The JBL/Jinder Mahal Connection, and Other Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Jinder Mahal is the new top contender for Randy Orton’s WWE Championship. He’ll face him at Backlash.

This was…surprising. Especially when you consider how few TV matches Jinder has won since his return. Last week he lost to Finn Balor on Raw, and then Mojo Rawley the next night on Smackdown. He was essentially brought back to put over the newer guys. But now, seemingly out of nowhere, he’s got a WWE Championship Match on pay per view.

Though when you look at the big picture, t’s fairly obvious why they did this. Smackdown needed another big heel, so they strapped the rocket to Jinder. He’s a pretty easy guy to boo, fitting well into the classic foreign heel category. It seems he’ll even be getting some back-up from the Bollywood Boyz. It could work out really well.

Oddly enough, this all reminds me of what WWE did with JBL back in 2004. Brock Lesnar had just left the company, and Smackdown needed a new top heel. They found one in Bradshaw, who’d found his greatest success teaming with Ron Simmons as the APA. He was repackaged as John Bradshaw Layfield, pushed to the moon, and became WWE Champion a few months later. At the time, a lot of the “smart fans” crapped on it. Mayfield had never been an established singles star. But in retrospect, no matter what you think of him personally, JBL made an awesome heel champion. He’s obviously still very easy to dislike in 2017.

When you look at it that way, Jinder Mahal may be getting a “JBL push.” I never, ever expected him to be competing for the WWE Title. But stranger things have happened…

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Charlotte Flair demands a match for the Smackdown Women’s Title. Naomi answers her, and gets physical. Charlotte later pins the champion to earn a title match next week. Naomi came off really well on this show. The “I ain’t never scared” line could be a new catch phrase for her.

This wasn’t the match I was hoping for. The crowd was sitting on their hands for most of it. At one point, Naomi tried one of her trademark spots, going for a flurry of kicks. Somehow, it just looked laughable this week. Some of it had to do with how Charlotte sold it. But we’ve obviously we’ve got more coming from these two. They’re both so damn athletic. They can do better than this.

Primo and Epico def. American Alpha. Ouch. Jordan and Gable get beat by the Shining Stars. That’s got to hurt…

Though apparently they’re not the Shining Stars anymore. They’re calling them the Colons,  which is their legit family name and are playing up their lineage. That sure as hell works for me. No more travel brochures, no more matador costumes. Just straight up wrestlers. That suits these guys.  At least for now. The in-ring element has always been their strong suit. That was evident here. They had decent chemistry with Jordan and Gable. But again, the crowd was pretty dead for this. Like Jinder, Primo and Epico spent most of their time on Raw losing. It could take awhile for them to build up any sort of steam.

Kevin Owens quickly defeats an enhancement talent in his “Face of America” Open Challenge. I love how they projected Owens’ face on to the entrance ramp. Very in-character for Owens.

They’re definitely letting Owens put his spin on the US Title, John Cena’s US Open Challenge concept, and the whole anti-America thing. If they’re going to have Jinder do something similar, then they need to be careful the two characters don’t bleed into one another. If they do, the most charismatic Owens will easily overshadow the less established Jinder.

AJ Styles def. Baron Corbin via count-out. A fairly anti-climactic main event, with an even more anti-climactic finish. They can’t all be barn burners, I suppose. Still, no one moves like AJ Styles.

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A Shield Reunion Coming Soon? Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

Ponderings From Smackdown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WWE’s Superstar Shake-Up: 10 Potential Roster Switches

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It’s the draft. They’re calling it the “Superstar Shake-Up.” But for all intents and purposes, it’s the draft. This is a good time a year for it, too. It’s the unofficial start to WWE’s new season. You can shift people around and start building new programs for Summerslam, or even Wrestlemania XXXIV. More importantly, it freshens everything up with new programs, and gives certain talents a clean slate.

There’s been plenty of buzz about who’s going and who’s staying. I’ll address some of that here. But by and large, these would be my draft picks for Raw and Smackdown, with five picks for each show.

