from big moves in a prolonged game of “Can you top this?” Rollins would ultimately pin Balor using the Curb Stomp. Both these men can easily slip back into the Universal Title picture in 2019, and this match is one of the many pieces of evidence we have.

8. October 22: Roman Reigns announces he has leukemia, Dean Ambrose turns on Seth Rollins.
We got two shockers on this show. One was a storyline. The other was very, very real.

I had no idea Roman Reigns had ever battled leukemia, or any kind of cancer. So when he walked out at the top of the show and announced he was relinquishing the Universal Title because his leukemia had returned, I was floored. I think we all were. To their credit, the fans in Providence, many of whom had been booing Reigns when he came out, immediately switched gears. On his way out, Roman got the support that some would say he’s deserved all along.

Naturally, emotions were running high when Roman’s Shield brothers, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, challenged for the Raw Tag Team Titles in the main event that night. Which made what happened next all the more explosive…

After winning the titles, Dean Ambrose made his long-awaited heel turn, nailing Rollins with the DDT. The fans watched in stunned silence as he continued to destroy his partner. Ambrose had unraveled, and the Shield was no more.

9. November 5: Drew McIntyre destroys Kurt Angle.
This was Angle’s first match on Raw in over a decade. To his credit, it was memorable. Just not for the reason we thought it would be.

In a battle to decide whether Angle would captain the Raw Men’s team at Survivor Series, the Olympic Gold Medalist and WWE Hall of Famer put up a fight, even catching McIntyre with the Angle Slam. But in the end, McIntyre was simply too much. The “Scottish Psychopath” would hit an Angle Slam of his own, and later end the match by tapping Angle out with his trademark Ankle Lock. The match will no doubt go down as one of the definitive performances of McIntyre’s current WWE run.

What makes this a little bit more special is that supposedly this was Kurt Angle’s idea, at least partially. The two had worked together in Impact, and Angle wanted to put McIntyre over for the WWE audience. It’d call the attempt successful, wouldn’t you?

10. November 12: Becky Lynch invades.
Yes, technically it was the entire Smackdown women’s roster that invaded. But the part everyone remembers is Becky, blood on her face, standing victorious in the crowd.

This is an angle that’s been done time and time again. Wrestlers from Smackdown invading Raw, or Raw invading Smackdown, or whatever it is. But a wild punch changed everything.

It started out strong, with the camera rushing into the locker room to find Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey in Becky Lynch’s Disarm-Her. Lynch would then go to the ring to confront the Raw Women’s Survivor Series team. Lynch’s Smackdown cohorts would then ambush from the crowd. In the ensuing battle, Nia Jax would punch Becky in the face, breaking her nose and concussing her. WWE would later simply call it a “broken face.”

But the then-Smackdown Women’s Champion would find victory even in injury. The ensuing footage of Becky fighting with blood on her face only rallied fans to her cause. She had to bow out of a match against Rousey at Survivor Series. But this angle may very well have opened the door for her to be one of the first women to headline Wrestlemania. So all in all, I’d say things worked out for her…

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

A WWE TLC 2018 Preview – Looking Ahead to 2019

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Fair warning, folks: I’m going to complain a lot in this one. Of course, that doesn’t make me unique. Wrestling fans essentially do two things: Watch wrestling, and complain about wrestling on Twitter.

But to be fair, it’s not like there hasn’t been anything to complain about lately. Hell, they had Seth Rollins come out on TV Monday and verbally castrate Baron Corbin, the on-screen authority figure. He said things like…

– “Under your leadership, Monday Night Raw has sucked, and it has sucked because of you.”
– “That roster, that locker room back there, that is some of the most talented men and women that Monday Night Raw has ever seen. And you’ve got no idea what to do with it.”
– “…talent support, morale from backstage, the fan support, and the TV ratings, are all at an all-time low, and it is all because of you.”

It’s like he was reading Tweets directed at Vince McMahon.

To be fair, at least there’s an aura of honesty about this segment. But every year they go through some version of this creative drought. I call it the “autumn slump.” It usually hits some time between September and December, and ends around Royal Rumble season.

If you believe the online buzz, much of this latest slump has to do with Vince himself re-writing the shows shortly before they go on the air. It’s always boggled my mind. WWE has only gotten bigger and bigger as the decades have gone by. And yet the creative for this three-hour flagship show can still be run like a little mom and pop operation.

You know what I’m really interested to see? Not so much what happens to Raw, as it’s staying on USA Network for the next five years. But rather, what happens with Smackdown. WWE just got more than $2 billion to bring Smackdown to Fox next year. As such, there are going to be more new eyes on the product than there’ve been in a long, long time. So what happens when they get to Fox, and these new viewers are subjected to all this contrived, scripted dialogue? This awful, childish bathroom humor? These rushed, and not thought out segments? It really makes you wonder…

That being said, let’s get to TLC

MIXED MATCH CHALLENGE FINALS:
Jinder Mahal and Alicia Fox vs. R-Truth and Carmella

Between wrestler injuries, having to be consistent with storylines, and the needless change to a round-robin format, the MMC has been an absolute mess this year. I still dig the concept, though. But they need to go back to single-elimination rules next year. More importantly, establish a rule that if a team member can’t compete on a given night, that team forfeits their match. This swapping and replacing of wrestlers can’t be a thing again. The team of Braun Strowman and Alexa Bliss morphing into Ember Moon and Curt Hawkins is pure stupidity.

