Posted in Wrestling

WWE Extreme Rules Predictions – Peeking Back in

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

There’s a reason I haven’t written about wrestling in awhile. Simply put, the WWE product sucks right now. It’s largely sucked since Wrestlemania. I almost posted something awhile back entitled, “Lapsed WWE Fan Confessions: Why I Finally Tuned Out.” Because I had tuned out. I’d check the websites, and listen to a podcast or two. But as far as watching Raw and Smackdown every week? After more than two decades, I was done.

Why? Yeesh. How much time do you have? Among various other elements, we have…

– Uninspired writing, for characters that have become largely flat and boring, resulting in stories that are largely flat and boring.

– The continued over-scripting of promos and segments, resulting in something that, over time, bears less and less resemblance to the world we live in, and more like it’s own “WWE Universe.”

– The “Wild Card Rule,” which allows select wrestlers from Raw to appear on Smackdown each week, and vice versa. Raw wrestlers are allowed to challenge for Smackdown titles, and vice versa. Thus, everything is watered down, and the rules of engagement are blurred. What’s more, the two tag titles, two women’s titles, two world titles, etc, are even more redundant than they were before.

But the recent news that WWE has hired Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff to serve as “Executive Directors” of Raw and Smackdown respectively, piqued my interest. While neither man supposedly has the level of control he will have (Bischoff apparently hasn’t even started yet), I was curious enough to get me to check things out again. While I can’t say I’m in love with what I see, my creative juices are flowing a little bit more.

So let’s take a look at what’s on tap for Extreme Rules this weekend…

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Drew Gulak (c) vs. Tony Nese

I was happy to see Tony Nese get the spotlight during Wrestlemania season. He’s obviously got the talent and the look, if not necessarily the charisma, of a champion. Still, Drew Gulak is just as deserving, if not a little more. He’s successfully transitioned from a comedic character doing powerpoint presentations to a credible and dangerous shooter champion. As he just won it at the last pay per view, I don’t see any reason to take the title off him now. Let’s let him have a little bit of a run and see what develops.

PREDICTION: Drew Gulak

Aleister Black vs. Cesaro

I don’t know if you’ll find a better first opponent for Aleister Black (or anyone, for that matter) than Cesaro. So from a wrestling standpoint, I’m expecting great things here. But from a story perspective? This whole thing has been pretty hokey, with the whole “knocking on the door” thing. The split-screen segment between these two on Smackdown was almost cringe-worthy. Hopefully what they give us between the ropes can make us forget that.

PREDICTION: Aleister Black

WWE RAW TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The Revival (c) vs. The Usos

When I last saw the Revival, they were losing the Raw tag belts to Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder on the Wrestlemania pre-show. Apparently, absolutely nothing was done with them as champions, so the belts simply went back to Dash and Dawson.

For all the talk there’s been about the Revival leaving WWE once their contracts expire, at least WWE has started showing them a little respect. They’re the champions again. So I say we just let them have the lengthy reign everybody seems to want them to have. Supposedly, the reason the Street Profits have been on Raw lately is because Heyman really likes their work. So in my little head, they’re the team that eventually get the rub from Dash and Dawson.

PREDICTION: The Revival

TRIPLE-THREAT MATCH FOR SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
Daniel Bryan and Rowan (c) vs. Big E. and Xavier Woods vs. Heavy Machinery

I’m really liking Daniel Bryan and Erick Rowan (or rather, just Rowan) as tag champs. That’s one of the reasons I hate the Wild Card Rule so much. If both sets of tag champs can appear on either show, then what exactly are Bryan and Rowan the champions of?

The New Day have little to no use for tag team gold at this point, and it’s too soon to put the belts on Heavy Machinery. So Bryan and Rowan get the win by process of elimination. But also because they’re the best team for this spot right now.

PREDICTION: Daniel Bryan and Rowan

HANDICAP MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE:
Bayley (c) vs. Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross

So here we have Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross, two Raw wrestlers, wrestling for the Smackdown Women’s Title. So if they win…do they go to Smackdown? For that matter, if Nikki scores the fall, does that mean Alexa wins the title? How does this work?

In the end, I think we’re going to find out. I do indeed see this match ending with Nikki pinning Bayley. Whether she wins the title, or more likely, Alexa gets it, that advances their story enough to lead to a match between the two. Most likely at Summerslam.

PREDICTION: Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross

LAST MAN STANDING MATCH:
Braun Strowman vs. Bobby Lashley

Lashley needs Lio Rush. Seriously, he does. Rush was the perfect mouthpiece for him. Don’t send Rush to 205 Live, don’t send him back to NXT. Put him back with Lashley on Raw. That’s where he belongs.

I dug the whole set crash/explosion angle. But more importantly, I dug the way they followed it up. Both the wrestlers and the announcers took it seriously. And this is the kind of thing I don’t mind them mentioning across different “brands,” a la Smackdown and 205 Live.

As he’s meant to be a dominant giant, I’m of the mindset that Braun Strowman losses should be few and far between. That’s why he’s my pick to win. But because Strowman doesn’t have to be pinned to lose here, a Lashley victory wouldn’t be the end of the world. It’d be that much more effective with Lio Rush, backing him up, but still…

PREDICTION: Braun Strowman

WWE UNITED STATES TITLE MATCH:
Ricochet (c) vs. AJ Styles

So here we have the rubber match. Ricochet defending against the now heel AJ Styles, who once again has Gallows and Anderson backing him up.

To give some credibility back to the Club, who apparently just signed new deals, I see them costing Ricochet the title. Naturally, that leads to a rematch of some kind at Summerslam, where Ricochet wins the title back. But for now, the belt leaves with AJ.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Kofi Kingston (c) vs. Samoa Joe

I love the good guy/bad guy dynamic between Kofi and Joe. So in that sense, this is a great pairing. What’s not so great is that we have yet another instance of a Raw wrestler challenging for a Smackdown title. So again, what happens if Joe wins?

He won’t, though. As great as Joe is, and he is great, he’s always a groomsman and never a groom when it comes to these title matches. He’s the best pure heel WWE has right now, and maybe even the best promo. For whatever reason, it just never seems like the right time. Such is the case here as well. Granted, if they wanted to extend this thing until Summerslam, Joe might be able to take it there. But here? On this show? No. Kofi Kingston’s got the belt at least until Summerslam.

PREDICTION: Kofi Kingston

EXTREME RULES MATCH FOR WWE UNIVERSAL AND RAW WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIPS:
Seth Rollins (c) and Becky Lynch (c) vs. Baron Corbin and Lacey Evans
Winners take all.

I actually like the winners-take-all stipulation for this match. Now that we’ve established Rollins and Lynch as an on-screen couple, it’s a nice tool for drama. Though I’m not sure it’s one they’ve been able to play up to it’s full potential. The audience is still getting used to this pairing. So to tease friction or tension between the two of them so early is awkward.

Like many others, I’d say it’s taking place about a month too late. Corbin and Evans have failed to win these titles individually on multiple occasions. So now we’re supposed to believe they can do it in a tag match?

Rollins and Lynch keep their belts here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did a “Dusty finish” here, i.e. make it seem like Corbin and Lynch have won, but then re-start the match and have the champions retain. The ensuing Twitter explosion alone would be worth it.

PREDICTION: Seth Rollins and Becky Lynch

NO HOLDS BARRED MATCH:
Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs. Shane McMahon and Drew McIntyre

You know what’s weird? They’ve hardly played up the Undertaker’s match with Roman at Wrestlemania 33. Granted, from a wrestling standpoint that’s a match ‘Taker probably wants us to forget. But it was the main event of a Wrestlemania, and Reigns has been calling WWE “my yard” ever since. From a storyline perspective, he took ‘Taker’s spot and temporarily retired him. You’re telling me there’s no tension between them? At all?

My hope is that this match finally puts an end to the Roman/Shane stuff, and potentially paves the way for the Undertaker to put Drew McIntyre over at Summerslam. With any luck, the bells and whistles in this match, and a decent performance next month can wash the foul taste of that Undertaker/Goldberg match out of everybody’s mouth.

I say Shane takes a Tombstone and the pinfall, prompting McIntyre to come out the next night and say ‘Taker never beat him. Ergo, the Summerslam match. As for Roman, next month seems like as good a time as any for a “brother vs. brother” match with Seth Rollins for the Universal Championship.

PREDICTION: Roman Reigns and The Undertaker

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

Posted in Wrestling

Top 10 Raw Moments of 2018: Stone Cold, John Cena, Becky Lynch, and more!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how Raw sucks. Not just from the fans, either. Last week, the McMahons themselves had to come out and, in so many words, admit their creative failures of late. For all this talk about “shaking up” the show, it seems like very little is actually going to change. Which is a damn shame, as the show desperately needs a revamp. Like, this sucker needs major renovations from the top down.

But as we’re taking time to look back on 2018, it’s only fair that we pay tribute to the things Raw got right. One of their buzzwords is “Raw moments,” i.e. moments or matches on the show that fans continue to look back on with fondness, awe, sadness, or whatever emotion it happened to evoke. Stone Cold and the beer truck, Eric Bischoff’s debut, that game-changing CM Punk promo, etc. The moments that made us love Raw in the first place, and are the reason we stick with it, despite all the frustrations and disappointments.

And so, with the disclaimer that these are all based on my personal opinion and viewing experiences, these are my top 10 Raw moments of 2018, in chronological order.

A few honorable mentions..
– January 29: Asuka vs. Sasha Banks.
– July 30: Brock Lesnar puts his hands on Paul Heyman.
– August 6: Ronda Rousey’s first match on Raw.

1. January 22: Austin’s got McMahon!
Raw 25 kicked off old school. Shane and Stephanie McMahon came to the ring to present a plaque to their father. What followed was classic Vince, as he proceeded to heel on the Brooklyn crowd, and then take all the credit for Raw‘s success. The crowd even broke out in an “Asshole!” chant, just like old times.