Let the mock draft begin!

1. AJ Styles to Raw
Moving AJ to Raw is a risky move. He’s arguably Smackdown‘s most valuable asset right now, and they’ve largely built that show around him since the roster split.

By on the flip side, there’d be a lot for him to do on Raw. His former Bullet Club co-horts Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson are over there. As is the man he ousted from that group, Finn Balor. You can build to programs with Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins. While I don’t expect him to go babyface, if that happens, Kevin Owens would be there. I’d be curious to see what AJ could do with Braun Strowman. There’s also the man I’ve listed at number nine. Either way, Styles presents you with a lot of options.

Considering how valuable he’s been to the company at large since his debut, it’s not surprising they’d want him on the so-called flagship show. With any luck, he can breathe a little more life into those three hour broadcasts.

2. Charlotte Flair to Smackdown.
From a creative perspective, Charlotte has simply run out of opponents on Raw. They’ve put her with Bayley since January, and we all know how long she was with Sasha Banks. On paper, a move to Smackdown immediately presents her with three intriguing opponents: Naomi, Nikki Bella, and Mickie James. Of course, we’ve seen her work with Becky Lynch before. But it’s been awhile, and they always had a nice hero/villain dynamic.

Bottom line: The “Queen” needs a new kingdom to rule over. So let’s give her one.

3. Alexa Bliss to Raw.
Alexa is essentially in the same situation Charlotte is in. But while she was one of the breakout stars of the draft, her abilities aren’t quite as refined as Charlotte’s. Her mic work is also very different. She’s got a great high school cheerleader vibe going on, but her vocal delivery is softer than we’re used to. It will do her some good to mix it up with Bayley on television. I’m not sure how much longer Sasha Banks will be a babyface. But in the meantime, that would work too.

4. The New Day to Smackdown.
The Smackdown Tag Team Division has The Usos, American Alpha…and that’s it, really. None of the other teams have any steam right now. So putting the New Day on Smackdown makes sense in that respect.

I imagine Kofi, Big E., and Woods will jump right into the title hunt, and quit talking about ice cream. Frankly, that may be the biggest benefit to the move.

5. Kalisto to Raw.
I’m wondering if they put Kaliso on Smackdown in the hopes that he’d become the next break-out Hispanic star. So far they’ve had no such luck. But that’s what getting demolished by Dolph Ziggler week after week will do to you.

Billed at 170 lbs, Kalisto is a natural fit for the Cruiserweight Division. He always has been. As we’ve seen with Neville, there’s tremendous value to adding pre-established names to that fold. They also have the option of putting him back with Sin Cara if they need to. This switch can get Kalisto back on track.

6. Sami Zayn to Smackdown.
When Sami was called up, the biggest issue I had with him was that he had no identity to the casual viewer. He was Kevin Owens’ best friend turned worst enemy. That’s all we knew. That’s been rectified in these last few months. He’s now our new resident underdog.

But Raw is also pretty crowded. Sami has had to compete for airtime with the likes of Goldberg, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Chris Jericho. Goldberg is gone now, but Finn Balor is also back.

Moving Sami to Smackdown does two things. Firstly, it gets him away from Kevin Owens. On a given week when they can’t come up with anything for them, they simply put Owens and Zayn against each other. Their rivalry desperately needs some space. More importantly, putting him in a slightly smaller pond gives him a chance to up his value and prove his worth as an upper-card babyface. Sami Zayn has a legit shot at being a star in the same vein as Daniel Bryan. This can be his next step on that path.

7. Mickie James to Raw.
Since arriving on Smackdown, Mickie’s had some good matches with Becky Lynch. She also cut a pretty good return promo. But that’s about it. While I understand she’s there to put the new girls over, she became a background player far too quickly for my taste.

Mickie is more or less a babyface right now. I say you keep her that way, and get her over to Nia Jax. I’m not as hard on Nia as some people are. But working with Mickie could be a valuable learning experience for her. Later, Mickie can work with Sasha Banks and Bayley. And if Alexa is indeed moved to Raw, there’s always the potential for more there.