So we have these two…ehem…legendary tag teams, facing off to decide the season two victors. If these are the only two choices we have, I say we give it to R-Truth and Carmella. The people are into their dancing act. So throw ’em a bone.

PREDICTION: R-Truth and Carmella

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Buddy Murphy (c) vs. Cedric Alexander

Not making this a Ladder Match feels like a missed opportunity. There’s already a decent chance these two might have the best match of the night. But in a Ladder Match, they could really give us one for the ages.

That’s assuming they’re not on pre-show duty, of course.

My opinion has not changed on where the Cruiserweight Division should go heading into Wrestlemania. All roads should lead to Mustafa Ali winning the belt. It could realistically be either one of these two dropping it to him. But I’m going to go with Murphy here, as he and Ali would give us a more compelling story. If I’m Cedric, I’m looking to get away from 205 Live altogether. He’s climbed that mountain already. Find a tag team partner and go to Raw or Smackdown.

PREDICTION: Buddy Murphy

TRIPLE-THREAT MATCH FOR SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
The Bar (c) vs. The Usos vs. The New Day

All three of these teams are great. But you won’t find a better illustration of just how bad Smackdown needs new tag teams. It feels like we’re rinsing and repeating, rinsing and repeating, rinsing and repeating. If I’m Jimmy and Jey Uso, I’m pushing to go to Raw next year, just for a change of scenery. Hell, I wanted them to go to Raw this year!

I’ll say the Bar retain here. Because…why not? They’ve got just as much right to to be champs as the other two teams do.

PREDICTION: The Bar

Finn Balor vs. Drew McIntyre

As much as I hate the way Finn Balor has become a whipping boy for larger opponents like Kane and Bobby Lashley, he’s got no business winning this one. Drew is on a major ascent. And with any luck, they’ve learned an important lesson from Braun Strowman: Nothing cools a hot commodity like big losses. McIntyre already ate a pin from Dolph Ziggler last week. He doesn’t need to be losing to Balor in what is essentially a throwaway match.

Balor is another guy I wanted to switch shows this year. Hopefully he’ll find himself on Smackdown in 2018.

PREDICTION: Drew McIntyre

TABLES MATCH:
Natalya vs. Ruby Riott

People shouldn’t be upset about this Jim Neidhart storyline because it’s tasteless. They should be upset about it because it’s been so damn silly. I’m a big Ruby Riott fan, and I’m thrilled she’s getting a pay per view spotlight like this. But what has she really done to disrespect the Anvil’s memory? Break a pair of plastic sunglasses and put his picture on a table? Gimme a break…

There’s definitely such a thing as going too far. WWE has crossed that line more than a few times over the years. But in this ultra-sensitive era we live in, people forget that pro wrestling is meant to stir up emotion. To get you to hate the villain and cheer the hero. That’s all they’re doing here.

Still, the sad truth is Jim Neidhart is gone. This whole story is designed to give Nattie a feel-good win to pay tribute to her dad. So let’s give her a nice win and move on.

PREDICTION: Natalya

LADDER MATCH:
Elias vs. Bobby Lashley

I’ve enjoyed what Bobby Lashley and Lio Rush have been doing lately. And of course, Elias has a great act. One that might even deserve to be featured more prominently. But I have to ask: Why does this match deserve the ladder stipulation?

Not AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan. Not Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins. Not the Cruiserweights. Not even the three-way tag match, where you could spread the big bumps out between six or seven guys. But this match. I don’t get it.

As I assume Rush will be ringside here, it would be easy to justify giving Lashley the win due to interference. But an Elias win is the right move here. The crowds are eating out of his hand, and he’s got a cool factor to him that so few have nowadays. Plus, he doesn’t have to pin Lashley to get the win here. It’s practically gift-wrapped for him.

PREDICTION: Elias

CHAIRS MATCH:
Randy Orton vs. Rey Mysterio

Thank God! A Chairs Match! I was worried we wouldn’t get one this year! Who could ever forget all those classic Chairs Matches from years past! Ones like…er…um…John Cena and Wade Barrett had one, didn’t they?

As the Smackdown title picture is essentially anybody’s ball game right now, there’s a decent chance one of these guys will be going for the WWE Championship come Wrestlemania. AJ Styles vs. Randy Orton? What aboutDaniel Bryan vs. Rey Mysterio? Don’t rule it out, folks. It’s more likely than you think.

I went back and forth in picking a winner for this one. But in the end, Randy Orton has a good thing going with his current heel run. While I have no desire to see him wrestling for the title at Wrestlemania again, it makes sense to keep him a credible threat to the babyfaces.

PREDICTION: Randy Orton

STIPULATION TLC MATCH:
Braun Strowman vs. Baron Corbin
If Corbin wins, he becomes the permanent General Manager of Raw.
If Strowman wins, he gets a Universal Title Match.

Don’t let ’em fool ya, kids. This is not the main event. I don’t understand why this match is still being advertised. I assume Strowman will be at TLC in some capacity, or they wouldn’t still be promoting him. So either they’re going to do a quick squash and get this overwith quickly, or they’re going to put him in an extremely dangerous match mere weeks after elbow surgery.

