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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Ponderings From Smackdown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

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Kevin Owens, Eye Contact, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

kelly-kelly-wwe-raw-february-13-2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There’s some buzz right now about WWE bringing back some female talents. Why? The timing suggests something to do with Wrestlemania. It also wouldn’t surprise me if they were trying to pad the Raw Women’s roster. As great as Charlotte, Sasha, and Bayley are, you can only do so much with the three of them for so long. And NXT is pretty skim at the moment.

Lisa Marie Varon, a.k.a. Victoria, is someone who’s been rumored for a comeback. I’d also love to see Melina Perez get another shot. But the woman at the top of my list is Madusa/Alundra Blayze. I doubt she’d be capable of working a full-time schedule again. But seeing her in the ring one more time against someone like Charlotte would be almost irresistible.

But the name that seems most likely to return is, of all people, Kelly Kelly. WWE posted a video last week about the real-life Barbie Blank being backstage at Raw. This is…discouraging.

Rosa MendesOn a loosely related note, Rosa Mendes became the subject of ridicule last week when she announced her retirement from WWE to focus on being a mother. Personally, I liked Rosa Mendes. What can I say? She was hot, in a very plastic and fake sort of way. But her work in the ring was, to put it mildly, forgettable.

While it’s unfair to compare the two, Kelly Kelly and Rosa Mendes were part of the same era in WWE women’s wrestling. What I’ll call the “Diva Search era,” when John Laurinaitis and other WWE talent scouts would attempt to train pretty faces to wrestle.  While there were bright spots like Candice Michelle, this era also gave us the likes of the Bella Twins, Christy Hemme, and Ashley Massaro. Some where good personalities, but they personify what we wanted to get away from with the so-called “women’s revolution.”

Could someone like Kelly Kelly have her place in WWE circa 2017? Sure. I’m just not sure that place is the ring. Let’s leave the wrestling to the ladies who can actually wrestle, and not risk tarnishing what they’ve created with this newly revitalized women’s division.

Kevin Owens, WWE Raw, February 20, 2017Ponderings From Raw:

Kevin Owens to Goldberg: “Superheroes don’t exist.” I wish Owens would wear a suit more often. He looks good.

Lots of good stuff here. He got to look right into the hard camera, which was terrific. The line about knowing how to “play the game” better than anyone else is an obvious allusion to Triple H. And all that stuff about the outlasting Goldberg, watching Goldberg as a kid, not being a part of a superhero fantasy. Great way to kick off the show, Why we can’t do this more often is anybody’s guess. It doesn’t have to be a spotlight promo like this one. Just a monologue where someone looks into the camera.

Enzo and Cass def. Sheamus and Cesaro to become top contenders for the Raw Tag Team Titles at FastlaneNot really a surprise. I expect the big win to come for Enzo and Cass at Wrestlemania, though.

Cesaro once again looked like a star in this match. I was sour on his pairing with Sheamus in the beginning. But they’ve been good together. It’s helped us see a different side of Cesaro. But do I think this will be enough to result in a significant singles push for him? No. Not on Raw, at least…

Brian Kendrick, Akira Tozawa, WWE Raw, February 20, 2017Brian Kendrick beats down Akira Tozawa. Their match never happens. Kendrick clearly has his role here, and that’s to shine a spotlight on Tozawa, and eventually put him over. Hopefully that happens at Fastlane.

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson def. Roman Reigns via disqualification. Not much interest in this one from me. We just saw it last week, and I really have no interest in seeing Roman beat the tag champs. I’m scared that’s coming. That spear Reigns hit on Anderson was wicked, though. I’ll never deny his amazing athleticism.

The New Day to host Wrestlemania XXXIII. Kofi Kingston and Big E. def. Rusev and Jinder Mahal. Now that they aren’t the tag champs anymore, the New Day are now much more firmly planted in the entertainment end of this sports entertainment company. As such, while they have great chemistry, they’ve been harder to watch lately. They’ve been cutting promos on ice cream these past few weeks, and when Lana started talking about having the “plans” for their ice cream, I hit the fast-forward button on the DVR. Sorry guys, not interested.

Having them “host” Wrestlemania speaks volumes as to what WWE thinks of their act. They’ve put both the Rock and Hulk Hogan in the spot in years past. I imagine they’ll be a big part of the marketing end of things.

Neville, Jack Gallagher, WWE Raw, February 20, 2017Jack Gallagher and Neville sign the contract for their match at FastlaneGallagher got a “tea and biscuits” chant during this match. Wrestling fans are awesome sometimes.

LOVED Neville’s promo about Gallagher being a caricature of British people, and Gallagher getting to respond in kind. They both came off very genuine here. This, like everything else, was scripted. But it was well written. I don’t so much have a problem with scripting as I do bad scripting. Well done, gentlemen.

