The Shield Returns at Last, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

A few quick thoughts from Hell in a Cell before we get into Raw

It’s amazing how the Usos and the New Day have continued to top themselves over the last several months. They did it again here, turning in a performance with every bit as much drama and bad blood as the Kevin Owens/Shane McMahon match. One can even argue it was better artistically. In a match where everyone expects some kind of 20 foot dive off the cage, it takes real creativity to deliver on the Hell in a Cell concept while actually staying inside the cell. Both teams were elevated here. All these guys should be very proud.

While the signs were there in retrospect, Sami Zayn’s heel turn seemed to come out of nowhere. It’s a hell of an intriguing twist that could potentially breathe some valuable new life into Sami’s run on Smackdown.

So that’s twice Shane has tried the elbow drop off the top of the cell, and twice he’s crashed and burned. Maybe it’s time to pluck that one from the playbook, eh? Really good match, though. Now if only they hadn’t gotten that shot of one of Shane’s kids grinning as Owens was beating up his dad and taunting him.

Ponderings From Raw:

The Shield finally reunites against the Miz, Cesaro and Sheamus. This was obviously something they’ve built to for months. So to see Reigns, Rollins, and Ambrose back together is cool. I imagine we’ll get them back in their trademark black outfits at TLC.

I’m trying to enjoy this for what it is. But one thing that does put a damper on it is that it’s obviously all just another attempt to get Roman Reigns cheered. Just look at the blocking in the segment. Rollins on the left, Ambrose, on the right, Reigns in the middle. And of course, Reigns kept using the Shield music after they broke up. So their entrance is going to be synonymous with him in particular.

Yes, I’m nitpicking. But this is also very transparent. What’s more, it’s not even going to work. For better or worse, most fans have made up their mind about Roman. As soon as this is over, the haters will start booing again.

Jason Jordan def. Karl Anderson. I’m not sure Booker T is the guy to be playing up the notion of Kurt Angle giving his son special treatment. His amazing career notwithstanding, he has virtually no credibility. As the weeks go by he just becomes more a verbal whipping boy for Michael Cole and Corey Graves. Granted, better to have him out there than David Otunga. But that dynamic between Angle and Jordan is important. Better to have Graves play it up.

Elias def. Apollo Crews. When Titus is on, he’s really on. Hokey as it was, I got a kick out of the banjo stuff before the match. This manager gig really suits him.

On the flip side, I’m not at all amused that Elias broke out the Undertaker’s “Old School” spot and walked the top rope. The announcers didn’t even acknowledge it. Though to be fair, Graves alluded to it, calling it a “disrespectful version of a cover song.”

Kurt Angle puts Enzo Amore in a Cruiserweight Title Match against Kalisto for later in the evening. Enzo called it the “Loserweight Division.” That one might stick.

Braun Strowman def. Matt Hardy. The Shield emerges, Powerbombs Strowman through the announce table. This was really good. To his credit, Roman nailed his line about them being “the three workhorses that run this business now.” He even got to look into the camera.

Mickie James and Alexa Bliss exchange words leading up to TLC. Last week I talked about how WWE should exploit Mickie’s talent for country music and have her record her own entrance theme. We didn’t get that here, but it was definitely a step in the right direction. Mickie was in country gear here, and even put a little twang in her voice. This is good. For WWE audiences, this is fresh. And apparently, they like the term “biscuit butt.”. More of this, please.

Brian Kendrick and Jack Gallagher def. Cedric Alexander and Mustafa Ali. Why is Jack Gallagher is wrestling in that get up? Yes, he’s a heel now. But why does that mean he can’t wear wrestling trunks?

Both Alexander and Ali are so damn good. It’s such a shame they haven’t been able to get over to any real extent

The Shield to headline TLC against the Miz, Sheamus, Cesaro, and Braun Strowman in a Handicap TLC Match. Four on three? That’s a little weird. Strowman could do some amazing things in that environment, though. Especially with support from the veterans in this match.

Bray Wyatt reveals his “Sister Abigail” persona to Finn Balor. So Sister Abigail is Bray Wyatt with some kind of shroud over his head and a weird voice filter. Wow. What a great pay off to years of build-up.

And this was in the new “main event” spot. They wanted people to stay tuned in for that third hour after this. Balor can’t move on soon enough.

Emma def. Sasha Banks, Bayley, Alicia Fox, and Dana Brooke to earn a match with Asuka at TLCGraves: “I don’t really know what to say about Emma anymore. I’m so baffled by the fact that she still exists.” Wow. What an awesome endorsement for Asuka’s first challenger.

To be fair no one actually expects Emma to beat her. That’s half the reason they chose Emma for this spot. She’s someone they can feed to Asuka, but also give her good match. Somehow I don’t think the same can be said for Alicia Fox or Dana Brooke.

I’m worried Dana Brooke is going to hurt somebody someday. That sequence she had in there with Bayley was….yeesh. But Alicia, and even Emma looked like they had two left feet out there too. This one just didn’t click.

Roman Reigns to face Braun Strowman in a Steel Cage Match next week. They’re going back to the well with these two, which is fine by me. Like the Usos and the New Day, they always deliver.

Kalisto def. Enzo Amore in a Lumberjack Match to win the WWE Cruiserweight Title. I hate to go back to Graves again, but he was really tearing Enzo down during his entrance here. I can’t tell if there’s legit heat between those two. Either way, it doesn’t pay to piss off one of the guys that calls your matches every week.

