Enzo and Cass: One Year Later, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Last night, the WWE Network aired a special on the post-Wrestlemania XXXII edition of Raw. Naturally, we saw footage of Enzo and Cass, as they made their TV debut that night. They got a hell of a pop too. It’s tough to make a better first impression than that. A year later, its looking like they’ll be winning the Raw Tag Team Titles at Wrestlemania XXXIII.

But has their act gotten stale with age?

So many of the same “smart” fans that were marking out for Enzo and Cass on their first night are now booing them. Mind you, being on TV almost every week for a year has brought to light the repetition and flaws in their act. The constant repetition of catchphrases. The deer-in-the-headlights look on the face of Big Cass. What’s more, while Enzo has been praised as a Jedi Master on the mic, some argue he’s becoming as grating as Jar Jar Binks.

It’s a delicate balance WWE walks in the 21st century. The fans want to feel like they chose the top stars. But then when the company actually starts to go with those stars, the fans will sometimes turn on them. They’re almost screwed either way. So how do you fix Enzo and Cass? Or do they even need fixing at all?

Thankfully, this duo has a tremendous advantage: Enzo’s mic work. One of the things wrestling really misses right now is a certain cool factor. When Enzo gets on the mic and starts cutting opponents down, fans can live vicariously through him. When he talks, he sounds genuine. Almost everyone on Raw and Smackdown sounds the same, because they all recite dialogue written by the same writers. I don’t know how much input Enzo has into what he’s saying, but his delivery is truly distinct. It’s the arguably centerpiece to this team’s appeal. If they re-emphasize it, it might curb some of the boos.

These two characters also have an understated bond that serves them well. That’s something people can easily relate to. We don’t need to have another Festival of Friendship, but that’s a well WWE can go to if they don’t beat us over the head with it.

Enzo and Cass are lucky to have found each other in developmental. They accentuate one another’s positives, and camouflage the negatives. At the same time, they make a hell of a package deal. WWE seems to know that. Now if only they could write these guys a better KFC commercial. Yeesh. That might be where half the heat came from…

Ponderings From Raw:

Bayley opens the show. Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, and Nia Jax come out for a confrontation. Bayley and Sasha beat Charlotte and Nia in a tag match. Almost no interest in this from me, because it was pretty obvious where they were going. Talking segment leads to a match. They could have won me over if they skipped the tag match and just left it with a beat-down. But they obviously needed it to fill time.

Tony Schiavone said something on his podcast with Conrad Thompson yesterday that really applied to these three segments: “Showing too much sh*t hurts your product.” That’s what WWE does with everything these days. Almost everyone is overexposed. That’s one of the reasons our main event for this year’s Wrestlemania is between two guys who only show up every few weeks.

Pitbull, Flo Rida, Lunchmoney Lewis and Stephen Marley to perform at WrestlemaniaThe die-hards never like musical performances at these big shows. In this case, I’m with them. I’m one of the few that actually likes that “Green Light” song at a Wrestlemania theme. But I have no desire to see it performed on my wrestling show. This will be the bathroom break segment for yours truly.

Austin Aries def. Noam Dar. Neville joins the announce position. Fine match. In a perfect world, Neville and Aries would go to Wrestlemania and remind us what the Cruiserweight Division should be about. But we don’t live in a perfect world, do we?  Case in point: They’re on the pre-show. Hey, at least it’ll be a good pre-show, right?

Seth Rollins signs a hold-harmless agreement to face Triple H in a Non-Sanctioned Match at Wrestlemania“I liked who I was before I met you.” That was a really good line.  I wish he’d said it weeks ago. It makes things that much more personal. Hunter’s delivery was spot-on. Seth’s was missing something. I wanted a little more bite from him.

The key word for me on this one is curiosity. I’m very curious to see what these two are able to turn in on Sunday. One would think they’d be relying less on stunts and more on storytelling and psychology.

The Big Show wreaks havoc in an Over-the-Top-Rope Challenge. Braun Strowman threatens the giant going into WrestlemaniaNot much of a match here. But it got it’s point across. On the upside, Strowman finally has a match for Wrestlemania. It’s going to be the pre-show. But at least he’s on the damn card.

Neville def. Jack Gallagher. Austin Aries taunts Neville with the New Day. I’m not a fan of head-butts in general. They don’t make a lot of sense to me, and I associate them with Chris Benoit’s brain damage and Daniel Bryan’s early retirement. But for what it’s worth, that head-butt spot Neville and Gallagher did worked. I just wish Gallagher wouldn’t make a habit of it.

Putting Aries next to the New Day is…kind of a good sign, right? They trusted Aries to work with a hot act, however briefly.

Roman Reigns promises to “put the Dead Man down.” We see footage of the Undertaker digging a grave for Reigns. Obviously this graveyard stuff was classic Undertaker. “Vintage Undertaker,” as Michael Cole would say. It might not be a popular thing to say, but there’s something special about seeing these two in the ring together. This Wrestlemania match could be very special, depending on what they want to do. If it’s as simple as a clean victory for Roman, that crowd isn’t going to be happy.

Ah yes, Roman Reigns in Philadelphia. Always a fun time. Leave the memories alone…

Cesaro and Sheamus lay Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, Enzo, and Cass out with a ladder after a backstage assault by the Club. Gallows and Anderson regain the advantage, laying out the challengers. What was up with the cameras here? They seemed uncharacteristically out of position.

See, this is what the women should have done early in the show. Rather than just giving us another match, they shook things up a little bit. I actually wondered if they were going to turn the Wrestlemania bout into a Ladder Match.

Sami Zayn def. Kevin Owens, retaining his job on Raw. Samoa Joe tries to interfere, but Chris Jericho cuts him off. Jericho to Owens: “You just made the list!” Don’t have any ideas for Raw? Just book Kevin Owens against Sami Zayn. That’s not to say they don’t have good matches. Heck, they have great matches. But the law of diminishing returns has indeed come into effect. How many times have Owens and Zayn wrestled on Raw alone? At least in this one they got to brawl around the arena.

