Saturday, 23 January 2016

WWE Royal Rumble 2016 preview

At this point it's pretty much a tradition that the Royal Rumble "poster" feature a bunch of guys from the entire roster, most of whom have no hope of winning the match and headlining WrestleMania. It's a simple way of reminding everyone of the titular match's basic premise in a way that harkens back to the old "anything can happen" slogan. On a simpler level it gives the posters a bit of variety by featuring guys who'd otherwise never make it onto them.

This year that tradition has been sidestepped. Instead of twenty- or thirty-odd names we have Roman Reigns, WWE world title belt slung over his shoulder and a smouldering pout playing on his lips. This vision keeps Reigns strong, always a priority for WWE these days, but it also makes it tough to predict anyone but him winning the Rumble.

And it's at this point that I acknowledge that, yes, Reigns is the champ. Yes, the champ doesn't usually fight in the Rumble, what with the winner of the Rumble being awarded a world title shot at WrestleMania and all. This year that's been changed. The match is no longer for the right to challenge for the title, it's for the title.

In reality I imagine this has been done to keep the product lovely and interesting. If that's the case it's a move that's failed. WWE has become so dry and tiresome to watch that it's going to take a concerted long term plan and a great deal of effort to bring about the changes needed. Quick hits like altering the purpose of the Rumble or booking a Brock Lesnar appearance aren't enough.

In kayfabe the change was made by Vince McMahon as part of his feud with Roman Reigns. Because Roman won't conform to The Authority's idea of what a champion should be they're determined to get the title off him by stacking the deck against him. Sound familiar? It should. This is the format WWE's been using to establish main event faces since it worked with Steve Austin. The problem with it is obvious: Roman Reigns is not Austin. I don't mean this in terms of promo skills, ring work or personality (although it applies to all of them), I mean it in terms of character. The entire point of Austin was that he hated how he'd been held down by the business in general and the Mr McMahon character was the perfect foil for that.

Roman doesn't really have much of a character to speak of. There's nothing for him to be bitter or frustrated about. He has very obviously and openly been fast-tracked to the top of the company. He hasn't overcome any major setbacks and he hasn't had the real life fight to get his spot that Austin had. Which means presenting him as an underdog against malicious ol' Vinnie Mac won't get anyone anywhere: people can't accept Roman as the underdog we're told he is.

Because it's the established formula Roman seems like the only possible winner. As the babyface champion who the heel authority figures are out to screw over he is, ironically, the favourite to win. Because WWE's top lads always overcome the odds. Got to let the kids know they can believe in their heroes, right?

In fairness it's worth mentioning that had Reigns not been added to the Rumble the match it would have been decidedly light on star power (because he and someone else would have had a separate singles match). Rollins, Cena and Orton are injured. Not many people would have wanted to see the latter two win but they would have been credible contenders. That's what you want with a match with thirty participants. In addition to them Cesaro is injured. He wasn't going to win but he was popular enough to merit a lengthy stay in the match.

I have other predictions for the Rumble match that don't pertain to the winner. I expect the Wyatt clan will be responsible for Lesnar being eliminated, possibly after he's mown through all or most of them (if it's most then Bray will be the guy to survive). Kofi Kingston's annual "OMG did you see how he survived elimination?!" spot will likely involve his New Day tag partners. Maybe he'll stand on their shoulders or run across their backs or Big E will catch him or something. AJ Styles will debut to a good reaction because the Rumble is big enough to attract the sort of crowd that will know who he is and care. I can see him lasting long enough to get all his big moves in (though probs not the neck-breaking Styles Clash) before being eliminated, something the crowd will loudly boo even though 'The Phenomenal One' clearly isn't going to win the WWE world title on his first night in the company. I'm also confident not enough will be done with the comedic potential of Curtis Axel being in the Rumble.

The rest of the card is made up exclusively of title matches, which seems somehow appropriate for what has become the second most important card on the WWE calendar. Kevin Owens and Dean Ambrose will continue their run of PPV singles outings with a Last Man Standing match. It's rare for a stip like this to be busted out for the IC title these days. It's nice to see here. It can only help restore some of the lustre that's been lost over the years. It should also play to the brawl-heavy strengths of KO and 'The Lunatic Fringe'. It could end up being the best entry in their feud. Either could win because it feels like this is a rivalry of equals where either guy could win on any night, but I'll pick Ambrose to retain because he's not had the title too long.