So Enzo puts his hand on Mustafa Ali during the match. Ali later gets his receipt, which more or less costs Enzo the match. If this means Ali gets to be in a (relatively) high profile feud with Enzo, I’m game. He deserves a shot.

I’d be surprised if Enzo didn’t get the belt back soon. This seems like something they concocted to get out of the no-contact clause thing. He could very well get it back at TLC.

By the way, where was Neville during all this?

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WWE Hell in a Cell 2017 Predictions, Plus More on Sister Abigail

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There was a decent amount of buzz about Sister Abigail coming out of Raw this past Monday. For years we’ve heard about this mysterious mentor figure from Bray Wyatt’s past. So hearing him say, “Sister Abigail is alive,” made for a pretty loaded moment. The natural assumption was that this would lead to the debut of a new character. Possibly a new manager to freshen up Bray’s presentation. The guy could certainly use a new coat of paint.

But now, rumor has it that this is leading not to a new character, but to an alter ego for Bray. Sort of his own heel version of Finn Balor’s Demon persona. I imagine it will be Sister Abigail vs. the Demon at TLC later this month.

This development is…disheartening. I understand the notion of Sister Abigail as this figure from Bray Wyatt’s past that he draws a demented sort of inspiration from. But it’s only natural for us to be curious about who she was, what she looked like, etc. Not introducing us to her feels like a wasted opportunity.

Plus, knowing WWE this Sister Abigail alter-ego will simply be a flash in the pan. Something they use to extend Bray’s program with Finn Balor. Once Balor wins, which I assume he will, there’ll be no reason to go back to it. Just another page in the “wasted ideas” portion of Bray Wyatt’s career. A portion that sadly gets bigger year after year.

Anyway, let’s take a look at the card for Hell in a Cell this Sunday…

PRE-SHOW MATCH:
The Hype Bros vs. Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable

Clearly, the Hype Bros are either turning heel or breaking up. Given that Mojo Rawley seems like a natural babyface, I’ve been banking on a heel turn for Zack Ryder. It’s a little bit of a crap shoot. But it’s been a long time since he’s walked on the dark side. It’s worth a try. Either way, there’s no reason Benjamin and Gable shouldn’t walk away with this one. It’s simply a question of when they’ll pull the trigger on something with the Hype Bros.

PREDICTION: Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable

Bobby Roode vs. Dolph Ziggler

This has always been about Roode coming out of the gate strong with a great opponent. Ziggler played this same role with Shinsuke Nakamura several months ago. So the winner here has never been in in doubt.

Ziggler has taken some flack for his promos on big, elaborate entrances these past few weeks. But I actually think they’ve been among his best mic work. They make sense to me. In his mind he’s the best. But the fans don’t care. So he’s lashing out at the people they do care about. I have no idea what’s next for Ziggler. But hopefully he continues to get mic time.

PREDICTION: Bobby Roode

Randy Orton vs. Rusev

If there’s any justice in the world, Rusev wins this match. But because there clearly isn’t, it’s probably going to be Orton.

Last week I talked about whether WWE would have been better off strapping the rocket to Rusev, as opposed to Jinder Mahal. I’m hardly the only one to pose that question, either. We’re never going to know, obviously. But hindsight being 20/20, Rusev does seem like a much better option. Especially if Lana were still with him. Rusev and Lana are obviously more of a money pairing than Rusev and Aiden English. Or friggin’ Lana and Tamina…

PREDICTION: Randy Orton

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

Charlotte and Sasha Banks literally made history at this event last year. It was the first time a women’s match main vented a pay per view, with the first women’s Hell in a Cell Match. And she won! Tough act to follow…

I don’t see her faring quite as well this year. She’ll get the belt eventually, of course. But this feels like Nattie’s time. She’s not exactly lighting the world on fire. But there’s something there with her. There always has been. I’m not willing to give up on her as champion just yet. There’ll be plenty of time for Charlotte to be in that spot later.

PREDICTION: Natalya

WWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Baron Corbin

I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Tye Dillinger added to this match at the last minute. Especially after he beat Corbin on Smackdown this week. He’s been in the mix with Styles and Corbin almost since their program began. It’s breathed some much needed life into his run on the main roster, and it makes sense for him to be here. Plus, if they decide to put the belt on Corbin, they can do it without having him beat Styles.

I don’t see that happening though. At least not yet. Losing the Money in the Bank briefcase was a big step backward for him, and they’ve done too good a job building the US Title up to give it to him as a consolation prize. He needs some rehabbing before he wins gold. And he will win gold. We just need to slow his ascent a bit.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Jinder Mahal (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

They really should give it to Nakamura, shouldn’t they? After all the racial stuff Jinder threw out there, it would be pretty crappy not to have him get his comeuppance in the end. Mind you, I don’t think Nakamura is ready. Not in terms of how he’s been portrayed on television, at least. I still don’t feel like I know this guy. But that didn’t stop them from putting it on Jinder, did it? And at least Nakamura was a commodity for them in NXT. Let alone his massive body of work overseas…

But Jinder is probably going to keep it. WWE is going to India this December. Supposedly, one of the reasons they put it on him to begin with was to generate interest from India, so pulling the plug on him now would seem like a big admission of defeat. That means he’ll likely have it until the Royal Rumble at the earliest, Wrestlemania at the latest. It’s a real shame for Nakamura, as this program didn’t do him any favors at all.

At least they didn’t shoehorn this match into the cage.

