Samoa Joe vs. Brock Lesnar, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Since he turned heel a few weeks back, a question has nagged me: Can Goldust be a main eventer for WWE in 2017? It’s not as much of a long shot as you might think.

The operative word in that question is 2017. The real-life Dustin Runnels is unquestionably a main event caliber talent, and has been in that role before. He wasn’t headlining pay per views, mind you. But in 1995 and 1996, he was main-eventing Raw broadcasts and house shows with the likes of Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker. Early on, his…ehem…”androgynous” character was one of the industry’s hottest topics. He’s had his share of big-money ball games. But can he do it again today?

For my money, the answer is an absolute, unequivocal yes.

I’m not sure how often you want to have him wrestle, given he’s 48 years old. But watch how he moves out there. He damn sure doesn’t look 48. And as we’ve seen with his recent pre-taped promos, his mic work is as strong as ever.

After the mostly abysmal show we got last week, it’s clear Raw is in need of something fresh. They seem to have found something with the reintroduction of Goldust, a character that many a lapsed wrestling fan will remember, and possibly tune back in to see in a prominent role. They obviously can’t go the sexual route they did in the ’90s. But this character can work as as a bizarre, movie-fanatical, almost comic-bookish villain.

Do I think Goldust should be challenging Brock Lesnar for the Universal Title? No. Not in the near future, at least. But a heel Goldust against Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, or Dean Ambrose? Why the hell not? Raw could use another strong heel. Goldust can fill that role as well, if not better than anyone we see on TV these days.

Do they really have anything to lose?

Ponderings From Raw:

Samoa Joe to face Brock Lesnar for the Universal Title on July 9 at Great Balls of FireThis one came out of left field. I can’t bring myself to complain about it, though. This is a match that’s been talked about since Joe signed.

The choice to put Joe with Brock is interesting, given how little time he’s spent on the main roster. It hasn’t even been six months yet. It says a lot about WWE’s faith in him. In terms of credible and believable opponents for Brock, he’s one of the best choices they could have made. Joe isn’t an MMA fighter, strictly speaking. But his style is certainly MMA-inspired. This could be really compelling if they play that up.

I’m curious why they opted not to go with Finn Balor. They had a ready-made story with him, as he never lost the Universal Title. They even did the segment with Balor and Heyman a couple of weeks back…

Roman Reigns def. Bray Wyatt. As if there was any doubt Roman Reigns was the successor to John Cena, we got dueling “Let’s go Roman!”/”Roman Sucks!” chants.

They promoted this match as the show opener. I usually like when they do that, but this one didn’t do much for me. We’ve seen these two wrestle so many times, and they didn’t do much to make this one seem special at all.

Yet another loss for Bray Wyatt…

Dean Ambrose interrupts a song from Elias Samson, challenges Miz. Miz says there will be a championship celebration for him later in the evening. It sounded like Michael Cole was laughing during the Drifter’s little ditty. Can’t say I blame him. The guy could use a little more rehearsal time.

Samoa Joe chokes Paul Heyman out with the Coquina Clutch. It was during this segment that I realized they’re just simply calling it Great Balls of Fire. It has to be “the Great Balls of Fire pay per view event,” or whatever. Oh joy…

Can we even call Brock a heel or a babyface anymore? He seems to morph based on who he’s in there with. Or maybe he’s just beyond that at this point. he simply is what he is.

This was pretty good. I liked Joe’s jealousy of Brock, wanting everything he has, and what not. Heyman’s “worst case scenario” stuff was cool. Then they have Joe get so close to Heyman it’s borderline homoerotic, and tell him what’s about to happen to him in the Coquina Clutch. Really grim stuff. Joe is a really underrated promo. If they keep playing it this way, this match could have a great big-fight feel to it.

The follow-up backstage with Joe and Kurt Angle made for a nice moment too. The crowd seemed into it. Assuming Kurt gets cleared to wrestle, that match is just sitting there waiting to happen.

Sheamus and Cesaro def. Heath Slater and Rhyno. Remember when Slater and Rhyno had credibility? Seems like a really long time ago, doesn’t it?

I didn’t expect to see Sheamus and Cesaro walk away with the belts at Extreme Rules. But like Samoa Joe’s win, this was a pleasant surprise. They deserve to be in this spot. These two have turned out to be damn good for each other. Sheamus in particular has a whole new life to him.

TJP def. Mustafa Ali. Neville attacks TJP afterward. A title match is made between the two for 205 LivePerkins is looking to cash in on that title shot that Neville promised him, but Neville turns on him. Perkins looks stupid for not seeing that coming, but oh well. Does this mean he’s a babyface again? I was enjoying cocky, smarmy TJP. It did him a lot of good to show a little more personality out there.

Kalisto def. Titus O’Neil. Notice they gave Sin Cara’s entrance with the big jump over the ropes to Kalisto. They gave him some cool new music too. I’ll give them credit. They’re trying to make him into something.

The Miz holds a celebration to kick off his “Intercontinental Championship Comeback Tour.” Miz expects an attack from Ambrose, and gets one when he least expects it. On this very show, they had Kurt Angle call last week’s “This is Your Life” segment with Alexa Bliss and Bayley one of the worst in Raw history. So if I’m the Miz, I’m pretty damn unnerved to see something like this in the script this week. But he came off pretty well, despite having to attack a giant cardboard box with a chair.

I liked that they toyed with our expectations as far as an Ambrose attack was concerned. We all knew it was coming. It was just a question of when. Hell, I was expecting him to be in the bear suit. So well done.

Big Cass is found backstage, having been attacked by a mystery assailant. Later, Enzo Amore and the Big Show def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. So Enzo gets attacked two weeks in a row, now Cass gets it. I like that they’re starting to incorporate some mystery elements intp the show again. We’ve got this, plus the whole Kurt Angle/Corey Graves thing. Now it’s just the question of the pay-offs.

