John Cena’s Ultimatum, The Shield (Briefly) Reunites, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

John Cena, Seth Rollins, WWE Raw, July 27, 2015By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It’s disheartening that despite all the hours of WWE content we get these days, less and less seems to be happening on these shows.

I’ve been listening to the occasional Vince Russo podcast over at PodcastOne.com. A few weeks ago, he and Glenn Gilbertti (the former Disco Inferno in WCW) were talking about what one would theoretically be missing without tuning into Raw every week. So often, these shows seem inconsequential. If you’d missed the episode entirely, you really wouldn’t have missed anything at all. For the “longest running weekly episodic show in TV history,” that’s odd, isn’t it? Where are the moments we’re supposed to be talking about on Tuesday morning? What do we remember, then bring up at school or work?

For the foreseeable future, I want to highlight those moments, or the lack thereof. At the bottom of each “Ponderings,” there’ll be a spot for “Tuesday Morning Talk Points.” Those will  be the moments that make Raw worth watching each week. And if there aren’t any talk points to speak of, that’s an indictment on what WWE puts on their flagship show.

The New Day, WWE Raw, June 13, 2016Ponderings From Raw:

The New Day open the show with Enzo & Cass. They spent a solid minute talking about Kofi Kingston’s shoes. See, because they were the weird Steph Curry shoes. Because people are talking about those. And WWE is obviously hip to what we’re all talking about. Unless it’s Roman Reigns. They can’t seem to hear all the boos directed at Roman Reigns.

Then they started talking about Xavier Woods’ trumpet. I was mildly surprised to hear them go into Enzo having his hands and lips all over her, and what not. Despite being obviously scripted, that’s not nearly as sanitized as typical WWE dialogue. It was still stupid, and nothing like what I expected an encounter between the two teams to be like. Better luck, next time.

Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, & The Vaudevillians def. The New Day, Enzo & Cass. I really wish they’d just call him Enzo, as opposed to referring to him as Amore. It’s needlessly awkward.

Right now, my money is still on Gallows & Anderson to walk out of Money in the Bank with the belts. I don’t see any other motivation for putting four teams in this match other than to create a scenario that softens the loss for New Day. I can easily see The Vaudevillians eating the pin. But you never know.

McMahons, Kane, WWE Raw, June 13, 2016Corporate Kane lobbies for the job of Smackdown General Manager. Has Kane been on Raw since Wrestlemania? If so, I forgot all about it. I only wish he’d returned in the mask, as opposed to a suit. I can only assume he’ll be a regular on TV again once the roster splits.

Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Dean Ambrose reunite in The Ambrose Asylum. Why wasn’t this in the main event spot? Because the third hour loses viewers? That’s a valid reason, I suppose…

This was fine. The crowd was definitely having fun. And once they started cranking up the heat, it got interesting. Rollins definitely shined here. All those long Authority promos might not have been great for us. But they definitely sharpened up his mic skills. He’s so much more comfortable in front of those big crowds nowadays.

It was important that Ambrose bring up the Money in the Bank contract and threaten to cash in at the pay per view. He deserves to be viewed in the same light as these two. Especially if they want to play up how important The Shield was, and one day build to these three reuniting for another run. But for now, I wouldn’t mind seeing these guys in a triple-threat as we head toward Summerslam

WWE Raw, June 13 ,2016, Paige, CharlottePaige def. Charlotte. Remember when Paige beat Charlotte last month? And now she’s beaten her again. What does this girl have to do to get a title shot?

So Charlotte gets pinned when Dana Brooke throws her back in the ring, and now we’re teasing tension between those two. These two just got together, and now it looks like they’re already breaking up. Seems like a waste to me.

Sami Zayn def. Cesaro. After Cesaro’s win over Chris Jericho last week, I was disappointed to see him lose here. Especially after Alberto Del Rio’s emphatic win over Zayn last week. Come to think of it, they might have put Cesaro with Del Rio this week. Either way, this one got hot toward the end. I’d love to see these two go at it on a pay per view someday.

AJ Styles and John Cena sign the contract for Money in the Bank. This was a good segment. Cena’s ultimatum for Styles, to allow or forbid Gallows and Anderson from being at ringside, made this better than your usual WWE contract signing. Also, Cena put AJ over really well when this segment began. He even name-dropped PWG. That made some of the Twitter marks happy. He also seems to like making little inside references to the Bullet Club, though.

