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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WWE No Mercy Predictions, Plus: Did Jinder Go Too Far?

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

How far is too far? That’s the question many of us were asking Tuesday night after Jinder Mahal ruffled some feathers with a mildly controversial promo on Shinsuke Nakamura. They played the race card, with the WWE Champion making a handful of Asian jokes. The heaviest was probably Jinder saying, “you always rook the same.” Mahal got what may have been the first, “That’s too far!” chant.

Race is always a tricky subject. They obviously knew that going in. So much of what does and doesn’t offend people is subjective. While I’m not the most qualified person to dive into the subject of race relations, I don’t think Jinder said anything truly reprehensible. In bad taste? Sure. But it’s not worth lining up in the streets to protest.

If this segment was guilty of anything, it’s going for cheap heat. Mahal and Nakamura don’t have a hell of a lot of chemistry together. So they played the race card to add some personal stakes to the match. In a storytelling sense, it’s sad they had to go there.

But remember, the purpose behind segments like these is to get you to hate Jinder. He accuses the WWE fans of being xenophobic toward him, but then he turns around and makes about of racial jokes about Nakamura. He’s a hypocrite, and you’re supposed to want to see Nakamura kick his head off at Hell in a Cell. One way or another, I guess this segment accomplished that. People are mad at Jinder Mahal. It’s just a question of whether they’re mad for the right reasons.

Remember folks, it’s pro wrestling. It’s designed to drudge up emotions. Maybe Jinder was just doing his job…

WWE No Mercy Predictions:

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Neville (c) vs. Enzo Amore

There’s been a lot of talk these past few weeks about how “polarizing” John Cena and Roman Reigns are. Another name that should be on that list? Enzo. It’s more than just lip service when we heard all that stuff we’ve heard about how reviled this guy is by so many people. He genuinely gets under people’s skin. Me? I like him. Love him or hate him, he’s different. Say what you want about his in-ring skills, but Enzo has made more of an impression than guys like TJP, Rich Swann, or Akira Tozawa. He elevates that Cruiserweight Division.

But does that mean he’s walking away with the title? No. Not yet, at least. They’re telling an underdog story here. For him to take the title on his first try would needlessly cut it short. I do think he’s winning it at some point, though. So get ready, haters.

PREDICTION: Neville

WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
The Miz (c) vs. Jason Jordan

Really? This is the match we’re getting? I mean, really? They couldn’t have given us, say, Miz against Matt Hardy? It’s not like Matt wouldn’t get a reaction…

As I’ve said, I don’t think Jordan is the guy to take the belt from Miz. I’m fine if they want to make a failed quest for the IC Title part of a a larger story. But Jordan isn’t ready to carry the belt yet. So it’s with tremendous hope that I pick Miz. This probably isn’t over. But at least he’ll keep the belt for now.

PREDICTION: The Miz

FATAL FIVE-WAY MATCH FOR WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE:
Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax vs. Emma vs. Bayley

Had Bayley not gone down with that injury, I think she would have walked out of Summerslam with that Raw Women’s Championship. I think they put Bayley in this match to make up for lost time. Why else would they bring her back one week before the show? Because they want to put the belt on her and get back on their original course. I assume that course leads to a big match against a heel Sasha Banks. In the short term, I see her resuming her feud with Alexa Bliss, who will have a legit gripe over not taking the losing fall in this match. The one who takes that fall? Emma, of course.

PREDICTION: Bayley

Finn Balor vs. Bray Wyatt

We should really be getting the Demon this month, as opposed to last month. But we needed to have the Demon at Summerslam. So here we are. Though in all fairness, Finn’s line on Monday about the man being more dangerous than the demon was pretty good.

You know what they should do here? Insert a stipulation where the winner gets a Universal Title shot. As it is, it doesn’t feel like there’s much on the line here. I’m assuming Bray wins, and then we’ll get some sort of rubber match down the line.

PREDICTION: Bray Wyatt

WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Cesaro and Sheamus

This match would be a hell of a lot more interesting if these four hadn’t worked almost exclusively with each other for the past two months. This is essentially just another match.

I don’t see why Rollins and Ambrose wouldn’t retain here. The bigger question is, who you put them with after Cesaro and Sheamus? Gallows and Anderson have been in the mix lately. But for my money the Miztourage are a better option, simply because we haven’t already seen them work Rollins and Ambrose a bunch of times. The inevitable singles matches would also be a nice showcase for them. In the end, what both these teams need going forward is something fresh.

PREDICTION: Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose

WWE UNIVERSAL TITLE MATCH:
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Braun Strowman

This could be good. Really, really good. And they don’t have to move mountains to make it that way. It all boils down to psychology.

We’ve established that Strowman can overpower Lesnar, and that he can pop right back up from one of Lesnar’s trademark German Suplexes. If they continue to portray Strowman as invincible, and have him throw Brock around a little bit the way he did at Summerslam, that’s a recipe for great drama.

Of course, Lesnar needs to somehow squeak out a victory here. How it happens is anybody’s guess. Outside interference, maybe? Either way, I imagine it’ll take more than one F5 to get it done. I’ve got high expectations for this one.

PREDICTION: Braun Strowman

John Cena vs. Roman Reigns

I actually feel a little bad for Lesnar and Strowman. If this were any other match, they’d be far and away the main event of this show. But Cena and Reigns inevitably pull focus.

This is a Wrestlemania-worthy main event. I assume there are two main reasons it’s not happening at ‘Mania. The first deals with ratings as we head into football season. The second is that this is the first match in a series. And that’s why I think Cena is going to take it.

It’s fitting that they references Cena’s feud with the Rock on Monday. The Rock won their Wrestlemania XXVIII match, and it hung over Cena until the rematch the following year. I don’t see them drawing this out that long. But Cena is the resident legend here, and ultimately it’s up to Reigns to rise to his level. I see Cena getting the win in an evenly fought match, causing Reigns to obsess over beating him in the inevitable rematch. To an extent, history would be repeating itself, a la Rock and Cena.

Then again, Reigns cheating to win would be a hell of a finish too…

PREDICTION: John Cena

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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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John Cena, Roman Reigns, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Wow. It’s really happening. John Cena against Roman Reigns. At friggin’ No Mercy. Damn. So should we just change the name to Wrestlemania in October?

It’s not that I don’t want to see it. It’s just that the timing is really, really weird. This probably the biggest match WWE can do right now. It’s a match that should be headlining Wrestlemania. WWE even called it a “Wrestlemania-worthy main event.” I’ve said it before, and I’m sure this comparison has been made quite a bit: This is the modern day equivalent to Hogan vs. Warrior from Wrestlemania VI. So why not have it at Wrestlemania? Why put it at the end of the year?

It makes even less sense when you see it’s being placed on the same card with Brock Lesnar vs. Braun Strowman, which is the other biggest match WWE can do right now.

I’d like to think this means they have something even bigger planned once we get into 2018. But what? And please don’t say Brock vs. Roman for the Universal Title…

That’s what it is, isn’t it? It’s Brock and Roman again. Ugh. This stupid company.