8. Cesaro to Smackdown.
I’ll begrudgingly admit that teaming with Sheamus has been good for Cesaro. It’s brought out another side of his personality, and let him get in touch with the entertainment aspect of WWE a bit more. But we’ve all been saying it for years: There’s so much potential in a Cesaro singles run. So let the man go to Smackdown and do his thing. Put the Intercontinental Title on him and let him have a good, sustained run. Let him establish himself as a credible champion. Plus, Sheamus and Cesaro will inevitably break up at some point. With all due respect, is the world really clamoring for matches between those two after what we saw last year?

9. Luke Harper to Raw.
Harper is in a awkward spot on Smackdown. He had a damn good match with Randy Orton at Fastlane, but he lost. Then he almost became the top contender for Bray Wyatt’s WWE Title, but he lost. Then he wrestled Bray on television, and he lost. A feud between Bray and Luke could have ben interesting. But the timing seems to be off. Moving him to Raw is risky, considering what happened the last time they broke him away from the Wyatt Family. But he’s got a little more developed this time around. They’ve been giving him some mic time, and that would need to continue if he moves to Raw. But perhaps it’s time to re-brand all together. Up to this point, he’s been completely defined by his relationship to Bray Wyatt. It may be time to put a fresh coat of paint on Harper.

10. Samoa Joe to Smackdown.
At the moment, Joe is Triple H’s hired gun. But apparently Hunter and Stephanie won’t be around for a little while. That gives Joe some valuable time to establish himself away from them. The best place to do that might be in the void left by AJ Styles on Smackdown. While I can’t say I’m looking forward to hearing David Otunga call his matches, a lone Joe could easily find himself in the WWE Title picture on Smackdown. It’s tough to be the resident monster when you’re sharing a broadcast with Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman. But he’d have lots of room on Smackdown. What’s more, as an ally of Stephanie’s he’d have a built-in opponent in Shane McMahon. Summerslam, perhaps?

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Mauro Ranallo: M.I.A. Plus, Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

You wouldn’t know it by watching WWE TV lately, but Finn Balor is back in action. He made his official in-ring return at a house show on March 10.

There’s been speculation about Balor being back for Wrestlemania since he was forced to relinquish the Universal Title back in August. Now, less than two weeks out, it appears that’s not the case.

It’s bittersweet, but for the best as far as I’m concerned. Wrestlemania is always so damn crowded. If you count the yet-to-be-made-official Triple H vs. Seth Rollins, the card already has 13 matches. And there’s always the potential for more. Guys like Samoa Joe and Sami Zayn are already lost in the shuffle. There’s no need to throw Balor in there, only for him to have nothing of consequence to contribute.

Balor seems almost a certainty for the night after Wrestlemania. The slate will be relatively clean, and his return will get the emphasis it deserves. I’m sure they’ll want to bring him back as a babyface. But if they decide to go the heel route, Balor vs. Rollins would be pretty natural. There’s been all this talk about Rollins missing Wrestlemania. But from a story perspective, he cost Balor his very first Wrestlemania. Something to think about…

Ponderings From Smackdown:

AJ Styles accepts Shane McMahon’s challenge, promises to face him in the parking lot later in the show. “Without AJ Styles, Smackdown Live plummets.” He’s not entirely right, but he’s not entirely wrong either. Something to keep in mind with all this buzz about Styles possibly going to Raw after Wrestlemania.

Mauro Ranallo absent from Smackdown for the second week in a row. Something’s not right here. A one-week absence? Sure. But two is suspicious. Tom Phillips said Ranallo was “out sick.” I don’t buy it. Your lead play-by-play guy doesn’t just vanish two weeks before the biggest show of the year. Either WWE has made a change, or something’s up with Mauro. Here’s hoping everything’s alright.

The Usos def. American Alpha to win the WWE Smackdown Tag Team Titles. Wasn’t expecting this. But no complaints on my end. The Usos have found a lot of new life since turning heel. They deserve this.

