Monday, 29 September 2014

The Network Launch (Not) Heard Round the World

A month or two ago it was announced on RAW that the WWE Network would be available in the UK from October 1. Today is September 29, two days before this supposed launch date, and information on the Network's British availability is distinctly hard to come by.

No price has been announced. The $9.99 a month price tag US subscribers shell out may be a good estimate. But equally it might not. We don’t know because nothing’s been announced. WWE may decide to forego adjusting the price to match the currency exchange (which would currently see subscribers here paying a peculiar £6.13 a month) and opt to charge us £9.99. Hey, they've already gotten the price over as a slogan, why not gouge UK customers for some extra cash too?

It's odd that the British launch hasn't been mentioned on RAW in recent weeks. Especially when you consider how much the Network gets mentioned during the show. It would take very little effort for Cole, Lawler or Layfield to add “Oh, by the way, the British launch is still on. Here’s some info.” They may plug it excessively tonight, and that will make sense. But there was nothing to stop them drumming up interest over the last month. Excessing plugging’s happening, so why not throw in some pertinent info?

And speaking of drumming up interest: why has a wrestler not been dispatched to Britain for a string of media appearances hyping the launch? There's a live event tour planned for November, that could've been mentioned too. Bad News Barrett's currently injured. He'd have been the ideal choice for the media blitz spot considering his knowledge ever increasing popularity here. If he were unavailable for some reason then there are scores of undercard performers treading water each week who'd probably love the chance to express a bit of character with some media appearances.
 
This fella wants to hear all about WWE's streaming service.
Hey, Hulk Hogan's done nothing since SummerSlam, and he was hired specifically to act as a spokesman for the WWE Network (amongst other things, obvs). Where's he? Not on This Morning laughing it up with Phillip ‘Two Ls’ Schofield that's for sure. 

I'm not saying the launch has been pushed back. But it feels like it had. WWE have done an unusually poor job of hyping the Network in what is expected to be its number two market. Perhaps they’re confident in their popularity here. But considering the talk of disappointing sign-up numbers up until this point I would have thought they’d want to try to make as big an impact as possible here. Perhaps I’m wrong.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

NXTweet 25.09.14

Tweets about a very good episode of NXT. More next week. Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel. Or blog. Whatevs…

Opening

Tweet 1: It’s NXTime.
Tweet 2: Undertaker being on the NXT intro video implies he started his career there. Kind of false advertising.

Mojo Rawley v Bull Dempsey

Tweet 3: Mojo Rawley should start referring to the Mojo Dojo. It could be like Mark Henry's Hall of Pain.
Tweet 4: Mojo Rawley is the Panda Pop of NXT. No name fake brand.

Stop! Stop! He's already dead...

Tweet 5: Bull Dempsey tapping his own teeth and shouting there. That's main roster talent right there.
Tweet 6: Could Mojo Rawley look any more like a complete jobber?

Baron Corbin hype video

Tweet 7: Baron 'Sin City' Corbin there.

Tyler Breeze v Justin Gabriel

Tweet 8: Justin 'The Lunge' Gabriel. Why is he on NXT? Surely there are NXT guys who could have this spot.
Tweet 9: "C'mon, Breeze" - King of trash talk, Justin Gabriel


J-Gabe was a heel last week. He was a face this week. Pick a side, bro.

Tweet 10: Breeze should start telling referees to get his opponents out of the ring when he's won a match. Like Michaels allegedly did at 'Mania XII.

Natalya chats to William Regal backstage

Tweet 11: When Regal was GM of RAW he had an office. Times are tough on NXT.
Tweet 12: In fact, Dusty had an office. Why can't Regal use that? Maybe Dusty's still in there. Refusing to leave.
Tweet 13: Story point: Natty has begged for Regal to grant Tyson one more title match. Regal has, but it's Tyson's last shot.
Tweet 14: In other news, Natty called Regal sir.

Alexa Bliss v Bayley

Tweet 15: I liked Alexa Bliss's old music more.
Tweet 16: Sign in the audience: "I drove 900 miles to see Bayley." I don't believe that sign is true. #cynic
Tweet 17: Does Bliss remind anyone else of a young Samantha Janus?
Tweet 18: Bayley says she can't sleep because she lost at Takeover. The commentary team were just saying she'd bounced back from it. #awk
Tweet 19: Also, accidental Partridge. #BouncingBack
Tweet 20: Charlotte calling Bayley kid. Pretty lol.
Tweet 21: Charlotte cannot woooooo...

Enzo Amore, Big Cass and Carmella at the Performance Centre

Tweet 22: "You're not exactly Diva hot" - Enzo Amore
Tweet 23: So Carmella being hot enough to distract Enzo was empowering, yeah? Okay...

Enzo Amore v Marcus Louis

Tweet 24: Remember that time Kurt Angle lost a hair versus hair match and wore a wig with ear guards on TV?
Tweet 25: In unrelated news Marcus Louis has lost a hair versus hair match and is wearing a wig and ear guards on TV.


Marcus Angle.

Tweet 26: Enzo dropping a bit of maths into his promo there. Steiner's gimmick, bro...
Tweet 27: Louis should have cut a promo about his hair miraculously growing back more luscious than ever. Because Angle.
Tweet 28: Renee says Enzo spends $500 a month on his cheetah hairstyle. I really want to believe that's a shoot.
Tweet 29: Louis' wig gets pulled off. Every WWE employee in the building reacts as if it's the most hideous sight in the world.
Tweet 30: He's just a dude with a shaved head. #BeAStar

Tyson Kidd talks to thin air about facing Adrian Neville

Tweet 31: Who was Tyson Kidd speaking to there? Was he talking to himself? Has he got a schizophrenia gimmick? They're always fun.

Sami Zayn talks to an interviewer about Adrian Neville and Tyson Kidd’s title match

Tweet 32: Sami Zayn. Quintessential wrestling good guy. Lovely fella.

NXT tag team championship: The Lucha Dragons v The Ascension

Tweet 33: At one point the WWF were against the idea of Steve Austin having a T-shirt. Now The Lucha Dragons have one. Think about that for a moment.
Tweet 34: It’s The Ascension. #ROOOOOOAR
Tweet 35: Lord Tensai likes flesh on flesh...
Tweet 36: I'll say this for The Dragons: I like their blue and gold ring gear.
Tweet 37: "It's like watching a video game here. X, X, square! What's next?" - Jason Tensaison, talking gibberish
Tweet 38: This is probably the best Ascension match in months.


POW! Right in the kisser!