Then the glass shattered, and the crowd erupted as Stone Cold Steve Austin emerged. In a skit that included Vince throwing Shane to the wolves, Stone Cold Stunners to both McMahon men, and the throwing back of a few Steveweisers, suddenly Raw was great again. Just listen to that crowd. While I wish Austin would have gotten on the mic, in the end this segment was exactly what it needed to be: A quick nostalgia trip. It was also a reminder that even in his 70s, Vince can still deliver gold on the mic.

2. February 19: Seth Rollins steals the show in a Gauntlet Match.
This match featured all seven of the men who’d be involved in the Elimination Chamber Match to decide Brock Lesnar’s Wrestlemania opponent. We had John Cena, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, The Miz, Finn Balor, Braun Strowman, and Elias. Strowman would be the eventual winner. But the man everyone was talking about after this match was Seth Rollins.

Entering at the number two spot, Rollins wrestled for over an hour and five minutes, pinning both Roman Reigns and John Cena in the process. That’s a stellar accomplishment in and of itself, on par with Chris Jericho pinning Steve Austin and The Rock in one night back in 2001. By this point, Rollins had noticeably cooled off as a babyface. But this match was the catalyst for his reemergence as a contender for the top spot on Raw, if not the entire company.

Rollins didn’t get his shot at Lesnar in 2018, but this year might be a different story…

3. February 26: “Ladies and gentlemen, Braun Strowman!”
WWE loves to try their hand at comedy. Emphasis on the word “try.” While certain performers have natural comedic timing and abilities, most of WWE’s attempts at humor feel lame, forced and awkward.

But once in awhile, you get one out of left field that inexplicably works. The Vince McMahon “Are you ready for some wrestling?” skit, that first Daniel Bryan/Kane anger management skit, and now this. Braun Strowman coming out and strumming a bass on stage to make fun of Elias. And to make matters worse/better, mere seconds in, the instrument breaks. So Braun has to go on without it. For what it’s worth, the big guy’s voice isn’t so bad.

To cap it all off, the ensuing beatdown ended with Strowman lifting the bass up by the neck, and smashing it over Elias’ back. For yours truly, this segment embodied almost everything there is to love about Braun Strowman. It gave us his charisma, along with the brute strength and violence that he allows us to live vicariously through. This is the guy who could have headlined Wrestlemania.

4. March 19: The Ultimate Deletion.
This was the moment we’d been waiting for since the Hardys returned to WWE. A lawsuit with Anthem, the parent company of Impact Wrestling, had prevented Matt Hardy from using his “Broken” persona for most of 2017. But late in the year, we were introduced to “Woken” Matt Hardy, i.e. Broken Matt with one letter swapped out. He feuded with Bray Wyatt, culminating in this match, the “Ultimate Deletion.”

Akin to the other “Deletion” matches we saw on Impact, the match had a more cinematic, campy presentation. Most of the trademarks of the Broken universe were there. It took place at the Hardy compound. Matt’s wife and son made appearances, as did his real-life father-in-law, “Senor Benjamin.” Jeff Hardy also made a cameo. Hardy would win by sending Wyatt into the “lake of reincarnation.” Wyatt would not emerge again until the Wrestlemania pre-show, where he helped Hardy win the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal.

The Ultimate Deletion belongs on this list because, like the Broken/Woken universe itself, it dared to be different. It was also great validation for Matt. Not just because of the Anthem lawsuit, but because WWE once tried to do their own version of this match. You’ll recall the time the New Day visited the “Wyatt Family compound.” The results looked a lot like what the Hardys were doing on Impact at the time. We haven’t seen a match like this on Raw since, and we may never see one again. But it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility.

5. John Cena’s scathing promos on the Undertaker.
Undertaker no-showing the build-up to Wrestlemania 34 was extremely frustrating at the time. But in hindsight, it was the right way to go. Cena’s desperate, angry attempts to bring the Dead Man back made for great drama. The highlights of which included…

– “…stop hiding behind your lame excuses. You are not too old. You are not washed up. You are not broken down, ’cause if you was broken down, you wouldn’t be posting workout videos on your wife’s Instagram.”
– “You are not the god that [the fans] made you. You are the man you’ve allowed yourself to become. And that man, Undertaker, is a coward. The Undertaker is a coward.”
– “Hey Undertaker. It’s obvious that you left your hat in the ring. But it’s clear to everybody here that you left your balls at home.”

Then the match went two minutes, with Undertaker going over. I interpreted that as being because, in storyline, Undertaker surprised Cena. That’s why I think these two have unfinished business, and should go another round at Wrestlemania this year.

6. April 9: Paige announces her retirement.
Calling this one of Raw’s best moments feels a little weird. Obviously, if I had my way Paige would still be wrestling. But I have to tip my hat to the pure honesty, emotion, and bravery exhibited by Paige here.

Many of us were expecting this. The previous November, Paige had returned after a lengthy absence that included neck surgery. But just over a month after her return, Paige suffered another neck injury, forcing her to stay out of the ring. So the word “retirement” was being thrown around by fans online.

Still, it’s never easy to hear confirmation like this. Paige spoke very eloquently, and the crowd showered her with “Thank you Paige!” chants. But while retired, Paige wasn’t gone long at all. She showed up the very next night as the new general manager of Smackdown.

7. April 30: Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor
Seth Rollins was Raw‘s resident artist this year. If you look at the best matches in this show in 2018, he’s the one constant in most of them. He turned in epic performances with Dolph Ziggler, Kevin Owens, Drew McIntyre, among others.

But in many ways, this was the best TV match Rollins turned in all year. It earned 4.25 stars from Dave Meltzer, was for the Intercontinental Title, and the two men had a loaded history together. They were, of course, wrestling to become the first Universal Champion when Rollins injured Balor, forcing him to give up his newly won title.

Champion and challenger gave us a combination endurance/chess match. It was a collection of counters, dodges, kicks, and kick-outs from big moves in a prolonged game of “Can you top this?” Rollins would ultimately pin Balor using the Curb Stomp. Both these men can easily slip back into the Universal Title picture in 2019, and this match is one of the many pieces of evidence we have.

8. October 22: Roman Reigns announces he has leukemia, Dean Ambrose turns on Seth Rollins.
We got two shockers on this show. One was a storyline. The other was very, very real.

I had no idea Roman Reigns had ever battled leukemia, or any kind of cancer. So when he walked out at the top of the show and announced he was relinquishing the Universal Title because his leukemia had returned, I was floored. I think we all were. To their credit, the fans in Providence, many of whom had been booing Reigns when he came out, immediately switched gears. On his way out, Roman got the support that some would say he’s deserved all along.

Naturally, emotions were running high when Roman’s Shield brothers, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, challenged for the Raw Tag Team Titles in the main event that night. Which made what happened next all the more explosive…

After winning the titles, Dean Ambrose made his long-awaited heel turn, nailing Rollins with the DDT. The fans watched in stunned silence as he continued to destroy his partner. Ambrose had unraveled, and the Shield was no more.

9. November 5: Drew McIntyre destroys Kurt Angle.
This was Angle’s first match on Raw in over a decade. To his credit, it was memorable. Just not for the reason we thought it would be.

In a battle to decide whether Angle would captain the Raw Men’s team at Survivor Series, the Olympic Gold Medalist and WWE Hall of Famer put up a fight, even catching McIntyre with the Angle Slam. But in the end, McIntyre was simply too much. The “Scottish Psychopath” would hit an Angle Slam of his own, and later end the match by tapping Angle out with his trademark Ankle Lock. The match will no doubt go down as one of the definitive performances of McIntyre’s current WWE run.

What makes this a little bit more special is that supposedly this was Kurt Angle’s idea, at least partially. The two had worked together in Impact, and Angle wanted to put McIntyre over for the WWE audience. It’d call the attempt successful, wouldn’t you?

10. November 12: Becky Lynch invades.
Yes, technically it was the entire Smackdown women’s roster that invaded. But the part everyone remembers is Becky, blood on her face, standing victorious in the crowd.

This is an angle that’s been done time and time again. Wrestlers from Smackdown invading Raw, or Raw invading Smackdown, or whatever it is. But a wild punch changed everything.

It started out strong, with the camera rushing into the locker room to find Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey in Becky Lynch’s Disarm-Her. Lynch would then go to the ring to confront the Raw Women’s Survivor Series team. Lynch’s Smackdown cohorts would then ambush from the crowd. In the ensuing battle, Nia Jax would punch Becky in the face, breaking her nose and concussing her. WWE would later simply call it a “broken face.”

But the then-Smackdown Women’s Champion would find victory even in injury. The ensuing footage of Becky fighting with blood on her face only rallied fans to her cause. She had to bow out of a match against Rousey at Survivor Series. But this angle may very well have opened the door for her to be one of the first women to headline Wrestlemania. So all in all, I’d say things worked out for her…

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

Posted in Wrestling

WWE’s 10 Most Fascinating People of 2018

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

What we have here is a bit of a tradition here at PI.

It started as a take-off of something Barbara Walters used to do. She’d choose and profile the 10 “most fascinating people” of the year. I’ve borrowed that concept several times over the years, and the lists can be found in our archives.

(For your convenience: 2012. 2013. 2015. 2016. 2017.)

So once again, we’re back. On this year’s list, we’ve got a UFC Hall of Famer turned WWE Champion, a heroic underdog turned monster heel, a new hot babyface taking the company by storm, among several others…

1. Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey was always going to be a marquee player for WWE. That was blatantly obvious from the get-go. And why wouldn’t she be? But realistically, Ronda could have put in half the effort she does, and made less than half the appearances, and still gotten by. She could have coasted on her name, a few suplexes, and some armbars. She could have taken many would consider to be the Brock Lesnar path.

Instead, Rousey has consistently over-delivered. Whether it was her debut match at Wrestlemania, her match with Charlotte Flair at Survivor Series, or even her title bout with Nia Jax at TLC, this has unquestionably been the best-case scenario.

Rousey has her critics, who would have you believe she doesn’t deserve the spot she has. While so much of wrestling is relative based on one’s personal taste, many of those critics need to be reminded that much of the so-called “Women’s Evolution” can be attributed to Rousey’s success in the UFC. If she doesn’t become the box office draw that she does, WWE has no reason to revamp its own women’s division. Without Rousey, women like Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and Asuka wouldn’t have the chance to headline pay per views or steal the show at Wrestlemania.

