Austin Aries Leaves WWE, Plus Ponderings From Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

So Austin Aries is gone from WWE? Well that’s a damn downer.

Depending on who you believe, either the real-life Daniel Solwold Jr. asked for his release, or WWE let him go. Aries; unhappiness with WWE’s decision to not include his Wrestlemania pre-show match with Neville on the DVD release was apparently a source of contention.

Regardless, the separation seems to be amicable. Aries tweeted some things that seemed vaguely happy. But from a fan’s perspective, it’s a shame. Aries is over. He was undoubtedly the top babyface they had on 205 Live. But by that same token, he could have gone so much further than the Cruiserweight Division. Aries has a metric ton of charisma, and could have made that company a lot of money in the right role.

The good news is Aries won’t be wanting for work. Between New Japan, Ring of Honor, the recently re-branded Global Force Wrestling, and the current indy scene, he’s got plenty of options. Ultimately, WWE’s loss is a major gain for somebody else.

It’s just a damn shame they had to lose him.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

AJ Styles opens the show by reinstating the US Championship Open Challenge. John Cena attempts to answer, but Kevin Owens interrupts. Rusev then jumps Cena and a fight ensues. The cool thing about AJ Styles winning the US Title in an untelevised match over the weekend isn’t just the surprise factor. It’s the fact that AJ Styles, a man that many thought would never grace a WWE ring, won a title in what is essentially the promotion’s home arena. Imagine that.

Styles said the United States Championship has been “overlooked way too many times.” I appreciate the sentiment. But it seemingly doesn’t apply anymore, does it? They’ve kept that belt on upper card, main event level guys for quite awhile now. Owens, Cena, Roman Reigns, Chris Jericho, etc. The secondary titles have been in a much deserved renaissance lately, and we’re all reaping the benefits.

Jinder Mahal def. Tye Dillinger. Mahal promises to bring the Punjabi Prison to Smackdown next week. Is WWE management underwhelmed with Dillinger? The crowd obviously likes him, but until recently he’d been off television for awhile. What gives?

I’m still waiting for the Singh Brothers to get in the ring…

JBL mentioned how the Punjabi Prison dwarfs Hell in a Cell. Not sure that’s a good comparison to make. There’s a reason we haven’t seen a lot of these Punjabi Prison Matches, but there’s a Hell in a Cell pay per view.

Xavier Woods def. Jey Uso. Which Uso said the “R-rated” line in the rap battle last week? Let’s just say it was Jey. Because I love the irony of WWE editing that line out of the YouTube clips from the show, but then putting those two in the ring the next week.

A brawl breaks out between Shinsuke Nakamura and Baron Corbin before they can have a match. Cue a match between these two at Battleground. Let’s get this one out of the way so we can hopefully get to Nakamura vs. Cena at Summerslam.

Natalya and Tamina def. Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch. Battleground Fatal Five-Way Elimination Match to decide challenger for Women’s Title at SummerslamI’m hoping we can soon get back to one-on-one feuds in this division. We’ve seen so many multi-woman matches lately. If I had to guess, I’d say we get Naomi vs. Charlotte at Summerslam.

Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley appear on the latest edition of “The Fashion Files.” Last week Rawley eliminated Ryder from the big Battle Royal, and they made a point to mention it again this week. The smart bet is a Ryder heel turn is coming. But the guy is so likable. Both are, actually. It’ll be interesting to see if Ryder can garner any real heat after being a sympathetic underdog for so many years.

AJ Styles and John Cena def. Kevin Owens and Rusev. This one didn’t do much for me. The only thing really notable here was the in-ring return of Rusev. He looked fine out there. But man, you talk about drawing the short straw. He comes back, and is immediately put into a Flag Match with John Cena. You can certainly do worse than Cena as far as pay per view opponents go. But they’ll want Cena to have momentum going into Summerslam, so Rusev’s chances of winning are slim to none. Here’s hoping he’ll have a better time once we get through August.

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Punjabi Prison Match Returning, Plus Ponderings From WWE Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I turned Raw off this week at about the 90-minute mark. It was the first time I’d given up on a show since November. Apparently I missed some good stuff afterward, including a follow-up on the split between Enzo and Cass, Samoa Joe choking out Brock Lesnar, and a Gauntlet Match with the women.

What a shame I missed it. But I just couldn’t take it anymore. The show was actively irritating me.

It started when they brought Josh Duhamel out to do commentary during a six-man tag. He was there to promote Transformers: The Last Knight, and an upcoming film he’s working on with WWE Studios. They spent a large portion of the match asking Duhamel questions about the movies before actually bothering to talk about what was happening in the ring. I’ve been watching this stuff for over 20 years, and this kind of thing  is nothing new. But it’s seldom been as grating to me as it was here. It’s like they were trying to mimic a talk show interview.

Later in the show, they did a Miz TV segment with someone named Lamelo Ball and his son LaVar Ball, and then his other son Lonzo Ball. I had no idea who any of these people were. Apparently Lonzo just got drafted by the LA Lakers, so it was partially meant to appeal to the crowd in Los Angeles. But this was just not good. It was an obvious attempt by WWE to get coverage from the major sports outlets so they’d look “legitimate.” Whatever that means…

It was then made worse when 15-year-old Lamelo used the N-word twice. It happened during Dean Ambrose’s entrance, so the music pulled a little bit of focus from it. But it happened. Some of the blame goes on Lamelo for that. But he’s just a kid. What the hell was he doing with a live mic?

