Monday, 24 August 2015

WWE SummerSlam 2015 review

Traditionally SummerSlam has been positioned by WWE as their number two pay-per-view. It's not felt like it for a long time though. The importance of the Royal Rumble has helped that show surpass it. It could be argued that Money in the Bank has done the same. This year WWE awarded SummerSlam a four hour run time, attached an NXT Takeover special to the weekend, and did even more media work than usual all to turn SummerSlam into a big deal. It's a smart move. If the profile of the event can be raised there's a chance it can claw back some of its importance and, in turn, become a more profitable brand. Because brands are what WWE is all about in 2015.

Awkward bants.
The show kicked off with Lillian Garcia introducing former Daily Show front man Jon Stewart as the evening's host. He got the "What?" treatment from the crowd before changing up his cadence and quipping that he'd "spent the last sixteen years talking about politics, it's nice to be back in reality." Then he played into the shouts by listing guys. This, to me, proved that he really is a fan of the company.

Mick Foley (who looks a mess) was then introduced to act as backup for an interview with Brock Lesnar. They did some awkward non-lol comedy and teased that The Rock might join them. He didn't, and wouldn't appear on the show at all. They left. The crowd seemed happy with all of this.

Then, presented by Mountain Dew and Edge shave gel, SummerSlam began.

Randy Orton v Sheamus was up first. I've made my feelings about these two abundantly clear before. 'The Viper' is so dull as a character that it's impossible to be interested in anything involving him. I'm not wild about Shaymo either, so that didn't help. The match wasn't anything special. The crowd agreed. They spent a stretch of it amusing themselves with NXT related chants. Sheamus survived a top rope draping DDT and an RKO to win with two Brogue kicks in a row.

The lads.
Things picked up with match two, the four-way tag team championship match pitting defending champs the Prime Time Players against New Day, the Lucha Dragons and Los Matadores. Before the match New Day took some microphones to say that New York knew nothing about hip hop. Then they did some singing. It was great. None of the other entrances could compare.

The match was enjoyable and competently performed. Aside from several minutes of Kofi and Big E double teaming Darren Young it kept a quick pace and gave everyone except Los Matadores (who don't seem to actually matter to anyone in WWE) moments to shine. The Lucha Dragons got to work some slick doubles spots, including a monkey flip into a 450 form Sin Cara to Kalisto. New Day got to be irritating heels. D-Young got to be babyface in peril and Titus got to look like a beast when he received a hot tag and ploughed through everyone.

The finish saw the Luchas double suplex Fernando, with Titus power bombing them as they did so. Titus went for a cover but Kofi had made a blind tag and ran in to kick him in the face. Big E pulled Titus from the ring as Kofi covered Fernando to earn his team the tag straps for the second time. Which was the right result. With so many face teams on the roster, and the Usos getting closer to a comeback, New Day are the logical choice to sit atop the division. It doesn't hurt that they're the most over thing in it either.

Backstage Jon Stewart told Adrian Neville and Stephen Amell that he was pals with Undertaker. Then some spooky lighting was turned on (or off) and 'Taker strolled by, followed by dry ice. I'm sure somebody, somewhere found this hilarious.

Dolph Ziggler v Rusev was the next match. Lana was dressed in denim to match 'The Show Off' and looked faintly ridiculous. Despite liking everyone involved in this match I found myself not enjoying as much as I'd expected to. There were a few too many rest holds and lengthy selling spots while the various big bump spots felt uninspired. It never felt as though they'd brought the match up to full speed, surprising with Ziggler involved. That said I did like Ziggler's top rope X Factor and Rusev's tumbling senton.

The match ended in a draw. Rusev had the match won with the Accolade but released it when Lana slapped Summer Rae to the ground. Rusev then dragged Ziggler out of the ring and again got distracted by Lana, allowing Ziggler to sneak in a super kick. Neither man got back to the ring before the ten count. This finish, and the spirited post-match scuffle in which Lana and Summer did some nasty-looking hair-pulling, were presumably designed to set up a mixed tag match.

Stephen Amell, taking it like a champ.
The Neville and Amell v Stardust and King Barrett match was preceded by a fun recap video done in a style that was reminiscent of both comic book movie trailers in general and the Batman 60's TV show. It was great. As was the entrance of the Cosmic Kings. The match itself was also good, giving us exactly what we needed from it: Stardust going full-on supervillain, Amell holding his own, Neville playing the stand-up babyface, and Cosmic King Wade Bad News Barrett I acting like a creep who just wanted to win a match on pay-per-view. Stardust was the undeniable star. Based on his performance here he deserves a guest role on Arrow.

Amell was isolated for a while towards the beginning of the bout. Neville was eventually tagged in to hit some fancy flips to heat the audience back up. Surprisingly he also got the pin for his team, pinning Barrett off a Red Arrow. I'd expected Stardust to lie down for Amell. It felt like the natural finish but this was better. It was sensible to have one regular pin another.

After a self-congratulatory puff piece about how much WWE "gives back to the community" we got the triple threat match for the Intercontinental championship. Big Show v Miz v Ryback. Not the match we want but the match we deserve. It's possible that the highlight of the match was Ryback's singlet, which featured the Statue of Liberty with his face on the front and "Ryback Kong" scaling the Empire State Building on the back.

The story was that 'The Awesome One' wanted to leave the fighting to 'back and Show and pick up a win by sneaking in when both were exhausted. Which made sense for his character and the way WWE three-ways are usually booked. The match was good. Big Show put in some rarely seen effort by busting out a second rope somersault senton (yes, really). Ryback demonstrated his #incrediblepower by hitting Show with a spinebuster and Shellshock. Miz was great trying to steal wins on both guys and getting frustrated when he couldn't.

The finish could have been better though. Ryback took a KO punch as he hoisted Miz up for Shellshock. Miz broke up the following pin attempt and tried for one himself. Show swatted him off and hit him with the WMD punch. Before 'The World's Largest Athlete' could get the pin Ryback threw him out of the ring and covered 'The A-Lister' to retain. They didn't outstay their welcome and made good use of their time but I was surprised Ryback was booked to look so opportunistic. Pinning Miz instead of the more physically imposing Show did no favours to a guy's whose deal is meant to be power.

Backstage Jon Stewart knocked on Brock Lesnar's door. Paul Heyman answered. They discussed Lesnar ending The Streak and how it was a bad thing. It ended with Heyman singing and asking if Letterman was busy. Comedy is not WWE's strength.

Just a bunch of lads appreciating one another's vests.
One of the hottest feuds of the last few years was officially revived in match six. Former Shield boys Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns reunited to take on the Wyatt Family of Luke Harper and Bray Wyatt.  This was, as it was always going to be, one of the best matches of the night. They stuck to the old Shield v Wyatts formula of making liberal use of signature moves, suicide dives and double teams to ensure there was always something to hold the fans' attention.

Reigns got taken out of the match after the opening brawl, leaving Ambrose to survive alone for several minutes. Reigns would eventually return to the corner just in time to receive a tag from 'The Lunatic Fringe'. The Shield lads hit a Doomsday Device and the assisted power bomb before Reigns put 'The Eater of Worlds' down with a spear. Despite being surprisingly short at just eleven minutes the match was, as stated above, one of the best of the night. I'd have no problem with the feud continuing and us getting a rematch at Night of Champions.