Familiar format here, with Gable selling, Jordan getting the hot tag, and then going into false finishes. But again, no complaints. Really good match. Tons of explosiveness. These guys supplied the hell out of each other.

Randy Orton def. Baron Corbin. Dean Ambrose distracts Corbin during the match, accepts challenge for WrestlemaniaThese two weren’t bad together. They’ve got similar attitudes. There could easily be a program here someday. Thankful Corbin didn’t get beat clean, as he did by Cena several weeks ago. There was no need for that then, and there was no need for it here.

That little salute Orton gave to Ambrose before pinning Corbin was a nice touch.

Bray Wyatt, along with several henchmen in sheep masks, ambush Randy Orton backstage. Wyatt thanks Orton for “purging” him of his one flaw. The sheep mask thing is usually going to work, because it’s spooky and weird. Bray’s laughing was back this week, though. A bit more appropriate this time, but I still wish he’d have more of a deadly serious attitude about Orton. The guy did burn down his house, after all.

John Cena def. Fandango. Tyler Breeze is at ringside dressed as Nikki Bella. Xena and Nikki make quick work of Breezango. We saw Cena and Fandango together on Southpaw Regional Wrestling, the WWE Network’s parody of an old school southern wrestling show. Surprisingly funny stuff. Definitely worth a look.

Tyler Breeze had to sell a spear and a Rack Attack from Nikki here. As if the guy’s career on the main roster wasn’t dead enough already.

Becky Lynch vs. Carmella breaks down into a no-contest. Natalya, Mickie James, and Alexa Bliss brawl in the ring. Remember all that talk about WWE bringing back former female for Wrestlemania? I’m inclined to think this may have been the match they had in mind. It could still be in the cards, considering we still don’t even know what kind of match these ladies are having.

Eric Bischoff to induct Diamond Dallas Page into the WWE Hall of Fame, Jim Cornette to induct the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express. These should both be really interesting. Bischoff hasn’t been in front of a WWE crowd in quite some time. I imagine he’ll hear no fewer boos than he did years ago. As for Cornette, I doubt he’ll cause much trouble. I doubt he wants to, considering this is for Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson. But type his name into YouTube, and you’ll realize how crazy it is that he’s on WWE TV again.

The Miz and Maryse spoof Total BellasShockingly, these weren’t as bad as I thought they’d be. Though admittedly, I may be biased. I can’t stand to hear the Bellas talk. They come off way too much like Kardashian clones. It seemed like they were plucking lines straight from smark message boards here.

Shane McMahon calls out AJ Styles. A fight erupts, culminating in Shane hitting a top-rope elbow drop through the announce table. That duplex Styles gave Shane into the guard rail was sick. Hell of an appetizer, here. Is this the Wrestlemania match we never knew we wanted?

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A Roman Reigns Heel Turn? Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

How many years did we wait for a John Cena heel turn? Hell, some of us are still waiting. I was there at Wrestlemania XXII when he got booed out of the building during the main event. That was in 2006. So it’s been at least a decade.

The smart bet is that it’s never happening. At this point, why bother? It feels like the fans are finally starting to turn back around on Cena, and cheer him as Smackdown‘s resident legend. But there was a long period where so many of us were clamoring for Cena to snap back at those crowds that were booing him so hard.

Obviously we now have the same situation with Roman Reigns. For better or worse, he’s the company’s next chosen one. Like Cena, he comes out to a chorus of boos from most of the grown men in the audience. Children and women seem to enjoy him, but the fanboys hate him. And they’re not likely to stop booing him anytime soon, especially given this stuff with the Undertaker.

This week’s Raw segment with Roman struck a chord with me. Not just because Shawn Michaels was in there with him, but because he threatened to retire the Undertaker. As Undertaker is someone I’ve been watching since I was 11 years old, it almost felt personal.  I suspect that’s how a lot of people feel, and you’ve got to know WWE is counting on that.