Ponderings From Raw

Jeff Hardy wins a Battle Royal to earn a shot at the Intercontinental Championship next week. This is a good move. The Hardys have nothing left to do in the Tag Team Division. Miz and Jeff are a fresh match, and it’s got plenty of intrigue going for it. But if Jeff becomes a single again, what happens with Matt? Aside from the obligatory Hardy Boyz vs. Miztourage match we’re bound to get on TV soon.

Big Show’s little “bring it on” moment was cool. Not being on TV every week has done him plenty of good.

Elias did the HBK/’95 Royal Rumble spot, with the dangling legs close to the floor. That’s pretty much mandatory in any televised WWE battle royal, isn’t it?

Enzo Amore def. Noam Dar. Now that he’s a single, Enzo has a chance to silence some of his critics who say he can’t wrestle. He didn’t exactly blow me away here. But being in there with guys like Noam Dar will help. Enzo is an asset to the Cruiserweight Division whether people want to admit it or not. He brings some valuable star power to that show. Will it up the audience for 205 Live? Probably not. But It might make the Cruiserweight matches on Raw more interesting.

As Booker T remains with his family in Houston, Jerry Lawler fills in on commentary. It was good to hear Lawler’s voice again. His act had gotten old after so many years of being on Raw. But having him back gave me a warm, nostalgic feeling. Like Big Show, going away did him a lot of good.

Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman address Braun Strowman. This wasn’t exactly one for the record books. It’s always intriguing whenever Brock takes the mic. But I wish he’d have said something a little less predictable. Heyman has said the “Suplex City, bitch” line before. He could just as easily have done it here. I’d rather they give Brock something more distinct and memorable when they have him talk.

Cesaro def. Seth Rollins. Cesaro hits an uppercut off the distraction to score a flash pin. A variation on the distraction roll-up, which of course is a WWE specialty.

Dean Ambrose def. Sheamus in an impromptu match. Cesaro beats Rollins, then Ambrose beats Sheamus. You know what that means! We need to have a tag team match to settle the score!

Wait…

Sadly, by the time Ambrose and Sheamus got in there the law of diminishing returns had taken effect. We’ve seen these guys wrestle time after time, week after week. They put on good matches. But I’ve seen them enough for now. But chances are we’re getting another title match at No Mercy. So we’ll be seeing them wrestle for another month.

Emma def. Mickie James. Emma getting new music is a good sign, as is her finally getting a win. I don’t know if she’ll be wrestling for the title any time soon. But at least she’s doing something besides losing.

John Cena and Roman Reigns get heated during the contract signing before No Mercy. Cena and Reigns beat Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson in an impromptu tag team match. They’re very strategically blurring the lines between storyline and reality. I don’t believe for a second that either of these guys meant what they said out there. But their delivery was good enough that there’s reasonable doubt. That’s a common thread that a lot of classic storylines have. Well done, gentlemen.

The line of the night goes to Cena, for: “I’m still here because you can’t do your job!”

Then, of course  they killed the vibe by having the two of them work a tag match. Because of course they did.

Elias bashes Memphis in his newest song. Jerry Lawler brings out “Pelvis Wesley” of Southpaw Regional Wrestling (played by Heath Slater), who promptly gets destroyed. This was a popcorn fart if I ever saw one. This is why certain things are better left on the internet. Like Grumpy Cat! Remember when they had that damn cat on this show? Same principle.

Alexa Bliss def. Sasha Banks to win the Raw Women’s Championship. Nia Jax turns on her after the match. Did you know that despite winning that Women’s Championship multiple times, Sasha Banks has never successfully defended it? She wins the belt on pay per view, then loses it on Raw. She talked about the “Brooklyn Curse” last week. But clearly there’s a bigger curse that she needs to worry about. However, considering how annoying I’ve found her lately, I can’t exactly complain.

Pretty good match, though the dead crowd didn’t help at all during the first half. But after going from the high of that Cena/Reigns contract signing to the low of the Pelvis Wesley segment, you can’t exactly blame them for being a little indifferent.

So Alexa beats Sasha cleanly, then gets turned on by Nia Jax. So is this Alexa’s transition into a sympathetic babyface character that has to overcome the larger Nia Jax? Or do we go to a Triple Threat Match at No Mercy, given that Sasha is owed a rematch?

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Bill Goldberg’s Return, Plus Ponderings From Raw and Smackdown

Bill GoldbergBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Not much sense leading with anything but Goldberg, is there?

The big news this week is Paul Heyman’s challenge to Bill Goldberg, which was promptly accepted via Twitter. Next week, Goldberg returns to Raw after over a decade away from the ring. Rumor has it the now inevitable Goldberg vs. Lesnar II match will take place not at Wrestlemania, not at the Royal Rumble, but at Survivor Series. That’s a fine choice, though a bit odd. It leads one to believe plans are already in place for Lesnar’s Wrestlemania opponent (The Rock? Roman Reigns?).

If this Survivor Series rumor is true, then the best case scenario is we get two or three matches out of Goldberg. One in November, then one at Wrestlemania, with perhaps one in between at the Royal Rumble. An appearance in the Royal Rumble match itself wouldn’t be a bad move. I’m curious to see how Goldberg’s physique looks come bell time. How long has he had to get himself back in ring shape?

Either way, the finish of Goldberg/Lesnar II is rather obvious. Brock hasn’t gone unpinned for three years just to lose to Goldberg. They’re playing this up as Brock avenging his loss at Wrestlemania XX in 2004, and avenge that loss he will.

Someone they might consider bringing to Raw to hype this up is Steve Austin. He was the referee for the 2004 match, and as Dean Ambrose will tell you, Austin’s always got something interesting to say.

Moving on, I’m going to be a little more selective in what I talk about this week, as we’re covering both Raw and Smackdown. But there’s no shortage of material to touch on…

Sasha Banks, Charlotte, WWE Hell in a Cell 2016Ponderings From Raw:

Sasha Banks to face Charlotte inside Hell in a Cell. Normally I can’t stand when WWE puts more than one cell match on a show, as it waters everything down (more on that later). But if they must do more than one cell match, this is the way to do it. It’s different from what we typically see on the Hell in a Cell show. If this Sasha/Charlotte match will be one thing for certain, it’s different.

There’s been some buzz about WWE possibly giving Sasha and Charlotte the cell. I’m thrilled for them. They’ve earned this opportunity by giving us something I’d argue is worthy of the match. More so than Reigns vs. Rusev, to be certain. But I’m also very nervous for them. These two take a lot of risks when they work together. Now they’re in a an extremely dangerous match, and the pressure will be on them to deliver. Please be careful, ladies. Make us proud, but come home in one piece.

Kofi Kingston def. Cesaro. Every week when the New Day are out there, Michael Cole mentions that Demolition record. It’s 478 days. So they’re either going to break it, or come close to breaking it. That means Sheamus and Cesaro aren’t winning the belts at Hell in a Cell. So what happens after that? Do they break up? Do they work with another team? I’m curious to see what the endgame is here.