What’s more, Rousey may be about to knock down yet another door. It’s looking more and more like she’ll be part of the first women’s match to headline the show of shows…

2. Daniel Bryan
This is Bryan’s third time on the list, and it’s not hard to see why. His performances spark a ton of emotion, and fans definitely ran the emotional gambit with him this year. In March, we were thrilled to hear he was cleared to return to the ring after more than two years in a WWE-imposed retirement. The move raises a number of questions regarding other wrestlers thought to be permanently retired due to injury. Among those names is Paige, who thanked Bryan in her retirement speech, adding “…you give me hope.”

Bryan made his emotional and genuinely inspirational return to the ring at Wrestlemania. For several months, Bryan was once again one of the company’s most popular acts. Then, less than a week before Survivor Series, Bryan shocked the world by winning back the WWE Championship, turning heel on AJ Styles in the process.

Since then, Bryan has condemned fans for their consumerism, and lack of regard for the environment. In one of the year’s most talked about promos, he promised to replace the leather strap on the WWE Title belt. He’s literally gone from one of the company’s top babyfaces, to perhaps its top heel. At this rate, it’s likely he’ll once again find himself back in the WWE Title Match at Wrestlemania this year.

3. Asuka
Asuka is also returning to this list, having made it last year. The “Empress of Tomorrow” started her 2018 at the highest of highs. Since arriving on Raw in October 2017, she’d kept her fabled undefeated streak alive. She would go on to win the inaugural Women’s Royal Rumble Match, earning a title match at Wrestlemania. She would face Smackdown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair in a match that, for my money, stole the damn show.

But that’s where her luck began to change. Flair shocked the world when she ended Asuka’s undefeated streak. A strange move in hindsight, as she’d simply drop the title to Carmella. The same Carmella that would later defeat Asuka in back-to-back pay per views. Mere months beforehand, it had been unthinkable that Asuka could lose to anyone. She’d beaten the likes of Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Mickie James. But suddenly, here she was losing title matches to Carmella, and subsequently being mired in mediocrity, forming an alliance with Naomi. The two would lose to Peyton Royce and Billie Kay at Super Show-Down.

And yet, Asuka’s popularity has endured. Apparently, that’s what prompted Vince McMahon to add her to the Smackdown Women’s Title Match at TLC. Now, Asuka can add Smackdown Women’s Champion, and winner of the first Women’s TLC Match to her resume. It’s like the last 10 months never even happened…

So at last, Asuka has made it to the top. It didn’t happen the way any of us thought it would. But she is there. Now it’s just a question of whether she can stay at the top, or she’ll be lost in the shuffle again. One way or another, we’ll get our answer in 2019.

4. Shawn Michaels
It’s tough to remember HBK coming out of retirement, isn’t it? As big a deal as it is, it was drowned out by all the controversy surrounding WWE Crown Jewel. Not to mention the announcement that Roman Reigns would be stepping away to fight leukemia.

But indeed, Degeneration X reunited in Saudi Arabia to face the Brothers of Destruction. While many cried that Triple H, the Undertaker, and Kane showed their age out there, even after eight years away Shawn still managed to look pretty damn good. And while Shawn himself indicated he’d be going right back into retirement, there’s been plenty of speculation about “Mr. Wrestlemania” making yet another appearance at the show of shows. Another Undertaker match seems like the obvious route. But Shawn has no shortage of other options. I myself floated six of them.

In hindsight, I still wish Shawn hadn’t done this match. I really wanted him to be the one guy that stayed true to his word. But what’s done is done.

5. Tegan Nox
This one hurt. Like, it really hurt. You just wanted to reach through the screen and comfort this poor woman. She’d already been through hell, and now she was going to have to do it all over again.

Tegan Nox, whose real name is Steffanie Newell, was supposed to be in the first Mae Young Classic. But a torn ACL kept her out of the ring. For this year’s tournament, they were telling that story with her. In fact, she was one of the favorites to win the whole thing.

Then, mere seconds into her second-round match against Rhea Ripley, her other knee goes out. We later learned she’d torn that ACL as well. It was a legitimately heartbreaking moment for not only Newell, but everyone watching.

The only upside in all of this? We seem to be on the road to yet another redemption story for this character. In the aftermath of all this, Rhea Ripley, who has gone on to become the NXT UK Women’s Champion, started a war of words with Nox on Twitter. So assuming Nox will indeed be back in the ring, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see her wearing that title in 2019.

So get well soon, Miss Newell. Great things are waiting for you.

6. Johnny Gargano
As cliche as it is, I’ve got to go with the classic Harvey Dent quote from The Dark Knight on this one: “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Former tag team partners Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa have put on some of the best matches in all of wrestling this year. But the feud has transformed Gargano, arguably one of the last old school babyfaces in the business, into a man consumed with destroying Ciampa. So when Ciampa wrestled Aleister Black for the NXT Championship in July, Gargano attempted to interfere and cost him the match. It ended up backfiring, as Gargano hit Black with the belt, and essentially handed the title to Ciampa.

A Triple-Threat Match was made for the championship at NXT Takeover Brooklyn IV, but a mysterious attack took Black out of the match. Gargano failed to win the title, at it was later revealed the he was the one who attacked the former champion. Naturally, a feud ignited between the two, culminating in a steel cage match this past week on NXT, which Ciampa would help Gargano win. This has lead to rampant speculation that this blood feud between Gargano and Ciampa has ultimately led them to team up all over again.

This slow journey of Johnny Gargano’s, from victim, to heroic avenger, to fallen hero consumed by revenge, to villain, is a textbook example of pro wrestling done right. Deep, emotional stories, told through amazing in-ring action.

7. Dean Ambrose
Ambrose was absent for much of 2018, healing from a torn triceps. But when he returned in August, he was once again part of the Shield. But seeds of dissension were quickly planted by rivals Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler. We all sensed a turn was coming. But there was no way we could have predicted what actually happened…

Mere hours after Roman Reigns announced he was stepping away from the ring to fight leukemia, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins successfully challenged McIntyre and Ziggler for the Raw Tag Team Titles. With emotions still running high after the Reigns announcement, Ambrose shocked Rollins with a DDT, and then a brutal beatdown. While many would cry foul over the timing, for my money it was ultimately one of the best things WWE did all year. It did what pro wrestling is supposed to do: It sucked us in. Got us invested in the characters and their stories. It sparked raw emotion in the audience.

However, WWE’s handling of Ambrose since the turn has been hit-or-miss. While I actually like the new Bane-inspired gas mask look, Vince McMahon’s influence on some of his promos has been quite evident. He’s talked about how the fans smell, how they’re all lazy and unmotivated, etc. Very little with any emotional weight to it.

Still, Ambrose is an awesome performer. Given the right material and the right opportunities, he’s as capable of delivering the goods as anyone. And they have a potentially hot storyline practically gift-wrapped for them, as Ambrose’s real-life wife Renee Young is sitting there on commentary every week. She might just be the ticket to him becoming the vile, despicable heel we all know he can be.

8. Drew McIntyre
Daniel Bryan may have had the comeback of the year, but Drew McIntyre had an epic comeback story of his own. McIntyre reinvented himself after being released by WWE in 2014. He found success in Impact Wrestling, Evolve, and PWG. When he returned to WWE via NXT in 2017, he was almost unrecognizable.

When McIntyre finally returned to the main roster this past April, he formed an unlikely alliance on Raw with Dolph Ziggler. The pair would ultimately up each other’s game, and be a dominant force on the show for most of the year. McIntyre would prove to be one of the show’s most consistent performers, both in the ring and on the mic.

Now a solo act again, the “Scottish Psychopath” will almost certainly challenge for the Universal Championship in 2019. McIntyre’s near five-year journey from the bottom of the wrestling may culminate with him standing at the very top. Frankly, it would be foolish to bet against him at this point.

9. Shinsuke Nakamura
Nakamura is back on this list this year, but unfortunately it’s for the wrong reasons. He and Asuka were very much on parallel journeys this year. They each won their respective Royal Rumble Matches, but failed to win gold at Wrestlemania. While Asuka failed to win the Smackdown Women’s Title from Carmella on two different occasions, Nakamura was unable to take the WWE Title from AJ Styles several times before finally dropping out of contention. He found a little bit of new life as a heel, and won the US Title from Jeff Hardy as a consolation prize. But his run has been fairly unremarkable, highlighted by a losing effort against Seth Rollins at Survivor Series. And while I won’t spoil this week’s Smackdown, the odds of Nakamura walking into 2019 with the belt are slim to none…

It would be easy to blame Nakamura’s failure as a main-eventer on WWE creative. The guy didn’t book himself to lose, after all. WWE also didn’t seem to know how to convey his unique persona, other than simply calling him “the Artist.” Losing multiple title matches to Jinder Mahal in 2017 didn’t help either.

But at the end of the day, Nakamura simply didn’t connect with mainstream American audiences well enough to justify the push he got. Yes, he’s a bona fide legend in Japan. Yes, he did very well in NXT. But on Raw and Smackdown you’re catering to the casuals and the average joes. And while we saw flashes of Nakamura’s greatness, over the long haul we never really got a good reason to invest in him emotionally, be it as a heel or a babyface. You can’t chalk all of that up to creative. Much of it, in fact, a majority of it, is about what happens in when the cameras are rolling.

Supposedly, Nakamura’s contract is up next month. If I’m in his shoes, I’m headed back to Japan. Because I’m at something of a loss as to how you build him back up at this point.

10. Becky Lynch
Up until recently, Becky Lynch was “always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” While her talent, charisma, and likability have been apparent almost from the start, WWE always seemed reluctant to fully get behind her. She was the only one of the “Four Horsewomen” of NXT to never win the NXT Women’s Title. While she did indeed become the inaugural Smackdown Women’s Champion, she only held the belt for two months. She more or less became a second-tier babyface afterward. This, despite fans clamoring to see her in a more prominent role.

We got our wish. Now, Becky Lynch may very well be the most popular wrestler in all of WWE.