What’s more, it’s not like this match was going to wow us either way. Frankly, on paper Strowman vs. Corbin kinda sucks. Even with the TLC stipulation. So why not just do another multi-man TLC brawl like they’ve done in years past? Book Strowman, Balor, and Elias against Corbin, McIntyre, and Lashley. And if they want to keep Strowman out of the ring, plug Dolph Ziggler in there as his replacement. Or better yet, what about Kurt Angle? He’s got built-in heat with both Corbin and McIntyre.

As for who wins, I was originally inclined to say Corbin. But I just can’t justify having Strowman lose another pay per view match. Realistically, this guy should have been challenging for the Universal Title at Wrestlemania this year. Now, it looks like he may finally be in a position to be in that title picture. So for crying out loud, lets not have him lose this one. Lets oust Corbin from power, and shake Raw up a little bit. While this year’s autumn slump can’t be attributed to Corbin alone, hopefully removing him will be a nice palette cleanser for everybody so we can all move on

PREDICTION: Braun Strowman

WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Ronda Rousey (c) vs. Nia Jax

I can’t say I had a particular desire to see this match again. But at least now that Nia has all that heat for punching out Becky, this match has some heat to it. People will cheer like hell when Ronda taps her out to the arm bar. And yes, that’s exactly what needs to happen here. May as well do it quick, too. I hate to pile on, but God forbid Nia throws another stiff punch and hurts Ronda.

For Ronda, it seems like all roads lead to the main event of Wrestlemania. The question is, against who? Becky Lynch? (Yes.) Charlotte Flair? (No.) Becky and Charlotte in a three-way? (If you must.)

PREDICTION: Ronda Rousey

WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
Seth Rollins (c) vs. Dean Ambrose

You know what? I like Dean Ambrose’s Bane look. (Bane Ambrose?) It’s different. At least he doesn’t have the silly accent, right?

Along the same lines as the Ruby Riott/Natalya thing, Ambrose doesn’t deserve to be crucified for making thinly veiled comments about Roman Reigns these past several weeks. Is it in poor taste? Yes. Was it over the line? I personally don’t think so. I did, however, think it was rather stupid on Monday when Charly Caruso basically asked him: “What would Roman think if he knew this was happening?” If Roman knew? What, does he not have a TV? Or a smartphone? Or,  you know…these guys’ phone numbers?

If Seth Rollins’ comments this week about Brock Lesnar are any indicator, they are indeed moving forward with Lesnar vs. Rollins at Wrestlemania. Assuming Lesnar is keeping the Universal Title until then, that means they’re probably going to have to get the IC Title off of Rollins. Ambrose is as good a person for him to lose it to as anyone.

By the way, don’t write off Renee Young’s on-screen involvement in her husband’s storyline. They’re already having Corey Graves address their real-life marriage. So it’s not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when.

PREDICTION: Dean Ambrose

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Daniel Bryan (c) vs. AJ Styles

Well, whaddaya know? It’s the Daniel Bryan heel turn we never knew we wanted.

A return to the title picture seemed like a natural direction for Bryan to go in as we headed toward Wrestlemania. So his heel turn came way out of left field. It’s been a very pleasant surprise, though. As much as fans like myself love to armchair quarterback this stuff, this was a good decision. It gives Bryan so much more creative freedom. I’m sure that feels great after so much time on the sidelines.

Styles vs. Bryan in a pay per view environment has been a dream match for years. Now they finally have a chance to do it. But these dream match scenarios have not been kind to AJ this year. Case in point, his Wrestlemania match against Shinsuke Nakamura. Still, these two are bona fide in-ring artists. So naturally, there’s a lot of intrigue going into this match.

Bryan’s heel turn has left me at a complete loss for what the WWE Title picture will look like as we get closer to Wrestlemania. So I’m somewhat at a loss in terms of predicting this one. I’m going to go with the whole “they wouldn’t give him the belt just to take it off him” approach, and say Bryan wins. But there’s still time for AJ to once again walk into Wrestlemania with the title.

PREDICTION: Daniel Bryan

TRIPLE-THREAT TLC MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE:
Becky Lynch (c) vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka

Supposedly, Asuka was added to this match because WWE was pleasantly surprised by her sustained popularity. I can’t say I disagree, given all the nothing they’ve done with her since Wrestlemania. But hey, she’s back in the title picture, and working with two of the company’s hottest stars. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

Not that I think she’s winning. My assumption is this match turned out the way it did so they could get the title off Becky Lynch without pinning her. Throwing a third person in there, no matter who it is, muddies those waters a little bit more.

Plus, I think they’re kinda throwing us a bone on this one. How Asuka has not won either the Raw or Smackdown Women’s Championships by now is a mystery the likes of which I can’t even begin to solve. And yet, here we are. I’d love to see her get another title shot at Wrestlemania this year. Perhaps this is a good sign in that respect.