AJ Styles, WWE Raw, June 13, 2016What I really wanted from this segment was for Styles to elaborate on the “Guys like you bury guys like me” comment from last week. That didn’t happen. But we did get some really nice tension. And I’m not sure how scripted this was, either. That’s to say, it felt like they were really talking to each other, not reciting memorized dialogue. Also, much like the story with Styles and Reigns, there was a nice simplicity to it. Both guys think they’re better, they’ve never had a chance to fight before. So now they’re going to settle the score in a big match. It’s tough to go wrong there.

Kevin Owens & Alberto Del Rio def. The Lucha Dragons. The stipulation here was that if The Lucha Dragons won, they’d get Owens and Del Rio’s spots in the ladder match. Because, you know, that could happen…

Dean Ambrose def. Chris Jericho. In theory, Raw should build to that final segment right? But Chris Jericho vs. Dean Ambrose is a feud that just ended, and they had this Shield reunion thing built up for a week. Why not air those little Shield retrospectives throughout the show, and have the Ambrose Asylum segment go on last? We didn’t know what was going to happen in that Shield segment. We all knew what would happen here. A big brawl to close the show. They may as well have advertised that.

Tuesday Morning Talk Points: Dean Ambrose threatening to win the briefcase and cash in on Reigns and Rollins at Money in the Bank. John Cena and AJ Styles’ contract signing.

Images courtesy of WWE. 

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Brock Lesnar’s UFC Return, and Ponderings From WWE Raw

Brock Lesnar, UFCBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Here’s a development that probably shouldn’t have been a surprise, but was anyway. Brock Lesnar is returning to the octagon.

WWE’s “Beast Incarnate” will fight Mark Hunt July 9 at UFC 200. Lesnar has reportedly been granted a one-off by WWE. Just over a month later, Lesnar will compete at Summerslam.

So UFC gets one of their biggest attractions back for a night, and will presumably make a ton of money on pay per view buys. On the other hand, WWE gets a big chunk of change for Lesnar, has its name out there in a major mainstream sports story, and gets a lot of added press for Summerslam. It’s that last one that really intrigues me. How many UFC fans will follow Brock back to WWE after July? If WWE puts Brock with a strong opponent, how much does Summerslam stand to benefit?

Call me a cynic, but I’ve never been a big believer in pro wrestling’s ability to appeal to MMA fans. At least not in this era, when interest in wrestling is fairly low. It just seems like most MMA fans don’t see wrestling as a viable alternative. Especially if you expose them to all the stupid comedy we’re so often subjected to. But if Brock has proven anything, it’s his uniqueness. If he fares well against Mark Hunt, WWE may have the chance to ride that wave of momentum and get some fresh eyes on the product.

WWE Raw, August 3, 2015, Brock Lesnar, Paul HeymanBut what happens if he loses? How does that effect the average joe’s perception of WWE, and the so-called legitimacy of its athletes?

Either way, the buzz surrounding this fight is exactly what both parties are looking for. Personally, I can’t wait for the Paul Heyman promos. Perhaps this paves the way for more one-offs between UFC and WWE. We know Ronda Rousey is a big WWE fan, after all…

Ponderings From Raw:

The show opens with the Money in the Bank Ladder Match participants all on ladders in the ring. Teddy Long makes a bizarre appearance. This came off pretty scripted. But the ad-libbing was pretty cool. Loved the crowd chanting “stupid idiot.”

So they trotted Teddy Long out there to hype Smackdown going live…even though Teddy hasn’t been on Smackdown in years. But whatever. At least the crowd was happy to see him. But I reached for the remote as soon as Stephanie came out there to talk to him. Between Teddy botching his lines (bless his heart), and my ill will left over from Steph’s promo on Charlotte last week, it was time to tag out.

Cesaro, Chris Jericho, WWE, June 6, 2016Cesaro def. Chris Jericho. Great win for Cesaro. The big swing into the Sharpshooter was tremendous. I don’t expect Cesaro to win the ladder match. But a victory over Chris Jericho is a nice consolation prize.

WWE airs a video package on Seth Rollins’ quest to be the best, and his rivalry with Roman Reigns. Firstly, I’m very happy they’re starting to do more of these video packages. These are usually pretty damn good.