Bayley refuses to relinquish the Women’s Title to Stephanie McMahon. Charlotte announces she’s invoking her rematch clause at FastlaneI really hope Bayley and Stephanie have a match someday. They’re not rivals yet, but there’s so much potential there. Bayley comes off so pure, and Steph just comes off as pure evil. There’s money in that program.

The writing is on the wall for that Charlotte/Bayley rematch. They’ve built up Charlotte’s pay per view undefeated streak to the point that they can’t end it at a B-show like Fastlane. It would have to be a Wrestlemania or Summerslam.

Then again, we all thought Bayley would win her first Women’s Title on a Wrestlemania or a Summerslam. But here we are…

Charlotte, Sasha Banks, WWE Raw, Fabruary 20, 2017Sasha Banks def. Charlotte Flair. Another quality performance from these two. Though I had to roll my eyes when Sasha challenged Charlotte “for old time’s sake.” Old time’s sake? It wasn’t even two months ago…

Diamond Dallas Page added to WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2017. DDP had an amazing career. He didn’t become an active wrestler until he was 35. He went on to become one of the biggest home grown stars WCW ever had. But as great as he was in WCW, his work with former wrestlers like Jake Roberts and Scott Hall alone makes him worthy of a Hall of Fame induction. You used to hear horror stories about the substance abuse problems these guys had, and how they essentially had one foot in the grave. Page and his DDP Yoga program saved their lives. You also hear guys like Chris Jericho swear by DDP Yoga. So he’s as worthy as anyone has ever been, in my book. Congrats to DDP.

Kevin Owens def. Sami Zayn. Zayn is attacked by Owens before the match. Grateful for the interference from Joe. Owens and Zayn always have great matches. But between the handicap match, and the Sasha/Charlotte match, this was starting to feel like a rerun.

Given the look on Kevin Owens’ face as he watched Joe’s attack, it seems like some kind of NXT-related alliance has been formed here between Triple H, Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe. Very intriguing.

Brock Lesnar, WWE Raw, February 20, 2017Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman do a sit-down interview with Michael Cole. So they have Cole exit the segment, have Brock switch positions and…wait for it…LOOK INTO THE CAMERA, as Heyman does his promo. That’s two killer promos in one show, with both guys getting to make eye contact with the audience. Uh, more of this please? I doubt it’s more than a coincidence. But how cool would it be if we could make this sort of intimate connection with the performers more often?

Braun Strowman def. The Big Show. Strowman brutalizes Roman Reigns afterward. Not a bad match. Not a great one, but not bad. About as slow as one might imagine. But it did what it was designed to do. It put Strowman over like an invincible monster. They guy picked up the Big Show multiple times, and he pinned him clean. Not much more you could ask from this one.

It’s all but confirmed that Show is wrestling Shaquille O’Neal at Wrestlemania. Tonight would have been a great chance to have Shaq show up and do something. I assume the guy’s got a packed schedule. But when are they going to start building to this? Fastlane? The night after Fastlane?

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

Randy Orton’s Refusal, and Other Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

Emmalina, WWE Raw, February 13, 2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

After Raw’s confusing Emmalina debut, details have started to emerge as to why we saw what we saw.

Pro Wrestling Sheet reports that the Emmalina character was supposed to be “throwback to characters like Sable and The Kat.” But the real-life Tenille Dashwood allegedly wasn’t impressing in rehearsals. She “wasn’t committing enough to the role.”

That’s…fair enough. If she couldn’t pull it off, then they did what they felt they had to do. But this whole thing seemed ill-conceived from the start. First and foremost, Dashwood was miscast in a character like this. The verbal aspect of pro wrestling has never been her strong suit. She should have been given more time to develop her mic skills before they went this way with her.

To that one might say that the verbal skills of someone like Sable were nothing to write home about. This is true. But Sable was also able to be sexual in a way that Emmalina would never get to be. Let’s be honest, Sable and the Kat were stars because they were hot and they showed a lot of skin. When you look at it that way, I’m not sure how you’d create a throwback to that era anyway. Lots of sexy photoshoots? I don’t get it.

Emma, WWEAs a performer, you are responsible for making your character work. The example I always think of when that comes up is Goldust. Dustin Runnels embodied that character and made it work in a way no one else could. But did a character like Bastion Booger ever have a chance? How about Mantaur? Or Beaver Cleavage?

Bottom line: Sometimes you’re the victim of a bad idea. I just hope Emma gets another shot. She’s talented enough, and she deserves it.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

WWE Champion Bray Wyatt opens the show. John Cena and AJ Styles interrupt. Daniel Bryan makes the main event a triple-threat for the WWE Championship. Somebody needed to remind these folks that Bray is supposed to be a heel. Those “You deserve it!” chants were pretty damn loud. I’m tellin’ ya, there’s a huge upside to Bray Wyatt becoming a babyface in the near future. Especially now that he’s the champion.

