Braun Strowman Breaks the Ring! Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Wrestling’s newest dominant monster, Braun Strowman, was all over Raw on Monday. After last week, it’s not hard to see why. His big attack on Roman Reigns was one of the best angles they’ve done in a long time. For certain Reigns fans it was downright horrifying. But for some of us it seemed downright cathartic. WWE seems to know that, and are actually playing into it. They seem to be using the fans’ hatred of Reigns, the so-called babyface, to get them to cheer Strowman, the supposed heel. By traditional wrestling logic, it’s about as backwards as you can get. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t fun to watch Strowman beat on people.

In the broad sense, there isn’t much about Strowman that makes him villainous. He’s a big, tough bastard who wants to fight everyone. In the context of a wrestling show that’s a pretty admirable quality. Yes, he absolutely destroyed Roman Reigns. But think about the stuff we used to see Steve Austin do to Vince McMahon and a lot of the other heels. One of the more famous moments in Raw history involves Austin abducting McMahon and holding him hostage with what we think is a gun (later revealed to be a toy). He only let him go after McMahon wet his pants in the middle of the ring.

It’s amazing what you can get away with doing to someone the fans hate. We’re being reminded of that with now with Strowman.

Ponderings From Raw:

After Kurt Angle tells Strowman he has a match with Roman Reigns at Payback, Strowman attacks numerous wrestlers in the locker room. The best of these backstage segments involved Strowman beating up Kalisto and then dropping him a dumpster. This poor guy has become WWE’s resident whipping boy. On Smackdown it was basically his job to get beat up by Dolph Ziggler. Now in his first week on Raw, he’s getting thrown in the trash by Strowman. He desperately needs to hide on 205 Live for awhile.

Booker T steps in for David Otunga at the announce table. Otunga’s start on Raw has been delayed, as he’s off shooting a movie. Can’t we just make Booker the full-time announcer? He’s got more personality than Otunga ever will, and he’s got decades of experience to draw from. He’s already doing the pre-shows, isn’t he? Why not just shift him on to the main broadcast?

Samoa Joe vs. Chris Jericho via submission. Rollins was on commentary for this match. So often, the babyfaces are so vanilla when they sit at the announce desk. I usually find myself wishing they’d be a little more charismatic, and make us actually like hearing them. Instead, this felt like the usual fluff. Nice post-match promo by Joe, though.

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson def. Enzo and Cass. No interest in this one from me. We’ve seen these teams wrestle a thousand times. I zipped right through it.

Dean Ambrose appears on Miz TV. It feels like we’re beating a dead horse here. Miz and Ambrose just feuded on Smackdown a few months ago. They did fine, but it’s not like we’re dying to see them go again.

They made a point to have Miz call Ambrose lazy and complacent in this segment. This is at least the second time they’ve done that since Steve Austin called him out last year for allegedly resting on his laurels. Why go there again? Can’t they come up with anything better for Miz to say? Hell, I’d have brought up his marriage to Renee Young before I went this route. They talked about it on their web site. Why not here?

TJ Perkins def. Jack Gallagher. Now that he’s a heel, Perkins needs a new entrance. That video game stuff is strictly babyface material. He seems to be having fun being a bad guy, though. It’s funny how much heat he got just from dabbing.

Alexa Bliss def. Sasha Banks, Mickie James, and Nia Jax to become the top contender for the Raw Women’s Title at Payback. Sasha did another one of her dives through the ropes during this match. I always hold my breath when she does that. It looked like she caught her leg on the rope, and went back-first into Mickie and Nia.

Saw a decent amount of buzz about Sasha vs. Alexa during this match. Not sure what would be so awesome about that program in particular. But I’m down for it.

Last week, Nia Jax caught heat online for dropping Charlotte Flair on her head during their match. Thus, she’s going to be scrutinized even more. To an extent it’s unfair to her, as she was thrust into the spotlight despite her inexperience. What’s she supposed to do? Turn down a prominent spot on Raw? But on the other hand, she’s in a spot that so many more seasoned wrestlers would kill for. So she’s got to take her lumps when she makes a mistake like that.

Finn Balor accepts an open challenge from Curt Hawkins, wins a quick match. Happy to see Balor in the ring this week. Rumors said he was concussed during his match with Jinder Mahal last week. Apparently he was healthy enough to do a short match this week, which is good news. The last thing he needed was another serious injury.

Dash Wilder sustains a broken jaw at NXT live event, will be out of action until summer. Terrible break for the Revival. Between Wilder, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, and Kofi Kingston’s ankle surgery, the injury bug is definitely going around.

A promo package airs featuring Bray Wyatt talking about the House of Horrors Match at Payback. This was the best parts of the entire show. Great horror imagery, combined with a promo without much of Bray’s trademark laughter. That’s a winning formula. Now if only they’d tell us what a House of  Horrors Match is.

Incidentally, Michael Cole called Payback a “Raw exclusive pay per view.” But it’s got matches for the WWE Title and the United States Title, both of which are on Smackdown. It’s an odd line-up, isn’t it?

Jeff Hardy def. Cesaro. Definitely the wrestling highlight of the show. Any time they put Cesaro in a prominent TV match, he delivers. Now if only Vince McMahon saw the same kind of star power in him that we all do.