PREDICTION: Jinder Mahal

HELL IN A CELL MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
The New Day (c) vs. The Usos

I’ve been saying for weeks that this should be main eventing the show. These guys have earned it. Every time I think I’m done with this feud, they find a way to inject new life into it. Great matches, great promos. They’ve just made it work. I don’t expect this to be any different.

My gut tells me the Usos will take this one, which should really come as no surprise. They’ve been switching the belts back and forth this entire program. So why stop now? The New Day lose very little at this point. It also gives them a perfect line about turning Hell in a Cell into the Uso Penitentiary.

They may as well turn the Usos babyface after this. The respect factor is clearly there, and the fans have been digging their promos for quite awhile now. The only problem is finding a heel team worthy of challenging them. After all this, I doubt the Ascension are going to cut it. Ditto for the Hype Bros…

PREDICTION: The Usos

HELL IN A CELL MATCH:
Kevin Owens vs. Shane McMahon

This week they added a Falls Count Anywhere stipulation to this match, which seems to contradict the whole point of a cage match. Unless, of course, the plan is to break out of the cage and do a big bump. In which case that stipulation allows them to go out on the most dramatic note possible. For a Shane McMahon match, that only makes all the sense in the world.

They’ve built this up for quite awhile. You can even trace it back to before the brand split, with Shane and KO having little moments together. That, combined with how they’ve heated this program up over the last few weeks, makes this a match worthy of the cell. I maintain that they don’t absolutely need it, and the New Day/Usos match could have headlined. But this works fine too.

While Shane doesn’t need to win this one, I suspect he will. Had they not brought up Shane’s kids, I might think differently. This feels like a situation where the good guy should win. Perhaps the bigger question is what the crazy bump in this match is going to be. On Tuesday, Owens literally threatened to throw him off the cage. How can you not do something big after saying that in the build-up?

Keep in mind though, it doesn’t have to be Shane taking a big fall. KO could just as easily get himself a highlight reel moment.

PREDICTION: Shane McMahon

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Sister Abigail Lives? Plus, Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Enzo Amore and the Cruiserweight Division main eventing Raw? For the second week in a row? It’s so far-fetched that even Enzo had to mention it on TV!

Except the last segment on Raw isn’t really the main event anymore. Traditionally, that’s how you construct a wrestling show. You build everything up to the end, where you put your hottest draws. But that slowly changed when Raw expanded to three hours. Ratings are always down for the last hour. You can chalk that up to a lot of things, perhaps most notably audience fatigue. So now, WWE has had to adjust their formatting to ensure viewers see the main angles. We’ve seen them do this before. But it’s been fairly consistent these past few weeks,

Coming into this week’s Raw we’d had two big matches advertised: Seth Rollins vs. Braun Strowman, and Roman Reigns vs. The Miz for the Intercontinental Title. They started strong with Rollins vs. Strowman, which traditionally would have been your semi-main event. Then at the top of the third hour, they gave us our main event title match. Strategically, this entices viewers to stick around during that third hour, in the hopes that they’ll keep watching after the match is over. They closed the show with Enzo, who has historically been a pretty solid ratings draw.

Thus, Raw is essentially being formatted like a “main event sandwich.” It’s bookended by two semi mains, with the biggest match near the middle. The show has changed. It really had no choice but to change.

So let’s not make two much of this “Cruiserweights in the main event” stuff. That’s not to say this will always be the way the show operates. But I’d be surprised if this weren’t this status quo going forward.

Ponderings From Raw:

Braun Strowman def. Seth Rollins. Dean Ambrose comes out to make the save, but gets put down as well. Cesaro and Sheamus pick the bones afterward. Is Strowman still supposed to be a heel? Or is he a “tweener” the way Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns are? He worked both this match and the one last week against Ambrose like a monster heel. But watch the fans toward the end of this match as he’s Powerslamming Rollins. The crowd is cheering! That seems to be what Strowman predominantly hears out there.

Not that I can complain much about how Strowman has been booked. They’ve kept him strong despite his loss to Brock. I consistently look forward to seeing him week after week. I haven’t had that relationship with a wrestler in a long time.

Elias def. Titus O’Neil. In talking about Titus not being in the ring as much these days, Booker said in relation to his physique: “Look at the love handles!”

For the record, Titus looks as good as he ever has. Go ahead and take your shirt off on television, Book. Let’s see what you’ve got.

Mickie James def. Nia Jax via disqualification after an attack from Alexa Bliss. James to get her Raw Women’s Title Match at TLCMickie James needs some new music. Most of us know she’s a very talented singer with two country music albums under her belt. Why not exploit that talent? She’s been struggling to stand out since she came back. Bringing out her country side couldn’t hurt in that respect.

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson def. Matt Hardy and Jason Jordan. This was disappointing. There are better things for Matt Hardy to be doing than being put in a thrown-together team with Jason Jordan. Here’s hoping this is just a one-week detour on Matt’s trip back to singles competition.

Roman Reigns is attacked by Sheamus and Cesaro during his Intercontinental Title Match with the Miz. The heels hit Reigns with a Shield-style Triple Powerbomb. Pretty good match, which the crowd was very much into. Reigns wailing away on Dallas and Axel before the match was fun. And that staredown between Roman and Miz afterward was great, particularly on Miz’s part.

Last week it seemed like they were building to a Shield vs. Miztourage match for TLC. This is a better course, and will probably give us a better match. Assuming this will be a TLC Match, I would highly encourage Cesaro to wear a mouthguard…

Bray Wyatt to Finn Balor: “Abigail is alive, and she is dying to meet you.” Huh. Well this is interesting. Based on Bray’s wording here, it looks like we’re finally going to meet the mysterious Sister Abigail we’ve heard about for all these years. I’m still not sure I want another Bray vs. Finn match. But if this Sister Abigail thing doesn’t flop, it might just be worth it.