American Alpha def. The Ascension. The Usos challenge the champions. I wondered if they’d actually give the win to the Ascension here. They’ve been slightly re-emphasized these last few weeks. But of course, the Usos will make for a better match.

dean-ambrose-baron-corbin-wwe-smackdown-february-14-2017Baron Corbin brawls with Dean Ambrose before his match with James Ellsworth. Ambrose gets layed out on production equipment. It occurred to me during this segment that a decade ago, the fans might have been chanting “Slut!” at Carmella. I’m split on whether that’s something I miss.

What we saw here, combined with what we got at Elimination Chamber, gives me high hopes for this Ambrose/Corbin program. Ambrose can do a lot to help build Corbin. But here’s my question: Does Corbin need the Intercontinental Title? Questionable mic skills notwithstanding, he seems like he’s on track to main event status without it.

Nikki Bella to face Natalya in a Falls Count Anywhere Match next week. While the match these two had at Elimination Chamber was largely a bore, it had its moments. I’ve enjoyed this program the most when they’ve had those knock-down, drag-out fights. So this should be good.

Mickie James def. Becky Lynch. Some nice mat work early on here. I’d go as far as to say that while Charlotte and Sasha Banks may be better all around performers, Becky Lynch is the best pure grappler of the “Four Horsewomen.” I imagine that comes with being the most experienced. She made her in-ring debut in 2002.

becky-lynch-wwe-smackdown-february-14-2017I wasn’t a fan of James losing at Elimination Chamber. But I assume this win will lead to a rubber match with Becky in the near future. Perhaps they didn’t want her losing two straight matches? Maybe I’m overthinking it…

Renee Young interviews the new Smackdown Women’s Champion Naomi. Alexa Bliss interrupts, announces she’ll invoke her rematch clause next week. Naomi mentioned it’s taken her eight years to get to where she is now. It’s hard to believe she’s been around that long. But she signed her development deal in 2009. She didn’t make it to Raw and Smackdown until 2012.

I wanted Alexa to be angrier here. She did just lose her title, after all. Next week’s match is a toss-up as far as I’m concerned. These Women’s Championships have been changing hands so frequently, it’s seemingly anybody’s ball game.

Bray Wyatt def. John Cena and AJ Styles in a No-Disqualificaiton Match to retain the WWE Championship. Luke Harper attacks Wyatt before the match. I’ll admit, I got a little nervous when Harper attacked. They might have used that attack to justify a title change.

You’ll notice they’ve already started talking about Cena breaking Ric Flair’s record. To their credit, Mauro Ranallo and JBL did a nice job of playing that up, and making this seem that much bigger. It’s going to happen, folks. Maybe not this year. But it’ll happen.

randy-orton-bray-wyatt-wwe-smackdown-february-14-2017With all the near falls and false finishes, this felt like a mini-pay-per-view match. Happy to see Bray win clean here, just as he did in the Chamber Match on Sunday. It further cements him as the top guy on Smackdown right now.

Randy Orton refuses to challenge Bray Wyatt for the title at Wrestlemania. On Talking Smack, Daniel Bryan makes a battle royal for next week to determine the top contender for WrestlemaniaThis is a nice little twist in the road. I still fully expect Randy Orton to be in the WWE Title Match at Wrestlemania. But now we may end up with a three-way on our hands. At the very least, I imagine the winner of this battle royal will challenge for the title on an episode of Smackdown some time next month.

While AJ Styles still has no dance partner for Wrestlemania, and this spot could easily go to him, I think this is Luke Harper’s spot. He turned a lot of heads at Elimination Chamber, and they could bill this match as “The Wyatt Family Implodes,” or something like that.

Between this battle royal, the Women’s Title Match, and what I assume will be the Nikki vs. Natalya blow-off, they’ve stacked the card for next week’s show. I’ve got high hopes.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

Seth Rollins, WWE Raw, December 5, 2016, Seth RollinsBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I was really hoping this was a work. I can’t even tell you how down I was when I learned that wasn’t the case.

During the finale of last week’s Raw, Seth Rollins re-injured his right knee. A torn MCL, to be exact. Supposedly his recovery time is around eight weeks, which would allow him to make his Wrestlemania match with Triple H by the skin of his teeth. But would you want to cut it that close for a big match like this? If they changed it, they’d obviously have to do some reshuffling creatively. But they may not even have a choice in the matter. The hope was that we’d get a better idea about Seth’s status on this week’s show. But it seems like things are still up in the air.