They’re really teasing an Enzo and Cass break-up. Having Show go out there and do Cass’ bit struck some of the same chords they just played on NXT with Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa. Cass being “replaced” and all that. I’m tellin’ ya, don’t break ’em up. Not a good plan…

Alexa Bliss def. Nia Jax via disqualification to retain the Raw Women’s Title. Mickie James and Dana Brooke both looked like idiots here. They come out to watch the bully Alexa Bliss get her comeuppance, and in the process come off like bullies themselves. What’s more, when Bliss attacks them they hit her back, resulting in the DQ finish. They cost themselves the chance to see Alexa lose the title! Really, really dumb.

They were wise to give the Bayley character a rest this week. Creative hasn’t exactly done her any favors lately. First she loses the title in her home town at Payback. Then she’s part of “This is Your Life” last week. And at Extreme Rules she not only fails to get the belt back, but the script it so she’s too kind to use the kendo stick on Alexa and “get extreme.” Fans are starting to turn on her. She and Alexa likely aren’t done. But for now, give her some room to breathe.

Samoa Joe def. Seth Rollins. Good match. Served as a nice showcase for Joe as he prepares for Brock. They did the Bray Wyatt effect on screen, which distracted Rollins and allowed Joe to lock in the Coquina Clutch for the win. So it looks like they’re now going with Bray Wyatt against Seth Rollins, as opposed to Bray Wyatt against Finn Balor. The latter has been teased for quite some time. I’m not exactly chomping at the bit to see it, though. So this direction is fine by me.

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WWE Extreme Rules 2017 Preview, Plus: Enzo and Cass Splitting?

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The end could very well be near for the team of Enzo and Cass.

They’ve been telling a mystery assailant story for a couple of weeks now with Enzo. The Revival are the obvious suspects. But even with WWE’s fairly lazy standard of storytelling in the modern era, the obvious suspects rarely commit the crime. Considering how often tag partners turn on each other (Golden Truth, anyone?), Big Cass could very well end up being Enzo’s attacker. That prospect is…unsettling.

I’ve talked before about how Enzo and Cass were lucky to have found each other in developmental. They compliment each other so well. More importantly, they camouflage each other’s weaknesses. What Enzo lacks in stature, Cass makes up for. What Cass lacks in charisma and mic skills, Enzo makes up for in spades. As a team, they’re a complete package. As individuals? Not so much.

All the more worrisome is the idea of making Cass the heel in the equation. In WWE, the importance of personality always outweighs in-ring talent. Is that the way it should be? Probably not. But that’s how it’s always been. And from a personality standpoint, Cass has always ridden Enzo’s coattails. Putting him in a position where he has to talk people into disliking him is a recipe for disaster. If anything, it should be the other way around, with Enzo as the villain.

But this whole idea is silly to begin with. Enzo and Cass have a lot of mileage left as a tag team. Odds are they’d have won the Raw Tag Titles by now if the Hardys hadn’t come back and upstaged them. These two have earned their moment at the top of the mountain. Let’s at least let them have it before we break them up.

And now, on to Extreme Rules

MIXED TAG TEAM MATCH:
Sasha Banks and Rich Swann vs. Alicia Fox and Noam Dar

Eh, no thanks.

There’s just not a lot of heat to this one. One thing I will say: It’s nice to see Rich Swann not confined to 205 Live anymore. But this is definitely the “popcorn match.” It doesn’t really matter who wins. But let’s just say Fox and Dar. Why not?

PREDICTION: Alicia Fox and Noam Dar

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Neville (c) vs. Austin Aries

While it doesn’t matter who wins that Mixed Tag, it matters who wins this one. For Aries in particular. He was really hot when he got back in the ring around Wrestlemania season. But the consecutive pay per view losses to Neville have cut his knees out from under him. So I’m thinking it’s time. Neville has had the title since January, and he’s definitively established himself as the top dog in the Cruiserweight Division. So let’s let Aries beat him with the Last Chancery and let him have a turn with it as the cool babyface champion. With the viewership for 205 Live at such a low, do they really have anything to lose?

PREDICTION: Austin Aries

STEEL CAGE MATCH FOR WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLES:
The Hardy Boyz (c) vs. Sheamus and Cesaro 

The nostalgia novelty of having the Hardys back with in original “Team Xtreme” packaging has mostly worn off, as far as I’m concerned. It seems like we’re all just waiting for Matt to be Broken again.

In the meantime, I’d enjoy seeing Matt and Jeff drop the belts to Sheamus and Cesaro. They can then chase them to prove they’re more than just a nostalgia act that had the element of surprise on their side at Wrestlemania. Do I think that’ll happen? No. Especially since the Hardys picked the stipulation here. The Hardys are going home with the gold.

PREDICTION: The Hardy Boyz

KENDO STICK ON A POLE MATCH FOR WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE: 

I can never get a good feel for when Alexa Bliss is going to win or lose championships. I’ve been wrong almost every time, going back to when she won her first one on Smackdown. That being said, I feel like she’ll sneak out of this one with the title. What’s more important is that we see some fire from Bayley. The question they’ve been asking in recent weeks is whether she can “get extreme.” For my money, whether this match succeeds or fails depends on them delivering that. Bayley needs to get angry. So let’s make it happen.

PREDICTION: Alexa Bliss

STIPULATION MATCH FOR WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE:
Dean Ambrose (c) vs. The Miz
Title can change hands via disqualification. 

Miz is overdue to get the belt back. That stuff about him rejuvenating the Intercontinental Title? It’s not just hype. They’ve really got something with him right now. Considering how tepid Raw is these days, they need to go anything they can to heat things up. So putting the belt back on Miz seems like a no-brainer.

The question is, what happens to Dean Ambrose now? They’ve kept him out of the Universal Title picture since bringing him to Raw. Does he move back up once he no longer has the IC belt?? Or are they intentionally keeping him away from Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins to increase the impact of the inevitable Shield reunion?