After a victory, Bayley gets attacked by Dana Brooke. Happy to see Dana acting like a heel again. They were inexplicably trying to shoehorn her into a babyface role. That’s clearly not her specialty, and the squeaky clean Bayley will be a good opponent for her.

Sin Cara, WWE Monday Night Raw, October 10, 2016Sin Cara & Lince Dorado def. Tony Nese & Drew GulakThe luchadors were fun to watch, here. Perhaps they’re the Lucha Dragons, Version 2.0? On that subject, I’m still bewildered that Kaliso ended up on Smackdown. This cruiserweight division seemed tailor-made for him.

Mick Foley announces Kevin Owens will defend against Seth Rollins inside Hell in a Cell. Owens and Chris Jericho come out to protest. They got greedy. Two cell matches is usually too much. Three is simply overindulgent. I understand wanting to wait until Survivor Series to add Chris Jericho to the mix. But this match didn’t need the cell. Owens and Rollins are more than capable of holding their own without it.

Is there supposed to be tension between Mick and Stephanie McMahon? Two weeks ago she emasculated and browbeat the poor guy, as she’s done to so many others. But this week she sounded like his biggest fan.

Notice that Jericho said “Team Chris and Kevin,” while Owens said “Team Kevin and Chris.” Some nice subtle foreshadowing there.

Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson attack Enzo & Cass before a match. It looks like we’re finally back on track with these two. Joyless, heartless buzzkillers. Putting them with Enzo and Cass is a good pairing.

Sasha Banks, Roman Reigns, WWE Raw, October 10, 2016Roman Reigns & Sasha Banks def. Rusev & Charlotte. Sasha showed some nice fire here. As excruciating as this will be for some to hear, she and Roman don’t make a bad team.

Now that we have three cell matches at the pay per view, it’ll be interesting to see where Roman vs. Rusev falls on the card. My earlier impression was that they’d headline the show. But putting Sasha and Charlotte on last wouldn’t be the worst idea. Although that would put even more pressure on them to deliver.

Seth Rollins def. Chris Jericho. The wheels are definitely in motion for a Chris Jericho babyface turn, as they continue to tease making him an opponent for Owens. In a way it’s sad. Jericho has always been a better heel, and he’s been one of the better parts of Raw lately. When he leaves again there’s going to be a big gap to fill.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Dolph Ziggler def. Ken Doane & Mike Mondo. I wasn’t a fan of the decision to put the belt back on Ziggler at No Mercy. Firstly, he’s been the Intercontinental Champion a bunch of times already. What does it really mean at this point? Secondly, Miz was having a great run with the belt. Taking the belt off him could have been a great notch on the belt for a newer star, instead of just giving it to Ziggler again.

Dolph Ziggler, WWE Smackdown, October 11, 2016Third and most importantly, Ziggler being forced into retirement would have been a good story. Even if he came back a few months later, Miz could have gloated about it, and gained that much more momentum as champion.

I am, however, happy to see Doane and Mondo back. Whether they’re getting a regular gig remains to be seen. But why not? If they can bring Curt Hawkins back to waste our time at No Mercy, these guys at least deserve a shot.

Smackdown challenges Raw for Survivor SeriesThis isn’t a surprise, and it’s a little disappointing that wrestlers from the two rosters will already be mingling. But better Survivor Series than a show like Bragging Rights.

It’s a pleasant surprise to see WWE trying to reemphasize the importance of Survivor Series. This show has been largely sub-par for years now, and it should be one of the best they put on. Between these matches, and the potential Lesnar/Goldberg match, this should be a memorable night.

James Ellsworth def. AJ Styles, with Dean Ambrose as the guest refereeAJ has some Kurt Angle in him, in that he’s got some goofy tendencies. He hams it up sometimes. That wouldn’t work for most other guys, but he’s so good it works for him.

AJ Styles, WWE Smackdown, October 12, 2016So James Ellsworth just “beat” the WWE Champion. Does this guy have a contract yet? People are obviously into him. And as we learned on Talking Smack, he’s even getting a title shot next week!

Bray Wyatt & Luke Harper def. Randy Orton & Kane. Harper is definitely a welcome sight. With all due respect, he’s so much more credible than Erick Rowan, and he’s a better in-ring talent. I wouldn’t have put his return at the end of No Mercy the way they did. But now he can say he was in the main event of a pay per view, can’t he?

On the subject of credibility, Bray Wyatt really needed that win over Randy Orton. But I’ve got to think it’s only a matter of time before the pendulum swings back in Orton’s favor. They’re going to need a fresh opponent for Styles before long, and he’s the perfect man for the job.

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

Ric Flair/Halle Berry Creepiness, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

Ric Flair, 2016By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Looks like Uncle Ric is in trouble again.

A recent episode of The Ric Flair Show over at MLWRadio.com has drawn some heat for ol’ Naitch. Flair made a comment about sleeping with Halle Berry in 1997, shortly after her divorce from baseball star David Justice.

TMZ reports Berry is quite offended by what Flair said. They got a quote from a Berry rep that, for my money, says it all: “A man doesn’t get to sexualize and lie about a woman he’s never met to better himself or his name. It’s offensive, demeaning and beyond misogynistic.”

Having heard the clip from the podcast, I get the sense Flair was partially in wrestling promo mode when he said this. That’s one of the sad things about Flair. He always seems to be in promo mode, because he’s still trapped in that character. It’s not entirely his fault. We all have fond memories of that playboy persona, and even at 67 years old, that’s who a lot of fans still want Flair to be. That doesn’t make what he said acceptable or less creepy. But it’s worth noting where his mind likely was at the time.

Ric Flair deserves respect and admiration for his in-ring accomplishments. But these embarrassing slip-ups are making it painfully obvious that times have passed him by. I guess it’s not easy being an aging ’80s playboy in a world as politically correct and issue-sensitive as ours has become.

Ric Flair, Charlotte, Raw, November 30, 2015Case in point: This past spring, Ric was involved in the program between Charlotte and Natalya, and accidentally told Nattie to kill herself during a promo on Smackdown. While the show was taped and WWE was able to clip that line, you can find it on YouTube.

All this Halle Berry drama comes at a really interesting time, as lately his name has been brought up on Smackdown quite a bit. John Cena may be about to tie his record or 16 Heavyweight Titles. WWE obviously didn’t feel the need to avoid Flair’s name, and I expect we’ll see him on TV to talk about this at some point.

Bottom line, Flair got attention for his remark. But it wasn’t kind of attention he wanted. Just a sad situation overall.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Kane def. Bray Wyatt via count-out. I maintain this Bray Wyatt/Randy Orton program would have been better off had they let Bray beat Kane at Backlash. Now the poor guy can’t even beat him on free TV. By the law of averages alone, Bray does have to beat someone at some point, right?

Bray Wyatt, WWE Smackdown, October 4, 2016That shot of an upside down Bray suddenly noticing Orton on the tron was cool. Good acting by Bray. It lent credence to the idea that Orton is inside his head.