Prior to the match, the Hardys did a backstage interview where Matt slipped a bit of his “Broken” accent in there. He’s clearly chomping at the bit to do that character on WWE TV. I can’t say I blame him.

Braun Strowman and the Big Show go to a No-Contest after they break the ring with a Superplex. Cole, Booker, and Corey Graves didn’t sell the ring break nearly enough. I understand we’ve seen this spot with Big Show before. But c’mon, guys! The damn ring imploded!

I continue to have mixed feelings about Braun Strowman leaving his feet during matches. In this match we saw him do dropkicks, kip-ups, and even Arm Drags. But if he’s going to do it, better he do it in a match with another giant. It obviously sets him apart quite a bit.

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A Shield Reunion Coming Soon? Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It’s not an accident that Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, and Seth Rollins are all on Raw after the Superstar Shake-Up. This is it, folks. This is what people have been waiting for. A Shield reunion is coming.

But don’t kid yourselves. It’s going to be all about Roman Reigns.

Despite being booed for minutes on end last week, and despite everyone who cheered when Braun Strowman destroyed him this week, WWE still wants us to cheer this guy. He is positioned as their top babyface, after all. And what was it that got us to cheer Roman in the first place? The Shield. They know it, too. After the break-up, Reigns kept most of his Shield packaging, while Ambrose and Rollins had their presentations tweaked. Again, that’s not an accident.

Now, after everything that’s happened, it seems like a Shield reunion is just about the only thing that could get Reigns cheered. Fans miss this group. While some maintain it ended too soon, I think it ended at the perfect time. Their break-up was one of the great Raw moments of the last several years. Their reunion will be too.

But the mission will remain the same: Get Roman over at all costs. The only real difference will be the old hit they’re playing while they go about it.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

United States Champion Kevin Owens comes to Smackdown. Sami Zayn, Baron Corbin, and AJ Styles emerge to challenge him. I can’t believe they drafted Owens and Zayn together. Those two needed to be kept far away from one another. They have great matches, but I’m almost tired of seeing them. This feud needed a break. Give them a year or two apart, and then give us more. It’s not like there’s a shortage of guys for them to work with.

I’m happy Styles stayed on Smackdown. He’d have been fine on Raw, but he’s been arguably the biggest reason to watch the show every week. For all the talk about so-called “brands,” AJ has had a lot to do with giving Smackdown a different, more wrestling-heavy vibe from Raw.

Corbin is lucky Owens didn’t eat him alive on the mic. Seriously. It could have been worse than him being attacked by an actual wolf.

How do we know JBL is on his best behavior? He shook Byron Saxton’s hand at the top of the show. On screen, those two had a pronounced bully/victim dynamic.

Randy Orton def. Erick Rowan via disqualification. I don’t like Rowan’s chances without Bray Wyatt at his side. But then again, so many of us (myself included) said the same thing about Braun Strowman when he went to Raw by himself. And he’s become one of the best things about that show. So you never know who’ll surprise you.

The Usos def. American Alpha to retain the Smackdown Tag Team Titles. The Shining Stars attack the babyfaces afterward. Great offensive flurry from Chad Gable during this match. He does a lot of selling out there. But he can take the hot tag when called upon. Another really good match from these guys.

If Primo and Epico de-emphasize the awful travel agent gimmick, they might have yet another chance to reinvent themselves. Talent has never been the problem with these two. It’s always been a matter of packaging.

Mojo Rawley def. Jinder Mahal. Rob Gronkowski gets involved on Rawley’s behalf. The higher-ups definitely seem to have taken notice of Jinder Mahal’s physical changes. While still essentially an enhancement talent, he’s been part of some pretty prominent stuff recently. Most notably the stuff with Rob Gronkowski at the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. That obviously continued here.

Mojo really needs to write Gronk a thank-you note. As in, thank you for getting me the biggest push of my career.

Shane McMahon announces the arrival of Charlotte Flair and Tamina to SmackdownThey didn’t do Tamina any favors by building it up as if Charlotte were about to come out. Though in all fairness, she hasn’t been on TV in quite some time. She’ll need to re-establish herself.

Then of course, Charlotte did come out. Surprised she didn’t cut a promo of some kind. If I expect her to move right into a program with Naomi. I’m surprised so many people though Sasha Banks was coming in with her. She’s obviously factored in heavily with Bayley on Raw.

Tye Dillinger def. Aides English. With Simon Gotch having been released, it looks like English is going back to the singing gimmick he used in NXT. Hopefully he gets a fair shot. He’s got a good look.

I like that they’re telling the story of how long it took Dillinger to make it to the main roster. Anytime you can weave that element of truth in there, it’s a good thing. The people are clearly into him. If they play this right, I imagine he could get a US Title run this summer.

Sin Cara, Rusev, Lana, and the New Day are traded to SmackdownThey seem to be repackaging Lana with a dancing gimmick. At least until Rusev comes back. Is she going to wrestle? She’s not that experienced yet, is she?

It seems like they’re waiting to put the New Day on Smackdown until Kofi Kingston heals up from surgery. Fair enough. That act could use a breather anyway.

Shinsuke Nakamura outshines Dolph Ziggler in a confrontation. It might not have been wise for them to write Ziggler a promo about the “shiny new toys” from the Superstar Shake-Up becoming less special over time. Just saying…

They let Nakamura talk this week. Less is more as far as that’s concerned. This segment was a little awkward, as they spent a lot of time just standing there. Yes, the crowd was chanting for Nakamura. But this almost started to drag.