Speaking of champions, the title versus title match was up after that. It was preceded by a great video package that began with Cena talking about the people of New York being everyday heroes (presumably a token effort at winning the crowd over) before moving onto Rollins breaking Cena's nose and the all-time tally of world title reigns Cena has. At fifteen he's one off Ric Flair's (official) record of sixteen. They made sure to include Cena's words to Triple H on the subject of Flair being his mentor, which really helped to emphasise the title versus title stuff and the importance and significance of Cena's sixteenth world title win, whether it was to come here or not.
 
The initial lockup was a stalemate. Cena got the best of the second with a headlock takedown. Rollins fought back to his feet, floored Cena with a drop kick, and mocked his "You can't see me" bit. That earned him a punch to the face and another headlock.

Good guys wear white.
Rollins fought back to his feet and hit Cena with a Blockbuster before knocking him out of the ring for a pair of suicide dives and a tope. Back in the ring Rollins reversed a back drop and took Cena down with a sling blade for a two count. Cena fired back with a belly-to-back suplex and prepared for a Five Knuckle Shuffle but Rollins kicked him in the head and went for a Pedigree. Cena back dropped out of it and nailed the springboard Stunner before getting the Shuffle he'd missed moments earlier.

Rollins slipped out of an early attempt at the AA onto the top rope then launched himself knees first into Cena. He followed that with a running Shooting Star Press for a two count. He kept control by hanging Cena in a tree of woe and blasting him with a double stomp from the top rope. 'The Future' trash-talked Cena and was grabbed for a desperation AA. He kicked out and made it back to his feet for a boo-yay punch exchange. Another Pedigree attempt failed, this time with Rollins ending up taking a face plant from Cena's shoulders.

Cena got his never less than dangerous-looking top rope leg drop as Rollins staggered to his feet. That earned him a two count. They mostly botched a second rope AA counter but Rollins just about held things together for a sunset buckle bomb. He followed that with a nice frog splash but Cena kicked out and hoisted the WWE champ into position for the Attitude Adjustment. Rollins landed on his feet, hit an enziguri and rolled through a cross body to hit Cena with an AA of his own.

When Cena kicked out Rollins went to his backup option of a phoenix splash. Cena avoided that and grabbed 'The Future' for the STF. Rollins was barely in the hold before Cena released it to reapply, at which point Rollins kicked him away. Cena recovered and attempted an AA. Rollins wriggled free and tried a Pedigree. Cena broke free of that and slapped on a figure four, nicely tying into the back-story of Cena trying to equal Flair's world title reign record.

Rollins managed to flip over onto his front, reversing the pressure and forcing Cena to make the ropes and break the hold (because it's Cena, of course he does both). Cena returned to the top rope but got cut off and superplexed, with Rollins performing a surprise roll-through into a falcon arrow. Cena kicked out but remained spent on the mat. Rollins tried the phoenix splash again but missed and got scooped up for an AA. Cena hit it, but not before a ref bump took place.

After checking on the referee (whadda guy!) Cena turned around and took a knee strike t the face, the same move that had broken his nose on RAW. At that point Jon Stewart ran down to the ring with a chair and, after several awkward pauses, tapped it into Cena's stomach. A recovered Rollins then Pedigreed Cena onto the chair to retain the WWE championship and win his first ever United States championship.

Screwy swerve turn finish involving a non-contracted former political pundit aside this was the match of the night. Rollins and Cena work well together and they once again showed it here. The finish was made far easier to stomach because I'd been expecting some sort of DQ that prevented either title changing hand. The change presents some interesting options for Night of Champions. Rollins making two separate defences could be interesting and something I'd like to see.

Booker T and Byron Saxton were irate at Stewart's action over at the analyst table. Corey Graves no-sold the finish and focused on the "history making" result. Booker put over New Day and did some clapping as Renee threw to the Divas trios three-way.

After a recap video that reminded us of Stephanie McMahon taking credit for Paige's on-screen quest for a better division we got a match that was somewhat of a mixed bag. There were a handful of sloppy moments but the most awkward aspect of the match was a booking decision: the match was fought under elimination rules and saw Team BAD out first, eliminated after Brie had pinned Tamina. This showed no foresight. Had Team Bella been the first team eliminated, at the hands of the team that wouldn't ultimately win, that would have demonstrated that the newcomers on both opposing teams are every bit as good as the more established women. It would have left the fresher faces to battle amongst themselves and set up all members of both teams as potential contenders to Nikki Bellas Divas title. A later half carried by Sasha Banks and the newer girls on the PCB team could have been great.

A lot of people have picked holes in this entire Divas revolution thing. For the most part I feel it's been a little unfair. I understand the grievances people have with it but I feel it's best to focus on the fact that WWE are at least trying to go in the right direction. But booking like this, that hampers the progression of the newcomers in favour of positioning the Bellas as formidable forces, is irritating and does nothing for anyone. Not even the Bellas benefited because Nikki now has fewer credible potential title challengers than she could have had.

There was a lot wrong here but the result was entirely correct.
It wasn't all bad. The Bellas hit a nice stereo suicide dive and Nikki did a nice Alabama slam on the outside. The audience were invested in Sasha Banks, despite her not getting a great deal to do. Alicia Fox broke out her beautiful northern lights suplex. And the right team won, Becky getting the win with what can generously be called a pump handle slam. Although even this didn't seen entirely sensible. Someone (Charlotte would likely have been the best choice, all things considered) should have pinned Nikki to set them up as an obvious challenger.

Cesaro v Kevin Owens took the semi-main event slot. The reactions they got for their entrances and during the match disproves the theory that WWE fans need a cool down period before a pay-per-view main event. Both guys entered performances that made it clear they had something to prove. Each guy hit a tope to the outside. Cesaro busted out a cross body from the top rope, a gut wrench suplex from the second, and a springboard uppercut. Owens pulled out a cannonball on the outside, an inverted TKO, a somersault leg drop, and the double jump moonsault. They worked, in the words of Steve Austin, snug. KO won an enjoyable match with a top rope fishermanbuster and the pop-up power bomb.

Which left only the Undertaker v Brock Lesnar main event. The pre-match video focused on the ending of The Streak, with a variety of wrestlers appearing as talking heads to give their opinion on the subject. I'm not going to go into the history of the match here. I did that in the preview, which you can read at this link. Suffice it to say I liked the way WWE built to this rematch.

This match set a brisk pace from the start. Lesnar jumped Undertaker as he entered the ring. 'Taker fought back and knocked 'The Beast' out of the ring and to the floor. Lesnar paced about a bit before returning and taking 'The Dead Man' down to the mat to hit him with forearms. The two then returned to their feet to trade right hands as duelling chants of "Undertaker!" and "Suplex City!" rang through the arena.

'Taker got the better of the punch exchange and set up to walk the ropes with Old School but got pulled into an F5 position. He escaped and went for a choke slam. Brock escaped that. And then the suplexes started.

Undertaker took a belly-to-belly and a German suplex before managing to drive 'The Pain' head-first into a turnbuckle. He followed up with snake eyes and a big boot which sent Lesnar tumbling out of the ring. There 'The Phenom' rushed his foe into the barricades before setting him up for the apron leg drop.