I cringed when Zayn did that somersault off the stage. Obviously it’s not nearly as high as it used to be. But when you’re flipping and falling like that, a bad landing always in the cards somewhere.

It’s been a good year thus far for the character of Sami Zayn. The stuff with Braun Strowman and Mick Foley was strong, and now he’s standing up to Stephanie. Hell, Steph put his job on the line in this match. He may not have a Wrestlemania match. But they’re building him, slowly but surely.

I’ve been waiting for Jericho to use that list line on Owens. Not sure I would have waited this long. But at least it got done.

Brock Lesnar and Bill Goldberg cross paths before Wrestlemania. Goldberg spears Lesnar again. A Paul Heyman promo is as good as almost any Raw main event you’re ever going to get. Notice that Heyman took the time to play up the importance of the Universal Title, calling it the “Holy Grail” of WWE.

I always get a kick out of Brock chuckling at Heyman’s remarks. People always say Brock doesn’t love wrestling, and maybe he doesn’t. But at least he’s having a little bit of fun.

Goldberg’s spear to Lesnar at ringside was extremely anticlimactic. It felt like somebody mistimed something. Still a better moment on the go-home Raw for Wrestlemania than Lesnar had with Roman Reigns. Remember that weird belt tug-o-war they had before Wrestlemania XXXI?

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Triple H Annihilates Seth Rollins, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

WWE announced Monday that Jack Swagger has been granted his release. The real-life Jake Hager had apparently been looking to get out for awhile, even bringing it up on Chael Sonnen’s podcast earlier this month.

Hager was signed to a WWE development deal in 2006. So he spent about a decade with WWE. He had a run that a lot of guys would be jealous of. The company clearly saw a lot of potential in him, perhaps as someone in the Kurt Angle mold. They did their best over the years to establish him as a top guy. Had the dice fallen differently, it might have worked. But fate just didn’t seem to be on Hager’s side in that respect.

Hager is a very good wrestler. But when it was time to talk, he was in trouble. He has a little bit of a lisp, and it was noticeable whenever he got on the mic. It undercut the wrestling stud vibe they were going for with him, and it became tough to take him seriously. They had him win Money in the Bank, and later made him World Heavyweight Champion on Smackdown. But it just didn’t click.

They seemingly found an answer in 2013, when Dutch Mantel came in to manage Swagger. As the character Zeb Colter, he essentially became what Paul Heyman is to Brock Lesnar. Dutch cut tremendous promos, weaving in contemporary political elements, most notably immigration. They even got a touch of mainstream buzz over the character. Swagger was put against Alberto Del Rio for the World Heavyweight Title at Wrestlemania XXIX, and seemed primed to win it…

And then he got arrested for DUI and drug possession (marijuana). He and Mantel remained together, but it was essentially over as far as Hager being a top guy.

But Hager’s career doesn’t have to end here. Like Drew Galloway, Cody Rhodes, and so many others who’ve left the WWE umbrella, he can thrive on the independent scene. I also wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see him show up in TNA in a few months, as his old pal Dutch is now back on the creative team there.

Brighter days are ahead for Jake Hager, and I commend him for having the guts to step outside the safety of the WWE bubble.

Ponderings From Raw:

Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar address Bill Goldberg. Herman’s prediction: “Down goes Goldberg!” That “down goes Goldberg” line is something they’ll be returning to in the weeks to come. It’s something Corey Graves, as the heel announcer, can come back to at the event itself. It’s a great line.

Note that Heyman also put Goldberg over, referring to his latest run as “the greatest championship comeback in sports entertainment history.”

Sasha Banks def. Dana Brooke. After taking abuse from Charlotte post-match, Dana attacks her. Dana has gotten a lot of bad press these past few weeks for her in-ring skills. Looking at this match, I can’t say it’s unfounded. But the real-life Ashley Sebera has only been wrestling since 2014. She’s still trying to learn. But she’s doing it on national television. It takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there like that. Having said that, she could really use another run on NXT. She can re-establish herself there, and come back later for a fresh start. Perhaps that’s where this turn is headed. I doubt it, but one can always hope.

Brian Kendrick and Tony Nese def. Akira Tozawa and TJ Perkins. TJ Perkins had a good match with Shinsuke Nakamura on NXT last week, and he was tremendous in this match. But this guy needs a heel turn. He’s looked like a loser for months, and he’s officially grating. I wouldn’t mind seeing he and Tozawa in a program.

Kevin Owens vows to take Chris Jericho’s US Title at Wrestlemania, and leave nothing left but the “Tears of Jericho.” Owens and Samoa Joe get themselves disqualified in a match with Jericho and Sami Zayn. Another really good promo from Owens. In classic heel fashion he justified his actions, believing himself to be right. He accused Jericho of wanting to get close to him just to get close to the Universal Championship. I love when bad guys do that. No one really believes they’re evil. We all usually believe we’re doing what’s right.

This Owens/Joe team-up did nothing to dispel the rumors of them forming a faction alongside Triple H. I’m not sure you need Triple H on TV every week in a group. But the prospect of Owens and Joe together consistently remains ntriguing.

I wouldn’t have had Owens and Jericho touch here. At the very least, I’d have limited their contact to that super kick Owens gave him. But then again, Owens obviously beat the hell out of him at the now infamous Festival of Friendship. So I guess we’ve been there and done that.

Big Show to compete in Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. They did a “New Day Talks” segment, which was supposed to be their take on a talk show segment. It ended up with Titus O’Neil being mad at Big Show because he wasn’t in the WWE/Jetsons movie that comes out this week. Wow. What compelling TV…

But what I got out of this segment was the line about Show getting the opportunity to be a two-time winner of the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Ouch. I guess that makes it official: Shaq is out of Wrestlemania. That’s a rotten break for Show. He supposedly spent months preparing for that match, getting himself in the best shape of his career, only to be stuck in the Battle Royal again this year.