Sasha Banks and Bayley def. Emma and Alicia Fox. This had ZERO interest from me. I’m as over Sasha as I’ve ever been, and my hopes of WWE creative getting a better handle on Bayley have been squashed. Something desperately needs to be shaken up.

After a lengthy Enzo Amore promo, Kurt Angle introduces Kalisto as the next challenger for the Cruiserweight Title. Enzo has now knocked it out of the park two weeks in a row with these promo segments. It didn’t exactly make sense for all the Cruiserweights to come down just to get insulted one by one. But it almost didn’t matter, as Enzo rattled off all those great one-liners.

Why it’s taken this long for Kalisto to be inserted into the Cruiserweight Division is beyond me. You’d think that would have been the sole motivation for moving him to Raw earlier this year. Better late than never, I guess.

Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Dean Ambrose come to a silent understanding as Raw goes off the air. This was a cool moment. But the real entertainment value came from someone online inserting “Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore” into the footage. Honest to God, it fits.

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Enzo Amore as Cruiserweight Champion, Plus Ponderings From Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Apparently, September 24, 2017 was the night the Cruiserweight Division died. That seems to be the general consensus from the smart marks after No Mercy, when Enzo kicked Neville below the belt to snag the title.

“It’s the end of the Cruiserweight Division,” they said. “This division is dead,” they said. “The belt means nothing now,” they said. Seems a little overdramatic to me.

“Internet wrestling fans being overdramatic? Surely you jest!”

Here’s the thing: The Cruiserweight Division has been around for about a year now, and it’s never really gotten off the ground. There are a variety of reasons for that. Let’s briefly touch on some of them…

  1. The presentation on Raw and 205 Live compared to the Cruiserweight Classic. What we see on TV these days is not what sparked our interest last year.
  2. WWE’s progression to a more flashy and high-spot oriented wrestling style, which essentially nullifies the daring premise of the Cruiserweights Division.
  3. WWE’s apparent insistence that the Cruiserweights wrestle a slower style of match. Again, that nullifies the premise.
  4. Lack of audience investment in the characters due to poor introductions. It’s no accident that Neville, an already-established wrestler, became the hottest thing in the division. A year later, we still barely know most of these guys.
  5. Stupid storylines, i.e. Noam Dar’s romance with Alicia Fox and Brian Kendrick’s “mentoring” of Akira Tozawa.

Get the idea?

So along comes Enzo. Once again, we have a talent that’s already been established, and is actually hotter than Neville was when he was plugged into 205 Live. He’s considerably less talented in the ring. But he’s also one of the best mic guys of his generation. Enzo is a polarizing guy. He gets some cheers (probably less after last night). But some absolutely loathe him. The latter category apparently includes some of his peers in the locker room.

So given that awesome wrestlers like TJ Perkins and Rich Swann failed to catch on at the top of the division, WWE opts to go the character route instead and give the title to Enzo in the hope that he’ll draw eyes to 205 Live. Is it blasphemous? Maybe. But having to put the title on Enzo is also an indictment of their this company’s failure to capitalize on the concept of a Cruiserweight Division.

I’ll grant you this Enzo thing is bad. But he didn’t put the belt on himself. The people you should be mad at are the ones behind the scenes who restricted the talent’s ability to get over on their own, and make this division worth something.

Ponderings From Raw:

The Bullet Club “invades” RawSo we had Cody and Brandi Rhodes, the Young Bucks, and Marty Scurll show up outside the arena and get the fans revved up. On Twitter the hashtag was #BCInvasion.

As I said to someone last night, it’s not really an invasion unless you get in the arena, is it? Yes, that applies to DX in 1998 as well. The Bullet Club certainly weren’t in need of the publicity. But it was still a neat little stunt. Well done.

Roman Reigns appears on Miz TV. Lots of loaded stuff here, not the least of which was Roman calling last night’s win over John Cena the biggest of his career. One would think the Undertaker might have something to say about that.

This segment was obviously meant to take the first step toward Roman reuniting with Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose. Roman’s laugh when Miz mentioned a Shield vs. Miztourage match was nice. Actually, Roman was really good in this segment. He came off very natural. Dare I say, unscripted?

Nah. That’s too good to be true.

Matt Hardy and Jason Jordan def. Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel. Holy crap. It wasn’t until Michael Cole mentioned Jordan being inducted into his high school Hall of Fame that I realized he and are basically from the same home town. Victor J. Andrew High School is in Tinley Park, IL, just a stone’s throw from where I used to live. Does this mean I’ve got to cheer for him? Maybe I should delete the tweet where I called him Rocky Miavia…

Tough break for Jeff Hardy, who needs rotator cuff surgery. The upside? The gives Matt a chance to run as a single, and maybe recapture some of that Broken magic. They can’t call him Broken, obviously. But maybe he’s creative enough to come up with something just as good? One can hope.

Elias def. Apollo Crews. Did we actually hear an “Apollo!” chant? Didn’t expect that…

Braun Strowman answers Curt Hawkins’ latest open challenge, brutalizing him before the match can start and slamming him through the Raw set. Strowman’s loss to Brock at No Mercy was a tough pill to swallow. The underwhelming match was even tougher. But this was a nice palette cleanser. This is the Braun Strowman we love to see. Pure violence.