It looked like they were going to simply reverse the story they told last week, with Bray hunting Randy this time. Instead Randy trapped Bray in a storage container, and we got some nice grainy footage of Bray in there with the rocking chair. Very found footage. Randy also had a good line: “Lord have mercy…or not.”

Nikki Bella def. Alexa Bliss via disqualification after Carmella interferes. Bliss & Carmella win a subsequent tag match against Bella & Becky Lynch. Carmella was out there on commentary, and was doing an exaggerated New York accent. That only reinforces the whole Real Housewives vibe I’m getting from her. She’s also got a really grating voice when she’s screeching at opponents in the ring. All this translates to big heat with me. The good kind of heat, not Shining Stars channel changing heat. That accent’s not going to be easy to maintain all the time, though. Just ask Lana.

I did, however, get a kick out of Carmella calling Nikki a Kardashian wannabe. Also, nobody compared Alexa to Harley Quinn, and that Twisted Bliss moonsault is still gorgeous. So a good week for the women of Smackdown.

The Spirit Squad, Dolph Ziggler, WWE Smackdown, October 4, 2016The Spirit Squad returns during Miz TV, as Miz pays “tribute” to Dolph Ziggler’s career. One of the highlights of this segment was Ziggler cutting Miz off with: “I’m not gone yet, ass face. Say that again, I’ll knock the hell outta you.” Would it have killed them to just let him say asshole? That’s what he, and everyone in the audience is thinking. You’re on prime time TV, guys. Just let him say it.

Dolph went a little John Cena on us here, talking about kids looking up to him, doing Make a Wish stuff, etc. A bold move, considering Cena’s been doing that promo for years now, and probably busts it out before Thanksgiving dinner.

Hearing him talk about cashing in Money in the Bank the night after Wrestlemania really rang true. That’s the one moment in Ziggler’s career that everybody remembers. Unfortunately, it’s become a testament to this guy’s wasted potential.

On the subject of wasted potential, the big surprise here was the return of Ken Doane and Mike Mondo in their Spirit Squad gear. In an era where WWE is looking to pad their roster a little bit, I’m hopeful these guys can come back and deliver on some of that potential. WWE is actually advertising the return of Curt Hawkins for No Mercy, as if he wasn’t strictly an enhancement guy when he left. Wrestlers who didn’t leave on a great note are getting second chances.

Jason Jordan, Jey Uso, WWE Smackdown, October 4, 2016Jason Jordan def. Jey Uso. This one wrapped up quickly. A bit of a let down, actually. I’m always anxious to see Jordan suplex the hell out of somebody. Though it’s not like we won’t see him in there with the Usos again. The smart bet is Jimmy and Jey take the belts on Sunday, and we officially transition into a tag title feud with American Alpha.

Jack Swagger def. Baron Corbin by “submission.” Interesting finish, here. Corbin repeatedly reaches for the ropes in rapid succession, his wrist hitting the mat repeatedly, so the ref calls it a tap out victory for Swagger. Not sure if we’ve seen that before…

You know what Baron Corbin needs? A mouthpiece. Ironically, he’s in the same position Swagger was in before Zeb Colter came along. Yes, Corbin is the “Lone Wolf.” But he’s a lone wolf that’s getting eaten alive every time he opens his mouth.

AJ Styles, John Cena, and Dean Ambrose share a ring before their title match at No MercyBoth Styles and Ambrose jumped on Cena when this segment started. It made sense, given who Cena is and how good his mic work was on Talking Smack last week. But did it also made them look insecure? I can’t decide…

John Cena, Dean Ambrose, WWE Smackdown, October 4, 2016When it was his turn to talk, Ambrose went the backstage politics route. The line about “the guy who plays John Cena on TV” was good. There’s been some buzz about both these guys taking time away from Smackdown after No Mercy. Cena’s got his TV show, and Ambrose is allegedly shooting a movie. If that’s true, we lose the most compelling thing on this show, which is the stuff between the two of them. I’ll say it again: They need to work a singles program after No Mercy.

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

Will WWE Acquire TNA? Plus, Ponderings From WWE Smackdown Live

TNA Impact logoBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It’s about that time, isn’t it? Crunch time for TNA.

Reports have surfaced that the financial well is running dry at TNA again. This time, WWE is reportedly in talks with Dixie Carter to buy the company, acquire the tape library, and cease operations. On the other hand, Billy Corgan is at the table. TNA may end up in his hands, as many have speculated. Either way, TNA’s future will reportedly be decided in a matter of days.

I’ve never felt good about the idea of WWE buying TNA. The purchase of WCW, while great for WWE, was not a good thing for wrestling at large. That competition brought out the best in both companies, and in the end the fans were the true winners. Without WCW, WWE lost a certain drive they’ve never gotten back. While you can certainly argue WWE competes with everything else on television,more major wrestling organizations obviously mean a healthier industry at large.

But to that point, the industry is in a different place today than it was when WCW went under in 2001. For starters, TNA is not WCW. They wanted you to believe they were competition for WWE. But despite involvement from a lot of the same people, and major marquee talent like Hulk Hogan, Kurt Angle, Mick Foley and the Hardys, that was never the case. That’s why TNA’s attempt to go head-to-head with Raw failed. Both WCW and TNA had big financial backers that enabled them to grow leaps and bounds. But what may have hurt TNA more than anything is that both wrestling personalities and wrestling fans saw it for what they wanted it to be: WCW reborn.

Dixie Carter, Billy Corgan, TNAAlso, while the market for wrestling may be smaller than it was in 2001, the advancement of the internet means wrestling fans get to see more promotions than ever before. Lucha Underground is a distinct alternative, as are Ring of Honor are New Japan Pro Wrestling. We also have smaller promotions like EVOLVE, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, etc. None of these smaller alternatives existed when WCW went down.

I’ve never rooted for TNA to die. But if the time has come to let it go, then so be it. It’s such a tarnished brand at this point, the best choice might be for it to live on through the WWE Network. Consider all the TNA alumni WWE has right now: Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode, Austin Aries, Eric Young, and the damn WWE Champion AJ Styles. You’ve also got content for Hall of Famers like Sting, Kevin Nash, Booker T., etc.

Still, I’m not ready to start writing TNA’s obituary yet. Lord knows it’s survived by the skin of its teeth before. One guy who’s probably not rooting for WWE to step in? Cody Rhodes. He was set to make his debut at Bound for Glory on Sunday.

Who knows? Maybe he still will.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Randy Orton hunts for Bray Wyatt. This episode of Smackdown had something Raw frequently lacks: An ongoing story to tie the show together. Wyatt challenged Orton to find him, which lead to a rising action and a climax. By God, actual storytelling!

Bray Wyatt, WWE Smackdown, September 27, 2016But while things were structurally intact, the opening segment was a dud. Orton’s part of it was fine. But once again, Bray was too cryptic. At certain points, there’s something to be said for coming out and saying exactly what you’re going to do. Bray needs to do more of that, and speak less in metaphor and hyperbole. The gist of it was: Come find me. Is that so hard to say?