Becky Lynch will challenge out-and-heel Charlotte 'Don't Mention Her Surname' Flair. Everything here is set up for the two women to succeed. Charlotte is playing the arrogant, snarky heel she's far better suited to at this point in her career and Lynch is established in a plucky underdog role, almost the main roster version of Bayley. They're more familiar with one another than a lot of other combinations the women's division could throw up, handy for the still-relatively-inexperienced 'Nature Girl'. And the setup of the Rumble card means that they should get plenty of time to have a good match.

A Lynch victory isn't out of the question but I think Charley retaining is far likelier. If WWE want her to be one of the key players for the Divas scene for years to come she needs to be established as someone who wins a lot. A lengthy first title reign wouldn't hurt there. She's currently at three months and while that's not insignificant it's not anything special either. A run until WrestleMania or beyond is what Charlotte needs to set her up as a somebody.

The last two matches are Kalisto challenging Alberto Del Rio for the United States championship and the Usos challenging New Day for the tag championship. Kalisto had a one day reign a few weeks ago (three in TV time) when he won the belt from ADR before losing it back ok SmackDown. Why he lost it back so soon (or at all) is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps it was to make things unpredictable. Whatever the reason I think Kalisto will get the belt again here and keep it this time. 

Match quality between Kalisto and 'The Essence of Excellence' will be questionable. They've not clicked in previous meetings. They'll need to switch things up to make a good impression here. The tag title match, meanwhile, should be very good. New Day are always on form and the Usos have become one of WWE's most reliable tandems. I don't want to see a title switch but I think we might. New Day have had the belts since SummerSlam and I suspect management will be itching to changes things for change's sake.

No matter how well the undercard matches do it's the Rumble that will determine whether this show is remembered well or not. With it looking about as predictable as the last two years' have (and let's pause for a second and note that Roman Reigns has been involved in fan backlash in the closing moments of the Rumble in both of those matches) I won't be getting my hopes up on Sunday night.


Predictions summary:
Roman Reigns to win the Royal Rumble and retain the WWE championship
Dean Ambrose to defeat Kevin Owens to retain the Intercontinental championship
Charlotte to defeat Becky Lynch to retain the Divas championship
The Usos to defeat New Day to win the tag team championship
Kalisto to defeat Alberto Del Rio for the United States championship

Sunday, 20 December 2015

NXT Takeover: London review

Three days after WWE had presented a decidedly mediocre show in TLC its developmental crew were dispatched to London for a show of their own. Imaginatively titled Takeover: London the show was the culmination of NXT's first tour outside of the United States and its biggest show to date that hasn't piggybacked off the success of a major WWE card. Held in front of 10,079 at a sold out Wembley Arena this was the latest piece of evidence that the NXT name is a force to be reckoned with.

NXT shows, Takeovers in particular, tend to get better as they go feature the better matches in the semi-main r main event slots. Takeover: London uncharacteristically saw the first two matches be the best of the evening.

Asuka and Brock Lesnar are neighbours.
The first was the grudge match between Asuka and Emma. They kept things even for the majority of the match. Which was smart: Emma is the longest tenured women in NXT at this point, has been used on the main roster, and world make a credible challenger to Bayley or a future women's champion. Having her look competitive against Asuka was absolutely the right thing to do because in NXT terms she was the newcomer's toughest opposition to date.

Naturally Asuka won. She was always going to. After Dana Brooke interfered and got sent backstage by the ref Emma tried to sneak in a cheap win by smacking Asuka with... something (it looked like a knee brace). Asuka ducked that and floored Emma with a roundhouse kick. A few minor miscues and wobbles aside this was an ideal opener.

The second was the tag team championship match, champions Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder defending against Enzo Amore and Big Cass. Bumped from the traditional second-from-the-top slot it's possible these lads felt they had something to prove being so low down the card (although there were only five matches on the show and every one of them had been built to very nicely). They had the match of the night, not something you'd expect to be said of a Realest Guys match usually but they worked their socks off here.