Brock recovered. They traded jabs. Undi' went for a choke slam. Lesnar slipped out of it in mid-air and hit a German suplex. Then another. And another. Undertaker rolled from the ring as the duelling chants started back up. Lesnar followed and cleared the French announce table (because nothing says an event is on the scale of WrestleMania like foreign language commentary teams being flown in). 'Taker recovered and tried to Last Ride Lesnar through the table but Lesnar broke free and F5ed him through instead.

Taker returned to the ring just before the ten count expired. Lesnar looked mildly shocked before telling Undertaker he'd kill him. Undertaker again told Lesnar he'd have to then hit him with a surprise choke slam and a Tombstone.

Lesnar kicked out and was the first to sit up. Undertaker was seconds behind him and they traded right hands as they returned to their feet. Lesnar locked in a kimura in the corner, which 'The Last Outlaw' countered into a Last Ride for a two count.

If only 'Taker had tapped when Robinson was there.
Lesnar hit an F5. Undertaker kicked out. Lesnar hit another. Undertaker kicked out again then trapped Lesnar in Hell's Gate. Lesnar powered out and applied the kimura. Then the shenanigans kicked in. Undertaker tapped out as the referee was in position checking to see if Lesnar's shoulders were down for a pin and the bell rang. The ref told the timekeeper it was his job to signal for the bell to ring. Undertaker took this opportunity to hit a low blow and got Lesnar back in the Hell's Gate. Officially the match ended with Lesnar flipping off the Undertaker as he faded into unconsciousness.

After the match Heyman took a mic and said that everyone had seen 'Taker tap out. He then declared Lesnar the winner via submission. The commentators bickered about the finish for a little longer before the show finally went off the air.

This was a finish designed to keep both men strong and, possibly, to set up a rematch. Based on this I've no interest in a third bout in the series. Neither man was helped by this ending. The match and the paying audience deserved a clear winner. Either Undertaker should have won for vengeance and to show he still has it ahead of his retirement or Lesnar should have won to keep his aura intact and so as not to invalidate The Streak ending. Personally I'd have preferred a Lesnar win. That would have kept him strong and allowed for an a story in which an Undertaker plagued by self doubt boldly announced he'll retire if he can't win at WrestleMania. They could even had had 'Taker enter the Royal Rumble and winning to show that he's still as good as ever.

Overall I thought SummerSlam was perfectly fine. It was not the show it needed to be though. There were too many poor booking choices, odd run times, and matches that simply didn't have enough reason to be happening to justify this being a four hour, ten match card. The main event and the title versus title match, the things the event was built around, both failed to deliver entirely satisfying endings and for that alone it's hard to see this SummerSlam as anything more than a good but flawed time.

***

Results summary:
Sheamus defeated Randy Orton
New Day defeated the Prime Time Players, Los Matadores and the Lucha Dragons to win the tag team championship
Doph Ziggler v Rusev ended in a count out draw
Stephen Amell and Adrian Neville defeated Stardust and Bad News Barrett
Ryback defeated The Miz and Big Show to retain the Intercontinental championship
Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose defeated Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper
Seth Rollins defeated John Cena to retain the WWE championship and win the United States championship
Paige, Charlotte and Becky Lynch defeated Team BAD and Team Bella
Kevin Owens defeated Cesaro
The Undertaker defeated Brock Lesnar via referee stoppage

Sunday, 23 August 2015

NXT Takeover: Brooklyn review


NXT Takeovers have been established as highlights of wrestling. Going into Takeover: Brooklyn there had been six and all had been of the highest quality possible. The seventh had a lot of hype to meet because of this, hype that was only added to by the show emanating from outside of NXT's home base of Florida's Full Sail University for the first time.

I'm pleased to say that it not only met but exceeded the hype.

The show kicked off with Triple H stood in the middle of the ring with a spotlight on him. Thankfully this wasn't a sign of things to come. 'The Game' was there to hype the crowd up with his star power and cut a quick promo getting over the brand's chief goal: shining a spotlight on the stars of the future.

In direct contradiction to this the opener featured 50-year-old Jushin Thunder Liger. Actually, that's a tad unfair. Liger was there to help the brand name's continued growth as WWE's "indy" brand. He has credibility with the target audience as a well-travelled, talented and innovative veteran. He was also there to provide a big name opponent for Tyler Breeze, who is arguably NXT's greatest success story in terms of creating a star from scratch.

Tyler Breeze was out first. He again got his runway entrance, this time the women with him were dressed as the Statue of Liberty, a taxi cab and other NYC tropes. Not being a regular Liger didn't get a special entrance. He didn't even get his regular entrance music. Not that it mattered. The crowd went crazy for him anyway.

Breeze got first blood ;not literally, obviously) with a knockdown and his relaxing in the corner taunt. Liger took control with submission holds and shenanigans such as stealing both the corner taunt and the selfie stick. Breeze floored his foe with a super model kick and began working over his back.

Liger v Breeze, a strong opener.
A "Full sail sucks!" chant broke out as 'The Gorgeous One' applied a front face lock to Liger. In addition to this they failed to react to Breeze's screams of "Don't touch me!" to the referee. It was at this point I realised the Brooklyn crowd was going to be detrimental to show, even if only in a minor way. Instead of focusing on the opener, featuring one of NXT's most over acts and a bonafide legend, the fans focused on getting themselves over and taking shots at Full Sail. In principle there's nothing wrong with that. The FS fans had done this to them but they'd chosen an appropriate time to do it. There were more than enough gaps in the show for the Brooklyn audience to have done the same.

Back in the match Liger hit a rolling kick and tilt-a-whirl. A top rope splash was countered with knees by Breeze. Liger hit a running palm strike as Breeze shouted at the ref (set up numerous times earlier and mostly ignored by the crowd) and followed up with a running senton off the apron and a Liger bomb for the victory. The match was neither man's best work but it was still significant for both. For 'Prince Pretty' it was a vote of confidence from management and the chance to wrestle, and learn from, a legend (a term I use far less lightly than WWE). For Liger it was the chance to wrestle his first ever WWE match.

After Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and Sean 'The Kid' Waltman were shown at ringside cameras cut backstage to show us Bayley in a locker room. She got a hug from Charlotte and a handshake from Becky Lynch. That was followed by a video to let us know that Nia Jax, one of The Rock's many young cousins, is on her way to NXT. She's coming in to fill the gap left by the recently departed Banks, Flair and Lynch.

The Vaudevillains got the special entrance treatment for their tag title challenge, wearing top hats and longcoats. They'd have fit in well with fan of steampunk Becky Lynch. The champs got nothing as fancy as hats but were wearing fancy new red and gold (almost but not quite Iron Man-inspired) ring gear and looked pretty dapper. And they had Alexa Bliss with them to put down the challengers before the match, telling them she knew they wouldn't find anyone to accompany them in Brooklyn. Which naturally set up the introduction of their second for the match: Blue Pants.

Gotch controlled the opening moments with his strong gentleman act before English tagged in and got worked over for a bit. BAMF did a good job of riling the crowd and working slick double teams. A hot tag was eventually made to Gotch, who did a solid job drawing the crowd into his brief but fiery comeback. He tagged back out to English who clambered to the top rope and immediately got crotched. The tag champions set up a double superplex but Gotch made the save with a double power bomb out if the corner.