The backstage segments of Randy searching for Bray felt slightly reminiscent of the boiler room brawl from Summerslam ’96. There was a creepy vibe with the machinery running, and the announcers staying quiet for the most part. Of course, this felt a bit more like a high school haunted house than a horror flick. That stuff written on the doors (“Predator or Prey?” “I am a god.”) felt very generic. And then you had Erick Rowan getting locked down there. Was that supposed to be funny?

I like the idea of Orton somehow sneaking up behind Bray in that little room he’s always in. But they could have done so much more with that. They just had Bray turn around and take some punches. At the very least, they could have given Orton a cool line. Something to make it memorable, that’s all I ask.

The Usos & The Ascension def. Heath Slater, Rhyno, & American Alpha. Chad Gable has, by and large, had one job these last few weeks: Sell that leg. It’s a tried and true formula. Gable sells, Jason Jordan gets the hot tag. But at this rate, the guy may want to dip that damn thing in cement. It’s the only way it’ll be safe!

WWE Smackdown, September 26, 2016The Usos look good these days, having ditched the face paint for a more “urban” look. I’m hoping they get some mic time before No Mercy. I want to see them as the aggressive antagonists out to kill the high Heath Slater has been on lately.

Carmella & Natalya def. Nikki Bella & Naomi. Carmella is starting to come into her own as a heel. She’s got a Real Housewives of New Jersey kind of vibe on that works in her favor. I don’t have high hopes for the match she and Nikki will eventually turn in. But progress is progress.

Dolph Ziggler agrees to put up his career for one more shot at the Miz’s Intercontinental Title at No MercyThe stars really aligned for this one. Miz and Ziggler in their home state, both sets of parents in the front row, a good story, and a dramatic plot twist. Miz even got a really good video package out of the deal.

I assume this is a course they plotted for Ziggler when he started feuding with Ambrose during the summer. I admit, I thought they’d simply made him a whipping boy for Ambrose, AJ Styles, and Miz. But if this was the plan all along, good for them.

Ziggler can sometimes up the intensity in his promos too quickly. When you crank up the emotion, you often need to take the audience up that figurative roller coaster. When he got to the part about giving so much but getting nothing back, he went a little fast. But he still hit his mark. It rang very true to what die-hard wrestling fans have seen this guy go through for years. And at the end, when he made that offer for just one more shot, you believed him. He may have had tears in his eyes. To his credit, Miz played his part perfectly. The heartless heel preying on the defeated babyface.

The Miz, Dolph Ziggler, WWE Smackdown, September 27, 2016This needs to be Dolph’s ticket off TV for awhile. I’m not sure if he’s legitimately going anywhere, but that character needs a break. The problem then becomes finding someone to put in that upper mid card babyface position. There are names they can build up for that spot. Apollo Crews, Kalisto, God forbid Jack Swagger, or even Curt Hawkins. But right now, the only person who might be primed to fill in for Ziggler is Kane. Anybody clamoring for a Miz/Kane Intercontinental Title program? I didn’t think so.

Alexa Bliss attacks Becky Lynch before her match. Like Carmella, Alexa Bliss is still coming into her own on the national stage. But what we’ve seen so far is promising. I just hope once we’ve got a little more distance from Suicide Squad, she can drop the Harley Quinn look.

AJ Styles def. Dean Ambrose to retain the WWE Championship. Guest commentator John Cena lays both men out afterward. This match did its job wonderfully. It got me hyped for the triple threat at No Mercy. All three of these guys are big match wrestlers, and we’re still riding the wave from the Cena/Styles match at Summerslam. Expectations will be high for this one.

Cena and Ambrose really need to work a singles program. The heat between them feels very personal, and not forced. Ambrose has cut a couple of really good promos this year about how WWE is “his” company, as he’s the one main eventing shows night after night, putting all the effort in. To contrast, John Cena is apparently off house shows now. There could be some really good stuff there if they want to mine that for TV.

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Dean Ambrose pins John Cena, and Other Ponderings From WWE Smackdown Live

John Cena, Dean Ambrose, WWE Smackdown, September 20, 2016By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m still not over how abysmal Raw was this week. I’m not someone who basks in negativity, either. I simply call it how I see it. It was a really bad show. If you buy into the manufactured Raw vs. Smackdown stuff, Smackdown had it easy this week.

What it often comes down to with Smackdown is the very simple philosophy of “Less is more.” That’s a refreshing approach. In 2016, WWE’s approach is almost always, “More is never enough.” We’ve got more than three hours of Raw each week, and pay per views that tend to go on even longer. Not to mention supplementary content on the network.

WWE television used to leave you wanting more. You simply couldn’t wait to tune in next week to find out what happens next. Nowadays, the opposite is often true. We turn off shows feeling exhausted or frustrated. Wrestle mania XXXII went so long I actually considered turning in my fan card for awhile.

In entertainment, there’s always something to be said for conciseness and restraint. Smackdown almost feels like a throwback to an era where there wasn’t a push for so much content, and each minute of WWE TV seemed to matter just a little more.

Alexa Bliss, WWE Smackdown, September 20, 2016Ponderings From Smackdown:

Daniel Bryan hosts a contract signing between Becky Lynch and Alexa Bliss. Bryan’s a damn charmer. He had that line about keeping things civil, the audience gives him some friendly boos, and he goes: “Don’t boo that.”

Both these ladies are very natural in their roles. They had to recite lines that were obviously scripted. But Becky’s fire was great. Alexa has the snobby high school cheerleader act down pat, and she’s very expressive. I just wish they’d quit comparing her to Harley Quinn. Because here’s the thing: She’s not Harley Quinn. She’s Alexa Bliss, and she’s still coming into her own as a national TV character. The Harley Quinn thing almost sends mixed messages to the audience.

The Usos def. American Alpha to earn a Smackdown Tag Title shot at No MercyRed and black is definitely a better fit for the Usos than red and white. They actually look tough.

Both Jason Jordan and Chad Gable are absolute suplex machines. They’re both so explosive, which is part of what makes them so fun to watch. On the flip side, the Usos need another move in their arsenal besides the superkick. They do know that’s the move Shawn Michaels used to retire Ric Flair, right? And here they are practically beating it into the ground.

Apollo Crews, September 20, 2016During this segment, David Otunga mentioned something about filming a movie with Adam Sandler. That’s not exactly something to brag about in 2016, is it?

Baron Corbin def. Apollo Crews. On the subject of Otunga’s commentary, he said here that this was the first time he’d seen Crews not smiling. That’s a good thing. As athletically gifted as he is, a white meat babyface label can drag your career into the gutter. That’s largely what’s happened to Crews lately.

We also got Jack Swagger on headset during this match. Not sure what we did to deserve that.

The Miz def. Dolph Ziggler to retain the Intercontinental Title. I don’t mean to keep harping on Otunga. But during this match he said “most people never win a title during their time here.” Um, yes they do, good sir. In fact, it’s a hell of a lot more likely now that we’ve got so many belts. In January 2016 we had five titles. Now we have nine. And that’s not counting NXT. It’s a nice idea, and I understand them wanting to make the IC belt seem as prestigious as possible. But statements like that hurt an announcer’s credibility, and Otunga had so little to begin with.