As far as first dance partners go, they don’t get much better than Dolph Ziggler. For now, Nakamura’s in good hands.

AJ Styles def. Sami Zayn and Baron Corbin in a Triple-Threat Match to become top contender for the United States Title following PaybackStyles has seemingly been positioned as a babyface, which is very much overdue. Everything this guy does looks great. Everything. I came out of this match thinking about how good he and Zayn looked out there together, and how good AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens could be. He’s practically the linchpin holding the show together.

Question: If Styles is going to be working with Owens after Payback, who works with Randy Orton? Corbin?

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The Bullet Club Reunites, AJ Styles Pays the Price, and Ponderings From Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Another day, another show without Roman Reigns being a heel. *sigh*

Still, Payback was largely a good show. We now have both Shane McMahon and Stephanie McMahon as our resident authority figures. That’s fair enough, I suppose. What’s more, the path to Summerslam seems pretty clear. Shane and Stephanie get fed up with each other, so Stephanie brings Triple H in to fight her brother for full control of Raw. That gives them a long time to tell this story, and it gives us a much-needed break from having Triple H on TV.

This is hardly the “new era” they’re playing it up as on TV, but lately Raw has been significantly better. We’ve got new faces, new programs, and the main events even feel more compelling. I’ve been very pleased with what I’ve been seeing on Raw lately, and this week was no exception…

Ponderings From Raw:

Kevin Owens, Cesaro, WWE Raw, May 2, 2016-Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro erupts into chaos as The Miz gets involved. Sami Zayn looks for revenge on Owens. Nice energetic opening match. But the most important element here? The emphasis on the Intercontinental Title. All four of these guys want it, and they’re all capable of having matches worthy of it. My guess is we get a fatal fourway at Extreme Rules.

Tyler Breeze def. Goldust. I’ve lost track of what’s happening in this Goldust/R-Truth story. First Goldust wanted to be Truth’s tag partner, then Truth wanted to be Goldust’s tag partner, now they’re bickering like exes. If any two guys in this segment should be a tag team, it’s Breeze and Fandango. Then they’d consistently have something to do.

The New Day, The Vaudevillains, and The Dudley Boyz share a ring before Colin Cassaday crashes things. An eight-man tag erupts between the babyfaces and the heels. First and foremost, that injury Enzo suffered at Payback was brutal. Every time I see the clip I cringe. It’s no wonder he got a concussion. On the upside, he’ll get a huge pop when he gets back.

Colin Cassaday, WWE Raw, May 2, 2016The Vaudvillains got off some good one-liners in the promo segment. “A real man would have gotten back up,” and then later we had “We made Enzo the realest guy in the emergency room.” I sometimes worry about how long Simon Gotch and Aiden English have before this gimmick degenerates into bad comedy. But they came off very cruel and callous here. That’s a very important ingredient in terms of them being taken seriously as a threat to the titles, and possibly as champions.

Big Cass did well in his first solo outing on the mic (on the main roster, that is). I can see that being really intimidating for someone who hasn’t’ been in front of a national audience that long. But he was playing off something very real, and the crowd was into him. He got a great hot tag too, and even got the pin!

Aside from Cass getting to shine on his own, the best part of this match was when Bubba got in the ring with Xavier Woods, and was actually teaching Gotch and English how to beat somebody up. I’m so anxious to see Bubba and Enzo go back and forth on the mic. They could really make some magic.

Emma vs. Becky Lynch, WWE Raw, May 2, 2016Emma def. Becky Lynch. I wish these two could have had a chance to wrestle at Payback, or at least on the pre-show. This was a really solid match. Not great, but solid. That being said, the thumb to the eye at the end was really weak looking. Emma really needs an acting coach.

Stephanie McMahon is a guest on The Ambrose Asylum, and reinstates Chris Jericho as host of The Highlight Reel. 

Rusev wins a battle royal royal to become the top contender to the US Title. Titus O’Neil returns to action. Kalisto should not have been out there on commentary. He came off nervous. He’d have been fine just sitting out there by the time keeper. No need to have him out there saying white meat babyface stuff.

Titus’ in-ring return was about what I expected it to be. Not really a big deal. They could have made a story out of it, but nope.

Rusev, Lana, WWE Raw, May 2, 2016I had Baron Corbin pegged to win this thing after losing to Dolph Ziggler at Payback. I was really surprised to see Ziggler win. But it was a pleasant surprise. Not every rookie needs to go on this big winning streak when they debut. I mean, logically they are rookies. It makes sense that they’d be bested at times by established main roster guys. But that doesn’t mean they can’t get over. I like the idea that a savvy veteran like Ziggler managed to pull out a win against the powerful rookie.

I’ll give Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio, Rusev, and Zack Ryder credit. In the final moments of that match, they had me believing that Ryder could win. They created some really nice tension. I’m pleased to see Rusev and Lana back together on television. They’re a good combo. So long as this doesn’t turn into a love triangle story with Kalisto, this should be decent at the very least.