And frankly, as a wrestling fan, there’s a larger issue at play for me here. The Ball family shouldn’t have had a featured role on Raw to begin with. I understand WWE wanting to get “the rub” from celebrities. It makes good business sense, and it’s certainly worked in the past. Think of names like Mr. T, Cindi Lauper, Mike Tyson, and Floyd Mayweather.

But WWE has bigger problems right now that can’t be masked by celebrity involvement. They’re the same problems that have been there for years now. Everything is overly sanitized. The wrestlers are too scripted. Certain characters feel hollow. Nothing feels real. The show is too long. The list goes on.

The ratings reflect it, too. Viewership fell below three million people again this week. Pundits talk a lot about WWE’s “base” audience. As in, the people that are going to watch the shows no matter what. Usually, I’m part of that base. But this past week, they chased me off before I could see most of their big angles. If it’s gotten to the point that they’re chasing hardcore loyalists like myself off, how do they expect to bring casual viewers back to the product?

Over seven million people have watched the YouTube video of the first Brock Lesnar/Samoa Joe’s confrontation on Raw. So it’s not like there’s no interest in the WWE brand. I think a lot of the more casual fans are simply waiting for Raw to be good again. Why should they waste their time otherwise?

So what do they have to lose by changing up the presentation and the creative? More importantly, how much do they stand to gain by taking some risks? It’s not like what they’re doing now is setting the world on fire. Anything so we don’t see crap like that Miz TV segment anymore. That thing stunk like balls…

Sorry. I couldn’t resist. Let’s move on to Smackdown.  

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Daniel Bryan opens the show, Carmella vies to get her Money in the Bank briefcase back. James Ellsworth is ejected from the building. I chuckled at Ellsworth’s crack about Bryan not being able to cut it in the ring anymore. Bryan has made no secret about wanting to get back in there. He just can’t get cleared by WWE doctors. The smart bet his inevitable return take place in Ring of Honor or New Japan Pro Wrestling. That’s sad news for WWE buffs. But as much as anyone, Bryan deserves to live life on his own terms.

The Usos def. The Hype Bros. The New Day to challenge for the Smackdown Tag Titles at BattlegroundSurprised the Hype Bros lost this match clean. Maybe that Zack Ryder heel turn is coming sooner than I expected.

So Kofi Kingston insults the Usos, and they just stand there and take it? Yes, they’re heels. But do they have to be wusses too? At least tease some physicality.

Breezango interrogates the Ascension about attacking them at Money in the Bank. Konnor: “The only reason we were at Money in the Bank is because we wanted a match on the card.” Hey, at least he’s honest.

Naomi def. Lana to retain the Smackdown Women’s Title. I was actually rooting for Lana here. How much heat would she get if Rusev came down and cost Naomi the match? Is Lana as good wrestler yet? No. But neither was Stephanie McMahon when she was Women’s Champion. Just do it!

Randy Orton interrupts Aiden English to challenge Jinder Mahal to another WWE Title Match. Shane McMahon grants his request, allowing Mahal to choose the stipulation Mahal chooses a Punjabi Prison Match. How nice that they just happened to have that stock footage of the Punjabi Prison structure standing by. That’s the kind of thing that just shatters your suspension of disbelief.

Jinder name-dropped the Great Khali in this segment. Not sure how good an idea that was. Considering the quality of previous Punjabi Prison Matches, do they really want people Googling them with the Great Khali’s name attached? Not exactly a recipe for quality content.

Baron Corbin def. Sami Zayn. They had Sami Zayn interrupt Maria and Mike Kanellis on his way to the ring. Not a bad first opponent for Mike Kanellis. Not a bad first opponent for anybody, really.

Carmella def. Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Natalya, and Tamina Snuka in a Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match to regain the briefcase. Great effort from all the ladies involved here. It seemed like they were trying to slam each other hard to make up for a lack of hitting one another with the ladder.

They did a weird sequence where Charlotte and Tamina (with her Joan Jett look) were holding a closed ladder straight up, and Becky Lynch tried to leap up and climb it. They held it there for several seconds, then let it drop across the ropes as Becky remained perched. A few seconds later, they then attacked her. Very tentative. Again, it hurts your suspension of disbelief. But then again, I’m not the one out there on the ladder…

That chair shot Carmella gave to Becky at the end of the match looked weak as hell. If you’re going to use the damn chair, make it look good! That being said, this was the right finish. Carmella gets heat with how she won at the pay per view, and she keeps it here. Smackdown has its new top heel in the Women’s Division. But lay that damn chair in! Also, don’t let the cameras catch you peeking at the ring when you’re supposed to be down on the outside!

You live and you learn…

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Dolph Ziggler Leaving WWE? Plus, Ponderings From Smackdown

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

YouTube vlogger Trisha Paytas says Dolph Ziggler is leaving wrestling soon. Who the hell is Trisha Paytas? How well does she know Ziggler? Does she have even the slightest amount of credibility? I can’t answer any of these questions. Though apparently he stood her up on a date.

Either way, I hope she’s right. At least as far as WWE is concerned. Not because I have anything against Ziggler, but because the real-life Nick Nemeth deserves better.