Simply put, this sucks. Especially when you consider how long they’ve dragged this Rollins/Triple H story out already. Not to mention the fact that Rollins missed last year’s Wrestlemania as well. As much as I hate to say it, if his recovery time really is eight weeks, then it seems like the responsible thing would be to pull him, and plug somebody else in. There’s been a bit of preemptive buzz about Shane McMahon taking Seth’s spot. If that’s the case, they could always have Rollins cost Hunter the match, and build to it at another big pay per view, a la Money in the Bank or Summerslam.

As frustrating as it is, we really have no answers right now. But what an awful, awful break for Rollins. He deserves to be back under those bright lights at Wrestlemania.

samoa-joe-february-6-2017-wwe-rawPonderings From Raw:

Samoa Joe signs his Raw contract. Roman Reigns lays down a challenge. Mick Foley makes Joe vs. Reigns for later in the show. Last week I mentioned how surreal it was to hear Michael Cole say Samoa Joe’s name. This week I got that same feeling hearing Stephanie McMahon call him the “Samoan Submission Machine.” They obviously called him that for years in TNA. So hearing one of the McMahons say it is, well, different.

I liked this segment. They didn’t waste a lot of time. There were no long, drawn out monologues. Everything was fairly concise, and we had our main event. Two big, tough bastards looking for a fight. What’s not to like?

Nia Jax def. Bayley after a distraction from Charlotte Flair. I like the stories they’re telling with Nia these days. She’s getting cocky after dominating Sasha Banks the way she did, and she had a similar performance here. Bayley taking that header into the second turnbuckle had a great looking whiplash effect.

They’ve got Charlotte defending against Bayley again next week. I expect the same result we got at the Rumble. Rumor has it we’ll be getting a Fatal Four-Way Match for the Raw Women’s Title at Wrestlemania. That doesn’t surprise me, considering the Charlotte/Bayley stuff is already crossing over with the Sasha/Nia stuff quite a bit.

braun-strowman-wwe-raw-february-6-2017Braun Strowman wins a 4-on-1 Handicap Match. Foley grants Strowman a match with Roman Reigns at FastlaneNice little exhibition, leading us into what we pretty much knew we were getting for Fastlane. Strowman needs to stay protected. So I’m very curious to see what they do with him in that match.

Akira Tozawa def. Drew Gulak. This was my first exposure to Tozawa. Not the most thrilling debut I’ve ever seen. But as Cesaro said in that introductory vignette, Tozawa’s a tremendous striker. He’s already got some tremendous credibility that most of the other wrestlers in the Cruiserweight Division don’t have. Plus, the crowd seemed to be into him. I say put him in there with Neville and let the magic happen.

Chris Jericho pitches a Title vs. Title match for Wrestlemania between himself and Kevin Owens. Goldberg interrupts to accept Brock Lesnar’s Wrestlemania challenge, and to challenge Owens to a Universal Title Match at Fastlane. Jericho accepts on the champion’s behalf. Bill Goldberg and Chris Jericho sharing a ring. Now that brings back some memories. Goldberg putting himself on the list was a fun moment. I briefly thought the Fastlane match was going to be Goldberg against both Owens and Jericho. But of course, it makes more sense this way.

goldberg-wwe-raw-february-6-2017So here it is. Former indy darling Kevin Steen and ’90s WCW icon Bill Goldberg. Wrestling on a pay per view. For a Heavyweight Title. This isn’t even fantasy warfare. It’s like we’re in a time warp. I wouldn’t expect this one to go long, though. I’d be surprised if it goes much longer than the Goldberg/Brock match at Survivor Series. And indeed, it will happen. It’s 2017, and Bill Goldberg will be a champion in WWE. Again…time warp.

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson def. Cesaro and Sheamus via disqualification in a Raw Tag Team Title Match. Enzo and Cass being out there and causing the DQ is a good sign. For one thing, it means the program with Rusev and Lana is done. Secondly, it indicates they’re likely in the Raw Tag Title picture at Wrestlemania. These two have earned a big win at the big show as far as I’m concerned.

The New Day def. The Shining Stars. We hadn’t seen the Shining Stars on Raw in quite some time. And I liked it that way. Zipped right through this one on the DVR.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express to be part of the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2017.  This one was a long time coming. Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson were one of the most charismatic, athletic, and influential tag teams of all time. If you’ve a younger fan, you owe it to yourself to check them out on the network. Congrats to both men!

chris-jericho-wwe-raw-february-6-2017Chris Jericho def. Sami Zayn to retain the WWE United States Title. Not quite as good as what they turned in last week. But still a fine match. I expect we’ll see these two lock up at Fastlane, though I’m struggling with whether or not Zayn should get the belt. I suppose Jericho and Owens don’t need to compete for at title at Wrestlemania. But then again, Goldberg and Lesnar didn’t either.