Dean Ambrose accepts an open challenge from Braun Strowman. This was really, really good. Better than I could have ever expected. That counter by Ambrose into the DDT on the outside? EPIC. The story painted Ambrose as a great unstable underdog. One of the best TV matches he’s had in quite some time. Definitely the best Strowman has had since his work with Roman. Bravo, gentlemen.

Mickie James interrupts an Alexa Bliss promo, retaliates for Bliss calling her an “old lady” on the No Mercy post-show. Finally. Mickie James gets something of substance to do. Crowds haven’t been into her since she’s come back. Why they didn’t do this earlier is beyond me. Hopefully she’ll get a chance to be more of a player. But this segment had some nice heat to it. I imagine this will lead to a title match at TLC.

Seth Rollins def. Sheamus. Ugh. These two teams are still wrestling. Enough. Make it stop. Please.

Mad props to Cesaro for continuing that No Mercy match after what happened to his front teeth. At the time, people thought they were broken. But apparently they were pushed up into his gums. Between this and what happened with Jeff Hardy’s broken tooth, these guys should rename themselves the European Dental Association.

Roman Reigns def. The Miz. The Miztourage lays Roman out and do the Shield fist bump. They obviously wanted the crowd to chant for Seth and Dean. That didn’t happen here. But there’ll be plenty of opportunities for other crowds to do so. Clearly this is their plan to maintain fan interest during football season. It’s not a bad plan, especially considering they don’t have Lesnar for the next few weeks.

Finn Balor def. Goldust, gets a foreboding sign from Bray Wyatt. The Bullet Club are outside the building, and we get a match between Cody’s brother and the group’s former leader. They couldn’t have scripted that better.

They had Goldust attack Finn in the back before this match, reminding us that despite what we saw last week, he’s still a heel. I’d love to see more of these two together. I feel exactly the opposite about more of Finn vs. Bray. What exactly do they have left to do? A TLC Match? No thanks…

Sasha Banks and Bayley def. Nia Jax and Emma. Just when I was starting to hope we’d get a break from these four. Just for one week. Is that too much to ask?

Enzo Amore is destroyed by Neville during his championship celebration. This, my friends, is what they call a double turn. Pretty well done, too. Enzo just turned up the arrogance a little more, and Neville came down to shut him up. Seems like about as natural a double turn as you’re going to find in the modern era.

I take it this was Neville’s swan song as far as 205 Live is concerned, and that’s why they put that clause in there about anyone who touches Enzo not being able to challenge for the belt. Let there be no doubt that whatever juice the Cruiserweight Division has had this year is because of Neville. Now Enzo is in that spot as the lead heel, and he has to help make stars out of all those guys he dropped truth bombs on tonight.

The irony in Enzo bringing up those merch checks is they’re about to get a lot smaller. That’s the life of a heel.

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Bobby Heenan RIP, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This week, the wrestling world mourns the passing of one of its greatest and most hilarious performers. Raymond Heenan, a.k.a. Bobby “The Brain” Heenan passed away Sunday at the age of 72.

I became a wrestling fan, specifically a WWF fan, in 1996. By that time Heenan was already an announcer for WCW. But my brother and I would always rent VHS tapes of the old pay per views. That was my first exposure to Heenan, both as a manager and an announcer. As the internet age began, I became more and more familiar with his range as a performer and the scope of his career. As virtually anyone who has watched his work from that era will tell you, his verbal skills, his wit, and his comedic timing were unparalleled. All these years later, Bobby may still be in a class by himself. And yet, he made such a natural slimy and underhanded villain. It’s no accident that he was put with top stars like Andre the Giant, Ric Flair, “Ravishing” Rick Rude, and so many others.

Heenan’s voice is synonymous with what many consider to be the golden age of WWE. In terms of the company’s global expansion, he was as integral as almost anyone. Like Jim Ross, Jesse Ventura, and other great announcers, his voice is plastered on to moments that are indelibly etched in our minds and hearts. The 1992 Royal Rumble comes to mind (Shout out to Solomonster.), as does the famous Barbershop segment between Shawn Michaels and Marty Janetty.

And then of course, you’ve got all his work with Gorilla Monsoon. Whenever I need cheering up, there’s a clip of Heenan cracking Monsoon up that gets me every time.

Much has been said about Heenan in the past two days. But it was @WWECreative_ish on Twitter that truly hit it out of the park, in my opinion…

The key word there? “Elevated.” Bobby Heenan was one of those performers that truly made pro wrestling into an art form, and not just two guys pretending to fight. In his case, it became a comedic showcase on par with just about anything. The fact that so much of it still holds up today is a testament to that.

Thanks for the memories, Brain. We love you.

Ponderings From Raw:

After the Miz interrupts Kurt Angle at the top of the show, a scuffle breaks out between Jason Jordan and the Miztourage. Later in the show, a Six Pack Challenge will determine the top contender for the Intercontinental Title at No Mercy. This segment was really flat. Miz said all those inflammatory things about Kurt being a deadbeat dad, and he just stood there and took it. Why? Because he was waiting for Jordan to come out. I get the whole “it takes more strength not to fight back” thing. But Angle just stood there, barely selling it at all.

Nia Jax def. Alexa Bliss. Bliss, Sasha Banks, and the returning Bayley take Jax down after the match. Banks and Bayley then lay out Bliss. Bayley is later added to the title match at No MercyAn abrupt return for Bayley. Not sure I wouldn’t have kept her off TV until after No Mercy. Let’s hope they can keep her from getting booed.