PREDICTION: The Miz

FATAL FIVE-WAY EXTREME RULES MATCH:
Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins vs. Bray Wyatt vs. Finn Balor vs. Samoa Joe
Winner becomes top contender for Universal Title. 

Last week’s segment between Finn Balor and Paul Heyman was a pretty strong indicator that it’s going to be Finn going over here. Unless they want to save that for Summerslam or something. But more likely it ends up being Balor vs. Lesnar for the title. That says a lot about WWE’s faith in Balor. With so little time on the main roster, they’re already gearing him up for a match against one of their biggest cash cows.

WWE has had a weird fixation on five-person matches lately. As groan-inducing as that is, this match could be really good if they take full advantage of the Extreme Rules gimmick. These are five bona fide main-eventers. There’s no reason this match shouldn’t steal the whole damn show.

PREDICTION: Finn Balor

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Jinder Mahal: WWE Champion, Plus Ponderings From Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

See, this is why you always go with your gut.

Going into Backlash, my gut told me Jinder was winning the belt. But I took the common sense approach and predicted Randy Orton would retain. I figured Jinder hadn’t been built up enough yet, and needed another month or so before getting the title.

But I’d forgotten one very important thing. This is pro wrestling. Common sense has little to no place. Ergo Jinder Mahal, mere months after being a jobber, defeats Randy Orton in the main event of a pay per view to win the WWE Championship.

Jinder was on Talk is Jericho last week, and talked about how Vince McMahon has taken tremendous interest in his character, even personally working on his verbiage. That should have been the giveaway. Between Jinder’s physical transformation, the idea of appealing to the Indian market, and him becoming Vince’s new project, the writing was on the wall.

I maintain that Jinder Mahal’s character isn’t at a level that merits being champion. But that’s not to say he can’t get there. I’ve been continually intrigued by this group he’s formed with the Singh Brothers. It’s something different, and I’m very interested in what it could become, if not necessarily what it is now.

That’s really the bottom line as far as Jinder is concerned. He’s not there yet, but he could be. He can grow into the role. The evil foreign menace is Pro Wrestling 101. If McMahon’s interest in Jinder maintains, and he gets a little more comfortable, he and the Singh Brothers could have something special here.

On the other hand, this could all be a flash in the pan. But the question of whether or not that’ll be the case has renewed some of my waned interest in Smackdown. At the very least, they’ve accomplished that.

Ponderings From Raw:

Bray Wyatt opens the show, but is interrupted by Roman Reigns. Kurt Angle makes a match between the two. Bray’s big monologue was frustrating.  I’d have stuck with the whole “I alone can slay the beast” narrative, and had less of the “I can save you all” stuff. Sometimes he just goes too far into the metaphorical. Also: Stop laughing, idiot.

The “It’s my yard” stuff is cool. But every time Roman says that, he grates on the people who grew up with and loved the Undertaker. And there are a lot of us.

Roman Reigns def. Bray Wyatt via disqualification when Samoa Joe interferes. Seth Rollins attacks Joe. Kind of a blah match. Though I admit, seeing the four of them in the ring together piqued my interest a bit for Extreme Rules. If they’re allowed to really play up the no holds barred elements, this match could end up being really good.

Akira Tozawa def. Ariya Daivari. Brian Kendrick watches and comments from backstage. We don’t see nearly enough of Tozawa on Raw. He’s one of the few guys in that Cruiserweight Division that doesn’t feel played out or overexposed. Even Austin Aries has suffered. After failing to capture the magic of the Cruiserweight Classic for so many months, it’s like the whole division has a stink on it.

While Tozawa himself seems to be fine, I’m amazed this story with Kendrick is still going on. No wonder 205 Live is so dead right now.

“The Drifter” Elias Samson makes his Raw wrestling debut, defeats Dean Ambrose via disqualification when Miz interferes. Not a bad start for Samson. Hell of a leaping knee strike to Ambrose. The character is still a little iffy for me. But they’re easing him in. We’ll see how things look in a couple of weeks.

Enzo Amore is attacked by a mystery assailant. Somebody get Enzo some damn pepper spray or something. He’s always getting attacked before he gets the chance to wrestle. Or at least tell Cass not to let the little bastard of his sight for awhile.

Paul Heyman interrupts Finn Balor’s pre-match promo, wishes him luck at Extreme RulesBalor vows to beat Brock Lesnar. We were overdue for a Heyman promo. They shouldn’t use him every week. But while Brock is gone, we need him every so often to represent the champion’s interests.

This segment is essentially an assurance that, at least for now, WWE plans to put Balor over at Extreme Rules. That’s good news as far as I’m concerned. Some dismiss the idea of a Finn Balor/Brock Lesnar match as not being believable. But this is the same company that just made Jinder Mahal one of their top champions. The key is not to stretch the audience’s suspension of disbelief too far. I don’t see that being an issue here. How good did Brock vs. CM Punk ended up being?

Finn Balor def. Karl Anderson. From bell to bell, Balor always looks like a star. But Karl Anderson is so underrated. He’s spent so much time as the fall guy for his tag team that people don’t realize just how talented he is. It’s always nice to see his singles game.

They’ve been dancing around this Bullet Club stuff for a few weeks. I’d love to see a program between Balor, Gallows, and Anderson. But considering Gallows and Anderson’s status as a tag team, and how big a singles star Finn Balor is, would that work?

Sasha Banks def. Alicia Fox. There’s been some buzz about Sasha losing to Alicia last week because Vince McMahon isn’t high on her, and thinks she’s injury prone. I don’t know that I buy that. I wasn’t happy seeing Alicia beat Sasha either. But this just comes off as them needing to find something for Sasha to do while she’s not in the title picture.

In a pre-taped promo, Goldust declares: “The Golden age is back.” As a longtime fan, I loved this. This is exactly how they should be using Goldust. Let people see just how unique this character can be. He’s so more than just a dude in makeup.