Cass had some really nice fire in that pre-match promo. He still had some that deer-in-the-headlights look going on. But he made me believe.

Sheamus and Cesaro vs. Enzo and Cass goes to a no-contest after Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson interfere. Not much suspense to this match. Earlier in the show, Anderson and Gallows cut that promo about taking the spotlight for themselves. The finish to this one was pretty obvious at that point.

As if it wasn’t already pretty clear what the match is going to be at Wrestlemania. And of course a short time later it was made official: a Triple-Threat Tag Team Match for the Raw Tag Team Titles.

The Undertaker’s trademark gong goes off during Roman Reigns’ match with Jinder Mahal. Reigns calls the Undertaker out. Shawn Michaels surprises him. Reigns: The Undertaker retired you, and I’m the guy that’s gonna retire him.” Well, they went there. Let the speculation about the Undertaker’s retirement continue. This is already so damn emotional. Damn…this could really be it…

If this does turn out to be Undertaker’s retirement match, how fitting is it that it’s Shawn Michaels who planted that seed in Roman’s mind. Nice continuity there.

Austin Aries def. Ariya Daivari. Austin Aries wrestling on Raw. By God, what a time to be alive.

Bayley def. Nia Jax via DQ. Couldn’t muster up much enthusiasm for this one. We’ve seen this one so much. I dig the larger story they’re telling here, though. The idea is that Bayley can’t win big matches without Sasha’s help, so all these women are worthy of title shots. I expect Nia to be added to Wrestlemania in short order.

Mick Foley refuses to fire someone by order of Stephanie McMahon. Triple H comes out to belittle him. Seth Rollins makes the save, but the Game destroys the would-be “King Slayer.” I loved this segment. I really did. Everybody was perfectly in character, and it made perfect sense. This was great drama.

Seeing Mick and Triple H in the ring together was a nice nostalgia trip. They’ve always had a great lovable hero meets cunning villain chemistry. Foley was good on the mic here, too. He stumbled a bit, but he was in the zone. He hasn’t had an easy time in this role. But I was proud of him tonight.

Didn’t expect Rollins to be on the losing end of that confrontation with Hunter. But it makes sense when you stop to think about it. Seth’s knee has a big question mark over it. So now we’re left guessing.

Those CM Punk chants aren’t going away, are they? They’re following Steph, in particular. Considering the adverse effect that character has had on this show in recent years, I’m not complaining. I’m a Punk fan, after all.

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WWE Fastlane 2017 Predictions, Plus Ponderings From Raw

seth-rollins-wwe-raw-february-27-2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Some quick thoughts from Raw before we get into Fastlane predictions…

– The big news coming out of this show is that Seth Rollins is apparently still going to get physical at Wrestlemania. From a storyline perspective, it seems like Hunter baited Seth into a confrontation by demanding that he “not call me out at Wrestlemania.” Do we eventually find out that was his plan? Either way, I’m happy Rollins won’t be missing his second consecutive Wrestlemania. He caught an awful break, and he deserves the chance to finally have this match.

– There’s been plenty of talk these past few weeks about Samoa Joe being Triple H’s puppet, and what Hunter has done to his old allies. Is this something they’re planting a seed for in case Rollins somehow has to pull out of Wrestlemania? Or is this a more long term plan? Perhaps it’s both.

wwe-raw-february-27-2017– Good match between Joe and Cesaro this week, as one would expect. Samoa Joe weighs almost 300 lbs, and Cesaro kept picking the damn guy up. Honest to God, just get this guy some acting classes and let him have a singles run. Hell, give him the US Title again! Why not?

– Did everybody pick up on the whole New Day/Oscars joke? See, the envelope said the wrong name. Like what happened with La La Land at the Oscars. They’re spoofing current events. Get it? Huh? Did ya get it?????

Of course, like their usual attempts at topical humor, it was brutal. I’m actually starting to dread New Day segments. Please give these guys something else to do.

And now on to Fastlane. I skimmed the Sasha Banks/Nia Jax match off here, as well as the pre-show match. Couldn’t muster up much enthusiasm for ’em, and it’s not like there’s any shortage of stuff to go over otherwise…

wwe-fastlane-2017-luke-gallows-karl-anderson-enzo-and-cassWWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson (c) vs. Enzo and Cass

If I’ve got the pen here, Enzo and Cass win the Tag Team Titles at Wrestlemania. Gallows and Anderson just won them a few weeks ago, and I don’t see any reason to take the belts away from them a month before the big show. Then again, I thought for sure Bayley’s first title win would happen at a show like Wrestlemania or Summerslam, and they did it two weeks ago on Raw. But a title change here would be, in the words of Gorilla Monsoon, “highly unlikely.”

PREDICTION: Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

wwe-fastlane-2017-neville-jack-gallagherWWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Neville vs. Jack Gallagher

I like these two together. They overachieved last week in that contract signing segment. Gallagher is a lot of fun, and I imagine he will be Cruiserweight Champion someday. But that day isn’t today. Neville is the hottest thing they have in that division right now. He’s been such a breath of fresh air on Raw. They’ve got a good thing going with him. Let’s not nix it prematurely.

PREDICTION: Neville

wwe-fastlane-2017-sami-zayn-samoa-joeSamoa Joe vs. Sami Zayn

I can’t imagine Zayn winning this match. But considering this was originally supposed to be Seth Rollins’ spot, it’s a hell of an opportunity for him to show off in a brighter spotlight. I imagine he won’t disappoint.

So…what does Joe do at Wrestlemania now? Be in Triple H’s corner?

PREDICTION: Samoa Joe

wwe-fastlane-2017-bayley-charlotte-flairWWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Bayley (c) vs. Charlotte Flair

Ugh. Fine. Just give the damn belt back to Charlotte. At this point they have to, don’t they? They’ve built up this pay per view undefeated streak to the point that they can’t just break it now. With this in mind, their decision to put the belt on Bayley two weeks ago seems even more ridiculous. But they’re struggling for stories to tell in this Women’s Division right now, because they just don’t have enough wrestlers. It seems like Bayley’s first title win was just done for the sake of filling time. Dhe deserved better than that. Either way, what’s done is done. Just give Charlotte the belt back, and we can look ahead to what I assume will be a multi-woman match at Wrestlemania.