I understand the generational, “passing the torch” element of WWE putting Reigns with the Undertaker. But I don’t think having Roman beat the Undertaker helps him as far as being a lead babyface. People generally don’t like seeing the Undertaker beaten in big matches. Wrestlemania XXX comes to mind.

If Roman is turning heel, however…

Keeping Roman strong is a top priority, and has been for years. In this company, you can’t look any stronger than when you beat the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. Just ask Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman. But Brock was also a heel when he did that. I don’t see how beating the Undertaker at Wrestlemania makes Roman anything less than a heel. Mind you, I’m assuming that’s the direction they’re going. But I don’t see them simply having Roman lose to Undertaker, unless the plan is for him to snap afterward and beat the hell out of him. Again, as a heel.

Perhaps it’s pie in the sky thinking, and this heat from the crowds is simply part of being WWE’s marquee man nowadays. But man, imagine the story of Roman beating the Undertaker, and officially becoming the most hated man in the company. Especially if he cheats to do it…

Ponderings From Smackdown:

AJ Styles cuts a promo on not having a match at Wrestlemania, promises to confront Shane McMahon. Hearing AJ trace his frustrations back to the Royal Rumble made this feel very reminiscent of Bret Hart in early 1997. He would always talk about being screwed out of the WWF Title. It all culminated in that famous moment on Raw when he shoved Vince McMahon, and cut that scathing, cuss-laden promo. Now all these years later, It’s AJ against Vince’s son. It somehow feels fitting.

Tom Phillips and JBL call the show without Mauro Ranallo and David Otunga. Ranallo was supposedly held up by bad weather, and Otunga is shooting a Tyler Perry movie. So for the first time in quite awhile, we had a two-man announce team on WWE television. Wouldn’t you know it, the world didn’t end. Just sayin’.

Becky Lynch def. Natalya via submission. Carmella attacks Becky after the match. Tremendous counter from the top turnbuckle into the Disarm-Her. I feel like the crowd chants for Becky Lynch every week. I’m legitimately rooting for her at Wrestlemania. She deserves a moment in the sun.

Noticed Carmella didn’t have her accent in the backstage promo that followed. Did they drop it? If so, that sucks. That was instant heat with me.

John Cena and Nikki Bella appear on Miz TV. Maryse accuses Nikki of keeping her off the first season of Total Divas. Daniel Bryan makes a mixed tag match between the two couples for WrestlemaniaFor months, the heels on this show have made it a point to talk about how Cena will never marry Nikki. Miz and Maryse did the same here, with a close-up of her wedding ring for good measure. So we’re getting a proposal at Wrestlemania, right? Seems pretty obvious to me. Hey, we’ve never seen one before. So maybe it’ll be cool.

Last week on Talking Smack, Daniel Bryan made a vague comment about possibly being able to wrestle again in a year and a half. I imagine that’s when his contract expires. Obviously, his health issues have been well documented. Please be careful, good sir…

Mickie James def. Alexa Bliss. My question last week about Mickie turning face has apparently been answered. That’s seemingly how she was positioned here. No complaints from me in that respect. Less experienced ladies on the heel side of things, like Alexa Bliss, could learn a lot from her. Phillips and JBL also told a nice story about Mickie potentially tying Trish Stratus’ record of seven Women’s Championships at Wrestlemania.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Alexa lose more matches in the coming weeks to advance how vulnerable she is in the multi-woman match at Wrestlemania.

Mojo Rawley def. Dolph Ziggler via count-out. You know what the interesting thing is about this story with Ziggler believing he deserves a bigger spotlight? He’s right! He’s legitimately more talented than everyone they’ve put him up against since his heel turn.

Randy Orton explains his actions against Bray Wyatt. One thing I would have added here: Having Orton talk about “relinquishing” his title shot at Wrestlemania, and how that was the final step in earning Bray’s full confidence. Makes sense to me.

The visual of Bray “baptizing” himself with Sister Abigail’s ashes was haunting, and I loved that he cut down on the laughing. His end of this was really good.