TJ Perkins, Cedric Alexander, and Jack Gallagher def. Neville, Noam Dar, and Tony Nese. Not much to write home about here. Our story was that Perkins, Alexander, Gallagher, Dar, and Nese will compete to become the top contender to Neville’s title on 205 Live. I’d love to see Alexander or Gallagher get the match. But I have a sinking feeling they might give it to Perkins. No offense to the guy, but that doesn’t do it for me.

Samoa Joe def. Roman Reigns after a distraction from Braun Strowman. Strowman attacks Reigns after the match, driving him through the ringside barricade. A win over Roman is a hell of a way to start your main roster run. Just ask Finn Balor. More importantly, Joe looked like a ruthless heel. He hit hard, and Reigns hit him hard back. I’d love to see a more long form version of this match on a pay per view some day. One of the most compelling Raw main events we’ve gotten in several months.

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Cena vs. Orton at Wrestlemania? Plus Ponderings From Smackdown

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

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

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

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

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

But who does that leave for Cena…?

WWE Elimination Chamber 2017, John CenaPonderings From Smackdown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A WWE Royal Rumble 2017 Review – Roman Trolls the Alamo Dome

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Well. To be fair, they never said Roman Reigns wasn’t going to be in the Rumble Match.

So let’s take it from the top. Well, almost the top. Full disclosure: I didn’t watch the entire pre-show. I’m still having bad flashbacks from Wrestlemania XXXII, when I sat in front of my computer for seven hours. No thank you. I turned the network on just as the Sasha Banks/Nia Jax match was starting. It was exactly what it should have been, with Sasha fighting from underneath and Nia shutting her down at the end. Gallows and Anderson are also our new Raw Tag Champs, which is a nice surprise. It’s long overdue.

As for the show itself…

Charlotte Flair, Bayley, WWE Royal Rumble 2017Charlotte Flair def. Bayley to retain the WWE Raw Women’s Title. Again, this match was what it needed to be. Charlotte retains after hitting an awesome Natural Selection on the ring apron. It’s not Bayley’s time yet. Considering how great Charlotte has become, it may not be anybody else’s time for quite awhile. Simply put, she’s one of the premiere performers in that company, male or female. What I remember about this match above all is when Charlotte had Bayley where she wanted her, and then looked into the crowd. Her expression and delivery were priceless when she pointed at Bayley and yelled: “This is you!” Rumor has it they want to do a four-way at Wrestlemania with these two, Sasha, and Nia. That’s fine, I guess. But if they wanted, they could rematch these two. I felt like things were just starting to pick up.

Kevin Owens def. Roman Reigns to retain the WWE Universal Title after interference from Braun Strowman. This was a fun fight, highlighted by that bump Owens took into the stack of chairs. I can’t imagine how that must feel. I had wondered about Jericho possibly dropping something down to Owens from the cage. But I wrote it off, thinking it would somehow be more complicated than it was. Ah, the charming simplicity of gravity. I just wish Roman would have sold that brass knocks shot more. Like, a lot more. I understand he’s supposed to be Superman. But even Superman can take a rough one on the chin. Still, both these guys put on a good show. Let it never be said that Roman isn’t a tremendous athlete.

Kevin Owens, Roman Reigns, WWE Royal Rumble 2017It looks like they’re going with Roman and Strowman for the next few weeks, which could be intriguing. The unstoppable babyface (in theory) against the dominant monster. As they’re leaving the belt on Owens, there’s a very real possibility he’ll find himself across the ring from Goldberg at Fastlane.

Neville def. Rich Swann to win the WWE Cruiserweight Title. This was the move to make. I always got on Neville’s case about not having any personality. But he’s done a complete 180 as far as I’m concerned. He’s the perfect centerpiece to the Cruiserweight Division right now.

John Cena def. AJ Styles to win the WWE Heavyweight Championship. This was clearly the match of the night. Not better than their Summerslam match, in my opinion. But still quality stuff. I’m always amazed by how damn smooth Styles is. From that standpoint, you can see where a lot of the Shawn Michaels comparisons come from.

If I could have changed one thing about this match, I’d have ended it with the AA. It seemed overindulgent to have Styles take that big fall, only to hit him with the move two more times. To me, that’s the equivalent of having someone survive a powerbomb spot through a table, and then pinning them with a regular powerbomb. Why not just beat them on the big one?

John Cena, WWE Royal Rumble 2017Cena tying Ric Flair’s record of 16 Heavyweight Titles was inevitable. One would think there’d be more uproar about him beating Styles. But a lot of people seem to have really turned the corner on him. He’s always going to have his haters. But he’s endured for so long that I think the respect element has taken effect. And after everything he’s done for WWE and the wrestling business in general, he deserves it.