Either way, one thing we know for sure is they want Charlotte kept strong. That’s why I see her taking the belt here. That will give her momentum heading into Wrestlemania season. And again, it’s simply a question of how they want to proceed with her, Ronda, and Becky. Maybe Charlotte winds up in a completely different match. Against maybe…a certain Empress of Tomorrow? Charlotte broke Asuka’s streak, and she hasn’t been the same since. If there was ever a reason to seek revenge…

PREDICTION: Charlotte Flair

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WWE Crown Jewel Predictions – A Giant Friggin’ Headache

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

This thing has been a giant friggin’ headache, hasn’t it?

Despite intense pressure to cancel or perhaps move Crown Jewel out of Saudi Arabia following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, WWE has stayed the course. The show will proceed as planned, even as two of the company’s biggest stars, John Cena and Daniel Bryan, have opted not to go.

This is not a good look, ladies and gentlemen. Obviously they couldn’t have known something like this would happen back when they signed the 10-year deal with the Saudis, which is expected to make them up to $40 million this year. But now that it has happened, pushing forth with the show makes WWE look like your stereotypical greedy, soulless American corporation. Maybe that’s what they are at the end of the day…

While I myself won’t be watching Crown Jewel on Friday, the event will obviously impact what we see on WWE television in the near future. So even though writing about this show makes me want to take a shower, let’s take a look at the wrestling element of Crown Jewel.

WWE WORLD CUP TOURNAMENT:

They really made a mistake naming this thing. It should be the King of the Ring tournament, as opposed to the World Cup. Because the name World Cup comes has certain global implications to it. And it’s no secret that all these guys are born and bred Americans. So why give yourself that marketing headache?

Still, this could be a career moment for somebody. Even big established names like these eight men have. So who do you give it to?

I think we go to Kurt Angle vs. Rey Mysterio in the finals. That’s a match we haven’t seen in WWE for a long time. How long it’ll go, or what it’ll look like is anybody’s guess. But it could be really interesting to see what those two do in a ring in 2018.

In the end, I think this tournament belongs to Kurt Angle. To me, this World Cup idea seems like a way to give him something in the same ball park as his Olympic Gold Medal win. In theory, at least. If he really is gearing up for another in-ring run, what better way to establish that he can still hang than giving him a bunch of victories over two modern day stars and a fellow legend? Of course, this can organically lead to a match at Survivor Series to conclusively decide who the General Manager of Raw is.

Although, speaking of Baron Corbin, he could easily do a run-in and cost Kurt the final match. That would definitely amp up the bad blood. Either way, there are a lot of directions they can go with this…

PREDICTION: Kurt Angle

WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The Bar (c) vs. The New Day

I really didn’t think they would take the belts off the New Day so soon. But here we are.

In all honesty, I don’t have a strong opinion about the outcome of this match. This one could really go either way. I’m just hoping the match itself is good. It feels like WWE put the titles on Sheamus and Cesaro just so they could have a title change on Smackdown 1000. But since they’ve taken the trouble of switching the belts, I say we go ahead and keep them on the Bar.

PREDICTION: The Bar

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Samoa Joe

I can’t decide if we should be happy about the change from AJ Styles vs. Daniel Bryan to another match with Samoa Joe. On one hand, Joe gets another title shot. But on the other, the smart bet is he’s going to lose again.

Supposedly Joe is dealing with yet another injury, which doesn’t bode well for his main roster championship aspirations. I’m actually a little surprised they didn’t stick the recently returned Big Show in this spot. But here we are with Joe again.

In terms of its outcome, I don’t see why this match should be any different than the other three. I suspect that after Crown Jewel, AJ will go right back to feuding with Bryan. Joe could still be involved, of course. They could build to a Triple-Threat Match at Survivor Series. But I’m not holding my breath.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

MATCH FOR VACANT WWE UNIVERSAL HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP:
Brock Lesnar vs. Braun Strowman

For a lot of fans, this match is just a formality. An obligation we have to meet just so we can get the belt on Braun Strowman. After all, Lesnar’s going back to the UFC, right?

Everybody likes to think they know where Brock stands with WWE. But we really don’t know much, do we? We were positive Wrestlemania was the end for him. Then he came back for the Greatest Royal Rumble. Then he came back for Summerslam. Now he’s back for Crown Jewel. So what are the odds that this isn’t the end either?

One of Paul Heyman’s big talking points this year has been about Brock Lesnar becoming a two-sport champion, holding the UFC Championship and the Universal Championship at the same time. As Lesnar is still making shots for WWE all these months after his deal was supposedly up, I wouldn’t take that notion lightly anymore. Remember, WWE has a lot of money invested in Brock Lesnar. And if Crown Jewel has taught us anything, it’s that this company isn’t about to leave money on the table.

Throw in the current feud between Braun Strowman and Drew McIntyre, and you’ve got the perfect out for Brock to win the belt after interference from McIntyre.

Yes, friends. It might not have been the plan before. But I suspect it’s the plan now. Brock Lesnar’s second reign of terror is about to begin.

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

Degeneration X vs. The Brothers of Destruction

*sigh* Oh, Shawn.

Yeah, these guys are probably going to headline the show. Why wouldn’t they? They headlined Super Show-Down. And it’s Shawn’s big return match, after all.

The persistent rumor has been that this is a three-match series. We had Triple H and Undertaker at Super Show-Down. We’ve got this match for Crown Jewel. Then supposedly it all culminates with another Shawn Michaels/Undertaker match at Survivor Series. I didn’t want to believe HBK was coming back. But now that he is, I’ve got no reason to believe he’s not wrestling Undertaker in a few weeks.