PREDICTION: Charlotte Flair

wwe-fastlane-2017-roman-reigns-braun-strowmanRoman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman

I imagine this one will be better than some are thinking. Roman is so athletic and explosive. I’m picturing a sort of irresistable force meets immovable object scenario which could be fun.

An appearance from the Undertaker seems likely here. They planted that seed in the Royal Rumble Match, so this would be as good a time as any to give us the next chapter in that story. Roman can be on the verge of winning, and then you get the standard Undertaker gong, the lights go out, and he hits him with a Tombstone or something. No matter how it happens, a pinball victory over Roman Reigns is a big deal. It’s a hell of a feather in Braun’s cap as we head into Wrestlemania.

PREDICTION: Braun Strowman

kevin-owens-bill-goldberg-wwe-fastlane-2017WWE UNIVERSAL HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Kevin Owens (c) vs. Bill Goldberg

Very little doubt about this one. Goldberg wins his first title in over a decade. It’s just a question of how it happens, and how quickly.

There’s a lot of potential for run-ins and chaos here, both from Brock Lesnar and Chris Jericho. If I had to pick one, I’d say Jericho. He and Owens did that great angle on Raw, and they did another one more recently at an overseas show.

But they really don’t need any interference here. If Goldberg can squash Brock Lesnar in under two minutes, it’s not going to hurt Kevin Owens to sustain a similar loss. Don’t blink during this one, folks.

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Kevin Owens, Eye Contact, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

kelly-kelly-wwe-raw-february-13-2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There’s some buzz right now about WWE bringing back some female talents. Why? The timing suggests something to do with Wrestlemania. It also wouldn’t surprise me if they were trying to pad the Raw Women’s roster. As great as Charlotte, Sasha, and Bayley are, you can only do so much with the three of them for so long. And NXT is pretty skim at the moment.

Lisa Marie Varon, a.k.a. Victoria, is someone who’s been rumored for a comeback. I’d also love to see Melina Perez get another shot. But the woman at the top of my list is Madusa/Alundra Blayze. I doubt she’d be capable of working a full-time schedule again. But seeing her in the ring one more time against someone like Charlotte would be almost irresistible.

But the name that seems most likely to return is, of all people, Kelly Kelly. WWE posted a video last week about the real-life Barbie Blank being backstage at Raw. This is…discouraging.

Rosa MendesOn a loosely related note, Rosa Mendes became the subject of ridicule last week when she announced her retirement from WWE to focus on being a mother. Personally, I liked Rosa Mendes. What can I say? She was hot, in a very plastic and fake sort of way. But her work in the ring was, to put it mildly, forgettable.

While it’s unfair to compare the two, Kelly Kelly and Rosa Mendes were part of the same era in WWE women’s wrestling. What I’ll call the “Diva Search era,” when John Laurinaitis and other WWE talent scouts would attempt to train pretty faces to wrestle.  While there were bright spots like Candice Michelle, this era also gave us the likes of the Bella Twins, Christy Hemme, and Ashley Massaro. Some where good personalities, but they personify what we wanted to get away from with the so-called “women’s revolution.”

Could someone like Kelly Kelly have her place in WWE circa 2017? Sure. I’m just not sure that place is the ring. Let’s leave the wrestling to the ladies who can actually wrestle, and not risk tarnishing what they’ve created with this newly revitalized women’s division.

Kevin Owens, WWE Raw, February 20, 2017Ponderings From Raw:

Kevin Owens to Goldberg: “Superheroes don’t exist.” I wish Owens would wear a suit more often. He looks good.

Lots of good stuff here. He got to look right into the hard camera, which was terrific. The line about knowing how to “play the game” better than anyone else is an obvious allusion to Triple H. And all that stuff about the outlasting Goldberg, watching Goldberg as a kid, not being a part of a superhero fantasy. Great way to kick off the show, Why we can’t do this more often is anybody’s guess. It doesn’t have to be a spotlight promo like this one. Just a monologue where someone looks into the camera.

Enzo and Cass def. Sheamus and Cesaro to become top contenders for the Raw Tag Team Titles at FastlaneNot really a surprise. I expect the big win to come for Enzo and Cass at Wrestlemania, though.

Cesaro once again looked like a star in this match. I was sour on his pairing with Sheamus in the beginning. But they’ve been good together. It’s helped us see a different side of Cesaro. But do I think this will be enough to result in a significant singles push for him? No. Not on Raw, at least…

Brian Kendrick, Akira Tozawa, WWE Raw, February 20, 2017Brian Kendrick beats down Akira Tozawa. Their match never happens. Kendrick clearly has his role here, and that’s to shine a spotlight on Tozawa, and eventually put him over. Hopefully that happens at Fastlane.

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson def. Roman Reigns via disqualification. Not much interest in this one from me. We just saw it last week, and I really have no interest in seeing Roman beat the tag champs. I’m scared that’s coming. That spear Reigns hit on Anderson was wicked, though. I’ll never deny his amazing athleticism.

The New Day to host Wrestlemania XXXIII. Kofi Kingston and Big E. def. Rusev and Jinder Mahal. Now that they aren’t the tag champs anymore, the New Day are now much more firmly planted in the entertainment end of this sports entertainment company. As such, while they have great chemistry, they’ve been harder to watch lately. They’ve been cutting promos on ice cream these past few weeks, and when Lana started talking about having the “plans” for their ice cream, I hit the fast-forward button on the DVR. Sorry guys, not interested.

Having them “host” Wrestlemania speaks volumes as to what WWE thinks of their act. They’ve put both the Rock and Hulk Hogan in the spot in years past. I imagine they’ll be a big part of the marketing end of things.