Kalisto def. Apollo Crews. A little surprised to see Kalisto get another win here. He might actually want to take Titus O’Neil up on becoming part of the Titus Brand. He could try and leach some of Titus’ charisma.

Matt Hardy def. Sheamus to decide the stipulation for the title match at Extreme Rules. The Tag Champions will defend in a Steel Cage Match. Corey Graves called Cesaro the “Swiss Cyborg” during this match. I actually like that name bettie than Swiss Superman. They should use that.

I thought we’d get another Ladder Match with these two at the pay per view. But a Cage Match changes things up, and hopefully it’ll leave these guys with less wear and tear.

Austin Aries def. Tony Nese. Neville to defend against Aries in a Submission Match at Extreme Rules. Look for Aries’ knee to be part of the story at Extreme Rules. I’d love to see him get the belt. But if he doesn’t, I say we go to Akira Tozawa as the next challenger for Neville.

Alexa Bliss def. Mickie James, wallops her with a kendo stick. Great facial expressions from Alexa here. I like that they’re playing up the damage a kendo stick can do. I’m still not a fan of the Kendo Stick on a Pole stipulation, but at least they’re making the stick mean something.

Bray Wyatt and Samoa Joe def. Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins. Can we get another Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe match? Those guys are both dynamic, explosive, and they hit hard. Something about those Samoans…

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Randy Orton’s Twitter Drama, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Oh Twitter. Your petty wonders continue to amaze.

Randy Orton and Bully Ray/Bubba Ray Dudley made a couple of headlines this week after the former posted a photo (shown right) of him diving off the top rope at an ROH show. Seemed innocent enough.

Orton would subsequently tweet: “Lol there is a difference between a young hungry talent diving and an old outta shape ‘vet’ …….falling”

That tweet would catch ire from many a fan, and even Bully’s wife, who Impact Wrestling fans know as Velvet Sky. Orton later posted a little statement, talking about making five million dollars over the course of 11 shows overseas. He added, among other things: “I know to some that doesn’t equate to a standing room only crowd of 15 people paying $8 at an armory somewhere…but in the big boy world that’s called putting asses in seats. So enjoy your flips, dives, and 20 superkicks per match.”

I admit, I chuckled a little bit. The current wrestling landscape is littered with meaningless dives, way too many super kicks, among other stupid trends. And to be fair, Orton was sort of piggybacking on what one of his trainers, Rip Rogers, had tweeted previously.

Still, Orton’s point was overshadowed by the abrasive way he made it. It came off very disrespectful toward Bully Ray. Especially when you consider how many opportunities Orton has had compared to most of his peers. He hasn’t had to do all those dives and flips because, as Bob Orton Jr’s son, he’s never had to fight for attention the way most of those indy guys have. Randy Orton is wrestling royalty. But he came off like Prince William shaming a window washer because he missed a spot.

Of course, the good news for Orton is that he doesn’t give a damn what most of us think.

Ponderings From Raw:

Kurt Angle announces a Fatal Five-Way Match for Extreme Rules to decide the top contender for the Universal Title: Roman Reigns vs. Finn Balor vs. Bray Wyatt vs. Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe. The participants emerge, a brawl ensues. I can’t help but cringe every time someone says “Fatal Five-Way.” I’ve been saying Fatal Four-Way for so many years that it just sounds weird. Tell you what, how about Seth Rollins and Samoa Joe have a big match, and the winner gets a spot in a Fatal Four-Way Match at the pay per view? On the plus side, Joe is in his first WWE pay per view main event.

Angle mentioned Braun Strowman here, and how surgery revealed his elbow is shattered, and may require up to six months recovery time. That’s a heartbreaker. Strowman is one of the only things on this show that has real momentum as of late. They’ve done such a fantastic job building him. A Brock Lesnar/Braun Strowman match would have been money. It looked like they were setting it up for June or July. Now we may not even get it until 2018, if then. Damn…

Jeff Hardy def. Sheamus. Sheamus and Cesaro get another shot at the tag belts at Extreme Rules. The smart bet is they make this a Ladder Match or something.

I don’t know if this is what they’re going for, but I’m starting to get the itch for another Jeff Hardy singles run.

Alicia Fox def. Sasha Banks. Yup. You read that right. Yuck. I get it, as these two had a disputed finish last week. But damn. That hurts.

It almost feels like we’ve been in Bizarro World for the past month. Alicia gets a clean win over Sasha. Breezango is challenging for tag team gold. And the top contender for the WWE Championship? Jinder Mahal.

The Miz def. Dean Ambrose in an Intercontinental Title Match via disqualification. Ambrose keeps the title. Pretty good outing for Ambrose and Miz, which later set up a rematch for Extreme Rules. Ambrose almost seems conspicuous by his absence in the Universal Title picture. I understand why he’s not there, as he’s obviously the IC Champ. Plus, it’s not necessarily time to have the three Shield guys sharing a ring yet. But it feels like he should be there…

Bayley interrupts Alexa Bliss to announce she’s invoking her rematch clause at Extreme RulesA fight breaks out. Alexa attacks Bayley with a kendo stick. A Kendo Stick on a Pole Match is made for the pay per view. Alexa Bliss has gotten so good at ad-libbing. That “If you’re a failure, say what!” line was great.

Despite how hokey this talk about Bayley “getting extreme” is, the hardcore stipulation at Extreme Rules could be good for her. She’s gotten by on charm, and obviously raw talent as well. But this could be a chance for her to show some fire. Now if only they hadn’t felt the need to revive the “on a pole” stipulation.

Neville and TJP def. Austin Aries and Jack Gallagher. Fairly cold match. The idea is for these matches to draw people to 205 Live, right? Viewership for that show is reportedly down. I wonder why…

Also, why is TJP a better name than TJ Perkins?