This one was going fine until they got to Seth’s injury last November. They turned his story from that of an underhanded and selfish villain into a feel-good comeback story. Rollins had the title taken from him, he suffered a terrible injury, and he missed Wrestlemania. And as I understand it, that’s not what they’re trying to do with Rollins. They want him to be a heel, don’t they? They’re sending us mixed messages.

Rusev def. Jack Swagger via count-out. Zipped right through this one on the DVR. Jack Swagger has been cast as a loser. So why should I care about any match he’s in? It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that he loses, even if it’s only by count-out.

John Cena, WWE Raw, June 6, 2016John Cena and The Club meet again. Did he say “the pull-it club?”

I was disappointed to see them go with the standard “Cena can’t wrestle” approach with AJ. But he upped the intrigue by using the B-word. “Guys like you bury guys like me.” We in the die-hard audience know what that means. But the casual fans don’t. It would have been nice to hear him elaborate on that point. What exactly does he mean by bury? Is he implying Cena is using politics to hold back the better wrestlers? If so, he needs to say that.

After this segment, Styles has to win at Money in the Bank. It rang true when he talked about Styles losing to Reigns and being desperate. I understand Styles is a villain now, and things like that can be said without necessarily hurting him. But he needs a big win to get some of his credibility back.

The Vaudevillians def. Enzo & Cass via disqualification. This is the match they should have been building up since Enzo got hurt. The Vaudevillians hurt his partner, so Cass wants revenge. It’s nice and simple. But Cass really should have cranked up the intensity when he was beating up Gotch and English. He’s supposed to be enraged right? So act enraged, dude!

Sami Zayn, Alberto Del Rio, WWE Raw, June 6, 2016Alberto Del Rio def. Sami Zayn. Del Rio desperately needs a repackaging. In the ring he’s great, but from a character standpoint he’s a boring caricature. He can be a player again if they just put some energy into freshening him up.

Dean Ambrose def. Kevin Owens. I appreciated the announcers playing up how close Dean Ambrose has been to the WWE Championship before. It’s happened multiple times in the last year. We saw multiple clips of him in The Shield on this show, and if they want his star to keep growing, they need to work to establish that he’s in the same league as Rollins and Reigns. A Money in the Bank contract certainly wouldn’t hurt in that regard.

Natalya and Becky Lynch confronted Charlotte and Dana Brooke. Yeah, I zipped through this one too. I normally don’t DVR through so much of the show. But I’d had enough obviously scripted dialogue for one night. And I was damn scared of Stephanie coming back out there and eviscerating Charlotte again. The end result was Charlotte and Dana beating down the babyfaces. It looks like we might get a tag match out of this at Money in the Bank. Fair enough.

Fatal Fourrway Tag Team Title Match announced for Money in the BankThis strikes me as a way to get the titles off of The New Day and onto Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows without having them pin The New Day. If that’s the plan, then do you put them with The New Day at Summerslam, or do you go with Cass & Enzo?

John Cena, Luke Gallows, WWE Raw, June 6, 2016The Club def. Kofi Kingston & Big E. in a three-on-one handicap match after Xavier Woods gets taken out. Cena comes out to stop a post-match beat-down. Poor Xavier Woods. He’s always the low man on the totem pole for some reason.

This was another instance of WWE saving Cena for the rescue spot, and making him look like a douche in the process. The New Day saved him earlier in the show. When Xavier went down, why wouldn’t he come down and take his spot in the match? Is it because they want to save Cena’s in-ring return for Money in the Bank? If so, that’s fine. But then why write the segment this way? Why not have Woods go down during the match, so The Club can get the win and Cena doesn’t look an asshole by waiting all that time?

Image 1 from ufc.com. Remaining images courtesy of WWE.

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John Cena is Back, the WWE Brand Split, and Ponderings From WWE Raw

WWE rosterBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve sat on the revelation of WWE’s new brand split for about a week now, because I wanted to collect my thoughts and talk rationally. I’ll be honest, my initial thoughts on the matter were not rational at all. There were a lot of four-letter words, and a lot of nerd rage. I generally try and talk calmly and rationally about this kind of stuff. But I was really disheartened and angry about this announcement at first.

Not because of Smackdown going live on Tuesdays, which is a great thing.

Not because of wrestlers being specific to both shows.

It’s because of the titles, and the prospect of having two world championships again.