In a backstage promo, Baron Corbin says he’ll take Dean Ambrose’s Intercontinental Title if he can make it to Wrestlemania. No Ambrose on TV this week, which is fine. He’s selling the injury, and it builds some anticipation to when we do see him again. Corbin gave his standard delivery here, which is to say it was strictly okay. But they gave him a good line: “They say Dean Ambrose can get up from anything. Well I’m the man that puts people down.”

The Usos def. American Alpha. I’m fine with these two teams working together again, especially now that the Usos seem to have found their heel groove. But when they’re done, who do they go to next? This Smackdown Tag Team Division is in desperate need of a shake-up. The Vaudevillians and the Ascension are dead teams. Breezango is a joke. Who else is there? Once Zack Ryder comes back, there’s a chance the Hype Bros can actually become something. But until then, these two teams are seemingly all that Smackdown has.

AJ Styles ambushes Shane McMahon in the parking garage, smashes his head through a car window. Daniel Bryan apparently fires Styles, but Shane later calls him out for Wrestlemania. And here it is. I think the brawl we saw was all the impetus we need for this to be a Street Fight.

I maintain this is a good spot for AJ to be in at Wrestlemania. It’s not going to be Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom. But AJ will get to shine here, and odds are he’ll win. He’s going to be just fine, folks.

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Randy Orton Wins (Again), Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

You can make the argument that this has been the biggest week of Braun Strowman’s career. You can also argue it’s been his worst in quite some time. From a creative standpoint, at least.

At Fastlane, Strowman dropped his first pinball loss to Roman Reigns. A needless loss, in my opinion. After Roman threw Undertaker out of the Royal Rumble Match, it was pretty apparent they were going to work together at Wrestlemania. Especially when Reigns said something to the effect of, “It’s my yard now.” That was all the impetus ‘Taker needed to show up at Fastlane and either cost Roman the match, or bring it to a DQ finish. Strowman did not need to lose clean.

But what happened on Monday was even worse. Strowman calls out Reigns, and gets the Undertaker instead. When the two come face to face, Strowman backs down. The big man’s been calling for competition for months now. But when he’s confronted by an icon like Undertaker, he cowers? BS.

So with less than a month left until Wrestlemania, what do you do with Strowman? There’s no obvious opponent for him, unless they want to do another match with the Big Show. Rumor has it Shaquille O’Neal has backed out of the match that was reportedly in the works for months. So another giant vs. giant match is something they could try. Show and Strowman definitely overachieved when they main evented Raw.

But I think it’s more likely Strowman winds up in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. And if that’s the case, he needs to win it. They’ve branded Strowman as a destroyer. So to rebound from what happened this week, he needs to destroy. Have him chuck out a bunch of smaller guys, and then eliminate a couple of bigger names. Kane and Big Show come to mind immediately. But you’ve also got guys like Dolph Ziggler, Rusev, and Luke Harper. These guys are all players, but it doesn’t look like they’re getting a featured match. They could even have the New Day present Braun with the big trophy, and have him lay them out.

I understand that Strowman couldn’t be undefeated forever. But now that he’s taken this step backward, he needs to take two steps forward.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

John Cena and Nikki Bella def. James Ellsworth and Carmella. Miz and Maryse ambush John and Nikki after the match. Toward the end of the match, our heroes hit Five Knuckle Shuffles in stereo. I can’t say I’m looking forward to Nikki adding that move to her arsenal.

“When you have true love, you don’t make her sign a contract to be your girlfriend.” That was a good line. I liked this whole “Our love is real, theirs isn’t” approach from Miz much better than what we got last week. While so much of what he said in that Miz TV segment seemed regurgitated from old feuds, this is something they haven’t done with Cena before. The stuff about his relationship with Nikki being fake and plastic strikes an intriguing chord.

After laying out Curt Hawkins again, Dean Ambrose calls out Baron Corbin. Later, Corbin takes out Ambrose with a pipe, and then traps him under a forklift. See, they call Baron Corbin the “Lone Wolf.” And he’s wearing a shirt with a wolf on it. Get it? Isn’t that cute?