Roman Reigns def. Finn Balor. Good match. Despite the loss, Balor is regaining some valuable steam. Corey Graves mentioned during Balor’s entrance that his best friends are Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows. That’s not the first time Graves has connected the former cohorts…

The announcers always act so surprised when someone kicks out of the Superman Punch. Booker T even said it’s “normally the knock-out punch.” Um…no it’s not. How many of those does Reigns usually hit in a given match?

Goldust turns on R-Truth before their match. As I said last week, Goldust deserves to be in a higher profile role. How long has it been since he’s been a heel? Getting the fans to boo him might be an uphill battle. But the change could be good for him.

Big Cass def. Titus O’Neil. Titus mocking Enzo on the way to the ring was funny as hell. He even got a little personality out of Apollo Crews. It’s a little early, but this Titus/Apollo experiment may be working.

Seth Rollins def. Bray Wyatt via disqualification. Predictable Samoa Joe interference at the end. Reigns and Balor really should have had the main event. Both those guys are more over than Rollins is. Crowd was sitting on their hands. Granted, we were at the tail end of hour three. But by the time they got into the overrun, I was begging for this one to be over.

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Seth Rollins Returns, Cody Rhodes Departs, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

Cody Rhodes, WWE Intercontinental ChampionBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Before we get into Raw, let’s talk about Cody Rhodes, who requested and was granted his WWE release over the weekend.

This is becoming something of a trend, isn’t it? Wade Barrett opted not to sign a new contract with WWE. Ryback went home due to a contract dispute, as well as creative frustrations. And now Cody Rhodes/Stardust is gone, partially due to creative frustrations. He has apparently wanted to ditch the Stardust character for awhile now. But WWE apparently didn’t see that as being in the cards for him. So he made what many would consider to be a bold move, and asked to be let go. And to WWE’s credit, they didn’t keep him against his will.

I’m not sure if Rhodes was ever going to be a top guy for them. But he certainly had the potential to be more than he was. I keep thinking back to those years he spent in the Intercontinental Title picture. Not just bringing back the classic IC Belt, but feuding with the likes of Rey Mysterio Jr. and The Big Show at Wrestlemania. And my God, the number of personas he had over the years. First he was the upstart rookie, then he was with Legacy, then he was “Dashing” Cody Rhodes, then there was “disfigured” Cody Rhodes, and then he had the mustache, and then he was Stardust. He was so versatile in the ways he connected with the audience. I, for one, will miss him.

WWE, StardustI keep thinking back to an article I spotted awhile back on RingsideNews.com entitled “The Lost Generation of WWE.” It spotlights a lot of different guys who might have been stars, perhaps even main eventers, if WWE had given them an honest chance. Rhodes is among them. It’s definitely worth a look.

Getting back to this being a trend, when you look at Barrett and Rhodes calling it quits, Ryback going home, and all the talents who have vented creative frustrations via social media (Zack Ryder, Damien Sandow, Naomi, Cameron, Alex Riley, etc.), the glass ceiling in WWE becomes that much easier to see. That’s obviously some pretty tough glass to break through, folks. And the one guy who can open a door and let you through? Vince McMahon. Once you sign that contract, to an extent you only go as far as Vince McMahon allows you to go.

Is that fair? Nope. Is it a good thing? I’m not so sure anymore…

Ponderings From WWE Raw:

Seth Rollins attacks Roman Reigns at Extreme Rules. Title match to take place at Money in the BankWe didn’t get Finn Balor, as I thought we might. But Rollins was just as pleasant a surprise. I’m happy to see he’s staying heel. I’m not sure what a babyface Seth Rollins would look like at this point. Also, before he left, Rollins was one of the few really good heels WWE had. I don’t doubt he can play that role again.

Seth Rollins, WWE Raw, May 23, 2016Roman Reigns was good in this segment. Granted, it did’t require much. All he had to do was walk down there and look menacing. Silent but menacing Roman Reigns is the one I want to see. And when he does speak, I want it short, concise, and to the point.

Sami Zayn def. Sheamus to qualify for the Money in the Bank Ladder Match. Sheamus attacks Apollo Crews afterward. No complaints here. Glad they learned their lesson and kept Sheamus away from the Money in the Bank Ladder Match this year. Putting him with Apollo Crews is pretty harmless. As I’ve said before, I don’t mind Sheamus in the ring. But creatively, he’s been stale for the longest time. Even when he was champion, he didn’t have much going for. They need to find something to shake Sheamus up. Otherwise, I’m not sure where he goes from here.

Cesaro def. The Miz to qualify for the Money in the Bank Ladder Match. Considering how good Miz has been since Wrestlemania, and how he won that awesome Fatal Fourway Match at Extreme Rules, I wasn’t a big fan of him losing. But in the long run, I really think it’s more important to give Cesaro more momentum. of course.

WWE Raw, May 23, 2016, Chris Jericho, Apollo CrewsChris Jericho def. Apollo Crews to qualify for the Money in the Bank Ladder Match. I loved Jericho’s expression on the way down to the ring. Like a pouty little kid. And those whiney screams when Crews would attack those oversized bandages on his back were great. Just like silent Reigns is the best Reigns, heel Jericho is the best Jericho. I was surprised they beat Crews clean. One would think they’d have Sheamus at least be out there for the distraction. But there’s certainly no shame in losing to Jericho.

Bob Backlund scolds Darren Young for saying “damn” in latest vignette. Is there a reason Backlund and Young aren’t in the same place for these segments? At times there’s a weird disconnect between them. That was especially the case here. If you put them in a room together, they’d be able to play off each other, and there’d be so much more energy. Hopefully we see them try this out in a match soon.

Dolph Ziggler challenges Baron Corbin to another match. Hearing Corbin recite that scripted dialogue was painful. Simply put, the guy needs acting lessons. What’s more, he seemed to have trouble knowing whether to look into the camera or away from it. To his credit, he had the right idea. Wrestlers have been looking into the camera to cut promos for generations now. Why they make these guys look off into the distance is a mystery to me. On the plus side, apparently you can say the word “wrestling” on WWE TV now.