I’m thinking Undertaker and Kane take this one home, leading a pissed off Shawn Michaels to challenge the Dead Man to a one-on-one match. Those two have a hell of a legacy to live up to. More than eight years after their last match, I’m extremely skeptical they can give us something worth the return.

But then again, if anyone can do it, it’s these two…

PREDICTION: The Brothers of Destruction

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WWE Hell in a Cell Predictions: Blowing Off Steam

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

I don’t write about wrestling as much as I used to, but that doesn’t mean my passion for it has died down. So I hope you’ll indulge me during these predictions as I take some extra space to blow off some steam. This company has made some truly mind-blowing decisions lately. Most notably turning Braun Strowman and Becky Lynch heel.

But we’ll get into that as we go.

For now, let’s run down the card…

WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The New Day (c) vs. Rusev & Aiden English

I’m split on this one.

Rusev and Aiden English winning the titles would be a great way to freshen up a tag division that has desperately needed it for about a year now. On the other hand, they just put the titles on the New Day. So taking them off this soon would be a little weird. Plus, Rusev and English have obviously been headed toward splitsville for awhile now. They shouldn’t be, but that’s another issue entirely.

I’m thinking English eats the pin here, and then turns on Rusev after the match. From there, we get a program between the two. Where the New Day go next is anybody’s guess. I’d love to see them try and revive SAnitY. But that ship may have sailed.

PREDICTION: The New Day

WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Dolph Ziggler & Drew McIntyre (c) vs. Seth Rollins & Dean Ambrose

For the record, I’m still waiting on that Dean Ambrose heel turn. I know I’m not the only one…

But I don’t see it happening at Hell in a Cell. They obviously want to get some more mileage out of the Shield. I can’t say I blame them. In truth, this one could go either way. But I don’t see the titles coming off Ziggler and McIntyre, though. I imagine this Shield vs. Strowman/Ziggler/Reigns thing going until Survivor Series, if not TLC after that.

PREDICTION: Dolph Ziggler & Drew McIntyre

MIXED TAG TEAM MATCH:
The Miz & Maryse vs. Daniel Bryan & Brie Bella

First and foremost, I give a hell of a lot of credit to Maryse for being in this match. She just cranked out a baby in March, and now she’s appearing in front of the world in what I can only assume will be skin-tight wrestling gear. That takes guts. On the other hand, she was pregnant on national television. So maybe it’s not such a big deal to her.

Either way, hopefully Bryan and Miz will do most of the in-ring work here. Like many die-hards, I have little to no patience for the Bella Twins. But after what we saw last Monday, it’s more than obvious the less we see of Brie in the ring, the better. Honestly, for all WWE’s talk about female empowerment, Nikki and Brie set the “women’s evolution” back a decade every time they’re shoehorned into the spotlight. What the hell are they doing on the same screen with Ronda Rousey? That’s the sports equivalent of putting the Kardashians next to Billie Jean King.

I may have gotten off-topic, here… I say we give this one to Bryan and Brie. Then the Miz vs. Bryan match at next month’s Super Show-Down can be a rubber match of sorts.

PREDICTION: Daniel Bryan & Brie Bella

WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Charlotte Flair (c) vs. Becky Lynch

This one didn’t quite go as planned, did it?

I boggles my mind that Vince McMahon, or Road Dogg, or whoever the creative genius was that booked it, people thought the fans would boo Becky Lynch. She’s one of the most natural babyfaces in the entire company. What’s more, that they would opt to boo the perenially underrated Becky, in favor of Charlotte, one of the most highly featured and decorated female performers they have. Well done, WWE. Well done…

If they were smart, they’d have Charlotte cheat to win this one. (She is a Flair, after all.) That way the audience gets the satisfaction of booing her, we’re not swimming against the current with Becky as the villain, and Charlotte gets to play a role she’s better suited for. But since they’ve been complete idiots lately, it’s more likely Charlotte will just go over clean.

PREDICTION: Charlotte Flair

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Samoa Joe

You know who this match makes me think of? Sting. No, seriously.

I don’t know what the general consensus is among fans, but I regret that Sting wasn’t able to hold the WWE Championship during his brief run in the company. He deserved to get that big, crowning moment from WWE after all he’d given to the business. He didn’t have to hold it long. Hell, he could have dropped it back to Rollins the next night. Either way, I just wanted that moment for Sting.

I want that moment for Samoa Joe, too.

Let’s be honest. Joe is 39 years old, and has been injury prone since his main roster debut. Yes, he’s taken his rightful place in the WWE Title picture. But we don’t know how long he’ll be there, or how long he can stay healthy. But here he is, in a WWE Championship Match on pay per view. So I say give him his moment. Honor Samoa Joe’s contributions to the wrestling industry. It’s not like he isn’t deserving of a title reign anyway. At the very least, give it to him for a few weeks, then let AJ take it back at Super Show-Down. Why the hell not?

In any event, there’s a decent chance Joe walks out with the belt anyway. This whole story with AJ’s family can go at least another month. Especially if they switch the dynamic, and make Joe champion. Yet another reason to put the belt on him.