Yeah, I know. Geek much? But the championship picture in WWE has a lot to do with how shows are structured, and what a wrestler’s motivation is. In theory, when a wrestler signs a WWE contract, their number one goal should be to win the WWE Championship. Right now Roman Reigns is, as he says, the guy in WWE. Why? Because he’s the champion. He’s got the prize everybody’s gunning for. If you take that prize and split it in two, it ruins the novelty of there being one man at the top of the mountain. If you go for the title and you lose, in theory you can just go for the other. We just cleaned up this mess when the two world titles were unified in 2013. Are we really going to go back to it?

Roman Reigns, Wrestlemania XXXIIWhen WWE did their original brand split in 2002, the WWE Champion and the Women’s Champion could appear on both shows. If they put me in charge of all this, I’d put the Intercontinental Title on one show, the United States Title on the other, and have the WWE, Women’s, and Tag Team Champions given immunity to the whole thing. That way there’s added privilege to being the top dog of your particular title picture. Meanwhile, you still have the novelty of, say, John Cena only appearing on Smackdown or Roman Reigns only appearing on Raw.

That’s all I’ve got on the brand split for now. We’ve still got a little while before it comes to fruition. Lord knows there’ll be a lot to say between now and then. I just wish I had more faith in WWE creative to pull this off well.

Ponderings From WWE Raw:

The New Day ask Shane and Stephanie questions about the brand split. Why do they always feel the need to say “Welcome to Monday Night Raw!” at the start of the show? Isn’t that what the opening title sequence is for? To welcome us to the show?

Shane McMahon, The New Day, WWE Raw, May 30, 2016This seems like it was designed to get people excited about the brand split. Frankly, it was more frustrating than anything else. But it echoed the reports of what’s going on creatively. Nothing is in con crete yet. If that is the case, it seems weird. You’d think they’d have this kind of thing mapped out before they actually announced it.

The New Day def. The Vaudevillians via disqualification after Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson attack. Okay, so we’re probably getting The New Day against Gallows & Anderson at Money in the Bank. I don’t expect them to win the titles yet. . But their personalities contrast nicely with that of the champs.

The Big Show advises Apollo Crews on dealing with Sheamus. This is the first time we’ve seen Show on Raw in several weeks. I’m pleased he’s sticking to a supporting role for the time being. I imagine once the roster split comes around, we’ll be seeing him on a regular basis again. Show and Crews are both pretty natural on the mic. I just wish they weren’t being given such heavily scripted dialogue.

The Usos def. Tyler Breeze & Fandango with Golden Truth on commentary. The heels take a beating after the match. I was a little bummed The Usos took this one. Breeze & Fandango look good as a tag team. If you elevate them a bit, they might be able to challenge The New Day for the tag belts at some point. I don’t know if you give them the belts. But they can at least have a match, right?.

WWE Raw, May 30, 2016, Seth RollinsRoman Reigns calls out Seth Rollins. Rollins teases the crowd. I happened to be listening to one of Vince Russo’s podcasts yesterday. I don’t agree with a lot of what he says. But on this show, Glen Gilbertti (formerly Disco Inferno in WCW) was talking about “the eye test,” i.e. having a casual viewer take you seriously as a wrestler based on your look. Make no mistake about it, Roman Reigns passes the eye test with flying colors. The problem is, what he’s saying rarely sounds genuine. That stuff about “The Man” being afraid to face “The Guy” was just cringeworthy. How’s that for an epic confrontation? The Man vs. The Guy.

So the idea here (I think) was for Rollins to continuously tease the audience with either a promo or a fight, and draw heat by never following through. Not a bad idea in theory. But in an era where a big portion of audience has DVR remotes, it’s probably not the best idea. This was basically a big waste of everyone’s time.

Goldberg appears in epic WWE 2K17 commercial. It’s amazing how these video game commercials are often better than anything on Raw. I still remember how awesome those commercials with The Ultimate Warrior and Sting. Why can’t WWE’s vignettes for new wrestlers ever be this cool?

WWE Raw, May 30, 2016, RusevRusev def. Zack Ryder. Titus O’Neil confronts him after the match. It’s great to see Rusev return to being a dominant United States Champion, and I’m happy they didn’t feed him to John Cena for a Memorial Day American hero story. I’m also pleasantly surprised to see Titus featured like this. And that punch he threw at him looked awesome!

But no one, and I mean no one, would ever say “Bulgarian Blowhard.” Again, a wrestler falls victim to overly scripted dialogue.

