Brock Lesnar vs. Jinder Mahal, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

We learned last week that Luke Harper and Erick Rowan are coming back to Smackdown, a tag team once again. This time they’ll be called the Bludgeon Brothers.

On one hand this is a shame, especially for Harper. This guy can go. His match with Randy Orton at Elimination Chamber was awesome. But any time he gets some momentum as a single, it fizzles out. So they put him back with Rowan, as that’s worked in the past. Plus, it’s not like Rowan was doing much anyway.

No matter what these guys do, they’ve been painfully stuck in the shadow of the Wyatt Family. This is no different. Their vignettes are shot in a wooded area, which is synonymous with the old Wyatt Family vignettes. Rowan still has the sheep mask. And what their saying is in very much the same tone as their promos with Bray. They’ve shifted the focus, but essentially they’re the same characters.

So at this point, is there any harm in just putting them back with Bray? The poor guy is dying a miserable death on Raw right now. I’ve talked about how he needs a new coat of paint or something. While the Wyatt Family is hardly new, at least it worked. Why not trade Harper and Rowan to Raw, and bring two guys of equal value over to Smackdown. Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews come to mind.

Or better yet, why not just move Bray back to Smackdown? On Team Red, he’s become a punch line. On Team Blue, he was WWE Champion. Can somebody throw this poor guy a lifeline? Throw all three of them a lifeline!

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Daniel Bryan opens the show in his home state of Washington. A confrontation with Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens ensues. This opening segment made me realize how much I miss Bryan as a wrestler. Clearly I’m not the only one. He’s more over than any of today’s full-time guys.

It’s almost a waste for heels to prod Bryan about not being able to wrestle anymore. It’s not going anywhere, but it makes people want to see it that much more.

Heel Sami Zayn is a lot of fun. Or at least he was this week. He needs new music, though.

Michael Cole fills in for Tom Phillips, who is “on assignment.” First we get Corey Graves on both shows, now we’ve got a few weeks of Cole on both shows. Do we just want to have Saxton pull double duty and get it over with?

Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and Naomi def. Natalya, Tamina, and Lana. Carmella was on commentary for this match. At one point, Graves asks her who she’d like to be champion when she cashes in her Money in the Bank contract. She said something about it not mattering. What she meant was, “Lana. She can’t wrestle. She also doesn’t know how to sell the Figure 8.”

Sin Cara def. Baron Corbin via count-out. Sin Cara isn’t becoming the United States Champion. Not now, anyway. He’s good enough for a larger role, though. He’s damn sure got the talent for it.

Jinder Mahal challenges Brock Lesnar to a match at Survivor Series. AJ Styles interrupts and attacks the WWE Champion. Well, they went and did it. It’s Brock Lesnar vs. Jinder Mahal at Survivor Series. The silver lining in all this?  I’m very curious to see how Paul Heyman puts Jinder over as a credible opponent.

Styles took exception to Mahal saying he’d beaten everyone worth beating on Smackdown, since “you haven’t beaten AJ Styles.” For the record, Jinder beat AJ in May, during the build-up to the Backlash match where he won the title. In their defense, I wouldn’t want to highlight that in building to a match between them.

Dolph Ziggler def. Bobby Roode. 50/50 booking rears its ugly head again. Not exactly a stellar match, either. On the upside, they didn’t have Roode lose on pay per view.

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn def. Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura. Really good match. Particularly for Nakamura, who’s had a rough couple of months. He and Jinder had ZERO chemistry, and their matches suffered for it. So for Nakamura to be in there with Sami Zayn, who he had an amazing match with in his NXT debut, was a huge breath of fresh air.

Also, Corey Graves called Nakamura a “combat artist.” Has he done that before? I like that. It works a lot better than simply calling him, “the Artist.”

Zayn and Randy Orton were awesome together. How about a program with them, and then one between Nakamura and Owens as a palette cleanser from Summerslam and Hell in a Cell?

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The Shield Returns at Last, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

A few quick thoughts from Hell in a Cell before we get into Raw

It’s amazing how the Usos and the New Day have continued to top themselves over the last several months. They did it again here, turning in a performance with every bit as much drama and bad blood as the Kevin Owens/Shane McMahon match. One can even argue it was better artistically. In a match where everyone expects some kind of 20 foot dive off the cage, it takes real creativity to deliver on the Hell in a Cell concept while actually staying inside the cell. Both teams were elevated here. All these guys should be very proud.