Charlotte and Ric Flair interview referee Charles Robinson about the so-called “Chicago Screw Job.” Natalya takes out both father and daughter. Charlotte and Nattie to wrestle in a submission match at Extreme RulesIt’s interesting when and how WWE conveniently pays attention to continuity and logic. Shane McMahon is in control of Raw for weeks after Wrestlemania, and yet WWE remembers Charles Robinson’s “Little Naitch” stuff from WCW. By the way, was that Madusa in that clip from Slamboree 1999? I’d forgotten just how chiseled she was.

Natalya, Ric Flair, WWE Raw, May 2, 2016It was disappointing to see WWE once again rehash the Montreal Screwjob at Payback. But it’s worth it to have Natalya getting the spotlight like this. She and Charlotte should have a good match at Extreme Rules, though I still don’t see her taking the title.

AJ Styles, Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows def. Roman Reigns & The Usos. Early in the show, JBL said something to the effect of “the club is back together!” It feels like everybody wants so badly to say “Bullet Club,” but they just won’t let them.

I expect Anderson and Gallows to turn on Styles at Extreme Rules. It looks like they wanted to further establish the friendship between the three before pulling the trigger. Styles came off looking like a great babyface when he refused to use the chair on Roman Reigns. As for the possibility of Reigns turning heel and siding with Anderson & Gallows, I’ve given up. It’s just doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

By the way, how about AJ Styles being booked on Sports Center tomorrow? Who’d have thought we’d see the day?

Eric Young, NXT, 2016In Other News:

Eric Young debuts with NXT. I was surprised to see Young wrestling for NXT before Bobby Roode. But either way, it’s nice to see him get the opportunity. I’m not sure where exactly he fits in on the NXT roster, but Iwe’ll find out sooner than later.

I spotted a funny t-shirt from Heelbook.com the other day, which said: “NXTNA: Developmental Career Rehabilitation Center.” Ouch…

Images courtesy of WWE.

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A WWE Payback 2016 Preview – The Rise of the Bullet Club?

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Chances are that once Payback is over, many of our questions regarding the WWE equivalent of the Bullet Club will have been answered.

Ever since word hit that WWE was in talks with AJ Styles, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows, speculation ran rampant about a Bullet Club invasion (though perhaps not with that name). Now that all three are on WWE TV, it looks like the time is near. Except the smart bet is that Anderson and Gallows will turn out to be against Styles.

So the question is, who do you put in that third spot? A heel Roman Reigns? The recently de-throned NXT Champion and former Bullet Club member Finn Balor? Or does there even need to be a third member? Could Anderson and Gallows stand on there own?

So many questions. And as I’ve said before, lingering questions are a good thing…

WWE Payback 2016, Ryback, KalistoPRE-SHOW MATCH FOR WWE UNITED STATES TITLE:
Kalisto (c) vs. Ryback

The only reason I can think of to put t these two together again would be to have Ryback win the title. Unless they’re punishing him for what he said in the media about not being happy with his spot on the Wrestlemania card. But if that’s the case then why put Ryback in a title match at all? I maintain Kalisto could do great things with the United States Title. But we haven’t seen much of him on Raw recently. His most recent appearance consisted of him being kayfabe injured in a match with The Dudley Boyz. He’s not a lost cause, but signs seem to indicate Kalisto’s time with the title is done with. Kind of a shame, but not a big loss in the grand scheme of things.

PREDICTION: Ryback

WWE Payback 2016, Dolph Ziggler, Baron CorbinDolph Ziggler vs. Baron Corbin

This one is pretty obvious. Ziggler loses to Corbin, in the process giving him a match that’s decent at the very least. I’ve said this from the start: Corbin is in great hands with Dolph. It’ll be interesting to see how he does when he works with wrestlers who don’t bump and sell like their lives depend on it. But for now, Corbin is in a good spot.

PREDICTION: Baron Corbin

Enzo & Cass vs. The VaudvillainsTAG TEAM TOURNAMENT FINAL:
Enzo & Cass vs. The Vaudvillains

Enzo & Cass didn’t barely scratched the surface of what they could have done with The Dudley Boyz. That’s why I see Bubba and D-Von running in on this one to cost them the match. That’ll give us more matches between those two teams, and at least one outing between The Vaudevillians and The New Day for the tag belts. Granted, they could have Cass & Enzo win, and then do the angle with the Dudleys during a title match. But given how over both those teams are as babyfaces, that seems like the kind of match you’d save for Summerslam. Plus, a win for The Vaudevillians gives them a chance to shine. If they lose, they’re left with nothing to do. Their cartoony villain personas will mesh well with The New Day.

PREDICTION: The Vaudevillians

The Miz, Cesaro, WWE Payback 2016WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH:
The Miz (c) vs. Cesaro

I see Miz weaseling his way out of this one somehow, likely with Maryse’s help. Having his wife with him has largely reinvigorated Miz’s career. If they give these two a nice long run, at least until Summerslam, they really have the chance to create something memorable. Of course, that means Cesaro has to lose this match. But if he loses the right way, it doesn’t have to be a setback. In any event, Cesaro doesn’t need the Intercontinental Title to get to the next level. If he keeps doing his thing and stealing the show on Raw, they won’t be able to ignore him.