The match featured the usual Enzo and Cass routine of Enzo being worked over and working towards a hot tag to Cass. Dash and Dawson were perfect opponents for this approach as they're entire act is about them being a precise team who know how to isolate an opponent and target a body part. What was different here was that when Cass tagged in he found himself getting worked over. Dash and Dawson being so in tune with one another that they can break down a big man like Cass gave their credibility a healthy boost.

This would not get the Realest Lads the belts.
The match was built around Enzo and Cass constantly working towards tags and getting and escaping from near falls. The finishing sequence was tremendous. Cass got a desperation rollup on Wilder who got kicked out and then walloped back down by a Cass boot. Enzo was tagged in and hit his assisted top rope splash for what the audience knew would be the three count. And it would have been had Dawson not pulled Enzo from the ring. After trying to use Carmella as a human shield (in a nice touch Carmella showed she didn't need her lads to save her by elbowing Dawson in the face herself) Dawson threw Cass into the ring post and the champions hit Enzo with a Shatter Machine from the second rope to successfully retain their belts.

The build to and pre-match video for this bout made it seem as though we'd be getting a title change. That Dash and Dawson managed to retain through craftiness makes them a legitimate threat and gets the right kind of heat on them. It also keeps Enzo and Cass in the chasing babyfaces role they seem best suited to right now, and keeps long term NXT fans hungry for their eventual title win. At this point Dash and Dawson's team name should be The Dream Killers.

Speaking of the right kind of heat (yes, I did just mention it, check back a few paragraphs) Baron Corbin was on fine form on this show. He isn't a man looking to be the cool anti-hero or the edgy bad guy. He wants people to dislike him because he's a heel and heels are supposed to be disliked. More wrestlers should take that approach. He has some of the most real heat in WWE today.

What made him so good here was his ridiculous attempts at trash-talking. He did everything from claiming Crews was in "his house" to shouting at Apollo that he should have "stayed in Ring of Honor." Crews has never worked there (the closest he came was a string of PCW shows co-promoted with ROH) and this was the kind of crowd that was going to know that. He was unintentionally hilarious, which only helped to up the already strong jeers from the crowd.

Big Match Barry Corbin.
The match itself, while nothing special, was good. They set a brisk pace and worked competently, avoiding any major slip ups, and did some ringside brawling (surely the style Corbin will become most known for). They were never going to have a workrate spectacular but they had the best match they were going to.

Corbin won, clean as a sheet, with End of Days. It was the right win. Corbin has been built up as a guy who loses rarely. It's part of what makes him so effective as a heel. This was a logical first loss for Crews to take. And it positions Corbin for a title shot soon, also a logical move.

Bayley versus Nia Jax was preceded by the crowd singing to Bayley. There were lots of examples of fun and amusing chants from this crowd but this song for Bayley was my personal highlight. It was clever and fit perfectly with Bayley's popularity-based character.

Jax dominated the bulk of the match
but it wouldn't get her the title.
The match itself was not the sort of exchange we've become accustomed to from the women's divisions. It was not Sasha Banks versus Charlotte but the pair played to their strengths. After an opening flurry in which the more experienced champion tried to put her challenger away quickly and decisively Jax took control and unleashed a terrifying onslaught of offence against 'The Hugster'. The story they told was all about Jax doing everything in her power to destroy Bayley as she has every jobber she's run up against so far and Bayley weathering the storm with her usual resilience and determination. The finish played into this, Jax making one mistake, putting herself into a foolish position because of inexperience, and Bayley capitalising on that to lock in a front face lock and body scissors for the submission win.

This match was easily the best work we've seen from Jax to date. It was also more confirmation that Bayley doesn't need the other three of the Four Horsewomen to have gripping matches. Which is important if she's to earn herself the larger main roster role she clearly deserves.

The show closed with Samoa Joe versus Finn Bálor for the latter's NXT championship. Of course this match was good. It wasn't going to be anything less with two very experienced lads involved. They did everything we'd expect: all their usual spots, kick outs from big moves, topes, ringside brawling, and reversals of finishers. But it never seemed to quite hit the heights it could have. Perhaps this is a side effect NXT being such a good product, it's more noticeable when a main event doesn't live up to the standards of a strong undercard. If so I know it's an unfair complaint. But the fact remains that Finn and Joe weren't in the best match of the evening and Enzo Amore was.