PREDICTION: Samoa Joe

WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Ronda Rousey (c) vs. Alexa Bliss

I don’t see any reason for WWE to give the belt back to Alexa Bliss. Not now, anyway. I would think they’d want to keep the belt on Ronda until at least Wrestlemania. I imagine they’ll try and make this one a little longer than their Summerslam match. Most likely with various hijinks with Mickie James, Alicia Fox, and Natalya on the outside. But the outcome here has never been in doubt.

PREDICTION: Ronda Rousey

HELL IN A CELL MATCH:
Randy Orton vs. Jeff Hardy

What’s interesting about this show, is that in years past they’ve struggled with creating big matches that truly felt worthy of being inside Hell in a Cell. They’ve often ended up shoehorning guys inside the cage just because the show is called Hell in a Cell. CM Punk and Ryback in 2012, for instance, did not need to be in the cell. Nor did Randy Orton and Sheamus in 2010.

In contrast, this year we had several matches that could have gotten the cage. Styles and Joe’s program is obviously very personal, so you can make an argument there. It’s a little soon for Charlotte and Becky. But as Charlotte was one of the first women to have a cell match, you can make that work. Then you have Jeff Hardy and Randy Orton, who of course, actually got it.

I don’t doubt they did Jeff a favor here. He’s said in the past that he’d love to have a Hell in a Cell Match, specifically with the Undertaker. So they met him halfway and gave him Orton. Not a bad deal, I’d say.

As it was with Mick Foley and Shane McMahon, we’re virtually guaranteed to get some kind of huge bump from Jeff in this match. And because the guys who take those bumps usually end up losing, Orton’s a pretty safe bet here. Plus, Jeff has supposedly been feeling the wear and tear lately. So it wouldn’t surprise me if he took an extended break after this one.

PREDICTION: Randy Orton

HELL IN A CELL MATCH FOR WWE UNIVERSAL HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
Roman Reigns (c) vs. Braun Strowman
Guest Referee: Mick Foley

While the addition of Mick Foley to this match makes sense, I don’t think this one needed the extra garnish. Roman and Braun have a proven track record of putting on some damn good matches. You’ve also got the Shield, Ziggler, and McIntyre for hijinks on the outside. What’s more, outside of pulling out Mr. Socko, Foley can’t get physical. While he will always be a natural addition to a Hell in a Cell scenario, to a certain extent he does feel out of place here.

Something else that feels out of place? Braun Strowman’s sudden and inexplicable heel turn. Vince McMahon is so desperate to get Roman Reigns cheered that he’s willing to deliberately miscast the one person who legitimately has enough fan support to become his top babyface. In 20 years as a wrestling fan, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anything like it.

Of course, in the spirit of “make Roman look strong,” I don’t see the Big Dog losing the belt here. He just won it, after all. I’m very interested to see how things shape up for him as we get closer to Wrestlemania. I assume he’s walking in with the title. So who do you put him with? Up until recently, I would have said Strowman. But this seems to nix that idea. A few days ago I read a rumor about the Rock. But that one’s been in orbit for years. A three-way with Rollins and Ambrose? Hmmm, now there’s an idea…

PREDICTION: Roman Reigns

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The Vince McMahon Nike Ad

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

With all the uproar over the Colin Kaepernick Nike ad, the internet has been doing what it does best: Cranking out memes. I’m not normally a big meme guy, but I spotted a few that actually got a chuckle out of me. Naturally, they’re mostly wrestling and fanboy related. But none got me quite like this Vince McMahon one did.

Credit goes out to whoever its creator is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wrestlemania Predictions: Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Let’s take a trip back in time, shall we? Specifically, let’s look at the headline matches for the last three Wrestlemania cards…

Wrestlemania 31: Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns for the WWE Championship. While they actually wind up having a damn good match, the crowd isn’t buying Roman as the lead babyface. So they get out of it by having Seth Rollins cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase.

Wrestlemania 32: Triple H vs. Roman Reigns for the WWE Championship. Not helped by the fact that the show had gone way too long, this match made me contemplate giving up wrestling. Despite going against Triple H and the McMahon family, Roman still isn’t accepted as the conquering hero. The crowd is both tired and apathetic.

Wrestlemania 33: The Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns. Going a different route, WWE puts Roman in and old guard/new guard match against the Dean Man. Roman wins, but the highlight of the night is Undertaker’s apparent retirement when the match is over. The next night, Reigns announces “This is my yard now,” to massive boos.

And here we are at Wrestlemania 34. Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns for the Universal Championship. Anybody want to take a swing at who’s going over?

After all this time, I think a good portion of online smarks have gained a certain respect for Roman. It’s not like he’s out there stinking up the joint. He puts on good matches. I’m sure we’ll get a good match here. But it’s pretty remarkable when you look at all those Wrestlemania headliners back to back, and all the different ways Vince McMahon has tried to make Roman “the guy.”

Ironically, it might have worked if he hadn’t pushed so hard…

PREDICTION: Roman Reigns

(For more predictions, check out our look at the Kick-Off Show matches, some of the title matches, the matches involving the women, and the WWE Championship Match.)

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition on Twitter.

WWE Royal Rumble 2018 Predictions. Plus: This is the XFL…again.