PREDICTION: Cesaro

Chris Jericho, Dean Ambrose, WWE Payback 2016Chris Jericho vs. Dean Ambrose

Dean Ambrose could really use a big win. This guy was so close to winning the Royal Rumble, but came up short. Then he got pinned in the triple threat match at Fastlane. Then Triple H beat him in a title match at Roadblock. Then Brock pinned him in an underwhelming street fight at Wrestlemania. Can somebody throw this guy a bone? And by somebody, I mean Chris Jericho. Have Ambrose get the win, and then they can do a crazy gimmick match at Extreme Rules next month. Hopefully they can make that match mean a little more than this one does. I’m sure these two will have a good match, but this story could stand to have a little more meat to it.

PREDICTION: Dean Ambrose

Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens, WWE Payback 2016Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens

The cool thing about this program is that the rivalry between these two is so personal, we can learn more about the Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens characters by how they interact with each other. Or at least, the potential is there for something like that.

I’m hoping they let these two feud for awhile. Not just because these two have such a personal history, but because Zayn is such a great traditional babyface (which is rare these days), and Owens is such a good heel. Obviously, there’s potential for great television there. As for this match, I say we give Zayn the first win. That way, Owens has extra impetus to cheat to win the rematch, most likely at Extreme Rules. This one could be the dark horse to steal the show.

PREDICTION: Sami Zayn

Charlotte, Natalya, Ric Flair, Bret Hart, WWE Payback 2016WWE WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Charlotte (c) w/Ric Flair vs. Natalya w/Bret Hart

Much like Sami Zayn, Natalya is a great traditional babyface. She’s naturally very likable. This new era in the WWE women’ division is right up her alley. Anyone in the Hart family is bound to thrive when wrestling and match quality are emphasized.

Unfortunately, this isn’t her time. There’s no reason to take the title off Charlotte now. And while some feel otherwise, I think she and her dad make a nice combo. While he could have easily stolen her thunder, Flair is adding to her presentation rather than taking away. I’m not sure who you put her with after Nattie (Paige? Becky Lynch again?), but I get the feeling Charlotte will hold on to that title until she runs into Sasha Banks again.

PREDICTION: Charlotte

Roman Reigns, AJ Styles, WWE Payback 2016WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Roman Reigns (c) vs. AJ Styles

Well, here we are. Yet another opportunity for WWE to turn Roman Reigns heel. Will it happen? Probably not. But he’s in there with AJ Styles. In Chicago, of all places. WWE knows full well Reigns is walking in there to a chorus of boos. Hell, he walks into every arena to a chorus of boos. If they were going to turn him, now is as good a time as any.

Whatever happens with Anderson and Gallows, there’s no way Reigns drops the title here. Styles is hot right now, but he’s not that hot. The story also lends itself to AJ’s former friends turning on him. As WWE has spent the better part of a year stubbornly digging their feet in as far as Reigns being a babyface, I say if there is a third man to help cost Styles this match, it’s Finn Balor. WWE even ran a video on their web site about Balor possibly showing up on the main roster. He’s been ready for awhile now, and a program with AJ Styles will give him a hell of a start on the national stage.

PREDICTION: Roman Reigns

Images courtesy of WWE.com.

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Roman Reigns, AJ Styes, Lingering Questions, and Ponderings From WWE Raw

The Undertaker, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Fully Loaded 1998By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve been listening to Vince Russo’s podcast lately. For those who don’t know him, Russo was a writer for WWE during the “Attitude Era.” He also wrote for WCW during its final days, and TNA for much of its existence. I definitely don’t agree with everything his says, i.e. his pitch for Sami Zayn to be portrayed as a former cab driver. But he’s got a unique perspective on the industry.

Last week, he talked about the go-home Raw for WWF Fully Loaded in 1998. The main event for the pay per view was Stone Cold Steve Austin & The Undertaker against Kane & Mankind. The story was about whether Undertaker and Kane were secretly working together, and if Austin was walking into a trap. One of the things Russo mentioned was the questions that were thrown at viewers. Was The Undertaker aligned with Kane? If so, what would become of Austin? And what about Mankind? Would an alliance mean victory for Vince McMahon?

It had never occurred to me how important questions are in a big wrestling storyline. They invite the viewer in, and generate intrigue. Fittingly, we’ve got a lot of questions heading into the main event of Payback this weekend. Is AJ Styles working with Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows? If so, will they cost Roman Reigns the title? Will The Usos play a role at all?

If this is indeed a “new era” for Raw, WWE (the announcers in particular) needs to pose more questions to the audience. The Attitude Era wasn’t just about foul language and sex appeal. There were some great stories told. In the end, that’s really what we’re here for, isn’t it? They’d do well to remember that this Sunday.

Ponderings From WWE Raw:

Shane McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, WWE Raw, April 25, 2016Vince McMahon to decide who’s running Raw at PaybackHopefully this will strictly be between the McMahons, as I’m keen for Triple H to stay off TV for awhile longer. For that matter, I’m keen for Stephanie to do the same. This Authority have been doing the same thing for two and a half years. We need a break. I’m not sure how they’ll rationalize giving the show to Shane, considering he lost to The Undertaker at Wrestlemania. But as we’ve seen, ration isn’t WWE’s strong point…

AJ Styles def. Sheamus. This one went on a hair too long for me. But it did what it was designed to do. They kept AJ strong heading into his title match at Payback, and they furthered the intrigue with Anderson & Gallows. I can’t complain.