Tweet 39: Sin Cara is the odd man out in this match. He's the only guy who hasn't got a little apron attached to his tights.
Tweet 40: The Ascension's aprons make them look like blacksmiths.
Tweet 41: Kalisto's doesn't really make him look like anything.
Tweet 42: Rich Brennan definitely went to the Vince McMahon and Michael Cole school of commentary.
Tweet 43: "What athleticism!" - Rich Brennan, as I was typing the last tweet
Tweet 44: Konor gets distracted by Itami and Itami's music. Kalisto gets the pin. This finish only makes The Ascension look like idiots.
Tweet 45: And it was meant to protect them.
Tweet 46: Itami downing Konor with kicks didn't help them much either. On the plus side it makes Itami look pretty competent.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Unforgiven 2008 review

Ahead of the WWE Network’s British release on Wednesday I thought I’d get into the spirit of things by watching and reviewing an old WWE pay-per-view. I selected Unforgiven 2008 for two reasons. One, I remembered it being a pretty sloppy show. Two, I found a DVD of it in a cupboard. I didn’t (and still don’t) remember buying it or being given it so I took it as a sign that it was the right thing to watch.

All set? Let’s begin…
 
 
Opening video

Before getting started it should probably be pointed out that Unforgiven 2008 was built around a new kind of gimmick match. Vince McMahon, so the story goes, felt that the company had become complacent with regard to creating exciting new gimmick matches. It had been twenty years since the Royal Rumble had been created, eleven since the first ever Hell in a Cell, and six since the inaugural Elimination Chamber. Vince wanted a new toy, dammit!

The creative team, and probably a fair number of agents and senior wrestlers, went away to see what could be dreamed up. They returned with a match that was part Royal Rumble, part five-way dance (because those are always popular), and part Elimination Chamber (a gimmick match which is itself a collection of various other matches). Two men would start. Another would join them every five minutes. There would be a five minute period at the end. Guys could pin and submit one another throughout, with anyone doing so becoming the “current” champion. Whoever was the “current” champion once the twenty minute time limit expired would be recognised as the official champion.

They called it… the Scramble.
 
 
It had its good points, in theory. It would allow numerous title change pops in one match without actually having the title change hands, protecting the prestige of the prize while still getting the audience to pop. It could, with a bit of thought, tell a story you couldn’t in many other matches. We’d get a couple of examples of that. It also gave guys outside of the main event the chance to look more competitive than usual, although in practice the one real attempt at that made just didn’t work.

In practice the concept was a shambles. As we’ll see below. All you need to know at this point is that this show was built around this convoluted new gimmick match and the intense feud between Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho. Again, more on that below. The opening video concentrated on these two things, though mostly the latter. Amusingly it began with the words “Tonight is the first ever championship Scramble." There hasn’t been another since.

ECW championship Scramble

In the arena we were greeted by the strains of Motörhead. Todd Grisham and Matt Striker welcomed us to the show, immediately confirming to me that I’d made the right choice in my search for a disappointing pay-per-view. Tony Chimel announced the ECW Scramble and then Matt Hardy came out.

Matt was still fairly over at this point, although that perception was helped at least in part by a healthy application of the Crowd Roar Noise Machine™ what with this being a DVD. Striker informed us that there was an eighty per cent chance of a new champ being crowned in each Scramble. Because if there’s one thing Striker loves it’s maths! Apparently experience, health and other things used to measure form don’t factor into WWE. Everyone has a fifty-fifty chance of winning any given singles match, no matter who they are or what they and their opponent have accomplished.

As Striker ran through the rules (winding himself in the process). The Miz came out as entrant two. This was trilby hat, fingerless gloves era Miz. A Miz who wore a bandana underneath his hat because that’s what the cool kids do. He’s not great in the ring in 2014, but he is considerably better than he was back in 2008. Seeing that he was involved in this match was not a good sign.

The opening five minutes featured basic exchanges with a strong focus on headlocks. The crowd were into that for some reason. Perhaps Cleveland is a big headlock town. Or maybe Matt Hardy was so popular in the early autumn of 2008 that people went crazy for him doing anything, even a headlock.

Chavo's impressed. And Chavo is not easy to impress.
Chavo entered third, wearing a poncho which he immediately handed over to Bam Neely. Yeah, Bam Neely. I’d completely forgotten his existence too. He was Chavo’s henchman for a couple of months before getting released or demoted to Deep South or something. He was so dull he’d make Justin Gabriel look full of charisma. This was the calibre of performer then head of talent relations John Laurinaitis went for. It’s no wonder WWE was so uninspiring for so long.

Continuing the obscure seconds theme Mark Henry waddled out with Tony Atlas. I am not the biggest fan of Mark Henry but at this point I was actually pretty pleased to see him. It felt like a legitimate star had arrived, although I wouldn’t have thought that when this first aired. Henners was still a year and a half away from opening his Hall of Pain.

Henry, the reigning champion, quickly pinned Chavo off a World’s Strongest Slam to become the “current” champion. This brings us to the first problem of the Scramble gimmick. Any reigning champion is a current champion. That they chose that as the term to denote the man currently on track to win was confusing and didn’t convey that the man in question wasn’t the official champ until the final bell. Interim champion would have been better. Anything would have been better!

While we’re at it I’ll mention the second trouble with the format: the audience seemed unclear on whether the title was changing hands or not. While I could be wrong on that it seems like the safest way of explaining their tepid reaction to some of the results throughout the night. The rules weren’t indecipherable but any gimmick match with as many stipulations as this is probably not going to do well.

Henry slowed things down so everyone could catch their breath. After Striker had described him as "the strongest... human being... on... the... planet” Finlay came out as final entrant. He was a wildly over babyface with jaunty panpipes for music. Hornswoggle was with him. I’d completely forgotten this era of Finlay’s career, which would include him doing jigs with Hornswoggle in the ring on a semi-regular basis, and didn’t appreciate being reminded of it. Finlay was over, which speaks volumes about roster depth at this time.

Hornswoggle distracted Henry and the referee, allowing ‘The Belfast Bruiser’ to sneak his shillelagh out of the corner and smack Henry in the head with it. Then, in the most confusing spot of the night, Finlay and Hardy teamed up to throw Henry over the top rope, as though they were in a battle royal. Striker and Grisham, being a pair of stone cold pros, didn’t even acknowledge that.

Finlay immediately hit the Celtic Cross on Hardy, pinning him to become the “current” champ. Hardy recovered fairly quickly and hit a Twist of Fate on Miz to take the title for himself. The final two and a half minutes were an omnishambles of moves, pin attempts and breakups. The match ended with everyone but Miz (he was busy lying at ringside with a nasty hard way gash on his face) piling on top of each other writhing around in one of the most shambolic displays I’ve ever seen in a wrestling ring.

Your winner and new ECW-but-not-really-actual-ECW champion Matt Hardy.

Striker talked about Hardy climbing the cliffs of Dover and standing at the apex as the champion. Stuff like that is why Striker was fired. Thankfully he would not appear on this show again.

Backstage segment one

New champ Matt hugged his brother Jeff, who was at this point the most popular man in wrestling about to embark on a quest to win the WWE championship. Matt said he wanted a Hardys clean sweep and declared it the greatest night of his life. I wonder if he even remembers this show now.

A split screen showed WWE champion Triple H and World Heavyweight champion CM Punk in corridors preparing for their respective title defences. Both had long hair. It was weird.