I’ve talked about this before, and I’m certainly not the only one. Dolph Ziggler is one of the few guys I’ve ever seen who can really do it all. In the ring, he’s about the closest thing we have to a modern day Shawn Michaels. His physique is ripped to shreds. From a personality standpoint, he can do whatever you need. He can be a good guy, a bad guy, dramatic, intense, funny, you name it. He’s got practically everything you could want in a WWE star, and he’s been scratched and clawed his way toward the top year after year after year. While he’s certainly had his share of accolades, including a short run with a Heavyweight Title, so many wrestling fans justifiably believe Dolph Ziggler could have been so much more than they’ve allowed him to become.

We’re long overdue for Dolph to step away from WWE, and go the route of guys like Cody Rhodes and Drew Galloway. If he wants to stay in wrestling, it’s time for him to reinvent himself outside of their umbrella. I don’t doubt for a second that Dolph Ziggler could make bank in New Japan Pro Wrestling. For my money, Nick Nemeth as the IWGP Heavyweight Champion isn’t the least bit far fetched. Ironically, he’d then likely find more opportunities in WWE if he were to come back.

Dolph Ziggler just needs to take that leap of faith, and prove he doesn’t need WWE to be a success in pro wrestling. There are entirely different crowds just waiting for him to show up and show off. The time is now.

Ponderings From Smackdown:

Lana arrives on Smackdown, asks to be part of the Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match. Lana in a Ladder Match? Good lord. Why even mention that? Are they trying to kill her?

Lana’s still got the Russian accent, which is fine. If they wanted her to drop it, now would have been the time. It’ll be interesting to see where she is in relation to Rusev when he finally gets back on TV. It also looks like she’s getting some of the packaging that the Emmalina character might have gotten.

Naomi came off really scripted here. But I’ll give her this: She’s got charisma.

Natalya, Carmella, and Tamina def. Naomi, Charlotte Flair, and Becky Lynch. Lana interferes to cost Naomi the fall. Lana is later granted a championship match against at Money in the Bank. Not to pick on Naomi, but I really hate that spot she does with the rapid kicks. It looks so damn staged and fake.

I’m not sure how much better or worse Lana has gotten in the ring. Bad kicks or not, I wouldn’t want to be Naomi having to carry Lana through a match.

AJ Styles def. Dolph Ziggler. I was shocked as hell to see Ziggler get a clean win over Styles last week. But of course, Dolph can’t maintain any substantial momentum, can he? We had to have 50/50 booking this week.

I really shouldn’t complain though. These guys are about as smooth as it gets. Nice and fluid counter into the Styles Clash for the win.

WWE Champion Jinder Mahal def. Mojo Rawley. What have they done with Mojo that’s been of any kind of substance since he won that Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal? Nothing, really. The missing piece of the puzzle for him at this point is Zack Ryder. Once Ryder comes back, their tag team will mean that much more than it did when he got hurt.

They’re playing up the fact that Money in the Bank is in St. Louis, Randy Orton’s hometown. Traditionally, that’s a dead giveaway that the hometown wrestler is walking away with a win. But lately it’s gone primarily in the opposite direction. Bayley lost the Raw Women’s Title to Alexa Bliss in her home town. Styles lost to Ziggler in his home state of Georgia last week. And those are just two examples. Chances are the Jinder experiment isn’t over yet.

The New Day def. The Colons. The Usos cut a promo after the match. Primo and Epico had that renewed push for about two weeks. Now they’re right back to where they were before.

The Usos will turn themselves back into babyfaces into this rate. They’ve got something WWE desperately needs right now: The cool factor.

Shinsuke Nakamura def. Kevin Owens in a non-title match. Baron Corbin attacks Nakamura after the match. When you listen to him on commentary or on Talking Smack, it’s clear there’s a big difference between Baron Corbin talking, and Baron Corbin reciting lines. He sounded so natural here.

An okay showing for Nakamura and Owens here. There’s been a little bit of buzz about Nakamura winning the Money in the Bank Ladder Match. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Corbin walk out with the briefcase, though. While they haven’t given him any big wins lately, he’s a long-term project for WWE. And they’d have as much as a year to build him up as a title contender. Don’t be surprised if it happens, folks.

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Seth Rollins Strikes Gold? Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

Seth Rollins, WWE Raw, July 18, 2016By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Let’s do things a little different this week, and jump right to the main event. We had our WWE Championship Match between Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, which ended in a double pin. Stephanie McMahon, the Commissioner of Raw, announced Rollins as the winner. But Shane, the Commissioner of Smackdown, was clearly on Ambrose’s side.

After Raw went off the air, Ambrose was confirmed to still be the WWE Champion. Frankly, that’s a surprise, considering they continued to play up Rollins’ comeback story. They even made a point to mention a web site (Bleacher Report?) making him the number one pick in a fantasy draft. Signs seemed to point to him. Either way, I expect him to win the match at Battleground.

So here we go. This opens the door for both become the champions of their respective brands. Tomorrow night in the draft, Stephanie picks Rollins as her top draft choice, and Shane picks Ambrose for Smackdown.

Like a lot of purists, I’m not a fan of there being two world champions. In the end, every other singles title ends up watered down. Plus, the Raw title inevitably ends up being the important one anyway. And isn’t it convenient that this disputed finish just happens to occur on the show before the draft?

Still, dumb ending aside this turned out to be a pretty good show, with two returns to punctuate things…

WWE Raw, July 18, 2016, Daniel BryanPonderings From WWE Raw:

Mick Foley named General Manager of Raw. Daniel Bryan named General Manager of SmackdownFoley is a surprise pick. I can only assume this choice has to do with the soon to be released Holy Foley reality show on the WWE Network. Either way, Mick is one of the best mic guys that company has ever had, and hopefully he’ll create some magic on Monday nights.