Randy Orton won the 2017 Royal Rumble. This match wasn’t what a lot of us wanted it to be. Once it got in the ring I think we remembered that Undertaker’s been having hip issues, and Goldberg hasn’t wrestled in about a decade. Still, they did their best with what they had. The stuff with Lesnar/Goldberg bit was fun. I’ve come to enjoy this story about Goldberg being the one person who can not only beat Lesnar, but embarrass him. And the crowed dug it. They were chanting for Goldberg before he even got out there.

There was some buzz about NXT star Tye Dillinger being entrant number 10, what with his “Perfect 10” gimmick. So I was happy to see him. But other than that, they didn’t pull any rabbits out of their hats in terms of surprises. No Samoa Joe. No former stars coming in for a big pop. I had my hopes up that they’d bring Sid in, given his role in the 1997 Rumble. He’d have gotten a big reaction, a la Kevin Nash a few years ago. No such luck.

Randy Orton, WWE Royal Rumble 2017James Ellsworth took a brutal looking fall when Braun Strowman threw him out. I was actually amused by the stuff between those two. Strowman was my pick to win, but he looked good out there. Corbin eliminating him was a surprise, though it made Corbin look like a million bucks.

Once Undertaker came out at 29, and we had all the key players in the ring, I started thinking about Finn Balor. I don’t know if he’s ready to go yet. But if he was, that would have been the perfect spot for him. Instead we got Roman Reigns, and many of us let out a collective wretch. You talk about trolling your audience. They had to know Roman would get that reaction. They had to. Then on top of that, he eliminates the Undertaker. The whole thing went over like a wet fart.

I may be giving them too much credit here, but they may have used Roman in that spot to benefit Randy Orton. Orton has never had the kind of smart backlash that Cena or Roman has had, and I think the fans like him well enough. But Randy has been a made man in WWE for years now, and he’s not exactly a new face. So having him win the Rumble Match might have been an eye roller. But compared to Reigns, Orton doesn’t look so bad, does he?

WWE Royal Rumble 2017, Undertaker, Roman ReignsOn the subject of wretch-worthy scenarios, we now have Randy Orton as the Rumble winner, and John Cena as the WWE Champion. If there’s one match we never need to see again, it’s that one. Thankfully, we have an Elimination Chamber Match for the title in just two weeks. Given the direction things have been going with the Wyatt Family, there’s now a very real chance that Bray Wyatt will go in to Wrestlemania XXXIII with the title and face Orton. It would be nice to finally see Bray in that upper echelon. They’ve made so many missteps with that character, and I expect it’ll be nice to see him reach that upper echelon.

As for Roman, it’s looking like he’s got a date with Undertaker at Wrestlemania. From a performance standpoint, I can’t say that thrills me. And if they’re still trying to get people to cheer Reigns, that seems downright stupid. But at least the crowd will be hot for it. If they thought Roman got booed tonight, wait till he’s in there with ‘Taker at Wrestlemania

All in all, a good show. Not quite as good as we were hoping for. Had they delivered more with the Rumble Match, this might have been one for the ages. But it was still solid.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

WWE’s Most Fascinating People of 2016: AJ Styles, Charlotte, and More!

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Is Barbara Walters still doing her most fascinating people of the year list? I haven’t heard anything about it this year…

In any event, our list of WWE’s Most Fascinating People continues! While the current product may be marred by scripted promos, pro wrestling never has a shortage of interesting characters. For my money, these were the 10 most interesting of 2016.

Honorable mentions go to Goldberg, Dean Ambrose, and Shinsuke Nakamura.

AJ Styles, WWE Champion1. AJ Styles   

AJ Styles is the WWE Champion.

I’d like to say that again. Because even now, the novelty hasn’t worn off: AJ Styles is the WWE Champion. Imagine saying that a year ago at this time, before Styles made his debut in the Royal Rumble Match. We were asking ourselves questions about whether the former TNA mainstay would even be able to sniff the main event picture, let alone be WWE Champion. But to their credit, WWE conveyed Styles as a big deal from day one. He moved right into a program with Chris Jericho, which culminated in a Wrestlemania match. From there, he challenged Roman Reigns for the WWE Championship in two consecutive pay per view main events, stealing the show each time. And then? He went against the man himself, John Cena. Styles shocked the world by beating Cena in yet another show-stealer at Summerslam, At that point, it was practically inevitable. Styles took the belt off Dean Ambrose at Backlash in September, and has been the face of Smackdown ever since.

The 39-year-old Styles has been wrestling for almost 20 years, and has four kids at home. So it’s tough to hazard a guess as to how long he’ll remain on the active roster. But we can at least take comfort in the fact that against the odds, he made himself into a bonafide WWE superstar in 2016.