Takeover: London was a fine show. It was not the best Taleover card we've had but I think we've reached a point now where that's not just understandable but it's too be expected. The roster could not keep on topping exceptional shows. This was good, just not the best we've had. It was markedly better than the main roster though, and for a team branded " developmental" that should always be the goal, because if they can better the main crew the NXT regulars know that sooner or later they'll get moved up to join them.


Results summary:
Asuka defeated Emma
Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder defeated Enzo Amore and Big Cass to retain the tag team championship
Baron Corbin defeated Apollo Crews
Bayley defeated Nia Jax to retain the women's championship
Finn Bálor defeated Samoa Joe to retain the NXT championship

Saturday, 19 December 2015

That RAW Recap 14.12.15

In hindsight TLC was a setup show for the following evening's RAW. It's never really made sense to me to use pay-per-views, which people pay to watch (clue's in the name), to set up free TV shows. It goes against what makes the PPV model work. But at least it's less of a problem now than it used to be, what with PPVs being less about being a money spinner for WWE and more a selling point of the Network.

Not that this is a big deal or anything. It's simply interesting to note how the "uses" of pay-per-views has changed over the years.

Roman wins the big one.
This RAW will go down in history as The One Where Roman Reigns Won The Big One. He'd claimed his first world title at Survivor Series a month earlier of course, but that first run had been cut short at five minutes and fifteen seconds by Sheamus (hence the T-shirt). His second win feels like it's the beginning of something far more significant.

With Roman pegged as the next leading man for WWE the start of his first title reign of significance, not to mention the culmination of the lengthy storyline in which he's been held down and kept from winning the strap, this RAW is obviously more significant than most. It's the show on which WWE finally pulled the trigger on Roman becoming The Guy, something they've been building towards since Royal Rumble in January and preparing for for even longer.

The show as a whole wasn't bad but really nothing but the stuff involving Reigns and the championship mattered. Thankfully everything involving Reigns and the championship was on point. The evening kicked off with a promo Stephanie McMahon in which she teased firing Roman Reigns before calling him a coward, a failure and a disgrac. When Roman responded by telling her her family was a disgrace she slapped him half a dozen times and revealed that Vinnie Mac was on his way to the building.

The scene played out as yet another tedious Authority scene. Steph and Roman were both fine but they didn't do anything we've not seen them do before. But in conjunction with the second segment of the evening in which Reigns was in the ring with a McMahon an interesting story was told.

Roman versus Vince in his prime would probably have been really good.
When Vince rocked up at the arena he told Roman to apologise. Roman refused. He also refused to apologise on his hands and knees, and he smirked when Vince threatened to beat an apology from him. As the boss readied himself for a fight Sheamus came out and challenged Roman to a match, stating that he was so confident he could beat him he'd put the title on the line.

Vince said there was no chance in hell that match would happen. Roman snatched the microphone from Vince's hands and called him an old man and insulted his legendary "grapefruits"1. Vince responded as he was always going to: rising to the bait and making the match, though he added a stipulation that Roman had to win or he'd be fired. He then kicked the challenger in the privates and strode up the ramp to pose with Shaymo.

The story told across these two segments was Reigns playing the McMahon family. He no-sold Steph's slapped and insulted Vince's manhood. The approach made perfect sense. They've been regulars on TV for over fifteen years. Every wrestler on the roster should know how to push their kayfabe buttons but nobody ever gets to because the McMahons are too well protected (obviously because they're the ones writing the show). Roman got to because someone involved in the scripting process was savvy enough to realise how satisfying it would be to see the McMahons get outplayed and that it would help solidify Roman's standing.

The show was rounded off with a world title match. It wasn't as great as their encounter under tables, ladders and chairs rules the night before but it was still very enjoyable. They had Vince (along with Rusev and Alberto Del Rio) on interference duty and Roman got to bleed, so it was a memorable match in its own right. After very convincing false finishes from a White Noise and the Brogue kick Reigns finally managed to drop Sheamus with a spear to win the WWE world title, for keeps, with a spear.