In a pre-tape, Stephanie dresses down Charlotte for how she treated Ric Flair. This segment made me mad for all the wrong reasons. Again Stephanie shouts down one of the wrestlers and gets over at the expense of the talent. And after they’d just aired a video package and shown us tweets about how everyone hated what Charlotte did. We got it. Charlotte did a horrible thing. How was this segment necessary? Also, isn’t Stephanie supposed to be a heel?

Enzo & Cass def. The Dudley Boyz. I was rolling my eyes at how much Enzo was brown-nosing the Green Bay crowd. But he won me over as he and Cass went on. This is the difference between over-scripting, and letting a wrestler get over himself. I was surprised they had the Dudleys lose clean. You’d think they’d have saved this for Money in the Bank. Maybe they put them together again in a Tables Match?

WWE Raw, May 30, 2016, John Cena, AJ Styles, Karl Anderson, Luke GallowsJohn Cena gets dropped by AJ Styles, Luke Gallows, & Karl Anderson. This was out of left field. Like a lot of folks, I thought for sure it was going to be Styles going against Gallows & Anderson. But low and behold, here they are together.

While I usually prefer babyface AJ to heel AJ, this isn’t a bad move, per se. We’ll get to see AJ’s personality come out a bit more, and working with John Cena definitely isn’t a bad spot for him to be in. Gallows and Anderson should benefit from this as well. But here’s my question: Can we call them the Bullet Club now? Or at least something other than The Club?

Dana Brooke (w/Charlotte) def. Natalya. Becky Lynch comes out to save Nattie from a beatdown. This duo of Charlotte and Dana Brooke is growing on me. And now it looks like they’ve got a team to face. Rumor has it WWE likes Brooke enough to make her the “female Roman Reigns.” I assume that means they want her to be the face of the women’s division. I say it’s too early to make a call like that. But you never know.

Baron Corbin def. Dolph Ziggler by disqualification when Ziggler hits a blatant low blow. Corbin didn’t exactly look like a million bucks here. Ziggler simply punted him in the nuts. But Corbin’s a rookie, and Dolph is a veteran. So I guess it’s passable. The bait-and-switch was nice. Ziggler’s use of the headgear was fun.

Cesaro, Chris Jericho, WWE Raw, May 30, 2016Dean Ambrose, Cesaro & Sami Zayn def. Chris Jericho, Kevin Owens & Alberto Del Rio. So are there only six men in the Money in the Bank Ladder Match this year? If so, I’m fine with that. But WWE.com was hyping up another person possibly qualifying. Did they change their mind?

Moments after Del Rio hits an axe handle on Cesaro and then puts him in a rear chin lock, Jericho shouts “Tear his head off!” About a second later, Ambrose calls “C’mon Claudio!” As in Claudio Castagnoli, Cesaro’s real name. What a weird moment…

As I’ve said before, I’m not a big six-man tag fan. But they do this every year with the Money in the Bank participants. I can’t say this did much for me. But something occurred to me during this match. Chris Jericho is 45 years old, and this will be his fifth Money in the Bank Ladder Match. Not that 45 is ancient by any means, but how he still does this at that age is beyond me. That DDP Yoga stuff must truly work wonders.

In Other News:

Former announcer Tony Schiavone reveals he’s training to be a barista at Starbucks. So in addition to his duties as a sports announcer, writer, and producer, Schiavone wants to be a barista so he can fill most of his time working. I think that’s awesome. I don’t know how old Schiavone’s five children are. But if he wants to spend his extra time providing for them, who are any of us to judge him? Even if that’s not the case, what an amazing work ethic this guy has.

Image 1 from goliath.com. Remaining images courtesy of WWE.com.

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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Big Cass Hits the Big Time, Champions Fall, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m going to get into Raw, as afterward we’ll get into Ryback’s current situation with WWE, and the numerous releases we saw last week.

Ponderings From WWE Raw:

WWE Raw, May 9, 2016, Chris Jericho, Big CassColin Cassaday interrupts Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel, and challenges him to a match. I was really annoyed when a light chant of “Where is Enzo?” broke out. WWE and Colin Cassady are trying to make the best of a bad situation. To his credit, he’s not doing a bad job. In terms of the Raw audience, I’d argue Enzo was over with the fans the night after Wrestlemania because of how great he was on the mic. Cass, while part of the act, didn’t have that advantage. So this is a great chance for him to flesh out his character. Thus, when Enzo returns, the team will be even stronger.