I’ve enjoyed seeing Miz mimic Daniel Bryan’s old move set. It’s a creative little dig. These two may not be able to have a match, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Bryan gets Miz in the Yes Lock at some point.

WWE Smackdown, September 20, 2016, Dolph Ziggler, The MizI’ve heard some buzz about a Miz vs. Ziggler steel cage match at No Mercy. Instead of doing that, why not just have Ziggler wrestle in goggles? It’d protect him from getting sprayed in the eyes over and over, and it would save us from having to watch Ziggler lose yet another match to Miz.

Randy Orton def. Erick Rowan. Bray Wyatt cuts a promo, saying “a god can never die.” That promo was pure fluff. Bray said he and Orton are locked in “the unholiest of matrimonies.” What does that even mean? That line about never dying doesn’t mean anything either. When people talk about Bray’s promos being nonsensical, this is what they’re talking about.

Orion’s got a rematch with Brock Lesnar this Saturday at a house show in Chicago. While we’re out getting Ziggler goggles, we might want to get Orton a helmet.

Nikki Bella def. Natalya via disqualification. So Nikki gets the DQ win after Carmella interferes in a short match. I don’t mind this little program at all. It keeps Nikki away from the title picture for a little while, and allows Carmella to grow a little. It’s a win-win.

Dean Ambrose def. John Cena. Ambrose earns WWE Championship Match next week. AJ Styles had a great line in before this match: “The only way this title gets taken from me, is if I don’t have to get pinned to lose it.”

Dean Ambrose, WWE Smackdown, September 20, 2016Very surprised to see Ambrose pin Cena clean. But from a story perspective, it lends credence to what Ambrose said last week about Cena not being able to cut it in the ring anymore. Things feel nice and personal between them. I’m hoping we see them in a big pay per view match down the road.

So Cena accidentally costs Ambrose the title next week, and we take this to No Mercy.

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Dean Ambrose Goes Heel? Plus, Other Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

Bray Wyatt, WWE Backlash 2016By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Can somebody get Bray Wyatt a rabbit’s foot or something?

In light of Randy Orton not being medially cleared to return to face Wyatt at Backlash, the “Eater of Worlds” was instead put against Kane in a no holds barred match. Wyatt wound up getting pinned after Orton ran in for an RKO.

There should really be nothing wrong with losing to Kane, considering all he’s done over the years. But imagine all that Bray Wyatt could do here and now. His promos can get a little nonsensical at times, and maybe he is a little injury prone. But what a character. What a presence he has about him. As a babyface, he could be a bonafide superstar.

And yet, he’s been continually mismanaged creatively. This guy has been dying for a big win, and yet at Backlash they had him lose to someone in the twilight of his career. That’s not a slight against Kane. But of the two, Wyatt is the one who can offer the company more in years to come. I understand they were put in a bad spot when Orton wasn’t cleared. They obviously wanted to continue the program. But how about Wyatt gets the win, and then Orton runs in for the RKO? That at least allows Bray to brag a little bit about beating Kane. It also would have helped him build some sorely needed momentum. Instead, here we are. Another big show, another loss for Bray Wyatt.

By the way, if Orton wasn’t cleared to wrestle at Backlash, how did they justify letting him run in and to an RKO? That is, as I recall, a wrestling move.

John Cena, Dean Ambrose, AJ Styles, WWE Smackdown, September 13, 2016Ponderings From Smackdown:

John Cena and Dean Ambrose vye to be the top contender for AJ Styles’ WWE Championship. Shane McMahon makes a triple-threat match for the belt at No Mercy next month. Don’t adjust your TV sets, folks. AJ Styles is the WWE Champion. And for but a brief while, all seems to be right with the world. I’d be surprised if Styles stays heel for long. People inherently want to cheer him, and he’s got such a great story.

There was some great manufactured drama between Cena and Ambrose here. Cena brings up Steve Austin’s comments about Ambrose supposedly resting on his laurels, and Ambrose calls Cena a “lazy part-timer.” Some really nice worked shoot material.

I’m surprised they’re already putting Styles back with Cena. But having Cena on the No Mercy will no doubt give it a bigger feel than Backlash had. I also don’t doubt these three can have an awesome triple-threat match.

The Usos def. The Hype Bros. What the hell were the Usos wearing? C’mon, guys. You can’t wrestle American Alpha dressed like that.

The Miz, WWE Smackdown, September 13, 2016Dolph Ziggler interrupts The Miz. Miz tells Daniel Bryan he’s competing again until his contract is renegotiated. I got a huge kick out of Ziggler telling Miz that the fans will never see him as a top guy. Pot to kettle, buddy.

So if you’ve got the book, who do you have challenge Miz next? I have no interest in seeing Ziggler face him again. Apollo Crews isn’t ready. So who? One of the only people who comes to mind is Kane. But you don’t want to put the IC Title on him. We might want to get comfortable seeing that belt on Miz’s shoulder…

Jack Swagger moves from Raw to Smackdown. Don’t listen to him, folks. Remember everything you know about Jack Swagger. He’s a good wrestler, but has little to no star power. He’s another guy who could potentially challenge Miz. But there’s no sense in putting the Intercontinental Title on Jack friggin’ Swagger. Something tells me he’s just here to get demolished by Baron Corbin.

Alexa Bliss wins a Fatal Fiveway Match to become top contender for the Smackdown Women’s Title. I was overjoyed to see Becky Lynch win the belt at Backlash. I can’t say it has quite the luster of being WWE’s sole women’s champion, which was an accolade she deserved. But it was still a great moment for her.

Alexa Bliss, WWE Smackdown, September 13, 2016I’m not a fan of Alexa’s Harley Quinn-inspired look. But then again, certain wrestlers have done well impersonating comic book characters. Just ask Sting. Alexa is about to get some precious solo time in the spotlight. Here’s hoping she makes the most of it.

Heath Slater signs a Smackdown contract, successfully defends the Smackdown Tag Team Titles with Rhyno against The Ascension. I didn’t expect Slater & Rhyno to strike gold at Backlash either. But again, a pleasant surprise. Its amazing what can happen when a wrestler gets himself over, and WWE doesn’t fight the crowd. Heath Slater really ran with this whole “free agent” thing, and they seem to have stumbled on to some nice chemistry between he and Rhyno.

Also, that “I Got Kids” shirt he was wearing is actually for sale. Imagine that. Heath Slater has a t-shirt.

Randy Orton calls out Bray Wyatt. Erick Rowan ambushes Orton, gets an RKO. I love the line, “Do not sleep.” That’s a great Bray Wyatt line. Now if only he actually had some steam.

So I guess Erick Rowan is still with Bray? And I guess Orton is cleared for physicality now? I’m confused.

Dean Ambrose, John Cena, WWE Smackdown, September 13, 2016John Cena & Dean Ambrose def. AJ Styles & The Miz. Ambrose turns on Cena afterward. Very cool to see James Ellsworth make another WWE appearance as Styles’ would-be tag partner before Miz took him out. There’s a spot for someone like him in that company. It was a nice touch that they also managed to further the Miz/Bryan storyline.