Michael Cole brought up a very good point as Reigns hugged the title belt to him: they were in the same arena in which Reigns had won the Royal Rumble in January. He was booed out of the building on that night, despite an endorsement from the ever-popular Rock. Eleven months later he heard nothing but cheers. That's both an endorsement for the WWE writing team and Reigns himself. The hardcore who were against him for so long were firmly won over. Now Reigns can get down to the serious business of preparing to take over from Cena.


1 New to WWE? That's not an exaggeration. There was a time where we'd got twenty promos from Vince about his sexual prowess.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

WWE TLC 2015 review

TLC is a funny show. It's always held at a time when WWE is in some sort of holding pattern between whatever their big summer angles were and the beginning of 'Mania Season at the Royal Rumble. Sometimes this can result in desperation plots that catch on and become great. Other times it can result in an uninspired show that can't be taken as anything other than the filler it is. Sadly, this year's show fell firmly into the latter camp.

The lads.
It started well though. The three-way tag title ladder match was exactly the kind of opener a WWE pay-per-view needs. New Day headed out first, talking about the Lucha Booties and "Uso" sounding like a disease and their desire to become the faces of the division. They also reminded everyone they were heels by having Xavier say he hadn't done anything special with his hair because he wouldn't waste the effort on Boston.

Being a tag ladder match there was no shortage of memorable spots. They included: stereo moonsaults to the outside by the dragons on New Day; stereo topes onto a ladder by the Usos on everyone; a belly-to-belly suplex onto a ladder from Big E to an Uso;a hilariously unspectacular belly flop from the top rope onto Kofi by Sin Cara, followed seconds later by a tope into a Swanton bomb on ladder-covered Usos; Big E bench pressing a ladder off himself with both Dragons still on top, Kalisto leaping off with a cross body block on Jimmy and Jey; the Usos smacking Kofi with a ladder as he was trapped in a tree of woe; Sin Cara monkey flipping Kalisto onto a ladder atop an Uso; Xavier Woods talking about stamina bars on commentary; Kalisto headscissoring Kofi into a ladder; Soledo del Sol from the top of one ladder onto another; and a Jimmy Uso splash off the top rope onto Big E, who was under a ladder (obvs). New Day retained after Woods threw his trombone at Kalisto, stunning him and allowing Kofi to pull him off the ladder and climb up to retrieve the belts.

Knowing they couldn't top that match WWE wisely decided to follow up with Ryback versus Rusev. If there was an official big lads championship in WWE it would have been on the line here. These are two of the company's premier hosses and it showed in a match that should have satisfied anyone who likes this kind of thing. A Lana distraction eventually led to a Rusev victory via Accolade. While dull, it did at least work as a way of re-establishing Rusev and Lana.

Chairs matches are bad. This was no exception.
After a stilted, unnatural conversation between Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose (Reigns really, really shouldn't speak) we got match three. That was a chairs match for the United States championship, Alberto Del Rio defending against Jack Swagger. They kicked off with a duelling chairs spot and then had a basic encounter featuring basic weapons spots. I imagine I'd have been more interested in this bout if I weren't bored by ADR. But I am so I didn't. 'The Essence of Excellence' won with a double stomp onto a pile of chairs.

That was followed by the Wyatt Family v the Dudley Boyz, Tommy Dreamer and Rhyno in a tables match. Trash cans (dustbins) and kendo stocks were brought in immediately, seemingly so Strowman could no-sell them and look powerful. He was briefly teamed up on by Team ECW but was saved by Erick Rowan. He was put through a table, eliminated, for his trouble.

Harper and Wyatt took over after that. At one point Harper hit a Michinoku driver and Michael Cole called it correctly. That was surprising. Rhyno was their first victim, getting booted through a table by Harper. The Dudleys slipped back in to hit Harper with a Doomsday Device. Bubba got distracted targeting Strowman (possibly a shoot considering his reputation), leaving Devon to set up a table. He was immediately thrown through it by Wyatt.