They Vaudevillains did it, thanks to
the power of blue pants.
A Swanton bomb from English got the challengers a convincing two count. That prompted Bliss to get onto the ring apron. She was immediately pulled down by Blue Pants and they ended up writhing about on the floor pulling one another's hair and popping shots. Murphy snuck in and threw English out before trying a sneaky rollup on Gotch, a callback to the finish of their last successful defence against the 'villains. This time Gotch kicked out and the challengers connected with the Whirling Dervish on Murphy to win the tag straps.

These first two matches showed the NXT system is still working. It was set up to give less experienced wrestlers the chance to learn and prepare them for the main roster. The opener gave Breeze time in the ring with a veteran in front of a massive crowd. This second match gave six performers the same platform and provided them with the time to have a competitive match that told a focused, logical story. It was invaluable experience. It was not the best tag match you'll ever see but that's a complaint that misses the point. This was about people getting to work an important match in front of a large crowd and they did an excellent job with it.

After an entirely pointless shot of Coney Island and a plug for Takeover's official song (so generic I can't remember what it was called) we were shown Adrian Neville and Finn Bálor arriving together to be greeted by Cesaro. Then we were shown a shot of Rick Rubin. Who I've never heard of and don't care about.

'Perfect 10' Tye Dillinger rolled out to take the most predictable loss on the show after that. The debuting Apollo Crews got a hearty response, which is a good sign for his prospects both in NXT and WWE proper. I missed his old, catchy entrance music from when he was Uhaa Nation though. WWE will never come up with anything that good. Jim Johnston doesn't have it in him. 

Future NXT champion? Maybe...
Dillinger did his ten shtick. Crews did it back, after a series of fancy back flips, to the delight of the fans. Crews got a flurry of offence on Dillinger before being surprised by a drop kick (after which Dillinger patted himself on the back). It wasn't long before Crews fought back for the finish though. A standing enziguri, a roaring clothesline, a corner splash and most of what was once known as the Uhaa Combination (it was missing the standing SSP, which will presumably be saved as a big deal) put Dillinger down for the three count. The match got over Crews' athleticism and Dillinger's gimmick, which was the aim.

William Regal then announced the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. This is a tournament featuring teams from NXT's "past, present and future." It strikes me as a clever move. Until recently the presence of Sasha, Charlotte and Becky has allowed NXT to make women's wrestling a focus. With their promotions meaning full-time departures are presumably not far off  this tournament will allow tag wrestling to become a focus, giving others a chance to shine while still giving NXT something to set it apart from the main roster.

The pre-match promo for Baron Corbin versus Samoa Joe was excellent, even by WWE's usually high standard. Corbin spoke about being paid to go to college and play football and not having heard of anyone of the guys who have come to NXT hyped as big deals for accomplishing things elsewhere. He said he didn't have to compete around the world to get to NXT, he just put in a call. Then the video cut to Joe, who said WWE had called him. This bit of editing perfectly told the story behind the match: Corbin is dominant in NXT and wants to be considered a bigshot like his more famed peers, like Joe.

The match itself was better than I'd expected. But then I hadn't expected a great deal. Corbin is good at his twenty second squash wins on TV but he's shown in longer matches so infrequently that we couldn't be sure what to expect here. He held his own with Joe well. Clearly he's working lengthier matches at house shows, can be led well, or has a very good memory for match layouts.

The two were shown to be equals for the most part. They traded the advantage often and every time one did something the other would do it moments later. Joe's single leg crab was followed by a heel hook from Corbin, for example. 'The Wolf Shaman' would eventually be choked out in the coquina clutch after hitting Joe with a double handed choke bomb. They went with referee stoppage over a tap out though, so as to preserve some of that precious Barry Corbin mystique.

More ringside stars were shown. Ric Flair was shown sitting with Kanna and Sargent Slaughter. Team BAD were sitting by themselves, there to cheer on storyline-pal Sasha Banks. And I'm sure all of these people were genuinely spending the entire night in their seats and not hanging out backstage at all.

Stephanie McMahon came out to her ridiculous music in full-on happy babyface mode. She was there to announce the official attendance as 15,589, talk up the "Divas revolution" she's taken storyline credit for introducing to the main roster, and remind everyone that Banks v Bayley was to be considered one of two main events. They got a great video package before their match that told the story of the other three of the so-called NXT Four Horsewomen progressing to the main roster and seemingly outgrowing and surpassing Bayley. It also emphasised the importance of winning the women's championship to Bayley and the matches she'd won to earn her latest opportunity.

Bayley got her regular entrance featuring the wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tube men and was sporting some fresh white and gold ring gear. 'The Boss' was driven out in a car that looked suspiciously like the one Bálor and Neville had arrived in earlier in the evening and had a four strong security team with her. I'm a big fan of special entrances and this was a particularly good one.

Banks started off laying into Bayley's polka dot wrist bands (a tribute to Dusty Rhodes). Bayley took her down, gave her a pummelling and went for a pin. Banks kicked out and threw her into a turnbuckle. Bayley fired up and put Banks in a tree off woe to give her a springboard elbow drop. Banks kicked out of the following cover at one and followed up with a flash rollup and a kick to the stomach. Bayley got an arm drag and Banks tumbled to the outside, the challenger following to do her baseball slide through the corner spot.

Back in the ring Banks went for her draping double knee strike but Bayley dodged it. She would then be kicked off the apron down to the mats, the champ staying in the ring to mock her by using her own taunts. When Bayley got back in she was slapped down and worked over by 'The Boss'. The crowd were split as Banks applied a straightjacket sleeper but Bayley found the power to fight up to her feet anyway. That didn't work out for her: she tried backing the champion into a corner but got tossed head first into it herself.

Banks again went for her draping double knees but Bayley caught her. Again things didn't work out for Bayley, Banks sending Bayley into the turnbuckle using her legs. Banks softened Bayley up with punches before putting her on the top rope and hitting her double knee attack there. Bayley managed to kick out but convincingly sold absolute exhaustion. She dragged herself to a corner and was given a mouthful by Banks. Bayley's response was to kick her in the face and, getting a second wind, fire off punches at her. Sasha cut her off and tossed her out of the ring where she pulled the hand guard off of Bayley's previously injured right hand. Then she viciously smacked the hand against the ring steps and stomped it.

The referee told Banks to lay off back in the ring and then leant out of the ring to check on Bayley. Banks threw out a big spot by vaulting over the ref and flooring her foe with a tope. Back in the ring she continued to focus on the challenger's hand. Bayley fired back with left hand jabs and axe handles smashes.

Bayley hit a suplex into the turnbuckles and went for the Bayley-to-belly. Banks dropped to her knees to avoid it and took Bayley down with an armbar before slipping into the Bank Statement. Bayley dragged herself towards the ropes. Banks reared back and stomped away at Bayley's hand then rolled back towards the centre of the ring to reapply the hold and trap Bayley. But Bayley countered, trapping Banks in her own signature hold.

Banks sold the move like a pro (a boss, if you will) before making the ropes. Bayley got the Bayley-to-belly. Banks kicked out. Bayley placed a dazed champion on the top rope and went for the move again. Banks fought off. Bayley came back and tried for a top tope hurricanrana. Banks stayed put and, in a really awkward-looking moment, Bayley landed head first in the ring. Presumably she was fine as the match continued with Banks launching herself from the top rope and smashing Bayley with knees. That got her a two count.

Banks took Bayley to the top rope. Bayley fought back and hit a reverse hurricanrana off the second rope, immediately followed by a Bayley-to-belly for the win and the championship at 18:22.