Many of us, myself included, balked when Becky turned heel at Summerslam. But in hindsight, it gave her the creative freedom to become the defiant badass she is now. She’s often compared to Stone Cold Steve Austin, and that’s not entirely unjustified. Fans feel she’s been overlooked, and now they’re rooting for her to conquer the system that’s held her back for so long. Even when she was injured by Nia Jax and pulled out of a match against Ronda Rousey at Survivor Series, the fans stood behind her, every bit as outraged as she was. Now, she may be in a position to make history by headlining Wrestlemania with Rousey.

For more than a decade now, we’ve been in the era of forced babyfaces. Wrestlers we’re told we should cheer for, rather than heroes who earn those cheers organically. John Cena and Roman Reigns are both extremely talented, and great at what they do. But for most of their careers they’ve been going against the grain in terms of fan reception.

Becky Lynch is the exact opposite. No one told us to cheer for her. If anything, it’s been the exact opposite. But like Daniel Bryan before her, she’s started an uprising from the audience. And such uprisings should never be ignored, lest the main event of Wrestlemania be drowned out by chants of “Becky! Becky! Becky!”

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

Posted in Wrestling

WWE Evolution Predictions – Is This Show Going to Suck?

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

It’s a little hard to dissect a wrestling pay per view after what Roman Reigns told the world this week about his battle with leukemia.

It’s no secret that Roman Reigns’ TV personality is one of the most polarizing in the business. But if you’re able to look at him with any sort of objectivity, his heart, talent, and natural athleticism are more than evident. Cancer of any kind is a horrific, often unspeakable battle. But if Roman is anything like the person he portrays on TV, this illness is in for a hell of a fight.

Get well soon, Roman.

And now, for the most awkward transition of all time…

This Evolution pay per view has been somewhat controversial from the get-go. But it really shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be about the company supposedly doing this in response to negative backlash over the women not being able to perform on the Saudi pay per views. Or how much they’ve patted themselves on the back for being progressive. Or the weird booking choices. (We’ll get there…)

The current crop of female performers on the WWE roster have earned this. They deserve this time to shine. So as I make some of the critiques you’re about to read, let it be known that I haven’t lost sight of what a milestone this is. I’m damn proud to see women’s wrestling where it is today, as opposed to where it was when I started watching in the ’90s. Hell, where it was less than a decade ago. That can be attributed to many of the women you’ll see on this show.

Conspicuous by its absence will be the finals of the 2018 Mae Young Classic. I’m not caught up with the tournament, and I’m not informed enough to give a prediction. But I have absolutely no issue with that match being on the show. It’s a hell of a showcase for the talents involved.

These next two matches, however? I’ve got problems.

Natalya, Sasha Banks & Bayley vs. The Riott Squad

I haven’t been a Sasha Banks fan lately. Not because I don’t like her work, but because she often comes off like a brat in interviews. She grates on me. It’s gotten to the point that some weeks, I’ll even fast-forward through her matches.

But I’m not blind to what Sasha has done for women’s wrestling. Her matches with Bayley in particular, will stand the test of time. As for Natalya, year after year she was a wrestler among “divas.” For their roles in the advancement of women’s wrestling, these three deserve better than to be thrown into what’s essentially a glorified Raw match.

So let’s go ahead and give it to the Riott Squad. I mean, why not? What difference does it make at this point?

PREDICTION: The Riott Squad

BATTLE ROYAL FOR FUTURE TITLE MATCH:

Perhaps Nattie, Sasha, and Bayley can take some solace in the fact that they aren’t the only ones that got screwed.

We knew there was probably going to be a battle royal on this show. But to throw Asuka in there speaks volumes about just how far WWE have let her fall. Had this show taken place a year ago, Asuka could have headlined it. Now she’s being relegated to what’s essentially a filler match.

But it goes beyond Asuka. It also applies to women like Naomi. Nia Jax. Carmella. Ember Moon. Some of these ladies don’t have the natural wrestling talent of a Charlotte Flair or a Becky Lynch. Nor have some been featured as prominently during the so-called “women’s evolution.” But their contributions damn sure merit more than to simply be thrown together like this.

On the plus side, at least they get to share a ring with some of the women who paved they way for them. Madusa. Ivory. Molly Holly. It’ll be nice to see them again.

As for who wins, I’d love to say Asuka. But that seems a little too obvious. Given who we know is in this match, I’m going to predict Ember Moon. Let’s give her a brighter spotlight. At least for the time being.

PREDICTION: Ember Moon

NXT WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Kairi Sane (c) vs. Shayna Baszler

Given the role the NXT Women’s Title played in the careers of women like Paige, Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Asuka, among others, I can’t find it in my heart to complain about it being on this show. Ditto for Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler. You could call either of them up to the main roster and they’d be perfectly fine.

In fact, that’s what I’m betting on as it relates to Baszler. This is going to be the first time she and Ronda Rousey have wrestled on the same show. As two of the “Four Horsewomen of MMA,” they share a unique connection. I’m hoping we get some kind of backstage meeting or confrontation between the two that plants a seed for a future match.

I’d be fine with this one going either way. But the more I think about it, the more I want to go with Baszler. If they want to start setting her up for Ronda, there’s no better time than now.

PREDICTION: Shayna Baszler

Trish Stratus & Lita vs. Alexa Bliss & Mickie James

I’m going into this assuming that Alexa will be able to wrestle, despite the reports that she’s out with a concussion. Supposedly, Alicia Fox is on deck to replace her.

I wouldn’t expect a mat classic out of these four. But hopefully this turns out to be fun. The crowd reacted really nicely to Trish and Mickie in the ring at the Royal Rumble. Hopefully they’ll do the same here. But for crying out loud, just be careful on that moonsault, Lita…

Part of me wants to give the nod to Alexa and Mickie, just because they’re on Raw every week. But they’ll likely give the win to Trish and Lita and give us a feel-good moment.

PREDICTION: Trish Stratus and Lita

LAST WOMAN STANDING MATCH:
Becky Lynch (c) vs. Charlotte Flair

Ronda and Nikki will almost surely headline the show. But for my money, this is the real main event.

So with 20/20 hindsight, was it the right move to turn Becky heel? Probably not. But they’ve nevertheless created some great bad blood between these two, and allowed Becky to do some of the best mic work of her career. Everybody involved has really made the best of what started as a bad situation.

Who know who the real victim in all of this was? Charlotte. I don’t know how long people have been calling her “the female Roman Reigns” in terms of her booking, but this was the first time I really noticed it. Had she not dropped the title to Becky, things might have gotten really bad in terms of her crowd reactions. Like, really bad.

Come to think of it, it might still get bad. Because I see Charlotte taking the belt home here. As she’s the other person they want to make into a big marquee female star (more than she already is, at least), they’ll want to give her a big win on a historic show like this. That doesn’t mean Becky can’t win it back. But Evolution will be Charlotte’s night.

PREDICTION: Charlotte Flair

WWE RAW WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Ronda Rousey (c) vs. Nikki Bella

Yeah, this is happening. WWE’s first all-female pay per view is being headlined by Nikki Bella.

While you’ll never convince me that Nikki deserves this particular spot on this particular show, I’ll admit that they turned this into a money program fairly quick. Ronda’s “do nothing Bellas” promo took this whole thing to another level. And I’ll give Nikki and Brie credit for playing into it very well.

But from a match standpoint? I’m not sure what to expect from this one. Nikki has been able to deliver in the past. But how she’ll match up with Ronda remains to be seen. I don’t exactly have high hopes. But Ronda has been overachieving from the start. So they might just surprise us.

Either way, Ronda keeps the title here. Like Charlotte, they’ll want her to have a big win. And frankly, she deserves it after the year she’s had.

PREDICTION: Ronda Rousey

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com!

Posted in Wrestling

WWE’s Most Fascinating People of 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Yeah, I’m still stealing this Barbara Walters bit. What can I say? I like it. I’ve been able to do it every year (with one exception) since 2012.

This list is subjective, as always. These are 10 people who, for reasons both good and bad, stood out to me over the course of 2017. We’ve got unlikely champions, call-ups from NXT whose journeys have been more tumultuous than anticipated, a veteran who’ll be on the Wrestle Kingdom 12 card, and many more.

So let’s get down to business…

1. Jinder Mahal

Jinder was one of WWE’s biggest gambles this year. The company made him their poster child for their attempts to break into the Indian market. In the process, Mahal went from glorified enhancement talent to WWE Champion in a matter of weeks. With help from the Singh Brothers (the former Bollywood Boyz), Mahal scored three consecutive pay per view victories over Randy Orton. He went on to retain over Shinsuke Nakamura at Summerslam and Hell in a Cell.

Though he held the title for most of the year, Mahal became a controversial figure for a variety of reasons. The question of whether he deserves this sudden shove into the limelight has always been there, with his matches and promos being highly critiqued. Also, the nature of his physique has been in question for quite some time. Many have suggested his increased musculature has come from steroids, or other performance enhancing drugs. The racial overtones used in his program with Nakamura did him no favors either. He actually got “That’s too far!” chants during a promo in October when he said of the Japanese star: “You always rook the same.”

Signs pointed to Mahal being the champion and the focal point of WWE’s two December shows in India. But by the time they got there, not only had the belt been taken from Jinder, but one of the shows had been cancelled. The “Maharaja” was still in a high profile match with Triple H. But he ended up eating the pin. He’d also been pulled from a headline match against Universal Champion Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series.

While success inevitably breeds envy and criticism, it’s safe to say the Jinder Mahal experiment hasn’t worked out the way anyone hoped. He may have an uphill battle ahead of him if he wants to stay near the top of the card.

2. Asuka

The “Empress of Tomorrow” made her long-awaited debut on the main roster in October. While she’s maintained her undefeated streak, Asuka has run into a familiar problem. Like many of her peers, she’s had trouble translating her NXT success to the main roster.

To WWE’s credit, they brought Asuka in with a ton of hype. But her match with Emma at No Mercy left fans underwhelmed. She scored a hard-fought victory, but she wasn’t presented as the dominant destroyer they’d come to know. They quickly switched gears, placing her in enhancement matches akin to those done for Braun Strowman and Nia Jax early in their Raw tenures. But you only get one chance to make a first impression, and for Asuka it had come and gone.