The New Day, The Vaudevillians, and Enzo & Cass share a ring. I was glad to hear Aiden English say the line about The Vaudevillians representing a better, bygone era. He said it on Smackdown as well. Like many wrestlers on the main roster, they didn’t get a great introduction on television. At least not on Raw. So we needed to know why these guys are dressed in those costumes. My money is on them winning at Payback.

That pop Enzo & Cass got was great. The luster isn’t off these guys yet, and hopefully it won’t be for quite some time.

Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, WWE Raw, April 25, 2016Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows def. The Usos. Did anybody catch that line from Michael Cole about Anderson & Gallows being “part of a club” in Japan? I guess they’re not allowed to say Bullet Club, even though that’s what everybody’s thinking. The fans were even chanting “Bullet Club!” tonight.

It had been several years since I’d seen Gallows wrestle, and I’d never seen Anderson in the ring. Gallows’ agility and his striking came off well here, as did what we saw of Anderson’s leaping ability. Not a thrilling match, per se. But again, it did what it needed to do for the larger story.

It’ll be interesting to see if and how The Usos’ role evolves here. As unlikely as it is, If Reigns does indeed turn this Sunday, we could see an interesting role reversal. Think about a six-man tag featuring Roman Reigns, Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows against AJ Styles and The Usos. I’m not enamored with six-man tags, but I’d watch it.

A Sami Zayn/Kevin Owens retrospective video airs. Zayn is attacked by Owens after a win over Rusev. I loved this. It should have been done weeks ago. This Zayn/Owens rivalry is something WWE can go back to a number of times in the years to come, because it has depth to it. And tonight we finally got to see some of that.

Rusev, Sami Zayn, WWE Raw, April 25, 2016Lana was with Rusev on Raw for the first time in quite awhile. I can only assume they wanted to avoid fans chanting for her during segments with the League of Nations. But they’re a good combo, and it’s good to see them back together. Also, does Rusev look leaner to anyone else?

Apollo Crews def. Stardust. This match had a surprisingly good backstory. That stuff about Dusty Rhodes helping Apollo out in NXT could have been great material for a larger story with Stardust. He could have been Crews’ first pay per view opponent. The announcers said Crews dedicates every match to Dusty. If you were Cody Rhodes, how would you react to that?

Chris Jericho comes out on top after Dean Ambrose calls him out. One of the great things about Dean Ambrose is that he’s not just great on the mic, he’s different on the mic.  His rhythms, his cadence, and his whole demeanor are unlike anyone else in the industry. He may not have come out on top here, but he’s a hell of a player. I maintain he deserves a shot at that top babyface spot.

Natalya def. Emma. Was the crowd chanting “We want Lana!” during this match? If so, that really sucks. These ladies didn’t have a lot of time, but what they gave us was pretty good. Emma has definitely improved from a charisma standpoint. But there’s still room for improvement. I hope we see more of her on Raw. The more time she works on this heel persona, the better she’ll get.

Chyna memorial graphic, WWEWWE airs tribute to Joanie Laurer, a.k.a. Chyna. This was classy. It doesn’t make up for WWE more or less blacklisting Chyna after she left the company. But it was a nice video. Chyna’s autobiography was called If They Only Knew. But when you see how much love and respect Laurer had from her peers, what comes to mind is, if only she knew.

Dolph Ziggler ambushes Baron Corbin before his match. Whatever Ziggler and Corbin did was secondary. Because before the ambush took place, we got a few seconds of DAMIEN SANDOW on Raw. Last year he was one of the most over guys on the roster. Now? We’re lucky if we even see him on TV. And of course, he didn’t even get to wrestle. What a damn rib.

The Miz runs down the Cesaro Section, nearly goes for the big swing. Miz’s promo started off rocky. But once he started talking about the Intercontinental Title and the so-called nerds in the Cesaro section, he really got on a role. I’m almost sorry Cesaro had to interrupt. I’m a Cesaro fan, but his end of this segment came off heavily scripted. Still, practice makes perfect, I suppose…

Roman Reigns def. Alberto Del Rio. Anderson & Gallows attack Reigns after the match. Reigns and AJ Styles trade blows. I’ve been meaning to say this for awhile: “The Phenomenal Forearm” is a dumb name for a finisher. Was that really the best they could do?

Okay, so it’s obviously not going to be Styles, Gallows, and Anderson teaming up at Payback. So if Roman isn’t turning heel, then what? Let’s ponder that, shall we? Been keeping up with NXT lately…?

Samoa Joe, NXT ChampionSamoa Joe wins the NXT Championship from Finn Balor at an NXT house show. This was a huge surprise, obviously. WWE hasn’t done something like this in years. Why do this on a house show rather than a Takeover special? No idea. Perhaps that will be revealed in time. This does open Balor up for a main roster spot, presumably to do something with his old Bullet Club buddies Anderson and Gallows. Personally, I think he’s got at least a little time left with NXT. But I expect to see him on the main roster sooner rather than later. If Reigns isn’t the third man in WWE’s version of the Bullet Club, the smart bet is on Balor.

WWE announces John Cena’s return for the Memorial Day edition of RawThis is definitely good news, especially with Bray Wyatt falling victim to the injury plague. Cena is the biggest star of his generation, and WWE is dying for some star power right now.