The end of Bayley's title chase and quest for validation.
Bayley got plenty of time to celebrate her win. She waved the belt about and looked generally pretty happy. Then Charlotte and Becky ran out to congratulate her and (awkwardly) hoist her up onto their shoulders. Banks returned to the ring to hug and congratulate the new champion. Becky and Charlotte joined in and the four did the Horsemen hand sign (woooooo!). It was a heart-warming little post-match sequence, and lovely to see how much it meant to the four to be in the ring together on such a big night for the NXT brand. They deserve to be the focus of the Divas division within a year.

Some general hype and a shot of current WWE champ, and first ever NXT champ, Seth Rollins followed. More importantly they showed a recap of Triple H announcing a UK tour for NXT. I'll be looking into tickets.

The hype video for the main event was all about reminding us that Kevin Owens has been a beast in NXT since he debuted last December. Finn Bálor's title win was a big part of the video, being marked as a turning point for the Owens and Bálor characters. It was also made clear Bálor would be rocking his demon face paint to ensure victory, although the fact that he has yet to lose in Demon Mode was not touched on.

Owens received the always enjoyable pre-match walking to gorilla shot before he entered. When he entered the arena he got a thunderous pop and did some rope-kicking and cursing to psych himself up in the ring. Bálor did his demon entrance, this time with some extras dressed like him accompanying him to make it look like he was teleporting around in the smoke. Owens watched this from a chair at ringside, demonstrating that he was entirely unfazed by Bálor's "mind games."

The match started with some simple back and forth in the ring. The crowd got rowdy as Owens took control of the pace but that was because someone was getting chucked out of the building for something. It was understandable but still disappointing to see this happening during a main event which had been so well built up.

Once attention was back on the match a "Ole!" chant broke out. Owens seized on it and milked it for all it was worth. Truly Zayn versus Owens (Generico versus Steen, whatever you want to refer to it as) is the feud that will never die.

The ladder came into play shortly after. Owens used it on Bálor first, smashing it into his stomach and back before propping the champ up on it against the ring apron. He then trolled the crowd by getting a run-up from the aisleway, teasing he was dash into or up the ladder but instead sidestepping and punching  Bálor in the face. A standard issue main event ringside brawl followed, complete with barricade and he announce table spots.

The pair returned to the ring and Owens whacked the champion with a ladder then sentoned onto it. Owens tried a power bomb onto a ladder placed on its side but Bálor reversed into a back drop. The challenger recovered and aimed a cannonball at a Bálor slumped against a ladder. The champion move and Owens hit ladder. Bálor hit his Coup de Grâce combo and ascended a ladder. Owens caught him by the foot and pulled him off into a power bomb.

Owens tried for an apron bomb. Bálor grabbed the roped and escaped to the safety of the apron. He managed to nail a punt kick but when he attempted to follow up with a double stomp Owens moved out of the way and and hit the apron bomb after all.

No two time champion here. Move on.
Back in the ring Owens hit Bálor with two super kicks and an order to stay down. He then spent some time setting up a ladder under the title belt and positioning another between the first and the turnbuckle, providing a low platform. He then grabbed Bálor and tried for a fishermanbuster. Bálor fought back and, after a tense few seconds trading the advantage back and forth, sent Owens sailing back onto the ladder. The ladder Bálor was standing on was by this point a little off centre so Owens, pro that he is, recovered enough to claw at Bálor's feet, got himself kicked away and set up to receive the Coup de Grâce. That gave Bálor the excuse he needed to leave the ladder before repositioning it, climbing up, and grabbing his belt to retain in a very good main event. 

This match had a distinctly different feel to the majority of WWE produced ladder matches. The ladder seemed to be in play a lot less but when it was used it was used in a meaningful way. It made the gimmick more, which was clearly the intention. I imagine it didn't hurt that it didn't feel like a standard ladder match too as that contributed to NXT's unique feel.

This was a top notch show. It didn't quite beat out either of the two Takeover cards from earlier in the year but that was a high standard and certainly didn't make this bad or an affront to the Takeover series. The main event was excellent and provided a great cap to the show while everything on the undercard did everything it needed to. Match of the night honours go to the women's title match. It was the best pure wrestling match on the show and told a self-contained story while paying off years of backstory in the Four Horsewomen's ascent and Bayley's desire to reach the top of the division. Basically, go and watch this show.

***

Results summary:
Jushin Liger defeated Tyler Breeze
The Vaudevillains defeated The BAMF to win the NXT tag team championship
Apollo Crews defeated Tye Dillinger
Samoa Joe defeated Baron Corbin via referee stoppage
Bayley defeated Sasha Banks to win the NXT women's championship
Finn Bálor defeated Kevin Owens to retain the NXT championship

Rock Versus Triple H: 2015 Edition

The Rock is many things. He's a Hollywood movie star. He's a highly accomplished third generation wrestler. He's a former eight time WWE world champion. He's a future first ballot Hall of Famer. He's one of the two biggest babyfaces of the Attitude Era (the other, obviously, being 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin). Some may even go so far as to say he was the biggest star of that era but I'm not one of them.

Triple H is also many thanks. He is the current on-screen boss of the company. He too is a highly accomplished wrestler and future first ballot Hall of Fame inductee. He's also former eight time WWE champion. He's one of the two biggest heels of the Attitude Era (the other, obviously, being Vince McMahon). Some may even go so far as to say he was the biggest heel of that era but I'm not one of them.

Rock pretending to fly as he hits a Rock Bottom there.
Together they had one of the greatest rivalries of the Attitude Era. It started off over the Intercontinental title and gradually progressed to one for the world title. Somewhere along the way it became a defining feud for both men, one that didn't actually require the involvement of a title or a reason for a match to take place. It was simply one of those rivalries that had been going for so long that it was one of those rare ever-ready, ever-present disputes, the sort of thing that could flare up at any time. Sort of like Cena v Orton now, only good.

Despite the pair having separate feuds in 1998, 1999 and 2000 they never actually had a one-on-one match at WrestleMania. They completely deserved to but the closest they came was the closing portion of a four-way elimination main event, also involving Big Show and Mick Foley at WrestleMania 2000. Behind Austin versus McMahon and Austin versus The Rock it was one of the defining rivalries of the time. Behind that second programme it was the greatest rivalry of Rock's career. It was quite possibly the greatest of Triple H's, with only his work opposite the various guises of Mick Foley coming close to being both as good and as important to his career.

I mention all of this because there's been speculation since WrestleMania Play Button that Rock and Triple H will face one another at next year's WrestleMania Star in Texas. This has picked up again recently because of SummerSlam. With the event being stretched to four hours (the first WWE event not named WrestleMania to hit that mark) and being held in NYC it's fair to say that WWE will want to add something to the announced card to make it special. A showdown between the on-screen boss and his old movie-making rival would fit the bill nicely. If they came to blows to set up a future match that would be A Big Deal.

Of course, part of the previously mentioned speculative chatter regaining a Rock and Trips bout is that it would somehow involve Rhonda Rousey and Stephanie McMahon. This would make sense given the segment involving all four at 'Mania earlier this year. But while a mixed tag match at WM32 would certainly be memorable it would also feel a tiny but like a squandered opportunity.