While the signs were there in retrospect, Sami Zayn’s heel turn seemed to come out of nowhere. It’s a hell of an intriguing twist that could potentially breathe some valuable new life into Sami’s run on Smackdown.

So that’s twice Shane has tried the elbow drop off the top of the cell, and twice he’s crashed and burned. Maybe it’s time to pluck that one from the playbook, eh? Really good match, though. Now if only they hadn’t gotten that shot of one of Shane’s kids grinning as Owens was beating up his dad and taunting him.

Ponderings From Raw:

The Shield finally reunites against the Miz, Cesaro and Sheamus. This was obviously something they’ve built to for months. So to see Reigns, Rollins, and Ambrose back together is cool. I imagine we’ll get them back in their trademark black outfits at TLC.

I’m trying to enjoy this for what it is. But one thing that does put a damper on it is that it’s obviously all just another attempt to get Roman Reigns cheered. Just look at the blocking in the segment. Rollins on the left, Ambrose, on the right, Reigns in the middle. And of course, Reigns kept using the Shield music after they broke up. So their entrance is going to be synonymous with him in particular.

Yes, I’m nitpicking. But this is also very transparent. What’s more, it’s not even going to work. For better or worse, most fans have made up their mind about Roman. As soon as this is over, the haters will start booing again.

Jason Jordan def. Karl Anderson. I’m not sure Booker T is the guy to be playing up the notion of Kurt Angle giving his son special treatment. His amazing career notwithstanding, he has virtually no credibility. As the weeks go by he just becomes more a verbal whipping boy for Michael Cole and Corey Graves. Granted, better to have him out there than David Otunga. But that dynamic between Angle and Jordan is important. Better to have Graves play it up.

Elias def. Apollo Crews. When Titus is on, he’s really on. Hokey as it was, I got a kick out of the banjo stuff before the match. This manager gig really suits him.

On the flip side, I’m not at all amused that Elias broke out the Undertaker’s “Old School” spot and walked the top rope. The announcers didn’t even acknowledge it. Though to be fair, Graves alluded to it, calling it a “disrespectful version of a cover song.”

Kurt Angle puts Enzo Amore in a Cruiserweight Title Match against Kalisto for later in the evening. Enzo called it the “Loserweight Division.” That one might stick.

Braun Strowman def. Matt Hardy. The Shield emerges, Powerbombs Strowman through the announce table. This was really good. To his credit, Roman nailed his line about them being “the three workhorses that run this business now.” He even got to look into the camera.

Mickie James and Alexa Bliss exchange words leading up to TLC. Last week I talked about how WWE should exploit Mickie’s talent for country music and have her record her own entrance theme. We didn’t get that here, but it was definitely a step in the right direction. Mickie was in country gear here, and even put a little twang in her voice. This is good. For WWE audiences, this is fresh. And apparently, they like the term “biscuit butt.”. More of this, please.

Brian Kendrick and Jack Gallagher def. Cedric Alexander and Mustafa Ali. Why is Jack Gallagher is wrestling in that get up? Yes, he’s a heel now. But why does that mean he can’t wear wrestling trunks?

Both Alexander and Ali are so damn good. It’s such a shame they haven’t been able to get over to any real extent

The Shield to headline TLC against the Miz, Sheamus, Cesaro, and Braun Strowman in a Handicap TLC Match. Four on three? That’s a little weird. Strowman could do some amazing things in that environment, though. Especially with support from the veterans in this match.

Bray Wyatt reveals his “Sister Abigail” persona to Finn Balor. So Sister Abigail is Bray Wyatt with some kind of shroud over his head and a weird voice filter. Wow. What a great pay off to years of build-up.

And this was in the new “main event” spot. They wanted people to stay tuned in for that third hour after this. Balor can’t move on soon enough.

Emma def. Sasha Banks, Bayley, Alicia Fox, and Dana Brooke to earn a match with Asuka at TLCGraves: “I don’t really know what to say about Emma anymore. I’m so baffled by the fact that she still exists.” Wow. What an awesome endorsement for Asuka’s first challenger.

To be fair no one actually expects Emma to beat her. That’s half the reason they chose Emma for this spot. She’s someone they can feed to Asuka, but also give her good match. Somehow I don’t think the same can be said for Alicia Fox or Dana Brooke.