Baron Corbin def. Dolph Ziggler. “Even Steven” booking strikes again. I’m wondering if these two will rematch yet again at Extreme Rules. I don’t really see why they’d need to, as I don’t think there’s enough interest to merit it. But it’s a possibility. Pleased to see Corbin win with his finish, though he could have easily won with the Deep Six.

R-Truth def. Fandango. Michael Cole shoved a bunch of contrived pop cultural references into this match. He talked about the Goldust & Fandango vs. R-Truth & Tyler Breeze match on this week’s Smackdown being bigger than Captain America: Civil War. He also mentioned James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke,” and Ozzy Osbourne’s disappearance. It’s like someone picked the least important match on the show to shove all of that into. Last week I talked about this program not making any sense, but at least these four guys have something to do on Raw.

WWE Raw, May 9, 2016, Charlotte, Paige, NatalyaPaige def. Charlotte with a distraction roll-up. I get why they did this. They want the fans to question Charlotte’s ability to stand on her own as we head into a match where Ric Flair is banned. For continuity’s sake, Paige should get the next title shot at Money in the Bank next month.

I tend to mute the commentary when wrestlers put on a headset, especially when there are two of them bickering with one another. But Natalya was fine. She seemed to run out of things to say when Cole and JBL kept questioning her, but she came off well. I do, however, think she jumped up on the apron a bit too early. Logically, she should have jumped up there after Charlotte tried to win with her feet on the ropes.

Sami Zayn def. The Miz. Not a good night for champions, as both the Women’s Champ and the IC Champ lost clean. But in Zayn’s case, at least we know he’s getting a title opportunity. We now officially have the fatal fairway match I mentioned last week. My guess is Miz retains when Kevin Owens accidentally causes Zayn to get pinned. This Zayn/Owens stuff could go to Summerslam if they book it right.

Dana Brooke makes her Raw debut in a backstage segment with Emma and Becky Lynch. From a wrestling standpoint, I can’t say I’m that familiar with Dana Brooke. I’ve seen her in backstage segments Emma, as the two are obviously run-in buddies. But she’s largely unknown to me. Either way, her debut adds a bit more depth to the women’s roster, which is a good thing.

Darren Young, Bob Backlund vignetteDarren Young finds a life coach in Bob Backlund. This segment first aired on Smackdown. I’m really intrigued by this pairing. As I understand it, it was Darren Young’s idea, and WWE are letting him run with it. The “Make Darren Young Great Again” slogan is obviously timely. What’s more, this will give us a chance to get to know Young a bit more. We don’t know much about him, aside from the fact that he’s the first openly gay WWE star. And obviously, Backlund is very entertaining.

But the most surprising thing about this vignette? They let Young and Backlund say “wrestling.” Holy crap. I thought that word was banned! Then Byron Saxton said it!

Sin Cara def. Rusev with a distraction roll-up. The second distraction roll-up of the night. Ugh. Rusev really shouldn’t have lost this match. From where I sit, WWE is still in the process of rehabbing him. He won a big battle royal last week, and now he loses to Sin Cara? Lame. On the plus side, they learned their lesson and kept Kalisto off commentary.

Roman Reigns & The Usos def. AJ Styles, Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson via disqualification in a six-man elimination tag team match. Anderson and Gallows had a few heel moments here. You had Gallows cheap shooting Jey Uso, then Gallows abruptly tagging AJ out of the match, and of course attacking Reigns to cause a DQ.

WWE Raw, May 9, 2016, Roman Reigns, Karl AndersonI like the bad blood that exists between these two teams. And people can say what they want about Roman Reigns (I certainly have), but that moment when he looked at the chair, said “I don’t need it” and gave it to Styles? That was bad ass. On the other hand, Styles proves that babyfaces can be cheered in the modern era, so long as they have talent and a good amount of fire.