In Rock v Triple H WWE has a perfect chance to revisit one of the company's defining rivalries and give them the only kind of match they've never had: a WrestleMania showdown. Were it to happen and Rhonda Rousey was still on the card (her ability to wrestle a match for WWE has been questioned since her UFC boss Dana White stated publicly that he wouldn't let her) then she and Steph could have a singles match. That would probably be more enjoyable anyway: a squash in which uber-heel Steph gets tapped out in a few minutes sounds like a good addition to a 'Mania card to me. Meanwhile if either Rock or Tripper were considering retiring at all in the next little while this is a match that could provide a fitting end to either career (although the assumption that Undertaker's retiring in Texas makes that unlikely, nobody wants to see two retirement matches in one night). It's the match I'd like to see WWE revisit more than any other. One final addition to the feud at a WrestleMania sounds pretty good to me.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

NXTweet 19.08.15

This week's episode of NXT opened and closed with promo segments, a contract signing and a promo to set up a brawl respectively. This is a little close to the standard RAW formula for my tastes but it worked here, this being one of the better episodes of NXT of the last couple of months, and it's worth bearing in mind that I'm not someone who feels the show has gone off the (proverbial) boil.

There were a few reasons for this. Firstly, none of the people involved in the talking portions of the show have been in enough for us to feel bored at the prospect of them in more. A large part of the reason promo segments on RAW get so much hate is that they all too frequently involved John Cena, Seth Rollins and the rest of the gang. We know what's going to be said and done before anything happens and so it's boring.

Secondly, the promos featured performers we care about discussing championships we care about. It's far easier to sit through these sorts of things when the people involved are over and are taking about something meaningful. To go back to RAW problems again, the trouble is that they happen so often (every week, basically) that we're just hearing the same things discussed. It also helped that the discussions didn't adhere to a formula. The contract signing in particular gave us something unusual for WWE in Banks, the defending champion, telling Bayley she wasn't worth it before walking away. Yeah we still got a brawl between the two but the way in which we got to it told the story of 'The Boss' being an arrogant champion who doesn't rate or worry about her opponent.

The show was helped by a fun, if underwhelming, eight man tag match and an entertaining non-title tag match featuring the tag champs. These two matches, incidentally, did a nice job of quietly highlighting the number of teams that have sprung up in NXT over the last couple of months, something that had been sorely needed.

All that and Baron Corbin getting to lay out Samoa Joe to try convincing people he has a chance of beating him at Takeover! Quite the hour of wrestling...

Intro

Tweet 1: Finished work but I'm going to sit AT work and watch NXT. Madness, am I right?
Tweet 2: Dramatic recap of Finn Bálor entering the arena last week. Less dramatic reveal that he as facing Marcus 'NXT Kane' Louis.
Tweet 3: I bloody love Marcus Louis though tbf.
Tweet 4: Also from last week: Bayley and Becky Lynch did a wrestle. This is also very dramatic.
Tweet 5: How long has Dana Brooke in the intro please?

Sasha Banks and Bayley contract signing, featuring William Regal

Tweet 6: #Regalpop
Tweet 7: Top lad, Blackpool's favourite son, bright-eyed Billy Regal.
Tweet 8: Rich Brennan is morphing into Michael Cole. Physically, I mean. Poor man.
Tweet 9: Contract signing. These are always a laugh.
Tweet 10: Long term I kind of hope they go with the theme of Bayley always being a step behind the other lasses. It'd make for a great payoff.
Tweet 11: Sasha mocking a young Bayley fan there. Absolutely phenomenal stuff. She'd have gotten the granny handbag treatment on World of Sport.
Tweet 12: "There's a reason Takeover: Brooklyn isn't here" - Sasha Banks, failing geography but excelling at heelish jibes
Tweet 13: Sasha ain't ratchet, folks...

Sasha dropping some hot truth direct into Bayley's ears.

Tweet 14: Big fan of every pretty much every woman in NXT being so over they split the crowd.
Tweet 15: Really hope Sasha walks out on this fight challenge.
Tweet 16: Bayley really kind of has to win after this pretty vicious promo from Banks.
Tweet 17: "You're just not worth it" - Sasha Banks, going full tilt at making Bayley the ultimate underdog for their match
Tweet 18: Should've called this Takeover NXT: NYC. Got a good ring to it.

Tyler Breeze v Rob Ryzin

Tweet 19: Look! Look, everyone! It's TYLER!! *swoons*
Tweet 20: I like the idea that Liger called up Triple H and demanded an NXT match. Didn't happen though.
Tweet 21: Wii's this lad with the fauxhawk then?
Tweet 22: I like him having Ryzin' on his trunks. Terra Ryzing reference?

Super (model) kick for the son of Terra.

Tweet 23: Oh, he's lost already. Kind of disappointed that Breeze doesn't wrestle long TV matches anymore. He's a guy who warrants time.
Tweet 24: In terms of getting over using only the NXT system I don't think there's anyone that can touch Breeze.
Tweet 25: Breeze stepping on a Liger mask as he walks out. IS THIS SYMBOLIC?!
Tweet 26: Little Attitude Era podcast reference for you there.

The Hype Bros, Enzo Amore and Big Cass v Team Young Boy

Tweet 27: The Hype Bros. I am not hyped.
Tweet 28: Enzo and Cass. Now I'm hyped.
Tweet 29: Mojo seems to think that shouting equals hype.
Tweet 30: May look back at Enzo's debut. I bet it would be fascinating.
Tweet 31: Some sugar-lovin' hype fans and Enzo and Cass versus NXT young boys here. Interesting. I'd have preferred a longer Breeze match tbh.

Jesus de Reigns.

Tweet 32: Big fan of that lad who looks like a cross between Roman Reigns and Super Crazy on Team Young Boy.
Tweet 33: Shout out to Enzo's mullet.

Dash Wilder, Scott Dawson, Chad Gable and Jason Jordan talk about the preceding match backstage

Tweet 34: I'm confused. Is the eight man tag at Takeover going to be aired live? It should be. Hometown lads and all that.
Tweet 35: Chad Gable referencing the 2-0 streak he and 'Jazzy' Jason Jordan have been on there.

Samoa Joe v Steve Cutler

Tweet 36: WWE should bring in Tazz. Reunite him with Joe live on the Network on Saturday. That's going to get subscribers, yo.
Tweet 37: Samoa Joe acting like a big man for choking out jobber extraordinaire Steve Cutler there. Good on ya, Joe lad.

Joe acting like a bigshot.

Tweet 38: Oh look. It's everyone's former NFL player turned wrestler, 'Wolf Shaman' Barry Corbin.
Tweet 39: Barry going full Hardy Boyz and peeling off his T-shirt to show he's filled his special bar.

The BAMF v Sawyer Fulton and Angelo Dawkins

Tweet 40: BAMF v Fulton and Dawkins. But... they're all heels? Whaaaaaa'?!
Tweet 41: The crowd are bullying Alexa Bliss, referring to her as Barbie. Disgusting behaviour. Ban those chanting from the building.

Wr-r-r-r-r-r-r-restling!

Tweet 42: Fulton and Dawkins are winning the crowd over. Maybe a test to see if they could be turned?
Tweet 43: Because who doesn't like a guy inspired by Rick Steiner?
Tweet 44: Remember when Simon Gotch was a silent movie star and didn't speak?
Tweet 45: Female privilege. Tears.
Tweet 46: The fans just chanted "We want Blue Pants" and quite possibly ruined the Takeover surprise for me. The rascals.
Tweet 47: Carmella v Eva Marie getting hyped for some reason. Getting taped in New York. Maybe they're banking on the crowd being into Carmella.
Tweet 48: Clarification on the Takeover lineup there. Thumbs up.