Neville, Jack Gallagher, WWE Raw, February 20, 2017Jack Gallagher and Neville sign the contract for their match at FastlaneGallagher got a “tea and biscuits” chant during this match. Wrestling fans are awesome sometimes.

LOVED Neville’s promo about Gallagher being a caricature of British people, and Gallagher getting to respond in kind. They both came off very genuine here. This, like everything else, was scripted. But it was well written. I don’t so much have a problem with scripting as I do bad scripting. Well done, gentlemen.

Bayley refuses to relinquish the Women’s Title to Stephanie McMahon. Charlotte announces she’s invoking her rematch clause at FastlaneI really hope Bayley and Stephanie have a match someday. They’re not rivals yet, but there’s so much potential there. Bayley comes off so pure, and Steph just comes off as pure evil. There’s money in that program.

The writing is on the wall for that Charlotte/Bayley rematch. They’ve built up Charlotte’s pay per view undefeated streak to the point that they can’t end it at a B-show like Fastlane. It would have to be a Wrestlemania or Summerslam.

Then again, we all thought Bayley would win her first Women’s Title on a Wrestlemania or a Summerslam. But here we are…

Charlotte, Sasha Banks, WWE Raw, Fabruary 20, 2017Sasha Banks def. Charlotte Flair. Another quality performance from these two. Though I had to roll my eyes when Sasha challenged Charlotte “for old time’s sake.” Old time’s sake? It wasn’t even two months ago…

Diamond Dallas Page added to WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2017. DDP had an amazing career. He didn’t become an active wrestler until he was 35. He went on to become one of the biggest home grown stars WCW ever had. But as great as he was in WCW, his work with former wrestlers like Jake Roberts and Scott Hall alone makes him worthy of a Hall of Fame induction. You used to hear horror stories about the substance abuse problems these guys had, and how they essentially had one foot in the grave. Page and his DDP Yoga program saved their lives. You also hear guys like Chris Jericho swear by DDP Yoga. So he’s as worthy as anyone has ever been, in my book. Congrats to DDP.

Kevin Owens def. Sami Zayn. Zayn is attacked by Owens before the match. Grateful for the interference from Joe. Owens and Zayn always have great matches. But between the handicap match, and the Sasha/Charlotte match, this was starting to feel like a rerun.

Given the look on Kevin Owens’ face as he watched Joe’s attack, it seems like some kind of NXT-related alliance has been formed here between Triple H, Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe. Very intriguing.

Brock Lesnar, WWE Raw, February 20, 2017Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman do a sit-down interview with Michael Cole. So they have Cole exit the segment, have Brock switch positions and…wait for it…LOOK INTO THE CAMERA, as Heyman does his promo. That’s two killer promos in one show, with both guys getting to make eye contact with the audience. Uh, more of this please? I doubt it’s more than a coincidence. But how cool would it be if we could make this sort of intimate connection with the performers more often?

Braun Strowman def. The Big Show. Strowman brutalizes Roman Reigns afterward. Not a bad match. Not a great one, but not bad. About as slow as one might imagine. But it did what it was designed to do. It put Strowman over like an invincible monster. They guy picked up the Big Show multiple times, and he pinned him clean. Not much more you could ask from this one.

It’s all but confirmed that Show is wrestling Shaquille O’Neal at Wrestlemania. Tonight would have been a great chance to have Shaq show up and do something. I assume the guy’s got a packed schedule. But when are they going to start building to this? Fastlane? The night after Fastlane?

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Bayley’s Big Moment, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

Bray Wyatt, WWE Elimination Chamber, February 12, 2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Bray Wyatt had a good night at Elimination Chamber, as many of us expected. He won the titular match, pinning both John Cena and AJ Styles in the process, to take home his first WWE Heavyweight Title.

This was overdue. Despite his often convoluted promos, the real-life Windham Rotunda has made the Bray Wyatt character an intriguing and valuable commodity from day one. He deserves the chance to be more than a transitional champion. The John Cena/Undertaker Wrestlemania match was allegedly nixed because Vince McMahon wants to play for the long-term instead of the short-term. I’d like to think they wouldn’t put the belt on a newer star, just to turn around a month later and give back to someone who’s been a made man in that company for 15 years now.

The match itself turned out very well, as did the new Chamber structure itself. It seems a little safer, with the metal grate outside the ropes covered up, and more room above the pods. Ambrose and Styles in particular were really dynamic in there. I was surprised to see Corbin rolled up and pinned the way he was by Ambrose. But considering he wasn’t winning, they protected him as well as they could. I’m encouraged by the early sign of a match between the two at Wrestlemania. And some seeds were indeed planted for a mixed tag match involving John Cena, Nikki Bella, The Miz, and Maryse.

Still no apparent dance partner for AJ Styles…

Roman Reigns, WWE Raw, February 13, 2017Ponderings From Raw:

Roman Reigns def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson via disqualification. Full disclosure: I DVRed right through the opening segment with Steph and Roman. You’ve heard of channel-changing heat? Steph has fast-forward heat.

So Gallows and Anderson essentially throw out the rulebook, opting simply to beat the hell out of Reigns instead of win the match. Coming from them, I can respect that. But of course, Reigns gets to be the babyface that overcomes the odds by the end of the segment. Considering he would have to overcome big odds at Fastlane to beat Braun Strowman, I can respect that too. I am, however, going to start counting Superman punches during his matches. Our number here was two. But if you look at his pay per view matches, I think it can get as high as five.

Teddy Long announced for Hall of Fame Class of 2017. Long has been around for over 30 years. This is a cool honor for him. Who knows? Maybe he’ll use his Hall of Fame speech to make a tag team match, playa.

Kofi Kingston def. Bo Dallas. For the uninitiated, Bo Dallas and Bray Wyatt are actually brothers. After seeing this segment, I felt for the real-life Bo Rotunda. One night after his brother wins the WWE Championship, he’s getting beaten in what’s essentially a comedy match, which culminates with him getting cereal poured down his gullet. And to think, after the roster split they were actually trying to heat him up a little bit.