E-C-dub, E-C- ahhh, I can't be bothered.
That left Tommy Dreamer and Bubby Ray against the three remaining Wyatts. Which was a really odd call. Dreamer didn't last long though: he got eliminated after a tope through a table by Harper. Bubba responded to being left alone by dousing a table in lighter fluid. Because that clearly wouldn't have been PG it came to nothing. Strowman wandered in and choke slammed Bubba through the table to get the win for his team.

The match was better than I'd expected but was by no means good. That the Wyatts weren't permitted a clean sweep was the biggest weakness. It really would have helped their standing as a faction had they not lost anyone. Maybe something will come of Rowan being eliminated. I hope not, frankly. He already has one failed singles push to his name. We don't need another.

The Intercontinental championship match was preceded by a promo from Kevin Owens. He laid into Bostonians living vicariously through their (presumably) successful sports teams before turning his attention to Dean Ambrose. Naturally enough he said Ambrose and the Boston fans had plenty in common.

A disinterested referee watches Ambrose risk his neck.
They had one of the night's better bouts, an indy-styled altercation built around familiar spots and near falls. This is the sort of thing that both men (though Owens in particular) excel at. It was nice to see them given the chance to do their thing here after an ever-so-slightly disappointing meeting at Survivor Series, although they still didn't get that long. 'The Lunatic Fringe' got the surprise win, playing into the false finish theme by reversing a pop-up power bomb that felt like a definite match-ender and getting the pin and the title. It's a bit of a shame that Owens' reign is over so soon but at least he lost to someone with some name value. I'm interested to see whether WWE get it right with Deano now.

The Divas title match between Charlotte and Paige took the semi-main event slot. That's been the traditional slot for female wrestlers over the last decade. One aspect of that tradition has been giving the matches little time and less reason to happen. That's something that has, pleasantly, been dropped from the women's division since the Divas Revolution over the summer. The story itself largely failed at everything except introducing new names to the roster but it's nice that's it's had a more positive long term effect.

The story going into the match was that Charlotte had become increasingly like her father, bragging about her abilities and cheating to win. This included her sneaking an unfair victory out of supposed friend Becky Lynch. It doesn't matter that aping her massively charismatic father doesn't play to her strengths, this has been a step in the right direction for Charley. She's a more natural heel than face at this point in her career and this is good for her.

Time for a new title belt, I reckon.
That said it did make the match peculiar. Charlotte has clearly been cast as a heel and Paige has spent months in that role too. The crowd decided 'The Nature Girl' was the default heel and threw their lot in with 'The Anti-Diva'. The action was most notable for Charlotte honing her Ric Flair tribute act, although she did get a (ropey) cross body from the top and a big boot that he'd never have hit. She retained after slinging Paige face first into an exposed turnbuckle, which she'd set up as her dad distracted Paige and the referee.

Which left only the main event: Roman Reigns challenging Sheamus for the WWE championship. They set the tone from the opening seconds of the match when Reigns raced across the ring and lamped Sheamus square in the mouth with a right hand. It was a "snug" encounter ful of the prerequisite ladder and tables bumps, neither man putting a foot wrong. Both wrestled like they had something to prove. Let's face it, they did. Reigns needed to prove he warranted his position as the anointed one and John Cena's heir. Sheamus needed to show people he's worth more than an interim run as world champion and that he should have had this spot on his own merit.

"Bah gawd, look at the physicality! Look at the carnage!"
What this was was a fitting main event that saved the pay-per-view from utter mediocrity. What this was not was Roman Reigns' night. After Superman punching 'The Celtic Warrior' off the top of a ladder just as he laid his hand on the title belt Reigns seemed to have the match won. He steamed up the ladder as Michael Cole screeched that this was his chance. But it wasn't. Rusev and 'Dirty' Berty Del Rio, Shaymo's League of Nations stablemates, hit the ring and assaulted Reigns.

They teased Reigns overcoming the odds as long as they could. ADR helped Sheamus recover as Rusev trapped Reigns in the Accolade. Reigns broke free, clobbered the interference runners, and yanked Sheamus off the ladder. That earned him a Brogue kick which sent him sailing out of the ring. Obvious Sheamus victory right? Well, yes, but not before Reigns had puled himself back into the ring and over to the base of the ladder, prompting a look of stunned disbelief from Sheamus and a hurried unbuckling of the title belt.