I’m worried Dana Brooke is going to hurt somebody someday. That sequence she had in there with Bayley was….yeesh. But Alicia, and even Emma looked like they had two left feet out there too. This one just didn’t click.

Roman Reigns to face Braun Strowman in a Steel Cage Match next week. They’re going back to the well with these two, which is fine by me. Like the Usos and the New Day, they always deliver.

Kalisto def. Enzo Amore in a Lumberjack Match to win the WWE Cruiserweight Title. I hate to go back to Graves again, but he was really tearing Enzo down during his entrance here. I can’t tell if there’s legit heat between those two. Either way, it doesn’t pay to piss off one of the guys that calls your matches every week.

So Enzo puts his hand on Mustafa Ali during the match. Ali later gets his receipt, which more or less costs Enzo the match. If this means Ali gets to be in a (relatively) high profile feud with Enzo, I’m game. He deserves a shot.

I’d be surprised if Enzo didn’t get the belt back soon. This seems like something they concocted to get out of the no-contact clause thing. He could very well get it back at TLC.

By the way, where was Neville during all this?

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WWE Hell in a Cell 2017 Predictions, Plus More on Sister Abigail

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There was a decent amount of buzz about Sister Abigail coming out of Raw this past Monday. For years we’ve heard about this mysterious mentor figure from Bray Wyatt’s past. So hearing him say, “Sister Abigail is alive,” made for a pretty loaded moment. The natural assumption was that this would lead to the debut of a new character. Possibly a new manager to freshen up Bray’s presentation. The guy could certainly use a new coat of paint.

But now, rumor has it that this is leading not to a new character, but to an alter ego for Bray. Sort of his own heel version of Finn Balor’s Demon persona. I imagine it will be Sister Abigail vs. the Demon at TLC later this month.

This development is…disheartening. I understand the notion of Sister Abigail as this figure from Bray Wyatt’s past that he draws a demented sort of inspiration from. But it’s only natural for us to be curious about who she was, what she looked like, etc. Not introducing us to her feels like a wasted opportunity.

Plus, knowing WWE this Sister Abigail alter-ego will simply be a flash in the pan. Something they use to extend Bray’s program with Finn Balor. Once Balor wins, which I assume he will, there’ll be no reason to go back to it. Just another page in the “wasted ideas” portion of Bray Wyatt’s career. A portion that sadly gets bigger year after year.

Anyway, let’s take a look at the card for Hell in a Cell this Sunday…

PRE-SHOW MATCH:
The Hype Bros vs. Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable

Clearly, the Hype Bros are either turning heel or breaking up. Given that Mojo Rawley seems like a natural babyface, I’ve been banking on a heel turn for Zack Ryder. It’s a little bit of a crap shoot. But it’s been a long time since he’s walked on the dark side. It’s worth a try. Either way, there’s no reason Benjamin and Gable shouldn’t walk away with this one. It’s simply a question of when they’ll pull the trigger on something with the Hype Bros.

PREDICTION: Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable

Bobby Roode vs. Dolph Ziggler

This has always been about Roode coming out of the gate strong with a great opponent. Ziggler played this same role with Shinsuke Nakamura several months ago. So the winner here has never been in in doubt.

Ziggler has taken some flack for his promos on big, elaborate entrances these past few weeks. But I actually think they’ve been among his best mic work. They make sense to me. In his mind he’s the best. But the fans don’t care. So he’s lashing out at the people they do care about. I have no idea what’s next for Ziggler. But hopefully he continues to get mic time.

PREDICTION: Bobby Roode

Randy Orton vs. Rusev

If there’s any justice in the world, Rusev wins this match. But because there clearly isn’t, it’s probably going to be Orton.

Last week I talked about whether WWE would have been better off strapping the rocket to Rusev, as opposed to Jinder Mahal. I’m hardly the only one to pose that question, either. We’re never going to know, obviously. But hindsight being 20/20, Rusev does seem like a much better option. Especially if Lana were still with him. Rusev and Lana are obviously more of a money pairing than Rusev and Aiden English. Or friggin’ Lana and Tamina…

PREDICTION: Randy Orton

WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH:
Natalya (c) vs. Charlotte Flair

Charlotte and Sasha Banks literally made history at this event last year. It was the first time a women’s match main vented a pay per view, with the first women’s Hell in a Cell Match. And she won! Tough act to follow…

I don’t see her faring quite as well this year. She’ll get the belt eventually, of course. But this feels like Nattie’s time. She’s not exactly lighting the world on fire. But there’s something there with her. There always has been. I’m not willing to give up on her as champion just yet. There’ll be plenty of time for Charlotte to be in that spot later.