The New Day, Bo Dallas, WWE Raw, February 13, 2017The good news is, there’s hope for Bo. If they get him over to Smackdown, they can either put him with his brother, or do an Owen Hart style jealous sibling feud with the two of them. Either way, it’s time to pull that card.

Jack Gallagher def. Noam Dar. Gallagher to challenge Neville for the Cruiserweight Title at FastlaneNot much to say about this one. I noticed Dar has “No Role Model” on the back of his tights. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if next week they said “Alicia Fooooooox.” That’s basically his gimmick, right?

From a personality standpoint, Neville and Gallagher are an interesting match. I’m curious to see how their styles mesh in the ring at Fastlane.

Emma finally re-debut as Emmalina, says we’ll now see the makeover of “Emmalina to Emma.” Well, this is one way to get heat.

After months of those vignettes, I assume this is the last we’ll see of Emmalina. I’m going to withhold judgment until I see what, if anything, they do with her next week. But if they’re simply dropping the whole thing, then this whole thing has been a giant indictment of the WWE creative process. This woman sat at home for months so we could have this?

Emmalina, WWE Raw, February 13, 2017Here’s what I will say, though: When the vignettes started I was skeptical as to whether Emma could pull off a more demanding role from a speaking standpoint. But she was fine here. Granted, it only lasted a minute and a half. But she was better than I thought she would be.

Braun Strowman def. Mark Henry. Strowman and Roman Reigns go at it after the match. When they announced this match, I tweeted that it would probably be a slow one. I wasn’t wrong. But Strowman putting Henry on his shoulder for a powerslam was amazing. Strowman actually did a dropkick of sorts in this match. I didn’t mind it so much. But hopefully he doesn’t make a habit of that.

Roman hit two Superman Punches on Reigns after the match, bringing our total count for the night to four.

Samoa Joe does a sit-down interview with Michael Cole. This was a good line: “For the past 18 years, I’ve laid a path of destruction across the world. And the only reason I wasn’t here, is because they were scared of hiring me.” Though this case, “across the world” mostly means Florida.

Also a good line: “I’m not some Sami Zayn, who’s just happy to be on Raw.” Well, there’s your Fastlane match, right there. I also like the creator and destroyer stuff.

samoa-joe-wwe-raw-february-13-2017Not a good line: “…I beat ‘the Man,’ and I beat ‘the Guy.'” I get the gist of what he’s saying, but that’s just stupid writing.

Joe said in this interview that Seth Rollins would miss Wrestlemania for the second year in a row. I wouldn’t take that as confirmation of anything. If Rollins is indeed going to try and make it back for Wrestlemania, I imagine the story will be about his injury, and whether he’ll be in any shape to face Triple H.

Sami Zayn def. Rusev. Zayn fires back at Joe, resulting in Joe jumping him moments later. Zayn seems to be gradually creeping up the ladder, while Rusev is gradually creeping down. Though at least they played Sami’s win off like a shocker.

Zayn makes a fine replacement for Rollins at Fastlane. This opens up a nice opportunity for him to put on yet another show-stealing performance on pay per view, and up his stock even more.

Akira Tozawa def. Ariya Daivari. I’ve become a Tozawa fan very quickly. If Neville keeps the belt, a title match between the two of them would be something to see. Wrestlemania might be too soon, but you never know.

On the subject of the Cruiserweight Division and Wrestlemania, supposedly Austin Aries has been cleared to wrestle again. Food for thought…

Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Festival of Friendship, WWE Raw, February 13, 2017Kevin Owens turns on Chris Jericho during their “Festival of Friendship.” This was a lot of fun, and it ended with precisely the impact it needed. Jericho hammed it up wonderfully, and Owens’ reactions were great. Even the stupid hat was a nice touch.

In hindsight, the return of Gilbert was inevitable, wasn’t it?

I think Owens smashing Jericho’s head into that sign was meant to be a callback to Jericho smashing Shawn Michaels’ head through the TV several years ago. If you listen closely, you can hear Owens say, “I hate you” just before he does it. The refs putting the towel over Jericho’s head afterward added a bit of drama too. This lived up to expectations. It really did. A fantastic Raw moment.

Cesaro def. Enzo Amore. That pre-match Enzo and Cass promo was a rare miss for the two of them. It didn’t really become one until Cass said that line about marshmallows.

This one went a little long. I might lead to a top contenders match at Fastlane, with the winners facing Gallows and Anderson at Wrestemania. Enzo and Cass would get their big moment there.

Bayley def. Charlotte Flair to win the Raw Women’s Championship. This was surprising. And not necessarily in a good way.

Bayley, Champion, WWE Raw, February 13, 2017Bayley is special. I think most fans would agree with me on that one. She has a connection with the fans, young fans in particular, that you rarely see. Her first title win deserved to be a big moment. As in Wrestlemania big. Instead, they did it on Raw.

Was this a great moment? Absolutely. But it could have been so much more.

Yet again, I go back to Wrestlemania. I’m concerned about what this means for Bayley and Charlotte going into that show. They’re clearly in love with Charlotte being undefeated on pay per view. My concern is they gave the belt to Bayley just to have Charlotte win it back at Wrestlemania. Or worse, at Fastlane. Charlotte is a star, and the best female wrestler they have right now. I’d never take that away from her. But Bayley is a star too, and she deserves her time in the sun.

On the fringe here is Sasha Banks, who ran some interference in this match. It was reminiscent of what Steve Austin did to help Mankind win the title all those years ago. There’s clearly a heel turn in the works here. It’s just a matter of when. Do they have Sasha cost Bayley the title at Fastlane to lead to a multi-woman match for the belt at Wrestlemania?

Not surprisingly, the match itself was good. I wouldn’t necessarily put it up there with the matches Charlotte had with Sasha. For the second week in a row, we got a whiplash spot with Bayley, and turned it into a nice story.

Either way, congratulations are in order. Well done, miss. You deserve this moment.