Thankfully, they seem to know what they have in her. She was the sole victor in the women’s match at Survivor Series, has started to score decisive wins over lower card wrestlers like Alicia Fox and Dana Brooke, and has publicly declared her intent to come after the Raw Women’s Championship. Asuka would be a perfect pick to win the recently announced Women’s Royal Rumble Match.

Asuka got off to a rocky start. But she seems to be picking up speed. I’d certainly hate to see her end up like a certain other woman on the Raw roster…

3. Bayley

Bayley’s 2017 was…okay. Just okay. She started out fairly strong, defeating Charlotte Flair on Raw to win her first Raw Women’s Title, and then breaking Flair’s pay per view undefeated streak shortly thereafter. She would go on to retain the title in a multi-woman match at Wrestlemania. Things seemed to be going well for her.

But by mid-year she’d fallen off track. WWE writers seem unsure of how to write Bayley. To an extent that’s understandable. Her character is very unique. You don’t see very many relentlessly positive, squeaky clean underdogs in 2017. But when paired against the spunky brat Alexa Bliss, she became a wishy-washy wet noodle. Bayley needed to show fire against Alexa. We needed to see that she could get angry when she had to. We didn’t get that. Instead we got bad dialogue, capped off by an absolutely atrocious “This Is Your Life” segment that was meant to garner sympathy for her.

By the time summer game around, she was getting the opposite. There were noticeable boos for WWE’s resident hugger, even when she was sidelined with a separated shoulder. These days, Bayley essentially just another name on the roster. From a creative standpoint, that’s an absolute travesty. Bayley is a special kind of character, who at one point had a special connection with a variety of fans. If there’s one person in all of WWE who could use a little character rehabbing, it’s her.

4. Matt Hardy

When it came to Matt Hardy, we spent most of 2017 waiting.

But just a few weeks ago, an on-screen breakdown led to the emergence of “Woken” Matt Hardy. The difference between Woken Matt and Broken Matt? Semantics. He’s got the same gear, the same hair, the same accent. For all intents and purposes, Broken Matt Hardy has come to WWE.

We haven’t seen a lot of him yet. It’s mostly been pre-taped promos, going back and forth with Bray Wyatt. Die-hard wrestling fans were already sold on Broken Matt. But the more casual fans watching Raw are seeing him for the first time. So far so good. Crowds have been reacting fairly well, and Matt has even breathed a tiny bit of life back into Bray.

There’s no shortage of options as to what can be done with this alternate version of Matt Hardy. In Impact, Jeff got in on the action as Brother Nero. But Matt’s wife, father-in-law, and children also became on-screen characters. We saw outrageous stuff on location at the Hardy compound. We saw a friggin’ drone. If Matt has a decent amount of control here, which he reportedly does, he could be one of the best parts of Raw in 2017.

5. Enzo Amore

Enzo faced a lot of criticism in 2017, but wound up proving a lot of his haters wrong. He started the year doing his usual shtick with Big Cass. Now he’s got the Cruiserweight Title and has essentially been made the star of 205 Live.

He could very well have fallen off the map after Cass went heel on him in June. But he ended up cutting some of the most passionate, scathing promos we heard on WWE TV all year. When Cass went down with an injury, Enzo was quickly moved into the Cruiserweight Division and put with Neville. Smart marks cried foul when Enzo somehow pinned Neville for the Cruiserweight Title in September. But the double turn that followed, turning Enzo heel and Neville babyface, turned out to be amazing. Enzo’s mic work and undeniable star power are undeniable. He’s earned his spot.

Enzo reminds me a lot of an early incarnation of the Miz. He won’t win any prizes for his wrestling. But his character work is on a different level than almost everybody else. When he talks, you believe him. In WWE, that’s a golden ticket that can take you almost anywhere. Enzo can be a singles wrestler, a tag team wrestler, a manager, an announcer, or whatever they need him to be. If Enzo is as tenacious and hard-working as Miz, he’s going to be around a long time.

And as long as we’re talking about him…

6. The Miz

Mike Mizanin’s suitability for pro wrestling stardom has been questioned from the start. Mainly because of his background as a reality TV star. But his wrestling ability has also been heavily critiqued. Throw in his success, including headlining a Wrestlemania, and he’s been a polarizing figure amongst die-hards.

But 2017 seemed to be the year Miz finally won over his critics. The majority of them anyway. He’s no slouch in the ring. But it”s mostly been a matter of his mic work and the presentation of his character. The continued inclusion of his wife Maryse, the slick suits, the good to great promos week after week, the incorporation of Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel as his “Miztourage.” It’s all come together. Now, roughly seven years after he main-evented Wrestlemania, he once again feels like a main-eventer. In 2017 he continued to make the Intercontinental Title feel prestigious again. He defended it, and in some cases traded it with, the likes of Dean Ambrose, Jeff Hardy, and Roman Reigns. It’s likely he’ll challenge for it again when he returns. Then again, perhaps it’s time for a new frontier…

Perhaps 2018 is the year Miz once again becomes WWE Champion.

7. Sami Zayn

Under the WWE umbrella, Sami Zayn was always portrayed as a sentimental underdog. It’s a role he wears well. Case in point, his work with Braun Strowman early in the year. But the underdog role isn’t always a good one to have. Yes, cases like Rey Mysterio Jr and Daniel Bryan will always exist. But the thing about being an underdog is that you sometimes have to lose. A lot. And despite what some in the WWE creative department would have you believe, wins and losses matter. As such, Sami Zayn’s time on the main roster as “the Underdog From the Underground” hasn’t been the most eventful. Even Sami himself has dropped hints of his frustration at how things have gone.

Then Hell in a Cell came around, and Sami aligned with nemesis Kevin Owens against Smackdown General Manager Shane McMahon. In the days to come it became clear that the underdog had become the villain.

It was just what the doctor ordered. Zayn tapped into a side of his personality that’s delightfully annoying, and become an atypical sort of heel. He described it on a podcast as: “…like when you’re dating a girl and she kind of has these quirks, but they’re lovable. But once you break up, it’s like, ‘oh, God! She was so annoying! … the things you used to love about her, now, you hate about her because you don’t love her anymore.”

Lovable or not, it’s working. Zayn has been a lot of fun to watch these past few months, and at the Royal Rumble he’ll be wrestling for the WWE Title. Now that’s progress.

8. Shinsuke Nakamura

Hopes were high this past spring when Shinsuke Nakamura was called up to Smackdown.    Performers like him don’t come by every day, and having him be on American television for the first time (not counting NXT) was a big deal. But WWE isn’t exactly known for giving their performers the best material to work with, even less for letting the performers be themselves. So the question of how he’d fare loomed ominously.

Coming from someone who hasn’t seem much of his work in Japan, Nakamura’s time on the main roster has been underwhelming. Almost a year later, it still feels like we hardly know the guy. The announcers call him things like “Artist” and “Rock Star.” But those are empty nicknames. Who is this man? Why is he the way he is? Granted, they’re not exactly writing Shakespeare for him. His program with Jinder Mahal was a low point for WWE television all year, particularly when the racial stuff started coming into play.

Still, bad creative can’t take away the performer Nakamura is. The crowds are still into him. There’s even been a little bit of buzz about him winning the Royal Rumble Match this year. Hope isn’t lost for Nakamura’s WWE tenure yet. But the guy needs a hit. That one great match. That one great promo or vignette. Something.

9. Braun Strowman

There’s an argument to be made that Braun Strowman, not Roman Reigns, should be WWE’s poster boy. At the very least, he’s not hearing the kind of boos Roman is.

It’s fitting then, that Strowman’s best work this year was with Reigns. They had an uncanny amount of chemistry, especially when you consider Strowman’s experience level. He’s only been around a few years. But these matches with Reigns have been damn good. That image of Strowman heaving a chair at Roman’s head is as awesome today as it was when it happened.

More importantly, Braun Strowman represents a tremendous success on WWE’s part. They’ve created a genuine homegrown star. And unlike a John Cena or a Roman Reigns, the male fans aren’t threatened by him. So if WWE went with Braun, he could potentially have a relationship with the audience that we haven’t seen from a “chosen one” in a long time. A top babyface that the fans actually want to cheer for. Imagine that. This could be it. This could be the year the “Monster Among Men” stands at the top.

10. Chris Jericho

One of WWE’s most fascinating people just wrestled Kenny Omega at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s biggest show of the year.

Chris Jericho’s choice to compete at Wrestle Kingdom 12 made a hell of a statement about NJPW’s foray into the United States, and its potential as an alternative to WWE. It also speaks volumes about who Chris Jericho is as a performer, and his resolve to continually challenge himself and grow. As if he wasn’t already the most versatile and multi-faceted performer in wrestling history.

Jericho also ended his latest WWE tenure on a high note. Coming into 2017, his rapport with Kevin Owens continued to be highlight of Raw every week. It culminated in a “Festival of Friendship,” which was arguably the most entertaining segment all year. Jericho and Owens weren’t nearly as compelling as enemies. But Owens got a Wrestlemania victory out of the deal, which is a nice feather in his cap. It’s a feather in Jericho’s cap too, as he got to help elevate yet another wrestler on their journey to WWE superstardom.

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

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Posted in Wrestling

WWE Survivor Series Predictions, Plus: The Jinder Mahal Experiment

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It’s been a week now since the Jinder Mahal experiment ended. For now, at least. So let’s pose the question: Did it work? All these months later, can we call Jinder Mahal’s reign as WWE Champion a success?

It depends on what your definition of success is. If the idea was to make Jinder a red hot WWE Champion, then this bet didn’t pay off. But if they were simply trying to elevate this guy and make him a commodity, then they got what they wanted…sort of. Either way, the results aren’t exactly stellar.

Jinder Mahal has been compared to JBL quite a bit. Jinder was abruptly shoved into the main event scene due to a lack of upper card heel talent, much like Layfield was in 2004. In hindsight, that’s a fair comparison. But only to a point. By 2004, JBL was a name. Not a huge one, but he’d achieved a measure of stardom with Ron Simmons in the APA. He was hardly the best worker in the world, but the Clothesline from Hell was a great finisher. He’s also a natural heel who could cut stellar promos. To this day some people still can’t stand the guy. (#FireJBL anyone?)