PREDICTION: Natalya

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

I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Tye Dillinger added to this match at the last minute. Especially after he beat Corbin on Smackdown this week. He’s been in the mix with Styles and Corbin almost since their program began. It’s breathed some much needed life into his run on the main roster, and it makes sense for him to be here. Plus, if they decide to put the belt on Corbin, they can do it without having him beat Styles.

I don’t see that happening though. At least not yet. Losing the Money in the Bank briefcase was a big step backward for him, and they’ve done too good a job building the US Title up to give it to him as a consolation prize. He needs some rehabbing before he wins gold. And he will win gold. We just need to slow his ascent a bit.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Jinder Mahal (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

They really should give it to Nakamura, shouldn’t they? After all the racial stuff Jinder threw out there, it would be pretty crappy not to have him get his comeuppance in the end. Mind you, I don’t think Nakamura is ready. Not in terms of how he’s been portrayed on television, at least. I still don’t feel like I know this guy. But that didn’t stop them from putting it on Jinder, did it? And at least Nakamura was a commodity for them in NXT. Let alone his massive body of work overseas…

But Jinder is probably going to keep it. WWE is going to India this December. Supposedly, one of the reasons they put it on him to begin with was to generate interest from India, so pulling the plug on him now would seem like a big admission of defeat. That means he’ll likely have it until the Royal Rumble at the earliest, Wrestlemania at the latest. It’s a real shame for Nakamura, as this program didn’t do him any favors at all.

At least they didn’t shoehorn this match into the cage.

PREDICTION: Jinder Mahal

HELL IN A CELL MATCH FOR WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
The New Day (c) vs. The Usos

I’ve been saying for weeks that this should be main eventing the show. These guys have earned it. Every time I think I’m done with this feud, they find a way to inject new life into it. Great matches, great promos. They’ve just made it work. I don’t expect this to be any different.

My gut tells me the Usos will take this one, which should really come as no surprise. They’ve been switching the belts back and forth this entire program. So why stop now? The New Day lose very little at this point. It also gives them a perfect line about turning Hell in a Cell into the Uso Penitentiary.

They may as well turn the Usos babyface after this. The respect factor is clearly there, and the fans have been digging their promos for quite awhile now. The only problem is finding a heel team worthy of challenging them. After all this, I doubt the Ascension are going to cut it. Ditto for the Hype Bros…

PREDICTION: The Usos

HELL IN A CELL MATCH:
Kevin Owens vs. Shane McMahon

This week they added a Falls Count Anywhere stipulation to this match, which seems to contradict the whole point of a cage match. Unless, of course, the plan is to break out of the cage and do a big bump. In which case that stipulation allows them to go out on the most dramatic note possible. For a Shane McMahon match, that only makes all the sense in the world.

They’ve built this up for quite awhile. You can even trace it back to before the brand split, with Shane and KO having little moments together. That, combined with how they’ve heated this program up over the last few weeks, makes this a match worthy of the cell. I maintain that they don’t absolutely need it, and the New Day/Usos match could have headlined. But this works fine too.

While Shane doesn’t need to win this one, I suspect he will. Had they not brought up Shane’s kids, I might think differently. This feels like a situation where the good guy should win. Perhaps the bigger question is what the crazy bump in this match is going to be. On Tuesday, Owens literally threatened to throw him off the cage. How can you not do something big after saying that in the build-up?

Keep in mind though, it doesn’t have to be Shane taking a big fall. KO could just as easily get himself a highlight reel moment.

PREDICTION: Shane McMahon

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The Jinder Mahal Experiment, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponderings From Smackdown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

WWE No Mercy Predictions:

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

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

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

PREDICTION: Neville

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

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

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

PREDICTION: The Miz

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

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

PREDICTION: Bayley

Finn Balor vs. Bray Wyatt

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

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

PREDICTION: Bray Wyatt

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

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

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

PREDICTION: Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose

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

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

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

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

PREDICTION: Braun Strowman

John Cena vs. Roman Reigns

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

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

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

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

PREDICTION: John Cena

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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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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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