Cesaro and Sheamus win a Triple-Threat Tag Team Match against Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, as well as Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. Whoever walks out of No Mercy with the belts (I assume it’s going to be Rollins and Ambrose) desperately needs to find new dance partners. It’s been these three teams week after week. How about the Miztourage?

I can’t help but think about Sting whenever Rollins does the Buckle Bomb…

Apollo Crews def. Curt Hawkins. So they’re doing a kind of reverse undefeated streak thing with Curt Hawkins. That’s kind of fun. A the very least it’s something for Hawkins to do every week. 115-0? Damn.

A split-screen interview airs with Braun Strowman, Brock Lesnar, and Paul Heyman. Watch Brock during this segment. He’s by no means a great promo or a great actor. But he can be very effective by doing very little. Until the end of the interview, Brock looked about as uncertain as he’s ever been. But then he pulled it out at the end with that line about being backed into a corner.

Roman Reigns cuts a promo on John Cena, name-drops Alex Riley. There was a good amount of buzz from Reigns mentioning Alex Riley here. The story has always been that something happened between Cena and Riley that kept the latter from really going anywhere in WWE. The real-life Kevin Kiley Jr. has never spoken about it publicly. But former WWE talents like Ryback and JTG have alluded to it. It’s very curious that WWE would have Reigns allude to it like this.

Reigns’ line was about how someone that looks like Cena wouldn’t have a chance of making it in WWE because of Cena’s influence. It makes sense if you think about it. Cena would theoretically be insecure about someone coming along and outshining him. Would that have happened? Probably not. But you never know

They’ve been playing to the smart mark crowd quite heavily with this program, which isn’t the approach anyone expected. The stuff about Reigns’ drug test, this Alex Riley thing, the talk about Reigns not being able to do his job, it’s all insider type stuff. I imagine the strategy here is to get the die-hards riled up, so the casuals look in to see what all the fuss is about. It’s an interesting idea. No Mercy will ultimately determine whether it pays off.

Bray Wyatt def. Dustin Rhodes. Finn Balor cuts a promo for No MercyI loved this. A logical way to play off of what happened with these two last week. And it didn’t hurt Dustin that much, as Bray caught him by surprise with the Sister Abigail.

Nice promo from Balor. More menacing than anything Bray has done in recent weeks.

On a related note, WWE has announced the return of Starrcade, which was a big annual event held by the NWA that later became WCW’s equivalent to Wrestlemania. It’ll be a non-televised event in Greensboro on Thanksgiving weekend. You know who competed at a bunch of Starrcade shows? Dustin Rhodes. Hmm…

WWE airs a tribute to Bobby Heenan. I was initially miffed that WWE didn’t do a 10-bell salute for Bobby. But this wound up being better. Cole hit the nail on the head when he said Bobby would never, ever be replaced.

Never.

Braun Strowman destroys Enzo Amore. Neville hits a Red Arrow on a defenseless Enzo. A good portion of the audience ate this up. Did you hear those “Thank you Strowman!” chants?

Neville def. Gran Metalik, nearly unmasking him in the process. Um…were we meant to see that much of Gran Metalik’s face? For all intents and purposes, the guy got unmasked here. Fodder for a future story, perhaps?

Jason Jordan def. Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy, Elias, Bo Dallas, and Curtis Axel to earn a title shot against the Miz at No Mercy. Please don’t let Jordan get the belt. As I said last week, the fans will chew him up and spit him out. Let Miz beat him, so the frustration mounts even more. That’s a much better story.

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

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Asuka Coming to Monday Nights, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

After quite a bit of speculation, we learned Monday night that Asuka will be coming to Raw this fall. I assume it will be some time next month, as she’s currently nursing an injured collarbone.

Of course, Asuka is famous to WWE fans as the woman who went undefeated as NXT Women’s Champion for 534 days. She’s never been beaten in a WWE ring, and comes to Raw with more momentum and notoriety than arguably any of her fellow female NXT alums. Her matches are almost always among the highlights of the NXT Takeover shows.

There are more talented women on the WWE roster right now than at any time in the company’s history. Though obviously a marketing term, there’s a lot of validity to the “women’s revolution” they’ve been touting for awhile now. The problem is because of the brand split, we only have a handful of women on Raw and Smackdown. As such, we get a lot of the same combinations week after week. This is especially problematic on Raw, where matches are often drawn out to fill time.

The mystique of Asuka revolves around her being dominant, turning back challenger after challenger. But that approach becomes problematic when she has to be on television every week, and she’s only got three or four women to work with. Granted, they’ll probably feed her enhancement talent at first, as they did with Nia Jax. But once they get past that phase of her run, what’s to stop Asuka from becoming just another face in the crowd? How do you maintain that mystique? And how do you maintain the importance of her undefeated streak with so few names to beat?

There’s not necessarily an easy solution here. But I think part of it involves bringing more women on to the Raw roster. There was a good amount of talk about Bayley getting booed on Raw a few weeks ago. The boos weren’t necessarily directed at her, but at the way she’s been handled creatively. Like everyone else on that roster, she’s been overexposed. What’s more, she was in there with the same handful of names every week. It was always Bayley and Alexa. Or Bayley and Nia. Or Nia against Sasha, who has Bayley in her corner. And of course, there’s Bayley and Sasha against Alexa and Nia.

Like anything else, if you get the same thing over and over again it becomes boring. It’s not exclusive to the Women’s Division by any means. I’ve been saying this Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Sheamus, and Cesaro for weeks now. And of course, all four guys were in the ring together again this week.