After the match Reigns destroyed everyone. He speared Del Rio and Rusev as they hoisted Sheamus up on their shoulders. Then he hit all three with a chair. A lot. Triple H and Stephanie showed up at ringside. Reigns continued his assault, sporting the expression of a man who'd had enough of having obstacles thrown and had finally snapped.

Roman Reigns losing his mind there.
'The Game' got into the ring to help Sheamus and ended up taking a beating too. Reigns gave him a Superman punch and seven chair shots before power bombing him onto the Spanish announce table. I say onto because it didn't break. Not to be denied a memorable visual Reigns leapt off the English announce table and hit the COO with an elbow drop. Then, just for good measure, Reigns speared Trips as he was being helped to hobble backstage.

This sequence ensured the show ended on a strong note. It was Reigns snapping, taking his frustrations out on the people who have held him down in storyline and bored viewers in real life. It was the perfect way to win the crowd over and get them firmly on Reigns' side. The show went off the air with the fans going crazy for the chosen one.

And it set the stage for a heck of a RAW...

Results summary:
New Day defeated the Usos and the Lucha Dragons to retain the tag team championship
Rusev defeated Ryback
Alberto Del Rio defeated Jack Swagger to retain the United States championship
The Wyatt Family defeated the Dudley Boyz, Rhyno and Tommy Dreamer
Dean Ambrose defeated Kevin Owens to win the Intercontinental championship
Charlotte defeated Paige to retain the Divas championship
Sheamus defeated Roman Reigns to retain the WWE championship

Sunday, 13 December 2015

The Women's Division's Hulk Hogan

Since the last Takeover show a pattern has emerged with the booking of NXT women's champion Bayley. She's presented in a way not dissimilar to Hulk Hogan. No, she doesn't scream and shout her way through manic promos or mention prayers, vitamins and milk but she does get confronted a fair bit. That's very much in the 80's Hogan mould.

A woman under constant threat... from other women.
The episode following Takeover: Respect, a show Bayley headlined with Sasha Banks in an iron woman match, successfully defeating the former champ three falls to two, Bayley was confronted by Alexa Bliss. The BAMF leader put over Bayley as the rightful centrepiece of the women's division before cruelly snatching her championship belt away and switching tones, saying that she, not Bayley, would lead the division into the future. It was a clear setup for a match, just not one that was held off for two months for the next Takeover event.

Bliss was a natural adversary for 'The Hugster'. Her mean girl act is a perfect foil for the socially awkward underdog Bayley portrays. Their feud could easily have been stretched out to Takeover: London in December but instead it was resolved with a singles match on the November 18 episode. Bayley won clean.

She was then confronted by Eva Marie. 'The Red Queen', to astonishingly loud heat (seriously, what has the woman done to offend the Full Sail regulars this much?), informed Bayley they'd wrestle the following week. Eva was presented by the commentary team as a tougher foe than Bliss had been. Which was fair. Eva Marie has wrestled more matches than Bliss recently and has won them all. If you want to go on wins and losses Marie is a more credible challenger.

Nia Jax and the new Bobby Heenan.
Bayley again won, this time overcoming the odds in a match that had a distinctly Vince Russo vibe to it thanks to a crooked official, ref bumps, and outside interference from Nia Jax. Following the match Jax attacked Bayley, making her intention to be the next big challenger clear. There was a repeat performance in a backstage segment, in which the champ was thrown through a prop door, just to emphasise that Jax really does mean business.

That match hasn't been rushed into. Instead Jax will be Bayley's challenger at Takeover: London. In a nice touch her partnership with Eva Marie seems to have been retained. I we want to stick with the Hogan analogy I started that possibly makes Eva the NXT women's division's answer to Bobby Heenan.

I like this approach. It worked for Hogan because he needed a constant stream of dudes to beat to show that he was the best. It's just as good for Bayley, although the reason why is different Instead of needing challengers to crush every other week Bayley needs to be shown to be a target, helping to maintain her underdog act. This approach is another example of what makes NXT work: things are kept simple there.