The love that the fans still have for Daniel Bryan blows me away sometimes. And it all happened so organically. He’s like the anti-Roman Reigns in that sense. Bryan’s enthusiasm is infectious.

Cruiserweight Division to launch on RawHere you go. This is where a lot of those guys from the Cruiserweight Classic will go. Here’s hoping they don’t lose interest in it after a few years. The WWE’s incarnation of the cruiserweight division was a joke for the last few years of its existence. It was a mercy killing when it finally ended.

Sami Zayn & Cesaro def. Chris Jericho & Kevin Owens. On the subject of mercy killings, one of the upsides to this Sami Zayn/Kevin Owens rivalry likely ending is we won’t have to see that awful punching spot they do. I really enjoy them both, but they do it every week and it looks just as awful now as it did the first time.

WWE Raw, July 18, 2016, Darren Young, Bob BacklundDarren Young def. Alberto Del Rio. So the story with Young is that he wins by accident. I can see Young possibly getting a similar win, and the title, at Battleground. Miz can contest to extend the program, with Young ultimately getting a legit win in the end. Of course, they could just be playing this up for comedy.

Sometimes I wonder how Del Rio feels about the way things have gone for him since he came back. He’s a multiple time champion, and was one of the hottest free agents in the business when they re-signed him. Now he’s just another guy on the roster. Though I suppose having Paige on your arm must help matters.

The Club & The Wyatt Family def. John Cena, Enzo, Big Cass, & The New Day. The in-ring segment before this match was a lot of fun. Lots of different energies and personalities in there, and the crowd ate it up. For the most part, Enzo was on fire. The fun they had in the skit definitely carried into the match.

Somehow I hadn’t connected the dots about there being two six-man tags at Battleground. Does that hurt the show? Maybe. One way they could differentiate them a bit is to have The New Day put the tag belts on the line. I don’t expect them to break Big E, Kofi, and Xavier up. They’ve got a really good thing going with those three, and there’s gas left in the tank. I don’t mean to compare the two groups, but they broke The Shield up too soon, and they don’t want to make the same mistake with The New Day. The Wyatts, on the other hand…

Seth Rollins, WWE Monday Night Raw, July 18, 2016Seth Rollins cuts a promo in the empty arena before the show. Dean Ambrose does a Shield-style promo with a handheld camera. Any time they do something different like this, it’s a good thing. They could easily have put Rollins backstage with Renee Young and had him looking off-camera, reciting his lines. Ditto for Ambrose. But they opted to do something unique. Well done, WWE.

Baron Corbin def. Sin Cara. Apparently The Lucha Dragons aren’t a tag team anymore. Why they opted not to break them up via the draft doesn’t make sense to me. They always play up how teams could be broken up by being drafted to different shows. So why not break them up that way? You also had Kalisto come out to save Sin Cara from a post-match beatdown.

With the cruiserweight division announced for Raw, I imagine we’ll see Kalisto on that show. Corbin will likely be there as well. As he’s no longer teaming with Kalisto, this likely means Sin Cara is Smackdown bound.

Sasha Banks & Becky Lynch def Charlotte & Dana Brooke via disqualification after an attack by Natalya. My guess is they’re setting up this Natalya/Becky Lynch program for one show, and the Charlotte/Sasha one for the other. I was hoping they’d have one Women’s Champion to appear on both Raw and Smackdown. But in light of this situation with the WWE Title, that seems unlikely. The whole division is likely to suffer as a result. Damn…

WWE Battleground 2016, Charlotte, Dana Brooke, Sasha BanksSasha has a mystery partner against Charlotte and Dana at Battleground. Assuming they don’t opt to have Sasha go it alone, this seems like the perfect opportunity to bring Bayley up. She’s likely being drafted anyway, and this is her opening. We’d better get ready for some wacky arm flailing inflatable tube men!

Rusev & Sheamus def. Dolph Ziggler & Zack Ryder. I still can’t get over this push Zack Ryder is getting. In a match that included two former world champions and a monster heel, Ryder came out last. I don’t expect him to win the belt at Battleground, but you never know.

In Other News:

Brock Lesnar flagged for potential anti-doping policy violation prior to UFC 200I’m betting this turns out to be a false alarm. Lesnar reportedly passed multiple drug tests before the fight. Guilty or not, in the wake of Roman Reigns’ Wellness Policy violation, this is a headache WWE doesn’t need. Here’s hoping this is resolved quickly, and we can focus on Lesnar vs. Randy Orton at Summerslam.

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Brock Lesnar’s Victory, The Final Deletion, and Ponderings From WWE Raw

Brock Lesnar, UFC 200By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Very happy to see Brock Lesnar get the win over Mark Hunt. The doubters weren’t totally justified in questioning Lesnar’s chances. The guy hadn’t had a fight in years. But he was obviously ready. I don’t know if he regrets re-signing with WWE, but it’s clear his heart is still in MMA. I expect we’ll see him back in the octagon soon.

Lesnar will now carry the momentum from this fight into Summerslam, where we now know he’ll wrestle the returning Randy Orton. The announcement of Lesnar’s opponent happened on Smackdown, actually prompting me to watch the show for once. We heard Corey Graves bring up the fact that these two came up together in the WWE developmental system. I expect that will be a large part of the story they tell as we move toward August. I’m a bit concerned about Orton staying healthy in there with Brock. He’s just come off shoulder surgery, after all. But then again, I had those same concerns about The Undertaker, and as far as I know he came out of it fine.