I think we can officially say the fans are ready for a Dean Ambrose heel turn. I’m not sure if what we saw here constitutes a heel turn. But listen to the boos after he hits Cena with that DDT. A few months ago, Ambrose would heard mostly cheers.

So Kevin Steen is the champion of Raw, AJ Styles is the champion of Smackdown, and John Cena is hearing mostly cheers?

I don’t know what to believe anymore.

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

Undertaker’s Legacy Inside the Cell: What Awaits Shane at Wrestlemania?

Undertaker vs. Shane McMahon, Wrestlemania XXXIIBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

To their credit, WWE pulled a fast one on us by bringing in Shane McMahon as The Undertaker’s opponent at Wrestlemania XXXII. With control of WWE on the line, Vince booked his son against the Dead Man in a Hell in a Cell Match. In response, The Undertaker told Vince: “You know what I do. The blood of your son is on your hands.”

So what does he mean by that?

Since the match’s creation in 1997, The Undertaker has been in 12 Hell in a Cell Matches. His resume includes four WWE Hall of Famers, and 12 former heavyweight champions. He’s spilled blood, sent opponents sailing off the cage, and even sent one poor sap to the fiery depths. This is what awaits Shane McMahon at Wrestlemania. No wonder he’s training so hard.

So let’s look back at ‘Taker’s Hell in a Cell record. If I were Shane, I know I would be…

WWF Bad Blood 1997, Undertaker, Kane, Shawn MichaelsShawn Michaels
WWF Bad Blood, October 5, 1997.

Leave it to these two to set the bar impossibly high right off the bat.

This match has a special place in the hearts of fans for a variety of reasons. It was the very first Hell in a Cell Match, obviously. The finish famously saw the debut of Kane. But as far as the body of the match is concerned, Undertaker and Shawn had great chemistry, as they seemingly always have. They played that cat and mouse game in the cage really well. This match also marked the first time ‘Taker would throw someone over his shoulder and ram them head-first into the cage, as he’s done in various cell matches since. He also hit Shawn right in the head with one of the hardest, loudest chair shots I’ve ever seen. And of course, you have Shawn’s famous fall through the announce table while hanging off the cage. One can argue this match set the bar too high for these cell matches, considering what Mick Foley would do less than a year later. But you can’t deny the entertainment value of this confrontation. Shawn and ‘Taker took what started off as an experimental take on a cage match, and turned it into an instant box office attraction. As most of us know, ‘Taker lost after Kane’s interference. But needless to say, he’d get plenty of chances to redeem himself in that cage.

RECORD: 0-1

Mick Foley, Hell in a Cell 1998Mankind
WWF King of the Ring, June 28, 1998.

It’s the stuff of legends. While it’s one of the scariest matches WWE has ever put on, it’s also the match that has become synonymous with Hell in a Cell. In many ways, it defined Mick Foley’s career.

Most of us know it by now: A fall off the cage, a fall through the cage, two bumps into thumbtacks, and a Tombstone Piledriver. It’s the kind of match you’d never see today, and quite frankly that’s a good thing. No one should have to put themselves through this sort of thing for the sake of entertainment.

Still, the match has an undeniable magic about it. While you can’t overlook the sheer violence of it, it told an amazing story about a man’s refusal to surrender. For better or worse, Mick Foley made himself into a legend with this match.

RECORD: 1-1

The Undertaker, the Big Bossman, Wrestlemania XVThe Big Bossman
Wrestlemania XV, March 28, 1999.

This one’s better off forgotten, quite frankly. There was no way these two were going to live up to ‘Taker’s matches with Shawn or Foley. I’d have gone with something different.

Both ‘Taker and Bossman were heels. But they were doing a story where ‘Taker was trying to play mind games with Vince McMahon, and Bossman was sent in as his enforcer. It was an odd story to tell, considering Vince was still the company’s top heel at the time.

Two moments have always come to mind when I remember this match. The first is one of the low points of Michael Cole’s career. When talking about the dangers of the cell, he said: “You can get a finger caught in there!” Jerry Lawler rebutted: “After what we saw Mick Foley go through, you’re worried about getting a finger caught in there?”

The second is the post-match image of a defeated Bossman being hung from the raised cell. Considering the real-life Ray Traylor is no longer with us, it’s uncomfortable to see.

RECORD: 2-1

The Undertaker, Rikishi, WWE Armagaddon 2000SIX-MAN CELL MATCH:
WWF Armageddon. December 10, 2000.

Now this is how you end a year. Toss most of your top stars in a cage and let ’em fight for the title! One can argue this match was a precursor to the Elimination Chamber. Though no chamber match has ever been as good as this.

The match featured Kurt Angle defending the title against The Undertaker, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, and Rikishi. Angle eventually pinned The Rock to win. But the moment everyone remembers from this match once again involves ‘Taker once again sending someone for a great fall off the cage. This time, Rikishi was the victim. Prior to the match, Vince McMahon had attempted to stop the proceedings by driving a demolition truck into the arena. The bed of the truck would later be used as a landing site for Rikishi, when Undertaker pushed him off the top of the cage. It was choreographed to look like a chokeslam, but he pushed him. The sight of a 400 lb man falling from that height certainly sticks in your mind.

RECORD: 2-2

The Undertaker, Brock Lesnar, WWE No Mercy 2002Brock Lesnar
WWE No Mercy. October 20, 2002.

One can make a solid argument for this being ‘Taker and Brock’s toughest, nastiest battle. It was certainly their bloodiest. WhatCulture.com recently called this match one of WWE’s bloodiest of all time.

This was during the era when Paul Heyman was writing Smackdown, so it’s not surprising that this story had a lot going on. What’s more, Heyman was still managing Brock at this point. ‘Taker’s then-pregnant wife Sara had been used to put heat on Brock and Paul, and make things personal. What’s more, Brock had (kayfabe) broken Undertaker’s hand, which weakened the Dead Man during the match. But on the flip side, ‘Taker was allowed to use the cast as a weapon.

With its sheer violence and bloodshed, this match was one of the earliest to illustrate that Hell in a Cell Matches didn’t have to be about stunts on top of the cage. With the right wrestlers, the really twisted stuff happens inside those walls. While ‘Taker put up as valiant an effort as ever, Brock emerged victorious. Bloody, but victorious.

RECORD: 2-3

The Undertaker vs .Randy Orton, Armageddon 2005Randy Orton
WWE Armageddon. December 18, 2005.

This was a culmination of a year-long program between The Undertaker and Randy Orton. On paper it’s a tremendous main event. But this was the first cell match I can remember seeing and simply going: “Meh.” It was by no means a bad match. But it lacked a certain special something that we’d come to expect from Undertaker’s matches inside the cell.

Still, it had its share of good imagery. Orton was bloodied early on, and there were some nice shots of him getting raked against the cage, and crawling on the mat outside the ring. While it’s not always a thrilling match, it is a nice reminder of just how good Orton was in the early stages of his career. We also had “Cowboy” Bob Orton out there with his son, which added a little garnish to things. A good match, which Undertaker won with the Tombstone. But it lacks a certain something to be called one of his best in the cage.