Kevin Owens def. Zack Ryder. We certainly can’t say Zack Ryder hasn’t gotten some decent TV time since Wrestlemania season. WWE seems to appreciate him as a guy who the fans like, and can give anyone a run for their money, but keeps coming up short. He’s an underdog. That’s not a necessarily a great position to be in. But it’s better than not being on TV at all. And as I recall, underdogs have done some great things in WWE…

Last week I mentioned how no one could have imagined AJ Styles on Sportscenter. But how about Kevin Steen showing up on Sportscenter? What a world we live in…

The Dudley Boyz def. The New Day. What the hell? The Women’s Champ, the IC Champ, and the Tag Champs all lose non-title matches in the same night. Between that and the distraction roll-ups, this is really weird. Just like Paige hopefully getting a title shot at Money in the Bank, one would hope the Dudleys will now be in the tag title picture next month as well. Also, hat big clothesline Kofi took from D-Von looked awesome.

WWE Raw, May 9, 2016, Dean AmbroseDean Ambrose attacked Chris Jericho before his match with Big Cass. This was disappointing. They hyped Big Cass against Jericho for the entire show. Ambrose’s appearance was obvious, but they could have at least let them wrestle a bit. Cass didn’t have to beat Jericho. Ambrose could have attacked him and ended the match.

The visual of Ambrose wearing Jericho’s jacket, and then destroying it was pretty cool. But the idea that “Mitch the potted plant” meant the world to Ambrose is just stupid. It was a running joke. Now suddenly it’s a factor in a program between two of WWE’s biggest stars? What the hell…?

In Other News:

Ryback off TV over contract dispute, posts lengthy blog on the issue. Much of the blog Ryback posted on his Tumblr page had to do with how wrestlers are paid, and how talents who win matches should get paid as much as the ones who lose. He seems to be implying that all WWE wrestlers should be paid equally. Allegedly, he also wants WWE to pay for his travel and hotel expenses.

(Incidentally, I hadn’t caught the “pre-show stopper” weight belt Ryback wore out for his pre-show match at Payback. Funny stuff.)

Ryback, pre-show stopperI doubt WWE will give at all. If they don’t feel Ryback should be paid more, chances are they’re not going to shill out more for him. Especially now that he’s talked about the issue publicly. As for the travel stuff, if WWE doesn’t pay for John Cena or Roman Reigns to travel across the globe, they’re not going to do it for Ryback.

Still, I give “The Big Guy” credit for trying to take on the system. As far as the travel stuff, he’s right in principle. If there’s another industry that doesn’t pay for its employees to travel, I’m not aware of it. Perhaps that falls back under WWE classifying its employees as “independent contractors.” Which, of course, is a big sham.

WWE releases the following talents: Wade Barrett, Damien Sandow, Santino Marella, Hornswoggle, Alex Riley, Cameron, Zeb Colter, El Torito. WWE did what many refer to as its annual “spring cleaning” last week. Most of these aren’t surprises, as the talents haven’t been on TV in a number of months. We had a pretty good idea that Wade Barrett was leaving, which is a shame considering all he could have offered. Cameron, a.k.a. the real life Ariane Andrew, had posted a lengthy rant regarding fans cyber-bullying her less than a day before this announcement. Frankly, I’m sad to see her go. She many not have been a great wrestler, but her on-screen personality was very easy to dislike. At the very least, she might have been a good valet for someone.

But the one that really hurts is Damien Sandow. At one point, this guy was one of the most over guys on the roster. Why you wouldn’t make at least some use of a guy like that is beyond me. Hopefully WWE’s loss will be somebody else’s gain.

Image 3 from wrestlenewz.com. Image 6 from cagesideseats.com. Remaining images courtesy of WWE. 

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Ring of Honor and Destination America, Plus, Ponderings From WWE Raw

Ring of Honor, Destination AmericaBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Destination America announces TV deal with Ring of Honor. Show will air prior to TNA’s Impact Wrestling. To say the very least, the news of Ring of Honor airing on Destination America was a shock.

I equate this to TNT announcing that an ECW show would air prior to WCW Monday Nitro. (Obviously that’s a stretch, but you get the idea.) It puts TNA in an extremely awkward position, and doesn’t do anything to dispell the rumors that Impact is being pulled in September. Apparently the TNA talent roster weren’t told anything prior to the announcement, which makes me wonder how much even Dixie Carter and the TNA management team knew.

For wrestling fans who get Destination America, this is great news. But for fans like me who don’t get the network, it’s not so great. I don’t necessarily see this as a huge step up for ROH, considering so many areas still can’t see them. When this announcement was made, I actually tweeted: “So Ring of Honor is going to be on too? Great. This should get them…nothing. Enjoy obscurity, guys!”