Image 1 from onlineworldofwrestling.com. Image 6 from whatculture.com. Remaining images courtesy of WWE.com.

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AJ Styles Ascends, the Bullet Club Debuts, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

AJ Styles, Royal Rumble 2016By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

AJ Styles is about to main event his first WWE pay per view.

Well damn.

I wasn’t sure that was the direction they were going when we came out of last week’s Raw. As Jericho beat Styles at Wrestlemania, they could have put Jericho in the match and made it a triple threat. But it looks like it is indeed a singles match between Styles and Reigns. While I don’t see him winning, that’s still a hell of a statement in terms of how WWE sees him. Remember, casual WWE fans had never seen AJ Styles before January.

Who could have predicted it? AJ Styles, once the face of TNA, is now on the fast track to becoming a major player in WWE…

Ponderings From WWE Raw:

Shane McMahon, Kevin Owens, WWE Raw, April 11, 2016Shane McMahon is put in charge of Raw again due to massive “social media support.” Undertaker won the Hell in a Cell match at Wrestlemania. So naturally, Shane is simply put in charge of Raw for two weeks straight. Makes sense, right?

Actually, as long as things are shaken up on Raw, WWE can defy logic all they want. That opening segment with Shane and Kevin Owens was a hell of a lot better than the prospect of another Authority promo.

Having Shane around as a babyface authority figure is a breath of fresh air this show desperately needed. For whatever reason, WWE has been fixated on the idea of a tyrannical heel authority figure since the days of Austin vs. McMahon. It’s long past time to give that idea a rest.

Kevin Owens, Cesaro, WWE Raw, April 11, 2016Cesaro def. Kevin Owens to earn an Intercontinental Title shot at PaybackReally good match. With two segments, they actually had time to breathe out there, and were able to tell that story about Cesaro’s shoulder. I don’t expect Cesaro to win the title at Payback. Rather, I expect Miz and Maryse will cheat to win. But Cesaro has been able to regain some of the momentum he lost when he got hurt. That’s a testament to just how good, and how unique a performer he is.

The Dudley Boyz def. The Lucha Dragons in the first round of a tag team tournament. This was another cool development. They’ve got a lot of tag teams right now, and a tournament will be a cool showcase. This is especially true for teams that are new to the main roster like Kaz & Enzo, the Vaudevillians, and even Golden Truth.

Kalisto looked like he took a pretty bad fall in this match. It seemed like Bubba Ray called an audible out there. But kudos to the guys out there for being professional. Fingers crossed for Kalisto’s health.

Dr. Phil, WWE Raw, April 11, 2016Dr. Phil is ringside during the Women’s Title Match between Charlotte and Natalya. Ric Flair causes a disqualification. How fitting that Dr. Phil was in a segment with Natalya. This guy could retire on the Hart family alone.

Natalya is very natural babyface, and Charlotte is getting better and better at being a heel. Throw in the fact that they’re both awesome athletes, and this is a great pairing. Charlotte’s moonsault is a thing of beauty. Here’s hoping they pull out something even better when they inevitably wrestle at Payback.

Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson ambush The Usos. Perhaps not the grand debut some were hoping for. But the Bullet Club are in WWE. And whenever they’re ready, both AJ Styles and Finn Balor (both of whom were BC members in New Japan Pro Wrestling) are right there waiting for them.

Sami Zayn, AJ Styles, WWE Raw, April 11, 2016AJ Styles def. Sami Zayn. Excellent match. Hell of a showcase for both guys, and a big win for Styles. Sami had a close call with that counter to the sunset flip off the top. The announcers even acknowledged that his head hit the canvas. But to his credit, he popped right back up.

They really need to come up with a netter name for that forearm Styles does. “The Phenomenal Forearm” sounds cheesy.

Dean Ambrose crashes Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel. Nice little segment. Jericho got to be the conceited heel, Ambrose got to be the witty babyface. No harm done.

At one point it looked like these two were going to face off at Wrestlemania XXXII. Considering the performance Jericho gave us with AJ Styles, and the disappointing outing Dean Ambrose and Brock Lesnar had, one can’t help but wonder how that match would have changed the complexion of that show.

Apollo Crews, April 11, 2016, WWE Raw,Apollo Crews def. Adam Rose. Apollo Crews obviously isn’t short on talent. But he’s got to be careful about being the typical smiling babyface out there. He may look like a star, but he’s not one yet.

Roman Reigns & Bray Wyatt def. Sheamus & Alberto Del Rio. While the League of Nations don’t exactly scream “main event,” this was one of the more interesting main events Raw has had in awhile because it featured a babyface Bray Wyatt.

Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt worked together for a big chunk of last year, obviously. But if they were to switch roles, with Reigns being the heel and Wyatt being the babyface, they could get a big match out of them. They could easily main event Summerslam, if that’s the direction they wanted to go.

Roman’s new line is: “I’m not a good guy, I’m not a bad guy, I’m the guy.” As if that somehow slaps a band aid on the fans booing him in arenas across the country. He may not technically be a bad guy, but the fans are definitely treating him like one. And as he’s about to wrestle AJ Styles for the title, those boos aren’t going to get any quieter.

Images courtesy of WWE.com.