Kevin Owens promo, featuring Finn Bálor

Tweet 49: Oh look. It's Big Kev with a ladder. Wonder what this is all about?
Tweet 50: Brooklyn, New York. The biggest heel on the NXT roster.
Tweet 51: "You are the John Cena of wrestling fans" - Kevin Owens to the NXT audience
Tweet 52: Owens making the crowd the heels and explaining his character motives all while making people boo him. I love this man.
Tweet 53: Motive for regaining the title too. Proving he's better than Finn and annoying the NXT fans. Cracking stuff.
Tweet 54: "Fall, Owens, fall!" - The crowd to Kevin Owens on a ladder

The lads and a ladder.

Tweet 55: Finn Bálor here, making a seemingly rare appearance on the show he's champion of.
Tweet 56: And now, the inevitable brawl.
Tweet 57: Bálor climbing the ladder, presumably to show Owens that he can.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

WWE SummerSlam 2015 preview


Probably the most interesting thing to note about this year's SummerSlam is that it's the first time in what feels like years that there's been a WWE pay-per-view involving what feels like a substantial mid-card. It's become the norm to toss non-main event names into matches for the Intercontinental and US championships or pit them against established top boys like John Cena and Randy Orton in a token effort at getting them over. It's an approach that has yielded success occasionally (Cena v Owens) but has failed more often than not (Cena v Rusev, Cena v Wyatt).

I picked Cena as an example there deliberately. Despite being the biggest star on the roster it's actually Cena that's been at the heart of this mid-card resurgence. The Owens versus Cesaro rivalry has spun off from the Owens versus Cena rivalry. During that Owens was able to defeat Cena once, in a non-title match. He lost subsequent matches in which the US championship was up for grabs. Meanwhile Cena also made spirited defences against 'The Swiss Superman', with Owens interfering in many of them as he became increasingly frustrated at his own inability to beat Cena for the gold. He didn't want to see Cesaro accomplish something he was unable to.

We could also attribute the Rusev and Ziggler feud to Cena too, although his involvement there is less direct. He was the man who not only took the United States championship from Rusev but also handed him his first loss. This embarrassed 'The Super Athlete', causing him to flip out at his manager and girlfriend Lana1. She left him and became empowered by her newfound single status because that's what happens in the good ol' US of A. There is no oppression for women, only empowerment. Anyway, while Lana was getting said empowerment (by hooking up with a new hot guy, obvs) Rusev suffered further televised losses, highlighting how important Lana had been to his career prior to their split.

Deciding to show that he was totes over Lana, Rusev hooked up with Summer Rae and encouraged her to dress like Lana. Because he'd been cast as a psychology ex-boyfriend and that's totally what psycho ex-boyfriends do. Summer also proved willing to act more submissive to Rusev, a reversal of the Lana-Rusev relationship in which it was Lana who was the dominant force. All of which could have become a very interesting story exploring the nature of relationships, moving on, and getting hung up on exes. But it didn't. Not because wrestling is ill-equipped for this sort of thing (I actually think this type of story is something wrestling can excel at) but because it wasn't given enough thought towards the start and was later hampered by Dolph Ziggler, Lana's new beau, disappearing after a beating from big Ru2.

Cena himself will be both defending his United States championship and challenging for the WWE world championship. He'll be in a title versus title match against Seth Rollins. The idea here is absolutely sound. Since becoming a four time US champ at WrestleMania Cena has, amazingly, made the title mean something with exciting weekly title defences against some of the best wrestlers on the roster. Meanwhile Rollins has been a cowardly world champion, relying on interference, favourable rules and other assorted cheating to keep hold of the belt.

The story essentially sees a worthy champion who takes pride in defending and retaining his prize the right way facing off with a champion who cares only about protecting his status. It's an interesting look at what it actually means to be a champion in wrestling, and is noteworthy because it is emphatically not the sort of thing WWE usually does. Despite the high chance of the match having a screwy finish (to avoid titles changing hands) I'm looking forward to this match, because another way of looking at the match is to see it as the natural culmination of Cena's streak of matches against The New School: he's facing the original NXT champion, Triple H's on-screen golden boy, Seth Rollins. It's basically the ultimate US Open Challenge without actually being part of that series.

Away from Cena-spurred plots there's been the issues between Stardust and Green Arrow star Stephen Amell. Stardust, believing himself to be a real life super villain, took exception to Amell being in attendance at an episode of RAW and attacked him. Amell leapt the barrier and fought back (which security allowed because WWE are marks for outside talent). 'Don't Call Him Adrian' Neville then got involved, because he wears a cape and performs a move called the Red Arrow, making him a natural Amell ally in Stardust's mind. Then King Bad News Wade Barrett I got involved too, because tag matches, playa3!

Summarised here it sounds entirely daft. It has been, but to be fair that's the point of it. Stardust is a deranged character and that's what's driven the story. It works and it's a nice change of pace from the stuff that usually makes it onto RAW.

The Sheamus versus Randy Orton rivalry has continued from last month. I failed to care about it then and I still feel the same way now. 'The Viper's' character is deathly dull right now and the most interesting thing about 'The Celtic Warrior' is that he has a Money in the Bank briefcase to cash in. I don't necessarily think it will happen on this show but if it did it would be the most interesting thing Sheamus did all evening.

Rounding out the non-tag mid-card action is a triple threat for the Intercontinental championship. Originally scheduled for last month's Battleground it had to be postponed because Ryback suffered some sort of super-gross hernia. That show gave us a brief altercation between Miz and Big Show, his scheduled opponents, that hinted at 'The World's Largest Athlete' turning face (again) with the match itself being postponed because it was too valuable to simply not do4. Ultimately Big Show would remain a heel, surprising the many of us who have become accustomed to frequent Show swerve turns.

In all honesty I quite like this triple threat. I don't mind Ryback and I can appreciate The Miz for the effective heel he is. Big Show isn't especially welcome but if he has to be on a card this is the sort of level he should be at. It's the kind of match that establishes 'The Big Guy' as a legitimate champ, beating two upper mid-card lads at once. It doesn't hurt the IC title either, and that's not something we've been getting to say much over the last several years.

Outside of the main event the rest of the card is comprised of tag matches. The natural culmination of the rejuvenated Divas division, a nine woman, three-way trios match, has been booked already. I understand why this was done: it gets everyone on the show. The trouble is that it's a match that fees like it should end the current era of the Divas division. As the current era only started on July 13 this feels premature.

Meanwhile the tag belts will be defended in a four-way match even more blatantly slung together to get more lads onto the card to kill time. If it gets long enough it should be fun but it will be too busy and spot-heavy to become something meaningful.

Which is something that can't be said for the Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose versus Wyatt Family match. This is a rivalry that started with Bray randomly attacking Roman and cutting enigmatic promos that seemed to hint at the involvement of the latter's kid. Family-stuff aside this shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone: all Bray Wyatt feuds begin with him attacking someone for literally no reason at all.