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Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

Seth Rollins, WWE Raw, December 5, 2016, Seth RollinsBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I was really hoping this was a work. I can’t even tell you how down I was when I learned that wasn’t the case.

During the finale of last week’s Raw, Seth Rollins re-injured his right knee. A torn MCL, to be exact. Supposedly his recovery time is around eight weeks, which would allow him to make his Wrestlemania match with Triple H by the skin of his teeth. But would you want to cut it that close for a big match like this? If they changed it, they’d obviously have to do some reshuffling creatively. But they may not even have a choice in the matter. The hope was that we’d get a better idea about Seth’s status on this week’s show. But it seems like things are still up in the air.

Simply put, this sucks. Especially when you consider how long they’ve dragged this Rollins/Triple H story out already. Not to mention the fact that Rollins missed last year’s Wrestlemania as well. As much as I hate to say it, if his recovery time really is eight weeks, then it seems like the responsible thing would be to pull him, and plug somebody else in. There’s been a bit of preemptive buzz about Shane McMahon taking Seth’s spot. If that’s the case, they could always have Rollins cost Hunter the match, and build to it at another big pay per view, a la Money in the Bank or Summerslam.

As frustrating as it is, we really have no answers right now. But what an awful, awful break for Rollins. He deserves to be back under those bright lights at Wrestlemania.

samoa-joe-february-6-2017-wwe-rawPonderings From Raw:

Samoa Joe signs his Raw contract. Roman Reigns lays down a challenge. Mick Foley makes Joe vs. Reigns for later in the show. Last week I mentioned how surreal it was to hear Michael Cole say Samoa Joe’s name. This week I got that same feeling hearing Stephanie McMahon call him the “Samoan Submission Machine.” They obviously called him that for years in TNA. So hearing one of the McMahons say it is, well, different.

I liked this segment. They didn’t waste a lot of time. There were no long, drawn out monologues. Everything was fairly concise, and we had our main event. Two big, tough bastards looking for a fight. What’s not to like?

Nia Jax def. Bayley after a distraction from Charlotte Flair. I like the stories they’re telling with Nia these days. She’s getting cocky after dominating Sasha Banks the way she did, and she had a similar performance here. Bayley taking that header into the second turnbuckle had a great looking whiplash effect.

They’ve got Charlotte defending against Bayley again next week. I expect the same result we got at the Rumble. Rumor has it we’ll be getting a Fatal Four-Way Match for the Raw Women’s Title at Wrestlemania. That doesn’t surprise me, considering the Charlotte/Bayley stuff is already crossing over with the Sasha/Nia stuff quite a bit.

braun-strowman-wwe-raw-february-6-2017Braun Strowman wins a 4-on-1 Handicap Match. Foley grants Strowman a match with Roman Reigns at FastlaneNice little exhibition, leading us into what we pretty much knew we were getting for Fastlane. Strowman needs to stay protected. So I’m very curious to see what they do with him in that match.

Akira Tozawa def. Drew Gulak. This was my first exposure to Tozawa. Not the most thrilling debut I’ve ever seen. But as Cesaro said in that introductory vignette, Tozawa’s a tremendous striker. He’s already got some tremendous credibility that most of the other wrestlers in the Cruiserweight Division don’t have. Plus, the crowd seemed to be into him. I say put him in there with Neville and let the magic happen.

Chris Jericho pitches a Title vs. Title match for Wrestlemania between himself and Kevin Owens. Goldberg interrupts to accept Brock Lesnar’s Wrestlemania challenge, and to challenge Owens to a Universal Title Match at Fastlane. Jericho accepts on the champion’s behalf. Bill Goldberg and Chris Jericho sharing a ring. Now that brings back some memories. Goldberg putting himself on the list was a fun moment. I briefly thought the Fastlane match was going to be Goldberg against both Owens and Jericho. But of course, it makes more sense this way.

goldberg-wwe-raw-february-6-2017So here it is. Former indy darling Kevin Steen and ’90s WCW icon Bill Goldberg. Wrestling on a pay per view. For a Heavyweight Title. This isn’t even fantasy warfare. It’s like we’re in a time warp. I wouldn’t expect this one to go long, though. I’d be surprised if it goes much longer than the Goldberg/Brock match at Survivor Series. And indeed, it will happen. It’s 2017, and Bill Goldberg will be a champion in WWE. Again…time warp.

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson def. Cesaro and Sheamus via disqualification in a Raw Tag Team Title Match. Enzo and Cass being out there and causing the DQ is a good sign. For one thing, it means the program with Rusev and Lana is done. Secondly, it indicates they’re likely in the Raw Tag Title picture at Wrestlemania. These two have earned a big win at the big show as far as I’m concerned.

The New Day def. The Shining Stars. We hadn’t seen the Shining Stars on Raw in quite some time. And I liked it that way. Zipped right through this one on the DVR.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express to be part of the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2017.  This one was a long time coming. Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson were one of the most charismatic, athletic, and influential tag teams of all time. If you’ve a younger fan, you owe it to yourself to check them out on the network. Congrats to both men!

chris-jericho-wwe-raw-february-6-2017Chris Jericho def. Sami Zayn to retain the WWE United States Title. Not quite as good as what they turned in last week. But still a fine match. I expect we’ll see these two lock up at Fastlane, though I’m struggling with whether or not Zayn should get the belt. I suppose Jericho and Owens don’t need to compete for at title at Wrestlemania. But then again, Goldberg and Lesnar didn’t either.

TJ Perkins, Cedric Alexander, and Jack Gallagher def. Neville, Noam Dar, and Tony Nese. Not much to write home about here. Our story was that Perkins, Alexander, Gallagher, Dar, and Nese will compete to become the top contender to Neville’s title on 205 Live. I’d love to see Alexander or Gallagher get the match. But I have a sinking feeling they might give it to Perkins. No offense to the guy, but that doesn’t do it for me.