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Kevin Owens, Lana, and Other Ponderings From WWE Payback and Raw

Kevin Owens, John Cena 2, Raw, 05182015By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Ponderings From WWE Raw:

Kevin Owens makes his first WWE TV appearance, accepting John Cena’s open challenge. Owens will face Cena at Elimination Chamber. Yet again, the John Cena open challenge segment steals the show. That’s an emphatic statement, not only about the talent Cena’s in the ring with, but Cena himself.

Obviously this segment served two purposes. It was a great promo for NXT Takeover this Wednesday, and it introduced mainstream audiences to Kevin Owens. Full disclosure: I haven’t seen as much of the real-life Kevin Steen’s work as I’d like. But his prize-fighter presentation is great, and he’s obviously got the brash attitude thing down pat. He’s also got a hell of a wit on him. Was he supposed to say he’s been wrestling longer than Cena? If that was off the cuff, then I commend him for his guts.

Kevin Owens, John Cena, Raw, 05182015The really cool thing about that final image of Owens standing on the US Title, and hoisting the NXT Title in the air, is that it meant something. Symbolically, they got what they were looking for. Had that been, say, Kofi Kingston in there during one of his runs with the belt, the image would have fallen flat, and actually hurt the credibility of the US Title. But now that Cena has been having these great matches with it week after week, what Owens did had actual heat to it. It was great build up to what is apparently going to be a match at Elimination Chamber.

It’s surreal that these two are having a match so quickly. But I can’t deny that it’s a must-see, and a great draw for those on the fence about the WWE Network. I’m hoping for a fight, and I’m guissing I won’t be disappointed.

Rusev banishes Lana from his side after she surrenders for him at Payback, later aligns herself with Dolph Ziggler. Rusev has now lost to John Cena on three straight pay per views. But creative seemed to be trying to protect him. They had him render Cena unconscious, which would have given him a win in a traditional submission match.

Lana, Rusev, WWE Raw, 05182015But nevertheless, Rusev is no longer the unstoppable brute he was when 2015 began. And now, they’ve taken away his mouthpiece. I’m still not convinced breaking them up is the right move. In the long run, WWE may have hurt Rusev.

As for what happened between Lana and Dolph Ziggler, I’m curious about what their intentions are. Are they trying to push Ziggler to greater heights by pairing him with the very popular Lana? Or was he put with her because they know he can have great matches with Rusev, and perhaps re-establish him as a monster?

There is, of course, the chance that Lana could end up heeling on Ziggler, and going back to Rusev. I’d be okay with that, but what does that do for Doph? Out of the three parties involved here, I’m most concerned about Dolph, and what this means for his immediate future.

Dean Ambrose granted a WWE Championship match against Seth Rollins at Elimination Chamber. Awesome. Any time these guys get in the ring, it’s magic. Let them main event another pay per view, and let Ambrose continue to prove his worth as a main event-level star.

Tyson Kidd, Raw, 05182015Participants announced for Intercontinental Title and Tag Team Title Elimination Chamber matches. I’m thinking Cesaro & Tyson Kidd will take the tag straps back here. However, I’d love to see the Prime Time Players win it. You’d think from a sheer marketing standpoint, having Titus O’Neil wear gold after winning his Celebrity Dad of the Year award would be a good move. But when you boil it all down, I just find O’Neil and Darren Young really entertaining, and would love to see them get larger roles on television.

As for the Intercontinental Title, Sheamus is the smart bet, whether he looks stupid or not.

Ryback impresses against Bray Wyatt and Sheamus. I was pleasantly surprised with the Ryback/Bray Wyatt match at Payback. Wyatt using his weight against the midsection of the much larger, more muscled Ryback was a good story to tell, and was ultimately a convincing way for him to go over. Ryback also sold it really well, which makes me think he’s been listening to The Steve Austin Show and The Ross Report. Austin and JR have stressed the importance of selling time and time again recent weeks.

Ryback, Sheamus, Raw, 05/18/2015“The Big Guy” also had a strong outing on Raw. I was surprised he cut Stephanie McMahon off on the mic. I’d be curious to know whether that was scripted or not. He then got to show off his strength against Sheamus, catching him with a powerbomb, and gorilla pressing him on to the announce table. Despite losing in both outings, he definitely came out looking like a winner. I don’t expect him to come out of Elimination Chamber with the IC Title. But for my money, his stock is rising.

Neville does an in-ring interview with Renee Young, and gets interrupted and attacked by Bo Dallas. Not bad. Pretty standard babyface stuff. Incidentally, was Renee Young still supposed to be in the ring when Neville asked her about his NXT Championship reign? That was the only problem I had with that portion of the show.

 I like that they’re actually doing something with Bo Dallas. In all honesty, the only things I can remember about his WWE run thus far are his first loss to R-Truth, and when he got beat up by Sting. He’s got a decent character. It just seems like they can’t come up with anything solid for him to do. Putting him with Neville, an opponent he’s fairly familiar with from NXT, is a good way to at least get him some screen time.

Roman Reigns is kept off Raw, advertised for Smackdown. I liked this. Reigns wasn’t shoehorned into anything, and it gave them something worthwhile to put on Smackdown. I’m still wondering when we’re going to get a one-on-one match between Reigns and Seth Rollins on pay per view.

Images courtesy of WWE.com.

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