Question time fun with Jim Ross

Back at ringside Tazz and JR introduced themselves and rambled about the show a little. JR asked whether SmackDown GM Vickie Guerrero should have let Big Show compete in the WWE title Scramble match and told viewers they could vote on their answer on the WWE website. No Twitter here. Presumably there was some controversial aspect to this topic. Whatever it was it wasn't made clear.

And then... "Yo yo yo yo! Shad Gaspard and JTG, it's Cryme Time! Brooklyn, Brooklyn!"

Tag team championship: Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase v Cryme Tyme

Yes! Everyone’s illiterate gangsta thug wrestlers were on this show! Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler were both massively excited by this entrance. I felt nauseous. Ted DiBiase and Cody Rhodes came out to face them. This was blue boots with the Triforce on them era Cody Rhodes. He also had trunks with 'The Prince of Pro Wrestling' scrawled on the back. That nickname should have caught on.

Cryme Tyme were more over than I remembered and had more double team spots too. With a better gimmick, better timing, and an understanding that speaking out against the way you’re booked doesn’t help your standing if you’re a guy in WWE’s mid-card, they could have gotten somewhere.  

Dripping with charisma...
The match was decent. Cody and Ted cheated to isolate JTG. Shad came in fired up off a hot tag and threw his foes around like a hoss. The Legacy lads thwarted a double team move which looked like it may have been More Bang For Your Buck (it definitely wouldn’t have been) then Ted flipped a small package from JTG over, giving Cody the win.

After the match the debuting Manu ran in to save Cody and Ted from a post-match beating from Cryme Tyme. Cole described him as a "mysterious violent stranger.” This was about as good as it got for Manu. He was chastised on-screen and off- by Randy Orton for being lazy and having a bad attitude. You know you’re in trouble when Orton’s knocking you for being unmotivated. He was released in February of 2009 having accomplished nothing of note.

Backstage segment two

A doctor told Shawn Michaels that he would risk making his injured tendon worse by competing. Michaels didn’t reply. We’d find out what the silence and disregard for safety was about in a video recap.

At this point the Michaels and Jericho dispute had been going on for around six months. It had started when Michaels super kicked his friend and mentor Ric Flair into retirement at WrestleMania XXIV. Batista, another friend and student of Flair’s, took issue with Michaels retiring ‘Naitch’ and challenged him to a match. Jericho offered his services as a guest referee for that match, which HBK won by faking a knee injury.

Batista moved on to other things after that, leaving ‘Y2J’ to take Michaels to task for cheating. Even though Michaels had cheated in a face versus face match he was seen as the good guy in this scenario, with Jericho as the villain. The pair had a match at The Great American Bash during which Michaels received a cut near his eye which Jericho targeted, giving him the edge and allowing him to win the match.

Michaels announced his doctor had advised him to retire, so serious was the eye injury. During his farewell speech he knocked Jericho, saying that he’d never achieve the success ‘The Showstopper’ had. This led to a meeting where Jericho verbally laid into Michaels and accidentally struck his wife. Because he exhibited no signs of remorse for this accidentally blow Michaels announced his plans to remain an active wrestler so that he could take on Jericho in a non-sanctioned street fight to gain retribution for his family.

Non-sanctioned match: Shawn Michaels v Chris Jericho

This match is the saving grace of this entire show. It’s the only match on it that’s worth watching. While the latter two Scramble bouts did some interesting things and featured some memorable moments this is the only match that is good from start to finish. Without this on the show it would have been far closer to train wreck levels than it is.

Lilian Garcia kicked things off with a reminder that both combatants had signed paperwork that ensured they could not hold each other or WWE responsible for what would happen in the match. Michaels immediately got a takedown on Jericho and then lamped him with his boot. They went out into the crowd and round ringside before Jericho floored Michaels with a DDT, introducing a chair to the match and setting up a table outside the ring.

Michaels escaped a suplex through table and choked Jericho. He stopped a Sweet Chin Music attempt because he wanted to hurt ‘The Highlight of the Night’ more, sinking in a Crippler crossface to do just that. Cole understandably didn’t name it, the Benoit incident having taken place just a year before. Jericho staggered to his feet and sent Michaels head first into a chair.

Jericho fired off jabs at Michaels’ injured eye before applying the Walls of Jericho. With no rope breaks in an unsanctioned fight Michaels had to use a technical counter to escape: a fire extinguisher to the face.


He learnt that from Jose.
Jericho’s protégé Lance Cade showed up to interfere for a bit, eventually getting wiped out with Sweet Chin Music. Michaels then smashed Jericho with a chair, sending off the top rope through the table standing at ringside. He followed that up by draping him on an announce desk (he was spoilt for choice with three at ringside) and elbow dropping him through it. Jericho got back into the ring (because wrestling) and Michaels whipped him with his belt (because southern justice). ‘King’ chose this point to suggest Michaels may have been possessed by the devil. His sense of timing never fails.

Michaels trapped Jericho in an armbar and pummelled his eye, retribution for Jericho’s unsportsmanlike attacks. With Jericho unconscious the referee stopped the match and awarded the victory to Michaels.

Jericho did a great job of selling unconsciousness. Michaels pummelled him more after the decision.  The ref yanked him off (to stop Jericho getting hurt) and got a super kick for his trouble. More officials showed up (including Mike Chioda) to protect Jericho as he was taken backstage. The segment ended with Michael Cole wandering aloud if God would ever forgive Michaels for what he’d done.

Backstage segment three

Cody, Ted and Manu were joined by Legacy boss Randy Orton. At this point in time the group was having problems, although my memory of the group is that it was always having problems and never really felt like the cohesive, Evolution 2.0 it was probably meant to. Cody formally introduced Manu, telling Orty that the new boy recognised and respected talent when he saw it.

Manu piped up at that point, revealing another reason he would ultimately be released: he is not a natural at wrestling speak. He told Orton that Cody ‘n’ Ted were in a different class in the most bland, hollow, passionless voice imaginable. He said the words because he was scripted too, not because he believed them. Fair enough, he didn’t believe them, but he should have tried to make viewers feel like he did.  

Orton cut a promo memorable only for its abundance of shoulder movements. He rambled a bit but seemed to feel the lads had gotten lucky. It ended with him saying he wasn’t impressed with them. At all. Over at the commentary desk JR said Cody and Ted didn't want to hear that. Then Tazz put over Motörhead and JR asked his Big Show question again.

WWE championship Scramble

The second championship Scramble is remembered for one thing: ‘The’ Brian Kendrick pinning Jeff Hardy with Sliced Bread Number Two to become the “current” champ. It was the sort of surprise this match was probably designed to incorporate. Ultimately it was nothing more than a token shock that accomplished nothing.