WWE is going to need as many stars as they can fine once this brand split starts. Make no mistake about it, Randy Orton is one of their biggest commodities.

I also loved how they finally acknowledged the damn fight on television this week. Only after Brock had won, of course…

Bob Backlund, Darren Young, WWE Raw, July 11, 2016Ponderings From Raw:

Darren Young wins a battle royal to earn an Intercontinental Title Match at BattlegroundThe obvious choice to win this match seemed to be Apollo Crews, for no other reason than he was the only participant to get a TV entrance, and they played his music through Miz’s pre-match promo. But Darren Young was a pleasant surprise. And they were chanting his name! Imagine that.

However, I’m curious about the way he won. Crews and Baron Corbin eliminated themselves. Young won by accident. So what does that say about him going into Battleground? Either way, any excuse to get Bob Backlund on live TV works for me.

I’ve come to enjoy Miz’s commentary. He does a nice job putting other talents over. He seemed to be getting instructions to put Corbin over. That’s fair enough. I suspect Corbin will receive much more attention once the brand split takes effect. He still comes off really green. But the best solution for that is experience.

Sheamus def. Zack Ryder. I was blown away when I saw Ryder get a clean win over Sheamus on Smackdown. That, combined with his win last week on Raw, leads one to a stunning conclusion: Zack Ryder is getting a push. Four years after he took the wrestling world by storm with his YouTube show, WWE finally seems to be taking him seriously. I’m really proud that he’s persevered after all this time. The only wrestling t-shirt I’ve purchased in the last decade was Ryder’s Broski v-neck. That’s how much of a fan I was, and still am. A United States Title Match with Rusev seems imminent. Will he win? Probably not. But at least he’s in the conversation.

Kalisto, WWE Raw, July 11, 2016Tyler Breeze & Fandango def. The Lucha Dragons. During this match the announcers brought up the idea that tag teams could be split up during the draft. I’m hoping that doesn’t happen very much. Remember when they split the Dudleys up in 2002 for no real reason? And then they put them back together a matter of months later? Yeah, let’s not do that again.

Seth Rollins airs mock interview with Roman Reigns using old interview footage. Dean Ambrose comes out to confront him. A WWE Title Match is made for next week’s RawKurt Angle did something like this to The Rock at the tail end of the Attitude Era. It’s an okay little gag. No harm done, even though they are talking about a legitimate drug test violation.

Seth Rollins came off like a million bucks in this segment. He said that Reigns should be taken out of the title match at Battleground, and the fans cheered. He talked about Ambrose sneaking up on him and taking the belt, which did happen. He was also right that Ambrose couldn’t beat him for the belt last year. Rollins has a legitimate argument to being the uncrowned WWE Champion, and being better than both Ambrose and Reigns.

In Ambrose’s response, however, he came off more threatening than he has in weeks. Jokey Dean Ambrose is fine sometimes. But as the champion, we need to see more of the crazy and dangerous Dean Ambrose. When he’s on, Ambrose is as good as anybody in the company. Rollins, to his credit, played off of that intensity very well. He looked intimidated, as his character should be. As for next week’s title match, I don’t expect the belt to change hands. Battleground, however, is a different story.

WWE Raw, July 11, 2016Kevin Owen gets Sami Zayn ejected from the commentary table before his victory over Cesaro. Zayn attacks Owens afterward. I wish they’d just make this some kind of stipulation match that allows Zayn and Owens to fight all over the arena. I just wish they’d stop doing that lock-up/punches thing they do. It takes me right out of whatever scene they’re in.

The New Day journey to the Wyatt Family “compound.” So…was this WWE’s attempt to outdo the “Final Deletion” that TNA did on Impact last week? If so, they failed.

Let’s go ahead and talk about the Final Deletion. It was a match Matt and Jeff Hardy shot on location, which served as the blow-off for the bizarre program they’ve had in TNA this year. Produced by Jeremy Borash, it was a truly ridiculous spectacle. There was a weird vignette with drones and a hologram, spots with fireworks, and the lunacy fans have come to expect from Matt’s crazy character. It was far from your traditional main event, but that was the point. A lot of fans enjoyed it, and it got TNA some much-needed positive buzz.

All I can say about this, is that it’s good to see people talking about TNA again. What that brand desperately needs is some buzz, and they got it.

Fast-forward six days, and we get this. It looked like WWE’s take on a found footage flick, a la The Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield. But the shaky camera was just awful. There were traces of the Final Deletion. We had the music, the stuff in the water, Bray using an axe, the car crash, etc. The ironic thing is, had they shot this in a more traditional manner, it would have been a lot more interesting. We’d have been able to follow the action more closely. Also, that didn’t look much like a compound to me. More like an open field.

TNA, The Final Deletion, Matt and Jeff HardyOn the plus side, the image of Braun Strowman rising from the water and roaring was awesome. Literally the best thing he’s ever done. And that final image of the lanterns in the forest was cool. But all in all, this was very derivative. WWE drawing inspiration from something TNA did? In 2016? Who’d have thought?

Enzo & Cass def. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson via disqualification. John Cena makes the save afterward. Of course Cena was there. C’mon, now.