More bodies in the Women’s Division will give all the ladies more breathing room, so they’re not necessarily doing the same thing every week. In Asuka’s case, she’ll have more challengers to beat, and a bigger talent pool to conquer. Now, if only there was a convenient place WWE could find more women to add to their roster….

By the way, did you guys see the Mae Young Classic?

Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns def. Jason Jordan. Reigns trades insults with John Cena again. This wasn’t what the Cena/Jordan match was. But this match still achieved its goal. Jordan’s not quite where he needs to be yet. But matches like these giant him valuable credibility.

One of these days Jordan is going to turn that double Northern Lights Suplex combo into a triple. Fans are going to lap that up. Myself included.

I credit WWE with trying to make this Cena/Reigns stuff as reality-based as possible, even going as far as to reference Roman’s failed drug test. Despite being obviously scripted, it’s created a lot of buzz. So again, it achieved its goal.

Sasha Banks def. Emma. So Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax were both out there on commentary, and they’ve got them sitting next to one another at the announce desk. I don’t understand why they’re still supposed to be friends. Nia turned on Alexa. So what motivation does Nia now have to keep up this alliance? On top of it all, they’ve got them awkwardly sitting next to each other like kids in detention. It just doesn’t make sense.

Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman call out Braun Strowman. Strowman lays out Lesnar yet again. The best part of this segment? The look on Lesnar’s face when he saw Strowman had gotten back up after the big German Suplex.

This is a good story, and one we haven’t seen before. Brock Lesnar is the underdog, and Strowman has all the momentum in the world.

Bray Wyatt def. Goldust. Wyatt wipes the paint off Goldust’s face to reveal, “He’s just a man!” Finn Balor comes out for the save. LOVED that somersault off the apron Goldust did. Remember, Goldust is 48 years old and has been wrestling for the better part of 30 years. As Corey Graves said, the man seems to age in reverse.

Sadly, they seem to have pulled the plug on his renewed push. The only reason he was even wrestling Bray was because he had face paint on. So they had Bray beat him. I stand by my statement that Goldust could be something big if pushed the right way. If they can strap the rocket to Jinder Mahal, they can do it with Goldust.

On the upside, Bray won a match. That’s more of a rarity than it should be.

A fight breaks out between Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Sheamus, Cesaro, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. This is a little more my style, in contrast to the Alexa/Nia stuff earlier. A bunch of pissed off guys unable to restrain themselves. I just wish it hadn’t led to yet another consequence-free eight-man tag.

A vignette airs for the arrival of Asuka. God damn. That was the best character introduction vignettes they’ve done in years. Loved the use of the different masks, the spooky lighting, the music, the little glimpse of her face at the end.

Good God, WWE. Pllease don’t screw this up…

Elias def. Kalisto. Obviously Elias is supposed to be a bad guy, insulting the crowd the way he is. But the people were with him. A babyface turn isn’t out of the question here…

John Cena def. Braun Strowman via disqualification. Pretty good match. They spent a good amount of time building to Cena slamming Strowman. So you knew it was going to happen at some point. That doesn’t make it any less impressive, of course.

Would have loved to see Brock come out and try to get some payback from earlier. I guess you can write that off strategic discretion.

So Strowman hitting Cena with the steps on the outside isn’t a DQ. but Strowman getting him in the ring and slamming him on top of the steps is? Just a ring of the bell. Is that so hard?

The Miz and Maryse announce their pregnancy on Miz TV. Enzo interrupts. Miz gets disqualified as he and the Miztourage beat down Enzo. First and foremost, congrats to Miz and Maryse. Mrs. Primary Ignition and I are actually working on headin’ down that road ourselves. So I appreciate it that much more.

“Don’t you dare ‘How you doin?’ my wife.” Good line.

Between the Cena/Reigns stuff and Miz talking about Enzo being hated backstage, they’ve been much more reality-based lately. It’s a marked improvement.

I assume all that stuff with the mic was supposed to be there. It seems like Miz and Enzo messed up a spot, then Enzo took the mic and made the “your wrestling is straight to DVD” comment. Either way, it felt spontaneous. That’s the important thing.

Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, and the Hardy Boyz def. Sheamus, Cesaro, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson. I fully expected Cena and Strowman to main event the show. So when it became clear they were going to close things out with this big tag match, I wondered if they were going to do a big angle. Nope. Business as usual. A hell of an anticlimactic ending to what ended up being a pretty damn good show.

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Big Show’s Big Night, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

In the wake of JBL announcing his departure from the Smackdown Live announce team, WWE has quickly chosen a replacement for him. And it’s none other than Corey Graves. Indeed, Graves will now serve as a color analyst on both Raw and Smackdown. Nigel McGuinness will take his place on Main Event and 205 Live.

I’ve come to love the work Graves does. In a relatively short amount of time, he’s become the most credible announcer WWE has at their disposal. Fans may not know just how valuable he is until the day we have to live without him. That being said, having Graves on both Raw and Smackdown is not a good idea.

Setting aside the “too much of a good thing” lesson we’ve learned from all these years of three-hour Raw broadcasts, having Graves on both shows dilutes the integrity of the roster split. In theory, Raw and Smackdown are supposed to be two separate brands. It’s not simply a matter of different wrestlers and championships. The shows are supposed to have different looks and feels to them. The announcers are a critical component in that respect, as they literally give the shows their respective voices. Having Graves call both Raw and Smackdown blurs that line of distinction. What’s worse, it opens the door for the further blurring of that line. We’ve already got Corey Graves on both shows, and John Cena has been a “free agent.” Since they’ve gone this far, who’s to say certain wrestlers can’t show up on both shows?