Shane McMahon, WWE Raw, March 7, 20162. Shane McMahon

When Shane made his surprise return to Raw in February, the way the crowd reacted you’d think Hulk Hogan or Steve Austin had walked out there. In an era where genuine human emotion can sometimes be hard to find on WWE programming, this was a hell of a moment for fans who’ve stuck with the show for a long time. Shane had been gone for nearly seven years. As silly as it seems now, we weren’t sure if/when we’d ever see him again. But here he was. And by the end of the segment he was in a Wrestlemania match with the Undertaker, inside Hell in a Cell.

The story they concocted for Shane’s return was initially very compelling, but eventually fell apart. He came in saying what a lot of people thought was reality-based stuff about wanting to take his rightful place in the company. Vince McMahon essentially used the Undertaker as a hired gun to take Shane out, with the caveat that if Shane could beat him, he’d be put in charge of Raw. But Undertaker’s role in the story was severely underdeveloped. And while he lost the match, Shane was essentially put in charge of Raw anyway. Also, while Shane took one of his trademark crazy bumps, the match was mostly underwhelming.

Shane currently serves as the Commissioner of Smackdown. Despite the rocky way he came back, he has something going for him that very few WWE personalities do. When he walks out there, it’s instant intrigue. There’s a constant question about how blurred the lines are between reality and fantasy. Plus, as we saw at Survivor Series, he’s still not afraid to take big risks for the fans. He earned the massive pops he gets out there.

Sasha Banks, WWE Women's Champion3. Sasha Banks

It’s been an up and down year for Sasha. Her match with Charlotte and Becky Lynch stole the show at Wrestlemania. Then she flat out disappeared from television for several weeks. When she finally returned, she was put with Charlotte for most of the remainder of the year. She’d win her first Women’s Championship on the main roster in July, and would hot potato it with Charlotte multiple times.

While I’ve come to find her babyface promos very white-meat and and annoying, her passion for what she does in the ring can’t be denied. It may have gone on a little too long, but she and Charlotte made history together. After main eventing Raw together, at Hell in a Cell they were the first two women in WWE history to headline a pay per view. They’ve brought women’s wrestling to perhaps an unprecedented level of prominence and importance. In many ways, 2016 saw Sasha Banks become the game-changing performer many of us knew she was destined to be. Hopefully she’s just getting started.

Samoa Joe, NXT Champion4. Samoa Joe

Joe is another TNA mainstay that should have been in WWE a long time ago. He was making waves in Ring of Honor alongside the likes of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan as far back as the early 2000s. He would then elevate his game with guys like AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, and Kurt Angle in TNA. But WWE had always eluded him until last year, when he finally broke into NXT.

As a monster heel, Joe ascended to the top of NXT this year, winning the NXT Championship from Finn Balor in April. From there, he and Shinsuke Nakamura would trade the belt back and forth at Takeover: Brooklyn and Takeover: Toronto. Earlier this month, he dropped the belt back to Nakamura in Osaka, Japan. Rumors are now buzzing about a potential debut in the Royal Rumble Match, similar to what AJ Styles did last year.

In today’s WWE, wrestlers that come off legitimately angry and tough are a surprising anomaly. Brock Lesnar is one. I’d argue Braun Strowman is another. You can make a case for Rusev, too. But one man who’s definitely in that category is Joe. He can come to the main roster and be an easy sell as a threat to a top babyface or champion. It’s just a matter of figuring out where to put him.

In the end, his long road to the WWE roster may have been a blessing in disguise. Had he come in during a previous era, he might not have been allowed to be himself. Pissed off bad ass Samoa Joe is the guy we want. Thankfully, he’s the guy we got.

James Ellsworth5. James Ellsworth

The July 25 edition of Raw was probably the best of the year for a variety of reasons. It was Finn Balor’s first night on the main roster, and he immediately became the top contender for the Universal Title. Sasha Banks won her first Women’s Title. We also saw the debut of WWE’s most unlikely signee in over a decade: James Ellsworth. Granted, he wasn’t signed at the time. He was there to be squashed by Braun Strowman. But fans were captivated by his odd look, and the seemingly impossible odds he faced against Strowman. In a quick pre-match interview spot, Ellsworth put the icing on the cake by saying: “Any man with two hands has a fighting chance.”

That little squash match was all it took. Fast forward to today, and Ellsworth is now Smackdown‘s resident underdog. While you can probably count the number of offensive moves Ellsworth has hit on less than two hands, through the magic of storytelling he’s now due a shot at AJ Styles and the WWE Championship. Some say his act is getting old. But there’s just something about him that’s undeniably captivating. Ellsworth is a real life Cinderella story, and WWE was smart enough to capitalize on that.

Braun Strowmann, WWE Raw6. Braun Strowman

When Strowman had that squash match with Ellsworth on July 25, I wrote: “Braun Strowman is on his own now, which I’m afraid means we have to endure yet another generic giant. I actually would have preferred another attempt to make Erick Rowan a single.”

