Neville No More? Is the “King of the Cruiserweights” Gone?

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

When I closed out last week’s Raw review with a question about where Neville was, this wasn’t quite what I was expecting.

But low and behold, here we are. The real-life Benjamin Satterley reportedly walked out on WWE before Raw this past Monday. There are conflicting reports on whether it happened that day, or some time the previous week. But either way, the “King of the Cruiserweights” is likely gone from WWE TV. At least for the foreseeable future.

Jim Ross, who once served as WWE’s head of Talent Relations, has said that the reason a talent leaves the company is usually about one of two things: Cash or creative. With Neville, it’s reportedly both. Obviously we’re in the dark about much of this. But allegedly two of the factors for Satterley walking out were the direction of his character, and being left off the Wrestlemania 33 DVD. The later was also a factor in Austin Aries, ironically Neville’s opponent at the event, leaving the company. Not being on the DVD affects a talent’s royalties in a big way. I expect that was a big shot to Satterley’s wallet. 

It’s not really my place to talk about the money involved here, as I don’t know the particulars. However, from a creative perspective, this is a real shame. I’m not immensely familiar with Satterley’s pre-WWE work. But having watched him these last two years, it seemed like things finally picked up for him when he became a part of the 205 Live crew. He might be the only one who can make that claim. Sorry TJP, Rich Swann, and almost everyone from the Cruiserweight Classic

My big criticism of the Neville of 2015 and most of 2016 was that he had no personality. He was like a video game character who could do all these cool flippy moves, and of course the breathtaking Red Arrow. But there was no substance or personality to him beyond that.

But Neville’s entry into the Cruiserweight Division, more specifically the accompanying heel turn, gave him a chance to finally showcase some charisma. In doing so, he became far and away the star of 205 Live, and dare I say one of the best heels in the entire promotion. He found the missing ingredient, and seemed to be on track to bigger and better things.

So why walk out? Obviously, all this is all speculation. And as I said, I’m not going to dive into the financial element. But there are clues to be found…

First, let’s consider how WWE isolates the Cruiserweight Division compared to the rest of its roster. It’s rare to see a designated Cruiserweight get to wrestle someone outside the 205 Live roster. For instance, you wouldn’t see Jack Gallagher wrestle Sheamus, or Rich Swann against Seth Rollins. Gallagher and Swann would have to face each other in that equation, as they’re both Cruiserweights. The one exception to this rule seems to be Enzo Amore, who can apparently have one-off matches with the Miz, and get mauled by Braun Strowman. But everyone else has to stay in their division. Heck, the Cruiserweight Division even travels together as a whole, regardless of who is a babyface and who is a heel. They’ve all come out together numerous times to stare angrily at Enzo as he verbally castrates each of them.

It seems as though WWE is trying to avoid confusing casual viewers as they attempt to get the 205 Live brand over. I imagine they want the Cruiserweight Division to stand on its own before allowing it to bleed over into other areas of the show. Ergo, being a Cruiserweight essentially pigeonholes you into one corner of the roster. For someone like Neville, who’s clearly capable of graduating to a higher spot on the card, this would create an agonizing glass ceiling. Winning the Cruiserweight Title may have been both the best and worst thing to happen to him.

This general lack of flexibility on WWE’s part plays into the stifling of creativity that has already lead numerous big names to leave the company. CM Punk is the most prominent example. But there are also the likes of Cody Rhodes, Austin Aries, Ryback, and Wade Barrett. All those guys are awesome talents. But for whatever reason, they weren’t allowed to take their best shot at stardom because of how their characters were portrayed, or their stories were written. I understand not everyone can be in the main event picture. But doesn’t everyone deserve a chance to try? Doesn’t everyone deserve the chance to be themselves out there, and contribute to the product in their own unique way? Wouldn’t that make a more compelling television show?

The answer, of course, is yes. But that’s just not how it works in today’s WWE. Sometimes you simply are where you are. In terms of Neville, that’s such a missed opportunity. Once he found his groove on the main roster, it was obvious he had more to offer than a gorgeous finisher.

There’s no question about whether Benjamin Satterley will be okay. Clearly he will. Other promotions will flock to him. But to me, the more pressing question is what WWE can do to allow their talents to be more creative, and have more of a voice in the presentation of their characters. In the long run, who knows what that might cost them? WCW let Steve Austin, one of the hottest stars in the history of the business, slip through their fingers. Who’s to say WWE isn’t sending future marquee talent out the door by refusing to let them realize their full potential?

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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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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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The Jinder Mahal Experiment, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m starting to realize that I like what Jinder Mahal could be as WWE Champion, rather than what we’ve been given in reality.

When Jinder got his big push, I think a lot of us remembered Muhammad Hassan, the Arab-American character WWE created a few years after 9/11. He would accuse both the fans and other wrestlers of persecuting him because of his ethnicity. He wasn’t the most polished guy in the ring or on the mic, but the act got plenty of heat. It lasted about a year, ending when WWE took things too far in an angle that happened to air after the London bombings of 2005. Hassan was erased from WWE television shortly afterward.