It’s this kind of thing that led to the discontinuation of the original roster split. The integrity had been eroded to the point that there was no point in continuing the charade any longer. It got so bad toward the end that our two Heavyweight Champions wrestling in throwaway matches in the middle of Raw

Graves is an amazing announcer. But there are plenty of other qualified people WWE can call on to fill JBL’s seat. We just had Jerry Lawler back on last week’s Raw. Give him a buzz. Have Lita or Renee Young tag in to bring a female perspective to things. Mick Foley was an announcer on Smackdown several years ago. Could they talk him into coming back? Hell, what about Daniel Bryan? He was awesome on the Cruiserweight Classic. Yes, he’s an on-screen authority figure. But that’s a dynamic we’ve rarely if ever seen. Why not try it?

I’m hopeful this winds up being a band-aid until WWE can find a new permanent announcer. On the plus side, this is obviously a hell of an endorsement for Graves. A well-deserved endorsement at that, and one that seems to indicate WWE knows just how good he is. But let’s not ruin him by oversaturating the airwaves with his voice.

Ponderings From Raw:

John Cena def. Jason Jordan. Roman Reigns come out, and another verbal sparring session occurs. Really strong opener with a nice story. Very wise of them to incorporate that old Smackdown footage of Cena and Kurt Angle. Cena’s facials were strong early on. He looked caught off guard by Jordan’s amateur style.

This was the finish I expected. But Jordan got what he needed. It was his first really strong performance as a single, and perhaps the first time he really lived up to the new role WWE has cast him in.

The word coming out of last week’s segment with Cena and Reigns was that most of it was indeed scripted. Reigns did forget his lines at one point, which prompted Cena’s “It’s called a promo” jab. They played off that a little bit here. But this was clearly designed to have Roman get one up on Cena, just as Cena got one up on him last week. Reigns called Cena out for a fight, and “Big Match John” stepped back. Advantage Reigns.

Both these guys said “I don’t respect you.” Expect that to be a focal point moving forward. WWE has been big on “respect” storylines for a long time.

Sheamus and Cesaro def. Heath Slater and Rhyno. Pretty straightforward stuff here. I’m just happy to see Cesaro and Sheamus wrestling guys other than Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose.

The Miz def. Jeff Hardy to retain the Intercontinental Championship. Really good match, with Miz getting a (mostly) clean win. I wasn’t expecting them to change the title, but Miz and Jeff planted that seed of doubt in my mind. That’s how you know you’re seeing two greats. When just for a few minutes, they make you feel like a kid again. When they make you believe.

Enzo Amore, Cedric Alexander, and Gran Metallic def. Noam Dar, Tony Nese, and Drew Gulak. Enzo’s promo went too long for me. But the crowd was with him, so I can’t call it a flop.

They need to find something more substantial for Tony Nese to do. I’ve been saying it for months, this guy’s got something.

Bray Wyatt challenges Finn Balor to face him without using his Demon persona. This booking defies traditional logic. Usually they’d start with Bray against Finn, and then move to Bray against the Demon. It reminds me of John Cena facing Randy Orton in a straight up singles match at the Royal Rumble several years ago, after we’d already seen them in virtually every other match under the sun.

Still, this was one of Bray’s stronger promos in recent memory. It probably helps that it’s been a few weeks since we’ve heard him ramble and laugh nonsensically.

Nia Jax and Emma def. Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks. The Raw Women’s Championship Match at No Mercy will now be a Fatal Four-Way between these women. I’m hoping we’re headed for an Alexa Bliss/Sasha Banks double turn. As talented as she is, and as hard as she works, Sasha seems to become more and more of a brat as the weeks ago by. I’m sure much of that is my own evolving perception of her. Though a lot of fans are angry at Sasha right now for calling out fans who stalk her in airports. I won’t fault her for that. Boundaries, people. Boundaries.

Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. Sheamus and Cesaro were at ringside to watch Rollins and Ambrose, but they wound up scrapping with Gallows and Anderson. I imagine we’ll see those two teams face off next week. As long as they’re staying clear of Rollins and Ambrose until the pay per view, I’m good. I doubt that’ll end up happening. But I’ll enjoy it for now.

Braun Strowman def. The Big Show in a Steel Cage Match. There was a lot of talk here about Big Show being in the business for 23 years. I’ve been watching this guy for about 20 of those years. So believe me when I tell you: This was the best he’s ever been. Remember, he’s 45 years old.

Let’s start with that pre-match promo. Epic. Positively epic. He had fire. He was articulate, He was passionate. You got riled up because he was riled up. Show has been a good promo for most of his career. But this might have been his best.

Then you’ve got the bumps he took for Strowman. He dusted off the top rope elbow (shown above), which wound up being the highlight of the match. Then he took yet another Superplex from the top. And after the finish, they did the spot where Strowman slammed him through the cage wall. That last one came off a little choreographed. But who cares? Remember, this man is seven feet tall  and weighs over 300 pounds. Any time he takes a bump like that it’s a huge deal. But three in one match? Unbelievable.

You’ve also got to take your hat off to WWE for making this feel like an epic main event. They did a tremendous job playing up the Superplex spot from April, particularly when they interviewed the referee who took that great bump. This really came off like a Godzilla vs. King Kong level confrontation between monsters. And you know it’ll be that much bigger when they inevitably face off again.

Awesome. There’s no other way to put it. Simply awesome. A career night for this 20-plus year veteran.

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