Mojo Rawley announced for Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, has a brief confrontation with Dolph Ziggler. So we’ve pretty much established what heel Dolph Ziggler’s role is on Smackdown. He’s the ring general that works with newer undercard babyfaces like Apollo Crews, Kalisto, and now Mojo Rawley. He’s likely in the Andre Battle Royal at Wrestlemania this year.

I really think it’s time. If Dolph Ziggler still wants to be a top guy, he needs to go the way of Drew Galloway, Cody Rhodes, and Alberto El Patron. He needs to get out of that company, climb some new mountains (New Japan Pro Wrestling comes to mind), and then potentially come back later for a fresh start. Dolph Ziggler is such a damn workhorse, and he’s as talented and charismatic as anybody they’ve got. But he’s stuck in midcard hell. He could potentially become the hottest free agent in wrestling, and still do his stand-up comedy on the side if that’s what he wants. At this point, here are more opportunities for him outside of the WWE bubble than inside.

Alexa Bliss delivers her “Blissertation.” Becky Lynch and Natalya come out, each looking for a title match. Daniel Bryan announces Bliss will defend against every available woman on the Smackdown roster at WrestlemaniaCrowd seemed dead during Alexa’s portion of this. She’s really good on the mic, but there can be a disconnect between her and the live crowds sometimes.

This match seems destined for the pre-show, much like the big women’s tag match last year. So who’ve we got for this one? Obviously there’s Alexa Bliss, Mickie James, Becky Lynch, and Natalya. Carmella is around. The only other name I can think of is Eva Marie, unless they want to bring someone up from NXT at Wrestlemania.

Alexa Bliss and Mickie James def. Becky Lynch and Natalya. Natalya turns on Becky to cost her team the match. Mickie turns on Alexa after the champion steals the pin from her. Does this constitute a babyface turn for Mickie James? If they wanted a feel-good moment for longtime fans, they could have her win the belt at Wrestlemania. She’s certainly as capable as she’s ever been. Just a thought.

Randy Orton def. AJ Styles to secure his WWE Championship Match at Wrestlemania. Styles yells at Shane McMahon after the match. Loved the line: “Randy Orton burns down a man’s house and gets rewarded for it.” Hey, it’s essentially true.

No Bray Wyatt on this show, which I can appreciate. Last week was a big moment for his character. It’s wise to let things breathe a little bit.

A slower and more methodical match, which is Orton’s usual M.O. Not the most thrilling watch, but still pretty good. I was waiting for the big counter into the RKO, and I loved how they faked us out with that Phenomenal Forearm spot. I imagine they’ll save that for a pay per view match. Even if it’s not a singles bout, these two are bound to mix it up at a big show someday.

If you caught Talking Smack, you saw footage of Styles confronting Shane backstage. It was, of all people, Road Dogg who got between them. Michael Hayes had a cool cameo as well.

On Talking Smack, Miz also got to rebut John Cena’s scathing promo from last week. He talked about how Cena stole his last t-shirt design from a beer company, and how he stole his girlfriend from Dolph Ziggler. Why couldn’t that have been on TV?

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AJ Styles, Luke Harper, and Other Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

aj-styles-daniel-bryan-luke-harper-wwe-smackdown-february-21-2017By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Let’s jump right into the good stuff, shall we?

Smackdown continued to pave a winding road to Wrestlemania this week, as a Number One Contender Battle Royal ended with the double elimination of both AJ Styles and Luke Harper. Ergo, we still don’t know who will challenge Bray Wyatt for the WWE Title at Wrestlemania. Styles and Harper will wrestle next week to finally give us a challenger.

This was good stuff. It came down to the two guys with no other apparent dance partners for Wrestlemania. They kept you guessing through the end of the show. They did a variation on the old Bret Hart/Lex Luger spot from the ’94 Royal Rumble, where both men’s feet are supposed to touch the floor at once. Not the smoothest execution I’ve ever seen. It looked to me like Styles did indeed hit first. But considering the size difference between the two, it worked out fine.