The end of their singles match at Battleground saw Luke Harper run-in and throw Reigns into a ring post, allowing 'The Eater of Worlds' to win. This signalled the reunion of the Wyatt Family, a faction which makes the already enjoyable Harper and Wyatt so much better. Wyatt is more eerie when he has vacant followers at his beck and call, while Harper benefits from being associated with someone who can provide him with things to do.

Reigns brought in backup against the Family in the form of his buddy and old Shield teammate Dean Ambrose. The original plan was apparently for Sting to join up with Ambrose and Reigns but when Erick Rowan was unable to rejoin the Wyatt flock (because he's not healed up from an injury yet) that was nixed. Frankly it feels like a bullet was dodged there. 'The Stinger' would almost certainly have looked out of place alongside Reigns and Ambrose and I can't imagine a match involving him in the Seth Rollins spot could have done justice to the enjoyable Shield-Wyatts showdowns we had in 2014.

Which just leaves the main event: Brock Lesnar versus The Undertaker. There's so much history to this that I doubt I can do it justice in a couple of paragraphs but I'll give it a go...

WrestleMania XXX saw Lesnar hand 'Taker his first ever defeat at in the series' history. This was a significant deal because 'The Dead Man' had appeared at twenty-one previous 'Mania's and it was the sort of record that nobody in wrestling ever gets close to. It's something that not even the greatest of bookers could have planned.

This victory shocked pretty much everyone and set Lesnar up as an unstoppable beast, to the point where his advocate Paul Heyman actually began referring to him as 'The Beast Incarnate'. Lesnar went on a tear, trouncing John Cena in a staggeringly one-sided match for the WWE championship at SummerSlam 2014 and holding the gold until WrestleMania 31 eight months later. Though he lost the title at 'Mania he was not pinned or submitted: Seth Rollins cashed in his magical get-a-title-match-whenever-you-like contract and pinned Lesnar's opponent, Roman Reigns, to become the champ.

Naturally this annoyed 'The Beast' and he went nuts the next night on RAW. This caused on-screen bosses The Authority to suspend indefinitely. Surprisingly that suspension didn't actually last too long and Lesnar was brought back for his contractually obligated rematch with Rollins at Battleground. There 'The Pain' seemed to be on course to win the title back... until the lights cut out and came back on to reveal The Undertaker.

'The Phenom' made short work of Lesnar at Battleground, giving him a choke slam, a pair of Tombstone piledrivers and a kick in the privates. Things would be different the next evening on RAW: Lesnar was prepared and they had an intense brawl that saw a large portion of the roster hit the ring to join security in holding the two powerhouses apart. Since then Undertaker has (glossed over his return earlier in the year to defeat Wyatt at WrestleMania and) revealed that the reason he attacked Lesnar was that he was tired of Heyman going on and on and on and on and on and on about The Streak being taken from him. On the one hand you can empathise with 'Taker on that: it was humiliating. But on the other Heyman was obviously going to talk it up because it will go down as one of the biggest moment's of his client's career.

Basically this is being built as a big deal of a rematch. It absolutely is but there are slight problems with the premise. Firstly, the conflict between the two centres around Undertaker's Streak, so having them face off at event that isn't WrestleMania feels peculiar. Secondly, it feels strange for 'Taker to be positioned as the heel. And he is being positioned as the heel, whether people are going to react to him as one or not. He's kicked Brock low twice. It's nice in that it plays up Undertaker's I-will-gain-vengeance-at-any-cost mentality but at this point in his career (very likely less than a year away from retiring after playing the same character for two and a half decades) it feels like Undie should be a babyface.

Which isn't to say the match won't be good. It will be. Undertaker suffered a concussion in their WM30 showdown and he'll want to prove all the doubters that say he can't have a cracking match anymore wrong. When they feuded in 2003 (admittedly twelve years and many injures ago) Lesnar and 'Taker had wild chemistry. There's no reason to think they don't still have it. They just need to avoid head trauma to get through this.

All of which brings me to predictions. Rollins v Cena seems like a shmoz waiting to happen. Ryback retaining seems like a safe assumption seeing as it's his first title reign in WWE and he's not really gotten to do much yet, while the time feels right for a title change with the tag straps. I'd like to say the Lucha Dragons will win but I think New Day could regain to set up a proper title chase for Sin Cara and Kalisto (which they totally deserve). In the same vein I think Paige, Becky and Charlotte could win their Divas triple threat to set them up as the top contenders for Nikki's championship.

I'll be surprised if the celebrity special tag bout doesn't end with Stephen Amell proving he can defeat fully trained and experienced professional wrestlers, because WWE, as stated above, love to make outside stars look strong (although admittedly this wouldn't be the worst decision in the world). I expect the other big tag match to be won by Reigns and Ambrose. A swerve turn by Ambrose seems likely at some point because it's the sort of feud that could stretch for a while and see Reigns through to December or January, when he can start focusing on winning the WWE title again. SummerSlam seems the wrong time for it though: if it happened the NYC crowd would favour Ambrose, making Reigns look like a heel and a chump. I can't believe WWE would want to put their next golden boy, who they've been handling with kid gloves, in that situation.

Orton v Sheamus, Cesaro v Owens and Ziggler v Rusev could each go either way. I'll pick Sheamus, because it's his turn, Owens, because the company has seemed higher on him lately than tey have Cesaro (and they can book him to cheat), and Ziggler because Lana shenanigans are Rusev's Achilles heel.

The main event is tough. I could see each guy going over. Undertaker "needs" his win back and further rebuilding for his last hurrah next year (assuming it's coming). Lesnar needs to remain the dominating, unstoppable force he's been for much of the past few years. The Streak ending stalled Undertaker and caused the final years of his career to lose steam, because without The Streak he's pretty much just an old lad with a phantastical gimmick who may or may not deliver once the bell ring. Having the suspense his Streak provided really helped him. It's not on the same scale but Lesnar's continued dominance helps him in a similar fashion. It's for that reason that I hope 'The Beast' wins, just as I hoped he'd lose on the night he became 'The Conqueror of The Streak'.

***

Predictions summary:
Brock Lesnar to defeat The Undertaker
John Cena v Seth Rollins to end in a draw
Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns to defeat The Wyatt Family
Paige, Becky Lynch and Charlotte to defeat BAD and Team Bella
Kevin Owens to defeat Cesaro
Adrian Neville and Stephen Amell to defeat Stardust and King Barrett
Ryback to retain the Intercontinental championship against The Miz and Big Show
New Day to win the tag team championship
Dolph Ziggler to defeat Rusev
Sheamus to defeat Randy Orton

***

1 Here I just want to pause and comment on the nature of the Rusev-Lana relationship. Between Rusev's debut and WrestleMania 31 the pair seemed to be nothing more than colleagues. Once Rusev went crazy and blamed Lana for his loss to Big Match Jern in an I Quit match this was retconned and we were informed that they'd basically been knocking boots all along.

Which would be fine if it weren't for the confusing wrinkle that Rusev and Lana are a real life couple who love together. When they were being presented as manager and client they were dating. Now they're separated on-screen but still dating. This is one of those times when the best thing to do is roll your eyes and say "Wrestling, eh?"

2 In reality he was filming a probably terrible WWE Studios film.

3 Holla holla!

4 At least that's wat I'm assuming WWE thinks. Obviously Ryback versus The Miz versus Big Show is not an especially great match but at least assuming there's some value attached to it within the company gives it some logical reason for happening here.