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

He’s really going to try this, isn’t he? I can’t believe it…

As most of you reading this already know, Vince McMahon announced this week that the XFL will be revived in 2020.

This revamped version of the league, which hosted one season in 2001, will attempt to come at the game from a different perspective. McMahon noted the league will emphasize safety, be non-political, and exclude players with criminal records.

Professional football has never been my thing. But even I can see that Vince is once again aiming for disenfranchised NFL fans. He still doesn’t wish to compete directly, as the XFL season will kick-off after the NFL season has wrapped up. The league will supposedly not effect McMahon’s role as chairman and CEO of WWE.

As facepalm worthy as this is, I do give Vince credit. The guy wants a football league, and he’s going to try again regardless of the inevitable criticism and ridicule. There’s a lot to be said for that. He’s also not using WWE money this time. He’s started a new company, Alpha Entertainment LLC, specifically to pursue outside entertainment endeavors. Did we mention he’s 72 years old. That old catchphrase rings true: Vince really does have balls the size of grapefruits.

That said I have virtually no interest. I’m a pro wrestling guy. Vince McMahon is also a pro wrestling guy. WWE has always been his bread and butter, and almost every time he’s tried something else it’s ended badly. The original XFL obviously comes to mind. But he also tried the World Bodybuilding Federation in the early ’90s. In 1998 he bought the Debbie Reynolds Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for $10 million, which nothing came of. WWE Studios hasn’t exactly set the movie industry on fire, though at least it’s still alive after more than 15 years. You might even lump Linda McMahon’s senate campaign in there. So despite what WWE would have you believe, Vince McMahon is not a genius.

But let’s not miscast him as a fool, either. At his core, Vince McMahon is a gutsy and stubborn entrepreneur who takes calculated risks and is willing to endure failure. Most of his greatest successes are things he’s willed into existence. The global expansion of WWE. The creation of Wrestlemania. His ratings war with Turner Broadcasting. Now he’s trying to will the XFL into existence once again.

Part of what makes Vince so successful is his penchant for both spectacular success and spectacular failure. So in the end, win or lose, this XFL resurrection will be a sight to behold. It’s hard not to root for the guy sometimes. Even when it seems like he’s stubbornly beating a dead horse.

With that, let’s take a look at the Royal Rumble. I’m skipping the kick-off show matches this year, as we’ve already got a lot to cover on the main show…

2/3 FALLS MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
The Usos (c) vs. Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable

I’m going with Benjamin and Gable on this one. The Usos have had the belts for awhile now. As babyfaces, it might do them good to chase a heel team. Benjamin and Gable have also been growing on me as complaining heels. Gable in particular has done some really nice mic work, which is a good sign as far as a potential singles run is concerned. So let’s give ’em the belts and see what happens.

By the way, do Benjamin and Gable have a team name? I was never a fan of the “World’s Greatest Tag Team” name. Nothing like that, please.

PREDICTION: Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable

WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan (c) vs. The Bar

A win for Sheamus and Cesaro might help everybody here. I’d wager the Bar are on their way to a babyface turn. The respect factor is getting tougher to ignore as the weeks go by. On the flip side, Jason Jordan is starting to come into his own as an annoying heel. A loss to the Bar can easily transition into a feud with Rollins, who could sorely use a program with some heat to it. An audience clamoring for Rollins to curb stomp Jordan doesn’t sound so bad.

I can’t say I’m any less tired of seeing Rollins wrestle Sheamus and Cesaro. But even so, this one could be the dark horse to steal the show.

PREDICTION: The Bar

HANDICAP MATCH FOR WWE HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

If the Raw Tag Title Match doesn’t still the show, this one probably will. These three have all proven they can turn in epic pay per view matches. The 2-on-1 format also lends itself to good storytelling. So I’ve got high expectations.

I don’t see why Styles wouldn’t retain here. Though it doubt it’ll be without controversy. Expect to see Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan during this one, leading to a confrontation or a dispute that allows Styles to pick up a win. Something is obviously going to happen with Bryan and Shane at Wrestlemania. It’s just a question of what, and whether it involves Bryan lacing up his boots again…

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

TRIPLE-THREAT MATCH FOR WWE UNIVERSAL HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Braun Strowman vs. Kane

In terms of match quality, these three are fighting an uphill battle. Brock’s matches are hit or miss depending on who he’s in there with. His match with Strowman at No Mercy was a groaner. And despite his status as a WWE icon, Kane’s matches tend to be slow. It might be better if they got this one over with quickly.

On the other hand, Brock’s multi-man matches have historically been pretty great. The fatal four-way match at Summerslam, the triple-threat with John Cena and Seth Rollins a few years back. If Brock, Strowman, and Kane can pique the audience’s interest early, they could overachieve

Either way Brock wins, hopefully pinning Kane. He’d better pin Kane. So help me God, if he pins Strowman again…

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

2018 WOMEN’S ROYAL RUMBLE:

I was pretty excited for this until I read that Stephanie McMahon will be on commentary for it. From a publicity standpoint, I get it. They want her to be heavily associated with the “women’s revolution.” But I have no desire to hear that woman talk for an hour. Especially when there are multiple women they could plug in who’d be a better fit. Lita comes to mind, as she did commentary for the Mae Young Classic. But there’s also Renee Young. What about Charlotte Flair and Alexa Bliss? They’re the two champions and they’re not wrestling that night. So have them lend some insight to the match. Yes, a five person announce desk is overkill. But it beats having Stephanie out there.