TNA Impact Wrestling, Destination AmericaIn retrospect, that’s obviously pretty harsh. Any TV exposure for a wrestling company is good news for wrestling fans. Congrats to Ring of Honor. Take this opportunity and make the most of it!

Thoughts From Raw:

After Elimination Chamber victory, Kevin Owens comes face-to-face with John Cena. So much for Owens’ tenure on Raw being strictly a WWE Network tie-in for Elimination Chamber. If WWE is smart (which depends on what week it is), they’ll keep this guy around. He and Cena have good chemistry, and I’d be happy to see these two take this all the way to Battleground in July.

I think the reason Owens is such a hot commodity right now is because there’s nobody else like him on either the main roster or NXT. He’s got a different look, a different promo style, and a fairly unique presentation. And of course, his wrestling is more than up to snuff. In that sense, he makes for very compelling television.

Raw, June 1, 2015, Kevin OwensAs for this segment, this whole “my son likes John Cena” thing is good enough to take them to Money in the Bank, which, God help us, is less than two weeks away. As Owens got the clean win this week, I expect Cena to get a clean win at Money in the Bank, followed by a rubber match at Battleground.

Randy Orton, Roman Reigns, Dolph Ziggler, Sheamus, Kofi Kingston, and Neville announced for Money in the Bank Ladder Match. Kofi Kingston being in this match is actually pretty funny. From an in-story perspective, there’s no reason for him to be there. It’s almost an exposure of WWE’s booking team. They need guys in there who can do high-flying moves with ladders, and Kofi’s a proven commodity in that respect. But when you see that graphic of all six guys in the match, and Kofi’s standing there with a tag title belt, there’s an awkwardness there.

Supposedly more guys are going to be added to this match. I imagine we won’t get more than 8. It might be interesting to see Bray Wyatt involved in a match like this, especially as he’s supposedly in line for a babyface turn. But as for who will win…

WWE Money in the Bank 2015, early ladder match graphicRoman Reigns pulls a 3-peat on Raw, defending his Money in the Bank Ladder Match spot. As Reigns wasn’t in a match at Elimination Chamber, it was a good move to emphasize him on Raw. The San Antonio crowd seemed to be into him, which is nice to see. Hopefully the respect factor is starting to set in, and fans are realizing they changed the course of this guy’s career at Wrestlemania. That’s not to say he deserved the win. But he took the loss in stride.

Hopefully Reigns pulling a 3-peat against King Barrett, Mark Henry, and Bray Wyatt adds to that respect element. They weren’t all fantastic matches, but they guy still put in a long night, to say the least.

Dean Ambrose steals WWE Title from Seth Rollins after being screwed at Money in the Bank. Didn’t they just do this story with Ambrose and the Intercontinental Title during Wrestlemania season? It was an eye-roller for me. Still, it’s nice to see Ambrose walking around with the title. Makes you think a championship win isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

Raw, June 1, 2015, Dean Ambrose, Naturally, they’re wrestling again at Money in the Bank, and naturally, it’s a ladder match. Since the ladder match at Wrestlemania, I’m officially of the mindset that WWE does too many ladder matches. They’ve lost their value. They have two pay per views (Money in the Bank and TLC) centered around the damn match. If they absolutely have to have those, then they need to remove all other ladder matches from the calendar year. What’s the point of even having a ladder match if it’s not special anymore?

Ryback wins Intercontinental Title in Elimination Chamber match. This was a big surprise. I’m not sure what this means as far as WWE wanting to make the Intercontinental Title the “worker’s title” again. Considering Ryback is apparently going to defend against The Big Show soon, things aren’t looking good in that respect. But Ryback’s passion is evident when he’s on television every week. So seeing him win the belt has some sentimental value at the very least.

The New Day retain at Elimination Chamber, will likely defend against The Prime Time Players at Money in the Bank. First and foremost, how hot did Titus O’Neil look when he got the hot tag on Raw? That’s a fire I’ve never seen out of him before. Awesome work.

WWE Raw, June 1, 2015, The New DayAs unlikely as it seemed when this act started, The New Day is are now one of the hottest things on Raw, for my money. They’re doing some cool mic work. As much as I’d like to see Titus O’Neil and Darren Young get the win and the titles, I don’t think The New Day is done with them yet. Give ’em until Summerslam at the earliest.

Images 1 and 2 courtesy of destinationamerica.com. All remaining images courtesy of WWE.com.

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