What this match should be remembered for is its final five minutes. It marked the beginning of a friendly rivalry (by which I mean a face versus face rivalry) between ascending babyface superhope Jeff Hardy and WWE champion Triple H. Entering last ‘The Game’ quickly pinned Kendrick to keep his title reign on track but Hardy would become the “current” champion by pinning MVP with a Twist of Fate. They exchanged the lead a few more times and although Triple H ended the bout still the champion Jeff Hardy was just seconds way from pinning Shelton Benjamin at the final bell.

It was a story that could only be told as effectively in a match like this. Hardy and Helmsley were shown to be on a similar level, essentially trading the title back and forth, desperately trying to retain the upper hand until the time limit expired. It could have gone to either of them. A good feud in which Hardy would win his one and only WWE championship would come out of this. Sadly the rest of the match dragged and Kendrick, MVP and Benjamin were made to look like the enhancement guys they clearly were, with Kendrick and MVP taking a cumulative six losses between them.

Backstage segment four

In the back Todd Grisham asked Michaels how he was feeling. That was a slap in the face to the Brand Extension: Grisham was supposed to be an ECW guy! Michaels said it was the first PPV in three months which hadn’t resulted in him being hospitalised. He said he was going home to his wife and kids, content but not satisfied and with no sense of closure. The worst, he said, was still to come for Jericho.

The location of his smile was not touched upon.

Somewhere else in the building Eve Torres (here just an interviewer) channelled Matt Striker and reminded WHC CM Punk that the odds were against him successfully retaining his belt. Punk started the standard life of adversity promo before Orton showed up and called him a fluke champion. DiBiase, Rhodes and Manu then attacked Punk, roughing him up and throwing him against a plastic container. Kofi Kingston (who at this point still had the potential to become a somebody) tried helping Punk out but didn’t get far. Orton gave Punk a Punt kick and told his cronies that was how to make an impression.

There’s a more relevant point to discuss this segment below…

Divas championship: Maryse v Michelle McCool

I’d love to say that they surprised me and had a great match, but they didn’t. It was Maryse and Michelle McCool. Did you really expect anything else?

Promo segment spectacular

JR revealed that seventy seven per cent of viewers felt Vickie Guerrero had made the right decision not allowing Big Show to compete the WWE title match. Once again they provided no context for why this question was being asked. Looking into it I’ve found out that Show had interfered in a qualifying match for the Scramble and had been generally disrespectful to heel GM Vickie. It was also very clearly designed to play into what would happen between the two minutes later.

And then he appeared: Mike Adamle. Dim-witted, wooden, vacant, clueless Mike Adamle.

He didn’t really do enough to warrant me going into much detail on him here but it was a pleasure to see him fumbling his way through a promo he probably didn’t understand. Basically he was there to announce that CM Punk might not compete. With any other babyface that would be the setup for them making a gutsy comeback in their scheduled defence. That wouldn’t be the case here. But again, I’ll get to that. Adamle said if Punk couldn’t compete he’d find a suitable replacement.

Adamle left and Big Show came out. Full-on babyface Big Show, high-fiving, waving and smiling. He volunteered his services for Punk’s vacant spot and then awkwardly plugged the SmackDown Your Vote campaign (something that was done to help ease the McMahon name into the political sphere ahead of Linda’s failed attempts at getting elected). Vickie came out and had a go at him for disobeying her instructions.

Then The Undertaker’s druids came out. Dimmed lights, hooded robes, smoke machine, eerie music, the whole deal. Show loled it up, literally holding his sides because he found it so funny that Vickie was going to finally be caught by The Undertaker. A gross oversimplification: ‘The Dead Man’ wanted revenge on Vickie for costing him the World Heavyweight championship and using him as a weapon against her ex-boyfriend Edge.

All this was done so we could get to this thrilling piece of work at No Mercy.
The druids parked a casket at ringside and ‘Taker appeared on the Titantron, telling Vickie to get in. She didn’t so he came out to ringside to get her, Big Show happily holding her in place to stop her escaping. When ‘Big Evil’ arrived in the ring Show swerve turned on him, giving him a big ol' right punch to the face. Show smacked Undertaker around for a few minutes before giving him a second KO punch. Then he held 'The Dead Man' up for Vickie to slap him.

No context was provided throughout any of this. It was just stuff that happened.

Backstage segment five

William Regal and Mike Adamle had a chat about Punk's status for the World title match (which was next). Regal wanted in on the action and reminded Adamle he’d pinned Punk to become the 2008 King of the Ring. Adamle made his excuses and left.

World Heavyweight championship Scramble

The future Drax the Destroyer and John Bradshaw Layfield started the main event. That may sound alarming but they actually had a pretty enjoyable five minutes together, the highlight of which was Batista using a figure four (because it looked so strange to see him do it). Batista was massively over as a face. JBL was well established as a heel. His limo entrance was still a thing and helped him come across as a big deal. Unfortunately there was no hot stepping from him. I was gutted at that.

Bald headed evil Kane was third. JBL had been wiped out by a collision with the ring steps, so we were treated to Kane and 'The Animal' for several minutes. He got back into the match just in time to break up a Batista bomb and get pinned after a choke slam. Yes, Kane became the “current” champion.

Kane thinking he's flying. Mysterio's hair mask. There's so much going on here.
Rey Mysterio was the fourth man introduced, wearing a mask with a thoroughly ridiculous Mohawk headpiece attached to it. This could well be where my problems with Rey started. Broadly speaking it was Kane and Layfield v Mysterio and Batista during this portion. The faces busted out some double team moves. Rey cheekily rolled Batista up from atop his shoulders and the two had a few heated words but JBL thumped them before they could come up blows.

Entrant number five’s time arrived and CM Punk did not come out. Instead it was Chris Jericho who got the spot. Yes, the same Chris Jericho who’d been beaten and left unconscious by a vengeful Shawn Michaels earlier in the night. He was clearly in a bad way but he had been deemed fit and healthy enough to compete in a second match. Meanwhile Punk had been on the receiving end of a generic backstage tussle and blasted with Orton’s Punk kick. True, the Punt has been built up as a particularly devastating move since this show but even so it didn’t seem like much to take out a world champion, especially when compared to what Jericho had been through.

At the time this move was interpreted as a burial of Punk. I can see why people would think that but looking at the bigger picture I don’t think that was the case. Rightly or wrongly Punk had been portrayed as a man who’d broken into the main event a little too early and had found himself out of his depth. He would regain the WHC in 2009 and be presented in a far better light. His falling to a single Punt was one aspect of the story being told at the time rather than a single incident designed to make him look bad. It’s also obvious with hindsight that the World title was transferred onto Jericho to freshen up RAW’s title scene and boost the status of his feud with Michaels.

Punk being written out of this match was bad. But it was at least done for a reason.

Come on, baby!
The closing moments of the match were very good. Batista escaped a choke slam attempt and floored ‘The Big Red Machine’ with a spinebuster. Mysterio sprung into the ring and tried a hurricanrana on Batista but Batista countered it into a Batista bomb. With the clock ticking down ‘The Animal’ made the pin… just a little too late and seconds after Jericho had snuck into the ring and pinned Kane. The final klaxon rang out and Batista was left to despairingly sink his head into his hands as ‘Y2J’ was awarded the championship.