You know who really deserves to win this match? Becky Lynch. Crowds love her, and she deserves a big match at a Wrestlemania. They’ve also played up her friendship with Charlotte for awhile now. That could set up a great reluctant opponents storyline. But I have very little faith they’ll do the right thing with her.

Nia Jax is a possibility. Notwithstanding the beatdown Asuka put on her, they’ve established her as a dominant force from the start. She and Alexa Bliss have been connected as far back to their NXT days. A match between them could be intriguing, but I don’t see it for Wrestlemania. More likely she gets ganged up on and eliminated, or someone surprises her.

The big favorite is Asuka. She’s finally starting to pick up speed on the main roster as an undefeated, unstoppable force. In that respect, winning the first Women’s Royal Rumble Match could be like tossing gasoline on a fire. But it seems so obvious. It feels like they want us to think it’s her just so they can swerve us.

There are 30 women in this match. As of this writing, only 18 have been announced. So I’m making this prediction with more than a third of the participants unknown. As I’ve said, I’m inclined to think some of the women we saw at Raw 25 will be here. Trish Stratus, Jacqueline, Nikki Bella. Maybe Torrie Wilson and/or Kelly Kelly. They need bodies in this thing. We almost have to see some NXT names. Ember Moon, Peyton Royce, Billie Kay, Nikki Cross, etc. Maybe Shayna Baszler.

It should be noted that Ronda Rousey has denied she’s in this match. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. It just means she’s denying it.

In the end, I’ve got to go with Asuka. Yes, it’s obvious. But they’ve gone the obvious route with Rumble Matches before. Asuka vs. Alexa Bliss is one of the more intriguing matches they can do on the main roster right now. For that matter, so is Asuka vs. Charlotte. They really can’t lose with her.

PREDICTION: Asuka

2018 MEN’S ROYAL RUMBLE:

Oddly enough, there are only 17 names announced for the Men’s Royal Rumble compared to 18 for the women. You wouldn’t think that’d be the case, as they’ve obviously got so many more male wrestlers.

Like the John Cenas and Randy Ortons of the world, Roman Reigns is always a top contender for the Rumble Match. The buzz since Wrestlemania 33 has been about him headlining this year’s show with Brock Lesnar. So in theory, he could take this one home….*shudders*

I doubt it, though. I can’t see them wanting the Rumble Match drowned out by boos again. So we’ve got to look elsewhere. So with Lesnar occupied on the Raw side, we’re looking for a challenger for the WWE Championship on Smackdown. Going into Wrestlemania, your champion is probably going to be AJ Styles. Who do you put with AJ?

Finn Balor’s name jumps out immediately. Yes, he’s on Raw. But we’ve seen guys win the Rumble and jump ship before. Balor is with Gallows and Anderson now, and we’ve established that they have a history with AJ in Japan. And of course, AJ was with Gallows and Anderson in WWE for awhile. I’m not sure how much they’d want to go into all the New Japan/Bullet Club stuff. But they can always touch on it and then branch off into their own story. Remember, Finn pinned AJ in that throw-together match at TLC. Balor can be a marquee player for WWE. He just needs the right story. This could be it.

They could do AJ Styles vs. Randy Orton. But the match Orton had with Bray Wyatt left a bad taste in people’s mouths. Plus, Orton just won it last year. So I’d steer clear of him.

The only other name that makes sense is Shinsuke Nakamura. That’s a bigger risk than some would admit. Nakamura is clearly special and obviously a star. I can’t complain about most of his matches. (The Jinder Mahal stuff notwithstanding.) But I don’t know that he’s connecting with the audience at a level that justifies a Rumble win. The language barrier is part of it. But I still don’t feel like I know anything about this guy. Yes, he’s a legend in Japan. But why? What makes him such a “Rock Star” or an “Artist” or whatever they want to call him?  I’d like to see Nakamura win the title. I’d like to see him work with AJ. But if they still don’t have a solid grasp on how to portray him, maybe now isn’t the time.

Then again, they put the title on Jinder Mahal. If they can take a risk with Jinder, they can take a risk with Nakamura. A win for him win would get a big reaction. It could also make for a feel-good story about the Japanese legend who comes to America and wins the title. I’m not overly confident with this pick. But Nakamura has a shot this weekend.

PREDICTION: Shinsuke Nakamura

MISCELLANEOUS RUMBLE MATCH PREDICTIONS: 

I expect Elias to eliminate Cena, and going on to face him at Elimination Chamber. He’s essentially getting the role Samoa Joe was supposed to have.

There’ve been rumors about EC3 making his debut in the Rumble Match, now that he’s left Impact Wrestling. More power to him. It did wonders for AJ a few years ago.  He went somewhere else and made a name for himself. He deserves another shot.

As they’re in Philadelphia again, a surprise ECW entrant seems likely. Tommy Dreamer, maybe? They could always throw Rhyno in there. But as an ECW fan, I’m still not over Rhyno dressing up like Mrs. Clause.

So does Tye Dillinger have to come in at number 10 every year now?

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