An eventual victory for Luke Harper seems like the best option here. Orton could then step up to defend Bray, making it a Triple-Threat Match in the process. They could throw Styles in there to make it a four-way. But that would taint the whole Wyatt Family theme for the match. That would leave Styles to wrestle Shane McMahon at Wrestlemania. It’s certainly not the ideal match for a guy like him. But I don’t think wrestling one of the McMahons that bada gig. If anybody can get a killer match out of Shane, it’s AJ.

Other Ponderings From Smackdown:

naomi-wwe-smackdown-2017Naomi surrenders Women’s Championship due to injury. So…what’s the deal here? I didn’t even talk about Naomi’s injury last week because everything seemed so vague. I actually wondered if it was an angle intended to inject some extra drama into the rematch. Apparently that’s not the case.

When Seth Rollins went down with his injury a few weeks ago, WWE was pretty straightforward with the information. Within 24 hours, we knew it was likely a torn MCL, and by Raw the following week. And obviously, we knew when it took place. With Naomi, we don’t have any of that information. In today’s WWE, it’s pretty standard that they at least tell us something. As such, this feels weird.

Still, at this point there’s no reason to doubt this is all legit. Awful break for the real-life Trinity Fatu, who was in the middle of the biggest break of her career. Here’s hoping she comes back better than ever.

alexa-bliss-becky-lynch-wwe-smackdown-february-21-2017Alexa Bliss def. Becky Lynch to win the Smackdown Women’s Title. This is a tiny, tiny nitpick. But I didn’t like the way this match was made. In storyline, Alexa came out spontaneously to talk to Bryan. Bryan then announces the match, seemingly on the spur of the moment. He calls for Alexa’s opponent, and Becky just happens to be ready. Logically, that makes no sense. To his credit, however, JBL brought that up on commentary during this match, spinning it into a conspiracy theory.

Nice match. Very surprised Mickie James didn’t somehow cost Becky the title, and instead came out afterward to rub it in. Granted, of course, Alexa won with a handful of tights (shown above). I didn’t think Elimination Chamber was the right time to take the belt off her anyway. So I’m pleased she got it back.

Participants in the Battle Royal cut promos on the possibility of main-eventing WrestlemaniaI loved these. Why? Because just like we saw from Kevin Owens and Brock Lesnar on Raw, they let these guys look into the camera during their promos. Maybe Raw wasn’t just a coincidence. Maybe they’re finally changing, and letting the wrestlers have that extra bit of connection with the viewers at home.

the-usos-wwe-smackdown-february-21-2017American Alpha def. Breezango. The Usos taunt the Tag Team Champions. Yet another short affair between American Alpha and Breezango. They never let Fandango and Tyler Breeze get an inch.

The Usos had some great fire here. I’m guessing they had some time to regroup creatively. For awhile, they seemed to just be drifting by in different outfits.

Natalya def. Nikki Bella in a Falls Count Anywhere Match. I loved the line in Nattie’s pre-match promo about Nikki being “manufactured in a lab for instagram likes.” Props to whoever wrote that.

I’m not a Nikki Bella fan. I think I’ve been pretty clear about that. But I’ve come to respect her. This program with Natalya has done her a lot of good. It’s allowed her to be more aggressive, and up the intensity of her mic work. It’s been some of the best work of both their careers. And this was a good match. Easily the best of Nikki’s career, in my opinion. The fighting through the backstage area almost made it reminiscent of an Attitude Era style Hardcore Match. That Alabama Slam Nattie took on the table (shown left) looked rough, what with the whiplash effect.

nikki-bella-natalya-wwe-smackdown-february-21-2017Also, and forgive me for being a creep, but Nikki is always having to pull up the back of her tights during her matches. It might behoove her to invest in new ring gear, lest we see something we’re not supposed to.

The interference from Maryse obviously indicated things were a go for the mixed tag at Wrestlemania involving Miz and John Cena. A fact further cemented by Miz eliminating Cena from the Battle Royal later. Happy to see Nattie get the win here, as these ladies go their separate ways for the time being.

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