They obviously want to strike some of the same chords with Jinder Mahal. We’ve heard Jinder talk about racism and xenophobia. WWE could easily have portrayed him as an underneath guy who used the Singh Brothers to cheat Randy Orton out of the WWE Championship, and then continued to cheat in subsequent title defenses. Announcers and other wrestlers would point to him with disgust as an undeserving paper champion holding the WWE Title hostage. In response, Jinder could point back and play the race card. “I’m an honorable champion, but you all hate me because I look different!”

I get the sense that’s the vibe they were going for with last week’s racially charged promo. Obviously they missed the mark pretty badly, opting for racial jokes as opposed to character-driven heat. The world is a very different place in 2017 than it was in 2004 and 2005. We’re all much quicker and easier to offend. Realizing this, they seem to be tempering Jinder’s material, trying not to cross a certain line. So what we have here is a foreign menace heel that can’t fully play that foreign menace role for fear of offending people too much. Ironically, that led to them pushing the envelope in the wrong direction, garnering exactly the kind of outrage they were trying to avoid.

So is it time to call the Jinder Mahal experiment a failure? Neither his matches nor his promos have been lighting the world on fire. They don’t seem to trust him to hold main event timeslots on Smackdown anymore. He also has hardly any chemistry with Shinsuke Nakamura, who he’s wrestling at Hell in a Cell.

I keep holding out hope that there’ll be a sudden breakthrough with Jinder. That he’ll suddenly find that right opponent or have that great promo. But at this point, maybe the best thing for him would be to take a step back and work on his character. After all, it’s not like he had a lot of time before being thrust into the spotlight. The Jinder Mahal experiment happened pretty fast. But it’s not too late for it to work.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Sami Zayn tries to talk sense into Kevin Owens. A match is made between the two for later in the evening. At one point, what we were seeing on WWE TV was dubbed the “Reality Era.” It was just a gimmick, of course. For the most part, there was nothing more real about what we were seeing than any other point in the company’s history. But considering the content of the promos we’ve been seeing lately, we may be in the middle of a miniature reality era right now.

Consider what we’ve seen lately. The stuff between John Cena and Roman Reigns was very insider-oriented, with lines about Roman’s real-life drug test failure, Cena’s Hollywood priorities, etc. You’ve got people on TV talking about how annoying Enzo is backstage. Hell, Miz and Maryse even announced their very real pregnancy on the air.

And then there’s this segment with KO and Sami Zayn, which illuminated what appear to be legit frustrations Sami has over his position on the card since coming to Smackdown. He and Daniel Bryan even had a little Twitter exchange about that recently.

You can debate the how “real” some of this stuff really is. But here’s the thing: Even if Sami isn’t really upset about his push, the story is somewhat based in reality. Sami hasn’t been featured prominently on Smackdown, and he’s never been a champion on the main roster. It’s something tangible that people have seen with their own eyes. It’s better storytelling. It’s an improvement.

Baron Corbin def. Tye Dillinger by count-out. So we’ve got AJ Styles vs. Baron Corbin at Hell in a Cell for the US Title. I don’t really have a strong opinion on Corbin being the US Champ. And perhaps that’s enough of a reason not to put it on him. For now, Styles is just fine with it.

Jinder Mahal cuts another promo on Shinsuke Nakamura. Nakamura finally gives Mahal and the Singhs their comeuppance. At the very least, the people were happy to see Nakamura finally come out and destroy these guys. There’s still not much heat or chemistry between them. But it was a nice moment.

The Usos def. The Hype Bros. The New Day to defend against the Usos inside the cage at Hell in a Cell. Well, at least we’re getting a Cell Match between these guys. While the Kevin Owens and Shane McMahon are fine for the cage, this Tag Team Title Match should not only be the only Cell Match on the card, but should be the main event. The New Day and the Usos have earned it.

Rusev’s Pride of Bulgaria victory celebration is crashed by Randy Orton. Aiden English had a really nice part in this segment, getting to sing Rusev to the ring. You know who else could have played a role? Lana. No, I will not let this go…

Rusev’s promo wasn’t amazing. But does anyone honestly think he wouldn’t be a better WWE Champion than Jinder Mahal? Mind you, I say that as a Jinder fan.

Charlotte Flair def. Carmella. I’m not really into inter-gender wrestling, but somehow the idea of Charlotte wrestling James Ellsworth amuses me. I’m sure the match would be abhorrent. But the visual is interesting.

Dolph Ziggler impersonates the Undertaker. Bobby Roode challenges Ziggler to a match at Hell in a Cell. And so we get the match we all knew this was building to. Incidentally, Dolph Ziggler vs. Undertaker? I’m game if they are.

Kevin Owens def. Sami Zayn via match stoppage. Shane McMahon comes after Owens. I still hate the hockey fight spot. Probably always will. On the flip side, that suplex Zayn gave Owens on the apron was sick. These two are always great in the ring. It’s simply about the law of diminishing returns. We’ve seen these guys wrestle so many times that it can become boring if we see it too much in a given timeframe. They used to wrestle all the time on Raw. But if I’m not mistaken, this is the first time they’ve wrestled one-on-one on Smackdown. So I’ve got no complaints here.

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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.

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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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