It wasn’t an unfounded fear, given what WWE has done with certain big men in the past. But they’ve protected Strowman in ways they didn’t protect others. As such, he’s now a commodity despite his relative inexperience. In the past few weeks, his story with Sami Zayn and Mick Foley has been one of the more interesting parts of the show. His presentation is simple, but so effective.

It’s very much in WWE’s interest to continue protecting Strowman in 2017. I never thought I’d say it, but if what we’re seeing from him continues, he’s got main event potential.

Finn Balor, WWE Raw, August 8, 20167. Finn Balor

This was supposed to be Finn Balor’s year. One night in, he pinned Roman Reigns clean in the main event. That really can’t be understated. Roman was, and still is, pegged to be WWE’s new poster boy. So for this new guy to beat him and earn a Universal Title Match at Summerslam was an amazing surprise. And of course, he beat Seth Rollins to win the title. Combine that momentum with Balor’s unique presentation and in-ring style, and it looked like we had Raw‘s new top star on our hands.

Clearly fate had other ideas. In a case of absolute disastrous timing, Balor suffered a torn labrum in the Summerslam match. One night after becoming the inaugural WWE Universal Champion, he was forced to hand the belt back.

Balor was on the main roster for just under a month. But Raw dearly misses him. Since September, the Universal Title picture has been monopolized by Rollins, Reigns, and the man who stepped up in his absence, Kevin Owens. Balor was a fresh face to signify  a new era. And if there’s one thing the Raw main event scene is hurting for, it’s fresh faces.

The good news is that Balor should be back around Wrestlemania. As he obviously never lost the belt, he should be in line for a title shot.

Chris Jericho, WWE Raw, October 24, 20168. Chris Jericho

Chris Jericho got a clipboard over in 2016. If that’s not a testament to his talents, I don’t know what is.

Jericho spent most of 2016 helping to get newer talent over. He was a vital component in AJ Styles getting over as well as he did, and got a match with him at Wrestlemania. He would then move on to Dean Ambrose, which would culminate in the first (and hopefully last) Asylum Match. But Jericho’s best stuff this year was his character work with Kevin Owens. Their tumultuous “best friends” partnership has been the most consistently entertaining thing about Raw these past few months. The “List of Jericho” running gag is more popular than most of the active wrestlers. WWE obviously recognizes their chemistry, as they’ve held off on putting Owens and Jericho against each other in a Universal Title program. They could easily have pulled the trigger at Survivor SeriesRoadblock, or the Royal Rumble. At this point, Wrestlemania seems like the earliest we’ll see them go at it. But even that isn’t a guarantee. And frankly, that’s okay. Roughly 17 years after his WWE debut, Chris Jericho is a vital part of WWE’s flagship show. So few are on his level both in the ring and on the mic. Perhaps he truly is the best in the world at what he does…

The Miz, Maryse9. The Miz

Maryse turned out to be the missing ingredient to Miz’s Hollywood A-lister persona. He always had that smarmy confidence about him. But having this gorgeous French supermodel next to him almost validates that confidence. Maybe he really is as great as he says he is. And the fact that she’s actually his wife adds a great layer of realism.

This newly completed package did wonders for the Intercontinental Championship in 2016. He became a beatable champion that somehow no one could beat. He and Dolph Ziggler had one of WWE’s most compelling feuds this year. Miz constantly found underhanded ways to win despite Ziggler’s tireless efforts. It seemingly culminated in Ziggler dropping his status as a lovable loser, taking the title from Miz at No Mercy. But Miz would take it back from him a few weeks later. The apex of his douchebaggery came just last week, when he publicly “outed” Renee Young’s relationship with Dean Ambrose.

A year ago, the idea of him ever regaining the WWE Championship seemed unlikely at best. But now? Not so much. At this rate, Miz could very well stand at the top of the mountain again in 2017.

WWE Raw, July 4, 2016, Charlotte10. Charlotte Flair

When 2016 began, we’d heard a lot of talk about a “Divas Revolution,” and how women’s wrestling was changing in WWE. Surprisingly, they were able to make good on those bold claims. Why? Because of Charlotte.

That’s not to say it couldn’t have happened without her. Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Bayley, Alexa Bliss, and numerous other talented ladies are on the WWE roster right now. But Charlotte has been the centerpiece to it all. She was the first to strike gold, winning the then-Divas Championship in September. She was victorious when the women stole the show at Wrestlemania for the first time. She and Sasha Banks were the first women of this era to main event Raw, and the first women of any era to main event a pay per view. All the while, she’s been arguably the best heel in the entire company.

Keep in mind, she accomplished all of that in about a year and a half. The smart bet is she’s just getting started. So what will she have

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