It was another example of how the Scramble format could be used for interesting storytelling. But it was also the last example. In one night WWE did everything they were realistically going to with the Scramble match. Which is why we haven’t seen one since.

Final thoughts

This was a shambles of a show that benefited greatly from hosting one of the most memorable encounters of the Jericho v Michaels feud. Without that it would have been awful. The Scramble match concept was flawed and presented poorly. Although it is something I think could work somewhere like Ring of Honor or if WWE had a deeper mid-card and were willing to put the time in constructing a five way feud for the IC title.

The show would have been better had they been scrapped entirely. Triple H and Jeff Hardy could have had a singles match. Benjamin, Kendrick and MVP could have had a three-way for Benjamin’s US title. Mark Henry could have had a weapons-laden brawl with Matt Hardy. The only thing they would have lost by swapping the Scramble matches around was Jericho’s surprise title win, and they still could have found a way to get to that if it was what they wanted.

There are worse shows out there. But none of them have the Scramble match to offer. And for that we should probably be thankful.

Friday, 26 September 2014

An Absence of Reigns

Perhaps the biggest news going into last weekend’s Night of Champions extravaganza was that Roman Reigns was rushed to a Nashville, Tennessee hospital after experiencing severe pain in an abdominal hernia he was working through. When doctors looked into it they discovered a second, more serious hernia that they had to operate on immediately. As a result of the operation Reigns will miss an estimated six weeks of ring time (the several months WWE claimed during Night of Champions is a fib to make Reigns seem superhuman when he returns early). Gaining retribution on that dastardly Seth Rollins will have to wait for another day.

It’s obviously a frustrating setback for Reigns, who had been involved in storylines involving lead heel faction The Authority for some time and was expected to continue receiving preferential treatment to prepare him for bigger and better things next year. The good news is that it’s nowhere near as bad as it could have been. Assuming he doesn’t suffer any further medical worries he should be back in plenty of time for Survivor Series, meaning he’ll have missed just two supershows. He won’t come close to missing Royal Rumble or WrestleMania.

Gone (for now) but not forgotten.
It could even be argued that this injury is a blessing in disguise for Reigns. Generic performances at SummerSlam and over the last month on TV, along with his lack of improvement in the interview department, have soured a number of people on him. His increasingly obvious status as the recipient of the next megastar push hasn’t done him any favours either. As things were going it was looking as though Reigns was in line for fan backlash at some point. A break from TV should help with that, giving people a chance to miss him and want to see him again. That wasn’t going to happen if he’d stayed on TV, and he would have stayed on TV had he not been injured.

It also gives WWE the chance to plan a memorable reintroduction for him (even though he’ll barely have been away long enough to merit one). The right return could set Reigns up as the hero WWE wants him to be seen as. Build up a bad guy for Reigns to vanquish upon his return. Someone we’ll want to see Reigns get his hands on and rough up.

There are three guys I think could fill that role. The first is Rusev, who’s been on a tear for the last six months. The first man not named John Cena to hand ‘The Super Athlete’ a beating will become a massive star. But while Rusev’s a possibility he’s not a sensible choice. WWE would be better served saving Rusev’s first defeat until next year so that they can use it as a hook for WrestleMania 31. Frittering it away to make Reigns look good would be a short term move. Happily it’s not something I think they’d consider seriously.

A far more logical candidate is Seth Rollins. He’s the man who Reigns was involved with when he disappeared from TV and the man who took a count out win over Reigns at Night of Champions. He’s also slipped into the orbit of John Cena. While that’s not an ideal place for a rising star to be in it does at least mean Rollins is involved with the company’s leading man. Were he to gain a victory, even a tainted one, over Cena he would look a bigger deal for when he loses to a returning Reigns. Targeting him would be logical for ‘The Roman Empire’.

But the real obvious man for Reigns to go after upon his TV return is Triple H. They met in two six man tag matches at Extreme Rules and Payback and they’ve been involved in a number of staring contests and beatdowns since. Like Rollins he fits the bill of being a heel everyone wants to see take a beating, but he has the added positive of being a big name who can give Reigns a rub by association.

Is it too much to ask for WWE to use their pay-per-view schedule to their advantage and announce an eight man elimination tag match for Survivor Series? An Authority team of Triple H, Seth Rollins, Randy Orton and Kane taking on Dean Ambrose a returning Roman Reigns and two other faces would be an exciting, logical and worthy semi-main event or show closer. One of the “two other faces” would almost certainly be Cena, because not only do WWE feel compelled to have him in every main event possible but he’s also actively moved into a feud with Rollins. That wouldn’t stop WWE building a couple of guys up through storyline interactions with The Authority though. Dolph Ziggler would be an ideal choice.

The point of that Survivor Series match would be to reintroduce Reigns as an unstoppable powerhouse. Holding his identity off until the night would be a nice idea but probably a bit pointless in practice. It would be a pretty easy guess (and would invite speculation that Daniel Bryan would be the fourth face, earning Reigns boos if he appeared unannounced). A return on the post-Survivor Series RAW would be ideal. Holding Reigns on the apron with The Authority desperate to keep him out of the match for as long as possible would be a good story, and would allow for the other faces to be picked off, leaving Reigns to explode through all of his opponents as the final babyface.

Having the match come down to Triple H and Reigns for their respective teams would be logical. So would Reigns losing via shenanigans of one form or another, setting up a singles match at the TLC pay-per-view in December. Reigns being booked too strong would encourage those boos I mentioned earlier, and running through every member of The Authority would certainly fall into the booked too strong category.

Having Reigns return from this injury and get straight into a plot opposite The Authority is the best direction WWE could take. It would keep his profile high and he’d be unlikely to hear boos opposite them. A strong showing at Survivor Series followed by a clean win over Triple H at TLC would set Reigns up nicely for the Royal Rumble win everyone expects but few, right now, seem to want.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

That RAW Recap 22.09.14

“I’m not dead!” shouted Dean Ambrose at the beginning of this week’s RAW. It was in reference to the over the top fashion in which he’d been written off TV five weeks earlier, having his head smashed through several blocks of allegedly solid concrete. His irreverent attitude towards the angle was the only sensible way to handle it, seeing as he’d returned with no signs of injury after filming a movie. That that’s his approach is a large part of the reasons he’s so popular.

Ambrose called out The Authority so that he could continue his eternal fight with former teammate Seth Rollins. Instead he was joined by John Cena. He was in the mood for a little Rollins bashing himself, as Rollins’s interference had caused his championship match the previous evening to end via disqualification. In Cena’s mind Rollins had denied him a guaranteed title win.

"Did I ever tell you about my father?"
Ambrose warned Cena, twice, not to get in his way. Cena responded by taking off his shirt (to squeals of joy from some of the ladies in attendance). Ambrose slipped off his jacket. Before their joint show of machismo could progress further The Authority wandered out. Triple H started announcing some matches but was cut off by Cena and Ambrose slipping from the ring and rushing up the aisle to get their hands on ‘Mr Money in the Bank’.