Enzo & Cass, WWE Raw, May 23, 2016Enzo Amore returns after a concussion, is in Big Cass’ corner as he beats Bubba Ray Dudley. It’s great to see Enzo, obviously. But I’m curious as to why they didn’t mention The Vaudevillians. They were in the ring with Cass & Enzo when the injury happened. You’d think they’d want to go back to that, or at least mention it. Cass continues to be solid in singles matches. He just needs some more experience, and hopefully the other pieces will fall into place.

Charlotte (with Dana Brooke at her side) cuts ties with Ric Flair. Being with Charlotte obviously isn’t a bad spot for Dana Brooke. Though Charlotte has become a pretty good mic worker, Brooke has a natural charisma that will hopefully add to her presentation.

Charlotte may have acknowledged the crowd a little too much in this segment. I give her a lot of credit for being able to ad lib. But it drew focus away from the stuff with Flair, which was obviously what this segment was about. But she cranked up the intensity really nicely when it was time for her to get heat.

Once again, they’re pulling some pretty personal strings with Charlotte and her family. I always thought they should have tried something like this with David Flair when he was in WCW. That way, they could have built to a match between father and son. That’s not something they can do with Charlotte and Ric. But despite a few flubs in her delivery, I think Charlotte played the heartless villain really well. I’m curious to see if Flair leaves this regular TV gig with Charlotte, or if they do a feud of sorts.

WWE Raw, May 23, 2016Dean Ambrose def. Dolph Ziggler to qualify for the Money in the Bank Ladder Match. Ambrose is on a nice little role, with back-to-back pay per view wins over Chris Jericho. Would I complain about him winning Money in the Bank? Hell no. But do I expect it? Nope.

AJ Styles breaks away from Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. Styles loses a Money in the Bank Qualifying Match to Kevin Owens. Remember that night Styles and Owens stole the show in the first hour of Raw? This is the spot a match between these two deserve to be in. They proved that tonight. A strong main event, in a period where WWE really needs to try to  build to that third hour. Now that Owens is in the Money in the Bank Ladder Match, I expect the feud between he and Sami Zayn to be incorporated into things, which will hopefully add further depth to the match.

I can appreciate the fact that this story with Styles, Anderson, and Gallows is being drawn out. If WWE wants to create their own version of The Bullet Club, it deserves to be a long term, detailed story. Still, it would have been damn cool to see Finn Balor show up at Extreme Rules.

Images courtesy of WWE.

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A WWE Extreme Rules 2016 Preview – Bullet Club or Balor Club?

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Life seems pretty good for AJ Styles these days, doesn’t it? He’s been on the main roster for less than five months, and he’s main eventing his second pay per view. For the WWE Championship, no less.

Not that he’ll be winning it. These past few months it’s looked a lot like The Bullet Club is coming to WWE. Or is it The Balor Club? Extreme Rules may be the night we finally find out. Either way, I don’t suspect the answer will be good for AJ Styles. He may be in “The Club” now, but chances are his membership is getting revoked sooner, rather than later…

WWE Extreme Rules 2016, Dolph Ziggler, Baron CorbinNO DISQUALIFICATION MATCH:
Dolph Ziggler vs. Baron Corbin

Oye. Look at that picture. Baron Corbin is decent int he ring, but he REALLY needs acting lessons. It’s like Ziggler found a deer in the headlights and decided to snap a pic.

Still, that deer is going to beat him. I’d have thought this would have been over and done with by now, with Corbin having solidly beaten Ziggler at Payback. I was pleasantly surprised Ziggler got a pay per view win out of this deal, but it’s time to end it. I’m not sure who Corbin goes with after Ziggler. Maybe a smaller undercard guy like Kalisto or Zack Ryder to play up the bully factor? It’s clear Corbin still has a lot of learning to do. Hopefully he was able to make the most out of his time with Ziggler.

PREDICTION: Baron Corbin

Kalisto, Rusev, WWE Extreme Rules 2016WWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
Kalisto (c) vs. Rusev

As of last Monday’s Raw, I’ve officially soured on Kalisto as US Champion. Not because of anything he did, but because the booking just hasn’t done anything for me. For some reason his latest loss to Alberto Del Rio that night made me finally throw my hands up. How many losses does that make to Del Rio this year? I understand he’s a smaller guy and has to get beat up, maybe even pinned by bigger guys once in awhile. But I really think Kalisto had (and still has) it in him to be something special in the vein of a Rey Mysterio Jr. JBL even made that comparison on Monday. But they’ve tucked this poor guy away on the pre-show for months now, and he’s just flat. There’s no buzz. It’s time to cut losses on Kalisto’s run with the US Title. At least for now.

Is Rusev the guy I would have picked? Eh, maybe. Taking the belt back might put some shine back on Rusev, and God knows he needs it after being stuck in the League of Nations. But I’m worried his act with Lana is a bit too similar to what The Miz and Maryse are doing. Miz, of course, is the Intercontinental Champion. But I think the pros of putting the belt on Rusev out-weigh the cons. So I’m going with The Bulgarian Brute becoming a two-time champ. Better luck next time, Kalisto.

PREDICTION: Rusev

The Usos, Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, WWE Extreme Rules 2016TEXAS TORNADO MATCH:
The Usos vs. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson

When was the last time we saw a Texas Tornado Match in WWE? I can’t remember one offhand. I imagine it’s been quite awhile.

So I’m just going to float this. If Gallows and Anderson were to beat The Usos, that might serve as a partial motivation for Roman to turn on them and side with “The Club.” Yeah, I know. If only…

I see Gallows and Anderson winning regardless. They’re still establishing themselves in WWE, and a win here would definitely help in that regard. Let alone the idea that we may see a WWE version of the Bullet Club emerging…

PREDICTION: Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson

WWE Extreme Rules 2016, The New Day, The VaudevilliansWWE TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The New Day vs. The Vaudevillians

As I’ve said previously, I like that The Vaudvillains have been able to come off as cruel, sadistic heels. They put Enzo Amore out of action, they leave The New Day laying, and they revel in it. That’s actually the kind of thing I expected the Dudleys to do when they went heel. But The Vaudvillains need that mean streak more. It balances out their silly, cartoony persona and allows them to be taken at least a little bit serious.