Decent match. I’ve got high hopes the match at Battleground will be one of the better six-man bouts we’ve seen on pay per view in recent years. I doubt it’ll top The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family. But you never know. This all obviously leads to another match between AJ Styles and John Cena at Summerslam, and possibly a tag title shot for Enzo & Cass.

Sasha Banks def. Dana Brooke. I was really curious to see how Banks and Brooke would match up. All things considered, they did pretty well. Absolutely the best match I’ve seen from Dana Brooke since she got called up. They also gave this match a good amount of time, which I credit them for. We wanted Sasha, and they gave us Sasha. They took their damn time, but better late than never.

Vince McMahon names Shane McMahon Commissioner of Smackdown, Stephanie McMahon named Commissioner of Raw. General Managers to be named next week. First off, Vince’s impression of “sweet” Stephanie was awesome. The funniest thing on this show in weeks.

McMahon Family, WWE Raw, July 11, 2016What happened here isn’t surprising. This looked like where they were going. The heel Stephanie on one show, the babyface Shane on the other. The General Manager thing is a bit odd. Traditionally, you have one authority figure that makes matches, stipulations, etc. So does the GM now fill that role, with Shane or Steph coming in as necessary? It all seems redundant. But maybe it’ll make sense when we see it in action. By the way, isn’t Kurt Angle available these days?

I do, however, think Vince gave us a clue about how things are really going to go once this split takes effect. He made a point to call Raw the “three-hour flagship” of WWE. In the end, Raw is like Vince’s favorite child. Even with the added emphasis on Smackdown, eventually it all comes back to Raw.

 Image 1 from rt.com. Image 5 from denofgeek.com. Remaining images courtesy of WWE.

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The Brock Lesnar Blunder, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

Brock Lesnar, UFCBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a company as self conscious about their image as WWE.

You’ve got Brock Lesnar, who in addition to being a WWE star is one of the biggest attractions in MMA history, under contract. You allow him to have one more fight, and it becomes a huge mainstream news story. You find yourself with a huge opportunity to rub shoulders with an organization that has the mainstream attention and legitimacy you so desperately want. So what do you do?

If you’re WWE, you don’t even mention it on television. Not a promo, not a commercial, not a mention from the announcers. Not one word.

Then on top of that, Stephanie McMahon does an interview with Business Insider and says…

“We are not supporting the fight necessarily but…it’s not a competitor to us and the more that our superstars, that’s how we refer to our talent, the more they do outside of WWE, the more awareness it generates and the broader the audience can be that is then brought back into our properties. So we recognize the value of that.”

Stephanie McMahon, WWEDo you? Because you haven’t said a word about it on television. They’ve had weeks to figure something out. They couldn’t have slipped in a mention? Why even let Brock fight if you’re not going to use the extra exposure to your advantage? It’s downright bizarre.

By the way, Brock had the perfect response to Steph’s comment about “not supporting” the fight: “I don’t care what she thinks.”

Ponderings From Raw:

The show begins with a Fourth of July food fight. Honestly, to me the only thing interesting about this was that Jack Swagger and Alberto Del Rio were standing together when the segment started. Aren’t they still enemies?

Rusev def. Titus O’Neil to retain the United States Title. Did they have to dress Titus O’Neil like Uncle Sam? How hokey can you get…

“Go ahead, celebrate with your hamburgers and little weenies.” Great line. And the right result for this match. The dominant champion wins with his finisher.

Enzo & Cass interrupt the Social Outcasts, defeat Bo Dallos & Curtis Axel. The crowd didn’t react nearly as much as they should have to Enzo reciting all the presidents like that. Bob Backlund must be proud.

WWE Raw, July 4, 2016, CharlotteCharlotte and Sasha Banks come face to face once again. This was really good. Charlotte came off very natural, and every bit as conceited and self-centered as she needs to be. From a talking standpoint, Banks wasn’t as strong. But she still held her own. And of course, she came out on top in the end. They also didn’t stay out there too long. It took just the right amount of time. Lovely work from both ladies.

WWE Champion Dean Ambrose def. Intercontinental Champion The Miz. WWE should be careful about how they book Dean Ambrose while he has the title. He needs to look strong, and not like a fluke champion. Clearly, he’s not their first choice to be WWE Champion right now. But champion or not, Ambrose will be one of the top stars on Raw or Smackdown. Having him win the title was a great step toward establishing him not just as a player, but a major player. But they need to keep him strong. Putting him at the top of hour two isn’t the spot I’d have him. In a champion vs. champion match, no less.

Still, at least he won. I’m not a fan of champions getting pinned. But if somebody has to beat the Intercontinental Champion, the WWE Champion is the man to do it.

Seth Rollins def. Dolph Ziggler. Steve Austin said on a podcast recently that one of the things wrong with Raw nowadays is there’s no continuing plot thread that holds the show together. They’re just throwing matches out there. That’s a great point, and one of the factors in the ratings plummeting for that third hour.

Seth Rollins vs. Dolph ZigglerThis match had backstory, at least. The idea was these guys may end up on different shows after the draft. So Ziggler wants to prove himself against Rollins just in case. Fair enough, but it would have been nice to see Dolph make that challenge. And of course he lost, because that’s what he does.

Also, Ziggler’s transformation into ’90s era Shawn Michaels is almost complete. He just needs to grow out his chest hair. Better get on that.