A brawl ensued. Rollins quickly made his way backstage with the faces in hot pursuit. Kane, Orton and the bosses were left looking confused at ringside. Rollins would ultimately make his getaway in a car with its keys handily left in the ignition. Someone’s lost an insurance claim there.

After a break Big Tripper announced Kane v Dean Ambrose and John Cena v Randy Orton. Ambrose v Kane was bad enough, it’s a match we’ve seen far too often this year. But throwing out Cena v Orton too? I can’t believe anyone in WWE genuinely thinks that’s a good idea at this point. They’ve had dozens of televised matches over the years and I can’t remember an audience caring about a single one. Cena v Kane and Orton v Ambrose would have been more appealing, and that’s with the overfamiliarity of Cena and Kane bouts taken into consideration.

The first match of the night saw Dolph Ziggler regain the Intercontinental championship from The Miz. They reused the finish of their match the night before, but with ‘The Show Off’ reversing Miz’s pin into one of his own, grabbing the tights for a turnabout is fair play moment. This marked the second time ‘The Awesome One’ had held the IC strap for just one day. It also marked the beginning of Ziggler’s third reign. I can only assume someone wants to get back to the approach of titles changing hands multiple times during feuds. I’m all for that. It makes things interesting and makes it clear the belt is something all involved want to have.

After Jack Swagger had submitted Bo Dallas (a competent affair) and Natalya had submitted Summer Rae (less competent but still very much an affair) we got Kane and Ambrose’s match. They wrestled for about eight minutes before Rollins appeared and caused a disqualification. Afterwards the former Shield lads fought with ‘The Lunatic Fringe’ gaining the upper hand. Rollins backed away from the ring, not wanting any part of a fight with Ambrose ready for him. Cena, for the record, was nowhere to be seen here, despite him starting the night by stating that all he wanted was to get his hands on Rollins.

Backstage ‘The Game’ told Rollins to stop starting fights and having The Authority finish them. Then Ambrose showed up, got taken out by Jamie Noble and security as Triple H looked on, and found himself locked in a room by Stephanie McMahon. I’ll be honest, I can think of worse fates than being trapped and being at Stephanie McMahon’s mercy.

SPLASH!
The Usos teamed up with US champion Sheamus to face Goldust, Stardust and Cesaro. The two tag teams have faced off enough times to be relied upon for a good match whenever required and Sheamus and Cesaro had had the best match of the evening at Night of Champions the night before. Basically, this was designed to be a good match and it was. The good guys won after the Usos hit a super kick and splash combo on Goldy.

That was followed by the funniest moment of the show. In the back Rollins approached Orton and apologised for not fighting his own battles, promising a surprise for later in the show. Orton’s response: “Well… I do like surprises.”

Mark Henry apologised to the American people for his Night of Champions loss to Rusev. The Russians came out and offered Henry a rematch. He accepted and lost. At this point I think the only honourable thing for Henry to do is retire. He’s let the greatest nation in the universe down far too often.

Adam Rose and The Bunny defeated Slater Gator. The Bunny did not seem especially over and nobody seemed to be aware of the feud it’s had with Slater and O’Neil. Rose was the one who got the win for his team (as he should have been) with the Party Foul.

That was followed by Nikki Bella going all Brian Kendrick and demanding she be referred to as ‘The’ Nikki Bella. She also said Brie should drop the surname. This naturally ended in a shoving match, Brie Bryan gaining the upper hand and sending her sister sprawling from the ring. Nikki then lost a non-title match to AJ Lee as Paige sat on commentary saying a whole lot of nothing.

Orton v Cena was the main event. In fairness to WWE it was different from their (many) previous encounters because The Authority were in ‘The Viper’s’ corner and there was a blocky object covered with a black cloth near the announce desk. Y’know, exactly like the cloth that covered the cinder blocks that took out Ambrose.

"Oh hi, Kane!"
The match ended with a DQ when Cena put Orty in the STF and Kane and Rollins immediately interfered to break the hold. It was the second disqualification of the night and the third in two days. I’m not usually bothered by disqualification finishes if they’re done for a reason, which the Lesnar v Cena finish was. But I do think WWE went overboard here. If a pay-per-view main event ends with a DQ than a clean finish should go on last the following night. But hey, the RAW finish was done for a reason too so I suppose an argument can be made in its favour.

Orton, Kane and Rollins knocked Cena about a bit before taking him over to the announce desk. We were left to assume that the cloth was once again covering cinder blocks, but it wasn’t. Instead Kane whipped it away to reveal Dean Ambrose. No explanation for how Ambrose escaped from a sealed room was provided. We were left to assume he can teleport. He attacked all three Authority boys, eventually isolating Rollins in the ring. Before he could really lay into him Kane grabbed him for a choke slam. Cena made the save but it was too late: Rollins had escaped. He stood gloating in the crowd as the show went off the air.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Night of Champions 2014 review

In my Night of Champions preview I wrote that it looked like a show that had the potential to be good but was relying heavily on its main event. Now, with the show having taken place, I stand by those remarks. The show as enjoyable enough and featured a handful of title changes, but it was the main event that made it what it was. With the Cena versus Lesnar SummerSlam rematch the 2014 Night of Champions would be a far more forgettable affair.

This is not the sort of thing that should be said of any of WWE’s not so special events right now. A big part of the marketing strategy for the WWE Network is getting to watch these shows as part of the subscription. If they’re not any good then how worthwhile is their inclusion in the Network package? If WWE expects people to stay signed up to the Network they need to make these shows feel significant. One match in the main event spot cannot do that.

Don’t get me wrong here. While WWE is struggling with crafting an undercard of matches we want to tune in and watch he quality of the matches was mostly pretty high. They’re getting some things right, just not enough.

The show kicked off, as all WWE special events do, with a video package. This one featured footage of Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin and Ric Flair during their respective world title reigns, with audio excerpts from promos playing over them. It was well done and nice to see acknowledgment of the legacy of world titles in wrestling. It helped with the theme of the pay-per-view.

Another nice touch was showing former champions before each title match (with the exception of the main event, oddly). Opening the show, the tag title match was preceded by shots of The Legion of Doom (not the Road Warriors, because this is WWE, yo), Tony Atlas and Rocky Johnson, and Edge and Christian. It sounded lie the latter got a pop but I may have been wrong.

Bad guys. Don't forget it!
Goldust and Stardust got a good reaction when they walked to the ring. The crowd must not have gotten the memo about them being heels now. Goldust had gone heavy on the black makeup while Stardust was doing everything in his power to come across as a weirdo.

The dusts controlled the match. They isolated Jey at first, then we he managed to tag out they isolated Jimmy. It was a good match wrestled at a fast pace. Everyone did what was expected of them with Goldust deserving special credit for trying to work in a more aggressive role.