That being said, I don’t think there’s any reason to take the belts away from The New Day. They’ve got a great thing going, and they’re over. It’s been such a long time since a tag team that doesn’t consist of main eventers (i.e. DX, Rated RKO, etc.) has been over like this. They’re special. And I just don’t see it as the right time for them to take a big loss. Plus, Simon Gotch and Aiden English have unfinished business with Enzo & Cass. Let them tend to that while The New Day face their next challengers.

PREDICTION: The New Day

WWE Extreme Rules 2016, Kevin Owens, The Miz, Cesaro, Sami ZaynFATAL FOURWAY MATCH FOR WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE:
The Miz (c) vs. Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro vs. Sami Zayn

There’s a pretty good chance this match will steal the show. Consider what all these guys have to offer individually, and it’s hard not to look at this match as such.

As talented as Owens, Cesaro, and Zayn are, I still don’t think it’s the right time to take the belt off Miz. He and Maryse have a good thing going, and I think he’s got at least another month as champion in him. I do see the belt eventually going to Sami Zayn, possibly midsummer. I can see Zayn vs. Owens in an Intercontinental Title Match at Summerslam. Of course, it’s possible all these men may be involved in the Money in the Bank Ladder Match next month. So perhaps the best time to switch the title to Zayn would be in a singles match in July. Either way, Miz comes out on top here.

PREDICTION: The Miz

WWE Extreme Rules 2016, Dean Ambrose, Chris JerichoASYLUM MATCH:
Dean Ambrose vs. Chris Jericho

At one point, I was not okay with Dean Ambrose’s character being associated with a straightjacket. I didn’t want him going the route of a Mankind or a Kane. His character has a certain cool factor that those don’t. But now that he’s had some time to flesh out who he is, this should be fine. And the straightjacket is definitely the most intriguing weapon we saw hanging from that cage Monday. I suspect at some point we’ll see Jericho in that straightjacket. At this stage in their careers, Jericho obviously has very little to lose, and Ambrose has quite a bit to gain. Take that into consideration, along with the fact that this is Ambrose’s match, should add up to a win for “The Lunatic Fringe.”

PREDICTION: Dean Ambrose

Charlotte, Natalya, WWE Extreme Rules 2016SUBMISSION MATCH FOR WWE WOMEN’S TITLE:
Charlotte (c) vs. Natalya
If Ric Flair appears at ringside, Charlotte loses the title. 

From a creative standpoint, this program with Charlotte and Natalya hasn’t been mind-blowing. Hell, they rehashed the Montreal Screwjob. What does that say? But this is probably the highest profile program Nattie has ever been involved in. And she deserves it.

I don’t see Charlotte losing the belt here. So how do you get out of this match? They did the crooked ref thing last month, so that’s out. You’ve got to figure Flair gets involved somehow. Maybe he shows up on the tron? Maybe they dress him up like a camera guy? Either way, hopefully they won’t make this a clean win for Charlotte. Granted, Nattie will still have to tap out. But a few underhanded tactics will soften the blow for her.

A rumor popped up recently that Paige would indeed be Charlotte’s next opponent. The idea is that they’d be feuding over Alberto Del Rio to coincide with the photos that recently leaked of he and Paige together. I call BS on the storyline, but I do expect Paige to get a title shot. She did pin the champ, after all. Then again, Paige just lost to Dana Brooke on Smackdown. So who knows?

PREDICTION: Charlotte

WWE Extreme Rules 2016, Roman Reigns, AJ StylesEXTREME RULES MATCH FOR WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
Roman Reigns (c) vs. AJ Styles

An Extreme Rules Match means no disqualifications and no count-outs, right? But given the Texas Tornado Match earlier in the evening, The Usos, Anderson, and Gallows might not be a factor here. Or at least they won’t have a major impact. One person who might? Finn Balor. With “The Club” out of the picture, Styles would never see him coming. And given their history with The Bullet Club, it would make sense. I’m not sure what that would do in terms of the fans booing Reigns. But they’re the ones who wouldn’t turn him heel…

Reigns and Styles did really well last month. There’s no reason they shouldn’t do well this month. Either way, Reigns walks out with the title. The good news is, if Finn Balor is the plan here, Styles has a built-in program going into Money in the Bank next month. Of course, there’s always the chance Styles could win the Money in the Bank Briefcase, which opens up a whole new set of possibilities.

Images courtesy of WWE.com.

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Roman Reigns, “What an Ovation!”, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This wasn’t the show I was hoping to end the road to Extreme Rules with. Even with all the intrigue that comes with this Roman Reigns/AJ Styles program, it seems like they’ve run out of plays to call for these guys. So they slapped The Usos together with Gallows and Anderson, and we limp into a pay per view that will hopefully leave all parties better than when they walked in.

*sigh* They just won’t turn Roman. No matter how much he’s booed, they just won’t let him go heel. Speaking of those boos…

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns, AJ Styles, WWE Raw, May 16, 2016AJ Styles and Roman Reigns face off at the top of the show. JBL is hardly the world’s most credibly announcer, is he? Roman’s music hit, he was showered in boos, and JBL goes: “What an ovation!” Gimme a damn break.

Still, this program is hot. Not super hot, but hot nonetheless. I’ll take this over a 20-minute Authority promo any day. AJ Styles isn’t an amazing talker, but he’s definitely serviceable. He more than held his own here. The same can be said for Reigns. He definitely didn’t endear himself to the Greensboro crowd, who apparently were chanting for Seth Rollins. They must have muted them, which always sucks.

Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn def. The Miz & Cesaro. I was sad to see the Zayn vs. Cesaro match broken up. Those two had a classic in NXT awhile back, and a rematch would have been cool. And Owens on commentary? Even better. But it was cool to see Cesaro hit Miz with his own finish.

What I paid attention to during this match were the interactions between Owens and Zayn. I really want this rivalry to live up to the enormous potential it has. What can I say? I’m short on patience. They definitely make for good television. For now, that’s enough.

Primo & Epico, WWE Raw, May 16, 2016Primo & Epico return as The Shining Stars. I’ve never had a problem with Primo & Epico in the ring. But I haven’t been enamored with their latest repackaging. Neither was the crowd, apparently. The Shining Stars? That’s pretty damn generic. Oh, and their finisher? The Shining Star, of course. But they are getting a chance to talk, which could work to their advantage. The problem is they’re not saying much of substance. “Come to Puerto Rico!” It’s a little grating, but not enough to base an act on. They need to add another dimension to this, and fast.

Dean Ambrose calls out Chris Jericho. The first ever Asylum Match is made for Extreme Rules. You know who could really use the rub from Chris Jericho? Roman Reigns. They’re not going to get the crowd to cheer Reigns simply by putting him with Jericho. But Jericho might be able to bring something out in Reigns that either we haven’t seen before, or could endear him to fans a bit more. That said, this Asylum Match is likely going to end with an Ambrose victory. Which would mean that next week on Raw our old friend 50/50 booking would have to rear it’s ugly head, with Jericho somehow becoming the new top contender.

Dana Brooke def. Becky Lynch. Dana caught a really bad break this week, as her partner Emma is now sidelined with a ruptured disc in her back. As such, Brooke is obviously on her own. But I thought she did well enough out there with Becky. She’s by no means sunk.

Dana Brooke, BEcky Lynch, WWE Raw, May 16, 2016We got a “We want Sasha!” chant during this match. That’s a little discouraging, especially considering how great Becky is as a babyface. I’m not sure why they’re keeping Sasha off TV, as apparently she’s still working a full time schedule. I can only assume she’s in line to challenge Charlotte down the road.

A “Life Lessons from Coach Backlund” vignette airs. Not bad. But I’ve got one note: Backlund needs to crank up the intensity at certain points. We know he’s got it in him. Now we need to see it in his new role with Darren Young.

Tyler Breeze & Fandango def. Golden Truth. I get what they were going for with that video package, and we did need to know why Goldust and R-Truth are suddenly a tag team. But that pre-match video package was way too long. In a way it’s fitting, as this damn bromance story feels like it’s gone on forever. But they do have comedic chemistry, so it’s nice to see them finally together. And it looks like Tyler Breeze and Fandango have gotten something out of this. I’m not sure how seriously they’ll be taken. But if they stay together, they could be a really good team. But that “Breeze-ango” name has to go.

The New Day return to “a bygone era.” This was the kind of thing I had in mind when it became apparent The New Day and The Vaudevillians would cross paths. I can’t say it was as good as I hoped it would be. But Kofi had a nice little moment when he went back to 2007 for a moment. As for Simon Gotcha and Aiden English, as long as they’re allowed to be mean, they’re still in the game. If they lose that edge, they’re dead in the water.

WWE Raw, May 16, 2016, AJ Styles, Roman ReignsThe Usos def. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson. AJ Styles finally gets to use a steel chair on Roman Reigns. I’ve given up hope that WWE is actually going to turn Reigns heel. But given how WWE has set up the teams here, with Reigns going with The Usos and Styles going with “The Club,” how cool would it be to see Reigns go heel and recruit Gallows and Anderson? That would shake up the whole dynamic. What if this attack from Styles shook his confidence, and he found a cheap way to win? It’s not going to happen. But it’d be damn cool.

Extreme Rules would be as good a time as any for Finn Balor to show up and cost Styles the match. He’s got an NXT Championship Match with Samoa Joe at the NXT Takeover special in June. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be on the main roster by then.

Alberto Del Rio def. Kalisto. Rusev brutalizes both Lucha Dragons. Ugh. Just take the belt off Kalisto already. I like the guy. But between all the pre-show title matches, the back and forth wins with Del Rio, not to mention the awful commentary, I’m over him as US Champion. They could certainly choose somebody worse for him to drop it to than Rusev. Hell, he could end up dropping it to Del Rio again.

Stephanie McMahon, Ric Flair, WWE Raw, May 16, 2016A contract signing between Charlotte and Natalya main events the show. Charlotte winds up in the Sharpshooter again. It’s always cool to see the women get a main event spot like this. As I recall, the last time we had a contract signing with the ladies in the main event spot, we got the whole Reid Fleihr controversy. This obviously doesn’t erase that. But it’s nice to see they’re still willing to give the girls this spot. Granted, this had more to do with them being in North Carolina, and Ric Flair being there. But hey, who would have thought Natalya would be main eventing Raw? And of course, Stephanie slapped Flair. Because she slaps everybody…

This is the second week in a row they’ve opted not to give the main event spot to Roman Reigns and AJ Styles, despite them having far and away the most interesting storyline in the company. I wonder why that is. Do they not want him getting booed at the end of the show for some reason? It sure as hell didn’t stop them at Wrestlemania

In Other News:

Regan Arts to publish Stephanie McMahon memoir. I groaned when I read this. Not because I don’t think Stephanie has an interesting story, but because everything she does from a professional standpoint is about growing the WWE brand. As it should be. But the only time I ever see her is when she’s on TV, reciting overly scripted dialogue. As such, my impression of her is that everything she says goes through about five different strictly PG public relations filters. As such, I get the feeling this will be the equivalent of reading a book about a sanitary napkin growing up in WWE.

You know, I’m curious. Stephanie must have signed a contract for this book, right? Well, after the documents were signed…did she slap somebody at Regan? She must have. That’s just how she rolls.

Images courtesy of WWE.com. 

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