By comparison, Jinder has almost none of that going for him. That’s not to say he wasn’t talented in his own right. He’s a decent talker and has an amazing physique. But before the big push, he was just another guy on the roster. Most fans knew him from his days with 3MB, a comedy act whose job it was to put the real stars over. Mahal was actually cut, then brought back last year to fill space when they split the rosters again. He was a glorified enhancement guy. So giving him any kind of believability was an uphill battle from the start.

That’s not to say it couldn’t have worked. But instead of glossing over Mahal’s abysmal win/loss record, they should have leaned into it. Play Jinder up as a bottom-of-the-card guy who stole the WWE Title with help from the Singh Brothers. Every day he holds that championship is a travesty of justice. This is where having good announcers can come in handy. You have them say Jinder’s name with disdain, and remind us he’s an unworthy champion week after week.

Instead, we got things like the Punjabi Prison Match with Randy Orton and a feud with Shinsukt Nakamura that did nothing for either man. In the end, WWE had to abandon their newest pet project because no one bought him as an opponent for Brock Lesnar. For now at least, the experiment with Jinder Mahal and the WWE Championship is over.

Thankfully for Jinder, all is not lost. Now that he’s no longer under the pressure of being WWE Champion, he has a chance to actually prove himself as a commodity on Smackdown. They can develop his character and show us who he is when he doesn’t have to live up to the likes of Bruno Sammartino, Randy Savage, John Cena, etc. Heck, I’d take Jinder as the US Champion over Baron Corbin. Then he can play up the whole “Americans are prejudiced!” approach.

Did Jinder Mahal have any business being WWE Champion? Probably not. Either way, he’s now a player on WWE television. The question now is whether he can prove he deserves it.

Let’s jump into predictions for Survivor Series 2017…

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

Kalisto desperately needs to go to promo class. Either that, or WWE needs to tweak the way they present him. He’s capable of some truly amazing aerial stunts. I still vividly remember him hitting the Salida del Sol off a ladder a couple of years ago. If they emphasize that stuff, instead of making him another white meat babyface in the Cruiserweight Division, he might have a shot at being champion again. But for now, they’d be foolish to take it off Enzo.

PREDICTION: Enzo Amore

CHAMPION VS. CHAMPION:
The Miz vs. Baron Corbin

My expectations for this one are very low. It’s a heel vs. heel match with two guys who’ve never worked together, in a feud that will likely stop dead in its tracks after Survivor Series. Why should I care?

I’m always hopeful these kind of matches will prove me wrong. But considering Miz calls Corbin the “bathroom break of Smackdown,” it wouldn’t shock me if this became the bathroom break of Survivor Series.

I don’t see why you’d have Corbin beat Miz. The latter is easily the hotter commodity. Corbin is still a work in progress. There’s something there. But putting him next to Miz doesn’t make him look good at all.

PREDICTION: The Miz

CHAMPIONS VS CHAMPIONS:
Sheamus and Cesaro vs. The Usos

Another heel vs. heel match. But at least in this one we’re likely to get come good wrestling. Between their stellar promos and an outstanding run with the New Day, the Usos have been on fire this year. What’s more, Sheamus and Cesaro have more than proven their worth as a team on Raw. Given enough time and freedom, these four could turn in something great.

I think you give this one to the Usos. They’ve got a really hot act right now. As this is a one-off, why cool it down? Give them one more thing to get on the mic and brag about. Now it’s just a matter of finding them more teams to feud with…

PREDICTION: The Usos

CHAMPION VS CHAMPION:
Alexa Bliss vs. Charlotte Flair

I wish they’d had more time to build this, as it’s legitimately a pretty big match. It’s Alexa’s giant personality against the uncanny athleticism of Charlotte. I don’t know what to expect, but I’m intrigued.

This feels like a Charlotte victory to me. They just put the belt on her this week. Plus, despite Alexa’s rise to the top these past two years, Charlotte remains the bigger star. So at least for now, the Queen of Smackdown trumps the Goddess of Raw.

PREDICTION: Charlotte Flair

SURVIVOR SERIES ELIMINATION MATCH:
Alicia Fox, Asuka, Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Nia Jax vs. Becky Lynch, Carmella, Naomi, Tamina, and ?

It’s Paige. Paige is going to Smackdown, and she’s the final member of their team.

She was at Raw this past Monday, after all. But they opted not to use her. Why? Because they wanted to save her for the pay per view. Why not? It gives her return, and the match as a whole, a lot more kick.

The x-factor in all of this should be Asuka. They’re still trying to establish her as a dominant force on Raw, and it’s proven more challenging than I think anyone expected. She should take out two or three members of Team Smackdown, before ultimately getting into a brawl with someone on her own team that leads to a count-out. Thus, we get her out of the match without pinning her.

If Paige is indeed coming back on Smackdown, then Team Smackdown needs to win. She can be the sole survivor. But I’d also like to see her and Becky Lynch standing tall at the end. Either way works for me.

PREDICTION: Team Smackdown

The New Day vs. The Usos

Expect big things from this one, folks. It could easily steal the show.

Let’s not lose sight of what a big deal this is for the New Day. Putting them next to the Shield is a big deal. Reigns, Rollins, and Ambrose all went on to become legit singles stars after they broke up. They’ve headlined pay per views, won world titles, etc. While Kofi Kingston had a good amount of success on his own, he was never a main eventer like his opponents here. So indicating that the New Day are competition for the Shield is a great endorsement for Kofi, Big E, and Xavier. I’d love to think it’s a good indicator for life after the New Day.

All that being said, you can’t beat the Shield. Not now. They just got back together. You can’t rain on the parade mere moments after it begins. These guys have a least a couple of months left in them before they start losing and Sports Betting Dime is giving them favorited odds of 3/17 – Believe that.

PREDICTION: The Shield

CHAMPION VS CHAMPION:
Brock Lesnar vs. AJ Styles

Imagine the heat they could have built for this with more than two weeks notice. Imagine what they could have done if they hadn’t spent that time hyping Brock vs. Jinder…

I don’t know what to expect from a Brock Lesnar match anymore. I’d have thought the one with Braun Strowman would have been amazing. Not so much. On the other hand, he turned in good stuff at Great Balls of Fire and Summerslam. And if there’s one person on the planet that’s qualified to give Brock a great match, it’s AJ Styles. He’ll bump around like a maniac for all Brock’s big moves. It could very well be a sight to behold.

But good match or bad, Brock wins. That’s usually the scenario, isn’t it? Brock’s got a date with Roman Reigns at Wrestlemania, and he’s walking in with a (mostly) clean record.

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

SURVIVOR SERIES ELIMINATION MATCH:
Kurt Angle, Triple H, Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, and Braun Strowman vs. Shane McMahon, John Cena, Randy Orton, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Bobby Roode

As good as Brock vs. AJ or the Shield vs. the New Day could be, this is the match that needs to main event the show. For no other reason than all the different combinations we might see. Shane vs. Triple H. Cena vs. Balor. Cena vs. Joe. Triple H vs. Nakamura. Angle vs. Nakamura. The list goes on…

So we’re obviously getting Kurt Angle vs. Triple H at Wrestlemania. Possibly even the Royal Rumble. They had him lay out Jason Jordan on Raw. Despite how stupid Angle looked just standing there watching, they can’t let that go. It’s got to lead to a fight. I suspect Hunter lays out Angle at some point during this match to further things.

Two men who aren’t in this match? Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. Two men who need to interfere in this match? Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. We saw them bail during the big Raw vs. Smackdown fight on Tuesday. That set a natural precedent for them coming in and costing Shane his triumph over Raw. More importantly, it sets them up as the top heels on Smackdown.

Grab some popcorn, kids. I imagine this one will go the distance.

PREDICTION: Team Raw

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Posted in Uncategorized

Undertaker’s Raw Return, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Here we go, folks. The answer we’re looking for is coming. We may even have a firm date for it.

Details have started to emerge about the Raw 25th anniversary show that’s scheduled for January 22. As we’ve come to expect with these anniversary shows, they’re bringing in past stars for nostalgia purposes. Already announced are Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, and in his first appearance since Wrestlemania, the Undertaker.

So here it is. This is their window. If they’re going to to some kind of angle for an Undertaker match at Wrestlemania, this is it. I’ve talked before about the pros and cons of Undertaker wrestling another match. I really don’t think there’s a need for it at this point, especially after the great send-off he got this year. But this is pro wrestling. You can probably count the guys who’ve retired and not come back in some form on one hand.

Chances are we’re not getting another Undertaker/Roman Reigns match. We’ve known for quite awhile that Reigns has a date with Brock Lesnar this spring. If the Dead Man is coming back, there are a bunch of names they could put him with. But let’s be honest. There’s only one potential Undertaker match that absolutely demands the pomp and circumstance of Wrestlemania. You can even argue he’s the only one worthy of bringing the Undertaker back for at all.

John Cena.

There’s been speculation about this match for a long time. Apparently it almost happened this year. Could we live without it? Yes. But if they’re dead set (no pun intended) on bringing the Undertaker back, if they’re going to renege on everything we saw in Orlando this year, this has to be the match. Cena may be the only one that doesn’t cheapen or diminish what appeared to be Undertaker’s genuine retirement.

Then again, maybe he’s not. Maybe that person doesn’t exist. But consider the actual match Undertaker and Roman had. What we got afterward was amazing. But the match itself was nothing to write home about. If Cena can give the Dead Man one last amazing Wrestlemania match, maybe it’s worth one more comeback…

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Shane McMahon commends the New Day for their actions on Raw. Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens interrupt. A match is made between Sami Zayn and Kofi Kingston. The Manchester Arena holds 21,000 people, and there were apparently only about 9,000 in attendance for this show. That’s a downer. On the plus side, the fans that were there seemed into it. Particularly during this opening segment.

Kofi Kingston def. Sami Zayn. This match made headlines, and not in a good way.

Multiple news outlets reported that Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn were sent home from Manchester after this Smackdown taping. What happened, or rather didn’t happen, after this match was apparently what prompted it. Owens and Zayn were supposed to have a lengthier post-match fight inside the ring with the New Day. Instead, they stayed on the outside. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, as the two have allegedly been difficult to work with as of late.