Samoa Joe def. Roman Reigns after a distraction from Braun Strowman. Strowman attacks Reigns after the match, driving him through the ringside barricade. A win over Roman is a hell of a way to start your main roster run. Just ask Finn Balor. More importantly, Joe looked like a ruthless heel. He hit hard, and Reigns hit him hard back. I’d love to see a more long form version of this match on a pay per view some day. One of the most compelling Raw main events we’ve gotten in several months.

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Raw ’97: It’s All About the Title

Shawn Michaels, WWF ChampionBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The January 27, 1997 edition of Raw was essentially about two things: Ahmed Johnson’s feud with the Nation of Domination, and more importantly the WWF Championship.

I’ve always been of the opinion that the most important thing in a wrestling promotion should, more often than not, be the Heavyweight Championship. That’s what motivates your characters. That’s what everyone aspires to have, and it’s what everybody shows up for. Steve Austin famously said that if you’re not trying to become the WWF Champion, then you shouldn’t be in the company at all.

This show has a great segment that’s centered around Shawn Michaels being the champion, and everyone vying to take what he has. What’s more, he says he’s willing to do anything it takes to keep it. Before you even inject the various personal rivalries into the scenario, you’ve already got instant drama.

Too often in today’s WWE, I think they take the “chase” factor for granted. More on Raw than Smackdown. We need to know how important that Universal Championship is, especially because it’s so new. Kevin Owens, though cowardly and underhanded, needs to be seen as the man on Raw. Instead, he’s simply one of a few top guys holding a prop.

Is it fair to compare anyone to Shawn Michaels in the mid-’90s? Of course not. By my point is more about how things are booked and written on television. I look forward to contrasting what was happening with the WWF Championship at this time in 1997, compared to what’s happening with the two Heavyweight Titles now.

ahmed-johnson-wwf-raw-january-27-1997Crush def. Ahmed Johnson. In 2017, Ahmed Johnson is more or less a punchline. His unintelligible promos. Those weird things he wore on his legs. Reportedly he wasn’t the safest guy to work with either. But I get what they saw in him at the time. He was a big, scary dude. When he would get mad, he was intimidating as hell. He had a presence, too. Crowds reacted to him. The real-life Tony Norris was actually the first black Intercontinental Champion, which gives him a place in history.

The story here was that Savio Vega had joined the Nation of Domination the previous Saturday at a house show in Madison Square Garden, turning on Ahmed. This was obviously off television. As this show was taped along with the previous week’s show, Savio didn’t appear to follow up on that.

I was surprised to see Crush win this one. But Vince and the King protected Ahmed by telling viewer that he’d taken a beating at the Garden on Saturday, and then wrestled on WWF Superstars the previous day. From a storyline perspective, it made sense that Ahmed was worn down. They sold us on Crush’s Heart Punch finisher too.

Time Stamp: Lawler says Ahmed is having a “New England Patriots kind of day.” The Patriots had lost to the Green Bay Packers at Super Bowl XXXI the night before.

Shawn Michaels, Vince McMahon, WWF Raw, January 27, 1997Shawn Michaels speaks for the first time since regaining the WWF Title. Rematch with Sycho Sid announced for Thursday Raw Thursday. Final Four participants confront the champion. Once again, it’s all about the WWF Championship. Everyone is dying to win it, and the man wearing it will do anything he can to keep it. I love this segment.

The essence of Bret Hart’s side of this segment is that he tells Shawn to do whatever he has to do to come into Wrestlemania with the title. One of the things he says is, “I don’t want you to injure yourself.” Considering what Shawn does on that Thursday Raw Thursday episode, that’s so ironic it’s almost laughable.

On the subject of irony, hearing Undertaker talk about facing Shawn at Wrestlemania is almost chilling. Notwithstanding what they would do together at Wrestlemania XXV, Undertaker would be Shawn’s final opponent in the main event of Wrestlemania 13 years later. Aw man, and they’re promoting Wrestlemania XIII here. This is spooky.

As the wrestlers talk about Wrestlemania here, Vince interjects twice to remind them not to forget about Shawn’s title match with Sycho Sid. Good business on his part.

owen-hart-clarence-mason-british-bulldog-wwf-raw-january-27-1997The British Bulldog def. Doug Furnas, despite Owen Hart accidentally striking him with his Slammy Award. Owen and Phil Lafon are out there, having wrestled each other earlier in the night. Owen’s green track suit was certainly an interesting choice.

The sunset flip reversal spot Bulldog and Furnas ended this match with is the same one Bulldog and Bret Hart ended their classic Wembley Stadium match with in 1992.

Clarence Mason is associated with both the Nation of Domination, and this team of Owen and Bulldog. This used to be a fairly standard thing. Bobby Heenan’s multiple “clients” in the ’80s come to mind. We have so few managers today. But the ones we do have likely wouldn’t be with multiple wrestlers like this. The one rare exception is Paul Heyman, who a few years ago was with Brock Lesnar, Curtis Axel, and Ryback simultaneously.

The Clarence Mason character, played by a real-life attorney, is clearly a product of his time. Johnny Cochran had become a household name in the ’90s, thanks to the OJ Simpson trial. Clarence Mason wasn’t nearly as charismatic as Cochran was. But we got the idea.

vader-mankind-wwe-raw-january-27-1997The Godwinns def. Vader and Mankind via count-out. On the subject of managers, Paul Bearer was put with Vader after helping him beat the Undertaker at the Royal Rumble. That’s an odd pairing that’s even odder when you throw Mankind in there.

We’ve heard Mick Foley, and other wrestlers talk about taking Vader’s punches in the corner. In this match, you can see exactly what they’re talking about. The big guy gets Phineas Godwinn (later known as Mideon) up against the buckles and pops him in the head repeatedly. And this was in the era before they were so mindful of concussions. On top of that, Vader later takes an unprotected chair shot to the head from Foley.

Ahmed tries to attack the Nation with a two-by-four moments before Raw goes off the air. For some reason, a two-by-four always seemed to be Ahmed’s weapon of choice. I damn sure wouldn’t want to be around this guy when he’s got a weapon…

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