RECORD: 3-3

Undertaker, Batista, Hell in a Cell, Survivor Series 2007Batista
WWE Survivor Series. November 18, 2007.

As was the case with Orton, Undertaker had been working with Batista on and off since Wrestlemania. But Batista had better chemistry with ‘Taker than I think anyone expected. They were able to being out the best in each other. They stole the show at Wrestlemania XXIII in Detroit, and had been having consistently good matches since. This was essentially their blow-off.

‘Taker put a new spin on an old trick out in this match, placing the thin end of a chair against Batista’s throat and then ramming it into the ring post. Batista later had a nice counter, turning “Old School” into one of his trademark spinebusters. He got a major coup toward the end, hitting his Batista Bomb on The Undertaker through a table. ‘Taker would regain the advantage hitting a Tombstone, and then a second one on the steel ring steps. It had been a battle worthy of their rivalry, until Edge emerged to cost Fittingly, Edge and Undertaker would go on to main event Wrestlemania XXIV, and then find themselves back in the cell almost a year later…

RECORD: 3-4

The Undertaker, Edge, Summerslam 2008Edge
WWE Summerslam. August 17, 2008. 

Undertaker and Edge had done quite a bit leading up to this one. They’d main evented Wrestlemania, they’d had a TLC Match, and now they were trying to cap it off inside the cell. And to their credit, they did just that.

In terms of WWE-style brawls, this match had almost everything. They wasted little time getting to the weapons and chaos. We had steel ring steps, we had a table, we had a chair, and eventually two ladders were introduced. This was almost a hybrid Hell in a Cell/TLC Match. And we saw that vicious heel side to Edge that had emerged since he’d started his now legendary heel run. He even speared Undertaker through the cage wall, and the action spilled on to the outside. Years later, Edge would reveal on Talk is Jericho that he’d wanted to take a Tombstone on top of the cage.

They went for sheer brutality mixed with iconic imagery for the finish to this match. After brutalizing Edge with a chokeslam through two tables, a shot with a TV camera, and “Con-Chair-To,” the Dead Man hit the Tombstone and got the pin. But for the grand finale, ‘Taker would chokeslam Edge from a ladder, through the mat. Moments later, the ring interior would erupt in flames. To cap off a match truly worthy of both The Undertaker’s Hell in a Cell legacy, and the spectacle of Summerslam, the Dead Man had sent his rival straight to hell…

THE RECORD: 4-4

CM Punk, The Undertaker, WWE Hell in a Cell 2009CM Punk
WWE Hell in a Cell. October 4, 2009. 

The first Hell in a Cell pay per view featured an eye-rolling three cell matches. Undertaker and Punk were up first, in what wound up being one of the shorter cell matches ‘Taker has ever been in.

Considering what they’d go on to do at Wrestlemania XXXIX, one has to wonder what ‘Taker and Punk could have done here had they been given more time. But considering what ‘Taker had done in these matches in the past, this was pretty standard by comparison. Granted, they had two more of these matches to go that evening. But come on, it’s The Undertaker…

Still, ‘Taker wound up winning the World Heavyweight Title from Punk that night after a Tombstone. So for Undertaker fans, the result wasn’t something to gripe about.

RECORD: 5-4

The Undertaker, Kane, Paul Bearer, WWE Hell in a Cell 2010Kane
WWE Hell in a Cell. October 3, 2010.

This is another one of those matches that on paper is fantastic, especially if you’re an Undertaker fan. You’ve got Kane defending the World Heavyweight Title against his brother, who has Paul Bearer back in his corner. They’re in a match The Undertaker made famous, and Kane made his debut. They’re free to do just about anything to each other. The pieces are in place for an epic confrontation.

There was nothing epic about this match.

I take no joy in saying that. But this match is a big part of the reason people aren’t clamoring for one last Undertaker/Kane match. These guys were slower than molasses, and in the end just…sad. I’ll give them credit for one thing, though. The finish saw Paul Bearer turn on The Undertaker for what he did to him several years prior in a “Con Crete Crypt Match.” WWE pays attention to continuity when they want to, and in this instance it paid off. It’s just too bad the match didn’t deliver.

RECORD: 5-5

Wrestlemania XXVIII, Undertaker, Triple HTriple H (Guest Referee Shawn Michaels)
Wrestlemania XXVIII. April 1, 2012.

This match was billed as “The End of an Era.” But they could just as easily have called it the Hell in a Cell All-Star Game. The only person who might be considered as synonymous with the cell as The Undertaker is Triple H. Now they were facing off in the cage, with the other pioneer of the cell, Shawn Michaels, as the guest referee. These three simply being in the ring together had an epic quality to it. What’s more, this was ‘Taker’s 20th appearance at Wrestlemania, and the finale of a story they’d been telling at the previous three Wrestlemania events with these iconic stars.

To their credit, they made us believe Undertaker’s Wrestlemania streak was truly in jeopardy. Triple H used the steel ring steps, a chair, and his trademark sledgehammer on the Dead Man. But the one spot that really sticks out in this match is the one where Shawn superkicks ‘Taker, sending him straight into a Pedigree from Triple H. When ‘Taker kicks out, Shawn looks absolutely terrified, as if he’s just witnessed something supernatural. He’s one of the best actors the business has ever seen.

And of course, after ‘Taker’s win, the three of them walked up the ramp together, bringing tears to the eyes of many a fan who grew up watching them perform. What a match, and what a moment in Wrestlemania history.

RECORD: 6-5

Brock Lesnar, Undertaker, WWE Hell in a Cell 2015Brock Lesnar
WWE Hell in a Cell. October 25, 2015. 

Over 18 years after his first cell match, I’m amazed ‘Taker is still having these matches, much less against somebody like Brock Lesnar. But low and behold, there he was. And they even surprised us by getting some color.

More than anything, I remember just how snug these guys were in this match. Lesnar in particular was just beating the crap out of ‘Taker. And early in the match he hits him with a chair shot that’s pretty stiff.

Midway through the match, Brock rips up the canvas and padding on the ring, exposing the wood underneath. That’s something we hardly ever see, and it’s a unique sight to be certain. They played it up, as ‘Taker gave Brock a chokeslam and a Tombstone on it. But in the end, they tied this story up nicely with a bow, as Brock gave ‘Taker a dose of his own medicine. The Dead Man had been gaining unfair advantages over Brock for months by hitting low blows. But on this night, Brock hit ‘Taker below the belt, got an F5 on the exposed wood, and the pin. Not the best Hell in a Cell Match by any means, but it gets points for being hard-hitting.

RECORD: 6-6

Images 1 and 3 from ringthedamnbell.blogspot.com. Image 2 from prowrestling.wikia.com. Image 4 from natureinyourhand.blogspot.com. Images 5, 6, 11 and 12 from wwe.com. Image 7 from pwpnation.com. Image 8 from mediaspo0rt.com. Images 9 and 10 from bleacherreport.com.