This was a surprise. Especially when you consider how vital these two are to Smackdown. Zayn is just now getting a chance to have a more expanded role on television. So the idea that he’s been tough to deal with seems very odd.

I’d love to think this is all part of a storyline. But the general consensus is that it’s legit. So the best case scenario here is that they come back and this becomes something they reference on television to get a reaction. Similar to Miz mentioning the incident where Enzo got kicked off a tour bus.

Randy Orton def. Rusev to deny the latter a spot on Team Smackdown at Survivor SeriesUh huh. Right. Rusev totally had a shot at getting on that team. Sure…

Becky Lynch def. James Ellsworth. Carmella lays out Ellsworth with a superkick afterward. I’m not big on inter-gender wrestling. But it’s fine as an attraction once in awhile. That’s exactly what this was, and it managed to be a fun little match. A great moment for both Lynch and Ellsworth. My only real complaint is that they didn’t save this for a pay per view. They could have drawn this out as a longer story.

Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable def. The Usos by count-out in a Smackdown Tag Team Title Match. The Usos keep the belts. When you consider what these guys are capable of, this was a let-down. But I imagine this was the first of many matches they’ll have. So let’s call it chapter one.

AJ Styles def. Jinder Mahal to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. While I can’t complain about this in the slightest, I wouldn’t get my hopes up about Styles keeping the belt for long. Remember, they’re still touring India in December. While those are Raw shows, my guess is they’ll fly both these guys in so that Jinder can get the belt back in his home country. Or rather, his fake home country. The Modern Day Maharaja is actually from Canada…

AJ deserves to stay in the top spot, though. He’s the best performer in the entire company, if not the entire world. Moving from Brock Lesnar vs. Jinder Mahal to Brock vs. AJ is like going from hamburger to filet mignon. There was no reason to think it was going to be any good, and there seemed to be little to no interest in it. I suspect that’s why this happened. While I’ve been fairly open-minded about Jinder’s abrupt shove into the main event picture, this title switch is an indictment on WWE’s failure to turn him into a solid commodity. Or at the very least, someone worthy of putting with their biggest attraction.

The way they’ve booked Survivor Series in general has been really weird. Granted, they were thrown a curve-ball when Roman Reigns got sick. So we can forgive the sudden title switch off of Rollins and Ambrose to allow for a Shield vs. New Day match. But Brock against Jinder was a bad idea from the start. Ditto for Miz against Baron Corbin. Rumor has it they’re also thinking of putting the Smackdown Women’s Title on Charlotte Flair, so she can be swapped into the match with Raw Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss.

I mean…they knew November was coming, right? They had a calendar? They could have done the appropriate title changes at Hell in a Cell if they wanted to.

On the plus side, AJ gave Jinder the best match he’s ever had. And the crowd was hot for the change.

John Cena announced as the final member of Team SmackdownThis was a swerve. Cena was at one point rumored to be the guest referee in the Brock/Jinder match. It’s a decent spot for him. Though it raises a few questions about his loyalties between Raw and Smackdown.

Who am I kidding? Those creative geniuses will forget it ever happened the night after the show, anyway…

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Posted in Wrestling

Kevin Owens Attacks Vince, Ponderings From WWE Smackdown Live

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

We got a pretty cool moment this week on Raw when the Miz announced he and Maryse are having their first child. Obviously they met through WWE, so for them to have that moment in the ring together was really nice.

The only downside to this situation is that the Miz is probably going away for awhile. Maryse certainly will be. Not necessarily in the near future, but close enough down the road that it merits discussion. WWE is taking a lot of flack for running shows on Christmas and New Year’s Day. But I doubt even Ebenezer McMahon would deny the Intercontinental Champion a little paternity leave. He’s certainly earned it, given he’s almost single-handedly made that IC belt mean something again.

So naturally, the question becomes about who you give the title to when he’s gone. They’ve previously tried to maintain Miz’s momentum by having him drop the title to guys like Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler. On paper, those were great choices. But in both cases, the magic was gone.

The most likely candidate to take the belt from Miz seems to be Jason Jordan. That’s a bad idea. A really bad idea. Notwithstanding his recent strong outings with John Cena and Roman Reigns, Jordan is still far too “white meat” to get the belt. He’s not established enough, either in terms of character or credibility. If he continues having quality singles matches, he’ll get there in due time. But that time isn’t now. They can’t just throw Jordan a belt and expect him to be a made man. The fans will chew him up and spit him out.

So if not Jordan, then who? You’ve got more than a few good options. I’ll give you five…

Jeff Hardy’s name comes to mind right away. There was a good amount of buzz when he won that Battle Royal a few weeks ago, and got a shot at Miz. He didn’t win, obviously. But there’s plenty of interest in another Jeff Hardy singles run. The IC Title would be a fine way to start him down that path.

Another name to consider is Finn Balor. This program with Bray Wyatt isn’t lighting the world on fire, but the fans are still into him. As he’s already been established as a main event guy, an Intercontinental Title run would be believable.

You’ve also got Samoa Joe. He’s currently out with a knee injury, but given the high profile losses he suffered at Great Balls of Fire and Summerslam, a little break will do him good. Joe needs to rack up a few big wins. One way to do that would be to make him a dominant IC Champ. Joe has yet to wear gold on the main roster, and the title would be a valuable addition to his resume.

Goldust didn’t have a good night on Raw this week. But I’m tellin’ ya, this guy can do great things if they just give him the ball again. They re-established him in a low profile feud with R-Truth, but have thus far failed to follow up in a meaningful way. Having Bray wipe his face paint off was a big step in the wrong direction. But all is not lost. If Goldust mounts a strong comeback, he can still be a contender. Plus, he and Miz could have a great feud.

Then there’s Elias. I never expected to say this, but he’s overachieved since coming to Raw. Despite being a heel, the fans seem to be into him. They certainly were in Anaheim this week. He’s not quite ready for the IC Title yet. But character-wise, he’s in a better spot than Jason Jordan is. Give him another few months, and he might just be singing about Intercontinental gold.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Kevin Owens opens the show, talks about suing the McMahons and turning Smackdown into The Kevin Owens Show. Dolph Ziggler trolls the audience with Shane McMahon’s music. Daniel Bryan comes out and says Mr. McMahon will be there later. I got a big kick out of Sami Zayn being the first person “fired” from the Kevin Owens show. A nice little touch there.

Kevin Owens and Dolph Ziggler are the tag team I never knew I wanted. I mean, why not? The whole impersonator gimmick is usually the kiss of death, so what exactly does Dolph have to lose?

AJ Styles def. Tye Dillinger to retain the WWE United States Championship. Baron Corbin attempts to interfere in the match. Corbin announces he’ll face Styles for the title next week. An okay outing for Styles and Dillinger. I think most people knew going in that Dillinger wasn’t going to take it. Especially since they haven’t gotten much mileage out of Styles using the open challenge gimmick yet.

WWE Champion Jinder Mahal mocks Shinsuke Nakamura’s facial expressions. This was pretty lame. But on the plus side, it was so annoying that I definitely want to see Nakamura kick Jinder’s head off. I’m not sure that’s heat, per se. But it’s something.

The New Day def. The Usos to win the WWE Smackdown Tag Team Titles. Parts of this were nice and stiff. These guys took some nasty falls. When Big E. goes into that second gear, he’s money. Now that we’ve gotten to know him over the years, they might have something with him If he can ever transition into a more serious role.

Natalya def. Naomi to retain the WWE Smackdown Women’s Title. Carmella and James Ellsworth look on from ringside, get taken out by Naomi during the match. So Carmella literally has Ellsworth on a leash now? A little on the nose. But I guess that’s one way to garner some sympathy for the guy.

Dolph Ziggler mocks Bayley and the Ultimate Warrior’s entrances. Interestingly enough, both Bayley and Warrior’s widow were in the building for the Mae Young Classic. Coincidence? Probably.

Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable def. The Hype Bros. Zack Ryder opts not to shake hands with Benjamin or Gable afterward. That Zack Ryder heel turn is finally coming. I’ve been ready for this for awhile now. Not because I think he’ll be this amazing super-heel (Though I guess he could be…), but out of sheer curiosity.

Kevin Owens attacks Vince McMahon after a Hell in a Cell Match is made for KO and Shane McMahon. I’d still prefer the New Day and the Usos get the cell match. But Owens and Shane are a better choice than Nakamura and Mahal would have been. You win some, you lose some…

So KO headbutts Vince, opening him up immediately. Thanks a lot, man. Vince’s creative choices are weird enough without tacking on additional head trauma…

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Posted in Wrestling

Big Show’s Big Night, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

In the wake of JBL announcing his departure from the Smackdown Live announce team, WWE has quickly chosen a replacement for him. And it’s none other than Corey Graves. Indeed, Graves will now serve as a color analyst on both Raw and Smackdown. Nigel McGuinness will take his place on Main Event and 205 Live.

I’ve come to love the work Graves does. In a relatively short amount of time, he’s become the most credible announcer WWE has at their disposal. Fans may not know just how valuable he is until the day we have to live without him. That being said, having Graves on both Raw and Smackdown is not a good idea.

Setting aside the “too much of a good thing” lesson we’ve learned from all these years of three-hour Raw broadcasts, having Graves on both shows dilutes the integrity of the roster split. In theory, Raw and Smackdown are supposed to be two separate brands. It’s not simply a matter of different wrestlers and championships. The shows are supposed to have different looks and feels to them. The announcers are a critical component in that respect, as they literally give the shows their respective voices. Having Graves call both Raw and Smackdown blurs that line of distinction. What’s worse, it opens the door for the further blurring of that line. We’ve already got Corey Graves on both shows, and John Cena has been a “free agent.” Since they’ve gone this far, who’s to say certain wrestlers can’t show up on both shows?