Eventually Jey was tagged back in for the finish. He gave Stardust a top rope body block and a Samoan drop before Stardust came back with an inverted DDT (which has been one of Goldust’s many finishers) for a believable two count. After a dive sequence on the outside they returned to the ring, where Jey went for a splash and got hit with Stardust’s knees. The winded champ was rolled up by Stardust for the win and the straps.

Backstage Byron Saxton spoke to Dolph Ziggler and his stunt double, hired to combat Miz’s stunt double, R-Ziggler (it was R-Truth). Ziggles said Miz pretends to be a Hollywood star but he's the IC champ and that's better. Even with Dolph involved this was a nothing segment.

Despite the fact that we’d just seen the Intercontinental champion it was the United States championship match that came next. Champions shown beforehand were Harley Race, Sting (chosen for the obvious reasons, I’m sure), Ricky Steamboat, Eddie Guerrero and Booker T. Cesaro entered first wearing a red robe and a black towel over his head, like a cross between Rick Rude and ECW era Taz.

The pair started out with some technical exchanges but it didn't last long. Cesaro gave Sheamus a slap after breaking on the ropes and that got started fighting. They brawled around for a while before Sheamus did his skinning the cat to the top rope spot (to boos) and got lamped with an uppercut (to cheers). Cesaro took control with a sleeper. Shaymo absorbed a pair of clotheslines and a pair of uppercuts before firing back with a pair of Irish Curse back breakers. Cesaro countered the ten punch on the apron spot (which did get cheers) and booted Sheamus in the face. Not to be outdone, Sheamus yanked Cesaro off the top rope and attempted a Brogue kick.

Cesaro ducked it and hit Swiss death. Sheamus blocked a double underhook bomb and went for another Brogue kick. Cesaro dodged and connected with the double underhook bomb, which ‘The Celtic Warrior’ kicked out of. Cesaro landed on his feet after being back dropped out of a Neutralizer attempt and avoided another Brogue kick, muscling Sheamus up into a modified burning hammer. That yielded a fantastic two count.

Cesaro slapped Sheamus, then gave him an uppercut into the corner. Sheamus shoved him off and called for more. Cesaro obliged before getting dragged off by the referee before, finally, eating a Brogue kick. More matches like that and people might care about Sheamus and his championship.

We were shown Mark Henry getting ready for his match in a locker room. Big Show joined him and asked if he was ready, focused and aware of what was on the line. Henners said that he knew and he said he wouldn’t let people down. Show told him he had 18,000 tag partners with him (which seemed a bit unfair). Show then gave Henry a new outfit and told Henry to tear Rusev's head off. Henry said he would because that's what he does. He walked off leaving Show to stare after him like a proud dad. It was a standard pandering, pro-America bit to remind everyone why they should cheer for Henry.

Florida Georgia Line, the hottest band in the world according to 'Big Daddy Hip' Michael Cole, were introduced as guest commentators before the Intercontinental title match, which was preceded by shots of Pat Patterson, Pedro Morales, The Honky Tonk Man, Mr Perfect and Razor Ramon. I’d hoped for a shot of Jeff Jarrett but it wasn’t to be.

I’ll say here and now that Florida Georgia Line were an irritating addition to the show. The first half of the match was broken up by constant shots of them sitting at commentary and none of the three people paid to talk about what happens in the ring did anything to put over Dolph Ziggler, The Miz or the Intercontinental championship for the majority of the match.

Things changed when Damien Sandow (currently trading under the name Damien Mizdow as Miz’s stunt double) shouted at FGL one too many times and they shoved him onto his backside. Proving that they could handle a wrestler they sat back down and left R-Truth to chase Sandow to the back. Yeah, Sandow was booked to run away form a pair of weedy-looking singers. I think we can all agree his career isn’t getting back on track anytime soon.

Like twins.
With the seconds gone Ziggler got a near fall off a super kick before ‘The Awesome One’ placed him in the figure four. After a rope break he dropped Miz with a Fameasser for two. The champ prepped for the Zig Zag as Sandow returned, taking a super kick from ‘The Show Off’ but providing enough of a distraction for Miz to get a roll up and a handful of trunks for the win. Florida Georgia Line just sat there and let Miz win the title by nefarious means. Sickening.

That was followed by a video of roman Reigns discussing his bladder region. I think that’s all I need to say here.

Seth 'Hawkeye' Rollins walked out. He did a lot of smiling and posed on a turnbuckle. The announcers talked more about him walking to the ring than they did about Miz v Ziggler.

Rollins cut a promo and had Charles Robinson count Roman Reigns out of the match and declare him the winner. Michael Cole bleated about "Mr Reigns" being unable to make it to the building. Rollins went back to the mic and ran down Reigns some more before issuing an open challenge. His reason? He knew people wanted to see him compete.

In the back a taxi cab was shown arriving. Out got Dean Ambrose to one of the biggest reactions of the night. ‘The Lunatic Fringe’ stormed to the ring, immediately taking down Rollins and brawling into the crowd with him. The Authority brought out security and a bunch of agents to stop the fight. Ambrose leapt off part of the entrance structure, wiped them all out and carried on the fight.

They returned to the ring where Ambrose grabbed a chair. Before he could use it he was once again taken down (by Joey Mercury and Jamie Noble, fact fans!) and swarms by security. With plastic cuffs applied to his wrists Ambrose was carried out of the arena. Rollins was left to pitch a fit at ringside with H3 and The Stepher. It was a hot angle. If WWE don't push Ambrose hard in Reigns's absence something will have gone wrong. He’s the most over man in the company.

Over at the expert panel set Renee Young mentioned the title changes. A-Ry rambled on about nothing. Show said if Henry can stay focused he'll send Rusev home. Booker said "it" was "all about America!" The message was clear: America is the bestest thing ever.

Henry wandered out in his patriotic singlet... and a scarf for some reason. Lilian Garcia sang the US national anthem because AMERICA!! Henry cried. The crowd ate it up and burst into a USA chant afterwards. Rusev, hero of the Russian federation, came out to a surprising lack of heat. I’ll put that down to the crowd. He usually gets far better (or worse, depending on your point of view) treatment than that.

Henry sent Rusev rolling from the ring twice at the start of the match then knocked him off the apron as he tried to dash back in. After chucking him out for a third time Hnery followed him. That turned out not to be the brightest move: Henry was rammed into steel steps and then splashed in the corner back in the ring. Despite the rousing patriotism, Henry’s early offence, and Rusev’s shady method of gaining the upper hand the crowd were dead at this point.

Henry came back from a sleeper with some basic moves. He didn't get long before Rusev floored him with a spinning heel kick and tried for the Accolade. Henry powered out, took a kick and then hit the World’s Strongest Slam. Rusev rolled out of the ring to avoid being pinned (which the crowd did react to). Henry stupidly stuck his head out between the ropes and took a super kick. Rusev returned to the ring and connected with a second, then applied the Accolade for the tap out victory.