Vickie Guerrero returns, vies for Smackdown Chief Operating Officer job. You’ve got to give Vickie credit. Her mic skills weren’t rusty at all. She was never a great performer in the purist sense of the word. But she got more heat than most of the wrestlers she worked with.

So they’re not calling them general managers anymore. Instead, they’re chief operating officers. Isn’t that Triple H’s on-screen role? So what does he become now?

Golden Truth def. The Vaudevillians. Has anyone ever had that kind of “follow the bouncing ball” entrance before? Golden Truth might have made history tonight…

Hopefully The Vaudevillains will get a jumpstart when the roster splits. They may be getting TV time, but they’ve lost the cruel edge that set them apart. That’s not good news.

WWE Raw, July 4, 2016, AJ Styles, John CenaJohn Cena calls out The Club. Enzo & Cass come to his defense. A six-man tag is booked for BattlegroundStyles talked about Cena “burying” him again in this promo. At least tonight we got a bit of insight into what he means by that. He talked about the “powers that be” who didn’t want him in the company. The implication seems to be that Cena can get WWE to push Styles out of the title picture. I wish he’d just come out and say that already.

I wish The Club hadn’t done the whole mount and punch routine for so long during the beat down. The fact that Cena didn’t come up a bruised and bloody pulp crushes your suspense of disbelief like a bug.

So Enzo & Cass are aligned with Cena now. I’m not sure what that’ll do to them in the eyes of the Cena haters. But I’m interested to see how they match up with The Club.

Becky Lynch def. Summer Rae. Happy to see Becky and Natalya getting a pay per view match. They both absolutely deserve this time in the limelight. For that matter, so does Summer Rae. She’s been part of a few bad storylines. But she’s a good performer, and can be a solid asset to whatever show she’s on after the draft.

The Wyatt Family, WWE Raw, July 4, 2016The Wyatt Family invites The New Day to their compound. This has turned out to be the feud I never knew I wanted. The whole positivity vs. darkness story really works.

I’m surprised it’s taken us this long to get a confrontation at the Wyatt Family compound. It seems like a no-brainer to me, and maybe an opportunity to learn more about who these guys are. This would be a cool selling point for Battleground.

The Big Show and Zack Ryder survive a “Team USA vs. The World” elimination tag match. An utterly skippable main event. Why not put this at the top of the first hour, instead of the damn WWE Champion? On the plus side, WWE seems to have embraced Zack Ryder as their new resident underdog. That’s not a bad spot to be in. I just wish we hadn’t had to sit through this match for his latest feel-good moment.

Tuesday Morning Talk Points: NONE.

Image 1 from foxsports.com. Remaining images courtesy of WWE.

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Big Cass Hits the Big Time, Champions Fall, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m going to get into Raw, as afterward we’ll get into Ryback’s current situation with WWE, and the numerous releases we saw last week.

Ponderings From WWE Raw:

WWE Raw, May 9, 2016, Chris Jericho, Big CassColin Cassaday interrupts Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel, and challenges him to a match. I was really annoyed when a light chant of “Where is Enzo?” broke out. WWE and Colin Cassady are trying to make the best of a bad situation. To his credit, he’s not doing a bad job. In terms of the Raw audience, I’d argue Enzo was over with the fans the night after Wrestlemania because of how great he was on the mic. Cass, while part of the act, didn’t have that advantage. So this is a great chance for him to flesh out his character. Thus, when Enzo returns, the team will be even stronger.

Baron Corbin def. Dolph Ziggler. “Even Steven” booking strikes again. I’m wondering if these two will rematch yet again at Extreme Rules. I don’t really see why they’d need to, as I don’t think there’s enough interest to merit it. But it’s a possibility. Pleased to see Corbin win with his finish, though he could have easily won with the Deep Six.

R-Truth def. Fandango. Michael Cole shoved a bunch of contrived pop cultural references into this match. He talked about the Goldust & Fandango vs. R-Truth & Tyler Breeze match on this week’s Smackdown being bigger than Captain America: Civil War. He also mentioned James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke,” and Ozzy Osbourne’s disappearance. It’s like someone picked the least important match on the show to shove all of that into. Last week I talked about this program not making any sense, but at least these four guys have something to do on Raw.

WWE Raw, May 9, 2016, Charlotte, Paige, NatalyaPaige def. Charlotte with a distraction roll-up. I get why they did this. They want the fans to question Charlotte’s ability to stand on her own as we head into a match where Ric Flair is banned. For continuity’s sake, Paige should get the next title shot at Money in the Bank next month.

I tend to mute the commentary when wrestlers put on a headset, especially when there are two of them bickering with one another. But Natalya was fine. She seemed to run out of things to say when Cole and JBL kept questioning her, but she came off well. I do, however, think she jumped up on the apron a bit too early. Logically, she should have jumped up there after Charlotte tried to win with her feet on the ropes.

Sami Zayn def. The Miz. Not a good night for champions, as both the Women’s Champ and the IC Champ lost clean. But in Zayn’s case, at least we know he’s getting a title opportunity. We now officially have the fatal fairway match I mentioned last week. My guess is Miz retains when Kevin Owens accidentally causes Zayn to get pinned. This Zayn/Owens stuff could go to Summerslam if they book it right.

Dana Brooke makes her Raw debut in a backstage segment with Emma and Becky Lynch. From a wrestling standpoint, I can’t say I’m that familiar with Dana Brooke. I’ve seen her in backstage segments Emma, as the two are obviously run-in buddies. But she’s largely unknown to me. Either way, her debut adds a bit more depth to the women’s roster, which is a good thing.