It’s this kind of thing that led to the discontinuation of the original roster split. The integrity had been eroded to the point that there was no point in continuing the charade any longer. It got so bad toward the end that our two Heavyweight Champions wrestling in throwaway matches in the middle of Raw

Graves is an amazing announcer. But there are plenty of other qualified people WWE can call on to fill JBL’s seat. We just had Jerry Lawler back on last week’s Raw. Give him a buzz. Have Lita or Renee Young tag in to bring a female perspective to things. Mick Foley was an announcer on Smackdown several years ago. Could they talk him into coming back? Hell, what about Daniel Bryan? He was awesome on the Cruiserweight Classic. Yes, he’s an on-screen authority figure. But that’s a dynamic we’ve rarely if ever seen. Why not try it?

I’m hopeful this winds up being a band-aid until WWE can find a new permanent announcer. On the plus side, this is obviously a hell of an endorsement for Graves. A well-deserved endorsement at that, and one that seems to indicate WWE knows just how good he is. But let’s not ruin him by oversaturating the airwaves with his voice.

Ponderings From Raw:

John Cena def. Jason Jordan. Roman Reigns come out, and another verbal sparring session occurs. Really strong opener with a nice story. Very wise of them to incorporate that old Smackdown footage of Cena and Kurt Angle. Cena’s facials were strong early on. He looked caught off guard by Jordan’s amateur style.

This was the finish I expected. But Jordan got what he needed. It was his first really strong performance as a single, and perhaps the first time he really lived up to the new role WWE has cast him in.

The word coming out of last week’s segment with Cena and Reigns was that most of it was indeed scripted. Reigns did forget his lines at one point, which prompted Cena’s “It’s called a promo” jab. They played off that a little bit here. But this was clearly designed to have Roman get one up on Cena, just as Cena got one up on him last week. Reigns called Cena out for a fight, and “Big Match John” stepped back. Advantage Reigns.

Both these guys said “I don’t respect you.” Expect that to be a focal point moving forward. WWE has been big on “respect” storylines for a long time.

Sheamus and Cesaro def. Heath Slater and Rhyno. Pretty straightforward stuff here. I’m just happy to see Cesaro and Sheamus wrestling guys other than Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose.

The Miz def. Jeff Hardy to retain the Intercontinental Championship. Really good match, with Miz getting a (mostly) clean win. I wasn’t expecting them to change the title, but Miz and Jeff planted that seed of doubt in my mind. That’s how you know you’re seeing two greats. When just for a few minutes, they make you feel like a kid again. When they make you believe.

Enzo Amore, Cedric Alexander, and Gran Metallic def. Noam Dar, Tony Nese, and Drew Gulak. Enzo’s promo went too long for me. But the crowd was with him, so I can’t call it a flop.

They need to find something more substantial for Tony Nese to do. I’ve been saying it for months, this guy’s got something.

Bray Wyatt challenges Finn Balor to face him without using his Demon persona. This booking defies traditional logic. Usually they’d start with Bray against Finn, and then move to Bray against the Demon. It reminds me of John Cena facing Randy Orton in a straight up singles match at the Royal Rumble several years ago, after we’d already seen them in virtually every other match under the sun.

Still, this was one of Bray’s stronger promos in recent memory. It probably helps that it’s been a few weeks since we’ve heard him ramble and laugh nonsensically.

Nia Jax and Emma def. Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks. The Raw Women’s Championship Match at No Mercy will now be a Fatal Four-Way between these women. I’m hoping we’re headed for an Alexa Bliss/Sasha Banks double turn. As talented as she is, and as hard as she works, Sasha seems to become more and more of a brat as the weeks ago by. I’m sure much of that is my own evolving perception of her. Though a lot of fans are angry at Sasha right now for calling out fans who stalk her in airports. I won’t fault her for that. Boundaries, people. Boundaries.

Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose def. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. Sheamus and Cesaro were at ringside to watch Rollins and Ambrose, but they wound up scrapping with Gallows and Anderson. I imagine we’ll see those two teams face off next week. As long as they’re staying clear of Rollins and Ambrose until the pay per view, I’m good. I doubt that’ll end up happening. But I’ll enjoy it for now.

Braun Strowman def. The Big Show in a Steel Cage Match. There was a lot of talk here about Big Show being in the business for 23 years. I’ve been watching this guy for about 20 of those years. So believe me when I tell you: This was the best he’s ever been. Remember, he’s 45 years old.

Let’s start with that pre-match promo. Epic. Positively epic. He had fire. He was articulate, He was passionate. You got riled up because he was riled up. Show has been a good promo for most of his career. But this might have been his best.

Then you’ve got the bumps he took for Strowman. He dusted off the top rope elbow (shown above), which wound up being the highlight of the match. Then he took yet another Superplex from the top. And after the finish, they did the spot where Strowman slammed him through the cage wall. That last one came off a little choreographed. But who cares? Remember, this man is seven feet tall  and weighs over 300 pounds. Any time he takes a bump like that it’s a huge deal. But three in one match? Unbelievable.

You’ve also got to take your hat off to WWE for making this feel like an epic main event. They did a tremendous job playing up the Superplex spot from April, particularly when they interviewed the referee who took that great bump. This really came off like a Godzilla vs. King Kong level confrontation between monsters. And you know it’ll be that much bigger when they inevitably face off again.

Awesome. There’s no other way to put it. Simply awesome. A career night for this 20-plus year veteran.

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Posted in Wrestling

Does Rusev Want Out of WWE? Plus Ponderings From Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Can you really blame Rusev for wanting out of WWE?

At least that’s the rumor. Allegedly, the “Bulgarian Brute” is frustrated with how he’s being used lately, and even went as far as to ask for his release. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It’s the same reason Cody Rhodes left. Ditto for Ryback, Wade Barrett, and a few others on a list that’s growing longer and longer as time goes on.

It’s not like there isn’t a precedent for Rusev playing a more prominent role. He’s worked with both Roman Reigns and John Cena on major pay per views. You can throw Randy Orton on that list too, despite their Summerslam match lasting all of 10 seconds. Considering where he’s been, it’s understandable that he’d be frustrated with where he is now. Because these days Rusev is just…there. He’s an established heel for babyfaces to beat as they build momentum toward a bigger match. Has he reached his ceiling in WWE for the time being? Is he better off leaving and building on his reputation elsewhere?

Rusev has never been a top guy. I don’t know how much value he has in terms of being a marquee babyface. But he’s got a hell of an upside as a menacing monster heel. He looks the part, he’s got a good amount of charisma, and he’s more than capable in the ring. He’ll ever be a Roman Reigns type of star. But he deserves bigger opportunities than he’s being given right now. And he can get them.

WWE may be reluctant to grant Rusev his release, given how it would effect his real-life wife Lana. But if the real-life Miroslav Barnyashev (What a name…) and Catherine Perry get a chance to shine outside the WWE bubble, they should take it. There’d be no shortage of wrestlers willing to step up and take Rusev’s spot. And as we’ve seen numerous times already, a WWE run can be just as good, if not better, the second time around.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

WWE Champion Jinder Mahal opens the show. The Singh Brothers apologize for failing last week against Shinsuke Nakamra. Mahal, Rusev, and the Singhs get the better of Nakamura and Randy Orton in a scuffle. “I should be revered as your WWE Champion!” The word is pronounced “re-veered,” Jinder. Not “reh-verred.”

This was not good. Nakamura was apparently supposed to knock the Singhs aside and get to Jinder. But he just gave them a little push, and they just jumped out of the way. The Singhs were way too cartoony here, like henchmen on the ’60s Batman show. Brutal.

Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable def. The Ascension. Benjamin looked as good as he’s ever been. Once he and Gable get over to teams like the New Day and the Usos, we could see some really amazing stuff.

Hearing JBL call an Ascension match in 2017 is interesting, considering he buried them so much on commentary when they first came up to the main roster. He really damaged them, seemingly beyond repair. A repackaging could help these guys. But for now, they’re more dead than disco.

Tye Dillinger answesr AJ Styles’ United States Championship open challenge, despite being attacked by Baron Corbin beforehand. Styles gets a quick win with the Calf Crusher. While there’s no shame in losing to AJ Styles, I continue to be disappointed in how WWE is using Tye Dillinger. There’s something there with him. But he’s become just another guy on the roster.

So AJ’s next program is indeed going to be Corbin. The match between Corbin and Nakamura may have crapped the bed. If anybody can give him a good match, it’s Styles.

Bobby Roode def. Mike Kanellis. Speaking of just another guy on the roster. I was optimistic about Mike Kanellis’ spot on the roster. But now? Things look a little different…

Kevin Owens interrupts Aiden English to badmouth Shane McMahon. After responding, Shane sends Sami Zayn out to face English. Owens makes himself the referee, Powerbombs Zayn to give English the win. When Zayn’s music hit, I thought for sure we were getting him against KO. Have we seen these two go one-on-one since they came to Smackdown? I don’t think they have. That’s shocking, considering how often we used to see it on Raw.

The Usos def. The New Day, will decide the stipulation for the Tag Team Title rematch. I wish they wouldn’t keep giving this match away on free TV. On the Summerslam pre-show these guys proved they deserve to perform on the big stage. They shouldn’t diminish them by simply throwing them out there week after week.

This was decent. Obviously not as good as the Summerslam match. But it wasn’t meant to be. Interested to see what they do with the stipulation. As I said last week, they should really put these guys in Hell in a Cell. But I doubt they can wait that long.

Tamina won a squash match with Lana in her corner. Byron Saxton said he’d never seen a duo like Tamina and Lana before…

He’s never seen two people who can’t wrestle before? Is that what he means? It must be.

Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura def. Jinder Mahal and Rusev. Orton hits the RKO on Nakamura after the match. Orton and Nakamura to wrestle next week to determine top contender for WWE Title. Pretty standard stuff here. And of course, Rusev took the fall. The upside? They didn’t pin Jinder again.

The obvious direction for them to go is Jinder against Nakamura inside Hell in a Cell, the idea being the cage will keep the Singh Brothers out. But that program doesn’t deserve the cell. Plus, while I like what they’ve done with Jinder, his pay per view matches haven’t exactly been stellar. How much he’s to blame for that is up for debate. But he’s not ready for Hell in a Cell. Frankly, I’m not sure Nakamura is either.

One way or another, we’re probably going to find out.

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