Rusev and Lana: Mr and Mrs Russia.
After the match audience members were shown looking disappointed. JBL declared that he was disappointed in Henry. That was a poor call, in my view. Considering the heavy patriotism of what we’d seen it felt as though Layfield was admonishing Henry for not being a good enough American. It would have made more sense for him to say that if Mark Henry, ‘The World’s Strongest Man’ and a former World Heavyweight champion, can’t beat Rusev he doesn’t know who can. But no, Layfield had to act the super patriot. Because AMERICA!!

A recap of Michael Cole’s interview with Brock Lesnar followed that. ‘The Pain’ said both he and Cena were fired up for the rematch but that Cena will get another ass beating. The crowd understandably cheered that.

They also cheered Chris Jericho's entrance. Which is far less understandable.

Jericho and Randy Orton put on a better match than I thought they would. They made good use of their plethora of signature spots and finishers to craft interesting sequences and believable near falls. Highlights included an Orton to Jericho superplex; a wild over the turnbuckle bump to the floor from Jericho; a Punt being reversed into a schoolboy; Jericho countering an RKO into the Codebreaker; and the match-winning cross body block turned into an RKO (which was predictable and sloppily performed but still good to see). Meanwhile, on commentary, commentary JBL said Orton reminds him of a young Barry Windham and Cole said that’s high praise. I’d be amazed if he’s ever watched a Windham match for pleasure.

That said, the match was still slow in places and I don’t think it’s too much to say that we could have expected more form the pair considering the time they had, their standing in the company, and the number of times they’ve worked together. Nothing I saw made me change my mind about ‘Y2J’s’ presence in WWE in 2014.

The Divas championship match was preceded  a video of Paige talking about AJ being her frenemy and putting down Nikki Bella as unworthy of a title shot. Lots of shots of Paige applying the PTO were included. It did a lot to make Paige look like a serious competitor with a personality. And a nasty submission hold.

Backstage Byron Saxton asked Brie Bella what she thought of the Divas championship match. Brie said everyone he was the first person to ask her that. Everyone else, apparently, is more concerned with asking when Nikki will “get hers”. So, not when her husband’s coming back then? Brie said Nikki shouldn't be the champion because she's self-centred and obnoxious already. Basically she delivered poor banter poorly.

Divas champs shown before the match: The Fabulous Moolah, Wendi Richter, Lita and Trish Startus, none of whom ever held the Divas championship. I wouldn't have mentioned that but Cole got snippy with JBL for saying the APA had been WWE tag champions, correcting him and saying he was a world tag champion. You can’t have it both ways, WWE.

AJ got cheers when she entered. Nikki and Paige got apathy. Paige deserved better considering the video they’d played and the fact that she’s mimicking the popular AJ.

The AJ Lee dead sell. It's a classic.
It was a standard WWE triple threat: the three combatants took it in turns to catch their breath at ringside while a string of singles matches took place in the ring. That finish saw Nikki tossed off the apron by AJ and then a Black Widow applied to Paige for the submission. New, three time, Divas champion crowned in a nothing match. Something fresh needs to be done if the rivalry is to continue into Hell in a Cell (the show, not the gimmick match).

Over at the expert panel set Alex Riley agreed with Paul Heyman’s sentiment that Cena has to become a beast in order to defeat Lesnar. Big Show said he should stick to his usual approach and remain true to himself. Booker T, with the only insightful comment from the trio all evening (I know right, Booker T!) said he noticed Cena trying for takedowns in their RAW scuffle and that he should do that in the rematch.

The pre-match video package was predictably excellent. Cena was positioned as a man with a fresh game plan who wants a fight as much as the championship. Lesnar was positioned as someone who's not just unstoppable but someone who has Cena's number.

There was a mostly positive reaction for Cena's entrance. Lesnar's got a roar of approval. The in-ring intro got cheers for Cena and a mixed reaction for the world champion. There were duelling chants at the bell.

Lesnar took Cena down at the bell. Cena escaped a German suplex attempt, dropped Lesnar with a clothesline, and hit an AA. It didn’t even earn him a two count. A visibly angered Lesnar applied the kimura arm lock. Cena grabbed the ropes for a break. Lesnar mauled him with knees and connected with a German suplex.

Cena popped up and fought back. Lesnar halted him with knees and snapped on the kimura again. Cena got a rope break and hit some punches before German suplex number two and the Three Amigos (a spot I love Lesnar doing because it references one his more entertaining feuds from over a decade ago). More strikes went Cena's way before Lesnar ran through him with a lariat. Cena tried a takedown but Lesnar hammered his back and applied a standing kimura, Cena once again having to rely on the ropes for escape.

‘The Beast’ threw Cena with a belly-to-belly suplex. Cena came back with some more right hands but Lesnar easily spun him round for some shoulder barges in the corner. The challenger hammered back with a barrage of rights on Lesnar. But it did nothing. Lesnar shrugged them off and nailed a third German suplex then smashed his foe with more shoulder charges.

One of the match's many kimura locks.
A surprise AA put Lesnar down for a two count. He hauled Cena up for the F5 but Cena escaped and applied the STF. Lesnar slipped out of that and clamped on the kimura again, positioning himself between the ropes and Cena's free arm to keep Cena trapped in the hold. Cena got to his feet (because he’s Cena) and rammed Lesnar into the turnbuckle for the break. He hit the third AA of the match, opting to apply the STF again instead of trying for a cover. Lesnar kept crawling to the ropes, forcing Cena to break and dragging him back to the centre of the ring to reapply it (like a player spamming a hold in a wrestling video game). On the third application it felt like Lesnar was close to tapping.

But he didn’t get the chance to: Seth Rollins slid into the ring and hit Cena with the money in the bank briefcase for the disqualification finish. He walloped Cena again, sending him out of the ring and then gave Lesnar, who was staggering to his feet, a Curb Stomp. Rollins left the ring for the ceremonial handover of the briefcase that signals a Money in the Bank cash-in then made to get back into the ring to pin the champ.

Cena stopped him, pulling him from the apron and sending him scurrying to the back. Cole was exceptionally quick to point out that the cash-in match bell hadn’t rung so Rollins’s title shot was still safe. It was almost as if he were being promoted.

Cena slumped against the ropes looking dejected. When he got up he was immediately slapped with an F5. The official announcement came in: Cena had won the match by DQ but Lesnar had retained the gold. It was a clever way of keeping Cena and Lesnar’s rivalry alive for a final outing at Hell in a Cell. I’d much rather see Rollins and Ambrose clash inside WWE’s premiere gimmick but I won’t deny putting Cena and Lesnar in there makes sense.

Results summary:
Goldust and Stardust defeated the Usos for the tag team championship
Sheamus defeated Cesaro
The Miz defeated Dolph Ziggler for the Intercontinental championship
Seth Rollins defeated Roman Reigns via count out
Rusev defeated Mark Henry
Randy Orton defeated Chris Jericho
AJ Lee defeated Paige and Nikki Bella for the Divas championship
John Cena defeated Brock Lesnar via disqualification