Darren Young, Bob Backlund vignetteDarren Young finds a life coach in Bob Backlund. This segment first aired on Smackdown. I’m really intrigued by this pairing. As I understand it, it was Darren Young’s idea, and WWE are letting him run with it. The “Make Darren Young Great Again” slogan is obviously timely. What’s more, this will give us a chance to get to know Young a bit more. We don’t know much about him, aside from the fact that he’s the first openly gay WWE star. And obviously, Backlund is very entertaining.

But the most surprising thing about this vignette? They let Young and Backlund say “wrestling.” Holy crap. I thought that word was banned! Then Byron Saxton said it!

Sin Cara def. Rusev with a distraction roll-up. The second distraction roll-up of the night. Ugh. Rusev really shouldn’t have lost this match. From where I sit, WWE is still in the process of rehabbing him. He won a big battle royal last week, and now he loses to Sin Cara? Lame. On the plus side, they learned their lesson and kept Kalisto off commentary.

Roman Reigns & The Usos def. AJ Styles, Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson via disqualification in a six-man elimination tag team match. Anderson and Gallows had a few heel moments here. You had Gallows cheap shooting Jey Uso, then Gallows abruptly tagging AJ out of the match, and of course attacking Reigns to cause a DQ.

WWE Raw, May 9, 2016, Roman Reigns, Karl AndersonI like the bad blood that exists between these two teams. And people can say what they want about Roman Reigns (I certainly have), but that moment when he looked at the chair, said “I don’t need it” and gave it to Styles? That was bad ass. On the other hand, Styles proves that babyfaces can be cheered in the modern era, so long as they have talent and a good amount of fire.

Kevin Owens def. Zack Ryder. We certainly can’t say Zack Ryder hasn’t gotten some decent TV time since Wrestlemania season. WWE seems to appreciate him as a guy who the fans like, and can give anyone a run for their money, but keeps coming up short. He’s an underdog. That’s not a necessarily a great position to be in. But it’s better than not being on TV at all. And as I recall, underdogs have done some great things in WWE…

Last week I mentioned how no one could have imagined AJ Styles on Sportscenter. But how about Kevin Steen showing up on Sportscenter? What a world we live in…

The Dudley Boyz def. The New Day. What the hell? The Women’s Champ, the IC Champ, and the Tag Champs all lose non-title matches in the same night. Between that and the distraction roll-ups, this is really weird. Just like Paige hopefully getting a title shot at Money in the Bank, one would hope the Dudleys will now be in the tag title picture next month as well. Also, hat big clothesline Kofi took from D-Von looked awesome.

WWE Raw, May 9, 2016, Dean AmbroseDean Ambrose attacked Chris Jericho before his match with Big Cass. This was disappointing. They hyped Big Cass against Jericho for the entire show. Ambrose’s appearance was obvious, but they could have at least let them wrestle a bit. Cass didn’t have to beat Jericho. Ambrose could have attacked him and ended the match.

The visual of Ambrose wearing Jericho’s jacket, and then destroying it was pretty cool. But the idea that “Mitch the potted plant” meant the world to Ambrose is just stupid. It was a running joke. Now suddenly it’s a factor in a program between two of WWE’s biggest stars? What the hell…?

In Other News:

Ryback off TV over contract dispute, posts lengthy blog on the issue. Much of the blog Ryback posted on his Tumblr page had to do with how wrestlers are paid, and how talents who win matches should get paid as much as the ones who lose. He seems to be implying that all WWE wrestlers should be paid equally. Allegedly, he also wants WWE to pay for his travel and hotel expenses.

(Incidentally, I hadn’t caught the “pre-show stopper” weight belt Ryback wore out for his pre-show match at Payback. Funny stuff.)

Ryback, pre-show stopperI doubt WWE will give at all. If they don’t feel Ryback should be paid more, chances are they’re not going to shill out more for him. Especially now that he’s talked about the issue publicly. As for the travel stuff, if WWE doesn’t pay for John Cena or Roman Reigns to travel across the globe, they’re not going to do it for Ryback.

Still, I give “The Big Guy” credit for trying to take on the system. As far as the travel stuff, he’s right in principle. If there’s another industry that doesn’t pay for its employees to travel, I’m not aware of it. Perhaps that falls back under WWE classifying its employees as “independent contractors.” Which, of course, is a big sham.

WWE releases the following talents: Wade Barrett, Damien Sandow, Santino Marella, Hornswoggle, Alex Riley, Cameron, Zeb Colter, El Torito. WWE did what many refer to as its annual “spring cleaning” last week. Most of these aren’t surprises, as the talents haven’t been on TV in a number of months. We had a pretty good idea that Wade Barrett was leaving, which is a shame considering all he could have offered. Cameron, a.k.a. the real life Ariane Andrew, had posted a lengthy rant regarding fans cyber-bullying her less than a day before this announcement. Frankly, I’m sad to see her go. She many not have been a great wrestler, but her on-screen personality was very easy to dislike. At the very least, she might have been a good valet for someone.

But the one that really hurts is Damien Sandow. At one point, this guy was one of the most over guys on the roster. Why you wouldn’t make at least some use of a guy like that is beyond me. Hopefully WWE’s loss will be somebody else’s gain.

Image 3 from wrestlenewz.com. Image 6 from cagesideseats.com. Remaining images courtesy of WWE. 

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